Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Well, they don't care

If only they knew. The treat lady can't make it this time. Eddie, above, seems oblivious but Bubbles can't stand the news. I have to admit I'm siding with Bubbles but she really needs to stop shedding so much fur.

The last two weeks have been incredibly difficult and I doubt things will get easier for a while. What I have noticed is that there are a bunch of people who read my blog even if I haven't posted anything new. There's only one thing I would like to say to those people, and anyone else who reads my blog:

I wish you a very happy new year and hope you, your families and friends have a wonderful 2010.


Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Let's hope for a brighter year ahead

The queen in the UK used the Latin phrase "annus horribilis" to mean a "horrible year". I was never taught Latin so please correct me if I get this wrong, but this has been a "septimana horribilis" (horrible week, or seven days). Hey, I'm an ex-state school kid, you should be surprised I know there's such a thing as Latin and not robbing old ladies of their handbags.

Please give all your thoughts and prayers (if you're religious) to Pam. She and I both have pretty crappy Christmases to look forward to and I know Pam will feel better if she has the thoughts and encouragement from all of you. It will mean a lot to me as well if you could drop her a line or a comment wishing her well. She was going to be here just after Christmas but now cannot visit as she has some serious and urgent medical issues to deal with. I know she will be in my thoughts.

In the meantime, thank you all for reading my blog and for all your comments and I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.


Sunday, 20 December 2009

Two videos of the storm

Thankfully it seems the storm of the last couple of days has passed. One victim is my camera which is broken due to some nearby lightning strikes and wish I had it for my drive between Puna and Hilo yesterday evening (Saturday 19th Dec) because the rain and lightning is something I won't forget.

This morning Kona experienced the storms and a particularly powerful-looking water spout. I've seen a few of these on the east side of the island over the years but nothing as big as this one.

Big Island Video News - water spout.

The same site published another video which is pretty much what I saw on my drive except I saw a lot more lightning and plenty of ground strikes. At one point I was at a junction waiting to turn onto the highway and I must have seen three or four bolts of lightning hit the ground within a few hundred yards. It was actually quite scary. A couple of houses were set on fire by the lightning and I'm surprised there weren't more. It's not always paradise in paradise...

Big Island Video News - Puna storm.

PS. Guess I should make it three videos. The following is from Hawaii 24/7. Watch the top video, especially just after 1-minute as it shows a lightning strike. That was the sort of thing I saw several times on my drive and some very close to me.

Hawaii 24/7 - Puna gets pounded[...]

Saturday, 19 December 2009

What is it with my place?

The thunder and lightning started yesterday evening and went on until just a few hours ago. Some of the locals are reporting up to 15 inches of rain in the last 24-hours which wouldn't surprise me as my yard flooded again. This never used to happen until two or three years ago.

The power has been off and on all day but finally went off at around 4:45pm. I needed to go into town so this seemed the best time despite not being able to take a shower - my water supply depends upon a pump which only works if there's electricity. I'm sorry if I offended anyone in the couple of stores I had to visit.

As is normal in what to most people would appear to be a third-world island, there was no way to get through to Helco, the local power company. Their emergency number was busy. Obviously their crews did go out and eventually fix things otherwise I wouldn't be able to post this, but their telephone system needs some fixing.

In the end the only causality was my camera. It's had it. I tried to take some pictures of last night's storm but the lightning started to strike trees within yards of my house so felt very uneasy and went inside. Can you blame me? This morning I checked the camera and it's fried. It sort of works as in it will take a picture but it's just noise and the LCD screen shows nothing but white. I think the lightning got it and I'm so glad it happened when I was inside.

Friday, 18 December 2009

The scale of things

Just popping by because Brad posted an amazing video on his blog and I hope to share it with people who might not go to his blog too often. It's called The Known Universe and it was made by the American Museum of Natural History. The video is stunning, I hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Is this just a bad dream?

In a 24-hour period I learn about the proposed closure of UKIRT and the potential loss of my job and then my closest and dearest friend, who I love dearly and wish she was here right now, has been diagnosed with cancer. As you can imagine my emotions are a touch messed up right now and think it's likely I'll be taking a break from blogging for a bit while I sort myself out.

Thank you all for reading and commenting and your thoughts mean so much to me. Hopefully I'll be back here very soon and if it isn't before Christmas then I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.


And a very merry Christmas to you too

We've received this year's Christmas present from the UK's Science & Technology Facilities Council. Brad at has all the details in "The Death of UKIRT".

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

A dark night tonight

I don't feel like writing much this evening. I cannot say why as the news I have is confidential and so all I'll say is that I'll be making sure my CV is up to date.

These are a collection of blogs and articles all written before the STFC announcement on Wednesday 16th December at 2pm GMT. They give a flavour of the pre-announcement feelings of the UK astronomical community. I don't think the mood will improve much once the announcement is made.

STFC Funding Crisis: Astronomy
The e-Astronomer
In the Dark
To the left of centre
Orbiting Frog

Update since I can't sleep:

In the Dark - Day of Reckoning
Save Astronomy

Monday, 14 December 2009

Sleepless night

Unlike other more forward-looking governments who understand the benefits of pure science and how it aids society, e.g., attracting people into science to start with and the unforeseeable inventions that is has produced over the centuries, the UK government is cutting back its funding. I could go into a long rant about the UK government such as its support of the banks that had put us all into this dreadful financial mess, how it spies on its citizens, how it supports people with no intention of earning a living yet penalizes those that do, how it screws up student funding so that many have given up their university courses because their loans still haven't arrived and how it wants to become big brother.

Tomorrow some of us will find out what cuts the STFC will make, and most of know there will be little good news, if any. I just hope I'm around a little longer and can take a few more photos of Mauna Kea sunsets while the government destroys British science.

Yes, I'm depressed. I'm not the only one, as the e-astronomer and telescoper might confirm.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Two old women

A couple of people have asked me for an update on Bubbles and Eddie, my two cats. They're both doing really well and despite advancing age are quite healthy. I asked the vet recently if it was normal for my two girls to become increasingly annoying as they got older and his answer was "well, they do tend to become more needy".

When I'm at home they just won't leave me alone (or each other but that often ends in a fight). No matter where I am they have to be near me. It's very cute but they have both become a little more vocal in the last year. In the past, when they wanted to sit next to me they'd do it quietly. Now they make the most ridiculous noises until they have my attention and it gets a touch exasperating after a while!

They are still very beautiful and incredibly affectionate, and both know when I've had enough of them for an hour or two! Eddie (on the right) is 13 years old and is still extremely athletic whilst Bubbles (12 years old) just likes to sleep, preferably next to Eddie, who she still thinks is her mum.

I haven't the heart to tell her otherwise.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

A flawed sunrise panorama and a puzzle

A Mauna Kea summit panorama taken at sunrise. Click on the picture for a larger image.

I took this sunrise panorama in October but didn't post the picture here because I wasn't happy with it as there were too many things wrong in the final picture. It shows, from left to right, a bit of the Hualalai volcano, the CSO, JCMT and the SMA in the valley and Subaru, the Kecks and the NASA IRTF on the ridge. In the distance you can see both the earth's shadow and the one formed by Mauna Kea.

The panorama consists of three camera positions and at each position I took three shots with different exposures to create three separate "blended" images, one for each position. These three blended pictures were then stitched together in software. Although it's obvious to me, I was the one doing the panning after all, can you figure out if I created the panorama by going from left to right or right to left, and if so, how do you know?

The clue is it's sunrise and the view is to the west!

Friday, 11 December 2009

How not to do an Irish accent...

...or does it just make you say "huh"?

An interview by a fake Irish leprechaun?

My my my, this scares the bejesus out of me (written in a fake Irish accent of course).

Murphy's Law, or how to break stuff

We call it the "top-end" but it's really the secondary mirror with the associated mechanical, electronic and optical components. Unlike secondary mirrors in most amateur and consumer telescopes, the top-end is a rather complicated beast. During night-time observations it "vibrates" at up to 100 Hz (100 times a second) to compensate for distortions in the optical path of light from a star, galaxy or whatever we're observing. The distortions are due to turbulence in our atmosphere. This system, called tip-tilt, can improve our delivered image quality by up to 100% compared to a telescope that doesn't compensate for the atmosphere.

On top of this we also move the secondary mirror to compensate for "flexure". Just about all astronomical instruments that are attached to a telescope suffer flexure. As the telescope slews around the sky the effect of gravity bends the instrument (and telescope) ever so slightly. The amount of bending is minute but it's enough to impact image quality - the detectors in the various instruments are no longer exactly perpendicular to the wavefront (the beam of light that the telescope sends to the instruments) and the result is small aberrations that can be seen in the images of the night sky. These can be corrected in software to a certain amount but always result in a loss of sensitivity, i.e., the faintest objects we detect might just be too noisy to extract a scientific result or the image of a star isn't quite round enough to to see if it's a point source or slightly extended which means it might have some interesting circumstellar material around it - perhaps even a new solar system!

Our top-end is one of my responsibilities and I spent a lot of time coming up with a way to compensate for flexure in our current survey instrument. The secondary is moved in both the translational axis (i.e., from side-to-side) and in the rotational axis (i.e., it tilts) to correct for the flexure. The work resulted in a significant improvement in our delivered image quality, or as some might say, the "seeing" (although that would be a bit of an inaccurate way to describe things).

Unfortunately, the top-end is being asked to do a lot of work and occasionally just seems to give up and stops moving. The tip-tilt still works but the flexure compensation stops (they are controlled by different systems). It's an annoying problem although it's quickly fixed at night so rarely loses much time, but it does often mean we have to stop observing for a couple of minutes to reset things.

At the start of this week one of our engineers played around with a spare controller for the top-end and then put the original back in place. That's always a bit of a pain because it means things get reset during the day and the mechanisms that move the top-end are sensitive to temperature. During the day things are warm and at night it's cold, so any daytime work on the system means we have to reset things at night when the temperatures have settled.

Well, it turned out that swapping the controller and then putting the old one back in place fixed things. For two and-a-half nights we experienced no problems at all with the top-end whereas normally we'd see the problem two or three times each night. I was so happy!

Being confident things had been fixed albeit not sure how, I sent a message through our fault system describing what had happened and that it appeared things had been fixed even if it was serendipitous.

I believe it was within one hour of my happy and relieved response in the fault system that the top-end stopped working again.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

The best sunset

I've a bit of a dodgy knee and have been stuck at home for the last couple of days and had nothing better to do other than sit in front of my PC with my leg in a fully rested position (just in case the doc is reading!). I know I've posted a few pictures of this particular sunset before but I hadn't put it through some of the more up-to-date software I now have thanks to being on broadband at last.

Somewhere in one of my closets are a few pictures of a staggering sunset I saw in South Africa many years ago; I hope I can find them again and perhaps digitize them. Still, they don't compare to the best sunset I have ever seen which was in July this year. It's the evening I took the panorama for my current blog header and whenever I look at the dozens of pictures I took that evening I know I witnessed a very special sight.

Those pesky UFO/chemtrail/911 conspiracy people

There has been an interesting discussion in one of the blogs I follow - the Big Island Chronicle. It's one of the best blogs out there, especially for those of us who live on the Big Island of Hawai`i.

One recent post has resulted in several comments, many of which are suspect as there was a deluge of anonymous comments all saying the same thing, but this person's comments really caught my attention. butlincat, like many UFO/chemtrail/911 conspiracy theorists loves to draw attention away from the nonsense they post by including numerous videos, pictures and bright colours that do nothing other than distract readers from the lack of evidence or verifiable facts that they present. You only have to look at his blog to to see it's just another conspiracy theorist who loves to deluge the reader with frighteningly bright colours.

I've commented a few times in the the Big Island Chronicle's article and expressed some of my views. As I expected, some of the comments have been met with some very strange replies and as usual a bunch of insults. Butlincat thinks I called him an imbecile when in fact I never said such a thing, but in return I'm a foolish ignorant sheep.

I've issued a challenge to Butlincat. He says the US borders will be closed by 31st December this year and I say they won't. I've given my word that I'll admit I'm wrong if indeed the borders do close and challenged butlincat to do the same if he is wrong. That's when he came out with the insults.

So, here it is again, butlincat, but it's my blog this time. I'll say I'm wrong if the US closes its borders on 31 Dec and if they don't, you'll say you're wrong. Deal?

Update: butlincat's latest response to my challenge in the Big Island Chronicle's article is "go away". So much for standing up for what you believe in. This is just another conspiracy theorist who runs away when given the opportunity to present evidence to support their case and hasn't got the guts to stand behind their own claims. What a surprise.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Christmas light show from Puna, Hawai`i

I tried to find the Oshiro family Christmas light show last year without success. I think I found the right place but it was late at night and I think the lights had been turned off. I'm definitely going to try again this year as it's not far away from me at all. I have to say I don't envy the utility bill they'll be getting in January, but it's an extraordinary show! More videos can be found here.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

The night shift II

I won't be showing too many more summit sunset pictures for a while I think and suspect that my blog might go into a relatively quiet period for a couple of months. I'm not scheduled for the night shift again until the end of January and I'm taking a bit of leave during January as well - it's been almost a year since I last took any significant time away from work and am really looking forward to it!

In the meantime I'm now moving to the day shift and will still be visiting Mauna Kea's summit once in a while with the engineers and technicians but I have to admit the opportunities to take pictures up there are a little more limited during the day, but I'll see what I can do!

In fact I was hoping to take a bunch of photos today showing the massive surf that was forecast to hit us late today, but when I went down to the nearby cliffs the ocean was like a mill pond. North Oahu is forecast to be hit by an unbelievably massive surf overnight and over the next couple of days. Wave heights of up to 50-feet are expected and some reports seem to indicate the surf may be as high as 60-feet in some sets. That's truly hard to imagine. I've seen 25 to 30-foot waves and that was one of the most awesome sights I have seen - I can't quite picture what waves double that height might look like. There will be surfers out in that ocean violence as well, but only the most experienced. It looks good for the Eddie Aikau Quicksilver surf contest tomorrow, the most prestigious one in the world which is only held when the surf gets this big!

Down here on the Big Island we get shielded from these massive north west swells by the other islands but the forecast is still calling for some truly large surf, even for the cliffs near me - perhaps up to 20-foot waves. I'll have another look tomorrow evening when I get back from work and if I don't check in you might want to call the US Coast Guard!

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Norman of Nottingham

I don't actually know this guy's name so I'm calling him Norman for now. He's a mascot of The University of Nottingham Astronomy Group and he's currently observing at the summit of Mauna Kea. Apparently he accompanies astronomers from the group all over the world when they go observing and tries to help at night although I found him a little unresponsive when I gave him the safety briefing and explained how to use our telescope.

He seems to be a little short-sighted as well but at least he tried to fit in by wearing his aloha shirt and sunglasses despite not being appropriate clothing for the summit. He's been here before so he ought to have known about the requirement for wearing cold weather gear. Still, it's always a pleasure to see Norman again.

I can't strictly call The University of Nottingham my alma mater since I was wasn't a student there, but I did spend two-and-a-half years in Nottingham as a postdoc although this was before there was an astronomy group at the university - I worked in the chemistry department for a small but very active astrophysical chemistry research group which is still going strong I'm very pleased to say.

It was a fun two years and I love Nottingham despite some of the problems the city has had over the last few years and I have to say the university campus has to be among the most beautiful anywhere in the UK. I return fairly regularly as I still collaborate with university staff and still have many good and dear friends there. Of course it's always a real pleasure to have them out in Hawai`i visiting us!

Friday, 4 December 2009

The night shift

A moonlit panorama of Mauna Kea's summit area taken at 3:20 in the morning believe it or not. This is always the worst part of the night. The body and brain want to sleep so badly and often I'll step outside into the freezing night-time temperatures just to wake myself up. When the sky is clear and there's no moon the sky can be dramatic, you hardly need to get dark adapted to see the Milky Way and a sky full of stars. On the other hand when the moon is up the night sky can look quite dull but then you get to see the rest of the mountain and the observatories at work. When the wind is calm it's very quiet except for the occasional distant hum of a telescope slewing. This is always the time and view that reminds me of how remote we are as an island and also as a planet.

From left to right: the Hualalai volcano and then Pu`u Poli`ahu which legend has it is the home of the snow goddess of Mauna Kea. In the shadow of Poli`ahu are the CSO, JCMT and the SMA. On the ridge the Subaru and twin Kecks are visible with Maui's Haleakala in the far distance.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Mauna Loa

When the inversion layer is low the summit of Mauna Loa and its western slopes are visible from my home away from home. Unfortunately we don't have too many windows to look through at the summit as the other observatories might get a little annoyed whenever we turn the lights on. Those wanting to take photos of the summit views have to step outside and brave the cold and wind, but it's worth it.

The vog and clouds in the saddle between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa always fascinate me. Click on the picture to get a closer view of them.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Someone reads my blog!

There was a flurry of comments in a post of mine and wondered if I'd said something controversial or perhaps mentioned Tiger Woods by accident. Turns out it was thanks to a post by Hilary over at "The Smitten Image" who is under the impression that I wrote something interesting. In a sudden fit of altitude-induced scientific curiosity, I checked google analytics to see where these comments had come from.

I don't do that very often because this blog is essentially my diary, it just happens to be online and people are welcome to read it. On the other hand, I learned something very interesting tonight.

Apparently there is only one person who reads this blog and therefore, according to google and the internet (from which everything that is true emerges) they live well north of the Arctic circle a few hundred miles offshore of Greenland's east coast. I'm impressed by the number of personalities this person has used when commenting on my blog!

So, to my reader out there in a trawler or lightship, perhaps the captain of a stranded Russian nuclear submarine or maybe a polar explorer stuck in the ice with their ship crushed by mother nature and with his friends frozen to death or eaten by polar bears, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to read my blog. Do you need me to send a rescue team?

It's from the internet, it must be true.

Whaddya lookin' at, eh?

Watching me watching you.

Chasing the green flash

Over thirteen years of working on Mauna Kea, eighteen since I first visited and over a thousand nights spent on the summit and I have yet to see the green flash from the mountain. Even more frustratingly, I know it's occurred while I've been outside watching the sunset because someone on their first trip to Mauna Kea, just a week and a half ago, caught it photographically and decided to rub salt into my wounds by publishing it on Facebook! I was there that night and gave the guy a lift back down. Grrr. I should have stolen his camera and left him at the summit!

Only joking, Eric!

Monday, 30 November 2009

The aftermath

Well, last night's storm created a little excitement around here and Mauna Kea experienced its second snowfall of the winter. I wasn't at the summit but the various webcams on Mauna Kea caught the the early-morning scene although within a few hours most of the snow had already melted - it's still a little early in the season for the really bad snow storms we see from time to time and the daytime temperatures and sunlight are usually sufficient to melt the snow quickly.

UKIRT's webcam caught the snow covered road a little after 8am. The tracks in the snow were probably left by the rangers on their early morning inspection of the summit. They closed the road for a while until the snow had melted.

The webcam on Gemini captured the CFHT, MKAM and the snow field in between.

To the south, one of the NOAA Mauna Loa Observatory webcams captured Mauna Kea in the early morning light with snow on the summit, although as you can see the snow was clearly contained to the summit area and didn't extend much further down than a few hundred feet. Occasionally it can snow all the way down to Hale Pohaku at the 9,000 foot level.

By sunset this evening, the snow had nearly all gone.

At home it wasn't so pretty! Although I didn't hear anything overnight (the wind and rain was a little too loud and of course I'd closed all the windows!) this morning I found a couple of trees had come down, I assume due to the wind.

This one barely missed my car, it was literally inches away, the end of the branches had snapped off when they hit the ground and were actually under the car! I don't think the tree is that healthy which probably explains why it fell.

I have no idea what the tree is called, sorry, but looking up at the branches this is where the it had clearly snapped overnight. Looking round a little more, I saw several other places where branches had snapped off but I couldn't find the branches! This is actually right on the boundary between my yard and the neighbouring uncleared land which is difficult to access as it's overgrown, so I assume the fallen branches are over there somewhere.

Out in the front yard I found a piece of my rooftop TV antenna. I don't think reception's going to be very good for a while! Incidentally, that trunk in the ground used to be underneath the "lawn", you wouldn't have known it was there. The unusually bad storms of the last couple of years plus summer droughts have eroded my top soil so badly that it now protrudes a couple of inches above the ground.

The infamous glowing picnic table effect

Stupidly, I forgot I had left my camera out in the top lanai on its tripod. When I was closing all the doors and windows in panic last night I suddenly saw that the tripod had been blown over and the camera was lying on the wet lanai floor. I brought it in immediately, dried it off and turned it on. It seemed to work although I didn't take any pictures. My first attempt at taking a picture when I arrived home this evening, however, resulted in this:

Uh oh! Why was my picnic table and bench glowing like this? I was obviously a little concerned that I'd damaged the camera or had my table taken on some ghostly paranormal-like properties during the storm?

Turns out it appears to be something to do with the circular polarizer I habitually keep on the camera lense. When I took it off the pictures looked normal again. Although I had cleaned and dried the filter, and it looked good to my eye, something was up with it. I'm going to leave it in its case with some desiccant and perhaps a few grains of rice and see if that fixes the problem. I should understand how a polarizer might cause such an effect, but am going to have to think about it...

Stormy night

Heavy rainfall, the threat of thunderstorms and a strong northerly wind is flooding the back yard and the lanais. My house is orientated so that the lanais face north and in the summer they're a relatively cool place to stay. With this type of storm, however, it's a bit of a disadvantage as I realised when I arrived home this evening.

All the windows are shut (that's pretty rare here) and despite that my computer monitor is wobbling like mad because the wind is making the house shake! I hope the promised thunderstorms don't make an appearance, I could do without that.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Don't look directly at the sun

It's dangerous for your eyes and plays havoc with the exposure meter on your camera.

Friday, 27 November 2009

A changing picture

Some of you might think I'm obsessed with sunsets. That's not actually the case, I prefer sunrises! Still, I tend to post a lot of sunset pictures here but it's not really by choice. I'm either working during the day or at night and often the only time I get a chance to get the camera out is between those shifts, i.e., sunrise or sunset.

Not being a morning person, you can see why the sunset shots predominate!

As it turns out, sunset or sunrise is normally the best time to take landscape pictures as the colours are much more intense during those times. During the middle of the day things tend to get washed out a bit and pictures are not so interesting. I've heard one or two stories that editors of photography magazines will simply not accept landscape photos if they are not taken during the "magic hour", i.e., the hour just after sunrise and the hour just before sunset. I don't know how true those rumours are but suspect there is something to it.

In fact you can take remarkably beautiful pictures before sunrise and after sunset. I think that's when the sky is at its best but often you need that sun just above the horizon to illuminate the scene such as mountains etc. For beautiful skies though, just after sunset is the best!

These two were taken a couple of days ago from my house. It's not the best place for sunset shots since I'm on the wrong side of the island for that and the utility lines tend to spoil things. Sometimes, though, I take a quick glance to the west and it looks stunning. So, even though I know I could take prettier shots elsewhere, I think it's better just to take a picture of what you think is beautiful whenever you get the chance. I'd have loved to have been on a sandy beach on the west side of the island when taking these two pictures but should I really put the camera away just because I'm not in the ideal spot? I don't think so!

The sun hasn't quite set yet, the higher cirrus clouds are only showing a hint of sunset colours but the lower clouds glow yellow/orange.

Fifteen minutes later the sun has set but the high clouds in the distance are illuminated by the reddened sunlight. The lower clouds are now in shadow.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

A Thanksgiving thank you

Thank you to all who take the time to pop by my little blog. You mean a lot to me and to show my appreciation I thought I'd mention a few of you and your own blogs. This is in no particular order and I can't mention everyone and my sincerest apologies if I missed you out - just blame my altitude-addled brain!

Pam (Beep) is the most dear and wonderful friend who is suffering from a severe and life-threatening illness not helped by the crazy health system in the USA. She means the world to me. Pam has several blogs including Beep's Purple Personal Blog and Grrls Just Wanna Have Fun!. Her home page is Beep's Home on the Web. Please do take the time to visit and if there's anything you can do to help, even just to add a comment from time to time, it will help more than you think.

Keera, another California Girl(!), writes from her home in Norway and I always look forward to reading her beautifully written articles and photos of a place I think I'd love to visit! Her blog is called A Roll in the Universe.

Alice has been an online friend for years and has a wonderful blog called 10,000 Monkeys and & Camera. Like Pam and Keera, I have known her for many years and love her views on life and her photos. She also produces the most amazing food porn!

Hilary authors one of my favourite blogs, The Smitten Image. Stunning pictures and beautiful writing. And a dog called Benny! Hilary's blog is extremely popular and if you visit you'll find out why. I'm honoured to have Hilary visit my own humble offering and it means a lot to me.

Diane is a wonderful writer with a sense of humour I adore! I love her blog and always read it although I think she doesn't like the fact that I don't leave many comments. Well, dear, it's usually because I can't think of anything to say, your writing is just so much better than mine! Her blog is called Diane's Addled Ramblings and it's one of the best out there!

Then there's Lou Minatti over at, er, Lou Minatti. He is another friend I've known online for many years and a fellow skeptic. Although I think our political views are quite different he is just the nicest guy out there and has a very bright mind. I have a lot of time for you, Lou, and one day I'll visit Houston, but it'll have to be during the winter!

Like me, Andrew works on Mauna Kea although he tends to work the day shift. His is another blog with beautiful photos and a lot of astronomy as well as the most gorgeous underwater pictures. His blog is called A Darker View and really worth a visit!

Damon, one of the more prolific bloggers I know, has his own site called Damon Tucker's Blog which includes a lot of local news, but I think his achievement was the creation of the wonderful "From Big Island (FBI)" web site. I don't know how he keeps it up to date but it's a collection of the best Big Island blogs and tweets and is simply phenomenal. Do you want to visit the Big Island? Just visit that website to see views from a huge range of people that live on the island. I can't thank Damon enough for his work on creating and maintaining that web site.

Finally but definitely not least, there's Zuzana (Protege). What a wonderful and beautiful person. She can't say a bad word about anyone and even my most boring blog posts have a comment from her that are always so incredibly polite and complimentary. Is there anyone on this planet nicer than her? I don't think so. Zuzana's wonderful blog is called Life Through Reflections.

There are so many other people I'd like to mention. Ant is a friend and colleague whose photos blow us all away. Brad, another friend and colleague likes growing mustaches and writes some awesome software while being a new father. John hikes some of the most beautiful places on the planet and always writes so intelligently as well as showing us beautiful pictures from the Kona side. Blake is going through the same thing I did over a decade ago and trying to find a place to live on one of the most beautiful places in the world and Devany has already arrived, complete with the most incredible recipes you could imagine and some stunning sunrise views! Then there's Kahuku whose site I only recently discovered but fell in love with the photography in seconds.

I must have missed out several people and if so I do apologise, please let me know and I'll correct it. It wasn't deliberate.

Thank you again for spending a little time reading my blog, putting up with my occasional rants and leaving all your wonderful comments. It means so much to me!


Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Dear Mum, today we visited Mauna Kea and...

...found a really cool cherry picker!

With a couple of hundred people at the summit for sunset, nearly all watching another view of the sun slipping into the Pacific Ocean, a couple of people found something much more interesting to explore.

I know everyone's different, perhaps the guy is an engineer or something, but I was a little surprised to see a couple more interested in the contractor's cherry picker outside UKIRT than watch the sunset. They probably paid something like $400 to visit the summit on one of the commercial tours (the luminous orange clothing gives it away) and yet they were far more intrigued by the equipment left outside UKIRT, which is undergoing a paint job, than the wonderful and out-of-this-world view to the west.

Everyone to their own I guess...

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone, and to those that do not celebrate Thanksgiving, which is pretty much the rest of the world apart from North America, have a wonderful day anyway. If it includes a close examination of a cherry picker, I can only wish that you have a fantastic time doing that!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Sunset on the Rainbow Isle

Few things beat coming back home in the evening after spending time on Mauna Kea's summit and seeing the most intensely coloured rainbow you could wish for as the sun is setting. There was no time to frame the shots in a nice way or go somewhere else to catch the ocean and shoreline as well, just time to go out on the upper lanai and take a couple of pictures. The rain shower that produced the rainbow was fast-moving and left little time to take a picture. I could have got back into my car and taken a couple of minutes to get to the nearby cliffs, but by then the rainbow would have gone.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Views from the tour

Well, I think everyone I took on the tour of Mauna Kea this past Saturday survived; the same number of people that went to the summit also managed to get back down to Hilo and I don't think we left anyone behind. I know one or two people had some issues with the altitude and for that I apologise although there's little I can do about that unfortunately. You never know who's going to do well at 14,000 feet and who won't. I've seen some of the fittest people I've ever met become a drooling and incoherent mess within a couple of hours yet people you think are going to do badly seem completely unaffected. The group I took up did rather well I think!

I didn't have much time to take photos during the visit as I spent most of the time chatting and describing the mountain as well trying to explain what astronomers do with the telescopes at the summit. I hope everyone managed to learn a little about what we do and the environment we work in. Unfortunately due to some summit-level clouds one of the hoped-for highlights didn't happen - opening the domes at sunset. Only one telescope actually opened while we were there whereas the others were all measuring high humidity and therefore couldn't open their protective domes as it would risk water condensing on the cold optical surfaces and electronics.

Still, the views were as stunning as ever but above all I met some new and wonderful friends!

A post-sunset view of Hualalai taken from just outside the UKIRT dome.

Submillimeter Valley and the setting sun, again taken from just outside UKIRT.

Shadows of the summit ridge telescopes on a cinder cone. Taken just outside the CFHT. Left to right the shadows are of the CFHT, Gemini and the UH 88-inch.

We saw most of the places on the mountain I'd recommend to visitors but I do apologise for not being able to locate the light switch inside the JCMT dome! It shows how many times I dare enter that place but I hope the subsequent torch/flashlight-led tour was still enjoyable! Jonathan and Tim, the guys working at the UKIRT that night, were also very gracious in letting us warm up in the control room shortly before we drove back down to a more oxygen-rich environment while answering all of my guests' questions. That was really appreciated!

Some of the tour group enjoying one of those special sunsets from Mauna Kea's summit.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Upcoming career move?

I'm going to be a tour guide tomorrow (Saturday). Six people who I've never met before will be taking the Mauna Kea summit tour with me as their guide. It should be fun especially as I can offer a little more than the normal MK tour companies - a guided tour of a submillimetre and infrared telescope plus watching the night crew in action taking data. I won't be charging nearly $200 for the tour as most companies do either, but tips are welcome! I just hope I'm not asked to point out the constellations, that might be embarrassing.

I hope it goes well, and I might even show my guests the best place on the summit for taking photos at sunset or sunrise. Oops, I gave it away in the picture.

What will they think of next?

I was almost taken out today by some driver who clearly wasn't looking out for traffic. Fortunately I saw the guy was doing something very unusual and since I drive rather defensively, as you have to do here, I managed to swerve out of his way. I really was waiting for the big crash but managed to put just enough space between our cars that we missed by inches. At the next stop he was behind me and very sheepishly raised his hand in apology - which I acknowledged although I was a little shaken. We all make mistakes after all.

It occurred to me that perhaps he was using this product. You have to read the reviews, they're priceless. A friend pointed out that the customer images are also worth checking out and indeed they are!

I wonder if they'll come up with a version for motorbikes. That'll be fun to see!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Tim Hawarden

Tim Hawarden. Picture courtesy of the ROE.

Further to my post a few days ago about Tim's sudden passing, the Royal Observatory Edinburgh now has an orbituary. I still can't believe Tim is no longer with us.

Above the cloud layer

When I was a kid I dreamed of being a pilot. I was going to fly for the Royal Air Force and then pilot airliners all over the world while visiting the most exotic locations on the planet - and being paid to do so. As things turned out, I'm not jetting the airways at 35,000 feet nor am I staying at luxury hotels on tropical beaches but I live in one of the most beautiful places on our planet and I do get to work above the clouds. Things didn't turn out too badly after all!

As ever, you can see larger versions of these post-sunset pictures from Mauna Kea's summit by clicking on them.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Evening colours

I'm glad to see most of the tour companies that visit the summit of Mauna Kea are staying longer after sunset than I remembering them doing in the past. Although the sunset is always beautiful (as long as it's not foggy) the best colours appear in the sky well after the sun has disappeared, often ten to fifteen minutes afterwards. It's great that the visitors have a chance to experience the sky at this time and some of the things I overheard this evening were good to hear, such as "this was the best trip I've ever been on!". It was helped, of course, by having very light winds and reasonably mild temperatures for this time of year (about 2 Celsius or about 36 degrees Fahrenheit).

We can't start observing until about 30 minutes or so after sunset since the sky is still too bright to find our guide stars so I have a little free time to take some pictures. Above is the sky in the west well after the sun had set. The colours were tremendous, deep red on the horizon, bright yellow above, some pink/orange stuff high up (Gobi Desert dust?) and then a deep blue overhead. The two peaks are Haleakala to the left and Pu`u Poli`ahu to the right. Below, to the south, Mauna Loa with some clouds being driven well over the saddle towards the leeward side of the island.