Thursday, January 31, 2008

Google Reader and ING

Ok, ok, last blog entry for the evening...

I keep meaning to add useful tips to my blog, so here are two that have come up recently (and thanks to Jeff who introduced me to both of these... and set them up on my computer for me):

Google Reader allows you to put rss feeds from all your favorite websites (like this blog!) on one page. The idea is that rather than trying to remember to check each of your favorite news sites, daily cartoons, and friends' blogs, you can put a feed from each of them on google reader and quickly see which of them have new entries since you last checked. For news sites, it's an easy way to scan the titles of new stories. Also, if you're friends have google reader (like Jeff and I), you can see items that they share. If you come across something interesting, you can share it just by clicking a button. I'm not sure I'm doing a great job explaining, but check out the website to learn more.

ING Direct
- ING is an online bank - it doesn't have any buildings you can go to and talk to real people, but it is FDIC approved and the money they save on buildings and people allow them to offer a really great interest rate. So, if you have savings, open an ING account and transfer it over to start making money quicker. (Also, I think they have a bonus if you're referred, so let me know if you're thinking of opening an account!)

Thirty Pages of Space Weather

So, for the past few days I have been madly typing away trying to write the final report on "Space Weather, Aviation, and Space Flight" as a wrap-up to the research I did first semester and the workshop that I helped run in January. In the last three days I've written about 30 pages of space weather summary. (The final report is supposed to be about 50 pages.) Clearly, I've still got a ways to go, but I've been pretty proud of my productivity level. I basically wake up, work on space weather all day, and then go to bed. Some notable exceptions to this schedule:

1. Classes: I have classes on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, so each day I've had to take a break and interact with other people... which can be tough after a long day of space weather writing.

2. Email checking: I'm only human. Though I'm falling behind in responding to emails, so I must not be spending as much as usual.

3. End of a talk on Space Commercialization: On Tuesday, I caught the very end of a talk on space commercialization. Then I took 7 left-over subway sandwich pieces. See, Jeff's not the only one who makes dinner for us.

4. Cork Wine Bar: I took a brief break Tuesday night to chat with Al and Jeff at "Cork", a wine bar that just opened down the street. It was pretty crowded, but probably because it was the grand opening. It seemed nice though, - I'll have to check it out again on a quieter day.

5. Battlestar Galactica: I have Net Flix now (Jeff got it for me for Christmas), and I'm currently working my way through season 2.5 of Battlestar Galactica. So whenever a new disk comes, I have to take a four hour break to watch it. (It's really addicting.)

6. Chocolate City: Today after class, Jeff, Ransom and I saw this great documentary about a neighborhood in Washington, DC.

...and that's it. So now, back to space weather.

First day at NASA

I just started an internship at NASA Headquarters. My first day was actually on Monday, so this post is a bit delayed. Anyway, I work for NASA Operations at NASA Headquarters, specifically on International Space Station stuff. Here's what I'm planning to do:

1. Publication of a professional paper in a peer-reviewed space policy journal: I'm going to write a paper on the subject of rationale for the ISS in terms of the benefits specifically to NASA and generally to the United States. the project includes all research, drafting, editing, final composition, and processing of the paper. The job of finding a journal and completing the process necessary to publish will be up to me.

2. Completion of a survey on operating practices for US National Laboratories: I'm going to research, review, and report on the operating practices used by other US government agencies that have responsibility for US National Labs. I'm trying to learn more about their management mechanisms, contracting approaches, staffing provisions, and selection and prioritization of research and development. I'm also trying to learn about best practices for management of federal R&D investment.

I tend not to blog about work issues, but I thought it made sense to say basically what I'm working on, I'm sure if when I publish the ISS paper, I'll be writing about that!

The State of Space Security

Last Thursday (I can't believe that was a week ago!) I went to an all-day conference on the state of space security. Anyway, it was about making sure that space stays accessible to all nations over time. It's starting to get a bit crowded in space, and we need to be careful to monitor where things are and minimize the amount of debris we create.

There were a bunch of speakers on the topic - discussing the views of countries around the world. Eruope is interested in promoting space situational awareness (knowing what's up there) and guidelines for space traffic (rules of the road for putting things in space). The US has typically been a bit difficult about committing to specific issues, but a speaker for the state department spoke about US interest in international cooperation. Everybody was pretty hard on China, because they conducted an anti-satellite test last January that resulted in an extraordinary amount of debris that is potentially dangerous to other space objects, and will take over 100 years to de-orbit.

More on the Space Security Conference is available on the Space Policy Institute website.

Chocolate City

Jeff and I went to see a documentary today called "Chocolate City". It is about the gentrification in Washington, DC, and focuses specifically on one neighborhood in Southeast DC. The public housing there was demolished to put in new, mixed-income housing. The residents were supposed to have the option to return, but prices were prohibitively high. In this way, a large number of people who have been DC residents their whole lives are being pushed farther and farther out of the city.

Check out the trailer:

The issue of gentrification is very interesting, and is easy to see day to day. Jeff and I moved into a neighborhood in DC that is already very different than what it would have been ten years ago. Walking down the street the other day, Jeff and I noticed a number of new stores and restaurants that had opened near us just in the few months we've lived here. Within the last month a new wine bar and chocolate shop have opened. There are still old buildings, with bars on their windows, but their numbers are decreasing as trendy new shops open up. On one hand, this is positive - the neighborhood is revitalized, safer, and inviting. But is it taking away from the sense of community and losing its history? The questions of how gentrification affects a city and understanding positive or negative effects are very interesting.

In low-income residential areas, like the neighborhood in the movie, is there a way to promote improved safety and public services and revitalization of businesses, without displacing the community? On one hand, people argue that "revitalization" is all about money - developers want to get rid of public housing and put in high-end condos to sell to wealthy people moving into the city. You could also argue that there are some people who are really interested in bringing down crime rates and improving living conditions. I'm curious if there have been cases of successful revitalization of cities without large displacements of poor residents.

The movie also made me consider my involvement in the community. In the movie, the women interviewed talk about how people in the community help each other out and look after each other. There is a very poignant moment when a woman describes her new living conditions, which aren't so much worse than the neighborhood she had started in, but she felt much less safe because nobody in her new neighborhood knew her, and she didn't know them.

Back in Minnesota, or in a college dorm, it's assumed that you know your neighbors. Now that Jeff and I live in an apartment, where people are constantly moving in and out, it seems like we don't know anybody. I wonder if new apartments and condos are fostering an environment in which people don't take any initiative to know their neighbors and care about their neighborhood. It's difficult in an environment like this to get to know the people that live around you. However, I'm going to try to make an effort to learn about the community here, and become a part of the city rather than just a visitor.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Three days in one room

I've been really busy lately - traveling around, going to workshops, starting classes, etc. So this weekend was my catch-up weekend. I stayed in my apartment from Thursday night through today just doing work. I'm pretty caught up on readings, part-time work, and all of that. On Saturday night Tim and Rachel came over and cooked dinner and played Scattegories, and right now Jeff and I are watching 'The Wire' - one of the best shows on TV.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Savannah - Day 3 - MLK Day

Monday was our last day in Savannah, and it also happened to be Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. We had breakfast at the B&B, checked out, and left our things while we went to the MLK Day Parade.

It was a cool parade, but also very long, so after about an hour, we skipped out to go for a walk. We stumbled upon a tea shop that served lunch, and went there. It turned out to be a building that used to be an apothecary, and a lot of the original fixtures were still there.We walked down Bull Street, and saw the Mercer House, which is featured in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil".Before long, it was 2pm, and time to head back to the airport. The trip to Savannah was really great, and I can't wait for whatever we decide to do next year!

Savannah - Day 2

Despite our late night chatting, we decided we had to get up in time for breakfast - that's half the point at a B&B. It was worth it - we had banana walnut waffles with bacon, fruit, and yogurt also available.This day was going to be our tourist day, so we started out by walking all over town. Savannah has the largest restored historical district in the U.S., so there was plenty to see. We were staying near Forsyth Park, so we started out there.

We walked through town enjoying the architecture, and stopping in the many parks along the way.

When we got to Brougton Street, there were lots of shops to visit. We stopped and got coffee and tea, and then walked by the Gap. Though we were mostly seeing the sights, we decided to pop in to the Gap and check out the sale they were having, and ended up staying over an hour. We all ended up with bags of stuff - it was rare for us to get a chance to all shop together even when we all lived in Boston, so that was really fun.

We had lunch at Cafe' Gelatohh! in City Market, which had pretty good paninis. We took a tour of the Davenport Mansion, which had been restored and decorated to look like it had in the 1800s.

As dusk fell, we took another walk down the cobblestone River Street.

By 5:30pm we were home again, and ended up chatting until 6:30, so we only caught the end of the social. We had a late dinner at a very fancy place. It's a restored mansion, right on Forsyth Park. It's called 700 Drayton.
After that we headed home for more tea and talking.

Savannah - Day 1

Last weekend I went to Savannah for the second annual girls' trip with Neera and Janet. Since we all live far apart, we plan to take a trip once a year to get together and catch up. Last year we went on a cruise to the Bahamas. This year we decided to stay in a bed and breakfast in Savannah. Overall, it was a really great experience. The bed and breakfast was beautiful, relaxing, and comfortable. Savannah is a gorgeous city - perfect for wandering around. It was great hanging out with Neera and Janet, and I feel like we chatted for three days staight, which is exactly what the trip is about. We talked about everything from politics to fashion, from future plans to favorite teas. They're both really intelligent, interesting people, so it was great to spend all that time with them. I think we all go away feeling refreshed and ambitious.

So, now to some specifics. The trip didn't start out as smoothly as we hoped. Neera and I were supposed to get in at 10:30am on Saturday, but this was the weekend of the surprise snow/sleet storm in Georgia, so Neera got stuck in Atlanta. Janet wasn't supposed to arrive until 2pm, so I decided to leave the airport and go to the B&B on my own.

I arrived at "The Dresser-Palmer House" and they let me check in early to our room - we stayed in the Wesley room, which had a fireplace and large windows opening onto the veranda (front porch). My plan had been to put down my things and then go out to a coffee shop, but decided to try out one of the very comfy looking beds, and ended up taking a 2 hour nap. When I woke up, Janet was landing in Savannah, so I got myself together and went for coffee in the common room of the bed and breakfast. The common rooms were beautiful, and there was coffee and tea available 24 hours a day, something we all really enjoyed over the course of our stay.

Janet arrived, dropped her things off in the room, and joined me for coffee while we waited for Neera. Neera's delayed flight finally got in at 3:30pm and she met up with us at 4pm. She planned to take a shower or a nap before the evening social (she had had to leave at 4am that morning to get to the airport). However, setting the pace for the rest of the trip, we found ourselves talking for the hour and half until the social, so there was no time for anything else.

At 5:30 pm was the social hour at the B&B. This is a time that they have wine, fruit and cheese, and all the guests are invited to meet each other and hang out in the common rooms. It was very nice. We ended up talking to people who had been here for a day already and getting suggestions on what to see. We also met a British couple who were very funny. The British guy asked if a social was a common thing to have at bed and breakfasts. He said that in England you'd go to a bed and breakfast and try to avoid eye contact with anyone so that you don't need to talk to them. Another couple we talked to lived in New York City, and the woman had a masters in Library Science. I hadn't realized all the training that went into being a professional librarian. She told us about interesting developments - with all of the new information and search possibilities available, some librarians were feeling less needed, but she said she thinks it makes librarians even more important, because there is so much more to learn about how to effectively search and find things now that there are so many options.

The social ended at 7pm, and at 7:30, Janet, Neera, and I had dinner at "Firefly", a cute cafe near out B&B.
After dinner, it was still fairly early for a Saturday night, so we decided to wander. We went down to River Street, but didn't see much going on, so we continued to wander to Central Market. There, we happened by a club called Club One, that was having a show that started in 15 minutes. The star of the show was the Lady Chablis. If you've read "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" (which I have), or seen the movie, you'd recognize that she's one of the main characters. In fact, she plays herself in the movie. So, we decided to be spontaneous and go see the show. It was a really entertaining show - very funny.After the show, we'd had enough excitement, and headed home. Of course, we were up til 3am chatting - that's what we were there for!

Friday, January 18, 2008

First Week of Classes

This week was the first week of classes, here's my line up:
Tuesday 3:30-6pm: Economics and Policy Analysis
Wednesday 6-8pm: Space Law
Thursday 5:10-7pm: Issues in U.S. Space Policy - Space Security

All the classes seem like they're going to be very interesting, and I'm really looking forward to them. The economics class may be difficult for me because I haven't taken a college-level microeconomics class, which is recommended as a prerequisite. Hopefully Jeff will be a good personal tutor - he's already showed interest in reading one of my text books for fun...

Anyway, with classes starting up and work continuing on, I've been very busy, which is why I haven't posted and am catching up in a posting marathon tonight. I'm hoping to keep on top of the readings, because class is so much more interesting and useful if you've done them. At the same time I want to keep up with my part time jobs, including making a serious effort to finish the space weather workshop final report, and setting up a new internship at NASA.

I'm going out of town this weekend, which should be very fun, and hopefully provide some plane time to do readings.

New York and DC

I went to New York again last weekend - I had planned to go just for the day on Saturday, but ended up making a weekend of it. I had gone to visit Pooja, who is going to Africa for six months, and my sister. On Saturday, Jeff, Pooja and I planned to go to Alice's Tea Cup for lunch, but when we got there we found out there was a three-hour wait. We put our names on the list, but decided to give up on having lunch there. Instead, we went to a diner around the corner called "Eat Here Now", which ended up not to be as great as we'd hoped, considering the urgency of the name. When we were finished we headed back to Alice's Tea Cup, even though it had only been about an hour and a half. They were able to seat us pretty quickly, and then we ended up sitting and having tea for 3 hours. They have over a hundred kinds of tea, and it was a very nice place.

On Saturday night Jeff went back to DC, and Pooja, Katie and I hung out at Pooja's apartment. We ordered pizza, had girl talk, and watched "Legally Blonde" - it's been years since I've seen that.

Katie and I decided to walk back to her dorm in the morning, which was a decently long walk from near Battery Park up to 27th and 7th Ave. That took us directly through SoHo and Chinatown, so we had an inadvertent shopping spree. Katie got a great new purse and wallet. We hung out in her room in the afternoon, organizing and getting ready for the next semester. Katie is currently working in the French Connection Corporate offices, so she's busy all day on the weekdays, so it was nice to be able to hang out over the weekend.

In the evening Pooja and I met back up, and she actually came back with me to DC. She had never seen my apartment and wanted to visit some people in DC before leaving. Even though the only evening we had to go out was a Monday, we made the best of it. Pooja and I played Wii in a restaurant/bar, which was pretty great. We met some fun people and ended up chatting late into the night.Overall it was a fun extended weekend, and really nice to see my sister and Pooja!

Space Weather, Aviation, and Space Flight

Last week on Thursday and Friday I helped to run the "Space Weather, Aviation, and Space Flight" workshop at the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. It was a really great experience, and I learned a lot. I have been doing work on space weather in preparation for the conference all semester, and it was rewarding to be able to understand the subject matter in the various presentations. Thoughout I was thinking about how the work they did fit into the overall idea of how space weather affects aviation and space flight and about what research is needed in the future.

There was a lot of interesting discussion about the interaction among the people who use space weather information - like airline pilots and operators, space weather operators who use models to get predictions - like NOAA SWPC and the airforce space weather prediction center, and the researchers who study the physics of space weather and develop models. They all have different interests and needs, and those do not always align to help each other.

Anyway, I'm now working on a final report that will cover a lot of what was learned from the workshop, and I'm sure I'll put in a link to that when it's finally ready.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Home Again, Home Again

Jeff and I are back in DC, and since I need to be up in 6 hours, I'll make it short. It's great to be back in our apartment, and we're getting busy right away. I'm in the midst of the Space Weather conference I've been working towards all semester. The first day was today and tomorrow is the last. I presented a matrix that I made about space weather and aviation, and that seemed to go over very well. I'll try to write more another day, but that's it for now!

California Part 3.3 - San Jose Again

Jeff and I had big plans for our last day in California - we were going to go to San Fransisco and see all the sights. But then we ended up staying up late the night before enjoying our wine from the vineyards and playing Wii (which I am now addicted to - I rock at boxing).

Anyway, we slept in a bit on Tuesday and then got in touch with Janet, who happened to be in town visiting her family. So we decided tea with Janet would be better than San Fransisco, and headed to her house.

We stopped for In and Out Burger on the way just to get in a bit of California tourism. It's really tasty - did you know they make their fries fresh every day from real potatoes? Imagine that.

Tea at Janet's was very nice - we chatted and did a bit of computer work - just like the old days. :)
After tea we ended up getting together Kurt, Jeff's brother (Dave), Jug, Jug's girlfriend - Christina, Janet, Janet's boyfriend - Dan, and of course Jeff and I, and going out to dinner. We went to a really fun restaurant that was basically Indian tapas - the food was great. Since we were tired out from the rest of our trip and needed to get up at 5am to catch our flight, we didn't do much else that night. Overall, we had a great California trip and a really great holiday vacation.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

California Part 3.2 - Napa and Sonoma

The second day in San Jose was a Monday, and Kurt and Jug both had to go to work. Jeff and I decided to take a day trip to wine country, which is only a couple hours away. We took a wrong turn on the way there and ended up driving through San Francisco, which was actually pretty great because we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge.We had a really great time going to wineries - the tastings were really fancy and fun. Our favorite was the first one we went to - "J", where we tried the most things and where all the wine was paired with tiny appetizers.We went to Saint Clement Vineyards second, and it was in a cute house on a hill. There we did a tasting that was made up almost entirely of wine we couldn't afford a bottle of - about $80 a bottle. It was pretty good.
Our last stop was at Peju, which was pretty interesting. The person pouring the tasting did a rap giving all the information about the vineyard... and he was a 60 year old white man. The wine was ok, though, and we had a good time. We'll have to work on our wine knowledge if we go again, since mostly we're only able to say, "that one's pretty good", and "oh, this one is also pretty good", but as long as we had a good time, that's probably what matters.The whole day was really great, and the scenary while driving around was one of the best things about the whole trip.

California Part 3.1 - San Jose

During the third and final leg of our California adventure, Jeff and I flew to San Jose and stayed with our friends John and Kurt. We got there mid-day and hung out with Kurt at his cool condo. We went out to Pizza My Heart for dinner and has a garlic-mushroom-sausage-pepperoni pizza. It was the most garlic I have ever eaten in my life - it just had whole cloves of garlic (the size of large marbles) all over it, and it was soooo good.

We were thinking about seeing Juno after pizza, but then decided to instead go back to Kurt's place and watch "Sideways" which is about two guys that spend a weekend visiting wineries in California. The movie was pretty good - it had gotten a lot of build up, so I don't think I was as impressed with it when I finally saw it, but I enjoyed it, and the characters, even if you don't like them, were interesting.

John came home around 11pm from his holiday trip to the east coast and then hung out and had a glass of wine with us. We watched the (2 hour!) premier of American Gladiator, which was pretty funny, and then finally went to bed at 2am.

California Part 2 - Big Bear

After leaving Camarillo, we drove to Big Bear Lake, CA. It's in the mountains near L.A., and Jeff's mom's family has a cabin there. It was actually built by her grandfather. Here's what it looks like:It's a beautiful drive through the mountains to get there, and the cabin is just across the street from the lake.Jeff's aunts and uncle were at the cabin also, and we spent a few days hanging out having family meals, doing puzzles, and reading books. I was in charge of keeping the fire place going, which I think I did a pretty good job at. There was no TV and no internet, so at one point we took an coffee shop trip to check email, but other than that we just relaxed at the house.

I spent a lot of time reading Dracula, which is one of the things that Jeff got me for Christmas. I like to read classic books, but it's usually hit or miss - either its completely readable and interesting - like Tale of Two Cities, Pride and Prejudice, or Jane Eyre, or it's really hard to get through and historically interesting, but not fun. Luckily, Dracula is the former - it's written as a series of letters and diary entries by various characters, and there are really good footnotes explaining historically relevant things. I'm about half done now.