Archive for December, 2011

Winter Solstice

Today, December 21 2011 at 10:30 p.m. (MST), is the Winter Solstice. This marks the day of the year when the north pole of the earth is tilted farthest away from the sun; conversely, in the lower hemisphere, the south pole is at its closest point to the sun for the year. This date and time heralds in the Winter season to those of us in the northern hemisphere, though, as I have proposed before, the “symmetric” season of our hemisphere receiving the least direct rays from the sun should last about 1.5 months on either side of this extreme. However, no astronomer ever cared what I thought, so whatever.

I did learn one interesting tidbit today from this article that I had failed to appreciate before. Since the solstice happens at one very particular moment in time everywhere, winter will actually start on different dates depending on where you live. As I mentioned in the first line, winter starts at 10:30 Mountain Standard Time on Wednesday the 21st. On the east coast, however, winter actually begins the next day, Thursday the 22nd, since the solstice time is 12:30 a.m. You may have calendars that list different dates for the first day of winter, and that’s probably why.

This day, while somewhat depressing, marks a likewise encouraging turning point. Since the summer solstice until now, the hours of daylight in the Northern Hemisphere have been gradually decreasing to this, its smallest point. Many find the lack of daylight somewhat difficult to bear with the dreary and cold weather necessitated by the indirect rays of sun during this season. Fortunately, the Christmas season distracts from the waning daylight hours, and one can bear the rest of the season knowing that it’s all uphill from here. Can the same be said about the final push to the end of my thesis?….. One can on only hope!

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A very romantic anniversary

I finally made it through the last week of the semester and am now on Christmas break. DH and I weren’t sure when we’d leave om the drive home, which is about a thousand miles and 16 or so hours–we can do it in one day, but it’s definitely one long day. We had sworn we were not going to drive on Saturday, which was our sixth anniversary;having an anniversary one week before Christmas Eve, we have often found ourselves driving on it. We always joke about our romantic dinners at Taco Bell. šŸ˜‰ We had lots of plans to not do that this year and go out for a nice meal, so, of course, Saturday morning we found ourselves scurrying around the house packing, grabbing a bite out for lunch, and packing up the truck. We decided driving a ways Saturday night and not have so far to drive Sunday would make the trip much more bearable.

We spent the night in a budget hotel…nice but no frills. We got there after midnight, and DH dragged us out by 6 am. Plus I woke up at 5:30 with the dog lying next to me. Our dachshund isn’t allowed on the bed, nor is he even able to hop up on a normal height bed anyway. However, a low-to-the-ground bed at a budget hotel was no match for him. Hence, a very romantic bedfellow on my anniversary, albeit one with very bad breath.

Fortunately we left when we did, since it’s now all snowy between home and here. We also have plenty of time for family visits and relaxing. And when we head back, we’ll make up for the anniversary dinner we originally planned. It’ll be a nice event to look forward to in the bleak midwinter after Christmas, too. Any day is a good day to be romantic. šŸ™‚

Tebow Time

Being a blogger and a resident of the Denver metro area, it would be remiss of me to neglect opining on such a current and polarizing subject as Tim Tebow. I certainly can’t probe all the depths of Tebowmania here, but I’d like to share my perspective about this whole phenomenon.

I remember being in the car with DH, driving through Denver and listening to the NFL draft on the radio in April of 2010 (DH had to be there, or else I wouldn’t have been listening to the draft ;)). We were both astounded to hear that the Denver Broncos had drafted Tim Tebow. We couldn’t really figure out why we needed another quarterback, as there were plenty of other positions we could have used. But the idea of having such a high-profile person coming to the team was intriguing.

Now, over a year and a half later, it seemsĀ  the whole world is engulfed in Tebowmania. Since he began as starting quarterback, the Broncos have won seven of eight with five crazy, come-from-behind wins. These last-minute comebacks deep in the fourth quarter have now come to be known as “Tebow Time.” Jim Fox is now either the luckiest or smartest man in the world…I probably wouldn’t say both. :p But his decision to start Tebow in place of Kyle Orton has turned out greatly to his benefit, and the outcome has definitely thrilled Broncos fans. While I certainly dread every struggling moment of the game, the thrill of victory in the end is quite sweet. After the team has proven itself so many times now, I almost feel guilty that I still don’t think they can pull it off with under a minute to go. But deep down inside, I really do have something that I didn’t have before….hope. (I also think that Matt Prater deserves a raise, but that’s another blog post entirely!)

It’s no great mystery why Tim Tebow has been chosen by society to garner such unprecedented attention. It’s not his skill as a player at the college or professional level; it’s not that he’s just a nice guy, and it’s definitely not because he’s in the news every week for some crazy shenanigan. Let’s be frank…it’s because of his faith. And probably not just because he is a Christian, as there are many Christians in the world of sports whose notorieties have never risen to such levels of furor. It’s because he is so open about his faith and references it all the time. It’s also because he walks the walk and truly lives out his faith instead of just paying lip service to it. I submit that this makes him incredibly polarizing to believers and non-believers alike. Strangely, I am convinced that many believers are just as uncomfortable with Tim thanking Jesus during every interview as unbelievers might be…maybe moreso! I will certainly admit that I occasionally start to think, “well, maybe he could pass on saying it a few times, now that the whole world knows.” I immediately become humble realizing that I don’t recognize Jesus and all He has given me as much as I ought.

Similarly, his characteristic drop to knee in order to pray has become a world sensation. People all over the world are now Tebowing (including horses, it seems, and high school students who are getting suspended for it). Even Detroit Lions’ Stephen Tulloch “tebowed” after sacking Tebow himself (which I personally found offensive, though I suppose it was defensive??; Tim, on the other hand, didn’t seem to have a problem with it).

Actually, Tim seems to keep a level head and good attitude about all the general fanaticism going on about him: the Tebowing, the tweeting, the Chuck Norris-like adages, the comparing him to (or calling him) divinity. He never asked for all this hype. He doesn’t tell people to stop or encourage them or say that it bugs him. He just appreciates their attention and repeatedly promises to be the hardest working guy and to constantly improve as he does his job day-to-day.

Most people say that Tebow is such a polarizing figure that you can only be in one of two camps–you think he’s awesome and can do no wrong, or you don’t like him and nothing he can do or say can convince you to change your mind. I would like to think that I can actually fall somewhere into the reasonable middle ground. I like and appreciate him as a person and what he stands for; he’s a great representative for Christ and has been given a great platform from which to portray that without being preachy (though many probably see his constant thanks to Jesus as preachy, I believe he’s really just being sincere and not calculated). I appreciate that he walks the walk; I know he’s a mere mortal and is as likely to stumble sometime as the rest of us, but he’s as genuine as any of us imperfect humans can be. I appreciate that he’s a good player who’s proven himself a winner, yet he definitely has a ways to go to develop into a truly great player (it would be great if Tebow time lasted all four quarters!). And while I’m all for high-fives and celebrating the Broncos’ success, I’m uncomfortable about all the hype and wish we could all settle into a similar middle ground and let him, and the whole team, do their job each week.

In fact, the sheer amount of media attention surrounding Tim and his personal and professionalĀ  is quite overwhelming to me. Last Sunday night after the Broncos’ overtime victory over the Bears, DH and I couldn’t go anywhere on TV or the internet without seeing another comment about Tebow. As we were falling asleep that night, I whispered to DH, “I don’t really understand it all, why it’s so big. But it’s huge, and it feels like it’s all building up to some climax. I just don’t know what…I just don’t know.”

I don’t know what it is, but I can feel it. Something is building, and it’s building up to something. I’m not even talking about the Super Bowl, or even the playoffs, even if those do happen. I just feel it escalating to some end…and I have anxious anticipation waiting to see what that is.

A perfect opportunity

For the last couple of months I’ve been posting only on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but I feel like there’s so much I want to share with you lately that I’m going to go ahead and post today, too!

Today, our division at work had its annual holiday luncheon where everyone gets together to eat and celebrate the holidays and the upcoming new year. Since DH is, as of yesterday, using his vacation days for the rest of the year and wasn’t working today, he agreed to come to lunch and to visit my lab. Due to the paperwork required for guests to come from off-site, it isn’t like he can just stroll in any day and look around; therefore, after 6.5 years of working here, he had never been to see where I work and what I do. So we took this perfect opportunity for him to come visit.

I was really excited that he got to come and to show him what all the crazy science stuff I talk about actually looks like. I showed him inside the laser and all of the optics outside of it, and also all the electronics equipment I use to take data and analyze signals. He even got to don a pair of ultra-fashionable laser goggles. And now he has an idea of how much stuff is crammed into a little space and how tight it is to work in there sometimes. DH isn’t a scientist, per se, but as a computer engineer, he does know a lot of science and possibly more about electronics than me! He’s always quizzing me about how my stuff works, so our many conversations about my projects allowed him to appreciate what he was seeing.

He was also quite surprised seeing the building. It’s hard to know what he expected out of a 60-year-old federal laboratory, but who of us doesn’t create in our minds an image of a place we’ve never seen only to replace our imagination with reality when we finally see it? But now when I say, “I’m going down to the lab from my office,” he’ll know exactly what that means now. When I tell him, “I had to stand in line at the group microwave again today,” he’ll know where that is.

DH has also met most of the people I work directly with, so there were quite a few familiar faces at lunch. However, our division as a whole is quite large, plus many others brought guests as well, so there were lots of people he’d never met (and to be honest, many I’d never met, either). But we got to sit with my good friends whom he’s also met many times, and that made lunch even more fun.

I’m so pleased that he had the opportunity to come. It made today really fun, and to be honest I’ve actually squeezed in a couple of productive activities between my meetings and events, too. I still have the rest of the afternoon, so I’d better go find something to work on!

Christmas-itis

It’s Wednesday afternoon, and I can already feel Christmas-itis kicking in. That’s a strain of mental illness genetically related to senior-itis, when the end is nearing and motivation fades. As I mentioned last Friday, the end of this week is filled with special events at work; while none of them necessarily take up the whole day, having to stop in the middle of the day to attend them will wreck any momentum I gain during the morning. Plus, knowing that break is mere hours away now, I’ll be sorely tempted to just hang out at my desk and slide into vacation rather than exerting any effort in the lab. I’m going to try really hard to not do that, but it’s going to take supernatural effort to maintain my momentum. Even now late this afternoon I’m feeling a little tired and droopy, not at all wanting to go back to the lab to finish something up for the day. Arg.

ETA: I just found out there is yet another meeting scheduled for tomorrow morning. That really throws yet another kink in my already difficult-to-stay-motivated day!! Oh well, I’ll figure it out. šŸ™‚

After a frustrating Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning in the lab, I finally made the modification to my optical setup. I even did it all by myself, so I am quite proud! However, as quickly as things fell into place after hours of spinning my wheels, I am firmly convinced that I had divine assistance making it all work. I was certainly thanking Him for it as I finished up yesterday. Today, a check of the measurement now shows all numbers corresponding to previous levels, so it all seems legitimate. However, I am not reproducing all the ups and downs in the data that I saw before. Since those are very important results, I still don’t feel like I’m ready to forge ahead without resolving that issue first. But at least the things I worried most about have been accounted for.

ETA: Ok, so if one decides to use the right scaling for the x-axis to correspond to the previously-used scaling to which one is trying to compare, then one might actually find that the ups and downs in the data were really just dangling off the right side of the plot. This means my new measurement system is 100% verified! I’m glad I decided to double-check my Excel spreadsheet before finishing this post and heading back to the lab!

It’s been a little distracting in the lab, too. Yesterday, my colleague asked if I would help him set up the (very involved) measurement system with the photodiodes we got from our guest researcher a few months ago. I know I said that I hate my current measurement more than anything else I’ve done, but I decided that using these diodes is up there as well, due to the complicated nature of connecting to them. But since he helps me with a lot of things, I certainly owed him some assistance in return. It hasn’t been onerous, just slightly distracting. And my office mate/lab mate is also back today, and we are working literally back-to-back on our respective systems…also a bit distracting.

I’m due for an update today, but this blog post is definitely enabling my Christmas-itis. Before I get too comfortable in my office chair, I should drag myself back to the lab to do something before I leave, especially now that I’m totally confident about my measurement!

‘Twas the week before Christmas break…

‘Twas the week before Christmas break, and all through the lab,
A few creatures were stirring, including a grad.
Her fibers were coupled to the laser with care,
In hopes that results soon would be there.

*************

My friend was quite optimistic this morning that she’d figured out our issues over the weekend; however, another look this morning pretty much told us that it isn’t an issue of how we’re measuring, but it’s something in the very signal itself. That’s not great news; however, at least we are ruling out what it isn’t. I have a few more “simple” things to check before I start modifying my setup, but I’m pretty certain I will inevitably be forced to mess with the optics (that means possibly hours of tedious realignment). Oh well; it’s gotta get done somehow.

It kind of stinks that I got here this morning, saw her initial message, and was full of optimism, and now I’m right back to where I left on Friday. At least I didn’t go backward. It’s still possible to get a fair amount done this week, but it depends on how quickly I can reconcile new data with my old data.

Underpinning all is the realization that it’s finally the week before Christmas break. Just a few more days, regardless of my results, and I get a significant break until the new year. Breaks are great, but I rarely feel as refreshed and motivated as I think I should when I get back. I just know that whatever grumpy measurement setup I left when going on a trip will still be there when I return. But knowing that after Christmas it’s “next stop dissertation”–and the end of the fiber–should be motivating enough.

Goal of the week for this week? Git ‘er done and get out of town!

 

Rising from the ashes…or crashing and burning?

Finally, the day has come where my most dreaded measurement has been reconstructed in modified form. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, I have rebuilt the measurement system from a pile of electronics and cables into a working entity. Well, “working” is a relative term at the moment…right now I’m measuring four orders of magnitude higher than what I got with my original design. That’s not so good; more of a crash and burn on the first take-off. Fortunately, my friend who came up to help me get things going this morning is on her way back up to sort out the issue. I really, really hope we can figure it out, as this new method drastically simplifies my previous one; however, I just need to crank out data at this point, so if I have to go back to the old one, at least I know how to get it done.

I’m thankful that at least so far this Friday is turning out to be a productive culmination to the week. I have made progress since Monday, though not quite as much as I could have theoretically if I had worked hard every moment. It seemed like many things kept coming up to thwart my efforts–previous lunch engagements with friends, work talks that I had to go to, waiting on people to help me, and the ever-present lack of motivation. Even faced with the latter, I can at least eventually make myself get up out of the chair and go to the lab, even if I just stand there for five minutes not sure what to do. That’s progress in my world. But it’s encouraging that this measurement is going, even if it isn’t quite working yet. I have hope!

I know that next week, my last week before Christmas break, will also be full of distractions. Thursday is our Division-wide Christmas luncheon, which DH is attending as a guest…very exciting! Friday is our annual site-wide award ceremony for those who have received local as well as Dept. of Commerce-wide awards this year. None of these are all-day events, but they sure can suck up the time and motivation. However, with Christmas vacation before me, I will keep my eye on the prize and work hard so I feel like I’ve left on a good note.

Theoretically, I could try to bring something thesis-related to work on over the break, like drawing schematics of measurement systems or writing up something simple. However, I know exactly how that goes–lots of good intentions sit dormant in the suitcase until we get back. So I probably won’t even bother, but since I won’t be gone for too terribly long, I’ll just hit the ground running again when I return.

Well, hopefully my friend is on her way to the lab now, so I’ll skedaddle back down there and maybe we can sort this out. Here’s to starting the weekend off on a good note by ending the week well!