Showing posts from 2006

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…

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,

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 …

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 late…

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…

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 l…


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. :)

National Cathedral Photos Up

See, I did actually get some photos up on Flickr: National Cathedral photoset

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

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 a…

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 t…

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…

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 o…

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 sign…

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 ha…

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 …

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 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. Y…

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 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 be…

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 …


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…