Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ballet Class Has Ruined Everything

Why is it I'm incapable of watching the first snowfall of the year without getting "Waltz of the Snowflakes" from The Nutcracker stuck in my head? Not even the melody, mind, but rather "one-two-three, two-two-three, three-two-three, PORT DE BRAS!"

Some stuff just never leaves you.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Pumpkin Carving Festivus 3

This past weekend was our third annual Pumpkin Carving Festivus. This is the hands-down favorite party amongst me and my friends, to the point where several people who graduated last year traveled several hundred miles just to make it this year. How we have fallen in love with taking giant gourds and carving intricate patterns into them above all our other activities I don't know, but when people come in from Chicago or Syracuse to do it you'd better show up!

And of course it was great fun again. I have an established reputation as "the artsy one" when it comes to pumpkin carving, which I blame my uncle for because he bought us a book of pumpkin carving patterns and tools when everyone else in our area was still stuck on doing plain jack-o'-lanterns. As I am never considered exceptionally artsy in anything else because my drawing ability plateued around age ten this means I spend a decent amount of thought on how to do a good pumpkin...
I decided a ghost rising from his grave would be a good starter. After a bit of work, here's the final product-Of course, later on a friend of mine busted my bubble by looking at this photo and saying "did you carve a turtle on your pumpkin?" Sigh... Perhaps I don't get to call myself artsy after all.
My gravestone+ghost pumpkin when illuminated. I think it turned out nicely.
Partway through work for Pumpkin #2, which is wolves howling at the moon (for full disclosure, this was partly inspired from a pattern). The main problem here was my little pumpkin carving tool decided to break not too far into things- some of the guys had been pretty rough in using them- so I was suddenly faced with using a tiny saw blade with duct tape wrapped around the end in order to get the fine details. Which I did eventually, but I probably spent nearly an hour carving everything out as it was so painstakingly slow...
Wolves howling. I'm satisfied, though I should note that my favorite pumpkin of the night was a joint project from several people. Ever wonder what happens when a pumpkin drinks too much pumpkin ale?
Even better, a few of his pumpkin buddies looked downright concerned about his condition-
Unfortunately, later this night marked the first and only time my pumpkins got destroyed by pumpkin smashers. (Except the vandals left drunken pumpkin and his friends. Who would have guessed the sort of person who would smash pumpkins on a Saturday night would identify with such a state?) Quite understandably, this makes me sad. Stupid cretins.

All is not lost however- today one of my suitemates recieved a Pumpkin Lite-Brite set in a care package from her mother. You either recall why this is brilliant from your childhood or you don't. It cheered me up at least, hopefully enough to last until Pumpkin Carving Festivus next year.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fall Break

I'm going to come out right now and say my fall break was too short- that dratted Physics GRE exam was scheduled for 830am Saturday morning (a great way to kick off your vacation, I assure you!), and honestly it's amazing how much a difference one night makes when you only have four to work with. But a few hours after I hopped on a plane-
(The view over Western PA was just awesome...)

...And ended up for a few days in New Hampshire. Where the most beautiful foliage on the planet was in full swing, of course, so this was the best Fall Break activity one could concieve of doing.
Gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous... Though to be fair, I was probably a week late for foliage because it had clearly peaked on the mountainsides (if this sounds odd as Ohio hasn't yet, keep in mind it's already snowing up there meaning it's a fair bit colder!). Luckily the lakeside keeps things a few precious degrees warmer, meaning the area was ripe for canoeing about to see the leaves. And what a stereotypically pretty activity it was too- this time of year most of the cottages are vacant on weekdays, not to be visited until next summer in most cases, so while there were one or two motorboats on Sunday I saw or heard none at all on Monday/Tuesday. Absolutely silent, and the only ripples were the ones from paddling.
Another pretty foliage shot from the lake. The odd structure to the right is actually a hundred-year-old boat house, built by a wealthy Bostonian who used to own the whole lake shore in this area back then. His daughter had a steam-powered yacht with a tall mast (click here for a picture), thus the odd boat house was constructed to accommodate it.
This little guy was what got me most excited about going past the boat house that day- believe it or not, it's a loon! Loons are very iconic for their gorgeous summertime plumage on lakes in northern North America, of course, but this guy is busily changing into his winter duds. If you look at a close-up of the picture you'll see his beak is still primarily black and he still has some semblance of a checkered back, but overall he looks a totally different bird.

And because I've always liked loons ever since I did my "bird report" in 5th grade on them and I'd never seen one ready for winter before, trust me, this was very exciting. Unfortunately the loon decided this was fall so he didn't need to stick around for photo ops anymore, so he dived under for a long time and we never really saw him again.
The reddest tree I have ever seen in my life, even if you might not be able to tell in the picture. You could spot this tree as standing out even though it was on the opposite shore from us.
This picture was taken on Tuesday, when it was cloudy so the leaves didn't look half as impressive, but I was nonetheless a fan of the orange tree and thought I would post this in the name of tree foliage diversity.

Tuesday was also noteworthy in canoeing because I went out alone, and it was dead calm again so I set off for the opposite shore. Except it turned out on the opposite shore it wasn't calm at all and in fact quite breezy, and believe you me when the wind picks up canoes just go. And this wind will always blow in the exact opposite direction of the way you want to head! To make a long story short, there was a fair bit of frantic paddling while kneeling in the middle of the canoe to overcome the wind (as opposed to the seat in the back- more awkward, but more stable), and my jeans got a bit wet. Not complaining though, as the story of paddling small craft over troubled waters is way better than whatever I would have been doing at school.
And I will now finish my fall break post by posting a picture of my Halloween gingerbread man from the local grocery, as he was just that awesome. Almost too cool to eat, until I remembered the only thing cooler than looking at a Halloween gingerbread man is cannibalizing him. The poor guy's disguise was no match for the hungry canoer.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Prelude to Winter

I take a lot of pictures that never make it to this blog (usually because I don't get them off my camera until their timeliness is questionable) but I noticed this set in my archives and they look lovely enough to share-
Date: March 5, 2008. We'd had a spate of freezing rain the night before, so despite the fact that it was practically springtime every single thing on campus was covered in a coating of ice, as if it was being prepared for display in a museum. For further proof, here's what the traffic light looked like on my usual route-
One of the funny things about winter, I think, is how I look at these pictures now and am utterly amazed by them but back when I took them no one even thought it was extraordinary at all. You consider the concept of shorts and t-shirts extraordinary, in contrast to how you can't imagine life in summertime without. All in all it says a good deal about human adaptability.

(Posted because today was the first day I needed to wear my winter hat with the giant pouf ball and my gloves, as the wind chill whilst bicycling required it, but two days ago I was still in shorts. Which made me start thinking about how it's probably the end of any warm weather I will see in Cleveland, which is a somewhat disturbing thought...)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

In Which Yvette Attempts to Explain the Economic Crisis

Yep, this was my column this week. It was inspired by the fact that I realized most students didn't particularly understand what's going on, nor understand how big a number the $700 billion from the federal bailout really is. Plus it let me write fun little things like this-

Let's start first by trying to grasp the scale of the numbers. Imagine I gave you access to a gigantic bank vault filled with nothing but one dollar bills, and said you could keep every bill you counted. How long would it take you to reach $700 billion if you counted one dollar bill per second without stopping?
As it turns out, if you were to count a dollar every second it would take you just under 17 minutes to earn your first thousand. You could count on being a millionaire after eleven and a half days, but it would take 115 days to count $10 million and over three years for $100 million. You could take pride in passing the one billion dollar mark at 31.7 years, but it would take you just under two thousand years to pass Warren Buffett as the world's wealthiest person. And it would take you no less than 22,182 years to reach $700 billion, the maximum amount authorized in the federal bailout.
For some perspective, 22,182 years ago you could still find glaciers in the Cleveland area and Neanderthals in Europe. And I guarantee none of your ancestors have the foggiest idea as to why you care so much about green pieces of paper in the first place.
The rest of the column can be found here (linked this week in particular because our newspaper has a new website and it looks snazzy). Special thanks to my dad and brother who read it over to ensure that no economics professors write angry letters because I got facts wrong.

Monday, October 6, 2008


My favoritest YouTube video ever-

Shared because I finally purchased the first legs for my round the world trip today, set to begin on January 20 with a flight to Tokyo (and continue for six months through Southeast Asia, Europe, and Southern Africa). Psych!

More on this once my brain fully wraps around the implications of what I just did, but until then I will leave you with the translation of the song in the video above, which was sung in Bengali-

Stream of Life
by Rabindranath Tagore

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day
runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.

It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth
in numberless blades of grass
and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth
and of death, in ebb and in flow.

I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life.
And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

From The Sandbox

I have a friend Dave (but who I call Norm- long story) who graduated last year from Cornell University in Physics and Astronomy. As Norm joined the ROTC while in college because military service is something he believes in, one thing led to another and he's been deployed in Iraq since early summer. There's really not much I can say that you can't already imagine, so I won't.

Anyway, Norm is kind enough to keep his own blog on his observations which I realized I never linked to and really ought, as he does a marvelous job. So go read it. His tour is up in a few weeks anyway, after which you'll need to find somewhere else to read war dispatches from and I can't guarantee their insights will be nearly as good.

On the Physics GRE

Most of my spare time lately is being spent studying for the Physics GRE- that insidious test required for admission to most American astronomy/physics graduate schools. The reason it's insidious (beyond the silliness of reducing physics to multiple choice) is the grading curve is so heavily skewed towards international students, mainly coming from countries like China where they spend several years essentially studying for the Physics GRE. Us domestics make up for this with things like good lab experience, but you still have to try your best of course even if the percentile you're hoping for is probably 50% lower.

There are two GRE Physics exams in the fall (and the general GRE, of course, but no one cares excessively about that) and the first one is two weekends from now- conveniently right at the end of my midterms and the first day of Fall Break. Beyond the obviousness of doing practice questions and tests, I also have about 200 flashcards with various physics equations on them, because when you only have a minute or so a question you need to know the stuff like the charecteristic frequency of an LHC circuit or the van der Waal equation of states like that. I find this silly because I guarantee none of my professors could tell you most of these without looking them up, but no matter.

On the bright side, I realized I got a lot better at all this when I started treating my stack of flashcards like a violin concerto, and progress has gotten better. Each concept is like a measure, ten are a phrase so you have to go back and review, twice that you need to go back again to reinforce it... and then once your "problem spots" are out of the way (everyone's got them, in my case it's stat mech and some of the quantum) and you can waltz through the cards however they're sorted you find a few questions and see if you can do that. A musician's dicipline comes into life in odd ways...

So that's what I've been doing. (Yay?) I could rant about this topic a little more but think I'll abstain for now on the grounds that topic irritates me, except for one last observation- if I end up not getting into graduate school, remind me to go work for the GRE people. It's costing me $140 a pop to take this test, and they must make a killing.