Sunday, February 26, 2006

Nuclear Energy Hype

For some reason, Liz, Jesse, and I have been talking about nuclear power a lot latley. I'm hearing that it's being pushed pretty hard and might get some serious funding in the coming years. I googled "nuclear power radioactive waste" and found some interesting numbers and sites.

Nuclear Tourist - A site by an old nuclear engineer. Very useful.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission - a mostly useless government website.
Energy Information Admin. - good statistics on nuclear fuel production
Nuclear Information and Resource Service - an anti-nuke alternative energy site - good comparitive statistics and alternative ideas, but obviously slanted (not that that's a bad thing).
Nuclear Energy Institute - Looks like a pro-nuke lobbying institute funded by corporations (DC).

The first interesting thing I learned was about Chernobyl. Here's a copy from nuketourist.

The Chernobyl event occurred during a test and was due to a combination of design deficiencies and operator error. The event sequence included:
* A power spike which resulted in a localized overpressure of the reactor cooling system, which caused a loss of coolant (This was NOT a nuclear explosion). The power spike also causing overheating of the fuel.
* Steam release with overheating of the graphite resulted in a fire, which in turn resulted in burning and dispersal of the reactor core's contents.

BWR, PWR, CANDU, and VVER designs do not have positive void reactivity coefficients as in the Chernobyl design, nor do they have graphite. These factors preclude an event of a similar type.

A "meltdown" usually refers to when the fuel melts (molten metal at a few thousand degrees). It was dispersed by the fire caused in surrounding materials. Anyways, most of the sites say that can't happen again because they've removed all flamable materials. Safety is a huge issue.

Here's some numbers - the amount of high level radioactive waste produced in a year covers a football field 1 yard deep ( 10000 metric tons, NEI). I was surprised at how little waste that is compared to the 2 million tons of raw uranium oxide that goes into it. World energy consumption is about 2 terawatts (I'm assuming that means from power plants, NIRS) and nuclear energy is some small percentage of that (10ish I think) from about 430 plants worldwide. 90% of the radioactive waste produced is low-level with a short half-life from irridation, so things like paper, clothes, cleaning solvent, etc. This is disposed of by burying it in a concrete lined trench or bunker. The rest of the high-level waste is supposed to be buried very deeply, but there's no real burial happening yet in the US (per NEI).

Plant failures are also a huge issue - we don't want to release a bunch of radioactive junk into our environment. Nuketourist gave an estimated failure rate of less than 1 event per hundred thousand years per reactor or one per 250 years, but NIRS says one per decade. A factor of 25 is a huge difference....... Since Chernobyl was the only event that released radioactive waste outside the plant, it's been 20ish years since that happened, and there are a little over 400 plants around the world now, that's a rate of 1 event per 20 years per 400 reactors or 1 event per 20 years per 400 plants. That puts the rate closer to the nuke tourist one..... I find once a decade hard to believe since it's been a few decades since the last major event and the big freak-out after Chernobyl changed policy.

One major issue is the environmental impact. The nice thing about nuclear power is that the waste you produce is contained and not blown out into the atmosphere. We could trap a lot of the coal-burning waste products by processing the smoke but that's very expensive and only rich countries that care about their populations have started to pay for that (which is not done here....), not to mention the huge transportation issues of hauling one trillion tons of coal around each year.

But I do agree with the UN and other anti-nuke people that it's not sustainable and it does produce nasty waste. It has potential to be much better than blowing a bunch of smoke everywhere, but it has drawbacks too. The NIRS site had a good discussion of other alternates, and in depth pages about wind power. There's a paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research last year (2004JD005462) that estimated 70ish terawatts was available in wind power from weather stations around the world. I've read the abstract and it looks really good. Anyways, lots of countries are doing wind power, and it could feasably provide all of our energy needs if harnessed properly. Solar is nowhere near high production yet, but is nice to have on houses.

Enough rambling - thoughts? comments? statements? utterances? objections?

Sunset Beach Sunburn

It was a very interesting cloud day. Liz and I got to hang out on Sunset and watch this weird high-level cirrus layer make sun-halo's. Too bad it faked me out into not putting on sunblock. I'm only a little burnt on one side......

Friday, February 24, 2006

BJJ Tournament Coming

James sent out the flyer and preregistration for the upcoming tourney. Last time there were 250 competitors. I was a little heavy (166) and so I got put in the middle weight division. Since there's only 3 weeks to go, I want to start cutting weight so I can make light-weight this time below 161. The first competition I was in, I weighed in at 158. I'm getting a little squishy I guess. Actually, I'm sitting right next to a plate of truffels. I think I understand now.....

My HighDynamicRange Attempt

It looks like the high dynamic range software looks pretty nice! These are combinations of 5 pictures taken out my window at night. I'll be looking forward to doing this with moonlight on a clear night.......

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Presentation and Rewording - Insight

These Native Americans believed that nature was filled with spirits. Each form of life, such as plants and animals, had a spirit. Earth and air held spirits too. People were never alone. They shared their lives with the spirits of nature.

These Americans believed that one great male god ruled the world. Sometimes they divided him into three parts, which they called father, son, and holy ghost. They ate crackers and wine or grape juice, believing that they were eating the son's body and drinking his blood. If they believed strongly enough, they would live on forever after they died.

Sound funny?

-James Loewen

NY Times Article - Thanks Guz


WASHINGTON, Feb. 20 — In a seven-year-old secret program at the National Archives, intelligence agencies have been removing from public access thousands of historical documents that were available for years, including some already published by the State Department and others photocopied years ago by private historians.

The restoration of classified status to more than 55,000 previously declassified pages began in 1999, when the Central Intelligence Agency and five other agencies objected to what they saw as a hasty release of sensitive information after a 1995 declassification order signed by President Bill Clinton. It accelerated after the Bush administration took office and especially after the 2001 terrorist attacks, according to archives records.

But because the reclassification program is itself shrouded in secrecy — governed by a still-classified memorandum that prohibits the National Archives even from saying which agencies are involved — it continued virtually without outside notice until December. That was when an intelligence historian, Matthew M. Aid, noticed that dozens of documents he had copied years ago had been withdrawn from the archives' open shelves.

It goes on to talk about how the things they're classifying describe things that happened 50ish years ago. Are they really that scared that we're going to find out that they're not that smart? Hmm......

One reclassified document in Mr. Aid's files, for instance, gives the C.I.A.'s assessment on Oct. 12, 1950, that Chinese intervention in the Korean War was "not probable in 1950." Just two weeks later, on Oct. 27, some 300,000 Chinese troops crossed into Korea.

Photomatix - from Jesse's Bud

Here's a shameless plug for some awesome software - Photomatix. Check out There's a huge problem of "Dynamic Range" with CCD's. Digital cameras use light sensitive "chips" to take a picture. This chip is an array of pixels that turn light into electrons. Each pixel has a "gate" stuck to the top of it which keeps the electrons in the pixel. It's a lot like a battery. A "potential" is a way of describing differences in energy. For example, a battery has a potential of 1.5V between the + and - ends. That's what makes the electrons move from the top to the bottom when you plug it in to something. Anyways, with pixels in cameras, you can only hold a certain number of electrons before the pixel saturates. They also have a hard time capturing bright things next to faint things like the sun next to somebodys face. So this software takes a bunch of pictures of different light levels (that you take) and only uses the well exposed parts of each image, throwing away the over & under exposed regions. I'll be trying this shortly, but here's some pictures from Jesse's friend (who again?). Freeware by smart people is always a welcome thing!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Grey Days with Sean

These last few days have been very strange cloud-wise. There's a thick grey layer blocking out the sun and making me feel like Michigan winters are haunting me..... We went to the beach anyways. I'm actually enjoying grey days. There was massive flooding over the pali. Most of the valleys became waterfalls. It was interesting to see. Anyways, Kailua was nice. Liz and I hung at Sean's place till fairly late making chocolate cream pie.

Kailua in the grey afternoon

The view from Sean's place (20th floor) looking Ewa.

Three of us (underexposed) at Kailua.
The stormy afternoon from Sean's place.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Supersize Me

My office mate, Nick, was inspired to do an experiment - leave some McD fries in a jar and see how long they decay. We're going on 9 months now, and they still look like fries. It took them about 1.5 months to start growing white and green stuff, and they've only slowly been turning black ever since. I'm amazed that we eat this stuff all the time. I've never watched that movie, but the idea that it could ruin a man's health in a few months is shocking yet somehow understandable. I'm so glad I stopped eating any of that years ago.

Mariners Ridge Hike with Joan

I met one of Liz's co-workers today - Joan. She's a Samoan who had some interesting stories to tell. We did a hike on the south east corner cause there were no clouds over the windward range and it was pretty hazy.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Thesis Proposal Accepted!!

I'm pretty sure that I've just finished my last "exam" to get in to the PhD program. I gave my half hour talk yesterday and the committee liked it. The general feel was that this is pretty new and exciting, but is a big job and I should think carefully about what I'm going to be looking at and what I'll actually acomplish. Basically, I need to focus on what I can really say with the data, since nobody has said anything concrete yet and the models that do the "interpretation" are primitive at best. I've put a few slides from the talk in here. Ok. Done with that, time to go to the beach.

Title Slide - my thesis
Intro to polarized light, parameters I measure, what the instrument looks like, and what a spectrum looks like.
Optical design of the IR instrument - Zemax is a damn useful program because it lets you propagate electromagnetic waves in a completely arbitrary way so that you can specify everything about the materials you're using and model your instrument almost exactly. It's pretty neat. I added my little "package" to the telescope and put up some plots of the "response".

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Motor Dunking

One of my projects for the last two weeks has been to try to get a little "flipper" motor to work in a vacuum at -196C (liquid N2). I've got to put some calcite in this thing so that I can make an instrument for the infra-red spectrograph. First thing I did was to fill up a styrofoam cup with LN2 and dunk the entire assembly. It froze up. Then I took the motor assembly out and dunked it alone in the cup. That froze up too. Then I took the gear head off the motor and put both of them in acetone and dunked it in an ultrasonic cleaner that took all the grease off of it. The grease was freezing up the motors, so now the motor works dunked, but the gear head didn't. I took that apart and dunked just the gear housing - ok, but when I put the gears back in, it froze. Now I've got to get creative. I think I'll sandblast the gears to try and loosen them up. Or maybe I'll just break it and have to start over...... Anyways, that's been many hours of my last few weeks.

Controller Box, Motor, Holder Assembly.
Gears and housing
Motor and the holder.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Kualoa Camping Weekend 2

Here's a few pics from the weekend - Saturday night, Sean decided to try out his camera in "bulb" mode where you can hold down the button and let it expose until you let go. I caught them playing cards with the cloudless Ko'olau in the background. Sean's camera is pretty sweet. Everybody made fun of me for drinking amaretto instead of whiskey or something hard. I like my "foo-foo" drinks like malibu + oj way more than beer or whiskey. I'm no Bond, and I'm no fratboy. It's Hawaii, people!

The pali before the storm.
David taking pics. Skinny bastard isn't he?

Zoom in on one of the peaks. They look like they've been clawed. That cat was pissed.

Kualoa Camping Weekend

Full moon camping has got to be one of the best. It's so bright out. I've been messing around with all sorts of timelapse toys for the beach. A power supply box (tupperware with batteries inside) and the new version of the timelapse box (the old one was killing batteries) were this weekend's R+D. The night time shots are always a ton of fun. It was a ton of fun just hanging out there. Since "laws" here are really just "suggestions", having beer on the beach is no problem. There was an added bonus/not-bonus too - the septic fields from the bathrooms at the park were leaking shit-water (100 x bacteria counts in ocean) so there were no swimming signs posted everywhere. For those not accostomed to Hawaii, this is pretty typical of many things here. Trash everywhere and horrible engineering (except where the tourists pay $300/night). That kept most people away so that the park itself was pretty empty and quiet. Good thing it was prettty cold out and I had my canopy to keep the sun off during the day.

A huge rainstorm that started in Kailua and then dumped on us for 2 hours.

A sheet of rain off the windward.

Moonrise at Kualoa - timelapse soon.

Night time clouds. That line of clouds hung out just off the coast for over 3 hours. Interesting.

The Ko'olau were totally cloudless Sunday morning. I don't think I've ever seen that before. They look like this 99% of the time.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


If only I had a huge travel budget.........

Huge "folds" in rock layers.
A sun-pillar. Ice crystals align when they fall and if you catch it right, they send you a band of light. Lake Tahoe.
Mt. St. Helens. It looks a lot like Taranaki in eN-Zed.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

ZPL and Relativity

my boss is insane. he's teaching the relativity course and he's been doing this way way too long. the blackboard becomes a flurry of greek mixed with squiggles everywhere. there's this wonderful thing that one does in math, where you wrap up some assumptions in the notation to make it like a short hand. but then it ends up with 2 subscripts, 3 superscripts and hidden things like "if you see the same subscript in the line, there's an implicit sum over all the variables" or "a comma means take the partial derivitave with respect to everything that follows the comma". it gets you cross eyed after 20 minutes. anyways, my life this week so far has been going over the GR notes and rewriting them into this little book i have. it's the only way i can keep up.

the other major accomplishment this week was learning the zemax programming language. it's a lot like most languages so that was pretty easy. i made a little "macro" that told zemax to compute the expected polarization for a bunch of different pointings of the telescope. hoo-freekin-rah. back to greek chaos.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Flat-Thing Rooftop

I used to go to the roof of my building a lot to read and play with nunchucks. I think I scared a lot of the faculty. One is convinced that I'm "training an army" to take over the IfA. They lock the door now, but I have a way to get the key! It's a shame that most of them think that everybody should do "science" every day, all day. Science, of course, means processing pictures of galaxies only. Too bad they're uncoordinated, hurt from years of hunching over a computer, fat, and sick all the time. It's amazing how they can be really "smart" by some standards, but don't understand the idea that they need to "maintain" their bodies a bit or bad stuff might happen. Everybody has some "squish" to them, but it's the ones that sneer at you for saying you exercise and claim it's a waste of time that get me. Others will hoark down donughts at morning coffee, but use "nutrasweet" as if the 20 calories in that packet of carcinogen makes up for the 3 deep-fried, sugar coated wheat products they just inhaled......... Personally, I'd rather have a little bit of quality than a heap of crap.

Anyways, here's a picture of me and this "Flat-Thing". My cousin is doing a middle-school project where flat-thing is sent around, has it's picture taken, and sent back. I thought you might like the view from the roof.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Visitors n Circle-Isle

Being in Hawaii, there seems to be a steady stream of visitors. There should be. I like having a network of friends to go visit in interesting places, and think that I should always be open to people coming here. I hate traveling like a tourist - if you only stay in your hotel and go to restaurants, you never really see what life is like there. That's fine if you want to be insulated and isolated, but traveling is a really expensive way to do that. If only I wasn't sharing a 4 bedroom townhouse with 6 people so that more could come stay. I doubt I'll be able to afford more for the next 4 years at least.

Liz's cousins came last weekend and we only had Sunday to hang out. There's a standard route - up the windward coast, around the North Shore, down the middle. I had no idea, but the swell was huge when we got up there.

Liz at Pupukea - I think this is a "Paper-Bark" gum tree - it feels like cork. This tree has to be my favorite on the north shore. It's holding a hill together and "crossing it's legs".

Surfer (out of focus) at Waimea. Tripple-overhead is enough to break you on the reef pretty good.
Three Tables - where are the tables again? under the foam.....

Liz's cousins - Erin and "Yooper". Both from MI-Tech, now in Minneapolis.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

My first abstract

Apologies for the work crap, but I thought some might be curious about the first thing I've published personally. A small abstract in a little-known conference series - the asia-oceania geosciences society. I'll be going to Singapore in July for this, so that's pretty neat. Here goes.....

Spectral variations in polarization of scattered light are governed by the properties of the scatterers. This makes spectropolarimetry a powerful tool in remote sensing of cometary dust. The wavelength dependence of the polarization is mainly controlled by the composition (through the complex refractive index of the material), the scattering geometry (phase angle), and the size distribution of the dust. We used the new IfA-designed high-resolution spectropolarimeter (R~12000 to 49000, from 540nm to 990nm) mounted on the AEOS 3.7m telescope on Haleakala, Maui to characterize the size and composition of dust grains ejected from the comets. We will present the polarization measurements of comet 9P/Tempel 1 both pre- and post-impact which show a dramatic change in wavelength dependence. The gradient of the degree of polarization was "flat" (4% at 650nm falling to 3% at 950nm) just at impact (6-7UT integration) whereas an hour after impact (7-8UT integration) the gradient changed to "blue" (7% at 650nm falling to 2% at 950nm). This may indicate a high content of low complex refractive index material (e.g. silicate and ices) in the dust released at impact, consistent with other observations (e.g. thermal, spectroscopic).

Support for this work was partially provided through the NSF and also through University of Maryland and University of Hawaii subcontract Z667702, which was awarded under prime contract NASW-0004 from NASA.

Don't ask me what it means.

Thesis Proposal

I found out today that I'll be "defending" my thesis idea friday the 17th. Since I passed my quals in october, the major work of the last months has been finishing up the two papers to publish from my two projects and trying to figure out where to go from there. This has brought up some interesting questions, like what the hell do I want to do with my life. Now, this usually happens at most major transition periods. This one happens to be from student to researcher. I never have to take another class again. The only exam left is in 3-4 years when I "defend" my thesis itself. Anyways, I'm trying to figure out just what I want that to be so I'm going to blab on for a bit about what I'm thinking.

I have basically two options.

1 - Do a "traditional" astronomy thesis which involves taking "data" and "reducing" it to a few pretty plots in a paper that talks about something. This sets me up to compete with most iraf-monkeys (astronomers will understand) for post-doc's and faculty jobs. aka the "academic track." upside - tenure, flexible hours, interesting work. downside - usually crap pay, long hours (flexible, but usually 60+), enter into 40-year-intellectual-cock-measuring-contest with no end in sight.

2 - Do an "instrumental" thesis which will still involve taking "data" and "reducing" it, but I'd be focuing more on the techniques and how they apply to different objects in different ways. This would set me up to possibly cross fields since nobody knows how to build anything anymore. upside - wider job prospects with possibly more pay. downside - you're just doing "engineering" and not science (said with a slight sneer) since you've not entered the 40-year-cock-contest, probably funded by military because the budget is screwed and everybody is freaking out about funding.

anyways, i certainly don't have to decide this now. the "defense" i'm doing is basically to make sure that i'm not doing something retarted, which i'm not. so i give a little talk, answer a few questions and call it done. advance to phd candidacy and get on with it. i'm just starting to like the idea of being poor till i'm 40 less and less. what i really want is a decent life somewhere on the west coast, or perhaps boulder. i don't have any serious motivation to starve and slave just to show that some fuzzy blob has some dust around it. i can't eat the fuzzy blob, and it won't help me pay the rent. it's interesting in some abstract and distant way, but it doesn't really matter when you compare that to all the other crap going on right now.