11 May 2016 astronomy, cycling

LCOGT has participated in this year's Cyclemaynia event in the best way we know how: by geeking out over both cycling and astronomy at the same time.

I thought it would be neat to do a scale model of the solar system that people could ride in order to experience in order to gain a deeper appreciation of how vast the solar system really is.


I was inspired by a model at Anza Borrego State Park which had 3-dimensional models of the planets along a dirt path in the desert. To do it our way we settled on using chalk to draw the planets along the Obern Trail. This is a popular carless path that helps link Santa Barbara to Goleta and sees pretty heavy traffic during rush hour.

We decided to place the Sun at the start of the path at Modoc rd and Neptune about 8 miles away at LCOGT's headquarters in Goleta, CA. Using this as the scale, we ended up with a ratio of about 0.245mi/AU


We decided to use a different scale for the size of the planets (otherwise they would be very, very tiny) and gave Jupiter a radius of 3 feet, or about 13x10-9 it's actual size. At this scale Mercury's radius was only 1.2 inches.

Trader Joes generously volunteered 2 chalk artists and on Monday the planets were drawn.

Thanks to everyone's support, this project was a success. See you on the trail!


09 May 2016 other

The first thing I noticed when I moved to Santa Barbara and started going outdoors was that everything just seemed a little more hostile than what I was used to. There are the ever present threats of overwhelming heat, lack of water, exposure and poison oak. By now, I've come to know some of the more subtle actors as well.

One of them I met today: Pitchfork Weed aka Bidens frondosa or, the Devil's Beggarticks, Devil's Pitchfork, Tickseed Sunflower... Would you believe it is closely related to the lovely sunflower? Neither would I, the family resemblance is illusive. Trust me, you don't want to run through a field of these, and their seeds are not pleasant.

Pitchfork Weed

I was walking down from the top of Tangerine Falls feeling pretty good about the stupid scramble I had just survived (despite a sprained wrist) when I felt a peculiar sensation on my legs. When I looked down and saw that they were covered, absolutely trashed, by tons of tiny pitchfork looking things. And they did not want to let go.

Pitchfork Pants

That's what pants are for I guess, so no harm no foul. I was still in a better situation than the dudes trying to scale the right side of the falls. I could hear their nervous laughter from a mile away. And then they stopped laughing, started yelling. Eventually they did make it out of sight - hope they made it!


13 Nov 2015 code

So I really like code linters. My coworkers know this. Actually, I got called a syntax Nazi today by a fellow developer. I'm OK with that. I believe in readability and consistency.

In my projects I make it impossible to make a git commit before the source code passes a flake8 check. How to perform this minor miracle you ask? With a simple git pre-commit hook:


flake8 .

When I commit, the hook executes. Since git knows a return of anything besides 0 means abort, it stops the commit from happening. Awesome.

Here is a terminal recording of it in action:

Don't forget to make your pre-commit hook file executable!

09 Oct 2015 code

Recently I started a new Django project, and this time I decided to go all in on Docker. No virtualenvs, no local databases - containers all the way.

There are about a million and ten articles about how to dockerize webapps by now. However, none of them seem to address one simple fact: we don't simply want to dockerize our applications, we want to develop them too!

sane-django-docker contains a sample django project webapp as well as the necessary config files to run both a development and production server.

Continue Reading...
10 Aug 2015 linux

I've been pretty good about not becoming a open source pundit. But today I feel like writing something useless.

My laptop's ssd crapped out yesterday so I spent the day restoring backups and installing operating systems. I've been using Ubuntu for a few years now, so I thought it would be great to revisit Gnome and see how the 3.x development is coming along, maybe even switch back.


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22 May 2015 other

I was waiting in line at the supermarket this morning when I came across this cover of the June 2015 Vanity Fair:

Vanity Fair

Immediately something struck me as very, very wrong.

I know we all hope the new Star Wars will be good and make up for the complete travesty of episodes I, II and III. But I'm going to make a quick and uninformed judgment based solely on this magazine cover and say: no, no it won't.

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29 Apr 2015 code

I just upgraded this VPS from Debian Wheezy to Jessie. The upgrade went pretty flawless, excpet some minor issues with postgres and the new bad systemd smell.

However, if you are running NGINX + PHP5-fpm, you may want to read the news that gets displayed during the upgrade:

nginx shipped a modified `fastcgi_params`, which declared `SCRIPT_FILENAME`
fastcgi_param. This line has now been removed. From now on we are also
shipping fastcgi.conf from the upstream repository, which includes a sane
`SCRIPT_FILENAME` parameter value.

So, if you are using fastcgi_params, you can try switching to fastcgi.conf
or manually set the relevant params.

After the upgrade, I was getting blank responses from nginx for all php scripts. No errors in nginx or fpm logs. After re-reading the news above, the following fix worked for me:

In /etc/nginx/sites-available/* change

include fastcgi_params


include fastcgi.conf

Hope this helps anyone in need.

Flammarion Engraving

I created AstroChallenge to scratch my own itch: to have a place to keep an observation journal for astronomy and to share it with the rest of the community. In that I believe I've succeeded, check out my profile and journal.

Since then the word has gotten out and other astronomers have been logging their own observations. Now, only 2 weeks after making AstroChallenge public, over 100 observations have been logged! I want to thank everyone who has helped me make AstroChallenge awesome by providing great feedback and ideas.

It's been a fun project so far and I look forward to seeing where it goes from here. Most of all, I wish everyone clear skies! Keep looking up.

26 Mar 2015 other

The following is a excerpt from the book I am currently reading by Richard Feynman, Surely You Must be Joking, Mr. Feynman! that I found amusing.

Well, Mr. Frankel, who started this program, began to suffer from the computer disease that anybody who works with computers now knows about. It's a very serious disease and it interferes completely with the work. The trouble with computers is you play with them. They are so wonderful. You have these switches--if it's an even number you do this, if it's an odd number you do that--and pretty soon you can do more and more elaborate things if you are clever enough, on one machine.

After a while the whole system broke down. Frankel wasn't paying any attention; he wasn't supervising anybody. The system was going very, very slowly--while he was sitting in a room figuring out how to make one tabulator automatically print arc-tangent X, and then it would start and it would print columns and then bitsi, bitsi, bitsi and calculate the arc-tangent automatically by integrating as it went along and make a whole table in one operation.

Absolutely useless. We had tables of arc-tangents. But if you've ever worked with computers, you understand the disease--the delight in being able to see how much you can do. But he got the disease for the first time, the poor fellow who invented the thing.

Still suffering to this day!

25 Feb 2015 astrochallenge, astronomy, code

I've spent a good deal of time in the last few days searching for a good library to draw star charts (finder charts) that I could use to integrate with AstroChallenge. While there are plenty of utilities to create star maps, they mostly consist of desktop software or websites that are not open source.


Eventually I found fchart which resembled was I was looking for. A set of python scripts with minimal dependencies that would output star maps! This I could use.

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