I've been a bad, bad blogger

I can't believe it's been a month and a half since I've updated this blog (although, in my defense, all of my other blogs have been updated more recently), but that's just the way it is sometimes. Not much to add... had a nice Thanksgiving break... about to drive to Alabama for Christmas and then we'll be back in Texas for New Year's.

Totally off that topic...
I need to update my blogroll on the right to include some of the grammar blogs I've been reading lately. I particularly love Apostrophe Abuse and The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks. I've been an apostrophe abuse warrior for a while now, so I was pleased to be able to contribute a couple of photos to the site. Here's the first one I sent in, from a gas station pump near work. I still haven't gotten a picture of unnecessary quotation marks, but I'm on the look-out!

Texas Renaissance Festival 2007

We went to TRF this past weekend and had a great time as always. The pictures above go to this year's photos set on Flickr.

Comet Holmes!

I have been meaning to post something about this very interesting comet for a week now... better late than never, I guess.

The comet, which usually hangs out in an orbit between Mars and Jupiter, had already made its closest pass by the sun (which wasn't all that close) and was heading back out, orbiting happily along at 17th magnitude. For those of you unfamiliar with the astronomical magnitude scale - that's VERY faint (about 24,000 times fainter than what you can see with the unaided eye). Then, on the night of October 23rd, it suddenly got bright. VERY bright. Over all, it ended up increasing about a million times in brightness in a day or two, probably from an outgassing event.

I was running the regular open house on one of the campus telescopes last Wednesday and decided to give the comet a look at the end of the night. I really had no idea what to expect, especially from the middle of Austin, with a nearly full moon, a large football stadium with all of its lights on and more sports fields about 20 blocks away (which always color the northern sky a bright yellow-orange when viewed from our building). I punched in the coordinates and moved the telescope over and climbed up to look in the eyepiece. I saw a bright, fuzzy blob in there and figured I needed to refocus the telescope with the new eyepiece I had slipped in. But, when I looked around the field a little, I realized there was a nicely-focussed star in the corner of the field, meaning the bright fuzzy blob was the comet! I was totally, amazed since I had never seen anything quite like it before. I wasn't very familiar with the constellation of Perseus, so I didn't realize until someone pointed it out that there was an extra "star" in it, clearly visible to the naked eye even in the middle of Austin.

I have been looking at it almost every night since, mostly just with binoculars and my unaided eyes, and it has been changing quite a bit over the week since the outburst. It is now distinctly fuzzy to the naked eye and disc-like in binoculars. The outer shell of gas has been expanding, so it has appeared to grow dimmer but it is now much larger.

I decided to try to photograph the comet last night with the telescope and the digital camera from the office and got a couple of decent photos (including the one up top). You can see both of the photos here. And you can see lots of other photos on SpaceWeather.com. Be sure to look at the finder charts and to go out and have a look yourself!

Remembering Deborah Kerr

(Cross-posted at the TudorHistory.org blog)

While this is only tangentially Tudor-related, Foose reminded me in comments to the Elizabeth open thread that I wanted to comment on the passing of Deborah Kerr. (And yes, I'll do some more "open threads" in the future on some other topics, since it was kind of fun to read other people's thoughts on "The Golden Age").

I first really got into the Tudors when I was about 14 years old, which was also about the time that I really got hooked on watching old movies. I think it was around this time that American Movie Classics and channels like that starting popping up and I fell in love with some of the old movies (not to mention forming crushes on some of the actors, in particular Cary Grant and Yul Brynner). So, of course, I started seeking out old historical movies, and I'm pretty sure the first Tudor one I watched was "Young Bess" (1953). Jean Simmons and Stewart Granger (who were married to one another at the time) star as the young Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour, Charles Laughton reprises his role from "The Private Life of Henry VIII" (1933) as the big king himself and Deborah Kerr played Katherine Parr. Interestingly, the boy who played Edward VI in "Young Bess" would go on to play the son of Kerr's character in "The King and I" (one of my all-time favorite movies).

When the news came out the Deborah Kerr had died, the coverage mostly mentioned the famous kiss on the beach in "From Here to Eternity" and her roles in "The King and I" and "An Affair to Remember", but I also thought of her in the role I first saw her - Queen Katherine Parr in "Young Bess".

Image from Wikipedia

Confessions of a Nobel Prize junkie

Yep, it's true, I'm a Nobel Prize junkie. I eagerly await the announcements every year, especially Physics and Peace. This year the Nobel folks set up RSS feeds so you can find out almost instantly when the prizes are announced (provided you are sitting at your computer in the early morning hours US time) and have links to videos of the announcements, summaries of the work the prizes are awarded for, etc. They have more info on the prizes and my favorite sections - "Memories of the magic call".

So, given this, you can imagine how thrilled I was to be able to sit and chat briefly with last year's Physics co-winner, John Mather, who was here to give a couple of lectures and receive the Antoinette de Vaucouleurs memorial medal. Like an idiot though, I forgot to ask him about "getting the call"! D'oh! I also have never asked Steven Weinberg about his call for some reason. Well, if he asks me to help him with graphics for a Power Point presentation again, I'll have to turn into a fangirl and ask him. :)

And yes, I was very pleased with this morning's announcement of the Peace Prize, given jointly to Al Gore and the IPCC. To show what a total Nobel geek I am, we typically flip the TV on as soon as the alarm goes off and turn it over to the news. Knowing that the announcement was made about two hours before we got up, I instantly started reading the "crawl" across the bottom of the screen (something that usually annoys the heck out of me but was quite useful this time!). About the third or fourth story that came across started "Vice President Al Gore..." and I knew that he had won. I wonder if this the first time someone has won an Oscar and a Nobel in the same year?

And to finish my thoughts about the Physics prize in particular, it still amazes me that some of the experiments we did in the first year quantum physics lab won people Nobel prizes a century earlier. It just goes to show you how quickly science advanced in the 20th century!

Happy Birthday Sputnik!

I was going to say a few things about the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, but it looks like Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy already wrote a lot of stuff along the lines I was thinking!

Here's a NASA page (where I took the picture from) about the spacecraft and a Science@NASA page where you can hear the beep and learn more about communicating with spaceprobes, like the one on its way to Pluto.

Problems posting over at Tudorhistory.org blogs

Just in case any of the folks who regularly read the TudorHistory blogs or listen to the podcast happen to wander by here, I wanted to get something out there about the publishing problems I'm having. For some reason I can't get anything to publish to that site with Blogger, even though this site is working fine (and is hosted by the same company). I'm going to keep working on it periodically from work and see if I can figure something out...


Central Texas got off easy this summer. The temperatures were relatively mild and we got enough rain for everything to stay green instead of turning to a dusty brown. Okay, so maybe at times we got too much rain... One of the side effects of this is an interesting change in the behavior of birds (the hummingbirds have hung around a lot longer this year) and in the insects, in particular the dragonflies. I've seen at least 5 different types this year and in higher numbers than in the past. I haven't had a lot of luck getting photos of them, but this magenta-colored one was nice enough to keep landing on my car antenna and holding still long enough for me to get some photos. Click above to go to the Flickr photoset (which I hope I'll be able to add to in the future!).

Storm photos from last week

We have had some spotty popcorn showers over the past couple of weeks, a lot of them coming from moisture sweeping up from the Gulf. By the time they get to central Texas, it's usually close to sunset, so we can get some really amazing skies in the evenings. I've added the most recent photos (including the one above) to my "Sunsets and Weather from Elgin" Flickr set linked through the photo. (The new photos are at the bottom of the set.)


Lara's Loose Threads

I was trying to figure out how to incorporate my needlework and quilting stuff into the re-worked version of my homepage and I realized that the answer was staring me in the face. A blog! There isn't a whole lot up over there yet, but I'll be posting more photos in the future.

Today's Best Spam Subject Line

Today's winner is:

sandwich 376 fetishists - This one has a lot of comedic potential. I'm picturing 376 peanut butter and jelly fetishists being squeezed together.

Start of a semi-regular series "Best Spam Subject Line of the Day"

Between the four email accounts I use regularly, I get a lot of spam. While it annoys me greatly to have to spend so much time sorting through it to make sure that some real mail hasn't been caught in the filters, I've found that the subject lines can sometimes be quite amusing and sometimes even profound in an existentialist sort of way. Most of my amusement comes from the emails where they take two or three words and randomly pair them in the subject heading, but I do have to admit that I'm also getting a chuckle out of the fact that even the spammers are riding Harry Potter's robe-tails and now "enhancement" products are using "magic wand" as a euphemism for a certain part of male anatomy.

So here are some from today's haul of spam that made me grin:

Worldly tripod - this one actually kind of works for me. Makes me think of travel photography.

A pretty-pretty fly - What happens when an insect ends up in a supermodel's teleportation device.

Dirt-encrusted squid - What happens when you drop your calamari

A few photos from West Texas

I didn't get a chance to take a lot of photos when I was out in West Texas last month, but I did post the few that I did take over on my Flickr page. If you click the photo above, it will take you to the West Texas photo set, which also includes photos from when I was out in December 2003 (and has a lot more photos of actual telescopes!).

As you can see from the photos, it was the rainy season in West Texas. While that isn't great for using telescopes or having outdoor functions at a meeting, it does make for pretty green scenery and nice sunsets. The last night I was out there though was crystal clear and beautiful. I ended up not even looking through a telescope ... just sitting on a porch and looking at the Milky Way!

On travel for a few days

I just wanted to let folks know that I'm going to be traveling for work through Sunday, so I won't be answering emails or making blog posts in that time period. I'll have internet access, but I don't think I'll have a lot of time to deal with non-work stuff!

Apparently I'm not as organized as I thought

If any of you have wandered over here to figure out why my Tudor History website isn't showing up, here's your answer. The domain expired yesterday, but I just renewed it after talking with my domain registrar, so hopefully it will be back up soon. I am usually really good about keeping track of these types of things and I thought I had another year on this one, but obviously not!

My one complaint is that my registrar didn't send a notice that it was about to expire. I know some companies do that, but this one doesn't. I understand that ultimately it is my responsibility to make sure it gets renewed on time, but really, how hard is it to send an email a week or so before to remind someone about an expiring domain?

Oh well... stay tuned. If the website doesn't show back up in a day or so, then I'll update with any additional news.
This is just sickening:
A church's Elizabethan Tudor Rose window has been smashed to bits by thieves just a fortnight after clergymen proudly showed it off to the Prince of Wales.

They climbed in through the remains of the stained glass window at St Gredifael Church in Penymynydd, Anglesey, seized an ancient cannonball and hurled it through another Elizabethan window.

Full article (2 pages)

This is the window that was smashed, which some of you might recognize as the image that used to be on the front page of the website:

Click on the image to go to a page with a little bit more about the window and a link to the full sized picture. I've also got a few other pictures of the church itself, which I visited in 2000. (I'm in the process of re-doing all my photos from the negatives, so at some point I'll have some nicer and bigger versions of the church photos up.)

(Cross-posted at the Tudor History blog)

Cutty Sark

I was heartbroken to see the fire on the Cutty Sark this morning. The good news is that about 50% of the ship was away for restoration. The bad news is that right now the fire is being treated as "suspicious".

I've visited the ship twice, although I've never actually gone aboard for some silly reason. The picture above goes to the Greenwich set from my 2003 trip, which includes a few photos the ship.

Here's a link to an article at BBC News

And here is a link to the Cutty Sark Trust.

{cross-posted with the Tudor History blog}

More bragging on colleagues

We go from gigantic stars blowing up to finding the one of the oldest stars in the Galaxy! This time it is Anna Frebel, the William J. McDonald Postdoctoral Fellow and her metal poor star HE 1523-0901. Yeah, it isn't the sexiest name for a star, but that's not what's important about it. Since Phil Plait over at BadAstronomy has already boiled down the science, I'll just link to his post.


I've got to brag on a couple of colleagues who were mentioned in the New York Times today.

From the article:
In a cascade of superlatives that belies the traditional cerebral reserve of their profession, astronomers reported today that they had seen the brightest and most powerful stellar explosion ever recorded.
Astronomers have been following the star since last September, when it was discovered in a galaxy 240 million light years away in the constellation Perseus by Robert Quimby, a University of Texas graduate student, who was using a small robotic telescope at McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis, Tex., to troll for supernovas.
[note: one addition... Robert is a Post-Doctoral Fellow now, and still at UT]
“The core is still composed of explosive oxygen,” explained Craig Wheeler of the University of Texas and another of the paper’s authors. “The oxygen ignites and blows the star to smithereens with no remnant, no black hole left.”
[another note: Craig is also the current president of the American Astronomical Society]

The star up at the top of the page is Eta Carinae, which is mentioned in the article. It similar to the star that exploded, but much closer to home. If you click on the image it will take you to the press release from Hubble.

Rainbow cows

This photo is from a storm that blew through one evening about two weeks ago. It rained pretty hard, but it also cleared really fast. With the sun fairly low in the west and it still raining off to the east I was pretty sure we'd have some nice rainbows and I wasn't disappointed. I only wish I had the SLR with the really wide angle lens at home so I could have captured the whole arc! A secondary rainbow was also visible for a lot of the time, although it didn't make a whole arc.

One cool thing is that the rain hadn't moved too far when the rainbow started to show up, so it appeared to be coming down in our neighbor's field. Guess I should have gone looking for that pot of gold, but I think the cows beat me to it. In the picture above (which is linked to my rainbow Flickr photoset -- the last six are from this storm) you can see the rainbow coming down in front of the cows and the trees on hill in the background.

What I did with my Sunday afternoon

And why I am sooooo sore today...

The amazing thing about this garden is that some of the plants have made it through drought, 100F+ degree temps, ice storms and hail and are still around. Namely, the parsely in the middle front (which has about 1-inch think woody stems underneath now) and the oregano behind and to the left of it. The rosemary (far left), hyssop, lavender and sage (all to the right) have only been in the garden for about a year, but still had their share of bad weather and neglect. I'm especially surprised that the sage is still around because I've always had trouble keeping sage alive. BTW, the herbs are in such weird places because there used to be other ones planted in the empty areas, but those plants didn't make it.

I had planned to do a new herb garden this year with raised beds, and maybe with a layout that has more of a medieval feel, but I just didn't get around to it in the late winter, so I don't think I'll do it this year. Now to get some new plants to plug the holes in the existing garden...


Okay, so it is the 7th of April, and in central Texas it is now SLEETING. Tooooo weird. This is right up there with the ice storm that was followed by a high of 98F about two weeks later - in February.

Belated St. Patrick's Day post

Okay, so I should have posted this two weeks ago, but ... well... I didn't.

We had a good day listening to music around town, drinking some good beer (although not excessively this year) and eating way too much food. The picture above links to my Flickr set of a few photos I took. We started out at the Dog and Duck Pub, which puts up a big tent in their parking lot now and has live music going on most of the day. I've watched their St. Patty's day party grow over the years and I really like that big tent they have now, since some times the weather isn't very cooperative. I remember one year that was pretty cool and drizzly (authenic Irish weather, I guess) *before* they got the tent! While we were there we caught the Tea Merchants and Poor Man's Fortune, and both groups were excellent.

After Dog and Duck, we wandered down to 6th street to see the craziness that reigns on the 17th of March. For those of you not familiar with 6th street, it is the main bar and music street in downtown Austin. So, it's generally crazy anyway, then add South By Southwest, and then add St. Patrick's Day and well, you get the picture. We went to B.D. Riley's which is one of the newer pubs in town. We first went there last year or the year before (can't remember for sure) and really liked it. One nice thing is that they limit the number of people who can go in so sometimes you have to wait for a while for people to leave. But it works out well and it isn't quite as crazy-packed as other places. And you can actually get into the bathroom without waiting forever with your legs crossed or doing a funny dance. And a special added bonus is getting to drink your beer from a real pint, not a plastic cup!

Anyway, one of the reasons we went there was to listen to Gilmer & Moore, who were also excellent. That's one of the great things about Austin on St. Patrick's Day, you basically can't swing a lepruchan without hitting some good music.

After 6th street it was off for dinner and some Amy's Ice Cream, which I have to admit didn't sit so well on top of a fried lunch, a couple of beers, a glass of wine and an Italian dinner, but seemed like a good idea at the time.

Mmmmmmm pi(e)

In one of the countries who typically write the month and then the day when writing out the date, someone cleverly noticed that today is 3.14 and decided it should be celebrated as Pi Day. And of course, the best way to celebrate is by eating pie, which besides being a homophone for pi is also round and therefore pi is useful for figuring out just how much pie you have. Starting a few years back some of our grad students starting bringing in pie for pi day and I'm happy to announce that tradition continues... I'm munching on a piece of apple pie right now.

And for an extra special geek bonus to the day, it is also Albert Einstein's birthday!

Customer Service Announcement - Fraudulent Charges on a Credit Card

Well, I can now say (not too proudly) that I have been a victim of a fraudulent credit card charge...

Here's the story so far:

Yesterday I logged on to my bank account to check my balance... something I'm pretty anal about since I only get paid at the beginning of the month so sometimes the funds get a little low at the end of the month. The charges that I expected to be there were, along with an extra one for $12.95 that I didn't recognize from "LITTLEFORK TECHNOLOGY". Since I don't use my debit card for much beyond food and gas, I was suspicious and started to Google around. And here is a thread that I found that pretty much confirmed my fears. The question still remains how our card numbers were stolen, but hopefully someone will eventually hear back from an investigating bank.

I called Bank of America yesterday, but we couldn't do anything until the charge actually posted. So this morning I called them again and they handled it quickly and graciously. I didn't even have to ask for them to cancel the number and send me out a new card, they automatically did it.

If anyone else comes across this post because they were curious about a mysterious charge from Littlefork Technology (or any of the other "businesses" listed in the thread above), call your bank and report it ASAP. I'll update with any additional information I come up with about these charges!

Valentine's Day, round two

Yes, he did it again. Last year, my boyfriend was out of town most of the day on Valentine's Day and this year he is out of town *all* day. So, once again, flowers arrived! This bunch has a strong sweet smell (coming from the lilies, I think) and is making my otherwise lifeless office a little greener.

(I almost wrote "dull office", but anyone who has seen my wall of postcards, rows of Pez dispensers and all my misc. critters knows that my office is anything but "dull".)

Happy Valentine's Day

The above is one of my all-time favorite images from Mars. It's actually only one of several objects on Mars that are heart-shaped, but for some reason this one reminds me the most of the cartoon hearts we used to draw on the little boxes we made in school for everyone to drop in those little boxed cards in. (I always like to adorn mine with sequins -- which aren't as sparkly after you get glue all over them -- and beads.)

So, Happy Valentine's Day, where ever in the solar system you may be.

Where are you?

Some friends of mine have been posting these maps to their blogs, so I thought I would join in!

Visitor Map
Create your own visitor map!

Dang... the Universe is most certainly NOT fair

I was going to write up a short blog entry about the death of Barbaro, and then Molly Ivins went and lost her battle (and it was probably a fight to the very last breath) with her third round of breast cancer. I hope that Molly Ivins wouldn't mind that I'm memorializing her with a horse ... I have a feeling she would have been pleased.

Both were some of the best ever at what they did and both got a bad roll of the dice and left us too soon. And we are all left to wonder about the amazing things that they still had left to accomplish (although, granted, with Barbaro, a lot of that would have been making little Barbaros).

Molly Ivins was a thoroughbred of wit, and she will be sorely missed.

Texas Observer's obituary for Molly Ivins

Interesting weather the last few days

So, it started with rain, which then became floods, and now it is freezing rain, sleet and snow.

Overnight Friday into Saturday morning we got quite a round of thunderstorms and very heavy rains (on pretty well saturated ground). After going to breakfast we drove around to all the low spots on the roads around the house and pretty much all of them were under water. The creek that is just down the road from us was higher than we've ever seen... the monitor on it says that the normal level lately was about 5 ft, but Saturday night it peaked at 34 ft. Thankfully we're up on a hill. If we have water in the house, Houston is in the drink...

By Monday, the cold air that was wreaking havoc in the middle of the country had worked its way down to Texas and combined with the moisture from the Pacific to give us freezing rain. We already had the day off from work for Martin Luther King Day, which was good, since ice and Texans in cars don't mix well. The forecasts last night looked bad, so the University (and all the school districts) canceled work and classes for today (Tuesday). Good thing too, since sleet, snow pellets and honest-to-goodness SNOW has been falling all day. We're in a little bit of a lull right now, but it looks like more is on the way. I'm personally hoping for more of the snow, since 1) it's a lot safer than the ice and 2) it's so pretty!

We've been taking photos and I'll have some up on Flickr once I get a chance to upload them. The satellite internet is a little slow from home today since the receiver is covered in ice!

Awesome ads and a good idea to boot

The above are two of the ads from the Girl Scouts Girls Go Tech campaign, and my particular favorites (I especially like the radio version of "Twinkle"). Click on the small versions to go to the full sized images at the AdCouncil website.

I was a Girl Scout (actually, a Brownie) for about all of two seconds in the late 1970s in Houston... which of course was long enough to sell cookies ... yuuummmmm.... thin mints.....

But, I digress. The goal of this campaign it to encourage interest in math and science in young girls, and even more importantly, to keep that interest alive in them as they grow older. The website isn't too in depth, but it does have a few good resources for encouraging girls in technology, math and science.

I've seen a huge variety of girls in the past 11 years that I've been doing astronomy education and outreach. Some are smart, confident and don't mind showing off what they know and others are shy and need enouragement to answer questions. I've seen three-year-olds able to recognize the moon through a telescope and I've seen teens that don't know the difference between a solar system, a galaxy and the Universe. And I've seen everything in between. But, I'm somewhat encouraged because I'm seeing more and more of the smart, confident type and I see more and more female undergrads and grad students coming into astronomy. I think the past few graduate classes we've admitted at UT are close to 50/50 male/female. I don't know as much about other fields, but at least astronomy seems to be making a little progress.

There isn't really any grand point to this post, I just wanted to link to those neat ads and ramble a little about something that I care about (for obvious reasons) - girls and women in science.