Saturday, May 20, 2017

U.S. Passports, and a Hawaiian Hero

I've been slowly working through the application process to the University of Swinburne, which necessitated renewing my passport as my old one expired two years ago. My new one came a two weeks ago, and the design has changed quite a bit; it now incorporates quotes from people or events in American history both famous (George Washington, the Declaration of Independence) and not-so-famous (“Except from the Thanksgiving Address, Mohawk version”). I was somewhat surprised to find a quote by Hawaiian astronaut Ellison Onizuka among them:
Every generation has the obligation to free men's minds for a look at new worlds…to look out from a higher plateau than the last generation.    —Ellison S. Onizuka
For those who don't know, Ellison Onizuka was an Hawaii-born astronaut who was on the ill-fated Challenger mission in 1986 that exploded 73 seconds after launch on his second spaceflight. He was born in Kealakekua over on the Kona side, and was the first Asian American and first person of Japanese descent to reach space, logging a total of 74 hours of spaceflight on his first mission.

There are a number of places named in his memory here in Hawaii (and apparently elsewhere in the U.S., according to the article about him; perhaps he's more famous than I thought). The cluster of buildings mid-way up Mauna Kea known colloquially as Hale Pōhaku is officially the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy, and the visitor center where I worked in 2012 is officially the Ellison Onizuka Visitor Information Station. There's a metal plaque of his face by the entrance to the latter, though I don't appear to have a picture of it.

I don't really have anything more to say about it, other than that I thought it's cool he's being remembered in the current U.S. passport design.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

More Pictures from the Mountain

It's not a particularly creative post title, but at least it's accurate. Have some more pictures from Mauna Loa!

After several tries, I've come to the regretful conclusion that it's simply impossible to replicate the colors seen in the sunsets up here in a photo. They're just so incredibly breathtaking in the range of hues.

That being said, this picture comes pretty decently close. (This is the view from just outside our break room.)

May 1st we had a snowfall on the summits of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. This is pretty late in the season for snow, though it's possible to get snow any time of the year here; I still remember the time it snowed all the way down to the Visitor Center while I was working there—in June! (This snow doesn't extend that far down.) At a little over 11,000 feet (~3,350 meters) our site was too low to get any snow, though.

I like how the snow here is mostly only in one sector, not equally spread around the summit.

A few days later, on May 5th, the snow had all melted, but the focus is this old eruptive vent near the road—we stopped on the way down after some daytime observations. This is maybe fifty feet from the road, and perhaps twenty feet deep. I couldn't get a good picture of the inside because it's so large, perhaps thirty feet across.

I don't know how old it is—based on the weathering I'd guess somewhere within the past few hundred years—but it's incredible to imagine when this fissure was belching molten rock and gasses from the interior of the earth.

There are also several lava tubes visible beside the road up to the site. This is the largest and most visible, though it doesn't go anywhere on either side beyond where it collapsed here. You can see where the road goes maybe twenty feet beyond the far end. This is not the gaping hole closest to the road—just above the 9,000 foot marker is the opening to a small lava tube literally within two feet of the side of the road, though I forgot to take a picture of it. I'm hoping to take a weekend soon to explore some of these lava tubes, so hopefully I'll have more pictures soon. A hui hou!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Underwater Yellowstone

Just a short post today, as I have been incredibly busy for the past two weeks—it seems like everything hits all at once and it all needs to be done yesterday, but the good news is that I've submitted my official application for the Ph.D. program at the University of Swinburne, sent off for a passport renewal (as mine expired two years ago, how time flies!) and taken care of a few more things so that things should be settling down for me soon (for a bit, anyway!).

I wanted to make this post to show off a quick video from something I helped kickstart last year, a group making an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to collect video and samples in Yellowstone Lake. They've released a teaser video showing some of the footage they were able to get, and while it's short it certainly looks pretty interesting!

Just need to wait for more of the results to be released, now.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Working on Mauna Loa

It has been a while since I last posted, hasn't it? I think this break of nearly a month is my longest interval yet between posts. Suffice it to say that I've been really busy with work, and too busy recuperating in between to find time to post. I say this not to complain, but merely to point out that being awake long nights at high altitude is really quite physically exhausting, especially since my schedule is still very much in flux and I can't really settle into a routine yet.

At least I get to work in some of the most gorgeous surroundings on earth, assuming you find bare lava rock beautiful! Mauna Kea in the late afternoon can be particularly striking with the low angle of illumination:

Or in the evening (different day):

Of course, the mountains aren't the only interesting things around! I took a panorama of the array of dishes while up on the telescope platform. You can see the cherry picker we're learning to drive in the background.

The panorama distorts it, but these are arranged in a hexagon around the center one.

Also, we finally opened the enclosure structure before dark, allowing me to pose in front of the telescope! This is the parked position; for actual operation those legs stretch up to at least twice as tall. I have a burning desire to get a video/timelapse of the process of opening the structure and engaging the telescope sometime, as it looks incredibly cool.

Finally, one thing I noticed in the Mauna Loa Observatories building the other day is this neat card autographed by quite a few of the original astronauts who came to train in 1965 (several of whom later went on to walk on the moon). It's quite cool to be walking in the footsteps of these historic figures!

Well, hopefully I'll be faster at getting another post out in the future, but seeing how it took a long Easter weekend for me to feel rested enough to write this, we'll see! Hopefully I'm starting to get acclimated to the altitude and long nights and will be better able to function like a normal person when I'm awake during the day.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A New Job at the YTLA!

So, it's been a little while since I posted last, and that's partly due to the fact that I accepted the job offer with the Yuan-Tseh Lee Array (formerly known as the Array for MIcrowave Background Anisotropy, or AMiBA), started work last Thursday, and have already been up Mauna Loa twice this week and will be going up again tomorrow. I love the view up there, but I can't deny it's pretty exhausting!

Mauna Kea with scattered clouds about its head, seen at quitting time yesterday. Pau hana!
So yes, I'm once again working full-time, and I'd forgotten how tired that tends to leave one at the end of the day. My job title is YTLA Telescope Test/Operator, and there's a chance I might start doing night-time operations on Mauna Loa as early as next week (though for the moment my work hours consist of a mixture of helping out up on Mauna Loa during the day and being in the office down in Hilo).

A panorama showing Mauna Kea with the YTLA on the right; the telescope is inside the tan fabric shelter while the white shipping containers are the control room and the operator quarters.
There's lots more I could say about my new work, but it's getting late and I need to be up early again to prepare for going up tomorrow, so I'll keep this post short. Though I just realized I can now truthfully tell people that I work on an active volcano. Awesome. A hui hou!

(You know you work at an amazing place when you can seriously ask your supervisor, “So if the volcano suddenly starts erupting, is the preferred course of action to get in the car and gun it down the mountain, or stay put and wait for the emergency evac helicopter?”)

Edit 3/23/17: Just a few more pictures I took today. It was cloudy and foggy today for the first time, and I got a nice picture of Mauna Kea brooding beneath the clouds:

Mauna Kea seen on a more cloudy day.
I also had the bright idea to take a panorama inside the YTLA enclosing structure, allowing me to better capture it in its entirety:

The outer structure looks weird because the panorama distorts it, but you can see its exterior two photos up.
I also learned today that there's a large empty cavity beneath the telescope, inside the white cone structure beneath the platform in the picture above. It has a hatch to enter that looks a lot like an early space flight capsule door:

The telescope is not actually secretly a spaceship, sadly.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Vectorizing Kalundwe's Flag

Today flag vectorizing target is Kalundwe, a small nation in the heart of Africa so obscure it doesn't even have a Wikipedia page in English. It's part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo nowadays, though it was free for a few hundred years between approximately 1350 to 1600, according to what I could find. I realized I edited together the video and even uploaded it to YouTube but hadn't put it in a blog post yet, so here you go!

Kalundwe's starting location in Europa Universalis IV in 1444, nestled between the nations of Kuba and Luba.
Kalundwe was eventually conquered by the neighboring nation of Luba, and became associated with it. The design on their flag in Europa Universalis IV looks like it may have been inspired by Luba-Kalundwe royal cups such as the one seen in this blog post.

Not much else to say about this one, it was a fairly straight-forward tracing process. A hui hou!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Tour of the Yuan-Tseh Lee Array on Mauna Loa, and a Job Offer

Two weeks ago, as part of the job interview process for the operator job I applied for, I got to go on a tour of the Yuan-Tseh Lee Array facilities on Mauna Loa. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, so I took my camera along and got some pictures.

Mauna Kea from the road up to the Mauna Loa Observatories. This is facing basically due north.
The drive up from Saddle Road to Mauna Loa never fails to give me a sense of (wonder at) the size of Hawaiʻi island. From the turn-off point at Saddle Road, it's a mere 10–15 minutes' drive to get to Hale Pōhaku at ~9,200 feet. From the turn-off (only a few hundred feet down the road) to go to Mauna Loa it takes a solid 40–50 minutes to get to the Mauna Loa Observatories at ~11,200 feet.

(Part of this has to do with how the Mauna Kea access road is much steeper and more direct, while the Mauna Loa road winds, twists, and takes a much less steep path. Now that it's paved the entire way, I'd say it's actually an easier road overall due to never really getting as steep as the Mauna Kea road.)

Mauna Kea from inside the gated Mauna Loa Observatories area.
Have I mentioned the weather was amazing? Barely a cloud in the sky other than some off the west coast of the island (and some annoying vog in Hilo). You can see the peak of Kohala (the northern-most volcano of the five that make up Hawaiʻi) to the left of Mauna Kea in the picture above. Once we got past the gate blocking off access to the Mauna Loa Observatories (where I'd never been before), we got a tour of some of the various buildings at the site.

Some of the buildings at the Mauna Loa Observatories site. Check out Maui in the background there! That's Haleakalā.
Something I wasn't really aware of is just how many small observatories of all stripes there are on Mauna Loa. There's a weather station, a small solar telescope, several other domes (I have no idea what the three in this picture are, for instance), and some various other monitoring equipment and buildings scattered around. (I presume some of the are geophysical monitoring stations keeping tabs on Mauna Loa itself.)

The Yuan-Tseh Lee Array, or YTLA for short, was formerly known as AMiBA, or the Array for MIcrowave Background Anisotropy (astronomers will do anything for a tortured acronym!)

The original sign, still up.
The new name.
The YTLA hangs out under a strange, shell-like dome of PVC fabric, as seen in the image below:

That pill-bug-like shell is the housing for the YTLA.
For observing the covering curls over and folds up, allowing the telescope to see the sky. (The process is entirely manual, and operator-controlled.) We got to go in and see the telescope itself, on its central pedestal.

Apparently when it was first built, it was discovered that the telescope was about four feet too tall to fit in the enclosure. The solution? Lift the enclosure up by four feet! The original design also called for zippered holes in the fabric to enter and exit by, but that didn't work out so great so the entrance now is by bending over and clambering through a four-foot hole left from lifting up the enclosure. It's definitely one of the zanier telescopes I've had the pleasure of touring!

The YTLA, seen from the back. The various receiver elements are mounted on the top of that hexagonal platform.
After seeing the control room for the YTLA (a Matson shipping container) and the rooms for the operators (a Matson container split down the middle), we had an hour free to wander around while our guides did some work on the telescope.

Unlike the area around Hale Pōhaku, which is lightly wooded and has plenty of vegetation, the 11,000-foot mark on Mauna Loa might as well be the surface of the moon when it comes to flora (in fact, astronauts came here to prepare for the moon landings, as it's considered one of the best moon-analogs on earth). There are some very pretty pieces of lava lying around, however!

I love the brilliant green-blue-yellow iridescence of this tiny chunk of basalt.
Finally, as I often do when confronted with a vista and a camera in my hand, I ended up taking some pictures to put together as panoramas. I'm not entirely happy with either of these; they both have their flaws, but I've put them together as best I can, so here they are:

The second one comes from a bit higher up the mountain; the building visible on the far left in the first one (the YTLA breakroom) is just behind the right-most dome near the center of the second one. You can see the peaks of Mauna Kea, Kohala, Haleakalā, and Hualālai (from right to left) in both pictures.

All in all it was a great tour, and, between the genesis and the completion of this post, just this afternoon, I got a call to let me know that they were offering me the job, so it looks like I'll be becoming a lot more familiar with the area in the near future! A hui hou!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

A Little Life Update, 2017 Edition

It's coming up on a year now since I was let go at the EAO in March 2016 due to budget shortfalls, and some of you may have been wondering what I've been up to and where I'm going (I've been wondering that for quite a few months myself!). So, a quick recap: in January, I simultaneously applied for an operator job with the Yuan-Tseh Lee Array (YTLA) on Mauna Loa, and put in a Expression of Interest for the graduate program at the College of Astrophysics and Supercomputing at the University of Swinburne in Melbourne, to potentially start sometime in the summer or early fall (or, well, winter or early spring in Australia!).

Last week I had an interview for the job, and this week I got to go on a tour of the YTLA facility at ~12,000 feet on Mauna Loa. I brought my camera along so I've got some pictures to share (in a future post). This week I also got word that my Expression of Interest was shortlisted to be eligible for a scholarship, so I'm currently in the process of talking with potential supervisors at the University of Swinburne.

Now, you might be wondering how these various combinations of “get job: yes/no” and “get accepted to grad school: yes/no” work out, and if you've been paying attention you might also remember that I'm currently working part-time as secretary at Kaumana Drive Baptist Church since August. So, going through them one by one:
  • Job: X
    Grad School: X
    Should neither of these pan out, I will…I dunno. Probably cry, then set about applying to more grad schools and watching for other open jobs. Note that I'm likely to find out about the job this week, while grad school will take another month or two to be sure one way or another. I'm trying not to think too hard about this one.
  • Job:
    Grad School: X
    Should I get the job, but not end up accepted for grad school, well…hey! I've got a job sufficient to live off of again! I'll probably also see about applying to more grad schools, just pushed back a semester, as I've decided that's what I want to do now. What happens with my secretary job is up in the air at the moment; after talking with Pastor Mark he's perfectly happy for me to continue working for the church as long as I'm happy with it and can balance both, so I'd be playing it by ear for a while until I can see what things will be like.
  • Job: X
    Grad School:
    This is…tricky. I definitely want and intend to go to grad school, but I'm gonna be a little short on funds for an inter-continental move. I'll probably broaden the net a bit and look around for other jobs available between now and when I'd be leaving. Another one I'm trying not to think too hard about.
  • Job:
    Grad School:
    The theoretical best outcome, and at the same time probably the most stressful to deal with in the short term. To be clear, if I get both, grad school takes precedence, and I said as much in my interview. That means working with the YTLA for a few months, then quitting to go to grad school. This would be great because I'd get a nice bit of extra income, but it also means a job with hours often significantly outside the normal work-week, which will doubtless be at rather stressful when coördinating grad school applications (not to mention the physiological stress of working at altitude), especially in the context of planning my first out-of-country move on my own.
Which of these is most likely? Well…if pressed, I would probably say that it's one of the latter two, but I couldn't say which. I think the grad school application process is going well, and as long as I can find a supervisor willing to take me—and I've had several faculty writing to me already, and am pretty flexible myself—then I think it's very likely. The operator position I can't guess at; obviously I'm still in the running seeing as how I was invited for the tour, but I don't know how much the fact that I'm planning to only be there for a few months if grad school goes through is going to color things. I really couldn't say at this point. I'll probably find out in the next couple of days, though, so we'll see!

And that's basically it. I spent most of last year after being laid off basically coasting in a mixture of shock, self-pity, low self-esteem, and lack of motivation, but at this point, no matter what happens, there's going to be a sea change in my not-too-distant future. And while I never enjoy big changes, once they're inevitable I'm prepared to deal with them like I always do: with perseverance and determination. A hui hou!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

A Friend’s Art

One of my best friends growing up, Joseph Bedford, has always had a gift for art that I have long envied, and has recently started selling some of his artwork as a way to help support himself and his family. He's looking for some more exposure, so I figured the least I could do was to plug him on my blog. I couldn't figure out a good way to preview his artwork from his Society 6 page directly, so I'm experimenting with using an HTML iframe to display it here. I've never tried using an iframe before, so I hope this works.

Society 6 makes it easy for artists to sell their artwork as any number of things, from framed pictures to phone cases to mugs to bath mats, and if you're interested you can check out Joe's page directly here. There's not a lot there yet but he only took up painting like this in December, and knowing him there will doubtless be a lot more to come. Whether you find something that tickles your fancy or not, I hope you at least enjoy his artwork. I got to see some of the originals when I was back home for Christmas, and they're quite impressive at full size! A hui hou!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

State of the Blog, 2017

Another year has come and gone, and now that I have that little graph-generating script I used last year to make a plot of my post activity per month, I thought I'd make use of it again (with a few tweaks, what was I thinking stylistically last year‽).

Nothing too surprising here. I got a little boost at the start of 2016 compared to 2015, then gradually dropped back to my usual 2–3 posts per month. While looking at this graph, it struck me that a histogram showing how often each number came up would be interesting, so I quickly added some code to the script to generate one:

Well, I was right that it turned out rather interesting! Peaks at two, seven, and ten, but five and nine are both relatively unpopular numbers—huh. I doubt I'll be reaching the heady heights of fifteen again, but I do hope to keep that solitary, single one from getting any higher. A hui hou!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A Little Game of Carcasonne

Over Christmas, while I was back home, I played a game of Carcasonne with my brothers. (If you're not familiar with Carcasonne, it's a tile-laying game where you lay out fields and roads and cities and staff them with people in order to score points.) Just for fun, I set up my camera and took a picture of each turn, then strung them together into a stop-motion animation. (I learned a few things about my video editor, Kdenlive, in the process, and I'm quite impressed with its capabilities.)

I've wanted to do something like this for years (I remember trying it back in my late teens), but I didn't really have the video editing chops to make it work until recently. Hope you enjoy it! A hui hou!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Observations on the Dietary Habits of the Common Gold Dust Day Gecko

Today I learned, much to my amazement, that gold dust day geckos (a species originally from Madagascar, now established in Hawaii) like pecans.

Let me back up: yesterday I noticed a rather fearless member of the species Phelsuma laticauda hanging around my computer desk: it crawled down the side of my right monitor and decided to hang out in the lower-right-hand corner of the screen. I had a little fun getting it to try to bite my cursor, but unlike last time it didn't seem disposed to leave so after a while I got bored and left it alone, and it wandered off on its own after a few minutes.

Today what I presume to be the same gecko showed up again, as it took up exactly the same position on my screen for a minute or two before crawling all the way across both monitors to the other side of my desk, jumping down, and homing in on a Ziploc bag of caramel-and-pecan turtles from a family friend that I brought back from my Christmas trip. It started nosing at the bag and showing an obvious interest in the contents, so when it moved away after half a minute or so of unsuccessful nosing I took a small piece of pecan out and laid it on a card nearby.

Soon enough, the inquisitive gecko came over and started licking the pecan, which is what I've seen geckos do with food in the past. I started taking a small video as it was quite fun to watch its obvious enjoyment of a treat it almost certainly had never had before, when to my astonishment it grabbed the pecan in its mouth and attempted to break a chunk off.

I then crumbled another piece into smaller, gecko-bite-sized chunks and placed a few down, and it proceeded to eat several over a period of perhaps ten minutes before getting full and wandering off again.

Going for some of the smaller pieces…

Just tell me that isn't a happy lizard.
I'm rather interested in this, as I've never heard of these geckos (or any geckos for that matter) eating nuts. I'm fairly certain that pecans are not native to Madagascar, so I can't imagine this gecko had ever seen one before. Wikipedia lists their diet as “various insects and other invertebrates, other smaller lizards, soft, sweet fruit, pollen, and nectar from flowers.” Which doesn't rule out nuts, of course, but doesn't exactly suggest it either. All very interesting. A hui hou!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A Travel Comedy, in One Act

Scene 1
A small house a few days before Christmas. Protagonist, a young man in his twenties, is seen packing for a trip. He picks up a laptop, and, after thoughtfully considering it for a few seconds, purposefully removes the battery and leaves it behind as he packs the laptop into a backpack.

Scene 2
The Hilo airport, later that day. Protagonist is seen passing through the security checkpoint without incident, other than forgetting to empty his water bottle and needing to go through security a second time.

Scene 3
The San Francisco airport, New Year's Eve. Protagonist is seen passing through security entirely without incident this time.

Scene 4
The Honolulu airport, later the same day. Due to an oversight and changing airlines, protagonist is seen picking up his luggage from the baggage claim and re-entering the security line.

This time, the battery-less laptop seems to be causing some perplexity among security staff, several of whom are clustered around the X-ray machine. Protagonist goes through the metal detector, then stands waiting for his effects to come down the conveyor belt. Several long awkward minutes follow, as other prospective passengers begin to line up after him, likewise waiting for the arrested progress of their assorted impedimenta to resume.

After a few minutes one of the agents clustered around the monitor comes over and brusquely asks the protagonist if he often makes a habit of going around removing batteries from laptops. The protagonist's patient explanation that the battery had been dead for years and its removal was purely a matter of carrying less weight on his back does not seem to comfort the gathered agents—now numbering at least five—who after poking, prodding, and opening the lid of the laptop decide to send it back through the X-ray machine for a second run. (Protagonist is seen, meanwhile, surreptitiously inspecting the X-ray image of his laptop visible on a monitor with great interest.)

Finally, after another round through the X-ray machine, the laptop seems to have allayed the agents' suspicions, and is returned to the protagonist by an agent who curtly informs him that he can continue, which he somehow manages to do without betraying a hint of amusement.