Thursday, May 29, 2008

Manifest Destiny

What happens when you wander in to the local AAA office and say "I'm doing a trip to Chicago, Rapid City, Yellowstone, and San Francisco, got anything to help me out?" Answer- you leave with a bagful of this stuff. I like the one on the top the best: it's a little booklet detailing every single direction we need to take, complete with individual maps and information about which stretches are most scenic.

I'm totally excited about starting tomorrow and should probably work on packing, but have one final thought I'd like to share. Last night, while reading through a few old favorite books from when I was a kid, I realized when they didn't involve tesseracts or Tripods or they were inevitably historical fiction. (You know those American Girl dolls? I had one, but freely admit I chose the one I did because I wanted the books, to the great consternation of my sister who accused me of "abandoning" the doll.) And in all those books people are inevitably homesteading or braving the Oregon Trail or having run-ins with the local Indian tribe- also known as things much more exciting than my childhood in suburban Pittsburgh- and if Little House on the Prairie taught me anything it's that going West is one of those things all Americans should do at some point. And while I might be over a century late, the sentiment is still there.

Call my feelings a sense of adventure combined with a grandly misplaced case of Manifest Destiny. This is gonna be great.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Few Links

Got the wisdom teeth out today- was knocked out at 8am, have vauge recollections of going out to the car/into bed at some point after, and slept until 1pm. Spent the rest of the day taking it easy and with pain that was manegable with only two Advils, though to be honest the back of my jaw had ached for awhile now so perhaps being used to it helps. But hey, not complaining...

Until the cross-country stuff starts coming in in a few short days, here are a few links for the procrastinators out there. First, here is one to The Fratellis' newest single, Mistress Mabel. I've loved them ever since New Zealand where I first heard them, and their new CD is coming out next week so you should look into it.

And, because it is late, I just finished watching The Colbert Report and Brian Greene was just on to promote the World Science Festival in New York City next week (and have Colbert make fun of string theory and discuss the Large Hadron Collider), which is the sort of event that makes you wish your road trip went in the opposite direction. I'd link to the specific video but it's not up on the official site just yet, but heartily encourage you to wander over and check it out.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Road Trip USA

A week from today my family and I are going to do something very few people who live in the United States ever do- namely, drive across it. It's sort of unthinkable to be in California without a car and an awful lot of interesting spots in the 2,000+ miles between here and there, so a combination of these two means we should devote a few days doing the drive justice.

So for the next few weeks, here's what my schedule looks like:

Tuesday, May 27- get wisdom teeth extracted (turns out mine are coming in sideways or something... whimper)
Thursday/Friday- drive to Chicago (7.5 hours)
Saturday- Chicago
Sunday, June 1- leave Chicago, begin ~13 hour drive to Rapid City, South Dakota
Monday- arrive in Rapid City, go see Badlands/ Mount Rushmore
Tuesday- go see whichever wasn't seen the day prior, drive to Yellowstone National Park
Wednesday- Yellowstone NP
Thursday- Yellowstone NP
Friday- drive to Salt Lake City, Utah
Saturday- drive across Nevada and such
Sunday, June 8- arrive at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, where I'll be living this summer, sometime in the afternoon
Monday- begin work at the SETI Institute
Wednesday- family flies back to Pittsburgh

Of course, this is all subject to change except for the "start work" dates, but it gives you the rough idea of where we'll be and, hopefully, what sort of cool pictures will be arriving at this blog soon now that it's a travelogue again. If anyone has any suggestions or tips regarding these places or something we're fools to miss let me know.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Gaudeamus Igitur

My mom likes to joke that me and my twin brother, Patrick, were always good because even when we were babies we knew not to start walking at the same time. This grace carries on because I obviously didn't graduate last Sunday with the rest of my classmates (though I hear I was mentioned by the university president in her speech for my science journalism!), so there was nothing stopping the family from going down to Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina for the weekend graduation ceremony.

First and foremost, a picture of the smiling graduate-
My brother, who graduated with a Finance B.S. and will go off to work at a bank giving loans to small businesses in a few weeks. Needless to say, I'm very proud of him!
A nice shot of Wait Chapel on the campus of Wake Forest University. It must be said that all of WFU is wonderfully lovely and feels like it's planned out because it is: RJ Reynolds, the tobacco magnate, donated land from his plantation to the university so they built a new one in the 1950s and moved. I always joke that it's the university tobacco built and they are still incredibly smoker-friendly when compared to my own university where the smokers are banned from all but five spots on campus...
Me in the Reynolds garden which was rather lovely, all dolled up because that's what one naturally does at a graduation. These are all the pictures I'm going to post from this as graduations are rather non-exciting for all but a select few involved (namely, I think, the graduate and his/her parents), but that doesn't stop one from giving lavish congratulations of course. I figure anyone really interested can go check out the Facebook album I just created anyway.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Packing Up

Whenever someone visits my room for the first time (or even a second, or third...) they immediately become distracted by my wall decorations. This is because every decent-sized surface is covered by an odd collection of maps and postcards-
The reason the US and World maps are interesting is because I use them to mark my Ham radio contacts. It's a hobby of mine that it turns out I'm very good at (if you're ever bored, check what comes up under "Ham radio operator" on Wikipedia), meaning throughout college I have affixed several hundred little star stickers for the various stations I've contacted throughout the world. The US one is particularly impressive, I think, because it's gotten to the point where the various geographical centers of the country are strikingly notable.
The world map, not as filled because further away radio contact is a touch more difficult. The station I use on campus is pretty good though if the markers in southern Africa aren't a tipoff... I didn't take a picture of the rest of the map though, because I haven't made contacts in the regions not shown. I think this has less to do with the capabilities of the station than the fact that I have never have a desire to wake up during the prime operating hours for Asia/Oceania (their evening, which is early morning for us).
I told you the postcards are cool- this wall is covered with about 200 of them from all seven continents. I get then from a few sources, mainly Postcrossing, radio, picking them up myself, or bugging friends...
A close-up of the postcard wall. This one was in our common room this year and my suitemates and I had a bit of a party sticking them up... I finally took them down last night, and it really was sad. There's nothing like taking down several hundred postcards to make you realize you're moving on from your home to a totally new one.

So now I've moved away from Cleveland for the summer, the bad news of which is I had to say goodbye to all my graduating friends but the good news of which is this blog will start up as a travelogue again. I'm in Pittsburgh now, but within hours will be on the road to my brother's college graduation in North Carolina for a few days. And in just a few short weeks I will be driving across the United States to my summer job in California- an adventure I am truly looking forward to, and will undoubtedly be a great source of postcards for next year's display. Stay tuned!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Dear Professor

Yesterday was the awards ceremony and dinner for the senior undergraduate physics majors, and while I'm not graduating until December I went as this is my class and all that. As part of the ceremonies all us students had to read a cute poem from the compilation Dear Professor, Do You Live in a Vacuum? by Nin Andrews, which are assembled from emails students wrote to a physics professor. They were all great, but I saw one I immediately knew I needed to read-

Dear Professor,
I heard the Brian Greene talk
on string theory. He even showed pictures
of these stringy things.
Like vibes. That explains everything.
And I had really good vibes about Brian Greene.
Do you know if he's single?

Another one I quite related with in the book, while we're at it:

When I was in your office
and you showed me the problem
about the weight lifter and the dumbbells,
I kept smiling and saying yes,
but I didn't really understand a word you were saying.
I tried, but it's like you were speaking
a different language.
I think new professors do that.
They get lost in translation.
So I thought maybe I should tell you
that when a student smiles and nods and says yes
a lot,
what she really means is she has no idea
what you're talking about.

It should also be noted, here at the bottom so I can be discreet, that there were politics afoot recently in that it turned out several professors wanted to nominate me for one of the departmental awards, but the university refused on the grounds that I'm not yet graduating. They decided this would be "no fun," so the powers that be created a one-time-only award for me, for my "exemplary services to the department of physics."

I was so overwhelmed by this gesture of kindness that I nearly cried. This department will be hard to leave.

Thought for the Day

"You know, there's probably a better plan for getting into graduate school than deciding while in Middle Earth that you need to get your academic act together, come back and start getting more or less straight As, thus landing you on the dean's list repeatedly. But honestly now, doesn't this make a better story?"

(My experiment to turn things around is working. Take that, bitches.)