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Comment Optical laboratory here (Score 1) 250

I'm the resident "computer guy" in the optics laboratory of the local astronomical observatory...

First of all, most people here is technically-minded. That means, if they need a simple program, they can often program it on their own. No one is scared by the command line, etc. The astronomers still have lots of Sun workstations still around, but in our department we basically only have PCs.

There are three categories of software: hardware interface, data analysis and complete systems (in our case, that would be a telescope).

For the hardware interface, you use whatever is available at the moment. Most experiments are one-off jobs that will last from a few days to a few months tops. Usually the hardware has an SDK with a C interface and, possibly, a Labview module. What I usually do is to wrap the C interface to the higher-level languages we use in the lab (see below)

Data analysis is done in Matlab and IDL (IDL is quite popular in astronomical and medical environments). IDL's syntax is horrible, but it's a powerful data and visualization package. Most people here are proficient in at least one of those two languages, and if I write the appropriate wrapper, they can use the lab devices on their own. Windows and linux share about 50% each of the computers, and all window machines, including laptops, have putty, winscp and possibly X servers installed and regularly used.

At the telescope, everything is custom-built from the ground up, because you want to know what it's doing down to the last bit. The lower level part is in usually in C, then you may have user interfaces written in Qt or whatever, databases keeping the records, modules in Python or perl or something else etc. Things are developed by teams rather than individuals, so there is lots of documentation to write and APIs to specify. Windows is usually banned from this environment, and *everything* is done in Linux.

Comment Re:Neat technology (Score 1) 432

It would probably be easier to have two water tanks(lakes) at different heights and pump the water using solar/wind energy to the high one when possible. Then have it steadily go through a generator like current dams have now when energy is needed throughout the day or night.

That's called Pumped storage and is commonly used at hydroelectric facilities.

Comment Re:Aren't airplanes a little "Last Century?" (Score 3, Insightful) 214

In an era where we can communicate around the world with unprecedented ease and speed, shouldn't we be flying LESS?

I'm not thinking about social/pleasure travel, but business travel (which accounts for a large percentage of all flyers). If you work in IT, there are very few tasks you can't accomplish over the WWW, and it seems that most of one's travel obligation has more to do with proving to management that you actually exist. "Face time" is a crutch for managers who don't get it.

Oh sure, we do fly less - in percentage terms, not in absolute terms. At my workplace it seems there is some kind of telephone- or video-conference with the other side of the world something like every other day, for various projects. A videoconference is much cheaper and convenient than an actual meeting.

But, we are now used to a much higher degree of interaction with our foreign partners. So, if ten years ago it was two meeting and two flights a year, today it's ten meetings, of which 2/3 are by videocon - and three or four by plane. Only 1/3 of the meetings involve flying, but the number of flights has gone up anyway.

Astronomers Again Baffled by Solar Observations 299

SteakNShake writes "Once again professional astronomers are struggling to understand observations of the sun. ScienceDaily reports that a team from Saint Andrew's University announced that the sun's magnetic fields dominate the behavior of the corona via a mechanism dubbed the 'solar skeleton.' Computer models continue to be built to mimic the observed behavior of the sun in terms of magnetic fields but apparently the ball is still being dropped; no mention in the announcement is made of the electric fields that must be the cause of the observed magnetic fields. Also conspicuously absent from the press releases is the conclusion that the sun's corona is so-dominated by electric and magnetic fields because it is a plasma. In light of past and present research revealing the electrical nature of the universe, this kind of crippling ignorance among professional astrophysicists is astonishing."
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