Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Dark SQUIDs

Dark SQUIDs. I don't know much about them at the moment, other than that they are involved in the operation of the main instrument on the JCMT that I'm working with, the Sub-millimeter Common User Bolometer Array 2 (or SCUBA2). Well, alright, I know that SQUID stands for Superconducting QUantum Interference Device, and that they help keep the bolometers that make up the individual "pixels" of the instrument running, but I don't know exactly how.

However, I find the term "dark SQUID" to be fairly evocative, so have a picture I drew of one on my phone:

Dark SQUID.
And yes, you read that right. I drew this picture on my phone. I got a new phone over Christmas (passing my previous one on to my sister), the Samsung Galaxy Note II. I'm quite pleased with it. It has pretty much the largest screen (5.5") of any phone on the market right now (the screen itself is a little larger than an entire iPhone), has a quad-core processor nearly equal to my laptop (which is fairly high-end itself), and comes with a nifty stylus that slots into the phone for easy portability, and which allowed me the fine control necessary to draw this picture. (Its camera is also what I used to get the picture in the last post.)

The phone itself utilizes Wacom tablet technology (used in various fashions by many, many digital artists) to get a lot of feedback from the stylus, allowing you to do things like vary the intensity of a stroke by changing how firmly you press down with the stylus. It also allows you to hover over things (to get tool-tips for instance) like you can using your mouse on a computer, because it can actually sense the stylus tip over a centimeter away from the phone surface. The stylus is also great for any sort of fine work on the screen, like typing.

While looking up Wacom Co. I learned that their tablets actually power the accompanying styluses [styli?] using the fascinating technique of resonant inductive coupling using magnetic fields, meaning the phone is actually wirelessly powering the stylus while it's in use. Maybe that's why it goes through battery faster...

(Finally, while looking up "squid" in the dictionary to see what the correct plural is, I discovered that though the word is attested to all the way back to around 1605-1615, the origin is uncertain. Interesting.)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Getting Back in the Swing of Things (Hopefully)

This month has been pretty slow on the updates here on the ol' blog, and I'd definitely like to get back into a more regular, frequent update schedule. I've been preoccupied (or flat out incapacitated) by illness and a new job, but after my first full week of work I'm starting to settle in, and I think I'm finally over that annoying persistent cough from the bout of flu I had over New Year's (fun fact – fevers of 106 °F [41.1 °C] have a way of interfering with your balance, coordination, concentration, motivation, and just about everything else. They're also about as high as you can go without getting into the dangerous territory of hyperpyrexia at 106.7 °F [41.5 °C]).

On a less morbid and more fun note (I swear I didn't intend to research and write about fevers when I set out to write this post), I have the following picture – I got my name on my office last week!


This was, unfortunately, the best picture I got out of several attempts – cell phone cameras just don't quite cut it sometimes. But hey, at least you can read it.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Through the clouds of Titan

Eight years ago now, on January 14th, 2005, the robotic probe Huygens separated from its carrier (the robotic probe Cassini) and plummeted towards Saturn's largest moon Titan. After several hours of falling through space it entered Titan's atmosphere and eventually made a controlled landing by parachute, and in the process gave us our very first glimpse of the surface of this remote and distant world. Titan is perpetually shrouded in thick orange clouds, making its surface impossible to see in visible light. Now, for the first time that I know of, some talented people at NASA, ESA, JPL, and the University of Arizona have stitched together the images Huygens got as it descended into a movie, starting from when it first separated from Cassini. It's really quite fascinating to watch, and very beautiful as well.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Working at the JCMT

Well, I've been settling into my new job at the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope this past week, and I think I'm really going to enjoy it.

For starters, every one of my coworkers is incredibly friendly and nice. Everyone's been great about helping me settle in, including inviting me along for dinner at a new restaurant in Hilo on my second day. I think I'm going to fit in rather well with all of the other astronomers/physicists/computer science people.

Also, I now have an office. I've never had my own office before, and it's a bit of a strange feeling – though a nice one. I don't have my name on the door yet, but I'll be sure to take a picture when it happens (which should be soon). I also have an absolute beast of a computer, with 128 gigabytes of RAM – necessary for dealing with the multi-gigabyte image files put out by some of the instruments – and a blazingly fast 16-core 3.10 gigahertz processor. It's pretty amazing.

One other fun feature of working for an organization primarily funded by the UK is that every day at 10 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon there's tea time, where anyone who wants to congregates in the staff lounge and has tea (or coffee, or soda, or...) and just talks about whatever, whether work-related or not. It's a really laid-back and informal atmosphere, and has definitely helped me feel at home.

All in all, I'm really looking forward to getting settled in and actually doing things!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A New Job for the New Year

To follow up on my previous post, I am now back in Hilo and will be starting my new job with the Joint Astronomy Center working for the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope on Wednesday. I'm excited because I'm looking forward to what I'll be doing, and a bit apprehensive because I'm looking forward to this job and want to do well. This week will be mostly orientation I believe, but I really don't know what all that will entail, so I can't say too much yet. Hopefully I'll have more to say in the near future! A hui hou!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

New Year's Flu

First of all, I'd like to apologize for the last week of silence here on my blog, it turns out that the flu tends to drain you of all energy, motivation, and desire to do pretty much anything. Over New Years my family went to Florida for a few days, where we visited Disney World, the Cape Canaveral Lauch Pad, and the Capitol One Bowl. Somewhere along the line I picked up the flu, from which I am finally feeling recovered enough to be able to write this post.

Recovered enough to write this post, but not much more yet. I hope to be up and running with some more posts in the not-too-distant future though. A hui hou!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Pau ʻo ka makahiki ʻelua-kaukani-ʻumikūmālua! 2012 is done!

Since, as you can see if you are reading this, the world did not end on December 21st, we can see that the end of the latest b'ak'tun in the Mayan calendar did not signal the end of the world any more than the ending of our calendar on December 31st does. The Mayan calculators simply had to pick a cut-off point for their future calendar predictions, and considering they chose one several hundred years past the point where their culture was actually really using it, I'd say they did a pretty good job. Sure, in these days of electronic computers it's trivial to extend the Gregorian calendar forward arbitrarily far in time, but in those days when all calculations were done by hand there comes a point where you just have to call it quits.

Anyway, happy New Year, everyone, I'll see you in 2013!