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.


  1. i am in possession of a unicycle which i can't ride. if i bring it to boston in september, will you teach me?

  2. you have a unicycle under your bed??