of birthdays and brownies

You say it’s your birthday
It’s my birthday too–yeah
They say it’s your birthday
We’re gonna have a good time
I’m glad it’s your birthday
Happy birthday to you.

Yes we’re going to a party party
Yes we’re going to a party party
Yes we’re going to a party party

My birthday started in my time zone while I was in the middle of trying to figure out what was going wrong with some C++ code I’d written to calculate the gamma-ray optical depth of SN Ia ejecta. Lots of annoying bookkeeping. Sometime around 5 AM I discovered finally that the subtler and worse problems by far lay in my assumptions about the form of the input, rather than the code not working as I had intended it to work. It was almost 6 AM, with the sun and birds waking up, when I finally collapsed into bed for a three-hour nap — but I did at least have the satisfaction of seeing my code work as advertised!

The night before I had been baking brownies. Stromlo tradition has it that the goodies at morning tea on Thursdays are supplied by one of the staff, and I was signed up for “Home Bake” this Thursday. I made two batches of my mom’s famous espresso fudge brownies, one with chopped almonds and the other with chocolate chips. They were a bit overbaked and therefore crumbly, but the taste was still right on. They were mostly devoured, but I got to save a few leftovers for my non-astronomer friends in Oz. (Thanks Mom!)

I had a productive two-hour-long discussion with my colleague Fang Yuan about the Skymapper subtraction pipeline, which we’re in the process of designing now. We may have a very preliminary (but mildly functional) mock-up by end of next week. Exciting! The sounds of science being done!

Today’s RSAA colloquium by Jason Spyromilio, on the design and impending construction of ESO’s new Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), was interesting and accessible but I fear I didn’t retain much of it due to lack of sleep. One thing I remember being impressed about was how very knowledgeable he was about a variety of topics, from the ground acceleration in earthquakes to the speed with which really big matrices can be inverted to how much piezoelectric actuators cost and who builds them. The E-ELT will have a primary mirror 42 meters in diameter, and the whole mount and the building in which it will be housed wouldn’t fit on an American football field, so being the head of that project must be an enormous undertaking. I’d like to post more about the E-ELT and other really big telescope projects, but I’ll save that for later when I’m not posting about fluffy (though pleasant) things like my birthday instead.

After the colloquium there was afternoon tea, where I was sung to, fed more brownies (really good ones too! — and in a different way from Mom’s) and presented with several entirely lovely items: a card signed by my co-workers, a chocolate wombat which could compete with any bunny, and a selection of what looks to be fine literature. I will now be set for at least the next five transcontinental plane flights I take, hopefully soon (May/June)!

My excellent good friend Kathryn took me out to dinner at Thirst, a trendy Thai restaurant and wine bar in Civic. It’s surely the best Thai food I’ve yet had anywhere in Oz, a conviction shared by Kathryn. We got the red pineapple curry and the pad thai, both with tofu, as well as an excellent dry Riesling (Printhie MCC 2010). It was somewhere in here that my uber-caffeinated, hyper-sugared overdrive state came slowly grinding to a halt. After a very pleasant hour and a half we both rode our respective bikes home.

One last thing: when I finally opened that package Mom sent two weeks ago (which I’d been saving for today), I found an elegant blue-green scarf, thick with crisscrossing cable patterns. I can’t take a picture of it by myself which is likely to do it justice, but I’ll be modeling it for some upcoming shots so the world will get the chance to see it. (Thanks again Mom!)


About Richard

I'm an American scientist who is building a new life in Australia. This space will contain words about science and math, but also philosophy, policy, literature, my travels, occasional rants, all sorts of things I find strange and awesome. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my employer at the time (currently University of Sydney), though personally, I think they should.
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