Sunday, December 31, 2006

In with the new

Greg and I are celebrating the New Year up in the crisp cold clear air of Flagstaff. There has been much good food, warm beverages, and walking through the snow. Flagstaff is a mellow place to ring in the New Year - I am very content to be here.

I set some modest goals for 2006. I came close on some and succeeded in a few others, so I can't complain. In fact, I'll roll over a few of the goals into the new year. This upcoming year will see some big changes, and I'm both apprehensive and optimistic, if that makes any sense at all.

I hope that you all look back at 2006 without regrets and look forward to 2007 with hope and dreams. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Perfect fit

Greg had this quote generator on his blog, so I gave it a whirl. Hee hee.

Many Bothans died to bring us this lisa.

Which movie was this quote from?

Get your own quotes:

Monday, December 25, 2006

Happy Holidays!

I hope y'all are as spoiled and cozy and well-fed and loved as I am.

From Hubble:

Saturday, December 23, 2006


Today's my birthday - thirty-six years old. I have no complaints. I talked to friends and family, received wonderful gifts, went out to dinner (burger and fries!), and remained generally cozy. The weather even gave me a nostalgic treat - fog! Just like growing up in Northern California. Not a bad way to spend the day at all.

Oops. Gotta go. Greg is taking presents out of his stocking while I'm distracted by typing!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Remembering Carl Sagan

Today is the Carl Sagan Memorial Blog-a-thon. I've actually been meaning to write about Sagan for quite some time. I have students today who are as enraptured by Cosmos as I was as a child. I caught some of the episodes recently and the music brought me to tears, it resonated so deep within me. I spent so much time watching Cosmos and read the book over and over again. What a magnificent gift that was to all of us.

I think of Sagan and his wonderful gift for communication often when confronted with pseudoscience and intelligent design. (If you have not read Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, do so immediately.) I sometimes ask myself, "would these ideas proliferate so easily if Sagan were here to refute them?" Sagan, with his simple way of conveying the most complex ideas...surely he could help us. He is sorely missed. There will never be another Sagan, but we do need someone to step up and be the Great Communicator of Science again. Who will be next?

Check out Celebrating Sagan for more to remember Sagan on the tenth anniversary of his death.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Sparkly, winkly stars - LH 95, from Hubble

Saturday, December 16, 2006


The semester is over. Yay! To celebrate, I shall display one of the most beautiful images I've seen recently: aurora over Finland, by Vesa Särkelä

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


I wanted a nice bowl of soup with hearty bread for dinner. We went to a nearby shopping center where we could obtain such yumminess, but were deterred by a big war protest and throngs of people waiting in line for a booksigning. Jimmy Carter thwarted my dinner!

Speaking of thwarted, let's hear it for some Scottsdale valets who called the police on a woman who took her dog into Neiman Marcus, but left her two-year old son in the car. She resisted arrest "stating that she did nothing wrong and that the valets were supposed to be watching her child."

Saturday, December 09, 2006


To do this weekend:
  • Write a letter of rec for a grad student.
  • Do other paperwork of a bureaucratic nature.
  • Input astronomy lab grades for the university.
  • Write physics final exam.
  • Write two astronomy final exams.
  • Grade astronomy term projects.
  • Grade astronomy quizzes.
  • Grade astronomy math exercises.
  • Write journal entry that serves both to whine and procrastinate
Hey, at least I can check one thing off the list!

Thursday, December 07, 2006


I'm almost 36 years old, yet I still get all excited when my mom sends me chocolate chip cookies. Mmm... thanks, Mom! Of course, I'm mired in grading, so I have a feeling that this batch won't last long. One exam, one cookie, one lab, one cookie... precious, precious cookies.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Good Day

It was a good day. First of all, "Hail to the hills of Westwood." Yes, indeed, UCLA beat USC. That's always good. Dashing USC's national championship hopes? That's outstanding. Makes me wiggle just to think about it.

Secondly, we just got back from seeing Barenaked Ladies in concert. That was an outstanding show. I never go out of my way to listen to BNL, but I think I'll want to see them whenever I can in concert. Beautiful harmonies, and you can tell they're having such fun.

Hope y'all had a good Saturday as well!

Monday, November 27, 2006

More Thanksgiving

Spent a pleasant weekend with friends and family. Ate way too much. Didn't work nearly enough. Came back to the end-of-the-semester frenzy.

I'm thankful for meteorites, especially those I picked up today to show my classes.

I'm thankful for the well-being of my friends. I came back to school to hear that the boyfriend of one of my students was killed in an automobile accident this weekend. Hug your nearest and dearest.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


I am thankful for my friends and family.

I am thankful for my health.

I am thankful for my work.

After yet another drive across the desert, I am thankful for peanut M&Ms and judicious use of caffeine.

I am thankful for beauty.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Flagging fan

The Cardinals, Bills, and 49ers (5-5!) all won today. Surely this is a sign of the apocalypse. Just in case, I want you all to know I love you.

I grew up in the Sacramento area, most of that time pre-Kings, so Bay Area sports were what I followed. The As were my American League team, the Giants were my National League team, and the 49ers were my great passion. Now the Giants are tainted by the Bonds scandal, the As are probably moving from Oakland to Fremont, and the beloved 49ers...are moving from San Francisco. Most likely they are moving to Santa Clara, but there have been rumors of a move to L.A., at which point I will just gut myself with a rusted spoon. Is there no such thing as loyalty? Sure these places are still in the Bay Area, but what about the communities that have supported them for so long? Grrr....This will test MY loyalty, to be sure.

Speaking of my 49ers, though, reminds me that the great Bill Walsh is suffering from leukemia. I send healing vibes in his direction.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I know it when I see it

Recently I was asked a question during astronomy lab that I hadn't been asked before: "Does this look like porn to you?" Upon this utterance, a black-and-white image of a naked woman, kneeling on a bed with her arms above her head facing the camera, was shown to me. I'm proud to say that I didn't blush, but said, "I could see how some may call it pornographic." Then the student asked, "How about these?" He then showed me more images of the same woman, naked still, but in more chaste poses. Turns out that this was part of an assignment for a photography class, and he had been upset that the instructor deemed them porn rather than art. This led to a very good discussion about pornographic material versus obscene material, whether or not his instructor should be making such distinctions, and questions he could ask himself about his work if he was worried about offending classmates.

But still... it was a different experience that I usually have during astronomy lab.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


I'm wearing a sweater, sipping cocoa, eating granola with soy milk and banana, and listening to a fiddler in the vegetarian coffee house. Ah, Flagstaff...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


With my intrepid fellow astronomer Wayne and with the help of lab tech extraordinaire Todd, I watched Mercury transit the Sun today. We set up a 10-in telescope with a solar filter, as well as a wee, but impressive, Sunspotter and showed passersby Mercury and a glorious sunspot that had just peaked over the limb of the Sun. I wish it hadn't been 90 degrees here in the desert, but the hot, dry, clear sky provided a great view. It also provided us a great opportunity to play with a camera. Not great pictures, but not bad for just pointing and clicking in the heat.

Mercury - yup, it's just a dot against a vast, brilliant background.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Citizen Lisa

Got up early and voted, leaving raging liberal marks all over my ballot. Depending on the results I wake up to tomorrow, you may all get quite a rant.

Went to work to help out with our yearly Science Day, hoping to show 450 underprivileged elementary school kids that both science and college are fun.

Taught two astronomy classes, focusing on Saturn.

Volunteered two hours in a tutoring center, helping out with physics and chemistry questions.

It felt like a very civic-minded day overall. I liked the vibe.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Let's get this week started already!

We got though last week. Sick computers, sick car, sick me...all on the mend. Of course, the snowbirds have brought the air pollution with them, so there is wheezing and an eerie Moon to enjoy.

Check out Amy and Brian's latest venture, a funky shirt business called "Robots in Orbit". many political ads do I have to sit through just to watch football? I really want this election to be over. Also, if you're not going to vote for the candidates I want and for the propositions I support, please stay home. You're making the country worse.

Now, on to some peanut butter cup ice cream!

Saturday, November 04, 2006


I'm still sick, so I decided to sleep in and then curl up on the couch and read all day. It was a good plan that has more or less worked, except that the phone keeps ringing with pre-recorded election crap. There are several propositions on the ballot here that I feel very strongly about, so I will vote on Tuesday, but between these incessant phone calls and all of the negative TV ads, I now have more sympathy for the people who ignore the election altogether.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Dream come true

I'm sick, which makes me very cranky. I have a sore throat and am achy all over, but at least the low fever is gone. I barely made it through teaching today. During my half hour break between teaching lab and lecture, I went into the office and there it was: the dream cake. Moist chocolate cake, whipped cream frosting... a Halloween gift from one of the publishing reps. I took a tiny piece and ate it with my fingers. I didn't care that I was getting whipped cream all over the place - it was my cake! I did not go back for seconds, but I was so tempted! I am sick, after all, and I am convinced of the curative power of chocolate. Must administer more doses!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Weekend in review

This was quite a lovely weekend. On Friday night, we went out on a date. We ate dinner outside in the cool air at a nice restaurant and wandered around a bookstore. Then we went to a concert of spooky music at the university. The acoustics at Gammage Auditorium are really good, and I very much enjoyed the selections from John Williams' Harry Potter soundtrack. "Hedwig's Theme" is just a perfect bit of music - magical and melancholy, just like Harry. I hadn't been to a concert of symphonic music in a long time. Brought me to tears... I used to play flute and oboe and, as a teenager, my goals were torn - pursue music or astronomy? I chose astronomy, arguing to myself that I could continue to play music on my own. There are an oboe and a flute, long untouched, sitting in my closet. I really should drag them out. Warn the neighbors!

The rest of the weekend has involved yummy food, some work, and cozy naps. I also finished The Pox Party - The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation, vol. 1 by M.T. Anderson. The book is amazing. It's marketed as YA, which is appropriate if you go by age of the protagonist, but this book is rich on so many levels. I hope that it receives wide readership. If you haven't read it, do so. I give it my highest recommendation.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Much like my urge to spend today playing outside is running up against my need to do my $@!# job, galaxies collide - the Antennae galaxies, from Hubble

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


My allergies are bothering me, and their most annoying manifestation is the clogging of my ears. Yesterday morning, I found myself pleading to the kids in the back of the lecture hall to speak up. Blah. Makes me cranky. I've started on some allergy medication, so I'm hopeful things will clear up soon. Until then, I'll just continue on in my soundproof world. Bah.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Bits and Pieces

I haven't written for awhile, so it's time to catch up:

  • My talk for Math Club went quite well. Over 50 people showed up on a Friday afternoon!
  • We have discovered a tasty bakery in Tempe - Pleaissant Croissants. They only make plain and stuffed croissants, no other pastries, but let's just say that they do one thing very, very well. Mmm...
  • A former student was shot two weeks ago. He's going to be alright, but still...
  • Along with my cake craving, I have developed a cookie craving. Luckily we found another bakery last night - La Grande Orange Grocery. I had an MJ cookie - a double-chocolate cookie the size of my head. Mmm... the pizza is great, too.
  • I spent most of this past Friday in an incredibly dull meeting. I don't feel like I've woken up since.
  • Bought the latest Tamora Pierce book today. Yay! I'll start reading it when I finish the latest MT Anderson, which is a well-written, disturbing, not very "young adult" novel.

Yup. That's my life currently. Must go prepare for class tomorrow. Carry on.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Lessons and Loss

My ex-brother-in-law (my sister's ex-husband) died today. He was always very good to me. He was an avid reader, had a wicked sense of humor and a sharp wit, and was a gourmet cook. He had wide-ranging interests, loved his kids (including my niece), and was incredibly generous. He had been a brilliant, well-known trial attorney until he retired to raise cattle on a remote farm in Oregon.

He was also an alcoholic, and that's what caught up to him today. He'd been an alcoholic for as long as I'd known him, although it wasn't obvious at first. He'd had his sober periods, but could never stay away for long. This final binge led to fatal alcohol poisoning. He is the second of his brothers to die of alcohol-related ailments, and the only surviving brother has recently had a liver transplant.

I don't drink. I resist using medication. The closest I get to mood-altering substances are daily chocolate, occasional caffeinated beverages, cuddling, and NIN. My choice to not drink or use drugs is a lesson I learned from my former brother-in-law. I saw him, his family, and indications in my family that my path could lead down a similar road. If such an intelligent man could not battle his demon, this horrible disease, I surely had no hope of doing so. It is a lesson I am glad that I heeded, but I'm sorry it came at such a high price.

Rest in peace, Wade.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


More than the sum of its parts - Saturn and newly discovered rings, from Cassini

Monday, October 09, 2006

Good Idea, Bad Idea

I have agreed to do another presentation for the Math Club at my community college. A good idea. Agreeing to do it on a week's notice? A bad idea.

We went to see Michael Chabon give a reading this weekend. That was a very good idea. It was the best reading I've ever attended, with short fragments of existing prose set amongst an interweaving narrative. He was charming, funny and intelligent, and I came away with an even greater appreciation of his work.

What's up with the quarterback rating system? A bad idea. What sort of rating system has a maximum value of 158.3? What got into these people? Normalize that function, please!

I was torn between biscuits & gravy or chorizo & eggs on Sunday morning. So I split an order of each with Greg. I'm still not sure if that was a bad idea or my best idea ever!

Thursday, October 05, 2006


A storm passed through today. I was in my astronomy lecture, talking about the Moon. I was comparing erosion processes on the Moon with those on the Earth. Every time I said "rain", "running water", or "weathering", thunder would rattle the room. It was like I had a soundtrack for my lecture. My class was in hysterics. It was awesome.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


The recent school shootings have bothered me more than I would have anticipated.

I have yet to obtain the perfect cake.

It was still 100 degrees today.

I had to skip the gym to get work done.

I keep feeling like I'm supposed to be somewhere else.

And that damned face recognition/celebrity match software said I most resembled a Japanese dude.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


I sit here using my new 13-inch white Macbook. Just bought it last night! Why? Well, I'd like to say that it is NOT because I dropped my old iBook going through security in the airport a few weeks ago. Not because my machine tried to electrocute me yesterday morning. Not because my machine gave me the "Hard drive? What hard drive!?!?" error during lab yesterday. I'd rather say that I'd been contemplating a new machine and that I decided to reward my new svelte self for a year of not being fat. Yup - that's my story, and I'm sticking with it.

(Incalculable thanks to Greg for talking me off the cliff and helping me to retrieve as much of my data as possible. And thanks to Carl for his physics Powerpoint slides so that losing time yesterday didn't hurt quite so much this morning.)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


One year ago today, I reached my 50-lb weight-loss goal. I've been at a 50-lb (or more!) loss ever since. One whole year of being a healthy weight. One whole year of not being a fat chick. Still, I want to celebrate with cake. :)

Thursday, September 21, 2006


The beauty of night - Saturn (and Mimas - can you see it?), from Cassini

Monday, September 18, 2006

Just had to share

Can't let you forget how beautiful Saturn is! - shadows and shade, from Cassini

Friday, September 15, 2006

Sweet Dreams

I had a dream that somebody at work brought in a tray full of beautiful pastries. I tried to behave and just took a tiny sliver of a cake that was topped with whipped cream and chocolate curls. It was so good that I scooped half of the remaining cake onto my plate and darted into my office so I wouldn't have to share and nobody would see how much I took.

Some people need their dreams interpreted for them. Me, not so much.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Strife and Lawlessness

2003 UB 313, previously known as "Xena" has received its official name from the IAU. It is now known as Eris, goddess of strife, and its satellite is Dysnomia, child of Eris, known as "lawlessness". Just the rabble we need for the outer solar system. :)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

It's All Sarah's Fault

The much beloved SarahP sent Greg a few of the Miles Vorkosigan books by Lois McMaster Bujold earlier this summer. Upon seeing how much Greg enjoyed them, I read them, too. And thus started my obsession. Since late July, I've read thirteen novels and two short stories in this series. I've read two novels in the past four days. Now I'm done with the series, and I shall miss Miles.

The Miles Vorkosigan books have shown me how much an author can accomplish in a series. Each novel was truly a self-contained story in itself. The tone of the novels varied wildly - laugh-out-loud funny, rollicking space opera, heartwrenching drama. Miles was deeply flawed, heroic, silly, intelligent, and real. One of my favorite fictional characters ever. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

Hmm...what book will I read tonight?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Happy Football Season! (Or maybe not)

I love football. I really, really do. But growing up a 49ers fan in the 80s did not prepare me to deal with their lack of success now. They're even playing the Cardinals today in Phoenix, but I've been so out of touch that I didn't realize it. No 49ers game for me this year. :( Not that it would be much of a game. I mean, if the 49ers win one game this year, I'll be surprised. The only good move the 49ers have made in recent memory is to sign Jerry Rice to a one day contract so he can retire as a 49er. I know this makes me a bad fan. I wish we had a working VCR because I think I still have the tape of the 49ers Super Bowl victory over the Broncos. Maybe I'll dig out my Ronnie Lott autograph and meditate.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Modes of Transport

We spent the weekend in San Francisco. We ate wonderful food, took long walks, enjoyed the gorgeous weather, brunched with Lori, and shared a feast of grilled meats tastily provided by Tim and Heather. It was a lovely weekend.

Some more thoughts:

  • Growing up in Sacramento, I always thought of San Francisco as being the grownup city. It was where we went if we wanted to go to good museums. It was also where I saw my first homeless person. My family would go to Fisherman's Wharf and A's games, but it was also where my schools would take us on field trips to see Shakespeare performed. The city seemed so huge and intimidating, yet this weekend, I walked through much of it. San Francisco is still my favorite city.
  • Because of the new security measures, I can't bring hot cocoa with me on the plane to help me through the terrors of take-off. I was dealing with this okay until I realized the guy next to me had little packs of mustard and mayo with his pre-packaged sandwich. If he can bring in his "gels", then I demand my cocoa!
  • I had the most perfect food in my life at the Ferry Building Farmers Market - a tiny sample of plum, a perfect piece of plum. If we'd lived there, I would have purchased about 10 lbs of these plums and eaten them non-stop until there were no more.
  • If you drive in the city, you miss hearing the Chinese spoken in Chinatown turn into the Italian spoken in North Beach.
  • I've learned that I love to watch the geology change underneath me while I'm flying, but seeing the plane route so clearly be "fly towards Los Angeles, then hang a right at that there big fault line til it meets the sea" is a little frightening.
  • Flying over the central coast of California was sad, because at that height, the beauty of the coastline was obscured. I hope all the people on the plane someday drive that route, because they'll miss the most beautiful scenery in the world otherwise.
  • I miss my home, Northern California.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Monday, August 28, 2006


It had been years since I've had the chance to go to WorldCon, but this year's con was in Anaheim, so I took the opportunity. I'd almost forgotten how much I enjoy cons - seeing old friends, meeting new people, attending readings, and let's not forget all of the book-buying! I also picked up a few meteorite samples. :) I had a wonderful time, but somehow I don't think I'll get to the 2007 WorldCon in Yokohama, alas. Perhaps Denver in 2008!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

It's official!

The solar system has eight planets. Here's the new definition of a planet from the International Astronomical Union:

A planet is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.

Pluto fails part (c) because it crosses the orbit of Neptune, only surviving because of its orbital resonance with Neptune such that they are never in the same place at the same time.

Whew. Now that's settled, finally.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Oldies, newbies, outliers, and a barista

Today was the first day of the Fall semester. Summer was too short! I taught two lectures and one lab today. Ah, new students. Some old students, too. I got to freak them out by remembering their names, although it had been years since they had been in my class. And one of our former baristas has shown up - perhaps she'll try to bribe me with a tall non-fat with whip hot chocolate. Mmm.... that's a bribe that might work! :) This semester, I'm teaching two astronomy lectures and four astronomy labs at my community college. At the university, I'm supervising the astronomy labs and am teaching the third semester in a calculus-based physics class designed for engineering majors. Out of 52 students enrolled in that class, only four are female. Sigh. More reason to be proud of the young ladies who are there.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Not so bad

I should be absolutely panicked because the fall semester starts on Monday, and I'm nowhere near ready, but after yesterday morning, I'm just not that worried.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Pluto spam

I'm receiving emails from former students about this whole Pluto ruckus. I'm somewhat vindicated in that I always said if you were going to call it a planet, it should be a double planet. I don't know about "plutons", though. Sigh. And really, rename 2003 UB313 already, but just don't name it Xena, or I may never be able to step back into the classroom again.

(Gotta admit, though, that I love getting these emails. They still think about astronomy! Yay!)

Friday, August 11, 2006

Two years

Yesterday marked two years of being on Weight Watchers. I haven't made much progress since last year, but I did attain my goal of losing 50 lbs on September 26, 2005 and have kept that off (and then some) ever since. Overall, I'm quite pleased.

I'd like to lose a little more weight. I'm still closer than I'd like to the recommended upper limit on weight for my height. Things are going very slowly, though. All my fault, not the plan's. I've been having some discipline issues the past few months. I like soda. French fries...oh, how I love french fries! And if I ever go missing, look for me in a large vat of peanut M&Ms. I'll get back on track, I will. I can do it.

For posterity, here's me in August 2004, compared with me this morning. I don't know which chick looks more like a stranger to me.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Looking back

I'm back in the desert now, after a few blissful days along the coast of California. The area around Carmel and Big Sur is the loveliest in the world to me. Not only physically beautiful, but peaceful, quiet, healing. I can't spend enough time there, and I never want to leave. I spent a few hours hiking around "Punta de los Lobos Marinos" - point of the sea wolves - otherwise known as Pt. Lobos State Reserve, named for the sea lions always in residence. Along my journey down the Pacific Coast Highway, I saw harbor seals, sea lions, elephant seals, and sea creatures still scuttling in their shells. I saw a California Condor in the wild on Thursday. I have no words to describe that experience.

I'm not a good photographer, but with such beautiful material to work with, I managed to snap a few decent shots. Besides those here, I've posted some to my Flickr account.

Quintessential Big Sur:

Sea Lions at Pt. Lobos

Lichen, Algae, and some of the last wild Monterey Cypress

Cypress and Sea

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Asilomar State Beach

Sea lions in Monterey Bay. Cute!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Feeling Californian

While watching firefighters battle a brushfire not 50 yards from my car, I drove across the San Andreas fault along the stretch of road where James Dean died. My journey ended with a warm bowl of risotto in fog-shrouded Carmel-by-the-Sea. I feel in touch with my California roots.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Ah, summer

Hour at the gym, working breakfast at Starbucks, doctor's appointment, arrival at my office by 10am. Ah, summer vacation... Actually, this past weekend had quite the summer vibe to it - I read an entire book in four hours on Saturday. I haven't done that in years! The book was Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold. If my doctor had been running late as usual this morning, I would have been able to finish Barrayar, too. Oh well, I'll finish it later. Two books in three days - now that feels like summer vacation.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Answer: Both!

Question: Chocolate bread pudding or sopaipillas?


Thursday, July 27, 2006


Morning rain has cooled the air and made my hair all curly and foofy. Happy Lisa. To rejoice, I shall share a pretty picture - NGC 7331, courtesy of APOD and R. Jay Gabany.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Good Reads

The much beloved Jon Hansen has a delightful story up on Abyss & Apex - "Goddess". Go give it a read!

My favorite writer-dude Greg wrote a new short story that I was lucky enough to read before its official debut next month in "Show and Tell and Other Stories", from the good folks at Tropism Press. The new story "Far As You Can Go" made me feel wistful and small, yet hopeful. It's a beautiful piece.

ESPN has been running a series on the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan two years ago. The part that struck me most was the following reaction to Tillman's parents by the Army officer who conducted the first inquiry into the incident: ...these people have a hard time letting it go. It may be because of their religious beliefs. ...When you die, I mean, there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don't believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt. So for their son to die for nothing, and now he is no more — that is pretty hard to get your head around that. So I don't know how an atheist thinks. I can only imagine that that would be pretty tough. It can't possibly be that they just want to know how their son died. Nope, it's because they aren't good little Christians. Sigh.

I've been meaning to read some of Lois McMaster Bujold's books ever since I saw her on a panel at WorldCon years ago. The wonderful SarahP sent along "Young Miles" to Greg, who enjoyed it, so I had to read it, of course. Fun space opera, with moving character exploration. I'll be spending a serious chunk of time working through Bujold's works this year. I'm always so happy when I find a new author to explore. Thanks, Sarah, for getting me hooked!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

This place is stoopid

Valley summer nights hotter than usual - like we needed that! I know, I know...the whole country is suffering a heat wave, but when the low temperature is 93 degrees, it sucks. I'm all heat cranky. This is how I feel:

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Five questions

The five questions meme. Here's how it works:

1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me."

2. I will respond by asking you five questions. I get to pick the questions.

3. You will update your journal with the answers to the questions (or leave your answers in my comments).

4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.

5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Greg interviewed me:

1. What's the most beautiful object in space?

Just one? JUST ONE?!?!?! Alright, there's the pretty blue marble. There's also Rho Ophiuchi, but that technically isn't just one object. But it always comes back to Saturn, for me. Especially with the images that Cassini keeps sending back, Saturn is a constant battle of sunlight and shadow, globes and rings...there's a sense of perspective here that we can't get anywhere else (yet).

2. You've got two weeks, a full tank of gas (and means to refuel), snacks and a credit card. Where you going?

Assuming I need to start from home, I drive north from Phoenix, heading through Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon. I stop for good food in Flagstaff. I then drive north and go through Zion and Bryce National Parks in Utah. Continuing north, I head into Idaho, driving through the Sun Valley area, and continue on to Glacier National Park in Montana. From there, westward to Vancouver. I head south and hit Seattle. Now that I've had a few days of city life, I head out to the Washington coast and then take Pacific Coast Highway all the way down the west coast. I'll take a detour to Powell's, I mean, Portland to restock on books, but otherwise I'll stay on the coast all the way through Oregon and California (stopping off at the Ferry Building in San Francisco) down to Cambria where I'll turn inland because the southern California coast is boring. Time for a quick meal in L.A. with friends before heading back to Phoenix. (My suitcase is calling upon me to fill it. Restless!)

3. Old stand-by: Dinner with any three people, living or dead. Who are they? (And, yes, you can just sit quietly and eavesdrop on the conversation if you want.)

I am obviously well-known by my interviewer, because I would definitely want to be quiet and eavesdrop. This is a hard question, because for the most part, I find ordinary people discussing their daily lives to be the most interesting. Maybe just three people off the street. (The sentimental part of me would invite Dad to have one last meal with Mom because she misses him so much and I'd leave them alone.)

4. You can teach your students one concept and one concept only, but they will completely understand and embrace this concept. What's on the syllabus?

How science is done. So many students want to learn the immutable truth, but science is all about change, a process and not a set of facts. And I would hope that, by the end of the course, I'd never hear the question, "Is that true?", but rather, "How'd we figure that out?"

5. What's one fear you wish you could eradicate from your system?

My biggest fear is of doing the wrong thing. This extends to all parts of my life, and I wish it didn't. It isn't just the big things like where will I move to or what my next life goal will be. I worry about making a bad choice of route to take or dinner I'll cook. We all make bad choices, but I don't want my fears to stop me from making choices at all.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Nothing much to say. Just feeling kind of blue and amorphous. Makes me think of reflection nebulae; here are a few in Corona Borealis.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


I hope that y'all had a lovely holiday weekend. We spent a blissful few days in Vancouver. The weather was glorious - cloud-free and 70-degree temps. The food was yummy, the scenery was gorgeous, and the downtown area was full of interesting neighborhoods to explore. We logged over 25 miles of walking in two days. Highlights: walking the perimeter of Stanley Park, eating dessert on the balcony of our hotel room, perusing an amazing Chinatown, observing Canada Day celebrants. We definitely want to return to Vancouver some day. None of my pics could capture the wonderful time we had, but I'll post one anyways.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Winging it

Kind of a strange week for me. Despite being on vacation, I discovered that I feel better if I get to the gym at 5:30 am than if I sleep in and get there at 9:00 am. Um, why am I getting up so early during my summer vacation? I've turned into a morning person as well as a night person? Sleep is for the weak! But...but...I like to sleep. Gah!

I'm at the airport, waiting to board a plane for Vancouver. I've gathered peanut M&Ms, water, and sudoku puzzles. Ready to go! (Especially since there is some right-wing whack job on the TV.) Have a great weekend everyone!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Global, Local

We had a very pleasant weekend, including seeing two movies. The first was "An Inconvenient Truth", which was very well constructed. Not that I need to be convinced about global warming, but I thought Gore presented the scientific reasoning in a very clear fashion. Great graphs - I need some of those graphs. I am such a geek. We also saw an IMAX film, "Roving Mars". It was nicely done, but I found some of the mix of computer graphics and real images bothersome. For example, often when the rovers are shown roving on Mars, the devices are moving against real images that they have sent back to Earth. The blend is wonderfully done, but I wonder if the audience misses out on what is real and what isn't? As a scientist and educator, I find myself being concerned about such things. And I wanted more images of Mars!

We are lucky to have an IMAX theater in our neighborhood, but it's in a very busy mall. Yesterday the mall was even more annoying than usual, with a beauty pageant for little girls occurring in the food court. Yes, six-year old girls wearing bikinis, parading in front of strangers, learning that their self-worth is totally dependent on their body image. Good job, parents!

Speaking of the neighborhood, Greg has mentioned our concern for First Person Shooter, the man who's always playing computer games at our Starbucks. Recently he's been there at all times of day and night, obviously without leaving, and we had grown convinced that he was living out of his truck. That's never easy, but 110 degree weather makes it even worse. We haven't seen him for a few days, and we've found that we're kinda worried for him. We're also worried for Preacher Dude, He's a pastor near the university, and for ages he's been at Starbucks in the morning writing his sermons and chatting with everyone. He's the kind of man who will let you know you're welcome to show up for Christmas Eve services, but doesn't attempt to preach to you. He was gone for quite awhile, and we had assumed he was off on one of his frequent trips, but he came back this week painfully thin and obviously ill - cancer. If you have time, beam healing thoughts towards Preacher Dude; he'd do the same for you.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Seven Songs

According to my most beloved Kirsten, I am to list seven songs I am currently enjoying. Feel free to play along if you like. I decided to look at my "Top 25 Most Played" on iTunes to help me out. Wow, um, maybe I should listen to something other than NIN sometimes? Nah. All of the following are by NIN:

  • "The Perfect Drug" - Lost Highway soundtrack - A good song, with a beautiful video featuring Trent Reznor with his most Morpheus-like look.
  • "Beside You in Time" - With Teeth - The pulsating rhythm of this song really gets under my skin.
  • "Eraser" - The Downward Spiral - I've been listening to this a lot in traffic recently, over and over again. This does not bode well for other people on the road.
  • "Eraser (Denial: Realization) - Further Down the Spiral - Rumor has it that Fight Club was written while listening to this album. Mmm....Fight Club...
  • "March of the Pigs" - And All that Could Have Been - This live track takes me right back to the concert experience. This song is at its best performed live.
  • "Last" - Broken - "This isn't meant to last. This is for right now."
  • "Leaving Hope" - Still - You've likely never heard this album, but this is Trent's finest work. This song features delicate, sorrowful piano playing. I don't know if I so much enjoy this song, but rather that this is the song that most affects me.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Tell me where to go

I want to plan another trip during this summer vacation of mine. I just haven't decided where to go yet. There's also the additional snag of work obligations, so the trip will most likely have to be short pending meeting schedules. Here are some of my ideas so far:

  • Convince Greg to quit his job and take a long trip with me. (My favorite idea by the way)
  • Drive to the Central or Lost Coast of California. Can't do that often enough.
  • Find a nice spot on the Atlantic Coast to visit, as I've never seen the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Go back to D.C. and hit all of the museums that I didn't get to in January. (And go back to some I did see. Meteorites! Spaceships!)
  • I've never been to Boston, and I could go see a game at Fenway.

Any ideas? Suggestions?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


The NBA season is over, and now begins the emptiness that will last until September 7th. I didn't particular care about or for either Dallas or Miami. What peeved me more was the choice of Tom Petty for the Finals music. Tom Petty? I've nothing against Tom Petty, but when I think basketball, Tom Petty does not immediately spring to mind. (Alonzo Mourning is a stunningly gorgeous man, by the way.)

I was subjected to another peeve of mine today. I was in a public restroom, watching yet another neurotic person wash their hands and then try not to touch anything on the way out. Really, people, because most do wash their hands, the inner doorknob has less germs than the outer doorknob. Anyway, this person was so obsessed with not touching any fixtures with her clean hands that she gave up trying to turn off the water. Yup, that's right, she left the water running rather than touch the faucet. Guess that's okay, we have so much water here in the desert after all.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Family Matters

Happy Father's Day to all fathers out there, especially my friends who became new fathers this year - Brian, Randy, and the latest, Jon!

I just returned from a weekend in Sacramento. I was there to visit the family and attend my niece Ashley's graduation from UC Davis. Congrats to the Spoiled Princess! I also met my great-nephew Hunter (my niece Renee's son). He's just adorable. I had so much fun with him. And as with any family gathering, much food was eaten. I'm sorry that I forgot my camera, because I think you won't believe how much food there was at the graduation party without evidence. Oof. My brother, mother, and I helped my sister with party preparation - I spent an hour shredding pork for pulled pork and carnitas. Whoa.

This was my first time flying to Sacramento, and it was lovely from the air: rivers, farmland, flooded rice paddies, flocks of herons. I do miss Northern California. I kinda miss my family, too. As it was Father's Day, I went to visit my father's grave. He's buried in the cemetary next to the old drive-in theater he used to take us to. I remember watching Star Wars out the back window while my parents were watching something lame on the front screen. And yes, I was wearing PJs.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Wish fulfillment

Everybody wish Charly an amazing summer - he's at MIT for a summer research program, and it sounds like he's already having fun. Go Charly!

Did you know that Whole Foods will let you try samples of chocolate? I jokingly mentioned at the cheese counter that they should have out samples of the chocolate like they do of the cheese, and the cheese dude said that they keep some bits of the chocolate behind the counter and that they'd break open any chocolate I wanted to taste. I thanked him, backed away slowly, and have not yet taken advantage of the opportunity. What an opportunity!

I had a strange dream, in which I found an audio clip of Trent Reznor singing the theme from "Firefly". I'm sure that falls under "wish fulfillment fantasy", but I'm not sure how.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Big Thoughts

There was a news story this week about Wendy's renaming their "Biggie" and "Great Biggie" sizes because the names confused the customers. So "Great Biggie" will now be "large" and "Biggie" will be called "medium". The previous "medium" will now be the "small", and they have eliminated what was once their "small" option. The portion sizes aren't changing, just the names. This reminded me of my attempts to get small sodas on my road trip. I like the caffeine, sugar, and ease of use of fountain soda while I'm driving. However, I don't want half a gallon of soda. I always get the smallest size, but depending on the gas station/convenience store, this smallest size varies greatly. Two years ago, on my first long solo road trip, I was able to get 16 oz. Last year, those were harder to find, and in many cases even when I could find the cups, the stores were no longer stocking the lids. I found myself using coffee lids frequently. This year, I didn't find a single 16 oz option, located few 20 oz (in once case, the store had permanently blocked the bin for these cups) and usually found myself just not filling up a 24 oz cup all the way. At one store, the clerk took a long time ringing me up, because he'd never had to use the code for the smallest soda size before.

I never did give into my craving for Fritos (only three ingredients - corn, oil, salt), because the small bags I found contained four servings.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Just look

No words necessary - NGC 5866, from Hubble

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Road Notes

You know that jerk on the road who rides right up on your tail til you have to move over and let them pass? And then you see them do that to other people? You know how you bemoan the fact that there is no police officer around and once, just once, you'd like to see the jerk get caught? Last Tuesday, near the New Mexico/Colorado border, I finally saw the jerk get pulled over. Yay!

I was at a convenience store on the outskirts of Pueblo and the dude in front of me asked for a case of bacon. The clerk brought a case of bacon out of the storeroom for him.

While playing in the snow at Rocky Mountain National Park, a toddler was singing "Jingle Bells". Well, it did look a lot like Christmas.

On the way back home, between Flagstaff and Phoenix, my little two-year old grey Honda Civic passed the 45,000 mile mark. The car averaged 40 mpg on this trip, maxing out at 48 mpg the day up in Rocky Mountain National Park - gotta love coasting with gravity! I would also like to give heartfelt thanks, from me and a family of deer, to the brakes on the car.

In case you're not yet convinced to run out and visit your National Parks, here's an image of what the parks protect and preserve. (I always come back from these trips wanting to be a ranger when I grow up.)

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Now I get it

Look, it's the Colorado Colorado! (This really amuses me.)

Tonight found me in Santa Fe. New Mexican food, fancy hotel, bubble bath and a fluffy robe - gosh, I love this town. But I'm ready to head home.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Since I visited for the first time two years ago, I've dreamed of returning to Rocky Mountain National Park. I spent today there. So lovely. Green meadows, wildflowers clinging to the barren tundra, frozen lakes, waterfalls of snow runoff, rivers, glaciers, elk, snow...I wish I had more time there. So much I haven't seen yet! On the way back to the hotel, I headed to Pearl St. in Boulder. Ate dinner at the Boulder Cafe. Hung out at the Boulder Bookstore, which is a fine bookstore, if a little lacking on the science fiction. Walked past High Crimes, the mystery bookstore, but it was closed! Too early! Grabbed some candies at Belvedere Chocolates. All-in-all, a lovely day.

This is the third year in a row I've spent time in this area. Returning to Boulder now feels a little like coming home. My first trip to the Boulder area corresponded with my first long solo roadtrip. I remember being so nervous about it! I remember even hesitating to go up to RMNP by myself. Now I think nothing of jumping in the car and heading out for a few days. I'll always think of this area fondly, not just because of the natural beauty, but because it is a place where I learned more about myself.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Red Rocks

Ever since I saw the U2 concert video "Under a Blood Red Sky", I've wanted to go to a concert at Red Rocks in Morrison, CO. Check that one off life's to-do list. Tonight I went to Red Rocks - Nine Inch Nails (with TV on the Radio and Bauhaus). Gorgeous scenery, a waxing crescent moon, stars, planets, great acoustics, and my favorite band. Just what I needed. And to Trent, about what you said to the audience after "Hurt"? Right back at you, a millionfold.

(For those of you keeping track, that's one year, five NIN concerts in four states.)

Saturday, May 27, 2006


We went to see "X-Men" today. I must say that I enjoyed a movie where I could listen to the voices of Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, and Kelsey Grammer. If only there were a role for Christopher Plummer...

I haven't determined what superpower I'd want for myself, but I did enjoy using the motion-activated paper tower dispenser after the movie.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


I know this image came out a few weeks ago, but it's been my desktop wallpaper ever since. When I was a little girl, I had a scrapbook of all things Mount St. Helens, and I'm still fascinated. - growing rock slab in Mount St. Helens, from APOD and USGS

Friday, May 19, 2006

Sleep, precious sleep

I crawled into bed at 10 pm last night and crawled out of bed at 10 am this morning. I think I needed that.

I spent the past few days in the cooler climes of Flagstaff, hiking and snacking and soaking and watching basketball playoffs and giving into my new sudoku addiction. Now I'm back in sweltering Tempe, decidedly enjoying the A/C and still giving into my new sudoku addiction.

Sunday, May 14, 2006


I enjoyed being a judge at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair last year so much that I immediately knew I wanted to do it again. This year, it was held in Indianapolis. I dragged Carl along with me, and we were both assigned to the Space Sciences division. We arrived in Indianapolis late Monday night, and as we were checking into the hotel, I noticed a woman wearing an ISEF badge. Turns out that she was the mother of one of the students competing and she thanked us for volunteering our time. This had already been an amazing experience for her daughter, and she'd decided to become an engineer because of the competition. Nifty!

On Tuesday, after registering at the Fair, Carl and I walked about downtown Indianapolis for a little bit.

Looking down a side street:

The State Capitol is pretty:

I don't know how much more American you can get:

One of the perks of being a judge is attending a panel of Nobel Prize winners, who show up to the Fair to interact with and inspire the students. Jocelyn Bell Burnell was on the panel, although not a Nobel Prize winner. (But she should be!) Hers is a story I relate to my classes, and I was surprised at how emotionally affected I was by her. Another thing that struck me about the prize winners overall is how normal, but extremely competent and confident they were. They reminded me of astronauts. (As a side note, all of the folding chairs had "Hoosier Dome" embossed on them. Definitely in Indiana.)

Wednesday was devoted to judging. All the kids look so young, although you have to be a high schooler to compete. Many of the international students wear their national dress. Most of the projects are so far beyond what I could have done at their age. One student I interviewed had already submitted his work to a professional journal and was partway through the peer-review process. My most entertaining interaction was with a student who noted that I was the "second aggressive female astronomer" who had asked him a specific question. I smiled all friendly-like and said, "Excuse me?" To which he responded, "I meant, you're just so on top of things." Hmm...methinks he doesn't speak much to people with breasts.

All-in-all, I enjoyed judging again and found it very rewarding. Next year's fair will be in Albuquerque - all the fun, plus green chile!

Saturday, May 13, 2006


I just submitted the last of my grades. This semester, this nightmare of a semester, is finally done. Tomorrow, I shall commence my life again. Hmm..maybe I'll get a haircut, as I had to tie my bangs in a unicorn-like fashion to finish grading. Hmm...perhaps I shall go shopping for summer clothes that fit. Maybe I'll even download the pix I took in Indianapolis. The possibilities are endless!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Just plain screwy

It was halftime of the Suns-Clippers game, and it was already midnight. The Eastern Time Zone is all screwy.

I'm in Indianapolis, where I'll be a judge at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair again. The next few days will be hectic, but rewarding. Should I be grading? Oh, yes. Perhaps I should do a bit of that before turning in. Of course, the Suns game is still in the third quarter, so I'll be up awhile longer anyways.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

On Edge

The end of the semester is upon me. Too much, too soon. I've written ten exams so far this week, and I still have one to go. I haven't even had time to grade. For the first time, I think I might not be able to get grades in on time. I have aggravated my neck and haven't been going to the gym. I keep telling myself there's just one week left, but it freaks me out instead of soothing me.

On the other hand, I received a lovely note from one student and a box of chocolates from another. Walking across campus this morning, I was joined by a student who wanted to chat about the Sun. And have you seen this pic of Saturn, from Cassini?

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Alphabet Meme

I got this meme from Mike: "Write ten words beginning with that letter in your journal, including an explanation what the word means to you and why, and then pass out letters to those who want to play along. " He gave me the letter N.

1. Nice - this is typically how I'm described. Not that it's bad, but it is boring. Whenever I try to break the mold, though, I fail. Guess I'm doomed to be nice.

2. Niche - thought I'd found mine; turns out I haven't. That's a good thing, I believe, because I'd hate to think that life couldn't change after the age of thirty-five.

3. NASA - from Mercury to Apollo, Hubble to Cassini, grad school funding to E/PO grants, NASA has had an effect on my life that's almost impossible to describe. Perfect? No, but where would our understanding of the cosmos be without NASA?

4. Nebula - birthplace of stars, birthplace of dreams. The cycle of life and death playing out on an unfathomable scale. Seeing this image of the Vela supernova remnant when I was a young girl marked the beginning of my journey towards being an astrophysicist.

5. Nerd - gee, ya think?

6. Nature - you might be sensing a theme here. Taking the time to appreciate the universe around me is very important to me - looking through a telescope, touching a moon rock, sitting on an cliff overlooking the ocean, pressing my nose against the airplane window to peer at volcanoes, hiking in the cool mountain air... It isn't that I don't appreciate man-made works of art and literature, but nature awes me.

7. Night - I love the darkness, the cool air, the silence. I love the stars, Moon, and planets all shimmering above. I love moonlight streaming through the window and the last lingering stars before dawn.

8. Never - I never thought I'd fly alone on a plane. I never thought I'd lose 60 lbs. I never thought I'd drive across country alone. Never is a word that I will attempt to use more judiciously in the future.

9. Nine Inch Nails - the last few years been rough, and I don't know what I would have done without Trent Reznor - new album, concerts, and lyrics that speak to me like no others.

10. Next - mmm...the possibilities are endless.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


  • The Grand Canyon illuminated by the early morning Sun
  • Nevada reminding me of Mars
  • Mt. St. Helens ominously steaming
  • The Space Needle looking tiny in the distance
  • The Tacoma Narrows Bridge and its "strong winds" sign
  • The Port Washington Narrows while eating a chocolate chip cookie
  • Mt. Rainier so pristine, so close, illuminated by the setting sun
  • Night-time Phoenix, reminding me of Coruscant, because that's just how I am

All in one's an amazing world.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Last night I had a very odd dream. It started with a discussion with a student, who said he owned a bookstore specializing in history books. (Surprising, because he doesn't strike me as being particularly bookish.) However I was reminded that I had been neglecting the course I was taking on running my own business. So I dragged myself to that class, where we were doing some sort of trust-building exercise by singing solo in front of the class. Everybody else performed lovely renditions of Beatles songs or snippets of opera arias. Me, I couldn't think of anything. No songs, no words were in my head. When it was finally my turn, I burst into the only song I could think of at the time - "Particle Man" by They Might Be Giants. Much laughter ensued. I left the class, but on the way out I did sure take that last chocolate donut.

My dreams are typically straightforward to interpret: student interaction is done on a daily basis, I'm obsessed with books, and I want every bit of chocolate I see. The singing was prompted by chancing upon a student who was demonstrating her singing skills by singing "Country Roads" by John Denver in her best soprano vibrato. Now that's weird.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Good day

Today is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Many people celebrate this day - we did so by preparing a breakfast of bacon, eggs, and banana walnut pancakes. It was a very pleasant day overall, a nice respite from the hectic semester that this has become. Only four weeks left, including finals. I'm not convinced I'll be able to finish all my grading and other obligations. But for most of today, I forgot that. It was a good day.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Moon!

Alright, it isn't a spectacular image, but it is my first astrophoto, taken after tonight's astronomy lab. Moon!

Monday, April 10, 2006

To Do

Last week was so busy that I didn't even have time to write my weekly to-do list. Now I'm fearing that I've forgotten something important. I'm sure the students will let me know. I did accomplish one thing on my mental list - to have a nice mixture of work and play this weekend. I graded and completed bills/taxes, but I had a massage, and we also ate at two restaurants we hadn't tried and spent part of one evening reading at a coffee house. I feel a little bit better about beginning these last five weeks of the semester, but they're going to be hectic.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Evil M&Ms

They were calling to me, those peanut M&Ms. I usually don't have them around, but there they were, leftover from the Vegas road-trip. I could not resist. All gone now. I guess I'll call this M&M incident "dinner" and move on.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

NIN in Vegas

Got back not too long ago from a weekend in Las Vegas with Greg, who graciously escorted me to my fourth Nine Inch Nails concert of the past year. Vegas, as always, was fascinating and repulsive. NIN, as always, was spectacular. Opened with "Mr. Self Destruct" - aaiiee! Performed "Something I Can Never Have" - as a guy behind me blurted out during this song, "God can strike me down now". Saul Williams was an amazing opening act. I'm glad I've been introduced to his work - kind of punk hip-hop. Gotta see if I can squeeze in one of the shows on the NIN summer tour, which Trent says will be the last for the US for awhile. And is there any man who looks sexier with a tambourine than Trent Reznor? I know, it makes no sense unless you see him, but oh my goodness...

Friday, March 31, 2006


I'm very glad that the sewer in the faculty office building has backed up into the air handler room. It's a lovely aroma and makes me happy to be in my office.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Saving my semester

I've written previously about how difficult this semester has been. I haven't really noted much improvement. I've made connections with individual students, but none of my classes have a good vibe still. And some of the students have been rough to deal with - the ones who get up and leave without trying if the lab has math in it, the ones who demand to know why they have to take the course for their major, the ones who yell at me because they find the course difficult and I have to bite my tongue and not yell back that this IS the easier version of introductory physics, the ones who are inert in the classroom... Last Wednesday, during the introduction to Mars lecture, my class was almost completely silent. Things that have sparked great discussions with previous classes did nothing here. I kept thinking during that hour, "I'm just gonna go back to my office and cry. Just bawl." Then one of my students approached me after class. He said that he was thinking about becoming a teacher and wondered if he could ask a few questions. Then he asked me, "How do you deal with a class that just refuses to respond, no matter what you do?" And I realized that some of my students were frustrated by their classmates' lack of interaction, too. We chatted for quite some time, and when he left he told me that he appreciated all of the effort I put into our class.

So I'd just like to thank Brian for saving my semester. I was pretty much bottoming out there, and he threw me a lifeline.

Friday, March 24, 2006

New pix from Mars!

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter returned its first images today - resolution on the image below is about 2.5 meters per pixel. Nifty!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Absence of Light

Planets shine by reflected sunlight, can you tell? - rings, moons, and Saturn, from Cassini

Monday, March 20, 2006


This weekend was full of fun. We drove out to L.A. on Friday night and hung out at a coffee shop and Venice Beach on Saturday morning. It was lovely in L.A., enough to make my love/hate ratio 30/70 instead of the usual 5/95. Then we met up for brunch with Kirsten and Aaron - yummy! We also had a few hours of baby therapy with Tristan and Gwendolyn - it's lovely to see Amy and her twins, I'm just sorry that Brian is so busy we couldn't see him. Then there was the play - we went to L.A. to see Aaron perform and we were not disappointed. (Congrats, dude!) Then we went to see "V for Vendetta" at the Arclight. A great theater - all theaters should have such great sound, assigned seats, large screens, and a restaurant. And yes, that was all on Saturday. Sunday meant lunch with the folks and a quick drive back home, where my car surpassed 40 thousand miles at less than two years of age. Fun - hectic, sleep-depriving fun.

Alas, though, it also brought the end of my Spring Break. Boo!!! I'd rather be having fun.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Death Star approaching Yavin 4

Sometimes I just can't help myself - Mimas passing in front of Tethys, from Cassini

Monday, March 13, 2006


Today I hit the 60 lb mark - I've lost 60 lbs since August 2004. It's going slowly now, having taken almost six months to lose the last ten lbs. But slow and steady is a good thing. I'm going to try to keep it up a little while longer.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Today's View from Phoenix

Yesterday, a particularly cold storm ended 143 days without precipitation for Phoenix. Snow fell in the surrounding mountains, so today I went to one of Phoenix's urban parks - Papago Park - to take some pictures. Trust me, the beauty could not be adequately captured by my lame attempts.

Just to show you that I am indeed in the desert, here's the view to the South:

But here's the view to the East:

And here's the view to the Northeast - never has the contrast between Red Mountain and the White Mountains been so obvious:

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Solar System News Roundup

The solar system was prominent in the news this week. First came news that Saturn's small moon Enceladus might have liquid water geysers. This would be an incredible find. The Earth is the only world known to have liquid water at the surface. Jupiter's moons Europa and Ganymede may have subsurface oceans. But for water geyser activity to be happening in Enceladus, the water would have to be awfully near the surface. Many questions remain, though - most small worlds are geologically dead, and I don't know that the scientists studying Enceladus have determined the reason for such unexpected geologic activity. Let's hear it, though, for the amazing science coming from the Cassini mission.

Can't leave the planet Mars out of the news. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter successfully completed its orbit insertion around Mars. It will be aerobraking into a low Martian orbit for the next six months. Expect the first Mars data in November 2006.

Lost in the coverage of Enceladus and MRO was the followup Hubble observations of the two new moons of Pluto. Scientists have determined that the two new moons show the same color properties as Charon, Pluto's largest moon, pointing to a common origin for all three moons. It is thought that another Kuiper Belt object smashed into Pluto and formed the three moons, much as we think a Mars-sized object impacted the Earth and formed our Moon.

And on a local scale, but seeming almost as important today, it's raining here in the Phoenix metro area, bringing an end to a record-setting 143 days without measurable rain! Believe it or not, some parts of the region are getting snow! From the Arizona Republic:

Friday, March 10, 2006

So far, so good

Other states have similar bills before their legislatures - keep an eye on them, people! From the Arizona Republic:

Offensive-coursework bill shot down

Students can't refuse materials

Robbie Sherwood
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 10, 2006 12:00 AM
The Senate rejected a bill Thursday that would have allowed university and community college students to refuse assignments that they found offensive on religious or moral grounds.

Senate Bill 1331, introduced by Gilbert Republican Sen. Thayer Verschoor, failed by a vote of 17-12. That means students will not have an alternative to reading or watching important but controversial works of film and literature such as Schindler's List, The Invisible Man or The Color Purple.

But that is because there is no alternative to those great works and their lessons, said Sen. Jim Waring, R-Phoenix, who led an impassioned floor fight against the bill. Waring held up a copy of Ralph Ellison's groundbreaking novel The Invisible Man, which is still opening eyes to the pain of racism more than 50 years after its publication. The book contains a graphic eight-page depiction of incest.The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
, widely considered among the greatest American novels, but the subject of recent censorship debates because of the language it uses to depict Blacks.

"(Twain) was making a point about the South and about discrimination, about the treatment of people of color," said Allen, R-Scottsdale. "That book has been banned because some people were patently offended. I can find something patently offensive in a heck of a lot of things. Does that means students in college should not be exposed to what the world is?"

Verschoor and a pair of East Valley House members took on the issue after a Chandler-Gilbert Community College student complained that one of the books required for a class, The Ice Storm, offended him because of its sexual content. The student filed a grievance with the school, but the school denied it and offered him another class. The student refused and approached Verschoor about changing the law.

To demonstrate his objection to the bill, Waring also produced an e-mail from an Arizona State University student sent earlier this month to an instructor of a film class on Steven Spielberg. The student asked for an alternate assignment to watching the director's Oscar-winning Holocaust drama Schindler's List. The class also showed the R-rated World War II film Saving Private Ryan.

"I came to class yesterday but left early because I do not watch R-rated movies," the unidentified student wrote. "This being the case, I was wondering if you had some sort of alternative assignment that you would like me to do instead of the Schindler's List journal."

ASU officials reminded the student that the course syllabus warned that the films in the class might contain language that is considered obscene and denied the request.

"It begs the question why you'd sign up for a class on Spielberg if you don't want to watch Schindler's List or Saving Private Ryan," Waring said.

While this discussion focused on moral objections due to depiction of violence or sexual content, you can imagine how us science instructors felt about this can of worms. We're keeping an eye out for reintroduction of the bill with changed language.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Sense of place

I awoke this morning from a very pleasant dream. I was in an urban area, perhaps a city park of some sort, quietly populated with a few people. It was snowing gently, muffling the sound such that all I could hear was the crunching of snow beneath my feet. I felt peaceful and content, with the day ahead of me seeming so full of possibilities.

Definitely a dream, not a reality. The sense of place I had in my dream that I don't have in my waking moments, well, it's left me feeling slightly blue today.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Shadows and Ice

It's been too long since I posted an image from the Saturn system - Enceladus, rings, and Saturn, from Cassini

Saturday, March 04, 2006


Static tranquility and glowing change - aurora over Alaska, by Daryl Pederson

Friday, March 03, 2006

Dull and Duller

This semester is chaotic and busy and stressful. I feel like I do nothing but work. And I'm excited that Spring Break is in a week so I can catch up on grading. I bore even myself.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Reaching Out

I was invited by the city of Scottsdale's Parks and Recreation Dept. to give a presentation at a family stargazing night this past Saturday. Despite the partly cloudy skies, a few dozen people showed up. Had a lot of fun, met some interesting people, got to see Saturn. All in all, a good time.

Students nominated me for an award at the university where I teach part-time. I'm not eligible for the award (due to the part-time status), but I was touched to be nominated. The award would have meant participating in the Last Lecture Series, which enables the faculty member to give the lecture that they would want to give if they only had this one last chance to speak to the public. (And I'll take it on faith that students just wanted to hear what I had to say, instead of just hoping I'd give this last lecture and then shut-up forever.)

So, I've been wondering...what would I say? It is a provoking thought. Sure, I could give a decent talk full of pretty astronomy images, but freed from the educational objectives of a traditional lecture, really, what would I say? I'm not sure, but it's something I continue to think about.

What would you say if you had one last chance to sway or move or motivate an audience?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Monday, February 20, 2006


Wow, time does fly...

Over 50% of my caloric intake today was chocolate of some form. That's a good day, I say.

Today was a holiday for me. I took the morning off, but worked the rest of the day. I made chili for lunches and a decadent pasta dish for dinner. I wrote eight physics quizzes. I wrote one astronomy midterm. I wrote half of a new astronomy lab. Whew.

I had to work today because I had a glorious weekend hanging out with friends. This weekend marked the twentieth anniversary of the college science fiction club where I've made so many friends. It's also where I met Greg over sixteen years ago. Some of the new members weren't even born when the club started! It was just lovely seeing all the geeks, many of whom I hadn't seen in years. I'm very glad I let Kirsten drag me to that first meeting so many years ago.

Hmm...if I go to bed now, I might get six whole hours of sleep! Good night, all!

Monday, February 13, 2006

What to do?

I just haven't reached my classes this semester. I wonder if it's because I was sick the first week and didn't make a good impression? I don't know, but the vibe in the classroom isn't as pleasant as it usually is. With one lecture in particular, I find myself stumbling for words at places where the complete lack of reaction catches me off guard. I think of teaching now almost as performance art, and I feed a lot off of my audience. This feedback loop is an unfortunate cycle this semester, and I can't figure out how to break out of it. It's a shame in so many ways - the students are not getting me at my best, and I'm not having the fun I normally do at work. I feel like the more I try to reach them, the more distant they become.

Any advice would be appreciated.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Enough with the whining...

...let's look at some comet dust! -cometary dust particles and trails, from Stardust

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


I know I only have to pay the $500 deductible (only $500 - sigh) , but the fact that some assholes inflicted $1200.03 worth of damage on my car in a random act of vandalism has upset me very much. And it isn't just the money - it's going to take about a week for the repairs. I have a rental, and it's covered by my insurance, but it isn't the same. Some worthless jerks have robbed me of time, money, and the little car that's taken me to friends and freedom and ragey music and peaceful vistas.

I don't understand meanness, but if your goal was to make me very sad, it worked.

Sunday, February 05, 2006


There are many times when I quell my baser instincts. I don't say the mean thing that pops to mind or perform the inappropriate action that would be immediately gratifying. Nope, I bite my tongue and try to do the right thing because I do believe the vast majority of people deserve no less.

So imagine how I felt this morning coming out to the car after breakfast to find two big shoeprints on the passenger side, one accompanied by a big deep dent in the door.

People are poopy.


Thursday, February 02, 2006

Stardust Mission Webcam

I've added a link to the Stardust Mission Cleanroom Webcam over in my "Favorites":

Oh, to be there!

Tuesday, January 31, 2006


David stopped by for a few days on his epic cross-country roadtrip. (Jealous.) I think it's exciting that David is moving to Switzerland. Sounds so romantic and adventurous. (Jealous.) Best of luck to David! And wish him well getting over his evil sickness! (Not so jealous.)

I have not done any significant grading yet this semester. I am so screwed.

If Arcosanti weren't so cultish, I could totally see myself wanting to retire there. But, no.

It occurs to me that I should ask the chemistry lab tech if he's washed his hands before I accept the piece of chocolate, but for 73.5% cocoa content, it's so worth the risk.

We all know the dream is better than the reality, but do you ever wonder if you might just be wrong about that?

The green laser pointer I purchased for the astronomy labs kicks ass. I'm gonna get in trouble with that thing. :)

I think I shall eat a peanut cluster now.

Friday, January 27, 2006


The Stardust mission is the coolest mission EVAR!!!! - cometary dust impact in aerogel, from Stardust

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Only 5 earth masses! - the smallest extrasolar planet,with artist's representation, from Hubble

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


For a moment, I thought this CNN headline was about me: Student: Teacher humiliated him over Broncos jersey

Monday, January 23, 2006

Uphill Battle

A lot of people have basic misconceptions about astronomy and science in general. Many seek out information, whether it be by reading magazines and newspapers, watching science programs on TV, or attending talks, like the symposium on religion, intelligent design, and evolution that I attended last night. The majority of Americans may be scientifically illiterate, but sometimes I think it's not due to an unwillingness to learn, but rather lack of ability to filter out the crap.

Case in point - this last weekend, the USA Today Weekend Magazine supplement, which appears in many papers nationally, published an article on how the newly discovered possible tenth planet "Xena" might affect your horoscope. Not tongue-in-cheek. Devoid of sarcasm. And listed under the subject heading "Science". So let's say John Doe wakes up on a Sunday morning and decides to educate himself in current events in science, so he opened up his newspaper, and pulled out this article. Didn't he do his part? Didn't he try?

Or he could sign up for a class at his local community college and walk into a room where a mousy mid-thirties chick attempts to debunk astrology as the pseudoscience it is. Who carries more sway - the nationally syndicated newspaper or me? I'm not claiming that this has happened, but rather use this example to illustrate my point. Misconceptions are being perpetuated by what we consider to be legitimate information sources. Sigh. I guess this is why I do what I do.

Saturday, January 21, 2006


I napped for almost two hours today. I think the stress of the first week of classes caught up with me. Or it could be the overeating. When I'm not feeling well and still have to work, I eat everything in sight to keep up my energy. Oof.

So I'm wondering, what would be your reaction to someone sitting on a bench in Scottsdale who was barking and growling softly at passersby?

Congrats to Greg and Tim Pratt for the selection of their story "Robots and Falling Hearts" for Kathryn Cramer's and David Hartwell's Year's Best Fantasy 6. Yay!

I've developed a crush on Kevin Garnett, due to his new Adidas commercial. Yup.

Just the first week of classes, and I'm already behind. Sigh. This is going to be such a long semester.