Archive for October, 2007

Finishing up the polishing of my telescope mirror

Sunday, October 14th, 2007

On Friday I continued working on my telescope project. Unfortunately, I didn’t have as much time to work on it as I did in previous weeks, because I had an after-work event to attend. But I did reach another milestone: I finished polishing my glass. I know I finished polishing because I couldn’t see any pits in the surface of the glass at 100X magnification. And now, some pictures.

Telescope 96

This is what my pitch lap looked like after cleaning out the grooves between the pitch segments using a razor blade.

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Surviving the wrath of Zeus

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

Many children are afraid of lightning. I suppose they share something in common with dogs in that regard. I was not one of these canine-like children. At least, not until the neighbor’s tree was struck by lightning, that is.

I don’t exactly remember now the year in which it happened, but I was probably seven or eight. We were sitting around in the family room watching television during a torrential downpour. It was around dusk. Then suddenly we heard a stupendous boom, and the entire room lit up with a flash. A frantic panic broke out, with my parents running around trying to ascertain if our house had been struck. I’m sure that my sister and I were crying. We finally figured out that it was the neighbor’s tree, just a few feet across the property line and in direct line of sight to our family room, that had been hit. The strike caused enough damage that our neighbor had to bring in insurance adjusters.

From then on I was terrified of lightning storms, and would always insist on weathering them out in the basement, in the middle of the room, away from electrical outlets, metal objects, and windows. I became a snivelling keraunophobiac. My parents tried to console me, telling me that old wives’ tale about how “lightning doesn’t strike twice”, and how, for all practical purposes, the tree that was struck was close enough to our house to extend that protection to our house as well. I tried to gain some solace from that, but even at that young age, I yearned for a real scientific reason as to why this might be so, but could come up with nothing. Nevertheless, the house was not struck again, and we moved out around the time I turned nine.

Fast forward to eighth grade. I no longer insisted on weathering out storms in the basement; my fear of lightning had abated somewhat. I was working on a semester-long computer science project, complete with a final deliverable consisting of a boxed copy with disk and user manual. My partner and I were developing a game in Java called “Tern Overgul” (and if you search the web hard enough, you may still be able to find it). Our teacher was big on preparing us for the responsibility of high school, and given that this was a semester-long project, he figured that we had more than enough time to complete it. There would be absolutely no extensions, he said, and he was proud to boast that he had never granted one. Either you paced yourself over the course of the semester to finish that game on time or you turned in whatever you had when the due date arrived and your grade suffered for it.

My aunt, uncle, and cousin came to visit about a week before the end of the semester. It was growing late in the evening, and my cousin had already gone to bed. Montgomery Count was experiencing a pretty vicious Spring thunderstorm. Now regardless of whether you believe the old wives’ tale or not, once you move to a new house, all bets are off. And damned if Zeus wasn’t going to take full advantage of that. Apparently that lightning bolt a few years earlier was naught but a practice shot, because he nailed us dead-on with his second attempt.

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Are elected Democrats spineless, or just old?

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

The latest news on the warrantless wiretapping front is that the Democrats are poised to roll over once again and make permanent the six month expanded eavesdropping extension they passed not too long ago. Their excuse? They don’t want to look weak on national security. The linked DailyKos story posits that by not wanting to look weak on national security, and by rolling over and passing legislation that they disagree with once again even though they control both houses, they are just making themselves look weak in general. It’s hard to argue against it making them look weak. The 2006 election was all about us voters standing up and demanding change, and now that our guys won, why aren’t we getting change?

Allow me to be cynical for a bit. I don’t think the reason the Democrats consistently pass legislation unpopular with their base is because they don’t want to look weak on national security. I think it’s because a lot of them truly don’t share our values. They aren’t really progressive. Just like the Republicans pander to the theocrat base, then conveniently never get around to passing the religiously motivated legislation that they want, I think the Democrats are pandering to us. They act strong on civil liberties during primary season, but once they’re in office, their actions speak louder than words, and it turns out they really aren’t as progressive as we had hoped.

One thing about politicians is that, uniformly, they are almost all old. Barack Obama, widely considered a young, “fresh” face, is 46! And being old really doesn’t mesh well with being progressive. A person’s values are generally set when they are young in life, and don’t change much afterwards. That’s why old people seem to be more conservative than young people; it’s simply because, over time, society has become more progressive and liberal, and what was once left sixty years ago is now right.

The United States has a long history of becoming more liberal over time, with conservatives fighting tooth and nail every step of the way. First it was ending slavery, then giving women the right to vote, then the New Deal which prevented rampant widespread poverty, then civil rights for minorities, and then effective environmental protection. There are Democrats who think they are progressive simply because they agreed with Martin Luther King’s views decades ago when so many didn’t, even though the battle lines have now shifted far leftwards and are primarily concerned with giving equal rights to homosexuals.

Our Democratic politicians do think of themselves as progressive — for a definition of what progressive meant decades ago when they were growing up, anyway. This is why they consistently go against modern young progressives when it comes to issues like preventing government spying on American citizens. Not wanting to appear weak on national security is merely an excuse. There will always be a lag time between what society is ready to accept and when it will actually happen. But the march of history really doesn’t bode well for the conservatives. Now hopefully we can get rid of this silly obsession with modesty soon.

Fourth week of amateur telescope making

Monday, October 8th, 2007

On Friday I continued working on the 8″ f/6.1 telescope that I’m making by hand. I finished up grinding last week and went onto polishing this week. I took a bunch of photographs to document the process.

Polishing requires the use of a pitch lap to polish against. The pitch laps at the workshop are made from a ceramic plate roughly the same size as the glass covered in squares of pitch resin. The reason it’s in squares is because it needs to adapt to the shape of the glass, and if it’s all one big segment, it won’t be able to change shape nearly as easily.

Telescope 46

We started off by making a new pitch lap. This picture shows the process of removing hardened pitch off an old pitch lap using a hammer and chisel in order to reuse the ceramic.

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A microwave accident goes absurd

Sunday, October 7th, 2007

Life is frequently bizarre. Everyone has had some absurd, surreal, dadaist experiences, and now, thanks to blogopower, we can share these experiences with the world rather than leaving them to fade away into null memory.

My housing situation during my senior year at university was full of surprising occurrences. I lived with three foreigners, one each from China, West Africa, and Mexico, in a run-down house not far off campus. Hey, at least it was cheap. The African had just come over from Africa at the start of that year, and back in his country, men never cook; they always have women to do that for them. Well, not here. He was a terrible cook.

He had never had to learn before, and even after repeated months of trying, in which time you’d think he would have picked something up, he always just keep on messing up. He only even made one thing, some dish that was popular in his country, but half the time he burned it. He even had no patience for it. He’d leave it on the stove for a long time, not checking on it, even long after all the water had boiled away and it started burning. One time he even fell asleep with his food burning on the stove until I, at the opposite end of the house, caught a whiff of it and came in to get it off.

So one day I’m sitting in my room studying and I smell burning. Great, I think to myself. He must’ve tried cooking something again and wandered off. So I let out a resigned sigh and got up to see what was going on, and maybe take a pot of burning food off the stove if necessary.

I run smack into my Mexican housemate gingerly extracting a Tupperware container of burnt socks from the microwave. They were charred in a few places and giving off voluminous amounts of smoke.

I paused for a few seconds while my brain tried to catch up with what I was seeing. After a few seconds, he haltingly started explaining about how he had read an article on the Internet about microwaving sponges to disinfect them. Somehow he made the leap to disinfecting his socks, and tried that instead.

That scientific article about disinfecting sponges by microwaving them was widely reported in the news media. Of course, as the media so often does, they dumbed down the coverage terribly, even summarizing it into a ten second news-bite. Many of them didn’t bother explaining that the sponge had to be soaked in water before microwaving it or otherwise it would burn. Scores of people across the country burned sponges in their microwave in the wake of those news reports. Some even caught their houses on fire.

But as far as I know, my housemate was the only one who burnt his socks.

Invasion Day

Friday, October 5th, 2007

Jana looked up and noticed an unearthly glow filtering in between the yellowing plastic planks of the boarded-up window. She had been reading a propaganda pamphlet to pass the time, but her attention was now completely diverted away from the insultingly patriotic text. She knew she was not able to see more than a sliver of the outside world by peering between the planks.

She got up off of the worn and beaten green mat, which sighed softly as gasps of air escaped from its leaks. She ran towards the exit, approaching her father, who was laying on his back on another mat against the far wall, staring blankly up at the ceiling. It took a moment for him to jolt out of his reverie into awareness, by which point he had just enough time to spot the defiant sheen in Jana’s eyes as she passed through the jagged, improvised hole that served as the doorway to the room.

He came chasing after her as fast as he could, his injured left foot throwing him into a heavy limp. He winced painfully with every footfall. As he heard the first creaking footstep on the staircase, he screamed at Jana, “No, it’s not safe!” But he couldn’t catch up with her, and she was not stopping.

Jana ascended the first flight of stairs at a breakneck pace, then lengthened her stride and took the last two flights two steps at a time. The marked increase of decrepitude in the building since the last time she had been up here registered only briefly in her conscious mind. She was too concentrated on the possibility that the day was finally here to concern herself with trifling circumstances.

Jana burst through the flak-ridden door that led to what had once been her bedroom on the top floor. The entire top corner of the building had been ripped away by an explosion not long after her father had moved them to the lowest floor. Jagged steel beams, the exposed skeleton of the building, extended upwards a few feet above where the crumbling drywall gave up. Shrapnel and rubble covered the floor, menacing Jana’s feet. Her mangled green bed sagged against the near wall, its mattress morose from having spewed gray fluff about from its multiple lacerations. She took a few tentative steps forward and gazed up through the shattered roof at the night sky above. Her breath caught in her throat.

Thousands of brilliant multicolored streams of light littered the heavens as far as Jana’s eyes could see. They stretched from horizon to horizon, some descending to earth, others rising up to greet the interlopers in sudden flashes of bright white light that pierced the wispy clouds below. Jana followed a particular stream of rising lights down to their emission point, a recently constructed flat concrete building erected amongst the ruins not too distant in the city.

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