Wednesday, January 14, 2009

So Long, So Long, So Long...

...And thanks for all the fish. No really, my big trip around the world starts tomorrow (!!!) and for the trip I'm moving to new blogging headquarters at Where Is Yvette? for a few reasons, all relating to me wanting to geek out a little with Blog 2.0 (there's a map! and you can sign up for email updates with the link underneath the map! and a pony, and...). So please update your bookmarks accordingly for the next six months at least, and let me know if you've any suggestions.

Ok, see ya! Catch you all on the flipside.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


I am filling out my grad school applications while watching Megastructures and Seconds from Disaster on YouTube. I guess this might concern some, until you realize every single application asks for the same information so far as your contact info/ former employers/ whatever, so if you're not on autopilot after a point you probably shouldn't be applying to do astrophysics. (Though to be fair I review these apps before turning them in and pause the shows when working on the essays.) Frankly, it makes me wonder why the astronomy/physics community can't bother to standardize applying to grad school. They all ask for the same information and it's not like there's no system in place already- where would the undergraduate application process be in this country without the Common Application?

Or at least standardize the letters. Some schools still require paper ones only for letters so my writers can check off boxes indicating if I'm in the "top 1% but not top 5%, top 5% but not top 10%, etc" in various categories, and I can't imagine what schools get out of it. I know the letter writers don't like them much either.

(Will get Telluride pictures up soon, just posting this as an explanation of where I've been. That and working on my trip in various capacities, which I leave for in a week!)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Snow Days

The weather has calmed in Telluride, and the past few days have been filled with warm "spring skiing." Gorgeous views all around all the way to Utah; I will have great fun sorting through my pictures once I'm at home...

One odd thing this year about skiing by the way is how much greater the avalanche worries are compared to years past around the American West because of how quickly most of the snow has fallen in most areas. Usually this is something you usually hear about only in the backcountry and not actual ski resorts, but within the past week one skier was killed at Jackson Hole and another at Squaw Valley (Tahoe), prompting many "good thing we didn't go there this year!" comments from us. (Only second to the "good thing we didn't go to Whistler!" comments on the chairlift thanks to their recent gondola accident.) Telluride hasn't been immune either- our first day here a skier got buried up to his chest in a small avalanche!

Turns out avalanches are really bad for ski resort PR, so as a result this has mainly effected us by how slow some parts of the mountain have been to open its brand new area, Revelation Bowl, because it's above the treeline so the snow has a nasty habit to "slip." After days of hearing charges explode the area finally opened yesterday, which promptly became mogoled (ie bumpy) within hours because everyone wanted their chance at the Bowl. So goes the skier's life, but it beats getting buried!

Alright, that's all I have for now. Except excitingly enough, I saw a porcupine in the middle of a trail today. He looked like my brother when he hasn't bothered combing his hair.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Little Town in the Box Canyon

Because the family that skis together stays together, my family is spending our Christmas holiday in Telluride, Colorado. We're here because Telluride is our favorite ever since we came here four years ago- it's in remote southwestern CO so there are never any lift lines, the mountain has great varied terrain, and the town is exactly what you'd expect out of one in the West where a large fraction of people are still trying to eck out a living. And seeing as this is our 20th year of skiing as a family (we first visited Vail when I was 3, during my dad's spring break in his professor days) trust me, when we say we have a favorite there's experience to back it up!
Today I took an off day to work on graduate school applications due to the cold (1 degree Farenheit when I woke up, aka -17C!), but the weather's looking promising from here on out- particularly fine as our first few days here consisted of snowstorms, as Telluride has gotten ~50" of snow in the past two weeks.
Promise to be back here to post pictures later as the one above is cheating- it's actually from four years ago, but I figure the scenery doesn't change right? (Apologies for the sizing, as the public library here in town doesn't seem to agree with blogging.)

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Two days ago, after one last flurry of final exams and get-togethers, my brother and I packed up my stuff and I left Case for the last time as an undergraduate. The degree is promised to arrive at some point next month in the mail, though I was unsuccessful in my petition of having it converted into radians.

I confess leaving my university and home for the past 4.5 years has been difficult- even now it feels like I'll just be heading back soon after winter break, and my sister assures me I'll feel the same right up to next fall when I realize I'm heading somewhere else. We'll see what that new place will be like, once I learn just where it is, but all I know is it will be very difficult to find another place where it's natural to be on first-name terms with all your professors, where even the dean and department chair show up for your parties, and the university president knows who you are. Being personable never hurt but still, I worked my way quite nicely into that community and feel a bit left out already for leaving it.

But there we are. As a final note, I am happy to say that I got all As for the first time ever (as in, I think a B always slipped in even in elementary school) except this time there were things like upper-level English classes and graduate-level physics ones, so we can argue just how much sense this makes. But to quote my research adviser, "Congratulations. You've achieved perfection just in time to move on."

I was always impressed by how that guy can see through everything I've been working on to say what I should do next, all in an instant. Time to move on. I'll let you guys know where I end up.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

E&M Haiku

Written on my final today-

Maxwell's Equations
Brighten the universe, but
Are there monopoles?

(Don't worry, I wrote other things too, they're just not as exciting to share!)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Last Column Ever

Of "Quarked," at least. Someday I hope to do another, but that will have to wait. For now, though, you have to forgive me my sentimentality because I loved writing my column so dearly I nearly cried sending in the last one.

Anyway, this week's column. I focused on a favorite topic of mine as a writer, favorite words, because most people seem to have at least one or two of them. (Survey of friends revealed words like "brownie," "squeegy," and "cockatoo.") If anyone wants to mention a few of their favorites I'm all ears; here's what I came up with-

You are now reading the last "Quarked" column that will ever appear in The Observer.

I know. I can barely handle the suspense either. But instead of launching into thoughts about graduating, something that would only serve to bore you and depress me, I'd like to talk about words instead. I like them. I spend a lot of time thinking about them. And I have yet to meet a single writer who did not have words they particularly liked or disliked.

As a final column, it seems fitting to introduce a few of my personal favorites.

Phantasmagorical - This is my absolute favorite word, due to both its sound and meaning. In fact, when I was first starting this column I was very close to naming it "Phantasmagorical Pandemonium," after my first idea ("Perpendicular Thoughts from a Parallel Universe") was shot down due to length constraints. In hindsight, I probably chose the right one.

Succinct - Cool. Enough said.

Feminism - Of all the words that are improperly perceived and used, this is the one I most want to rein in. I will never forget the day in one of my introductory history classes when the professor asked who in the room was a feminist, and my roommate and I were the only ones who raised our hands out of a hundred people.

All feminism is defined in the dictionary as a belief in the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. This means a freedom that covers both my mother's choice to stay at home and raise my siblings and me and my ambition to be an astrophysicist. And there is nothing radical about that.

Smile - I don't know why people don't do this more often. You are, for all intents and purposes, among the wealthiest and best-educated people in human history. Two weeks from now you'll be on winter break. George W. Bush will never be president again. There's plenty to smile about, and people will wonder what you're up to.

Lambda-bar - This is how you pronounce, which is a physics term used when you combine relativity and electromagnetism. The reason I like it is because it sounds like a delicious kind of chocolate, preferably very dark with crème filling. If I ever start a candy company, the first product will surely be called Lambda-Bar and have Maxwell's Equations on the wrapper, followed closely by black-coated Graviton Gobstoppers and Gluon Toffee guaranteed to stick your teeth together.

Yes - Of all the words I list here, I think this one is the most important. It is the one that makes things happen. Life is too short to be afraid of living it, and having an experience is better than no experience at all.

So say yes. Say yes when someone asks you out even if you're not sure what you think of them yet. Say yes when you're offered a job even if you doubt yourself and your capabilities. And definitely say yes when you send in a rant to The Observer and are offered a regular columnist position.

It has been my great privilege and joy to share my words with you these past few years. Thank you.