Friday, October 29, 2010

Newton Messed Up: Where I explain the origin of the Banksian Sphere

I'm sure many of you have been wondering, what exactly is the Banksian Sphere (BS), even though only one person has actually expressed this concern to me. It's a difficult concept to grasp, but I'll attempt to explain it to you. You won't find a Wikipedia article about it at this moment in time because it's still in the preliminary research phase.

Most people will look at the BS and say, "That just looks like a ball of yarn." To that I would respond by saying that it does, in fact, look like a ball of yarn but is quite different. You see, most balls of yarn are composed entirely of yarn. The BS is actually hollow and at first glance appears to have nothing holding its spherical shape. This unknown force is the essence of my research on the Banksian Sphere.

The BS is an attempt to describe the universe in a way that is not confined by today's conventional sciences. The lines represent everything we currently know about the universe and the empty space inside represents everything we don't know. Consequently, it demonstrates that we only understand certain points in the laws of the universe. We can only move from one point to the next in small steps.

I claim that modern sciences restrict our knowledge of the universe. Our simple ways of thinking about ideas limits us to this radius. There's not way to move out or move in using the theoretical models we base physics on. Some new way of thinking is essential for fully comprehending the universe.

Way back when, people spent their brain power searching for food to feed their families. Little effort was focussed on innovation or creative thinking. Stories were passed from generation to generation about how the universe was created and nobody questioned them. The universe was the way it was and nobody cared about knowing more. This would be the first point on the BS.

Some day some young man realized that if he worked really hard at building something he could be lazy. This was done in the invention of the wheel. We see this kind of thinking all the time today with our "Engineers," who frequently will put forward their utmost effort so that they can sit back and let some machine do the job. This is such a wonderful way of living, nobody ever questioned it. It allowed us to BS our way around the BS. What's wrong with this? It allowed us to discover the entire surface of the BS. Well not the entire surface, but a lot of it. Current scientific research is discovering more and more of this surface.

There are many of us physicists who are trained to think in the "Work-to-be-Lazy" mindset. In fact, we are all this way, just like the "Engineers." While we are all trained in this mindset, we are all very lazy people. This leads us to the following question: Why can't I be lazy and still discover things?

I've been thinking about this question since I started hating school, which happened 1 month into grad school (good timing eh?). This new way of thinking could be the key to discovering the interior (or exterior) of the Banksian Sphere. The key to this mindset is to be as lazy as possible and wait for ideas to come to you.

Newton came so close to this realization. He was just being lazy one day, sitting under an apple tree, likely eating a bowl of Moose Track ice cream, and he was hit on the head with an apple, giving him the idea of gravity. Unfortunately, he didn't realize that the actual act of being lazy was the key to truly understanding the universe. Sadly, he thought it was just a coincidence and developed Calculus and all that gravity stuff that is just another demonstration of the Work-to-be-Lazy mindset.

I'll conclude with an invitation to join me in my research. I need some bright students who are willing to be lazy for the sake of a more thorough knowledge of the universe. Will you join me? Will you make the sacrifice? All I ask is that you abandon everything you own and every way of thinking you've ever adopted. We'll live in an experimental community perfectly designed for the lazy accumulation of knowledge. This will only be the first method of thought that we will experiment. After all, each mindset only covers one layer of an infinitely large onion of knowledge. If you're smart and creative enough, I'll give you admission to this community for a low price of $1,000 per month. You won't regret it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pants Worth Their Weight In Gold

If you're a regular reader, you already know this, but I'm planning on riding along the Pacific coast next summer. I was firmly convinced that I'm a wimp by a friend assuring me that 40 miles per day is easy. I was kind of dreading even that amount of mileage per day. Looking at other people's itineraries for that ride, we'll probably have to average more than that per day.

Since I'm out of shape, lazy, addicted to coffee, and have a low tolerance for bike seats, I'm going to have to get ready for this ride. Since autumn is almost over this means that the only two seasons I have before the ride are winter and spring. This leaves me with only a few options: Train all winter and all spring for the ride, wait till spring to train (risking making the trip much more difficult due to lack of preparation), don't train at all (guaranteeing that the trip will be incredibly difficult or impossible to finish), or give up all together. The wisest option out of those could either be the first or the last. I need someone wiser than me to correct me if I choose the less wise of the two.

Since I am foolish enough to still want to do this ride, I'm going to select the first option of training all winter and all spring. Now this is foolish in a way because this is a ride that will cost hundreds to thousands of dollars more than sitting on my butt, not working, and will be incredibly painful for greater than 50% of the time. I'm glad I'm foolish though because it will give me a good story to tell people, almost as good as walking on the moon. I could also take a bible verse out of context that talks about God using the foolish to put to shame the wise, but I'll have the self-control to not do that.

Training in winter means pain. Exercising when it's cold out is painful and riding a bike in the wind gives you a 50/50 chance of it being a blast or excruciatingly difficult. This assumes the wind is either blowing east or west and you're riding east or west, which, I've noticed, is almost always the case on the front range.

As an Alaskan, everyone thinks I should be able to handle the cold. This is a bad assumption. What they should assume, however, is that since I am an Alaskan, I know how to be prepared for the cold. Consistent with the ideal Alaskan stereotype, I know that I need to get some warm clothes for my winter training. The main piece of clothing I need is warm cycling pants. Believe it or not, jeans are non-ideal pants for riding bicycles. Bad things happen when you wear jeans too much and I'll leave it at that.

So, the purpose of this entire blog post was to tell you that I need some warm cycling pants. REI has plenty, but the cheapest ones are $70 and I'm cheap. So unless I can find a suitable alternative, I might just have to bight the bullet and pay the $70. It's all for the cause of the ride and I'm already realizing that the ride will be expensive. We'll see how it plays out, but I may just end up buying these pants and they would officially be the most expensive pants I've ever bought.

I told The Momma about these $70 dollar pants and she asked me if I thought that was expensive. I was taken aback by this, but only for a few seconds because she informed me that my slurred speech after watching that darn Broncos game made it sound like I said $7.00.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

An Abused Lab Notebook's Quest for Recognition

This is my submission for my good friend Anthony's Second Annual Fall Writing Challenge. The assignment is to discuss an item that has a particular significance to me.

If you ever asked me what my worst favorite experience in researching physics was, I would either tell you about the 2 months I spent figuring out how to polish 1cm Silicon chips (This was like climbing up a mile-long ladder over and over again only to be pushed off of it as soon as I got to the top) or the entire summer I spent researching chemicals (This was like doing a survey on religion in a country where I didn't know a single word in their language). I would argue that the only way I made it through those experiences relatively scar-free was because of my lab notebook, that poor old thing.

You should really read my lab notebook. It's the closest you can come to experiencing what I experienced. It's full of all kinds of polishing procedures, pictures of scratches on chips, microscope pictures of pristine SOI wafers immediately followed by the statement, Dang It! It Broke! I designed several procedures for polishing these chips and it was the most frustrating thing ever because I would polish for an hour or two and then the chip would break. I'd unclamp the chip and it would come out in 3 pieces, leaving it completely useless.

The notebook got me through this though. I would get so frustrated that I just needed to sit back and write in my lab notebook. Frustration gets in the way of my thinking all the time. The only way for me to relieve the frustration and collect my thoughts is to write out everything I'm thinking in my lab notebook and slowly figure out where I should go next.

I'm a slow thinker, so I need a method of recording my thoughts that goes as slow as my brain. My brain is like a VW Vanagon. It's slower than walking, but gets the job done and is incredibly useful given enough time. But if you want to get full enjoyment out of your Vanagon, you can't pile it full of junk. It's nice to enjoy the open space inside. In the same way it's nice to have somewhere to store my junk outside of my brain.

I get every bit of worth out of that notebook though. I scribble on every single page, front and back. Every frustrating or confusing thought that goes through my head ends up in that notebook. I kind of feel sorry for it. I basically just use it as storage. It's my shed where I keep stuff that doesn't fit in my brain. Have you ever had a shed or a garage that's just piled full of junk, each thing having a 1 in a million chance of being useful? That's my lab notebook, only the chances of them being useful are a bit higher than most of the junk in our garage in Alaska.

I have anger issues. A lot of people don't realize I get angry much, but it really comes out in two places-When an experiment goes wrong or when I play dodgeball. But holy cow, dodgeball's fun! In dodgeball I relieve my anger by throwing a ball at someone's face, which is exactly why I love the game. Nobody's going to get mad at me for just pelting someone at 80mph (I probably can't actually throw that fast). Sadly, experimental physics doesn't work like dodgeball, except in particle physics. Definition of Particle Physics: Hit stuff as hard as you can and hope something comes out the other side...Then make up a crazy name for it like WIMP. I would probably get in trouble if I played darts with our very pointy tweezers. Things also would not go well if I used our diffusion pump to make a vacuum cannon for the relief of my frustrations. Since these things would be considered "unacceptable" in most areas of experimental physics, I have to resort to using my lab notebook.

If the notebook had feelings, I might feel bad for how I abuse my relationship with it. My only interaction with the notebook is to spout out boring, and likely useless, information. I'll sometimes write mild cuss words on it's pages and immediately scratch them out, keeping intact my reputation for having a clean mouth. I refuse to use a pencil, so every boring detail is stained in ink. All I do is abuse my notebook. I never treat it to Johnsonville Brats and Alaskan Amber or taken it out on a date. I've never thrown a birthday party for it (their birthdays are on 9/28/08 and 10/16/09). I'm preparing my desk for a new notebook, but no baby shower is necessary. I plan on abusing my new one the day it comes home to my teal desk in Meyer Hall 475. I'll probably take a sharp, blue pen and claim every page of it like a dog claims every snow berm in his neighborhood.

It's an odd, abusive relationship that I have with my lab notebook, but I couldn't live without it. It persistently tolerates my abusive behavior, which makes me love it all the more.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hopefully Pessimistic

Whenever my glass of milk is halfway between full and empty I never say, "Woohoo! I still have half a glass!" The reason I would never say that is because I drink my milk way too fast. It's always gone before I realize it. What I do always say is, "Where'd all my milk go? I'd better enjoy the rest of this measly half empty glass of milk while it lasts." Therefore, I would classify myself as a hopeful pessimist. The reason I've chosen a middle ground is because I see that there is value in both optimism and pessimism.

I'll start with my favorite attitude: Pessimism. It's my favorite because everyone thinks optimism is better, but pessimism is pretty legit at times. The best example I can give you is when you are hiking a mountain, let's say it's a "14er." A 14er is a mountain that is between 14,000ft and 15,000ft tall. Coloradans are obsessed with 14ers because their mountains that are less than 14,000ft tend to be un-epic. Alaskans know two things regarding this: 1. Alaska has many epic hikes far lower than 14,000ft and 2. Alaska has many mountains taller than the tallest mountain in Colorado, which doesn't exceed 15,000ft. Coloradans like 14ers because they get to boast about their ability to survive in high-altitude situations and I will certainly give them (I'm a Coloradan too, I guess) that 14ers are quite difficult hikes.

Anyways, if you're hiking a mountain, you often get to false peaks. If it's a really steep climb, you might look up and see what looks to be a peak, but you realize it's not when you get there. This can happen several times in one hike. After having hiked mountains since I was a wee lad, I have determined that pessimism is the absolute best way to climb a mountain. Optimists kill themselves because they see a false peak and think it's the real deal. They get to the false peak and they are devastated to realize that it was all a lie. A pessimistic hiker will see every peak and expect it to be a false peak. If you expect every single peak to be a false peak, then you will either be right or you will be pleasantly surprised. You see, in this context pessimism is the best option.

Honestly, optimism is a lot less useful at first glance. It's pretty pointless to be optimistic about winning a lot of money at a casino unless you just like the extreme fluctuation in emotions it can cause with a near guarantee that your final emotion will be sadness. Also, what's the point of being optimistic about a romantic relationship too when so many relationships end up in break-ups. You never really know if they're going to get tired of you, cheat on you, or start to hate you. Most people date several people, let's say an average of 4, before getting married. That gives you a 1 in 4 chance of being "successful" if your goal for dating is to get married. If your goal for dating is to get married and stay together the rest of your lives, then the odds drop a good bit more. Also, what's the point in being optimistic about school? Say you're a 4.0 student. You work so hard to get your 4.0 and you are so optimistic that you can go all 4 years keeping the 4.0. You eventually get your first B and you are devastated. Do you see how pointless optimism seems?

A virtue that most people value is Trust. Trust can be brewed up using hops and barley, er I mean trust can be brewed up from a wide range of evidences. Some people trust in something blindly and some people refuse to ever trust someone. You know, like those people who have never done the trick where they fall backwards into someone's arms because they can't trust anybody no matter how good their CPA (caught person average) is. That person only trusts in something that is infinitely well proven. Trust takes some level of optimism depending on how much evidence you have beforehand.

Trust is rewarding though. It feels good to trust someone to get a job done for you and they get it done 100% of the time. Run-on Sentence Alert! I imagine it also feels really good to have a trusting relationship with your spouse, where each person is free to do what they want, but each person is confident that their spouse's priority is them.

If you never trusted anyone, you'd never care if somebody did the job you gave them or you just wouldn't even bother with them and you'd do the job yourself. This would just be a dry, mundane, and pointlessly difficult life. If you never trusted your wife to go out with her friends, you would have an absolutely horrible marriage. Overprotection is a form of pessimism. It makes all kinds of relationships horrible and I've been pretty overprotective about some friends in the past. While it may sometimes be based on reality, it's a horrible way to live.

So hopefully you understand how both pessimism and optimism are good in their appropriate places. They're also bad in their inappropriate places. So, don't go around always being optimistic or always being pessimistic. Both are annoying.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How to be a coffee lover

Coffee is one of my life's passions. When I hear the word coffee my fist sized heart gets all warm and fuzzy inside. I know that sounds really weird, a fuzzy heart, but I'm speaking the truth. I'm currently trying to double the size of my heart by riding my bike more. I figure it will be helpful to have double the blood pumping capacity when I cruise along the Pacific next summer.

It may seem like I'm digressing, but I'm not, I'm just now realizing what my pacific coast bike ride has to do with coffee. I realized on Sunday morning that one of the hardest parts about my 1,853.5 mile bike ride is going to be that I'm going to have to lay off the hard stuff. I'm dreading this almost as much as the uncomfortableness of sitting on a bike seat for 40miles a day. You see, I came to this realization on Monday morning.

It was before sunrise when I left for Golden and it was pretty cold. It wasn't too long before I realized my knees where shaking. Oh yeah, I drank 2 cups of coffee this morning. Oops. Coffee dehydrates you, really bad. This is partly why you often will see me with a Nalgene bottle filled with agua. I was dehydrated and contemplated stopping at Colfax and Garrison and just taking the bus the rest of the way. I was pretty uncomfortable, and it just really bugged me to have my knees shaking like that when they were supposed to be focussed on pumping those cranks. The feeling went away and I made it to Golden anyway, but it just felt really weird for a while there.

So I'm probably going to have to either get used to not drinking coffee or convert to "Decaf" for a while. Two reasons: I don't like those shaky knees and I don't want to have to drink an extra liter of water everyday to balance the coffee. I've heard that Allegro has a good decaf. The reason I'm not looking forward to this is because decaf just doesn't taste very good. It's not strictly because of the lack of caffeine.

No need to worry about this right now. On to the interesting stuff!

My Story
I started drinking coffee when I was in 8th grade, I think. Some people were surprised that I drank it so soon, but whatever. My parents are addicts, so I figured I'd just keep up with the tradition since my older sister failed to follow in their footsteps. During high school I shifted between drinking coffee every day and drinking coffee once a week, depending on if I was playing a sport at the time. Nowadays I drink it every day, rain or shine.

Now, don't go thinking I'm a coffee snob, because I'm not. I don't know very much about coffee. I know there are different roasts and can tell you that French is a dark roast and tends to be my favorite. I know that dark roasts, contrary to popular belief, have less caffeine. Dark roasts are more bold and, in general, taste better in my opinion. I like my coffee strong with cream. No sugar unless I have a coffee-for-free stamp at the ole' coffee shop, which only occurs about twice a year. In which case, I almost always get a mocha. I still enjoy drinking coffee black, but if I have cream, I prefer using it to get rid of the bitterness. Now you know my coffee credentials.

More to Coffee than Caffeine
Many people immediately think, Caffeine, when they hear the word coffee. While this is entirely accurate, it does not embrace the reason why true coffee lovers love coffee. I do not drink coffee every day for the caffeine boost. I actually tend to drink coffee to have a more relaxing morning...key word, relaxing. The reason I am a morning person is because I enjoy drinking coffee so much. I wake up at 5:30 so I can have a good hour to relax and drink coffee along with eating and reading. On very rare occasions I will drink to stay awake in the afternoon. 99% of the time I drink coffee because it tastes amazing and helps me relax.

How to Cope with the Addiction
As I previously stated, my parents are kind of addicted to coffee, in fact my dad had some health problems because of the coffee he drank. I am fully aware of the risks of coffee addiction, but they honestly aren't enough to make me stop drinking. The worst problem I've heard of because of drinking coffee is kidney stones. Passing a good sized kidney stone for a guy is the equivalent to having a baby for a girl. Both cases are extremely painful for the person, but both cases also come with many rewards. In the case of babies, well you have a baby and they're pretty cool. Especially Hijo (the baby at my house) and Caleb (my nephew, whom I have not met yet except through Skype, so I don't have a nickname for him. Nevertheless he's a ridiculously cool kid). In the case of passing kidney stones, you have the life long benefit of enjoying coffee every single day. Raising a kid is the only thing better.

I gave up coffee for Lent twice, because I know I'm addicted. FWI, I'm not Catholic, I just think Lent is a good way to prepare for Easter, which is a very famous holiday, having nothing to do with how rabbits once knew how to lay eggs. The first time I was successful and I got a lot out of it. I should have never tried again. The second year I did it, I was dying. You always get headaches the first 3 days you go without coffee when you're an addict, but the headaches didn't go away. I hated waking up every morning and was despising life because I had no coffee. I know it's horrible that I'm so dependent on coffee, but come on, I was dying. I gave up the fast, realizing it was not helping me prepare for Easter. When I started drinking coffee again, I had more focussed, relaxed time to read my bible in the morning and life was good again.

Lesson to learn: Drink coffee and keep drinking it. It's worth the cost.

How to make coffee
Some people don't know how to make coffee. It's sad. So I'm going to give you a run-down on how to do it. You have two ingredients. Coffee beans and water.
  • Cowboy Coffee: Mix the coffee beans (grounded up) with hot water and you have cowboy coffee.
  • French Press: Here's your cue to drool. This stuff is ridiculously amazing coffee. The procedure is slightly more complicated than cowboy coffee. Mix your hot water with your coffee grounds inside a "French Press." Wait two minutes. Push the plunger down to the bottom and drink God's second favorite drink. Everyone knows that orange juice is the Nectar of God.
  • Drip Coffee: Drip coffee is the easiest because it's automated and easy to clean. Put grounds into the basket with a "Coffee Filter" in it. I recommend 1 Tbs of grounds per 8oz of water. Pour the water in the coffee maker and hit the On button. Your coffee will be ready in 10 minutes.
  • Espresso Drinks: Go to a coffee shop, preferably Higher Grounds in Golden, CO. Order a latte. Give barista money. Tip generously. Tell them Jon Banks sent you and they might just give you a trademarked Banksian Cocked Eyebrow.
  • Turkish Coffee: Put a ridiculous amount of coffee grounds, extremely finely ground, and sugar into a bowl with only a little bit of water. Stir. When you pour, make sure there are enough grounds to fill up half the cup when all the "liquid" is drank. Or just go to Ali Baba's Mediterranean Grill.
Hating on Starbucks
If you want to pretend to be a coffee snob, you have to hate Starbucks. You have to claim that their coffee is weak and doesn't taste good. You have to claim that their methods of harvesting coffee are inhumane. You must never use their lingo such as Tall, Grande or whatever else they like to use there. Don't you dare own a Starbucks mug. You must do everything you can to get all your friends to hate Starbucks.*

You now have a few tips to get started on becoming a coffee lover. I hope you get addicted.

*I don't hate Starbucks that much. Their coffee tastes fine to me and I tend not to think that big companies are the devil. Maybe Starbucks is immoral, but I've never done any research on that, so I don't know. If you care enough, send me a detailed study on why I should hate Starbucks more. I might be converted to a Starbucks hater and I'll buy the T-shirt and everything. But to be honest, extremist Starbucks Haters are extreme left wing on the Obsession Scale and Apple Obsessers are extreme right wing. Just like in politics, you don't want to be too far to either side.

Correction: My mom refuses to admit that she is an addict and since she doesn't get coffee withdrawal headaches, I suppose she truly isn't an addict.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Photo Tour of The Medical Marijuana Shops of Denver

If you've ever seen a medical marijuana shop (MMS), then you know how much of a joke they are. First, a very small percentage of people in the world need marijuana for relieving pain. It's just a gateway to get pot to a point where it's as acceptable as alcohol. Go to the doctor, say your shoulder hurts, and obtain a MM license. Well my favorite thing about these shops is their names and designs. So I had the idea of posting pictures of the MMSs in my neighborhood so you have an idea of what they are like. I think they're incredibly entertaining.

I was really proud of myself for riding 20 miles earlier today, but I really wanted to take these pictures today, so I left my house to cruise up and down Federal, looking for MMSs. I was happy to discover one right across the street when I got to federal.

The green lights surrounding the door was a dead give-away. Lesson #1: MMSs almost always have green colors on the building. Some choose to be entirely painted green and others prefer the more subtle green lighting around the doors. This MMS also demonstrates the clever titles of MMSs. I thought Earth's Medicine was an incredible name for this weed shop. This is one of the less glamorous places though and I knew there was more to see, so I continued south down Federal.

I found this one just down the street called Buds on Federal. If you click on the picture you can see this one better. It's one of my favorite designs. Painted very bright green with intriguing signage. They apparently sell marijuana plants that you can grow at home. And I assume they have a very attractive blonde inside selling them to you.

Here's another Bud shop with a subtle design with a subtle title of Healing Buds. They make sure to include the iconic Green Cross though. Upon close examination, you can see that you can buy Barbacoa de Cabeza tacos next door, which, in this case, is cow head.

and another one called Sense of Healing. Very subtle title and building design. I thought the logo was especially clever.

Another, by the title of Remedys of the Millenium Wellness Center. They apparently thought that correctly spelling Remedies was either not conspicuous enough or that the incorrect spelling was phat. This place has a good deal going for 1/8 ounce for only $30...A "SALE" that has been going on since I moved to the neighborhood on August 1st. They definitely went for the "Hey look at me! I sell pot!" building design with the green paint job.

A Mile High Alternative is unfortunately "Closed until further notice" as indicated by the sign handwritten on the front door. I was happy that they included their stylish bright green fences in front of their windows even though they are closed. They win the award for most creative title.
Most shops choose to use acronyms like MMJ (medical marijuana), but this one, entitled VIP Wellness Center, chose to be more up front about their product. I didn't actually verify whether or not they have the "Best Quality" or "Lowest Prices."
This last one was my all time favorite one though. I had never seen it before because it's kind of hidden underneath an attorney's billboard. Riding my bike along the opposite side of the street I noticed it and had a sneaky suspicion about it. It had the green paint all over it and some mysterious logo on the front. As you can verify with this first picture, I couldn't see the company name, but I had a very good feeling that it was an MMS.
Well on my way home, I rode on the other side of the road. I made sure I looked for the big billboard and found the place. Upon closer examination I saw this:
You may have to click on the picture, but you can see that the place is called Green Door Wellness Center, which is certainly an MMS name. I thought this place looked cooler than all the other places and I was just so happy that I knew it was an MMS without actually seeing its title. I did verify their claim to have a Green Door. It was on the left side of the building. I kept looking at the title, though, and it kept looking like it said Green Odor, which I thought would have been epic, but they went for a slightly less potent company name.

So, there you have it. A photo tour of a the 8 medical marijuana shops on a 2.5 mile stretch, so I'm proud to say that I extended my biking distance to 25 miles and the last 5 miles was for the sake of this blog post. While these places don't look incredibly nice, they also aren't that bad either. They look slightly sketchy, but in my opinion they are way better than behind a 7-Eleven from a drug dealer with a pistol in his pants. Plus, what is more entertaining than a place called A Mile High Alternative?

P.S. I don't smoke pot. I just think these places are highly entertaining.

Also, comment your favorite MMJ shop names so we can all laugh at them.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Backpacking Crow Pass

Backpacking is great. It's like a miniature expedition, exploring the wilderness. I honestly haven't been backpacking that many places. I've probably only really backpacked 4-5 different trails. Most of which I've done multiple times. Crow Pass is one of the most memorable hikes, because it's just epic. That's it. I've done it twice and here's why it's such a great trail.

Crow pass is part of the historic Iditarod trail that goes from Seward to Nome. The Crow Pass trail goes from Girdwood to Eagle River. Hint: Eagle River is my hometown. Eagle River is a great town. It's a suburb of Anchorage and is technically part of the Anchorage municipality, but none of us really want to be considered part of Anchorage. Girdwood is another cool town that's technically part of Anchorage too, but is about a 30min drive south of the city. Girdwood is the home of Alyeska Ski Resort, which is an amazing place. Amazing skiing and amazing scenery.

We woke up on Friday morning at 6am and had Mom drive us down to Girdwood. I don't think she minds doing that for us because it's a pretty drive down there. You hug the Turnagain Arm coast the entire way from Anchorage to Girdwood. It was raining of course. It seems like it's always raining in that area. It's almost always just a drizzle though, so it's not too big of a deal. I was secretively hoping that we would just cancel the trip because of the rain, but I didn't say anything. I'm not a big fan of the rain when I'm planning on being in it for a long time. I'll go on short hikes in the rain for a couple hours, but I knew our tent wasn't amazing for keeping us perfectly dry and my raincoat is from Walmart. We decided to go anyway because no one spoke up about the rain. Oh well, might as well just enjoy it.

We signed the log book in case we die. The forest service wants to know who the dead bodies are in case you don't have your wallet on you. And yes, it's a kind of dangerous trail. Not that bad, but some people have died on it before.

Back when I worked at the public lands information center in Anchorage someone had died on the trail. I think she was trying to cross the river (Eagle River) and got swept away and drowned. The river crossing is the only really dangerous part. Everything else isn't incredibly bad.

The hike starts out with a long long climb up to the pass. It's a really good thing the climb comes first because we usually hike about 13 miles on the first day and if the climb was last it would be torture. I had enough energy to get to the top. We took the "upper route" that seemed to have a more gradual climb and it definitely did have a more gradual climb. The lower route takes you close to a little water fall, but has some really steep parts that just aren't incredibly fun when you have a big backpack on. The upper route crosses over a couple streams. We were able to get across them pretty well. Dad accidentally slipped off his stepping stone and got his boots wet, but that was the worst of it.

We got to the top and ate our lunch outside of the public use cabin. Whoever was in there was still sleeping and we went by it to see if we could eat there, but decided against it when we saw their bags and heard loud snoring. Peanut butter and jelly was for lunch. We rested for about an hour and made our way up the last mile or so to the pass.

The last mile to the pass is really easy. It's barely even considered uphill. Once we got to the pass there is an amazing view of Raven Glacier. It's a really beautiful glacier and you can see all the way down the valley that you're about to go down. The glacier had notably receded since the last time we did the hike which was a few years earlier. From this point the hike is all downhill. Sounds great huh? Not especially. While it's all downhill, it's a really really long downhill. The pass is only a few miles into the hike. Not even half the distance of the first day's walk.

After taking some pictures at the pass we headed down the valley. This part of the hike is actually really cool because you often get to cross snow slides. Snow slides are a great way to fall and die. They're usually pretty hard and icy by the time we do the hike, so it's pretty difficult to cross them. There's usually some vague footprints that you can follow across them, but it's really hard to dig your boots into the snow. The first time we did the hike, there was more snow and there was one slide where it was just perfect to slide all the way down it to get to the trail. Even though snow slides are sometimes really dangerous, they can also be one of the funnest parts of hiking in Alaska. We got across all the snow slides safely and made it to the bottom of the valley, but it took a while.

For the most part, the hike from this point to the river is just one of those where you pop your legs into cruise control. There's a creek crossing, but that was pretty easy. We ran into some guys that passed us the first time without saying anything, then a minute later one of them came running back towards us and passed us going in the same direction as us. Again he didn't say anything. What is this guy doing? We saw him another minute later walking back towards us and we finally asked him what was going on. He lost his knife somewhere along the trail, so we told him we'd turn it into the nature center in Eagle River if we found it.

So much walking, but all along the way there are great views and most of the Raven Glacier valley is above the tree line so we could see a long ways. I don't think we saw any wildlife yet, unfortunately. I'm always hoping to see a bear. I think bears are awesome and they don't scare me too much. I know what to do if I encounter one and it's really rare that they do anything to you. In this very long section of the hike one of the things that kept my mind active was imagining what I would do if I saw a bear on the trail. We started to get to some really high bushes, so it would be easy for us to sneak up on a bear. I always tried to make noise by rustling the bushes and clapping sometimes, but I was just hoping I could see a bear up close.

I decided that I would just lay out my meanest trash talk if I saw a bear. If you see a bear, you just need to make yourself look big and talk very loudly at it. I figured I would just lift up my arms really high and make the bear feel like a puny little worm with my cruel speech. I also made sure I knew where my camera was so I could take a picture. Part of my plan was to intimidate the bear slowly enough to get a good picture of him.

No bears yet, but we started heading down from the hanging valley to the Eagle River valley. At the start of this descent you get a really really nice view of Eagle Glacier up in the valley. It's pretty far away from the main trail, so I've never been up to it, but it's big and it's connected to a huge ice field. That's why Eagle River is such a big river. The descent is in the trees the whole time, so you never really know when you're going to get to the bottom unless you remember the trail really well.

At the bottom of the descent you just walk about a mile maybe and you're at the river crossing. This is always one of those times that you start to get nervous. There are two main reasons to be nervous. Remember how I said Eagle River comes from Eagle Glacier, well it turns out that glacier fed rivers are ridiculously cold even in the middle of the summer. Secondly, it's a big river with a lot of current so it wouldn't be very difficult to fall over and get swept away. The river crossing is at the only shallow part of the River in the area. By shallow I mean up to the thighs.

The three of us changed into our shorts, took off our boots and wool socks, and put on our sandals or our "lawn mowing shoes." "Lawn mowing shoes" are most commonly used for mowing the lawn, but are often used for river crossings and tubing in Clear Creek. They are often worn out, have holes in them, and are stained green. When you cross a river you need to take off your waste clip in case you fall in. That way you can easily take off your backpack just by undoing your chest clip. If you leave the backpack on then you'll more easily be swept down the river. When you cross, you want to cross in a line. The strongest person upstream and the person with poor balance in the middle. In our case, Josh was upstream (he's a strong guy), Dad was in the middle, and I was downstream.

We got in, froze our butts off, stumbled once and got a bit wet, froze our butts off again and made it to the sand bar. After the sand bar there's just a small section of the river to cross before you get to the other shore. The other shore always has stinky socks and spare shoes in case you lost yours or happen to collect stinky socks and shoes. Sometimes there's even a towel caked in dirt that you can use to dry off with. Thankfully our boots and socks didn't get wet and we had our own towels.

From here, it's just a numb mile before our camping spot. I think the river crossing is at mile 13 and the camping spot we use is at mile 14. Our toes finally got feeling back by the time we got to the campsite and it was time to set up our tents and our campfire. We found some wood in the forest and brought it back to the site. We found some Black Butte Porter beer bottles in the fire pit. It was starting to get chilly, so we quickly started the fire and made our food on my Dad's stove. Josh brought MREs for the three of us because the Guard always gives him more than he needs. Let me tell you, those things are ridiculous! I was absolutely stuffed after eating it and had trouble getting to the end.

It was starting to get dark around 10, so we decided to go to bed. I have always heard about sleeping under the stars, but never really comprehended it because I am always paranoid that it's going to rain on me. I don't think I would ever sleep outside in Alaska unless I had a tent nearby that I could run to in case it started raining. We slept like babies and woke up at 8:00 for a delicious breakfast of oatmeal and coffee. Food is always so much better tasting when you're camping.

We took down camp and headed out. The rest of the trail just follows Eagle River all the way to the ER Nature Center. It's a really beautiful walk. You're in the trees the whole time and there are often many berries if you're there at the right season. The views are amazing when you get out of the trees and it's just a pretty flat, easy walk for the last 12 miles to the nature center.

Because of all the vegetation, it's hard to see very far in front of you. This got me thinking about bears again. Again, I was hoping to see a bear and constantly thinking about what I would say if I saw one. We were walking along a steep hill and I heard a rustle. There it was. 15 feet in front of me and Josh was a black bear. It jumped down to the trail and started looking at us, wondering what we were doing there. I immediately lifted my arms and started saying, Hey Bear! Go away, Bear! We're bigger than you and will eat you up if you don't go away! I've heard bear meat is really nice and fatty and Josh and I are looking to gain a few extra pounds for winter! (I didn't really say all that, but I did say some of it)

I was so happy. I was shaking, but ridiculously happy to have seen a bear that close. that was by far the highlight of the trip. We finally got back to the nature center, called my mom and she gave us a ride home. We also gave a ride to a man and his son from Florida who were hiking around Alaska for a week. I would keep writing about the trail, because I skipped a lot of details, but it's been a long enough post already. You now know how great that trail is. You should all go up to Alaska with me and hike it with me some day.

Song of the Day: In the Aeroplane over the Sea by Neutral Uke Hotel

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

How to get away from Canada and get to Mexico

I'm such a sucker for adventures. They fascinate me and I feel like my life is lacking in them. I've had some small adventures that have some good stories, but nothing epic, which leads me to the purpose of this post. I was playing around on Google Maps and stumbled across this route. The basic idea is to run away from Canada and go to Mexico (or close to it). I figured that the best way to do that would be to go along the coast. You're pretty much guaranteed not to get to an elevation of 1,000 ft or maybe even stay under 500ft. That being said, oxygen is in abundance. It may, perhaps, be hilly, but you at least know that your starting elevation is close to sea level and your ending location is close to sea level too, so every hill you climb you get to ride down.

Why do I want to do this? Because it sounds like fun. Some side benefits to the tour include
  • Get to visit a cool guy named Justin in Oregon, unless you are the cool guy named Justin in Oregon.
  • Get to visit anyone else we know who lives along the coast
  • Get in really good shape
  • Collect good stories to tell people
  • See lots of beautiful scenery. Look up Highway 1 or Highway 101 on Google images.
  • Gives an opportunity to get in shape before going
  • Not working
  • Camping, lots of camping
  • Meeting random people including all the hipsters in Oregon and the Hollywoods in, well, Hollywood.
Now that you see all the great reasons I want to go on this trip, I want to invite you, yes you, to consider riding it with me. You may think I'm pulling your leg, but I'm actually pretty serious. I think it would be a great experience and it would be perfect timing for me since I could probably quit my job around then. "Then" being May-ish probably. Mid June is earthquake season in California and I'm hoping to catch an earthquake while I'm there. If we do the full route, I would give 2 months, but I'd be happy cutting the route in half to make it a month ride. I'd also be happy planning a completely different ride. I just like the idea of a really long, month or longer, ride.

I've been known to drop out on adventures before. However, it is crucial that I note that my dropping out has only occurred when I was planning on doing the adventure on my own. Like when I wanted to go to Mexico this fall to work on a ranch. That didn't happen because I didn't have anyone expecting me to prepare for the trip and follow threw with it. That being said, let me know if you are interested in this. I may ask you personally anyway if I'm still serious about this in a few weeks.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Chipotle vs. Qdoba vs. Taco Bell

Mexican food is, undeniably, the best food on the face of the earth. Secondly, no matter how long humans survive on this planet, there will always be cheap people who don't want to pay for a sit-down Mexican meal. Thirdly, the majority of the human race is lazy and doesn't want to cook delicious Mexican food every day. Fourthly, Mexican food is hard to really cook right unless you somehow know what you're doing. Therefore, we, as cheap, lazy, and unskilled, people of Earth, are left with 3 choices worth noting: Chipotle, Qdoba, and Taco Bell.

But which one to choose, you say. Well, I'm about to tell you which one to choose. Have some patience. You must choose wisely lest you look like a fool, being found at the wrong burrito joint. The criteria that I will set forth for determining which burrito joint to choose includes Taste, Texture, and Authenticity.

Growing up in Alaska, the only cheap mexican food I had ever had was Taco Bell. It was one of my favorite fast food places, even above McDonalds, believe it or not. When you hear taco bell, we all know what you're thinking. Absolutely delicious undisclosed objects within a tortilla. You know what 2 very mexican things Taco Bell reminds me of? Chorizo and Barbacoa. I've only had authentic Chorizo once in my life. It was technically New Mexican, but close enough. It was amazing! Ridiculously amazing. Chorizo is made from all kinds of random pig parts that I don't even want to inquire about. Barbacoa, which means Barbecued, was originally prepared from goat's head and sometimes cow's head. Sounds great huh? In the same fashion, Taco Bell has embraced this Mexican idea of eating strange meats that you don't want to ask about. Therefore, Taco Bell is in the running for the Most Authentic Award.

Now, since I've been away from Alaska, the state has moved up in the world. Anchorage now has a Qdoba. Have you ever fed a dog peanut butter? It's the most hilarious thing you can do to a dog and it can either be considered cruel or extremely kind. Dogs absolutely love peanut butter, but the problem is, they have poor skills in moving food around their mouth. The peanut butter gets stuck to the roof of their mouth and it bothers them like nothing else. They have this amazingly delicious substance stuck in their mouth, but it's stuck on the roof of their mouth and they can't eat it. They eventually get it, but only after much effort. This is the closest parallel I can think of for Qdoba. Their food tastes good. It's different from Chipotle and Taco Bell, but the taste is good. The texture is what sets Qdoba apart. They absolutely are obsessed with Sticky. Sticky tortillas and sticky rice. Now, sticky is not my preference. The tortillas stick to the roof of a mouth like a dog eating peanut butter and the rice is just gooey. This texture makes the eating of a Qdoba burrito less than optimal. Qdoba's pride and joy, however, is the Queso Burrito. Even Qdobas strongest opponents often say that Qdoba is gross, but their Queso Burrito is Okay. I used to be one of these Qdoba haters, but I was converted to a Qdoba-is-okayer after tasting the queso burrito. For this reason, Qdoba is in the running for the Cheesiest Burrito award.

Freshman year of college I walked all the way from Golden to the capital building in Denver. That's about 13 miles. I did it as part of the Ore Cart Pull, which is an E-days tradition at Colorado School of Mines. This is an arduous trek, full of ghetto streets with large pavement cracks and cars passing at 30mph. Many people can't make the entire walk without stopping at multiple bars to take shots. And some people have so much difficulty, they have to take a Camelback full of gin and tonic to help ease the pain of the 13 mile walk. You can imagine that I am extremely proud to say that I made the walk 3 out of 5 of the years I was at Mines without a single drop of alcohol in my system (although I often had residual sassafras and sugar from an overdose of root beer which certainly helped). Those other 2 years were spent in bed because I was too lazy to go on the walk. Well freshman year, we made it after running for an entire mile to the capital. For some reason people think it's epic to run the last mile of the walk. I was dead when I got there, but I was greated with the most wonderful gift the ole' school of Mines has gifted me: A Chipotle Burrito. Yes, this is a better gift than my diploma and even my master's hood that I'll surely sew onto my black Target hoodie after graduation. Chipotle has the perfect inexpensive burrito. It tastes amazing and has amazing texture. I really don't have much to say about it. It's not incredibly authentic, but it's amazing.

It should be quite clear that my recommendation for inexpensive burritos would be Chipotle (or Chipoltee if your name is Jelly Roll). While Qdoba is incredibly Cheesy and Taco Bell is undeniably authentic, Chipotle's burritos win the award of Best Inexpensive Burrito Ever. Out of all of the combinations you can have, their best, in my opinion has the following in it: Black Beans (Frijoles Negros), Fajitas(Fajitas), Barbacoa (non traditional), Pico De Gallo (Rooster Beak), Green Chili (Chili Verde), Monterey Jack Cheese (Queso), and Lettuce (Lechuga).

Challenge of the day: Go eat a chipotle burrito and then run a mile. It's called the Burrito Mile.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Second Most American Sport

It is now officially football season. It has been for a few weeks now right? Football is a great sport. There are all kinds of really cool things about football that this post will explore in detail. There are also really annoying/lame things that have to do with football. I realize that since I have some friends that are pretty big football fans, they may be offended by my very short rant on the few things I don't like about football.
My favorite thing about football is how much of a team sport it is. You have these very intricate plays that are well designed and completely dependent on how well ever single player follows the plan. The quarterback knows exactly where every body is going to be running and if you aren't where you should be, he might just end up throwing an interception right to the place where you should have been. You usually need like 5 guys at the front protecting their quarterback and if you mess up at that job, everybody is going to be mad and your QB might lose his head.

There is no sport closer to a battlefield than football. It's like the good ole days when the soldiers would all line up about 50 feet away from each other, and hope and pray that their musket would shoot one of the guys over there. The football players just line up and do every thing they can to get the ball to the touch down. They'll push, shove, tackle, clothesline, poke eyeballs, etc.

Two words: Human Barricade. Blocking is great. Yes there is some blocking in other sports and I like it when it's used in other sports too. But football is really the perfect sport for blocking. In basketball, blocking is useful, but kind of silly because you aren't really protecting your teammate from danger, just from a blocked shot or a steal. I just like the idea of blocking off your opponents, making a nice stream line for your running back. It's cool stuff.

Unfortunately, to go along with the whole Battlefield, Human Barricade mentality, many people look at other sports and say they are for wimps. Okay, football and hockey and rugby and other hitting sports are cool for their hitting. But there's much more to sport than hitting. Sure it's fun to watch, but there's more to be enjoyed. I start to lose respect for people when they start to talk about how some sports are for wimps. You sir, don't understand sports. Determining whether some activity is a sport or not is a different question like poker or cheer leading or chess (Yeah I said chess. My school sent out an email for IM sports and one of them was chess. No kidding.).

Also, football isn't that much fun to play in person. It's okay. I could think of less fun sports to play. But, it's just not that great. If you have 4 or 5 guys who have the option of getting the ball (besides the QB), then that means you have to run all over the place 4-5 times and only 1 time out of 4-5 will you get the ball. You try your darndest to get away from your corner back, but rarely get the ball. Unless you're that guy who's really good. You'll get the ball plenty since you'll be taking all the passes away from the other 3-4 receivers. Now if there were plays and everybody had a job, that would be pretty fun. I'd be happy with that, but that would take more coordination than is usually had. I would much rather play volleyball. Maybe I've just gotten "old" and lazy, cuz when I was in middle school I loved playing football.

That is all. Football is cool. There are some less cool things about it, but for the most part it's pretty sweet. As far as watching goes, it's probably my 3rd favorite after baseball(yep) and basketball. As far as playing goes, it's my 5th favorite after volleyball, basketball, baseball, and soccer (excluding disc golf since that's more of an activity than a sport).

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Tech Review of Sorts

Technology is funny. Technology is my job, it's what allows me to write a blog, call my family, or get to work every day. We're all slaves to technology, because I'm sitting here thinking of every thing I do and I'd say that most of the things that I choose to do require technology. If I were to walk naked through a God-made field or pee off the side of a mountain (I'd have to not have clothes on), then those things would be about the closest I could come to not using technology...assuming you don't consider mountains, fields, and the human body technology. Since the majority of us don't pee off of mountains, naked (at least on a regular basis), then I have, therefore, completely convinced you that you are a slave to technology.

Being a slave to technology's not all that bad right? It's like being a slave to a master who makes every thing in life faster and easier. That master will every once in a while tick you off and you get all mad at him for not making everything easier. But hey, you're his slave. He can do what he wants to you. It's only by his grace that you ever get anything from him.

I'm continually in this predicament. Technology never works for me. When I lived in Alaska, it seemed like technology never worked for my family. I would try to hook up Justin's nintendo to my tv and everytime I was certain that it just wouldn't work for us. And it always gave us some kind of issue. I really thought there was something about me and my family that made technology just not work around us. Nowadays I know better. I'm a computer whiz compared to the majority of people in the world, but nothing compared to most of my friends and absolutely nothing compared to most of my research group.

My research group studies Plasmonics and recently we've mostly become a simulation group, which means we use big honking computers to predict how well optical devices will work. Some of the simulations we do are ridiculous. One of the guys in our group does simulations where he focusses light so it is 1000 times more intense than the incident light and his simulations are so big that he can't open them on a normal computer. By normal computer I mean one that "only" has 8GB of RAM. Pretty sure my Dell at home has less than 1GB of RAM. That being said, we are constently needing better, faster computers. I'm sitting at a work station that has 3 computers. Two of which are great for posting blogs, they'd be fine for playing any computer game, and such but can't do anything when it comes to simulation. So we have what I call a miniature supercomputer (MSC) for doing simulations as well as a second MSC in my advisers office so we can ssh into it and run simulations.

We abuse computers. It's great. We're constantly laughing at our lame computers, telling them that they aren't good enough. We even push our MSCs to the limit sometimes, so we go use the even more ridiculous supercomputer in the building next door because our already ridiculous MSCs aren't good enough. Ha! Take that technology!

It's an odd relationship we have with technology. We're continually abusing it and telling it to get better, but we're still it's slave. Half the guys in our group don't have any experience doing experimental research, so if our computers all died, we would have nothing to do. We would lose all our funding and have to find jobs at bakeries, which, I think, would be a pretty sweet job if it was a cool bakery. All our crashes and little freezes are reminders that technology is still our master. As if it's saying, uh uh uuh, don't you forget who's the boss here.

But what if we revolted? What would happen to the computers and all the technology in the world if we decided to just abandon technology and live the technology-free life? Well we could get cold and hot and then cold again. Then we'd get hungry because we didn't have guns to kill the animals or a plow to plow our gardens. All this would lead us to repentance of our rebellious ways and we'd come back to our master, Technology. We would have a "fresh start" and would have the opportunity to re-develop the same technologies that we used to have. Technology would again have the pleasure of continued advancement.

Do you remember biology, that one science that's pretty low down on the purity scale? There's a relationship called a symbiotic relationship. A symbiotic relationship is like the relationships of men and women, Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. This is usually the case for boths sides, but I have known some girls who can't stand other girls. Anyways, humanity and technolgy have a symbiotic relationship. This symbiotic relationship is so successful that we start to just expect that technology is going to advance. Have you seen the movie Avatar? No, not Avatar-Air Bender, that ridiculous movie I refuse to pay money to watch and would be hesitant to invest a whole 1.5 hours watching it anyways. I'm talking about that movie with the blue people and the flying dragon-like creatures. This was a great movie, I thought. I walked out of the movie very satisfied with the story and had gotten over the awkwardness I felt at the beginning of the movie with the lackage of clothing. Somebody said, wow that movie had great special effects! Did it? I seriously didn't even realize it had great special effects. Same story for Transformers. People said, That movie is my favorite movie ever because it had awesome special effects! Really? I didn't notice. I thought it was one of the worst movies ever. I realized that I just completely expect the infinite when it comes to technology. Special effects had gotten so good that I really thought that movie makers could do literally anything with their graphics. After Toy Story I just got less awed by movies with cool graphics.

Well great for Technology! It keeps getting better and better! Woohoo...ladeefrickinda, as the great Chris Farley would say. People have gotten better too. We have better health than before because of technolgy. We now have the ability to stalk people without them realizing by use of Facebook, with the advent of the new term Facebook Stalking. We can now use Google Maps to plan our route before leaving, or just forget google maps and bust out our shiny GPS with a feminine Australian accent to tell us where we need to turn. We can even go to porn websites without the awkwardness of buying magazines at a store.

As I hope you detected, I sometimes mix sarcasm with seriousness. There are good and bad things associated with technology. I try not to be a tech freak and I try not to be an extreme minimalist because of this. Not that you should care too much about what I do, but I do think that we are sometimes worshipful of technology..cough cough Apple. And I think it's wrong to worship technology both from a practical stand point and a Christian stand point. But technology is helpful and it pays me the big bucks, so I hereby declare technology to be Pretty Cool, Usually.

I felt slightly bad, but not really, about giving a shoutout to the person from Denmark yesterday who reads my blog because there are people from other countries too. But Denmark is still the best country starting with the letter D. So today, I'm going to give an extra hardy shout out to all you peeps who happen to be in a different country than the US, reading this blog. This so far includes you people from Denmark (as previously stated), Canada, Germany, Malaysia, Russia, Ukraine and South Africa. I definitely know you, Mr. Malaysian who rocks on the guitar and I may or may not know you mr./ms./mrs. Canadian and German. If you feel offended that I didn't immediately recognize who you are, then leave a comment and I'll make sure I give you a very personal shout-out in the near future. If you are an American, currently living in the US and are offended that I didn't give a shout-out to you, suck it up. If you pay me, I'll give you a personal shout out someday. 5 dollars/shoutout.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Livin' in da Ghetto

Some people would say I live in a ghetto neighborhood. Some people would say that we have a gang problem in our neighborhood. Some people would say it's a dangerous neighborhood. Well I say, those people are right!

It's a ghetto neighborhood, when you compare it to most of Golden. The streets aren't well kept, lots of people don't have pristine yards because there isn't a nit-picky neighborhood union that makes sure everything is perfect. There's lots of barking dogs in the neighborhood, mostly Chihuahuas, which in my opinion are the best guard dog ever because they bark like crazy every single time someone comes within 10 feet of the fence. Most of the cars you see aren't Lexii (Plural for Lexus). Everyone has a 2000 pickup or a 95 ghetto. You buy meat at the Carcineria or bread at the Panaderia or candy at the Dulcineria and they actually give you a 3 cent discount on your Barbacoa (goat head) because it costed $4.03. People just aren't picky enough there. They don't realize that living the American dream means having your perfect house, perfect yard, and doing your darndest to make sure your neighbors have the same, so as not to make you look bad. It's so ghetto. I can't believe it.

It has a horrible gang problem too when you compare it to pre-school. I've seen probably like 4 or 5 cars that are all sooped up with either the wheels that look too big for the SUV or wheels that look too small for the SUV. Those people are undoubtedly in a gang. Guys'll get on the bus and see one of their gang friends and give them a high-five (Dame cinco if they're speaking spanish) followed by a fist pound. Gangstas, the lot of 'em. I'll be riding my bike from Colfax to my house and see like 7 young men just sitting around on their porch. Oh, they're just friends, hanging out, shootin' the breeze, you say...No these are surely gangsters because I heard that the neighborhood near Federal has gangs and it's just not normal for people to be spending time with each other like that. You always see people sitting on their chairs on their porch. They say hi to their neighbors and smile, but they're really out there, making sure no gangsters come and catch them unawares inside their house.

It's dangerous too when you compare it to a foam padded room. People drive fast on 25mph roads, causing all kinds of unsightful (or is it unhearingful) noise. Some nit-pick really should talk to the city of Denver and get a noise ban after 7:00 pm because all of us people want to be able to sit inside our houses and watch our MTV in peace and quiet. The neighborhood is so dangerous that I heard a guy talking at a Habitat for Humanity project saying that his friends refused to come work on a house with 10 other people for the day because they were just too afraid they might get shot or something like that. People just fear for their lives when they come to my neighborhood.

People exaggerate and it doesn't matter to me because I love my neighborhood.

On a lighter note...

I want to give a shout-out to whoever's reading my blog from Denmark. Go Denmark for being the coolest country starting with the letter D! Yes, I think you're even cooler than Djibouti. Sorry, Master D.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Greyhounds and a Few Sobering Conversations.

Photo: Photgraph of Dallas lights when I figured out how to change the exposure time on my camera.

I've done something different every spring break during college. Freshman year I stayed in Golden and played Battlefield 2 the entire time. Sophomore year I took a bus to Mississippi to see my sister and brother in law. Junior year I can't remember what I did. Senior year I went to Moab Utah and did some great mountain biking. Grad school year I stayed in Golden and spent a lot of time with friends including a trip with Bryant to Boulder to tour some breweries. Sophomore year was the most memorable spring break, however. Riding the greyhound is sketchy enough when nothing goes wrong and it's outright ridiculous if anything crazy does happen like it did sophomore year.

I'm not sure what inspired me to go, but I had the money and figured, what the heck. Why not go. Kalen gave me a ride to the bus station in Denver. I had no idea how greyhounds worked. I didn't know where my bus was or even what the procedure for getting on it was. I started waiting in line. Just a line. I didn't know what it was for except it looked like they were getting on a bus. After standing there for a good 10min I asked the lady next to me where the bus was going and she said it was going to Minneapolis! Where's my bus! I finally "asked for directions" from a greyhound employee and he told me that the bus was about to leave and I'd better hurry over there. I ran through the door and found a bus outside already running and it was almost completely loaded with luggage. I quickly thanked God and gave them my bag and got on.

I walked down the aisle, looking for somewhere to sit. All the seats had 2 people in them except for a few. I chose a seat next to a tall Mexican man, expecting I might get to have a conversation with him and practice my Spanish. I really like speaking Spanish, but I kind of suck at it even after studying it for 3 years in high school. I can read quite well, but when it comes to comprehending words or getting the person to understand what the heck I'm saying, I'm pretty lost. Well after an hour or so, I decided to ask the man where he was going. Here's how the conversation went.

Where are you going? Huh? No Ingles. A donde vas? Que? Aaa Doondeee vaaass? Dallas. Vives in Dallas? Si. Que haces para trabajo en Dallas? ***Some spanish I didn't understand*** Muy bien. Tienes una familia alla? Si. Tienes ninos? Si. Cuantos anos tienen? Tres y ocho. Muy bien...

Translation: Where are you going? Huh? No English. Where are you going? What? Wheeeerrreee Aaarreee Yooouuu Goooiiinnnggg? Dallas. Do you live in Dallas? Yes. What do you do for work in Dallas? *** Some spanish I Did not Understand *** Cool. You have a family there? Yes. Do you have kids? Yes. How old are they? Three and eight. Cool...

I don't always have the best of luck when I try to talk to people...much less when it's in Spanish. That was our entire conversation. I tried, but saw that I was failing and he had no intention to have a conversation with me. I was looking forward to Dallas for a new seat partner to maybe strike up a conversation with. Unfortunately, we were stuck in Amarillo, that God-forsaken city.

We were there for 2 hours when we were only supposed to be there for 45min. I knew that I only had a 30min layover in Dallas, so there'd be no way to catch my connection there. Everyone at the bus station was mad. Some lady with 3 little kids was crying and I asked her what was wrong. Her ride had bailed out on her, so she was stuck at this horrible bus station at 2 in the morning with 3 upset kids. I offered her my cell phone to make a call, but she didn't need it. Her sister would pick her up at 7am. Poor lady.

We finally got back on the bus...they told us they had been cleaning the bus and the cleaners took longer than they were expecting. Sure. I got on and realized that someone had stolen my Sony Walkman cd player. Sad day. I should have known better than to leave it in my seat. At least they didn't steal my cds, which were and still are precious to me.

We got to Dallas at 8am. I was mildly impressed too. I mean, compared to the rest of Texas that I had seen while the sun was up. Wow that's a boring state when you're on whatever road I was on. And the fact that texans love texas was even more firmly nailed into my head after witnessing countless front yard texas flags and a trailer painted with the texas flag. But Dallas looked kind of interesting. I was looking forward to walking around.

I ended up walking around town for a good 2 hours because I knew I had about 4 hours before my new bus was going to leave. I saw a bunch of sky scrapers and found a Chipotle. I love Chipotle's burritos and I was a bit homesick after having driven through a wasteland, so I bought myself a steak burrito with black beans, fajitas, green chili, pico, cheese, sour cream, and lettuce. So delicious. I was bored of walking around, so I went back to the bus station where I had locked up my bags. I decided I wanted something out of them, so I unlocked them and sat down, watching CNN.

A man walked up to me and asked me if I was a Christian. Yes. I knew it. How'd you know I was a Christian? I could smell it on you. You have the reek of a Christian...He just stood there, looking at me for 30 seconds. Is there anything I can do for you? Where are you from? Colorado. Have you ever heard of _____ (Some pastor that raped a child and I can't remember who). No I hadn't heard of him, but that's horrible. He's a hypocrite just like all you Christians... Yeah, Christians are often hypocrites.

He kept talking to me for a good hour. Mostly about Christianity. He hated how hypocritical Christians are and he said that he might believe in Christianity if it wasn't for his dad. His dad had raped him when he was a child and claimed to be a "Devout Christian." His dad taught him not to sin and to believe in Jesus, but he was a terrible, abusive father. He completely destroyed this man's view of Christianity, but the rest of the Christians in the world hadn't helped their reputation much. I was sad and tried to convince him that Christians aren't perfect and mess up sometimes and all that nonsense that's just a bunch of excuses. He was tired of me trying to convince him away from something that had already been completely proven to him, that Christians are hurtful hypocrites, not worth being around. So he left me. He told me never to tell anyone about him and I lied to him and said I wouldn't.

He was right. We are hypocrites. We really don't live like Jesus did. So few people have a problem with Jesus. In fact most people really like Jesus. It's Christians they don't like. I had nothing to think about. Nothing in my mind needed to be processed because all I could think was Wow. It was such a convicting conversation for me. I had nothing that I could argue to prove to him that Christianity is good. I started to realized that yeah, we really do more harm than good a lot of the time. It's sad. I still think about that man regularly because it was such a convicting experience for me, making me realize that it's not acceptable to say, Christians mess up every once in a while, just like everyone else. If we identify ourselves by the word Christian, which means Little Christ, then we are identifying ourself to a much higher calling than one that just gives excuses for mistakes.

Anyways, I finally left Dallas at whenever I left. I was in a bad mood after that conversation and really hoped I had a seat partner that just didn't say a word the entire time. I sat down next to a lady, who happened to be from Colombia. Oh great, I'm gonna try to speak Spanish again and fail...again. Thank God she spoke fluent English. I found out she was a high school spanish teacher. She was a really nice lady. She was about 35 years old and was maybe a little chubby, but pretty attractive. She was going to see her fiancé (or fiancee? whichever is masculine) in Jackson, MS. Nice! I'll have a good seat partner all the way to Jackson! We only talked occasionally. Both of us were sleepy, so I slept most of the way there. She said goodbye to me from across the parking lot when Sarah and Lance picked me up at 4am.

The time in Mississippi was good. It was enjoyable and relaxing. Sarah and I drove to Atlanta to visit our Grandmother. I had the pleasure of explaining special relativity to Sarah on the drive because she wanted to know. I wasn't just rambling about physics on my own. So the trip was good and I left Mississippi on Friday.

The trip back wasn't quite as eventful as the trip to MS, but I had the pleasure of sitting next to the creepiest of creepers from Jackson to Dallas. Some guy from Alaska was rambling about how amazing Alaska is behind us (sound familiar, people who know me?) and The Creeper next to me started mumbling something. This guy better shut the &#%@ up or I'm gonna turn around and stab him right in the gut. He was playing with his knife in his lap, flipping it open and shut, gripping it very tightly. Needless to say, this made me uncomfortable. Again, I couldn't wait for Dallas.

We got to Dallas and left after a 45min layover and this time I got to sit next to a nun. She kept handing me these newspaper articles that I should read and pamphlets and all kinds of stuff. You'd think that she was giving me literature about Catholicism, but it was just random stuff. I never read any of it, but it was all just really stupid, boring stuff. She was kind of weird, but much better than The Creeper.

I started to get tired of the New Mexican landscape. Yeah, it's not completely boring like texas, but all the mesas and brownness was uninteresting after a while. I made it back to Denver that evening and I was incredibly happy to be home. Greyhounds make for interesting experiences, but I was pretty tired of that experience.

Someday, perhaps, I'll write about my other spring break "adventures," which are all pretty boring except the Moab one and the mysterious Junior year one that I can't remember.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Physics is Cool

Note: I posted a bunch of old notes that were originally on Facebook. So if you ever care to go back and check them out, they're in the process of appearing in the archives.

Most of you guys reading this know that I study physics. I just finished school 3 weeks ago and now do research at Mines. I decided I would write a post about the physics that I study because I think it's pretty cool stuff.

If you were to ask me what kind of physics I study, I would say, Integrated Optics. This means that I study really simple optical devices that are built into chips on a really small scale. There's a billion different optical devices that can be built and they have all kinds of applications. I'll just choose one of the devices our group works on to give you an idea of the stuff I work on. I've probably worked on upwards of 10 different devices though.

Optical devices manipulate light in different ways for some application. The physics I do is extremely applied, so I don't do that crazy, revolutionary physics that you hear about in the news. Some things that you can do with light are emitting, detecting, filtering, guiding, measure polarization, and more.

Some familiar examples of these processes: (Keep in mind that when I say light, I mean Electromagnetic Radiation which includes, X-rays, UV, Visible, Infrared, Radio Waves, etc.)
  • Emitting: Light Bulbs, LEDs, Stars, Antennae, Cell Phones, etc.
  • Detecting: Eyes, Cameras, Antennae, Cell Phones, X-rays at the dentist, Radios
  • Filtering: 3D glasses (one eye mostly sees blue and the other eye mostly sees red)
  • Guiding: Fiber Optics, Those cool lamps that send light through fibers
  • Measure Polarization: Polarized Sunglasses, Camera Polarizer
So, our research group tries to do all these effects to build really small devices on micro chips (small=100nm-100microns). 70 microns is somewhere near the diameter of human hair.

One really good example of why these need to be so small is the Polarimeter project we're working on. A polarimeter can measure the polarization of light. You can have linear polarization, circular polarization, or elliptical polarization and the polarimeter can measure any of those and detect how elliptical the polarization is. If you've ever worn polarized sunglasses at a lake or river, then you know that the polarization of the light reflected off a surface tells you about the surface. Reflected light on the smooth, horizontal surface of water, is polarized in one direction and if you're wearing polarized sunglasses, standing straight up, you don't see the reflected light and you can see underwater better. If you rotate your head then you can start to see the reflected light and if you adjust your head so the reflected light is very low, then you have adjusted your polarizers so they are perpendicular to the surface. So by finding this spot, it gives you information about the angle of the water surface. The idea behind the polarimeter is to be able to do a similar measurement, giving the U.S. Army better information about the surface they are looking at.

So the Army wants this to be really small so they can make an entire array of polarimeters so each pixel in the digital camera can measure polarization. I don't know how many pixels they're planning on, but if we can make the polarimeter the size of the pixels on your computer then you can have an entire screen with really good resolution, where each pixel can measure polarization giving you a ton of new information that a regular old camera could not give you. That's why the device needs to be really small, so you can stack a bunch of them in an array to have many pixels.

The idea for a polarimeter is to filter out different kinds of polarizations of light in different ways to be able to measure what that polarization is. This actually isn't a project that I'm really working on, so I don't know that much about it. But it uses gratings etched in materials like Silicon, Silicon Dioxide, Silicon Nitride, Aluminum, etc. to couple different polarizations into a waveguide and sent out for detection. There are different shapes of gratings that filter out different polarizations so we can measure any polarization state. And all of this is built on a very small chip and I think the footprint for this entire device is under 100microns.

You now have some idea of the kind of things I work with. It's really interesting stuff and it's pretty exciting to be working on such advanced technologies. I'm very fortunate to get to work in this area of research because it is incredibly valuable.

This may have been a very boring post for some of you, but I don't care.

Song of the Day: Belated Promise Ring by Iron and Wine