Friday, March 30, 2007


I saw the above in a market stall yesterday and couldn't resist purchasing it. Who doesn't like chocolate fish? Obviously you guys do, else you wouldn't be reading this!

Perhaps it's just the student preference for them speaking, but badges (what we call "buttons" back home) are definetely more popular here than in the States. They're relatively inexpensive too which probably helps... needless to say, a few other new ones have crept onto my bag as of late. Another favorite-

Because every physics geek needs to proclaim it on her bag, right? Of course you do!

By the way I'm sort of a cop-out on this issue and don't get many badges with controversial statements like some; quite frankly I know the number of people who are going to stand around painfully reading the tiny text anyway so it seems silly. Here's the closest I've come to getting political-

Hey, it was fun to see the reaction of the neo-hippie I talked to last weekend upon reading it! I'd already laughed in his face when he told me he supported "voluntary slavery" and Hugo Chavez, though, so not like we were going to be friends anyway...

Ok, I could keep doing this for a long time and papers don't write themselves, so we'll end the words here. Here's one last badge for the road though-

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Spring Break Cometh

Ok it's really not Spring Break, it's actually "Easter Break" or "Fall Break" if you're feeling politically correct, but I always call it Spring Break because old habits die hard. Regardless of what you call it though I have two weeks of freedom starting a week from tomorrow, so here are the travel plans-

First week-South Island

This week, I am going to the South Island of New Zealand with a few American friends, and we are basically bussing around primarily the West Coast. I suspect the map may be helpful...
April 6- night bus to Wellington
April 7- ferry accross the Cook Straight to Picton (this takes about three hours), then bus to Nelson
April 8- Nelson- Greymouth
April 9- Greymouth- Franz Joseph Glacier
April 10- Franz Joseph Glacier- Queenstown
April 11- Queenstown
April 12- Queenstown (we're going to Milford Sound on this day)
April 13- Queenstown- Christchurch
April 14- Christchurch
April 15- fly from Christchurch to Auckland

Second week- Cook Islands

The Cook Islands are a group of islands between French Polynesia and Fiji in the Pacific Ocean. They are a self-governing parliamentary democracy in free association with the government of New Zealand, which as far as I can tell means independent enough for me to add it to the "countries I've been to" list but not independent enough to, say, defend themselves if Tahiti decided to invade. It's about a 4 hour plane ride from New Zealand and right over the date line, meaning I will arrive there well before I've left. I always thought that was a pretty cool trick myself...

Anyway, I'm going there with my American study abroad program, and we will be staying on the main island of Rarotonga. Yay! Here are the more interesting points on the itinerary; as this is technically an education thing we have to listen to a few lectures at the University of the South Pacific but I'm omitting those here (and I am skipping the swimming time because that's self-evident).

April 16/15- fly from Auckland to Rarotonga
April 16 take two- Cook Islands museum, conservation walk through Rarotonga forest
April 17- visit Parliament, a local school, free afternoon
April 18- visit the market, learn to climb a coconut tree, traditional Umu dinner (they heat up rocks and bury food on the beach- no this is not a veggie-friendly place)
April 19- world-famous Muri beach, culture night dinner
April 20/21- fly back to Auckland (arriving at 9:40am)

April 22 will be, of course, the day where I stare bleary-eyed at the calendar noticing that lectures start the next day and thinking I need a break after this break! Luckily ANZAC Day is on Tuesday meaning classes will be cancelled, so that'll be nice.

As a final note, as I'm sure you can tell this itinerary is very full and I don't have plans on posting a lot here during break, so please don't get all huffy about it! You probably don't want to hear anything more than one or two "things are going great" because it will consist of "Yvette is rained in/ broke/ suffered a mishap/ broke the space-time continuum while crossing over the date line." Don't worry though everyone, there will be a lot of very pretty pictures of Lord of the Rings scenery and tropical climates when I return!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

And All That Jazz

I got a haircut today, and quickly discovered that you are not allowed to get a haircut and mention it to people without actually showing them pictures. So here are the best I can take of myself on short notice-

Side view-Not the best of picture-taking, but it's a bit Catherine Zeta-Jonesish from Chicago if I may say so. That and you can't tell it but the lighter streaks in the side view are actually, well, blonde thanks to the plentiful sunshine. So here's a question for the floor- if you're both a blonde and a burnette, what kind of jokes do you tell?

And as long as I'm posting pictures, here's one of the awesome giant (250 g) chocolate bar I got today to celebrate my good marks on the last E&M assignment-
Cadbury has one of its main international factories in New Zealand on the South Island, meaning there is a lot of good, awesome chocolate to be had. This particular bar was purchased at the corner convenience store where it was on a shelf with, count 'em, twelve other kinds of chocolate bar, such as fruit and nuts, black forest, caramel, hokey pokey, and even the fudge brownie pictured above (though, fascinatingly, there is no actual milk chocolate bar). Trust me, words do not do justice to the wonderful sight of this store shelf and the delightful choice of selecting one of these chocolate bars for your very own, so my camera and I will likely have to go take a picture so you can fully appreciate the situation.

After a sampling, by the way, I will note that the fudge brownie chocolate bar is really good. It's one of those types that my parents would find too sweet but I, having an American childhood consisting of a lot of unadulterated sugar, rather enjoy. Luckily there are a lot of chocolate bars to choose from, however, so I could always slip them a mixed berry flavored bar or something and we'd get along fine.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Blatant Plug- Case: Daily

(click for larger image)

Last semester, my friends and fellow partners in crime Miriam and Wiggles got together and started a web-based comic following the life of a student at CWRU named Case. To the groans of everyone they named the comic Case: Daily (a play on our not-so-helpful campus newsletter), and a loyal following happily spent last semester following the antics of an entertaining comic hero.

Then Miriam and Wiggles remembered their commitments to the engineering physics major, and the site went offline at the end of the semester to the annoyance of everyone. Things finally got hopping last night, however, when Case: Daily went back online in a new and, if I do say so myself, really nice looking site. I'd recommend you all to take a break and browse the archives there, as there is always a grain of truth in fiction and they describe CWRU campus life better than we'd dare admit.

Plus if I mention them, perhaps they'll allow some comics to appear in the Athenian in the semi-near future!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Overheard in E&M

Professor: And by using this method, we see that there are two ways to skin a cat... (little cry of horror from back) What? What is it?
Student: (with thick German accent) Zat is so horrible!
Professor: Well, Student, it's a perfectly common English phrase.
Student: My goodness... and zey say us Germans are cruel!

[end scene]

I guess my point is here is language is a tricky thing, as I'm still discovering new words and phrases in the New Zealand lexicon that I seek clarification on. ("When you said 'biscuts' there you meant what my people call 'cookies,' right?") I'm always a little excited about this though- I love adding new layers onto language as doing so gives you all the more delicious words to choose from.

Plus we need others to remind us how weird some of the things we say are anyway. Who was the guy in history who was so proficient at cat skinning that he started talking about the ways to do it relative to his daily life? And who were his friends that they caught on and started using it themselves, and the friends of the friends, and the friends of those friends...?

Field Trip!

Today when I went to the lab my TA greeted me by asking what cool places I'd been to this weekend. Up until now he's always said a general "how was your weekend?" question, but after hearing interesting narratives every Monday I have garnered a track record. It happens.

Anyway, this weekend was actually quite lovely and geeky at the same time- I signed up for a geophysics paper this semester mainly because it sounded cool and partly because there was a field trip. I think everyone has been conditioned to like field trips thanks to grammar school excursions to Interesting and Educational Places, which really weren't all that cool in hindsight often except for the missing class part. Oh, and Kennywood Day if you were cool enough to grow up in Pittsburgh, but I digress.


The geophysics field trip was an overnight to Leigh, which is around two hours north of Auckland where the University of Auckland has a facility in Goat Island Marine Reserve. I've been here before a little over a month ago during orientation so it was nice to be back. I also knew more about the lay of the land compared to some of my Kiwi classmates for once, so there was admittedly a bit of relish in being able to tell people where the good snorkelling was and such instead of it being the other way around as it usually is.

On our way to Leigh we stopped at, you guessed it, a few Interesting and Educational Places so we could look at clouds and talk about how cool the rocks were. The first one of these places was Mount Eden, the name of a dormant volcano in the middle of the Auckland peninsula. This really isn't that big a deal by the way: Auckland is intelligently constructed on top of an active volcanic field currently home to 50-odd volcanoes. Rangitoto, the most recent one of these, suddenly showed up in the harbor around 600 years ago to the suprise of the local Maori population, but despite this Aucklanders don't seem to care much about their inevitable impending doom. Sort of like California and the San Andreas fault, I guess.

Anyway, Mount Eden is an interesting spot because it's the tallest one of these volcanoes and you can drive to the summit, meaning if you can see through the throngs of tour busses it really is a neat spot. For starters there's the crater itself: it's a large grassy bowl around 50m deep, and looks well-formed enough that you inevitably make a quip about the volcano erupting while you're staring at it. (Then the Kiwi next to you will point out how this is highly unlikely, as the next volcano will just push up under your house while you're sleeping instead. Or something.) Secondly, the mountain is the tallest natural point in Auckland so you get very nice views in every direction, which are perfect for gazing at the city, the clouds, the harbor, and the other volcanoes.

The next Interesting and Educational Place on our itinerary was Orewa Beach, about 35km north of Auckland, which was a lovely long and sandy beach occupied by a few souls enjoying the surf. We spent a little bit of time making measurements of the waves and then observing them from the lookout where this picture was taken, and then trundled along our merry way. A brief stop for lunch later, we were at our final destination at the marine reserve.
The technical point of going on a geophysics field trip, I feel obliged to mention at some point, is to hone your field skills. It falls into three categories for our class, marine, solid earth, and atmospheric, so we did three activities for specific activities in each (one the first afternoon, and two the next morning). I did the marine part the first day which was quite plesant- we snuggled into the tall grass on top of a cliff overlooking the sea, and wrote down absolutely everything we could think of regarding the waves (estimated amplitude, period, patterns to breaking, direction, etc). Then we went tramping a little along the cliff, found another vantage point, and repeated the process. During the entire thing, for some reason I was reminded of the time in 5th grade where our teacher made us behave like Thoreau and reflect from our "quiet spot" in nature. I felt a slight urge to record how the waves made me feel, but thankfully the urge went away once I remembered how much I've never been a fan of such psychological adventures in the first place.

The rest of the afternoon was spent snorkeling and such, but unfortunately the water (which wasn't really warm last month) was a little cold, even with my wetsuit top, and the waves were a little detrimental as well so I didn't stay in long. Saw a few nice fish though whose names I unfortunately don't know, so I will omit that part.

Besides which I made another discovery: the marine lab has a cat! Hooray! The tabby's name is Erro, Latin for "stray," and she was a very friendly cat who looked very similar to the family kitty back home, except brown where our cat is grey. Erro picked up on this bout of homesickness on my part very quickly and insisted she be petted right away, so I was quite happy to oblige her. For the next day or so we had a lovely relationship whereby she would come to the same call I use to get my cat's attention back home (rather odd, since we speak to our cat in Hungarian), and purr in my lap. As the day progressed I also learned that she never fancied being petted much by the rest of the students, so I felt lucky. After all, to the best of my knowledge no one else was pining for a cat ten thousand miles away.

But anyway, afternoon progressed to evening, and evening progressed to night, and we had the sort of fun you have when 30-odd people who didn't know each other very well beforehand suddenly become best friends. To say the least there were more than a few shots by students and professors alike, quite a few card games, a homemade chess set, and a lot of people engrossed in the challenge of going accross the top and bottom of a table without touching the floor. I was also given some free advice/encouragement on considering New Zealand for graduate school by one of our professors, and had to clarify points on American lifestyle/politics on more than one occasion, so there was no shortage of simulating conversation.


On Sunday my two geophysics activities were solid earth and atmospheric in the morning, which involved waking up at an hour I wouldn't have known existed under my own schedule but that's the price we pay for science. The atmospheric one was sort of what you'd expect- we measured the temperature and pressure and wind speed and such at the beach, then did the same on top of a hill. Whenever I get around to doing the field trip writeup, said data will be used to calculate the height of the hill and such things.

The solid Earth portion was an interesting mix- it involved a lot of readings of the Earth's magnetic field over the course of a few hours, whacking a sledge hammer on a metal plate to simulate seismic waves so you could see signals from the layers in the ground below you, and use a compass to find the distance from the beach to Goat Island. The latter was straight out of my days with the Scouts by the way, thus proving that even the most not connected to the real world activities will come back to haunt you eventually. You just have to be really patient and try your best to not forget things.

Anyway, after lunch we packed everything together and headed back to Auckland as best we could through the Sunday afternoon traffic. And I spent most of last night putting a few final touches on my E&M homework that was due today, and refrained from posting here until now because, well, I prefer some physics student rimes to remain fiction.

As a final picture, I will show you guys the nice sheep who had the great waterfront property right next to the marine lab. In a country with 45 million of these guys, I still find them novel-

In an agricultural sense though, one of the oddest things I encountered on this trip was noticing a corn field on the way back and being slightly stunned about the fact that the corn was in tassel. I know it's fall here and going to get colder soon but it's hard to remember sometimes when you remember that "fall" is not nessecarily synonymous with "first frost" and the like. Plus how can it be fall when Halloween and Thanksgiving are half a year away and they don't even have Halloween and Thanksgiving here anyway? It does explain the sudden appearence of pumpkin in the dining hall menu, though.

So that's about all I can say about my geophysics trip, but by the looks of it I've said more than enough about it anyway! Unfortunately I think my TA will be a little disappointed next Monday because it's the week before Easter Break next week, so the only "cool place" I have penciled in right now is the library. Contrary to popular belief, I do crack open a few books on occasion!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Thank God There Are No Bears in New Zealand

Admit it. You laughed.

We will now return to our regularly scheduled muck and mayhem.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Well, I did it: yesterday while writing an email I surprised myself by referring to Auckland as "home" without thinking about it. A transition like that is always a noteworthy one to make because it shows how you finally realize you're not just a tourist, you're actually living here, and what's more you are still going to call this new-but-not-so-new place home for several months more. It's a gradual and subtle transition to make, but there's no going back once you've made it.

And it is true: all the little things that you know only by living in a place long enough have manifested themselves by this point, from knowing exactly how long the wait is at the intersection to making use of shortcuts between classes to buying the lunchtime sushi at the "regular" spot because it's always fresh and a dollar cheaper than anywhere else at NZ$5. I've incorporated a few words like "cheers" and "mate" into daily usage because it seems like the natural thing to do, and have even been asked for directions by a few confused backpackers.

Not bad at all, if I do say so myself, but it only takes one moment to unravel it all and leave me a forgiener again, like seeing someone who could pass for an old friend running to lecture or spotting someone who looks a lot like a relative while in the bookstore. And then I'll realize that that person is thousands of miles away, a distance greater than what most people will ever travel in a lifetime, and I don't know when I'll see that person again. So I'll be still a moment, watching this manifestation of genetic similarity who doesn't even know of his similar-looking cousin (or cousins?) elsewhere in the world.

Yes, I get homesick sometimes, but in a sense it's alright because it would be much more upsetting if I never did. People who no longer get homesick fall into two categories in my mind: they either never had it all that good, or have forgotten where they came from. I like to remain removed from both as much as possible, even if it does mean the sight of a stranger on the street has the potential to make my heart ache.

Plus anyway, I'm at home now. It's good here. And before I know it, I'll be back in the States noticing that the stranger in the street looks an awful lot like his Kiwi counterpart.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Mount Ruapehu is the biggest mountain on North Island and the most popular ski resort in New Zealand. It also happens to be an active volcano, a fact conveniently forgotten during much of the time until it gets into a little hissy fit and they have to cancel the skiing. Although there haven't been any really major eruptions lately, the last hissy fit was in 1995-1996 and caused the cancellation of that year's ski season (to the sadness of many).

But that doesn't mean you still can't have lahar! After months of speculation on this topic, the natural dam that was in place since the last eruption finally burst this morning, causing the shutdown of a section of the major highway in the country (which I was conveniently on last weekend- ha!). It's a rather regular occurence for lahar to run off of Mount Ruapehu, over 30 of them have happened since 1953, but there is still something rather worrisome about a gigantic wall of mud and rocks moving at speeds faster than a car. See that little thin squiggle in the upper left of the above picture, guys? Yeah, that's the road.

Fortunately, because Ruapehu does this rather routinely there's a great advance warning system in place for stuff like this which worked perfectly, and no one was hurt. We might not be in the clear yet though- early reports state that only a small part of the dam burst, meaning some interesting things may yet happen in the coming months.

Of course, stuff like this was definetely on my list of reasons to come to New Zealand because I have nursed a soft spot in my heart for natural disasters since infancy. Weird things happen parents give books on Pompeii and Mount St. Helens to their preschooler.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Tramping at Fairy Falls

Of all the words that differ between English-speaking countries, I must note that variants of "hiking" are my favorite. This is because "hiking" appropriately changes based on what country you're in: saying "hiking" in the States helps you differ how the activity is different from "bushwhacking" in Australia, and "rambling" in the United Kingdom. It seems completely inappropriate to use one word over the other in its native habitat for the simple reason that no one bushhwacks through the moors you are amicably rambling through instead.

New Zealand, being another landmass and all, has its own word to describe this activity: tramping. It describes the act very well, as walking around the New Zealand wilderness a lot of, well, tramping in the undergrowth over slippery rocks and streams in an attempt to get through the mountains. It's really a quite enjoyable thing to do, as I found out yesterday on a day trip with the Tramping Club at the university. We went out to Fairy Falls in the Waitakere Ranges about an hour north of Auckland. It was a nice little dayhike following a series of waterfalls cascading down a mountainside, meaning what follows is going to be primarily a series of several different and lovely scenery pictures that you will all be very jealous of. Alright? Alright.

This is a picture of a Kauri tree, which is so tall that only about half the tree fit in the picture. These trees are incredible: they can reach up to 50m in height and 5m in girth, meaning they can rival the California Redwoods. Unfortunately they were logged excessive amounts in the last century meaning there are very few of the tall ones today (they grow about 20 millimeters a year), which has guaranteed a change in the New Zealand landscape for the next few hundred years.

Luckily, the patch of the Waitakeres we were in was a national reserve first set aside at the turn of the twentieth century, so some of the big trees like the one in the picture remain.

By the way, this entire national reserve is one huge rainforest, in case that wasn't clear. The picture above is a very typical view of what the forest looks like around here: pines and ferns and palms all living together in a rather fascinating mix!

This hike was also cool because a very nice Kiwi girl took the time to explain and point out a lot of things about the native flora and fauna that we had no idea about but she knew like the back of her hand. We were all rather impressed by this talent like a visitor would be impressed at my knowledge of maples and poison ivy back home, which she politely shrugged off with a "no worries" attitude. As a result though, I now know which red berries are safe to eat versus which should be used as ammunition to shoot down birds.

This is the waterfall we stopped to have lunch at, and hence the one I have the most pictures of. This is also where I let it slip that the entire region is incredibly gorgeous to the Kiwi girl who was showing us the forest, and she just shrugged. "This is all pretty typical for us," she explained.

Like the picture of the Kauri tree, I'm in here for scale. This is the main waterfall of the collective Fairy Falls, which is apparently popular for locals to rapel down. I say "apparently" because in true New Zealand style we never saw anyone outside of our group the whole time, save one photographer and his friends taking pictures of the waterfalls.

After this last main waterfall, I should note, most of our tramping was done essentially in the streambed over rather slippery rocks. This was quite fun in a paranoid "it would really hurt to fall right now" sort of way.

Tui bird! Most of the New Zealand forest is actually disturbingly silent and void of life for someone in North America- there are no native mammals so you don't have squirrels or deer making noise, and most of the native birds are silent and are nocturnal anyway. The most notable exception to this was the tui bird pictured here, who raised quite a racket in trying to get us away from his tree. It was so nice to see him moving up there though!

My excitement in seeing a Tui was admittedly twofold though: Tui is the name of my favorite New Zealand beer. It's one of two default beers in this country, the other being Export Gold, but is a bit darker.

This last picture was taken towards the end of our dayhike, when the trees gave way a little and we were treated to a view of Auckland in the distance. Isn't it wonderful to have such places of beauty so close and at hand? Aucklanders are a truly lucky group of people!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Music of the Primes

Yesterday I went to my first academic lecture at the University of Auckland. The speaker was Dr. Marcus du Sautoy, a mathematician from Oxford who does a good deal of public outreach in the United Kingdom. He's in town as a visiting something-or-another, so he gave a talk on his most recent book titled The Music of the Primes.

(By the way, of all of Professor du Sautoy's achievements, the one I personally find most noteworthy is that he presented the 2006 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures in London. I've always been quite jealous of the fact that the Brits do the Christmas Lectures, and wonder why we can't get our act together in the States to do something similar.)

Anyway, the first difference between lectures here and back at home is they are a really big deal, since having someone come half a world away to speak is no small matter! The lecture hall was standing room only and get this, the lecture was broadcast over the Internet to other crowded lecture halls in universities around the country. It was a rather remarkable effort, and revealed more about New Zealand culture than the Kiwis could possibly know.

The second and arguably more entertaining difference between lectures is this: you know how we all get really excited about the free beverages at colloquia? Well everyone gets excited here too but they don't give out just tea and coffee, and instead roll out the free wine and beer. Now I'm not actually implying anything here, but I'd like to mention that our physics colloquia would probably be a lot more entertaining if we were to take a page out of the Kiwi book. At the very least, we'd get a bigger turnout...

But anyway, lest this thread devolve into some state of innebriation, I will mention that Dr. du Sautoy did a great job introducing the mystery behind prime numbers to the point where he introduced Fourier series and the Riemann-Zeta function without anyone realizing this was something to be afraid of. For myself it helps that I've always had a fascination for prime numbers anyway: I don't know why but the idea of this random-but-not-random pattern in the fabric of numbers gets me very excited. I know without a doubt this is the problem I would be working on if I were a mathematician, which is why they are forever cropping up in my stories.

And as a final note, one other thing made me happy: the lecture started when lab wasn't quite done yet, so I found a nice group of physics kids to stage our jailbreak with. Some things never change.

Ejjen a Magyar

One hundred fifty-nine years ago, a bunch of Hungarians stood up against the greatest empire in Europe because they believed that they had a right to govern themselves. They lost that cause, but the ideas of freedom live on-

(Image credit: AP)

You see, all is not well in the world of Hungarian politics. Last fall, a leaked tape revealed that Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany admitted to lying "day, noon, and night" about the state of the Hungarian economy to win the election last spring. This led to riots and protests all over the country that numbered in the hundreds of thousands, a pretty big deal if your population numbers around ten million, and were the biggest public protests since the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 fifty years prior. For days I was worried about people there: my cousin is a police officer in Budapest, and I have several relatives and friends who go to school there. It's really not fun to turn on CNN and see a clash between students and police when there's a chance you might recognize someone.

But anyway, Gyurcsany had the balls to stay in office, and things quieted down a bit. But today is National Day in Hungary, sort of the 4th of July equivalent in the States, so everyone took to the streets again. According to reports, 200,000 people showed up to protest the government in Budapest today, but the peaceful protests turned sour and police used water cannons and tear gas to repel up to 1,000 protesters. It's hard to imagine such things going on in the very same streets I walked in as recently as last summer, particularly from this corner of the world.

Ejjen a magyar szabadsag, ejjen a haza.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Exam Humor

You know the jokes are good when they get forwarded all the way to New Zealand. This one was making the rounds in Phi Rho back at Case, and eventually made its way to me (thanks Pat!). In honor of the recent, current, and imminent midterm exams of students in the Northern Hemisphere, I'm putting my favorites here for you all to giggle over (click for a larger image).

I personally like these more from a grader's perspective than anything- since virtually every science major gets recruited to grade papers at some point, and it doesn't take long for you to be easily amused by anything out of the ordinary. I have a friend who graded the intro astronomy class' homework for two years, for example, and kept a list of the venerable jewels students would hand in to him in the form of answers.

Of course, everyone knows that my own personal style during a despairing exam situation is to compose poems instead. Here's one that I wrote on my AP Calc final, which I am told was greatly appreciated by the graders that year-

One day Mr. Newton
Took a file from his drawer
Showing he'd invented calculus
Twenty years before!

Everyone got interested,
Took the integral of one,
And worked backwards with derivatives
Until they were left with none.

Then a few centuries later
A kid took the Calc AB
And thanks to Mr. Newton
Got a 5 quite easily.

Video (Not) Fixed

For those of you who already watched it, do yourselves a favor and reload the video at the beginning of the post below. For whatever reason YouTube only showed the first four seconds of a 20-something second sequence, and last night it was too late for me to change it.

(By the way, if the below doesn't work, take a look at And if that doesn't work, God does not want this video on the Internet so I'm going to stop playing around with it.)

It works great on Google Video though. Isn't it funny how they're both owned by the same company but only the one of them works?

The Fuljames Rapids

I've realized why in the grand scheme of things New Zealand is the best country in the entire world for study abroad: it has absolutely everything cool you could ever imagine doing as a college student crammed into a conveniently small location. Want to descend onto a field for the weekend to go camping with your 200 new best mates? Check. Want to go whitewater rafting and kayaking in a pristine river with no other tourists? No problem. Want to go to a wicked party and stay up until all hours dancing to a great band? Done. Want it all to cost no more than NZ$20? Of course!

In case you can't tell, I have done absolutely everything on above list in the span of about 48 hours. I went out with the Canoe Club on their annual big trip to the Waikato River, which is home to the Class II Fuljames Rapids that you see in the video above. This area is about three and a half hours drive from Auckland, so I got together my sleeping bag and pack hitched a ride Friday evening with two other students. Hooray for the weekend!

Saturday- the debauchery begins

I have been accused by some of making New Zealand sound a lot nicer than it really is in terms of weather- isn't it supposed to rain all the time and make you feel rather miserable? I find these comments a bit out of place because, honestly, I can count the number of times on my right hand that it's been overcast and raining this past month. Plus we all know it's not like I left some idyllic climate behind in Cleveland, so I don't know what all the fuss is about.

Plus, every once in awhile in New Zealand you sleep your best through a cold night and wake up to this-

Ugly, isn't it? Luckily the misting fog cleared up by 10am, which was just about the time we headed for the water. Here's a better shot of what our campsite looked like during the rest of our trip-
The field we were camped in was actually just some farmer's field conveniently located right next to the Fuljames Rapids where we ended our river runs. One of the most interesting things about the location, beyond the miniature town that sprung up there during Friday night, was how in the past year the farmer decided to plant the entire field with turnips. Lots and lots of turnips. Apparently they're good for winter feed for livestock, but college ingenuity found that they have other applications as projectiles to shut people up with and as makeshift cricket balls.

But anyway, I didn't go to Fuljames to discover how well a turnip splatters when you hit it with a cricket bat (I think). So when everyone was ready we drove up the river a few klicks and separated into groups of people who wanted to whitewater raft or kayak, and I opted for the latter. I'd never done either before and decided it would probably be best to raft down the river before doing anything too rash, and in all honesty the prospect of whitewater kayaking made me a bit nervous.

Whitewater rafting, for those of you who have never tried it, is a fun and relatively simple operation: you perch on the side of your glorified dinghy, and paddle like hell whenever the instructor in the back tells you to. You also don't get too worried about learning that your instructor's never actually been an instructor before, splash the other rafts as hard as you can whenever you come near each other, and don't be nervous about jumping off the ten-foot jetty at the halfway point everyone is required to jump off of. Ho-hum.

This stretch of the Waikato has three major sections of rapids by the way, the largest of which (Fuljames) is pictured here. The river is also quite nice because the geothermal activity in the area heats up the water on the edges so it's suprisingly warm and hosts the lovely additional sight of steaming water along the edges. This means that if you're keen to take the advice of the instructors and swim through the rapids for kicks (there are no rocks here), you won't regret the experience because it is really fun and the water's nice and warm anyway. If you're particularly crazy like me you might even do it twice!

After the river adventure, the rest of the daylight part of Saturday was spent eating, napping, and talking to various cool people. After the lovely sunset, we got ready to go to the nearby town of Taupo and invade one of the local pubs, which we accomplished by cramming an average of 45 persons into our scant 15 person vans. The subsequent party was great- most notably, I won a few pool games and hence won my drinks for the night instead of purchasing them. This trick gets easier as the night progresses, obviously, but is nonetheless a good one to learn!

We left the pub at midnight to discover that an amazing Auckland band had set up in our beloved campsite, so we danced until the wee hours of the morning. I stayed awake until the band left at 3am myself- when was I again going to dance in a New Zealand turnip field?

By the way, I forgot to note that our trip/party was supposed to be around a "hippie" theme. I have no idea who though this up, particularly since they never had a theme in previous years. Plus in my mind any group of youths living in a field in the Middle of Nowhere, New Zealand isn't all that different from a band of hippies anyway.

Sunday- can you believe all this happened in a weekend?

On Sunday I woke up and donned my swimsuit and wetsuit top, ready for adventure. You see, somewhere during the course of the past 24 hours I decided that I was going to whitewater kayak because the worst that would happen was I would fall in, and I was pretty ok with doing that. Besides which, a little thing like whitewater kayaking was nothing compared to some of the things I've done in my life, right?

Well guess what? I thoroughly enjoyed it. I suprised myself by being pretty good at it too- I only fell in once, at the very last bit of Fuljames where the rapids were cresting several feet, higher than the waves seen in the above video taken the afternoon before, which I am told is exceptional for someone who's never done it before ("how is your hair so dry?!" was a favorite instructor quip along the way). I guess all that lake kayaking has paid off!

The trick to whitewater kayaking, by the way, is to keep two things, your cool and your boat's direction, at all times. To do this you need to keep loose and flow with the water, use your your full body and paddle to keep your balance, and above all keep your boat pointed with the flow of the current! Rapids are similar to the wake of a boat on stillwater- you need to go straight into them because if your boat is oriented wrong you will become very unstable.

There are other two things I really liked about whitewater kayaking by the way besides it just being more exciting than stillwater: your paddling energy is used for steering and the like instead of for moving forward (the current takes care of the latter very well), and you get whirlpools and such in the water that form and break apart very quickly. Perhaps it's because you don't get them in lakes, but the whirlpools fascinated me.

After the awesomeness known as whitewater kayaking was over it was time to break up camp and head back to Auckland. My adventure for the day wasn't over, however, because along the way the two students I was travelling with (who have lived in New Zealand for several years) conferred a little and then turned to me.

"Do you want to go to the spa in Rotorua?" they asked.

"Really?!" was my immediate excited response, because I wasn't certain if I'd heard them right. Rotorua, you see, is the tourist town of New Zealand because it is based right in the center of all sorts of geothermal activity- sort of like Yellowstone if they built a town in it. As for the spa part, well, going to the spa is this wonderful idea my Hungarian side understands quite well because the Barlangfürdő (Cave Bath) is just down the road from my cousins' house in Miskolc-Tapolca, Hungary. In the context of geothermal springs, going to the spa means going into the equivalent of a natural hot tub and relaxing a bit, which is arguably the best thing you could possibly do after a weekend of camping and hard-core watersport.

So we headed the mere 30km to Rotorua and went to the Polynesian Spa on the edge of the lake. This spa overlooks Sulfur Bay on Lake Rotorua (yes, the entire town smells just as good as that name implies), and per the sign outside it's consistantly voted as one of the top 10 spas in the world. So we spent a good hour relaxing in a pool outside whose temperature was at 40 degrees Celsius, all the while watching steam endlessly rising off Sulfur Bay. It was really fun and exactly what I needed, but to be honest the Barlangfürdő is a whole lot better and cooler than the Polynesian Spa any day (mert tudom, hogy ha eszt olvasod akkor kivancsi vagy errol!).
Once we were done spa-ing it was time to grab some dinner and head back to Auckland, where I promptly collapsed on my bed and slept for an ungodly number of hours. I will tell you though, the past weekend was the most fun I've had in a long time and was exactly the sort of thing my wildest study abroad dreams encompassed. So many things in the past few days simply would never happen in the States, from the casual air to the pristine wilderness, and if this were the only thing that happened during my time here I'd argue it was well worth it.

But I've still got some time here, which I'm really happy about! I think I'll devote a good chunk of it practicing my rollover so I'll be an expert when I come home and buy a sprayskirt.

Thursday, March 8, 2007


Alison sent this to me, and I don't know whether to hug her or start bawling. So I'll compromise by passing it along to the rest of you...

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

School Days

Pretty, isn't it? I snapped this on the University of Auckland campus recently, and was amused by how nice and British it looked. Here's a view from the path...

The church-like tower is the symbol of the University of Auckland and is filled with various offices and classrooms, and the wall is a remnant of the Albert barracks built in 1846. Back in those days Auckland was the capital of New Zealand so they thought it nessecary to protect the old government buildings (which are now also part of the university, I have a class in the old ballroom of all places), so by 1852 said wall enclosed around 23 acres of land.

I mention this bit of New Zealand history because I really don't have that much else to report, but everyone seems to not like it when I've nothing to say. I want to go camping to Lake Taupo this weekend with the Canoe Club so I've been trying to get my physics homework done, and everyone knows how that goes! Hopefully it will be whipped into reasonable shape tonight...

Oh, and I finally had my first lab today and got permission to start straightaway on the "hard labs" as they're wonderfully described here (basically the same ones as you guys do at Case now, from Compton scattering to the Quantum Hall effect). I got started on the Mössbauer effect lab, which is going to look at special emissions you get from atoms in a bound solid, on which I shall reserve judgement for now as I am still in the honeymoon phase. The lab facilities are really impressive here by the way, thanks to the rennovations everything's brand-new, but you do your lab without a partner so it's rather silent in there. You do get a lot more work done this way though.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Astronomical Vistas

This image was taken by the Cassini mission recently, and was brought to my attention by Asymptotia and today's APOD-

I always find people odd who accuse scientists of having no artistic sense. Someone without artistic skill would never take images like this!

I miss my telescope. Actually nix that: I miss rounding up people who have never looked through a telescope before, and watching their faces as they get their first glimpse of Saturn or Jupiter. You either understand that, or we have some observing to do when I get home...

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Why NZ Is Awesome- Part 1

The following is a list that I started recently to note several little things that I like about NZ but probably aren't large enough to merit posts in themselves. It's Part 1 because I severely doubt I'm going to stop noticing little things that are really cool...

~ The sunset. Every day around 8pm the clouds catch on fire, I sit on my balcony watching the sun set over the distant mountains, and admire how pretty the city and harbor looks from my vantage point. For a girl who used to routinely climb the roofs of buildings at Case to watch the sunset, this is just heavenly.

~ Auckland is a wonderfully international city the likes of which is rarely even seen in most of the States. Take last Friday for example: I went to a Chinese lantern festival, and when one thing led to another I ended up having a few drinks with a few Kiwis, a Vietnamese guy, a Chinese guy, and an Irishman. When's the last time you went out and unexpectedly had a pint with people from four different continents, and what's more weren't even planning on it in the first place?

~ It takes exactly five minutes to get from my main lecture hall to my room, and most days my classes only start in the afternoons (and they start at 10am the days when there's a morning class). Beat that!

~ I am in complete love with Queen Street, which is about five minutes away and has every single store, resteraunt, and pub you'd ever need or care for. Why on Earth do Americans insist on ugly strip malls where you need to drive between stores while shopping? What's the fun and class in that?

~ Barefoot culture. Everyone goes barefoot here to the point where no one bats an eye to see someone barefoot walking down a busy street or stepping onto the bus; in the country all such premise is abandoned altogether and practically no one wears shoes at all. My ten-year-old self who tried her best to go a summer without shoes is really enjoying this concept, even if I'm not walking down Queen Street barefoot myself.

~ The following words and phrases are awesome and should be used early and often: kia ora, jandals, togs, dairy, easy peasy, domain, sweet as, and no worries. They mean, in order, the word in Maori for hello/goodbye meaning "be healthy," flip-flops, bathing suit, a convenience store, very simple, a park/field, an abbreviation for "sweet as sugar," and exactly what it sounds like.

~ The moon is backwards here. I don't just mean the fact that the marae are now clumped on the bottom and the Southern Highlands are on top because I expected that. No, what I mean is even the phases of the moon are backwards: what you see pictured here was snapped a week ago when the moon was at first quarter. This freaked me out quite a bit honestly, because I hadn't thought as to why this would happen before arriving in the southern hemisphere.

~ Lab hasn't started yet. They were rennovating the physics building here this summer, and were running behind schedule, and when I contacted the professor in charge to inquire he told me no worries, we might start by the end of this week.

~ Another girl signed up to be in my E&M class, thus bringing the number of females in said class to two. As there are around 17 guys in the class right now you can understand why this is rather nice, even if the new girl has yet to say anything. At the very least, the guys have someone else to stare at in a blatantly obvious manner that they think is discreet.

~ These foods should proliferate more into the United States: toffee, chocolate fish, hokey pokey ice cream, Magnum ice cream bars, Kinder eggs, iced chocolate, and baked beans on toast for breakfast. And lamb should be cheaper than chicken, and the sushi should always be cheaper and more fresh than it is back home!

Saturday, March 3, 2007

RIP Foxtrot

Ok, perhaps I'm dense. Perhaps being severed from my free daily newspapers back at Case made me not realize this fact, and perhaps being in a country where no one has any idea what Foxtrot is counts as some sort of defense.

But still, I just learned about this and feel like I should have been informed earlier. Why did none of you bother to tell me that Foxtrot has ceased daily publication? Apparently it's only been running Sundays as of late and will continue to do so in the future, and I did not realize this until right now because I have a habit of only reading anthologies (Foxtrot, in particular, always was best read this way). And since I suppose I might not be the only one who was not informed of this until now, it will get a mention here.

For those of you who don't know by the way, the creator of Foxtrot is Bill Amend, and he's a kind of hero for those of us who have a bit of creative license when it comes to physics. This is because, gasp!, the man has a physics degree from Amherst which, in a phrase I've borrowed a lot myself, "makes him sound a lot smarter than he really is." This is why Jason was forever going on about incredibly geeky things like liquid nitrogen and Linux in the strip, and why Peter was running into trouble in his physics classes.

So in honor of Foxtrot, I've dug out a few of my more recent comics and will let you guys see them in hopes that you'll laugh (in a good way). I don't know why I'm doing this honestly because I heavily doubt comic strip writing is in my future: I can't draw to save my life, and tend to make people groan instead of laugh with my puns. But we've all got to start somewhere, and the first one of these will help me gauge how well it's going...

Friday, March 2, 2007

Kayaking the Puhoi

I always had a fondness in my heart for libraries, particularly small ones in little villages, but I've never seen one like this before-

Welcome to the town of Puhoi, about an hour's drive north of Auckland, which was founded in 1863 by Bohemian migrants. The town itself isn't much, just the general store, church, and obligatory pub, but it's a rather cute little place to stumble accross. (The library was founded in about 1925 but wasn't open, so alas I couldn't ask how many volumes such a little place holds.)

I went on a daytrip out to Puhoi today with the Auckland University Canoe Club (AUCC), of which I am now a member because it's one of the great ways to get out and see things if you're an international student for cheap. We were in town to kayak the Puhoi River, a narrow and slow-moving little river, out to the ocean about 8km away (pictured on the right). I've kayaked quite a bit but never in a river, and it was quite fun to meander along with the current while watching the unfolding scenes of pine forest and pasture.

And then when we were done we went to the pub for a barbeque. Of course. No one does anything in this country so long as there is not a promise of sausage and beer down the line, I've noticed.

One final story for you though: the banks of the Puhoi are rather muddy, and at the halfway point of the journey we kinda-sorta had a mudfight. I got into the thick of things pretty well and got a subsequent layer of mud in places that I didn't even know existed. And I wasn't completely successful in washing it off either: my t-shirt was rather splattered, and there were definite clots of the stuff in my hair.

Ok, not that big a deal. I hear people pay a lot of money for getting plastered with mud. What was a bigger deal though was when we got back to campus just before the dining hall closes, so I got back to my residence hall without enough time to change or shower before dinner. Do you realize how much fun it is to go into a dining hall looking like you've just come back from the trenches? Particularly when people are half-convinced that "the American girl" is slightly crazy? I had a lot of explaining to do, to say the least, but it was worth it!