Saturday, April 28, 2007

Playin' Hooky

(Above: a lion guards the entrance to San Francisco's Legion of Honor art museum.)
Click on any picture to see a higher-resolution version.

One of the really cool things about being the head of one's own department in academia is that you get to schedule classes. If you're sufficiently selfish, that means that you can schedule yourself in such a way that you don't have any Friday classes, and, if a particular Friday has no committee meetings (or socialist cabal plotting sessions to overthrow liberty as it's known in North America, whatever), then you can say WOO-HOO!! on that Friday and run away with your wife to San Francisco, AKA "Oakland's Disneyland."

So, that's what we did on Friday, April 27th. We scuttled our way out of the San Lorenzo Valley, a rustic, rural, down-home, country sort of place, and drove up north about 75 minutes to the posh and swank city of San Francisco -- where one of us was born and the other lived and worked for two decades, and where our dear friend, Lucile, lives. And we went to an art museum, the Legion of Honor, which backs up against the Pacific Ocean near the
Golden Gate Bridge. All three of us (Mr. and Mrs. Fort and Lucile) have been there many, many times before... enough to know that the exhibits are ever-changing and ever-fascinating.

The main attraction today was a display of early-20th century jewelry. Lucile and Diane loved it, I appreciated it, and no photos were allowed.

After viewing that exhibit, we wandered around the grounds:

Legion of Honor entry.

My office (I wish).

"The Russian Bride's Attire" by Konstantin Makovsky, 1887, a small part of the museum's permanent collection. I have been attracted by the work's colors and understated contrast on my every visit to the museum, but this is the first time I've had the photographic wherewithal to capture some of what its presence brings to the viewer. Hope it works for you!

Lunch in the alfresco cafeteria.

A bust of Voltaire by Jean-Antoine Houdon, 1781. I just love that expression, and I may use a cropped version of this bust as my avatar sometime.

On an earlier visit to the Legion of Honor, Diane and I had searched for paintings in which classic King Charles Spaniels (the precursors of our "Cavalier" King Charles Spaniels, Jax and Emma) could be seen. This is one of them, Gabriel Metsu's "Woman Playing the Viola da Gamba", in which a little dog, upon further inspection...

... is a Jax-like tricolor. For what "Jax-like" means, click here.

The front yard of the Legion of Honor.

A funny-looking orange bridge that can be seen from the front lawn of the Legion.

Our dear friend Lucile, who accompanies us on most of our forays into San Francisco, lives on Mount Davidson (a peak named after a 19th century astronomer and geodicist and the person most responsible for convincing James Lick to will his fortune to astronomy rather than self-aggrandizement, but I digress...) Above is her welcoming front staircase.

Lucile's home has been undergoing much renovation, restoration, and re-invigoration for several years now, and a major figure in that effort has been Kevin, a contractor and artist. Kevin does major remodeling... and outstanding portraits! Above is Kevin's rendition of Lucile's wonderful pair of Oriental Shorthair cats, Teri and Blue.

Across the street from Lucile's house, a pair of terriers keep an active eye on the neighborhood.

We left home in the late morning, arrived back home in the early evening, and marveled all the way about how lucky we are to live in the midst of a forest that is so close to a vibrant center of culture. I'm not sure where else we could feed 12 chickens in the morning and, 90 minutes later, be in a museum whose entry surrounds us with Rodin works... and provides the jaw-dropping external scenery of the Golden Gate.

Life is good, sometimes, really, really good.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Okay, NOW It's Full of Stars!

The first Infinium-S in operation outside Japan, April 20, 2007, DeAnza College, Cupertino, California

Today marked the first (well, sort of) "official" use of the new planetarium projector: an initial training session for those of us who will be operating it by the Konica-Minolta staff. Installation and fine-tuning of the device is very nearly finished, and training in its use, programming, and upkeep will continue over the next four days.

Initial gathering at the control console.

I should note that the photos in this post are not quite of the quality that I've tried to maintain in this blog, and with good reason. Even in the lighted portions of the training, the ambient light in the planetarium dome was very dim. Not wanting to use flash, that meant long exposure times and noise-ish images. Still, better views can be had by clicking on any image.

View from the front of the theater toward the control area at rear.

The image above really has to be seen at larger size (by clicking on it) to appreciate. It shows the projector (at right) in operation. It was being turned as the exposure was made, and star trails can be seen on the dome.

Ken Hawthorn (Community Ed) and Marek Cichanski (Geology faculty) work the controls.

It is hard to convey in words or pictures how realistic (and awe-inspiring) the sky that's provided by the Infinium-S system is. Star images are sharp and tiny, the Milky Way is simulated by a quarter of a million individual points of light, the 21 brightest stars can be made to scintillate (twinkle) realistically, and many "deep sky" objects -- galaxies and star clusters -- are rendered sufficiently accurately that viewing them through binoculars isn't a thoroughly ludicrous thing to do.

By looking closely at star images at the horizon, I estimate that the largest of them are about an eighth of an inch across. As seen from a typical audience member's distance, about 30 feet, an eighth of an inch subtends an angle of about 1 1/4 arcminutes, which is close to normal human eyesight limiting resolution. It's also three to four times finer resolution than we had with the previous projector.

Ken Hawthorn on the flight deck.

Computer control of virtually every aspect of the sky simulation allows not only a greater range of WOW stuff (as it's called in the specialized technical jargon of planetaria), but also a smaller control console. The controls for the old MS-15 took up five times this much space, easily.

Trainees and their trainers on April 20th.

Our trainers today from Konica-Minolta were Shu (kneeling) and Ume (at far right). The nine trainees were from the DeAnza faculty and Community Education's planetarium staff. The planetarium facility is operated by Community Ed, but College classes are held in it for seven hours per day, Mondays through Thursdays. It's a remarkably amicable symbiosis between two very much administratively separate arms of the College.

The two men in this picture who live in the Santa Cruz Mountains -- Planetarium Director Karl von Ahnen and I -- are the ones with the beards. I'm the one with hair on top of my head, too.

There is something of an aberration about this picture, by the way. Notice that, aside from our Japanese trainers, everybody else in the picture is a white male. This is highly unusual for DeAnza, and I'm not quite sure why the group worked out this way (I hadn't noticed until I just now put the picture into the draft of this post.) It warrants some thought, but I don't think it really amounts to anything more than small-number statistics. Our "bosses" (the Deans of Physical Science and of Community Ed) are both women, for example, and their bosses (at the VP level) are, as well. To see a more typical-looking group at DeAnza, take a look at this little slide show of my Division's March meeting.

Cooper investigates the Infinium-S manual.

Cooper expresses his opinion of the quality of the translation.

Previous posts about the Planetarium renovation:

My God, It's Full of Seats!
Giddy with Anticipation

Friday, April 13, 2007

Max Came Home on Wednesday

I took Kelsey-the-Dog in for his annual checkup this past Wednesday before going to work. Kelsey checked out fine, as always, and the staff had a little package ready for me to pick up. Its contents are shown above.

Click here to see more about Max. (To racsers: you've seen this before, but it's okay to see it again!)

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Easter Rising, Cashel Burning

German Guns, Easter Rising, and Tradition of Holocaust

Howth Harbour Lighthouse, July, 2006 (Photo by S. Harrington)

Today is Easter, 2007. 91 Easters ago, a supremely futile act took place in Dublin. Called the "Easter Rising," it was a knowingly-doomed act of armed rebellion against England by a small group of intense patriots who managed to sieze Dublin's post office (and a biscuit factory) before being squashed, captured, and hastily executed by British troops in brutal fashion. The Easter Rising became Ireland's modern Alamo (in an American reference frame): a rallying cry, a symbol, a rock of resolve for the ultimately successful but wrenching detatchment from the UK that would follow in the next decade.

The rebels were not entirely suicidal, however. They knew that they needed firearms to have any chance of success (however defined), and pre-WWI Germany seemed a likely source. A yachtload of guns for them from Germany made its way to Howth harbour (on the northeast entry of the bay on which Dublin and the mouth of the River Liffey lie) on the 26th of July, 1914. The story of those guns, and of Erskine Childers, can be found by clicking on this link.

Diane Harrington at the Howth harbour lighthouse, July, 2006. (Photo by S. Harrington)

Just to the right of the lighthouse in the above fame is a plaque commemorating the 1914 gun-running adventure. I wish I had thought to photograph it, but didn't. It can be seen, though, in the top photo, halfway to the right of the frame from the lighthouse.

[ADDED YEARS LATER, IN 2010: We did go back, and we did capture the message:

... and some of those guns are probably still wrapped in oilcloth and stashed carefully in cellars or caves, against their necessary use, which some if not most feel will be inevitable for some reason or another. That's just what they do.]

The small, lovely island of Ireland has an unrelenting history of brutality of humans upon one another. The Easter Rising was just one of the most recent manifestations of that sad legacy. The island's brutal history's most recent underlying theme has been that of Protestant vs. Catholic, but others preceded that.

The current division, though, seems -- maybe, maybe, please God, possibly -- to be coming to an end. The most implacable leaders of the opposing sides last week actually sat down to a jovial chat in Dublin, something that just staggers anyone who has been paying attention for the last, oh, 30 years or so.

And it had best work, and it had best last. Because ghastly murder on an industrial scale has always been the outcome when it doesn't.

One of Ireland's major tourist attractions is the "Rock of Cashel":

Southwestern corner of the Rock of Cashel, August, 2006 (Photo by S. Harrington)

Cashel is a town in mid-Tipperary, on the southern side of the grand Tipperary plain, and just north of the Galty Mountains and the Cahir pass. On the town's northeastern edge is a little nubbin of an outcrop of rock, perhaps a hundred feet tall and a couple of acres in extent. This rocky prominence provides a logical place for a fortress.

The Rock of Cashel from the northern (less-photographed) side. (Photo by S. Harrington, August, 2006)
Please click on any photo to see a larger version.

The Rock of Cashel, August, 2006 (photo by S. Harrington)

The top of the rock outcropping was built up intensely after St. Patrick converted most of the island's people to Catholicism in the first millennium AD. Multiple Catholic Christian structures adorn the outcrop, including a mammoth cathedral, built in the mid-1200's.

From left to right: Cathedral wall, modern gravestone, Cormac's Chapel wall. A church spire in the modern town of Cashel can be seen to the left of the grave cross. (Photo by S. Harrington, 2006)

Different architectural styles crowd up against one another on the rock. Here, the rude but mammoth cathedral (left) squeezes against the more refined (but older) Cormac's Chapel. (Photo by S. Harrington, 2006)

During the Cromwellian subjugation of Ireland in the 1600's, Murrough O'Brien, Lord Inchiquinn (later, for clear reason, dubbed "Murrough the Burner"), commanded the British attack on Cashel. Townspeople and Catholic clergy took refuge in the huge Cathedral on the rock in the summer of 1647, only 360 years ago.

The center of the Cathedral's great cross. (Photograph by S. Harrington, 2006)

How many people sought refuge in the Cathedral is not known exactly, but estimates range up to 3,000. Given the huge size of the Cathedral's ruin, the latter number is not at all inconceivable.

The square holes are all that is left of great beams which supported interior floors and walls within the Cathedral. (Photograph by S. Harrington, August, 2006)

Once the townspeople and the clergy were crowded into the Cathedral on top of the rock, Inchiquinn's forces piled peat bricks, confiscated from the town's houses, all around the base of the structure. (Peat was [and, in many places, still is] the fuel for fireplaces and cooking in Ireland.)

Once the peat was in place, it was set afire. All within the structure were killed, either by fire, or by smoke, or by collapse of the wooden structures above them. How many died is not known. You can Google numbers from a few hundred to three thousand. The latter number -- roughly equivalent to the number of Americans killed in the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 -- may be unreasonably large, but still possible -- and in a land of far fewer people to start with.

But any deficit of corpses would be easily made up in the subsequent centuries. That a land of such aching beauty in a tiny area should also be one of ghastly inhumanity is a contrast of unfathomable dimension. Current optimism is well-taken, but I agree with Mike Peterson when he writes that "the urge [in Ireland] to bury guns against the day when you need to
dig them up again must be overwhelming..."

It's not over, and it may never be.

Sherwood contemplates the unfathomable in the Cathedral on the Rock of Cashel, August, 2006. (Photo by Diane Harrington)

Thursday, April 5, 2007

"Harington Is Often Regarded as a Trivial Writer"

To Feel and Be Felt

While the title of this post -- Harrington as a trivial writer -- could certainly apply to me, it's actually a quote from this piece in The Proceedings of the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution of Bath, England, about my 10th-great grandfather, Sir John Harrington (also spelled with a single r -- in those days, spelling was less a discipline than it was a creative art.)

Sir John's epigrams were to the day what "reality shows" or certain tabloids are to us today: clever, leering exploitations of the privileged or spotlighted, often wandering off into the scatological or pornographic. (His more serious works, especially as concerns the relationship between church and state, are less well-remembered. Pity, that.) His godmother, Queen Elizabeth, banished him repeatedly from her court (meaning, of course, that she also took him back repeatedly) for such indiscretions, writing once that he
shouldn't come back "till he hath grown sober, and leaveth the ladies sportes and frolicks."

Here's the piece unearthed by the Bath folks, with spelling updated to modern (original spelling can be found in the above link to the BRLSI). It will help to know that Bath was a resort destination:

Of Going to Bath

A common phrase long used here has been,
And by prescription now some credit has:
That diverse ladies coming to Bath,
Come chiefly but to see, and to be seen.
But if I should declare my conscience briefly,
I cannot think that is their errand chiefly.
For as I hear that most of them have dealt,
They chiefly came to feel and to be felt.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Spring Cleanup, Santa Cruz Mountains Style

Winter seems to have wafted its way off somewhere else, so it's time for spring cleanup here at the Fort. I certainly don't expect any sympathy for the chores -- especially from anybody whose yard looks like this as winter recedes -- but, hey, one of the reasons blogs exist is to whine about one's horrid place in life. Or so I'm told.

Above: redwood leaves and twigs are surprisingly tiny. Their numbers for any one gigantic tree, though, are ENORMOUS. So, if you've got nine mature specimens of sequoia sempervirens on half an acre (as we do here in the Fort), then spring leaves a gi-gundous amount of crap on the ground. Here, I've raked about 1/10 of them onto a plastic tarp so I could drag them easily (more or less) to the "staging area" by the back gate.

Actually, I was kind of hoping -- fantasizing, really -- that maybe I could hook Kelsey up by a harness to the tarp and have him drag it to the staging area... but he was busy guarding us all against rogue argon atoms hiding 'midst the nitrogen and oxygen. Or something like that.

A new discovery every spring is this patio (above). It's in the center of a ring of second-growth redwoods, and marks roughly the footprint of a many-centuries-old tree that was harvested about a hundred years ago. Coastal redwoods' roots shoot up "suckers", though, and this old one left a bevy of five suckers that are now mature. They drop gobs of stuff onto this patio every winter, and every spring we shovel it out to reclaim the area.

(The chicken in the above picture is "Specks," a remarkable chicken, sure to be the topic of a future post. She follows me everywhere I go in the yard, commenting and inspecting, and generally violating all of my pre-conceived notions about what chickens are supposed to be like.)

Above: the largest of the second-growth "sucker" trees around our rewood patio. I don't know how tall it is; maybe somebody with a protractor can figure it out.

Above: The view straight up from the center of our redwood patio.

Jax and Kesley inspect the yardwork, April 2nd, 2007.

All photos in this post by S. Harrington, 2 April 2007

Theology 101

What more compelling evidence of a benevolent God does one need than...

... a Weber and a dog?

"It's not like we haven't got a bunch of other telescopes."

Lick Observatory's "HamCams" (webcams atop California's Mt. Hamilton, among the domes of the venerable institution) provide an ever-changing, high-resolution pair of vistas from Northern California's Coastal Range. HamCam #1, facing westward toward the southern end of San Francisco Bay and the San Jose/Silicon Valley metropolis gets the most attention. HamCam#2 points the opposite direction, toward the East, toward the vast Central Valley. It shows the biggest dome on the Mountain, the one housing the 3-meter Shane reflector (which, back in the Cenozoic when I was active there, we called the "120-inch".) Here is a typical view from HamCam#2:

Here is what HamCam #2 showed yesterday -- April, yes, 1st, 2007:

An explanatory tract accompanied the view (one that I'm glad I captured, since I can't seem to find it online anywhere right now). Everything from here to the end of this post is an unedited, unabridged quote:

Mr. Lick Gets His Wish
"Time to make amends," says Observatory's Director.

The University of California's Lick Observatory today unveiled a dramatic change in the configuration of its Mount Hamilton research facility, where, for more than a century, astronomers have gazed into the heavens from their 4,200-foot perch high above the San Francisco Bay Area, seeking to fathom the deepest secrets of the stars.

"Since 1888 we have enjoyed the privilege of pursuing our independent researches, thanks to the munificent hand of our benefactor, James Lick," explained the Observatory's Director. "but the time has come to acknowledge a mistake made over a one-hundred and thirty years ago, and to make amends. We have therefore replaced our premiere telescope, the Shane 3-meter reflector, with a monument more in keeping with Lick's wishes."

The wealthy and eccentric James Lick, who endowed the celebrated facility that bears his name, died in 1876. It had long been thought that Lick's final wish was that his fortune be used to build the largest and most powerful telescope on earth. However, recent scholarship has revealed that the aging millionaire may well have been coerced on his deathbed into abandoning his earlier, well-known plan to instead build the world's largest pyramid to hold his remains.

A hitherto unknown letter in Lick's hand, penned only hours before his death, was discoverd late last year at the University of California Berkeley's Bancroft Library. "There is no doubt that the manuscript is genuine," said a member of the library staff, "and the closing sentence, in which Lick writes 'I don't give a hoot what they say, I really want my pyramid!' makes it difficult to misunderstand his sentiment.

"We've had our fun, now it's his turn," said the Director, summing up the Observatory's unexpected makeover. "And anyway," he added, "it's not like we haven't got a bunch of other telescopes." The Observatory plans to transfer Lick's remains to the pyramid from their current resting place at the base of the 36-inch Refractor.