Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Google Sky and Astronomy for the Masses

So some lady just called me looking for the Political Science department .... I told her that I am in the Astronomy department, not Political Science. So she asked me if I believe the universe is expanding. Yes ... "That's because of the redshifts, right?" Yeah ... "So who owns the Hubble telescope?" Uh ... "The US Government owns the Hubble telescope, right?" Well, I wouldn't put it quite like that. "The French government doesn't operate it, so it must be the US." Does that really follow? "Astronomy is a science, right? What's the phone number of the chair of the science department?" Uhm ... It's 6pm... I don't think anyone is going to be in their offices right now.

Sigh. I clearly need more practice talking to crazy people while still allowing them to remain "interested" in astronomy, though this one seemed rather well-informed, albeit with big warning bells going off all over the place. In other news, Google announced today that the Sky is now part of the Earth, in that Google Sky is now part of Google Earth. This was enough of an incentive for me to finally download Google Earth and waste lots of time looking at pretty galaxies and galaxy clusters and nebulae and other such fun things. Constellations and planet orbits are included. Much like Google Earth, Google Sky is much more in the hokey fun category than the useful category, and unfortunately the objects I'm prone to looking at first are the ones I know well enough to be annoyed at how poor some of the data is. The entire sky has been mapped by the Digital Sky Survey (DSS), and a fourth of it by the more recent and absolutely fantastic Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). The Sloan images include all of the delightful astrometric precision of SDSS, as well as all five wavelength bands of the survey. Then, for the popular select few objects, the Hubble Heritage project has kicked in with "informative" blurbs about "zoom lenses" (also known as "the Virgo Cluster") and other such things, though one useful bit about these is the links to outside sources like ADS for said objects. The Hubble Heritage project by itself is a pretty interesting archive to nose around in if you haven't already, as well as the recently released Hubble Legacy Archive (which is actually good for scientific purposes).

Sunday, August 19, 2007

I Guess It's Official

Seeing as how I no longer live next to a set of rather active railroad tracks, I've gone and changed my Blogger profile to reflect the now official move to a better, less undergrad-saturated area of town. The old apartment wasn't all that bad; the only noise problem was due to the people upstairs, and their 3:30a.m. trysts had cut into my sleep one too many times. And the bathtub was horribly disgusting, as it was shaped such that the lowest point was in the center of the tub rather than at the drain. The front door could never be open for more time than it took for one or two people to go through it due to a nasty fly problem, and the laundry room was three times as far away as the railroad tracks and down a flight of stairs. So it was time to get out, but I hate hate hate moving: I hate putting stuff into boxes, I hate taking stuff out of boxes, I hate standing in the middle of a room with some random thing in my hand wondering where it should go, and I hate having stuff everywhere. I've taken several half days and three full days off (and it would have been many more and would have been a lot more painful had my mother not decided to drive up and help), and I'm completely ready to get back to thinking about astronomy instead of where the permanent location of the box of stuff will be. And, now that I've got internet at the New Place, I might even start blogging more than once a week.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Box of Stuff

When I was little, I had a "game" box that I kept neat things in: stickers, neat shells (small ones), odd game pieces, a multicolored crayon that I never used because I didn't want to waste it. I mostly used the objects in this box to design games around; of course, one important rule in all of these games was that I could always add new rules, and therefore always win.

I'm moving to a new apartment this week, and as such everything in my apartment is finding its way into boxes. This afternoon, I went through the Box of Stuff that has been sitting relatively ignored in the corner of my bedroom since I moved here two years ago. It's called the Box of Stuff, by the way, because everything in it originally came from the Drawer of Stuff back when I was living in a dorm. I figured a Box of Stuff I have barely touched in two years is probably full of stuff that can happily make its way to the trashcan, but boy was I wrong. This Box is like a treasure trove.

I found seven boxes of matches, two boxes of sparklers, several candles (one of which smelled kind of funky), and a small thing of green glitter I bought for about ten cents in Taiwan (I think). There was also a dozen matchbox cars and a mostly used tube of super glue, from back when I spent hours trying to glue matchbox cars to the ceiling of my dorm room freshman year—turns out getting super glue to stay where you want it on wheels that turn, and then getting the wheels to stay where you want them, is more difficult than it had seemed at first thought, and so the plan of having a city on my ceiling never really panned out. The Box of Stuff also revealed a box of 100 poker chips, five six-sided dice (in an unopened box), about eight decks of cards including one unopened one with the kings and queens of England on it from when I visited the UK when I was ten. I was delighted to find a can of silly string, a leftover remnant of the first year I ran HMMT and got to pick out all of the prizes; there was also an HMMT frisbee. There was also a leaf of Lothlorien (a clasp like the ones in the movies), a long roll of Caution tape (borrowed from some place), a long roll of CAUTION INFINITE BUFFET (caution) tape, a thing of Magic Grow Safari Animals, an Exacto knife, a surprisingly large collection of paint (about 10 different colors, also from when I was attacking the ceiling and door of my freshman dorm room). I found (and threw away) two large road reflectors (one yellow and one blue); these were from when my dad was going through a phase of collecting road reflectors of all colors and giving them to friends. (My mother claims he wanted to give them to all of this friends so that they could each bring one to his funeral, but since he's stopped, it must mean he thinks he isn't going to die, or else he's gotten distracted by something else shiny.) The Box further revealed a large collection of Mardi Gras beads, several pocket tools with belt holsters, twine (off-white, yellow, and neon orange), and a box of the most excellent colored chalk you can imagine.

Hopefully my next generation of treasure collecting won't be in the form of Horcruxes... What's in your box of stuff?

Monday, August 06, 2007

France, circa 2004

Well, I apparently haven't felt like blogging lately, but since I see other people are giving me credit for it, I figure I might as well share this little gem with you:
I can't remember who sent this to a francophile mailing list I was on at the time, but the timestamp on the image is December 2004, back when "freedom fries" were still all the rage. (And, by the way, FFE: I have a vague idea just how much clicking it must have taken you to find this image. Man you must have been bored.)

UPDATE: According to this Digg post (from 12/2006), the company is Tom Bihn designs, but I can't confirm this. Anyone?