Ooh, a comet

A few weeks ago, my foxy friend mentioned that there was a pretty bright comet in the skies: C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy). There was too much light around here to see it with the naked eye, but it was easy to photograph with a digital camera and an exposure of a few seconds. It sure is green :) I also took a look at it through my Astroscan telescope that I got as a kid, but it didn't look very interesting—just a fuzzy dim green blob.

I had heard about the technique of "stacking" multiple exposures to reduce noise, so I gave it a try. Here's what I got out of 65 10-second exposures on a Sony DSC-RX100 camera, taken on the night of January 19, 2015:

Comet Lovejoy and the Pleiades
Comet Lovejoy and the Pleiades

I fiddled with the levels to try to make the comet's tail more visible; it's still not very bright, but it was pretty much lost in the noise and invisible in the individual exposures. Anyways, I thought it was pretty neat and am pleased with the results :)

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    pleased pleased

Back from Taiwan

Got back from Taiwan last Monday, actually... had lots of fun :) The flight over there was pretty uneventful, but as I had expected, the food on American airlines is pretty crappy compared to the food on Asian ones (by "American airlines," I mean US carriers in general, not specifically American Airlines, although this time I actually was flying AA. I've flown overseas on Continental and United too, and they aren't much different though—yeah, I know they've merged :) The flight from DFW to Tokyo/Narita was on AA, and food was a bag of peanuts, a turkey sandwich, and beef and rice, where the rice was mushy and the beef was pretty plain. The flight from Tokyo to Taipei was on Cathay Pacific, and food was a bag of peanuts, and chicken and rice, where the rice was pretty decent, though not perfectly-steamed, and the chicken was tender and quite tasty.

On the flight from Tokyo to Taipei, I sat next to an older couple from Japan (probably in their 60s or so). Towards the end of the flight, the lady said something to me in Japanese, which I didn't understand at all. I attempted to tell her that I didn't speak Japanese, but perhaps doing that in broken Japanese wasn't the best way to accomplish that, since that showed I knew some Japanese :) So she kept trying to talk to me, and while our conversation was extremely limited, we actually did understand each other some. I found out that it was their fourth trip to Taiwan, and they'd be taking the high speed train around the island; we agreed that the food and fruits in Taiwan were very tasty; she showed me pics of her grandkids and some scenic spots in Kyoto that she'd been to; I told her that I was visiting relatives and that it had been about 16 years since I was last there; and various other miscellaneous stuff. It was pretty neat how much could be done with extremely rudimentary language skills.

Some of the places I went to:

The subway has definitely made getting around Taipei easier (especially with the help of bus/subway schedules and maps in Google Maps on a smartphone), and the high speed train and expressways have made getting around the country much easier too. I remember the last time I was there, it was a slow journey along mountain roads to get to the east coast; now there's a really long tunnel through the mountains that cuts travel time down significantly. Food was great too... I had forgotten how many street markets there are there.

On the flight back, I was unexpectedly upgraded for free to business class on the Tokyo to DFW leg. Don't know why, but my guess is that it's because when I bought my tickets, I didn't choose a seat for that leg—very few were available, and none of them appealed to me. I figured that maybe if all of the regular coach seats were gone, if I let the airline pick a seat for me, I'd get one of the premium coach seats without having to pay extra. When I checked in at Taipei, the Cathay Pacific agent said she wasn't able to print my boarding passes for the AA flights; I'd have to go to the gate agent when I got to Tokyo. After arriving at Tokyo and taking the shuttle train to the other building where the departure gate was, and doing a bit of walking, I got to the gate to see that they were already boarding, and the gate agent was paging me. I went to the counter, gave her my documents, and after a bit, she gave me my boarding passes and said that I'd be in business class. I didn't ask for an explanation, but just went to the priority boarding line :) (which wasn't really a line... only one other person ahead of me). Very swanky—offers of champagne before takeoff, drinks kept coming, and the food was actually quite good. I'd say AA business class > Cathay Pacific coach class ≫ AA coach class. And the seats were big and easy to sleep in (although I was actually trying to stay awake in an attempt to minimize jet lag).

It was a good vacation; got to see relatives and see the sights. Brought back various snacks, as well as a Formosan sika deer plushie for my foxy :) Picked up two types of bamboo flutes for him too; one transverse, the other end-blown.


Off to Taiwan

Yay, summer vacation is almost here! Heading off to Taiwan tomorrow morning to see what the relatives are up to, etc... and will be gone for about 3 weeks. The last time I visited was around 1997... The Taipei 101 skyscraper went from not existing, to being the tallest building in the world, to being demoted (apparently it's all the way down to 4th place now?), and I missed all of that :) I'll still go check it out, even if it isn't the tallest building anymore :)

Happy Dragon Boat Festival

So asterickpup mentioned that the Dragon Boat Festival was coming up, and brought out the bamboo leaves, so I took that as a hint that it was time to make zongzi again :) Despite the instructional videos that I found last time I made them, I still had trouble wrapping them... and things weren't really any better this time. I guess I need more practice :) Kinda small, and not very tetrahedral, but still yummy :)

P.S. The Wikipedia page on the Dragon Boat Festival mentions that another tradition during the festival is to drink realgar wine, which contains arsenic sulfide. The arsenic-containing pigment is also painted on kids, where it gets absorbed through the skin. What is it with the Chinese and poisonous metals?? I think we'll skip that tradition :)

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    full full

Thailand floods

A lot of the news coverage of the current flooding in Thailand have mentioned that it's the worst flooding in 50 years. My mom said that she didn't remember any severe flooding there 50 years ago, so I looked around for more details on what flood the reports were referring to, and it turns out that the flood in question actually happened in 1942—almost 70 years ago. That was before my mom's time, which would explain why she doesn't remember it :)

And Youtube actually has video of the flood! It's footage filmed by Tae Prakartwuttisarn (perhaps more officially romanized as Thae Prakas-vudhisarn), someone whom I've never heard of, but apparently he's a filmmaker, photographer, and journalist, and was awarded the title of "National Artist of Thailand" in 1999. It's pretty neat to see life in Bangkok back then, and people didn't seem terribly concerned about the flooding, even though the floodwaters were deeper and more widespread than they are now. I guess there were fewer people and fewer buildings back then though...

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    geeky interested

Happy Chinese New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year! It's officially the year of the rabbit, which is my birth sign. Apparently, this sign is known as the cat in Vietnam, so I guess that's appropriate :)

The moon is new tonight, but there was a particularly interesting full moon not long ago—last year's winter solstice+lunar eclipse combo. I tried taking some pics by holding a digital camera in front of the telescope eyepiece, a technique which is apparently known as afocal photography. At first, I just hand-held the camera, but later on, I stuck the camera on a tripod and tried to position it just right. The results weren't great, but I was still pleased :) Unfortunately, it was a partly cloudy night, turning mostly cloudy pretty much when the total eclipse started, so I wasn't able to get many shots during totality, and the ones that I did get were out of focus, since I hadn't quite gotten the hang of where to focus the telescope. Here are the three best pics I got:

Partially-eclipsed moon Partially-eclipsed moon Partially-eclipsed moon

In other news, the furnace decided to pick one of the coldest days in many years to die :( Last night, it started making a really loud rattling; I went up to take a look at it, and the draft inducer motor was vibrating a lot. I tried oiling it some, which helped for a while, but a few hours later, it quit working permanently. When power was applied, it'd just hum, and if I tried to spin it manually, it'd spin a fraction of a turn and stop. However, if I spun it while the power was off, it'd spin about a turn—not sure what it means when it spins better with the power off (not that it spun smoothly; the bearings had definitely worn out). I found a local store that had the draft inducer in stock, for about twice the price as an online shop I found :( It was worth it to be warm tonight, instead of warm on Monday though :) Replacement was straightforward, although I did have to head to Lowe's for some of those crimp-on wire connectors. Also picked up some combo smoke/carbon monoxide alarms while I was there. They talk :) "Fire, Fire." "Warning, carbon monoxide." :)

恭喜發財 紅包拿來! (Have a prosperous new year, now give me a red envelope :)

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    accomplished accomplished

Zongzi wrapping lesson

asterickpup bought a pack of bamboo leaves from the Chinese grocery, which I think is a hint that I'm supposed to try to make some zongzi—a while back, I had bought some frozen ones from the store for him to try out, and mentioned that I wanted to try making some myself someday.

The tricky part of making zongzi is wrapping them, and my parents weren't any help :P My mom mentioned that when I was a kid, they tried making a batch and couldn't wrap them; they had to get help from a friend :) However, I now have the power of the Internet!—where I found a couple of videos that show how to wrap 'em. I particularly like this one though, where the guy demonstrates how to get the perfect tetrahedron by using paper and tissue in lieu of the bamboo leaves and filling, and ties the whole thing up with a headphone cord :)

I haven't tried making any yet, but hopefully they'll turn out OK. I get the impression that it takes some practice to wrap 'em properly, but that's OK; the misshapen ones still taste great :)

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    hungry hungry

Happy New Year and Independence Day!

No, not the regular New Year and not the US Independence Day :) Chinese New Year was two weeks ago (February 14), but one of the local Asian grocery stores had their celebration on the following weekend. asterickpup and I decided to go check out the festivities, in particular, we wanted to watch the lion dance. Longcat sure is long :)

Unfortunately, they didn't have any firecrackers—apparently, they were only going to do those on Sunday, but we went on Saturday. Those huge rolls of firecrackers sure are impressive though... picture from a 2008 new year celbration.

Afterwards, we went to get dim sum at Fortune Seafood, in the same shopping center, but it wasn't all that great :( The "standards", like the har gow and shumai were just average. I was in an offal mood, so I went to get the "bowl o' parts" that many dim sum places have (no idea what it's really called). The restaurants in Houston that I've been to have sort of a rich stew of pork blood, tripe, intestine, hearts, lungs and probably other stuff; all this place had was pork blood and pig skin that didn't seem like it had much of any seasoning in it, and it definitely wasn't tasty :( Neither of us go out to eat all that often—this was only the second dim sum place in town that we've been to. The first place we went, Chinatown Restaurant, was a lot better (and cheaper too).

And Happy Texas Independence Day! :)

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    chipper chipper

An anime with Thai songs!

มี anime ใหม่ชื่อ あにゃまる探偵 キルミンずぅ ที่ใช้เพลงไทยเป็นเพลง OP กับ ED... แปลกและขำดีนะ :)

คิดว่านักร้องเป็นคนไทย แต่ไม่ทราบว่าทำไมออกสำเนียงแปลกหน่อย เช่นในเพลง ED แทนที่จะออกเสียง "จ" เป็น [tɕ] เขาออกเสียง [ts]

ผมยังไม่ได้ดู anime นี้ แต่มันท่าทางน่ารักดี :)

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