Monday, January 25, 2010

Just getting started

Aside from exams, this semester begins with a report of my activities for the last semester. I distinctly remember being incredibly busy, but now I barely have 2 lines to rub together.

Roaring winds all last night, with a lot of rain. I came home late, from the post-qual party, and sat up later, listening to the weather. I'm on the top floor, so the rain drummed its fingers above me restlessly and the wind pulled me with fingers of sound. mmm. Delicious.

My Berry Pie did not turn out too well. I used premade crusts (you just unroll them and put them in pan), and the bottom didn't cook all the way through. Add to that the raspberries and blueberries and cherries were all frozen, so there wasn't quite as much juice as I'd thought; and the fact that it really wasn't very sweet at all; and together you have NotThatGood Pie, unfortunately. Fortunately, I'd like to try again. This time with twice the sugar, and the fruits sitting in it overnight so they can make some juices. Oh, and note to self: if you aren't using a gelatin based fruit additive, you don't need a thickener.

The Log Cabin Blanket progresses.

To do:
Finish Progress Report
Read for Steve's class
Study statistics
Work on TelObs stuff with Rachael

*sigh* busy already. Stats will be hard this semester, since I've never taken it before. Here's hoping I'll survive.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


First-year exam is over. It speaks to how well the blasted thing went that I'm considering going in tomorrow to take the half that only 2nd-years are supposed to take. I don't think it could possibly count against me, and I want to see--what sort of strength I'll need. I clearly have a lot to learn in the next year, but I feel pretty strong about the stuff I did remember, and do. And I am pretty good at the conceptual work in a number of specific areas.

I am currently taking the evening to play around on the internet, bake brownies, read young adult novels, and work on my Log Cabin Blanket.

The Log Cabin Style blanket is very interesting. It's difficult to find step-by-step instructions online. Essentially it's supposed to be easy: knit a rectangle, bind off, pick up stitches on any side, knit another rectangle outwards, bind off, then pick up stitches across both rectangles, knit another rectangle outwards, and bind off; repeat ad-nauseum. I had the damndest time discovering how to pick up stitches, and where I should be picking them up if I were doing this method. Also a little improvisation was required. A couple hints to anyone looking to start log cabin style as a newbie (it's fairly easy, so consider it!):

1) You're starting in the center and you knit outwards. So when you pick up stitches, you have to pick up the whole length of the side. You're going to need big needles if this is a blanket or large project. Just warning!

2) Picking up stitches is a way to cast on attached to a piece of knitting. You can pick up stitches where-ever you like--just pull a loop of yarn through any given hole and onto your needle. has fantastic videos that show you how to do almost anything, including picking up stitches. The only trick for me, and for most people doing log cabin style, is that you have a loose end (of your new color)when you're starting to pick up stitches. Since I didn't know what to do with a loose end, I just tied mine on at a corner and worked from there. It's a little slapdash, but it works!

3) Be careful with your bind-offs for each of your rectangles. Specifically, look up a loose bind off like k2tog or k2togtbl (or the lace bind off), and use that. You might want to use the lace cast on for your initial cast on, too. Otherwise your product gets pinched at the edges.

4) Knowing how many stitches to pick up can be difficult. I think I picked up every OTHER row when I did my first picked up section (the brown in the picture), but since the brown is a *slightly* heavier super-bulky weight than my initial blue super-bulky weight, this makes the end stretch and flare out and be pinched all at once. It's tricky!

With luck later tonight I'll get a chance to try out a granola bar recipe. The trick is getting bars that stay together but aren't as hard as a rock. Wish me luck!

(P.S. I'm signed up for a couple of good astronomy classes and a horrid looking Bayesian Statistics course. I haven't done Statistics before, and this one apparently has a 2-course requisite. I might try and stick it out (honestly, nothing can be worse than 2 semesters of quantum mechanics), but I'm considering switching. My options are a bit limited--I could probably swing switching to either General Relativity (ew!) or a more introductory (for grad school) Statistics course. Boo! The trick is figuring out which of my fellow students are considering switching as well--being able to work with someone on homework is a large selling point.)

(P.P.S. I updated my ravelry page (I'm Cosmoknot on there) with a slew of books in my library/bookshelves and several stored in my queue, since there doesn't appear to be a way to put up a book that *isn't* known to ravelry. These are books I'm interested in, not ones that I have yet. so if anyone knows how to a) make a wishlist, b) get ravelry to read books that aren't in its database but are on, say, amazon, or c) figure out why the books that are on amazon aren't showing up in the database, let me know)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Glory Be

I helped run the doghouse for last Friday's Public Night at our local observatory, the one where I drag all the undergrads for their labs. We were SWARMED with children in the form of a boyscout troop (or is it troupe?), and tons of parents with little ones. I was completely new to this--the first, and only, Public Night I've been to before, it was so cloudy we didn't even bother to open the domes, and I spent the whole two hours listening to stories from the other astronomers. So suddenly I was confronted with hordes of people. I could (barely) operate the two doghouse telescopes, and I hadn't the slightest idea how to find something fun to look at in the sky.

The sky did not behave. Clouds all up in the crown and dome during our half hour of set up. We fended off childrens and parents for a bit as we tried to get something from the fringes of the sky in the west. While we were busy, the sky cleared in the center, so GV did the Pleiades in the 6" and the entertaining. I fumbled with the automated 10" and suddenly my instrumentationalist instinct kicked in and I got it working. Bam, two stars to calibrate, and the next thing I know it's slewing to H and Kai Perseus. But no matter where we looked, the clouds knew. They'd cover things up in a dozen minutes. I switched the 10" back and forth from the Pleiades to H and Kai Perseus and even the Orion Nebula (GORGEOUSLY clear for a few minutes--we could see DUST clouds. from the earth. with our eyes and that telescope. I can scarcely believe it!).

We alternatively pleased and placated the kids. My instrumentationalist instincts kicked in when GV was gone and I had to reset the 6" to the Pleiades and I found them with ease. The kids loved H and Kai Perseus (all those thousands of tiny stars), enjoyed the Greek myths GV told, and were thoroughly fascinated by the wind up mechanism for the 6"'s tracking.

Now I'm back to work, finding that I have, oh, 5 days to study for the biggest exam in my life this far (only beat by the same thing next year that runs for TWO days instead). I am terrified that I don't know enough. Last semester's courses are not instinctual for me, the way instrumentation and radio astronomy are. I needed to work, and I'm shorted a week of the time I planned to do that work in.

On the plus side, when those are done I can pay my bills, arrange my labs, and take a breather.