On Tuesday, windy with rain, heavy at times. High 85. Winds north-northeast at 70 to 90 miles per hour. Winds could occasionally gust over 100 miles per hour.
Monday, August 29, 2005
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
I spent 15 years of my life working in the Information Technology (IT) field. It started when I was in college, and decided that mainframes and the Internet were more interesting than my architecture classes. That was followed by a job as a UNIX PC operator in a pre-press department, a programming job, MIS operations in a data center, help desk, consulting, more programming, systems administration and webmastery, more programming, more systems administration, more consulting...In early 2004, I realized that there weren't a lot of "pure" IT jobs around me - let alone ones I was interested in. I still had (and still have) programming I do, but it's not of a sort tied to actually getting paid. I still had (at that point) consulting work, but it was gradually tapering off. On the other hand, there's a lot of academic and scientific research here, and I knew there were jobs where my knowledge of IT (and things in general) would come in handy. So I looked in that direction (and people in that direction looked at me) and I wound up in situations where I'm the only person without at least a Master's degree - but am also the person with the best understanding of IT and technology in general.
It was (and continues to be) an interesting transition, to say the least. Many of my colleagues continue to work in "pure" IT, though, so I was a little startled to stumble across a New York Times story indicating that "renaissance geeks" - people who have the IT knowledge and skills, but are also knowledgeable or skilled in science, business or other areas - are now a hot commodity.
Of course, I changed paths because I wanted to be where the good work was - not because I thought what I was doing was going to be the next trend. :) But maybe I was a little ahead of the curve, by accident.
Friday, August 19, 2005
Something about my brain thinks of lives (including my own) as a lot less boring if they contain cool or interesting things from more than one column of the menu, so to speak. For example, some people may think being involved in astronomy is interesting, but I'd probably get bored if I didn't also get to do lava hiking, underwater photography and go to meetings as part of academic teams reporting on a wide variety of sciences.
Saturday, August 13, 2005
The observer schedule for this semester had a few "open" nights listed, and I wound up with a whole shift full of them. This means that for the next few nights, I have no idea who I'm working with. So I got to work at 6PM, which is about the earliest anyone would actually ever want to start working. Nobody was there, but I wasn't surprised, only a couple people I work with do start that early.
This is a true story. The names have not been changed to protect the innocent. As more details become known, I may piece together more of what happened, and update this entry. This is the story of five telescopes (including three of the world's largest), a laser, a transformer, and the events of Friday, August 12.It was about 2:30 AM on the 12th when the laser beam at Keck II went off. Gary, the Observing Assistant (that's Keck's name for a telescope operator) called out to the laser spotters and told us it'd be about 20 minutes before they started "lasing" again, so I hopped into the vehicle I'd been using as a windbreak, and tried gamely to keep warm in my jeans, t-shirt, hooded sweatshirt, knit cap, hooded full-body "bunny suit" and 2 layers of gloves. It was a beautiful starry night near the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, but a cold and breezy one.
Twenty minutes later, my "break" was extended by another 15 minutes, but my relief spotter on the west side, Theresa, showed up shortly thereafter. It was time for me to head inside and sleep for about 40 minutes. Theresa mentioned that shortly before she came out, the lights in the lounge had flickered, and the phones had displayed some sort of alert message. I told her the laser should be back on soon, and headed in. As I neared the door, I heard the giant exhaust fans, which suck cool night air through the observatory all night, stop. I'd never heard the stop during operations before.
Inside, I stripped off the bunny suit, sweatshirt, gloves and hat, piled them on the floor as a pillow, and lay down. My walkie-talkie crackled with chatter from the Observing Assistants, Night Assistant and Laser Operator... pretty normal when they've taken the laser offline and are tweaking it. Except they were talking about chillers being offline too. I turned down the volume and went to sleep.
About 3:40, I woke up, and rapidly learned a few things. First, all four spotters (that'd be Theresa and me from the west side, and Ron and Nick from the east side) were inside the building. That meant the laser wasn't going to be back on for a while. Second, my walkie-talkie wasn't shutting up, because thirdly, a whole bunch of stuff wasn't working. I trundled down to the Keck II control room and found Christine, the laser operator, who said there'd been a power problem.
Having run another nearby telescope for almost a year, I knew I had to contact operators at other facilities and determine whether they were affected. I phoned NASA's infrared telescope facility (number memorized), and they said they'd seen no power issues. Then I looked up the number for the United Kingdom's infrared telescope (now memorized) and they said they were fine as well. Both seemed surprised to hear that anyone was having problems. I told Christine the results, and she mentioned them to headquarters, which spurred someone there to call Subaru (Japan's national telescope) - no problems there either.
I noticed that the hallway smelled like diesel exhaust. Obviously the generators were, or had been, on. According to the walkie-talkie, the chillers and "ice wagons" that keep the instruments and laser cool were still offline, along with those exhaust fans and a few other things that really aren't supposed to abruptly stop working. Like an elevator.
By the time I caught up with the non-Christine parts of the night staff, they were huddled around a phone talking to headquarters. Something had gone seriously wrong with the power. Instead of three-phase 480 volts and three-phase 240 volts, they were looking at one phase each of 480, 440, 390, 280, 240 and 220. Their generator wouldn't switch off, because it could tell the power wasn't where it should be. And a bunch of equipment wasn't liking the new and excitingly different voltages. Particularly, it turned out, the pump for the cooling system.
Of course, the designers of the system had included a spare pump on the other side of the pump... but hadn't run wires to it to facilitate easy cutover in the event of an emergency like this. The staff were trying to figure out whether the spare pump would pump glycol in the right direction if they simply switched the wires over to it. Of course, this also involved figuring out where the screwdrivers were, where the wrenches the right size were, and where the voltmeter was, and so on.
I asked if I could be of any help, and they said I could watch, but that they weren't really sure what to do either. I watched for a while, then decided that as a lowly temp agency employee, I probably didn't really belong in the machinery room, and went back to the lounge to check on my fellow spotters. They were all asleep or surfing the web.
Usually, we leave the summit at 6:00. This particular morning, our departure was a half-hour late, and I didn't get home until nearly 8:00. I already knew I had to leave town around 2:00 in the afternoon, go back up to the summit, and top off an instrument at my other job, so I got what sleep I could.
I woke up around 1:30 and checked my email. The NASA division chief had just sent a message to everyone in my department at the university saying that NASA's power was off due to the electric company working on fixing the results of a transformer fire. Blink, blink! I replied (to all) and said that it might be linked to the events at Keck earlier, then I headed up the mountain.
At the mid-level facility, I was informed that around the time I got home, a transformer over by Keck that serves Keck, Subaru, NASA and Canada-France-Hawaii had been found in a rather hot state. (Betcha it started having problems right around 2:30 AM, and that's what made the power to Keck go out of phase!) Fire trucks from the county, and the nearby military base, had been called up to the summit, and once they were done, the electric company had been called, arriving some 5 hours later in typical electric company fashion.
I reached the summit, checked in with my friend Kenyan, a ranger there, and learned that NASA and Canada-France-Hawaii had gotten their power restored, but the electric company was probably still working on Subaru and Keck. Fortunately, the observatory I was working at in the afternoon was on a completely different circuit, so it was unaffected.
Subaru's power wound up being restored about 4:30 PM, after an outage of perhaps 8 hours. NASA and Canada-France-Hawaii were offline from about 8:30 AM to 3:15 PM. Keck... poor Keck. When I left the summit somewhere after 5:00 PM, the electric company trucks were still over there.
The tricky thing about power outages at observatories is that merely restoring power does not make things all better. When the power goes off (or, when the generators run out), the cooling systems go off, and when the cooling systems go off, instruments start warming up. If instruments warm up enough, they become useless until they're pumped back down to vacuum and refilled with liquid nitrogen or pricier yet, liquid helium.
Canada-France-Hawaii, NASA and Subaru were without power for 7-8 hours, and I don't know whether they had enough generator capability to keep their cooling running for that long. Keck was without stable power for somewhere over 14 hours, and their instruments would almost certainly have warmed up in that time. In each case, instruments would have to be properly cooled before nighttime observations could resume.
Overall, it was an exciting, interesting day on the summit, but not at all in a good way.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
This is the last night of seven consecutive nights of work, and of three consecutive nights of work at high elevation, outdoors more than half of the time, in the cold.
Monday, August 8, 2005
Well, the schedule changed a bit.
Saturday, August 6, 2005
Ken's, also called "K-HOP" by locals, has been an institution in Hilo for over 30 years. It provides large amounts of reasonably-priced good food and friendly service, is open 24/7, and its location at 1730 Kamehameha Ave on the corner of Kanoelehua is convenient to the airport and hotels, so a lot of people eat there, often.The cuisine is what you'd get from a three-way crash involving your typical American "diner," a pancake house, and a couple Asian/Pacific Island restaurants. There are burgers and fries. There are pancakes. There are noodles. There's Loco Moco (rice, meat, eggs and gravy).
The menu is lacking in remarkably few areas. The desert selection is a little limited (but most of us don't have any room left for it anyway) and somehow, "chicken strips" or "chicken fingers," a staple at most diners, have managed to be left off. Other than that, though... page after page of choices.
In addition to the cuisine showing a local touch, many menu items use locally grown ingredients. Local salad greens, grass-finished beef and fresh fish are readily available and staples at Hilo's more expensive restaurants, and Ken's uses them as well.
So I've been a customer of BigCreditCompany for a decade now. A good customer. Lately I've even been paying electronically, much to their delight. So when I was working too much around the end of June and beginning of July and flaked on the bill, they called me up in mid-July and had me do it over the phone, no worries. Good, yeah?
Wednesday, August 3, 2005
...and for a change, it's not the fault of my daughter, whose initials are T.B.
July 25, 2005: Four Boy Scouts leaders are electrocuted at the National Boy Scout Jamboree in Virginia when the metal pole of a tent they're erecting touches power lines. Three other adults are injured.
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