Podcast of the [arbitrary time period]: Star Wars Minute

Pol Treidum in a rather dapper hat

Yes, it is as nerdy as it sounds. Star Wars Minute is a podcast that talks about every Star Wars movie, one minute at a time — including the opening crawl and the closing credits. They release one episode every weekday, and are currently partway into Revenge of the Sith (having gone through the original trilogy and other prequels), which means they’ve put out more than 600 episodes so far. In each episode, they somehow manage to talk for about 30 minutes about one minute of the film, and do so without being boring or repetitive. The format works well enough that it sparked a host of similarly-themed podcasts, all of which are listed at Movies By Minutes.

There’s great chemistry between the regular hosts, Alex Robinson and Pete the Retailer, and each week they feature a guest. The conversation is usually light with lots of running jokes. Of course, you can’t watch a film one minute at a time without getting quite deep into the geeky weeds (such as a long discussion about Pol Treidum’s dress sense), but most of the time the minute that they are supposedly talking about acts as a springboard for a broader conversation, nerdy or otherwise.

For me this is the perfect podcast to fall asleep to: it’s funny but not intense enough to keep me awake, and the conversation is such that if I doze off for a few minutes I can easily catch up again. Plus, with the number of episodes they’ve done, you never need to worry about running out.

Observing in Thailand

 

The telescope dome. Modern domes tend to be smaller than more old-fashioned domes for a given telescope size.
The telescope and the attached control building.

A few weeks ago I was at the Thai National Telescope (TNT). The telescope is pretty newly built (around 2012 I think) so everything is a bit more modern than most telescopes.  It’s a 2.5m telescope on top of Doi Inthanon, the tallest mountain in Thailand, about 2 hour’s drive from Chiang Mai. The telescope is run by a Thai government organisation called NARIT, who also run a handful of smaller (0.7m) telescopes around the world. 

The control room

We control the telescope and instruments from a spacious control room in the building attached to the telescope. The monitors here are for controlling and monitoring the telescope itself (on the left) and one of the instruments (the three monitors on the right). There was generally 2-3 telescope operators around, plus me (I was controlling just the camera). Also in the building is a mini kitchen, a bathroom, and a sofa people can nap on.

View from my window in the lodgeWe sleep in a lodge partway down the mountain. The lodge is in a holiday camp which is quite pretty, although it can be noisy when you’re trying to sleep during the day. It’s about half an hour’s drive up the mountain every afternoon and the same back down in the morning — an unpleasant drive when it’s dark and foggy, especially with the number of tourists who drive up the mountain to watch the sunrise. 

High humidity and rain

There was some awful weather and we didn’t get too much data — we were closed for 5 nights out of the 6 I was there. The bad weather is apparently related to the El Nino / La Nina weather cycle, where South-East Asia gets heavier rain during La Nina years.

I was here a year ago, and had much better luck with the weather then — and even managed to take some pictures of the sky when it was clear.

The TNT at night, taken a year ago

Nerdy Stuff

I’ve been rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, nerd that I am. I’ve seen most episodes, but never stuck to it all the way through before. While I didn’t expect to hate it, I’ve been surprised just how much I’m enjoying the rewatch. It remains an incredibly well-written show. I went in expecting that some of the high school themes wouldn’t chime with me anymore, and to some extent that is true (after all I am a full decade older than the target audience). But, I do still find plenty of depth in the writing and themes. I find (surprisingly) that I kind of miss the semi-periodic structure of TV shows from that time compared to the long-form structure that most shows seem to have these days.

Alongside rewatching it, I have been listening through the back-catalogue of the amazing podcast Dusted, hosted by Alastair Stephens and Lani Diane Rich of StoryWonk. The podcast ended some months ago (and I believe the hosts are now divorced from each other, which makes for an odd feeling sometimes), but they made it through to somewhere in Season 6 so I’ve got a good amount left to get through. Both hosts are writers and teach writing courses, and their conversations about story structure and characterisation are always fascinating. They seem pretty knowledgeable about directing and camerawork as well, something I know nothing about that gives some extra insight.

Copying the Dusted style, I’ve been keeping a list of every Buffy episode in order of how good they are. This list is objective and inarguable.

I Should Have Brought A Better Camera

I don’t have much to say for this one, just a random collection of poor-quality phone pictures. Coming to the end of an observing trip (my first solo!). Six nights on La Palma — 2 on the INT and 3 on the WHT, with a night off in the middle. Pictures all from around the observatory.

The William Herschel Telescope, where I’ve been observing for the past 3 nights.
Me and Bill H.
The National Galileo Telescope, opening ready for sunset. Telescopes always open before sunset to ventilate the dome, otherwise the temperature difference between inside and outside causes turbulence which reduces the quality of image they can take.

Two solar telescopes: the Dutch Open Telescope and the Swedish Solar Telescope.  Very different designs to the night-time telescopes. (Unfortunately it seems like the DOT isn’t active due to a lack of funding.)

The SST
The DOT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since I had some free time this afternoon before sunset, I drove up to the viewpoint at the top of the observatory, from which you can see into the caldera of the volcano, as well as pretty good views in every other direction.

The caldera (crater) of the volcano
Looking down the length of the island. In the foreground is part of the caldera (the crater) of the volcano, behind is the mountain ridge and the sea.
In the other direction, telescopes in a line: NOT, WHT, DOT, SST, INT and JKT.

The other day I had a night off without a car. I decided to walk up to the GTC after dinner, which meant I happened to be there to watch it open at sunset. The GTC is the Grand Telescope of the Canaries, the biggest telescope in the world as measured by the diameter of its mirror (10.4m). It was quite dusty that day (the Canary Islands are downwind of the Sahara so often experience these dust clouds). Unfortunately my phone didn’t handle the contrast very well so the pictures weren’t great. It was cool to watch though.

Sun setting behind the GTC.