Author Archive for admin

Georges Island: done

I continued my efforts to be a combination tourist/local by making a trip out into Boston harbour today. It has a whole bunch of islands, some of which were used for strategic defence in the mid 1800’s. There is a ferry service out there; a cat that goes pretty fast compared to what I’m used to…

Fort Warren is on Georges Island, and is impressive with a massive volume of granite and brick used in its construction. Note the very nice granite staircase… and this was just for a foward defence point, not fancy officers quarters or anything.

Fort Warren marble staircase

The fort has some really cool dark passages. I wandered down one using my camera flash to find an old powder magazine. A huge room totally isolated so it wouldn’t blow up unexpectedly, they used to line the walls with timber so no sparks could be generated when people brushed the walls with their finery.

One of the more recent additions to the harbour island visit points is Spectacle Island, which once had a rendering factory and was then a dump for Boston. During the Big Dig, they buried it under the excavated dirt, and turned it into a 150ft high island with trees. For now it looks very new, kind of the opposite of some of the ‘artificial’ lakes in NZ, but in a few years when the trees grow it’ll be lovely. Apparently it’s a pretty good spot to watch the sun set behind the city as it is now…

Photos here

or a word I coulddn't spell…

a mug. you really need to see it to get the joke

Spring has sprung

Spring has come on quickly here. Just over a month ago there was a snowstorm, and now the trees are leafing up and there is grass. This is the view out my bedroom window. I’ll take one every few days and make a year round montage like the one I did for the construction of the AITC at Mt Stromlo.

the view out my window in Boston

The grass has been encouraged heavily, the harvard gardeners are evidently under strict instruction to re-sow the lawns as soon as possible to keep the tourists who come to touch John Harvard’s foot happy. If only they knew what the students did to it

Black Sheep: done (well not done…)

I went with some people to see the movie Black Sheep recently, it was everything I expected it to be. It had blood, my old mate Nathan as the lead, and of course sheep jokes.

movie ticket

Thanks, Independent Film Festival of Boston!

Butchering Planet Earth

So the other day I watched one of the excellent BBC Planet Earth series on my computer, awesome.

Now I see the same episode here on American TV. they have replaced Sir David Attenborough‘s lovely narration with an American woman, and cut bits out so it feels rushed. Not so awesome.

World Cup Cricket Final 2007

Oh dear… what a mess, just not cricket…

A large number of Aussies (and some Kiwis) gathered at Tommy Doyles Irish pub (where were the pies?) in Cambridge to check out the final of the cricket. Following a scintillating innings by Gilchrist, Sri Lanka struggled to keep up with the run rate.

In the end there were some communication issues and the game ended in the dark (and we were in the dark about what was happening…).

About time the Aussies gave someone else a go I think.

Boston's Freedom Trail: done

I have now done my first really touristy thing here in Boston, walking the Freedom Trail. It’s a trail that pretty much goes through the middle of Boston, passing a number of iconic monuments, buildings, graveyards, and places to spend money.

Before leaving I found a podcast which gave me some guidance, saving me the embarrassment of wandering along the trail with someone in an old fashioned get-up shouting at me.

Here’s an example of an old building sitting in the middle of the city…

old building in new city

The rest of the photos are here

Custom internet radio.

I think there are a few things out there like this, the one I found (thanks Goldie) is Pandora.

Give it an artist or song you like and it goes off and finds music of a similar ilk. It’s been pretty clever with what I’ve asked it for so far…

John Digweed Radio

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Radio

Georgia: done

I made my first foray into the south last week, with a trip to Atlanta to see Nick and Michele get married. As soon as they did that we went away for a week, first driving almost all the way to Florida to visit Okefenokee and Cumberland Island. Then we drove all the way up to the north, to stay in the foothills of the Appalachians and see a fake German town

Awesome trip! This google map shows roughly where we went

Photos here.

A typical day at the CfA…

So I imagine people wondering, what is a typical day at Harvard-CfA like for Grant? Here is my ‘typical’ day…

So after wandering down to school through a crisp morning with patches of snow, I find there are some people I know passing through. I go and meet Anna who lives in Texas, and also see Martin and Ken from Australia. I then go to a talk by a guy from Caltech who does cool theoretical planet work, and later to a talk by another guy who does cool observational planet work. Finally I go out to dinner with more people who do things I’m interested in. And the best thing: dinner was free, thanks ITC!

Meeting three or four people in a day who do research directly related to what I do is very cool, and hasn’t even come close to happening in two years in Australia.

Of course some days I just sit at my desk at play with my computer…

St Patrick's day in Boston

Boston is apparently the most Irish city in the USA. They make the most of this by having a huge parade through South Boston each year, which all those not too hungover from the Saturday night before attend. Halvar and I didn’t fall into that category so of we went.

It was pretty cold standing around watching various police, army, schools, local youth, and lots of guns of varying degrees of reality being wielded with varying degrees of sobriety parading past.

The best photo I took was of Dorothy’s mate the Tin Man. I missed the reasoning behind the costumes but they were handing out green lollies, which was god enough for me…

tin man

Highlight of the day was a guy in the parade spotting some kids in a back yard shooting hoops, requesting a ball, and downing a ‘nothing but net’ three from the street. He knew it was good the instant it left his hands and was twenty meters away by the time it went in. Nice.

Pics are here.

Snow and cricket

Today it snowed. A lot. In fact it’s still snowing outside right now. There is a nice little snow bank building up next to the fence and there’s a weird light outside as if the sun didn’t quite go all the way down.

I left school a bit after 2pm and watched the second innings of NZ vs. England live from the Caribbean in a reasonably warm bar with cold beer. I can now say I’ve trekked through snow to watch cricket…

halv + snow

This is Halvar outside after the game. He’s doing thumbs up because we beat the poms.

New Zealand is too small…

So I arrive in Boston, and my friends show me a photo of a poster for a new movie, Black Sheep. I look at the picture for a second, and then realise I grew up about two doors down from the lead actor. We used to skate together back in the day…

movie poster

movie poster

Nice one Nathan!

Importing Thunderbird emails into Apple Mail

I wasted a lot of time trying to import mail from Windows XP Thunderbird into Apple Mail. I found a failsafe (well twice) way to totally crash my new Macbook Pro by trying to import mail when I’d already done so.

Eventually I found Eudora Mailbox Cleaner, which pretty much does everything. The only extra step is to go through and rebuild all the imported mailboxes. It didn’t do a totally perfect job, missing one folder for some reason, but otherwise worked beautifully.


It was really cold today, like -10degC. How does it get that cold? I survived the 25 minute walk to school ok, though I was glad to be in the warm when I arrived…

I’m getting settled in somewhat, at school anyway now that I’ve almost run out of procrastination type things to stop me from doing some science for a change.


I made it! After various delays in flights, and rather longer visits to Auckland and LAX airports than I’d hoped, I arrived in Boston on the red-eye at 7am. There was snow all over the place as we flew in, and the city looked rather grey and concrete-like.

I followed Halvar’s directions to Harvard, and walked a rather long distance to the Center for Astrophysics. I then met my officemate, and eventually my supervisor. It was a little weird after already talking to him for a year and a half, but good too. I can’t use the “I haven’t met my supervisor joke anymore however..”

I am now in P342, with my supervisor a few doors down. I’m not sure that I’ll actually talk to him more than in the past, but at least it will be in person!

I didn’t really feel like I’d arrived until I saw my first squirrel…

You can see where my office is at this link. The satellite image was taken during summer I think…

Getting closer…

The flight from Auckland eventually left at something like half-past midnight. Our plane was broken or something, apparently nothing unfixable since I’ve made it as far as Los Angeles. I missed my connecting flight like everyone else, but Qantas have been good at rebooking people onto new ones.

My rebooked flight has an associated five hour wait, and there isn’t all that much to do here apart from internet and food. I did get given USD$19 to spend at a restaurant here, which I will do since I’m getting a little peckish and American Airlines don’t feed their passengers I hear.

Tomorrow in Boston is supposed to be 2degC, quite bearable probably.

Delayed flights and expensive internet

Wonderful Auckland International Airport. As I sit here next to a food machine people are leaving Gate 10 in droves. Apparently the flight has been delayed further to a departure time of 23:00, rather later than the scheduled time of 19:40. Instead of leaving I’ve so far chosen to sit and surf for something like NZD$10 an hour on my shiny new macbook pro. As an AIA shareholder I’m a little disappointed, though I’m sure there are bigger forces at work…

This isn’t exactly the start I was hoping for on my big trip to the USA. I did expect to go through security multiple times, which I have. I did expect large queues, which I got. I hoped to get away without anyone checking how much my road case with two laptops weighs, which is did.

In my absence Canberra has been inundated with an awesome hailstorm. ANU has closed for the next few days to clean up the mess!

Aus-VO Summer School

I’ve just spent three days in Sydney at the Aus-VO Summer School learning about the programming language python, and the capabilities of the ‘virtual observatory’. About 50 people sat in a room, all with laptops in front of them and tapped away, with breaks for nice food in between!

the rest of the geeks

got my visa!

There’s no backing out now, I just got my J-1 visa to go to the USA for a year! It hasn’t actually arrived in the mail yet so I don’t want to count my chickens, but Harvard-CfA here I come!

Sydney Big Day Out 07

I went to my first Big Day Out this week and it was huge! Thousands upon thousands (~55,000 in fact) of flag wearing Aussies made their way to the home of the 2000 Olympics to watch such acts as Muse, Tool, Jet, Lily Allen, John Butler etc. etc. I had a lovely day though was a little sore in the back by the time we got back to the hostel at about 2am.

We arrived nice and early, having already visited ATMS, thus avoiding any transport and 50m ATM queue woes. The audio provided by Jands was largely impressive, the stacks of 760’s in the Boiler Room sounded as clear and solid as anything I’ve heard before.

My favourite act of the day is hard to pick. James Taylor played some nice breaks, though very early in the day unfortunately. John Butler and his Trio had a banner saying ‘Nuclear Free Australia’ and encouraged people to vote in between paying an excellent set. Muse were awesome and energetic, with a good light show to go with. Tool were ok though I’m not a major fan… Shapeshifter have a singer now, and still at their best sans singer going fast with talented drummer and loud synth riffs.

Other highlights include the shiny solar-powered ‘Clubtainer’ in Lilyworld, and the walk-in pinhole camera…

After such a long day, we went for BK back in town and a wind-down beer at a quiet pub. Thanks Mary, Sayuri, Wolfi, and Emma for a rock ‘n’ roll day.

Photo will appear here soon.

Comet McNaught

A comet discovered by Rob McNaught at Siding Spring Observatory is nearing the sun in about a week. It will be at its brightest around the 15th Jan, when it will appear as in the image below (though a little later when the sun has set!). More information can be found on this page.

software image of comet location

Calendar of events for Big Day Out 2007 in Sydney

I’ve made a google calendar for the BDO07 which one can subscribe to via right clicking the following links:

xml | ical

I would suggest copying these into your own google calendar and setting up mobile notifications so you can get texts for each band on the day! The calendar is at this link.

Watch this space for edits…

New Year Trip

Coming back from the new year in Melbourne I drove home the long way around the coast, about twice the distance but more than twice as beautiful! I stayed a night just south of the NSW/Vic border on the Princes Hwy at a place called Wallagaraugh Retreat. A nice camping ground next to a river with tonnes of space and not too many people.

Photos here

Mmmm pie…

For some reason BP in New Zealand have a thing about selling pies…

pie ad

Playing possum

This is what we do to possums in NZ…

chalky digits sticker

Otago central rail trail trip

Last week Nick, Michelle, Ewan and myself travelled the Otago Central Rail Trail for four days by bicycle. It’s an old railway (now unused like many sadly) which has been converted into a cycle and walking track for use by the public. We covered 140km in the four days, enjoying pub food and freezing southerly winds along the way.

Photos now up!

Isn't this scrabble?

I came across this wonderful new game in a backpackers in Oturehua called “Funworder”. You get these tiles and have to lay them out on a grid where you get points according to the letters and where you place them. Seems a little familiar but can’t quite place where I’ve seen the idea before…

all real words I ensure you

Ewan put a few words out, note the triple word score for “spaz”…

Crappy fix-it job

If you thought you already knew what crappy handyman workmanship looked like maybe you should think again. This is a little gem from a pretty average backpackers in Middlemarch, in Central Otago in beautiful New Zealand.


Mt Stromlo on the rebuild III

Three years later the burnt out domes are getting repainted, they look very white!

very white indeed

What I see riding my bike to school

I see some wonderful sights as I ride back and forth from town to Mt Stromlo. Below is one of the recent highlights…

rednecks in aussie? no!

Mt Stromlo on the rebuild II

Work is well underway on rebuilding the Commonwealth Solar Observatory (CSO), where people here used to have bbq’s every second week. The painted silver domes have been unveiled recently, and look very shiny!


Late nights at xmas06

After each day of the xmas06 talks, many of us had a great time enjoying a few beverages and catching up. Russell and Deanna came all the way from Queensland and Melbourne respectively, and a number of Sydneysiders completed the excellent group of social astronomers that were let loose on an unsuspecting Canberra.

Cheers for two awesome and funny 4am nights guys, I might have won the iPod with and early night but it wouldn’t have been as much fun.

Deanna’s photos here, mine here

Stromlo Student Seminars

The 4th annual Stromlo Student Seminars were held Thursday and Friday last week, and were a resounding success.

Thanks to all those who made the effort to come from elsewhere and contribute to a great couple of days of student science.

See this post for notes on the social side of things…

So long for continental weather…

Last week it snowed, today it’s 34 degrees and there’s a total fire ban. Nice

cn u pass nz exms?

I sometimes wonder about my kiwi education. I think I missed out by not doing history and geography, but it appears my ability to (mostly) spell words properly may become a real asset.

If kids have to resort to speaking ‘txt’ in exams then something is wrong. Why not have Vodafone and Telecom block text messages that aren’t written in full proper english? Since I’ve always made the effort to use real words that would be awesome…

Here’s a few articles: first one | the fallout

Mt Stromlo on the rebuild!

We have recently had our new Advanced Instrumentation and Technology Center (AITC) opened. I’ve been watching it come together from my office window, and put together a little time lapse animation of photos taken with my phone.

Have a look at the animation here (19Mb).

my room's view

cricket: game three

This week saw our way to an easy victory, and my first catch of the season! I started out very shaky with the ball wobbling in a disturbing way after passing the bat, and giving myself a rather blue finger. I had it together by the time the first catch came however…

Three more catches followed as we kept the opposition to a paltry 129. Our pom Ian smashed 28 off a single over on his way to 75 not out and an early beer when we finished around 4:30.

Running stats:
batting total: 56
average: 28
catches dropped: 1
catches gloved: 4
byes: about 10
bruises: 4
times fainted: 0

more press release madness

On Monday an ANU press release went out and all hell broke loose. Well I did three radio interviews and made it onto PM, Radio National’s evening news which is quite an achievement aparrently.

My 15 minutes of fame is now over. There are a bunch of links to how my story got pasted over the internet on my PhD publications page.

It even made it into Nature’s research highlights!

cricket: game two

Our team crashed back to earth with a fairly lame defeat on Saturday. It was a freezing day and we scored a paltry 170ish, of which I only contributed 19. I also broke my bat somewhat thanks to a series of excellent yorkers from the guy who eventually bolwed me, doh!

For the record:

Running stats:
batting total: 56
average: 28
catches dropped: 1
catches gloved: 0
byes: about 10
bruises: 3
times fainted: 0

cricket: game one

This was the first game in many years…

It was a terribly windy day down at the Mint, about 30 degrees and a bit of a rough day for my re-introduction to the classic game that is cricket.

With our team batting first, I had to wait until the final ten overs to have a hit. I managed a thigh bruising 37 not out before we had to stop for a spot of lunch (which I neglected to bring)

Already tired and hungry, we went out to field, with me keeping wickets for the first time in about ten years. My aim was to let less than 12 byes past, that allowing for three lots of four byes. Instead I kept it to a measly four, though I think the umpires missed a few. I almost had a clean catching slate, but failed to glove a pretty simple chance keeping up to an offspinner.

Overall I was pretty happy with the game, I didn’t faint after approximately 240 crouches and could still walk the next day (though the stairs were a little difficult).

Running stats:
batting total: 37
average: 37
catches dropped: 1
catches gloved: 0
byes: 4
bruises: 2
times fainted: 0

snowy super-Earth press release

The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) have put out a press release relating to our recently accepted ‘super-Earth’ paper (astro-ph/0609140, ApJL). It’s also on Universe today which is very cool.

This blog has rewritten what happens and makes some good points about what a super-Earth really is, and about disk masses which do have a wide range. Our model uses a disk that is reasonably massive, for this and dynamical reasons we don’t expect planets much larger than ~5 Earth masses to form in this manner.

There are even a few sites I’ve never heard of that have the release: Spaceflight Now, and Space Daily.

It seems a tad unfortunate that today a light plane crashed into an apartment building in Manhattan. It’s probably best when press releases go out on ‘no news’ days… (because this is obviously front page news)

In case you’re wondering, below is an artists image of a super-Earth, an icy planet several times further away from a dim ‘red dwarf’ star than the Earth is from the Sun.

it really does look like this

back to the drawing board

This is the coolest whiteboard ever! The guy doesn’t seem all that excited about it unfortunately.

If you remember spending hours playing that old school game The Incredible Machine then you’ll love this…

and Trevor Mallard

the start of summer

Hannah, Michelle and I marked the start of summer by spending as much time in my car as we did on the beach in the first trip to the coast of the season. A lazy two hour drive to Batemans Bay and several hours spent lying in the sun, followed by the two hour return was a great way to while away the public holiday that was Monday.


footy finals fever

This time of year will always be dear to me, since it marks my birthday, the beginning of nice weather and the afl grand final. We spent a beautiful Saturday inside glued to a(nother) close run nail-biter between two teams from places other than Victoria, where the game originated.

In the end the West Coast won, by a single point, making something like a total of 12 points total difference scored between the two teams in their last several encounters.

We made it outside between quarters to kick around a small McDonalds footy and had a BBQ after.

cats on Mars?

I thought the Astronomy Picture of the Day today looked like the face of a cat when it turned up in my google desktop plugin.


Upon opening the real APOD page it turned out to be ‘the unusual stone mesas of the Cydonia region on Mars’.

Oh well

Is doing a PhD really that bad?

I can’t help but wonder whether all the worry about doing a PhD (like this, and this for example) is self perpetuating. Everyone thinks it’s going to be a killer from day one, and reads comics that promote this, rather than ones that are just naturally awesome

I don’t have to sit at my computer all the time (though I do sometimes).
I get paid plenty.
My supervisor is really nice.
I like what I’m doing.
Everyone at my school is nice too.
I have time to go to the beach in summer.
I also have time to do silly things.

What is everyone so worried about? So far it’s been a fun time where I get paid to learn stuff, I even have a few bucks left over to buy iPod, digital SLR, cellphone, car, holidays, bling etc…

PARSA 'Bling' Ball


That was the theme of the PARSA extravaganza (aka ball) this year, and there was plenty of cheap jewelery to be seen. Much of it from the ‘fun’ shop in town. I met a dude in awesome while tails that had the very same ‘888’ ring as me.

Congrats to the PARSA social team for organising such a fun event, cheers!

nice huh?


This is the last thing I’ll add while I’m at Parkes, I promise.

I got an excellent tour of the Dish this morning. We climbed on the edge of the dish and took a ride up to zenith, and then climbed up to the focus cabin. The view from up there is spectacular. I’ve never taken so many photos

the dish

thanks, international talk like a pirate day

I always thought ‘keelhaul’ was pirate for ‘kill all’, but apparently not. Thanks to the originators I have learned somthing, wow.

This image has probably been posted all over the interweb, but it’s so good I couldn’t help it.