Saturday, August 22, 2009

South Korea

I found out the other day that my work is going to send me to South Korea to attend the International Astronautical Union. The conference is in October, and Jeff is going to come along on the trip. We've already gotten our tickets and hotel, and our guide book came in the mail today, so we're all set! If you have any suggestions on what to see or do, please let me know!

Champagne, Baseball, and Movies

Yesterday was officially my last day at Raytheon. I badged myself in for the last time, dropped off my laptop, phone, corporate card, and other Raytheon things, and that was it!

That evening, Jeff and I had plans to go the the National's game. They just signed a new pitcher, and to celebrate they sold a bunch of tickets online for $1. The weather in DC has been super hot and muggy, with occasional rain, and it stayed that way during the game - mostly it was nice, but there were a couple times we paused for rain. Lucky for us, we were sitting under an awning, so we stayed pretty comfortable. The Nationals were doing pretty well, but then fell behind - they hit a homerun in the 9th inning, but it wasn't enough to win.

After the game we went back to our apartment and had some champagne to celebrate my last day at Raytheon. We also watched 'Sixteen Candles' which is one of those 80's movies my mom never let me watch. (Ferris Bueler and Breakfast Club were allowed.) It was funny and cheesy, with language bad enough that I probably wouldn't let a little kid watch it either.

The other thing I randomly watched this morning was the TV show 'This American Life'. It's just like the radio show on NPR (both narrated by Ira Glass). I love the radio show, so I guess it's no surprise. They do a really good job of getting really good, interesting or emotional vignettes of people's lives in a relatively short period of time. If you have netflix, it's available on 'play instantly', so check it out!

New Computer!

I used to have two computers - my Raytheon HP laptop and my personal Dell laptop. But, since I'm leaving Raytheon, I had to give up that laptop, and the warranty on the Dell just ran out. So, I decided it was time to go computer shopping.

The main thing I use my computer for is internet and working in word, excel, or powerpoint. I might do the occasional movie watching, video/picture editing, but probably not all that often, and I'm definitely not doing any high-powered engineering modeling anymore.

So, my main criteria for my new computer were that it is/has:
1) lightweight (I stopped bringing my Dell anywhere because it was just too heavy, and what's the point of having a laptop that's not mobile?),
2) long battery life (I go to conferences, meetings, etc. and don't always have access to an outlet - it's hard to take notes or work if the battery dies in 1-2 hours.),
3) decent size screen (I wanted something big enough to use everyday. I like the netbooks, but a 7 inch screen for 6-8 hours a day would be a bit difficult.)
3) inexpensive (I decided I'd rather spend less and get a new computer sooner rather than spend a lot and hope it lasts a long time - i.e. I'd rather get a $600 laptop every 2 years than a $1200 laptop that has to last 4 years)

And I think I did a great job finding the right thing (with Jeff and my brother's searching and deciding help). My Acer Timeline has a 13.3" widescreen, weighs 3.5 pounds, the battery lasts 8 hours, and it only cost $600 (plus a bit more for the accidental damage warranty I wanted). It has lots of other great features, too, like built in speakers, microphone, and webcam, fast internet (802.11 n), blue tooth, SD reader, and lots more. I've had it for about three days now, and so far I'm very happy.

Weekdays in DC

After a pretty long period of traveling (Minnesota - 10 days, California - 8 days, Colorado - 3 days), Jeff and I are back in DC.

The first week back we've settled right back into the basic schedule - work during the day (me at Space Foundation, him at home for school work). I was supposed to have 'Math Camp' this week and next - a refresher before starting the PhD. However, when 30 minutes into the first lecture the professor was drawing number lines and talking about inequalities, I decided the class might be aimed more at the history-major-who-hasn't-seen-math-since-ninth-grade than it was at the I-love-math-and-do-it-for-fun-aerospace-engineering-major (me). They email out the psets every night, so I can check to make sure I'm up to date on the concepts, even if I don't go to class - graphing linear equations (check), solving systems of equations (check), first order derivatives (check). So far I think I'm ok.

This past Tuesday we went out to dinner with a bunch of friends to celebrate Emma's birthday.

We ate at Lima, and the food was great - I had Chilean Sea Bass with potatoes and mushrooms. The restaurant has a club/lounge downstairs, so we ended up dancing for a while afterwards - it was pretty busy for a Tuesday night.

Thursday we went to dinner with Jeff's parents at a Mexican restaurant in Baltimore called 'Arcos'. The food was really great - I had a quesadilla with crab, olives, spicy peppers, and guacamole. The trip was planned so that we could bring the car to Jeff's parents and they could take it back to their house. As of Thursday, Jeff and I officially have no car!

Brian Kester's Wedding in Colorado Springs

Last weekend (August 15) was Brian Kester's wedding! (Brian did the same Space Policy masters at GWU that I did.) He went to the Air Force Academy and met Lindsay (now his wife!) at a swing dancing night at a place in Colorado Springs.

The first event of the weekend was a dinner at Casa Bonita in the outskirts of Denver. I'd never heard of it, but apparently it's somewhat of a legend. In fact, there's a south park episode about it (Episode 711 - "Casa Bonita"). In the episode description, South Park says it's Colorado's version of a Mexican Disney Land. This clip actually has a good overview of the place.

It's a random restaurant in a strip mall, and inside it's like a maze (apparently a floor plan was never drawn up - it was made up as they went along). There is tons of (not so good) Mexican food (Brian told us to imagine taco bell and then take it down a few notches - the food is not actually the reason to go). You can get more food, and/or the infamous sopapilla desserts (which actually are good) by raising the flag at your table.

Then there's the entertainment: a cave, cliff divers, a mariachi band, stages with shows - we saw a magic show while eating (and Brian participated).

It was definitely an experience. Though clearly aimed at the under 10, Chucky Cheese crowd, we still had a great time.

Jeff and I stayed in the same hotel as our friends from DC who were also attending the wedding - Stephanie, Arthur, Eric, and Lindsey. On Saturday, the wedding wasn't until 4pm, so we decided
to do some Colorado Spring sight seeing. We went to 'The Garden of the Gods', which, oddly
enough, I'd visited seven years ago on my MIT preorientation trip, which was about geology. It's an area where these crazy rock formations jut straight up into the air. It's really incredible looking.

The wedding ceremony was held at the Air Force Academy Chapel, which is a really impressive-looking building.

It was beautiful inside - it has some stained glass, but also some normal glass through which you see the incredible mountain landscape.

Jeff and I both enjoyed the ceremony - they did a cute thing where the priest read comments that the parents had written about their new son/daughter in law. They also had a number of friends sing songs during the service, which was nice as well.

The reception was also on the campus of the Air Force Academy and was really beautiful.

We sat at a table with Stephanie, Arthur, Eric, Lindsey, and a couple other friends of Brian's. The reception had more singing by friends, which was cute. When it was time to give speeches, all of the groomsman and bridesmaids said something. It did take a while to get through everyone, but it was fun to hear stories from all different points of their lives, since some people were friends since early childhood, some from middle or high school, and some from college. Especially for Jeff and I, who only know Brian from graduate school and have only met Lindsey a handful of times, it was all new. Both sets of parents also talked, which was very nice. And of course there was lots of dancing!

Jeff, Stephanie, Arthur, and I didn't leave Colorado until Sunday night, so we had more sightseeing time. We decided to go to the top of Pikes Peak - the largest mountain in the area. There is a cog train that goes up at a pretty steep grade and gets you there in about 1.5 hours. (Hiking it takes 6-8 hours.)

Somehow, we didn't think too carefully about the weather at the top of a 14,000 ft. peak, so I wore a dress and Jeff wore shorts and a T-Shirt. When they announced that it was 13 degrees with windchill (and that the train windows are down for the majority of the ride), we decided to get some souvenier sweatshirts.

The ride was really nice and the view from the top was amazing. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Kansas.

After lunch in the cute town of Manitou, at the bottom of Pikes Peak, we headed back to Denver. Jeff and I made a stop at a neighborhood park his friend had recommended. We were sitting on a bench reading our books when an older couple came up to us and asked if we'd move for a minute. It turned out that the bench was dedicated to them (there was a little dedication plaque attached) and they just wanted to see it. There also a tree planted next to it marking their 50th anniversary. Very cute ending to a weekend all about couples.

Weekdays in California

Jeff and I spent all of last week (Aug. 6-14) visiting his brother, Dave, in California. I already wrote about the ISU reunion, which was what brought us to California, and later I plan to write about Brian Kester's wedding in Colorado, which is what made us decide to stay on the west coast all week, rather than fly back to DC. But for now... weekdays in California.

Jeff and I were both working from home while in California, so during the days we mostly hung around Dave's apartment doing one of these things:
1. Actually working
2. Playing with the kitten (she just loves that string!)
3. Eating burritos from the shop down the street - yum
4. Putting together a puzzle (I love puzzles, but can't have one at home because I'm afraid I'd get totally absorbed and not do anything else.)

On quite a few of the evenings we watched mini-marathons of 'Big Love'. It's a TV show staring Bill Paxton as a guy living in suburban Utah as a polygamous morman - he has three wives. It's interesting to see the dynamic of how the three wives get along - they're essentially a big happy family. Then there's 'the compound' which is like the crazy polygamists you hear about on TV that are kind of separate from most of society. There is also the drama of keeping his lifestyle secret from people in the neighborhood and others who wouldn't accept it. It can be a bit stereotypical in the way it treats certain groups or interests, but its still an interesting show, as long as your not taking it too seriously.

A couple times Dave cooked for everyone, too - it turns out Dave enjoys cooking and makes some pretty complicated dishes.

On Monday night, we left Mountain View and headed into San Francisco. Emma and Kris were still in town, staying in the city and sightseeing. We went to Medjool, which is a Mediterranean tapas restaurant in the Mission area of town. They have Southern European, North African, and Middle Eastern dishes - they're all unique and all very tasty!

We had a great time chatting with Emma and Kris - Kris lives in Canada, and he and Emma tend to travel a lot on weekends, so we only really see them both when they're in DC for the weekend. In theory we could see Emma on weekdays, but she works too hard. ;) We covered all the important (nerd) topics - Star Trek or Star Wars (both!), favorite episodes, etc - I think we were still in space mode from the ISU conference. We also had an interesting discussion about medical research, placebos, and alternative medicines - Kris is an ER doctor, so he has a pretty interesting perspective. Emma's friend from her first university (she transferred after her first year) met up with us also; she hadn't seen him in six years, so they had lots of catching up to do.

Monday night also happened to be half price bottles of wine night, so we had some fun drinks with dinner. I also had my most summery cocktail of the season after dinner - it had Pimms with Soda and Cucumbers (and other things I don't recall) and tasted great.

On the last night before leaving California, we went to stay with our friend Kurt. (Though the kitten really didn't want us to leave. I have photographic proof.)

Tony, also an MIT friend, was visiting Kurt too, so we all went out to dinner, sampled Kurt's wine collection, and chatted about injection molding (Kurt works as a mechanical engineer for Apple - he's the reason all your iPods and accessories look so cool.), talked about what we're all up to, and all sorts of other things.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Life Updates

I tend to blog about day-to-day events, so sometimes the bigger things don't make it to the blog. So, I thought it made sense to do a quick update on the bigger changes going on.

The first thing is that I'll be starting a PhD in the fall. I'll be studying Public Policy at the University of Maryland and will be part of the Center for International Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM). I'll still focus my research on Space Policy - most likely space security or space and climate change.

Since I'm starting a PhD, I decided it was time to leave Raytheon. Though I love my work there, I don't think I'll have time to keep doing it. Also, as I get more specialized in Space Policy, my work as a Systems Engineer is not as directly relevant.

However, I will be staying on with Space Foundation - now as a part time employee, rather than an intern. This should be a great opportunity, since it matches up well with what I'll be studying in my PhD. It's also a very flexible work environment - so it shouldn't be a problem to work around school.

I think those are all the big things for now - but I'll update if there's anything new.

Vonnegut, Anime, and Opera

Another quick update on some books and movies I've read or seen recently.

I recently finished "Mother Night" by Kurt Vonnegut. I really love Vonnegut - Slaughterhouse 5 is amazing, Cat's Cradle, Enter the Monkey House, etc. are all great. They all are fun to read, creative, and make you think about bigger issues. This book revolves around events in WWII. I think it's interesting when Vonnegut writes about WWII, because he really was in the war. Slaughterhouse 5, my favorite book by him, is partially made up of the true story of his experience as a prisoner of war in Dresden when it was bombed. This book is written as the memoir of Howard Campbell Jr., a man currently being tried as a war criminal for his participation in WWII. He's an American, but lived in Germany during WWII. He became an American spy (though he can't prove it) and infiltrated the Nazi's - he became a famous radio propagandist. In the introduction to 'Mother Night', Vonnegut says its the only book he's written for which he knows what the moral is supposed to be: "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be." Definitely a recommended read.

We watched "Howl's Moving Castle" recently - this movie was made by the same people who did Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away (both great movies). I loved the animation - the moving castle itself is just awesome-looking. The story-line was pretty good, though not as good as Spirited Away, I think. Still worth seeing.

The last one is the oddest. I saw a movie called "Repo: The Genetic Opera." I think the best way to describe the feeling of the movie is to say it's a combination of Sin City (with the comic book images and the comic-book feel to the live action), Evil Dead (because of copious blood and dark humor), and Rocky Horror Picture Show (because of the whole cult classic musical aspect). I actually did enjoy the movie - it's creative, visually interesting, and occasionally funny. The premise is that organ transplants have become a fashion statement, and they're now very common. To finance the operations, people take out loans. Then, a law is passed that if the loans aren't paid, the organs can be repossessed (hence the title - Repo). An interesting tidbit is that Paris Hilton is in the movie, which is a bit odd - it doesn't really seem like her genre. However, she doesn't have a ton of screen time, and her face falls off, so don't let her presence stop you from watching. :) If you read this description and think it sounds cool, you'll probably love the movie, otherwise you might want to skip it - this movie's good, but maybe not for everyone.

Transportation in DC

The Low Car Diet will soon be coming to an end. After having almost 30 days of focusing more on alternative modes of transportation, I thought I'd give a little summary of what's available in DC, and my personal opinion of each.

DC Metro - Being car free, the DC Metro is one of the most essential transportation modes. In DC, the metro has convenient locations, and is only 10 minutes walk from our apartment. However, it can also get really hot and crowded in the platforms, and delays can crop up. I think I like taking the metro most when it's more than a mile or so - too far to walk or bike.

DC Smart Bike - The DC Smart Bikes are my favorite mode of transportation. A lot of the time biking is the fastest way to get around DC. No waiting for a train, no getting stuck in traffic. It's nice and cool and you can enjoy the sites of the city as you get around. Jeff and I are especially lucky, because there is a Smart Bike location right on our block. Owning a bike could be nice, too, but I really like that we don't need to do any maintenance or storage, and you since you can pick it up one place and drop it another, you can even bike one way and use another mode of transportation to get back.

Walking - I think walking is my second favorite mode of transportation. You get to see the city and get some exercise. But for anything more than a mile or two, walking isn't usually practical.

DC Bus - DC also has a pretty extensive bus system. I think I might like taking the bus, because I like being able to see things as I travel around. However, I've only ever taken a Metro bus to and from Dulles Airport. Dulles is almost an hour from downtown, the bus is not particularly comfortable or well suited to storing luggage, and this route sometimes gets crowded, so there isn't always a seat. But it is a $3 ride instead of a $60 cab. At some point I think I'll try to learn more about the DC bus system and use it more often - for things other than getting to Dulles.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

ISU Reunion

This weekend Jeff and I came to San Francisco, California for the International Space University (ISU) Reunion. (ISU was the program I did last year in Barcelona.) This year, the program is being held at the NASA Ames Research Center.

When we got into San Francisco, Jeff's brother Dave picked us up, and we met up with our friend, Janet, who also lives in the area. We grabbed a quick lunch and chatted before heading back to Dave's apartment. Dave lives in Mountain View, just a few miles from Ames, so it worked out really well to stay with him.

The first event of the reunion was on Friday - we went and met up with people for lunch and went on a tour of Ames. It's a really cool facility. It has a hanger bay for a zeppelin.

It also has one of the largest wind tunnels in the world. We were able to walk around inside it - one of the air intake grates is the size of eight football fields.

There was also a dinner at the NASA Ames Exploration Center, which had some really cool exhibits - like this moon room, which had a real moon rock in it.

There were a lot of people from last year (SSP08) who came to the reunion. We got a great group shot.

On Saturday we had an SSP08 reunion dinner at a restaurant that just happened to be less than a block from Dave's apartment. But the big event of the night - and the last of the reunion - was the Space Masquerade. Emma, Kris, Jeff and I dressed up as "Hitchhikers" from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. We had shirts that said "Don't Panic" and we carried around towels all night.

Our friend Jaisha dressed up as the cow that jumped over the moon, and another friend, Paul, was the moon.

We got another good SSP08 group pic at the Space Masquerade.

Overall the reunion was really fun. It was great to see people from last year, hear about people's experience this year, and spend some time in California.

Jeff and I are going to a friend's wedding in Colorado Springs next weekend, and rather than fly all the way back to the East Coast and then almost all the way back to the West Coast a few days later, we're just staying in California for the week and working from here. I'm looking forward to the nice weather (around 75 degrees most days) - especially since in DC the forecast for tomorrow is 100 degrees and humid! Kris and Emma are in town for a few more days too, so hopefully we'll all meet up downtown for dinner at some point. Should be a fun week!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Dave's Kitty

Jeff and I flew into San Francisco this morning. We're staying with his brother Dave, who has the cutest little kitten - Lily. Here she is:

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Low Car Diet: Public Transport in Minnesota

For the past week or so Jeff and I have been visiting my family in Minnesota. Since we're still on our Low Car Diet, we've been looking for ways to limit our trips in cars. But when you're outside the city, it's really hard!

There are options - we have bikes, there are buses, and Minneapolis has a light rail system. There is even a zip car at the University of Minnesota. But out in the suburbs things are a lot farther apart than in the city, and it's really built to accommodate cars.

My friends that live downtown in Minneapolis are pretty good at making use of the bus system, and when we're with them, it's easier to avoid driving. We went to a Twins game and saw the light rail in action, though we didn't end up using it ourselves. It is cool how much the light rail has helped post-game traffic, though. I think Minneapolis would be a good candidate for more zip cars if it had just a bit more public transport - maybe an expansion of the light rail to include more locations.

Either way, it makes me appreciate how many options there are in DC. When I'm going out, I can usually walk - my work, stores, and restaurants are all within a mile. I can bike if I'm going a little further. Or, if I'm headed out even further, for example to the University of Maryland, I can take the metro. Though any one of these things might work, having all of the options makes it seem a lot easier.

Emily's Wedding Shower

On Sunday was Emily's Wedding Shower for our side of the family - the John family, the Harris family, and my parents' friends. My sister and I were in charge of planning it. This is the first time I've even been to a wedding shower, let alone planned one. I had my Mom and Grandma's giving input along the way, which helped me avoid all the wedding-shower-faux pas. (It really is incredible how many rules there are!)

It went really well, though. We got lucky on the weather (again!) and it was sunny and beautiful, but not too hot, so we had the shower in the backyard on the patio. My parents had put in a bunch of flowers, so it was beautiful.

We played four games: the Dice Game, Create the Veil, Purse Power, and Dress Guess

The Dice Game is the main game for prizes, which is always fun. You pass a pair of dice around the circle, and every time someone roles doubles, they get to pick a prize out of the middle. (There are more prizes than people, and all prizes are wrapped.) Once all the prizes have been taken, they are opened, and the dice are passed around two more times - this time if doubles are rolled, the person gets to steal a prize from someone else.

For Create the Veil we broke into four teams, and each team had a collection of art supplies. They each got 15 minutes to create a veil. Then we had Emily try them all on and decide which she liked the best. They were all pretty awesome.

The last one was Purse Power. The game is like a scavenger hunt, but in your own purse. There is a score sheet, and each team gets a certain number of points for each of the items on the score sheet they have in their purse - lipstick, mirror, stamps, pictures etc. There was a bonus 15 points for the team with the oddest item, which in this case was a collection of girl-scout badges.

Dress Guess was played through-out the shower, sort of. There are slips of paper and a bowl, and people just need to guess how many times Emily has tried on her wedding dress. At the end of the shower I went through and figured out who the winner was. The guesses varied from zero to 44, and included one guess of 22 and 1/2. The correct guess was 5 - two people got it right!

There was a ton of food at the shower - thanks to Mamie, who made lots of cookies and cute finger sandwiches in the shape of bells and hearts. And also thanks to Aunt Kathy and my Grandma John who brought lots of delicious things as well - sandwiches, roll-ups, desserts, etc. There were lots of leftovers, which made the boys very happy.

The last activity was the gift-opening, which we paired together with advice-giving. Each guest could give Emily some words of wisdom as she opened her gift. It was really cute, and a fun chance for each person to have something to say.

Overall the shower went really well! Yay!

Emily's Bachelorette Party

Emily's bachelorette party was on Saturday. It started in the early afternoon, when we headed out on Lake Minnetonka. The weather was great - warm and sunny.

Emily was all decked out - thanks to the artsy preparations of her cousin Tanya.

The captain on our boat was a little peculiar.

There was a lot of hanging around on the boat, cruising along the lake and chatting and having drinks. (We had designated boat-drivers, of course.)

We stopped occasionally at bars that have docks, which was really fun.

We also made a stop at an island where lots of boats all dock to swim and hang out.

Eventually we made out way back to Emily's for a BBQ, a few games, and a slumber party at her place. It was a great night - and really fun to meet Emily's friends the other girls that will be in the wedding!

Minnesota Summer!

Last Thursday, July 23rd, Jeff and I headed to Minnesota. We're here until Aug. 3rd, and it's a busy visit. In addition to working, we've had a lot of fun.

Wedding Stuff - My brother is getting married in September, and the first weekend we were in Minnesota was Emily's bachelorette party and her Wedding Shower with our side of the family (which my sister and I were in charge of organizing!) Those things deserve their own blog entries, so more on that later.

On Monday, Jeff and I went to a Twins game with my friend Paul and some of his friends. A new stadium is almost done, so this could be one of my last games ever at the metrodome! The Twins beat the Chicago Red Sox - Go Twins!

On Tuesday, Matt Carvey came to town to visit - he'll be here until Monday when Jeff and I leave. He's spending a lot of his time getting my sister to teach him how to make a dress - he made a bet that he could make one and sell it for $40.

Tuesday night we went out to dinner with Naomi and Rachel - sisters who are two of my good friends since high school. Naomi now has twin boys who are almost a year old. They were soooo adorable and have changed so much since I saw them at Christmas time. As they get older, they have a lot more personality and are starting to look really different (they're fraternal). They were also clearly a handful - their method of eating left at least as much food on the ground as it got in their mouths. Rachel is pregnant, so she's looking forward to giving the boys their first cousin! It was really fun to get to see Naomi and Rachel and catch up a bit.

Wednesday, after working during the day, my Dad took Jeff, Carvey, Tom, Katie, and I out to the driving range to hit a few golf balls. The weather was beautiful and it was actually pretty fun. The driving range was followed by a Dad-led driving tour of Minneapolis and St. Paul for Carvey. He's never been to Minnesota before, and he was pretty impressed about how much there is to see in the cities. He really liked the sculpture garden.

Thursday was the real golf day - Jeff, Carvey, and I went with my dad to a course in Wisconsin. It was beautiful out, again. I was pretty happy - I actually did ok. It got dard around hole 12, though, so we didn't finish a full 18 holes.

Now it's Friday, and the boys have all gone for a weekend Bachelor-party camping trip with my brother. My mom, dad, Katie, and I decided to go to a movie. We saw "Moon" with Sam Rockwell, which I actually really enjoyed. (How could I not like a movie based on a company mining Helium 3 on the Moon?) It creative, interesting, and even a little funny at times. The tone was different than I thought it would be. Also, I thought it was pretty impressive how Sam Rockwell, as essentially the only actor in the film, could really keep you interested and engaged. Also, I loved Gerty, the robot, and there is no one that can do a better future-robot voice Kevin Spacey.