Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Family Album Down The Hall

I think that Melinda is finally ready to declare our hallway renovation complete! Five weeks ago it was quite the deary cave, but has been transformed by my better half's artistic vision. We've posted about the project here and also here, and are currently on step 16 of her defined 17 steps - only stepping out for a beer remains!

Just as a reminder, here was the starting point - a hallway with bad lighting, popcorn ceiling, partially falling off where a few drops from the swamp cooler on the roof leaked through, and your basic off-white color scheme. The second pic shows the lighting fixtures and with the popcorn ceiling removed (squirt bottle with water and wide putty knife).

And now for the unveiling! She chose white for ceiling (flat) and trim (semigloss) and "Pale Butter" (flat enamel) for the color scheme (an all-Valspar project). Of course, as the 16-step plan called out, there was LOTS of prep work, but the result is quite spectacular.

I think after the color change, the lighting change was most spectacular. After asking me what I was thinking for lighting (we agreed!) we went with wall-mounted track lighting, some directed upwards for indirect lighting off the white ceiling, and some directed downwards towards anticipated photos and artwork. It was really straightforward to replace the 2 fixtures with 2 track sets. We tried replacing the original 50 watt lights (200 per track!) with compact fluorescents, but didn't really care for the color cast, so went back to 35 watt halogens. Still more power used than the original dingy lights, but we love the results.

For artwork and photos, Melinda perused the local resale shops for interesting frames, all of which she painted flat black. Some were really interesting, some with open screening and some she used glass panes as the matting to allow the butter color of the wall to show through. The pictures she chose were of both of our families, as well as first wife Vicki and her family. There is also a pair of pics of us from back in the 70's of me in my studly days in short-shorts, and her on vacation in her sexy bikini. Woo, woo! Down at the end of the hall are some wedding mementos, including good wishes written in the matting by wedding attendees, and a decorated version of our invitation by former co-worker Wendy.

In all, I think the overall effect is just stunning, and it almost makes me impatient to get to the rest of the house!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

An Evening With Comet Lulin

There is nothing like something exciting happening in the sky to bring out bad weather. In reality, the weather hasn't been bad, just cloudy, and not really solid overcast, but just enough to spoil any real chance of imaging the bright comet that currently graces our sky.

So blue sky finally broke through today, and even though it was a "school night" I had to go out and image. The comet is very nearly closest to the earth at about 40 million miles and also at opposition to the sun, so it is observable all night long. It is also moving very quickly - about 5 degrees per day, providing a good chance to do some sequences showing it's motion.

Melinda had to work tonight, but Ed, a friend visiting from Saskatchewan, joined me for the trip out near Kitt Peak. We arrived after dark, and I hurried to set up the 14" Celestron and Hyperstar for imaging. After that was finally going, I set up a second camera on a portable mount with telephoto lens. So here are the quick and dirty results - no stacking, no tricks other than some brightness and contrast adjustments. The first one is with the 200mm telephoto - 4 minutes exposure at F/3.2 on the Canon XSi. It shows a pretty wide field with the star Rho Leonis to the upper right, north is up. The closer view is with the 14" Celestron + Hyperstar = about 660mm focal length at F/1.9. It is a 1 minute exposure with the Canon 20Da camera. I've got a few frames to play with stacking to reduce noise, or make some short movie sequences, but I've only got a minute before going off to sleep, so this is what you get.

Recent reports describe the comet as a Q-tip, but Ed thought it looked like a lit match, and I might have to agree with him. Lulin was visible to the unaided eye, but wasn't blindingly so. The view through the 9X63 binoculars closely resembled the telephoto view, though color was hard for me to detect. Over the course of a couple hours, I thought I could definitely see it getting closer to Rho, so naked eye detection of motion was easy too. By the way, there are some spectacular images at Get out and see it first hand if you get a chance - I'll likely be doing the same!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Steward Observatory Public Evening

Tonight, Melinda and I attended a talk as part of Steward Observatory's Public Evening Series. The series started in 1922, shortly after Steward Observatory was established at the University of Arizona by it's first director A.E. Douglas. I've attended occasional lectures for many years, where observing through a 21" diameter telescope usually follows the talk.

Tonight was Dr. Rachel Bean, a cosmologist from Cornell University speaking on "The Dark Side of the Universe". She was a most entertaining speaker - her first slide demonstrated the difference between a cosmologist (an astronomer who studies the evolution and space-time relations of the universe) and a cosmetologist (an expert in the use of cosmetics). She went on to explain about how modern theories seem to indicate the existence of what has come to be called dark matter and dark energy to explain how the outer reaches of the observable universe appear to be accelerating.

I've read and understood some of these concepts before, but one of the more interesting gems I brought home from the talk was a supposed quote from Albert Einstein, probably the most famous cosmologist - "The joy of looking and comprehension is nature's greatest joy".

Interestingly, that has informally been a personal mantra of mine - observe nature, and explain what you see with what you know. If you can't explain what you see, seek the wisdom of others through reading or seeing guidance. And it seems the reward is in the understanding. Anyway, it keeps me going - I hope it works for you too!

Oh, and by the way - tonight's speaker turned us on to the enclosed photo of Einstein - the website has him writing whatever you direct!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Generating Some Work!

Haven't posted in an age! But I'm glad that at least Melinda's colonoscopy post finally moved off the front page of the blog - I was getting grief from her for taking advantage of her fuzzy mental state when she approved posting those pictures!

I've also not posted about work in nearly a month - a lot has happened! My friend and workmate Pat retired 3 weeks ago now and as a result, I'm back up to full time helping direct the backplate diamond generating on LSST. I've posted previously about the project - gave some background back in early December , as well as posted updates on January 7th, the 15th,and the 22nd. Since the last post, we've been preparing for diamond machining and are now well along on that task.

Like metals, glass can also be machined, but instead of hardened tools, diamond coated tools are used to cut away the glass, a process called diamond generating. So on a large scale, with the huge mirror substrates we are producing, we use large machines and tools designed to shape them.

The photo at left shows our workhorse, the Large Optical Generator, with the LSST mirror mounted to work on the flat rear surface. It is a "busy" photograph, with lots of features to point out, but of course, the large circular white thing is the 8.4 meter diameter mirror. The bulk of the machine is mostly hidden, but the red object is the spindle and 15 horsepower motor that turns the diamond wheels. The black accordion covers protect the horizontal and vertical slides and drives - 5 meters of horizontal motion and 1.5 meters of vertical with resolution of nearly a thousandth of a mm. The yellow fence-looking object is actually a safety rail to keep us from falling the long distance to the floor while we are working on the potentially slippery mirror surface.

The last thing I want to point out is the ventilation system - the coolant used to keep the diamond tooling cool is particularly dangerous when in a mist form. Since it can contain minute glass particles that can be inhaled deep into your lungs, it is instead contained around the cutting tools and exhausted to the roof where it is drawn through filters, allowing us to work without respirators in a shirtsleeve environment. Because of the ventilation system, the cutting point of the the diamond wheels cannot be monitored very closely visually. The operators depend a lot on how it sounds, and watch the computer outputs of the machine, including the spindle motor current, to judge how well the process is going. Mostly all you can see is the back of the mirror flooded with coolant - mostly water with a few percent of a cutting fluid specially designed for diamond machining operations.

The first order of business is to center and level the substrate as accurately as possible from the cast surface, then generate the backplate round, so that if the mirror needs removal, we will now have a machined surface to center accurately. This picture shows a diamond tool with diamond pellets around the periphery, with lots of coolant making that initial first diamond contact. You can see how a dangerous mist can form with the rapidly rotating wheel. I pulled back part of the ventilation system to take the picture, normally it would be fully enclosed.

After machining a big honking bevel on the outside diameter, to prevent a fragile sharp edge that might fracture or chip off, it was time to start the back surface machining. For this we use a "cup" wheel with diamond pellets along the bottom edge. In a view down the ventilation system, this is the tool we use the most for removing bulk amounts of glass on the large mirror surfaces. Diamonds only work well when they stay cool (removing glass up to 10 cubic inches per minute will make your diamond red hot very quickly without cooling), so we use about a liter of coolant per second from a tank where it is recirculated. Coolant is fed directly to the pellets, through the wheel and also under the wheel in a fan pattern in order to flood the contact point. To the right of the wheel is a white safety roller - connected to an Linear Variable Differential Transformer (LVDT), the height of the roller, thus the glass surface can be monitored by the computer monitoring the machine.

This next view shows the backplate now edged and partially generated with the back surface cleaned off. In a couple weeks after the machining is complete, we will also grind and polish the back surface, making for a stronger surface, as well as allowing visual inspection of the mirror interior. Come visit again and check out the latest activities!

Today I brought my macro lens in to work - I've been in conversation with our tooling manufacturer and wanted to know how a product was working, so shown here are closeups of our diamond tools. Likely not like the diamonds you were expecting that you see in jewelry, these are industrial diamonds that come in different sizes and concentrations, depending on the application. Currently we are still in the bulk removal stage, so we want to maximize removal. For that we use large diamonds that can remove that 10 cubic inches per minute that I mentioned. Unfortunately, the price you pay for that is the subsurface damage that large diamonds leave in the surface that must be removed in subsequent smoothing operations. So you follow up the coarse diamonds with finer diamonds that leave correspondingly less damage. Shown here are the pellets from our coarse and fine diamond cup wheel. Especially in the one with large diamonds (40/60 mesh, or up to about a half millimeter in size), you can see voids where dull diamonds have fallen out, exposing fresh, sharper cutting edges. The metal bond material erodes away slowly - you can see what look like small specks of diamonds, but are actually the tips of larger ones still buried in the bond matrix. While the large diamonds are mostly colorless, in the fine diamond pellet shown (80/100 mesh) you can see the yellow-green tint of some of the diamonds - click to enlarge. The pellets are about 8mm wide from top to bottom, and on the fine pellet, the top portion has not fully worn-in to full contact.

While I've been working with this stuff for over 20 years, there is still more to learn and apply to modern materials and products that manufacturers are now supplying. I suspect that the diamond tooling business is just about the largest it has ever been - not only from glass work and jewelry applications, but you see it every day in concrete and asphalt sawing and coring too.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Valentine's Day 2009

We hope everyone, reading this, had a happy Valentine's day!

We had a fun, adventuresome, day! Our friends, Mike and Elvira Spooner, from Phoenix/Arizona City called on Friday, asking if we had plans for lunch on Saturday. They planned to be in Tucson on Saturday and asked if we could get together. We hadn't seen Mike and Elvira since last summer, so we welcomed the opportunity to visit with them! Our lives are oddly similar in many aspects. Mike is "an old (our age) optics buddy" of Dean's. His first wife died of cancer around the same time that Dean's first wife, Vicki, also died of cancer. What a bond for two men to have. Mike met and married Elvira, a wonderful Peruvian lady, who works for the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix....Dean and I met, and so we're two (relatively) newlywed couples! Mike and Elvira married before Dean and I, by about a year or so. We last spent time with them at the Grand Canyon Star Party, in June of '08.

Mike and Elvira arrived about 11:30am on Saturday. We thought they probably had other plans in Tucson, but when asked they said, "We came to see you!" Elvira had never played in snow before, as she grew up in Peru and has lived in So. California and Phoenix ever since. We suggested the top of Mt. Lemmon for lunch, as they had 18" of snow over the past week! We had previously eaten at the Iron Door (at Ski Valley) on our trip there New Year's Day. This time we decided to eat in Summerhaven, the little town at the top of the mountain. The Mt. Lemmon Cafe was busy, but we found a parking spot, and enjoyed lunch there - though Elvira was huddling by the heater the entire time! She was wearing warm clothes, but not used to the cold weather. She tossed a few snowballs, as did I (aiming for Dean, hitting Mike)! It was fun to see the people sledding on the mountain, kids playing in the snow, and some crazy guy shoveling snow into the back of his pickup truck. Mike had lived in Tucson on occasion, but had never been up to Mt. Lemmon, and I think he enjoyed the trip even more than Elvira! We stopped at the beautiful vistas on the way up and back, viewing waterfalls of melted snow at 7 Cataracts; views of Mt. Graham and Kitt Peak in the distance, and even seeing Dos Cabezos (near New Mexico) off in the far distance. It was a picture perfect day! At one of the overlooks there is easy access to the desert from the parking area. There are some spectacular Saguaro, as well as Ocotillo and Prickly Pear very near by. I love looking at the Saguaro, they are so bizarre looking and massive; and even the Prickly Pear were in a Valentine's Day frame of mind!

Returning to Tucson, we caught the last weekend of the Gem and Mineral Show. This is the largest one in the world, and no February is complete without at least taking a walk through part of it! We hit one of the hotels that has a nice variety of gems, fossils, meteorites, and minerals. Elvira bought a pendant, we did lots of looking. It was a full day! We returned home about 5pm, in time to feed kitties. Mike and Elvira had an hour's drive back to Arizona City ahead of them yet.

Saturday evening brought a long awaited movie at The Loft. We had been planning this evening for a few months! Moulin Rouge (2001 - Nicole Kidman/Ewan McGregor)! I put this movie as one of my all time favorites, but had never seen it on the big screen. I had happened upon it on cable several years ago, and have watched it countless times since. There was a good crowd there to see it, including our friend Nancy and her friend Paul! Nancy had never seen the movie, and it was fun to hear her reaction to it. People sang along with the songs (including me), though there was no can-can dancing in the front of the theater. If you have never seen the movie, I really recommend it! It's romantic, funny, sad, and exciting - all at the same time! Definitely a winner! The perfect cap to a fun Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

More Shorts!

Tonight featured a return to the Loft Theater , where the Academy-nominated animated shorts were shown. Last year, they showed both live-action and animated shorts on one night and it turned into a 4.5 hour marathon. This year, it would have been just over 2 hours total, but they scheduled it over 2 nights before the nominations were announced, so tonight's animated shorts, instead of featuring the 35 minutes of nominated animations, also showed another 4 or 5 that were deemed exemplary, rounding out the program to about 100 minutes.

Those of you who think "cartoons" are limited to funny stories would likely be disappointed. While there were some slapstick (including "Presto" which was shown with Wall-E last summer) there were also some poignant stories, love stories, and a preachy environmental animation as well. My favorite was "La Maison en petits cubes" (The House of Small Cubes) which, despite the French name was a Japanese submission. An old man fights the rising ocean levels, building room upon room as the sea drives him upwards with time. Dropping his favorite pipe, he rents a scuba outfit to retrieve it, each descent to the next level bringing with it a flood of memories of family and past love. The hand drawn animation and music were a perfect match for the nostalgic mood of the 12 minute animated short.

My second choice, but the crowd favorite was "Oktapodi" a computer-drawn animation very much in the style of Pixar Studios, this one created by a group of third-year French film students. The 2.5 minute film (shortest of tonight's features) showed the adventures of a pair of octopus lovers after one of them is hijacked from their blissful life in an aquarium to be turned into food(shades of Finding Nemo!). Given that it started out as a student project makes it even more amazing and a lot of fun.

The worse part of the shorts collection the last two nights was that Melinda was working and missed out on all of it! With only a single night showing of each collection, you are out of luck if you have a conflict. I feel fortunate to see them - the New York Times says they're only being shown in a couple dozen theaters. This is the 4th year The Loft has shown the short film collections, and with the crowds they drew, will likely continue the tradition.

The best part is that this coming Wednesday, (Melinda isn't working that night) The Loft is showing a program of French live-action short films, which will include my favorite from last night, "Manon Sur le Bitumen (Manon on the Asphalt)". Twist my arm!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Oscar Shorts!

We are exceedingly lucky in Tucson to have The Loft, an "art house movie theater" where you cannot see the latest Spiderman sequel, and, in fact, many of the movies are in a language that isn't even English! Tonight, case in point, some friends and I attended a screening of the 2008 Oscar-Nominated Live-Action Short Films (as opposed to animated).

It was an eye-opening experience - normally the"short" films (limited to 40 minutes or less) are the poor white trash of the movie world - there really isn't a venue to see them, alone or as a group. I've seen some on the Independent Film Channel (IFC) on cable, and I understand some film festivals show collections, but you really have to go out of your way to enjoy them. The 2008 collection includes shorts from Switzerland, Germany, France, Denmark and Ireland - the US didn't make the cut this year. My favorites were "New Boy", about an African refugee's first day of school in an Irish classroom (shown at left), and "Manon on the Asphalt" (Manon sur le bitume - the french entry) about how a woman's life affects the people around her.

The format of these "filmettes" force the makers to tell a story, develop characters and form an emotional response quickly. How involved can you get in New Boy's 11 minutes, or Manon's 15? A lot, it turns out. I was nearly sobbing at the end of the latter, and my friends had a similar response, though the consensus was that the odds-on favorite to win was likely the German entry "Toyland" (Spielzeugland) with it's Nazi/Holocaust theme (13 minutes!).

So how do you ever get to see these? It says they are available in iTunes, though when I just checked, only the 2007 and earlier were available. I've also seen previous collections for sale on Amazon and I suspect those DVDs would be available on Netflix or other sources - you should definitely look for them! The Oscar-Nominated Animated Short Films are being shown tomorrow night - check for a report afterwards!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Touch O' Winter

The forecasters were calling for snow, even in Tucson this morning, But as you can see from the University of Arizona's 10am webcam grab, the snow level didn't quite creep down to valley level. Even so, the high today is only 46F, over 20 degrees cooler than our normal temperature this time of year! I know, for many of you, 46F sounds warm in winter, but it is cold for our high temperature.

And yes, it does get below freezing - pretty frequently too. Tonight will get down to the upper 20s, so Melinda will need to cover the bougainvillea and roses recently planted. Some have already gotten a touch of frost.

We look at the webcam page a lot, not only do you get the current temperature, but you can see from a dreary windowless lab what the weather is doing outside! There are also links to a recent images page that shows hourly images, such as that shown here, as well as a daily movie (made every evening, and archived for the week) to show a synopsis of the day. There is also a photo album and a video vault showing some spectacular images and videos. Check it out when you have time to spare!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Latest Comet Lulin

Well, the weekend is over and while we've been busy, it is hard to point to accomplishments - just running all the time it seems! Astro-club meeting Friday night, mostly finished our hallway painting project and wired new lighting Saturday, dinner with buddy Valerie Saturday night, early Sunday matinee ("Coraline" in 3-D) more shopping at Home Depot, and transporting junk to the front of the house for bulk trash pickup this week. Nothing much exciting to blog about, though when Melinda finishes the trim painting and electrical tomorrow, you will likely see the finished product.

The enclosed photos were taken last Tuesday morning, 3 February when an early morning bathroom visit turned into an astrophoto trip at 3am! I wanted to catch the comet with my 14" Celestron (and Hyperstar attachment), and those predawn objects are hard to catch without a concerted effort. I made a 40 minute trip to the SE side of town off Highway 83 towards Sonoita to get some dark sky in the south. After my 3am wake up, I was exposing 2 hours later...

The first exposure is a quick snapshot of the globular cluster Omega Centauri. Clearing the southern horizon by less than 10 degrees, it was spotted right at the meridian and was an easy target to make sure everything was working. And with 30 second exposures, I didn't have to worry about finding a guide star - the mount was good enough for exposures that short. So while the total exposure is only 2.5 minutes, it still gives an impression of the amazing views that globulars provide. Omega is thought to contain several million stars and is certainly the largest globular cluster in our galaxy. Some astronomers think it may be the remnant of a small galaxy long ago consumed by the Milky Way Galaxy. While visible to the naked eye to the south here in Arizona, it is not visible in the Midwest because it never rises above the horizon.

After those brief exposures of the cluster, it was time to get on the Comet. As mentioned previously, Comet Lulin was discovered in July of 2007 and is currently as close to the sun as it will get. In the next couple weeks it will get another factor of 2 closer to the earth, so is expected to get brighter and on 26 February, will be opposite the sun and visible all night, when it should be barely visible to the naked eye from a dark sky site.

It was readily visible in binoculars, but not detectable to the naked eye. Even a brief exposure with the camera showed the characteristic green color (from dissociated carbon molecules). Because of the comet's motion, when stacking these 6 -2 minute exposures, the stars appear to move. While generally only the brightest comets show a tail, interestingly, this one shows 2, and apparently in opposite directions! The skinny tail to the right is the ion tail being pushed straight back from the comet by the solar wind. The tail to the left are heavier dust particles lagging back along the comets path as it moves, and as we are very nearly in the comet's orbital plane, see this tail apparently pointing towards the sun.

When the comet passes about 40 million miles away from us on the 26th, unfortunately, with the sun directly behind us, the ion tail will disappear behind the comet, but the dust tail may still be visible. Check back in a little less than 3 weeks!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Sleepless Wednesday night

Every so often I find myself having difficulty sleeping. This is "one of those" nights. The body is tired, but the brain won't shut off - we all go through it from time to time.

I thought I had two classes today (mandatory hospital stuff), so I had Dean wake me up when he was leaving for work. Not being sure of the location of the classes, I checked my little pocket calendar and I had written in the classes for Thursday, 2/6; not 2/5. Hmmm..... After checking the online staffing calendar (UMC has that, and it's great!) I found out the room numbers for the classes, and verified that indeed they are scheduled for 2/6! Before all of that I was thinking, "Gee, I would rather stay at home and paint today..." poof! Wish granted! So, with time on my hands I put on my painting clothes and got to work. Dean had left his cell phone at home this morning, and after talking to him we agreed I should 'rescue' him for lunch today. That left me a couple of hours to get started on the ceiling. I managed to do the 'cut work' before picking him up and going for Chinese buffet. By the time I got home I was ready to get back to the task at hand, and rolled the ceiling out in no time! As I've mentioned before, we don't like to advertise products on here - though when we find something that really hits a high note we're not opposed to saying so. I had long been a fan of Ralph Lauren paint. Not because of it's 'designer name', but because it's excellent, one coat coverage, premium quality paint. I bought some Valspar paint last year, for the house in Illinois and was equally impressed with that brand. Here, in Tucson, I've opted to use Valspar paint again. This is the first time using their stock ceiling paint, and it's the coolest stuff! Great one coat coverage, nice and thick (but not too thick) texture, and it has a very pale lavender tint to it - but it dries white! While that may sound silly, here's the advantage.....if you are painting over a white ceiling (or a white primer, as I was doing), that slight tint of lavender is enough to let you see if you've missed a spot while you're painting! Brilliant! Today was the first time that I've painted a ceiling, not missed any spots, and done it in one coat. I'm impressed! I would say that it dries fast, but all paint dries fast in Tucson at this time of year - so I can't really speak to that. The next part of the painting project moved to the walls and "Pale Butter" yellow, flat enamel (for scrubbing durability). This paint is thick stuff - the consistancy of a milkshake, I would say. But, again, that great one coat coverage. I had visions of the schoolbus coming over the hill on Bowles Avenue, when I first opened the can of paint. But, it's a little softer color than that and I'm really liking it now. As with the ceiling, there was cut work to be done. If you aren't familiar with 'cut work', it is when you use a paint brush and go around the top edge of the wall, the bottom edge of the wall, outlets, doorways, and any place the roller can't get to. There are 7 doors in the hallways that are being painted. Needless to say, I spent the rest of the afternoon and most of the evening doing cut work! Areas that are too narrow for the roller had to be painted by hand, so that took some extra time as well. I should be rolling the walls that are left to be painted right now - though I would hate to wake Dean up with the lights on, etc. That puts me between steps 10 and 11 in the process of this project. Once the painting part is done then we can move on to the fun part - electricity! Yea!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Coming Soon To A Blog Near You!

A new entry, that is... Between Melinda working her 12 hour nights Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and me going to full time at the Mirror Lab on Monday, there just aren't enough hours in the day to post intelligent and witty blog entries (or ordinary ones, for that matter!). We've got lots to blog about - I went out Tuesday morning at 3am to photograph Comet Lulin with the 14" telescope (2 tails!), there is lots of activity at the Mirror Lab, and we'll soon be painting again on our home project. So with that, and a planned excursion to the largest gem and mineral show in the world here in Tucson the next 2 weeks, there might be a post or two. So stay tuned!