Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Okay so here's the deal with my classes...

Drunk and disorderly math professor apparently has not pulled himself together, so I am dropping math physics and taking Statistical Mechanics instead. So my current schedule is:

*Upper division undergraduate level Electricity and Magnetism (looks to be easy; first two lectures were a review of div, grad, curl, etc.)

*Nonlinear dynamics (i.e., chaos, synchronicity); my bread and butter, possibly my field of research

*Statistical mechanics (i.e., extremely complicated version of thermodynamics)

Time to dig out the ol' thermo book! I hope I can find it somewhere!

Monday, January 28, 2008

No more lazy mornings

We now have full daylight at 9 a.m. No more rolling out of bed at 9:30 without feeling guilty about it, although my earliest class is at 1 p.m.! Must post recent photos tonight!

Friday, January 25, 2008

The sky!

It's blue! Blue, blue, as only an Alaskan sky can be!

In other news, I am liking this semester already. Details to follow if they actually occur as anticipated. We shall see.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The sun!

I had been looking forward to my run this morning. My first after recovering from a slight injury, and also, there is a full moon nowadays to light my way. So I stepped outside, and thought, "WHOA! That moon is BRIGHT!" then realized... nope, that was sunlight! The days are getting longer, quickly! As I drove to school, the sun actually came up and turned yellow, instead of remaining orange on the horizon. It is amazing to watch it change...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Silicon vs. Tanana Valley

Silicon Valley Pros:
*Cushy creature comforts at job environment (e.g., instant hot water spigot in office kitchen for tea, big cushy chair, desk, and office supplies)
*Fresh tomatoes
*General efficiency of living pace

Silicon Valley Cons:
*10-hour workday on first day of work
*Scary aggressive drivers
*General big city malaise

Tanana Valley Pros:
*Little sled dog as handmaiden
*Long walks in the woods

Tanana Valley Cons:
*Flaccid broccoli

Monday, January 21, 2008

Slippin' and Slidin'

Fairbanks is having a warm spell while I am in California. Dan says he feels bad for me missing it, but I am not sorry at all. I'm afraid of being on the ice when the temperatures approach freezing. The ice is then sooooo slick, both driving and walking are terrifying!

I must say that I am thinking of Spring with some trepidation. Not only will the ice be slippery, but everything will be filthy and muddy! As the snow melts, everything that has been frozen under the snow since October will come out and thaw--banana peels, dog crap, apple cores, coffee cups, trash, etc, etc. It sounds SOOOOO gross and smelly! A whole winter's worth of dog crap, frozen and preserved and melting all at once! I've been very conscientious with picking up Autumn's crap, and I hope others have been the same.

If I had my druthers, I'd ruther snap my fingers and go from Winter to Summer. But such is life. At least Spring brings all the green buds to the trees! :)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Sun! It Burns!

Tips for travellers from Fairbanks to California in Winter:

1) Bring sunglasses! The sun is strong, and yellow, not orange. It also rises above the horizon, instead of lazily sliding along the edge. You may find it surprising and unsettling, if you haven't seen the sun yellow since September.

2) Be careful when driving. Cars respond differently here. You do not need a quarter of a mile braking distance when you are going at 25 mph. It's quite novel.

3) Feel free to walk as quickly as you like! The ground provides sufficient friction!

4) Be careful when driving. Drivers are quite self-absorbed and will not let you merge. They also drive like bats out of hell. They will have no patience for you if you drive your normal speed.

By the way, that storm the other night turned out to be freakin' awesome! I went outside the next morning to let Autumn out to pee, and we had nearly a foot of new snow! We both stepped outside and fell into powder! *PFOOF* :D

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Comin' down!

Warmer temperatures generally means snow! :)

It is really coming down outside now, more than I've ever seen! We've gotten several inches just in the last few hours! :)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

My meter!

Check it out!

I detailed the mechanicals for that guy and managed the first prototype build in China! Now it's going places! Cool, huh?

Go Echelon, go! I wish I had worked there long enough for some of my stock to vest.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Meese are everywhere around here, especially as the weather cools down and they come down to lower elevations to feed. Moose-car crashes are not uncommon (a few per year seems about normal) and are usually fatal to both humans and meese. :( For this reason, among myriad others, it pays to drive on the slow side around here!

Meese put me in mind of enormous domesticated rabbits. For the most part, you leave them alone, and they leave you alone. But they have a terrible temper, so do not anger them! The thing that makes them more dangerous than rabbits is of course their size. A bull moose is 380–535 kg (850–1180 pounds), and a femoose 270–360 kg (600–800 pounds). Imagine if Bunn were that size! Stamp, hrrmph, charging, growling, etc. Yes, that's why meese are considered the most dangerous wild animal in Alaska.

There is a video floating around that is shown in wilderness training classes, to demonstrate the power of the moose. In it, a full-size grizzly bear goes after a pair of twin calves. Poor mama moose can only defend one, so the bear takes the other. But then the bear gets greedy and comes back for the other calf, and mama moose tramples him to death.

The two most dangerous moose types are a mother with a calf or calves, and a bull moose during the rut (Septemberish). The rest of the time, you can mostly ignore meese, but when you see one, you can't help but be intimidated. I see their tracks around our neighborhood, and I see them wandering around, mostly in glimpses--a rump end as one disappears into the brush, or a big brown face staring out from the trees. They have big, gentle eyes, like horses' eyes, and they wear blank expressions. Today, we saw a pair of femeese (or maybe it was a mama and her nearly-grown calf) galumphing across someone's back yard.

The first moose I ever saw up close was this girl:

I watched her from the windows, then cowered inside for a few minutes after she left, before I dared leave the house that first morning!

She came regularly after that, sauntering up and down the power pole trail behind our cabin, stripping the leaves off the trees and helping herself to our vegetable garden. I haven't seen her in a while and wonder where she is now. I hope she hasn't been eaten.

Okay, that's the Moose Report!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Oh geeze!

Well, whaddaya know? It's another Real Fairbanks Winter Day. That's our second this year, and likely our last.

For those few holdouts who still don't believe that the earth is getting warmer, I strongly suggest a few chats with some of the good ol' boys around here. Old Alaskan Natives who can't remember when the sea ice was ever this thin or sparse. Poor polar bears. :(

Anyway, tomorrow is supposed to be up to -5F/-20C, and it's supposed to be in the 10F/-12C range by the end of the week. Can anyone tell me how in the heck the day's high can go from -40F to -5F, in one day? It's insane! Can you imagine if one day in the Sili Valley, it is 70F, and the next, it is 35F? Wowza!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Miscellaneous Musings on Being a Minority

The two trade magazines I still regularly read, Physics today and Mechanical Engineering, seem to have at least one mention in every issue of how to bring more women into the field. I read these articles with mixed feelings. I have personally experienced very little discrimination against women, in either engineering or physics. But I have also only worked and studied in very progressive environments, and I do not doubt that real discrimination against women exists.

I must confess that while I find any form of employment discrimination deplorable, I would also feel a little sad to see the unique culture that I've worked and studied in disappear, and that is the culture of being a woman in a male-dominated field. We have rare gifts among women, and I am thankful for them every day.

Firstly, I have very seldom met any women classmates or colleagues that are catty or competitive or spiteful toward each other. There are so few of us that we tend to cleave together, because let's face it, no matter how well a person may get along with his or her opposite-sex friends, we all need the friendship of our own gender. And when you are a woman and meet only one or two other women in a given year, you are pleased and thankful, and are not inclined to try to push her away or harm her! I have experienced both ends of this warmth. I've started new positions where the current woman engineer reaches out to me, and I have also been in the senior position where the "new girl on board" is someone whom I want only to help. I cannot imagine otherwise.

Secondly, I think we have a uniquely moderate approach to daily life. Yes, most of us fit the stereotype of not being into fashion, makeup, designer clothes, and handbags, but neither are we tomboys or manlike. Very few of us wear only pantsuits and sensible shoes, and we don't shy from wearing beautiful dresses to formal parties. Most women engineers can dress to knock your socks off, but most simply choose not to on a daily basis.

Thirdly, I think we have a very healthy outlook on male-female relationships. I think there is another stereotype floating around out there that women can only survive in male-dominated industries if we are rock-hard and tough-as-nails. It simply isn't true for most women engineers. I do not know a single one who is an ultra-feminist who refuses to cook or do dishes because she views it as degrading to women. I have never known one who hates all men. If you ask one of us whether we would quit our jobs to be full-time mothers, we would most likely weigh our options in purely practical terms--how much income would I lose, what is the cost of childcare, how much would I miss working--we would not bristle at the question or view it as a Great Sociological Choice that is Determining the Role of Women Everywhere.

So there you have it. :)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Ol' Man Winter

We're in the midst of a few-day cold snap (~-25F/-32C). It's been so cold that even I feel uncomfortably chilly, and that's saying a lot!

I've generally always preferred cold temperatures. I remember when I first moved from San Francisco to Berkeley, and then from Berkeley to the Sili Valley, each move only brought just the slightest rise in average temperatures. It's nothing even close to Dan's hometown in the Arizona desert! Yet I spent much of my Summers in those two places wilting on the sofa like the heroine of a bad romance novel.

I've found that my favorite Winter temperature in Fairbanks is about 10F/-12C. It's warm enough to walk anywhere you please without having to wear insane amounts of clothes and wrap up your face like a bank robber, and yet cold enough to run and run and run, and never get winded or break a sweat! Also, being more than just a bit below freezing means that the ice never gets slippery--it feels as solid as pavement. Autumn and I have covered about 300 miles since I've gotten her, just exploring the trails around our neighborhood!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Things you Learn in Fairbanks

1) How to wrap a scarf around your face so that it blocks cold air, but you can still breathe through it. Bonus--once you get it right, it freezes into place; the water vapors from your exhaled breath freeze and act like hairspray. :)

2) Which of your shoes' soles get hard in the cold, and which do not. (I ate pavement several times over that one!)

3) The exact way the sounds of your car engine change when it is warm enough to drive.

Here is Millie, flopped again. I have never seen this bunny so ree-laxed! Even Mr. Grumpy has been very placid lately. I think they know it's hibernation time.

Looking for my Sheep

I'm finally able to verbalize why I am persuing a degree that is quite unnecessary and possibly silly for my career. :)

Adair Lara, a newspaper columnist whom I quite enjoyed (before her column was discontinued when my hometown newspaper decided that they needed their columnists to be younger and hipper, hrrmph!), once wrote:

"If you're like my son Patrick, you want to know what you're for, what your special gifts are. He makes me think of my dog Cody. Cody snaps at our heels, trying to get us to turn. He doesn't know why he does that because he doesn't know he's a sheepdog, born to herd sheep. He doesn't know what he's for. I bet he will find out in a hurry if we ever come across some sheep.

"Watch for your sheep."

Yeah, working dogs are awesome like that. Have you ever seen how well an urban dog takes to his breed's calling, even when he's never known it in his life? Take a collie, or even a corgi, and put him in a pen full of sheep or goats. His face will light up, and he'll round them up into a corner. Do you know what the most difficult command is to teach a sled dog? "Whoa" or "stop" or "slow down." There is a common vocabulary that all sled dogs learn (i.e., "gee" for right, "haw" for left, "whoa" for slow down), but there is one word that they just don't need. 'Go.' The most common command for 'go' is "Okay." Seriously! You release their brakes, and all they need is for you to permit them to go, and they take off, with joy lighting up their faces!

I'm not sure that humans work this way, but I have to confess that I've never felt that sort of passion about anything before and I wonder if I can just find the right calling, it will happen for me. Don't get me wrong--I love being an engineer, and I love studying physics. I am very proud of my chosen career, and I've met such wonderful people and learned such wonderful things! But at the end of any given day or week or month, I will have to tell you that my happiest moments were ones that have nothing whatsoever to do with work or school. Driving the Eastbound Dumbarton at sunrise. Sleeping in and snuggling up against Dan on a Sunday morning. My long runs and walks with Autumn on our snowy trails, as I marvel over the red sun hanging low on the horizon. I love school and am doing well in school, and I've loved most of my Sili Valley jobs, especially my recent ones. But the things that give me joy are not those, and I wonder if I might have a true calling out there somewhere.

It's silly and artificial, I know. I've met quite a few people in Chinese factory towns who work the most tedious jobs imaginable, but they live happy lives simply because they make good wages compared to their hometowns, and they have no familial obligations in their daily lives. On weekends the young people fill the streets, their arms linked, laughing and gossiping, although the streets are filled with rubble and dirt and soot from the factories. It's silly to think that each of us has some higher intellectual calling, so I feel somewhat embarrassed and spoilt, to admit that that was part of what I was chasing when I came here. But I think deep down, that was part of it.

I am fortunate to be a happy, if discontent, person by nature. I can honestly tell you that I had a happy childhood, even though objectively it was pretty bad. My family didn't have a lot of money, and my mother was always stressed out and sometimes lashed out at us kids. I was picked on mercilessly by other school kids because I was nerdy and weird, and I didn't have any friends. And yet... I remember being a happy kid.

More and more, I realize that happiness is a trait of character and not of circumstance. We all know people who should be happy and who are not. And we all know people who should not be happy and who are.

I've been happy. But I still keep trying...

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Awww! :*)

I got my TA evaluations back this week. The questions they were asked referred more to the lab in general than to me as a TA:

1) Was this class intellectually stimulating? Did it stretch your thinking?

2) What aspects of this class contributed most to your learning?

3) What aspects of this class detracted from your learning?

4) What suggestions do you have for improving the class?

Nevertheless, a quarter of them answered #2 with some variation of "Our TA! She's great with explaining things!" They actually said that! One person wrote "You're lucky to have her in your department."

Awwwww!! *blushing*

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Bipolar Autumn

First, we have Outdoor Autumn. Sorry these are so far away. Taking these was quite difficult since I had to keep the camera under my jacket otherwise it wouldn't work in the cold. So it's unzip, dig camera out, power, focus, for every shot. And Autumn moves at mach four. And I was fumbling with gloves. Wah, wah, getting cute photos of my dog to brag about is so difficult!

Autumn in sled dog mode--running and leaping and smiling!

Standing in the snow waiting for me to catch up. That is snow around her muzzle from running through snowdrifts. She does not collect frozen water vapor around her nose and mouth just from breathing, the way I do. I think it's some magic in the oils in her coat that prevent it.

This is her standard walking mode. Leading the way, about thirty feet in front of me, glancing back frequently to make sure I am still there.

"So what's on the other side of the trail now?" You can see some of the grace of her gait in this photo. She doesn't bounce. She's very purposeful. There is no energy wasted. She's smooth as a windsail.

When she disappears for too long on one of her side excursions, all it takes is one call from me to bring her bursting back onto the trail! She often checks back on me unbidden, too, poking her little head out in between trees. I don't know how she's bonded with me so quickly, but I consider it a very sweet blessing!

Now here is Indoor Autumn. She'll sit like this until I forcibly extract myself. And she is so cuddly that I usually can't bring myself to do this until I have to pee or something equally pressing:

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Misc. Photos

Hangin' with my bud:

View from the window at the base of the stairs. This is the first coherent thing I see most mornings. I check the weather, whether there is snow on my car, etc.

Imagine my surprise to sometimes see this (taken Fall 2006):

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Losing the Suffering Game

I have to say that my most recent employers in the Sili Valley had pretty healthy corporate cultures for the most part, but a few before that... Well everyone played The Suffering Game. Here is an example. Monday morning, you bump into a coworker at the coffee pot. You exchange Good Mornings, and then ask, "How was your weekend?"

It is NOT okay to say, "It was great! I went for a long hike with my dog, and then went to the beach and cooled off in the water!" No, no, no! You have to have to say, "I had to work. I was here all day Saturday and then half of Sunday. The other half of Sunday, I had to stain the deck." You might squeek by if you rattle off a list of household chores, but only if you follow it up by intimating that this only bothered you because it kept you from doing *work* work.

I was reminded of this by one of my commenters, under my post Life is an Adventure:

"Just don't mistake adventure for purposely choosing to make your life difficult."

Because the Suffering Game requires authenticity, and playing the Suffering Game actually does sometimes entail purposely choosing to make one's life difficult. I honestly believe that none of us (and yes, that includes me during that time period) were lying or exaggerating our "horrible lives that were dominated by work." We actually got sucked into the real thing. It sounds crazy, but I bet my Sili Valley readers know exactly what I am talking about.

Thankfully, I had much better experiences at my later Sili Valley jobs. I had good bosses who actually did not play The Suffering Game themselves, and did not want to hear it from us!

I'm trying to think now whether UAF physics grad students play The Suffering Game. I think some do, but I feel fortunate to realize now that I haven't been. But I do have to guard against it, as it can creep up pretty easily!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

More Ice Sculptures!

These all appeared within the last few weeks. Even the carved-off ice chunks littered around them are beautiful--crystal-clear ice that is mesmerizing to look at and turn in your hand under the light.

Here are some musk oxen. They are actually quite detailed and amazing to look at. The photos don't have enough contrast though. :(

Here is this geometric snowflake design in front of the International Arctic Research Center. This is an awesome building, whose conference rooms have sweeping views to the South, overlooking the city to the Alaska Range. In Winter, you can sit here and watch the sun arc ever so gently from the left edge of the horizon to the right. The angle that the sun makes with the horizon is so small that, should you be lucky enough to catch a green flash, it will last for a long moment.

Here is an owl. He sits in front of the fire station.

A polar bear marches off to school.

Here is granny wolf reading to red riding hood. They are in front of the main campus library.

If you like these, check out the ones in the World Ice Art Championships!

Okay now what would a photo set be without any animals, eh?

Here is Autumn sitting and looking cute. This is very difficult to capture because as soon as you look at her, she runs over to you, so you can't really get a photo. Also, she rarely has her ears up. They usually stick straight out to the sides, making her look a bit like Yoda.

Autumn hanging out with me as I watch the wabbits. I know, I know, my life is so exciting you are beside yourself with envy!

Millie sitting there looking cute:

Autumn waiting to greet her papa as she hears his footsteps approach the door from the outside:

Life is an Adventure!

Okay before I get into it, the sign on the corner says it is -20F/-29C right now. Huh. I didn't feel any colder this morning in particular...

Anyway, before I get off to the lab I have a story for youse guys. :)

This is about my graduate adviser at Santa Clara University, who said something I will never forget. This was before she was my adviser or my friend. I was in her course on plastics processing, and at one point she passed around something for us to look at that was, for some reason I can't recall, somewhat intimidating to touch. Maybe she had just pulled it out of the hot thermal chamber or something. Anyway, the first student she attempted to pass it to shrunk back. She let out an exasperated huff. "Oh come on!" she said grandly. "Don't be such a weenie! Life is an adventure! Live it!"

I thought that that was fantastic, and scribbled it down in my notebook, alongside my notes on ideal plastic processing parameters and how to select an appropriate resin: Don't be weenie. Life = adventure. Live!