Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I always never am speaking English in the proper way any longer.

Salut salut salut!

The above sentence being about half of my French vocabulary at the moment, and this sentence a good representation of how screwy my English grammar has become, I conclude therefore that I have been in Germany for a very very long time. And then I must now admit that I am not, in fact, in Germany at the moment - rather, I'm in Italy, somewhere near the Mediterranean, although I never know exactly where I am when traveling with my family.

My last day of teaching was August 4th, and on the 5th I took a train to Geneve (la Suisse), where I met up with my family, as well as two really cool people named Alan and Laura that y'all might happen to know. There are pictures from this meeting, despite the weather being generally dreary, but they aren't on my camera, so I leave it to one or more of these super cool people to post them. hinthint. As for the weekend, it was spent walking around the streets of Geneve, touring CERN, and eating smuggled roquefort instead of sleeping.

In other news, like I said, my last day of teaching was last week, and I'm now on vacation. The last two weeks of my teaching program went very quickly and very nicely. The kids were the youngest we've had all summer, so I feel like I haven't gotten to know them quite as well, but they have been remarkable as students and pretty fun to teach. I had one particularly memorable student - if you've ever read Anne of Green Gables, this kid is my Paul Irving. He was just the most remarkable boy... and Alan, if you read this, I mean remarkable as in special, not remarkable as in able-to-be-remarked-upon.

I've also brought the llama song over to Germany, where the younger kids have loved it, as you can probably tell by the pictures I have sent out to the group. Here's another one for good measure (President Obama-Llama was their favorite). I have also taught them the PTERODACTYL game, which caught on more with the older kids. The thing with that game is that you have to be bad at it for it to be fun. Ah well. C'est la vie. (The previous sentence being the other half of my French vocabulary).

This summer has been super awesome. I've learned a lot/changed a lot, I think. On the serious side, my German is much much better, I have some clearer ideas of what I might want to do with my life, I've networked a bit, I've done a lot of teaching and a lot of learning, and I've met some really really amazing people. On the less serious side, I am approximately four orders of magnitude less mature than previously (I blame my team) and have embarrassed myself more times than I am able to name/count/whatevs. Ah well.

I return to Geneva in three days, FRA in four, BOS in five, and DTW in five and a half, or something like that. After that I sleep for a day, go counsel at orchestra camp for a week, relax for a week, and return to campus. I'm very excited to see everyone!

Love and mussels,
Zizzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Monday, August 8, 2011

"Alas"

"Alas, we no longer get to say 'alas' with a straight face, but 'alas' used, according to legend, to be what you said in great stoic sorrow over tragedies ineluctable, over the blackly implacable telos of Nature's flawed unfolding." (Foster, David. Brief interviews with hideous men. Back Bay Books, 2000. 244.)

- As I was reading along in my book, finding the story to be convoluted at best, I found myself thinking: "If I were a mermaid sitting on a rock, I could say 'alas' with a straight face!" Thank you Davie.

Before thou readest on, consider well thy motives. If thou desirest knowledge of the epic adventures of Fair Eireann of Brien, look no further. Many a minstrel might tempt thee with myths and faery songs, but only I speak the truth. If thou hast a pure heart, may these words guide thee in thy quest, but for those who would seek to harm, be warned, thy deeds shall haunt thee...

Our tale begins in magic and mystery. One day our heroine undertook a great journey across the time zone vortex in search of her family. She had been sent to a far away land to find her way in the world (hers was a very progressive Midieval family), but she new that this was a time that she must return and accomplish noble deeds in her own magnificent kingdom. I can see in thy mind's eye that thou hast already been told the story of her treacherous voyage through the skies and some of her other battles, so I shall tell you only of those seemingly little-known things which art held in greatest secrecy...

When Eireann found herself back in her lush homeland, not far outside of the Emerald City, she immersed herself in the doings and culture of her populace.

She went dancing with her mother and wore her enchanted yellow shoes... they even braved the mud and lightning of a thunderstorm to perform.

She discovered that her father, a gifted healer, had been taken as a pottery apprentice and shown himself to be exceedingly gifted. He gave her as a token a bowl and cup that were wondrously beautiful and through some inherent magic of the art seemed to make their contents taste better.

She attended the wedding of her gorgeous cousin and now cousin-in-law... they are very happy and Eireann was glad to admit that the whole thing couldn't have gone any better :)

She and her friends (those who had been inducted into the secret society) braved the ancient annual rite of consuming large quantities of overly-hydrating fruit with a significant amount of pain but a great sense of accomplishment, despite the distractions caused by a noisy squirrel that took her cracker and a family of six deer who probably had no interest at all in crackers.

She lamented her lack of a personal transport, especially as she experienced first hand her younger brother's pseudo-expert handling of said transport for the first time.

She began the great undertaking of a personal quest to discover the secrets of music. One Sir Ben J. came to teach her the ways of improvisation and the blues scale. That and a trip to her roots with Celtic duets and an entire afternoon flew by. The next phase of her quest is yet incomplete, as she prepares a performance piece for a certain elite group she is a member of back in her far away land.

She was reminded of how much she loves little children.

She survived the grueling experience of having what was left of her wisdom removed from her mouth (though it is to be hoped that it had already dispersed throughout the rest of her body, as she prefers to be not terribly foolish). It was not so grueling after all. She didn't even have to use her prescription anti-pain potion, and only took the ordinary one for 12 hrs. Eireann was absurdly pleased by this fact.

She continues to help attach siding to the exterior of her families unfinished castle... it is beginning to look most pleasingly castle-like... while wild bunnies hop through the dusk and a dratted squirrel takes up roost in the attic, tauntingly poking its head out of ventilation holes from time to time, but so far nigh un-catchable.

It is rumored that soon Eireann and her family will embark on their journey to The Lake and back, and that not long after she will take a visit from one of her friends from far away (who was even farther away this summer), for which she is very excited. Also to come hopefully before she departs back to her alternate home is a viewing of Harry Potter... finally.

So it is here that I leave thee, faithful listener, in this tale of Lady Eireann. Many things thou hast heard, still more things will be left unsaid, but even more things are yet to come, for she plans not on ending her adventures for many a year...

THE END

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

homeward bound

I'M COMING HOMEE!! :D to california.. so I still won't get to see you all yet, but at least I'll be closer and in the same country as some of you..

but let's jump back a month-ish and briefly summarize the rest of my adventures:

-Kuala Lumpur: 7hr bus ride (2hrs waiting at sg and malaysian customs) fun times wandering around malls, trying local food (curry laksa soup is delicious), succeeding somewhat in bargaining for clothes in central market, getting lost in the cramped aisles of fake junk in chinatown, swimming in the infinity pool at the hotel, and shopping some more..
Here's a picture of the inverted dome at the Islamic art museum, which was quite gorgeous.


-museum hopping:
From the asian civilisations museum: this is a modern artist's take on the actual terracotta warriors that were on display..

The art and science museum had some exhibitions on Van Gogh and the Tang dynasty shipwreck. The National Museum had an exhibition on watchmaking (so many elaborate pocketwatches..)




Toy museum: soo adorable! Picture walls of teddy bears, shelves of small figures of robots, spaceships, tintin, mickey and the gang, tom and jerry, daleks, and so much more.. (I think I still haven't seen the sword in the stone, so that should be remedied when I get back.)







-Pulau Ubin (sorry I don't have pictures): island off the east side of sg (I stayed near the SW side) so we took the MRT, bus, and then cute little riverboat ferry to the island, and went cycling for a few hours, gotten eaten alive by mosquitos, harvested these random leaves growing along the side of the path, which were apparently edible (I don't know what they are in english, but they're called "la lơt" in vietnamese) and then my cousin proceeded to make dinner for us with the leaves the next day. I can report that we are all alive and well, even after eating these mysterious leaves growing on the side of the path. They did taste good though when you wrap up ground beef with them.

Other miscellaneous-ness include:
-July 4th was uneventful: they didn't sell marshmallows or graham crackers at the grocery store near campus, so I was unable to make microwave s'mores :[
-Meeting with Dean Hastings at NUS
-Kayaking in MacRitchie reservoir=bad tan lines (which have simply just gotten even worse -.-")
-HP7: There was a distinct lack of audience participation (i.e. commentary, obnoxious laughter, etc), but still fun and enjoyable. Also chinese subtitles :P
-sg food festival+black sesame ice cream: tastes kind of weird-not necessarily bad, but not my favorite..
-Chocolate lava cakes, lemon meringue pie, and deliciousness fox cookies: not all in the same day..
(also my cousin's birthday is on friday. She wants me to make some sort of special type of cake that's purple or pink colored for her (and not too sweet!!): any suggestions? Erin, do you mind sending me your pink champagne cake recipe if you still have it?)
-Lunch other international students from Caltech and Imperial College, London.
-Chinatown and little India
-Shopping and eating.. repeated a few more times..and then some more.
-Trekking through many park trails for a few hours..


And now, my time here in Singapore draws to a close, and I begin the traditional exiting ceremony. I had a phone conference with Lilly-NUS regarding the cortisol analyses last Thurs and bid farewell to all the researchers, clinicians, neuropsych raters, coordinators, and all the other kind people I've gotten to know these past weeks. (although I still have some work left to pass to the Lilly-NUS people, but at least I can do it at home.) I wistfully say goodbye to all the delicious food that I won't be able to exactly replicate or find in the states.. (koi bubble tea, mango sago, grass jelly, chili crab, fresh noodles, dragonfruit, guava, papaya, longan, rambutan: I will miss you..but this won't be goodbye forever. I promise. but I will most certainly not miss you: durian smell.)



and I end this chapter of my summer adventures in SE Asia with my trip to Vietnam. :]
It rained much of the time I was there, so the weather was actually fairly cool in comparison to sg, but usually it's just as hot.

First order of business: visiting family- I stayed at my cousin's house: she's actually on my dad's side, so she took me over on her motorbike to see my mom's side, who live in a different part of Saigon, but only a 15min drive away. My grandmother's older brother is 90! and he totally ate way more food than I did, when I had lunch with them on Monday. Yeah, he's that cool- and you'd never know he could eat that much since he's as thin as a stick! but still very healthy. albeit somewhat forgetful, since he didn't really remember who I was for awhile, but by the end, he did remember. :] Unfortunately this may be the first and last time I see him, since I don't know when I'll get the chance to come back.. T.T I was very happy to meet everyone and hear all the funny stories about my mom, aunt, uncle, and grandmother from long ago. I tried my best to talk/answer their questions, but my vietnamese is quite limited, although I think it's gotten a bit better from the past couple days?


A bunch of family on my dad's side drove a car out to the countryside to see the Cao Dai temples, Một Thoáng Việtnam: a new cultural center that has stuff from all the different regions in Vietnam and history of the country, etc., and Cu Chi tunnels from the Vietnam war.

This is the Cao Dai temple: the religion was created in Vietnam, and it might only be found here..not sure.. There were signs that directed men to enter on the right, and women to enter on the left, but it didn't actually matter which entrance you came in. If you wanted to know, we all entered on the right: all 3 guys and 6 girls.

Cu Chi tunnels: It was raining, so everything is slightly muddy, thus we ended up much dirtier than usual. The shooting range they had open for tourists to play around in nearly gave me a heartattack, and I quickly ran away to avoid any of the unpleasant sounds.
This is the much enlarged entrance to the tunnels. They slightly enlarged 100m for tourists to crawl through, with exits every 20m in case the tiny, suffocating, dark, damp enclosure gets too much for you. It's literally about as large/wide as me curled up sort of like a hedgehog. There were a few tiny lights inside, but corners were difficult to navigate. It was fun sliding down/climbing up/down through the tunnels, but I was very relieved to breathe fresh air after those 100m. Then we nommed on some steamed cassava root with a mixture of sesame, brown sugar, and peanuts, as a reward for going through the tunnels and to finish our tour there.


On the left is a mock house at Một Thoáng Việtnam, but I don't remember what region this is from- perhaps Hue?
Also, on the right is
mắm nem: fermented fish (anchovies/fish chunks/pulverized fish) that's been sitting in jars, possibly for more than 10 years. sounds delicious no? ewww, that's one VNmese thing I really can't eat. If you thought fish sauce was bad, don't ever go near this stuff. The smell is not quite as overpowering as durian, (in that the smell doesn't spread as quickly) but definitely fishy-er and perhaps much more unpleasant in some ways.

and of course Saigon, the crazy city itself, with an inordinate amount of motorbikes on the road with cars, of which neither of the drivers seem to follow the traffic lights, or rather the lack of traffic lights in some cases, and crossing roads is like playing frogger, as you slowly maneuver your way through the traffic. The night market at Chợ Bến Thành was fun and has lots of cheap shopping :] since the exchange is something like 20000đòng to 1USD, but they always talk in 10- and 100-thousands..
My cousin and I are sitting on her motorbike in the alley in front of her house.
Sorry the other picture is so dark- it was in a parking lot at night, but if you can see it, there are lots of motorbikes.. so all of them on the road=craziness..

Last but definitely not least: the food. OMG food!! So delicious. unbelievably delicious- okay maybe I'm a bit biased since I grew up on all of this stuff, so if I described it, you might be weirded out or not find it as amazing- I would tell you everything I ate, except I don't know the english translation of most of the food I ate. Except pho obviously, which tasted almost exactly like my mother's <3 Also, this would be so torturous for you to read about it and not taste all the lovely flavors.. ahh, I miss it already.

Unfortunately we only stayed for 3 days, although I'd dearly love to stay longer and explore the country my parents grew up in.


But alas, now I am back in Singapore for 3 more days, wander around a bit more, and figure out how on earth I'm going to fit all of my stuff in my suitcase and have it be under 23kg >.< Friday is my cousin's birthday, and Saturday morning I embark on my journey home.

Sorry, this was very long. Anyway, I hope all your summers have been going well.
I miss you all dearly- and I'll see you soon! <3

Friday, July 29, 2011

Laura in Germany, part 2

The last time you heard from me, I had been in Aachen for 2 weeks. Now I have been here 2 months. My, how the time flies.



I will tell you about my job. This is the rheology lab, where I work when I am not working or napping at computers in the
computer lab. the thing to the right of the monitor is the rheometer. I enjoy my job.
Mostly it is mixing suspensions and measuring viscosity and analyzing stuff. Pretty chill.
I've been here for 6 weeks so far, and I have 2 weeks left. The people are all very nice, and a surprising number of them watch (and quote) Big Bang Theory. Sometimes, I speak German with them, but mostly we speak English. Oh well. I use my German at the bakery.


On weekends I travel. Elizabeth told you about Salzburg. That was a highlight. Others include:

...biking across the Netherlands. One of the other American students here and I biked to Maastricht, which is almost in France or something! It was about 3o km, which took us about 3 hours. Um, and then I didn't feel like biking back because it was uphill and I am fundamentally lazy, so I took the train, which was fun except for the part where I dropped my bike almost on a Dutch toddler, and I got to practice my Dutch to find my train. My Dutch is the same as my English, only more apologetic. This was the first time I have been in a country where I don't speak the language at all, and I think the experience made me a less judgmental person. Anyway, the countryside was very beautiful, even though it was kind of filtered because I was wearing my free yellow Golden Gate Fields sunglasses. I did not get any nice pictures for you because I was on a bike.

...Berlin. This is a picture that I took of a statue, a crane, and a skin care ad. I was in Berlin for about 26 hours, and it wasn't enough time to see much at all. But I had a good time, and got to hang out with Elizabeth. We bought a bread book. We are going to bring German bread to French House. This was my second time in Berlin, and I still don't really know how I feel about it. Parts of it are very pleasant; some are green. It's is very big. And kind of gritty. Yeah, I think this picture pretty much sums it up.










...and of course, Paris. This is a picture of me looking at a fence in front of Sacre Coeur to see how sharp it was. It was nice to see Alan, because sometimes Europe is lonely. We admired espresso machines and stand mixers in the department stores, contemplating which we would buy for French House if we had lots of money.


That's about what I've been up to. On Monday I have to move out of my dorm into a hotel for 2 weeks, because our dorms were only available through July. This means I will get to talk to my Hausmeister in German again, which always makes me feel competent. It also means that this weekend I have to pack up all my stuff and figure out where the trash goes. As Liesl would say, "Wheeeeeeeeeee!"


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Okie from Muskogee

So, here it is, the second installation that you’ve been waiting for, only a day late.  Trust me, it’s even more enthralling than the first one.
First, a short side-note: to my surprise and delight, I discovered that I am still able to ride a unicycle after a two year hiatus!  Last Sunday, I dragged the dusty thing out from under my bed at MacG, rode up the ramp out of the courtyard, all the way to the student center, turned around, and came back, with only two falls.  One fall was very graceful and uneventful, if I do say so myself.  I even grabbed the back of the unicycle as I stepped nimbly off, instead of letting it crash on the pavement behind me.  The second fall, which was a bit more exciting, occurred because of a stupid saferide bus coming up behind me.  When I noticed it, I moved over to the side of the rode to let it pass, looking over my shoulder, flashing the Miss America wave to the occupants of the bus (ok, I didn’t actually do that, I was just looking to make sure it didn’t hit me).  Anyway, by the time the bus passed and I looked back in front of me, it was too late (DUN DUN DUN).  I smashed into the curb, Unicycle and Sophie went flying in opposite directions, and I landed unceremoniously in the middle of Amherst Alley, carefully avoiding eye contact with bemused passerby.  But beside a scrape on my right hand, I turned out fine, and will hopefully continue the unicycling tradition for the rest of the Summer.
On to Oklahoma.  Two points about Oklahoma: 1. The dirt is red, at least, in the western part of the state (i.e Oklahoma City and beyond).  This is due to iron deposits.  Not sure how they got there.
2.  IT’S HOT.  St. Louis was about 100 or so every day, but if I remember correctly, there was one point of every single day in Oklahoma where it was at least 105.  Apparently, it has been over 20 days since the temperature has gotten below 100 in Oklahoma City, a phenomenon that hasn’t happened in several decades.  Unfortunately, none of this stopped my dad from shaking me awake at 6:30 to go running with him for 40 minutes every other day.  Even by 6:30, it was already well into the 90s, but at least it was a tad more bearable.  In any case, after going through that I have no excuse to chicken out on exercise when the weather gets “hot” here. 
We first visited the eastern city of Tulsa.  This is where my dad spent the first seven years of his life before being swept off to Calgary, and then Sydney Australia (his dad worked for Exxon, which is why they moved around a lot).  My dad’s parents are currently living just outside of Tulsa in my Aunt’s house.  She takes care of them with the help of a young woman, Dee, who lives in a town where the typical graduating high school class numbers fifteen.  Dee’s 4’8’’ and well over 300 pounds, but she never seems to run out of energy.  She calls my Grandma “Pea-pod”, and can get her to talk for lengthy periods of time, which my grandmother will no longer do with the rest of us.  In conclusion, Dee is a pretty kick-ass lady.  She asked me about MIT, and I showed her the I3 video.  About two minutes into it, she burst into hysterical laughter, and when I asked her what was wrong, she gasped out, “Oh lord, will you listen to their accents!”  Apparently, a young “white trash” single mother with limited education who scrapes out a living farming and caring for my grandparents can speak French well enough to pick up on non-native accents…guess that’ll teach me to judge people so quickly.  Despite her first reaction, she really loved the video. J
After staying in Tulsa for a few days, we drove out west two hours to Norman, home to Oklahoma University.  Although OU isn’t a very good school overall, they do have one of the best atmospheric science programs in the world (maybe it rose up because of all the severe weather in Oklahoma?  Dunno).  The Air Traffic Control division of Lincoln Lab works pretty closely with professors at OU, so my dad goes out there quite a bit (by the way, Teresa, maybe you and my dad can get together and rage about our government…I’ve heard quite a few less-than-laudatory comments from my dad due in part to the FAA budget cut).  Anyway, my dad took me out to the campus and showed me around the National Radar Test bed.  Here are some pictures.
That one’s a cute little mobile radar, like the ones the storm chasers use.
The last picture is a newish type of radar developed at OU called phased array radar.  I don’t understand that much, but the basic idea is that, with a traditional radar, the parabolic dish that focuses the EM beam has to be physically rotated in order to scan an entire thunderstorm.  This takes more time than people would like, however.  The phased array radar consists of a flat plate with many, many antennae.  Each antenna sends out a single radiation element.  By varying the time at which you set off each element, you can direct the beam in a lot of different directions (I think it’s like a 90 degree range or something like that).  This methods allows the radar to scan a thunderstorm in like, a sixth of the time that it takes a radar dish that has to physically rotate.  Pretty cool stuff, or at least I thought so.   I’m actually looking forward to 8.03 quite a bit now.  :D  Anyway, it was kinda cute to see how excited my dad was about this stuff…it’s good to be reminded sometimes that one’s parents are not robots, and can actually be passionate about what they do, like us. 
Oh yeah, one last thing.  At one point, while my dad was taking me around to the different radars and babbling excitedly, a somewhat intimidating, fairly jacked Air Force technician who was apparently watching us came running up and said “can I help you?”  In a tone that seemed to imply an alternate meaning, to the effect of “It’s 107 degrees, and you wackjobs have been standing here for over half an hour looking at RADARS; so I’m guessing you’re probably terrorists”.  Turned out alright though..he recognized my dad’s name, figured that one of the heads of Air Traffic Control at Lincoln Lab probably was not carrying explosives with him, and then gave us a personal tour.  Apparently, part of his concern had stemmed from the fact that a couple of years ago, some psychopath was travelling around the country (or maybe just the state?  Not sure), telling everyone that the world was being controlled by radars.  One day, this guy showed up on campus, complete with an arsenal of explosives.  He was placed in a psych ward nearby for about a year, and is once again walking around free.  Yeah.  People are interesting.
Ok, that’s it.  Thanks for bearing with two really long posts you guys.
Love,
Sophie

Cool people, Harry Potter, Berlin, and Darmstadt again.

So I left off on the tail-end of our visit to TU Darmstadt, and will continue from there:

The two students who were asked to show me around TUD were Felix and Jonas, two aerospace majors who work for Lufthansa (the ones I played tennis with) . Since they're fantastically awesome, they arranged a visit to the Lufthansa cargo base at the Frankfurt airport for us, which happened on Friday. That was really awesome - we got to explore a 747 and some A340s - including the cockpits! After this we all went out to dinner and stayed at the bar until midnight... but we gather that this is "typisch Deutsch" behavior. [picture = yin+michelle+me in front of A340 engine]

Speaking of "typisch Deutsch" behavior, we freshmen went to see Harry Potter und die Heiligtümer des Todes - Teil 2 at midnight on the 13th - our first night in Berlin, and about an hour into the movie, the movie cut out and a black screen that said "Pause" showed up. This was very disturbing, but is apparently not uncommon - altough not common either. We asked some very bemused Germans about it. In general, I think Germans are bemused by us - I'm fairly certain that everyone we meet here thinks that we are terrifically hilarious. A group of girls that laugh and smile all the time and speak English and try to speak German? What could be funnier?

We spent the following week (our free week) running around doing touristy things in Berlin. Schedule looked something like this:
  • Tuesday: arrive, do laundry, go see Harry Potter at night (wednesday morning).
  • Wednesday: Museumsinsel - Pergamonmuseum, Alte Nationalgalerie, & Neues Museum (nefertiti bust). [picture = me near the Alte Nationalgalerie]
  • Thursday: Technikmuseum & Musikinstrumentenmuseum.
  • Friday: Berlin Wall memorial, Holocaust memorial, shopping.
  • Saturday: Meet up with Laura to run around Berlin. I think she has more pictures from this than I.
These last few weeks we're going to be running summer programs in cooperation with Deutsche Bahn. Last week we were in Berlin, and this week we're in Darmstadt, but since I'm staying in Frankfurt, I get to take a train to work. I find this very exciting but I'm about as easily amused as a four-year-old. Yeah, and since we're back in Darmstadt, we met up with Felix and Jonas again today. It was very nice to see some familiar faces.

The summer programs are a bit less hectic and more like normal life in that I get back to my hosts at a reasonable hour and have time to read or relax or just reflect, which I've been doing a lot of. This summer has afforded a very amazing experience for me thus far, in part because I have met a lot of very cool/amazing/inspiring people. A partial list (I'm a fan of lists):
  • Torben, one of my first students. He confused me a lot in my first lecture but was still very nice about it. He wants to be a doctor, and from the five days I spent with him, I know he genuinely believes in saving lives. He also does sailing, sings, plays saxophone, tutors, and lifeguards.
  • Niklas, another one of my students. He wants to study physics and he was one of the nicest people we met at his school. What I really admired about him was that I could tell he was struggling in my physics presentations, but he didn't give up and still liked it. I really admire people who can like things they're not good at. Like legitimately.
  • Chris, another one of my students, who was just very welcoming and genuinely nice to us during our entire stay. He did his fair share of laughing at us, but that's what all Germans do, and he told me how to call a taxi, and helped me figure out classroom reservation issues, and also he wants to study aerospace so I just automatically like him. btw, if it sounds like I only teach boys, that's partially true - I'm the designated physics person on the team and my students are predominately male.
  • Remi, my Berlin host's flatmate. He's French but his German's very good and he made crepes one night. I asked him for his recipe - it involves "ein halb kilo farine", 200 g sugar, 1 L of milk, rum, and some arbitrary number of eggs. I mean to try it when I get back to campus. Perhaps without the rum, unless Ben will fetch it for me in his liquor-mobile.
  • Anna and Phillip, my Frankfurt hosts. They are possibly the cutest unmarried couple I have ever met, and they also don't thirdwheel me, which I think is a remarkable achievement considering I'm staying in their home for a week. They are really nice to me and also have very good tea.
  • Felix & Jonas. They are kind of in a really big bromance that is sort of more like a marriage. It's very (incredibly) adorable. In any case, Felix is taking double the normal courseload of a typical German student, and Jonas is taking triple, but what really amazes me is their inside-out knowledge of the workings of Lufthansa. They can tell you what aircraft are used for specific flights and how many crew members are stationed at which airports... yeah. cool stuff.
  • My team. Yin, Michelle, Sasha, & Jing. I honestly don't know what it's going to be like without them now that we've spent so much time together - I feel like I'm going to get home and be lost without my four team members around me. Also, I feel like I kind of need all four of them to tell my summer stories - we've told them so many times that I feel like my stories would be missing something without their reenactment. Also, bad jokes. Lots of them. And finally, "Trig identities are sexy." [picture = team]
Lastly, awkward-turtle-moment-of-the-day: we were waiting for the streetcar to take us back to the Darmstadt central station when we spot a guy wearing an MIT sweatshirt. After a few moments of intense deliberation we decide to accost him and ask if he goes to MIT. He says no, but he did a program there - some sort of study-abroad-work-abroad-Sloan-thing. We proceed to awkwardly explain that we go to MIT and then let him be on his way.

I have two weeks left of this program, one additional week in Geneva/Italy, and then I will be back in the states. It's only been 5 weeks but I feel like it's been like... longer. Love you and miss you all.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Fireworks and the midwest

Hi all.  Hope everyone’s summers are going fantastically (AGHHHHH, it’s almost Fall!!!)  Anyway, I just came back from a trip with my family yesterday, so it seemed like a good time to update.  In order to avoid a five-page long post, I’ll split it up into two.  Hopefully the second addition will go up later today, or tomorrow.
Before I talk about the trip, here are some pictures of the 4th of July fireworks in Boston.  To my surprise, some of them actually came out fairly decently.

I’ve lived in Massachusetts my entire life, but this was the first time I saw the fireworks display.  It was actually very very pretty.  Only downfall was that the guy who kept announcing stuff over the loudspeaker had the most god-awful, overly peppy, obnoxious voice I’ve ever heard in my life.  But I digress.
So, anyway, the trip.  I feel pretty lame talking about an extremely uneventful trip to Oklahoma and Missouri when other people are in Singapore, Berlin, France, etc. but oh well.  I flew out to meet my parents in St. Louis, Missouri, the city where my mom grew up, where my dad went to college (Washington University) and where he met my mom, and the city where I ALMOST went to college.  Incidentally, this was my first time EVER flying on a plane without my parents, but to my great relief I got to the airport with plenty of time (thanks in part to Juan, who was kind enough to accompany me to the airport and prevented me from getting on the wrong bus), and I did not die on the flight, as evidenced by me writing this post now.  Anyway, once I actually got out west, we didn’t do all that much touristy stuff (although believe it or not, St. Louis is actually a pretty interesting city, at least, compared to ANYWHERE in Oklahoma).  My parents are thinking about moving to either St. Louis or Oklahoma, so a large part of the trip was spent looking at houses on the market, which was actually kind of fun (also, the price difference between here and out west, particularly out in Oklahoma, is astounding…stuff is expensive in Boston, that’s all I’ll say).  Other than that, we visited my only first cousin (Leo…isn’t that a cool name?  I guess one of the few things my mom and her brother had in common is that they didn’t go the common route with their kids’ names) and his fiancée.  Their wedding reception is going to be in Las Vegas, so come January I’ll be in Vegas…heh, should be…fun.  We also had supper with one of my mom’s many first cousins.  I love this person, but he can be pretty blunt.  Here’s a sample of a conversation between us:
Joey: So, Sophie, what are you doing for your job this summer?
Me:  Well, I’m running simulations of different molecules and looking at their mechanical properties.
Joey: So…you’re just LOOKING at them?
Me (flustered):  I mean, I’m analyzing stuff…or trying to..
Joey:  Ok, but are there any special qualifications for what you’re doing?  Couldn’t I do just as good a job, you know, just LOOKING at pretend molecules on the computer?
Me (giving up):  Yeah, probably.  I DUNNO, KAY?

In conclusion, my family can be argumentative. 
Three other vaguely interesting points about St. Louis before I conclude this installment of the post:
1.      The food.  If you listen to my mom talk, you’ll come to believe that St. Louis is the world’s center for outstanding cuisine, far surpassing the offal served up to you in places like Japan or Paris.  You should probably take her statements with a grain of salt, since she grew up in St. Louis.  Still, they do have some specialties, most notably St. Louis style pizza.  Unlike Chicago style, the crust is super crispy and cracker-thin.  Whenever I tell her that I actually prefer the thick, gooey crust of pizza up here, my mom looks at me like I’ve just killed a little piece of her soul.  The cheese, called provel, is also unique to St. Louis.  It’s a mixture of mozzarella, provelone, cheddar, and one other kind I can’t remember.  Some people (for instance, Leo and Joey, the cousins mentioned above) believe that provel tastes like a glue factory (the whole factory mind you, not just the glue).  My mom thinks it’s holy nectar, or something to that effect.  I fall in the middle.  Finally (finally for this point, that is) St. Louis has a large Jewish neighborhood, where my mom grew up, and there’s still a mom-and-pop deli, Protzel’s, that sells really good deli meats, and most importantly of all, beer sticks.  Beer sticks are along the same line as Slim Jims, but they taste SO SO SO much better.  You can’t get them in the north, so my mom buys a pound for herself whenever we go back there.  Anyway, here's a picture of Protzel’s.  Not too exciting, unfortunately.

2.      One of the few touristy things I did this trip was go to Cahokia Mounds with my dad.  This is actually across the Mississippi River, in Illinois.  It’s the site of a prehistoric Native American civilization that mysteriously died out around 1400.  The tribe didn’t seem to utilize any sort of written communication, so very little is known about the civilization, and consequently the museum came off to me as a bit contrived and scattered.  However, many of the man-made earthen mounds that this civilization built its city on are still standing, and those were pretty cool.  Here are some pictures:

3.      Finally, a somewhat nostalgic observation; when I was in St. Louis last week, I realized that the last time I was there had been in mid-March of 2010.  As I’m sure the other, non early-action freshmen remember, this was about the time when our acceptance letters to MIT came out.  At that point, I had been accepted into Washington University in St. Louis.  I had done an overnight there, had loved it, and had spoken to a professor who was really pushing for me to go there.  I was ready to accept the admissions offer, spend the next four years of my life in St. Louis, and enter some pre-med program in order to become either a veterinarian or a forensic pathologist.  I didn’t expect to get into MIT, and didn’t really want to go there anyway.  Still, I figured I might as well wait until all the university decisions came in.  On pi day, I remember driving around the city of St. Louis for hours, trying without success to find a wi-fi area where I could check the MIT decision.  We finally went to the house of my mom’s childhood friend, and checked the email.  Well, now I’m here, in French House.  Funny how things work out, eh? ;-)
Anyway, that was much longer than intended.  I’ll post the next installment (aren’t you excited to hear about Oklahoma?  I know you are) soon.

Love you guys.
Sophie

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hello from DC

And by DC, I mean Arlington, Virginia where DC:Arlington::Boston:Cambridge. Thank you to all who dealt with the background investigator this spring! Security clearance obtained, I am now at BBN traveling between my office and a secure computer lab. BBN gets government contracts to develop technologies, and fulfills them very well thanks to an MIT-like culture and the refusal to let the recent acquisition by Raytheon stifle anything. Not that being Raytheon BBN is all bad; we're currently the "golden child" of the company. I'm in the Sensor Systems group and owe my usefulness to choosing Course 2A over straight 2. No hating on flex options, folks.

Getting in that secure lab involves a key card, number pad, spin dial, two logs, and disabling an internal alarm. For me, it also involves a step stool, which some very amused security people leave in the hallway for me. What do I do after quadruple unlocking my way inside? Matlab r2006b.

Kidding, the new version was installed last week. But I still use modern Matlab in my office, take the unclassified raw data to the lab on a labeled CD-R, and then hand the disc to security to destroy. Since the room has to be kept in the low 60s, in direct defiance of the Mid-Atlantic summer outside, it's easiest to come in with a disc of prepared data and a sweater. Especially during this triple digit heat wave when scanty dress is a necessity.

Speaking of heat, I'll spend next week at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, where my project manager is hoping that we won't be stopped from field testing when it passes 110 degrees. I guess the Yuma Desert is a good model for such parts of the world as a defense contractor might be interested in these days. Cough. Similar ground composition. Ahem. Wouldn't want our whole system to blow up because it was tested in a different environment. Haaack.

Moving on, whoever says recent grads have a disorienting amount of time in the evenings is wrong. Despite this, I've taken up change ringing again, which I did between my first two IAPs in Boston. You go up into the bell tower of a church, grab one of the long ropes hanging from holes in the ceiling, and pull. The rope is wound around a wheel attached to a giant upside-down bell, which weighs several hundred to a few thousand pounds and swings in a full circle. This pulls the fuzzily sheathed part of the rope in front of your face up through the ceiling with a chime. Practically on tip-toe, you then pull the end of the rope to swing the bell back a full revolution, and catch the fuzzily sheathed part of the rope as it drops and bounces up in front of you with another chime. This thrills my mechanical engineer self no end. It's like a window shade. Pull down and release to raise the rope, pull again to lower.

Since there are eight or ten ropes in a circle, the purpose of change ringing is to start ringing rounds, smallest to largest bell, and then switch the order of the bells every pull following patterns called methods. The rhythm never changes, but with so many bells, music materializes throughout the method until the bells unwind into rounds like a slipknot. Neighbors hate it. I love it, from the sound to the feel, though actual methods are still beyond me unless I'm ringing the biggest bell in last place every stroke. And by biggest, I don't mean the 3,500 lb monstrosity that is heaved down for ten bell methods, I mean the sixth.

Other than obsessing over politics (for those not up on the news, it's a complete facepalm), I've been running the paths along the Potomac. This takes me past the Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery via a beautiful green parkway, with a skyline of memorials. If it weren't for a wrong turn I'd still be dodging cars in Alexandria, so thank you guys on bikes who called my butt cute; my inability to yell, run, and watch for signs simultaneously landed me on the best running path.

Finishing up with a few side notes here: For the curious, my fish is now swimming in the Nonlinear Systems Lab under the care of a French grad student. Jean-Jacques, as the fish is now called, is no doubt enjoying the heavy French accent, Eiffel Tower poster, and attentions of fluids-obsessed students. And for the record, if you ever find yourself going to the DC area to join a rally or see the sights, you have a place to stay. I'm near the metro and everything.

Love you all,
Teresa

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Et c'est parti!

Salut LMF!

Je vous écris d'un Starbucks à NYC. Je viens de quitter la Californie, ou j'ai passé six semaines à travailler sur mon startup, Manifold Studios. Je suis a NYC pour visiter ma tante et mes cousins (des jumeaux de 4 mois!) ainsi que mes amis qui travaillent dans la ville. Je vais ensuite a Londres pour retrouver un ami du MIT qui travaille aussi sur Manifold Studios, un cousin, et un ami d'enfance (et peut être les parents d'Anna ;). Ensuite je vais a Paris ou j’espère retrouver Alan (fyi kebab/kabab/kebap/etc... is Arabic/Farsi/Turkish for what you ate), et puis en Bretagne pour voir mes grand-mères et mon oncle, et finalement en Pologne pour voir mon grand-père. Ça sera un trajet assez relax je pense.

On a fait beaucoup de progrès sur le jeu pendent que j’étais en Californie. On commence le quality assurance intense cette semaine et on va continuer pendent 3 semaines. La version 1.0 du jeu va sortir sous un nouveau nom, Steampunk Empires, fin Août! J’espère faire tomber le jeux dans les top 25 pour les U.S. , on verra bien si mon ambition se réalisera.

Il risque d'y avoir de plus grandes nouvelles du cote développement jeux vidéo pour moi, je vous tiens au courant, j'en saurais plus dans une semaine. Je vous raconterai aussi des histoires tirés des mes voyages.

Les vacances, c'est bien. Le startup, c'est bien. La Californie, c’était bien. NYC, c'est bien, Londres sera bien, Paris, la Bretagne, et la Pologne aussi. Mais alors qu’est-ce que vous me manquez! J'ai souvent une forte envie de crier «dîner!» ou de m’asseoir sur le canapé du TV lounge en bonne compagnie.

Je vous embrasse tous très fort,

Jeremy

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Work in Progress part 2

Hi,

This is still a work in progress. But a continued progress. Today I went to Dijon and instead of having Boeuf Bourguignon (since I was in the capital of Bourgogne), I stopped at Darcy Kebab and got a "kebab" which is (not really) French (as in apparently, the actual term) for Arabic/Turkish origin sandwichness (I site the pseudo resource wikipedia, but there's just a lot of restaurants in Paris and in other parts of France apparently that largely only call themselves either Turkish or Oriental and serve similar middle eastern cuisine). (The standard shish kebab in French is called a brochette - I know this because the people I work with go to the same sushi place whenever the company cafeteria goes on strike and they always order the "menu" that gives you sushi and brochettes). Yesterday I went to Grenoble and the day before I saw the 14 Juillet fireworks in Lyon which was actually really enjoyable -- they were pretty, lasted 20ish minutes, and there wasn't too many people. (Pictures: Top right is me making a weird face infront of the "ONLY LYON (LION)" sign infront of the tourism office in Place Bellecour, middle right is the fireworks on reg camera setting to give you idea of where they were happening, which is between Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere and Tour Metallique de Fourviere, and bottom right is in the fireworks setting). The metro/tram though was fully packed afterwards and while I don't think this was directly related, the tram was making very loud scrapping noises as it was trying to get out of the first stop with all of the people. Also trams and metro systems in other French cities are very cute compared to the Parisian metro/tramway. This is in part because I'm only familiar with T3 in Paris which is one of the newest trams (tram in Lyon is apparently 10 years old, it says so on all the windows now) also because the metro system is ridiculously huge and fast in Paris. But in general, there are so many more cars in a given line/tram that the 3-4 car lines in other cities is cutesy. In my opinion at least.

I went to Nice last weekend, and then simultaneously went to Monaco and Eze (a pseudo-random city inbetween the two). Monaco was impressive because it really is just straight up. Public elevators everywhere (not that the one I tried using worked though). And there's several ways to get to the train station because it's built straight into the cliff. Eze-Village is nice because it's an old fort type castle stone building ness. Eze-sur-mer is really nice because it's on the beach but it's not really nice because the rocks there are super slippery and super sharp at the same time. Thus resulting in several injuries (and lots of hobbling) which thankfully recovered just in time for Lyon-ness. Also it's an hour or so to get from Eze-Village to Eze-Sur-Mer, all the while going down a cliff-face. Not cliff side, but cliff face. Also noteworthy in a weird way is that I accidentally found and then had to awkwardly walk through a nudest beach which was next to the regular bathing-suit public beach at Eze-sur-mer because I was trying to get to this island which turned out to be a private one. Also noteworthy in a weird way is that if you walk towards Charlemagne in Lyon, you end up in the super industrial/super trucker filled part of Lyon Presqu'ile. And apparently I'm guessing truckers need lots of "ladies of the night" because there were *a lot*. A lot more than bois de boulogne. Unfortunately (not really) none solicited me this time.

Also when I was in Nice, I was asked to have some "jus de pomme" on this guy's boat. This creepy old (not really old old but very much older) guy.

So I was told that there's nothing to do in Dijon (or more specifically, that if I have seen everything else in France, then I should go to Dijon), but I actually quite enjoyed the way it ended. The actual process wasn't too great because it started raining, but I got to go to two free museums (an archaeology one and a fine arts one, both of which scared the crap out of me for various reasons). Now in further grammatical mutiny,  the reason why these two museums scared the crap out of me is because one, the archaeology one had all these statues from the Roman occupation (ie the original colony Divio according to Wikipedia) of the Dijon area all in these gravelled/pebbley underground/tomb esque basement deal which after Dr Who, I could not stay in that room. Too many statues looking at me or for me to look at simultaneously. I was also alone and that room was just creepy. The fine arts museum was scary because I encountered this artist whose usage of red and green to paint resulted in some seriously creepy depictions of faces and bodies because they were all in this weird bloody red-brown tone. Did not want to preserve said images with a picture so you'll have to take my word for it. At the same time I did find some very nice paintings of which I do have pictures. (in coding terms, this may constitute as a "go to") -So the ending was great because after rushing to the train station to verify the last train back to Lyon (because earlier I thought there was another train an hour later but turns out that's only on Sundays), I then backtracked to the Jardin Darcy where there was an open air jazz festival happening throughout July or something and it was really nice. Not too many people, there was a waterfall, and the jazz actually sounded good. Hopefully I can find the artist at some point, with no leads other than there was a jazz festival in this park in this city.

The Bastille in Grenoble was a lot of fun because one I got to go up/down this "telepherique" (which costed money but student discount at least? also pictures to be posted on facebook of the telepherique, and the view from inside) and then felt super accomplished when I got to the top of the mountain where there was a memorial to the Blue Devils (mountain troops). Lovely view of the surrounding water and mountains too.

It's kind of lonely travelling alone, but it has allowed me to go to Dijon and Grenoble (and Eze and Monaco) on super large tangents because I had no idea I was going to go there beforehand. It's also resulting in lots of myspace esque pictures because sometimes there's no one to take a picture. Alternatively they come out interesting. PS I added a picture to my previous blog post about the Musee D'Orsay.

PPS - I've been meaning to mention this for a really long time. The URL for this blog looks like lm FAT mit to me. Just saying.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Brilliant students, Salzburg, and a virus.

Yay blogs! Everyone's adventures sound marvelously fantastic, and I eagerly await more updates from everyone. Also, I might just send out a cursory email to LMF because I think some members of the house have forgotten that the blog exists...

Anyhoww.. I last posted in Lübeck right before we left for Salem. We spent one week at Salem International College (an international boarding school). To avoid too much wordiness, I will bullet the events of this week:
  • Sunday afternoon/evening: we dine in the dining hall and awkwardly sit with Salem students who have no idea who we are (it's the first day back for the students for their summer exam term).
  • Wednesday: In the afternoon I go to Ueberlingen, the nearby town on the Bodensee. It's pretty. It also rains and I become soaked. I teach basics of E&M in the evening for day 2 of my workshop. Fun story: when I get to the Lorentz force, I ask them, "Have you guys done cross products? Can you tell me the direction of the resultant force for v x B?" One kid then replies: "OH YEAH! You use the left-hand rule!" ????? Sasha and I become very concerned. [picture: me + yin + jing + physics class]
  • Thursday: In the afternoon I go to Ueberlingen again, and it doesn't rain. I do the derivation of the B field out of the E field viewed from a moving reference frame for the third day of my workshop. The kids don't follow as well as I wish they did which I think is because I did a bad job teaching it this time. But oh well.
  • Friday: I get up at 5 to walk up the mountain to see the sunrise with Sasha. This school is absolutely gorgeous, btw. In the afternoon I teach part 2 of my gyroscopes presenation in the IB physics class. Again, the kids are bright. I love them. In the evening we go out to dinner with our school contact people and the physics teacher. That's fun. [picture = sunset]
  • During the course of the week we stay in Westend, one of their dorms. We befriend the boys that live upstairs, who all come from very interesting and diverse backgrounds. Fun stories abound from this acquaintance, but I don't think they're as funny when typed out so I'll just tell y'all later.
On Saturday morning, I woke up at 5:30AM and got ready to leave. At 6:15 my taxi came (I called a taxi all by myself auf Deutsch!) and took me to the train station, where I then took three trains to Salzburg to meet up with Laura. I arrived around noon on Saturday and we stayed until 2PM on Sunday. In the 26 hours I was there, we did a lot of fun things:
  • walked around seeing the filming locations from The Sound of Music. We splashed in the fountain that Maria splashes in, ventured into Nonnberg Abbey, skipped around the hills and meadows singing SoM songs, found these creepy dwarf statues that Maria and the kids skip around, walked down the Do-Re-Mi steps, and heard the bells - they sound exactly the same as they do in the movie.
  • ate food. For lunch we picnicked in the Mirabel Gardens, and for dinner we had Indian food, and then we had ice cream - the two of us split a Mozartbecher (which we think means something like Mozart-beaker). On Sunday we had a nice German-style breakfast (which means bread and cheese/jam/butter/sausage) and for lunch we had salad and pizza bread. [picture: Laura + Mozartbecher]
  • watched the Sound of Music in our hostel at 8PM on Saturday. It was fun to see the movie after going to all those places, and the alternative would have been to go clubbing...
  • went up a mountain to see the city from high up. It's a nice view.
  • went shopping. Salzburg is the most touristy place I've been thus far - everywhere we went there were asian tourists taking pictures. This means there are lots of little touristy shops; I got Mozart Kugeln (they're a specialty here; truffles with praline and almond and stuffs) and also something for my sister.
At 1:51PM Sunday afternoon, Laura and I boarded the EC 112 train together. She got off at Munich and I continued on to Darmstadt, where I am currently located. I am reunited with my team here for a visit to Technische Universitaet Darmstadt, which reminds me strongly of MIT in that they refer to building by number, have a strong research focus, and have a student culture which is similar to MIT's if less pronounced. TUD has a very exciting program planned for us, but I confess I have not been able to take advantage of it because I have been taken somewhat violently ill by a massively inconvenient virus. This happened on Tuesday. However, I recovered sufficiently on Wednesday to visit the TUD airfield and the European Space Agency satellite control center which was SO COOL YOU CAN'T COMPREHEND IT (and I almost cried), and then to play tennis with some aerospace students who were nice enough to invite me to play with them. I like nice people.

That is all from me, and I know it's a long post, but I had 1.5 weeks to cover, and that's a lifetime (for some insects). Also because a lot happens in a week on this program; we only have a little bit of time in each place. Looking forward to more blogs from you guys! Love love love :)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Hawks, Ducks, and Cars

I have just spent an unfortunately short amount of time at home(1), and I am on my way home(2) on the bus. Below, I have made a small yet comprehensive Venn diagram comparing and contrasting Maine and MIT.

In summary, Maine is pretty great. I will draw your attention to the middle cell, where you will find that the only things that Maine and MIT have in common are hawks, ducks, and cars. Thusly, in order to truly experience all those things that life has available, one must spend time in both places, so as to broaden one’s horizons.

You might notice a trend in the items that are found on the Maine side. This highlights those things that I find especially lacking in Cambridge. More specifically, I find the stark contrast between Cambridge’s environment full of people and buildings and Maine’s trees, plants, and other living and inviting things very salient in such a discussion.

While home, I went kayaking with my father and brother in Messalonskee Stream. It is like the Charles, except different on all important dimensions. It is a small stream that flows from a lake into the Kennebec, the largest river in Maine. It is very slow flowing, with a rather minimal current. Tall pine, fir, and birch trees stand guard around it, protecting it from the terrible influences of the human world slowly encroaching on the wilderness flowing through it.

The banks are decorated with a flourish: water plants of all kinds line the banks, but eventually give way to a layer of water lilies which act as the dividing line between the woods and the clear water. It is between these lines of lily pads that we maneuvered our kayaks, slowly and methodically.

For me, kayaking is not a sport. It is not for exercise, it is not for the fun of riding in a boat—it’s not at all about the experience of kayaking itself. It just happens that kayaks are a wonderful vehicle with which to see the wilderness. They allow for minimal impact, but for access to the most intimate part of the forest around me. This was my second time kayaking in the stream, but I had already met some of the animals there, and this time, I was visiting them to say hello, and see how my new friends were doing.

Not very many animals live directly at the boat landing. This is where the people are, and really, who wants that.

After paddling for a bit, we approached the Prince of the stream. He seems to own the entire length of it, and I assume he rules it well.

I didn’t see him at first, because he was too far ahead of us, but my father pointed him out to me. The Great Blue Heron was standing tall, resting maybe, his long neck bent slightly. When he spotted us, he was spooked, and took off, with amazing grace. With his giant gray wings (which easily span two meters), he easily took to the air, and flew over us, down the stream a bit and into the woods.

After paddling a bit longer and admiring the woods around us, including the lodge of the beaver that I saw last time we came to the stream, I spotted a family of ducks—a mother and about six young ducklings. I stopped and watched them waddle around a bit. After they decided that I was not, in fact, going to eat them, the mother waddled up close to the shore, and stepped in the water. The ducklings followed, and they started off down the stream in the opposite direction, which I believe was their original intent anyway.

Throughout the next stretch of the stream, we saw multiple hawks circling up above us, far up above the trees, and above any altitude that I would have been particularly comfortable with if I were a bird. One of the hawks came down from his tree and snatched a fish out of the stream and flew over us back up to his perch.

My favorite friends were the Belted Kingfisher. I love them. They’re relatively easily spooked, but they’re very pretty, and I am very happy whenever I get to see them. I saw two of them fighting over territory, and back toward the landing (on our way back out of their home) we saw another, the same we had seen last time we were in the stream, I believe, as he was perched on the same tree.

Other than birds and green things, Maine also has my family. I spent the 3rd of July with a large assembly of my family. Food was had, fun was had, and I did some more kayaking. It was really nice to be back home, and I will endeavor to do this more frequently.

Also, to all of you who are not in Boston because you’re home or in France or Germany or Singapore or somewhere else: I miss you. Return soon. [eom]

I will leave it to someone else to describe the awesomeness of Boston’s Independence Day celebrations, because I have to go to work now, and I feel like posting this.

I love you all, and hope that you are having a wonderful summer. <3

-Shaun

PS: This post was *started* on the bus, but finished later ....

___________

Footnotes:

(1) Maine

(2) MIT

Monday, July 4, 2011

Work in Progress (Work in Progress) ~ Anonymous?

Hi,
This is a work in progress but I'm going to post it anyway. Right now I'm sitting in my hotel room in Cherbourg, FR after taking a picture of the sunset which hasn't really finished yet and it's almost 11pm. The EDF MIT interns and a soon to be EDF Imperial College intern are here to visit and see various things about the new EPR reactor they're building in Flamanville which is a very long drive away. For those who don't really know what's going on, think Normandy. PS Happy 4th. We celebrated by having hache' (that apostrophe is supposed to be an accent aigu) and apple tarte. Well some of us did. I actually had this chicken dish with a normandy sauce (which I'm still not sure what that means) but fries came with everything. The Normandy apple tarte actually resembled quiche more than apple pie (which is what we were going for). I'm going to bed soon because we're leaving at 7:20 tomorrow to get to the place by 8. Breakfasting at 7ish. Almost missed the train too -- myself and another intern managed to stop the conductor from allowing the train from leaving at the last second so we could board really quickly. There will be pictures soon of thisness. There are already pictures of June-adventures on facebook. Speaking of which, I have gone to a lot of touristy places in Paris and "FountaineBleau" which is like a smaller version of Versailles. I also went to visit Re'becca from the Media Lab who's back in France. We got to bike with her sister in the French countryside, going from field to forest to field lather rinse repeat.

This entire summer has been below 70's except for a couple of days where it shot to 90's-100. When I first got here in June, there were some nights that fell to 48 according to the Weather Channel. My apartment is very cold because it's not facing the sun, but if it was it would mean that it's most likely facing the cemetery that is behind the dorm building. There's left over pots and pans which is nice. Roommates don't really speak French though so lost opportunity there. I've been doing a lot of grocery shopping from Auchan which has regular baguettes for 33 cents each. However out of fear of....terrible diet killing myself, I've been opting for the multigrain for the last couple of visits. Now you know a little more about my diet here. Also cheese (ex bought a gorgonzola/mascorpone layered cheese which was kind of interesting) is kind of a big thing in Paris. Also for those who know how long it can take for me to make a decision, I was quite humored as to how long it took me to pick out a new cheese to try in the cheese aisle(s). There were about 3. I have decided that my current favorite new French cheese is this chevre that has blackish/greyish mold on it - it sounds and looks scary but it actually has a rather mild but pleasant taste.

If you haven't followed me on Facebook (don't know which would be weirder, that I have a following or you're following me), I saw three hookers in Bois de Boulogne. Also the lakes there are very pretty. If you ever have a chance to just walk around, BB is a nice place to do it. Bois de Vincennes is supposedly better but I have not been yet. Parc des Buttes Chaumont is an incredibly awesome park - it's like a mathematical topography adventure. Also 45 degree inclines and ziplining!

I have now been to the Louvre, Centre Pompidou (Dou-Dou, also many Picassos),  Muse'e D'Orsay (after waiting an hour outside), Muse'e des arts et meties (saw Lavoisier's lab stuff), (now churches:) Sacre' Coeur, Notre Dame.

Concerning my actual work, it is a very combat-like terrain. Interesting relationship between supervisor and the other workers/interns and interesting work style. I'm sure not all of France is like this, but for example:
-Lunch is supposed to be 35 minutes
-Lunch is takes 1 hour
Cue coffee break that immediately follows:
-Lasts another hour
Also I have been having a lot of hot chocolate because I don't really drink coffee.

Also I don't think you've ever fully appreciated Solidworks until you've tried using/learning how to use the home-brew finite element analysis software package that was written/is being written in FORTRAN. There's a GUI but it's just an interesting thought.

Also for those wanting to do energy stuff with MISTI, MIT just signed a bunch of accords with big French energy companies for future research and stuff. Susan Hockfield came and presented at the event. Also the CEO(?) of Total, a big oil company. Ministre d'education/recherche etc would have come but she got switched to Ministre de Budget the night before, apparently.

People drink a lot of wine (and smoke alot) here. First couple days at work, someone would bring a bottle of wine to share at lunch. I'm kind of used to it now. I only take enough for 10 sips (+/- 10 sips) if I'm pouring. Otherwise a lot of wine goes to waste because people think I actually drink. Sort of. Also interesting relationship between the French (and many other) drinking age (18) compared to the US. Boss was asking if I need a fake ID in the US - I guess he expects all youths (ie less than 26 here) to not survive without getting alcohol regularly. Although, how could one live without Tiramisu? Which should hopefully happen after I regenerate once I get back to MIT because I'm kind of tired from doing work and being super touristy at the same time.



Speaking of regeneration, I saw that no, there is not a monster in the Van Gogh panting from season 5(?).


Update 7-17-11:
This is me sneaking a picture of the van gogh because pictures are strictly not allowed. But photographic evidence that the painting has no obvious monster in the window corner.
Update slightly later that day 7-17-11 : Upon closer inspection, there actually does seem to be a smudge or something in that window corner. Kind of creeped out.

I'm going to bed and will continue later. Ciao.

Clogged Pipes and other Artsy Things

Well, I had wanted to be the first post of July, but I guess it's my own fault that this is not the case...

I have been enjoying a relative lack of activity, but not a great enough lack to prevent me from having way too much to write about in one little (or possibly not quite so little) blog post. In light of this, my news shall be less creatively written and substantially more to the point than originally intended, yet still convoluted enough to result in happy little contusions of the brain!

1. A friend of mine from way back when in homeschooling elementary is going to be coming to MIT as a transfer student next year, so my mother and I had lunch with her and her mother so they could ask us lots of questions. It was fun. We are going to be flying to Boston on the same plane come end of August, and she will stay with me for a day or two until she can check into her room. She's awesome and I hope you all get to meet her sometime :)

2. I went to my cousin's bridal shower last weekend. Pretty dang entertaining, and exciting for her!

3. After much searching, I managed to track down my old French teacher. I painstakingly wrote and proofread an email in my best French, and she wrote back YAY this means a lot to me because she was rather inspiring to me... also because prior to this I thought she had disappeared off the face of the earth.


Okay, enough of the list for now, I don't want to extend it too far and become dry and chalky (and by chalky I meant to say boring). I have recently had a hankering to explore my artistic side. The first manifestation of this common condition was sketching, and not the kind in which I'm supposed to be taking lessons from Ashley ;)

This is probably the best of my masterpieces so far.

I took a picture instead of scanning it, so it doesn't show the details at all, but you'll just have to get the general idea...
Also, Elizabeth, and I mean this in the least creepy way possible, you have really adorable lips.


And now begins the part of the blog that will be somewhat in the style of Davie, in the sense that I will be talking about nature.

I have been helping out at the unfinished house recently, and one of my jobs is to help clear trails so we can continue to walk without obstruction. In my breaks I have been discovering wonderful plants and taking pictures.

Let us start with potential noms...

Mmmm, hazelnuts, filberts, whatever you call them, maybe someday someone will discover the secret of homemade nutella.
Also, I saw one tree that had the nuts growing in clusters of 4 instead of 2, weird...

Next, BERRIES.

We have lots of berries. I have pictures of many of the plants, but I'm impatient and it takes a long time to upload pictures, so maybe you'll have to see some of them another time. We have huckleberries galore. We also have salal, which produces very mild berries that are a lot like blueberries, but with skin that's kind of fuzzy like a peach.

And then there are the blackberries. There are 3 kinds of blackberry growing in our area, Himalayan, Trailing, and Evergreen, and they're very easy to tell apart.

Most of us are familiar with Himalayan blackberries: Red thorny stems, big berries, grow like bushes, take over everything, and if you'll notice, they have 5 leaves per cluster or at least 5 distinct leaflet points depending on the age of the stalk.

Trailing blackberries have a slightly lower profile. They grow as vines along the ground or through the undergrowth and have smaller, more flavorful berries. They also have green stems and only 3 leaves per cluster.


Lastly, there are the Evergreen blackberries. We don't have as many of these, so I've never actually tasted one, but they are still my favorites. They just look cool. Yeah, I'm sure you get the trend but that's one to the right there.

I have also discovered that it's incredibly difficult to take a picture of a bumblebee, got a few, but mainly I'm still working on that one.

Oh gosh, this is turning a bit long-winded, but I'm relying on the pretty pictures to keep you all interested. One last thing! Friday night I went with the fam to the Drive-In to see Green Lantern and X-men. It was a great time. There aren't many left these days and I feel lucky to have one close by.

Of course, it's a little different than it used to be. Instead of speakers sticking up here and there you just tune your radio to a station that only exists within a short distance of the "theater"and enjoy. The one we go to has 3 screens, and this is the smallest (the giant screen was playing Transformers 3 this weekend, no surprise there). Anyway, if you ever get the chance to go, don't miss it, it's a one-of-a-kind experience :)

So, I've still left out a bunch of things, but that will have to do for now. It will be a good reason to write again soon. A very happy 4th of July to all of you, whether you're in a place that celebrates it or not, and keep on posting!

P.S. Our kitchen sink was plugged up when I started writing this.