Saturday, December 31, 2011

Flagstaff and Adventures In Parallax

This morning we left Sedona and drove north to Flagstaff. I had been complaining of the bourgeois tourist-y atmosphere of Sedona and how it was impossible to find 'our kind of place' [to eat, to camp, to shop, etc] anywhere in town. The universe, in its infinite irony, rewarded me with Flagstaff and the college town-meets-greyhound bus stop culture here. I might be a little cranky, it's cold...

This town attracts an eclectic group. We've had some of the best food of the trip today, including Macy's European Bakery - a vegetarian coffee shop, and Pita Jungle, a chain local to Arizona and California.

We arrived in town a little too late to do all of the things I wanted to see here, so we headed up the mountain to Lowell Observatory in the late afternoon to catch the sunset and wait for the evening programs to begin.

I don't think I told you that we had tickets to the McDonald Observatory's star party the second night of this trip, and had to miss it since the Observatory was closed for the snowstorm. We were already in New Mexico anyway...

I was secretly devastated, but held out hope we'd get back through West Texas later in the trip. I'll see the 102-inch telescope sometime soon, but not on this trip, so we settled for Lowell's 24-inch Clark telescope instead.

The campus at Lowell is serene and creatively lit, and was busy with holiday tourists.

We did get a look at Jupiter, the surface of the Moon, and some really neat artifacts of Astronomy history... One in particular struck a chord with me, the Blink Comparator, which is the instrument Clyde Tombaugh used to discover Pluto.

The apparatus takes two photos of the night sky, and superimposes them on each other, revealing near-orbit objects through the principal of parallax. Parallax is one of my favorite observances in physics, and one of the first tangible manifestations of perspective I can ever remember experiencing. My Dad only sees with one eye, and I remember being about 4 years old when he taught me about binocular vision, my superpower. You've experienced parallax before too, if you've ever been driving an old car, looking at the speedometer and you see a different speed than the passenger can see from their perspective because of the angle of the needle. Parallax doesn't just apply to astronomical objects...

After leaving the observatory and having dinner... Guess whose drink is whose here, I'll reveal the answer later:

We spent some time in the dirtiest, trashiest laundromat with (I couldn't make this up) a recently-retired carnival worker who just started working at the laundry this week, pulling swing shifts to make a little overtime on minimum wage. We had a long talk with this young lady, who was about to turn 30, although she looked easily 45... about social media, advertising, and ways to score her dream job as a secretary.

I couldn't help but wonder how I could be sitting in the laundry, talking about ways for her to sell herself... showing her things like Yelp, and FourSquare and talking about the ways to leverage social media for advertising... when less than a decade ago, I might have been on the same path if someone hadn't given me a chance 'secretary' job. I was a bartender, college dropout working two or three low-paying jobs - and I distinctly remember getting a receptionist gig that paid $10/hour. That one opportunity changed my perspective on life. It's funny, until someone told me I was worth ten dollars an hour, I never gave it any thought that I might be, I just worked hard for seven for a little longer. It was a revolutionary shift in parallax for me. I was still the same person, with the same abilities, I just needed someone else to look at me from their perspective and agree. Parallax has enabled astronomers to discover stellar objects for over 170 years, I'd like to use it to help some people discover things of their own.

I know better than anyone that the difference between carnies (travelers, circus folk, insert slang adjective here) and hobos is gainful employment... they still share the same drive for adventure, ingenuity and creativity that makes the next destination possible. This carny-come-laundry-shop girl might just need some encouragement. Bart, the always-enthusiastic entrepreneur, gave her plenty of ideas.

So now I sit high in the mountains, winding down and enjoying the day's perspective... with clean laundry. Tomorrow, I will peek at the Grand Canyon and make the journey to Zion National Park. Everyone enjoy your own parallax this New Year's Eve... responsibly, of course.

There is just no explanation for this face... but it was my beer. Bart ordered the Sangria, I'm sure you guessed that.

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