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,

1 comment:

  1. Terese, I may manufacture an excuse to go to DC just so I can visit you in your cemetery. Actually I would very much love to see your cemetery.

    your new life as a real person sounds fantastic. :] miss you!