Monday, June 30, 2008

ISU Opening Ceremonies at CIty Hall

This evening we had the official opening ceremonies for the International Space University (ISU) Summer Session. There were a lot of important people and good speakers, including the president of the university, the mayor of the city, and Peter Diamandis, who founded the X-Prize (and also co-founded ISU).

Our former professor and director at George Washington University Space Policy Institute was there as well, since he is one of the distinguished lecturers, and has been involved in the program since the beginning.
The event was hosted on the terrace on the 9th floor of city hall, which had beautiful views of the city. It was a great way to spend the evening and a great way to start the program.

Spain won the EuroCup!

The EuroCup - a big soccer tournament among European nations has been going on throughout June, and Sunday was the finale. It was Spain vs. Germany, and though I really like Germany, I had to cheer for the home team on this one - Spain hasn't won a EuroCup since 1964!

Stephanie, Emma, Jaisha, Eric, Lindsey, Jeff, and I went to Jeff's apartment to watch the game there with his roommates - Victor and Alberto. We made pizza and enjoyed the game. It was a really fun game, and in the end (as I gave away in my title...) Spain won!

After the game we headed to Placa de Catalonia, a big square in the city. On the way there we saw tons of people driving around waving flags and honking, and people running around the streets.
The square was full of people. It was a really fun night.

Sightseeing in Barcelona

Over the weekend we did some more sightseeing around the city. We were mostly focused on Picasso "moderisme" architecture, and saw some buildings Antonio Gaudi had designed.
We spent a few hours touring the famous church, La Sagrada Familia, which has been under construction for decades.
Also, Jeff was able to talk to the people at the Orange cell phone store and figure out details and deals, so he, Stephanie, and I all have Spanish cell phones now! (Jeff did such a great job with all the translating that he ended up getting a deal on a phone - he got a 39 Euro flip-phone for 29 Euros!)
After a day of sight-seeing, we had a short siesta, and met for dinner around 10:30pm. In Spain, they eat dinner very late, so this was a typical time to go. The restaurant didn't even open for dinner until 10pm. The weather is great - especially in the evening when it cools down a bit, so we ate at one of the outdoor sidewalk tables.
On Saturday, I was able to move into my room in the Agora residence for ISU, but I need to buy some hangers and clean up a bit before I can post pictures. I have a double room to myself, though, and that's pretty nice - lots of space.

Sunday, I spent the morning at the Picasso Museum, which was very cool. It has tons of work by Picasso from all periods of his life, and also has a very cool exhibit where they show how he made a cubist version of a classic painting.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Colossus - Book Comments

My friend Adam lent me the book "Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire" by Neill Ferguson. I just finished reading it, so I thought I'd write a little about my thoughts. I can't claim to be the most educated person about foreign politics, so as I learn more I reserve the ability to change my mind. I'll include page numbers in some spots for others who have read the book.

Overall, I thought it was an interesting book with some good points. His general thesis is that America is an empire in denial. The term empire is defined broadly as having influence outside your national borders, which the U.S. does - if not through military action, than through its pervasive culture, companies, and NGOs. He then argues that because the United States won't admit (to itself or others) and that it is an empire, it does a poor job when it decides to interfere with other countries. Rather than take a long-term view and accept the job as re-builder (as we did in Germany in Japan), he argues, we tend to think we can take quick military action and then step back and leave the nation-building to the citizens there, which doesn't seem to work in practice.

There are some interesting general issues he brings up. First is the question of how (if its possible) you can successfully cause a regime-change in a country. He argues that the (long) process of nation-building must be carefully and determinedly taken on - you can't plan only for the military action and not what follows, and you can't expect this type of action to come to a quick conclusion. This seems pretty likely to me, and maybe a more realistic understanding of what was going to be involved when we invaded Iraq would have made people less frustrated at our continued presence now (it also might have meant many less people would have supported it in the first place). It's definitely an interesting question to consider.

Another general issue (pg 293) is what America's obligation to the world is, and what kind of role we ought to take on as the only superpower. Should we ever interfere with other nations? Should we be using our power to overthrow more dictators and oppressive regimes? I think this is a question that is very difficult to answer. A nation that feels it knows what is best for the rest of the world and unilaterally goes around using its military to change regimes it regards as oppressive, seems like it could easily get out of hand. Similarly, if the only nation that has the people and money to take action refuses to ever step in, that could seem irresponsible. If you do believe that the United States (or the world) in general should take action in some cases, then the question is when should we take action, and who gets to decide? What about Sudan, where thousands were being killed by the government? Or in Myanmar, where thousands died because the government wouldn't allow aid after the cyclone? Or Zimbabwe, which is being torn apart and bullied by Robert Mugabe? What about Turkmenistan where the political system is a presidential republic, but only one political party is legally allowed, and any non-sanctioned political gatherings are illegal? There are lots of non-democratic countries around the world, and it's not clear what justifies unilateral or multilateral action by the world.

Some might think intervention is only an option if the people within the nation want outside intervention, but this seems impractical to me, since there are always going to be mixed reactions to any type of action. I think this was one of the things that confused Americans about the Iraq war, there was an idea that all Iraqis would be greeting us with a warm welcome, and though I believe some did, many did not - while this was unexpected to some, it seems inevitable to me.

A few other intersting issues: In the book (pg 152-157) Ferguson addresses the path from 9/11 to Iraq, but doesn't discuss why Iraq was chosen in particular, except to say "there had been elements within the Republican Party who yearned for a settling of accounts with Saddam Hussein." Also, it seems to me that the rationale for war he gives in the book is not quite the same as what was put forth in the popular media.

One thing I thought was missing from the book was an acknowledgment of all the negative effects of colonialism on the former colonies. Ferguson discusses the benefits in infrastructure and other areas that he believes colonies received, but seems to gloss over the extreme inequities and violence that occurred during this time. Regardless of the economic arguments, the moral issues need to be addressed as well. Similarly, he says (pg 175-176) that de-colonization did not lead directly to economic growth, as was predicted, but he also does not show that de-colonization had a negative effect. I would have liked to have had more information about the changes caused by de-colonization, as well as the likely progression that would have occurred with a plan of non-interference.

He argues that one of America's problems in successfully re-building Iraq was in the public's non-interest in actually going to Iraq. In Britain in the early 1900's, he argues, many Cambridge and Oxford grads were eager to get involved in the colonial authority in other nations. American Ivy League grads would rather go to Wall Street. He quotes some statistics about the low numbers of Americans who choose to live and work abroad in general. I thought this was an interesting comment, and am curious exactly what has driven this change.

On page 101, Ferguson says that it was not the general public that was against imperialism, but the elite and the academics. I'm curious if that is still the case now. Is that state of affairs a good thing or a bad thing? Why does it occur that way?

On page 139, Ferguson talks about Clinton's policy, and argues that Clinton's main goal was to avoid getting soldiers killed. In the book, Ferguson doesn't seem to think this is much of a policy, but to me it seems like an acceptable goal - preserving American lives seems like a good thing to keep in mind. Clinton still took military action, but in a way that minimized danger to our troops. I wish he had included more information about this policy and what he thought were the negative aspects.

This has turned into a pretty random collection of thoughts on this book, but maybe it will be somewhat interesting and possibly spark some thought and discussion! Overall, I'd recommend the book - an interesting read and a unique opinion.

I live in Spain now!

Yesterday Jeff and I began our summer-living-in-Spain adventure. We arrived mid-day, adventurously (and cheaply) chose to take the train and metro into town to find Jeff's new apartment.
He's living in a fairly central part of town (near the Hospital Clinic metro). He shares the apartment with two Spanish roommates, Victor and Alberto, who both grew up in Barcelona. It's great, because Jeff will have a chance to practice his Spanish, and we're learning a lot the city. The apartment itself is pretty nice, and has an amazing balcony/terrace. There is lots of room to sit outside at a table and study, hang-dry laundry, or take a dip in the kiddie pool.
Yesterday we were pretty tired, so we moved in, saw a bit of the neighborhood, took a nap (which I've learned is definitely not the way to prevent jet lag), and then spent the evening watching the Germany-Turkey game in the EuroCup (Soccer). Tonight Spain is playing Russia, and we're all going to watch that together too. Although actually, Barcelona is in Catalonia, so people here are slightly less excited and passionate about the Spanish team than they might be elsewhere in Spain.

We spent the day today walking from Jeff's apartment down to La Rambla and to the water. Along the way we saw banners for ISU. See, it is real! La Rambla is a nice, touristy part of the city, with lots of little shops and scenery. We had some great juice that we bought at a market, and shared some paella at a small restaurant. Now we're going to relax for a few hours before the game.

Monday, June 23, 2008

90th Birthday

On Saturday, Jeff and I were in New York City with his family to celebrate his grandfather's 90th birthday. We had a lunch at a trendy restaurant in the meatpacking district followed by a reception at a nearby hotel.
It was a really nice event - there were about 45 people there, including both of Sidney's kids (Jeff's dad, Mike, and Jeff's Aunt, Liz) and their families, as well as Sidney's nieces and nephews (some all the way from California) and other relatives. There were a number of friends that also made it - people who had worked with Sidney when he was a physics professor and later a dean at NYU.
After lunch, people gave some speeches - Jeff's dad gave a very nice speech about his father's impact on his life. Dan, Jeff's cousin, talked about the importance of continued learning and appreciating every new experience - including the experience of growing old.

Dan included a short story in his speech that I thought was interesting - he was talking about the positives and negatives of growing old and compared it to Pliny the Younger, who was a writer in ancient Rome. Pliny the Younger was present at the eruption of Vesuvius, and at first was very upset and worried because he was clearly very near to this dangerous event, and wouldn't have a way to escape, but then thought, on the bright side, that he had never had a chance to witness the events of a volcano so close up before, and that this was a great and unique opportunity to learn something new. Though the story is a bit extreme, I think the lesson of trying to learn in every occasion is an important one, and one that can help you enjoy your life rather than worry.

After Mike and Dan had spoken, others were invited to say a few words. I really enjoyed this part of the afternoon, because up until now, I had only really known Sidney in a "grandpa" context. His friends talked about him and told stories from his younger days - it was very interesting to think what his life must have been like and what he must have been like then.

I think having a party like this is a great idea. It seemed so meaningful to Jeff's grandpa to have his family and friends around, to share stories and enjoy the day. I remember my great-grandma, who lived at my house for a number of years while I was growing up, would talk about some of the aspects of old age (she was born in 1907). She used to say that she thought it was silly that people wait until your funeral to send you flowers, and that she'd much rather people send her flowers now, while she'd enjoy them. I thought that was a great point, and that this party seems to be an example of people doing just that - let's celebrate people while they're here, make the time and effort to see people and talk to them. It's something that is really important at any age, because you never know what life will bring.

Minnesota Visiting

While I was in Minnesota, in addition to driving around the midwest, detouring to San Francisco, and trying to get work done, I was able to see some of my friends and family. I spent a few nights at my brother's house, built a patio with my Dad (ok, ok, burnt excess firewood while he built a patio... but we were both in the back yard), drove from Omaha to Minneapolis with my mom, and had dinner with my Grandma John. My other grandparents, Mamie and Grandpa, live in Texas, but luckily for me, they were visiting Minnesota the same time I was (I don't think this was entirely coincidence) and were staying at my house. It was great to be able to see them, especially since as a kid I used to spend tons of time at their house. Mamie even baked me my favorite cookies - Million Dollar Cookies (they've got a such a great name). Hopefully Jeff and I will be able to visit Mamie and Grandpa in Texas next fall. Even though it was almost three weeks, I felt like the time flew by. Trips home always go by much too quickly, and I never get to see people as much as I would like, but it is great to get see people and catch up at least a bit.

I'm getting good practice at trying to sum up the major (or at least entertaining) events that have happened in the last six months, which is important for conversations with people I haven't seen since Christmas. It turns out a lot can happen in that time, which I discovered when I found out one of my good friends (who I saw at Christmas and who was unaware then) is going to be having twins (boys!) in September.

Some of the friend visits included: a nice martini night with Annette and Kelsey, a few nights out in Minneapolis with Paul, Mike, Zach, and Doug, a lunch at Good Earth with Rachel, and drinks and dinner with Annette and her mom.


My sister came into town on one of the last days I was in Minnesota, and since she was there to provide guidance, I decided it was a perfect time to get a haircut. Here are the results:
Bangs are pretty different for me - can't quite remember the last time I had them. When I wear sunglasses, I feel like I'm in a disguise. My sister tells me that they're very "in" right now, though, so that's good. (Although, shortly after I got them she told me that she had wanted to get bangs, but was nervous about it, and had decided to wait and see how they turned out on me...)

My sister (who is supposed to be the cool one!) has suddenly become obsessed with the game "Settlers of Catan," which she is apparently awesome at (she keeps playing with a bunch of MIT kids out and Boston and beating them). My mom hadn't heard of it, so we went and bought it and played a game. Yep, my whole family is very coooool. :)

Also, my brother is out of town, so the puppy is at our house. And it is still adorable.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Stanford Graduation

Two weekends ago (I'm so behind on posting!), Jeff and I flew to San Francisco to go the Jeff's brother's graduation. He's completed his bachelor's degree in Math and Computational Sciences. The graduation was a lot of fun - the weather was beautiful the activities were pretty entertaining.

On Saturday, we headed to campus to see the class lecture, which is a lecture that is given by a professor at the university - chosen by the students. This year, the lecture was given by Professor Durham, who is in Anthropology and Evolution.

He said that they had done an informal survey of Stanford students and found that more than half of them could not accurately define evolution - even given four options to choose from. People sometimes confused it with survival of the fittest or with the definition of intelligent design. So, he said he felt that every Stanford graduation should have had at least one lecture on evolution before graduating.

His lecture talked about Charles Darwin and his life and related that to the graduating students and their futures. He pointed out that Darwin did not have clear plans about what he wanted to do and switched majors and schools a number of times (No need to worry if you don't have your life plan determined yet). He planned to be pre-med, then to enter the clergy, and developed an interest in beetles (Go where ever your interests take you). He was only 22 when he began the voyage to South America where he would collect the samples that led to his famous theory (Even very young people can do incredible and important things). It then took him almost 50 years to go through his findings (what's important is keeping your curiosity and interest alive), discuss with other prominent scientists (stay in touch with your adviser!), and write "The Origin of the Species." It was a very interesting and entertaining lecture, where I felt like I learned a lot about Darwin's life and some about evolution. It was relevant and inspiring without being a cookie-cutter graduation speech.

After the lecture, we went to see Dave's funk band play. It was a great show, and there were lots of bbq-related foods, which was nice. The weather was very good, and a lot of Jeff's family was there. I guess John Elway was also there. (I guess he's a football player, and Jeff and his dad are flabbergasted every time I ask who he is, so he must be important.)

Sunday was the actual graduation. We got up early to go to the Stanford Band Shack - Dave is the drum major in the Stanford Marching Band - which is pretty infamous for being rowdy and out of control (see the "controversial actions of the band" section of the wikipedia article about them). They were having a breakfast - champagne and bagels (A graduation step up from their regular "breakfast of champions" - beer and doughnuts). Very nice. Dave had some great graduating band attire.

The graduation ceremony was pretty different to anything I've been to before. Instead of the slow, somber procession of the graduates into the stadium, Stanford graduates dress in costume and run into the stadium, in what's referred to as the "wacky walk". There are a wide range of costumes...

After about an hour, when everyone is on the field and in their chairs, the graduation speeches began. Oprah was the graduation speaker this year, and her speech was ok. She talked about her life and how she got where she was. She talked about her godchild (Gail's daughter) who was graduating that day. She then gave the advice to essentially: go with your gut feelings, learn from your mistakes, and do what you believe in. So a fairly standard graduation speech.
After the large group graduation, Stanford grads put on their regular graduation robes and go to smaller ceremonies on campus put on by their departments. At these ceremonies the professors say a few words about each student and give them their diplomas. Overall, it was a very entertaining graduation.

Friday, June 13, 2008

King of Kong

King of Kong
My brother recommended this movie to me, and he was definitely right about it. It's an awesome movie. It's a documentary about the people who have the top scores on classic video games - particularly about the reigning champion of Donkey Kong, and the middle-aged dad from Seattle who challenges his record. The movie is just put together really well, so you see the personalities of the people and really get pulled into the drama. It's incredible how much time and effort people put into beating this video game. Pretty awesome.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Middle School Flashback

Alright, Kathleen, you got me. Now I've officially been tagged, which comes with a specific set of rules (below). Somehow this reminds me of all the forward emails in Middle School where you have to pass things on, though I didn't even get a promise of wish come true. However, it is described as a challenge, so here it goes!

Rules: Answer the following questions about yourself. At the end of the post you pass on the questions to 6 other people. Write them a comment telling them that they've been tagged and ask them to read your blog. Let the person who tagged you know that you've accepted the challenge and refer to your post.

1. What were you doing 10 years ago?
Hmm... 10 years ago was 1998, which for me would have been the summer after 8th grade. Man, what do you do when you're 14, have no car or driver's license, and school's just let out? I was probably just hanging out at my house, talking on the phone to Annette, enjoying the summer, and getting excited to go to high school in a few months.

2. Five items on today's "to do" list:
I highly doubt all of these things will be done today, but they're on my to do list to be finished before going to Spain...

1. Fix my computer - I'm at my brother's house, and really hoping he knows the solution to fixing my computer - it's old, slow, and a little sticky (there was an unfortunate incident involving a slightly unstable glass of orange juice)
2. Finishing my ISS Paper - Ah, I really need to do this - I just keep editing, revising, re-writing, and this process needs to be done again
3. Read "Colossus - The Rise and Fall of the American Empire" - Adam lent me this book, and I really want to finish it in the next couple weeks so I can get it back to him before leaving for Spain (he's probably appreciate that as well...) Also, it's a good book.
4. Space Weather Paper - I'm waiting to hear from my professor about comments, but once that happens, I'll need to do some revising and rewriting on this paper as well.
5. Renew Driver's License - Yep, I keep getting older, and it's about time to renew. I still carry a Minnesota license, so it has to be done here.

3. What snacks do you enjoy?
This question doesn't really seem to fit with the others. But the answer is spinach and artichoke dip. Or chocolate ice cream. Yum. Or coffee... I really want coffee right now. But probably not all those things at the same time.

4. What would you do if you were a billionaire?
I guess it depends if I got to be a billionaire through some kind of mystical appearance of money in my bank account, in which case I'd probably be trying to investigate why billions of dollars appeared in my account, of if I got to be a billionaire by working at some high-end investment job, in which case, I imagine I'd still be working there - if I didn't stop at 100 million, what's gonna stop me at a billion? (Yikes, that was one sentence - my second grade teacher would be horrified.)

Ohhh... how I would spend the money... Probably move into an apartment with more than one room. Probably.

5. Where would you live?
I'd still live in the city - someplace central. But you'd hardly be able to call it living there, cause with all that money I'd be doing tons of traveling (and bringing all my friends with me, of course!) and spending time in fun hotels.

Similar to Kathleen, I don't know if I know six other bloggers to infect with this tagging disease. Hmm... I've got Drew, Jeff, Pritchard, Stephanie, and Andrew... and that's probably it for people who will get tagged and (most likely) still be friends with me.

Working Outdoors

Over the last couple days, my dad, Jeff, and I have been working on building a patio in our backyard. I like doing work outdoors, but living in big cities for the last five years has meant I don't get much of that.

Also, I'm usually not a big fan of bugs and animals that live underneath big blocks and things, but somehow, when I'm in my own yard, it doesn't seem to bother me. Probably because I spent so much time catching frogs and snakes and bugs in my yard when I was younger.

My dog, Lady, wanted to be involved in the patio building, too. However, her version of helping is just to lay down exactly where you'd like the lay the next brick. Nice work, Lady.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Indiana Jones 4

I'm a huge fan of the Indiana Jones Trilogy, so I've put some thought into how to respond to Indiana Jones 4. I was really excited when I first heard a fourth Indiana Jones was in the works (rumors have been around since I was in high school so it's been a long time coming). Then, more recently, when I actually started seeing posters and trailers, I started to get nervous. It would be practically impossible for them to add something to the trilogy that would actually make it better overall - the curve was already set pretty high by the first three. So I saw it last night.

Overall it was still a fun movie, but I think I will still refer to the Indiana Jones Trilogy (not four-ology), and if I show the movies to someone who's never seen them I might not mention that the fourth one exists. To me, the fourth Indiana Jones is like a mix of people who love the trilogy saying, “Hey, remember how he's afraid of snakes?” Oh yeah, remember how he pulls his hat down and sleeps on the plane.” etc. - only the conversation is in movie form. It also seems to be more the beginning of the Mutt Jones series which could be good than the end of the Indiana Jones. Indiana shares the screen much more than in the previous three movies, which I guess is ok, but definitely has a different feel.

If I had the ability to edit the movie myself, there are a few things I would definitely take out. (And thanks to Paul who warned me about these things in advance.)

1. CGI Gopher - What was going on with the CGI gopher in the beginning (and then again later!)? It was odd enough to seem silly, but not funny enough to laugh, so it was just kind of weird.

2. Surviving a nuclear blast in a fridge - The past movies have pretty ridiculous events, but they are more in the highly improbably category rather than the completely ludicrous category (except for events involving the actual artifact of interest, which are exempt from this rule). For some reason, they decided to start out this movie with this frustratingly ridiculous scene. Was it supposed to be funny? It might have worked on road-runner, but the idea that Indiana Jones survived a nuclear blast by hiding in a lead fridge and being blown away from the scene just makes me grown. Plus, if that worked, where were all the other fridges from town?

3. Warehouse Magnetism - Just a small gripe - why was the gun powder only magnetic after he threw it in the air? And why, once there, was it completely free from the laws of gravity? Similar to the nuclear blast frustration, this also just seemed a little too out there - like they were thinking, "Consistency? Who needs that?"

4. Russians aren't Nazis - I guess I can't be too hard on them for this, since time had to pass, but still, fighting the Russians just isn't as cool as fighting the Nazis.

5. Irina Spalko - This was the main bad guy in the movie, but she was almost painful to watch. Was she trying to be corny?

6. Giant Ants - I don't really get why they needed to invent a scary insect for the South American jungle. Aren't there like 1,000,000 varieties of super creepy animals and insects that actually exist that could kill you? Have they seen the Planet Earth series?

Anyway, go see the movie, don't expect too much, ignore the above-mentioned items, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Graduation Season

It's graduation season, and despite having been out of high school for six years, I still have graduation parties to go to. On Saturday, my neighbor had his graduation party. He was the youngest in the family, and I still remember when they first moved in next door. He wasn't even 2 years old yet. So it was very odd to see him graduating high school and heading off to college. His brother, who is a bit younger than me, is done with college and getting married next year.

All the guys that live on my street are going (or went) to Mankato State University in Minnesota, including my brother, Josh, Ryan, and Travis. Josh is a part-time police officer looking to become full-time, and Travis is going to be studying law enforcement, planning to be a police officer as well.

Yesterday, we went to Mike Do's graduation party. He's also going to go to Mankato to study law enforcement. Mike's relation to me is a bit tenuous - I think he's my third cousin. We have the same great great grandparents, our great grandmothers were sisters, our grandmothers were cousins, our parents were second cousins(?), and we're third cousins. Anyway, this resulted in me seeing a lot of slightly distant relatives, many of whom I haven't seen since I was younger. My grandma's sister was there with her kids (my mom's cousins). I really like the idea of staying in touch with your extended family, so it was really fun to see them.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Bonfire Time!

One of the fun things you can't do living in the city is have a bonfire, so when I get to Minnesota in the summer, it's one of the things I like to do.The bonfire got to a more reasonable size later in the evening.

Midwest Road Trip - Homeward Bound

Yesterday we finished up the last leg of our roadtrip - driving back from Omaha, Nebraska to Minneapolis, MN. We made a quick pit stop in Des Moines, Iowa to see what that city is like. It was a very flat, green, relaxing drive back.State Capital Building in Des Moines.
We're home!