Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Book about the star of Bethlehem

Enrich this year's Christmas with a little history and science! I just found a cool website that summarizes a book by Michael Molnar, who uses probably the most convincing approach to date to identify the star of Bethlehem. I just ordered the book myself! Here's the link: http://www.eclipse.net/~molnar/

I find it very interesting that God used astrology to lead the Gentiles to the birth of his Son!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Pictures, websites

So I've finally found some time to post some pictures for those who don't have Facebook. Sorry about the wait! I want to try something: below are some links to my pictures from my New Zealand trip. Three are Facebook albums and one is a Google photo album. I'd like you to tell me which one you think is better. From my perspective, Facebook would be better and easier because there's no limit to the number of uploads and all I would have to do is post the link(s), whereas with Google photos there's 1 GB of free space (which isn't much) and I would have to upload the same pictures twice (once on Facebook and once on Google photos). So give them a try, and let me know what you think, preferably via e-mail rather than posting a comment on this blog. Then I'll give the links for the rest of my pictures. Thanks, and enjoy!

Facebook album 1
Facebook album 2
Facebook album 3
Google photos album

By the way, I have a couple of official Swinburne websites you can see my pretty face at or read about what I'm doing as well as what the other PhD students are up to. Here they are:
http://astronomy.swinburne.edu.au/staff/abutler.html
http://astronomy.swin.edu.au/study/currentstudents.html

Saturday, November 17, 2007

New Zealand!

So I got back from my trip to New Zealand a week ago, and it was absolutely fantastic! I flew into Christchurch on Friday, Nov. 2 at about 11:00PM, and got to my hostel at about midnight. Naturally, I was pretty tired, but all I wanted was a cheap place to sleep. And that it was. If any of you ever go to Christchurch, don't stay in my hostel, Around the World Backpackers. It's terrible! Stay in the YHA Rolleston. It's much nicer, and for about the same price. Trust me. Anyway, so I got up the next morning and just decided to walk around the city and explore while I waited for my friends to show up. The city centre is definitely the highlight of Christchurch. It was a nice, wide-open area surrounded by buildings and interesting structures. The two most famous structures are the cathedral and a huge vase-shaped sculpture. They look especially good in the same picture. So as I was walking around the area just taking pictures and enjoying the morning, I suddenly bump into Allyson Green! She was sitting with a couple of other people from her program, and I happened to spot her, so I went over and started talking to her. I definitely did not expect that to happen! Allyson and I talked and shared stories of the last couple months for a little bit, and then since Samantha and Erica weren't supposed to arrive in the city centre until later in the afternoon, I decided to do a little more exploring. So I pretty much walked around the city for the next 5 hours, taking lots of pictures! I even went inside the cathedral (it was free to enter), which was really cool. I had never been inside a building like that before. In general, Christchurch is a really beautiful city. It had a small river running through it, complete with an old watermill! There were many buildings with cathedral-like architecture, including a small observatory built in the 1800s! I was pretty excited about that. When I was done with my self-tour of the city, I came back to the city centre, where Erica and Samantha were supposed to show up. I found Allyson again, and not too long after that, Erica and Samantha indeed showed up! It was such a glorious moment. We happily exchanged more stories about our experiences in Australia and New Zealand, and then took a walk through the botanical gardens, which were very lovely. I especially liked the gigantic trees, though I can't remember what kind of trees they were. Then it was dinner time, so what did we do? Al, Sam, a couple other girls from their group, and I went to an Irish pub and had fish n chips! The Irish pub is an inside joke, but the fish n chips are a very common meal in Australia and New Zealand. After a delicious dinner, Sam and Al's group went to where they were staying, and I decided to try and find Erica's group (I knew where they were eating). Christchurch is so small: I easily found them! So for the rest of the night, I hung out with Erica and her group and heard many more stories about their time in New Zealand and Samoa (they were in Samoa for three weeks from late September to mid-October). It was fun.

Not much happened the next day. I slept in fairly late because I hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, so I decided to get some brunch somewhere. I found a place that served me the most interesting french toast I've ever had: it was normal french toast, but with bacon and slightly heated banana on top! It was absolutely delicious! I then went to where Sam and Al's group and I agreed to meet so we could go hiking. Unfortunately, it took them longer to get their rental car than they thought it would, so we didn't end up going hiking, which was OK because I was still pretty tired. We just walked around a market that had a bunch of interesting things for sale. Then they decided to leave because it was getting late and they wanted to get to Dunedin, which is on the southeast coast of the south island, later that evening. So that was fine, as it was only a few more hours before Erica's group returned from their wine tasting adventure, which they informed me was spectacular! I hung out with them for the rest of the night, talking and walking around the city. I also said goodbye to Erica :(, since I decided I wanted to go to Queenstown, which is where Sam and Al's group were going the next day. I'll miss you Erica!

So the next morning, Monday, I was off on a bus to Queenstown! That trip was probably the best bus ride I have ever been on! The landscapes on the south island were absolutely stunning! The first third of the trip was mostly rolling, green hills with trees spread throughout, but at one specific point all of a sudden I could see huge snow-capped mountains in the distance! I was in awe! The bus also passed by the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen. They were a lovely light blue/cyanish color. And near one of the lakes I saw the Mt. John Observatory, which I thought was a really cool observatory because it was on top of a hill in the middle of a plain that was surrounded by mountains, which reminded me of Edoras, the town in Lord of the Rings where King Theoden is first introduced in the Two Towers! I think it would be totally awesome to work at an observatory like that! About 2/3 the way to Queenstown, we passed by the area where they filmed the wide shots for the battle of the Pelennor fields (the huge battle in Return of the King), although I didn't even realize it at the time. I made sure I got the exact scene on the way back! When I got to Queenstown, I just couldn't believe the beauty of the area. The town is on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, surrounded by mountains. After I put all my stuff away in the lodge I was staying at, I explored the city for a couple of hours and just took pictures, just like I did at Christchurch. At about dinner time, I was walking around the Queenstown mall (a small one!) looking for a place to eat, when Samantha and Megan, another girl from their group, called out my name! My friends and I found each other randomly again! It was great! Shortly after we met, they went back to where they were staying, and I went back to my lodge. Now 6 hours earlier there was absolutely no one in my building except me, but when I got back there was a girl my age there. We started talking a little bit and took a walk around town. We walked so far that we got to where there weren't any more street lights! This is the amazing part: it was a clear night, and so naturally I looked up. And would you know it, I saw the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds for the very first time with my own two eyes! That's how well you can see the stars from Queenstown! In case you don't know, the Large and Small Magellanic clouds are two smaller galaxies outside the Milky Way that are orbiting it. Pretty cool eh? I actually didn't immediately realize that I was looking at them because there were a few clouds in the sky, but when I noticed that two clouds weren't moving, I concluded that they must be the Milky Way's two main satellite galaxies! It was an awesome, unforgettable experience! What made it more cool was the fact that I was able to share it with someone who didn't know much about the sky.

The next day all of us took a hike toward the top of a hill near the town. It was a nice, short hike with a very rewarding view at the top. You could see a majority of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, the Remarkables mountain range, and a bunch of other mountains whose names I don't know. It was just amazing! Just walking on that hill made me feel like I was in Middle Earth! Just four months earlier Sam, Al, and I were hiking Michigan. Now we were hiking together on the other side of the world! After the hike, Sam, Al, and Jake, another person in their group, went water-sledging, while Megan, Emily (the last person I haven't mentioned!), and I went to get groceries for dinner later that evening. Along the way, we walked through the Queenstown gardens, which weren't as big as the Christchurch gardens, but they were just as beautiful! When we got to where they were staying, which was the house of a couple (Paul and Jane) that Megan knew, Emily and I decided to watch Lord of the Rings to get ready for our Lord of the Rings tour we were going on the next day! We could see the mountains used for a few background shots in the movies from the city, and I had a fairly good idea of where various scenes were filmed in the area, so we just watched those scenes again. When dinner time came rolling around, we cooked a delicious spaghetti dinner with excellent apple crisp for dessert (thanks Emily!). Then our host provided us with a real treat: Jane took us all over to Paul's mom's house, which was right next door, and Paul's mom showed us all the cool artwork she had made. She used old jewelry, including watches, that people don't want anymore and she stuck them all together in the shapes of various things, like birds. She even had one in the shape of New Zealand! It was fascinating. Later that night we went to a bar and had "teapot" shots. Yep, alcoholic beverages served in teapots, which were used to pour out shot-sized servings. You see some crazy things when you go to foreign countries.

On Wednesday, Emily and I went on the sweetest tour ever! Pictures are required in order to do it much more justice than words can give it, but there are way too many pictures to be posted, so I will reserve the picture component of this paragraph for a web album that I will do my best to get up as soon as possible. Anyway, in the morning we saw a couple of scenes in the general Queenstown area, namely the River Anduin and the Gladden Fields, where Isildur is killed in the prologue in the first movie. We were also able to see about 10 replicas of weapons used in the movies and get our pictures taken with them! It was sweet! In the afternoon we went up to Deer Park Heights, which is where many scenes from all three Lord of the Rings films were shot. There are seriously too many of them to mention here, but if I had to pick one to talk about, I would pick the scene where the Rohan refugees are walking along a little pond with mountains in the background in the Two Towers. Yeah, I saw that exact place. What made it really cool was that our tour guide helped us reenact some scenes, so in our pictures the characters in the movie could be replaced by us in the same spot! It was a great tour! We got back to Paul and Jane's house exhausted, so we sat around until Sam, Al, Jake, and Megan got back from their hike in Glenorchy, which is a town just around the lake to the northwest where they were for the day. They reported that their hike was beautiful, which was good to hear. No one wanted to really do anything for the rest of the day, so we watched a movie, "The World's Fastest Indian," to wind down. It's based on a true story about Burt Munro, an old man from New Zealand who builds a motorcycle to race it at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah in the 1960s. He ends up setting a landspeed record for vehicles under 1000 cc. I really liked the movie because it sort of paralleled my first few weeks in Australia when I was just starting to get used the different culture and all the Aussie slang. After the movie was over, it was time to say goodbye to Sam and Al, since they were leaving really early the next morning. They kindly drove me back to my lodge, and then we exchanged goodbyes :(. It was a fun week guys! I will miss you Sam and Al! I spent the rest of that night learning some southern constellations for the first time!

So now I was on my own for the next two days. I had a relaxing Thursday morning of not doing much, but then I had an idea for the afternoon. I knew that one of the scenes from Lord of the Rings that I hadn't seen yet was filmed relatively close to Arrowtown, a town about 20 minutes from Queenstown. The scene was the ford that Arwen takes Frodo across to protect him from the Black Riders in the first movie. So I took a bus to Arrowtown with a picture of the map of the area I had taken with my camera the day before. I had a general idea of where to go, but I had no idea exactly where they filmed it. I took a hike along the Arrow River, which was the river the scene was filmed in, and after a about an hour and a half of walking, I still hadn't found it, although I had seen a few places that looked a lot like it. It was getting late and the sun was going behind the hills, so I decided to head back. Even though it wasn't a successful journey, it was still fun to do some hiking and exploring on my own! I got back to town, got some dinner, and took the bus back to Queenstown. That was a great day!

On Friday, I decided what the heck, I may not be back here for a long time - I'll do another Lord of the Rings tour! So at about 8:30 that morning, I hopped on a 4 wheel drive vehicle and we headed out to Glenorchy! The other people taking the tour were from Pennsylvania and on vacation, and they were actually going to Melbourne the next day! It's interesting seeing so many connections in a place so far from home. The main highlight for me on this tour was seeing where they filmed the background for Isengard, Saruman's fortress. We also got to see the same area, although not the exact location, where they filmed the Lothlorien forest and Amon Hen, the place at the end of the first movie where Frodo and Sam leave the rest of the fellowship. It was most spectacular. At about 3:00 that afternoon, I got on the bus going back to Christchurch. I did not want to leave! I was having too much fun! At least the bus ride back to Christchurch was just as pleasant as the one going to Queenstown. So I got back to the airport that night and returned to Melbourne the next morning. Thus ended my most excellent and worthwhile trip to New Zealand!