What do I do?

As promised last time here is a bit of a description of what I do for a living, which also marks the first entry in the Astronomy section of the blog. Since November 1st I’ve been working for the UK ALMA regional centre or UK ARC for short as a Post Doctoral Research Associate.

First of all what is ALMA? ALMA stands for Atacama Large Millimetre/sub-millimetre Array, which when complete will be an array of around 60 12m telescopes combined into what is known as an interferometer.

Telescopes get better resolution the larger the diameter of the dish (or mirror if you like the optical wavelengths) but for the kinds of resolutions astronomers want nowadays building telescopes big enough becomes a practical impossibility, not to mention a financial one. Luckily the technique of interferometry exists, this works by taking two or more dishes separated by some distance and combining the signals they recieve. The resolution of an interferometer is dependant on this separation, as if you had one massive dish of equal diameter to the separation distance. The downside is you are only getting information the parts of this “massive dish” from the two points where the small dishes in your interferometer are, as such you won’t get a true representation of the part of the sky you are looking at.

So the more dishes an interferometer has the better your image of the sky will become. But instead of building thousands of dishes next to one another (things would start to get expensive again) you can take observations of an object over a number of hours. The position of your telescopes will have moved with respect to the bit of sky you are looking at (due to the rotation of the Earth) effectively filling in more bits of the “massive dish”, giving you an even better image…. I’ll just let that sink in for a bit…

Ok, back to ALMA! ALMA works, as its name suggests, at mm and sub-mm wavelengths (a few 1000 times longer than the wavelengths of visible light) and here Astronomers are looking at the electromagnetic radiation emitted by a myriad of molecules in interstellar and intergalactic space! For distant galaxies the emission we will be seeing from will have been stretched (or redshifted) due to their movement away from the Milky Way into the ALMA frequency range. For objects in our own Galaxy we will be observing all kinds of physical processes such as the formations of massive stars at levels of detail previously unseen.

The telescope is being built in the Atacama desert in Chile at an altitude of 5000m in one of the driest places on Earth. This make it an ideal site for the mm wavelength observations that will be conducted there as electromagnetic radiation at these wavelengths can be highly absorbed by water in the atmosphere. So high up == less atmosphere and dry == less water in what atmosphere there is.

So day to day, I am at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics where I work on ALMA testing the new ALMA software, building up knowledge of how to work really well with the data coming from ALMA (there are currently a handful of telescopes working at the site) and taking part in community days with members of the Astronomy community getting ready for when ALMA starts taking data for real scientific observations.

Finally, within the next few months I’ll be on the Jodcast which I occasionally edit talking about what I do. I also tweet professionally (if that can really happen) about the UK ARC at twitter.com/UK_ARC .

I’m Back Baby!… and I bring eggs!

November 28th?!? NOVEMBER 28th?!?!?!? I haven’t blogged since November 28th… What?!… Well, let me tell you for why…

In something I should have mentioned earlier… November 1st saw me starting my very first real life actual job, I am a PDRA, working for the UK ALMA Regional Centre (or UK ARC) at Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics. Good Times! I shall be writing a post as to what that actually means in a few days.

Then on December 17th… well… that is another story which I shall relate on February 12th. Then Christmas happened and I ate and probably drank too much! I seemed to completely zone out of normal my routines over the two weeks we were off.  Now I am back at work and normality has been restored.

Which means I am back to writing the blog, starting with a simple recipe which came about because we have too many eggs. Pickled eggs are something I hadn’t had until I was old enough to drink and an excellent accompaniment to a good pint of real ale they do make! Kim initially didn’t like them and we never buy them to have at home but I think I am winning her round!

So here is how I pickled half a dozen eggs:

  • Hard boil 6 eggs (i.e. boil for >6 mins) and allow to cool
  • Peel eggs  (psst… smashed up egg shells are compost-able)
  • Place in a clean jar (I’ve added two dried chillies, some cloves and some black peppercorns at this point).
  • Fill with vinegar and close the lid.

DONE! I managed to make mine whilst listening to The Unthanks album ‘Here’s the Tender Coming’ (which I recommend you check out). In a few weeks they’ll be ready… better find a beer to have with them.

Coming soon:

  • What do I do for a living?
  • Whats going on with my guitar build project?
  • The December 17th Story…

Cigar box guitar pt.V

I’ve done a lot of drilling this weekend… oh and filing. I’m pretty happy with the end results which are dum dum dum… the pickup, jack and volume potentiometer are now attached to the body! The massive stick on the volume pot. will be trimmed when I come to attach the volume knob…

Also the hole for the tuning pegs are drilled and filed for a perfect fit, unfortunately I snapped a 2.5mm drill bit when drilling one of the hole for the strings, half the bit is still embedded in the neck. My dad cut the brass tube for the nut and bridge (as he is a jeweller and has a badass metal saw!), he has also rolled me some brass wire ready to go in the fret spacing!

Seriously not much left to do and the costs running total is … £32.69 with essentially nothing left to buy, £27.31 under budget.

Ginger Wine

Humm, I’ve been a bit busy lately, what with the Christmas markets that FinestImaginary has been at and me starting a new job. I’ll be back on guitar build-o-rama next weekend. But on sunday to add a third demijohn of home made wine to the kitchen table I have made a ginger wine!

The largely improvised recipe was as follows:

  • Water, 8 pints
  • Ginger, 70g
  • Dark Brown Sugar, 10 tbsp
  • Caster Sugar, 10 tbsp
  • Nutmeg, a little bit
  • Lemon Juice, 3 tbsp
  • Strong Tea, 1 cup
  • Sultanas, a handful
  • Single Malt Whisky, 2tbps

I know the final ingredient seems a little sacrilegious but there wasn’t enough left in the bottle for two people to have a decent glass, so Kim suggested pre-making a ‘whisky mac’ by adding it in. Also, as you can see in the picture, because nowhere within walking distance of my house has fresh ginger I used blocks of frozen crushed ginger which we had in the freezer.

So everything is mixed up and allowed to simmer covered for ~25mins… then left to cool for about an hour to get to room temperature at which point it was transferred to the demijohn and 7g of bread yeast added, airlock put in… and bazinga! Everything is ready to be left alone.

With about three gallons on the go I should think we’ll be set for wine for some time once its all done, some might even make it to work… w00p!

Cigar box guitar pt.IV

This morning work continued on the neck! I spent a pleasant couple of hours in Kim’s dads garage sorting it out. First came a couple of power sanders to give it a smoothish surface:

In the wondrous cave of power tool treasures.

A power plane was then used to cut a 45 degree angle out of the corners on the back of the neck. Back to the sanders to round of these edges, then to finer sand paper to bring out the oaks grain creating no small amount of dust,

Dust which my camera phone didn't catch

Finally the fret spacing were marked up and sawn out. Finally leaving me with this pretty looking lump of wood.

I will be cutting the brass rods to size this week ready for attaching next week, when hopefully the remaining work on the neck will be finished.