Archive for the 'Non-Craft Related' Category

I’m writing my dissertation

Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

I’ve been traveling on and off for a few months now (hence the photos in this post). Mostly for fun but with a little bit of science thrown in there. Looking forward, I don’t have so many plans, aside from a job interview in Boston in a few weeks. Mostly I’m trying to write my dissertation. That statement is becoming almost a joke to me now — the task is so large and progress seems very slow.

Fall in the High Sierra

I think the traveling has been good for me so far. It has given me a strong motivation to get particular tasks finished and the conference I went to in Australia got me thinking and feeling good about the level of my knowledge. It can’t go on though, not with all I have to do. I think a few weekend trips will still be needed for de-stressing, but nothing that takes much thought to plan. I don’t have any brain power to spare right now.

Our campsite, Long Valley Caldera

Occasionally I turn down invitations to participate in some event or organizing committee with the excuse that “I’m writing my dissertation” but the task still seems un-doable. Even just organizing the idea of what should be included seems daunting to me.

Pyramid Peak, Desolation Wilderness

Despite the nagging feeling that I’ve completed too little in these last 4+ years, the document will be the biggest thing I’ve ever produced. Bigger than any quilt project, more consuming than my masters degree and all of my undergraduate education, and necessarily larger than either scientific paper I’ve written. All that, and only a handful of people will ever read it. I feel like I’m standing at the bottom of a very big mountain which seems mostly, but not entirely, impossible to climb.

Kepler Track, New Zealand

Needless to say, I’ve found work very consuming lately and my normal outlets – of sewing, spinning, knitting and such – have sounded like a chore. I’ve been too tired to get beyond cooking and eating. And seeing as how I have 1 of 4 chapters completed, all of these things are likely to get worse before they get better.

Mono Pass (the southern one)

Maybe I needed to say this to make excuses for myself and justify the lack of crafty output. There are so many projects I have in the queue, but I can’t seem to muster the energy to finish or start any of them. I bought a polwarth fleece in Australia (and brought it back on the plane – declared!) but can’t imagine dealing with it right now. I washed another fleece I got as a gift last year and, same thing – I don’t have the concentration to decide how it should be spun and what should be made from it. Is my only hope right now is to work on things which require no thought at all?

Typical sheepy vista, New Zealand

I’m sure that my task isn’t has hard as it seems right now. I have moments of optimism here and there and sometimes I even feel like I’m making progress. Maybe the whole exercise will help me throw my over-controlling tendencies out the window and embrace a more fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants approach to projects and adventures. I hold out hope for this outcome – I went on a backpacking trip recently and didn’t over-plan it. In fact, I think we had just the right amount of planning, resulting in a lovely (relatively) stress-free weekend.

campsite, Desolation Wilderness

But the truth remains that I like control, and I like knowing what to expect. Sitting at the end of this grad school adventure is the prospect of moving. More importantly, unspecified moving. I don’t know where we will go, or how long we will be there.

Lake Aloha, Desolation Wilderness

I keep having fleeting thoughts about how the time passing may be my last months in the Bay Area. Ever. This is hard to imagine, but also not out of the realm of possibilities. The Bay Area is my home and I can’t imagine not living here for the bulk of my time. But there are a lot of things about my future that I can’t quite imagine now… Much uncertainty looms.

Doubtful Sound, New Zealand

I’m trying to stay positive and just execute the task rather than spend too much time being philosophical about the process. I’m inherently an over-optimizer. There is a fine line between relaxing by ignoring all the things I have to do and relaxing so I can make progress without stressing. I haven’t sorted it out yet, but maybe this will have to be an unwritten chapter in my PhD in order to write the sciency stuff that I need to graduate.

Swingbridge on the Routeburn Track, New Zealand

City Museum

A few weeks ago I went to a wedding in St. Louis MO. I had never been there before and I didn’t know anything about the city other than the fact that it was on the Mississippi River and has a big arch. I was pleasantly surprised about quite a few aspects of the city (public transportation, re-purposed industrial spaces, pedestrian oriented streetcar communities still in tact) but I was in complete awe of the City Museum.

The ethic of the place was all about exploration and it appeared to be built completely from recycled and salvaged materials. It was a place that I am pre-disposed to adore – in fact, I’m actually fairly shocked that I had never heard of it before!

From their website:

Reaching no farther than municipal borders for its reclaimed building materials, CITY MUSEUM boasts features such as old chimneys, salvaged bridges, construction cranes, miles of tile, and even two abandoned planes!

We went to the museum on the recommendation of some other visitors from the wedding. There were 5 adults, but from the smiles on our faces and eagerness to acquire rug-burns you might have mistaken us for 10 year olds. The place is one giant maze/jungle gym. It was a little bit like a 10 story tactile dome taken to the extreme. On Fridays it is open until 1am! The place was decidedly not an amusement park, nor was it a traditional museum in any way. Participation was encouraged (or required?). We even heard a museum employee telling all of the parents sitting around the outdoor structure that they needed to show the kids how it was done – i.e. get up and play!

The place had no maps (although I did find one on their website) and not much in the way of directional signage. This required visitors to find their own way and keep exploring to discover what other fantastic-ness awaited them. Several times I overheard kids discussing how to get back to some part of the maze that had a feature they really liked (a slide, or ladder perhaps). Problem solving and creative thinking were require everywhere. Everywhere I looked there were structures made from everyday objects. The top floor even had a vintage clothing store including vintage clothing printed with the museum logo.

We didn’t have adequate time to explore the place (and I didn’t have nearly enough time to take pictures because I was more excited about running around) but there were two main features that were big winners with our group.

The outdoor area, called the MonstroCity, featured airplane fuselages, construction cranes, a fire engine, a giant ball pit, and large metal mesh tubes suspended several stories in the air (you can see one coming off of the plane’s wing). Everything was meant for climbing on or through. I saw people problem solving to navigate their way, overcoming their fear of heights and mostly grinning from ear to ear.

The biggest single attraction was the 10 story spiral slide made from shoots welded from sheet metal. It looked like the shoots were part of the original shoe factory (in which the museum was built) that were connected together to make one long, very twisty, slide.

The slide is the spiral all the way on the left. There were no elevators to the top, you had to walk up a spiral staircase (into increasingly hot air) all the way to the top floor to earn your ride down. While sliding down it I kept thinking the ride would end but 10 stories in circles is a long way to go! The bottom of the slide dumps you out in a series of caves which were dark, eerie, and refreshingly cool.

If you ever happen to be in St. Louis you MUST visit the City Museum. The scope and scale of this place was inspiring and exploring within the museum brought back feelings of wonder and excitement from childhood that little else can replicate. My adult side was amazed by the structures made from re-purposed materials and inspired to build large scale sculpture. My child side just wanted to play like crazy and skin as many joints as possible.

Done and Done

Collegiate national sailing championship: DONE!
It went smoothly and the wind cooperated (like it does here in the summer). Whew!

A few views of the weekend:

Black vs. yellow headed out to the racecourse. In the background you can see the new custom crane which started work the same day as our regatta. To build the suspension section of the new Bay Bridge they had to have a custom crane built (the Left Coast Lifter) and shipped over from China. If that fascinates you check it out in action, read the press release (pdf) or explore this fancy looking site showing all the sections of the new bridge.

A yellow boat on land. This style of racing puts two teams against one another, 3 boats against 3 boats, and the best combined score wins. To make things easy to see on the water the sails are colored by team, red vs. blue, black vs. yellow and orange vs. green.

Me being in charge. I spent the whole time on my feet. N had impeccable timing and went away for the weekend so I could just come home and collapse in a pile each night. I survived though and now I can go back to my regularly scheduled life!

earth day, reprise

First GOES-11 Image

First GOES-11 Image

Following last year’s earth day post I decided to do a short reprise of a few images of earth. Above is the first image sent back by the GOES-11 satellite on May 17th, 2000. You may not be familiar with the GOES satellites directly, but this type of satellite provides all of the visible cloud and water vapor imagery that gets shown during the weather section of the news. One of the most amazing things I notice in this image is the strong linear feature of clouds just north of the equator. This is called the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) and is where the air from the northern and southern hemispheres meet and ascend. We write equations about it, talk about it in theory, but there it is!


Collapsed Larsen B Ice Shelf

Larsen B Ice Shelf

This next image shows the Larsen B Ice Shelf (on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula) during 2000 before its rapid collapse (over 35 days) in 2002. From NASA “[the shelf] lost 3,250 square kilometers (about 1,255 square miles) — an area somewhat larger than Rhode Island — sending a plume of icebergs into the Weddell Sea.” The collapse of such a large piece of ice in connection with the warming observed at these locations (about 3 degrees since the 1940′s) makes it a physical realization of the climate change I know is coming.
For more about Larsen B see “Fragment of its Former Shelf” from NASA earth observatory.

Climate Models

CCSM3 T341, November

CCSM3 T341, November - click to load video

My last image is not actually an image of the Earth directly, but a computer model simulation of the atmosphere calculated at very high resolution. I use this same model (at a much lower resolution) to run experiments to find how vegetation can influence climate. The videos have water vapor shown in white and rain shown in orange. I could watch these simulations all day…

Look at the Amazon and Congo rainforests for the orange pulse of the daily cycle in precipitation! There are even hurricanes! Last year I talked about how the complexity and heterogeneity of the earth’s surface makes me think it is impossible to write down in the form of equations. This year I’ll go with optimism. These results look like a real atmosphere. Amazing!

(I have limited video embedding skills (or desire to gain such skills) so please bear with me for the screen shot and link) To see more months or view the entire year go to the Community Climate Model.

People often ask me if I get depressed studying global warming, but in truth, I don’t. I guess I feel good about the fact that I’m trying to do something about it in the best way I know how. I hope you can all do the same. Happy earth day everyone!

A Tour

photo by DC

I’m feeling fairly overwhelmed lately. I’m not as stressed out as I was last fall but I don’t feel like I have much room to breathe. I haven’t touched my spinning wheel in more than a month. A while back I made some things for a baby shower (discussed in my last post) but since then it has been slow going. I want to make a quilt for the new family but I just haven’t had the brain power to think it through.

Part of this is my own fault, for two main reasons:
1. Two years ago I volunteered to help run a College Sailing National Championship. Now I’m getting endless emails and phone calls about something that is not part of my daily life anymore (it wasn’t part of my life when I volunteered either, but somehow I didn’t think that through). I just have to spend the next month and a half trying not to go insane with all the details and hope that the event goes smoothly.

2. I’ve been keeping up my pace of going on lots of trips. Some are work related, but a while back I invited myself to go along on a backpacking trip to Utah with an old friend. It made my schedule hectic but the trip was so fantastic that I have no regrets about it. In fact, I think I should make a point of going on more trips like it.

Here is a brief tour of my trip through photos, you can see the whole set here.
We walked up the virgin river in Zion National Park. I’ve only ever done this in the summer and there is a good reason why. Between the 40 degree water, the 40 degree air, and the reasonably quick current, it was a bit treacherous. It was fun though, and there were no casualties. The light was reflecting twice in this photo, once off the canyon wall around the corner and then again off the wet surface on the wall opposite me.

We came across this grotto up a side canyon during our backpacking stint. It is rare to see so much water in the desert. This place was very special indeed.

There is something about the landscape in the southwest that makes the space seem vast and empty. Here we are standing on the rim of the Escalante river canyon just after ascending out of it. The vertical scale may be smaller than other canyons in the area but the red sandstone walls are close and imposing. The whole experience is very impressive.

The Escalante region felt very remote compared to my usual life in the city, but there are constant reminders that people have been there even when none are to be found. Some of the reminders are modern, like the brand new composting toilet we came across in Coyote Gulch, but some are more ancient:

I think Southern Utah is my happy place. I usually tire of camping trips at about one week in, but this time I was ready to keep going. After I got home (and showered) I was ready to go back for more. It was sad that N wasn’t able to get a week off from work come on the trip but that seems to be the way things go in his line of work. I wish it wasn’t so far from home because I can’t wait to go back again.

beginning (year)

(gratuitous pretty photo, sunset in Hawaii in October 2008)

There are plenty of reminders all throughout the year of time passing. I have a running list of anniversaries of random and unimportant events in my head, maybe not tied to specific dates, but to the passing of different seasons and emotions. Why is it that the New Year is the one annual event that we strongly associate retrospection with? I’ve been living on the academic calendar so long that it no longer seems like the break between years belongs in January.

Nevertheless, I suppose the turning over of the calendar is as good a time as any for evaluating ones life, taking stock of where one stands and in what direction one is heading. On that note, I have a few things I plan to try out in the time going forward from now. Call them resolutions if you want, but I prefer not to.

1. I would like to be less stressed.
The holidays have been relaxing for me. I feel like I’m coming down from months of stress. Maybe years? I’m having trouble remembering the last time I felt relaxed for an extended period of time. Being a scientist (or, more accurately, trying to be a scientist) is an entirely self-motivated profession. With freedom comes responsibility, namely responsibility for your own success. I know that those with a normal desk job will balk at me for complaining (though please note I make poverty level wages for the bay area) but despite all the freedom and flexibility, or maybe because of it, there is a lot of guilt and stress associated with work. Anyone who is self employed must have an idea of this feeling. I do no one any good when I’m stressed out. I’m no fun for n or anyone else, especially me.

I have a few ideas about how I will accomplish this. Somehow I need to be productive at work, come home to make dinner and still have a little time for crafting. I know at least this last fall I let the crafting get the better of me by over committing myself to too many projects with deadlines. The quilt was hanging over me while I was trying to sew for the bazaar bizarre and all the while I was working until late and feeling stressed about dinner (n used to do most of the cooking but his new job includes with it a 1-2 hour commute and he rarely gets home before 8pm). I think this leads nicely to:

2. Do more meal planning (including grocery shopping) ahead of time.
It is the planning that I find harder than the actual cooking. If I know what I’m going to make I can just go into auto-cooking mode and make food. Ideas for what to make are the precious commodity around here. I think I need to spend some time studying our shelf of cookbooks (we got some new ones for xmas) and get more ideas about what I can make.

3. Have more fun crafting and make fewer commitments.
I think I will stay off the craft fairs for a while. I’m happy to go and help others, but I think I’ll stick to other ways of selling my wallets and bags. I want to make another quilt, but I think this one will be for us and won’t have a deadline.

4. Make a plan for the next two years. I need to really figure out what I need to do to finish my PhD and where that is going to leave me when I am done.

There they are, my thoughts for how to look forward into the next year. Did anyone else make resolutions? What kind of things to do you include on your list?

paris etc. (traveling part 3)

The last trip was for another conference, this on in Hyeres in the South of France (even, perhaps, near to where the naked ladies danced). Some of the employees at Air France had the good timing to go on strike for the day that I was trying to fly from Paris to the south (how French of them..). I was concerned that my complete lack of French language skills was going to be a problem when I arrived in Paris and would have to make alternate arrangements. It all worked out and I made it south despite my flight being canceled. Just to convince me that traveling by rail wouldn’t have solved my problems, the train went on strike the day we were to return north.

The conference hotel was set up on the hill near the old part of town. The vegetation was decidedly Mediterranean (like California) but the narrow steep streets and ruins of a castle at the top of the hill were quite unlike anything I would find at home.

After the conference I went to Paris for a few days to visit C, S and T. They moved there last July and I was eager to see how things are going for them. I was also excited to see in person how S’s etsy shop is coming along. I’ve seen the adorable photos and I’m here to say that the clothes are just as cute in person, especially on your favorite toddler.

Photo by collected orange, dress on etsy

I’ve never been to France before, so I spent my four days walking around Paris. The weather was mostly cooperative, with dramatic skies and occasional rain. We even got a little snow during our Sunday morning trip to the market. My friends showed me around town during the weekend, and I showed myself around the other days.

I peeked in the windows of a few Parisian crafty shops, but only took photos from the outside.
Ribbon store.

Yarn store (the skeins were hung on the wall in a lovely rainbow which is barely visible).

My travel knitting was a second pair of mittens from the Selbuvotter mitten book. The colors in this photo are off, but I had to show the perfect blue skies the morning I flew out.

I tried to sleep on the flight home, but I was really excited about flying over Greenland and catching a glimpse of sea ice so I did a lot of dozing on the window waiting for breaks in the clouds. I was rewarded a few times.

Now I’m back at home, a bit in a daze from the jet lag and wishing the sun were here! I must have left it in Paris…

losing the sun (traveling part 2)

I’ve been on a marathon for about a month and a half now. Only a few more days before I can really relax..

What have I been up to this whole time? Well, I’m glad you asked. First I went with N to his brother’s wedding in MD (but I mentioned that already…).

Next was the Color Fiber Festival. I actually missed about half of the festival because I had to go to my office and finish up my poster for the next branch of my adventure. Here we are setting up the Girl On The Rocks booth.

I got several really nice things at Color but I haven’t gotten a chance to spin any of them yet.

I think I am most excited about the drafted lamb’s fleece (Tanner, from Flynn Creek Churros). It is a lovely shade of chocolate brown and quite soft.

I also scored a gorgeous roving from Krista at Pigeonroof Studios. I kept looking through all of the selections and pulling the same one out, so I knew it was the right color for me!

Yak from A verb for keeping warm.

California Variegated Mutant (love the name!) from Tactile fiber arts.

The next morning I flew several thousand miles in the opposite direction to Hawaii for a conference and a few days of exploring. I made a best effort to spend as many sunsets at the beach as possible. I think I did pretty well.

I discovered a few things about traveling alone in a tropical locale. For one, it is difficult to put sunscreen on your own back. In response to this realization one person said that it would be an excellent opportunity to make friends on the beach. I chose to wear a shirt instead.

For lack of motivation to do much driving on my own I spent one entire day sitting on this beach:

It was time well spent.

When I returned home it was all of a sudden winter, and I was just in time for the election and a few days of intense work and a little sewing.

More sewing you might ask? Yes (!), more sewing. I’m frantically trying to prepare for the Bazaar Bizarre! I’ve been trying my best to cram a little sewing into all the cracks in my life. I’m going to make it (the show is this Sunday!) but I might not want to look at a vinyl banner or my sewing machine for a while afterward. If you are in the area please stop by! I’ll be at a booth with Girl On The Rocks – just follow your nose to the table of moustaches and recycled vinyl. Expect another post about the event soon…

I agree with the Smilodon*

photo from girlontherocks

I hope you do too! Respect your fellow Californians and vote NO on Prop 8.

*The Smilodon is our building guardian left over from the days when paleontology was part of the geology department. He spent much of the last few years staring at a temporary construction building inches from his nose, and now he just wants to be heard!

Manta Ray

Here he is, cruising around having dinner.

There are two in this photo. Do you see the one waving? I think he is saying “hi mom!”