Stars, Sails - the Parallax View
A family of astronomers at sea... coming soon to a galaxy near you...
Veterans' Day
Heather / mostly sunny and 84F/ ENE 8 kt
11/11/2013, Fort Myers, FL

Well, it has been too long since we posted. Seems like the right day for it, this morning we told G his dad's a Veteran, his grandfather was a veteran (Jim), his great-grandfather was a veteran, his great-great grandfather was a veteran, and so forth! I think if you went back on all sides of the family there'd be somebody in some conflict for the last 1000 years or so, at least ;-) I was tracing my father's mother's line and found a fellow who was an assistant to an invading general taking northern France around 1000 AD.

Parallax needed our attention, and this being a very busy semester, she was not getting it. So the pump for the A/C let us know by getting clogged. Once the friendly marina folk let us know that 1) the A/C pump was cycling and seemed clogged and 2) it looked like we might be ready to plant soybeans on our side decks, I jumped in the car and scooted over to the marina, cleaning gear in the back.

Spent 4 hours that first day and made enough improvement that our chances of growing soybeans were ruined :-) but she was still not shipshape. And somewhere between the parking lot, checking in with the marina folk (hi Lisa, hi Terry!) and the dock, my car key leaped off the key ring. No, I don't know where.

Derek was out of town at a conference, so I had to take a cab back and use his car the next day to get to school, but I picked him up at the airport Saturday morning (it was an EXCELLENT conference and he is SO glad he went!), and we retrieved my car from the marina parking lot. We also finally discovered why so many of the gate personnel can never find us: we are not in the computerized system, we are in a book they have for slipholders, so they have to look us up there. Some of them do not know this.

Sunday and earlier today, Derek spent more hours making Parallax much, much cleaner... guess we'll have to give up our new version of "hydroponics..." Here's the Thursday morning "before" and the "this afternoon" after:
Wow!

Still not perfect, but so much better... got to wait to do the teak again until we haul and repaint, as it needs considerable work. Will strip and sand where needed, then do whatever painting needs to be done, then do the finish on the wood.

By the way, fellow sailbloggers, we have been SSCA members for years, and did not know that they had a deal with sailblogs, so if you are in the Seven Seas Cruising Association, be sure you do your renewals on SB using the code sbssca10.

The Fifth of July
Heather / sunny and 84F/ occ Tstorms
07/05/2013, Fort Myers, FL

Fireworks Fort Myers
Hope you all had a happy 4th of July, wherever you were!

The Earth has passed its summer solstice since my last post. The rainy season continued, but in June, it changed from previous years. There has been a lot of rain lately. Rain all along the East Coast. Drought and record-setting heat and wildfires in the West. The jet stream, it seems, has an unusual northward kink that has moist air piled up over the East Coast.
flooding in Fort Myers and all Lee County
Flooding throughout Lee County in low roads and ground-floor structures in low areas, last week and early this week.

Our house in Colorado Springs was in the mandatory evacuation area for the Black Forest wildfire, for a few days. That fire was probably started by humans -- they are still investigating. It started at 83 and Shoup and swept north and east, wherever the wind drove it. It burned for nine days. It burned 511 homes. Two people were overcome in their garage while loading the car for a hasty evacuation - not hasty enough - their bodies were found still in the garage. That means the investigators will not rest until they have exhausted every means of finding out how exactly this started. Meanwhile, fires burned all over Colorado, California, New Mexico and Arizona. Some still do. Arizona and Nevada and inland California suffer 115-to-120-degree heat in addition. Even Wyoming, Utah and Idaho are in the hundreds, and they, too, have wildfires. July2, 2013 article about the heat wave
incident map wildfires

Meanwhile, planning for everything that starts in Fall proceeds.

The Rainy Season has started
Heather / cloudy and 72 F
04/22/2013

Find more about Weather in Fort Myers, FL
Click for weather forecast

Some of the more southerly-dwelling snowbirds have already stated north, so the shopkeepers and restaurant owners are commenting that "the season" is over. It rains nearly every day a bit, and yesterday it rained torrentially in that wonderfully tropical way, one large badass cloud wandering around the metro area with an outdraft around it and looking like a stemmed mushroom, where the cap is dark gray and the stem is dark silvery rain. Our lawn has suddenly remembered what it's for, and thick green has replaced the sparse brownish ground cover of two weeks ago.

But there are places in which "the season" isn't over until May -- places catering to snowbirds from the higher latitudes, the North Dakota and Minnesota and Canada folk who know there is still crunchy snow on the ground up there. Yesterday we had brunch in one such place, visiting Heather's family friend and nearly-relative, Max, and his lady Sandy. They are residents of Bentley, and one can tell the season by the brunch-wear restrictions: jackets are still required for men in the dining room this month.

Compelled and Impressed
Heather / cloudy and 73F
03/25/2013, Fort Myers, FL

the flying bass-ackwards dunk
My personal favorite image from the joyful game against Georgetown, Chase Fieler's bass-ackwards flying dunk.

A week ago, many of our astronomer friends had never heard of Florida Gulf Coast University. Because of basketball, because of the team and the coach, this has all changed. The most impressive and compelling story of this year's NCAA tournament was the stunning upset of 2nd-seed Georgetown by the 15th-seeded FGCU Eagles, 78-68, March 22, only the seventh time such an upset had occurred in tournament history, but the thrill became worldwide last night when FGCU went on to dunk San Diego State 81-71... the first time ever that a 15th-seed has advanced to the NCAA east regional semifinals (sweet 16).

SherwoodBrownCelebratesWithTeammatesAfterSDSU
Sherwood Brown, a walk-on for the Eagles program, celebrates with his teammates after toppling the 7th-seeded San Diego State. Comer and McKnight picked up when Brown got into foul trouble early, and the joyful style of FGCU play came though for the second time in three days.

Derek was home watching the game. I was playing Irish music at Hoolihan's, where the game was on both TVs (sound down). Some of the cheering was for the music, but the spontaneous yells were certainly for the Eagles :-)

And yet, I came away from that session with a compelling tune in my head. I have learned it in the hours since the session ended, but I couldn't go to sleep last night without being able to play it through. Sometimes astronomy happens that way as well -- a particular problem or idea is just something you have to keep working at until you "get it." Here's the tune that kept prodding me:


It was composed by a 15-year-old French hurdy-gurdy musician, Gilles Chabenat, in 1983, and is properly named "Les Poules Huppees" (but is widely known in the US as The Crested Hens-- especially since there is another Poules Huppees out there!). The fellow playing it hesitates a wee bit in a couple of spots, but you get the idea -- that is, if something similar has ever happened to you, and I'm guessing that many of our friends have these interesting ideas or stories or techniques or tunes that compel them to fully investigate before they can rest! I suspect Andy Enfield feels something like that about coaching basketball...

Spring ahead
Heather / sunny and 72F
03/11/2013, Fort Myers, FL

This is the week... After a wonderful but too-short visit from Derek's mom (we are in the market for a queen-sized comfortable daybed, now!), after the Irish music session Sunday evening at TP Hoolihan's, Monday evening we're hosting a smallish group for after-work chatter and food, then Tuesday is haircut day for Heather and also Womynfolke practice (a cappella women's singing group at our church. Really fun!), then Wednesday is Irish Session and farewell to John B, a wonderful accordion player who is moving out to the LA area, then Thursday morning is the "point" of having the haircut: Heather's job interview (well, a sample lesson, actually, since the point I guess is for the committee to see whether I can teach physics), and oh yeah, dance class in the evening: Derek is doing something more professional, Thursday is Colloquium for him. And after that? Friday if Heather still has any brain cells left she will finally get her whistle lesson (yay), and Saturday the 16th we're hosting a chili cook-off and "St. Practice Day Party." Then Sunday is... well, Ian and then Wolfhound playing Irish music all day at TP Hoolihan's. Best St Paddy's lineup in several years, for us, I think (keeping in mind that the Bahamas has only limited Irish trad venues and that's where we were last year)!

[Heather] Have to say, it has been so much fun practicing at these sessions and with Trina for whistle lessons, we got here in August and so it's been about seven months, and although at first I was pretty tentative about bodhran playing, it's gotten to be a HUGE amount of fun! With whistle I am still shy about playing in public because I don't trust my pacing, but I will play slower airs at the drop of a hat (like Carrickfergus or Si Bheag Si Mhor), and even occasionally start a jig or reel in "slow session" (the teaching/learning hour every second Sunday before regular session starts).

Finally, I have to learn to do something lower-key at session when asked to sing; I'm used to "performing" for a crowd that wants attitude as well as high-volume sound, and session singing does not have to be that way (and in fact I gather it's less annoying and more musician-ly if it isn't that way!) Ah, things to learn. Then there's a boat to clean...

Grant is doing well, taking another round of tests for his Calvert program and we've been in the process of applying to local schools for fall (he starts high school this fall). The private school had a testing session and he did very well, especially in math and spatial reasoning, and I registered him for the International Baccalaureate program at the public school of our first choice (Fort Myers High), but all of that is up to the committee that does school assignments, and if he goes to the private school (which is incredibly close to where we live, and is an excellent college preparatory school) the assignment would be moot, anyway.

Derek has started a colloquium series and has lined up speakers for the initial semester of it -- each Thursday. Speakers come from all of the sciences relevant to the Whitaker Center, so there are marine toxicologists and physicists and biologists... really a fun idea, and we are hoping that attendance improves as word of mouth spreads. He's also completed and shepherded through the publication process a single-author paper on a mechanism he decided was promising for providing the "extra" energy to the atmospheres of "hot Jupiters," exoplanets close to their primary star which exhibit more heating than expected. He'll be doing some more models and presenting the new results at the American Astronomical Society meeting in June (which, delightfully, is in Indianapolis, breaking the pattern of having summer meetings in really hot places -- OK, that pattern was actually broken last June, when the venue went from June in Las Cruces, NM 2011 to June in Anchorage, AK 2012! And the future lineup looks very temperate). He's also teaching physics, which he enjoys greatly, although I do confess I felt some sympathy for his students when he commented, while holding a volume of The Feynman Lectures, "I'm going to do this the way Feynman does it, it's better than the way their textbook does it, and that way they can see two different methods."
Feynman never expected THIS!

Some Sunny, Some Gray, February Slides Past
Heather / cloudy and 68F
02/25/2013, Fort Myers, FL

Ah, like the gently flowing Caloosahatchee, a month slides past without moving the boat... but of course we have these good intentions. Just not a lot of time to carry them out. The weather has been alternately cloudy and sunny, cool and warm. Today the weather cam overlooking our marina shows this:


Which sums it up well, clouds and a hint of sun.

Things we need to do re: boat
1) CLEANING!!! Exterior needs complete clean & polish
2) Dinghy repair: leak developed in front tube, needs to be found and patched.
3) CLEANING!!! Grab a bucket, your bleach and a hazmat suit, it's time to clean out the fridge...
3) haul, power wash, bottom paint
4) relocate to a less costly marina

This is just what's bugging *me* at the moment, Derek maybe has his own list with some specific maintenance items.

Aside from the boat, we are excited about a first visit from Grandma, and planning for Grant's next school year.

A Sad Month
Heather / sunny and 68F / SE 5
01/24/2013, Fort Myers, FL

It has been a sad month.

Derek's mother and father spent Christmas Day with us in our new home, and Derek drove his Dad around the campus to show him his office and his new university. That was fun and wonderful. Four days later, his father was golfing with his usual friends, hit an excellent drive, and suffered a massive stroke.

Eleven days after that, Derek's father passed away in hospice. Derek and his mother were both there at his passing.

His memorial mass will be on February 1.

Derek's father was trained in Hungary as a (forestry) civil engineer. He came to the USA with almost nothing and put himself through Harvard for graduate school in (soils hydrology) civil engineering while learning English. Here are some pictures of the projects Derek's father built in his long life:

The Tarbela Dam
tarbela was for decades the largest earth-fill dam on the planet. It's visible from orbit.
The Tarbela Dam is the largest earth-fill dam on the planet by extent, and second largest by volume. It's naked-eye visible from orbit, but let's use a satellite:
from space

The Yacyreta Dam between Paraguay and Argentina:
Yacyreta dam on the Parana river.

Geotechnical soils/foundations design for Shihmen Dam and reservoir, Taiwan (taken in 1963, the year before the dam's completion):
Shihmen Dam and reservoir and today:
Shihmen dam from Govt Taiwan's

The Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70 near Boulder:
Eisenhower tunnel entrance

And one of his last, The Charleston Aquarium (2008):
Charleston Aquarium rebuild 2008 from the land side

Plus geotechnical design, analysis, testing, rehabilitation and geotechnical engineering supervision of construction of more dams and reservoirs, support structures for railroads (Metro North, Oak Point Link), airports, tunnels, bridges, ports (hello, Skagway, AK and Port Everglades, FL!), piers (1000-foot pier at Pearl Harbor, for example), highways (PR-2 connecting San Juan to Ponce) and drydocks (Portsmouth Drydock 2, testpond and railway at Aberdeen Proving Ground, and drydock on Kwajalein, for example) all over the world, including a replacement wharf designed to resist strong earthquakes in San Antonio, Chile.

If you have traveled any of these places in safety, thank an engineer :-)

Merry Christmas!
Heather / clear and 61F / SE 3
12/25/2012, Fort Myers, FL

merry christmas
With thanks to the Sayle family of Nantucket for Billy's beautiful Christmas catboat

Wishing all of our friends and family a wonderful Christmas and a joyous New Year!

-- Derek, Heather and Grant

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