Thursday, January 29, 2009

IAP in Woods Hole

In this lovely class-free month of January, I have been working in the Deep Submergence Lab at WHOI, which is in Cape Cod- about an hour and a half away from Cambridge (also known as a popular vacation spot for New Englanders, although nobody is here in the frigid winter months).
Despite the weather, I came at a great time, since most details of the underwater vehicles that the lab is making were hammered out by the time I got here, they just needed to be assembled and tested. So I got to learn about all the subsystems and instruments: what they do, how they work and then get my hands dirty in putting it all together. Also, the people in this lab have been a great, easy-going group to work with. Best of all, people rarely work past 5 oclock or come in on the weekends :)

Once assembled, we went aboard WHOI's small research vessel and tested these autonomous 'bots in the harbor (yay for being right next to the ocean!) while the customers looked on. Maybe it's because the customers are getting these vehicles for so cheap relative to what underwater vehicles cost elsewhere, or maybe it's just how the oceanographic community operates, but nobody seemed stressed out or worried at all whenever we encountered problems here and there.

By the way, these vehicles are going to exotic locations like Hawaii and Puerto Rico...

Deck test;

Some of the crazy electronics that command the vehicles

Big battery packs;

Driving the forklift to move the vehicles around (I got to drive it too!)

Final deck test before going into the water

Lowering it in

Watching it go!

Video of its first succesful mission

The design of this vehicle is taken from the set of vehicles used in 2007 to explore the Arctic for hydrothermal vents. Lots of fun info on that expedition here:

Also, we put together a mock-up of one of the vehicles sent to the Arctic for the Museum of Science in Boston to hang for display. If you get a chance, go check it out! It is supposed to be there for a year starting today!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Inauguration Performance

Follow this link to see the NY Times article discussing the musical performance at last week's presidential inauguration.

I was so excited when they announced Itzhak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma would be performing a piece. The absolute best musicians for their respective instruments!
Then I was almost immediately let down when the piece they played was some bland rendition of "Simple Gifts". Where was the opportunity for crazy finger-flying techniques that I wanted to see?
And to top it off, it turns out that they pulled an Ashlee Simpson-esque move in pre-recording the piece and faking the live playing.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Learning to Ski

Finally! I have been able to go skiing after having spent my whole life not knowing anything about what it would be like. Growing up in Oklahoma, it has certainly seemed like an elitist activity- one which is not pursued unless you have a lot of money, time, and interest.

In the last month, I have been on two ski trips already and leave tomorrow for the third! Needless to say, I'm hooked :) For something that can be classified as an extreme sport (?), I have to say it seems fairly simple to learn. The ability to "turn" back and forth is really the main (and only, as far as I can tell) skill to master. (And technically, you don't even have to be a fantastic skier to go down the hard slopes- as long as you go slow enough, you can make it down anything)

My first trip was to the nearby Wachusett mountain in western Massachusetts. I went with my buddy Mike the day after my last final and had a blast. The few days prior to our trip, the western part of the state had experienced huge snowstorms, and many people were still without electricity. This also meant that some of the lifts were not yet up and running upon our arrival. As it turns out, Wachusett is a fairly small mountain and none of the green (easy) slopes were open, so I jumped right into a blue (intermediate) slope without ever having touched skis before. This strategy seemed to work quite well, as I was quickly forced to learn to control my movements. Mike was a great teacher, and best of all didn't laugh every time I fell (and I fell a LOT on that first slope).

After my first run! Notice that I'm covered in snow already

That's because this happened a lot the first time :)

Doing the awkward pizza move:

Some others:

My first experience went well, and I even went down a black (difficult) slope a few times.

THEN--- I went to Lake Tahoe with Thomas and his family for New Years. This more "high class" experience was a lot of fun, especially since the snow was soooo powdery and fun to carve through. Instead of having three lifts like at Wachusett, this resort (Heavenly) had 30! Needless to say, there were more trails than any person can possibly try to ski down in the short 3 days we had there. Winding my way down these long trails truly gave me the sense that I was navigating my way through a huge mountainside.
To pace ourselves in order to last more than one day, we went much slower through the trails than what I remember from my first experience. I was kind of worried that I wasn't learning as much as I had from that first trip, but I guess the learning curve is exponential just at the beginning. Or maybe it's just difficult to gauge improvement. I do feel considerably more comfortable moving around on skis now though.
I suppose the fact that I survived a double black at the end of the third day (without falling toooo many times.....) also speaks to whatever ability I have.

Kerri and I:

Coming down a slope:

Looking forward to experiencing the icy east coast mountainsides again :)

Monday, January 12, 2009


One of Tang Hall's events this semester has been to invite various people at MIT to come have dinner with some of the residents and talk to us. The first person in this series was Steve Immerman-Dean for Student Life. Although I expected him to simply be a stodgy administrator, it turns out that he actually took time to speak with us on a personal level, and then provided a meaningful talk unlike all the other research-y talks we usually listen to here. He spoke of "bigger picture" things and leading MIT in a good direction. One noteworthy comment he made was that MIT students generally don't spend much time in reflection, choosing instead to keep their eyes focused on the road ahead by always working towards the next research milestone.
His recommendation to keep a journal is a justification for starting this blog. Perhaps by recording some of my thoughts as my time here passes, I will better see how I've grown.

So! To start it off, here are a few of my initial observations of MIT.
It's true-MIT is full of super nerdy people. However, it has been a pleasant surprise to see that it is the norm to be nerdy AND have broad interests in various extracurriculurs.
Probably the biggest difference in the classroom between OSU and MIT is the students' focus. Because of this, the professors can move through the material much more quickly, and the questions fielded are usually quite insightful.

My first semester classes weren't easy, but they were definitely do-able. There is a substantial amount more preparation and studying to be done per class than at the undergraduate level-that much has become apparent. This is in part because the focus of classes has drastically changed from one that simply involves reviewing old exams/hw, learning the steps to solve a certain type of problem, and repeating (with slight variation) on the tests, while surviving on partial credit to one of thoroughly understanding things from a fundamental, conceptual level. It was only towards the end of the semester that I recognized this approach as being similar to that which I experienced in Germany (thankfully though, here the professors/TAs ARE willing to help with the "details" of solving a problem even though that's not what is discussed in lecture)

I have felt quite self-conscius of my ability to keep up with the other students in my classes, since it often seems to take me longer to grasp the concepts here, but I think now that I have a better idea for the difficulty level of classes here, I can adjust my study habits accordingly. Plus, we were shown a survey on the first day of orientation that indicated most MIT students view themselves as being below the average of their classmates intellectually (but above the average socially and athletically...) so maybe I shouldn't be too concerned.

It was very comforting to hear a friend tell me that it took him over a year to truly adjust to MIT classes. He referred to it as being a "teething period" :)
There seems to be a noticeable difference in the overall ability of the second years compared to the first years to comprehend new ideas. I'm definitely starting to experience/believe the statement that when you pursue a graduate degree at MIT, the most important thing you will gain is the ability to learn.