Archive for July, 2009
I recently came across this link on my favorite news aggregator site, FARK.com. It is a clip from the Tonight show, where WIlliam Shatner reads Sarah Palin’s resignation speech as it was meant to be read-as a poem, complete with bongo and bass accompaniment.
I love Shatner and I love Conan. But in this case, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
I have been watching Star Trek for, quite literally, as long as I can remember-one of my earliest memories is sneaking out of my room to watch episodes of TNG from behind the couch where my parents sat, unaware of my covert presence (this was, of course, well after my bedtime). I remember specifically watching the episode Skin of Evil (which must have been a re-run, as it was released when I was only four months old), among others. This early TNG influence informed my opinions later in life, and I have always been a strong advocate of Picard as the best Star Trek captain.
Of course, Kirk is great in his own way, and I absolutely love almost everything I’ve seen William Shatner in. Janeway is a good captain in her own right as well-especially in the later seasons, and Archer…well, I like Scott Bakula most of the time, let’s leave it at that.
The only captain I never really had an opinion on was Sisko. This is because my parents didn’t really like DS9 when it was on, so I never watched it. After having watched the entire series later in life, I can understand why; it is a much more adult-oriented series, with many mature themes, including the Dominion war and at least one “Torture O’Brien” episode per season. However, having seen the entire series now as an adult, I have to say, I enjoy the more serious themes and the continuity of the story. It is a very different series than TNG, but still Star Trek.
Which is all to say, I developed a new-found respect for captain Sisko. This summer, as I watch through the episodes again, I am struck again and again by Avery Brooks’ portrayal of the character. His voice is absolutely captivating, which is not surprising considering that he is an incredible singer. While Patrick Stewart may have a monopoly on the cultured, diplomatic side of captaincy, Avery Brooks has the riveting, commanding side just as well. I often find myself remarking, “How can he be such a badass all the time?”
Now, I wouldn’t go so far to say that Sisko has superseded Picard as my favorite captain-I still feel a great deal of nostalgia for TNG-but I would say that he’s at least a second favorite. The only thing that disappoints me now is that I’ve seen all of the episodes already.
I must note, however, that I recently discovered something amazing about Avery Brooks that raises his awesomeness in my estimation a thousand-fold. According to the Star Trek wiki, memory alpha, when speaking about an episode of DS9 that he directed, he used a beer metaphor:
“I guess it was over the top. But what is over the top, after all? If you’re having a pint of Guinness and you see the foam pouring over the top, you think, ‘That’s great!’ But in a television episode, there’s this concern about action being too large. It all comes down to rhythm, and whether a scene has it or not.”
That gains him a vote for awesome in my book any day.
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, but I recently had an opportunity that is a perfect way to get started again. Before I begin, however, I must provide a bit of background.
A while ago, I had an excellent beer by Port Brewing called Old Viscosity. I loved this beer, in fact, at the time it was my third favorite that I’d ever had (only behind Chimay Blue Grand Reserve and Rochefort 10). I went to ratebeer.com, my favorite beer rating and information site to write a short review:
Pours very dark, nothing too special about the aroma, pretty standard decent beer. The proof, of course, is in the drinking. Roasted coffee beans are certainly present, a bit of yeast, something I can only describe as “scotch-like” smokiness, licorice, a bit of earthy oak, and a nice creamy note to top it off.
I also gave the beer a score of 4.1/5.0, which is extremely high for that site (most beers never get over 4.0-I gave Milwaukee’s Best a 0.5, which is as low as you can go). Imagine my elation when I discovered that there was another version of this beer called Older Viscosity. It is the same beer, but aged in Oak Bourbon Barrels for 6 months. It is the top rated currently available beer in its category (American Strong Ales). Of course, it is also relatively rare. I remember saying “I really wish I could get that, but I’ll probably never see it.”
Imagine my surprise when I walked into a local beer and pizza furnishing establishment, 1702, for lunch with my friend Chris. I spotted the words “Older Viscosity” scrawled up on their extensive “On Tap” boards. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I asked our waitress;
“Do you really have Older Viscosity?”
“Well, then, I’ll have to get that.”
It was a short wait, and when I got the glass, I was not disappointed. Here is my review from ratebeer:
On tap at 1702 in Tucson. Quite a bit like Old Viscosity, but the oak is definitely present, lending very smooth hints of vanilla to the already present espresso beans, toffee, caramel, copious amounts of chocolate, burbon, roasted malt, and perhaps a few hints of darker fruits, such as plum. It pours BLACK with a nice amount of brown head. How much more black could it be, you ask? None. None more black. The aroma is alluringly of licorice, chocolate, and malts, and the texture is extremely thick and rather smooth. Definitely gets better as it approaches room temperature, and is probably best just below room temperature. This beer was unbelievable.
This is probably the best beer I have ever had, and remember, I’ve had at least 98 different varieties to date. I give it a score of 4.6/5.0, or a 92%. There are a few cautionary notes, however. The next day, upon hearing my ravings about it, my good friend and neighbor, Pete, went to 1702 to try it himself. Apparently he didn’t like it. This, aside from being heresy, is evidence that Pete just hasn’t developed a palate for beer. What an unfortunate person. However, it is evidence that not everybody will like it. Also, this beer is 12% alcohol by volume, so it packs quite a punch. To say the least, I was…affected…quite a bit, despite having half of a medium pizza to chase it down. Still, if you somehow are lucky enough to stumble across it, I highly recommend getting a bottle or glass, especially if you are a beer lover.
40 years ago today Apollo 11 lifted off at approximately 9:30 AM (local time) from Kennedy Space Center, headed for the moon. Just four days later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would become the first humans on the moon. I’ve read a lot about the Apollo program, the most recent book being the authorized biography of Neil Armstrong, First Man (which is a REALLY good book that I sincerely recommend everybody should read), and I generally find rocketry fascinating (see my previous post). Let us, then, take this opportunity to view a series of videos of the launch of Apollo 11 and other assorted Apollo videos:
Simply awesome in-flight footage of Buzz opening and entering the LM for the first time. Parts 2 and 3 are really cool as well.
Warning: be cautious; YouTube comments are well known to be absolutely full of stupidity and extreme idiocy. Do not be bothered by moon-landing-hoax people, they have no idea what they’re talking about. If you have ANY doubts about this, visit the Bad Astronomer’s (Phil Plait) old website here. For some more really cool recent posts on Apollo 11 with great pictures, visit his newer blog here.
Extra note: Super awesome photos from The Big Picture found here. I really can’t accurately describe how incredible some of these photos are.
My good friend and next-door neighbor, Pete, often asks me:
Are you going to use your powers for good, or for awesome?
The answer is obvious; as Dark Helmet says in Spaceballs, “Evil will always win, because good is dumb.” Now, I’m not saying that I’m evil–as I often state, the thing keeping most of my friends and I from becoming evil geniuses that you see in comic books is a general lack of motivation (”I want to rule the world…but it’s so much work!”) or apathy (”I could rule the world…but meh.”). You have nothing to worry about-we’re content just doing our science.
So why am I telling you this? Well, it is the perfect preface to why I like explosions so much. Are explosions good? Most of the time, I’d say no, they are not good. But they are awesome, this is an indisputable fact. At the moment, I am watching the spacevidcast for the launch of STS-127 (found here), which is basically a barely controlled explosion used to hurl people and machinery into space. Afterwards, I am going to watch the SpaceX Falcon 1 launch. These are both live feeds of vehicle launches into space. How cool is the world that we live in that I can be at work, writing my programs, processing images, and I can watch a live feed of these launches, one on the opposite side of the country, the other from the Kwajalein Atoll in Malaysia-almost on the other side of the world.
I recently returned from a quick trip to the grocery store with my friend and next-door neighbor Pete. We were bringing our loot inside, when Pete noted a large (by large, I mean something like 3×2 inches) black bug right next to his door. This bug was huge and rather menacing, and we both suffered an attack of…wait, what’s the opposite of manliness? Completely emasculating fear? I think that’s it.
Pete lobbed several rocks from a good distance away, but failed to dislodge the bug. It was at this point that he requested that I retrieve my sword. I dutifully retrieved the weapon and handed it to him, keeping the scabbard for myself to use as a makeshift bat.
Pete swiped at the bug a few times and managed to get it to move a little. He then gave me the sword back and went to fetch his groceries. When he came back, he somehow annoyed the bug and it began to fly, buzzing angrily. I believe it was at this point when I took off running, shouting “It can fly?! That’s not fair!” and Pete started spazzing out, waving his arms and yelling wildly. Keep in mind, I was armed with a large sword and Pete was carrying his Glock 19, a 9mm pistol. We are two, fully-grown, capable, well-armed, rational human beings, and we freaked the crap out.
I think I need to go destroy some stuff, pound a six-pack of bud light, and play some injury-intensive sports to regain all of the manhood points I lost. At least I won’t be alone.
Note: We later found out that this bug is a Palo Verde Beetle. They can apparently get to be 6 inches long. Pete has another, slightly different account of the incident here.
I am writing this entry from the control room of the University of Arizona’s 6.5 meter MMT (used to stand for Multiple Mirror Telescope, now stands for Monolithic Mirror Telescope). Of course, the fact that I’m writing this means that we’re not observing (there’s a big thunderstorm outside and there seems to be a puzzling problem with the adaptive secondary mirror), but in all honesty, I don’t mind. This place is so incredibly awesome, I don’t care what’s going on-just the fact that I’m up here is enough.
I began my journey at Steward Observatory on campus where I met Dr. Morag Hastie, one of the instrumentation specialists for the MMT facility. Since she needed a ride up, I had offered, and we set off at 2 PM heading South on I-19. We made the turn-off and drove up to the base camp of the Fred Whipple Observatory where we retrieved a radio to let other cars know we were coming up. This facility is amazing in and of itself-there are four 12-meter reflector telescopes used for gamma-ray astronomy (the VERITAS telescopes) right on the grounds in the open. These are incredibly big and very impressive to see.
We began up the mountain after this, radioing up to any cars coming down (since the road is rather narrow). While everybody I had spoken with maintained that this dirt road was horrible, I was pleasantly surpprised. In fact, I found it to be the best mountain road I have ever been on, which is saying quite a lot as I’ve driven on many mountain roads. The view on the way up was breathtaking, though there were worrying clouds all around.
We arrived at the dormitory, where I deposited my supplies and checked out the facility. I was instantly impressed by how much nicer this facility is than the Kuiper 61″ that I’m used to. The kitchen and dining area is enormous with an operating TV that even gets cable. The dormitory is basically a nice hotel. Every room has its own bathroom and shower. Compare this with the Kuiper telescope, which has one common bathroom for the entire dorm.
The telescope is clearly visible on almost the entire drive up, a giant metal box perched on the very top of Mt. Hopkins (which is an incredibly pointy mountain). It is a very short drive from the dorms to the telescope, though it involves what seems like a 45 degree uphill slope. With all of the clouds and rain shadows in the background, this scene is very picturesque.
We got up to the telescope just after 4 PM and my research advisor, Matt Kenworthy, showed me around the facility. I’d seen pictures of the telescope before and I’d even seen larger mirrors (at the mirror lab back on campus), but I was still blown away by how unbelievably enormous the MMT is. After a quick tour, we checked out the weather and decided to head down to the dorms to get some dinner.
This part of the night really surprised me. We talked, and I realized that these people, one of whom I’ve worked with for over a year, are actually a lot more like me than I ever thought. We considered the tragedy of the lack of beer at the telescope, we watched the Matrix on the TV (some cable channel was showing it), and we talked and exchanged anecdotes.
About halfway through the Matrix (right after Neo meets the Oracle), it started to rain. It literally went from totally calm to torrential rain in about three seconds. We then drove back up to the telescope to assess the weather situation and try to get some pictures of lightning (if we weren’t going to get science images, why not get some other images?). Unfortunately, I was unable to locate my camera charger and as such, my battery was horribly low. I was only able to get six pictures total on this trip, which was rather disappointing. I hope I can come back up some time, so that I can actually get some good pictures of the facility.
At this point, the real scientists are discussing some engineering problems which will determine if we will stay up on the mountain tonight, or go back down. In either case, I’m satisfied with my trip. I only hope I can come back to really see the telescope in action!