Sunday, May 16, 2010

Reading Weekend

It's really getting to be crunch time in studying for exams (only 9 days until my the first one)! So this weekend, I needed to buckle down and try to finish some of the readings I hadn't yet gotten to.

Last Monday, I started reading "Presidential Decisionmaking in Foreign Policy: The Effective Use of Information and Advice," which talks about the various psychological difficulties for individuals and small groups when making decisions in conditions of uncertainty. It also goes into detail about various types of organizational schemes past presidents have used to organize their staff and advisers. I finished that one on Saturday.

Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents: The Politics of Leadership from Roosevelt to ReaganThen, during most of Saturday and Sunday, I read "Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents: The Politics of Leadership from Roosevelt to Reagan." It's central thesis is that the president's power comes entirely from his ability to persuade those around him to do what he wants - not just from any constitutional powers he's given. This power to persuade depends in part on those constitutional powers, but also on his professional reputation and his public prestige. He argues that presidents need to think about how each decision they make will affect their own personal power. Finished that one just after lunch today.

Presidential Leadership in Political Time: Reprise and ReappraisalNow I've moved on to "Presidential Leadership in Political Time: Reprise and Reappraisal," and I'm only on page 3, so I don't know too much about this one yet. From the introduction, it seems to be based on the idea that there are different 'types' of presidents that tend to recur throughout history.

During the week, I plan to turn in my final papers (last bit of work for classes!) on Monday and Tuesday. But my focus is going to be on answering practice questions and trying to build up some confidence and experience in writing the types of essays that will be on the comprehensive exams. I'll also be trying to do a bit more catch-up reading, and I do still intend to work and have (a little) fun.

Also, my mom is coming to DC tomorrow! She's attending a conference outside the city, so I may not see her until Thursday, but still, very cool!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Me and Neil in the Washington Post...

After attending the hearing yesterday, I saw that I was in the photo in the Washington Post article about the event. Pretty cool!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Neil Armstong

There was a hearing on the future of NASA's manned space program today at the Russel Senate Office Building. The first two witnesses were NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Office of Science and Technology Policy director John Holdren.

The second group of witnesses included the first man on the moon - Neil Armstong - and the last man on the moon - Eugene Cernon. It was a cool hearing to sit in on!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's Day in NYC

Just after we finished bowling, Jeff and I jumped on a bus to NYC. We actually sat in the very front seats of a double-decker bus and had an amazing view on the way out.

We got into New York around 9pm, and went out for a late dinner and snacks at Bardolinos with my parents (who were visiting) and Katie and Tom. The food was really pretty good.

The next day, Mother's Day, we headed to Pick A Bagel for brunch and hanging out before Mom and Dad had to head to the airport.

Jeff and I stayed in NYC until about 5:30 and then caught a bus back to DC. Short trip, but lots of fun!

Bowling at the White House

Jeff and I have a couple friends who are working at the White House, and they recently discovered that they're able to reserve the White House bowling alley. They graciously invited us and a collection of other friends to go bowling last Saturday.

The whole experience was pretty cool - it's definitely the first time I've had to have a background check in order to go bowling. :)

When we got there, we went through two security checks before getting into the building. The bowling alley is beneath the Executive Office Building, which is just to the side of the West Wing. We went in and went down stairs to find the room. The basement was really crazy - all pipes and exposed wires.

The bowling alley is small - just two lanes, but very cool. Since there were about 15 of us, we decided not to keep score, and instead everyone just bowled whenever there was an open spot.

There is a snack room connected to the bowling alley, so we brought chips, beer, and other snacks.

It was a really fun and really unique way to spend a Saturday afternoon!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Great Falls, VA

Last Sunday, Jeff and I went out to Great Falls, VA to a picnic for the Public Policy PhD students. One of the professors, Mac Destler, has a house right near the park, and he hosts a picnic each year. The food was good and it was really nice to see people. One of the highlights of the day, however, was our hike through Great Falls National Park.

You could walk along the rock cliffs by the river.

And even see some wild life.

And eventually we made it to the waterfalls.


There aren't many bands that I really, really like, but Weezer is one of them. The University of Maryland organized a concert on campus with tickets only $5 for students - pretty incredible. So, Jeff and I went.

First, Ben Folds Five performed.

And then Weezer went on. If you haven't listened to them before, definitely look them up!

After the concert, Jeff and I went with our friends Kris and Emma (actually, they're the ones who had told us about the concert in the first place) to Columbia Heights. Jeff's cousin, Sarah, is moving away from DC to go to law school in Portland, and was having a going away party at Wonderland Ballroom (a little neighborhood bar). Unfortunately, it was kind of busy, so we couldn't get out to the patio where she was. Instead, we headed over to 'Social' to have some late night dinner. The garlic fries, pork sliders, chicken wings, and shrimp were all very good - and not too expensive!

Happy Hour

Every Thursday Jeff and I get together with friends for Happy Hour to catch up on the events of the week and plan for the weekend. It's also a great way to see lots of different DC restaurants without spending too much money.

Two Thursdays ago we went to PS7 in Penn Quarter. The happy hour drinks were a good deal ($5 wine, $4 beer) and the food was great. The flat breads were all pretty tasty (and were half-price), but the best thing we had was the tuna tartar sliders - they were great. They also had a patio, which makes the place a winner in my book.

Last Thursday we actually didn't have a happy hour, but instead Jeff and I drove to Baltimore to have dinner with his parents. We ate at Woodberry Kitchen - a farm to table restaurant. They use only local ingredients. The food is amazing - we split lots of different things - oysters, fried rabbit, asparagus crepes, mushroom flat-bread, scallops, steak, and an incredible chocolate dessert. Everything was great!

Lunch on Chesapeake Bay

The professor of my quantitative analysis class couldn't make it to one of our scheduled classes earlier in the semester, so she organized a make-up class at her house on the weekend.

She lives in a beautiful house right on the Chesapeake Bay, so the view is really nice. She's also from Peru, so she served a lunch of traditional Peruvian food (a chicken dish) and Pisco Sour. Jeff and I both went, had dinner, and chatted with other students in my class. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

NASA is Cool

There were two fun, the-future-is-now sort of technology stories in the news today.

One is about ion propulsion, which is being used on the NASA Dawn spacecraft (in space as we speak). Ion propulsion uses energy from the sun to ionize (add or take away electrons from) atoms of xenon. The ions then create an electric field, and the electric field makes the spacecraft go (provides thrust). This form of propulsion is awesome because it doesn't need huge fuel tanks (so the spacecraft can be relatively small and light) and because it continues to gain speed, so eventually it can move really fast.

Here's NASA's description:
And here's an awesome video about how the guy who worked on this spacecraft got the idea from Star Trek:

The other really cool technology is a plasma rocket. It ionizes propellant (xenon, argon, or hydrogen) using radio waves and then heats the ions to create plasma that is up to 20 times hotter than the surface of the sun. Instead of using metal nozzles, you control the exhaust using magnetic fields. This engine hasn't been in space yet, but last year it was run at full power in a vacuum chamber in a successful test. This engine is awesome because it could go way faster than the types of space propulsion we have now - with a plasma rocket you could get to Mars in 39-45 days instead of 6-9 months.

Here's more about this technology:

Keeping Busy

Wow, I can't believe I haven't posted in almost two weeks! Things have been really busy as I gear up for the end of the semester. I have drafts of my two major final papers, so I'm feeling good with school work, though I'm not quite to the finish line - final papers are the week after next (May 16 and 17), and there's still some serious editing to be done.

My quantitative paper is based on a set of regressions trying to examine two things: How public attitudes (as measured by surveys) on environmental issues, international relationships, etc. affect national participation in environmental agreements or organizations (like the Copenhagen Accords or the Global Earth Observing System of Systems). The results of this regression have been mixed - its seems that attitudes about environment do matter, but I'd really like to have more comprehensive data (I can only find survey responses for about 50 countries.) Another regression looks at how measures of asymmetry - GDP, Population, GDP growth, etc. affect membership in these same groups. It seems that larger, richer countries are much more likely to take part, which is an interesting result. It'd be useful to examine exactly why this is happening.

My Qualitative papers is basically a rough draft of my prospectus - the document I would use to propose my dissertation topic. I am pretty sure I want to write my dissertation about something related to creating a global system of climate monitoring satellites - I like the international aspect and the policy relevance of the question - but I'm still not sure exactly how to formulate the question. For now, it's just remaining fairly broad, and proposing a series of case studies to see how other international organizations operate.

My comprehensive exams are looming - only three weeks before I take them! (On May 25th and 27th.) I've been continuing to read, take notes, and meet with Anya and Elnigar, though I haven't been able to find time to actually write the summaries of notes and readings (which is why there hasn't been much posted here.) After this week, we're done with our scheduled readings, though I want to go back and do some reading that I missed. Maybe eventually I'll get to the summaries again...

Work is going well, also. I'm working on a white paper about disease early warning using satellite remote Sensing data. Still need to do some research and revising, but things are basically going well. I also found out last week that my boss has decided to move on to another job, which will be a big change, since he has been there since I started as an intern two years ago.

Other than all of the school and work stuff, I have also been doing some fun stuff to keep myself sane. :) I've been to a couple of weekend picnics, kept up the Thursday happy hour tradition, and generally gotten together with friends. I'm planning to give these activities their own posts as soon as I can download the pictures onto my computer and find some more time to blog. :)