Monday, September 28, 2015

Heavenly events

Last night there was a lunar eclipse to be seen in Europe. As an amateur astronomer in Finland I've mostly got used to the fact that it's always clouded or raining when something interesting is happening. This was the case there this time, too. Most of Finland was covered under a thick blanket of clouds and there were only a few places where the eclipse was well visible.

For some really weird reason this doesn't seem to be the case in Germany. This year there have been several really exciting events in the sky and so far none of them have been unobservable because of clouds. (For me it feels unfathomable.) So, here are a couple of pics of the astronomical events from the past half a year:

Lunar eclipse on 28.9.2015
Lunar eclipse from 28.9.2015. Very pretty, but I don't like the term "blood moon". Somehow, for me it's not the case.

Conjunction of Jupiter and Venus
In the end of June, Jupiter and Venus (brighter of the two) got very close to each other in the sky. In Finland they appeared low in the horizon in the middle of the light nights, so it was a tricky thing to make photos of. Here it was much easier, especially when a happy blackbird came to see the event, too, and gave a concert on the go.

Partial solar eclipse in March
In March there was a partial solar eclipse and again it was crispy clear sky. We had some fun in the park while taking some photos and observing the eclipse with solar viewing glasses and filters. It was great fun.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

In the Shadow of the Pines

So, I finally managed to finish my semester project. I did an interactive animation about some creatures one can encounter in the Finnish folklore: väki, haltia and ihtiriekko. It was a long road to get it where I ended up, and the thing still doesn't work perfectly. (I'm not a programmer, but it was fun to explore how it is done. And I'm surprised how much I was able to debug and achieve!) Still, all in all I'm happy how it came out in the end (considering it was only a one semester work). My teachers would hope I'd continue it for my Master's thesis, but I'm not sure yet. First, I'll just relax a bit. :)

Here's the documentation of the project. (Since it's interactive I can only post the documentation.)

In the Shadow of the Pines from West468 on Vimeo.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


I love books. And more precisely, non-fiction books. I do read a lot of fiction, too, but I tend to borrow them from the library instead of buying. Some time ago I calculated that 88% from the books I own is non-fiction. When I look at my bookshelf I feel the knowledge squeezed between those covers and feel bad that I don't read more. (As if. I always have around 5-8 books that I read simultaneously, fiction and non-fiction, and sometimes it takes months or years before I finish the first ones I started.)

The biggest part of my non-fiction books are about popular science (mostly physics) and history, but there are other gems there as well. Here are a few examples of the books I've read lately.

I love non-fiction
Genome by Matt Ridley
Another love of mine: Genetics (as well as other DNA level biology). I found this book from a bookshop in London and read it in a couple of days. The author has divided the book into 23 chapters and each chapter he's presenting one chromosome and some specific aspect that chromosome carries in its genes. Very well written and the selected features are well picked. Would have read longer about this, though. (It's hard to find good popular science books about genetics. Any references are welcome.)

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
This one I bought from a bookshop in Hamburg, when I just needed to get something to read. It was better than I thought and I especially liked the autobiography parts of the book. (What is his story and how did he ended up flying high.) Also, as a child of the space shuttle age it was extremely interesting to read about what goes around with astronauts today. In the space shuttle you could fit easily half-dozen people. So you had the people who flew the thing and the people who did the science (so roughly divided) for a couple of weeks. Now you have the same half-dozen for half a year in the ISS and they need to know it all from plumbing to growing salad as well as fixing your house from inside and out.

Serving the Reich by Philip Ball
The Struggle for the Soul of Physics under Hitler. Great book about moral dilemmas in science that I grabbed from the bookshop when having a holiday at home in Turku. The book explains what the scientist like Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg and Peter Debye in Germany did and didn't do during the Nazi regime. We've never grown out from these morality questions, have we?

The Secret History of the Mongol Queens by Jack Weatherford
Genghis Khan is normally depicted as a furious war lord who conquered half of the known world on his horse. But he was also extremely cunning and farseeing states man whose idea about gender equality was surprisingly modern. By sending his daughters to marry the neighbouring kingdoms' sons, Genghis Khan made sure he could go on fighting without any disturbing skirmishes behind his back. The daughters had enough of their father's blood to make sure that it also happened that way. It's a pity there is not much information left about their reigns. And even more so that the soul banner of Genghis Khan finally went missing in the mid-1900s.

A Man of Misconceptions by John Glassie
Biography of Athanasius Kircher, an extremely curious monk from 1600s who is also said to be one of the first scientists. Some of his colourful theories might not have been that correct, but that is to be expected from someone who lived that long ago. What really makes him interesting is his personality: obnoxious smartass who thought he knows the answer to everything. (And got many people to believe that, too.) Greatly entertaining book, not just because of science but also its history and why the science is nowadays done like it is.