Friday, September 28, 2007

Dry cabins

Part of this blog is for reporting on Fairbanks life, so today we are going to talk about dry cabins. As in, cabins with no running water. There are quite a few around here, and they are for the most part lovely, bright, and well-insulated, and rent is cheap. Many of them are near campus (close enough to walk).

They are ideal housing for students except thatwaitnorunningwater?!? Seriously, call me a snob, but I just couldn't live without running water. I like to wash my hands frequently and cook most meals at home. In fact, I wonder if the inconvenience of cooking and washing up from bottles makes you eat out more, and thereby cancel out what you saved in rent. But there are other motivations to live in dry cabins. For starters, they are far, far more comfortable in every other way (as I said, lovely, bright, etc, etc) than some of the absolute bungholes that apartments in town tend to be. And when I say bunghole, I do mean bunghole! When Dan and I were searching, we actually came across some that had corrugated tin walls. We saw one that had an "extension" built off the back of spray insulation over chicken wire! We saw one with plant life coming through the ground in the living room! Serious bungholes.

So many people live in dry cabins around here that showers are treated like coffee--that is, you can purchase a shower in many places, and your workplace and/or school are expected to give you showers for free. UAF has plentiful free showers for its students, not just at the gym, but in miscellaneous buildings on campus.

So we've covered the kitchen, the showering, and... gee, what else to people use water for? Oh yes, people who live in dry cabins have outhouses. Yup. In fact, our little cabin here has an outhouse, which was used before my landlords (bless their hearts) put plumbing into this place. But last year, we still had to fill our water tank from town every couple of weeks or so. Over the past year, the landlords (bless them!) had a well drilled, so we have water here. But it's still not a transparent water supply that we can just ignore and depend on. We still have to fill the water tank from the well. But of course, now it's just connecting a hose and flipping on a pump, NOT driving to down with a tank, filling up the tank, and then driving back and transfering the water from the mobile tank to the house tank, sometimes multiple times!

It's struck me as rather insane that in the one city in the US where it would be least hospitable to use an outhouse, outhouses are common. To think about it now, if you asked me to use an outhouse in the Bay Area, I'd be shocked at first, but after a while, it wouldn't be a big deal at all. Here... when it's -40 outside... yeah, I would be quite unhappy! I honestly don't know how those guys do it!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Almost died laughing

Classical mechanics is my most time-consuming and math-intensive class. Each homework problem is about two densely-written pages of differential equations and greek symbols. Some are difficult, some are tricky, all are tedious. Of my three classes, this one takes about 60 percent of my time.

So yesterday, we are sitting in plasma class, and our prof glances at the clock and says, "Whoops! I am running out of time! I'll just set this up and then write down the answer for you." My friend V leans over my shoulder and whispers "We should do that on classical mechanics homework. Write, 'I don't have time to do this derivation. So I'll just write the final answer down.'"

OK this doesn't sound so funny right now, but a full ten minutes later, I was still trying to stifle a roaring laugh, and I was shaking helplessly in class with tears streaming down my cheeks.

OK you think that's bad. Thank your lucky stars I didn't type up a "funny incident" about lagrangian multipliers!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Been busy...

First of all, the hair had to go. I informed Dan after washing it Saturday morning that that was the last time I'd wash it, so either he had to cut it, or it was going to get disgusting in a few days. Guess which he chose?

Locks of Love is getting another gift from me!

In other news, I am finally understanding Lagrangians! And none too soon, seeing as I got the lowest score in the class on the first homework. Go me! The prof actually said to me, "this is not engineering. You have to think differently." But I'm good now. Thanks, Dr. Price!

Another interesting tidbit--I've twice now clarified in my head a concept I'd been struggling with by making mechanical analogies. My plasma prof said, "Hey, that's great! If that's how mechanical engineers think, then run with it!" But I wonder when I'll hit material that it will not be possible to do this with.

Interestingly enough, I remember my high school physics teacher (God bless you, Mr. Shapiro! You rock!) doing this for us when he first started to teach us about electricity and magnetism. So apparently I'm not the only one who thinks better in mechanical terms than in electrical. After all, we all experience mechanics directly, every day, when we throw a ball, walk up or down a hill, fix a bad hinge on a kitchen cabinet, etc. Daily life is mechanics. But who among non-physicists and non-EEs ever thinks about electricity and magnetism beyond flipping the light switch and sticking photos on the fridge?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Anderson, AK

Anderson, pop 370, is a little town about an hour South of here, along the highway to Denali and to Anchorage. There is no gas station, no grocery store, really not a whole lot going on there.

In March of 2007, the city took the idea of a group of high school students to give away land in a modernized form of homesteading. 26 parcels of about an acre each were made available on a first-come, first-serve basis to anyone who was willing to develop it and build on it within three years. The city is putting a road through the lots, and they have power and phone infrastructure. They do not have municipal water, but no-one in Anderson does (they all have wells, as we do here in Ester, where I live). My landlords went and got one. They told me that the line of people who camped out outside city hall before the morning of the giveaway was on the order of a hundred people. A hundred people? For free land? Well, to be honest it is poor land, and an hour from Fairbanks, and not even near the City Center of Anderson. The lots are really worth only about $10k. Still, they got one and now, at the end of the first summer, they have their lot cleared, their wood cut, their power poles up, and their well in.

Dan and I went to visit them down there today, their last day of work before they quit for Winter. It was a beautiful drive, with all of the Fall colors exploding. OK it's not as beautiful as the Appalachian Falls, but do they have moose? Do they? No, they do not.

Here I am with Savannah. Isn't she cute?

By the way, I am now accepting votes for where I should put my tickets for the Nenana Ice Classic! Send me your guess for when the Tanana River ice will break up next Spring!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Happy Equinox!

Happy equinox, everybody!

It's all downhill from here, for me!

is cOOOOOoooooOOOOooooming!

Ah boogah-boogah!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Goodbye, Arctic Potatoes

*sniff* *sniff*

Tanana Valley Farmer's Market closes for Winter this week. No more magic potatoes or sweet onions for me until next Summer. :( Our produce will be shipped from California. :)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Doofi Photos

Mr. Grumphus Bumfus Bunn B. Doofus, Esq:

Ms. Millie B. Doofus, Esq:


Today I learned that they do math with slightly different conventions in India than we do in the US. I would have assumed (though I had not actually thought about it before), that they would use the same conventions we do because we were both British colonies at some point in time. But nope. Maybe the slight variations date from the great Indian mathematicians of old, like how we've inherited some conventions from Newton. In any case, it's pretty cool because learning things in a different way means there is more possibility for intellectual diversity.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Corny post

I think often of food. I'd be a candidate for Overeaters Anonymous if it were based on that alone, except that I only rarely overeat. But whenever you see me in some mindless task--preparing something in the lab, running in the morning, walking to the post office, chances are, I am planning a meal in my head. These thoughts often come to me unbidden, and I generally crave mostly balanced food.

Imagine my surprise, then, when this morning on my run, I suddenly found myself dreaming of corn. And not the fresh, wonderful, supersweet cobs you get at farmers' markets in California in late Summer. Nope. I'm talking the chewy, sugared, unbelievably uniform bright yellow kernels you get from a can, drenched in butter, baked in a casserole dish, and served in Wintertime in regions of the US that consider starches vegetables. Mmmmmmmm! I have decided to modify this craving into cornbread with vegetable and potato stew for dinner tonight.

I do think that my body is reacting to its surroundings in what it tells me to eat. I've had the most beautiful and fragrant canteloupe in my fridge for a week now, and am only just getting to it. It just hasn't looked appealling to me, though it's a very good melon. It could be psychological. After all, my ancestors were in China, and had nothing to do with the comings and goings of European produce, which are what determine my diet now. Who knows?

In other, related news, the bunnies' bodies are also reacting. They've stopped shedding, and seem more placid and less irritable. They like cold. I think we might have to relocate their pen away from the wood stove when we start using it. Otherwise we'll have hot, cross buns. WAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Weather report

A storm pelted rain all though last night. I remember now that last year, it rained almost every day the entire month of August. In the Bay Area, rains tend to come later in the year, but here, it rains in August. I remember feeling quite guilty toward Dan, whom I had promised a Summer of endless daylight, but secretly being glad for myself, because I love the rain, and had worried that in Fairbanks, the rain would be too cold to enjoy. But here it was raining in Summer! Sweet!

I've always loved the rain. In the Bay Area, rain washes all of the haze out of the air and makes the air crisp and clear. In the Wintertime, rain in the city equates to snow on the highest peaks. A few years ago, I remember being mesmerized by all of the peaks in the East Bay being dusted with snow. Also, in California we have a constant water shortage, so a few good storms would mean a higher snowpack and thus taking longer showers without feeling guilty. AHHHHHHH loooooong hoooooot shooooowers!

Here, we do not have a water shortage, but I feel guilty wasting water all the same. Also, our water comes from groundwater, not precipation-filled reservoirs, as it does in the Bay Area. So the rain makes for less immediate impact on our water supply. Still.

Anyway, so the storm has made the trees dump their leaves. Fall in Fairbanks is about two weeks. Here is the front yard:

People here talk about Winter the way kids tease their younger siblings with talk of monsters in the closet. "Yup, it's a beautiful day now, but Winter is coming soon!" " Enjoy the sun while you can, because Winter is coming fast!" And when they hear that this will be my first Winter here, they laugh delightedly.

My classmate V is quite annoyed with this. "What is UP with everyone and Winter? They act like Summer will never come again! In Colorado, when Winter comes, so what? We put on more clothes, and we go skiing! We don't go wooooOOOOOOoooooOOOOOO Wiiiiinter is cooooooming!" When I point out that well, we do have one of the harshest Winters in the US, she pretends she didn't hear me. That's spirit!

Personally, I am quite curious to see how my pansy California butt will do!

OK enough pondering on the weather. Here are puppy pictures:

And here is one of Rae with her rawhide bone:

Hey the radio has just informed me that the temps will drop to 30-35F tonight! WOOOooooooOOOOOOooooo Wiiiinter is coming!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Unintended and unexpected wisdom

Here are two phrases that were originally not intended as wisdom or philosophy, but may be interpreted as such:

1. Components are provided for all installations, but no installation will require all components.

2. Must be present to win.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Photos du Jour

Took a quick walk after school today. These are around my neighborhood and the perimeter of the aforementioned Bonanaza Creek Experimental Forest.

Powerlines run from the top to the bottom of the hill in a straight line:

Trees along the road:

Walking into the "experimental forest":

Microstorm forming to the south:

Trees against the sky:

Fall is falling

A rainstorm came last night and stripped all of the loose leaves from the trees. Now my home neighborhood looks like someone threw confetti!

This is the time of year I feel most smug about having left the bay area. JayKay informs me that damned near half of California is on fire. It is hot, muggy, and hazy. People are irritable in the heat. Here, the air is cool, crisp, and clear. In a few weeks, there will be fog in the mornings. The morning fog is very beautiful here. Having grown up in San Francisco, I thought I had already developed an appreciation for fog. But fog here is different. It hangs in discrete clumps, sitting in low dips in the valley, gently shrouding the trees like a viscose scarf. Sometimes I am watching and see an actual piece of fog amble by. I am not used to seeing discrete pieces of fog. It's quite fascinating.

In other news, I am swamped with school work. I also need to reorganize the kitchen before Dan takes dibs on deciding where everything goes.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Photo report

This is the last stretch of my homeward commute:

This track leads to the Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest:

I think the University owns it, but I'm not really sure (maybe BLM?). Anyway, this entrance is almost literally a couple of blocks from where we live (I say almost literally, because we don't have blocks here), and I'd LOVE to take off with a backpack and explore it. I suspect Dan won't like the idea. I will have to ask around for some valid information that this would be a perfectly harmless activity. :)

Last night was so clear, the Alaska Range stood out quite beautifully:

This was taken from the front of my building at school, looking South, which is towards town. The Alaska range is to the south.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Full disclosure

Look, it's overcast today.

The trees are all yellow in town and along the river. But here in my neck of the woods, ours are slow.

The Chena as it flows through town

I took this last weekend. This weekend it is overcast and raining.


Don't worry, this is about jokes, not me telling jokes. I prefer to tell jokes verbally rather than by typing them, so stop running away! Invest in caller ID instead. :)

OK when I was in engineering school, we had a bunch of jokes about engineers versus physicists. And the premise of all of them was the same--that physicists are far smarter than engineers, but they don't have any practical knowledge. So a typical one has the physicist scribbling complex equations all over the log with his pen, while the engineer whips out his leatherman, does a quick "approximation," and saves the day.

Now that I am in physics school, I find that physics people have all the same jokes, only they are recast with physicists versus mathematicians! And once again, the mathematicians are far smarter in theory, but by God, we physicists know how to make the rubber meet the road!

This tells me something very interesting--no one is proud of being smart! They all fancy themselves in such a manner as, "Gee, I'm not very smart, but I can make it work better than that brainiac over there!" Even the smartest people I know say this! What is this? Humility? But why the bragging over the supposed humility? I mean, of course we all know people who are extremely book smart and not smart at all in "the real world." And we all know people who are very, very smart in practical applications but not so good with crunching equations. But in general, higher IQ does lead to higher strengths in both theory and practice, so why do people seem to think that the two are mutually exclusive?

At my second job out of college, I took a class for training technicians, to learn some practical knowledge to round out my engineering knowledge. I was the only engineer and the only woman (further complicating matters) in the class. Now the majority of technicians at this company are very good, very bright, have years of specialized experience, etc, etc. But they took utter, utter delight in gently teasing me about my lack of experience. I didn't even have to pretend to take it good-naturedly; I did naturally, such was the overall gentleness and inoffensiveness of this teasing. But still, years later, I look back and think, what was that all about? If they were so superior to me, why did they feel the need to tease me?

I guess I have to tentatively conclude three things:
1) Everyone admires practicians over theoreticians.
2) Therefore, everyone fancies himself a practician, and teases theoreticians.
3) And yet, the people who are among the very best actual practicians in the world, are not secure enough to resist teasing theoreticians.

How baffling!

Friday, September 7, 2007

School Daze

Now that I've gone to all three of my classes, I can say with some confidence that I think this sememster's classes are going to be awesome! Firstly, none of the three have prereqs that I have not taken. Now the specifics:

1) Plasma. I have never learned anything like this before. That automatically ups the cool quotient. Then also, the prof that is teaching is very nice and patient and notarrogant. But the best thing about him is that he's evidently been just itching to teach plasma, but had to wait his turn since evidently most profs in the physics department here can and want to teach plasma. How could his enthusiasm not spill into us?

2) Classical mechanics. Newtonian mechanics? What's not to like? And today in lecture, I remembered what a gluon is. How could I not remember a gluon? Gluon was one of my sweetest rats! I look at his photo on my desktop every day!

And here he is napping on some of my pop physics books, which drew me into this field to begin with:

That's Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe and Timothy Ferris' Coming of Age in the Milky Way there. Plus a neat little number called The Ideas of Particle Physics, by Coughlin and Dodd. Yeah, I'ma nerd. Wanna make something of it?

3) Mathematical Methods in Physics. The most painful but also most necessary. As I've said, I have a lot of catching up to do with their nomenclature and their way of doing things, and all. Fortunately, I'm pretty good at abstract math. Surprisingly, it's sometimes caused me harm, because I often get what I want out of equations without understanding what the hell just happened. For example, I aced our notoriously difficult fluid mechanics class at Berkeley, just by manipulating equations. And I didn't learn a damned thing about fluid mechanics. Scary, huh?

Oh by the way, gluons don't have much to do with classical mechanics, for those of you who were wondering... we were just chatting.

Weather report

Full disclosure on the weather I've been raving about--It rained this morning and was overcast until noon, when the sun came out and blazed across campus. It also rained two other mornings/evenings this week. No photos, though, because by the time I thought about it, the rain was gone.

We have microweather systems here. Sometimes the only way you know a storm is coming through is that you see a dark cloud on the horizon, and the next day, the river is higher. Some storms that dump rain on you last no longer than an hour, and then the sun comes out. This does not happen in the Bay Area, where a storm means several days of rain and then possibly another several days of the sun trying to make up its mind whether to make an appearance.

Fall is here in earnest, now, though my photos haven't been showing it because I've been taking them around the cabin, where for some reason it's still summer, tree-wise.

Finally, here is a photo of Rae this morning, after escorting me to my car.

"I want to go to school, too. Boo hoo!"

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Wow! And a few miscellaneous thoughts

Have you ever seen such a beautiful bunch of broccoli as this?

That is my hand. And that is NOT an effect of camera angle. That is a big, beautiful broccoli. What shall I do with it? Hmmmm...

In other news, we finally start class tomorrow. It's only been a year in waiting, for me! Yay!

I went to the annual HR orientation anti-sexual-harassment rigamarole for TAs today, which was near the center of campus with the student union and bookstore and stuff. I was watching the students milling about, and I noticed with sudden surprise that they were all checking each other out.

I am used to working among people who are older and mostly married or coupled up, with or without children. Here, I find that people are scoping each other out, with wide eyes and inviting smiles. People are scoping me out, which shocks me at first. Not that I consider myself that much older or unattractive. It's just that it's been so long since I've been among so many people evidently bent on getting together.

A nice-looking guy beamed a warm smile at me, and I responded by my Silicon Valley habit, which is that I returned the smile and immediately began scratching my brain in a panic wondering how I knew him, how I had met him, what his name was. I was so embarrassed that I couldn't even remember meeting him, when it hit me that I didn't know him. This is just what people do at college campuses--turn up the wattage.

I guess I've forgotten some of the nuances of being a college student. But I am also supremely thankful that I am no longer twenty-one! Boys swagger with false bravado, girls glance at their reflections in glass windows and assess themselves and bemoan real or imagined flaws. And all are glancing around.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Cusp between Summer and Fall

The leaves are juuuuuust starting to turn golden. The sun is warm, aggressive, hypnotic. Chunky golden shafts stream down between trees, clouds, and buildings. I have to keep my windows down while I drive, else the bright warm bath submerses me and makes me drowsy.

Mornings are crisp, though there is no frost yet. I can see my breath. The mosquitoes don't come out to trouble me until mid-day.

The cranes are still here. They are staging--flying over the city, in small groups, forming and rearranging their Vs. I guess it's a bit like trying to book your exact seat when you book an airline flight. When they get it perfect, they'll fill the sky and head to Texas, and we won't see them again until Spring.

Two shots in front of the cabin:

New friends and old friends

Of the canine sort.

First, here is Simone, recovered from the pneumonia that we feared would bring her last day with us (she and her sister are 13 now!):

Then here is Rae, for some reason posing like a queen (she is more prone to posing like a doofus):

Then here is Savannah, my newest neighbor:

Rae is quite appalled at Savannah, and wants to eat her: