Across the room from my desk is a large cabinet full of blueprints and sepia prints. Stacks of large prints that represent the original drawings from which the W. M. Keck Observatory was constructed. Floor plans, foundation plans, the structural steel of the telescope itself.

The original blueprints by which Keck Observatory was constructed
The prints are in many ways works of art. Often drawn by hand these old prints represent a lost skill, the art of the draughtsman from before computers irreversibly changed the profession. Impeccably neat lettering, an arcane menagerie of symbols, coded shading to represent different materials, it takes time just to learn to read these drawings properly.

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The First Sweet Potato

Late last fall I put a new vegetable bed into use. After several years of accumulating compost and shoveling cinder soil I actually have something like real soil in a large enough quantity to call a vegetable garden.

One of the first things planted were sweet potatoes. Deb and I love the local purple sweet potatoes. The Okinawan variety is a favorite through the islands and has become a staple on our table as well, usually purchased from local growers at the farmers market.

Knowing that these are pretty easy to grow I gave it a try. I planted a ten by ten area with half a dozen slips and arranged a soaker hose that runs on the automatic drip system. It was not long before I had green foliage popping up. The potato patch certainly looks healthy enough, the plants thriving in the Waikoloa sunlight. The patch quickly became a heavy tangle of vines with pretty white and purple flowers.

Sweet Potato Tuber
A single enormous Okinawan sweet potato tuber from our garden.
This weekend I finally decided to do a trial run at digging up a plant to see what I have… To my stunned amazement I have not a pile of little tubers, but one giant tuber right underneath the main plant. What the heck is this?

This thing was huge, six inches long and five inches in diameter, weighing several pounds. There was enough in this single tuber for several meals!

Consider the usual Okinawan sweet potato is an inch or two in diameter and four or five inches long. Why is this so different? The starting stock for my potato patch was quite typical, just a few Okinawans I had bought at the farmers market and set aside for planting. I expected to get much the same out of the ground, not this giant.

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Vernal Equinox

The vernal or spring equinox occurs today at 00:29HST. Today there will be little difference between the length of the night when counted against the number of daylight hours. This is the first day of spring as marked by many cultures in the northern hemisphere.

2017 Solstices and Equinoxes
Perihelion Jan 4 14:18UT Jan 4 04:18HST
Vernal Equinox Mar 20 10:29UT Mar 20 00:29HST
Summer Solstice Jun 21 04:24UT Jun 20 18:24HST
Apehelion Jul 3 20:11UT Jul 3 10:11HST
Autumnal Equinox Sep 22 20:02UT Sep 22 10:02HST
Winter Solstice Dec 21 16:28UT Dec 21 06:28HST
Source: USNO data Services


It is not supposed to do that…

When 700 tons of steel and aluminum just keeps going when it is commanded to stop people tend to notice. When you let up on the switch it is supposed to stop, when that something is the Keck 1 telescope dome it gets interesting.

Snow Day
Looking across at the Keck 1 dome from the top of Keck 2 with Mauna Loa in the background
The first I knew about it was from John, our summit supervisor on the phone. Actually he had several folks on his end using the speakerphone, never a good sign when a phone call from the summit starts this way.

Three people describing a problem on the phone is a bit confusing, it takes a few minutes, and a few questions before I have a clear idea of what happened. Basically the dome did not stop when commanded to while they were operating with the radio controller, a bit of kit we call Capt. Marvel.

Of course a few minutes later our safety officer walks into my office… I wonder what she wants to talk about?

Yeah, I probably need to figure this out.

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Milky Way Gallery

A Python Ping Tester

We have been having a lot of short network dropouts lately, something that is rather troubling when playing online games.

The GUI for a little ping tester tracking the stability of our household internet.
The GUI for a little ping tester tracking the stability of our household internet.
I was wondering just how prevalent the issue is, just how good or bad is the service at any given moment. I know I can download any number of network testing utilities, but what is the fun in that? Maybe just write something!

The little app is a Python/Tk gui. It simply pings an IP address and plots the results. The program is nothing serious, but it does the job. I have included the Python code below, a simple example of a Tk GUI.

The code is written for Python 3.5 or better as it uses the method that was introduced with 3.5. This method just makes getting the stdio output so much easier. There are native ping libraries available for Python, they do require running the script in administrator to allow low level socket use. By using a subprocess I avoid that, if not quite as neat a solution.

Any IP address can be pinged, I am currently using which is a Google DNS server. Using this server pretty much guarantees the issue is the local network, not an issue at the server end.

The results? Our local net is not looking too bad. There are periods when a cluster of dropouts occur, each lasting a minute or two. You can see one of these on the screen cap above. Fortunately these are unusual and not the norm… At least so far. I may update that evaluation when I get more data.

Tragedy on Mauna Kea

First word came through a mountain staff mailing list used to let everyone know about safety conditions of the mauna…

Mauna Kea Wreck
A wrecked Toyota pickup truck about a mile below Hale Pohaku

Hawaii police dept. requests the public to avoid the Maunakea access road for the next 4 to 6 hours due to a major traffic accident. This accident is below the VIS on the access road. One lane is currently open going down the road.
– Mahalo from the VIS staff

Reading between the lines it is quickly obvious that this was a fatal accident and the police are doing a full investigation, the usual reason for such a long closure. Sure enough a notification soon came through the local emergency services alert system on my phone…

AVOID the Mauna Kea Access Road for the next 4 to 6 hours due to a major traffic accident. The entire roadway above the visitor center is closed while police conduct an investigation. – HPD Notification

A few more details showed up as messages flew back and forth on Facebook, this really is a small island sometimes. Knowing I would be up the next morning I expected to get the details first hand at breakfast.

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NASA Study Using Keck Telescope Hints at Possible Change in Water ‘Fingerprint’ of Comet

W. M. Keck Observatory press release

A trip past the sun may have selectively altered the production of one form of water in a comet – an effect not seen by astronomers before, a new NASA study suggests.

C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy & M45
Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy passing by the Pleiades star cluster
Astronomers from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, observed the Oort cloud comet C/2014 Q2, also called Lovejoy, when it passed near Earth in early 2015. Through NASA’s partnership in the W. M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, the team observed the comet at infrared wavelengths a few days after Lovejoy passed its perihelion – or closest point to the sun.

Scientists from NASA’s Goddard Center for Astrobiology observed the comet C/2014 Q2 – also called Lovejoy – and made simultaneous measurements of the output of H2O and HDO, a variant form of water. This image of Lovejoy was taken on Feb. 4, 2015 – the same day the team made their observations and just a few days after the comet passed its perihelion, or closest point to the sun.

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