Wednesday, April 20, 2011

LOFAR-UK at the UK National Astronomy Meeting

This week I've been in Llandudno, Wales for the UK National Astronomy Meeting. One of the things I've been doing here is representing LOFAR-UK with an exhibit stand (and giving several interviews). I blogged about it earlier on the LOFAR-UK blog - link.

I also gave a talk about my recent work with SDSS3. More on that soon I hope when the paper is in press. 

It's been a great meeting, with just tomorrow morning left. Lots of really interesting talks and discussions. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Pluto the Previous Planet

One of the outputs from dotAstronomy this year was the below music video by Amanda Bauer (@astropixie). Pluto the Previous Planet

Amanda describes where she got the idea for this song in her blog post about it: Pluto, the Previous Planet: A Song.  She's very clear, that she saw this song as a bit of fun, and has no interest in changing the IAU definition of what a planet is. I got involved as one of the "Trans Neptunian Objectors" (looking a bit lost in the chorus line), and expressed my concern over the interpretation of the second to last verse by refusing to "boo" (I really don't care if Pluto is defined as a planet or not). :)

 Actually I think Amanda and Carolina did a very nice job anyway, making a website: "Pluto the Previous Planet" to go along with the video. It gives Pluto a voice (summary - we don't need to worry, he's happy enough as a dwarf planet) and includes some educational material about the redefinition. A well deserved Hack Day Best Artistic Project Prize!

I have yet to meet an actual astronomer who cares about this issue, but obviously some people do. The comments to Amanda's blog post have gotten a little heated and Stuart Lowe has already talked about that in his blog post: Plurality of Planets. Universe Today covered the story: "New Hit Single: “Pluto the Previous Planet”, and to date it's had just over 4000 views. Hmmm.

Perhaps Markus (the director) was right, and we should have spent a bit more time practicing! All I can say is I can't wait to get the tune out of my head. I've been humming it all week:

Pluto the previous planet, had a very shiny nose....... 

no wait that's not right..... aargh!

Just noticed that one of the Pencasts was done by Amanda on the Pluto song. Check it out:

brought to you by Livescribe

(Link to it on the Livescribe website)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

(dot)Astronomers like Apples

Another quick snippet from the dotAstronomy conference. On the first day we all had a lot of trouble with the wifi network at New College. Very frustrating for a group of people who came to a conference about using the internet to learn about, do, and communicate astronomy!

Anyway on hack day (Tuesday afternoon when we were all working on various projects), Boris Haeussler went around photographing us with all our internet connected devices, and produced the below video. His final census - 40 astronomers, 86 internet devices! Comprising 38 Macbooks, 6 other laptops, 5 iPads, 2 other tablets, 22 iPhones, 9 smart phones, and 4 other phones. That's a lot of Apple products!

And I was about average - with a Macbook and an iPhone. So why do I like Apple so much..... well I find they just work, and because the OS is based on Unix I can run a lot of the astronomy related programmes I started using on a Unix desktop when I was a new graduate student natively on my laptop. No dual booting (which is what I see those with other laptops doing). I don't have a lot of time for fussing around, so I like how easy it all is. I've actually moved to using only my laptop in recent years - connected to a screen on my desk, and also connecting remotely to the big computers at work for certain things.

This site on Using OSX for Professional Astronomers, by Dr. Jane Rigby is the most useful resource I've found for Mac users who are astronomers. Jane is now writing for AstroBetter (tips and tricks for professional astronomers) which is also a great resource.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Pencasting Galaxy Zoo Science at dotastro

As any of you who are on Twitter (or elsewhere on the web) may have noticed, for most of this week I was at the dotAstronomy conference in Oxford. If you're not on Twitter yet see #dotastro and you might as well get started on Twitter by following everyone who was at the conference. That would really be a great starting point if you're interested in astronomy! (I was actually quite alarmed given the company there to be the 4th most often Tweeter at the conference.)

Anyway, dotAstronomy was an amazing conference, full of amazing people, and I've returned to Portsmouth on an awesome high, but a bit overwhelmed over where to start blogging about it. So I decided rather than try to review the whole conference, I would instead just review snippets which I thought were interesting. I started this on the Galaxy Zoo blog, by writing (a version) of this post about pencasting.

Pencasting was a totally new idea for me, and I have to say I immediately loved it and wanted to join in. So I spent a small amount of my time on the "hack day" making a "pencast" describing our most recent Galaxy Zoo science result (the observation that bars are more common in redder spiral galaxies). A pencast is a drawing that you make while describing what you're doing. The special pen and paper you use record both the drawing an audio which you can then put online for others to watch. Check it out and see what you think.
My Galaxy Zoo pencast:
(Link to this on the Livescribe website)

You can also see it along with more astronomy related pencasts see the dotAstronomy Pencast Gallery. And stay tuned. I really liked this technology, so you may be seeing more of it.