Friday, May 22, 2009

For Lindsay

Owen holding Marcus

Marcus sporting the outfit Aunt Amy got in Brazil

Taking stock of the groceries

The boys favorite game: peek-a-boo through the linen closet

Mother's day at Kaiona Beach

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Owen: Downhill racer extraordinaire

A friend of mine from work, Larry, let Owen have his son's LikeAbike that he had outgrown. LikeAbikes are great: they don't have pedals or training wheels, and they're made out of a relatively light-weight wood. They're simple, strong and excellent for learning balance.

Owen first rode his "Running Bike" last Wednesday. The video is below (and here) where you can see that even though he's a bit wobbly, he's able to ride down the small hill in our driveway without trouble.

The second video below (and here) shows Owen this past Saturday at the Punahou playground. He rode his bike the half-mile there, and immediately started attacking the hills, which probably have a 60-70% grade in some places (the neighborhood kids sled down the hills on pieces of cardboard).

Owen loves his running-bike so much that he even rides it from the living room to the bathroom. We have a feeling the training wheels on his Gary Fischer will be coming off soon!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Telescopes Dancing on Mauna Kea

I have a night scheduled on the Keck Telescope starting Monday evening. I try not to sweat the weather before I begin observing because there's the temptation to slack off if the weather looks bad. This can be a very bad thing to do in the event that the weather unexpectedly clears, leaving you unprepared for the night ("It's clear, whoohoo! OMG, what's my first target?!").

I had my target list finished well in advance, so I decided to check in with the Mauna Kea Weather Center. The forecast looks good, which is great. However, I noticed clouds in the webcam views. Booo! I then checked the time-lapse movie from the previous night, which looked pretty cool. I downloaded the mp4 file, uploaded it to Youtube and did an audio-swap using one of Youtube's cool new features to add a little background music.

The resulting vid clip is below (and here). The night starts on Thursday, May 7 just before midnight, and continues until midnight the following night. The video is a time-lapse sequence taken from one of the Canada France Hawaii Telescope's web cameras, aimed South. In the foreground is the 8-meter Gemini Telescope, which looks a bit like R2D2. Just behind and to the right is the University of Hawaii 2.2-meter telescope. And behind and to the right of the UH 2.2m is the 3.8-meter United Kingdom InfraRed Telescope (UKIRT, pronounced YOU-kirt). The bright light in the sky at the beginning of the video is the (nearly) full moon, followed by sun-rise on the left side of the screen, then moon-rise again.

Happy Mother's Day!

May all you mothers have a very happy day today. Enjoy doing your part to protest social injustice and war!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Friday Afternoon Music Break

I think Auto-Tune ushered in the demise of true vocal talent in modern pop music (see e.g. Ashlee Simpson), but it has lead to some fun side effects! It turns out that when normal speech is fed into Auto-Tune, it gets confused and tries to automatically tune it as if it were a song. Hence the unlikely singing careers of T-pain, and perhaps most recently, Kanye West. But so far, my favorite application is this video of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream speech":

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Safety Tips by Owen

Last night at dinner Owen enumerated his list of "safety tapes" (safety tips). Here's the video, along with the official list so you can follow along at home. Be careful with those pennies!

  1. Do not try to eat all the pennies
  2. Do not try to knock the ice cream cones down
  3. Do not try to hit people
  4. Do not try to pour all the stuff out
  5. Do not try to pour all the cards out when Marcus is awake
  6. Do not try to knock the bottles down when you're drinking it
  7. Do not try to eat all the ice cream because that will make your tummy ache
  8. Do not try to break the camera
  9. Do not try to hit or scratch
  10. Do not try to eat all that food

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Older news: to move to Cali!

The Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pasadena, CA

Erin and I have been trying to clear out some time to sit down and recount all of the exciting things that went down over the past two months. But for some reason the writing muses have managed to miss our house for a while. It's probably in part due to the technical-writing muses that have been kind enough to hang out with me for the past 6 months or so. It's been their territory around here for a while now.

So at long last, here it is:

When I accepted my current job in Hawaii, we knew it was a temporary position. Erin once said, "I recently realized that the friend who understands me the most here in Hawaii is the one who is a military wife, just because of all the job uncertainty." Yes, we've been wandering souls. Fortunately, I knew if I played my cards right, we could achieve a permanent post relatively quickly. If not, then it would be off to the next postdoc after three years here in Hawaii.

With this in mind, in November last year I applied for the tenure-track professor position in the Princeton Department of Astrophysical Sciences. Then in January this year I turned in an application for a similar post in the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) Astronomy Department. Honestly, I was applying mainly to gain valuable job application experience for this coming Fall (2009) when I planned to enter the astronomy job market with a flurry of job applications.

Well, my plan worked out better than I had anticipated. I made the short list at Princeton and they invited me out for a job talk and interview in mid-December. The process was surprisingly painless. I gave an updated version of my colloquium talk about planets around massive stars and it was very well received. I was able to answer all of the questions after the talk, which is always a good sign. I had a great time meeting with many of the faculty members, postdocs and grad students. After I left I was happy that I made the short list, but I had no illusions of actually getting the job. After all, there were 7-8 other people on the short list and only one opening!

Nassau Hall, Princeton University

A similar process happened at Caltech. I made the short list in late January and was invited out for a job talk and interview in late March. But before I could get there, I got a call from the Princeton department chair who offered me the job! I got the call during lunch at work, and I immediately ran home to tell the family. Erin was surprised to see me home so early, and I told her, "Princeton called. They offered me the job!" Erin, Owen and I danced around the living room while Marcus looked on in confusion. It was the happiest day since MarMar was born.

Well, with an amazing job in the bag I was really relaxed for my Caltech talk and interview. I ended up doing much better at Caltech than I did at Princeton, at least in my opinion. I had written a brand new talk, which went well, and my interviews went smoothly because I'm a regular user of Caltech's main observing facility: the Keck Observatory. I enjoyed my time at Caltech even more than I had expected, and I was visiting right when the astro department was moving into their brand new building, the Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics. The place definitely had that new-building smell.

Right before I left for the airport, the Caltech division chair offered me the job! So I ended up in my dream position: an offer from both Princeton and Caltech. I often thought about how amazing it would be to be in such a situation. But then again, I've often daydreamed about being in the NBA. It's fun to think about, but how can you realistically plan for it?! Well, here I was with a wonderfully tough decision.

Okay, Erin will take it from here:

We departed the next day as a family for our visit to Princeton. After 14 hours in airports and rental car, we were welcomed into the home of a faculty member with young children. Though we were quite jet-lagged, it was great to meet a family at a similar stage in thier lives - and Owen had a blast with their son. We stayed at the historic Nassau Inn and spent the next few days meeting with members of the astronomy department and often their families, touring preschool & elementary schools and checking out the local parks. Despite the chilly weather, marcus' 4-day fever & mysterious rash, and Owen & Erin's bouts with the stomach flu, we were able to get a peek into Princeton life. We can't say enough about how kind and helpful the people in the Princeton Astronomy department were during these tough times. What a beautiful campus & city.


A week later we were departing Honolulu again, for a similar visit to Caltech in Pasadena. We stayed at the Atheneum - Caltech's Faculty Club and spent the next few days touring the area, learning about the community & schools. We were thoroughly impressed with the Caltech Children's Center, and also with the town of South Pasadena--which has a repuation for strong public schools and great community involvement. I was especially thrilled with the availability of Peet's coffee, fresh produce and the long-missed visits to Trader Joe's! No trip with children would be complete without some drama... and this trip was no exception. The day before our departure, Owen was stung by a bee at the playground (thankfully, he's not allergic to bee stings) and a bird pooped on his head! Between meetings we were able to spend time with John's parents who live about 20 minutes away, and the boys were able to play with their cousins.

Back to John:

Princeton and Caltech, along with the cities of Princeton and Pasadena, both offered amazing opportunities for our family. How could we make this tough decision? Well, Erin and I compiled a running pro-con list for each place, and when we took the difference of the two large quantities (Caltech - Princeton), several important factors remained. First, and perhaps most importantly, my family (Papa J, Nanna, my sisters and their kids, my cousins, aunts, uncles, etc) all live in the L.A. area, giving us an instant support and social network. The next factor had to do with the telescope resources I'd have at my disposal. Princeton has a 3.5-meter telescope atop Apache Point in New Mexico, and I would be able to build several new instruments for planet hunting. But Caltech has the 10-meter Keck telescopes. Advantage: Caltech. Finally, having never grown up on the East Coast, it would be tough for us to pass up the SoCal weather. We didn't doubt that we'd be able to adjust to New Jersey weather, but no adjustment would be necessary for 70 degree weather in February. Yes, we've gotten quite spoiled!

After reaching our decision, Erin exclaimed, "Well great, now how the heck do we say no to Princeton?!" This was a good question. I decided the best, really the only, aproach was to be as up-front and honest with them as they had with me. I explained our decision-making process the Princeton dept. chair and he said (paraphrasing), "Well, we can move neither your family nor the Keck telescopes to New Jersey. We're disappointed, but we understand your decision."

So that's that. I'm going to be an assistant professor of astronomy at Caltech! I have to repeat this statement to myself (and sometimes to Erin) each morning when I wake's still like a dream.

Oh! One last thing. While visiting Caltech, we had dinner at the division chair's house. He had a giant trampoline in his back yard and Owen absolutely loved it! He left the back yard only twice during our stay there: once to see the pet hamsters inside, and once for dinner. With that background, check out the last paragraph of my offer letter (page 3):
Owen approved. We're on our way to Pasadena!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Self portrait

This is Owen's second self portrait. He first used TextEdit to type out the names of his family members. I helped a little, for example with the second "m" and the "y" in mommy, but he's been getting good at sounding things out. Also, he insists on having his middle name last.

Says Owen of his color choices, "Light blue is my favorite color, and purple is Mommy's favorite color, and dark blue is Daddy's favorite color and Marcus likes orange."

We printed out the text file and Erin gave him his Crayons and let him go at it. To our surprise, he came into the living room and showed us an amazingly detailed self portrait. His teacher, Mrs. Fake, taught us to ask him to tell us about his art, instead of saying "What is this?" because art doesn't always have to be something concrete. So Erin asked, "Owen, can you tell us about your drawing?" Owen replied, "This is the head, this is the lips, this is the neck, this is the arms, this is the fingers (three horizontal lines to the right), this is the foots and this is the penis, and I'm wearing clothes!"

You gotta love the art of children. It's just so pure!

We're proud of our little artist.