Thursday, August 21, 2014


After a June full of clouds and rain, August finally allowed some days of good drying weather that coincided with days I was off work, allowing me to get around to some painting I'd been waiting to do.

The first thing I painted was two small black wooden end tables the previous tenant left behind, which were structurally sound for the most part, but a bit scuffed and worn. I put two coats of high-gloss oil-based black paint on them, with the result that you can now faintly see reflections in their surfaces (they were not kidding about the "high gloss" part!). I also learned that I do not like oil-based paint, as it's formidably difficult to get out of brushes, even with paint thinner.

Next up to be painted was the front porch. Although nearly the entirety of the remainder of the house had been painted while it was vacant, the front porch was highly scuffed between the top of the steps and the door and I'd been itching to slap a good coat of paint on it ever since I moved in. (This paint was a latex-based paint and thus much easier to clean up out of the brush afterwards, thankfully.) Here you can see the two tables atop the freshly-painted deck (note the reflection in the table on the left). There's still blue tape around things because I put a second coat on right after this picture was taken.

It's been several years since I last painted something, and I'd forgotten how soothing it can be. There's something quietly satisfying about watching something be visibly improved as you paint over it, and since I still have a lot of paint left over I may go ahead and paint the fence rails on the porch too (they didn't need it like the floor did, but they'd match a little better).

Monday, August 11, 2014

Hurricanes, Earthquakes, and the Whirlpool Galaxy

Some of you are probably aware that here in Hawaii we just had the first hurricane landfall in twenty-two years. Hurricane Iselle made landfall late Thursday afternoon (although it was downgraded to a tropical storm about the same time), becoming the first hurricane to hit the Hawaiian islands since Hurricane Iniki hit Kaua'i in 1992, and the first cyclonic tropical storm to make landfall on Hawai'i island itself since 1958 (when it was only known as “Tropical Storm Seven”).

For a while it seemed like hurricane Julio might follow in its metaphorical footsteps, but it appears to have swung north and not be a threat anymore. Thankfully, Iselle doesn't seem to have caused any catastrophic damage (in the sense that no lives were lost), although it certainly downed a lot of trees, and a lot of people south of Hilo in Puna suffered power outages (and since most people down there are on their own wells or catchment tanks, losing electricity means losing water too). I came through the storm with only a few flickers of the lights, though I was beginning to worry about the structural integrity of my roof in some of the stronger gusts of wind.

Speaking of gusts, that was probably the part of the storm that surprised me the most. I had assumed that the intensity of the storm would more-or-less smoothly rise, peak, perhaps stay high for a while, then gradually fall. Instead, relatively long periods of calm would be interspersed with periods of torrential rain and howling wind. And when I say calm, it really was quite calm; little or no rain, and the air almost dead still. All in all not what I had expected.

Thinking it over after the fact, this periodic series of heavy weather followed by relative calm put me in mind of the typical appearance of a hurricane, that of a spiral with many fact, very similar in appearance to something else I know a lot about, spiral galaxies.

The picture below was inspired by an incident at work, where both me and a co-worker independently, upon seeing the picture of hurricane Iselle shown below in the newspaper, remarked that it looked highly reminiscent of a famous spiral galaxy, in this case, Messier 51, also known as the Whirlpool galaxy.

I think it was the long arm of Iselle on the right that put me and my co-worker in mind of M51 (although there's nothing corresponding to M51's little companion galaxy NGC 5195 seen below it).  There are other differences, but I find this comparison of two spirals of such vastly differing sizes appealing.

M51 also hold a special place in my heart for being the location of the very first supernova I ever managed to photograph, a little over three years ago now.

Oh, and to justify the "Earthquakes" in the title, about 6:30 Thursday morning, a scant few hours before Iselle hit, we had a small earthquake (magnitude-4.5 on the Richter scale) up near Waimea. It wasn't enough to wake me (4.5 is just a bit above the threshold it's possible for humans to detect), but our telescope operator on duty noted it (and at first thought it was just someone walking up the stairs to the control room!). As I've said before, life's never dull when you're living on a live volcano in the middle of the mighty Pacific ocean!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Star Trails Over Mauna Kea

One thing about my new computer that I'm enjoying is the fact that the memory card reader works. The memory card reader in my laptop stopped working some years ago, but it wasn't a big enough concern for me to ever bother getting it fixed, as I could still transfer photos off my camera using its USB connection cable. However, as time went on, I found said connection getting worse and worse, making it harder and harder to get photos off my camera. This led to a period where I sort of stopped taking pictures with my camera, relying instead on my phone's camera (which I could still easily get pictures off of).

However, with my new card reader, I can once again easily access the photos I've taken, and I'm looking forward to taking more in the future. For the present, have this one I took back in May when I was sitting up on Mauna Loa waiting for the non-existent Camelopardalid meteors:

Star trails over Mauna Kea. Click to enlarge.
This is looking north from about 11,000 feet on Mauna Loa towards Mauna Kea, soon after sunset. Clouds fill the saddle and stretch as far as the eye can see, leaving the two mountains as dark islands in a sea of clouds. This photo was (I believe) a 30-second exposure, which is why the stars around the edge of the photo have moved and left trails (near the top and slightly left of center you can make out Polaris, about which all the rest of the stars appear to revolve). The light pattern on Mauna Kea is from cars' headlights and taillights as they ascend and descend the great winding access road to and from the Visitor Information Station (note the lack of lights higher than that, towards the observatories). The light in the clouds in the middle of the picture comes from beneath, from the Pōhakuloa Training Camp; I don't know what they were doing that night, but it involved a lot of bright lights flashing under the clouds.

This, unfortunately, was the only good picture I got after setting up before my battery died, as I hadn't gotten to charge it fully. I'd love to get back there sometime (now that I know I can make the drive in my car) and get some more and better pictures. But for now, a hui hou!