Thursday, July 12, 2012

This post contains three cakes and six cupcakes

Five miscellaneous stories, in chronological order.

4. Four weeks ago, my friends and I went to the local observatory's Public Night, because astronomy is awesome. They packed about 150 people into three rooms: the room with the telescope, a little museum room, and a classroom, where a somewhat awkward but adorable graduate student from my pulsar group was giving a talk. I was super jealous, because I wanted to tell the public about pulsars! So, at the end, I hustled up to the front and asked who I would have to talk to in order to do such a thing.

Awkward-but-adorable graduate student: "Ricky."
Me: "...Ricky?"
ABA GS: "Yeah, Ricky."
Me: "...Do you know his last name?"
ABA GS: "No..."
Me: "Oh. How about an e-mail address?"
ABA GS: "No."
Me: "Oh."
ABA GS: "He's around here somewhere, though!"
Me: "Oh. Uh...what does he look like?"
ABA GS: "Uh...short ish man, middle-aged, greyish hair."

PERFECT, considering that the place was (a) dark, as observatories tend to be, and (b) overflowing with people. Since it was so ridiculously crowded and my friends and I weren't willing to stand in line for another 45 minutes to see Saturn a second time, we walked outside to drive home. I was surprised to find an extra eight gajillion people out there; I guess these were the ones who also didn't feel like standing in line. Before anyone could stop me, I screamed "RICKY!" at the top of my lungs....silence, awkward muttering, people paying attention. I took a deep breath, and yelled: "IS ANYONE HERE NAMED RICKY?"

Some guy: "...I am."

More silence. I rushed across the grass to the voice, introduced myself, and found out that this was, in fact Ricky, the University of Virginia astronomy professor who helps coordinate the observatory's volunteer program. After apologizing no fewer than seventeen thousand times for screaming his name like that in a crowded place, I marched triumphantly away holding his e-mail address. I'm surprised I still have friends, after that; each of them said "I can't believe you just did that" in turn. But! Guess what? Three weeks later (last week), I gave a talk at the public night about pulsars :)

3. Three weeks ago (WHAT? ALREADY THREE WEEKS AGO?) it was my friend/fellow NRAO summer student Stephen's birthday. His research project here at the NRAO (he sits at the desk opposite me, so has the misfortune of being the person I stare at furiously whenever I'm thinking about why my code isn't working) is to model C-O regions in the Whirlpool Galaxy, using data from the Very Large Array in New Mexico.

This is what the Whirlpool Galaxy looks like:
The Whirlpool Galaxy has a little dwarf satellite friend.

This is what the Very Large Array looks like:

There are 27 dishes, each with a 25m diameter.

This is what Stephen's birthday cake looked like:

The dwarf satellite friend needed its own baking dish.

This is what Stephen's birthday cupcakes looked like:

There are 6 cupcakes, each with a diameter that I did not and cannot be bothered to measure.
Turns out that lighting the intersection of four candles produces some really epic fire.

That was a good weekend, because Daniel came to visit! Friday night was Stephen's birthday, so we all went out restaurant-hopping downtown (Daniel didn't like the ikura, but he liked the dumplings). Afterwards, we went back to the guys' flat, played Dominion, and drank water while everyone else got either drunk, or very drunk. Gooooood times. On Saturday, we went on a little walk around Observatory Hill, which is (a) quite pretty and (b) right next to where I work, before joining the others for go-karting and watching Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. It's worth mentioning that I have been waiting for that movie to come out since I first saw a poster for it last summer; it was precisely what I expected it to be (hilarious, if you refuse to take it seriously.) I saw a suggestion online for the next such movie to be Bill Clinton: Lady Killer. On Sunday, we had a ridiculously large, ridiculously late lunch, before his train back home in the afternoon. Yay for LMF reunions :)

2. Two weeks ago, I went to Radio Shack and bought a little breadboard + a little 1'' speaker + a 9V battery + a resistor, a copule of capacitors, 2 cadmium sulfide photocells, and a couple of other electronicky things. Avec assistance from my friends Stephen and Trey, I built this:

It's a cute little pocket theremin! A theremin is an electronic instrument that you can "play" without touching; you vary the pitch by varying the distance your hand is from the antenna. This is a very cheap, beginner's version, that works by varying the amount of light shining on it instead (hence the photocells.) Next plan: take apart an old radio, build a little radio telescope, and use it to watch sunspot activity and electrical storms on Jupiter. Alternatively/after that: build a crude EEG using an arduino (I noticed they had arduino-building kits in Radio Shack) and a Mind Flex toy (some kids' game.) I have to admit - the EE side of Course 6 looks SO much more appealing now than it did pre-summer. I guess I've run into a lot of this stuff by trying to figure out how exactly my data gets from deep space onto my Desktop, and have realized that it's actually really cool. 

1. One week ago (Saturday, close enough) my friends and I drove down to DC for the day, since one guy had to drop his girlfriend off anyway. It was something like 105 degrees outside, and totally unbearable. We spent all day in the Archives/Art Museum/Natural History museum. Funny story: while I was standing and reading the original Bill of Rights, this random guy next to me asked where I was from, talked with me about Python programming for a couple of minutes, then asked if he could give me his number (little-known fact: guys dig the Python programming thing.) I wanted to be smooth and say something about exercising my right to say no to random strange men, but instead got all flustered and suggested that he start coming to the observatory public nights instead. 

...yeaaaahhh. good times.

0. It's restaurant week in Charlottesville! Tonight, we went to a place called "The Bavarian Chef" which was ABSOLUTELY AMAZING, and gave quantities of food on the order of what one would hope for from a German restaurant. I had asparagus wrapped in ham atop rye bread, beef with a mushroom sauce, and vanilla cake. Ohmygoodnessitwassogood.

Anyway, it's now midnight, which means that it's time for a very sleep-deprived me (ugh, even over the summer...) to go to sleep and reboot for work tomorrow.

Take care and post more of your adventures! I want to hear them. I miss you all <3

Love and skydiving-to-come,


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