Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Heavenly Island in a Sea of Cloud

Sunday Jonathan and I went up to Mauna Kea as volunteers to help with the summit tour. It seems each time I go to see the silverswords I find another great photo opportunity. Someone created this pretty rock pattern around one particularly large and healthy plant:

A couple visiting Hawaiʻi showed up while we were there, so I pointed out some of the silverswords, and, when they seemed interested, shared a few of the things I've learned about them -- and was promptly asked if I was a botanist!

“The Botanist”
The wind at the summit was downright bone-chillingly frigid. I don't remember ever being so cold up there before. It was actually warmer inside the Keck telescope dome (or at least it felt like it)! Strangely, despite the Arctic weather up top, it was surprisingly mild and warm down at the Vis, even into the night. Jonathan and I went to catch the sunset from a cinder cone near the Vis, and the experience, sans wind, was much more pleasant than the last time we tried it. It was clear enough that we could actually see Hualālai to the west, a rare occurrence:

Hualālai: Ke Mokupuni Lani i ke Kai Ao (Heavenly Island in a Sea of Cloud).
All in all, a most pleasant day. I should probably end this post and get to bed, however. A hui hou!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Galactic View

It's been a while since I posted any artwork up here, but today I finally have something to show. This particular picture (another in my space artwork series) represents far and away the longest time I've taken between start and finish on one project; this picture was actually begun in the summer of 2008! I'll explain the reason for the gap further down.

This picture is the result of me wondering what you might see from a planet in orbit around a star on the outskirts of a globular cluster. Globular clusters are roughly spherical collections of hundreds of thousands of stars that orbit galaxies (including our own; the Milky Way galaxy has ~180 known globular clusters). They're composed of old yellow or red stars, not the bright blue young ones that make the spiral arms of spiral galaxies so obvious. Speaking of spiral galaxies, they aren't easy to draw in any sort of half-way realistic way which is the reason it took me so long to finish this picture. It's actually two pictures: the sky is a 2D image I created using the GIMP, and the foreground is a 3D render made using Blender. The globular cluster was mostly complete back in 2008 (I did only minor retouching upon taking up the project again), but I got stuck trying to find a way to make a spiral galaxy that looked good. This was actually so long ago that it was before I discovered Blender, so I also had nothing really in mind for the foreground.

Sometime in March, I think, I came upon a script for creating spiral galaxies in GIMP, and while the galaxies it creates are a long way from the final image, it gave me enough of a starting point to get back to work on it. That was still the hardest part of the image to get looking satisfactory for me. Galaxies are a lot more complicated than I'm used to painting. I think it looks pretty good….at least the arms do (the core, I'm still not sure how to improve…). Realistically the galaxy wouldn't be anywhere near as bright as I've drawn it, and you wouldn't really be able to see the colors like that. Ah, well, I'm not trying for complete verisimilitude…(The galaxy appears to be a spiral, somewhat similar to our own galaxy.)

The lava lake idea came about because I found this link to the USGS webcam overlooking the active Puʻu ʻŌʻō crater on Kīlauea a while back and like to watch how the lava inside changes day by day. I've never seen it do anything dramatic like the picture, though. In the picture it was originally going to be a lake of water, but a) that planet looks way too cold for water to exist as a liquid on it. And b) it was just nowhere near as interesting as a lava lake. Getting it to glow and look half-way decent took me quite a while, and many, many, attempts.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Marking (Metric) Time

The other day I was musing on the nature of time, and the fact that for times shorter than a second we use a metric system (1 millisecond = one-thousandth of a second, 1 microsecond = one-millionth of a second, etc) but not for times longer than a second. I know that the common use of the number 60 in time comes from the Babylonians and their fascination with the sexagesimal system, but what if we measured time in metric units? What would that be like?

To begin with, 1 kilosecond would equal 16 minutes 40 seconds. There are 86.4 kilosecs in one day, or 604.8 in a week. Going up a level, 1 megasecond would be equal to 11.57 days, or a bit under two weeks. That would mean a total of 31.536 megasecs per year. Finally, a gigasecond would be huge step up, being equal to approximately 31.6889 years, or a bit longer than the time it takes Saturn to make a full orbit around the sun, at 29.4571 years. It's also a pretty good chunk of most peoples' lifetimes. There's little point in continuing it further, because after that the numbers get beyond human experience pretty quickly: a terasecond would be a thousand times longer than a gigasec, or 31,889-odd years and it just gets bigger from there.

Just for fun, try using one of these expressions in everyday conversation. "I'm just going out, I'll be back in a couple of kilosecs", "We should have the results of the test in about half a megasec", "How old is George? Oh, a bit over 2 gigasecs." Have fun!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Birthday Baroque.

I've been doing a little digging around on that group I mentioned in my last post, Europa Galante. They are an Italian period instrument baroque orchestra that specializes in Vivaldi's music, and playing it in such a way that it really comes alive. I think a lot of times many people have this image of classical music as dry, stale, or boring. Europe Galante blows that idea away completely, and does an incredible job of bringing a sense of vitality and zest to Vivaldi's music that anyone can enjoy.

The movie below is one I came across today of them performing the first movement of one of Vivaldi's many (over 500) concerti. I especially love this one, and I'm sure you will as well when you listen to it. Enjoy!

Ke Akua pū, a hui hou kākou!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Birthdays and Bicycles.

As many of you know, the 17th of May is my birthday, and I certainly had an interesting birthday this year. I've been loaned a bicycle for the summer by one of my friends, and I attempted to ride it in to campus this morning to meet with Dr. Takamiya to work out what I'll be doing over the summer. I succeeded in my attempt, barely -- my legs were so rubbery by the time I'd finally pedaled up the hill to campus I could hardly walk. Apparently biking using completely different muscles than walking does. Still, it was faster than walking, and more enjoyable traveling downhill, so I'll probably continue doing it over the summer.

This evening I went to a "fancy party" that one of the graduating astrophysics students had come up with before the end of the semester. She just happened to pick May 17th, and when I mentioned it was my birthday, everyone said it must be that day for sure. It was a very nice party -- most everyone dressed up quite fancy (I wore my best dress pants, shirt, and tie) and we had a delightful evening putting together various kinds of food and socializing. I did something I've never done before, and willingly and knowingly ate a mushroom (I'm not too big on saprophytic fungi as food, in general). I was treated to a delicious Mountain-Dew-flavored birthday cake (it had a nice lime-y flavor to it), and on the whole had a most enjoyable evening.

Oh, and my dear sister surprised me with a recording to Vivaldi's Opus 8, a collection of 12 concerti, the first four of which are the familiar Four Seasons, although this group manages to play them in such a way that, though I've heard parts of them many times before, still comes off as incredibly fresh and new. I'm looking forward to getting to know these beautiful pieces of vivid Baroque music over the weeks to come.

And finally, in case you're wondering (or I forget): I'm 22 today. Or, in Hawaiian, “He iwakāluakūmālua oʻu makahiki.” (My years are twenty-two. “lua” means “2” in Hawaiian) Ke Akua pū, a hui hou kākou!

Monday, May 16, 2011

In Search of the Sunrise: Part IV

Two young men's continuing quest for that most elusive Hawaiian beast, a sunrise un-obscured by clouds.

And once again, we did not manage to find one. I'm beginning to believe that there are always clouds  on the south-eastern horizon in the morning, even when the rest of the sky is crystal clear. At this point, I'm not sure it is possible to see an un-obscured sunrise, at least not without checking obsessively every morning.

On the other hand, a sunrise behind the right clouds can be just as beautiful as one entirely visible, if not more so. The huge, puffy cumulus on the south-eastern horizon made giant, slowly-changing shapes as the sun rose lazily behind them, peeking cheerfully through the raggedy patches and holes found here and there in the great dark masses of clouds, and glinting dully on the placid surface of the sea.

Looking out to the south-east over Hilo bay.

(By the way, if you think my blog looks wider than before, you're correct: I finally found the option to widen it, allowing me to display pictures a little larger so they can be better seen.) The sun never did come out of the clouds, but still looked nice as it climbed into the sky:

Jonathan and I haven't decided yet whether to try again, or whether this is likely to be as good as it gets. As the summer solstice approaches dawn come earlier and earlier, and it gets correspondingly harder to get out of bed . We'll see what happens, I think he did mention another site we could try in the future.

Ke Akua pū, a hui hou kākou! (May God be with you, until we meet again!)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Pau ke kula! (School is over!)

Well, finals are over. Finally. (Actually, they were over Wednesday, but Blogger was down for maintenance when I tried to post Wednesday and Thursday, so you get this today.) Four in-class finals plus a final paper and and a take-home final kinda takes it out of you. I'm going to say it right here, so you can quote me on this later: I'm never taking 21 credits a semester. Ever again. I can admit now that I was stupid to attempt it after the first time.

Of course, as long as I can learn from my mistakes it's not a wasted experience (as my English teacher would say), so I might as well put down the other stuff I learned. Let's see...just because the 21 credits you're taking aren't all math, physics, and astronomy, doesn't mean they can't be just as hard. Especially when one of them is a writing intensive English class. Language classes are much harder than they seem (at least to me). It might just be the point I'm at...we're at the point where we can reasonably be expected to say most simple stuff in Hawaiian, but I'm not so good at actually speaking it, so I try to avoid it, which means I don't get much practice and subsequently remain locked in a vicious cycle (give me time to think about what I'm saying, and write it down and I'll do pretty good, but sight has always been a dominant sense for me compared to hearing, so speaking [and especially understanding conversations] remains really difficult for me).

On the other hand, taking so many credits has some benefits. For instance, I only need to take two classes totaling 4 credits for my last semester in the fall. And lest you fear I take some more for fun, there are good economic reasons for me not to (plus, I've decided that I just cannot be the polymath I wanted to be as a child, and need to really focus on what I'm planning to get a degree in, rather than taking extra classes for fun). I may audit a Hawaiian class just because I'll most likely never get the chance again, but I'm quite ambivalent either way.

The economic reasons I mentioned are due to the pay structure Hilo has: for every credit up to full time (12 credits) you pay a fixed amount. Once you're full time, however, you can take up to 21 credits (24 for graduating seniors) and not pay any more than you do for 12.  Basically, 12 credits (just barely full time) is the absolute worst number you could be taking, economically. If you're trying to minimize absolute cost, you want to take as few as possible below 12; if you want to minimize the cost per credit, you want to take as many as possible above 12; either way, you want to be as far away from 12 as you can.

This little graph I made might explain it better than words:

Hilo cost structure explained.
Note that this graph is not to scale: I've scaled the blue line by 12 to normalize it so that it matches the height of the red line. The curved part of the blue line may be off a bit, as well, but is essentially correct. Anyway, I hope that this graph gets my point across better than the  description. You can see how either way you approach it, 12 is a maximum for either absolute or relative cost.

And now that the semester is over, I can finally turn again to my delightful work with Dr. Takamiya, hopefully getting together a paper for publication this summer. And maybe coming up with another proposal for future projects. Ah, Summer! What endless possibilities stretch before my vista!

Edit: I just realized that this may be the first time I've been over a week between posts. But it wasn't my fault, I couldn't post when I tried the last two days.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ka Pāʻina Pani Kau (End-of-Semester Party)

Today was the end-of-semester party for Ka Haka ʻUla o Keʻelikolani, the Hawaiian language college, where our class performed our hula that we started learning three days ago. Thankfully everything went off without a hitch, and since we were the third group to go we got to watch the rest of the proceedings in relative relaxation.

Just like last semester there were some good performances, a lot of mediocre ones, a few really awesome ones. The best one, in my opinion, was a second year class that took the phrase “May God be with you, until we meet again,” translated it into Hawaiian (“ke Akua pū, a hui hou kākou”), and wove an excellent multi-part choral harmony out of it. I really, really wish I had some sort of video camera or something to record some of the performances.

Ke Akua pū, a hui hou kākou! 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Pau nā papa.

Today was the last day of classes for me, which would be cause for rejoicing if it didn't mean I have nothing to distract me from studying for finals for the next four days. Well, almost nothing: the Hawaiian College End-of-Semester Party (pāʻina pani kau) is Thursday afternoon. Our class is joining with the class of my teacher from last semester to do a hula that we (our class) only started learning Monday. I'm definitely learning faster than last semester -- I think I can make it through it tomorrow without greatly embarrassing myself -- but hula is still really hard. And we guys have it easy, too...the women's part is much more elaborate and “flowery” for lack of a better word. (That tends to be true in most hula...the men's part is less elaborate and more direct than the women's ornate and complicated style. Usually the same basic motions, just done two different ways.)

To practice, our combined classes had a potluck tonight where a good time was had by all as we figured out when to go, where and how to stand, etc. I got to try warm butter mōchī for the first time -- ʻono nui loa! (Extremely delectable!) I'm not sure how to describe it...sort of a...paste? A sweet gummy...confection? Its consistency is unlike anything else I know of, sort of gummy, yet fluid, but holding a shape fairly well. It's sweet (a dessert), but not too much so. Anyway, it's good. Make sure and try some if you can when you visit over this way.