Happy New Year!

Well, that pretty much says it all, but I'll go ahead and say it again... Happy New Year! Here's looking forward to a good one!

Carl Sagan

Ten years ago, we got the news that Carl Sagan had died of pneumonia, a side effect of his long battle with cancer. It felt almost like I had lost a friend, even though I had only once briefly been within two feet of him and had only been in the same room with him three times.

It's hard for me to make an eloquent summary of how Sagan impacted my life, so I'll just ramble about some of my favorite Carl Sagan books and shows.

I have had an interest in science, and astronomy in particular, for most of my life and "Cosmos" came along at a good time to nurture that. I remember seeing "Cosmos" when it was originally on (I was about 8 years old) and I still enjoy watching it today on TV and DVD. Even though some of the graphics have been updated, it is amazing how well the original information holds up after 25+ years. To this day I'm fascinated by Hypatia of Alexandria and her famous library because of that show. I kept hearing Sagan's voice the first time I saw the Rosetta stone at the British Museum, sounding out the letters of Ptolemy's name as he described how it was used to decipher Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs. The cartoon of the evolution of life from single-celled organisms to us was my introduction to the topic. The Cosmic Calendar, with the Big Bang at January 1 and human life at the final minutes of December 31 first showed me the awe of deep time. And how many people my age first knew what a googol was because of this show and not because of a search engine with the same name (although a different spelling)?

I first read "Contact" when I was 14 years old and a freshman in high school. At the time I wasn't absolutely sure what I wanted to do with my life, and after a side-track of wanting to be an astronaut I ended up studying astronomy in college. I didn't end up going all the way to a PhD, but I did get my Bachelor's degree in astronomy and I still work in the field doing educational support and public outreach at the University of Texas.

My final semester in college, I took a brilliant class called "Pseudoscience and the Paranormal" taught by one of our Physics professors and shortly after, Sagan's "The Demon-Haunted World" came along, which only strengthened and reinforced my ability to use my "skeptical toolbox". My favorite chapter is "The Dragon In My Garage". It precisely sums up the extent that people will go to hold on to beliefs. It reminds me of one of my favorite Sagan quotes: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". "Evidence" being the operative word.

It is hard to believe that it has been ten years since Sagan's death, and I wish he had lived longer to see the amazing developments in astronomy. But I'd like to think that he lives on in a way through the many people he has inspired over the years.

You can see other memories and thoughts on the life and work of Carl Sagan at Joel's Humanistic Blog at the Carl Sagan Memorial blog-a-thon.

The Beauty of Solar Burps

Part of my job is working with a solar telescope and talking about the sun with school kids, so I tend to keep up with solar activity. The sun has a roughly 11-year cycle where it goes from essentially no activity (meaning sunspots, flares, CMEs, etc.) to a bunch of activity and then back down to none. Right now we're at about the bottom, although activity is starting to creep back up and this week a large sunspot has produced several flares and CMEs. The cool thing about these eruptions is that when that energy impacts the Earth's atmosphere, it produces aurorae. Folks in more northerly areas are reporting and photographing some beautiful Northern Lights this week, and some have submitted the photos to the aurora gallery at one of my favorite websites, spaceweather.com.

Being in Texas, it is rare for us to see aurorae, but with particularly large explosions they can be seen. They are usually a red glow on the northern horizon (in my experience), not the rich variety of colors seen at more northern latitudes. Someday I'm going to be father north at the right time to see some!

The little movie at top is from the SOHO spacecraft, which monitors for solar activity everyday. This is the flare from December 14th and is at 195 Angstroms (the sun doesn't actually look green at that wavelength, it's just colored that way in the computer... that wavelength is in the ultraviolet and cannot be seen with the human eye).

Amazing Mars

You know, since I'm in astronomy for a living and there are all kinds of amazing images and discoveries coming in everyday, you'd think I would have been blogging about astronomy more. And since I love science in general, you'd think I'd be blogging about all science more too! Well, hopefully this post will be the first of many more to come of things that catch my eye.

Mars is currently being studied by five spacecraft, and until recently it was six (since Mars Global Surveyor seems to have gone bye-bye), so there has been no shortage of incredible images and science coming from the Red Planet recently. Of course, there was the water announcement last week, for starters. Then there are the rovers Spirit and Opportunity that keep on roving and sending back amazing pictures. And the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter which has the highest resolution camera ever to photograph Mars onboard. Mars Odyssey is the fifth spacecraft for those keeping count.

The picture up top is the latest release from the Reconnaissance Orbiter. In addition to the incredible details and the interesting science from the image, it's just plain pretty to look at.

No dragons were harmed in the making of these sausages...

Or, in Monty Python parlance, Welsh Dragon sausages without so much dragon in them (or spam, for that matter).

From the BBC:
Trading standards said Black Mountains Smokery in Powys must also include the type of meat used in the sausages - pork - to meet labelling regulations.
Jon Carthew said: "I don't think any of our customers actually believe that we use dragon meat in our sausages.

Full article

Texas Renaissance Festival

In the busy week and head cold that followed it, I forgot to post a link to the photos I took at the Renaissance Festival on Nov. 4. Click on the photo at the top to go to the Flickr set.

We had a good time, as always. I've been going to TRF for 20 years now and I've pretty much had every type of weather Texas can throw at you in October and November, except ice and snow (we got close one year at 35F and raining... I think it turned to sleet that night after we were home). This year was lovely... around 70 and partly cloudy.

I've taken my camera many times, but other than the first year I went, I think this is the largest number of photos I've taken. I guess I get sidetracked by shopping and music and forget the camera most of the time!

Busy day and not over yet... while coming down with a cold

Besides staying up way too long to watch election results last night, I have had a totally busy day today. Depending on where on you were, you may have been able to watch Mercury transit the sun. It's one of those types of astronomical events that some people find really neat and others can't figure out what the big deal is. In this case, Mercury is very small and it moves pretty slowly across the disk, but the alignment is fairly rare (the next one is 10 years away and the last one visible from Austin was in 1999). I've linked the above image to a photo I took of the image from our solar telescope at work. It's actually projecting against a wall, so it may look a little weird in places where the paint has chipped a little. All-in-all, it was a neat transit. Now I have the Venus transit of 2012 to look forward to!

And right now I'm sniffling my way through the night-time public viewing on our 16-inch telescope. It's a nice night and I've been clouded out for 4 weeks straight, so it's kind of nice to finally open up again. I just wish I didn't feel so terrible! The next few days at work should be slow (especially compared to today and the very busy few weeks I've had up to now), so hopefully I can take it easy...

Photos from the Air and Space Museums now up

Air & Space Dulles Photo Set | Air & Space Downtown Photo Set

The new Air and Space out at Dulles was absolutely wonderful for a space junkie like me. I also loved some of the old aircraft, especially the early Pan Am commercial airplane. Seeing the Enola Gay in one piece was neat too, since only half of it was in the American History Museum (I think...) 10 years ago, and the other have was getting restored at the Paul Garber facility. So, I have seen both halves separately and together now. Getting to see a space shuttle up close was pretty awesome too!

I had been to the downtown Air & Space nearly 10 years ago, but it was nice to get back there too. They had a new exhibit of the Wright Flyer and they have added the SpaceShip One - the first privately funded ship to go into space. I was also happy to get some better pictures of Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Vega, since the photos I took last time didn't come out very good and I was quite disappointed. I took lots and lots of photos, but I just chose a few to put up on Flickr since the world only needs so many photos of an SR-71...


I love fall. No two ways about it, it's my favorite season although it's followed closely by spring and all the beautiful wildflowers it brings to Central Texas. I figure this comes from being a life-long Texan and when that first strong cold front of the season comes through and finally breaks the heat, it is such a welcome relief.

The first burst of Canadian cold air is working its way through town right now and it is finally starting to feel like fall in Texas. Now if we could just get some of those cool fall colors on the trees...

Washington DC Photoset up

I've put up a new Washington DC photoset over on Flickr of some of the photos I took when we were walking around DC a couple of weeks ago. If you like those, you might want to take a look at the photos from my last trip to Washington and Baltimore in 1997.

More new photosets coming soon!

Irony so thick you can cut it with a knife

And now for a small rant from me -

In honor of National Banned Books Week, a teacher in Conroe, Texas assigned Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451 - a book about censorship and free thought whose title refers to the temperature at which paper burns. Ironically, it is often a challenged or banned book. Now, it is being challenged once again by the father of one of the students even after his daughter was given an alternative assignment.

From an article about the incident - "It is ironic in the truest sense that a fictional book on book banning is now the target of a request to remove it from school curriculum." And a quote from the father - "There's no reason for it being read."

Actually, sir, you are demonstrating the exact reason why this novel SHOULD be read.

Austin Area Quilt Guild 2006 Show and Photos

I went to the AAQG 2006 quilt show over the weekend. I only took pictures of some of the quilts that particularly caught my eye because I forgot to bring my larger compact flash card for my camera! Here's the Flickr photoset

Also over the weekend I finally finished stitching the binding on a quilt I have been working on for ages. I'll take some photos of my own stuff and get them up on the website eventually. :)

Back from short Washington DC trip

We spent a long weekend in the DC area to celebrate a family birthday, but we also had a few chances to go into town and sightsee. We went to the National Cathedral on Sunday, which was quite interesting. In style, it closely resembles cathedrals that I've visited in the UK (Westminster Abbey, Canterbury, etc.), but the building is less than 100 years old! We also went over to the Folger Shakespeare Library, where I finally got around to buying the Disappearing Wives of Henry VIII mug and some other goodies. We also wandered around for a few hours on Monday, where I managed to completely destroy my feet by wearing an old pair of aerobics shoes that were way too worn out to be comfortable for all that walking. I'm going to throw them away as soon as I finally unpack our suitcase... they aren't even worth donating.

I'm still sorting through the photos, but I'll upload them to Flickr and post the link to the set in the next few days! (Really, I will! I promise!)

Away for the weekend and Monday

As I've already mentioned over on the Tudor History blogs, I'm going to be out of town for the weekend and Monday and will be back in the office on Tuesday around lunchtime.


Okay, I think I've finally got this working correctly after getting all my /s in the right place. So, for those of you familiar with the old homepage, links to most of the old stuff are now on the right, below the picture. The old pages are pretty much still the same, but maybe someday I'll update them. I've also added a link to my photos that I've uploaded to Flickr. I still haven't added stuff from this year's vacation, but I expect to get them up in the next few weeks.

Moving blog address

If my nefarious plan works, I'll be moving this blog to the front page of my personal website. I'm in the process of changing hosts for the site and once the DNS points to the new host, I'll change this blog to larae.net

Back from vacation...

I had hoped to keep up with blogging about vacation while we were in Maine, but since the weather was so nice most of the time we were there, we didn't spend a whole lot of time on the computers. I'll write up more about the trip and post some pictures (from the whole three weeks) to my Flickr account over the next week or so.

I'm already missing the temperatures in Maine...

Saturday, August 5, 2006

In which we drive in seven states, go medieval and see a baby black bear.

Saturday was a long day, but actually quite fun. We left Philly at about 8 a.m. and started on our way to Maine. Since the drive up included going right by The Cloisters on the north end of Manhattan, we decided to stop off and see them on the way. It was something I had thought about doing when we were in New York, until Chris realized that the drive to Maine would include going over the George Washington bridge, which is right next to The Cloisters. After paying several hefty tolls, we got there right as they opened (which was perfect), so we almost had the place to ourselves for the first half hour or so. Part of the reason that I wanted to go there was a fairly famous corbel from 12th century France that has two figures once thought to be Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. It is the figure in the opening credits of The Lion in Winter (1960s version) and I love that movie. So I did indeed get to see it (see above) and many other neat pieces of medieval art and architectures. The whole building is fabulous. Now that I have experience in real medieval buildings, I can appreciate what a great job they’ve done there are capturing some of the atmosphere.

After The Cloisters we continued up through New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and finally arrived in Maine (after having started out in Pennsylvania and driving through New Jersey). We stopped at the Brunswick Dunkin Donuts for the third time in as many years, so now I feel it qualifies as a tradition.

As we were about to cross the bridge onto the island, the cars ahead of us were all slowing down and breaking and we saw what looked like a big dog lumbering down the middle of the road. When we got a little closer, we soon realized that it was a baby black bear, the first we’ve seen in the area. No sign of Momma Bear, who was probably ahead of baby in the woods on the other side of the road.

We reached Deer Isle at about 8:30 and crashed fairly early. It’s great to be back!

Friday, August 4, 2006

Friday was a slow start after the traveling and heat of the previous days. We got a late start out of the house, so we ended up not getting to go into Independence Hall or to see the Liberty Bell. Yes, I managed to get to Philadelphia for several days and not see the Liberty Bell. Something to save for a future trip. We did walk around society hill, which has some wonderful colonial/revolution era buildings. We saw a very interesting group of re-enactors, including a lady spinning wool. Going to have to try that myself someday.

Part of the reason we didn’t hang around for the open time at Independence Hall was that we were going to dinner and music at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Dinner was nice and the music was great – a group called Scythian, who have a fusion of Celtic, Klezmer, Gypsy, and rock. Good stuff. We also wandered around the museum for a few hours. They have a very nice collection, and of course a Thomas Eakins gallery. One of the things I loved about Philly is it is the one city in the nation where almost everyone knows how to pronounce my last name.

After the music we went out to the east entrance (overlooking Eakins oval!) and watched several people run up the steps and re-enact the famous scene from Rocky. From there we went up to Chestnut Hill for desert, which was yummy and a great way to round off the day.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Since Thursday was our last day in NY and we were only three blocks from the Empire State Building, we decided to start the morning off there. It turned out to be a good thing to do it early in the morning since it hadn’t gotten too hot yet and there wasn’t much in the way of crowds. It was $16 to go to the 82nd floor observatory. It would have been $30 total to go all the way to the 102nd floor so we passed on that. It was actually rather amazing how shameless they were in trying to get money out of you there. They tried to get you to get the upgrades and the audio guides and had everyone stop in front of a green screen to have a photo made (and then handed you a ticket to claim the photo if you wished to purchase it as you were leaving). It was also an interesting way to get a photo of everyone going up to the deck…

The view was amazing, although very hazy. It was hard to see the Statue of Liberty, which wasn’t all that far away. I did get a neat shot of the hotel though (which turns out to have an interesting history of its own).

From there we went to the Natural History Museum. It was quite crowded with summer camp groups of kids, plus lots of families. One interesting thing about taking the subway up there was that it really drops you off AT the museum. That was actually quit nice, since it meant little exposure to the heat.

We opted for the extra admission to see the Darwin exhibit, bringing it to $21. A little steep, but we did end up spending several hours there. The Darwin exhibit was pretty neat and included some of his original diaries and specimens collected on the Beagle. Near the end they had an interesting display of a high school biology textbook and the short-lived Cobb County Georgia “warning” stickers. Basically the whole exhibit was a testament to evolution and how it is the underpinning of our knowledge of life on earth. In a way, almost the whole museum reinforces that through the fossils and phylogenic trees on the info cards on many animal specimens throughout the museum. Good on them! One small disappointment is that they are redoing the 77th street entrance, so we didn’t get to see that, or the human evolution wing which is also being re-done. If we had had more time and money, it would have been fun to do the IMAX and Planetarium, but perhaps another time.

We finished up at the museum, retrieved our stuff from the hotel and started the train rides back to Philly. Dinner was a nice local pizza up in the area where we were staying with family.

An Evening With Harry, Carrie and Garp

Whoopi Goldberg introduced the evening. Tim Robbins introduced Stephen King who read the Pie Eating Contest scene from “The Body”, which is the basis for “Stand By Me” (one of my favorite movies of the 80s!). Stanley Tucci introduced John Irving, who read from “A Prayer for Owen Meany”. And Kathy Bates introduced J.K. Rowling, who read the scene in book six when Dumbledore shows Harry his first meeting with Tom Riddle at the orphanage.

There were some great questions, but JKR was being evasive as usual. She did hint that there is more to Aunt Petunia than we’ve seen so far and had to let everyone know for sure that Dumbledore is in fact dead. Even did the throat slash at one point. When asked if she could bring one character to life to have in real life (besides Harry), she chose Hagrid, which would especially be nice when being confronted by fundamentalist Christians (presumably just the ones that just have a problem with Harry Potter!). There were some trickier questions, including one from Salman Rushdie and son! She had some trouble answering some of the questions and apologized profusely for it, but said it would have basically given away the ending of the series. Oh well, we’ll know the answers soon enough. Solidad O’Brien moderated the Q&A session and finished out asking the authors which 5 of their characters would they like to have dinner with and why. JKR’s answer was interesting… she listed Harry, Hermione and Ron and then paused before saying Dumbledore and talking about knowing who would die and then the others said she could use dead characters, so she then mentioned Dumbledore. And Hagrid was the fifth. So, does that mean that the trio will live for sure? Also, the subject of the title of the 7th book was sort of brought up, but she said she had a possibly better idea for it while in the shower that night, but either way, we weren’t getting it out of her yet.

We took the subway back to the hotel, because at that point it didn’t matter if we got any hotter or sweatier!

Wednesday, August 2, 2006 - New York City Day 2

Our second day in New York was an interesting mix. We decided to get up and have breakfast at the Tick-Tock diner at the hotel (which was tasty, although they could learn a little about making bacon from our Texas greasy spoons) and then take the subway down to the World Trade Center site. Our hotel was at a great location across the street from Madison Square Garden and Penn Station, which made traveling by subway easy.

The WTC site was a hub of activity, prepping the site for the future buildings and memorials. WTC 7 was recently finished and the PATH station at the site was open. It was interesting to see the very obvious change from construction that was pre-9/11 and post 9/11 at the station. Up at the street level was a series of panels with all the names of those who died at the site (I think just those on the planes and in the buildings, since I didn’t see one or two of the names I knew from the Pentagon and Flight 93 in Shanksville). They also had a nice timeline series of signs. We walked around the site and went into the World Financial Center across the street. They have a gallery on the second floor that looks over the site and gives a pretty nice view. They also have a timeline on the clean up and the plans for the future at the site. It’s still hard to imagine those very tall buildings on such a small footprint.

We walked over to St. Paul’s Cathedral, across the street from the WTC. I mostly knew about it from 9/11, but it turned out to be a neat historic church in its own right. George Washington heard a sermon there after his inauguration as the first president. But, most of the displays are related to 9/11, even almost 5 years after the fact. One neat thing was a collection of patches from all the different rescue services from around the nation who worked at the site. I saw one from Cedar Park, Texas of all places!

From the church we walked up past City Hall (and the end of the Brooklyn Bridge) and caught the subway up to Union Station to drop on in the Leaky Mug podcast. It was cool to finally be able to see one of those fan events in person. We were getting pretty hungry, so we left early (since I knew I would be able to download it later) and went up to Grand Central Station. Wonderful architecture. We snagged some pretty tasty pizza in their food court.

Since we wanted to allow time to get back to the hotel and clean up before the show at Radio City Music Hall, we just stopped in on the New York Public Library and walked through Times Square. We saw the lions at the library and went up to the main reading room, which was lovely. Lots and lots of wood. Although I’m pretty sure that most of the shots I’ve seen in movies didn’t include all the laptop connections that it has now!

Times Square was still lit up some, even though the city was asking people to conserve power due to high demand from air conditioners in the high heat. Walking through the Square was the one and only time I felt a little faint, although I recovered pretty quickly.

We got back to the hotel and Chris went over to a near by shoe store to find some better shoes to wear to the show while I took a shower. After I got out, I heard lots of sirens (which wasn’t that unusual, considering that it was New York), but after a point, I decided to look out the window and noticed a building down the street with black smoke billowing out of it. We never did find out exactly what happened. They got it under control fairly quickly and presumably no one was hurt since we didn’t see anything about it on the news that night after the show.

We stopped down at the Italian restaurant at the hotel for an early dinner (I had a nice chicken picatta) and then decided to go ahead and take the subway to Radio City. It was very hot and we waited a while for our train, so I quickly started sweating in my nice clothes. Should have splurged on a taxi. Oh well! As it turned out, it didn’t matter if we had managed to stay cool on the way over, since we got stuck in a security line for about 20 minutes. The one cool thing about that was that I briefly got a chance to see and talk with Melissa Anelli and John Noe from The Leaky Cauldron/Potter Cast. I was a total fan geek and asked Melissa if I could see the ring that JKR gave her when she and Emerson Spartz from MuggleNet went over to interview her last year. It was really neat! I’d love to find something similar, perhaps with a dragon shape. Melissa, if you ever read this, I apologize for being a babbling geek…I think the heat was getting to me!

(More about Harry, Carrie and Garp in a separate post)

Tuesday, August 1, 2006 - Off to New York City

First off, why did we have to pick the three hottest days of the year to visit New York? And why isn’t the subway air-conditioned? Okay, I understand the reasons behind the second, but I think the first one is just my own bad luck. I’m pretty sure that entering into the subways was akin to walking into the mouth of Hades itself.

Other than constantly being hot and sticky, I did have a great time in New York.

We arrived from Philly at about noon, after taking the train up through New Jersey. We went to the hotel (The New Yorker) to see if we could dump our bags before check-in but were delighted to find that our room was ready and we could go ahead and go up. We dumped the stuff and headed up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met recently increased their “suggested” admission to $20, although we only paid $5 each. If I had more money to spend, I would have because I think it’s a good cause.

The Met was incredible, even though I don’t think we managed to see even half of what they have on display. When we first went in and started into the galleries, the first thing that caught my eye were Cycladic figures, which I learned about courtesy of my Art History class last fall. They are very “modern” looking and therefore popular, sometimes faked and collected as the result of tomb robbing. Several of the pieces at the Met were objects that we had studied in class, and it was amazing to be looking at them in person (even behind glass). Since the Met allows non-flash photography, I took some photos, some of which came out decently. (see above)

We went further into the Greek galleries and then wandered into some late and modern European art, including Picasso and Dali. Then we saw some Degas ballerinas, Seurat Pointillism, Monet water lillies and Van Gogh.

We briefly went into the Ancient Near East galleries and I attempted to get some photos of the Assyrian Lamassu, which didn’t come out too well. Too bad, since those are some of my favorite figures from the era. Then we walked through the Musical Instruments, which of course included some Stradivarius violins and a cello. I was hoping they had some shawms, a medieval forerunner of an oboe, and they did. They also have some really neat clarinets.

We also went through the Renaissance art and I found a few Holbeins. Next we went over to the American art to find Washington Crossing the Delaware. I had no idea the painting was so huge! We also found a couple of Thomas Eakins paintings in that area.

Unfortunately we hit the Egyptian galleries late in the day and only saw a fraction. Although we did see perhaps their biggest piece, a reconstructed temple. At that point we had hoped to try to get back for a few hours on one of our other days, but unfortunately it didn’t happen. Well, something to look forward to seeing next time.

The one big complaint about the Met is that there isn’t a very close subway stop. No matter where you get off, you end up having to walk a fair amount. I’m sure in the spring and autumn, that’s fine, but in 100+ degrees (F), it was a chore. We walked across Central Park to catch the subway on the other side, which went right back to the hotel. On the way across the Park, we saw Cleopatra’s Needle, which is suffering greatly from being in the city and exposed to acid rain. We also went up to Belvedere and I got a nice view of the Park.

We ended up at T.G.I. Friday’s for dinner, where we had a thoroughly disinterested waiter and sticker shock from the prices. After dinner we went back and crashed at the hotel after a long, hot day in the city.

Greetings from Philadelphia

Hello from the city of brotherly love! I always love going to a city for the first time and trying to get a feel for it. Philly has some wonderful architecture, in business, public and residential buildings. We stopped briefly at the art museum last night after dinner and saw the "Rocky" steps, but we'll actually go in on Friday. Had dinner at a cool place called Monk's and I tried a local ale. A little more hops than I would usually go for, but good (dinner was chicken apple sausage... yummmmm).

Today we went to the Mutter Museum at the College of Physicians and saw their weird and wonderful collection of medical models and specimens. After that we had lunch at the market in the old Reading train station and then went to the Academy of Natural Sciences (where the picture at the top comes from). Small, but a nice dinosaur collection.

I also discovered why when they show the people suffering in the heat in the northeast on the news or Weather Channel, they always show people sticking their feet in the fountains. The reason - it feels darn good. Did it twice today and both times it really helps soothe my sore and hot feet.

Off to NYC for the next few days...

Update: Had Tony Luke's for dinner... Philly cheese steaks in Philly! I think I'm going to explode...

Vacation! Woo-hoo!

So, I'm sitting here in my office waiting to do the Honor's Colloquium star party (12th year in a row for me... lots of t-shirts). When I agreed to open the telescope for them, I was thinking... "oh, it won't be so bad to sit in my office on a Friday night and then open the telescope for a bunch of smart high school kids - I'm going on a three week vacation two days later!". Well, now that the day is here, I really wish I could go home. Hanging out at work these few extra hours, knowing that three weeks off is waiting for me is *torture*. Arrrrggghhhh.

The Tortoise and the Hare

No, this isn't anything philosophical about my slow, plodding updating of the Tudor site or anything... it is *really* about a tortoise and a hare.

We live out in a rural area east of Austin and as a result get to see birds and animals that I almost never saw in town. On the way home on Friday, we were coming down one of the roads back to our area and had to veer slightly around a turtle that was crawling slowly across the pavement. About 300 yards down the road, a hare darted into the brush. I don't know if they were in the middle of their famous race or if it was already over, but I hope the turtle managed to pull it off again. Slow and steady wins the race! :)

BTW, I would have posted this and a couple of other things over the weekend, but our satellite internet connection was VERY flaky. The weather was fine in our area, but apparently the main control center is on the east coast and was getting hit with all the rain and flooding over the past few days. It seemed to be okay this morning, so hopefully it will be okay this evening and I can get a few more posts onto the other blogs!

This and that...

Well, I figured since I seem to be getting only one post out a month, I should do one in June before the month runs out...

First off, I'm bummed that the US will not be advancing in the World Cup 2006. I really thought they would play better than they did. Oh well, at least I have some other teams to root for, especially England.

And to continue a sports theme... The current audiobook that I'm listening to is "Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season" by Stewart O'Nan and Stephen King (yes THAT Stephen King). I've been a Red Sox fan for about 20 years now (and a baseball fan in general for even longer than that) and I'm just loving this book. I think you really need to be a fan of the game - and being a Sox fan doesn't hurt - to fully appreciate the book, since a lot of it is just a chronicle of their experiences watching Red Sox games (sometimes in person, sometimes on TV). But I'm enjoying every minute of it. You've got to love the comparison of being a Red Sox fan to Charlie Brown, hoping that this time, this ONE time, Lucy isn't going to yank the football out from under you. And of course, as all Red Sox fans know, "Pigs can fly, hell is frozen over, the slipper finally fits, and impossible dreams really CAN come true." (quoted from a Boston Globe headline)

Speaking of Stephen King, my vacation plans for August are now set. A month or so ago I saw news about J.K. Rowling coming back to the States for the first time in six years as part of a charity reading with Stephen King and John Irving in New York City. At first I thought it would be yet another cool fan thing that I wouldn't get a chance to do, but then I noticed the dates were just a few days before we were planning on going to Maine (which is another Stephen King tie-in, since he lives in the lovely town of Bangor, Maine). So, a few emails were sent and arrangements were made and I bought tickets! We'll also be visiting Philadelphia, so it will be my first trip to that city and NYC (although I've seen it from the air several times). We're not going to have a lot of time in NYC, but one of the things I'd like to do is see the Holbein of Thomas More in the Frick Collection.

That's it for now!

How time does fly!

And not just the weeks between blog posts lately...

I just realized that today, eight years ago, I embarked on my first trip to Great Britain! I had been doing some freelance consulting for an science education project and had earned enough for a plane ticket and youth hostels (the rest having to go on a credit card), so I bit the bullet and did it! I went completely on my own, on my first overseas trip, and to prove just how crazy I was, I even drove on the left. I rented a car for the first week and then stayed in London for the second week. It was a great trip, although as I learned on my second and third trips, it is nice to travel with others as well.

Hopefully in the next couple of years I'll be able to get back across the pond. Chris and I have travelled together several times over the three years we've been together, but we've never been to Britain together. I'll have to drag him to what he affectionately calls my "piles of rocks" someday!

Yet another month goes by...

Well, I certainly didn't expect yet another month to go by with out another post, but yet is has! The beginning of April was really crazy, and then it was a week or so of catch-up after that. I've been writing up some posts off-line, but I haven't put any finishing touches on yet... just mostly random thoughts and such. I've also been working on what will be the latest addition to the website and my continuing web adventures. I'll elaborate more soon over at the main TudorHistory.org blog!

Wow... a month?

I didn't expect that a month would go by before I got around to making a new post. And unfortunately this isn't going to be much of one... I keep meaning to start some semi-regular AstroPosts about astronomy (my "day" job), but I haven't polished them much yet so it will still be a while before I get any posted. My new laptop arrived today, so I'm going to concentrate on getting it set up, but look for more posts once that's done!

Hopefully back in the swing of things

If you saw the main news and site blog, you'll see that I'm mostly back on the mend now after being sick for way too long. There are still some lingering issues, but I can cope. As I've probably mentioned before, I work at a large university and frequently interact with the public and school groups, so I'm always being exposed to bugs. One of the hazards of academia, I guess. I'm lucky that I'm relatively young (I'll be 34 later this week), since some of the older folks around here have been having an even harder time shaking it.

Anyway, enough of my health issues. Maybe I'll have a real post soon!

Spoke too soon

Well, I *thought* was only going to be sick last week (and I was) and I *thought* I was back to nearly 100% by Sunday, and now I'm sick again. I don't know if it's a relapse or something new (I'm afraid it's something new) but I'm going to spend most of the rest of this Valentine's Day in bed, and not in a good way.

The one bright spot of the day was that my boyfriend, who is travelling for work and won't be home until 9:00 tonight, had some lovely flowers sent to me at work. See below (click for a larger version):

Two of my favorite flower scents are in there... roses and stock. Yummy!

What's been going on with me recently

It's been a tiring past two weeks, and I'm afraid that I'm now going to be suffering through a cold for the upcoming week. We had our annual winter board meeting at work on the 3rd and 4th, which can sometimes be stressful (especially when people come to you at the last minute with a powerpoint and the computer can't read their thumbdrive). I'm glad that it is over with for another year, even though the banquet and open bar isn't so bad. :)

The Burns supper the weekend before was lots of fun, as expected. I had the honor of piping in the haggis (with a tin whistle, since I haven't gotten very far learning the bagpipe chanter yet). I'm not a big Scotch drinker, so I brought some Drambuie, which is a liqueur with Scotch and heather honey. Quite tasty! I also had some mead that was made by friends of the hostess' son that was very good. I've been wanting to try my hand at making my own and now I have good incentive. The homemade drink was so much better than the commercial stuff!

My head is starting to swim with the increasing congestion, so I guess it's time for me to get off the computer for a while and get ready to watch "the big American football game that takes place in a large round-shaped stadium". I don't really care about the teams playing this year, but the commercials are usually fun to watch.

(For those of your who aren't American, I'm referring to the Super Bowl, and I used the circumlocution because of the running joke about not being able to use the phrase in advertising unless you pay the licensing fee... so some people use creative phrasing to avoid saying the name.)

Burns Supper

Anyone do a Burns Supper each year? A friend from work is having one on the 28th (a few days late, but given the amount of Scotch that will be consumed, it's better to not have it during the work week!) and it will be my second such event. The last one was two years ago where I ate my first Americanized haggis (we can't legally get some of the parts that would go into a "true" haggis according to the cook), which actually wasn't so bad. I kind of wish that I had given in to my temptation when I was in Edinburgh in 2000 and bought a can of haggis that I saw in a giftshop, but since I had to carry all my stuff for that part of the trip I really didn't want that weighing me down... I'm pretty sure it was about the density of a white dwarf star.


Forgive me a moment of bragging on my alma mater (and employer) for winning the College Football National Championship! Needless to say, Austin went nuts last night and I only got about 5 1/2 hours of sleep. The game actually lived up to the hype. I think the football pundits who said it would basically come down to whoever had the ball last were right on the money. What a game!

Email gripes

If you've ever looked at my "please read this before sending me an email" page and actually read all the way to the bottom, then you have already read the content of this post. I decided to take it off that page and put it here since I think a personal blog post is a much more appropriate place for it.

And now...The Gripes!

I have received so much email over the years that I've developed quite a list of pet peeves about it. If you don't do any of these things, you greatly increase your chance of getting a prompt response from me (vacation, work, life, etc. notwithstanding).

Please don't send questions like: "Can you please tell me everything about Elizabeth I?" or "Send me stuff about Henry VIII".
Note that I am mentioning people here that there are literally thousands, of books written about. And probably just as many websites! I tend to view messages like this as laziness on the part of the sender. Asking about more obscure people from the period, or a specific question about someone or something are far more likely to get answered.

Unfortunately, English is the only language that I am fluent in,
... so anything sent in a foreign language will probably end up in my junk mail folder (since the majority of email that I've received in other languages is spam anyway...). Don't feel bad about sending mail in broken English if you only have a partial understanding of it. Just mention that in the message and I'll understand completely! English isn't an easy language and I have great respect for anyone who didn't grow up speaking it who decides to learn it.

I read ALL the legitimate (i.e. not spam or virus) email that comes to me,
... so putting PLEASE READ in the subject or message isn't necessary. In fact, it's just likely to annoy me. Same goes for PLEASE RESPOND, or REPLY ASAP!!!! I try to get back to everyone in a timely manner. Extra capital letters or exclamation points aren't going to get you an answer any quicker.

Correct spelling and punctuation will help me understand your message.
I've gotten some so poorly written (and I don't mean by non-native English speakers) that I honestly can't decipher what the person is saying. Also, writing emails in all capital letters is usually considered "shouting" in email.

If you are going to add me to your email address book, please use anti-virus software.
During some of the virus outbreaks of 2004, I've received literally dozens of virus or worm emails a day. Thankfully I'm on a Mac and I don't open unknown attachments (since it's only a matter of time before Macs are virus/worm targets again), so my machine won't actually be affected, but it's still really annoying to get all those emails. And on the flip side, if you receive an email that apparently came from my address with a virus attached, I can promise you that it didn't. One of the tricks of these viruses is to "spoof" the address that the email appears to be coming from, which makes it harder to track down the infected machine and fix it.

Please spell my name right.
Yes, I know that's kind of silly to get bothered by, but it's annoying to have an email address with my name right there spelled L-A-R-A and then continually get emails addressed to "Laura". Hey, it's not my fault my mother loved the movie Dr. Zhivago!

I'm female.
So please don't address email to "Sir" or "Mr. Eakins". Also, "Dr." or "Professor" isn't correct either, but is a lot more flattering.

I don't have the time or energy to get involved in flame wars.
If you want to cuss me out, tell me my opinions or the website, etc. are rubbish, that's fine, but you won't get a response. And I really have to wonder about people who would put stuff in an email that they probably wouldn't have the guts to say to a person's face.


I hope everyone had a chance to celebrate saying goodbye to 2005 and welcome in 2006. I for one am ready to start fresh with a new calendar!

On a personal note ... I usually make a few resolutions, and this year I'm going to have to repeat one from a few years ago. I resolved in 2002 (the year I turned 30) to drop some weight, and by the time 2003 rolled around, I was back to the weight I was when I graduated from college. Unfortunately, in the years between, I gained it all back. I guess I should have resolved to *keep* the weight off in 2003-2005! Anyway, it's time to get more exercise, since I had to take a break from it for about the last four months for various reasons.

Beyond the standard "more exercise, lose weight" one, I'm resolving to finish learning cascading style sheets. Yeah, pretty geeky, I know. And still on a slightly geeky note, I'm going to make a better effort to keep up with submissions and stuff for the Tudor site. I think I say this every year, so maybe for once I'll actually do it!

Again, Happy New Year everyone!