Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Sometime soon I'll have a looking ahead to 2009 type post, but suffice to say I'll probably try to post here more often. And hopefully graduate n stuff.
As for 2008, it had its ups and downs and at this point my general feeling is 'meh'. So 2009 should be better, I hope.
And the 2008 leap second was pretty anticlimactic.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Monday, December 22, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
I'm pretty sure that Lizard People actually won this election.
Friday, December 12, 2008
- This justifies all the time I spent playing Major League Baseball MVP '05 these past few years. And FIFA '06 all day today. If it's what pro teams do, clearly I'm not THAT lazy.
- The Washington Post has a nice article about Leung Kwok Hung/Long Hair. Interesting read, meant more for the average US reader that doesn't know who he is.
- I'm afraid that Grad School will inevitably reduce me to writing things like this. I really don't want to go crazy.
- Finally, proof that Governor Rod Blagojevich is in fact a Lego Guy. This explains a lot.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
It's an Open Cluster of stars. This past quarter, my group for my Observational Astrophysics class set out to figure out how far away from us the cluster was and how old the cluster was. We found that the cluster was 894 Parsecs, or 2915 lightyears away and somewhere between 400 million and 3 billion years old. Accepted values say that the cluster is somewhere between 3000 and 7000 lightyears away and more like 30 million years old, so obviously we were off by a little bit. Still, it was an interesting experience. I can't get the pdf uploaded, but basically here's what we did:
First, we got lots of data. We used a CCD camera with multiple filters, which meant we gwere able to take pictures with different wavelengths of light. The picture above was taken with a red filter. Some of the data we got was of Landolt Standard stars, which are stars which have a known magnitude in a variety of wavelengths. From here we were able to get factors which allowed us to calculate the actual magnitudes of the stars in the cluster in various wavelengths. From there, we made a Color-Magnitude Diagram, with the magnitude in the Visual minus the magnitude in the Red on the x-axis and the magnitude in the Visual on the y-axis.
Ordinarily, a Color-Magnitude diagram looks a little like this:
See that nice pattern of stars in the middle? That's the main sequence. Here's our graph:
Notice the complete lack of any sort of pattern like the main sequence. However, we were able to calculate a theoretical main sequence based on Absolute Magnitudes, which is the magnitude of each star if it were located at a distance of 10 parsecs. That graph looked like this:
That line of pinkish dots is what our data should look like. The distance to the cluster should be the distance between the line of the blue data points and the pink theoretical main sequence. That's how we got our distance of 894 Parsecs.
To get the distance, we just found the theoretically youngest star in the cluster, based on its color, and therefore spectral type. That explains why our estimate was way off--the published estimates simply found another star as the youngest in the cluster--a star we didn't observe.
So yeah. That's what I spent a large amount of time this last quarter, and about 10 hours Monday night, doing. It was complicated and annoying, but that's what we got. Astro is fun.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
I've used Megabus several times in the past, and for the most part haven't had any complaints. Indeed, the cost of the trip I took yesterday was a whopping $10, plus a 50 cent booking fee. Unfortunately, in this case, it appears I got what I paid for.
I left my room at approximately 1pm, and made it to the downtown Chicago megabus stop by 2:30. Since the bus was scheduled to leave at 3, and there was a bus labelled "Minneapolis" I figured I'd line up next to it and hopefully be one of the first people on. Unfortunately, at 2:45, this bus left without any people on it. Figuring that another bus would show up soon, and not realizing quite how cold it was yet, I waited around on the sidewalk and didn't take advantage of the "warming bus", which sat idling with the heat on for people to wait in (this struck me as a huge waste of gas and source of pollution and carbon emissions, but I'm not going to get into that).
About 3:10, I started wondering where the bus was, and getting a bit cold. Another important detail I've left out till now is that it was raining and I was wet. So yeah, not that pleasant. About 3:15, buses headed for Cleveland and Cincinnati showed up, but nothing for Minneapolis. My bus didn't show up until 3:25, once these two buses had loaded and left. I was among the first on the bus and lucky enough to snag two seats to myself, which made things a lot more comfortable. The bus driver put in a crappy Sandra Bullock movie and I settled in for what I thought would be a long but not too difficult trip.
At this point it's worth noting that the trip on the route we took should take about 7 hours and 15 minutes; the bus company allotted 8:15, allowing for stops and traffic and nonsuch.
About midway through the movie, I notice that we're on side streets instead of the interstate. In short order, though, we pass over the freeway, which is backed up with traffic. I figure that we're just trying to make decent time and avoid the traffic. Then we stop at a gas station for a few minutes before continuing on.
As the movie finishes, we pull into another gas station what seems like a small to medium sized town. Since we've been on the road for about 2 hours at this point, I figure we're somewhere in southern Wisconsin on the outskirts of Milwaukee. The bus driver announces that his windshield keeps fogging up and he can't see, so we'll have to wait here for another bus, which will arrive in 'a few minutes'. At this point, the Finding Nemo dvd is popped into the dvd player.
After sitting around listening to the annoying audio on the Nemo menu a few times through, I decide to go into the gas station to get a snack. The gas station maybe 100 square feet; we can barely fit 6 people in there. At that point I notice that the ATM says we're located in Northfield, IL. I assume at this point that we're in extremely northern Illinois, probably just south of the Wisconsin border.
That's not true, though. Northfield, IL, is located basically as far north as Winnetka, and is a whopping 8 miles from where I started my journey.
I get back on the bus to find the Finding Nemo dvd menu audio still playing over and over again; after another 5 minutes of this, somebody mercifully replaces Finding Nemo with An American Tail, which is the heartwarming story of a mouse named Fievel Mouskewitz, who would later go on to star in Fievel Goes West. Fievel's family, a group of inexplicably Jewish Russian mice, decides to emigrate to America, where (and this point was driven home my a very repetitive song) a) there are no cats and b) the streets are paved with cheese. Unfortunately, Fievel gets separated from his parents and searches the streets of New York City for them, getting into all kinds of mischief.
Because it's a Disney movie, I assume Fievel finds his family in the end. I don't know for sure (it's been about 15 years since I last watched the movie) because our second bus finally showed up before the movie ended. After moving all of my stuff over to the new bus, I was ready for the rest of the trip, and pretty sure that we could make decent time. At this point, it was about 7:30.
At 9pm, when pulled into Milwaukee (for those keeping score at home, that's 6 hours after we were scheduled to leave Chicago), I was ready to give up on the idea of getting home anytime before Christmas. Between getting on the new bus and arriving in Milwaukee, we watched a crappy Owen Wilson movie in its entirety.
After Milwaukee, we finally started making decent time. We ended up making only one more stop, theoretically for dinner, but the place we stopped had all of its restaurants closed down and I basically just ate candy. For the rest of the way, we watched Mighty Ducks, Superman and the first half of An American Tail (again!).
At 3am, we finally arrived in Minneapolis. And, naturally, the door to the luggage compartment was locked, the driver didn't have the key and someone had to climb in a smaller door and throw bags out one by one.
So that's the story of what I did yesterday. It was tons of fun. And I'm done complaining now.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Of course, my thanksgiving dinner that year didn't involve pumpkin pie or turkey, but instead some not so great Thai food at a hotel in Bangkok. But whatever.
Thanksgiving originated in the 1600s, when the “Pilgrims” arrived in America on the Mayflower. The “Pilgrims” were a group of seperatists facing religious persecution in Europe, so they came to America to persecute the Native Americans.
However, a Native American named Squanto brought them food when they were hungry and taught them many valuable lessons, such as how to sing with all the voices of the mountain, paint with all the colors of the wind and play American Football.
Only one of these skills has been passed on to the present day. American Football is a game where two teams composed of rather large humans collide, and throw a ball around. After every play, or “down”, there is a pause for a 5-minute commercial break. Watching, and playing, American Football is a common Thanksgiving activity.
On a side note, there are some American Football teams that are, quite simply, the root of all evil. Not to mention the Green Bay Packers by name, but, well, they are the root of all evil.
Thanksgiving also gives us opportunities to eat all kinds of foods that we do not normally eat, such as turkey. Turkeys are large birds (not unsimilar to American Football players) that run around waiting to be eaten by Americans on Thanksgiving.
Oftentimes, turkeys are accompanied by “Stuffing”, a substance with roughly the same texture and appearance as vomit, and gravy, which is stuffing with a little extra water.
Cranberries are another popular item at Thanksgiving dinners. Unfortunately, nobody is really sure where they come from, although there are some who claim that they are really small aliens trying to take over the world.
Perhaps the only thing that we eat at Thanksgiving that I would recommend eating all year long is Pumpkin Pie. Pumpkin Pie, with the right amount of whipped cream, can be a perfect addition to any holiday meal, its mouthwatering taste can haunt people for months, and some, including me, wait all year for November, pumpkin pie season…pumpkin pie…pumpkin pie…
Besides all the wonderful food, Thanksgiving is a time of reflection, prayer, and, well, thankfulness. I hope everyone (or at least as many of you as possible) will reflect and be thankful we have such good excuses to eat as much food as possible. Oh, and also that we aren’t Packers fans.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
I guess hopefully this will become a place where I can write random things about stuff I find interesting. Expect updates about politics, Space Elevators, the Minnesota Twins, Hong Kong and whatever the heck else I feel like putting in. We'll see how it goes. But for now, consider today day 1.