Friday, August 31, 2007

Misc photos

Funny bumper sticker, in the Natural Sciences building parking lot:

At the UAF botanical garden, which is just down the hill:

Campus reindeer, adjacent to the botanical garden:

"So I sez to Mabel, I sez..."

Report from the Academic Front

I am taking:
Classical Mechanics
Plasma Physics
Mathemtical Physics

I am quite pleased with this because between the mechanics class and the math class, I should have a lot of opportunities to learn the nomenclature of physicsmath, which is a bit different from the nomenclature of engineermath, before going into completely new material that I've never seen at all before. Also, math is pretty and I like pretty things, so starting out with a math-intensive semester will make me happy. :)

I will be TAing the intro to physics that nonmajors and nonengineers take. I had at first wanted to TA the physics class that majors and engineers take, because I have taken it myself and know what the students are going through, but quite a few of the students in the class I've chosen have never taken a physicical science class of any sort before, so I want to be the first to get to them and make it fun for them. :) Anyway, I find that having regular contact with people who are quite different from me makes life interesting. :)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

How we grad students are bonding

Here is our self-imposed to-do list!

A thought

Maybe the reason that most people around here have glossy or semigloss paint inside their houses is so that when you kill your minimum of six flying insects per day by smacking them against the wall, the guts wipe up nicely and neatly. Just a thought.

View from the roof of my building

The Natural Sciences Building, that is.

Looking toward the Southwest. I live in between that closer green ridge and the farther one that looks darker, toward the right hand side of photo. At least I think I do. I have a pretty bad sense of direction!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The things we don't know we know

Today, my fellow grad students and I were launching ping pong balls across the room with a ping pong ball cannon (something physics students are wont to do). And the topic came up of what would happen if (this is what I love about science students--the phrase "I wonder what would happen if..."!!) we poked holes in the ping pong balls. We tried one, and it smashed into the opposite wall the same as the others. However, it had developed a crack from the hole. My cohorts commented, "Hey, it cracked!" I replied, "Well yeah, we put a stress concentrator." To which they responded, "A WHAT?"

Wow! So here is a bit of knowledge I'd thought I'd learned in high school, but which I'd evidently learned in engineering school. I got to explain to them about stress concentrators, and further how plastics are quite notch-sensitive, and concluded with "why were you nicking the edge of the tape with your teeth before you tore off a piece of tape earlier?"

Now I am quite proud at my ability to pull off that example on the fly, from my friend's own action, which he evidently hadn't even thought about before. And I'm proud that obviously my engineering education has come to something more than fancy titles on my resume. But I also have some anxiety that there is evidently less crossover between mechanical engineering and physics than I had supposed. That all these years I've spent learning stuff that they haven't, they've had the same number of years learning stuff that I haven't!

It makes me nervous to think about, but it's also terribly exciting. I get to learn all new stuff in the coming years!

Planned hikes

Looks like fun, eh?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Blueberry Pickin'

A five-mile round trip, taking an hour longer than it normally takes me to walk five miles, netted me these:

There were soooo many that I couldn't stop picking. "Enough for a snack" turned into "enough for blueberry muffins to share with Dan and Lori, and to freeze a few for Dan when he gets back," which turned into "enough for a couple of small pies, one for Dan and Lori and one for Dan and me," but I quit only when I just got too warm in the sun, and it ended up enough for one for each of us!



Wow juicy berries! I wish they hadn't pushed off the top crust though. What's up with that?

Oh yeah, and the sky was bee-YOO-ti-ful today in the Tanana Valley, but what else is new?

W O W. That pie was amazing! I had fretted some that I couldn't find mini pie pans and had to use custard cups, thereby having too high a a ratio of filling to crust. But those berries are soooooo good they made that an asset. Wow! Yum!

Comments enabled for everyone now...

Sorry I had the settings wrong earlier! Not that I am so sure everyone in the whole world wants to comment, but it just seems somehow arrogant to ask that other people sign up for a somethingorother account if they just want to drop you a note.

It's tough...

This whole "I've already quit my job but haven't started school yet, and I'm only working half days at my new job, and they don't (yet) expect me to work weekends, and I don't have any homework" gig is pretty tough!

My weekend to-do list consists of:
Drive up and down Chena Ridge Road and try to find panoramic views of the city for photos.
Have dinner with Brian.
Go to Gulliver's for some leisure reading.
Go to Creamer's Field and try to photograph Sandhill Cranes.
Go to Beaver Sports and inquire about recommended local day hikes.
Go on a day hike.
Make a giant pot of bean soup, with a generous flavoring of moosetard, so I the only thing I'll have to prepare for myself the rest of the week is vegetables.
Make pumpkin bread so I can have a pretext for going over to my landlords' as soon as they get home with their new puppy.

I think I can handle that. :)

Friday, August 24, 2007

So I am a single girl for a while!

Dan's back in the bay area for a few weeks for some medical exams, some finalizations of our getting outta dodge, and some contract work for his former company.

So I am livin' it up, single and free!

Mostly this consists of such activities as:

*Leaving water droplets on the edge of the sink after I wash my hands, instead of wiping them off.

*Showering and doing laundry at the same time, without anyone later informing me that he has had to take a cold shower.

*Not wrapping up the vacuum cleaner cord exactly the way it came from the manufacturer, and putting it back in its box, along with the styrofoam endcaps and the plastic wrapping, after I vacuum. We vacuum MY way, for now, baby!

*Not making sure the bunnies' gate is exactly at 45 degrees when I shut them in for the night.


Industry labs versus student labs

In the weeks between when my TA contract starts and when I start actually teaching and doing labwork with the undergrads, I am puttering around the lab, fixing equipment. And finding it rather frustrating. I have always known in a theoretical sense how grad student labs are financially strapped and that grad students are not in general the best caretakers of machinery and equipment. But I was still quite appalled to find that nothing was in its proper place, no-one cares if things are built inconsistently without regards for standard methods that allow for ease of later access and repair, etc. The other day, I spent two full hours fuming because I could not locate a basic flathead screwdriver and had to use my leatherman. I finally found a #2 philips screwdriver, only to find that the tip of it had somehow fused into a blobule of some sort.

I was describing all of this to Dan, and he said, "Well you know how grad students are! I bet that the screwdriver tip had been melted because one of your cohorts had decided to see what would happen if it were immersed in a high-temperature flame, or something like that!"

And then, well DUH! The reason that grad students aren't so organized or so meticulous with proper building techniques is because all of that is tedious and really, truly pointless (after all, they aren't building things for paying customers in industry, as I've been used to! they are building things that will only be used once until they get trashed due to something else! so I'm just being anal out of habit, but it's probably quite unnecessary and is also really a waste of time and effort in this situation. and is this the longest parenthetical comment ever? do you remember where I was in the interrupted sentence?). What grad students have instead of organization and good lab practices are enthusiasm and energy and curiosity in abundance. It's probably something we could all use an injection of every now and then!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Today I have been duly informed...

... that Winters here are not so bad.

On the cold:

Well, it turns out that below 0 degrees F, ice no longer surface melts with contact or friction, so it's quite safe to walk and drive around on the ice because you don't slip.

Also, at below -40 degrees, water vapor does not require nucleation sites to freeze, so all of the vapor freezes out of the air and leaves 0% humidity. This means that your body heat does not transfer away from you so quickly. Also that down (which is famously ineffective in wet climates) will keep you quite toasty for a low weight cost.

On the darkness:

Well I suspected this, but had it confirmed. Long twilights (and a blanket of reflective snow!) mean that though the sun is only "up" for 4 hours on the solstice, there is actually more light than most people imagine.

Actually, I had never feared that this would bother me. After all, in the Silicon Valley in Winter, I left for work (or SCU classes) when it was dark, and arrived home after dark again. And in between, I was in an interior office with no natural light. So what's the diff?

Incidentally, today was another bee-yoo-tiful day. I keep taking off my sunglasses and putting them back on, because I cannot believe how clear and blue the sky is! And the big, puffy white clouds that seem to hang around here (at least for the seasons I've experienced here) are just so pretty as to be cartoonish!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Tanana Valley Farmer's Market

Here is my loot for the day:

Savoy cabbage! Weird-looking (though actually quite normal-tasting) arctic-grown spinach! Moosetard (locally made mustard) for my beans! The last of the season's sweet blueberries! Arctic potatoes (which are so yummy as to be magical, as Scandinavians will attest to as well as Alaskans)!

And I also stopped at "Northernmost falafel stand in the world" for lunch. Which is probably true, and got me thinking. Seeing as we are the northernmost city in the Western hemisphere, and in the other half of the world, maybe only a handful of cities in Siberia, Finland, Norway, and Sweden are farther north than we are, there are probably quite a few things around here that can take analogous boastful titles. My cup of tea right here might well be the "Northernmost cup of Chinese tea in a Pyrex measuring cup in the world." Mr. B. is probably the "Northernmost savage rabbit in the world." And I might really be the Northernmost Chinese-American physics student in the world. Imagine that!

Here is my loot from last week, as inspected by Ms. Millie B. Doofus, Esq:

What a beautiful pumpkin! I shall make pasta e zucca this week, and bake and mash the rest for pies!

Finally, here is today's sky:

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

photos from the trip!

Thanks to Anonymous, who pointed out my mistyping, so I could give you a good link:

Monday, August 20, 2007

Fairbanksian Dinner

Tonight for dinner I tried these:

Local Alaskan shrimp!

Fall is my favorite season to eat, because the seasonal produce is rich and flavorful and allows for the creation of simple, but sumptuous meals. I realize that it is still Summer in California, but here in Fairbanks, the fact that it actually gets dark at, oh, eleven pm is a reminder that the seasons are soon to turn. Fall is beautiful in the Tanana Valley--the aspen and birch all change into bright colors, the air is crisp, and the bluetrueblue Alaskan sky is thrown into sharp relief. The sandhill cranes begin staging their migratory takeoff, and wheel across the sky, forming, breaking, and reforming Vs, and the sky is filled with honking birds with outstretched necks.

Anyway, because I had never seen shrimp like this before, I decided to veto my original plan (not difficult to do when you are a committee of one) to make shrimp with marinara and instead saute them with garlic and olive oil and veggies, to lighten up the flavor so I could see what they really tasted like.

Imagine my surprise when I found that a quarter of them had this:

Well! The shrimp were so fresh and odorless that I deduced that these things could be useful!

Unfortnately, when I tried to remove them from the shrimp shells, they stuck to each other, to the shrimp legs, to my fingertips, and to a spoon that I then enlisted for help! And as I tried to separate them to gather into a bowl so I could at least have them all together before I decided what to do with them, they popped and burst! I put in an emergency call to my sister to ask for advice, and she told me that, while they may be a delicacy, they are actually quite flavorless, and nutritionless, and high in cholesterol, and that I should not feel bad about throwing them out. So I threw them out. I am now convinced that they are a heavenly delicacy and that I threw out the best part, but I'm still not sure how I should have dealt with them or how I would have prepared them. BT probably is reading this in horror. Did I throw out the best part?

Okay enough of that.

These are what the Tanana Valley Farmer's Market gave me:

OK the can of olives is from Tracy (so close to my former home!), but the rest is legitimate Fairbanksian fare. Here is what I did:

OK the wine is from California (again near my former home), but... damn, nevermind. You get the point!

Those shrimp are good! Sweet and tender and notshrimpy.

OK I have to go do other stuff now!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Observation #1

So you know how they say that you can pick your friends, but you can't pick your family? I think the same can be said of grad students. Even in a school as large as Berkeley, there are very few grad students in each department, and there are fewer still at UAF. And we have to work together, share office space together, and spend copious amounts of time together. We're pretty much stuck together, so we may as well get over the parts of each other that we don't like and just damned well get along.


So I have finally decided to jump on the bandwagon and get into this whole blogging thing, to chronicle my adventures in the transition from the Silicon to the Tanana Valley. Quite a few people, who obviously overestimate the level of excitement in my life, have expressed interest, so here I am.

Who am I:
I was an up-and-coming mechanical engineer, climbing the corporate ladder, earning respect in my field, making more money than I had dreamed of, when I up and decided to quit my job, move to the interior of Alaska, and return to school full-time. To add insult to injury, it wasn't even for mechanical engineering. I am going to earn a second master's degree and PhD in physics! Yay physics!

And I was surprised and touched at how many friends and colleagues reacted not by being appalled but by being extremely encouraging, admiring, and envious! Among the most warming of all were the reactions of my boss, who had taken a leap of faith on hiring me since I was not very experienced in the skillset he required, and my graduate advisor, who was not just my mentor for my MS in mechanical engineering (and whom I would therefore have expected to want to see me shine as a mechanical engineer), but who had introduced me to my aforementioned boss and therefore stood the more to be disappointed in me. But they were utterly delighted at my news and still are.

I really can't explain.

Cast of Characters:
Living with me in my cabin, in order of IQ, are:
Dan. He helps me open jars and lets me stick my cold hands and feet on him at night.
Mr. Grumphus Bumfus Bunn B. Doofus, Esq. Severely deranged rabbit with a terrible temper, whom I adopted when I found him abandoned on the street one week after Easter, 2000.
Ms. Millie B. Doofus, the world's sweetest rabbit, adopted from the Humane Society of Silicon Valley to be a companion for Mr. B.

First impressions of Fairbanks:

Rather a dull and ordinary-looking little city. But I like that people are warm and unpretentious and friendly. Three things I had been seeking most on leaving the Silicon Valley! People have big, floppy friendly dogs that go everywhere with them, riding in cars and trucks and running alongside bikes with ears and tongues flapping in the wind. The sun is warm and intense, like a smile from someone who's really, really happy to see you. And when a cloud covers it, the chill is as sudden. The sky is blue, blue, blue! Bluer than I've seen anywhere else and bluer than I'd believed possible!

A friend in need...:

When you are 3000 miles away from everyone you've known and cared about your whole life, and you haven't been in town long enough to have made any real friends or connections yet, and suddenly you need help and all these people who are practically strangers reach out to you, well let me tell you it is just the most amazing, humbling feeling in the whole world. From my landlords to the university people, from my former boss to the lady working at the feed store who gave me a hug because "it looked like I needed one," I had a complete restoration of faith in humanity in Fairbanks.

When I returned to California last Fall, the only thing I had to worry about was taking care of Dan and setting up our new house. Mary at school had taken care of all of the administrative work for my leave of absence, and would forward my mail to me until I had the post office forward in place, even offering to store my car for the year I'd be gone (though my landlord ended up selling it for me (!)). Brian and Debasmita calmed my nerves, sat me down on the grad student sofa, and put together my "action plan" for how to get moved out and back to the bay area, creating and filling out a chart on the white board, which I couldn't help but chuckle at, and even offered to take my keys and move my furniture from the cabin to storage for me, after I had left town! Our landlords let us out of our lease and helped me move the furniture to storage, took the paperwork for my car to sell it for me (!! I still can't believe they did this! What a load off!), and took me and the rabbits to the airport and sent us off with warm hugs and good wishes for a speedy recovery for Dan.

On arriving in California, Bill and Chris had a spare room set up for Dan and me, a room downstairs for the rabbits, and warmth and friendship and good food until we found a place to stay for the year. Ken at Sun had my old job waiting for me, and as I returned to work my Sun friends were kind and supportive and let me work at work and still called me on my mistakes and didn't wallow in pity for Dan or me and were just the kindest and most sensible and lovely colleagues and friends to return to.

It's funny, when I had left them earlier that Summer, it had felt like leaving any other job--a mixture of sadness and giddyness, with promises to keep in touch when I knew that only some would be kept. But when I returned, it was really like returning to old friends, and when I later left the second time around, I felt truly sad. It's amazing how they managed to show their support without being in any way intrusive or overbearing. I only realized their friendship in subtle ways. Thanh, whom I had not be close to before, one day out of the blue came by and offered to pick me up a sandwich at lunch. Russ, who had used to sit across the hall from me prior to my leaving, came by early one evening and said, "Just came by to make my visit for the day, since I have to leave early tonight..." Russ and I would chat frequently; it had never occurred to me until then that he made a point of visiting every day!

So I had another restoration of humanity in the Silicon Valley. Whoda thunk?

Fairbanks 2.0

So we are back again, fuzzies and me, setting up shop in our cabin in the woods. Dan and Lori, our landlords, had the timing worked out so we could live here again. I went to campus this week for the first time since arriving in town, and reclaimed my old office. Only Mary was there, and it was lovely to see her again. I start setting up the labs and doing other TA duties this week, and I start classes the following week. Yay!