I’ll Fly Away

I’ll Fly Away

For the past week, I’ve had the Alison Krauss & Gilian Welch song, “I’ll Fly Away,” stuck in my head. This fabulous song is one that I hope someone will remember to play when I die, but… beyond that… I’m wondering what my subconscious is trying to tell me about my upcoming trip to Europe. “I’ll fly away // To that home on Gods celestial shore // I’ll fly away” Today, I’m leaving behind Edwardsville and my home outside St Louis, and I’m embarking on a 35 day trip to Europe. From STL to ORD to HEL, I’m traveling to the European Week of Astronomy and Space Sciences conference in Turku Finland. From there, I’ll be continuing on to Lisbon, Portugal to work with colleagues,...

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IAU, I’m lost within you

IAU, I’m lost within you

This morning I woke up in Beijing. This wasn’t entirely surprising since I’d fallen asleep at about 32,000 ft on AA187, inbound to PEK from ORD. Nonetheless, no matter how much you know logically that you are soon to be somewhere very foreign, the reality of it is always startling. Beijing assaults the senses the moment the cabin door opens. There is the smell; air so thick with pollution that you feel constantly dirty, and my nose runs and lungs ache. There is the sudden change in personal space, which grows far less, and politeness, which becomes far more important. The buildings are like something out of the Fifth Element, but the roads are cluttered with an odd mix of foot traffic, bike traffic, rickshaw traffic, and insane car traffic. Beijing is...

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Kindness at 30,000ft

Kindness at 30,000ft

Earlier today I wrote on Google+ that there are day’s when you run head first into the tail-end of the probability distribution. Today was one of those days, and now that it’s over and I’m laying in bed typing, I can happily say I got to see both sides of the Gaussian. It started as a normal travel day for me. I got up far too early, shoveled myself in and out of the shower and into the car, following the inner mantra, “You were upgraded, it’s ok. They will feed you, then you can sleep.” From waking at 6:30am to being at the airport at 8am to being in the air by 9:30am, all was good. I was looking forward to a meet up with Bay Area astronomy folks, and needed to spend a bit more time on my talk. I had plenty of time for all of...

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Up, Up and … Home

Up, Up and … Home

On January 13, 2005 I joined the American Airlines “AAdvantage” frequent flier program. The podcast I was part of, “Slacker Astronomy,” had taken off, and I had been invited to go to AAS in Washington DC and AAPT in Anchorage, Alaska to give talks 2 weeks apart. This was something I’d never really expected – I was just an utterly average scientist working in a mostly instructional role at Harvard. Travel was what the fulltime researchers did, and what the people with “professor” in their title did. My job? I wrote labs on my computer, I built equipment in the machine shop, I fixed the telescope on the roof top, and in my spare time I let my voice play with others online. I wasn’t the one who traveled. But then...

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Universal Education

Universal Education

Here in the USA (or I should say there, since I’m currently in France), education tends to be somewhat nationalistic. It has to be. Teachers are tied to state and federal learning standards and if students don’t learn what is specifically listed in those standards, and specifically tested along those standards, schools are considered to have failed. While the national standards were written with the best of intentions to create a more literate population, they have had a stifling effect on creative teachers and creative learning environments. People like me do what we can to get the “fun stuff” (I’m biased toward thinking Astronomy goes in that fun category) into kids outside of school and I think we’re creating some pretty good things. What is amazing to me...

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Of travel and sleep deprivation

Of travel and sleep deprivation

For the past several days I’ve been watching discussions on the AAVSO discussion list about sleep deprivation. Many of these good folks are good observers who try and combine a night time hobby with a day time job. Live lives of of sleep deprivation and broken circadian rhythms. Over the course of a lifetime, these physical abuses can lead to health problems and even a shortened life. But, as I once read in a James Bond book, some people die before they ever live, and I’d rather live while dying. Astronomy is a way of life. Today, while waiting for a flight to Vienna, I saw one listserv poster (whose name I’m purposely omitting) comment that professional astronomers don’t have it as hard as the amateurs because we get to either be fully on...

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