Friday, June 24, 2011

Zizz loves Deutschland

Hi everyone! I have now been in Germany for approximately one week and would like to update you all on this. If you have not been blogging lately, great shame upon your dynasty. You should do this, so I am less of a blog-hog.

Quick summary of the program I'm doing: I go around to different high schools/summer camp programs with four other people (Sasha, Yin, Michelle, & Jing) and teach supplementary class-modules.

I arrived in Frankfurt on June 17 in the morning on the same flight as Sasha. Yin flew in the day before, and we all met up around noon and then waited several hours for our train to the Netherlands (trip to visit Michelle's au pair). Once at the platform, a nice German man who overheard us talking told us our train had been cancelled, and that there was a train to Köln coming in two minutes, so we made a decision to take a train to Köln, which was in the right direction (we figured we could transfer later). Another nice german man looked up an alternate route for us on his phone, which we wrote on Sasha's hand (picture). Once we got to Köln, we saw our original train (which was not cancelled). across the platform, so we switched and everything was fantastic. On our last train (we made a few transfers), we met a sketchy Dutch boy. I say this because he bought alcohol at every stop the train made and smoked at every stop. Also because he asked the four of us where our boyfriends were and fondled my knee. I then glared at him and he said sorry, and fondled my knee some more. And then we got off the train.

We stayed in Rodin, the Netherlands, from Friday evening to Sunday morning with Michelle's au pair. On Saturday we went into Groningen, the nearest large city, and climbed up a tall church tower and also bought Dutch cookies called Stroopwafels and ate them. It's my current facebook profile picture. I would post it here but it's Michelle's picture.

On Sunday we returned to Germany, in Lübeck, the first city in our program. It's in northern Germany, is known for having 7 towers, has 3 Nobel prize winners (natives), and was a big trading city back in the day of ships and stuff. During this week we stayed with host families - my host family is awesome. They have an absolutely beautiful house with wonderful gardens (by which I mean, the garden has two cherry trees with different species of cherry grafted on to the same tree, and lots of berry bushes - wild strawberries are the bomb, by the way). They are also extremely friendly, and very cool. My host parents own a pub. My host brother plays drums and piano and wants to study medicine (which is a much more streamlined process here than in the USA). My host sister has a "Sport-Profil" and spent the last week in Austria on a school trip jumping off of cliffs, climbing mountains, jumping off of bridges, white-water rafting in storms, and other cool things like that. She might study law.

I really have a lot a lot a lot to say, but I will summarize the rest of the week:

Daytime: we split our time this week between two schools; one that my host student attends (OZD) and one about a half-hour away (OGT). Both are Gymnasiums (the college-prep track in the German education system). This week, I taught modules on Special Relativity, Gyroscopes, RLC circuits, and Physics of Flight (applications to course 16). I think all of it generally went well, although I did a lot of adjusting - language is a big obstacle, because students simply find it harder to ask questions in English (we teach in English). I think my favorite module this week was Special Relativity; it really went extraordinarily well, and the students were fantastic. A few came up to me after class to tell me that they felt that they really understood the ideas I was trying to convey if not the detailed math, which is exactly what I was going for. One girl said "I may not be able to recreate everything you just did, but I feel like I have a vision of how it works, so thank you so much." Best compliment ever. [Picture: we taught our hosts the awkward turtle.]

I spent most of my time at OZD with the Science-profile kids (picture), and so did the rest of us, so we got to know them decently well. They taught us a card game called "Schummeln" which in means "Cheating" but they translate it to mean "Screw over your neighbor" (they used a stronger word). I'm really going to miss these guys a lot; they were absolutely fantastic as students and super friendly (and also most of them are older than me).

Evenings: The schools planned some events for us. On Tuesday we had a BBQ at a teacher's house, and on Wednesday we went to Hamburg to go to DESY (the German accelerator thing; they don't actually have an operating particle accelerator anymore but they have an electron laser and a CMS control room). On Thursday we had a boat cruise around the city (the inner city is an island) and on Friday we went to Kiel, a town one hour away for a sailing festival. This was a ridiculous amount of fun and I got to eat good seafood (picture is me and Torben, Yin's host student, with fish sandwiches) and have fun with the team and it was great. We got back around 1AM after dancing for an hour to loud English music that all the Germans knew the words to (but we had never heard the songs before). Ah well.

Other quick notes:
  • Germans think you can survive on bread and cheese/butter/margarine/sausage.
  • the German terms for a lot of physics things are very different from the English ones. This was a source of confusion in some of my lessons.
  • I learned quickly that I had been (unintentionally) assuming that the students' high school background = my high school background. False. I quickly adjusted to simplifying things from what I had initially planned. For example, most seniors do not have multivariable, and technically, high school physics is not = to AP.
  • We have a knack for meeting very friendly (not necessarily sketchy but maybe borderline) strangers. And old man we met today was amazed at my German accent, spent a good 15 minutes explaining to me that this meant that I had started German before going through puberty, and kept grabbing my elbow. But he was old, so it was like... acceptable.
  • I loved my first week and will miss this place. We leave for Salem tomorrow evening (a new school.)
That's all. Hope to see more blog posts from all y'all soon!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Partners in crime- Juan

(The story narrated here is absolutely true, no facts were altered, exaggerated or omitted)

Me- Wait! Was the door open last time we were here?
Anna- I don't know. There is a light on, have we been spotted?
(whispering) let me check if there is someone.
I think we are trapped, there is no other way now, we have to go in....

This all started a week before: Saturday night, light rain, bubble tea and six friends wandering around the tunnels. It was the perfect time for Anna, to do what she had never done before, a mission so risky that any freshman would tremble in fear at the name of it. Going down the cliff at infraluminal speed on a four wheeled vehicle free to pivot around its axis, also known as chairing, was the challenge awaiting the indomitable girl. I was there, afraid of death, admiring her courage as she went down. I followed her, only I was kneeling on the chair instead of sitting and the world started to spin. I heard a noise as if she had found the end of the tunnel. I tried to face forward, but it was too late, my center of gravity shifted as the floor approached. When I finally regain consciousness, Ben, Shaun, Sophie, Daniel and Anna were looking at me. “I will be fine, we need to complete the mission”. The rest of the night went smoothly, visiting secret labs and almost blowing up a NMR machine with high pressure.
The following day, my ankle had doubled in size (unfortunately it is not a bread recipe), so I contacted Anna, well known for her healing abilities. She had an injury herself and did her best to keep me alive, while we waited for a suitable method of transportation to MIT medical. There, Anna went in first, and when my turn arrived I met the first Doctor.

The Doctor- How did you get injured?
Me- I was on a rolling chair.
The Doctor- Oh, so did you hit the wall as well?
Me- Nope, the floor.
The Doctor- There have been a lot of chair accidents today, I won't ask anymore.

Then I was transferred to another room, where the second Doctor received me. He used a strange instrument that made a noise to read my signal and said: You are alright, you can leave. Just don't go wandering around.

Life wasn't so kind to Anna, and I accompanied her to the hospital to see how many broken bones she had. The X-ray room had the door closed, but we could hear through it the cry of a baby. The baby now silent left the room carried by its mother. As Anna went in, I said: “Don't worry, it is just going to be twice as painful for you”. After hours of screaming that felt like a couple of minutes, she came out and informed that she had zero bones broken. We were waiting for the cab, and started talking about life, love and the universe, that is when we decided to become partners in crime.

We planned our first robbery carefully, our informant was a member of the Polish mafia named Daniel Levine. We met him and his accomplice Benjamin the scoundrel, to obtain information about the entrance to the French House base.
After arming ourselves with nothing but our souls, we entered the base through the hidden passage, and ended up inside the gym. The fort was deserted, which made us think it was a trap. We found our way through the hallway and up the tower to get to the treasure room: the Kitchen. We rejoiced to see golden silverware, pan made out of precious metals and plastic cutting boards. After pillaging and just before we left I noticed something from the corner of my eye, but Anna said something about not having taken a knife.
We left through the back door, glorious and happy after the success of our plan. But as we came into our territory, Anna noticed the disastrous mistake. And that image came back to my mind, she had left her wallet containing her real identity inside the robbed building. We secured the items and decided to go back in, only this time we saw a tall man going in through the main door, it was Chris the Bonecrusher. There was no way we could go through the long hallway unnoticed. We searched the base for other entrances, none were accessible. What to do? I proposed using her charms to distract the giant, she refused. It would have been suicidal if she failed. We decided to go in again through the old passage, and try to find a way to the treasure room without going through the hallway. Second floor closed, third floor closed. “We have to get out of here before someone finds us”, we walk back to the first floor and noticed the door to the hallway open, we try to get back to the gym, but the door was now locked. It all seemed lost, we had to confront the gatekeeper and hope not to die. Then I saw it, like a vision, a door leading to freedom. I opened it, luckily no alarms went off, and we escaped.
We still had the same problem, but Anna did not want to wait until it got dark, because the creatures of the night would be after the precious information inside the wallet. Before I could say anything, she went in through the front door and ordered the gatekeeper to let her in. To this adamant request, he just said: “ok, but be careful”.
That is the last thing anyone heard of Chris the Bonecrusher, even his entry in the MIT directory has been erased as if he never existed.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

watch the skies

First of all, congrats to you all for posting more times than we did all last summer. yay, success! I'm glad to read that all of your summers are going well so far. Your adventures are all amazing and hope they continue in that magnificent fashion and that you'll share the exciting news with us all.

It only took me forever, but I'm finally mostly adjusted and settled here.. My room is approximately 1/3 of my room at LMF, with a sink, and a view of the bus terminal, another dorm, and one of the buildings I work in. The weather is still unfailingly hot and humid, but thankfully it cools down when it rains. Speaking of which, the thunderstorms here are epic!! and occur fairly often. Thunder that grumbles and cracks, shaking the very core of my soul, as it wakes me up in the early hours of the morning with the sunlight peeking over the hill making the sky just bright enough for my bleary eyes to know that it's morning, but not bright enough to motivate me to keep them open for much longer, and they wander back towards sleep.. and then FLASH! lightning covering my entire vision, just before my eyes fully shut and jolting me awake. so I fumble for my glasses to see what absurd hour this thunder has demanded I wake up. My watch reads 6:02am. Ehh, close enough to a normal time to wake up, and upon closer inspection of the chaos that lingers outside my window, I notice the unsettling lack of rain falling from the sky. And so it continued, this bizarre rumble and flash combination for 2 hours before the sky properly opened and poured its guts to allow the waterfall to come down. and continue pouring, and pouring, and some more because you can obviously fit that much water in those ominous grey clouds, and then when you think it's almost done, it falls even harder. Needless to say, I didn't exactly want to be drenched, so I spent part of the day marathoning Doctor Who and reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

Here are some pictures of Singapore that I owe you all, but unfortunately I don't have any of the thunderstorms, not that they would turn out all that well. Most of the photos I have are pictures of orchids from visiting the orchid and botanical gardens last weekend, like these.
What would you call this color?

And we went exploring in the the forests in Sentosa... and as a result, I obtained many bug bites [not pictured: large, flying bugs that like to eat me]. This is a weird/cool plant in the forest... There is also a large copy of The Thinker, statue of the Merlion, Universal Studios, beach, luge-type ride, and other touristy things in Sentosa.

This is the top of a Hindu temple that we saw, while wandering through Chinatown looking for dim sum.

This is the Art and Science museum at Marina Bay Sands. It's the one that looks like a flower, not the hotel on the left. There was a really cool exhibition on Van Gogh, who now automatically reminds me of Doctor Who. On the right are a few buildings from the financial district.

Work is alright, learning some stats analysis to study cortisol circadian rhythms, how to read different MRI scans and identify strokes, infarcts, atrophy, etc. Every Wednesday morning and Friday afternoon, I get to be a wallflower and observe in the memory clinic and watch doctors determine whether or not patients have dementia. My keen observational skills have allowed me to conclude: Some old people are really cute. Others are not. Many are demented. Most have memory problems and are cognitively impaired. And a few are just plain delusional or depressed or cranky, but not demented. :] but you all already knew that.

I finally got around to trying the bubble tea (specifically caramel milk tea and plum green tea), and I do have to say it's absolutely, fantastically, brilliantly, wonderful and now I have ridiculously high standards and utterly addicted. ^.^

Also, last night I was lucky enough to finally get to see a lunar eclipse!! :D well part of it: at 3am, I woke up to see it disappear from 2/3 full to nothing, but there was an unfortunate large cloud that came in just as it was fully eclipsed, so I wasn't able to see the rest.. All the photos I tried to take turned out horrible, so the moon turned into a splotchy, whitish unknown shape. But in essence this is what I watched for 40+min: The grey stuff is the large, annoying cloud eating the moon and disrupting my view.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Laura in Germany

Yo. I am in Germany.

This is how I got here:

In case you can't tell, that's plane, airport, plane, train. Then there was another train, but it was uglier, so I didn't draw it. The train that I did draw was pretty cool. It went along a river which may have been the Rhine. Sometimes if you looked out the window there were castles. No big deal. I didn't take pictures of them because I didn't want the four bike-tripping Hamburgers (not hamburgers) I was sitting with to think I was THAT much of a tourist. But they were pretty cool, which is why I drew you a picture.

I arrived here after two nights of sleeping on airplanes. Because I couldn't get my key from the housemaster until the beginning of the next week (surprise!) I stayed with an American exchange student who was nice enough to put up with me for the weekend. Then on Tuesday morning I went and talked to the Hausmeister in German and got my key and moved into my very own room. I am living in a dorm and it smells like smoke and sometimes looks like it too, and I am not sure how to flush the toilet properly all the time. Fortunately, the smell of cigarettes reminds me of Europe and Costco, and I am getting better at the toilet thing, so I am quite happy with my situation. My room has a sink and a view of the park. Also, after an hour and a half-long wash cycle in the German washing machine, my socks have never been cleaner.

It's a pleasant half-hour stroll into the city, made pleasanter by a stop at the bakery for some breakfast bread, where I've been going every morning for German classes-- our real work hasn't started yet, so things are pretty chill. In the afternoons, sometimes we go on planned adventures.

I don't have any good pictures of the climbing forest. As you can't see, the climbing forest consists of obstacle courses suspended from trees, including lots of logssuspended from cables, ziplines, a sled, and other scary things. I did not fall once.

Last Thursday we went to the three country corner. I don't understand why this is a big deal, because Europe has lots of three country corners, but it was fun.

See? This was the best of three attempts at a heel-click photo. You can't see my feet, but it is safe for you t
o assume that my heels are six inches off the ground and clicking. As you can see, the three countries represented were Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany.

The three country corner happens to be a stone's throw away from the highest point in the Netherlands, 327.5 meters tall. I have climbed the tallest mountain in a whole country. Shh, don't hate.

We climbed a tower while we were there, because, as the reverend Mother said, "Climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow till you find your dream," and she was right. We were greeted at the top by this dreamy view:

The red thing pointing towards Belgium is a telescope.

From the tower we could also see a rooftop upon which a multitude of obese cats were napping. I have included a picture of them, and also one of some friendly German cows we encountered, because cows and cats are kind of a thing for my posts.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Abundant adventures in Ann Arbor

Hey y'all! I've been back in Ann Arbor for three weeks now, which has proved to be enough time to make me feel completely at home - ie, I went through the crazy motions of seeing everyone I needed to the first week, and have been able to rofl about and do nothing for the last two weeks. This is only partially true, however, as I have been doing some manner of things...

Two weekends ago I went down to Chicago to visit two friends of mine at UChicago, which was a blast. I will add my testimony to the beauty of its campus to that of countless others - it's gorgeous, although I'm told it's only this pretty in the spring/summer. Ah well. We went out for food on that Friday, where I had the most delicious thing called tartare, which y'all have probably heard of, but I hadn't. I totally didn't know that raw beef was a thing, but it's delicious.

In my time at home, I spent a good week or so watching Doctor Who almost continuously. For the first couple of days I took breaks every now and then, and for the last couple of days, I gave up on the breaks idea and just watched episodes. So now I am all caught up and madly in love with the series. I also feel that Doctor Who has re-awakened the part of me that loves little-kid things - I spent last night re-reading all the kid lit in my small bookshelf in my room (The Secret Garden is one of the best books ever). Oh, and whenever I watch an episode I'm able to shift my speech patterns slightly British which drives my sister crazy and makes my mother look at me somewhat askance. Fun stuff.

I have also spent a good amount of time wandering around the UMich campus. When I say that three weeks has been enough time for me to feel at home again, I really mean that I finally have time to hang out on campus again (I kind of grew up on campus, so...). It's made difficult by the filming crews that are not supposed to be everywhere, but have been everywhere I've tried to go... they're filming some rom-com involving Jason Segel and Emily Blunt around here. When I saw the fake snow lying around I was confused, and when I saw the Psychology Building sign moved to the front of the graduate library I was perturbed. Also, there's always a bunch of people watching the film crew, which is a little bit like running into a band of tourists in the Infinite in that I really want to tell them to get out of the way but really shouldn't do that... so I don't. Thankfully they haven't invaded the math department, so I have consumed an inordinate number of bubble teas in the Math Common Area, which is my favorite place to get work done.

Because yes, I have work. Specifically, I've been trying to prepare for Germany. We were told not to do too much preparation until the schools got back to us and okay'ed our proposed modules, but the schools just got back to us last week. So now I am going to develop 5 modules in the next week. But that'll be fine. :) I have had several skype-meetings with my Germany team, which are usually pretty long because we get distracted. For example, the other day we started talking about aliens, and then aliens who speak Chinese...

Anyway... can anyone help me think of ways to make my modules fun? I'm teaching RLC circuits, Gyroscopic motion with applications, basics of relativity (like Lorentz transformations), aerospace applications of mechanics, and genetics. Personally I always have fun taking notes with an enthusiastic lecturer, but I'm under the impression that my students this summer will want something more interactive... any suggestions would be welcome.

Adrienne told me I had to be the first one to post twice, which I have now accomplished. In other news, I will be back in Boston on Tuesday, and I will fly out from Boston on Thursday. I'm very excited to see the summer residents, which I believe will be Shaun, Juan, Ben, Sophie, Daniel, and Anna at that point in time. :) Things I need to do before then include finishing my packing, cleaning my room (it got messy again), finding my passport, and playing tennis.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Greetings from a little-known place ('s funny, cause you all live here during the year...see?)

Hi all!  It’s Sophie.  I apologize in advance for what will surely be a very VERY long-winded and possibly incoherent post.  In order to minimize hazardous effects (perhaps?), I will divvy it up into artificially constructed categories: UROP, cooking/music/other junk, and campus/LMF people and adventures.  See?  Not so bad.
UROP:  This said thing is going alright.  For those of you who don’t know, I’m working in a course 1 lab, specifically, the Laboratory for Atomistic and Molecular Mechanics.  It’s a group that does computer simulations of molecules.  The grad student whom I am working for is doing a project focused on defects (specifically, atomic vacancies) in carbon nanotubes, and how these defects affect the overall mechanical properties of the tube.  The motivation is that, in order to use CNTs for most practical applications, like materials for instance, you’ve gotta scale up from single tubes.  However, as soon as you start crosslinking multiple tubes, you’re going to introduce defects into the single tubes... question is, can the ultimate material still have the desirable properties of CNTs, in spite of inherent defects?  From what I understand, the ultimate goal of simulating these defects is to better understand all this stuff.  We’re also trying to see whether St. Venant’s principle (utilized mainly for large engineering structures like bridges) holds for CNTs as well…if you wanna know what this is, ask me and I’ll try to explain.  No guarantees though…I’m actually pretty ashamed at how superficially I comprehend the project.  But moving on…so far, my job has been this:  Take pre-written script for perfect CNT that stretches the virtual tube and outputs stress strain: delete random atom from coordinate file (i.e the “defect”).  Run simulation.   Wait 4 hours.  Graph stress/strain in excel, both for entire CNT and just for defect region.  Look at visual representation of simulation run in molecular visualization program.  Take pretty snapshots of said visualization.  Rinse and repeat, only with more deleted atoms.  Annoying thing was, the code my supervisor gave me did some funky things…instead of just getting stretched to the breaking point in the axial direction like it was supposed to, the tube just looked at me, and was all like “what up, dog, you think I’m gonna follow a SCRIPT??  Think again”, and instead promptly kinked 90 degrees and exploded into a million little carbon atoms (made for some entertaining visualizations though).  I take great comfort in the fact that this was NOT MY FAULT.  In any case, we finally got it running “correctly” (note the quotations) yesterday, so at least we’re starting to make some progress.  It’s interesting work, though sometimes the slowness, and the fact that I’m not making huge leaps and bounds doing ultracool things, while not at all surprising, is a tiny bit frustrating.  My subconscious self has gotten a kick out of some of the conversations Shaun and I have had about our UROPs.  They go something like this (I’m paraphrasing just a tiny bit).
Sophie:  What did you do in your UROP today Shaun?
Shaun:  It was amazing…I disproved the theory of ultra-dilation of the neuronal octagonal cortex and read 20 peoples’ minds today. [like I said, paraphrasing, coming from a layperson completely clueless about cog sci.  Translation to said person’s brain: REALLY AWESOME COOL STUFF]
Shaun:  What did you do today Sophie?
Sophie:..Um, well, today, the nanotube bent counterclockwise.  Yesterday it bent clockwise.

Ah well.  It’s still pretty cool, in spite of my jabs.  My direct supervisor (i.e the grad student) is super chill and just an all-around pleasant person to be around.  Also amusing at times.  Case in point:  A few days ago, I realized after I went home that I sent a simulation to the wrong directory, and emailed him asking him what to do.  At 2 am I got this reply:

“We’ll deal with it tomorrow.  Just got back from the Bruins game.  Half drunk.  We won 8-1.  WAHHOOOOOO!!!!!”

Like I said.  Awesome guy.

And now for some nanotube pictures:

Before breaking


Cooking/Music/other junk (this section’s shorter, I promise):  So, this Summer I’m cooking exclusively vegetarian food (still eat meat at restaurants though).  So far it’s gone fairly well, though I’m getting a bit sick of tofu and tempeh stir fry.  Next up is fried rice, then spaghetti squash.  Note:  Mashed sweet potatoes with a bit of cinnamon are AMAZING, fyi.

I’ve also been listening to a lot of Marilyn Manson (nee Bryan Warner) lately.  Most of his original songs are absolute garbage, but he does some nice covers.  I’ve also watched a few interviews with him, and he actually comes across as a moderately intelligent, well-spoken, almost polite man.  Go figure.  I always find it surprising when modern celebrities appear to have IQs higher than two year olds, specially an, ahh, interesting celebrity such as himself. 

But for more interesting music-related news:  When I went home after finals, my mom showed me some youtube videos of the band Dog Leather.  This is a “music group” (that’s not the right word for it, but sure, whatever) lead by my second cousin, Max.  They’re actually moderately successful and recently toured in Europe if I’m correct.  They’re…fascinating…don’t know what else to say.  My dad’s response for one of the videos was this: “Ellen, reboot the computer…something’s wrong with the sound.”  Mom: “No.  That’s the music”.  Here’s a link to a music video they did.  My cousin’s the guy with the dark hair and moustache…watch at your own risk. 

And you guys wonder about my little quirks.

And finally, campus/lmf people:  Ok, so I’m actually kind of sad about how little people seem to interact here over the summer.  I was hoping to, ya know, be all social-like and meet some cool friends outside of LMF, but most people keep their doors shut all the time here.  The two events organized by our RA were canceled due to lack of interest (Shaun and I were the only people who expressed interest in going to the zoo…seriously, guys??).  Hopefully it’ll pick up as more people arrive on campus?  I dunno.  In any case, Shaun, Ben, Daniel and I are back on campus, and Juan and Anna will both be here by Saturday.  Then Sumin’s coming in a week…super excited!! J  Also, Shaun, Ben and I had an exciting adventure around Boston last night (see facebook for details).  We also came to the conclusion that, out of all the possible permutations/combinations of 3 people in the world, the group of Shaun, Ben and Sophie is quite possibly THE WORSE combination to go out into the city together without external supervision…none of us will make decisions.  As a consequence, when we get lost, knowing can decide which route to try or who to ask for help, so instead we just keep walking (the earth’s round…we’ll get back at SOME POINT, right?)  Nevertheless, it was very, very fun, and hilarity and ridiculousness abounded.

Ok, that’s finally it (whew).  I miss all of you guys a lot.  Keep posting!  <3

there's no use crying over spilled cornmeal

Hello young beansprouts.

We oldsters are enjoying our oldness in the great wildz of the state of Chaste As Smuts, where we play with anagram generators all day. Just a few days ago, this was us:

LMF Seniors 2011

But now we have grown spinach for hair and we look more like this:

LMF Seniors 2011 + Spinach

In the days following, a top secret mission was attempted involving the perusal and reassignment of classified materials in the possession of the French House. This mission was undertaken with great care and secrecy, though some unforeseen challenges did arise:

1. While venturing down the road commonly known as Amherst Alley, a large container of corn meal precariously balanced upon other precariously balanced boxes balanced on top of a rolling apparatus was overturned, creating a hazardous waste situation. We fled.

2. Secret agents later returned to clean up the mess and dispose of the evidence into a nearby wastebin. If you remember receiving emails of hazardous materials near New House a few days prior, you may have glimpsed a fleeting fraction of Claire's intense yet irrational terror that the two incidents were in any way related.

3. David Tennant came to our house and paid us five bucks to make out with us.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Moths, what ho!

So, I meant to write this post a week ago when I was at home. I am now in Duluth, but am not going to talk about Duluth a jot (except to remark that it is in the mid-60’s and generally sunny - you should all feel envious)…

Please instead now imagine yourself at my house, which is located 10 minutes (by car) outside the important city of Rupert, which contains 400 people. This is my front lawn:

There are no high-speed Internets wandering about The Forest, which is one reason I did not post until now. However, there are indeed many other things.

It may or may not grow up to be carniverous. It is cute. It plus mother were about my house for most of the week. Oh so little and frolicsome it was, still feeding from mother and getting periodically groomed by her. One day she left it alone on the lawn for a day – parked in the irises at the back of the “lawn,” where it sat perfectly still until she returned. (Editor's Note: this is a safety mechanism allowing the doe to gather food without exposing the fawn to danger – once told by mommy to “stay,” a fawn will NOT move even if you go right up to it, though of course we didn't try.)

So…I actually spent most of my week at home lying most languorously on my bed reading, getting sick, taking the GRE’s, getting well, discovering that my new computer didn’t have a sound card and therefore responded “What is sound?” when you tried to tell it about these things called speakers, then discovering that in fact it just needed to be restarted, and finally getting up at 3:00 (AM) to leave for Duluth, but I will pretend that all I was doing was looking at moths, because moths are cool and I don’t feel like writing about that other stuff.

My masterful moth-manipulating methods include leaving the lights on. And then going outside. To look. Here are some moths:

The weird blue thing visible through the window is an ultra-special UV mothing light. (Ordinary lights work too, but this is more chic.) There really are a lot of moths here, even if you can’t see them all. As in, several hundred flying around and crawling up the glass. I have a flashlight and a white shirt, so they also fly around and crawl up me. Inside my shirt, through my hair. This night, I actually inhaled a small moth - alas. And they are also all over the walls of the house and on the ground, so one must be most careful when one walks.

There are a lot of species of moths. Over 10,000 in the US. I’ve found 529 of those at my house - so far. Many are big. Many are brightly-colored. They are, of course, all beautiful! (I confess I do find some moths rather drab and non-beautiful, but I think that is mostly my failing.) Anyway, here are some of the moths from this night:

Luna Moth (think of Lunesta commercials) on my hand. There were two more as well flapping around the light. They are really VERY big.

Waved Sphinx settled on the wall. When it is flying, it is quite drastically fast and powerful, whizzing around and resembling a bat (that thick body is filled with flight muscles that also enable it to be endothermic…).

The Bad-wing (on the left) and Rosy Maple Moth (on the right). The Bad-wing is called that because its hindwings (the lower ones) are very small and some entomologist apparently didn’t think that was proper.

My masterful method for moth capture involves plastic sandwich bags. And refrigerators. Moth in bag in refrigerator. This works. Moth metabolism masterfully manipulated (i.e., the moth settles down). Then I can photo it. I caught one moth this night, since I hadn't seen it before. Then I identified it and released it. Here it is for posterity:

A moth I am really excited about, called Kent's Geometer (photographed the next day). It doesn't object to being on my finger because the fridge made it ever so sedate.

Thus is mothing conducted... The night ended with me going inside, finding a moth on my hat, depositing it outside, and going back to bed (it was 3:30 AM - getting up in the middle of the night is good from one standpoint because the moths have accumulated by then at the lighted window; normally I like sleep more than extra moths).

Please pretend that this is the story of the last few days of my life. It might have a moral.

Moral: Moths, what ho!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Forest

Greetings my friends, gather close about the fire to hear the tale spun upon a thousand vicarious looms.

That's a little too close..

Ahhhhhkkh welcome to the forest, as teeming with life as Canada's largest prefecture, and yet as silent and

imposing as the stern edifice of the ancient monument to mimes would be if it were not named ironically. Our

tale takes the framing device of an aged learned one reciting hypnotic wisdom to a weary dustbitten traveler

such as yourself and will begin as soon as you have relinquished your daily cares, those insurmountable

burdens which you uniquely bear and have immersed yourself entirely in the strange land of which I am about

to speak metaphorically, as if you were placed in an immersion blender,  that is how immersed you will


I returned to the ancestral hall replete with success of the days hunt.  Winter would be coming soon to the

northlands, seeking to catch our family unawares by preceding fall, the same gambit it had attempted the year

before.  Winter is uncreative.  However uncreative it may be, it is still a deadly force, transforming

unexpectedly the lush splendor of the forest into the barren frostscape of jotunheim, depriving us of food and

leaving us easy prey for the numerous frost giants which roamed with glacial impunity.

A flash of glowing slitted eyes greeted hungrily me as I rounded a corner. The ferocious snow cats, sigil of

my ancestral house, were supposedly kept well fed, but one could never be sure that they were aware of this.

Apprehensively, I rolled a ping pong ball to distract the fluffy killing machine, bred to withstand the

harshest winter, yet unable to resist a simple bouncing spheroid.  

Carefully restocking the trapped pantry took under an hour, and I mused how fortunate I had been to retrieve

such a bounty from the wild. Every week it seemed the forest encroached closer and closer to manor hall.

The trees whispered from that eldritch blackness, invisible individually admidst that collection which comprised the forest.

Make that THE FOREST, I thought, with all caps for emphasis and a double underscore besides.  Few

indeed could truthfully claim that they had survived the deep mysteries of that arboreal vault.  Perhaps as

many as a dozen, perhaps a few as one-fifth.  Cleaning the traps around the perimeter had been the task of

the youngest household member since antiquity and thus the duty fell to me.

Checking the traps was without incident, the forest was quiet, its silent malice pitting its will against my

own.  I was uncomfortably aware of the immensity of that power, the ancientness against which my mortal

existence seemed but a fleeting thing.  Uncountable numbers of eyes could have peered at me from the jade

blankness of the leaves, and I silently hoped that none of them were owned by the carniverous deer.

Offering the sacrificial oil to mechanical forest reductor, I glanced around once more, filled with nameless

apprehension as I finished the ritual and the steel golem roared to life.  Guiding the golem around the house,

it devoured the tops of the miniature trees beginning to spring up throughout the grassy moat which was our

only defense against the sleepless menace of the forest.  The completion of this task too passed without

incident and it was with relief that I was allowed to pass back through the wards of the manor and collapse in

cold sweat on the ancestral sofa. Law and order was on, incidentally.

I awoke some days later, greeted by the shining orbs of a snow cat's feral eyes and knew no more.  Until,

later when I woke up again and began the journey back to MIT.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Laura in California

I am now in the international terminal of Logan waiting for the Lufthansa people to show up so I can check my bag and go through security and wait some more. This strikes me as a good time to tell the internet what has been happening in my life.

I spent the last two weeks at home. Many of my friends were still in school, so much time was spent with the family. Some highlights follow.

My mom's birthday was right after I got home. To celebrate, we drove up to Point Reyes, the home, you may recall, of the tule elk. We saw no elk, as we did not visit the elk reserve. Instead we climbed a small hill in our car and picnicked on the top of it. There was a good deal of fog below us, and very little above us, which means there wasn't a nice view, but we still got sunburned. Nevertheless, it was a nice picnic. We had croissants from the Bovine Bakery, a favorite haunt of people on bikes. Once when we were small we saw Robin Williams there.

The next day we went to the San Francisco Ferry Building for the farmers' market. We bought some whole wheat flour from a man who had ground it himself! Fancy that. For all its locavore appeal, it didn't make very nice bread. Possibly because I winged it. Kids, it's a good idea to
follow the recipes. They are there to help you.

Fat Blackie Garfield lost another tooth. He had to go to the veterinarian to have it pulled. He is now down to one canine. This makes it difficult for him to groom himself properly. This is a picture of him. It looks like he only has one eye in the picture, but that is not the case. I chose this picture because he looks especially silly in it. The vet put Blackie on a special diet. The new food is supposed to help his dandruff problem.

On Monday we decided to be spontaneous. We went to Yosemite. This is a four hour drive. I drove us up New Priestly Grade, which is kind of like Rainbow Road in Mario Kart, only it's not in space. You will be happy to know that I did not drive off the edge. There is also an Old Priestly Grade, which is even more deathlike. I used to lean toward the uphill side whenever we went down it.

California got a lot of rain/snow last winter, so there was lots of water in the waterfalls. We
walked in to Bridalveil Fall, and got drenched in the mist from the falls. This is a picture of a different waterfall. I took it through the roof of our car. It represents the clash between civilization and nature. I took it with my phone.

On Tuesday, my last day before I left, my mother, my sister, and I went to a coffee tasting. Some coffee beans dry with the fruit on them and some are washed of their fruit before they are dried, and this makes the coffee taste fruity or not. Also, peaberry means the berry only made one bean inside, not two. I learned this. I also learned how to slurp coffee so that is sprays gently across the palate. You just kind of slurp.

Then last night I got on a red-eye and flew to Boston. Whee. I didn't talk to anyone, because I like to sleep and I don't like people. But the two people who were talking behind me were both MIT students. This reminds me that I had a brass rat moment while comparing butters at the Berkeley Bowl. Actually I think it was a MIT sweatshirt moment, but whatever. It was kind of fun.

This is a picture of dusk on the golden hills of Moraga. In this picture, the hills are golden with mustard plants. In a month they'll be golden with dead grass.