Sunday, October 10, 2021

Pandemic! Earthquakes! Thesis submission!

It's been a long time coming—four years and one very long week, to be exact—but today I finally, finally submitted my thesis. It's an odd feeling, now, having...free time again. I've been living with the sword of Damocles over my head for so long at this point that I've forgotten what it's like to not have something I should be doing at the back of my mind every waking moment. It's a pleasant feeling.

To be fair, two years—almost a full half of my thesis—was spent in a (hopefully) once-in-a-century pandemic. It's hard to tell if that contributed to the delay (remember, this was originally supposed to be a 3 or 3.5 year program), but it certainly didn't make that extra time very fun. I'm incredibly thankful I've been able to move back to Hilo, because I'm honestly not sure I could face moving somewhere new with all the additional stresses of moving during the pandemic. (Like needing to get a negative COVID-19 test both to fly back to California, and to fly to Hawaii, and the extra hassle and stress that came with that.)

This last week in particular has been pretty brutal. Most of that is the stressful-but-ultimately-mundane work of endlessly writing, editing, re-writing, addressing comments, writing, surprise updating thesis \(\LaTeX\) template, and, you guessed it, more writing that I'm guessing accompanies the race to the finish for every graduate student. Part of it was realizing on Thursday that I needed to update the official title of my thesis on record with Swinburne (untouched since I scribbled something down in my admission paperwork four years ago, before I'd even settled on a project). Another part was realizing on Friday (Saturday in Australia) that I didn't have access to a critical Turnitin module on Swinburne's online student management system, which provides a report that must be included at submission time. Yes, this module is critical for students to actually submit their theses. No, I don't know why it isn't enabled for default for all graduate students (I wasn't the only student it'd happened to, I learned). It worked out, at least, in the end. However, I also had a few slightly less...usual things to contend with this week. (To set the stage, I should briefly mention that Gemini has very graciously set me up with a rental car and a temporary apartment for the first month I'm here, while I'm finding more permanent forms of both for myself.)

  1. Sunday I went back to back to the church I attended before leaving Hilo (where I had a very warm welcome back), then afterwards went grocery shopping. When I came out, my rental car wouldn't start due to a dead battery. I was able to call roadside assistance, and they got someone over to give me a jump after about an hour and a half. I once drained the battery on the car I had when I lived here before, so like that time I went for a long drive to charge the battery up figuring that would be the end of the matter. (It wasn't.)
  2. Tuesday I felt a little earthquake as I was sitting in my sixth-floor apartment, just strong enough that I wasn't entirely sure it'd even been an earthquake. (It was magnitude-4.6, officially.)  I only remember feeling two earthquakes in the eight years I lived in Hilo before (and none in Melbourne, though I actually missed out on a magnitude-5.9 earthquake that rattled Victoria less than a week after I left) so this was an interesting event. (And, like the car problem, I thought that was the last of it...)
  3. Friday I went for a quick pre-breakfast shopping trip to Target, and my car battery died again in the parking lot. This time—I kid you not—it took over six hours before I was able to get someone to come by for the 30-second job of getting a jump start. Thankfully in the meantime I'd talked to my contact at Gemini and they'd talked to the rental car company, so as soon as I had a working car again I high-tailed it up the road to the airport and got it exchanged for one without a dud battery. This wasn't a particularly pleasant experience on its own, but I also had the added "fun" of losing six hours of prime working time two days before my thesis was due for submission. (At least the new car—SUV, actually—is nice, and working so far.)
  4. Finally, today, Sunday again, we had another earthquake, meaning I've now felt as many in the last fortnight since arriving in Hilo as I did in eight years previously. This one was a lot bigger, at magnitude-6.2, though at least the epicenter was off the southern coast of the island and about a  hundred miles away. That didn't stop my sixth-floor apartment from swaying alarmingly for a few seconds, though! I haven't heard any reports of damage or injuries, thankfully, but I'm definitely looking forward to having an abode back on the ground again; I don't mind earthquakes half as much when I'm not vividly thinking about how just how high up in the air I am.
However, at the end, after a gruelling week of writing to the point where I could barely put two concepts together in a coherent fashion anymore, my thesis is submitted. I'm free. Well, until tomorrow morning, when I start my new job with Gemini, but hopefully that'll be a bit less demanding. The beauty of a normal job is that when you're off the clock, you're actually off the clock. And with that, I should wrap this post up. Perhaps I'll have some more happy things to blog about before too long! A hui hou!

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

In Hilo!

 It's been four long years, and a circuitous route to get here, but I'm finally back in Hilo!

I arrived yesterday, on Tuesday, after a bit more excitement than I prefer in my traveling when I missed my original flight on Monday. (It was a combination of unexpected slowdowns in Bay Area traffic and the fast pre-flight COVID-19 check needed to avoid quarantine in Hawaii taking longer than advertised online; either alone would probably still have been surmountable, but together they torpedoed my chance of making my flight. Thankfully I was able to reschedule for almost the exact same flights the next day.) Yesterday was overcast with intermittent showers, but this morning dawned bright and clear as you can see in the photo above (at least over the island, it was pretty cloudy off to the east). I'm temporarily in the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel, right next to Moku Ola or Coconut Island, so I popped down to take a look before breakfast and was greeted by the ever-breathtaking sight above of Mauna Loa, Maunakea, and Hilo nested between them all around the bay.

I've got plenty to do now that I'm finally here before I start my new job with Gemini in a week and a half (finding a car and a place to live, finishing and submitting my thesis, etc.), but it feels...relaxed. Non-stressful. I even saw that just today Kīlauea's started erupting again in Halemaʻumaʻu crater, so who knows, there might be some interesting volcanic activity to investigate soon! For now, however, I'm feeling the effects of jetlag, so I'll keep this short. A hui hou! I mua!

Saturday, September 18, 2021

In transit

As foretold in my previous post, I'm currently cooling my heels in a hotel next to Sydney airport, from whence I'll depart tomorrow on the second leg of my journey back to the US. Thankfully, everything's been going smoothly so far, which is saying something in a global pandemic. I got my second COVID-19 shot on Thursday, then a travel test so I can get on an airplane to enter the US. Friday was a helter-skelter race to get everything I'm bringing with me packed so that I could hand everything else off to the movers (who were really efficient, by the way, taking just about an hour and a quarter to get everything packed up and loaded). Then I spent the night with friends, got a ride to the airport bright and early, and flew out of Melbourne at 6:30am. (I've seen some less-than-busy airports in my time, but Melbourne airport at 5:30am during a global pandemic takes the cake.)

View looking out over Sydney airport from 6 stories up.
Here's the view from the hotel Gemini put me up in, looking out over the Sydney airport.

I could think of several things to say here, reflecting on my just-shy-of-four-years in Australia, but I'm rather tired from sleeping poorly the past two nights, so I'll leave this post short. Hopefully I'll have time and energy to get something more substantial up in the next week or so. A hui hou!

Friday, September 10, 2021

An idealized Australian afternoon

As of today, it's one week until I fly out of Melbourne. Seven days from now at this time, assuming everything goes swimmingly, I'll be in Sydney, followed—at some point afterward which times zones and the International Date Line make more confusing to calculate than I feel like doing at the moment—by being back in California to visit my family for a week, before flying on to Hilo. This next week is going to be a whirlwind of activity as I get everything ready to move.

For today, however, I wanted to share a painting—well, two paintings—which I'll be mailing to my grandparents this week as a souvenir. I've been informally calling this the “Grandparental Diptych,” but let's go with “Australian Afternoon” as a formal title. I'm almost certainly not going to have time to paint this week, so these'll be the last paintings I finish here in Australia.

“Australian Afternoon,” 60×15 cm, acrylic on canvas.

It's an idealized Australian landscape rather than a specific place, with a few eucalyptus trees in the foreground (and a few Australian animals in them). To represent the hundreds of species of eucalyptus trees in Australia, I painted all three trees with different techniques for the leaves and different combinations of colors make them unique (though trees in general and eucalyptus in particular are still something I could use a lot of practice on!). I've discovered I really like doing these multi-panel pieces, such as to explore more extreme aspect ratios than you would normally find, like the 4:1 ratio here. I've got a few ideas for future works utilizing such techniques squirreled away in the back of my mind, though I'll probably have to put any painting on hold for a few months while my art supplies make their way across the Pacific.

I thought for this work it'd be interesting to try to create two pieces which could each stand on their own as an independent composition, but also work combined as you see here. I'm not entirely sure how well either aim worked out, but it was an interesting learning experience all the same—I certainly still have much to learn about composition! Anyway, time to get back to the million and one things to do before I leave. A hui hou!

Monday, August 30, 2021

Happy 30th birthday, Linux!

I'm a few days late for this (much like the last time, five years ago), but it was Linux's 30th birthday this past week! I've been using Linux for a bit over seven years now, though back in 2010 when I was first getting introduced to it I didn't like it very much. Still, just a few short years later and I was installing it on my new custom-built gaming desktop…which I'm still using today, though I'll have to say good-bye to it for a few months in just under three weeks while it's being shipped.

What brought me around to Linux in a few years after such a negative initial impression? I've mentioned parts of it before, and this will not be a comprehensive list, but here's a few things:

  1. Native package manager. The ability to install software with a simple sudo apt-get install is magical and so refreshing after manually downloading installers on Windows and macOS. Being able to update everything with a couple of commands is also amazing after having to manually check each thing I wanted to update and downloading a new version of it. I'll never be able to go back to an OS that doesn't have a package manager again.
  2. I feel like I rave about this frequently, but the second automatic clipboard that copies text you highlight automatically and pastes is on middle-mouse-click is so, so handy. I now get actively annoyed every time I try to use it on another operating system and discover it's not available. (macOS almost has a “worst-of-both-worlds” thing going on, where it is available…but only in the terminal, nowhere else.)
  3. General stability. Crashes are incredibly rare (certainly much more so than with Windows or macOS), and I almost never need to restart my computer. System upgrades happen in the background, with graphics driver updates being pretty much the only reason to restart (and even then I could get around it by restarting the graphical evnironment, it's just less work to restart.) Updates happen when I want them to, and I never have to worry about the things I've heard about Windows 10 choosing to update and restart at the worst possible times for people. Linux comes with more responsibility to manage my own upgrades, but also more freedom to do so. And that's really the biggest draw, though it can be hard to convey: the freedom Linux gives, freedom from corporations intent on getting more money out of you, freedom to set up your computer the way you want, for it to actually be your computer.
  4. Lots of other little convenience and quality-of-life things that I can't think of now, but notice the absence of acutely when using other operating systems.
One of the downsides of choosing Linux back in 2014 was the comparatively limited number of games that'd run on it, at least easily (though still in the low hundreds, even at that point). While you could try using Wine to run Windows software, including games, it definitely wasn't an intuitive or simple process. What I couldn't have foreseen back then was Valve incorporating Wine into Steam via a fork called Proton a few years later, making it trivial to attempt to run a game without a Linux version through Steam. That doesn't mean it'll always work at the moment, but I've been able to play quite a number of games that would otherwise have been unplayable. Valve are also promising that every game will “just work” with Proton come December when the Steam Deck launches, and while I remain a bit skeptical they'll be able to get 100% compatibility any increase they can pull off will be nice. If Valve stopped working on Proton today I'd still have thousands of games available to me, besides all the ones that are providing Linux versions. Basically, I feel like my jump to Linux was unintentionally timed pretty well, and it's looking positive for the future. Here's to the next 30 years of Linux! A hui hou!

Friday, August 27, 2021

Immunization update the first

Yesterday I was finally able to get my first COVID-19 vaccination shot! And yes, that probably sounds strange to my fellow Americans who've been able to get one for months now, but it's been a lot slower here in Australia. The government last year went big on AstraZeneca (which could be produced locally) with a smaller amount of Pfizer, only to run into a problem of not having nearly enough supply to vaccinate everyone in a reasonable time frame. (Two months ago, when something like 60% of Americans had received at least one dose, the rate for Australia was around 12%.)

To make matters worse, the AstraZeneca vaccine was discovered to have some extremely rare but serious blood-clotting side-effects, to the tune of 1–2 deaths per million recipients. There's always a risk with any vaccine, of course, but the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation declined to recommend it for people under some age limit, I think 50 or 60. So despite there actually being a decent (if still insufficient) supply of AstraZeneca shots, the perception developed that it was inferior to Pfizer, leading to a lot of people (even those above the age limit) putting off being vaccinated until they could get a Pfizer shot. And the much more limited Pfizer supply was initially going to more high-priority people like health workers (partly since it only had a 3-week cadence for both shots instead of AstraZeneca's 6 weeks so people could get fully immunized faster).

I wasn't eligible for a shot at all until the premier of Victoria announced AstraZeneca as being available to under-40s a few weeks ago (only took 6 lockdowns!). Though interestingly I seem to have unintentionally gamed the system: last week I signed up for an appointment for an AstraZeneca shot under the logic that even a single shot before I flew out was better than nothing, with an intention of getting a second shot in the US. This past Monday however it was announced that due to a recent delivery Pfizer was now available to under-40s, though not wanting to be one of the (literal) myriads of people canceling appointments for AstraZeneca in favor of Pfizer I didn't pay it much attention.

When I got to my appointment yesterday, various people kept asking me to my great confusion whether I wanted a Pfizer shot instead of AstraZeneca (at least six or seven times!). I didn't know that the day before it had also been announced that people who'd signed up for AstraZeneca would be offered Pfizer (at least for a short period of time, I'm not sure of the exact details). Anyway, I wasn't aware at the time that Pfizer had a 3-week waiting period, since it's been being delivered at a 6-week cadence (like AstraZeneca) here in Australia to help relieve supply shortages.

I thus figured I'd just get the shot I came for, until I mentioned in response to the nurse's small talk that I was finishing up my PhD and flying back to the US in a few weeks. She immediately mentioned that Pfizer only actually had a 3-week wait instead of 6-weeks like AstraZeneca, and that they could set me up for a second appointment in 3 weeks (which is two days before I fly out!). When I realized I could be fully vaccinated instead of just half, I finally changed my mind and accepted the offer.

So that's how I ended up unintentionally gaming the vaccination system and will be fully vaccinated before flying back to the US next month. I'm still a bit amazed how it worked out, but it's certainly a huge relief. I'm still a bit tired like last night (which I spent feeling like I was either coming down with or recovering from a mild-but-weird cold), so I should end this here and get to bed. A hui hou!

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Terraforming Mars

While I've been here in Australia I was introduced to the board game Terraforming Mars by a friend at one of the student board game nights. It came out in 2016 and has received both a number of awards and five expansions to date. In it, two to five players take on the role of corporations (each with a unique specialty) competing to, well, terraform Mars, accomplished by raising three parameters (global temperature, oxygen level, and oceans). Many actions are accomplished by playing cards, which are randomly drawn throughout the game (and there are literally hundreds with all the expansions); choosing a winning strategy from among the cards you get is a big part of the appeal. I also like it because, while you're competing for points at the end of the game (after Mars has been completely terraformed), there's little direct competition within the game itself other than a few cards that let you steal or remove (small amounts of) resources from other players.

Now while I've enjoyed the board game a lot, I've held off on buying it so far as it's pretty pricey (and bulky) with all the expansions and I'd just have to move it anyway (though it's definitely got a place in my ideal future board game collection). I did, however, buy a digital version of it (which released in 2018) on Steam a few months ago and have been playing a lot of games against the computer. (Though both the board and digital version also have a single-player challenge where you need to terraform Mars in a certain amount of time.)

I've noticed a particular pattern recurring in games, and today I decided to see if I could show its existence. The game takes place over a number of “Generations,” within each of which players take turns performing actions until all players have passed their turn, at which point resource production happens and the next generation starts. Each player can take one action and skip the rest of their turn, two actions, or pass on taking any turns for the remainder of that generation. Actions can be many things, though the most common involve paying for and playing a card. (Many cards also allow you to take certain rare or unique actions once per generation.)

Here's a screen shot during a game in generation 4, though not the one I mention later on, showing the (rather lovely) map along with some of the tiles players have placed on it. On the bottom left you can see the resources in the game: money, steel, titanium, plants, energy, and heat. On the right are the terraforming parameters; oxygen is just over half-way, heat's about a third done, and 3 of 9 ocean tiles have been placed.

Anyway, the pattern I'd noticed is that players tend to take a bunch of actions in the very first generation, but drop off steeply in the second, before climbing back up over the rest of the game. (For reference, a five-player game might be over in seven to nine generations; a two-player game might need twelve to fourteen.) This is because each corporation has an amount of money (and potentially other resources) that it starts the game with, and the Prelude expansion from 2018 also allows players to choose two other bonus cards in the set-up phase. Much of the game is about investing in production which increases over time, but since the average player resource output is still going to be much lower on generation 2 than the initial resources available, the number of actions players can take (which are constrained by costs) generally nosedives on that second generation.

Today I decided to finally quantify this observation by recording the number of actions each player took in each generation and plotting it. I started a game with myself and four medium AI players, and proceeded to take careful notes for the entire game. And here's the results:

I've plotted each player by the color used in the game (I'm green, if you're curious) with the number of actions in a generation on the y-axis, and generation number on the x-axis. We can clearly see that every single player has a drop of one or two actions in the second generation compared to their first generation, which starts to slowly rise again over the next five generations. Cards can have very different costs, which partly explains why players had anywhere from one to seven actions in this game. Interestingly, despite being fairly middle-of-the-pack in actions (and rather distracted), I still won this game, which I suppose demonstrates the importance of quality over quantity of actions.

Here's the same game as in the above screenshot (though not the one in the plot) in generation 7. Here you can see that the terraforming parameters on the right have been raised a bit, and there are some more tiles placed on the board. The player order changes each generation since going first offers some advantages.

Anyway, this was a fun little experiment to verify a pattern I'd seen across a lot of games. I can definitely recommend the board game version of Terraforming Mars, though note that it typically takes several hours to play—it's not difficult, but there can be a lot of things to consider with all the nigh-infinite combinations of cards that players can get, so it definitely requires some free time and concentration. While the digital adaptation is serviceable, and I've been enjoying it, it's a bit limited in comparison, with only the Prelude expansion available despite being out for three years at this point. I'm really hoping that additional expansions get released soon (especially Colonies is fun and adds some interesting choices), so if you're used to playing with the expansions just be aware that they're not available digitally yet. If you're fine with that limitation (and even with just the base game and Prelude there's still a decent amount of stuff), it's a good way to get some practice in playing on your own or to play over the internet with friends. A hui hou!

Saturday, August 7, 2021

If lockdown == 5; lockdown++;

Well, I wasn't expecting to write this post so soon after the last one! We exited lockdown 5.0 here in Melbourne on July 27 as expected, two days after my previous post, but less than two weeks later we're back in lockdown #6. Quite suddenly, too; we had a day of zero cases on Wednesday (I think), then six surprise cases of the Delta variant on Thursday, and by 8:00 PM we were back in lockdown for a week. With good reason, as it turns out today, as there were 29 new cases reported this morning, most (all?) of which were out and about while infectious. That's the largest case number reported for Victoria so far this year, by the way—we haven't had case numbers that high since probably September or October last year. 

For comparison, Sydney, too, had a record-case-number day today, with 319 cases reported, which provides a distressing reminder of where we could be if this outbreak gets out of hand. We're unfortunately still chugging slowly along on vaccinations in Australia (because of low vaccine supply, to clarify, not vaccine hesitancy, at least not yet), and I have no idea if I'll be able to get a shot before I leave.

Speaking of which, I now have flights booked! If everything goes according to plan (a dangerous assumption in a once-in-a-century pandemic, but a necessary one) I'll be flying out of Melbourne on September 19th, spend a week with my family in California (perhaps getting a shot there), then fly into Hilo on the 27th. Which, coincidentally, is exactly four years to the day from when I flew out to go to Australia (and no I didn't actually plan it like that, I only noticed just now).

In the meantime I've started doing a bit of planning for moving, looking at things to toss or otherwise leave behind. Even though I'll be getting my moving expenses paid for I won't actually be bringing all that much stuff with me on this move; basically all my furniture is second-hand graduate-student-on-a-budget quality stuff, nothing of sentimental importance. Plus, it could be a few months before everything gets delivered with the state of shipping right now, so it'll be more practical to just buy anything that I need back in Hawaii. (I will be bringing some of my paintings with me, though I'll also be leaving some here, including the ones hanging in the stairwell at Swinburne.)

Anyway, that's probably enough for this post. Hopefully we'll be back out of lockdown before too long after quashing this latest outbreak and I start clearing out my desk at uni. I'll try to get a few posts out in the intervening weeks even as things get busy, but we'll see how things go. A hui hou!

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Lockdown 5.0

We're currently sitting in Lockdown 5.0 (as I've seen it called) here in Melbourne, and while I've been pretty sanguine about the first four lockdowns, I'm starting to feel the teeniest bit annoyed by this point. For those not in Victoria, a brief history lesson (going from memory, so not super precise):

  1. Lockdown #1 happens in March 2020, and lasts till around the middle of May. This is The First Wave that pretty much the entire country goes through together. (It's much less worse than most of the rest of world, only notching a few thousand cases total and much less than a thousand deaths, country-wide.)
  2. In June 2020, breaches of the hotel quarantine lead to The Second Wave starting in Melbourne (and a bit in the rest of Victoria). Lockdown #2 happens around the end of June, and it's The Big One, lasting until November, with peak case numbers of over 700 per day being reported at its peak (I want to say around late August?). By the time it finishes Victoria has had something like 90% of all cases in the country. It's important to keep in mind that the rest of Australia mostly didn't experience anything like this; New South Wales had the occasional flare up, and I think there might've been a few sub-week lockdowns in South Australia, Queensland, and Western Australia, but for most of the rest of the country there was one wave and that was basically it.
  3. Lockdown #3 happens in February 2021, and it was a pretty short one; I don't remember exactly, but I want to say it was only about a week (comparable to the few that had happened in other states).
  4. Lockdown #4 happens in late May 2021 and was slightly bigger, for perhaps two or three weeks. Unknown to us at the time, it helps sets the stage for the next one, as some Victorians unknowingly bring COVID-19 with them as they flee to Sydney, setting off an minor outbreak there. (The Delta strain shows up in Melbourne for the first time during this lockdown, but luckily the restrictions stamp it out before it can blow up.)
  5. Sydney's dealt with the occasional outbreak over this past year-and-a-half, but they coincidentally get a case of the Delta strain that spreads in the community sometime around when the fourth Melbourne lockdown lets up. This pretty quickly blows up beyond the ability to contain it, triggering what looks to be at this point a Sydney equivalent to Melbourne's second wave, forcing Sydney into its first major lockdown since the first wave back in March 2020.
  6. Unfortunately, some infected movers unknowingly bring some cases of the Delta strain back to Victoria in the early days before New South Wales really locks down, setting off another outbreak in Victoria a scant six weeks or so since the last one finished (Lockdown #5, which started July 16). Thankfully, it looks like the rapid lockdown here in Melbourne has managed to squelch unrestrained growth and it looks like we might be able to exit as planned midnight as Tuesday, as long as the large anti-lockdown/anti-vaccination protests in Melbourne (and Sydney, Adelaide, and Brisbane) over the weekend don't trigger too many new cases. (Sydney's likely to be hit pretty hard by this given that they keep finding people who've been out and about while infectious and they had several thousand people in a protest that got a bit out of hand, but we probably won't find out for a week or more.)

Now, the first two (Melbournian) lockdowns were last year, before there was any vaccine available. Given Australia's ability to control and quarantine foreign travel, they were an excellent way to eliminate COVID-19 from the population (and repeatedly did so, with new cases only arising from leaks in the quarantines program over time). The February lockdown was still pretty early on in the vaccination roll-out, and excusable for a population still vulnerable. By May it was starting to become evident that there were issues with the pace of the roll-out, with barely a tenth of the population vaccinated. By now, while the lockdown's still the only conscionable tool for handling an outbreak, it's becoming more and more annoying given that only some ~12.5% of the population is vaccinated. (According to the latest numbers I've seen, though it might be a week or two old at this point. It certainly hasn't climbed more than a percentage point or two, however. [Edit 7/22/21: apparently it was up to ~15% the Thursday before this post was written.]) We could be sitting in this lockdown with the feeling that this might be the last one necessary before enough people were protected not to need them anymore, but instead we have no idea when that'll happen; almost certainly not before the end of the year unless something drastically changes.

Part of the problem is the vaccine supply; Australia invested heavily in the AstraZeneca vaccine which could be produced locally, with a small order for additional Pfizer doses, but the doses available right now are nowhere near enough for everyone. AstraZeneca has been linked with (literally) one-in-a-million deaths from blood clotting in young people (under 50 or so, I think), which has resulted in it not being officially recommended for people in that age group…i.e., a very significant chunk of the population. A very constrained vaccine supply, which a large fraction of the populace can't even get without discussion with their physician, has led to this point where just over one in ten people are vaccinated, with the numbers rising glacially slowly each week. Currently, I can't even find a government vaccination site nearby that'll give me an AstraZeneca shot even knowing the risks (and the rare Pfizer doses are being prioritized for older people and essential personnel, I think—at any rate not available to someone under 40!). At this rate I might get vaccinated faster by moving back to the US around October—there's supposed to be a moderately large shipment of Pfizer does arriving in Australia that month which'll be enough to open them up to a larger age range, but that'll be too late for me. While I'm generally quite approbative of how Australia handled the pandemic in 2020 (certainly orders of magnitude better than the US did), the vaccine roll-out is a pretty dismal failure by any stretch of the imagination at this point. (Currently, Australia is ranked 38 in the OECD countries on vaccination rate…out of 38. [Edit 7/22/21: we're up to 37 now!])

Anyway, that's where I'm at right now. The reality of moving in around two months is starting to sink in—I've got a video call with a moving company this week to see what I'll be bringing, and am starting to think about things like “flights” and “travel exemption requests.” I'm also still working furiously to finish up my PhD in the meantime, so it's going to be a wild ride to the finish line in the next few months here. A hui hou!

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

A topsy-turvy week

It's been something of an up-and-down week this past seven days, or rather, down-and-up. Last Wednesday I learned that my paternal grandmother had suddenly passed away back in Nebraska, possibly due to a blood clot or stroke from a fall a few days earlier. She'd been in good health otherwise, having sent me a birthday card just last month (like every year), so it came out of the blue. I wouldn't say I got to know any of grandparents as well as I'd like to, due to living in either different states or different countries from all of them for practically my entire life, but having been born in Nebraska myself some of my earliest fragmentary memories are from visiting my grandparents' house way out in the country: the scent of baby's breath or dill growing in the gardens, the sound of driving down the long gravel road out of town, the feel of the wind over the Nebraskan prairie. (The same feeling is found thousands of feet up the sides of Maunakea where the wind blows over the same low grass and gently rolling slopes, bringing those memories back unexpectedly.)

There'll be a funeral in a few days which I'l be attending via Zoom—there's virtually no way I could get a travel exemption from the Australian border control (out and back in) on such short notice, and the cost of flights is prohibitive: the absolute lowest were still over $12,000 this close to the event. To be honest, the death of a relative has been something of a nightmare scenario for me ever since both my maternal grandparents came down with COVID-19 about a year ago (they both survived and are doing well, but it was a bit dicey for a while), since getting back to the US (or, more accurately, back into Australia) has been non-trivial since March last year. I guess I can stop worrying about it happening now that it's happened, at least, in the same way the mother of the boy playing ball indoors can stop worrying that her expensive vase might get broken.

To complete the emotional roller coaster this past week, I also received some very welcome news indeed: three weeks ago I had an interview for a position with Gemini Observatories, and yesterday I got (and accepted) a job offer! Gemini Observatories operates two identical telescopes in Hawaii and Chile, and, as the job was for software development and could be done from either location, I indicated my preference for Hilo during the interview and as a result will be heading back there in a very short time, nominally less than three months. I put nearly two months' effort into polishing my résumé and cover letter before applying, and the position sounds like I'm definitely going to enjoy it (as I've come to realize that I really love software development over the past few years), so I was ecstatic to have been selected. And, of course, there's the whole “getting to return to Hilo” bit as well, all the more alluring in the grip of a Melbournian winter. I'll be working on Gemini's Python package for reducing data from Gemini instruments, but I'll have more to say about it in the future as I figure out how that looks in practice.

These next few months are going to be rather busy it looks like: not that they weren't already, as I work furiously to finish up the two papers I'm working on and submit my thesis, but now I'll have moving preparations on top of that. Still, I now also have both some positive motivation and a lack of stress about what I was going to do after wrapping up my PhD, so hopefully I can really buckle down and get things done these next few weeks. That may or may not have an effect on my posting schedule here, but I'll try to keep things going at a low level, at least; there should be no lack of subjects as I prepare, only time! And that's been my roller coaster of a week: somber, a little sad, yet looking forward to the future with a renewed optimism. A hui hou!