May 26, 2008

Set phasers to stun

Memorial Day is a pretty depressing holiday. I set aside several moments of screaming as I remembered the past seven years of idiotbush and his henchmen fucking the country up. I'm so glad i'm working tonight and I slept pretty much the whole day. It's yet another night full of star simulation with adaptive optics. We're getting some excellent infrared imagery this evening. I was really surprised to notice the final remainder of twilight didn't fade away completely until 8:30 or so. Up here has to be like the only place within hundreds of miles one can observe twilight that long. It's just very cool being thousands of feet above the cloud ceiling, with just a little imagination feeling like you're on a floating island.

On the way up I noticed just the very tip of the summit of the much smaller Mt. Hualalai peeking out, like a barren island in an ocean of cloud cover. The stars this high up seem so much more brilliant and close. I feel like I can reach up and grab a handful of them. I was playing 'Scaling' by ยต-Ziq on my player while observing, and it was incredibly appropriate for the setting. I've been using the time spent outside to learn the constellations as well. I can now identify more than just the Big Dipper!

Even cooler is watching the sodium laser as it's fired up into the cosmos. Seems like something out of a science fiction movie. The natural surroundings are otherworldly. Rocky, barren, devoid of all life, insect or plant, and eerily silent and still. Add some futuristic-looking, high-tech spinning domes resembling R2-D2's upper half perched on various hillsides, and this definitely seem like a good setting for a sci-fi flick. It's pretty stellar.

I also love the cozy lounge-esque atmosphere of the computer control room as well, with the subdued red and ultraviolet fluorescent lighting. Lots of comfy sofas for dozing when I feel like it. It's always nice to head back down to a lush planet full of abundant life at dawn though, descending into and underneath the thick blanket of rain clouds before the brilliant sun with its horribly intense ultraviolet rays has a chance to show up.

The commute to this job is always fascinating and exciting, involving a considerable drive over a fairly infamous and primitive Saddle Road everyone drives down the middle of to avoid pits and potholes, even though substantial segments of it are cloaked in dense fog on a daily basis. But with gas over $4 a gallon, I'd rather live in such a place near the university astronomy center where I hardly have to commute at all. Hopefully I can make enough to move back into my college town in June for awhile.

Speaking of the astronomy center, I heard there is a museum around there with an eatery called the Sky Garden Cafe which serves good food with space-themed twists and the atmosphere is pretty rad. I've gotta remember to check that place out, if only because of its name. Anyway, uh, time to go play more NES games with the horrible handicap of a keyboard for a controller and the unfair advantage of save/restore states.

May 10, 2008

Broadcast from above the clouds, 5/10/08

Keck Observatory's facilities are world-class compared to Gemini. The toilets are space-age, the kitchen is clean and well-stocked (with a proper range), the lighting is very comfortable and dim, the internet is several times faster than my broadband at home, there is much more space to move around, the temperature is kept at a much more reasonable setting, caffeinated beverages are well-supplied, and so far I've had this dark computing/conference room entirely to myself.

The time seems to pass slightly faster during the alternating hour in which I'm inside screwing around, as opposed to the hour in which I'm outside sitting around in the below freezing outdoors watching the stars and letting my imagination carry me away. Neither is that bad, though. I just got the zipper on my luxurious Polar-Tec jacket repaired, so that helps.

I would join in on the video gaming, but apparently all everyone wants to play are games like Medal of Halo Duty Recon 4 and a half. Yawwwwwwwn. I really want to bring a Wii and some Mario Kart up here, but that will have to wait until I'm not broke. I wonder what they would say to SNES?

Hmm... after an introspective entry in my handwritten journal, I was surprised at how many possible or likely reasons I came up with as to why I have been feeling anything but chipper most of the time. I suppose it helps to try to get to the root of it all, rather than continually attempting to kill my feelings. Up here, I have all night to think about things, and that can be both good and bad. But when I'm at work I can at least experience the satisfaction that I'm doing something productive, even if I don't always have a blast.

I really need to remember to bring some good movies up here with me next time, like Balls of Fury and Raising Arizona. I get the impression I'm not the only one who up here who would enjoy such movies, and I've been getting back into ping-pong since I started this job. No kidnapping though, yet.

Head for the hills

Clean-Air Credentials: According to Russell Schnell, Hawaii can receive significant pollution from China but still it manages to record the cleanest air on earth. How? By rising above it, literally. Pollution particles stop climbing when they meet the inversion layer, an atmospheric boundary of warmer air. At 11,145 feet, the Mauna Loa observatory is above the clouds and, therefore, virtually free of pollution.

Take a Breather: To sample the subtle difference, start at sea level, paddling a traditional outrigger canoe. Next, hop in a car (a hybrid, of course) and go where the air is truly clear: the Mauna Loa scenic trail—one of the few locations on earth where it’s possible to drive above the inversion layer—and hike the six miles to the summit.


Meanwhile, far below the inversion layer and near the coast where most of the island's population lives, most of the western side of the island is regularly smothered in a thick grey haze of airborne volcanic particulates. But even during regular tradewind weather, the air blowing in from sea on the eastern cape is also usually very clean and refreshing. It's when the persistent winds stall that islands as far away as Oahu begin feeling the effects of the volcanic pollution and Honolulu begins to resemble a typical North American city.

May 9, 2008

The best ballpark names in major league baseball

The major league ballparks of America have such awe-inspiring names these days. Allow me to examine a few of them and make some recommendations.

If you're into beer, you've got plenty of selection. There's Miller Park, Coors Field, and Busch Stadium. What else is memorable about St. Louis other than it's the home of Budweiser? The Colorado Rockies used to play in Mile High Stadium, which made sense considering they played a mile above sea level, but ah hell, let's just name the new field after a beer instead, 'cause it's Colorado and all you know? Tap the Rockies. Wait, not those Rockies! On second thought, yeah... go ahead and tap them.

Maybe you'd just prefer a tall glass of orange juice. I'm sure Minute Maid Park in Houston or the Devil Rays' Tropicana Field would be appropriate places to have breakfast. The Houston Astros used to play in a park named the Astrodome, but that name tended to imply that they were a franchise destined to reach the stars rather than just struggling to wake up.

There seems to be all sorts of ball parks named after banks and insurance agencies. The loud and boisterous Phillies fans gorge on outrageously fatty foods at Citizens Bank Park, the Diamondbacks slither into the shade of the climate-controlled oasis known as Chase Field, the Reds put on an unforgettable show of homestyle mediocrity at Great American Ball Park, and the Pirates now have a stellar view of a less than stellar Pittsburgh skyline in a park named after PNC Financial Services. I guess a sensible, non-corporate name like the "Three Rivers Stadium" they used to play in was just too lame for the modern age.

But wait, there's more. The Indians bang their drum in Progressive Field (that's Progressive Insurance, of course), the Seattle Mariners praise the grey skies above for the miracle of auto insurance in Safeco Field (even though the team is owned by Nintendo), and the Tigers deposit their checks in Comerica Park. If that isn't the coolest name for a ballpark ever, I don't know what is. It doesn't roll of the tongue quite as smoothly as the home of the White Sox, "U.S. Cellular Field," but it's still pretty damn good. Not to be outdone, but the San Francisco Giants love playing in AT&T Park. Sprint users, go home!

The San Diego Padres would love to let the dogs run loose in Petco Park, but it appears they've forgotten their training on how to win a game.

Then there are the ballparks most people, even those mildly into baseball, have never heard of, like Kauffman Stadium and Rogers Centre. Good thing names like Angel Stadium and Rangers Ballpark are much more self-explanatory.

Wrigley Field is a different story. William Wrigley just so happened to be the owner of the Cubs and the Wrigley chewing gum company, so that's the reason the stadium was named after him in 1926. No Juicy Fruit or Big Red advertisements all around that park, I'm afraid.

The Oakland A's are the only major league baseball team playing in a "coliseum," which appears to be named after a mainstream anti-virus software manufacturer. McAfee Coliseum. What an awesome name.

ALL SARCASM ASIDE, the best-named ballpark out there is clearly Fenway. Now that's a damn fine name. And it doesn't immediately remind you of a beer commercial, your credit card bills, or a cell phone ad. How nice. Coming in second would be Wrigley, because I love the way that name rolls off the tongue (and mind, this has nothing to do with favoritism toward the Red Sox or Cubs).

May 5, 2008


I'd like to take a trip back to the island of Kaua'i sometime this year. While the Big Island is picturesque, Kaua'i is even more so. 'The Garden Isle' is a nature photographer's dream. Though much smaller in size, it boasts more breathtaking and exhilarating beauty per square mile and around every turn than any other island in this archipelago. Kaua'i is also the most untamed and unexploited of the four major islands. Of course its economy relies heavily on tourism so it's got a few golf courses and big box stores, but it's nature, rather than development, that runs rampant.

Another interesting fact about the island that you won't find in tourism pamphlets is that it receives about 5-10 sunny days per year. Granted, the sun shines, for bountiful sunlight is equally necessary as moisture to keep a place so lush and green. The key (not the caveat) is that with the exception of those very rare days where the weather turns -completely- stagnant, it seems to be raining there nearly as often. Not only is it the wettest and lushest island, it also has the most dramatic topography. The famous Na Pali cliffs, for example, are almost too astonishing a sight to be real.

There are of course the sandy beaches, many of which stretch on uninterrupted and devoid of development and people for several miles. When I checked out Pacific Beach in San Diego for the first time, I thought, "take away all these buildings and replace them with rolling green mountains in the background, turn all these people into sand crabs, install a pleasant tropical breeze, throw a few cottony clouds in the sky, remove the urban stench, add a huge splash of vivid color, and you'll get Kekaha Beach." Even the beaches here on the Big Island are fairly lackluster compared to those on Kaua'i, since this is the youngest island in the chain and consequently many of the beaches here are still composed of pebbles and coral. One of the many delights of Kaua'i is exploring ancient trails that run along the coastline and discovering a perfect swimming beach hidden amongst the trees which you will almost certainly have to yourself.

Then, of course, there are the mountains. I still vividly remember often visiting a densely wooded hollow that could only be accessed by crawling through a secret cave, the mouth of which was mostly obscured by dense undergrowth. I'm not sure how my parents ever found it in the first place to show it to their kids, but my father especially used to be quite the adventurer as well. It's safe to say I got it from him. Koke'e State Park consists of seemingly endless dense tropical rainforest perpetually bathed in fog and mist and Waimea Canyon, which many would say is probably more visually impressive than the Grand Canyon, and not nearly as overrated (hey, Arizona has to have something to be proud of besides saguaros, right?) I truly miss the abundance of gorgeous hiking trails up there, the only means of accessing the heart of the wilderness. Many people naively think, "well, it's such a relatively small island, it's hard to get lost, right?" Truth is, it's all too easy to get lost and never find your way to civilization if you happen to follow a false trail and become disoriented. From the sky, the wilderness might not look so vast, but when you're actually in it, it's a different story.

The spiritual power of the island is especially enrapturing. It's all to easy to surrender to its captivating beauty, mystique, and ancient mana. I could camp on a different beach or place in the mountains each night for a week, and all the time spent alone with the wild would be remarkably soul-soothing. So many fascinating ruins to explore, too. One of the best things about Kaua'i is that camping is more popular and permitted there than on any of the other islands, where a decent place to camp can be hard to find. Certainly beats shelling out for an expensive hotel every night.

Just a week spent there would do me a lot of good. I know I would return with hundreds of exceptional photos, which would certainly boost my portfolio. But most treasured of all would be the memories themselves.

May 2, 2008

So much time, so little to go see

Baby Mama - A successful, single businesswoman who dreams of having a baby discovers she is infertile and hires a working class woman to be her unlikely surrogate.

Sounds like the perfect formula for a comedy I will never want to watch!

One Missed Call - "In this remake of the Japanese horror film "Chakushin Ari" (2003), several people start receiving voice-mails from their future selves -- messages which include the date, time, and some of the details of their deaths."

They've done movies about a video tape that kills you if you watch it and a game that kills you if you play it, but never a movie about voice mail. This is original! After watching this I might never feel the same about checking my voice mail again.

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay - Follows the cross-country adventures of the pot-smoking duo as they try to outrun authorities who suspect them of being terrorists when they try to sneak a bong on board their flight to Amsterdam.

The funny thing is, watching movies like these from start to finish is more destructive to brain cells than getting stoned on a daily basis.

The Forbidden Kingdom - A discovery made by a kung fu obsessed American teen sends him on an adventure to China, where he joins up with a band of martial arts warriors in order to free the imprisoned Monkey King.

This is probably the only movie playing in town right now that I would actually accept payment to see.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall - Devastated Peter takes a Hawaii vacation in order to deal with his recent break-up with his TV star girlfriend, Sarah. Little does he know Sarah's traveling to the same resort as her ex ... and she's bringing along her new boyfriend.

The obligatory Hawaiian imagery is probably the only reason I'd want to see this, so I can look at the background of a scene and say, "hey, I know that place!" Unless, of course, they're just cheap bastards and decided to film in some place like the Keys and try to pass that off as Hawaii.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian - The Pevensie siblings return to Narnia, where they are enlisted to once again help ward off an evil king and restore the rightful heir to the land's throne, Prince Caspian.

I knew it was only a matter of time before another Narnia movie came out for me to ignore.

Iron Man - Billionaire industrialist and genius inventor Tony Stark is kidnapped and forced to build a devastating weapon. Instead, using his intelligence and ingenuity, Tony builds a high-tech suit of armor and escapes captivity. When he uncovers a nefarious plot with global implications, he dons his powerful armor and vows to protect the world as Iron Man.

I never was into superheroes or superhero movies, and this appears to be no exception. Bleh.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - Famed archaeologist/adventurer Dr. Henry "Indiana" Jones is called back into action when he becomes entangled in a Soviet plot to uncover the secret behind mysterious artifacts known as the Crystal Skulls.

Of course he hasn't retired yet. Grave robbing never gets old.