May 2006 Archives

And it seems I've let another week go by without posting here. What poor blog etiquette (netiquette used to be the word you'd use there, but I don't see that one much anymore, so it may have fallen out of wide usage -- and I don't see an obvious way to weld blog and etiquette into a compound). This will largely fail to even be an especially interesting post, and is aimed solely at those with an interest in keeping updated on my comings and goings.

The theme of the preceeding two weeks has been, as one might expect, dominated by catching up with things put off during the week I was in Chicago for Scavhunt. Today I got the last of those items off my plate by (finally) sitting for a final exam I blew off that week (this used to be a signature tactic of mine, if one not generally applied to exams; nice to see it still works). And on that note, my Memorial Day weekend was spent in Chicago getting in a final dose of Scavhunt 2006, at the all-team post-Hunt party and then bunking down in an apartment full of Scavvies and Judges for the following couple of days. There was also grilling, pie, and getting my ass genuinely kicked at Scrabble for the first time in maybe a decade. Most satisfactory.

An aside regarding Megabus is in order here. So far they've been generally punctual, on top of being clean, fast, and cheap. Schedules can, however, suffer under certain conditions when running a tight operation with no budget for redundancy. For instance if the afternoon Minneapolis to Chicago bus is delayed a couple of hours in Memorial Day traffic, then there's nothing to be done but spend a couple of hours hanging out on the sidewalk outside Union Station waiting for the bus to arrive. Not that I'm complaining, because any other mode of inter-city transport would have involved fifteen other kinds of madness. Just something to keep in mind.

Anyhow I'm now back in Minneapolis and can't go anywhere for about a month, as tomorrow I start my summer teaching assignment. Two hours of Astronomy 1001 lab a day for five weeks, plus some grading and proctoring, ought to keep me nailed down for June. Although it will put a crimp in my research time, I'm rather looking forward to putting in some classroom hours again. Wouldn't want to get rusty.

"Arcturianids" Followup

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Meteors (73P-derived or otherwise) on a light-polluted Mpls night: 0

Satellites scooting along in polar orbits: bizarrely many.

Heavens-Above lists 7 visible satellite passes between 10:30 and 11:00 PM for that location, roughly the period when I was outside. But I'm pretty sure I saw more like a dozen or so. Literally, there were multiple occasions when I could track three at once without moving my head. And more weirdly, every single one was in a nearly polar orbit. I can readily accept that my eyes were dark-adapted to better than magnitude 4.5, so the number isn't surprising, although it's more than I can recall ever seeing in a comparable period. However, I really can't figure out what kind of selection effect would hide the satellites in equitorial orbits.

73P from Hubble
Comet 73P disintegrating as it nears the Sun, as seen by the Hubble. Click the image to visit the STScI website for larger versions.

It's taking a little while to get back up to blogging speed, and given my priorities this summer, I may decide not to maintain my previous daily posting schedule. Hopefully some of you would still check for updates if I only posted 2-3 times weekly; with any luck they'd be more interesting than otherwise.

But for today ... over the past month or so amateur astronomers (and some professionals, too) have been watching comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 as it swung tantalizingly close to the Earth last week. Sadly it never quite brightened enough to show up as much through binoculars from here in downtown Minneapolis, but it nevertheless put on quite a show as it disintegrated into dozens of fragments.

Sky&Telescope has had good running coverage of this pass. And right now, they say, keep an eye on the sky tonight. There's a possibility for a meteor shower as a dust trail from a previous orbit has a chance to collide with the Earth. The radiant would be about 12° from Arcturus (finally, a use for that "arc to Arcturus" mnemonic!).

Megabus!

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For the past few months I've been hearing about the MegaBus service, which recently made it to Minneapolis. A European company with a line of inter-city express busses has set up shop in the Midwest, running a limited selection of nonstop routes between Chicago and other regional destinations in what is clearly designed as a minimal-overhead operation. Booking is, so far as I can tell, almost entirely online and automated. In Chicago, they claim to leave from Union Station, which is true insofar as the bus pulls up to a sign on the sidewalk outside Union Station's entrance; in Minneapolis it dropped me outside the University Ave. parking garage.

On the upside, the ride is quicker than Greyhound's (nonstop, after all), and ranges from 60% of the Greyhound ticket price to practically free, depending on various factors. Also, since there's no depot or luggage check, I could in principle exceed the 50-pound per-bag Greyhound limit, so long as I can still lift my kit into the under-carriage stowage. The ride was far less crowded than I'm used to, but that's probably because the service is relatively new and apparently spreading mostly through word-of-mouth so far. I wouldn't be surprised if they do well, but it would be money prudently spent to erect some awnings to wait under before next winter arrives. All in all, I'm sold for the time being.

us_map.gif Map of MegaBus's routes, from their homepage. Minimalist.

Post-Hunt Awesome

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scav99_FJreactor.jpg
Recalling Scav '99: The Breeder Reactor. Fred and Justin smoking in their radiation suits outside a shed on the Ida Noyes lawn, which contained the reactor and was topped with an enormace purple Grimace. I've been looking for this photo for many years, and just located it this week. Apparently the UofC News Office somehow got ahold of it, and posted it here.

The 20th Great Hunt ended Sunday. There will be more extensive coverage here (and I'll round up links, too), once I can sit down and do some proper writing and webbing. At the moment I'm posting off the wireless net in a student lounge on campus, and must soon head out to get ready for my evening bus trek back North.

Sweet hunt this year -- good items, amazing team, although in terms of points the only real winner was Weathorr, the Norse God of Crappy Midwestern Weather invented by ScavHunt '04. At 300 points per city block plunged into seemingly eternal darkness (a real item this year), the Judges figure Weathorr racked up about 30 billion points this week.

You know what else is sweet? This photograph, which I've been looking for since about 2000. From my first year of Scaving, the Breeder Reactor in a Shed itself. Apparently enough time has passed that Admin can laugh at these things now.

Touchdown

And here I am. Greyhound dropped me in Chicago early this morning, so this post is coming to you from the computer lab of my old dorm. Now that I've shed about fifty pounds of tools and equipment, I am far more portable than before, too.

Today I'll be here and there, but this is probably my last stint online until more towards evening. If you need me, call the cell. The number is in the FIST database if you don't have it.

The Long Organ?

scav00_rocket00.jpg
Recalling Scavhunt '00: Rocket 00000. Widely considered one of Mathews House's better moments, ridiculous overkill seemed the only fitting way to approach Pynchon in that, the last year of the Mathews independent team. I don't know who originally took this photo.

Well, doesn't this just tickle two of my fonder obsessions: long range thinking and pipe organs. The locals of Halberstadt, Germany, have decided to take on the definitive rendition of Cage's As Slow As Possible for the organ. The organ is uniquely suited to such a performance, since it just keeps sounding for as long as a key is pressed (and the electricity holds out). In this case, it runs slowly enough that there's plenty of time to make and install new pipes as needed between note changes. All told, the performance should last 639 years.

Speaking of which, the LA Times this week has yet another article on an old problem: how to communicate danger to people tens of thousands of years in the future. Long after even the Long Clock's design lifetime expires, plutonium leftover from making nuclear weapons will remain dangerous. It seems only neighborly to put up a "Don't dig here" sign, but how? Weekend America is talking about that right now.

Let's see what else distracted me this week.

Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 is now a fairly easy binoculars object under dark skies, although observers are still uncertain whether it will become bright enough to be an impressive naked-eye comet, despite the fact that it will pass the Earth at less than 25 times the Earth-Moon distance mid-month. As it swings closer to the sun, it is in the process of spectacularly crumbling apart.

And it really tickled me when the Vatican dissed Creationism.

But far be it from me to end on an entirely cheerful note. As Matt Yglesias points out this week, there are actually sound economic reasons why globalization seems to produce a large number of uncomfortable outcomes. It's capital efficiency at work.

The jazz band playing the Graduation March out on the Mall tells me it's that time of year. (And by the by: wow, state schools. An altogether unnatural number of robed undergrads just spent half an hour processing into the auditorium. Moreso: they'll be doing this in batches all week!) More to my point, it's ScavHunt time. This year I'll be travelling Monday night, landing in the Windy City Tuesday morn; call it T-40 hours to List Release.

My plans thenceforward still require some ironing. I travel heavy for Scav, what with the tools and such, so I need a place to dump that stuff. If there'll be anyone available to let me into Burton-Judson that morning I could leave them there, and not have to transport them later to HQ. Whether or not I do that, I also need a crash pad for Tuesday night, which isn't hard, but does need to get settled. From Wednesday forward I'll be operating out of FIST/Rösëbüd HQ.

If we've long-delayed hanging out pending, I'm all yours on Tuesday or for a day or two post-Judgement Day. I probably won't know when I'm leaving town until that weekend. I'll figure out where I'm staying the week following in that timeframe as well. My availability is reasonable, but touch and go, in media res.

sat_golfcannons.jpg
Recalling ScavHunt '05: Our conniseur of the potato cannon surveys his equipment before a leisurely round of golf in which at least two of his projectiles will vaporize before reaching their target. 2005:05:07 14:02:52

May Day

Happy May Day. Go protest something. Immigrants' rights seems to be the cause of the day. Don't worry, the puppets are next Sunday around here, so you haven't missed that yet.

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

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