Sunday, December 6, 2009


Recently I was thinking about how it has been a long time since I felt bored. There is always Something that needs to be done or that I want to be doing. So I almost started this post with the title "Bored" but that is just not at all true. Right now I am suffering from a boring life, but certainly not a life of boredom.

I almost started using twitter to give short updates of my current states of Boring. This is what the sequence for the past day/days would have looked like:

-sensory overload at *** *** (censored to avoid ruining Christmas surprises) but was happy with the results.

-had a really hard time with that last update, as I forgot the word "censor".

-falling asleep reading textbooks, but when I finally get in bed my thoughts will keep me awake for hours.

-every time I re-tune the radio to VPR it manages to un-tune itself. In the evening it is radio, in the morning the alarm goes off and it is a quiet fuzzy noise.

-mmmmmm Isabell's muffin

-going for a run around Hanover, first must load up on caffeine.

-It started snowing while we were running!!

-I should NOT be feeling this tired while under the influence of So Much Caffeine (SMC).

-alone in the office, good thing, because I'm reading text books out loud. Science words are aesthetically pleasing.

-I just managed to spill oily salad dressing all over my desk (don't worry, just the desk, not important things like paper/books/compy). Luckily we've got tons of ethanol in the lab, so cleaning was a breeze.

-soo late, soo tired, soo ready for a pretty, snow-covered drive home.

-back at Wilder... I left this parking space less than 9 hours ago.

-currently reading textbooks out loud to avoid falling asleep.

-Note to self: Stop blogging and start studying for at least one hour, then you can have a coffee-reward.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Customer Service Win!

Last weekend my friend Malory had her housewarming party at the new house she just bought in Denver. Clearly, I was not able to attend, as I am oh-so-far-away in the East. So, knowing Malory's love for flowers, I figured I would send some her way. And here my first experience ordering flowers online begins.

First, what flowers to send? I certainly have my favorites, but I'm not sure if they are Malory's favorites. And anyone who has seen You've Got Mail knows the value of daisies, but in my mind those are a springtime flower. So I decided to go with sunflowers, because they seemed seasonally appropriate, but equally friendly.

Next, what website do I use? Google: order flowers online. Options:,, or 1800flowers is a phone number, so I'm not really in favor of that. sounds interesting, but they don't have sunflowers, not to mention the fact that I still don't know what FTD stands for.! OH I know someone who LOVES Proflowers! it is! Thanks for the recommendation, Ro!

So I manage to successfully order flowers, scheduled to arrive the day before the party. Perfect. That day arrives and I now have a tracking number to see the shipping status. I check it out. The flowers are in Canada! And the status is: Incorrect Routing at UPS Facility. Uh oh. This is bad. New delivery date: 3 days later than it is supposed to be! I am pretty sure that if you keep flowers out of water for 3 days they are likely to not be living, which is just no good. So I decide it would be a good idea to get in touch with customer service, which I do, via email:

Customer Comments: Hi,

This is my first time ordering flowers online, and I had heard good things about, so I decided to give it a try. I ordered flowers to be delivered to a friend today, since I cannot attend her housewarming party. I went to the tracking page to make sure everything looked alright, and it says that the delivery date was rescheduled due to an incorrect routing at the UPS facility. The new delivery date is listed as 11/16. I am really disappointed that she will not be getting her flowers today, and I am also concerned that when she gets her flowers on Monday that they will be dead. Is there any way to make sure she gets her flowers today? Or do I just have to wait and see if she gets dead flowers on Monday? I feel that sending dead flowers to a friend will have the opposite effect on the friendship than I was hoping for. Please let me know if there is anything that can be done.



And I get this very nice and quick response!


Dear Meghan, Order Number: xxxxxxxxx

Thank you for contacting ProFlowers. Please accept our most sincere apologies for the delivery delay of your gift as this is not typical of our service. We definitely don't want your first experience with us to be negative.

We realize the importance of timely deliveries and have refunded your delivery charge of $9.99 to help make this up to you. Please allow 5-7 business days for this refund to fully process.

In addition, we want to make sure your recipient receives a fresh bouquet. For this reason we have ordered a replacement with a delivery date as reflected below. If the selected date is not satisfactory, please contact us and we will be happy to modify it to a more convenient date. Please note we can schedule deliveries for Tuesday through Friday if we receive notification and process the change by noon Pacific Standard Time the business day before the desired delivery date.

Please know that you will NOT be charged for this replacement order. However, we want to keep you informed regarding your order status, so you WILL receive automatic confirmation, shipping, and delivery emails.


Order Number: xxxxxxxxxxxx

Delivery Date: Saturday, November 14, 2009 (unfortunately we cannot do same day delivery on a replacement)

If you have any further questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Once again, please accept our sincere apologies. We greatly appreciate both your trust and business and hope to serve you again in the future.

Best Regards,

HB Mike
Customer Care
Send love, not like. Send ProFlowers.


A replacement bouquet? I like the sound of this. This leaves me to wonder, does this mean Malory will be getting two sets of sunflowers? It certainly does, and apparently neither of them were dead and they both managed to arrive on Saturday morning, still before the party! So we close my first experience ordering flowers online with:


Dear HB Mike,
Thank you for being so prompt in addressing my issue with a delay in the delivery of the flower order I placed last week. I really appreciate the effort that was made to have the flowers delivered as soon as possible, once the delivery routing error was realized. My friend has received her flowers and says they are beautiful.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

so much contra dancing

Lately it seems that my only activity during waking hours that is not work is contra dancing. I like it a lot. In October I got to go to one of the twelve hour long dances. And since it was so long, we took a break in the middle to check out the pumpkin festival. And since it was so long, I also did not attempt to dance every dance, and as a result I have a few pictures and videos. The dance was the Fall Ball in the Peterborough town hall, which has a balcony that overlooks the dance floor, which is where these shots are taken from.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Never Refrigerate

To whom it may concern,

I have just purchased 1 U.S. dry pint of Santa Sweets Grape Tomatoes. I noticed that the container specifies, "NEVER REFRIGERATE." Is this true? I am quite accustomed to refrigerating any tomatoes I purchase, so without even realizing it, this package was automatically put in the refrigerator. Should I be concerned about eating these tomatoes that have now been refrigerated? Why is it important to never refrigerate your grape tomatoes?

Thank you,



Thanks for the email! The "NEVER REFRIGERATE" is on the label because tomatoes (in general) begin to loose thier flavor profile at temperatures below 50 degrees. Also, once they get below 50 when you take the tomatoes out and return them to "room temperature" they will have a reduced shelf life.
Ironically the Santa Sweets will have an excellent shelf life when kept in the 'fridge and the change in flavor profile is very sublte over the first 10 days.
You're ok keeping them in the fridge as long as you're aware of the reduced shelf life after they come out of the fridge.

Feel free to contact us with any further questions.


Chris Cunnane
National Sales Director
Santa Sweets


Good Morning Meghan,
Thank you for your email. It is safe to eat your tomatoes. The reason why our container has “never refrigerate” is when grape tomatoes are kept at temperatures below 50°F the natural sugars break down and the tomatoes will not be as sweet. We recommend the tomatoes be stored in an open container at room temperature out of direct sunlight. Although refrigeration will extend the shelf life it will never have the same flavor profile as if you were to leave them at room temperature. Please let me know if you have any other questions.

Thank you,
Heather Wladyka
Sales Associate
Santa Sweets, Inc.
Tel: 813-759-0765 ext 1166
Cell: 813-786-0381
Fax: 813-759-8372

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My Favorite Smell

I feel like I am one of those people who never has a good answer for any question about my all-time favorite anything (e.g. all time favorite food, all time favorite other thing). Okay, so trying to give examples, makes me think that maybe I am good at having all time favorite things. Like tuesday, for example.
Today I realized my all-time favorite smell! It is the smell of what I think is a Katsura tree, in the fall when it starts to lose its leaves. It is a Most amazing smell, reminiscent of cotton candy. We are very fortunate to have two directly in front of the physics building. Perhaps I will update this post with a photo soon.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Peanut Butter Apple Pie

So here I sit, eating a most delicious apple with some most delicious peanut butter.* This most delicious peanut butter:

It occurs to me that the only way this could possibly be more delicious is if it is in a pie. After a slight moment of disappointment that it took me 25 years to discover this. I quickly did some research. Recipes for pies that are potentially the most delicious sort are abundant on the internet. However, I believe there are none of the White Chocolate Peanut Butter Apple Pie variety, so there you go, I just invented something new.

*This statement is a non-truth, as I was unable to stop eating my delicious snack for long enough to do any blogging.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Great Wide Somewhere

Yesterday I got to go on a field trip for school, and it turned out to be an amazingly great adventure! I still plan to do some blogging about my Boston adventure, but the lab adventure is fresh in my mind so we are going with that one. I'll add some photos at the end of the post.

On Monday I got invited to join the recovery team since they needed two people with ham radio licenses and had only one (KB1RAD at your services). Tuesday morning I left my house at 5:30am in order to meet up with the team, pack up the cars, and hit the road by 6:30. The launch team was delayed with their departure by an hour, due to some equipment failure. So the six of us on the recovery team headed out to Conway and had time for a nice breakfast. Our discussion eventually landed upon the fact that we would be sitting around for several hours before they even launched, so that is when I started playing 20 Questions, which actually was more like Infinite Questions. Then we heard that the launch team's main computer was broken and their backup computer was only capable of tracking and receiving data from one of the two balloons that they planned to launch. So the new plan involved sending three of the recovery team guys to Mt Washington to track and receive data from the balloons. In the meantime I got to hang out with the other two guys in Conway, playing tourister, visiting museums, drinking lemonade.. you know.

So we finally get a call saying they are about to launch. Then they launch and everything is looking good. In the meantime, they had Kristina drive another computer to the airport so that they could track both balloons from the launch site. So all in all things are looking good. The only problem is that there was too much interference at the top of Mt Washington due to all the radio towers, so that team had to quickly rush down the mountain, because it was important for them to track the balloons during the descent so that we would be able to locate and recover them. Now is when things finally started to pick up.

The other half of the recovery team was tracking the balloons as they were driving, so when they came driving by we just pulled out and started following them. Eventually they got the last GPS position for each payload, one at a fairly high altitude and one at a lower altitude. Since they had a better idea of where the lower altitude one was, we headed toward that, and once we got near we were lucky enough to receive one more transmission so we had the GPS coordinates of where it was. It turned out to be less than half a mile from the road, and when we drove up we could see it, two orange spots (one the payload, the other the parachute) in the distance. The balloon did a fine job of landing in a farm where they grow sod, so basically it was in the middle of the biggest lawn ever. Very easy to get to, and very easy to find. So we cut apart the payloads and balloon and parachute (sidenote: none of the guys had a knife on them, but luckily they had a girl along with a pink pocket knife and they were all thankful for that) and packed it away. At this point it was starting to get later in the day and we didn't want to run out of sunlight before we located the other payload.

For the other payload we could not hear the ELT (emergency locator trasmitting) on our radios, and the last GPS point was near a lake, so we suspected it might be in the lake and not functioning, so we headed that way (don't worry we had a kayak along). However, once we got closer, we started to pick up the ELT, and after driving around awhile and trying the direction antenna several times (mostly unsuccessful) we got another GPS position, so once again we had a mostly exact location. At this point it was nearly sunset, so we took a road that got us to 0.6 miles from the payload. It was very buggy and pretty thick brush, so we put on long sleeves, pants, and tons of bug spray and headed in. It turned out we were hiking through a swamp. Soon enough, most of the 6 of us were quite wet (don't worry, my hiking boots were great and kept me dry, since I never stepped in water deeper than my ankle!). It took a long time to hike the short distance in, but once we got to within the uncertainty of the handheld GPS, we brought out the directional antenna, and that time it did actually serve its purpose. Let me just explain here what the directional antenna is: a PVC pipe, with three strips of tape measure of various lengths sticking off of it, hooked up to a small handheld radio receiver. Now imagine me walking around with this thing, pointing it in various directions, listening for my balloon payload. Pretty much it is the nerdiest image of "science" one could come up with. So, there I stand, in the middle of the swamp, being eaten by mosquitos (through my clothes, and two applications of bugspray), waving this antenna around. Luckily it worked and we got the general direction and "fanned" out to the best of our abilities in the swamp. Tim managed to find it up a tree, and by the time I traversed the 20 feet to get to them they pretty much had the tree down (note to self: buy a hatchet). At this point the daylight was fading pretty quickly, so we packed away the payloads, parachute, and balloon, got out our headlamps and headed back toward the cars. We decided that due to the fading light we would take the direct path, which meant walking through the swamp without hesitation. I still managed to have dry feet by the time we got to the car, but we were all quite lucky we didn't fall down due to the thick brush and slippery footing.

All in all it was a most awesome adventure! I wish I could do things like this more often, especially since I never felt like I was holding the group back (which I was worried about), and I managed to be a helpful contributor to the goals.

The recovery team, about to go separate ways.

At the train station in Conway.

Blue train at the round house.

Old railcar.

Model train museum.

The men trying to figure out where our payloads could be. Shortly after this a woman drove by (remember this is on very back roads in Maine) and said to the guys in a mocking voice, "Are you gentlemen lost?" but was quickly corrected and then impressed by our project.

Phil frolicking in the field.

The guys approaching the payload.

A cute cemetery in the backwoods of Maine.

These two photos were taken by Tim, showing the payload stuck in a tree in the swamp in the fading daylight.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Blood Letting

Yesterday I donated blood for the first time in a long time, possibly over a year. Brett went through the initial tests and questions with me, and according to him my temperature (although below 98.6F) was acceptable (luckily, because I didn't really feel like doing jumping jacks to warm myself up), my hemoglobin was good (rare for me, since I don't generally eat a ton of meat or other iron-packed foods), and my blood pressure was just fine. Then he took me to a chair where I sat patiently waiting for Blake to stick me, but while I was waiting Angelina came over and said she could take care of me. So I moved to a different section and had a GREAT blood donating experience. Angelina found my vein right away with no "fishing around" which I hate. And I don't have a bruise today or anything. Also, it was my fastest blood letting ever: 7 minutes and 14 seconds. I am fairly sure it was due to the fact that, on my way over to the donation center, I remembered that drinking a lot of water is supposed to make your blood flow faster, so I stopped by the bubbler and had an EXTRA big drink of water.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Old Ladies!

So it has been awhile since I did any blogging, and I'm not quite ready to be in work-mode so I figured blogging would be a good post-lunch exercise. I just got back from CO, where I spent a week at a conference and a long weekend hanging out with Malory and others.

Here are some of the highlights. Maybe I'll add photos too if I am feeling generous.
-I gave my first talk at a conference. It was only two slides, but I think it was a pretty good time. No one asked questions but one of the legitimate scientists (male, white hair, has tons of papers published) commented on how unique and great my data set is.
-I saw a Lazuli Bunting.
-Free gondola rides from the conference center to almost where the condos we lived in were located.
-Listening to the white-nerd version of "For he's a jolly good fellow" when there was a birthday at the conference.
-Double line slacklining! This was SO cool. We found three trees and set up two lines in a V-shape so that we could walk from one to the next, which was tons of fun. There was also juggling on the slackline and much improvement all around.
-The drive from Aspen to Denver was very scenic. Everything is SO green because there has been SO much rain this year.
-On Saturday morning I ran my first 5k with Malory. Originally my goal was to run it in under 30 minutes, but I soon realized that it was way too hot and I either had to slow down or pass out, so I slowed down and changed my goal to continual running with no walking, which I achieved. The 5k was the Undy5000 to raise awareness for colon cancer. There was a giant inflatable colon that you could walk through. Also there were quite a few people running in only underpants.
-Later on Saturday we drove up to Greeley to visit some friends and also to see Big&Rich at the Greeley Stampede. It was the most white trash thing I have seen in awhile but we had tons of fun. And (bonus) the tickets were free since we helped with the clean-up crew.
-Malory was doing some house-sitting in Parker for the week, so we stayed there at night. One night I slept on a trundle bed (which any 4 year old would know how to get excited about) and the cat and dog were chasing each other around all night and the cat shoved a cactus over, right onto my face! Evil cat! I woke up in the morning with a little cactus spike sticking out of my forehead.
-I learned all about how corgis are so great.
-When Malory and I were leaving church these two old ladies were crossing the road slowly in front of us and Malory quietly made a comment about old ladies, and then she said quite loudly "Old Ladies!" I was panicking and laughing all at the same time, because apparently she didn't realize her window was open, but we don't think the old ladies heard. Luckily.

Here is a photo of this old cool building we saw while hiking in the mountains.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sore Muscles

I woke up yesterday morning with very sore back and leg muscles. I am guessing this was due to my gardening experience on saturday. Apparently I decided it would be a good idea to lift these huge bags of wet dirt that weighed about 8 tons each. I know they say "lift with your legs!" but apparently I lift with my legs and my back a little too. Oops!

This morning I woke up and my muscles were possibly MORE sore than the day before. I don't know how this is possible. Unless I am the world's most extreme cleaner/baker. (That was a shameless plug for my domestic skillz.)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Caffeine Key:
1 cup coffee...........................120mg
1 shot espresso......................100mg
1 cup tea................................70mg
coffee beans...........................1.2-4% (of what, who knows)
lethal dose..............................9g

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Extreme Coffee Shop

This morning I was just waiting for my coffee, basking in the glory of having purchased new lead for my pencils, when into the coffee shop walks this girl wearing cowboy boots, a suuuper short denim skirt, and a pink polo with the collar POPped. I thought to myself "I guess if I'm going to wear the same sweater day after day I should not judge people's outfit choices."

Then Another one walked in!! Then, I realized that the first one was with Another one! And then Another one walked in!

These sentences don't make sense, so let me just do a quick re-cap.
Four girls.
Four pairs of cowboy boots.
Four scandalously short denim skirts.
Four pink polos with the collars popped.

It just didn't seem appropriate given the time of day and location. Not that I know a time of day or location that would be more appropriate though.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

My Life's Ultimate Passion

Contra dancing is the thing in life that I am most passionate about. I don't know if I have ever loved a thing so much. Last night Brandon and I drove up to Montpelier for their regular contra dance. The caller was Nils Fredlund (who is possibly one of the best callers ever and sometimes plays his trombone with the band) and the band was Atlantic Crossing (who played phenomenally). Apparently Atlantic Crossing got their name because one of the fiddle players lived in New England, and one of the fiddle players lived in England, so when they played together one of them had to cross the Atlantic. Then they got married, and he moved here, so the name is not quite so accurate anymore.

In comparison to the Norwich contra dances, the Montpelier dance is in a smaller hall and has more people show up. Also, I think the average age is much younger, and they are more lively and energetic and not as much about traditional New England folk dance, like Norwich can tend to be. Don't get me wrong, I love my local Norwich dance, but I just love the Montpelier dance in a different way. It is fun to see a lot of the same faces in both places too. And despite the fact that I have not been sleeping enough lately, my tiredness will never keep me from dancing every dance. Contra makes me feel alive to the point of keeping me awake for hours after the dance has ended. Perhaps it has something to do with the sense of community established in a contra dance.

Plus the other highlight of the Montpelier dance was seeing some of my old favorites who I hadn't yet run into since my return from the North. One is Miss Bailey, who is my 5 year old little contra buddy. At the break we sat on the floor and talked about Pirate Booty and this pirate movie she really likes. When we were sitting there chatting this other little girl came up and started chatting with us too. Her name was Maya and she is 9, but she will be turning 10 soon. We share the same birthday. Also her skirt was from Bangladesh, where her stepfather has built homes for poor children where they can get food, shelter, clothing, and education. He has built homes in Nepal and two other places also, and Maya has visited each of the places once, except for Bangladesh where she went twice. Also, she is home schooled, so missing school to travel to these places is not even an issue. Even the kids I meet at contra are some of the most fascinating people around.

Then I danced a dance with Bailey, which was a little challenging, but tons of fun. She has been contra dancing for longer than I have, so she knows what all the moves mean, but she just needs you to remind her what to do and when, and to make sure she is in the right place. The great thing about contra is that it just repeats, so by the end of it I would say, "it's your turn to do a star!" and she would come back and say "now its YOUR turn to do a star!" which was really cute. Plus most people get a kick out of dancing with her, so she inspires a lot of smiles. Unfortunately, I think some people thought she was my daughter because she usually only dances with her dad (who is one of the men who prefers dancing in a skirt). It was worth it though, because I just never see any kids these days, so it was good to get my kid-fix and my contra-fix all at the same time.

All-in-all it was a spectacular time, and I don't know why but I always manage to have way more fun than I ever thought was possible. Plus on the way home I learned about the musical highway which I think is amazing.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Targeted Ads Know What I'm Thinking

So the google targeted ads are highly skilled. Often I find myself clicking the links, when I have never before clicked the links for ads. Like when Nicole and I were emailing about starting gardens for the summer I got a lot of good ads that I just couldn't stop clicking. Also, I get some good ads for outdoor gear. One time I found myself playing on the Timbuk2 website where you can design your own bag. It is amazing. Then I thought to myself, "Self how did you get to this website? And why are you not doing real work on a Tuesday morning?"
Today the targeted ads have gone one step further. They gave me the ad for and the little bit of info said, "Buy a case of 48 rolls of Charmin Big Roll toilet paper and save." It was like Google knew that within the past hour I had a conversation with Julie about how we needed to buy toilet paper. I didn't send any emails about that!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Barn!

Luckily enough we have one photo of our rocket launch.

This was taken by Robert Michell who was Kristina's graduate student that worked on Cascades1. In this photo you can see the four motor burns, which did not happen for C1. On that rocket the third stage motor did not light so the entire mission was a failure.

Anyhow, so now I am back home! I got out of Alaska just in time, as Mt Redoubt is now erupting and they are canceling many flights due to the large ash cloud drifting over much of the state. My flight actually left about a half hour early, because we were scheduled to go three hours after the first eruption, and they didn't want to risk us not getting out. So I had a little extra time on my layover in Seattle, but it was still quite short. Three of the NASA dudez were also on that flight out of Fairbanks, but they had 3 hour layovers, so they brought me to my gate and saw me off, which was fun. Usually I am that lone traveller in airports. Also, one of my NASA buddies had the privilege of sitting next to Kevin Barry in first class. I must admit I never would have known who this guy was if I didn't have that inside connection. He was a HUGE guy though. Nice, but HUGE.

My next flight got into Minneapolis a little late, so I got off one plane, booked it through the airport, and got right back on another plane. I guess it was the perfect amount of time, except for that whole not eating thing, but such a short connection makes me very nervous, particularly since I don't want a repeat of my last Minneapolis airport stranding. Luckily enough I made it just fine, as did my luggage. Then I got to ride a completely full Dartmouth Coach home.

I got to Hanover and my car started with no trouble, and Lisa and Laura were home to greet me at the barn with flowers and freshly washed sheets on my bed. All in all it was a great return.

At the barn I am starting to realize I have forgotten a few things. I smacked my elbow on the toilet paper dispenser, so I'm quite convinced someone moved it around or something. Also, the bathroom mirror makes my face look tan (is that even possible??), so I think there is something wrong with the mirror or the lighting. Almost all of the snow is melted around here, and tomorrow the high will be a balmy 47F. Not so bad..

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Finally we launched our rocket! And it seems to be a great success. The whole night seemed to be pretty surreal, and I'd give a play by play of the events leading up to the launch, but I don't think I could accurately portray what was going on. What I can tell you is that our data looks amazing. So far we just have the strip charts with the real time data from the flight, and nothing we can play around with but it really is great stuff. We have data from all five payloads, and four out of five of my detectors worked. The one that didn't work failed because it somehow deployed too early and the high voltage came on when the rocket was still in the atmosphere, so the high voltage board fried. I am just so so happy about the results of this rocket, as is everyone on the team.

It has been almost 24 hours since the launch, and I am just now realizing that I am finally through with this stage of it, and I get to move on with life. I finally get to go home and am so happy about that I could cry.

Life's so good. (apparently the former state slogan of Wisconsin, which, just four days ago, was replaced by "Live like you mean it.")

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Aurora: with photos (finally) from yours truly.

Last night there was a fairly stable arc far to the north. I took my camera out and borrowed Steve's tripod.

These are the photos I was able to get with my little point and shoot camera. Pretty good eh?!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Learning to use my camera, among other things

Today Steve and I had a big shopping adventure, which was great. We even took some time to get coffee from the coffee shop where my card is filed away.

We also stopped in at the Fairbanks Museum which includes the dog mushing museum. I learned a little bit about dog mushing. This sign showed the different ways to harness the dogs.

One of our stops was at a local photography shop. For some reason I picked up the camera that I have and was going to show Steve how I could only choose a mode and add 2 seconds to the exposure time, so I never really knew what the longest exposure time was that I could get. As I was doing this I managed to get it to 15 seconds, which is good enough for bright aurora. I tested out the long exposure, as well as two ISO settings by taking photos of the launch pad from the telemetry building up the hill.

This is with the ISO set to 1600.

And this is with the ISO set to 800.

I don't really know anything about cameras, but I like to pretend to. It is particularly fun to use my point and shoot camera in such ways. The best part was that I borrowed Steve's mini portable tripod and jammed it in a snowbank for stability. Right now we are "in for winds" so if there is good aurora I need to be inside in case we pick up the count, so no more photographer business for the time being.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

More Fairbanks Excitement

For some reason I can't get photos to upload easily, so I'm just starting a new post for the two additional photos I have.

At the Outhouse Races this man came up to me and said, "Did you run in the race today?" I said, "ha are you kidding me? no." He said, "Are you related to anyone who ran?" "ah nooo." "Okay can you tell me which outhouse is the best?" "You mean which one is the prettiest?" "Yeah. Sure. Which outhouse do you think is the prettiest?"

The Prettiest Outhouse. This team won a prize because of me.

On Wednesday I went to the Chena Hot Springs with Hanna, Torbjorn, Anna, Jeff, and Sam. It was a really great trip, and the water was amazingly warm. We were a bit like Snow Monkeys perched on rocks around the water when we got too warm. It was very nice.

This was the one photo I took on the trip. Torbjorn just loves that moose hat. He pretty much looks just like a local wearing that hat.

The March Window

Tonight is the first night of the March launch window. The science conditions are not looking terribly promising and neither is the weather. For the past three nights there has been amazing aurora, but it is pretty much dead by now. Also, it is so windy here that the building is shaking and the water in the toilets is sloshing around a little bit.

I am realizing I haven't put too many photos in my blog lately, so I'm going to try to fix that. These pictures are in no particular order. They are just the ones I like from the past two or three weeks.

This is an ice sculpture at the World Ice Art Championship.

Today on the way to the range we were just in time for Chatanika Days. They have been doing this winter carnival of sorts for many years and apparently thousands of people come out (from where, who knows..) to attend. They have outhouse races, in which people build an outhouse on skis and then race it down the street. The finish line is actually in the parking lot, so it was very amusing when the teams would be running at the crowd of people yelling "turn! turn!" The teams consisted of four people pushing and one person sitting on the seat.

Notice the old man in the center with the cane. He was one of the people riding on the seat. It looks like this guy only moves that quickly once a year, in the outhouse races. He is on his way inside to find his wheelchair.

Here are two of the teams in action.

This is a sock I knitted during the PET conference. I really like knitting. I really like that anything I can draw onto graph paper I can knit onto a sock.

I like this ice art a lot. They are stacked muskox if you can't tell.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

My week off

Today marks the seventh week of my stay in Fairbanks.
I went to the little coffee shop downtown and they have a little box at the counter where you can file away your coffee card. I had considered just picking out any random card and earning the person an extra stamp on their card, but today I got my very own card. I filed it away and feel pretty good about that. I'm not sure if it will be more tricky trying to find it on my person or to try to find it in that file of cards.
Also, I recognized one of the old men from contra today when I was at the grocery store.
Perhaps I've been here too long?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Making the Most of Fairbanks

Okay, so here is a quick update of what has been going on here. Our last night of the February launch window was March 4, and we were out for winds the entire night, and were not able to launch into the amazing aurora we were seeing.

Here is a super awesome photo of me in front of some aurora taken by Mike Nicolls. That was not March 4, but the level of amazing was comparable.

So now we have to wait until the March launch window. This does not start until March 15. The main reason we have to have some days in between windows is to avoid the moon. Right now the moon is very bright so we lose all of our ground optics.

I had big plans to take a short vacation in Denver, for the purpose of visiting friends and getting out of Fairbanks. Well that didn't work out so well, because the University of Alaska Fairbanks has spring break this week and every single flight out of this state is oversold and ridiculously expensive.

Now my plan is to just stay in Fairbanks during this break. It works out really conveniently that there is this Plasma Entry and Transport workshop going on next week. So basically I can go listen to some bigshots in my field of study talk about what they do, and that should be really beneficial for me.

Today and yesterday I have spent my time realizing just how introverted I actually am. I have had two days all to myself and I am feeling completely re-energized, which is great. I have this plan to check out the coffee shops in Fairbanks to find the best one for sitting and reading. Usually we just go to a drive through coffee hut, because we didn't have time for the luxury of sitting and reading. Today I went to the Alaska Coffee Roasting Co, and I finally feel at home in Fairbanks. Not only do they sell my favorite coffee (only the beans, they won't brew it for me) but they also make the most delicious vanilla latte. Sidenote: I had been doing really well with just drinking coffee and avoiding fancy specialty coffee beverages, but it seems that Fairbanks does not support that type of behavior. Every single coffee place only makes good espresso beverages and has really horrible brewed coffee. It is strange, but that is how it is.

Also, yesterday I saved $.50 per gallon on gas because of all the groceries we have purchased from the Safeway. I bet you guys are glad I shared that one huh? I heard this statistic that on average, every blog has just one reader. I know that at least my mom and my aunt are reading this, so I am totally beating the odds.

Second to lastly, it snowed maybe ten inches yesterday so Fairbanks is beautiful and snow covered! It is really quite lovely!

And lastly, there is a contra dance tonight, and I am definitely going. Should be fun!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


No launch I'm afraid. We have a week off and then we are back for a March launch window.

The end.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

not so grim

That last blog post may have been a bit on the grim side. It caused my mom to send me a special sympathy email so I am writing again to assure you that I am doing quite well. Granted it would be better to be at home and doing quite well, but this is not so bad. I did a calculation and realized that I have been at home for a total of one month in the past four months. Maybe Harjit will give me an extra discount on my rent. At least I am away from The Barn when heating costs so much so we can save that money.

Yesterday Steve was feeling the need to go to the Salvation Army thrift store. Unfortunately he wasn't able to come across any great deals. Erik got a book which he insists will be good. I bought a shirt, which we all agreed was very good. Plus it was a yellow tag so I got 50% off. So I am wearing my new clothes today, and most people don't even realize that I am dressed in the most ridiculous fashion. That is the part that probably makes me laugh the most.

Also, yesterday, I wrote a little haiku. I will post it here.
A Haiku
by Meghan Mella
A dull solar wind.
No dynamic aurora.
Waiting, eat cheesecake.

This was inspired by the lack of aurora or space weather lately, and also by the fact that we have all become cheesecake connoisseurs. So far the best one is a raspberry white chocolate cheesecake.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Alaska Life

My life in Alaska is turning more and more into normal routine and less into an adventure apart from my regular life. I think I am even fitting the stereotypical role of "grad student" much better while I'm here due to my odd working schedule, massive intake of coffee, not really having any friends, etc. Also, I've started referring to my hotel as 'home' without even thinking twice about it, except for right now when I write about it, of course.
Here is an outline of my standard average day:
Wake up somewhere between 11am and 2pm. Eat breakfast. This usually is actual breakfast food but sometimes it is a more nontraditional breakfast, like a cheeseburger. Also, I get a good chuckle when a waitress gives us a drinks menu for "breakfast". Sometimes if I wake up early enough I can go grocery shopping. Today I went grocery shopping AND got new ink cartridges from Office Max. Also, the man at the bank gave me a sucker. Sometimes we go to the range early to get some sledding in. The newest development is to go down the footpath on one of the little sleds which is essentially like a toboggan run which is tons of fun. Then at around 6pm we do vertical checks. This takes about an hour. Then I go up to the science center. Then we wait. And wait. And get stressed out when things almost start looking good, but are never good enough. The other day we picked up the count twice. Normally when we are waiting we sit at T-10 minutes. It only takes 10 minutes to get everything ready to launch the rocket. In vertical checks every night we run through this 10 minutes to make sure everything goes smoothly. Well we can pick up the count if things are looking really good and hold at T-2 minutes. At this point we are still powering the payload externally (not yet using the batteries so that we can save them for flight), but the transmitter is on, and starts heating up, so we can only sit there for about an hour. When we are doing this I have to be down in the telemetry building, so I am totally cut off from the science discussion among my advisor and her co-investigators. This is Incredibly nerve-wrecking because I don't know if we are stopping at T-2 or actually launching until the clock actually gets there. And we did this twice the other day.
Last night we had aurora again but we also had clouds so we could not see it. That was really too bad. We are heavily dependent on clear skies in order to use ground optics to call the launch. We are getting to the point in our launch window where people are starting to consider what happens if we don't launch and if it is possible to get another launch window in march. Some of these guys have been here since the beginning of January to support the other rocket launches in January too, so stress levels are running high.
Here are some gratuitous aurora photos taken by Mike Nicolls.

Friday, February 20, 2009

More on the Lehmacher launch

It was in the local newspaper if you want to read about it. This photo by Lee Wingfield is also found there, which is pretty sweet.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Week 4 with a 40 degree temperature change

Things have been very busy around here! Last night Gerald Lehmacher's four Turbopause rockets launched. They were pretty neat to watch too. The rockets were smaller than our rocket (only reaching about 100km, whereas we will go to about 600km), but they had a chemical release of TMA that leaves a glowing trail you can see. Then they use ground optics to study the turbulence in the upper layers of the atmosphere. Plus you can basically see the TMA trail from all parts of Alaska which is really cool.

Here is a photo I took of the third rocket launch.

Here is a photo from Craig Heinselman, who has a better camera and better photography skillz. I really like this picture because you can see the rocket, the aurora, and the LIDAR beam. The Lehmacher team was using the LIDAR to see if there was enough turbulence to launch.

This is Craig Heinselman's photo of the TMA trail from one of the rockets. There was a TMA release on the upleg and on the downleg. The upleg portion is higher up on this photo and more blurred. The downleg portion was not a pulsed stream, instead of steady, from what I could tell, and you can kind of see that in the bottom line of TMA.

So that provided us with tons of fun and entertainment. We didn't leave the range until after 3am, since each of the rockets were launched 30 minutes or slightly more apart. Today we actually get to report to the range a little later though, since they are doing playbacks for the Lehmacher mission and won't be ready for us right away.

It has been awhile since I posted anything here, and even though we haven't launched our rocket, we have been keeping busy with other things. On a side note, I am trying to keep our group webpage updated more regularly, if you want to check it out. I think I actually have all of the photos (or will have) from that site plus additional ones here.

Me in front of the Poker Flat Incoherent Scatter Radar. When I went to radar summer school last year this is what I was learning about.

Sunset as seen from TM, a good sign of clearing skies!

Darla and her weather balloons used to check winds.

The rocket on the rail. Ours is the big one. Lehmacher is the little baby rocket to the left.

And here are a few extra things just for fun:

A very serious sign in the balloon building.

A weird thing at the Museum of the North.

A cute art at the Museum of the North

OH and one last bit of interesting news. There are two BBC guys here taking photos of aurora and rockets and stuff. If you are familiar with The Planet Earth series, this is a new show they are doing that branches off of that called The Frozen Planet, which (according to wikipedia) will show in 2011. Two years to wait for fame is not so bad.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Amazing aurora last night!

This photo is again from Craig Heinselman.

Last night we had some pretty great activity. Unfortunately our rocket is still not ready to launch, so no one was really talking about weather it was a "launchable" event or not. Probably it wouldn't have been because of the clouds. We have people at field stations further north of here with ground cameras, so we want clear skies at all of these places preferably, and last night we only had half clear skies overhead.

This photo is actually really cool because you can see the back of the science center, including the indoor glass observing room, and also the outdoor observing balcony. Also, the aurora was very interesting because it was showing a lot of small scale structure, as pictured in the upper right of this photo where you can see the stripes of aurora and no aurora.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

3 weeks and 3 degrees

**new note:
Blogger still won't let me upload photos, so I'm putting the photos on my site and just linking to them. Unfortunately I didn't rotate the photos before uploading them and doing so with html code is not trivial. You can, if it is any consolation, click on the image to view a larger size.

I have gotten way behind on blogging! I keep meaning to write all these things, but I just never got to it, so here I go, with a potentially huge post.

As of today I have been in Alaska for three weeks. It doesn't seem like it has been this long, because I haven't really seen three weeks worth of this place. I can find my way around town easily enough, which I guess is indicative of three weeks, but it could just be because I'm "like a duck". There are still a few things I'd like to do in town though before I leave. At the University of Fairbanks there is a Museum of the North which is apparently quite good. There is also a museum with a lot of native history of Alaska in Pioneer Park, which I've been to, but haven't fully explored. More on that later. Also, there are the Chena Hot Springs, which are apparently the thing to do. Also they have an ice museum at the hot springs which has an ice bar and martini glasses carved out of ice. We are switching to a night schedule now, so I can check out museums in the morning before we leave, but the hot springs won't happen unless we are required to take a day off. And by we I mean NASA, because they are not allowed to work 14 or more consecutive days without special permission.

A view from the TM building at sunset.

The rocket progress and plans for future progress are always very fluid. The tasks are listed by day, but the days always change. Some (most) things take way longer than expected, and some go much more quickly than expected. The beginning of this week showed remarkable progress. On Monday we got the entire payload all built up. This is a huge step. On Tuesday morning all of the pyros got installed and in the afternoon we did the roll out test. This involves wrapping the payload in blankets to keep it warm in the -18 degree F temps so that we can make sure telemetry sees the rocket. Currently we are waiting on the v-band that connects the experiment payload to the rocket motors. This piece is very important and somehow never made its way to Alaska. Oh and now I just found out that the trailer used to transport one of the motors has an expired certification. Who knows what that means.

Erik with the subpayloads.

The front end of the payload with the main payload experiment section and also the two PFFs stowed.

Lifting the nosecone and forward subpayload to mate with the main payload.

Lifting the entire payload to made with the aft subpayload.

Full payload experiment (mtv angle style).

Lowering the payload to be put on the tractor for transport to the launch pad.

The launch rail with the first two stages of our four stage motor, the Talos and Taurus.

The BUTTON! That is right, in the middle of the photo. Two keys (which are kept in a lock box), and then push the button and away we go!

The payload all wrapped up in blankets to keep it warm outside.

Technically our launch window was supposed to start tonight, but that is not going to happen because of these various issues. We were hoping to be ready on thursday but friday is probably a more realistic start. And the space weather is not too interesting until friday, so I guess that is alright. For those of you interested I'll list a few of the webpages I check regularly for space weather predictions.
Space Weather
Which is a very dense page, but also very informative.
Space Weather Now
This page is a little more specific, so it is a little easier to quickly get good info. Basically it tells us about the solar wind, which is the cause of all the interesting aurora we are looking for. So if the solar wind increases in speed and density that is good. If there are any geomagnetic storms that is really good. If the auroral oval expands down to Alaska that is really really good.
Poker Flat MSP
This is a meridian scanning photometer plot. Basically this shows an image of the aurora overhead. Good nights look like this. Dull nights look like this (that red dot is the moon I think). And cloudy nights (also bad) look like this.
AK Magnetometer Chain
This shows magnetometers in Alaska from north to south. Lots of wiggles mean lots of current and activity and good aurora. We like lots of wiggles.
And finally,
Carrington Rotation
This plot is really good actually. The sun makes a complete rotation in about 28 days, so if we see good activity, it is quite likely that 28 days later we will see it again. So on this plot each row is 28 days, so you can see that the peaks in the plotted value (kp index) are mostly lined up in columns. For example, I look at this plot and might suggest our best days will be February 15, 22, 27, and March 3.

Enough of that now. Time for non rocket things.

On friday night I got to go to a contra dance! It was pretty amazing. The AK contra experience is very different from the NH/VT contra. The caller was not quite as experienced, so some of the dances just fell apart and we had to start new ones. No one really minded though, so at least the contra communities are equally laid back about things. Also, the very last contra of the night was a really good one, and I think it is the favorite among the locals because they all knew it, which was tons of fun.

After I got back from contra, I took Hanna to pick up a large box of her camera equipment that was being shipped. I don't really know why we were picking up this huge box at midnight. It seemed a little shady, but hey, we needed these cameras. So we went to this place. Got this huge box, which just barely fit in the trunk of our Rav4. Also, they loaded it in the car with a forklift. Then we were on our own to unload it. We had to drop it off at the university. On the drive over I asked Hanna if she was going to try to drive a forklift if we could find one, and she replied deviously, "Maaybe." Well we ended up finding a cart that was only a few inches shorter than the trunk, so we just shoved the thing out onto this cart. It was quite the operation.

Then on sunday we had a range day off. Saturday was a very very long and stressful day. I don't even remember what happened, but it was bad. We have been eating all of our meals at the Chatanika Lodge which basically makes any variety of fried food you could ask for. So we thought on our day off it would be good to cook a delicious meal. And I said "I can make lasagna!" And Steve said "oooo well I ALSO have a very good lasagna." And that was when the PFRR Lasagna Bakeoff of 2009 was born. Mind you, Steve has been making lasagna for longer than I have been alive, so this was a pretty big challenge. So the challenge started with a trip to the thrift stores of Fairbanks to find baking pans and possibly another big pot, since our kitchens are not fully stocked. Also, Steve needed a blender. Well only one of the three thrift stores was open, and it had no baking pans. So we had to go with the disposable aluminum foil pan things. Kristina and I hosted the event, since we have the biggest apartment with a living room and a kitchen table. All of the cooking happened there as well, which was pretty intense. The competition was HIGH. At one point we realized we were missing a few things, so Erik had to quickly run to the grocery store for supplies. We ended up inviting maybe 50 people because we didn't want to leave anyone out. I think about half of them showed up. It was a very fun time. And best of all, you can now say you are the proud friend/family member of an award winning lasagna maker!


In other exciting news, Erik bought Settlers of Catan which is probably my most favorite game of all time. It is meant to be played with 3 or 4 people, but it is possible to play with just two also. We played two games before the bakeoff started and I won them both, which is not typical for me. Also, the second game was beautifully symmetric so I took a picture.

I think the final thing I want to post is a few pictures from the lodge (where we eat every day). These are just some fascinating things that I've seen there. The place has a lot of fascinating things, but these really stood out and I couldn't help but taking pictures.

quite friendly...