Thursday, April 24, 2014

News from the Joint Astronomy Centre

You probably haven't heard unless you're one of a small number of radio astronomer associated with the JCMT, but the JCMT has been closed since last Thursday with a busted wheel. Specifically, it's one of the massive wheels that the entire telescope rests and turns on (called “bogies,” for what reason no one could tell me). According to Engineering we've got a replacement part being fabricated which should be ready by Thursday, though it might take a little while to get installed even if all goes according to schedule.

On the UKIRT front, it's been an open secret for some months now that UKIRT is going to be taken over by new owners. The legal process involved has taken a long time to resolve, so while it has been virtually certain that the management of UKIRT was going to be taken over by a consortium between Lockheed Martin and the University of Arizona, we haven't been at liberty to officially announce it. This morning the local Hilo paper, The Hawaii Tribune, ran a story about it, so while it's still not been officially announced, it is out in the wild and I now have permission to talk about it. Which I've just done, so there you have it.

Just because JCMT is closed doesn't mean I have nothing to do, as I still have several projects I'm working on. A week without new observations coming in has helped me get caught up on the task I've recently taken over of monitoring the flow of observation files from JCMT to the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre (CADC) where all our data is archived (along with the data from many other telescopes). Plenty to keep me busy around here!

Edit (4/24/2014): And here's a link to the Hawaii Tribune article I mentioned earlier.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Lunar Eclipse Cycle

Monday night the moon underwent a beautiful total lunar eclipse. Sitting at my computer in front of my east-facing window I was able to watch the moon as it rose over the course of two hours while the earth's shadow slowly crept over it (when it was visible between the scattered clouds, that is!).

Lunar eclipses aren't as flashy as solar eclipses are, but while the majority of people will never see (or have the opportunity to see) a solar eclipse without traveling out of their way, lunar eclipses are visible to the entire night side of the world. I'm sorry that I didn't realize this one was coming up soon enough to advertise it ahead of the fact – I'll try to remember to do so for the next one, as it's a really cool experience to see one. This one was especially cool because the moon passed very close to Mars as it was at full coverage, making for quite the spectacle.

This eclipse was also interesting because it was the first in a cycle of four such total eclipses. The interactions between the earth and the moon are complex, and usually you get a mixture of partial and total lunar eclipses, but every so often we get these neat cycles of four total lunar eclipses in a row. The remaining three eclipses are set to take place on October 8 2014, April 4 2015, and September 28 2015. A hui hou!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Farewell, Windows XP

Yesterday, if you weren't aware, marks the day Microsoft announced two years ago when it stops providing support for Windows XP. It's no exaggeration to say that Windows XP is the most popular operating system in history, as shown by the fact that almost 30% of computers accessing the Internet last month were running it twelve years after it came out in late 2001. (Not to mention the countless other unconnected computers that are running it. Most ATMs, for example, are still running XP.)

In some ways Microsoft has been the victim of their own success with XP, as shown by the fact that such a significant number of people haven't moved on yet and bought more up-to-date versions of Windows yet. There's another more charitable reason to want people to upgrade; Windows XP was designed long before many of the advanced and dangerous malware threats of today were even conceived of, and while Microsoft has dutifully patched it all these years there comes a point when it's in everyone's best interests to move on. It's a simpler operating system for a simpler time.

Now that Microsoft has pushed its last patch for XP (at least for those who aren't paying exorbitant amounts for an extended service plan such as the British government), any vulnerabilities found in the future will remain un-patched and, well, vulnerable. If any of you out there are reading this on XP, I'd definitely suggest thinking about getting off it quickly. There are a number of good alternative operating systems out there that are much more secure and up-to-date. From personal experience I can say that Windows 7 is much like XP, and if you happen to feel like shaking things up there are any number of free Linux versions to choose from that will work just as well (such as some that I wrote about a few weeks ago).

I'll definitely hold fond memories of Windows XP because that was the operating system of my first computer, but unlike the 30% of the population still running it I moved on years ago (a little over four years ago, to be precise, when I bought my current laptop with Windows 7). Rather than attempting to grasp something that is by nature ephemeral, I look at changing operating systems as an opportunity to change, grow, and try and try something new. At some point in the future I'll need to move on from Windows 7, and you know what? I'm rather looking forward to it.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Water Warnings

Yesterday (April 1st) we had enough rain in Hilo to trigger a flash-flood warning for much of the afternoon (I believe the airport got something like three inches in one hour). We also got a tsunami advisory from the magnitude-8.2 earthquake off of Chile. Thankfully, neither caused too much damage (that I've heard). Hilo drains pretty well (and my house is on a slight rise compared to the surroundings), and the tsunami caused only a few feet of sea level change in the harbor. It didn't trigger the sirens and full-scale evacuation we've had in past years. Of course, I also heard there was a powerful aftershock near Chile today, so it's still possible we could get a tsunami. Nothing to do but wait and see.

As I like to say, life's never dull when you live near sea level on an active volcano in the middle of the Ring of Fire!