Thursday, July 12, 2012

This post contains three cakes and six cupcakes

Five miscellaneous stories, in chronological order.

4. Four weeks ago, my friends and I went to the local observatory's Public Night, because astronomy is awesome. They packed about 150 people into three rooms: the room with the telescope, a little museum room, and a classroom, where a somewhat awkward but adorable graduate student from my pulsar group was giving a talk. I was super jealous, because I wanted to tell the public about pulsars! So, at the end, I hustled up to the front and asked who I would have to talk to in order to do such a thing.

Awkward-but-adorable graduate student: "Ricky."
Me: "...Ricky?"
ABA GS: "Yeah, Ricky."
Me: "...Do you know his last name?"
ABA GS: "No..."
Me: "Oh. How about an e-mail address?"
ABA GS: "No."
Me: "Oh."
ABA GS: "He's around here somewhere, though!"
Me: "Oh. Uh...what does he look like?"
ABA GS: "Uh...short ish man, middle-aged, greyish hair."

PERFECT, considering that the place was (a) dark, as observatories tend to be, and (b) overflowing with people. Since it was so ridiculously crowded and my friends and I weren't willing to stand in line for another 45 minutes to see Saturn a second time, we walked outside to drive home. I was surprised to find an extra eight gajillion people out there; I guess these were the ones who also didn't feel like standing in line. Before anyone could stop me, I screamed "RICKY!" at the top of my lungs....silence, awkward muttering, people paying attention. I took a deep breath, and yelled: "IS ANYONE HERE NAMED RICKY?"

Some guy: "...I am."

More silence. I rushed across the grass to the voice, introduced myself, and found out that this was, in fact Ricky, the University of Virginia astronomy professor who helps coordinate the observatory's volunteer program. After apologizing no fewer than seventeen thousand times for screaming his name like that in a crowded place, I marched triumphantly away holding his e-mail address. I'm surprised I still have friends, after that; each of them said "I can't believe you just did that" in turn. But! Guess what? Three weeks later (last week), I gave a talk at the public night about pulsars :)

3. Three weeks ago (WHAT? ALREADY THREE WEEKS AGO?) it was my friend/fellow NRAO summer student Stephen's birthday. His research project here at the NRAO (he sits at the desk opposite me, so has the misfortune of being the person I stare at furiously whenever I'm thinking about why my code isn't working) is to model C-O regions in the Whirlpool Galaxy, using data from the Very Large Array in New Mexico.

This is what the Whirlpool Galaxy looks like:
The Whirlpool Galaxy has a little dwarf satellite friend.

This is what the Very Large Array looks like:

There are 27 dishes, each with a 25m diameter.

This is what Stephen's birthday cake looked like:

The dwarf satellite friend needed its own baking dish.

This is what Stephen's birthday cupcakes looked like:

There are 6 cupcakes, each with a diameter that I did not and cannot be bothered to measure.
Turns out that lighting the intersection of four candles produces some really epic fire.

That was a good weekend, because Daniel came to visit! Friday night was Stephen's birthday, so we all went out restaurant-hopping downtown (Daniel didn't like the ikura, but he liked the dumplings). Afterwards, we went back to the guys' flat, played Dominion, and drank water while everyone else got either drunk, or very drunk. Gooooood times. On Saturday, we went on a little walk around Observatory Hill, which is (a) quite pretty and (b) right next to where I work, before joining the others for go-karting and watching Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. It's worth mentioning that I have been waiting for that movie to come out since I first saw a poster for it last summer; it was precisely what I expected it to be (hilarious, if you refuse to take it seriously.) I saw a suggestion online for the next such movie to be Bill Clinton: Lady Killer. On Sunday, we had a ridiculously large, ridiculously late lunch, before his train back home in the afternoon. Yay for LMF reunions :)

2. Two weeks ago, I went to Radio Shack and bought a little breadboard + a little 1'' speaker + a 9V battery + a resistor, a copule of capacitors, 2 cadmium sulfide photocells, and a couple of other electronicky things. Avec assistance from my friends Stephen and Trey, I built this:

It's a cute little pocket theremin! A theremin is an electronic instrument that you can "play" without touching; you vary the pitch by varying the distance your hand is from the antenna. This is a very cheap, beginner's version, that works by varying the amount of light shining on it instead (hence the photocells.) Next plan: take apart an old radio, build a little radio telescope, and use it to watch sunspot activity and electrical storms on Jupiter. Alternatively/after that: build a crude EEG using an arduino (I noticed they had arduino-building kits in Radio Shack) and a Mind Flex toy (some kids' game.) I have to admit - the EE side of Course 6 looks SO much more appealing now than it did pre-summer. I guess I've run into a lot of this stuff by trying to figure out how exactly my data gets from deep space onto my Desktop, and have realized that it's actually really cool. 

1. One week ago (Saturday, close enough) my friends and I drove down to DC for the day, since one guy had to drop his girlfriend off anyway. It was something like 105 degrees outside, and totally unbearable. We spent all day in the Archives/Art Museum/Natural History museum. Funny story: while I was standing and reading the original Bill of Rights, this random guy next to me asked where I was from, talked with me about Python programming for a couple of minutes, then asked if he could give me his number (little-known fact: guys dig the Python programming thing.) I wanted to be smooth and say something about exercising my right to say no to random strange men, but instead got all flustered and suggested that he start coming to the observatory public nights instead. 

...yeaaaahhh. good times.

0. It's restaurant week in Charlottesville! Tonight, we went to a place called "The Bavarian Chef" which was ABSOLUTELY AMAZING, and gave quantities of food on the order of what one would hope for from a German restaurant. I had asparagus wrapped in ham atop rye bread, beef with a mushroom sauce, and vanilla cake. Ohmygoodnessitwassogood.

Anyway, it's now midnight, which means that it's time for a very sleep-deprived me (ugh, even over the summer...) to go to sleep and reboot for work tomorrow.

Take care and post more of your adventures! I want to hear them. I miss you all <3

Love and skydiving-to-come,


A belated and perhaps incoherent recap of a weekend

NOTE: please excuse my incoherence and lack of accent use. 

When I told my advisor that I will be going to Lausanne for the summer, she told me to check out Strasbourg. Well, that didn’t sound like a bad idea – after all, I know someone who’s doing an internship there, don’t I? Therefore, a little whimsically but not completely randomly, I chose to visit Strasbourg (and therefore Noah) this weekend.

Strasbourg is about 3.5 hours from Lausanne by train. I first took the “tilting train” (it’s pretty cool… train tilts when turning to be able to go faster) to Basel, which is the city at the Swiss-French-German border. Then, I took the Alsace regional train to get to Strasbourg. The trains were comfy and sleepy Sumin had a pleasant, peacefully asleep train ride.

Within minutes of getting off my train, I met up with Noah (yay!) and we walked to his place. Here were my thoughts while walking:
1.       Strasbourg is SO LARGE
3.       So many restaurants! And the food looks tasty!
5.       More pretty buildings! And I’m still walking…how big is this city?

By the time I left Strasbourg became a little less frightening and large, which probably has something to do with the fact that Noah and I walked around a lot on Saturday.

Walking around was interesting – Noah took me to the street that had a produce market, and it was hard to resist buying fruits and veggies that I probably cannot carry back home (just imagine me with my backpack and carrying an armful of produce on the train…. No I don’t think so). There’s a cathedral in Strasbourg (1. Surprise! 2. It used to be the tallest building in the world until 1874, and is now the 6th tallest church in the world) and we went up to the viewing platform after looking around the interior. There were a lot of stairs, but Noah and I successfully conquered them and were able to look at the city. There, I learned that 1. Wind is really great 2. Strasbourg is filled with small, pretty buildings 3. Mountains and forests look about the same from really far away, and 4. Noah is quite photogenic.

Although it was a very hot day, there were many interesting things to see on the streets. There were many people dressed in medieval costumes and dancing to medieval music being blasted from speakers. The vendors of the produce market were also dressed in costumes. There was also a large flock of geese, which Noah and I originally spotted in a pen. Later, we saw a guy in costume with a wooden flute leading the flock of geese in the streets as a part of a little parade of dressed-up people.  I must say, that was the cleanest and happiest-looking flock of geese I have ever seen. According to Noah’s friend and Noah, Strasbourg is celebrating some liberation from some bishop or something this July. I’m not exactly sure what the celebration is for, but it was fun to see people and geese.

Eventually it became too hot and Noah and I escaped to the library, which was super nice and air-conditioned. I highly recommend this library as a tourist attraction, with its collection of all genres of books, personal DVD-watching units (I think they were for DVD), and nice, simple design with comfy chairs. Noah and I went to the theatre section and read for a while (I read Romeo and Juliet – in English – and it was way too cheesy). Afterwards we grabbed THE BEST SANDWICH EVER, chilled, and ended up at the museum of modern and contemporary art, which was also super nice and awesome. I have come to the conclusion that museums in Strasbourg are pretty awesome – on Sunday, the museums were free because it was the first Sunday of the month, and we went to the archeology museum and the decorative arts museum. It was pretty crazy seeing all the artifacts they found in Alsace,  since every archeology museum I had been to presented things from far far away lands.

All the sightseeing and walking around was pretty great, but I don’t think this trip would’ve been as good if it weren’t for the food. For dinner on Saturday, we had tartines , which are basically the outcome of taking a slice of good bread, putting stuff on top, and baking it. For lunch on Sunday, we went to a tarte flambee (a famous Alsatian dish where one takes some kind of dough, put crème fraiche, onions, and bacon pieces on it, and bake in a brick oven) place. Compared to the expensive food in Switzerland (Erin can tell you all about this), I was so grateful for the reasonably-priced, delicious food.
I really enjoyed looking around Strasbourg and it was good hanging out with Noah (I was a little deprived of interactions with students my age). To end this post, I would like share these following realizations:
1.       So you think you can dance is a pretty great show. (Noah and I watched an episode and it was so good!)
2.       Goat cheese is very yummy, especially on tartines and tarte flambees.