Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas preparations

I haven't really been getting too much into the Christmas-spirit lately. We did cut down a tree, and set up the manger (sans Baby Jesus, and with the three kings in a huddle on top of the bookcase (since they don't need to start traveling until Dec. 25)). Parenthetical clarifications aside, I think part of my hesitation for Christmas-spirit is to avoid being too strongly society-Christmas driven. I just don't want to spend all of Advent listening to Christmas music, and then turn it all off the day after Christmas. And the lights on our tree will be on until the Epiphany, you can be sure!

Last night I did spend some time baking cookies. First I made shortbread cookies (I still don't understand how the combination of butter, sugar, and flour can be SO delicious), and then I made monster cookies. The monster cookies are delicious and gluten-free. We are having a hockey holiday party on Wednesday, so I wanted to make some treats for that. Hopefully they last. I also plan to make this most delicious treat, but I can't make that beforehand because I know it will absolutely Not last.

So I did a pretty good job of forcing myself into the Christmas spirit last night, especially because I played Love Actually in the background (twice) while I was baking. And now today I am listening to this song on repeat:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Whole Foods-style gatorade?

Haven't tried it yet, but I am pretty sure this is intended to be gatorade-like.

This is my attempt to combat dehydration while traveling. As I write this, I am not yet traveling, but I have big plans for pre-hydration, because in my mind that counts, and knowing it in your mind is half the battle. When I arrived in San Francisco I battled the dehydration with fancy coconut water, but the bottle was tiny, so for traveling home I sought out this Recharge!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Cupcakes are all the rave.

I know this because there are entire television shows devoted to them. While in San Francisco I saw a special cupcake place at the up-scale mall food court, so I decided I would try one. I had a hard time choosing my flavor. It was a debate among oreo, coffee toffee, s'mores, and raspberry lemonade.

I chose:

Coffee toffee!

It was a last minute change, as I had thought I had decided on raspberry lemonade, but then I saw that the raspberry lemonade had cream cheese frosting, and I usually prefer the sugar-sugar frosting. With hindsight I probably should have stuck with the first choice. The coffee toffee was much better on paper than in reality. It was also reported to me that oreo was amazing, so even my third choice probably would have been a better one.

Don't get me wrong -- I ate the entire cupcake (even though it had toppled over, despite the excellent carrying case design). And it was good. But I was kind of hoping it would be better than any cupcake I ever could have imagined.

As it turns out, this little cupcake stand, Cako, is going to be on Cupcake Wars (see above note on popular television shows devoted to cupcakes) today (or maybe tomorrow?). Sadly, I don't think they will win.

Friday, December 9, 2011


I got my picture taken with the president of the American Geophysical Union. (I am pretty sure that is who that is anyhow.)

The chance to have cardboard cutouts of me all over this meeting place (I've seen at least three of these.) provides a huge amount of motivation for one day becoming the president of AGU.

The view from here

It is AGU time, and this photo gives a pretty good idea of what that looks like. Technically I took this photo yesterday. So far I haven't resorted to blogging during people's talks, but there is an entire afternoon of talks left!

Monday, December 5, 2011


By the time you read this, it is quite likely I will be on a plane to San Francisco. It is the AGU time of year again. Last year at this time I thought I'd be so close to finishing my PhD that I wouldn't be attending the conference this year. But if you refer back to the first sentence, you'll see I'm (happily?) on my way once again. Feel free to read into that discussion all you'd like.

Usually at this conference, I either need to plan out my schedule such that I skip out of the talks for at least an hour a day, or else I go to everything and then feel so burnt out by Friday that I am sitting in all of the important talks and not paying attention. So this year I planned my time such that I'll spend Monday, a fairly uneventful day, traveling. This way I can be in intensive conference mode for the rest of the week.

My only other plan for the week is the Berkeley contra dance. Every time I go to a conference or travel for work, I check contra dance schedules. Usually the dances are Friday or Saturday nights, which are generally the two nights I am not on location. But luckily, AGU coincides with the Wednesday night contra dance in Berkeley every year. So hopefully this year I'll be able to go for my fourth (?) year in a row! yessss

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Predicting Aurora: Optics

So what better way of knowing if there is aurora than by looking at the optics! There are plenty of places to find data online, the one I check is run by some colleagues in Alaska, which can be found here. The site has some archived data, but is best for looking at real-time data (note that there won't be anything on the real-time pages if you look at them during daylight hours). Spend some time clicking around those different pages, at night, so you can see the different options. There are several different stations which are at different latitudes. If the aurora starts to move to lower latitudes there is a better chance that things will get very active.

Two of the main things you will see on this page are keograms (the rectangular ones) and all-sky images (the round ones). Let's talk about the all-sky images first, or ASI, as I'll probably continue to call them.

The ASI are probably easiest to understand, because they are pretty comparable to regular cameras. You can think of it as a regular camera that is viewing the entire sky. If you want a little more detail, imagine that you are lying on your back with your feet pointed to the North, and you are looking at the entire sky. The view of the entire sky that you see is the same projection that an ASI gives (so North is generally at the bottom of the frame, I apologize on behalf of the entire community). Some of the all-skies show white light (as in, what we would see with our eye, converted to black and white), and some show particular wavelengths (for example, 630.0 nm, which corresponds to the red aurora at higher altitudes).

The keograms are useful for knowing what the aurora has been doing over the past however many hours are plotted. One way of making a keogram is to take a slice of the all-sky image from the north to the south. Then you put a bunch of these slices together over time to show how the aurora has changed with time. Another option for the keogram (which is possibly more typical) is to use a Meridian Scanning Photometer, or MSP. An MSP is an optical device that measure photons (the light we see as aurora), but it generally doesn't use a lens like the all-sky does, so we don't actually call it a camera (hence "optical device"). The MSP, as the name implies, scans the meridian, so once again we are getting a slice of the sky from north to south, which is then plotted in sequence with time. I hope that makes sense to anyone who is not already familiar with a keogram.

For now this is all I have to write about predicting aurora, unless anyone has specific questions for me.

:) Thanks for playing.