Thursday, May 31, 2012

Crowd Funding Is So Groovy

As I detailed in my introduction, I'm doing crowd funding but with a little twist in that I'm looking for regular, monthly supporters and I'm putting a cap on that support at $2500, or 500 supporters, a month.  Below is part of an interview with a musician that just received 22,000 donations totaling over 1 million dollars.  I have no interest in having that huge level of support, but the idea is the same regardless of dollar amount.
It is a huge feat to convince people you're doing something worthy of that much money.
The way I look at it is this isn’t really so much about me anymore. I’m the one doing it and I’m glad I’m the one doing it. I’m glad I’m not putting this album out on a fucking label, but I’m hoping that I’m just one of many. Hopefully I’m just the first big successful one. The minute someone bigger than me comes along to do this I won’t be jealous, I’ll be ecstatic because I really believe in the philosophy of crowd funding and the philosophy of being directly connected to your fans, business-wise, and being in charge of your own creative destiny instead of letting other people do it. What this is showing people is that the system works. Anybody can do it. I get a lot of criticism for saying that because there are a lot of people saying, "Of course you can do it. You’re Amanda Palmer. You’re famous. You were on a major label." But actually anyone can do it on any level. You just have to apply the rules differently depending where you’re at.
This is taken from a larger article that you can read here.

My Supporters

Here is where I'll keep a list of all my active (black font) and non-active (purple font) supporters:

Mark M
Karla C

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Zero Zero Project Update

The goal for yesterday was to, in some way, create a semi-automated method to grab images of individual stars from the SDSS3 survey.  What I came up with is a program that creates an IRAF script that goes out onto the web, grabs a specified full-frame image, and then extracts a small portion (128 pixels by 128 pixels) centered on the object I'm interested in.

IRAF stands for 'Image Reduction and Analysis Facility' and pretty much any astronomer at least knows of IRAF if not relies on it heavily for all kinds of astronomical data reduction and analysis.  I worked in the IRAF programming group for a couple years back in 1998, so I'm still fairly familiar with how it works although it's clear that lots of things are pretty rusty and full of cobwebs.

It looks like from the structure of the SDSS3 that pretty much everything is keyed off of the Object ID number, or 'objId' for short.  The number that is associated with objId is encoded such that it contains information on which image taken with SDSS has the object I'm interested in.  So just from the objId, I could find the original image that a particular object is on.  This information is also contained in the SDSS3 database, so if need be, I can get the info I need from that.

The other thing I did yesterday was to start creating my own local database to store some of the more useful (to me) info that I'll need to complete this project.  For starters, I created a database table that contains the objId, object position in the sky (Right Ascension and Declination), magnitude (for all five filters), and position of the object within a given SDSS3 image.  This will allow my program to access the data it needs easily and quickly.  There's a good chance that sometime soon I'll access the SDSS3 database directly from one of my own programs, but for now this is great.  For the small amount of data I'm working with (9000+ objects isn't all that much considering computer disk capacities these days) it wouldn't matter if I kept all this information in a simple text file rather than a database, but working with databases is very easy and it gives me a lot of flexibility.

So as I said, what this program does is create a 'script' that can then be run in the IRAF environment to extract the images I request.  For those of you who may not know, a 'script' is a list of commands that are executed by the computer sequentially.  So in my case, the script grabs the full-frame image from the SDSS3 and then extracts a small 128x128 pixel "postage stamp" image from that.  I do this for all five wavelengths.  In the end, I have five 128x128 pixel images.  Here they are labeled with their respective color filter designations:

ObjID 127660236032507958, r magnitude 18.53, R SNR 55.27
These are five images of the same object (I just picked a random one) on the same brightness scale.  The signal-to-noise ratio (or SNR) for the 'R' image is about 55, which is more than adequate.  Any SNR above about 10 is acceptable.  The 'Z' image (lower right) is the faintest of them all showing quite a bit of noise.  Yes, the SNR of the 'Z' image is 9.5, which as you can see from the image is still ok (I can still see the star although there's a lot of noise) but is getting questionable.  The measurement errors, for example, will be greater in this image than the other images.

I do what I call a "simple SNR computation" by looking at how much the noise is varying compared to the brightness of the star.  So to use the jargon, I compute the ratio between the maximum value in the image (which will be the brightest pixel in the star) and the 1 sigma standard deviation of the image.  When I divide the two (max value divided by the standard deviation), I get a "good enough" estimate of the SNR.

So now I have a basic tool to extract images from the SDSS3.  Yehaw!  What exactly am I going to do with those images?  Not sure yet, but having the capability at hand will definitely come in handy -- if for no other reason just to take a look and see what I've got!  They say a picture is worth a thousand words and in astronomy that is VERY true.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Eee To Bee Music Project

Here's today's musical exploration.  I've had this sequence in my head for a few days now and I finally got to recording it.  Sorry for the noise -- I'm still learning how to properly record.

I call the song 'Eee To Bee' because that's exactly what the left hand is doing the entire song: E, D, C, B over and over and over and over.  Very cool sound, IMO.


Enjoy and I'd love feedback on this continuing project.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Lesson On Astronomical Magnitudes & Colors

In working through my first astronomy entry, I realized that I needed to remember how astronomical magnitudes work and how to interpret plots like the ones I made.

In astronomy, the brighter the object, the smaller the magnitude value.  So, for example, a star at magnitude 1.0 is brighter than a star at magnitude 2.0.

This also goes for looking at the same star with various color filters.  Mainly because of temperature, stars will appear to be different brightnesses depending on which color filter is being used.

To take a fairly extreme example, White Dwarf Stars are very hot and are therefore brighter at the blue/violet end of the spectrum as compared to the red end of the spectrum.  Say that I measure the magnitude of a White Dwarf star using a blue color filter and got a value of 13.6 -- call this value 'U'.  Then I measure the magnitude of the same star using a red filter and got a value of 14.3 -- call this value 'R'.  The difference in the magnitude --- U minus R --- is -0.7.  This means that that value of R is greater than the value of U -- duh!  But because you have to sort of "think backwards",  the star appears brighter (a smaller magnitude value) in U than is does in R.  This tells me that the star has a pretty high temperature, which is exactly what would be expected from a White Dwarf (surface temps are usually around 30,000 degrees Kelvin).

So in this example from my previous entry:
The more positive the U-R values are, the fainter the stars are using the U color filter (which corresponds to blue/violet).  So in the plot above, you can see that there are actually only a handful of stars that are brighter in the blue than they are in the red (the 'R' filter).

Also, looking at the y-axis, most of the stars have a positive U-R value, which means that they're they're brighter using the very red R filter than they are using the no-so-red U filter.

But as you can see from the plot, there are still quite a few stars that have negative color values.  Some or most of these will likely end up being White Dwarf stars.

So you can see what I'm able to do just by looking at this plot: I can get a general feeling for what kinds of stars I'm dealing with in the small field of view.  There are mostly red or yellow stars and a few blue or white stars.  More details on this to come in the next few days.

First Look at the Data

The first thing I've done today is figure out how to make a general SQL query into the SDSS3 database so I can extract various pieces of information.  My main goal for today was to create a number of color-color diagrams.

So here is the first one.  It's a plot of U-R along the y-axis, and R-Z along the x-axis.  As you recall, Z, R, and U correspond to the stellar magnitude (brightness) of a particular object taken with (in this case) three different color filters.  I've explained the color filters in this blog entry, so I won't go into detail here.

Here is the plot:

Color-Color Diagram R-Z vs U-R (3425 "stars")
Each tiny point on this plot corresponds to a "star" that was detected and cataloged by the SDSS3 pipeline processor.

Here is the corresponding plot showing all detected "galaxies":
Color-Color Diagram R-Z vs U-R (6041 "galaxies")
The first two things that catch my eye is the shape of  the distributions, and all those points that are way outside the main distributions.  The shape will tell me something (TBD) about the population of stars/galaxies I'm working with.  The outlyers, as they're called using the jargon, need to be looked at to see why they're so far out of the norm.  It could be lots of things but most likely I think what I'm going to find is that there was some kind of error in measurement.  But they could also be very interesting stars/galaxies and worth taking a very hard look at.


The other interesting thing I'm seeing at first glace, especially in the stars plot, is the various areas where there seems to be more densely packed stars.  What's that all about?  Further analysis will tell me.

And yes, I'm revising the object count in this project.  There are 3425 detected "stars" and 6041 detected "galaxies".  I'm putting those words in quotes because it's a fact that there will be some (maybe many) false identifications that I'll have to work out. Wow -- that's 9467 objects in this very tiny 1/16th of a square degree field!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Who Are My Supporters?

WHO ARE MY SUPPORTERS?

My supporters are people who are interested in or have a passion for astronomy and/or music and are just as curious as I am about how the universe works and what we can do in it to use our senses to experience how beautiful it all is.

The vast majority of my supporters are people that I will never meet face to face.  They are mostly non-scientists or amateurs or hobbyists.  I'd like to think that professional astronomers and musicians would be interested in my work and would kick in a little from time to time.  My supporters are also friends, or friends of friends, who are interested in the work I'm doing.

My supporters are people who understand that they are giving me a gift with no strings attached and likely to get no "return on investment."  Meaning, they aren't necessarily interested in getting anything in return that will directly and concretely benefit themselves.  Their direct return will be satisfaction and joy in knowing that they are supporting interesting and important work.

WHAT DO SUPPORTERS GET IN RETURN FOR THEIR SUPPORT?

Your support is considered a 'gift'.  If your gift returns anything at all, it should make both of us happy.  YOU will be happy supporting the work of someone who really enjoys what he's doing, and I will be happy because I'm doing the things I want to be doing.  It's a win-win scenario that comes from a place of love.

If there are any kind of tangible returns, here they are:
  • I'll provide you with detailed updates on the work I'm doing at least once a day.  This can be in the form of a blog posts, podcasts, tweets on twitter, posts to my facebook page, and videos on YouTube.
  • For the astronomy work, you will have full access to the data I collect, process, and create.  I will be publishing my results both on this blog and also submitting articles to various astronomical journals.  A link to the list of my supporters will be in every article I write.
  • For the music work, you will have full access to all of the music I cover or create.  I'm be creating some beautiful things which I hope you will enjoy listening to and sharing with others.  The music I create will also be for sale to the general public, with all money from sales going towards capital investments for both the music and astronomy projects.
I'll share everything with you and in so doing you'll be on this journey with me.  A shared experience is a very powerful, synergistic, and beautiful thing.  Come with me.

Project Zero Zero for the Non-Scientist

For those supporters of mine that aren't scientists, this post is to explain to you "in English" what the Zero Zero project is.

One of the things that I've been a strong advocate of for a very long time is what is called astronomical surveys.  The basic functions of surveys are to dedicate a telescope or set of telescopes to digitally photograph a large portion of the sky with a long enough exposure time to allow us to see very faint astronomical objects, and to make multiple observations of the same objects or patches of sky.

Why are astronomers so interested in seeing faint things in the sky?  Well, it has to do with data (or image) quality and quantity.  The quality of the images of astronomical objects generally improves as the exposure time is increased.  This allows astronomers to obtain the best possible data for further processing and analysis.  The old saying "garbage in, garbage out" applies here, so the better the input data, the better the final results are going to be.

The quantity of astronomical objects found increase as the exposure time increases.  In the case of surveys, this gives astronomers a LOT to work with.  In this first of my projects, my goal is to do a general survey of all objects within a very small field of view -- about 1/4 of a square degree.  This is about 1/4 of the size of the full moon.  A long exposure of a portion of the sky this size will result in thousands of objects being revealed.

I will be primarily using data obtained from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which I will hereafter refer to as 'SDSS3'.  The goal of this project is to do a general survey of all objects in a 1/4 square degree area centered on a certain location in the sky.  The name of this project, Zero Zero, indicates that location.  Astronomers have overlaid a grid onto the sky much like latitude and longitude here on Earth.  The east-west grid lines indicate Right Ascension and is measured in Hours, with the range being from 0 to 24.  The north-south grid lines indicate Declination and is measured in Degrees, with the range being from -90 (the south pole) to +90 (the north pole).  The location in the sky of this project is Zero hours Right Ascension and Zero degrees Declination.  Hence the name, Zero Zero.  This general survey will give me a 'lay of the land' and act as a jumping off point for other more detailed projects.

There are two major things I'll be doing in this project.  First is Photometry.  This is measuring the brightness of these objects using different color filters.  In SDSS3, all images have been taken with five different color filters named 'u', 'g', 'r', 'i', and 'z'.  If you've ever seen a rainbow, these color filters correspond to different colors in the rainbow.  The 'u' color filter looks violet, the 'g' filter looks blue, the 'r' filter looks orange, the 'i' filter looks red, and the 'z' filters looks VERY red.  Why is it interesting and useful to measure the brightness of these objects with different color filters?  Because if I compare the brightness of a star, for example, using the 'u' filter (the violet one) and compare it to the brightness of the 'z' filter (the very red one), I see that they're not the same!  Why is that?  Because the star I'm measuring has a particular temperature.  If the brightness of the star using the 'u' filter is higher than the brightness of the same star using the 'z' filter, then I can generally conclude that the star is very hot.  If it's the other way around ('z' brighter than 'u'), then I can conclude that the star is quite cool.  The "bluer" the star, the hotter it is; the "redder" the star, the cooler it is.  Who cares what temperature the star is?  Well, knowing the temperature is a jumping off point.  From this point, I can make a good first guess as to how big the star is (it's 'mass'), what its age is, and how far away it is.  I can also begin to get a sense of what the star is made of.  More on that a little later when I talk about spectroscopy.  One of the things I'll produce is what's called a 'color-color diagram' or a 'Hertzprung-Russell diagram' which will look something like this:


A typical Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram
Each of those little dots represents a star.  Notice that the dots aren't just randomly scattered, but that there are clumps and patterns.  Pretty cool, eh?  This means that there are certain relationships that these stars all have.  Some of them are large, bright, and red (the Giants and Supergiants), some of them are small, faint, and blue (the White Dwarfs).  Most of them are 'Main Sequence' stars which are very similar to our sun (medium size, medium brightness, and yellow).  Stars live out most of their lives in the Main Sequence, but as they age they change into Giants or Supergiants, and then finally White Dwarfs.

So as you can hopefully see by now, what I'm eventually going to get is a really good sense of what kinds of objects I'm dealing with.  How many white dwarfs stars?  How many giant stars?  How many main sequence stars?  Then for each of them, I'll have temperature, mass, and distance.


The other part of this project is called Spectroscopy.  A spectrum of a star like our sun looks like this:
A typical spectrum with Hydrogen and Helium lines
You'll notice first that it looks a lot like a rainbow.  On closer inspection, you'll notice that there are a lot of dark black vertical lines.  These are called 'absorption lines'.  Each of those lines indicate a specific element, like hydrogen or helium.  The spectrum above is showing both 'hydrogen lines' and 'helium lines.'  What this means is that this star has hydrogen and helium in it!  So now, with spectroscopy, I can know what this star is made of!  Very very cool.  By studying the spectrum of a star, I can get to know it much better than with photometry.  All stars are much more complex than to just contain hydrogen and helium.  Most stars have EVERY element represented and have very complicated spectra.  Here is a fairly crude spectrum of our sun:
Spectrum of The Sun
You can see pretty well that there are a LOT of dark lines.  Each of those represent a certain element.  Once those elements are identified, I'll know more precisely what the stars are made of.  This is how I get to know the star, which is the whole point of this project.

SDSS3 provides some spectra, but not a spectrum for every object detected.  Taking spectra is very difficult and they simply don't have the time or technology to do this for everything.  But nevertheless, I'll take the spectra that I can and run them through my analysis and get a list of elements as well as other characteristics I've already mentioned.

Another part of this project is Temporal, or to see how these objects change over time.  SDSS3 has images and spectra of the same object taken at many different times.  This allows me to determine if any changes have taken place.  This is very exciting because one of the things that astronomy has NOT done very effectively is watch things over time and see if they change in any significant way.  Most people tend to think (if they consider it at all) that astronomical objects don't change very much and if they do it takes a very long time.  The reality is that there is SO MUCH ACTION in the universe happening every second that it would be impossible to keep track of it all.  If you don't believe me, take a nearby example and look at what our sun is doing:
  • It's rotating, which means we're always seeing something new
  • It has constantly changing sunspots and sunspot cycles
  • Massive coronal mass ejections of one magnitude or another are happening daily
Now -- what's the difference between our "ordinary" star and all of those other billions of stars?  Nothing.  They're all doing pretty much the same thing as our sun is.  The difference is that they're all so far away that they appear to not be changing.  Just boring points of light in the sky.  But they are as dynamic and interesting as our own sun and very worthy of study -- if for no other reason than to put our own sun into a context that allows us to understand it better.

All of what I've said above about stars also goes for the other kinds of objects I'll find in this survey: galaxies and 'unknowns'.  I'm especially thrilled with the prospects of taking a good hard look at the objects that SDSS3 has named 'unknowns'.

Here, finally, is an image taken from SDSS3 of the Zero Zero field of view that I'll be working on:

The Zero Zero Project Field of View with approximately 9467 detected objects

Well there you go!  This is a general outline of what the Zero Zero project will be about.  I hope you enjoy watching me progress through this and discover what exactly I'm dealing with in this very small patch of sky.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Music Project

One of my musical projects is to cover songs that I like and remix them to my liking.  I've been working on Gary Numan's 'You Walk In My Soul' for a while now and here's a recording I did of just the basic melody.  There are a few additions I want to mix into this, but for now, enjoy.


I have a Roland Fantom X8 synthesizer.  There is practically no limit as to the kind of music that can be made on it.  My musical interests are spread over a large variety of genres.  It's hard to characterize the kind of music I like since it's very subjective.  The kind of music I like the most is the kind that touches my soul and/or takes me to what I call "the musical place".

Aside from covering songs that I like, I want to take classical music (mainly Baroque but also Romantic) and turn it into Space Music.  This hasn't been done a lot but I think it has great potential.  When I've made an example of this, I'll post it to this blog.

My Astronomy Resume


Career Experience

1988 – 1990                Student Research Assistant
Steward Observatory

·         Digitizing video tape (Speckle Interferometry (SI))
·         SI post-processing
·         SI data acquisition and software development

1988 – 1989                Telescope Operator
                                    Flandrau Planetarium & Steward Observatory

1990 – 1992                Student Research Assistant
Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL)

·         Voyager I & II UVS data archiving, processing, & software development
·         UBV photometry of hot white dwarf stars

1992 – 1998                Scientific Programmer
Center for Astronomical Adaptive Optics
Steward Observatory

·         Hardware & Software development of AO systems, testing & simulation
·         Iterative Blind Deconvolution software development (IDAC)
·         Automated aircraft detection for laser guide star AO system

1992 – 1993                Instructor
                                    Pima Community College

·         Taught an 8-week community course (non-credit, open to the public) entitled 'Practical Astronomy' for two years

1998 – 2000                Scientific Programmer
IRAF Group (NOAO)

·         Several software development projects for the IRAF software package
·         Assisting IRAF users via the IRAF help desk

2000 – 2003                Owner, ‘Custom Scientific Software’

·         Contract work mainly dealing with various aspects of Deconvolution software projects (UofA, NOAO, UNM, AFRL)
·         Hyperspectral Imaging hardware and software (UofA, AFRL) development
·         On-line White Dwarf database development and implementation (UofA/LPL)
·         Automated aircraft detection for the Palomar laser guide star project

2003 – 2007                Senior Scientific Programmer
Oceanit Laboratories

·         Development & implementation of global automated telescope system to detect and track artificial satellites
·         10mas astrometry software development for satellite orbit determination & verification (space situation awareness)

Introduction


How would you like to support the work of someone who is both an astronomer and a musician?

I'm doing serious astronomical research and making beautiful music. I want to eat, sleep, breathe, and live astronomy and music.


I have one obstacle in the way: I need money to pay for household expenses.  There are quite a few ways to get money.  Most people opt for taking a job.  Nothing wrong with this and millions of people all over the world do it every day, but there are alternatives.  I'm choosing to find supporters who will gift me every month because it requires a decent amount of responsibility on my part, while giving me the greatest chance to be free to follow my interests, minimizing any negative consequences, and maximizing the rewards.

I'm looking for supporters who are willing to gift me $5 dollars (US) a month.  This is very similar to other "crowd funding" projects except that in this case I'm looking for continuous support rather than a one-time gift to fund a specific project.

Still having doubts?  I don’t blame you.  What I’m basically asking you is to take a chance and gift me the money I need to pay my household bills so I can do what I want instead of getting a job like everyone else.  So at that level my proposal seems like a scam to fool people into paying me to sit on my butt all day and watch TV.  But if you already know me pretty well, you know that I march to the beat of a different drum.  You also know that I don’t shy away from any form of work.  I don't do ANYTHING for money, but I will do almost anything to pay the bills so I can keep doing what I enjoy.  I especially enjoy work if it’s necessary and/or meaningful.  If you think about it, there really isn’t much of a difference between being supported by a number of “employers” or just one employer – it’s just a matter of perspective.  Plus, if you think your support could be better utilized by someone else, then you always have the option of suspending or ending that support.

I've been in astronomy at pretty much every level.  The only thing I didn't get into was trying to get funding.  When I was staff at the University of Arizona, I saw the people above me spend 80% of their time writing grant proposals so they could pay people like me to do all the work.  Where does this money come from?  Mainly the National Science Foundation and the military.  Who funds these two entities?  YOU!!!!  So look at what I'm proposing to you this way: would you rather directly fund someone who you can have direct contact with and see that your dollars are well-spent, or give those dollars to a government entity that then doles it out according to it's priorities?  So what I'm suggesting is that we drop the "middle man".

My monthly budget is $2500, which means I'm looking for a continuous level of 500 supporters.  Here’s a promise: Once I reach this level of support, I will not accept any additional support (the 'Subscribe' button at the top of this blog will go away).  I’m interested in Astronomical Research and Making Beautiful Music.  I’m not interested in "making money" and have very little use for it.   I only need money because this society requires money to supply the necessities of modern life: shelter, food, water, electricity, transportation, etc.  So I’m only going to take what I need.  The only way that I can convince you of this is to ask you take a chance for a couple months and see what happens.

Take a chance on a sure thing.