Saturday, February 17, 2024

High surf days in Hilo

In February of last year, I don't think I saw the Sun for the entire month. This year has had nicer weather in comparison, but where last winter saw us receiving torrential rain, this year's theme has been “high winds.” I'm not sure of the exact number, but we've lost probably in the range of a week or two of observing nights due to winds exceeding 50 mph on the summit over the course of January and February to date. While the winds don't get that high in Hilo (outside of hurricanes), they've definitely been noticeably stronger on numerous days this past month.

One effect of that has been a lot of high surf warnings, and that led me on the 2nd to fly my drone out to the Hilo bay breakwater to capture the waves rolling over it majestically one late afternoon. Serendipitously, a hole in the clouds opened to the west, letting the Sun shine in a bit and cast an unusual illumination over the scene. But enough talk, here's the video!

Normally the bay is much more placid (and ‘pacific’), so it's both a shock and a treat to see the waves crashing over the breakwater like that. There's just something about that motion, and the rippling of the sea's surface in general, that I find mesmerizing. Anyway, hope you enjoy the video! A hui hou!

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Air and Space goodies

As part of my trip to Arizona, I visited the Pima Air and Space Museum twice, once as part of the ADASS conference dinner and once with my family. I'd never visited before, so it was pretty neat to see all the various things on display. I took too many photos to share them all, but wanted to share a few highlights:

A reproduction of the original Wright flyer, from the first December 17, 1903 flight.

The Bumblebee, officially the smallest plane ever flown. I'm not sure I'd fit inside, honestly.
SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy, a flying observatory.
As part of the ADASS dinner we got an exclusive tour of SOFIA, which was retired in 2022 after twelve years of operation. (Fun fact: Bill Vacca, SOFIA's head of operations for around twenty years, moved from there to become my current boss at Gemini.) This photo is from my second visit, however, as by the time my group got to visit the interior it was dark outside.

SOFIA interior.

I couldn't get the best photos inside due to the dim lighting, but here you can see the modified interior with the seats for the mission directors. The blue thing in the background is the interior side of the telescope mount, which observed through a hatch cut in the side of the airplane. I believe the intention is to eventually open it to the public, and with ADASS we were basically given a sneak peak.

There were so many more planes that I saw, and even more that I only barely got to see; the number they have on the grounds outside the hangers is truly incredible. If you visit Tucson, the Air and Space Museum is definitely worth a visit – though it's probably worth bringing sun protection if you want to spend time looking at all the planes outside. There really are a lot of them. A hui hou!

Monday, January 1, 2024

New year, new beginnings

I've been sitting on this for a few weeks now, but with the turn of the new year I finally feel up to writing about it. Near the beginning of December, I learned that my three-year contract with Gemini, which ends in October, is not going to be renewed. As usual with me, funding seems to be the issue; I started on a fixed-term contract because that was all that my team could get funding for, with the hope that perhaps it could be extended in the future. The Powers That Be don't seem inclined to fund data reduction for Gemini, however, so as of October I'll have finished my employment there (unless something changes between now and then, of course).

Objectively speaking, I don't think bringing someone in to work on your highly specialized software for three years and then letting them and all their acquired institutional knowledge go is a particularly far-thinking move, but them's the breaks. Personally speaking, I had been hoping to finally be able to work at a job for more than three years, but that remains an accomplishment beyond my grasp. (Graduate school is similar-to-but-not-really a job, though it does remain the longest I've worked at a single place, at four years.)

So, as I write this on the first of January 2024, I have no idea where I'll be or what I'll be doing a year from now. Time to start polishing my résumé and checking the job market again. (I do, at least, appreciate being given a ten-month advance warning.) We'll just have to see where I end up in twelve months. A hui hou!

Friday, December 22, 2023

An Arizona trip highlights video

I'm in the middle of a two-week vacation, which has provided me some much-needed time to rest and recuperate. I can tell I really needed this time off; normally, after two days of rest I've recovered my creative spark, but this time it's taken nearly five days to start to feel like doing much of anything. I say this by way of explanation for why updates have been so sparse around here, and hopefully I'll be able to get around to a few of the many projects I've got tucked away in my brain in the remainder of the year.

For this post, have a little video with some drone footage from my trip to Arizona. I took a motley collection of clips from a variety of locations, and have interwoven them in what seemed like an interesting fashion.

One location that shows up a few times is Cochise Stronghold (named for a famous Apache chieftain who held out and was eventually buried in the area). It's a large rock formation in the Dragoon Mountains, with a hiking path going up to it.

Cochise Stronghold (taken from the air with my Mini 3 Pro).

Another thing which shows up in the video a few times is the migration stop (or overwintering site, I'm not sure which) for sandhill cranes. As seen, there were a lot of them there; they're quite common and not endangered (estimated population in North America in the hundreds of thousands), and didn't seem to be all that bothered by my drone beyond a little unease, so I felt comfortable flying fairly close. It was incredible seeing what must've been thousands together like that; we don't really see anything like that here in Hawaii (or maybe I'm just not looking in the right places!).

A tiny fraction of the sandhill cranes present. They're fairly large birds, think “flamingo-sized.”

Also appearing a few times is the town of Pearce where I stayed. It's intertwined with a golf course built around half a century ago, which ultimately didn't prove successful. (I can only imagine the water bill to keep it green during the summer!) The holes meandered about through the town, and traces of them can still be seen all over the place, including the water hazard now being used as a reservoir for the vineyard seen at about 1:20 in the video.

Anyway, that's all for this post. I still have a few locations where I took enough photos to get another post or two out, but I wanted to get this video out to show off some of the bits and bobs of footage I got. A hui hou!

Friday, December 8, 2023

Happy half-birthday, Halley's comet!

I'm typing this on my lunch break at work so this'll be short, but this week I learned that Halley's comet will reach aphelion, the farthest point in its orbit from the Sun, at 3 PM HST (when this post goes out). At that point it'll be momentarily traveling at its slowest speed (relative to the Sun), a mere 0.91 km/s, or 2,035 mph. After that, it begins the long accelerating fall back in towards the inner Solar System. And yes, aphelion is only a "half-birthday" if you count its "birthday" as being perihelion, but it's as good a time as any and makes for a catchy title, so I went with it.

Halley's comet (or 1P/Halley to give it its official designation, the "P" meaning "periodic" and the "1" meaning it's the first to be recognized as such) is currently far too faint to be observed from Earth with even the largest telescopes, having last been imaged twenty years ago in 2003. (It might be possible to observe with the Hubble or JWST, but no one is looking – there wouldn't be much to learn from it.) Presumably that means it'll take about another twenty years to be imaged again, so look forward to that sometime around 2043, unless the ELT decides to try for it earlier or something.

Having been born three years after its most recent perihelion in 1986 I've never seen Halley's comet myself, but this is a nice reminder that it's still out there, and on its way back in again. Hopefully I'll get to see it at its next perihelion in July 2061! A hui hou!

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Uē ka lani, ola ka honua

I woke up this morning, and was initially confused as to why. It took my sleep-befuddled mind a few seconds to realize it was because my alarm was going off, because it was almost muffled by an equally loud, but initially unfamiliar sound: pouring rain.

This October was the driest October on record in Hawaii, with most of the state in moderate to severe drought and multiple rain gauges around the state breaking records for lowest recorded rainfall. Needless to say it's been quite dry the last several months, so it was with a sense of relief that I woke up to pouring rain this morning from the Kona low hanging out to the west of islands.

With the sudden and steep onset of rain, I took an opportunity to drive up to Waiʻale Falls today. Just after midnight yesterday, the flow was about 12 cubic feet per second. It doubled to about 24 cfps from the first light showers from the approaching system yesterday, then this morning shot up to around 7,950 cfps when I got there to take this photo:

It's always pretty impressive to see the Wailuku in flood. This front also brought the first snow of the season to the mauna peaks, and will hopefully go some way to alleviating the drought. I'm still sorting through photos and videos from my Arizona trip, but I thought I'd celebrate the rains' return in a quick post. Oh, and the post title? It's an ancient Hawaiian proverb, “uē ka lani, ola ka honua”: the heavens weep, the earth lives. A hui hou!

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Visiting Arizona: the Titan Missile Museum

It's been pretty quiet here on the ol’ blog this month, due to me spending the first two weeks in Arizona: first at the ADASS 2023 conference, then a week visiting my parents for an early Thanksgiving. Those were two rather packed weeks, so after a week to decompress I'm finally sifting through the many photos and videos I took at various places; enough for a few posts, at least.

The first place we visited, after I flew in overnight and a day before ADASS started, was the Titan Missile Museum, located twenty minutes' drive outside of Tucson. It's a real Titan II missile bunker, the only one not destroyed as a result of disarmament treaties (though rendered permanently inoperable), and contains a real Titan II missile in its launch silo (though sans warhead, of course). You can walk down a few floors to the underground command station, see the authentic computers still in place, and then walk down a long corridor to see the missile itself.

Here it is, though this is only about half of the it; the rest extends downward further below. You can see how the top of the shaft is half-blocked by the immense door covering it, ensuring this silo is truly disarmed and can't be used.

Remarkably, when I asked about whether there drone restrictions in place, it turned out there weren't. Which allowed me to get this great shot of the entire complex:

You can see the outside of the silo here (what little there is of it above ground), and the half-open door blocked by huge weights. When it was active, it could apparently fully open in just 58 seconds. The glass roof allows looking in at the missile, both for viewers on the ground and – no joke – spy satellites, to ensure the missile doesn't have a functional warhead.

Not sure how they can actually see in, though.
Overall it was a neat experience, one that can recommend. It was also a somewhat sobering experience to hear the guide dispassionately explaining just how quickly these missiles could be launched (58 seconds), with their 9 megaton-TNT-equivalent warheads (large enough to pretty much vaporize 30 square miles). Definitely worth checking out if you're in the Tucson area and enjoy a bit of history! A hui hou!

Monday, October 30, 2023

So I bought a kayak…

Yes, I've gone and done it, and added another to my already-far-too-long list of hobbies: kayaking!
My new kayak, fully assembled.
Much like with drone flying, I got somewhat interested in kayaking while cooped up indoors in lockdown over the (southern-hemisphere) winter of 2020. I'm not sure why; my family doesn't have a particular history of watersports (other than owning a swimming pool as I grew up), and I'm not especially comfortable being in large bodies of water I can't see through (a pool is fine, the ocean not so much). Nor have I traditionally been very attracted by physical exercise, and yet there I was, imagining myself kayaking. Of course, much like with drone flying, I was a poor graduate student at the time without a car or other way to transport a kayak even if I'd had one, so it had to wait a few years until I'd moved back to Hilo. But back in September I took a chance and found myself in possession of a new foldable kayak from a California company called Oru Kayak.

The “foldable” part is important, since this isn't your ordinary solid-body kayak. It's more like a piece of origami, folding into a suitcase-sized pack when not in use, which makes storing it in a small apartment and transporting it in the trunk of my car much easier. Once down at the beach, ten minutes' work transforms it into the watertight seaworthy vessel seen above (and a similar amount of effort converts it back into its conveniently-portable box form).

Anyway, for a variety of reasons (including a two-week stint of back pain) it took me several weeks to get it in the water, but I finally managed it last week! I set off from the beach in Reeds Bay, a small sheltered bay within the broader Hilo Bay where I'd previously had the chance to go kayaking a few times at various picnics or get-togethers. 

View from a little cove in the bay.
For a first outing it was very pleasant – the sun was behind clouds and there was a light breeze over the water that kept things from becoming too hot – until I capsized on my way back from a small trip down the coast (fortunately no more than ~10 meters away). This necessitated swimming my flooded kayak to a conveniently nearby sandy shore and emptying as much water as I could, before re-embarking and making my way back to where I'd launched (and parked the car…). At least the water was a lovely temperature for an impromptu swim! It turned out to be a great learning experience, for lessons like “don't forget your life jacket,” and “attach the dry bag with your car keys securely to something.” (As a side note I know the dry bags I bought work, considering they all spent a good ten minutes in the drink with me!)

Everything drying out after a good rinsing off.
So that was my first foray with my new kayak. Overall I quite enjoyed it, and I look forward to future expeditions (and learning to keep my balance better). I've love to get a video of the process of converting the kayak between its box and boat forms, and maybe bring my GoPro with my on the water. It's interesting finally having some outdoor hobbies, and especially one involving physical exertion and exercise. I could certainly use it, so hopefully I'll have plenty of opportunities to take my boat out into the bay. (Maybe even up the mouth of the Wailuku river? I've seen kayakers do that.) But that's all for this post. A hui hou!

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Checking out the aftermath of the 2022 Mauna Loa eruption

Earlier this month I got up before the Sun and drove up the Mauna Loa access road to where the lava crossed it in its eruption last year to try to get some drone photos. I originally tried back in March when the access road was first re-opened, only to have the wind blowing so hard when I arrived that I had to brace myself with every gust to keep from falling over. Needless to say, no drone flying happened that day!

This particular day, however, had almost perfect conditions, with a mere gentle breeze blowing and crystal clear skies overhead. I got to the end of the road within fifteen minutes of the Sun making an appearance in order to get those long early morning shadows for contrast, as various guides to photography suggest you should do. In retrospect, I'm not sure this worked in my favor in this particular case; with the Sun still low in the sky it meant serious lens flare if I took a photo looking anywhere close to the east, and the vast lava fields didn't really have much in the way of notable topography when seen from afar to make interesting shadows. Still, it was a good learning experience!

Cars for scale.

Here you can see the road, the flow covering it, and where it continues past the flow. There are actually two places the flow crossed the road, and this is the smaller of the two. I flew out along the road further to where the main overflow happened, and I could barely see to the other side of that one; I'd estimate it's at least three times wider.

Here's another shot from upslope, looking across to Maunakea. You can see how the flow really doesn't continue very far below the road there. Also this perspective (and the extreme low angle of Hawaiian shield volcanoes) makes this view a bit misleading: it looks like it's basically flat across to Maunakea, but in reality this point is over 2,500 feet (750 m) above the saddle between them!

While I was there, I tried flying my drone up the slope as far as I could, to see if I could crest the ridge and look over towards Kīlauea. DJI drones have a 500 meter (1,640 ft) limit on how high you can fly above your take-off point, which is specifically for flying up mountains, since legally you can't fly higher than 120 m/400 ft above the ground. I flew as far as I could, but even at 500 m above where I took off the ridge was still higher! At least there was this neat-looking puʻu near where I had to stop, so I took a photo of it (one case where I think the low angle of illumination helped).

Finally, with my last battery, I tried flying down the slope instead. Coincidentally, where the lava crossed the road turns out to be almost directly mauka (upslope) of NASA's “HI-SEAS Analog Habitat,” a small shelter where people come out and stay for months on end simulating missions to Mars. (Interestingly, I know from an article I saw that the place is equipped with the exact same hydroponic garden set-up that I have.) It wasn't too far to reach, and I was able to get the photo above. It's the white dome nestled next to the cool rift vent system in the foreground. (But I couldn't resist getting Maunakea and Haleakalā in the background too! I couldn't get much lower down as I'd have had to fly below my local horizon.)

Overall it was a pretty fun experience, and I'm glad I finally got around to making the trip again (and the dawn chill reminded me to be thankful for the balmy temperatures in Hilo!). I got some video footage too, so I'll have to see if there's enough interesting material to make a video out of. At some point I expect the road will be re-built over (or through) the flows to regain access to the Mauna Loa Observatories where I used to work, at which point I'll probably come up again to check it out. But for now this will serve as a snapshot in time of when the road was closed. A hui hou!

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Life lived in one place

As of today it's been about two years since I moved back to Hawaii from Australia. Together with the nine years I spent in Hawaii before, I've now lived a little over eleven years here. That's now finally (and definitively) longer than the previous longest span of time I lived somewhere, in California (which was about nine and a half years). I was going to write about this last year when I surpassed that record, but I have once again managed to get off-by-one-year in my reckoning of anniversaries. (I suppose summer trips back home during college would've added several months to the California total, so waiting another year is playing it safe.) We'll see if I can manage to beat my record for continuously living in one place someday…though given past events I'll almost certainly remember it a year late if I do.

Anyway, that's about it for this post, just a little rumination on life. My family moved multiple times during my early childhood, so while I've lived in quite a number of places, I've only spent more than five years in just two, California and Hawaii. Hopefully, I'm finally at a point in life where I can minimize the number of future moves I have to make, as after experiencing multiple different climates in my life, I've discovered that “tropical island” suits me juuuust fine. We shall see what the future holds, I suppose. A hui hou!