Friday, 29 October 2010

A remote possibility

It's been a little while since I last wrote something here but I can certainly promise you it's not because I've taken a break from writing. In fact it's the complete opposite. During the last week I managed to figure out how to disable the touch pad on my laptop which has been the bane of my life recently. I can't tell you how many important documents my palm and fingers have destroyed or reformatted just because they wanted a place to rest, and the touch pad is the ideal spot for them. Even my lunch joined in one day - a nice dollop of egg mayonnaise moved an important plot of science project completion into the middle of a paragraph about weather statistics and then, for desert, disabled the undo option.

It's UKIRT Board writing time and this is the first time I've had to write the reports. Fortunately, the board agreed last time round to lessen the burden on us and are OK with somewhat briefer papers with less details and more humour. OK, I lied about that last bit. There's not a shred of humour in the reports I've written but it's been tempting to add some. To avoid doing so I think of the US Inland Revenue Service and how they would react to someone writing "I don't know" when reporting their income. Instead of that, I've written "we have nothing further to report".

(Jeez, I hope no members of the board are reading this!).

I hope it'll work. I'm much better answering questions in person than writing them in advance and that's one nice thing about this whole process. I get to visit the UK again and in particular, this time round, Oxford, which is a very special place for me. More on that later as there is nothing further to report at the time of writing. A fully documented account and full discussion will be provided at the appropriate time.

Oh damn, there I go again.

In the meantime it's all hands on deck in preparation for the move to "Minimalist Mode". I've set a firm date for the switch from summit operations to remote observing from Hilo and so far no one's told me I'm being an idiot. This worries me because everyone tells me I'm an idiot all the time, so surely something is wrong. But it has to happen, and happen soon.

Given the upcoming changes, I decided to abuse my newly found powers. In August I mentioned that I was up for my last official full night on the summit of Mauna Kea. Like a well-trained politician running for the senate, I knew what I wrote was likely untrue, but was factually correct when I wrote it and now have the opportunity to flip-flop. I'm up again next week, I changed the schedule myself, and will certainly regret my decision at four o'clock in the morning - on both nights - especially as I forgot I have to give another verbal and written report in the middle of the run to the senior management team. Oh well, I never sleep well on the mountain anyway.

And I'll be up again in December when we switch to Minimalist Mode. This time with an observer but our telescope operator will be 14,000 feet below us in Hilo operating both the telescope and the instrument. I guess I just can't let things go but it seems the right thing to do. Who knows what I'll have forgotten to do in preparation for remote observing? I have to be up there to fix whatever problems occur. Or perhaps it's just a last opportunity to watch a sunset from the summit of Mauna Kea? You choose, I couldn't possibly answer!

The final irony? On those nights in December I'll be accompanied by an observer who was one of the first visiting astronomers I worked with at UKIRT way back in the 90s. He was a student in those days but showed a lot of promise and was a pleasure to support. At the time I thought he'd do just fine in astronomy.

He's now a member of the UKIRT Board. He'll read my board papers and I'll be presenting those papers to him later this month in Oxford.

And I think he still owes me a beer...


Keera Ann Fox said...

Get that beer before you hand over the reports. ;-)

Nice hearing from you again, and thanks for the laugh! Plenty of humor in this "report". :-)

Andy A said...

hi Tom

best of luck with the Board. and I can confirm that in all my time writing papers for them I never once slipped a joke in there. kept it po-faced from start to finish and so never got so much as a giggle out of them. I'm afraid you'll just have to rely on the stand-up comedy segment of the meeting, which usually occurs some time in the middle of the second day.


Tom said...

Keera - I'm told there's a dinner the evening before the actual board meeting involving all participants and I'm sure I'll get the beer after that! Unfortunately the papers have to be submitted in advance, so can't follow your advice no matter how much I'd like to!

Andy - great to hear from you and now I really understand why you went into hibernation mode every 6 months. Fortunately, as you know, the papers & reports are being streamlined so don't have to write as much detail as you did and I'm so grateful for that.

Unfortunately, as part of the streamlining process, the stand up comedy segment has been removed as the meeting is scheduled for one day only, so second-day frolics are banned.

It'll be nice (and probably quite emotional) to be in Oxford again, but I'm sure I'll be rolling my eyeballs once I end up in a pub with those ridiculous student sing-songs about how wonderful they all are. Just like I did 20 years ago...

Oh well, I'll just enjoy my glass of Pimm's and reminisce about the good old days.

Thanks for popping by and hope everything is going well in Chile (I almost said "darn souff")


LG said...

Found your blog by hook or by crook, keep writing, I'll be back for another visit.

Oh yes, do tell me - do you have winter in Hawai or is it equatorial weather most year round?


Tom said...

Hi LG, thanks for popping by!

We do have seasons here but the changes are much more subtle than more temperate places. Daytime temperatures are a few degrees cooler (e.g., 80 rather than 85 degrees) and it does rain a lot more in the winter. In fact we can get some nasty storms in the winter and it's not that uncommon to have several inches of rain dumped on us in a day - that's very rare in the summer.

At the summit of Mauna Kea it's more noticeable - we generally get snow during the winter and that's almost unheard of during the summer. Sometimes we can get several feet of the stuff and yet at sea level it's hot an sunny and you can still go swimming in the ocean!

I see you live in South Africa. I visited once 16 years ago and it was probably the most interesting and eye-opening trip I've ever been on. We stayed a few days in Cape Town, a relatively modern city, and then traveled inland to Sutherland passing shanty towns and desert on the way. I've always wanted to go back, it's such a fascinating place.

All the best,

LG said...

SA is definitely a most beautiful come visit again...I hear they're building something big in Sutherland...