Monday, August 10, 2015

Berlin Day Two

First, please excuse any typos. I´m writing this on a German keyboard because I accidentally fried my laptop adapter. The biggest changes are the positioning, addition of umlauts, and my y key is in a very unusual position. Second, I have been corrected on my identification of the submarine from the other day! It was, in fact, a soviet submarine, and once I am back in the states I`ll correct that in the post itself.

For now, just plain wowzers. What A Day! Berlin is so wonderful. Of course, I only ended up with five hours to explore it after the Reichstag tour, but still! So much wow. And that was five hours AFTER a morning tour of the Reichstag.

A bit about the Reichstag for those not in the know. The Reichstag is where the German Parliment casts its votes and holds Party meetings. As I can hear you asking why I would go there from the hotel in Germany already, I'll explain the appeal of the place to me. One Word: Architecture.

See, this building is a little on the weird side. Almost all of it is the original outer walls of the building, built in the Weimar Republic, which was Germany's first democracy and in the early 1900s era. This means that it is rocking the classical art look, feel, and symbology. You guys know me and the classical period. Ah, my first love in art! Wonderful.

Of course, there was a wee bitty change on the facade at one point in the 1900s, and I should only have to translate it to tell you who wrote it. On the front of the building, in an otherwise unmarred band reads something a little out of place. 'Dem Deutschen Volke.' To the German People. Three guesses on when that was put there, and the first two don't count.

If you guessed Hitler, you were wrong.  Try in 1916, and to the displeasure of then ruler Wilhelm II. That's right. Sounds like Nazis and isn't. History produces weird things.

This is not all there is to this magnificent building of course. You see, after the wall fell and Germany became one again, there was a tiny matter of where to vote at, and where else but the Konigplatz, now renamed to something less kingly, and with government buildings all around. One problem. The Soviets had totally trashed the place, among other things, like bombs falling from the sky.  So it got a makeover.  The entire interior was removed and build to modern taste, and on top, as a symbol of the transparency of the new government a giant glass dome was built.

Around the building we went, seeing this and that, even preserved Soviet graffiti, which while interesting in its existence, rates only a one of my graffiti scale. It was almost entirely dates, names, and where soldiers were from. Says a lot about the mind set of the soldiers, I think.

This was a good three hour tour and climb to the top of the glass dome by the way. Leaving me with only five hours to see the town and get back to where our last hoorah dinner was going to be. Effectively, with getting around, I had four hours. With eating a lunch as well...only three. THREE HOURS! Well, plus change, of course, but oh what could I do, how could I take in the city? I could not. Not by foot. So I employed the mighty services of a tour bus! City sightseeing buses abounded, and if I only had a handful of hours to see it all, this would be the way.  I made my way from the Reichstag to the Brandenburg Gate, and admired that very much, and all too greatly. Then I got on a tour bus with a friend who had the same idea.

The sights! The sounds! Berlin! We saw the victory tower, with the eight meter tall Victory angel on top.  The children next to me insisted she was a golden fairy.  It was a very good description.  Along the route, we also saw Schloss Bellevue, where Merkel lives, we were told Schloss Charlottenburg was also taken in, with all it resplendent glory, as was the beautiful route to the zoo. The Europa Center was admired, and we saw, of course, KaDeWe, a huge shopping mall from the DDR, if I recall correctly.

A trip through Potsdamer Platz and all showed us the magical art area, so many galleries, the sony center, the golden philharmonic, the musical theater with greats from the black and white era and so many more! We even got to see more remains of the wall, and of course we got to see check point charlie, though the bus did not stop for us to get off there, to my sorrow. 

Oh the tour was wonderful, and we got off near the Reichstag to head over to a memorial that is wonderful in theory and which I still do not understand at all the deeper meaning behind.  That would be the Holocast memorial specifically to the Jews.  I did see the one ot the Gypsies as well. It's a reflecting pool with a triangle in the middle.  For the jews there is a large plaza filled with stone rectangles of varying heights. They get big enough that you can walk among them, and thanks to cleverly digging down, it looks like they only grow in height maybe three feet.

I still don't understand it. But it was very memorial-esque.

After this I had to make my way back to the S-bahn, of the Schnell bahn, the quick train. I took it to the Potsdam station from the Brandeburg Gate, as it seemed that was the closest. From there, I changed trains to one to the Alexanderplatz near my hotel and the restaurant our last horrah was at. I arrived soon enough to briefly admire the TV tower, the largest most modern structure of the DDR in Germany, and then to check out the Statsi Archives.

I don't know the proper name. But in these archives is the most shocking thing in Berlin for me.  If the DDR had a file on you, you will now find it there. They had a lot of files, on a lot of people. It's a very large building, and to the front, is this statue of a Soviet working man. It was closed by the time I was there, but for me, this affected me much more than the Holocaust memorial.

Shortly after, we had a goodbye dinner at 'Der Alte Fritz.' The name is in honor of the man who brought Germany the potato....Frederick the Great. There were potatoes at our dinner. I gave up and had them. Germans really love potatoes guys. They really do.

I wish I had more time. I didn't get nearly as much done as I would have liked. Berlin is just too small for only a few hours, or even only a few days in it, and tomorrow, or rather, on Sunday my plane leaves back for the US.  But that, of course, is another adventure.

One Final Byte: When adventures are done, people will be missed.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Day one of Berlin

So. Last Night, we arrived at Berlin, tired from a day of travel, hungry as a pack of wild coyotes, and incredibly curious.  The others went for a self-guided night time tour of Berlin. I went to save the world from me being cranky, and had an Italian Dream Pizza, and a nice night’s sleep. And Italian Dream Pizza is, apparently, pesto and mozzarella on a thin crust with marinara sauce. This is what I get for eating at a hotel bar. It wasn’t good. It wasn’t bad. It just was. Each slice varied in tastiness, which is what happens when a bartender is forced to spread pesto on a pizza crust.

This hotel, by the way, is simply lovely. The rooms are not the giant American sized ones of course, but the décor is just right, and when you first enter, the TV flicks on to play soothing music.  This is because to have electricity you have to insert your room card into the electricity slot.  Electricity slot, by the way, is how the hotel translates it into English. It is a very literal name.

After my lovely night’s sleep, and very German breakfast of chocolate croissants, and not the unfamiliar deli meats that have been a part of every German breakfast buffet here, we were off to attend lectures! This time, to cover the aspects of the German Space Agency that are in no way related to space. Along the way to the DLR Berlin site, I admired the route we took with cat like curiosity. Let me tell you, along the route we took, there was not big city traffic. There wasn’t even small city traffic. There was not a single traffic jam whatsoever. There were an awful lot of cyclists and trains and buses, but no traffic jam. These things may or may not be related.

Oh! Also, can I just say that I adore the little classical art house décor. I don’t have the word for what they were, but it was, essentially, a painting cut out of the stone attached to the building. It’s not a sculpture how I normally think of a sculpture, but it was certainly sculpted. Either way, America should take up the habit.

Also, Berlin, I forgive you the lack luster graffiti of my arrival! Oh, my heart is smoothed for the masterpieces of signatures and scenes that I have seen on this day. Such beauty! Truly you have talented graffiti artists Berlin. Mostly just mindless taggers yes, but your shining pearls certainly outshine those who can little more than sign their own name.

Of course, shortly after some lovely graffiti, we saw IT. You know what I mean. That famous wall. Every inch of it that remained along our route was covered in beautiful murals, almost all dedicated to peace, and some of which that had stood for longer than I’ve been alive. (Betcha feel old now don’t you?)

It was very touching, for the most part. I think I pretty much just held down my hand on the take a picture button for my camera though, and let it go wild. The 200+ photos will all be stitched together….later.

There’s so much to tell you! Urgh, I just don’t have enough words people. Like, how do you move on from something as astonishing as The Wall, to the fact that Germany is dotted by weird little huts shaped like strawberries and painted like strawberries that sell strawberries! Here’s a hint. I did it just like that.

It’s so very different being here now, compared to when I was here last. I think northern and southern Germany are clearly two different beasts, especially when you throw Berlin into the mix.

For instance, before, I didn’t see many hobby/community gardens. Here, there’s long fields of community gardens where you can rent a plot, build a shack, and do all your hobbies there that you can’t do in your apartment. Let me tell you, there’s a lot of hobbies out there that don’t fit in apartments.  I was incredibly confused the first time we went past one, and asked our German Group Leader. He explained that people go there on the weekends and garden, or do other outdoor hobbies. I even say one with a shallow pool in it. A wise choice in this near 100 degree weather.

And oh, along the way we say the prettiest of trains. It is a train that you wouldn’t hesitate to board, and you would feel like you stepped back in time to step through the door, for surely, something as pretty as this could not be a modern train. Then you enter it and see the seating and yes, yes it is a modern train.

Anyway, we did reach the DLR Adlershof site, and proceeded to be informed of the other things German NASA does.  Such as traffic research and building 3D maps. I assure you, both fo these had much longer and more scientific titles before I got to them. What really tickled me pink though was our speaker from the Institute of Planetary Research. He spoke largely of asteroids and the Philae mission, played silly NASA videos from other asteroid missions, and informed us if a bolide (the Russian asteroid from a year or something agoish) comes down to earth, we should avoid being near the windows, so we don’t get hurt.  Even 50 km away. In American, that’s about 32 miles.

Oh, did I mention the coolest bit? The DLR Adlershof site is startling near Albert Einstein Straße. You can bet I got a picture of that, and a picture of me standing there, looking all too happy.

We also got a tour fo the DLR site, in which I got to see the Exomars camera development model, stare longingly at a full size model of the Philae lander, and admire several spectroscopy machines and the lovely rocks the samples for those machines came from. I am told that they make their own samples in the room attached, because the industry standard samples aren’t good enough. He said it like that too.

Of course, after this we had lunch in a college cafeteria of the local university. Between that and my college university, I adored the German university’s décor ten times more, but the food choices were not particularly varied, or great in number, so I’d have to select my university’s for food in both variety of flavor and choices to be had. Either way, I’m rather fond of my university’s cafeteria food, and tired of potatoes, so I don’t think this was at all a fair assessment.

Oh! This was not the end of my day, by far people. Not at all. We concluded our organized activities by a thirty minute visit to Frederick the Great’s summer palace. This was such a favorite place of this guy that he insisted on being buried there. And as I cannot escape the Almighty Potato in Germany, I might as well tell you. This man had baby potatoes all over his grave. There were like 25 on his gravestone. Some had faces. One had a tiny Prussian toothpick flag. Seriously, Germany, we gotta have a talk about those potatoes.

There’s good reason for the potatoes on Frederick’s grave by the way. This man is the man who popularized potatoes in Germany. My guide informed me that legend had it, before him, people grew potatoes for the flower rather than the root (the thing you eat). He then went and made it all kinds of ridiculously popular to eat them, by planting a field, and posting two men to guard it. People assumed they must be rare and valuable, then stole them, planted hem, and this somehow led to them eating them? The story was not clear on that last point.

Seriously though Frederick. Potatoes? Everywhere.  Good job on that.

On the way back, of course I saw some very excellent graffiti and some of which was clearly commissioned graffiti, but still graffiti none the less. Germans have their public art scene down people. Public art is all over the place. Gorgeous. We need more of that America. Come on. More.

We also passed by an ebay center, which was unexpected, largely because I’ve never seen an ebay center ever before, and yet, there it was in Germany. Then, back at the hotel I had to race, one more time.

Germany is basically one giant race for me this trip guys. I speed everywhere. This time was to the Apotheke aka the Pharmacy. The race was because it closed at probably 6, but maybe 7, no one knew. It was, of course, closed. So we had to go much farther to find a 24/7 pharmacy.  The local pharmacies all take turns having one night a week in which they are 24/7, so it can be tricky finding one. We did it though, and after four days of trying to get to a place that closed only minutes after I got back to the hotel, I finally got more aspirin for my knee. Seriously. Four days of running out of time.  This is why I’m always racing.

Afterwards, I ended up at dinner in a Biergarten, in which I drank the Sprite and had a salad as I wasn’t too hungry, and my companions had a Pig’s elbow.  This is the translation they provided. It was HUGE. Looked good, and I’m told was delicious. It’s still a pig’s elbow though. Eisbein is the name of the dish, if you ever have one, and they suggest you get it fried so the fat on it is crunchy.  By the time we were done, it was time to write my blog and go to bed.  Tomorrow is the big government building, and a tour of the big monuments, followed by ‘free time’ in which I shall explore museums to my heart’s content.

One Final Byte: Suck the marrow out of every single day.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Neustrelitz and the Orangery

After two days of rushing about, Sunday was rather welcome for most of the travelers. On Sunday, for the most part we relaxed, taking a break from the frenzied sightseeing of the past two days to breathe in the German Air and get some much needed sleep. And then came the afternoon, in which we all met up as a group of campers once more for sightseeing in Neustrelitz. That was interesting, led at a slightly slower pace than the other two days this weekend.

It turns out Neustrelitz had been a pretty important place in the Dukedom of Mecklenburg at once point, and was home to a princess at one point in its history. It also had an Orangery.  The tour in general focused largely on the architecture of the town which was simply amazing, and culminated at the church in the center of the town. Still active, it’s a protestant church with a six story tower. You can bet we climbed up that tower, from the inside.  It was steep. It was exhausting. It was worth it. The view from the top was absolutely amazing, and very beautiful. You could see the lake in town, and the old church on the other side. You could see the geometry of the town, designed to have a major road in all eight directions of a compass.

It was beautiful.

High places often are.

I’m lucky to have seen it! We headed back down one by one, taking the stairs down slowly. It was, after all, very steep. People wearing sandals, or in one case heels, took them off for the route back down, and we met in the church before going to the big event of the day.

The Wine Tasting at the Orangery.

This was excellent.  If you don’t know what an Orangery is don’t worry. I don’t either, and I’ve been to one. The dictionary tells me it is a conservatory like building where oranges are grown.  I saw no oranges, but I did see an awful lot of casts from famous statues, some multiple times. It seems the one time owner was very fond of classical art, Greek frescoes, and Greek statues.

You of course, likely want to hear about the actual wine we tasted, I am sure. There were six wines total, three whites and three reds.  One white and one red was from each country officially represented on the trip. This meant Germany, South Africa, and the USA. Unofficially, of course, we had Germany, Italy, India, Finland, Indonesia, and the USA. I think having two wines from each for that though may have been a bit of overkill.  The whites were all very good, and the reds weren’t bad either, though I always prefer white wine, I confess. None of it was from a local vineyard, of course, but it was still very tasty, and very different than the last wine tasting I enjoyed in Germany. The wine was beautifully paired with the food though, and the food, whatever it was for the most part, was simply amazing. I would eat there again, if I thought it was anywhere near my budget. We also got the other grand piano they had there played for us by one of the campers. Wow oh Wow! He was good, and played two songs from memory, singing along with the second. Wow oh Wow. It was nice!

I walked through the Orangery at that point, only to be pulled back for a group photo. After this, we were off! Off for what, you ask? Well, it was up to you, but I went with the group that was going to check out the tomb of the dead but much beloved princess.  It was a nice enough tomb, I think, but I have one very serious question.

Why the devil do you put windows in a tomb! Seriously though dudes, the people can’t see in because they are too high, and, you know, the dead can’t exactly see out. Some things I just don’t understand.

Still, it’s all been tons of fun, and I enjoyed it all so much.  The lectures have been good, and the projects pretty challenging.  For this camp, I totally give it an A+! I had fun.

I think my only real complaint about the German side is that if they see you searching for a word in German, they automatically switch to English! It’s very nice of them of course, but I had hoped to use my German more than I did here. Oh well! That just means I’ll have to return to Germany in my travels, so I can use my German more! Or you know, any German speaking country could be nice.

One Final Byte: Travel should always inspire more travel to happen.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Rostock and Warnemuende

Friday isn’t the only day we traveled of course!  Saturday meant another trip, this time by train! Yay trains! You all know I love train travel.

This one was a two hitter also, and like most two hitters I just didn’t feel like I got enough time at either place. This time, it was Rostock and Warnemünde. As a note, that ‘r’ in Warnemünde is nearly silent. It’s very soft when you pronounce it.

Back to the super awesome train though. This train was a double decker. I kid you not. Two. Levels. Is that not the best thing ever? The answer, by the way, is heck yes it is the best! Oh man. The only downside was that Rostock is basically the place to be in Northern Germany on the weekend during the summer. It was so crowded, we couldn’t all find seats together. This was a problem because we had one ticket that covered five people at once. It was one of those special deals that travel companies put on for groups, and there just weren’t five seats in one area together!

I got to sit on the stairs for the first half, but one the ticket lady saw us once, we could split up in the same car, and you bet your bottom dollar that I went for the top as soon as I could go for the top. Of course, I only had the second class ticket, and you know first class took up most of the second floor of the cars. But there were some seats for us second class ticket holders and I took full advantage of people leaving the train to hurry up before someone else could take one.

It worked out well! Second story rocks people. Nicer seats, a better view, and heyo, nice company too! Hi Dude! Great Star Trek talk there. Great talk.

Okay, so for the most part, the plan was to stick to the group we traveled with, largely because only one person’s phone worked overseas. Hello my phone company? You’re driving me away here with this just so you know.  Seriously dudes, I’m switching soon as I find a cheaper company that’ll let me keep my number and phone.

Anyway, our first stop was at the old watch tower, which was, of course, dutifully admired and questioned our German Camp Leader over. He didn’t have all the answers, but he did have the internet, which was dutifully queried until we were satisfied. It was a glorious tower, by the way, and the city shield, along with the shield of the Duke who basically commissioned the entire town, was displayed. There was also a bull on the tower but just the head, looking very fierce.

After that, it was a quick walk to the visitor center, with a stop by one group member to get a pair of shoes she wanted. It took about an hour of carrying around the shoe box with her old shoes in it to regret that, I believe. At the visitor center, we picked up a map and set out, after making a brief plan.  We went straight to the Marien Kirche (Church of St. Mary) and explored the place well, checking out all the wonders of an old church, and one wonder most old churches don’t have.

That would be a ridiculously detailed astronomical clock which worked from sometime in the 1400s to 2017, and told you everything from the time, to the day of the week, to what time Easter would be that year, and what name day is was! Jiminy Cricket, it was ridiculously detailed, and all of it in the old German calligraphy that is so hard to read.

For lunch, we decided to have something local, and not ‘just a snack.’ The Germans consider lunch the biggest meal, for the most part, and portions reflect this greatly.  We chose to eat at the Gaststätte Ritter Runkel. In English, this is the restaurant, Knight Runkel. I had a turkey salad which had no dressing, and weird, weird toppings on my lettuce, but I wasn’t very hungry. I was too busy being amused by the weaponry hanging up everywhere. Crossbows, pikes, awes, swords, and a suit of armor.  The take the knight theme very seriously there, but it was definitely good food and worth every Euro.

And then we noticed the time. We had two more churches we wanted to hit up, but only an hour left to get back to the train station. We could do it. Barely. If we didn’t go inside the churches. We had agreed to meet at the train station at a certain time if we got separated, and by that time, we had lost one member of Team Us.

What a race! First we hit up one church, stop, take pictures, and then check the time. No time to take more than one or two, and we’re off! The next church was officially on the way to the station, and we hurried on, only to discover that one was largely under construction. Well, that’s alright, we snapped several pictures and hurried on, making it with five minutes to spare to meet our missing member. It looked like, however, she had gone ahead with another group. So then we were off! To Warnemünde!

We only have a few hours in Warnemünde, and wanted to make the best. After setting a new time to meet up, and promptly ending up split up we were off! The idea of a boat tour on the Baltic sounded like the best idea to me, but we had one problem. All the boats would have gotten in too late for the time we set to meet up again. The reason? A boat the size of an entire apartment complex would be on the move, supposedly leaving harbor, at the time of the tour’s end, so we wouldn’t be able to land! Talk about added time. 

Seriously though, those cruise ships are super huge. I had never been so close to one, and the pictures do not do them justice. It’s like someone forced a New York skyscraper into a boat shape. We didn’t have the time to do more than check out three light houses in this town, but that was cool! Also somehow lighthouses are always so much smaller in person. I’m always surprised that something so thin and short can play such a very important roll.

Or course, Warnemünde had been chosen by our German Camp Leader for a reason. Hello rock concert! We only really had the time to stick around and see Jorvis life in person. It wasn’t a screaming field of fans sort of concert on the beach. More like a family friendly venue thing. The music was good though.

Better, it was all on the beach, and the weather was warm enough to go in today! Of course, I didn’t have my swimsuit on, but I did walk in to just below my knees, and let the surf get my pants cuffs wet. I have stood in the water my ancestors stood in. Never mind that everyone knows Vikings totally sailed in the Atlantic too. The Baltic is more Viking-ish, I’m sure.

And then we had to catch the train so we could get to our train!   This was a true time crunch, as we ended up having to go through the concert goers, promised by a group member that this would be a short cut. We couldn’t be late, so kept moving at a fast walk, cutting around groups with all the skill we could. We managed to get there just barely on time, but with no time to grab food.  As a note: Going THROUGH the concert and not AROUND is never ever a short cut, no matter what.

Of course, by this point I was tired, but glad we weren’t going in on the last train in. But it was now dinner time, and I was hungry. There was a Chinese place at the station and too tired to translate anything, and with no clue what Chinese names would be in German anyway, I ordered the cheeseburger.

That’s right, I had an American Cheeseburger at a Chinese restaurant in Germany.

Well. ‘American.’ The condiments were all replaced with one single condiment of a Thousand Island sort of dressing, but chunkier? I have no clue, but it was pretty good.

Of course, following this, we still had one more day of exploring to do. 

One Final Byte: My feet stood in the waters of Vikings!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Peenemuende and Zinnowitz

Germany has been grand so far. I’ve been kept so busy as part of the Joint Space Weather Summer Camp (simply called DLR Camp in Germany) that I haven’t been able to sit down and write, not really. The camp in the German side is very different than the one in the US side. The German side had largely been focused on applications, where the American side focused heavily on the science. There’s also the daily set up.  Rather than the three lectures daily in the US, we have a discussion and two lectures.  We always discuss the lectures the day after, and have a sort of ‘homework’ to do every night.  It’s normally just think over and discuss a few questions, so it’s not like it’s too hard to do, for the most part.

Still, it’s a lot of fun! The projects here are significantly more challenging than the US projects though, partly because there’s less time to work on the projects themselves.  You effectively have about 12-13 hours of work time, and the projects tend to take the entire time.

Of course it hasn’t been all work!

We spent the weekend traveling to do things!

On Friday, we went to Peenemünde. We were there for the historical museum that focused on WWII weapons development and rocketry.  The museum itself was super interesting.  Of course, all the signs and everything were in German, and my German skills weren’t enough to get more than a gist of what they said, but even just the images and displays were interesting, and they did have English language flyers for most of the room, and the English audio tour. If you’ve never been on an audio tour by the way, you get to wear something the size of an old cassette player around your neck and listen to someone with a lovely British accent tell you want is going on for much longer than it takes just one person to move through just about any room, no matter how interesting.

The museum was great though, very old factory style, given that it’s in an old decommissioned power plant.  I got to go up to the roof and look out over everything, and see in the distance a U-boat also from WWII. We also got to do a neat tour in which we had to sign some paperwork absolving the museum of the responsibility of us stepping on a landmine. Nobody stepped on a landmine though, so there were no problems. It’s still a bit intimidating though, to have to sign for that!

I think I liked that tour more.  The old town built there during WWII to house a concentration camp, scientists, and engineers has almost all been destroyed, but there’s still barracks you can see in the distance, and a house standing, along with a shelter from the concentration camp.  The big things though were the deep trenches in the ground and the concrete pathways everywhere. There was even a ten meter high (approximately 33 ft) hill that had been built to protect the rockets they were testing there from crosswinds, and the people from the rocket fire! We ending up walking over to exactly where they had tested rockets, where they have a sort of memorial stone standing up to commemorate it, and an old fire hydrant thing which everyone promptly begin to play with.

What can I say? It felt like interactive history.  We even took a few photos of using clearly working hard to fight a fire.

On our way back to where we are staying, we stopped at a little beach resort town called Zinnowitz on the Baltic to go out on the pier. At the end of the pier was the weirdest little house. It was a pretty teal, with petals of metal on top, and it was off the side of the pier.  Well, you know me, I was curious, so I simply had to poke around and go in. It involved on entrance fee, but to shush my curiosity of the funny little building, I will, of course, cheerfully pay the very small fee. And it turned out to be one hundred percent worth it.

I went under water without getting to much as a toe wet. I kid you not. The entire building goes under, and you watch a movie about conservation and species diversity and trash in the ocean being bad, then you go up again. I think the only down side is you had to stay seated the entire time, though let me tell you, even with us sitting still, it was simply amazing. Given it was too cold to go swimming, even for the locals, it was definitely a turnaround for the trip to the Baltic. Of course, at the end, we had just enough time to grab dinner and then go to the bus at a nice trot.

It was a good day.

One Final Byte: History has two sides: both Winners and Losers.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Travel is fun!

I am in Germany! But first, I need to tell you about the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. We went to Oak Ridge and Chattanooga last weekend for what was basically the last hurrah, and our first stop was the Oak Ridge National Lab in…Oak Ridge, Tennessee! I had a ton of fun there. It was a combination of engineering and science in the tour we took, and we got to take home our guest badges. The first thing we got to see was a room full of super computers. Obviously, we couldn’t go inside, but it was still exciting to see Titan, Gaia, and Eos, and just the sheer number of racks for data storage.  Then we headed above the super computer lab to see a demonstration of an analysis that took six months to compute on Titan. Six months. Can you imagine waiting that long for your computer to do anything? This just astounds me.

The presentation was that of a supernova explosions, and a simulation of one that was, believe it or not, accidental and didn’t follow the theory at all. A while later they found an image using Hubble, I believe, of the exact scenario playing out in space, and it fit the model perfectly.  It was pretty exciting stuff.

After that we had lunch, a presentation on ‘look climate change is real,’ and then a tour of a huge facility in which they smash super small particles in order to see what results, in essence, among quite a few other things. Unfortunately, it was super noisy and our tour guide was on the quiet side, so it was difficult to really get into all the hardware that was being shown to us.

The next day, we went to the Aquarium in Chattanooga, of which I can’t recall the name of in any way shape or form, but I did enjoy greatly. There were so many fish and they were all so beautiful, and they had several turtles and sharks, and a whole room full of sea horses and another full of jellyfish! It was a lot of fun, and I took way too many pictures. I even got to pet a shark. I mean, seriously, have you ever pet a shark? It’s so weird, but so fun.

Of course, you guys aren’t too interested in Chattanooga or an Aquarium. You want to know about Germany. Well, to be frank, there’s not a lot to say, as I only just got here Wednesday night!

I will tell you that flying above the clouds remains for me that best boost for any sort of creativity at all. And I really just feel refreshed to be in the air and traveling again! I think I must have just been homesick for travel lately! Well, I always have had wandering feet, it seems.

The flight was excellent and one hundred percent eventful. I do wish that was a typo, but it isn’t. While the flight from my home airport to Atlanta was as smooth as could be when you’re in a group of 23 people, our next flight, a hop across the Atlantic over to Amsterdam, was one very special moment after another.

To begin, our flight was delayed four hours. This, as you imagine, effected our flight down to Berlin from Amsterdam to the point that was split into two groups of people simply because fitting 23 people on a single flight is near impossible. We did get upgraded to business class though, at least in my group, so no real hard feelings there.  However, once everyone was aboard the plane, the discovery was made that the door did not close.  That is right, the plane door would not close.

No biggie, a flight attendant found the missing pin (so said the Captain) and the door was fixed. The engines revved, we rolled our eyes in exasperation and thanked God we were on our way, when suddenly, all is turned off again once more! An announcement comes over the intercom. “We are going to have to wait at the gate awhile longer everyone.” And then, we get told why.  I couldn’t tell whether the number was 17 or 70 but either way a number of guests canceled when they found out how long the flight was going to be delayed, and we found ourselves with their luggage still in the hold as everyone’s luggage made it to the plane right on time!

Oh my Goodness. Oh. My. Goodness.  The frustration was palpable in the air. Forty-five minutes after our already delayed time, we finally began to taxi away from the gate. I think up until the wheels were in the air and folded up, everyone was still expecting yet another delay.

So we all made to Amsterdam…and not we got to split into two parties. Two. This was a bit of chaos figuring out who the airline had assigned to which party as one of two people seemed to be a bit arbitrary choice wise, but we did that and things ran pretty smooth after that point. The first party just waited for the second at the airport in Berlin, and once everyone was together we traveled onwards to our final destination here, the DLR Summer Camp, as all our paperwork seems to say so far.

Oh to fly once more! I got a window seat in business class for the very last leg of the journey and let me tell you, it was fantastic. The flight was smooth, the clouds were beautiful, and my mind soared as high as the plane as least with ideas for writing, for paintings, for drawing! I do love to travel, especially to fly.

Of course, that wasn’t the end of it. I’m bunking with a total stranger at basically a town house/guest house in Germany right now, and she’s pretty awesome. We had two more added to our camp here, from South Africa and they are super awesome. I’m excited to be here.

I can’t wait to tell you all more. I think the most exciting sight on the trip from Berlin to where we’re staying was the solar farm that must have been at least one football field wide, and five football fields long, if not six. I’ve never seen one so big! The most disappointing was the graffiti. Berlin, I expected better of you than a few measly signatures!

One Final Byte: I am on the road again in air!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A full week of Nerd Camp

Ah, that familiar hotel smell. It smells the same in basically every hotel in the US. I’m not so sure internationally, but it is the smell of travel to me here. I’m on the road again!

Again? Really? Yes. Really. But only for the weekend.  The Joint Space Weather Summer Camp, of which I am an attendee, has a weekend trip to a Lab and an aquarium. Three cities, three days and tons of fun.  The third city, by the way, is a ‘choose your own adventure’ sort of city, by the looks of the group schedule.

So, I promised more about the camp las time, and, having received the appropriate permissions, I shall cheerfully chatter away.

I am a part of the Joint Space Weather Summer Camp, a combined educational camp hosted by CSPARDLR, and UAH for undergraduate and graduate science and engineering majors interested in studying the very super interesting phenomena of Space Weather. And yes, there is weather in space, and for our local weather you can blame the sun. I should note, that’s both on and off the earth! On the Earth, of course, the sun drives the wind, which drives all sorts of other weather. In space, the sun drives a solar wind, which is produced thanks to magnetic fields on the sun, and how they move through space. It’s not just our sun doing it, but every star, and there’s even an intergalactic medium which is not produced by any one star, so far as I can tell, and which our solar winds might not pierce.  As a student of all this, I don’t really know the answers!

But I am having a lot of fun learning.

The speakers so far have been great. The majority of the lectures are aimed to an audience between a third year physics major and a lower graduate level. You definitely need to have, at a minimum, made it through the Electricity and Magnetism level of your 100 level physics course to have a good understand. From the sounds of the lectures so far, that magnetic field is perhaps the most important thing.  A basic understand of quantum, usually a third semester of physics course, is advised I think, though some of what you need to know, you likely already do from chemistry courses and the like.

If you are past a beginning or early graduate student though, you may be too advanced for the lectures, especially if your focus is Space Weather! Of course, there’s more than just wind, out there among the stars, and some of that more can affect people on Earth. Take the Carrington Event of 1859. I know what you’re thinking. What in space could affect Earth in 1859? We hadn’t even been there yet! But we did have electricity, and telegraphs. The Carrington Event was a huge coronal mass ejection that stuck the earth. It cause telegraph systems all over Europe and North America to fail, and sometimes shock the operators! Telegraph machines not connected to a power supply could, in places, still send and receive messages. All because of a coronal mass ejection.  One thought to be just as big missed the Earth in 2012. I don’t want to know about the margin it missed us by.

Given our reliance on electricity today, if it had hit us, we’d be upset. There goes the TV, computer, cell phone, fridge, microwave, and a host of other electronics. Research into space weather helps predict space weather, so we know if we have to turn every thing off in preparation for the next Carrington class Solar Superstorm.

This isn’t even the scariest thing in space weather. More powerful by far is a gamma ray burst.  If one hit the earth, well, my money is on the gamma ray burst, not the human race or any other life on this planet. Luckily, because of how Gamma Ray Bursts move through space, a direct hit fairly ‘close’ in astronomical terms’ would be super dangerous, but also so minimal it’s not really worth a panic.  Some concern is prudent, yeah, just like concern is prudent on a trip to the beach.  It’s probably not likely your car battery will die while you’re there, and a gamma ray burst hitting will happen even less than that ever will for you, but you should probably have cables with you, just in case. We should probably understand gamma ray bursts, just in case.

I’m having a lot of fun here. I think one of the best parts isn’t the lessons themselves, those they rock my socks. It’s getting to meet people who have never been to the US before. We went to Walmart to get groceries and a few things accidentally left behind, and wow. The reaction to ‘an American Supermarket’ was pretty cool. We went through the bakery, and one of our German students stopped, to admire the cakes, and how one had a camo pattern, and another was made of cupcakes. Our bread was examined and determined to be deficient in comparison, and the sight of the snack aisle, the candy aisle, and the soda aisle caused such wide eyes it was exciting to watch.

Last weekend, we visited Cathedral Caverns in Grant, AL. That was super exciting, and absolutely worth the trip. Our tour guide was super duper awesome. He was an older guy, a newer tour guide, and so enthusiastic about the caverns that you couldn’t help, but be happy to be there. Apparently, it holds a lot of world records, including biggest cave entrance.  Everyone enjoyed the ‘spelunking’ that was more guided tour on a concrete path that spelunking at all. It was a gorgeous place, and some of the formations there were mind blowingly beautiful, especially the cathedral cavern the cave system is named after.  Everyone was really impressed, and apparently caves like that just aren’t found in Germany. Or if they are, our Germans hadn’t been there!

We had a small pool party the next day too, and having a game of keep away in a pool with water over your head is fun and challenging, especially when you have about fifteen people there all playing. We varied from one in the middle to five at one point, and knowing who was in the middle was half the challenge. 

We’re on the next adventurous part on the American side of things now, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it! The research I got to participate in as part of the camp was super fun. I think the main complaints from the ‘campers’ were how little time we got to do the experiments and then having to actually present at the end. That was a challenge of a different sort, but still not that bad. Nothing like nineteen college students all working until pretty late on a Summer Camp project though! Dedication, thy name is Scientist.

I’m getting a bit long now, so I’ll hush now, but next week I’ll have another, no doubt, super long post for you. After all, next week is another fun trip, and I have to tell you about this weekend!

One Final Byte: Other’s joy for things you like is infectious.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Unexpected Adventures on the way to Adventure

Well. When I told my family that I missed adventures, I did not mean that I wanted one of the sort I have had. Nevertheless, I have had it! And to think, all I wanted to do was to go to my nerd camp. By the way, Nerd Camp: College Edition is a lot different than Nerd Camp: Middle School Edition. You’ll hear a lot about that. For now, I just have to say, that unexpected adventures are definitely not my favorite.

I was on my way to Nerd Camp, cheerfully driving, having just pulled off to have a short break, as I was tired.  It wasn’t a long drive, but poor sleep the night before meant that focus was not my buddy. As I gained entry to the interstate from my exit, I felt the oddest sensation…deceleration.  I pressed harder on the gas, as, well, there was a hill and my car and hills don’t always get along. This did nothing.  Worried, and with a block of cars gaining on me, I pulled over to the side and hit my emergency lights at the same time, just making it off before cars going 80 passed me at my very measly 35 and slowing. I proceeded to shake in place and panic quietly to myself for a few minutes before I began to attempt phone calls, first trying to call people I knew lived within an hour’s drive. It was no good. No one picked up.

Uncertain, scared, and not really knowing where I was to find a tow truck to call, I turned to every girl’s most trusted fixer of disasters. Daddy. After giving his thoughts, and telling me a few tests to try to see what was up, he bade me ‘Call the state police.’ And gave me their number. The state police dispatcher was a very wonderful woman. ‘I can’t locate you like that. Call 911.’  ‘Are you sure? Am I allowed?’ I asked very uncertain, because my car breaking down in an unknown location in who knows where Tennessee is clearly not an emergency in my mind.  ‘Yes. They’ll send help.’

I called 911. It was my first 911 call ever. I liked the dispatcher immediately.  She took what I knew of my location down, found out exactly where I was (middle of nowhere, Tennessee, just past an exit I knew the number of), and sent aid.

It was, no doubt, appropriately prioritized, because let’s face it, a stranded college student is a full grown adult who can safely wait in a car for an hour.  It was a scary hour. Also, that sensation you get when a police officer pulls up behind you is the same even if they are there to help. The ‘Am I in trouble, what do I do, oh wait he’s here to help.’ Except that last part. That’s not what happens when you get a ticket, I assume. I’m not sure. Someone describe the feelings when a police officer pulls you over for me.

Officer Hill, I’m about 80% sure, had picture perfect handwriting. I would not mind transcribing his work to a database. It would be lovely, in its clarity.  This is, naturally, what I focused on.  We spoke. He explained the options. I could have a local tow truck, or one from Huntsville. They could tow me home, or to a mechanic. I chose a local, because I trusted to state trooper to choose a reputable person. Or at least his dispatcher. And let’s face it, I don’t know who to call for a tow in Huntsville.

The officer then remained with me until the tow driver arrived. The tow driver was nice and helpful. The officer was nice and helpful.  The fish panicked as he was hauled at an angle onto the truck bed, and managed to tear his fin in his panic. Everyone else was okay, and at this point, calls among my family were occurring determining what went where and when. Also, was I safe, where was I, and what was happening. I was 47 miles from the college. That was all I knew, but I was pretty sure I was safe, because the tow driver from Libby’s was a nice man who told me about his family. I mention their name, because should you get stranded in Tennessee, there’s a very nice tow driver whose wife is retired army. He’s good folk, and you should pass on info about good folk, especially when someone else may end up stranded in lower Tennessee 22 miles from the border and very frightened.

Not that I remained scared for long. I spent about thirty minutes shaking in a car that cheerfully shook with every passing semi-truck, then fifteen minutes assuring my fish he would be okay. After this, I was fine. This was just another Kelly Adventure. I am very good at adventures, especially scary ones.

Either way, the tow driver dropped me, my car, and Ivar the Boneless (Betta Fish Extraordinaire) off at the school, where my dad promptly reminded me that no, I could not leave the fish in the very hot car.  This, once the tow man took himself away, was a tricky proposition. And so, I went forth, to the halls of learning….a flower vase/emergency fish bowl in hand, his heater in my pocket.

Ivar currently holds a place of honor in the Physics Success Center. I have received permission to leave him there overnight.  He shall be taken into the dorm tomorrow, or else go to the fish sitter I was unable to get him too. Probably the dorm, until the Nerd Camp goes to our next destination!

Oh, did I forget?  Nerd Camp: College Edition comes with this great expansion pack called ‘Trip Overseas.’ It’s not including in every Nerd Camp, but it is in the one I’m at. As for more information on my lovely Nerd Camp, I think I should probably check with someone to see if I’m allowed to mention anything.  I doubt they’ll say no, but they may decide that the level of awesome is just not for the entire Internet to see.

One Final Byte: Never miss your Adventures. They will find you.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Return to Adventure

Today, I helped to tame a forest. Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration.  But it felt like I was taming a forest. Instead it was ten years of growth for a dogwood shrub.  As a note, a dogwood shrub does not look much like a shrub after ten years. It looks like a series of very young trees.  The fact that they look like very young trees and not trees that are at least ten is likely why it is a type of shrub.

To give you an idea of the difference, well. The internet tells me that this is what a dogwood bush is supposed to look like.  It looks like the right variety at least, so I’ll go with that.

Alas.  This is halfway through hacking my way to the wall of the house.  If you will note, there is a large difference, and not just in the fact that the dogwood shrubs here are not yet flowering.  They do have buds though.  Also, if you look very closely, you may or may not see the bush that had been planted there before the dogwoods attacked.  It’s just right of the middle.

As for an update for what I’ve been doing since I last updated, well…first let me see when I last updated! I’m sure I have loads of stories.  I apologize for not updating of course, but it turns out college is a lot of work.  It’s at last one and a half jobs worth of work and a good three jobs worth of stress.

I appear, it seems, to have accidentally gone nearly a year without a post. If I am ever short of stories, I shall attempt to recall some adventure that happened this past year to tell you! I can tell you that I have had some adventures, though the past year has not led itself to the near constant adventure that was, in fact, living in Germany!

It was however, college for a year. For the most part, it has been tame, though not without its troubles. My mother’s mom, my grandmother, passed this year after a fight with cancer. Unfortunately, she lost, but given her age, it was almost to be expected.

There had been high points as well, including the gain of a pet! He’s terribly sickly though, so it’s been a small adventure to nurse him to health.  You see, I can’t just give Ivar the Boneless a pill.  He happens to be a fish you see, one who has had fin rot since I bought him. Fin rot, it turns out, is tricky to treat entirely because it may not be fin rot, but something else, so you basically try a series of medicine and see what works best.  Or at least, that’s how I ended up doing it.

It could just be that I really should have asked a more experience owner because my diagnostic methods sound like something from an episode of House.  As I am ridiculously proud of my very playful and friendly fish, you may all now gaze upon his wonder.  Seriously, this fish plays with lasers. You get to see him in an older picture before the fin rot was too bad, because I won’t be embarrassing my fish that way.  He is very sensitive and it’s a little disturbing.

If you look closely you can see that he has the beginning stages off in rot in this picture. That clearish bit on his tail is fin rot.  This is a fact I did not know at the time, but I do now.

However, I can sense you are very curious now as to why I was trimming bushes in a house when I am a college student thus do not, in fact, have a house. This is because I am spending the first half of my summer helping out my Dear settle into a house on his grandparents property that has not been occupied in around ten years.  Ten years is a very long time for a house to not be occupied, you see, and it results in things like, say, dogwood bushes attempting to create their own forest.  If you are wondering who my Dear is, well, I mentioned him in an earlier blog…and I can tell you the rest later.

Half a summer is, perhaps, a bit too long to get this place up to snuff, given the sheer amount of work put into it before I came, but it means I’ll also have time to relax and unwind some from my college courses. This is just what the doctor didn’t order, but strongly recommended because ‘I can’t make you do anything.’ Or rather, she insisted I take a vacation sometime soon, but this is practically a vacation given that I am not currently studying.  I’m giving myself a good two weeks off of studying.

As for the second half of my summer, well, I never could resist a good adventure, and an adventure in the form of a scholarship opened itself up very widely for me, so I took the leap! The second half of summer, I will be a part of the Joint Space Weather Summer Camp. Being as how you don’t know what that is, unless you do of course, I shall endeavor to explain! Or rather, I shall copy-paste their description because that’s plenty good enough, don’t you think?

 The Joint Space Weather Summer Camp (JSWSC) is an opportunity to learn about space physics in the context of meeting a very practical need -- to understand the influence of the Sun on the space and upper atmosphere of the Earth and its related impact on the technological systems and needs of modern society. This is a new, exciting, and emerging discipline called Space Weather, that has attracted the attention of the White House and senior leaders in government because of the importance of ensuring that our technological investments are properly protected against severe Space Weather.
About twenty students from UAH and from a variety of universities and research centers across Germany participate in a multiple week series of lectures, hands-on projects and experiments and excursions as they learn both the theoretical underpinnings and practical applications of Space Weather and solar and space physics.

It boils down to a scholarship for a single, specific, course and a trip to Germany for two weeks!  Hurrah! I will return to Germany! But only for two weeks, and much of the day I will be in class, as far as my understanding goes.  That doesn’t mean adventures will not occur.  I am one with adventure. Adventures are one with me!  Besides, if you look at it just so, anything is an adventure.

You all get told more next week!

One Final Byte: Adventures are more viewpoint than series of events.