Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Celestial Revelation

So we are on vacation at the lake. And so, being far away from larger cities, I decided to pack my tripod, telescope and other optical gear.
This was a 10 min timelapse of Polaris. As you probably know, everything spins along this axis, which makes for interesting pictures. Also a reason why even computerize, autoguiding scopes altazimuth mounts (like mine) will not suffice for timelapse photography and why I'm trying to convince my wife I need an equatorial mount (which not only moves the scope on 2-axes but also rotates it).
 But perhaps the biggest revelation to me, in all my years of being a geek and loving astronomy, is this was the first time EVER I was able to visualize the Milky Way with the naked eye. It's not very striking (still some light pollution) but it was certainly visible quite easily. You see it in this picture, running down the middle of the picture, seemingly as though there are some patchy splotches. There is a also a star cluster at the top; Cassiopeia is also in it, though the 10 second exposure makes all the stars show more brightly so the W shape is not easily seen.
In this picture, you can see the Andromeda galaxy at the left of the picture, as a small whitish blot. This is the closest spiral galaxy to ours. The Milky way is seeing in the right 1/3, with a streak from a lucky shot of a shooting star.
It was pretty damn cool seeing the Milky Way. Sometimes, when one is troubled by our earthly worries, looking up at the celestial bodies does give you a fresh perspective on things. That in reality, as huge as our problems might seem, we are just a tiny planet of the millions (?) out there. That perhaps our troubles are not as big as they seem.
It does also make one wonder. Is there life out there? The scientist in me is 100% sure. With the sheer number of stars out there, the probability of life beyond Earth becomes a certainty. And yet, one has to wonder. Who created all this? Is there a Higher Power out there?
Despite being on vacation I got less sleep than usual last night. I went to bed at midnight, and woke up at 4AM. Was it worth it?
EVERY.DAMN.MINUTE.
(Ask me again in 2 hours when I'm about to pass out!)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Football Practice

Or soccer, as these Americans would call it (after all, everywhere else in the world it's called football!).
And why do THEY call their version FOOTBALL anyway? They're always HOLDING their "Ball". And it's not even round, for God's sake.
Anyway, I digress.
Alli had her very first football (I'm being stubborn, but though I've been here 12 years I'm going to stick with my roots) practice today.
 It was great fun watching her. Though it was probably more amusing/frustrating seeing how she was so excited the night before that she wore her shinguards to sleep. But when she realized she actually had to work and run during the game, it quickly became "I'm so tired. I'm so hungry!"
Nonetheless, it was a nice Saturday morning for us- at least 50 families converged on the field for practice, with several games going on simultaneously. Though I was never into sports growing up (explains why I'm so short and unfit now), it's something I'd want my kids to enjoy.
Week 1 down. We'll see if the drama queen gets into it better next week!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

(Belated) Birthday Present

I got a drone from Kristin for my birthday. Well, strictly speaking, I returned the one she gave me, and got this instead (because the other one did not have a video function).
It's been a blast so far, though I'm still learning how to fly this sucker, and I've already lost a prop.
This is the Hubsan X4- an entry-level UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) the size of an open palm. It also takes a microSD card which allows for SD video (no audio). It's RC controlled via a 2.4 Ghz remote, which unlike some of the wifi-controlled ones, in theory gives you a longer range.
In theory. This is so small that if you fly it too far you're not going to be able to see your heading, and would be apt to lose it easily. Also the battery flight time is only about 7 mins.
But, it's a blast, and for only $50, I'd say it's a great bargain and a great toy especially for one's first foray into these things.
Will need to work on my flying before I get to do more. I took out one of the motors today on its 3rd video flight >_<
Luckily these things are modular, and ordering another motor was just $11.
  video
 

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Moon Cake Festival

One thing that I find challenging, being a Malaysian dad with an American wife and daughters is the lack of tradition. Not that there is a paucity of Western cultures and traditions, just that I think it's human nature to want to impart to our kids the things we did growing up. The games we played, foods we ate, the festivities we took part in.
And so, came this Moon Cake festival, I was determined to try share some of my childhood activities with the kids.
I had to resort to Amazon to find the lanterns; my surprise I wasn't able to find them in the Asian stores here. I discovered that while the MidAutumn festival is celebrated in numerous countries, it appears that the part about the lanterns is unique to Malaysia?
I spent some time today telling Alli about what we did; how mom and dad would take us out to pick out our lanterns, and being a Dragon that would usually be my pick. I remember that big-ass lantern I got that one year. How we would light up little colored candles and stick them in, and carried the lanterns on bamboo sticks and walked around the neighborhood at night. Found some pictures on the internet to show her, and reminisced my childhood.
I remember the foods we'd eat. Of course, the infamous moon cake. Something I never really appreciated growing up. But now, now that I'm so far away from my other home, I crave it perhaps in a feeble attempt to relive those experiences (I can't believe I actually paid RM22 for a single mooncake!). I told Alli the stories mom told me, of how the people of the Ming dynasty used to hide messages in the cakes to plan their fight against the Mongolian invaders- don't know if they're historically accurate, but it was still a neat story.
I also remember those things mom used to make- I have no clue what they are, but they were black shells of something that was shaped like a cow's head, with some starchy white filling inside (anyone knows what they are?).
Anyway, the girls had perhaps a few fleeting moments of fun with the lanterns, and that was about it. In a silly sort of way, there is a certain tinge of sadness, knowing your kids will never appreciate the things you did as a child, but then again this is to be expected growing up in a totally different world. And the mooncakes, well, let's just say they didn't fall in love with it! >_<
Maybe next year. Happy Moon cake festival, guys!

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

A Sign

I don't want to suddenly post a very spiritual entry, but I just wanted to share what happened today. Just another sign, methinks, of the Guy upstairs watching over you, and giving you exactly what you need.
It's been a busy call week, with some challenging patients. Perhaps in part some in the hospital happened to be people I have known for years. Some very sick DKAs. Marked hypercalcemia 17.5 mg/dL. And huge pituitary macros. Stuff like that.
With one particularly sick patient, I had been fretting and worrying over her. It's true what they say- doctors do take their work home with them, and I had a very restless night thinking about her, second guessing my treatment plan, and worried she was going to deteriorate.
And so, as I was finishing up rounds in Hospital A, and walked out to the carpark to drive to Hospital B, a random stranger stopped me.
"Are you Dr. Vagus?" she asked.
I nodded, somewhat confused.
She gave me a bearhug and got teary-eyed.
"You saved my husband's life 4 years ago. You saw him and diagnosed him with that pheochromocytoma, and got him stable enough to have surgery. It has been years, but we think about you often, and how grateful we are to have had you...."
I was somewhat flabbergasted- at how she recognized me from 4 years ago, and was humbled by her words. But what I was most shocked with was how, on this day when I felt like I had all the burdens of the world on my shoulder, how breathing literally caused my heart to ache from the worries, how timely it was to have someone come and just with those words, suddenly make those worries and fears evaporate. It was exactly what I needed, and I do believe it was more than coincidence. That this was some divine intervention.
I thanked her for the kind words, and asked about her family. I then walked to my car, shut the door, and for those 10 seconds, just let some tears come down.
And just like that, I felt better.
There is a God. I'm sure of it.