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.