Monday, January 28, 2008

Do you want to make it BIGGER!!!

Before the lecture I gave today I was searching on google image search for a nice diagram on how telescope magnification worked. On my cursory glancing I couldn't find any that I thought were particularly good, so I decided to use the highly non-intuitive power of Adobe Illustrator to create one myself. My effort can be seen below. Feel free to use this if you think it's good, or send me any comments on how to make it better, as I still have the Illustrator file which can be edited (I can email this to anyone who wants it.) By the way the image of Jupiter isn't mine - I have to credit Cassini for that.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Week in brief

Rather than an extensive post on any one thing that I've done this week this post will just be a brief review:

  • I restarted lecturing a first year astronomy course on Observational Methods. This is a course I first lectured last year, but I've had a bit of a rearrange of the various parts to make it a bit more coherent. I think I'm more confident with the course this year and the lectures have flowed more easily (plus I bought myself a book on Observational Astronomy to help me through), but the students will be the ultimate judge of whether I'm any good.
  • Other than lecturing I've mainly been revising this Living Reviews article on Gravitational Wave Detection by Interferometry (Ground and Space). One of my work colleagues and myself have been given the task of updating it as a fair bit has happened in the world of interferometric gravitational wave detectors since the article was published in 2000.
  • I attended the annual Glasgow Uni Astronomy Society Burns Supper. On a couple of previous years I've had the privilege of giving a speech at this illustrious event (replying from the non-Scot's), but this year I was spared. As always it was a fun evening despite a couple of hitches, and their were a couple of very good speeches by Hazel and Ellie - almost on a par with my own efforts ;) By far the strangest part of the night was nearly bumping into Ann Widdecombe in the GUU where we were having the meal. She was attending some bizarre, and rather disturbing, pro-life meeting there - the presence of which had attracted a fair few protesters, and a police presence, outside the GUU.
  • I had the densest and most meaty (but very tasty) sausages know to man at Blas, in what proved to be one of the most rushed dining out experiences I've ever had.
  • I went to an Australia Day barbeque, proposed by our resident Aussie Siong and held in the outback (out back of Bob and Ellie's flat that is - sorry for the poor, poor joke). Being winter in Scotland, rather than summer in Australia, this was a slightly wet affair. However, we tried to catch the spirit of what it would have been like to be on a hot, sunny beach, drinking from some icey cold tinny's whlst another shrimp was tossed onto the barbie. Even though the wet weather proved our partial downfall, a lot of meat was cooked and eaten and some beers were drunk, and isn't that what being Australian is all about anyway.
  • I partly killed one of the new astronomy grad students PhDs by noticing a paper on astro-ph on pretty much what he was planning on doing. It was a topic that myself and my boss were discussing last year (albeit in a slightly different vein to how it's been used in the above article) and even did the same basic calculations, but obviously we weren't the only ones thinking about it! You've got to be quick off the mark in this game.

That is all!

Monday, January 21, 2008

My marrow's your marrow

Today I decided to get myself on the bone marrow donors register for the Anthony Nolan Trust. It's not something I'd really thought of doing before, but after being told of a sign up in the University of Glasgow med school I thought I'd check out what it was about. It's not as light a decision to make as just giving blood as the procedure to donate bone marrow is quite a bit more complex, invasive and potentially painful. There are two methods to harvest marrow: the first, and most invasive, involves marrow being extracted from your pelvic bone with a big needle whilst under general anesthetic; the second method, which doesn't involve an operation, uses a drug to draw out the blood stem cells from the marrow into the blood stream and then having the blood extracted. While these did require some pause for thought I decided that given what the bone marrow could mean for the recipient it was worth signing up. My blood has been sent away for testing, so I could be a match for someone now, sometime in the future, or I may never be needed.

You may want to consider signing up yourself, but be sure to read over all the information about what it means first, because, as I said, it's not that light a decision to make.

When the music stops

I've not released this information to the internet for fear of the public despair and hysteria it would cause, like when Take That split, but you deserve to know - it's been just over a week since I learned that the band I was in is no more! Corpse Full of Bees is now truly decomposed and Look Up for Danger didn't see the car plowing into them head on. We'd been through a few iterations as a band and it was probably about time to call it a day, but it was rather disappointing nonetheless. The end was partly down to work load commitments for several members, but also a general lack of energy, excitement and, to be fair, fun that has been present since our last gig and band restructuring. We're hoping to conitnue some collaboration in the future with some side projects and expanding on our original material (my lyrical stylings just can't be kept from the public), but I'm thinking of taking thing's in a new direction. One stage, one kit, one drummer, nuff said! I mean who needs guitars, keyboards, vocals, when you got some pumping drum beats! On a serious note I still really want to continue playing (in a band preferably to on my own), so if there's a novice band out there (well in Glasgow at least) that needs a novice drummer I'd like to hear from you. On the other hand I could just wait for a record company to set up a massive million pound stadium tour deal that could herald a triumphant reunion for Look Up for Danger.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


In an effort to point out the obvious if you want to find out more about what's going on at the AAS meeting there are plenty of people blogging away, and you can check out a few via the google blog search. Of the more well known blogger's that are here there's Phil Plait here and Chris Lintott here.

Whether the weather be good

Yesterday I saw on the BBC new website that there had been gale force winds and heavy rain back in central and west Scotland. Here in Austin it's sunny with temperatures in the low 20°s C. Hmmm, where would I rather be at the moment?

6th Street blues

The hotel I'm staying at in Austin is right next to East 6th Street. This street is essentially full of bars and a live music haven and is pretty much the place to be. Now if I was here with my friends this street would be rife for the picking, but unfortunately I'm at this meeting on my own so have not been using the nightlife to its full potential (there're a few people here that I know and will hopefully be going out with them over the next couple of nights.) I could have tagged along for a night with a random group of astronomers, as there are plenty roaming around downtown Austin at the moment, but I'm generally not the sort of person who'll do that. Tonight I did venture out onto 6th street on my own, after a couple of pints with dinner (which was at a rather disappointing Mexican restaurant called Rio Grande, especially when compared to the excellent meal I had at the Moonshine Bar and Grill the night before), and managed to have a good night out. First I went to a bar called Friends where a band was playing that featured an apparent Austin guitar legend Gary Clark Jr.. They were playing covers (I think! - there were at least a couple that I recognised), but entirely in their own style, which involved lengthy rock-bluesy noodling, and I thought they were very good. I was mainly listening to the drumming and, as is now the case, just wanting to play myself. I then moved on to another bar called Darwin's Pub for a final drink (I was on my own so wasn't going to be doing a pub crawl.) In this pub I was tempted by the t-shirts that hung above bar, which I have seen in other bars before, but for the first time I actually decided to buy one. So people that know me will occasionally see me sporting my Darwin's Pub t-shirt and will hopefully be envious. It should go down well back in Scotland as it's main feature is a Lion Rampant.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Astronomy now

So here's my first report back from the first day and a half of the AAS meeting. With these big meeting's I generally find that the plenary session overview talks are most interesting. From these you get a good idea of what's going on in a specific field without having to have any expert knowledge of it. This has been true of this meeting so far with some rather good talks that have informed as well as entertained (well less of the entertained, but at least they kept me interested.) Yesterday started off nicely with a talk on searches for exotrasolar Earth's by James Kasting. It was interested to find out the current status of all the different future searches, for example TPF (the Terrestrial Planet Finder) for which I didn't know that there are two different design proposals (one using a coronagraph to block out the host star's light to enable direct observation of planets orbiting it, and the other using interferometry), and the very ambitious, and potentailly NASA budget breaking SIM. There was then a very frank and candid talk from NASA Administrator Michael Griffin (he only does "candour" apparently). It was a rather good talk actually and he was full of praise for all the things that the astrophysics community does, but wanted to remind them to be realistic about the NASA funds available for various mission. He also wanted to point out that human spaceflight and aeronautics are as much a part of NASA as pure astrophysics and that wasn't going to change. So astrophysicist better learn to work with that it mind and not throw their toys out the pram, complaining that if there wasn't a human spaceflight plan then there'd be more money for real science, when their particular mission doesn't get funded - that's just the way the world works, and in particular publicly funded institutions work. He also advised people that for the good of the whole field of space research they should try and promote, and speak with one voice, on all that NASA does (see here and here for possibly better informed discussion on this talk.) There was also a very nice talk on the science that the New Horizons mission to Pluto has been able to get during it's Jupiter flyby (see for example the very nice picture that was on APOD yesterday - now my laptop desktop background.) This included monitoring and tracking storms in Jupiter's atmosphere, and studying a large eruption from Io (see said picture again.) This morning there was another very interesting and science packed talk on milliarcsecond astrometry (measuring the position and motion of objects in space) with the VLBA. I hadn't realised how well parallax distances and motions within our galaxy could be measured, but apparently it's pretty damn well. They're also able to do some very impressive cosmological distance measurements to like measuring the Hubble constance to ~10%, which is comparable to the Hubble Key Project.

Anyway, I'd better get back to the talks now, but I'll try and do another summary before the meeting ends, or expand on some of the things I've written. I'll also let you know about Austin (e.g. there's a street that's almost entirely bars!)

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Meet an astronomer

Tomorrow I head off to the American Astronomical Society meeting in Austin, Texas. It's apparently pretty big as far as astronomy meeting's go with several thousand attendees. It should be very interesting to get to go to a wide variety of talks from across the whole field, and maybe do a spot of networking to. Oh, and there's a talk that I'm giving to. I'll attempt to report on anything interesting that I hear and maybe say a bit about Austin, but first I need to hope that I can endure my flights out there.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Playing with the big boys

Today the big clubs (in which I of course include Watford) enter the FA Cup fray to do battle with the lower league minnows. There're still three non-league teams in the mix with British Gas Business League Division One team Chasetown currently taking on Championship team Cardiff City (GOAL FLASH: WTF! Chasetown are 1-0 up after an own goal!), and later today Havant & Waterlooville take on League One high fliers Swansea and Cambridge Utd take on Wolves. The big game, in my eyes is, Watford's clash against fellow Championship team Crystal Palace in which we'll have to improve on our recent poor run if we're to get a result. Other people may argue that the biggest game of today is the all Premiership tie of Aston Villa versus Man Utd, but what do they know!

In other sports news today sees the start of the BDO World Darts Championships in Lakeside Leisure Complex, Frimley Green. I think the big match of the first round might be Martin "Wolfie" Adams versus Phil Nixon which is a repeat of last years final! Can I hear a "LETS PLAY DAAAAAARRRRTTTSS!.

[Update: We won 2-0, hurrah!]

For US 2008 look elsewhere

My blogging plans for this year generally didn't involve keeping up with the whole US 2008 electioneering (what with all the caucuses/primaries and so forth), but if they had I think I'd probably have had to become a professional blogger - and also become someone with some actual insight/knowledge/personal experience into American politics. I may make the occasional (un)informed US election post, but if you're interested in some of the competition I would have had (if I'd taken up the professional-blogger mantle) then there's veteran political blogger Andrew Sullivan, who managed a massive 48 posts/links mainly on the Iowa caucuses today(!), and the slightly less prolific Justin Webb of the beeb (there'll be many more blogs devoted to it, but I'm sure you web savvy people can find them if you want.)

On a sombre note there is a rather poignant posthumous blog from a US soldier killed in Iraq yesterday posted here (via CV.) If you're opinion of the US military was that they're all a bunch of meatheads then I recommend you read it and I hope it'll help change your mind.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Shakey hand man

I don't know if it's a Scottish thing, a Glasgow thing, or a thing that everyone does and has just passed me by, but among certain people that I work with at least there comes the need for them to vigorously shake your hand whilst wishing you happy new year. It's the first thing, above all else, that they have to do on seeing you in the new year. Work has been rather empty the last couple of days, but today I received my first of these handshakes. I was accosted by one of my research groups technicians who thrust out his hand to me and preceded to attempt to crush mine - my hand did actually hurt for a good few minutes afterwards. You see this new years handshake can't be a light limp wristed affair (not that my handshakes are feminine), it has to be a full on, manly, lets-see-who-can-brake-the-most-metacarpals, job. I'm not complaining about the act, indeed it's a rather friendly thing to do, but I'm quite pleased that I'm away from work next week, so my hand should survive intact for a while longer.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Here come the first footer

Last night I partook in the Hogmanay tradition of first footing. Despite my many years in Scotland I'd not heard of this particular tradition before, but it essentially involves going round to a neighbour's house and being the first foot of the new year through their door. It's also supposed to be a lucky if that person is a tall, dark and handsome man - naturally I was perfect for the job. Armed with a bit of coal (also apparently traditional), and some booze, a small group of us headed out to the streets of Glasgow to welcome in the new year and get our feet across new thresholds. This venture proved to be a great success and we were welcomed into a house (myself leading the way of course) and given food and drink. Next year we might have to up our ambitions (and the amount of coal we carry) and go for a double or triple first footer. Happy new year everyone!

On a slightly different note (courtesy of Dave) how's about The Intermission for an idea.