Drive-by Posting

By Julianne Dalcanton | January 7, 2008 12:56 am

I’m off to the American Astronomical Meeting in Austin shortly, but had a few links and bullets to get out of my head before hitting the road.

  • This post about Female Science Professor’s worst jobs was one of the most amusinghorrifying reads of my winter break. For example:

    One summer I worked in the kitchen of a restaurant that was run by a man with a really bad temper and questionable rules to increase worker efficiency. For example, he decided that it would save time if we removed burgers from the grill with our hands instead of using implements.

  • LSST (The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope) is one of my fave current astro projects, and they just got a hefty influx of money from the Charles Simonyi Fund and from Bill Gates. LSST is a stumpy 8-m telescope that will scan the sky repeatedly with a wide-field camera, essentially making a deep, multi-color movie of the sky. The data stream is a software geek’s dream, with objects that appear and disappear, by changing brightness and/or position, and that have to be identifiable within a 30 petabyte database. The image below gives a taste of it, showing some RR Lyrae variable stars in the globular cluster M3.
  • The AAS has arranged a private screening of Real Genius. I am stoked!
  • I threw one of my kids a science-themed birthday recently (totally unprovoked on my part, I swear). We messed around with making “rockets” from film canisters, water, and Alka-Seltzer, looking through diffraction gratings, and turning red cabbage water different colors using acids and bases. And, in shades of Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters, I got to make a volcano cake:
    Volcano Cake
CATEGORIZED UNDER: Food and Drink, Personal, Science
  • Lab Lemming

    Why do people like putting big telescopes in the Andes, instead of Tibet or East Africa or some other high dry place?

  • Julianne

    It’s not just being high-n-dry, but also having a high fraction of laminar flow over the mountain. Thus, you usually find telescopes at the first peak on the east of a large flat plain/ocean/desert. Winds are typically from the west, and are undisturbed over the plain, then flow smoothly over the mountain, producing high quality images. When you’re in the middle of a mountain range, the air is pretty turbulent, and image quality goes down. Chile and Hawaii are perfect sites. LSST was also considering a promising site in Mexico, but the fact that Chile has a stable infrastructure for telescopes (i.e. the legality has been worked out over several decades, there are lots of trained local astronomers and telescope staff, etc) tipped the balance. You also need a place that’s remote, but that you can routinely get people and supplies to. Tibet and East Africa fail on a number of the above accounts.

  • rillian

    Wow, great cake! how did you make the volcanic ejecta?

  • tony

    Great cake! Recipe available?

  • B

    the cake reminds me of the movie ‘Close encounters’.

  • B

    photo You sure you haven’t heard any alien’s voices lately? (sorry for the drive-by commenting)

  • astropixie

    i want someone to throw me a science-themed birthday party!

    see you in austin!

  • Julianne

    The cake was two 6″ rounds stacked on two 8″ rounds, stacked on two 9″ rounds, with frosting in between. A 9″ and 6″ round have nearly the same area as two 8″ rounds, so you can just triple a normal recipe. (For the cake layers, I used the sour cream chocolate recipe from Rosie’s Bakery All-Butter, Fresh Cream, Sugar-Packed, No-Holds-Barred Baking Book — Rosie’s was (is?) a killer bakery in Cambridge from back when I was an undergrad). Frosting was a sour cream ganache (mix nearly equal parts of room temperature sour cream and melted bittersweet chocolate), which is fairly sturdy. I used a long serated knife and a lazy susan to slice down the sides to make the cone, before frosting the whole thing. The vertical Devil’s Tower stripes were made with a standard Wilton cake decorating tool after the frosting firmed up a tad. Chocolate sprinkles and crushed mint oreos made the rocks and ash. The lava was made from a standard hard-candy base (water+sugar+corn syrup, boiled until it reached 295 degrees F, then poured into a Pyrex measuring cup with some food coloring — you could also melt Jolly Ranchers). I then poured streaks of the molten candy onto a big sheet of foil to harden. After the candy cools, it can be peeled off and jammed into the frosting. If I had to do it again, I’d flavor the candy, because kids were way more interested in it than I’d anticipated.

    And B — My mind was definitely on Close Encounters when I was squatting down scraping the sides, my nose about 2 inches away from the cake. We’ll see what happens next time I have mashed potatoes…

  • Dave S.

    The AAS has arranged a private screening of Real Genius. I am stoked!

    I am jealous…is Val Kilmer showing up?

  • Count Iblis

    The problem is: How to eat that cake without looking like this afterwards. :)

  • B

    Hi Count: Thanks, I feel much slimmer now. – B.

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  • Cynthia

    The party sounds great! I just wandered here through who knows what series of links but thought you might like to know about the “Special Effects Cookbook : easy to create recipes for food that smokes, erupts, moves, sings, glows, talks, cracks, pops, and swims!” It includes a volcano that erupts. Most of it relies on dry ice, effervescence, and other simple tricks but it’s still pretty thought provoking for kids.

    Now I’m off to follow some of your links.

  • Hydrolyze

    Just wanted to say hello all. This is my first post.

    I expect to learn a lot here.


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