Friday, September 5, 2008

I need this like I need a hole in the head

It's the last night of my summer school, and I've spent the last day and a half working on a project using the software tools and data available through the national virtual observatory. I was working with one other guy, and we got some basic results, but mostly we've been learning how to use the tools, and which ones work better than the others. Now I've got to write it all up in a 12 minute talk which I'll present in the morning. At least that's the plan. But I have this bottle of bourbon which needs to get finished before I fly out tomorrow, and it will be a tough decision which one to work on first...

The picture above is from Tarangire national park. There is a large resident herd of elephants there, and they get thirsty in the dry season. The baobab trees store water in their trunks, and the elephants get jealous, so they use their tusks to gouge out holes in the baobab, and drink the water which comes out. After drinking a bottle of bourbon, I might have that same desire tomorrow morning...

The Safari Starts!

I've been at a conference for the past week here in Santa Fe, NM. It runs through tomorrow. I took so many pictures during the safari trip that I don't have space to store them all on my laptop. I've got the full resolution images on my external hard drive, and thumbnails on the laptop so that I can still organize and tag all the images even when the external disk isn't attached. But to upload pictures to the blog, I need to have the full res version (well, something bigger than just my thumbnails). Realizing this, I uploaded a bunch of pictures last Friday, while the hard drive was attached, intending to write up accompanying text later in the day. Well, day turned to night turned to day turned to another week and here it is wednesday with no text written. Yet. Let me quick change that, for this first batch of pictures at least.

We started our journey on Saturday afternoon, flying from various parts of the U.S. to London. We continued on Monday morning with a flight to Nairobi, and then on Tuesday with a bus ride to Arusha. Finally it was Wednesday, day five of the trip, but day one of the safari, and we were itching to get started. It didn't take long. We drove out of town, away from the moist, runny slopes of Mt. Meru which encompass Arusha, and into the dryer lands south and west. After a quick stop at the grocery store for supplies (water, gin, rum, chocolate), and a two hour drive, we got to the entry station for Tarangire National Park. We got out of the cars to stretch our legs, and to pay the park entry fee. There were some really colorful birds in the parking lot, including the multi-hued starling which is sort of the local version of a pigeon: plentiful in number and typically found creeping up on you at the picnic table while you are eating lunch. Speaking of which, while we were itching to get started, our guides told us it was time for lunch, so we had to eat that before we could start looking for animals, and we thought, "how much longer is it going to be before we finally see something?" Well, not long at all. We finished our lunch and went back to the landcruisers to discover that we were going topless (for one. Loosely topped for the other vehicle). We hopped in, drove through the park gate and one minute later came across a herd of zebra & wildebeest, and ten seconds further down the road passes a monkey, and we realized, Wow, this is going to be an amazing trip.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Monkeying Around

That first afternoon & evening in Arusha, we were all pretty tired from the travelling. Some people wanted to nap, others wanted to... also nap. I wanted to explore, so while Jaime settled in for a snooze, I grabbed my camera and walked to hotel grounds trying to get a picture of a massive ant trail I had crossed earlier. On my way to the ants, I got distracted by a bird, and since I was excited to use my brand new super telephoto zoom lens, I tried to follow the bird up into the tree as it hopped higher and higher on the branches. I lost the bird, scanned around a bit, and was surprised to see something much bigger looking back at me: this monkey. That was a very exciting first find, and I knew I had to go up to the room right then and wake Jaime up to show it to her. Luckily I was right, and I didn't get yelped at for waking her, and she was even more excited to see the monkey than I was. We proceeded to follow it all the way across the hotel grounds, the monkey hopping from tree limb to tree limb and the two of us walking along the various garden paths, until the tree limbs stretched further than the garden paths, and we lost track. Great fun, though, and a precursor to what was to come.

Relaxing by the Pool

Hola Y'all, I hope everyone had a relaxing labor day weekend. We had a whole gaggle of friends come to visit: Claudia & Jared were in from D.C., Morag, Dara, Knut, Tyra, and the whole Blum family came up from Tucson, and Morag's beau Mike came in from Hawaii, all to hang out, have some barbecue, watch the diamondbacks play the dodgers, and to generally have a fun & relaxing time. It went well. We grilled pizzas on friday, smoked lots of ribs on saturday, had more barbecue on sunday, and even more on monday (plus some salad too).

The picture above is not from this weekend, but from our first day in Tanzania. This was tuesday evening. We started the journey mid-day on saturday, spent sunday night in london, monday night in nairobi, then took a ~6 hour bus journey (some of that time spent at the border post) to finally arrive in Arusha. We were met by two landcruisers from our safari company who took us to our first lodge, on a coffee plantation on a hillside east of town. It was a great chance to relax in comfort after a long journey, and to prepare for the long (though far more exciting) journey of the safari in front of us.

I'll try to post more of the safari pictures and stories this week, while I've already moved on to my next trip. Right now I'm in Santa Fe, New Mexico (a town I last visited 29 years ago), for the National Virtual Observatory Summer School. I'm learning all about how to use the NVO tools and the internet for doing astronomical research. Today was day one, and I must say it sounds like a pretty exciting group of tools. We students (about 50 of us) will learn about the tools this week, and do some experimentation, then next week we'll try out full projects. I have one in mind already, so hopefully it's doable. I'll find out soon.