Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Family Christmas

When we announced that we were going to visit Utah during Christmas time it set into motion a chain reaction of events that led to all of my siblings except 1 and Dad to also decide to visit Utah (pretty big feat for 7 out of 11 people to drop in). L. and I had decided to stay with her friend so that we did not have to deal with playing favorites with who we stayed with (blessing/curse... you decide). Anyway, this meant that visiting all of my wife's and my families quite the scheduling nightmare. L. is great at these kind of things and had a whole schedule, and phone list. I admitted up front I was just along for the ride. Every day of the two weeks we were there we visited at least one usually two people. A pretty determined thing with how bad the weather was for the first few days. L. and I had decided to put this trip on the credit card since we didn't know when the next time we would be coming here and living on a student salary does not allow for travel.
I don't mean to vent but whenever you get that many siblings together there are bound to be tempers flaring. I usually do pretty good at staying out of the family politics, in fact I hate how often I have to play the mediator. This trip was just to much. I don't want to dwell, and I am not about to write out the details on a web page but time after time visiting one of my siblings left me mute for lack of anything good to say. I looked forward to the days of visiting L.'s family which is not the norm for me. I came away from this visit with the distinct feeling the best for all those involved is that I should just cut off contact with my family and I would not be missed. I originally decided to not write any more posts here also but later changed my mind (obvious because of this post) and just not posting anymore to my family website. So I guess it is for the best that we are moving across the country.
Sorry for the downer post but the number one reason for these posts is for me.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Being in Utah for December

Since we are moving to New York we figured it would be a good idea to visit any family on the west coast during the break. This meant going to Utah... in the winter. When I lived in Utah 11 years ago there was the worst snow storm in 50 years. When I left Utah (besides never wanting to come back) I felt I had an understanding, I didn't mess with Utah and it would do the same. When we checked the weather before leaving we read a storm was coming in over the Pacific, so we left a day early. As we listened to the radio while driving we heard that half of Portland's power got knocked out by the windstorm. We decided to drive straight through without stopping at our friends and made it to L.'s friends house without incident without snow or ice in sight. However, the next morning the snow hit. You guessed it, worst storm in 11 years. We just bummed around the house for the day and the snow plow was so behind schedule they didn't plow the street until the next day.
When I lived in Utah the culture was "yes, there are other cultures out there, but they are wrong". Now from this trip I really get the sense that there is enough population or something that the culture has changed to "there are no other cultures besides ours". A big step in the wrong direction. The advertising and stores catering to the lifestyle was just over the top (case in point- giant inflated missionary on the roof at the mall). We went to a couple of Christmas services and they all had the same message: Did the people who experienced the first Christmas really know what they were experiencing. The message I got was: "The people who experienced the first Christmas didn't know how significant what they were witnessing was, but we do, (therefore we as a group must be better then the people who experienced the first Christmas)".
With my wife growing up in Utah it was funny to see how L. reacted to everything. She was complaining about all the stuff that I did when I first moved there. It was especially amusing to see her yelling about and at the driving there. My take is that everyone is in a hurry for church or family related matter so in their mind they feel that other drivers will understand if they bend the rules in their favor. Now in New York or Italy I experienced aggressive driving. In Utah is seems more like just driving with blinders on.
One of the fun things that we did while there was to go on an old train ride. It was made up to look like the Polar Express on a trip to the North Pole. Everyone got cookies and hot chocolate and read the story for the 13 mile trip. at the end of the track Santa came on the train and talked to all the kids and handed out sleigh bells while they switched the track around for the trip back. All my nieces and nephews had a blast.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


One of the reasons we chose to come to Oregon was to live closer to one of my friends that live here. Of course, being is school we were so busy that we had only visited once before. So we decided to get together for Thanksgiving, and after a five hour drive we arrived with L.'s brother in tow.
I've been friends with him since 7th grade so we go way back. His whole family, who I have also known for years, were driving down from Washington to also be there. What would Thanksgiving be without family. I always think of my family as crazy, L.'s family are all weird, but my friend G.'s family, takes the cake. Out of the 6 of them the thinnest one is about 20 lbs over weight. This means they were all getting on my back for being to skinny. Now G.'s mom is and always has been self conscious about her picture being taken, as in no one was supposed to. Her thinking is they can take pictures of her once she has lost the weight she wants to. Now with 9 adults and 6 kids there is little chance of her not ending up in some pictures for a crowded house. With my hobby of photography I have always taken a lot of pictures, and for the last few years we have got together it has always been a goal of mine to take as many pictures of her as possible. My feeling is that pictures spark memories, and without them her grandkids won't remember her as much because she was self conscious about how she looked. So the fun begins.
There has also been a feud between G.'s wife and G.'s mother since the day G. got married. So we got both of them vying to play us all off each other. I have given up on that many years ago. So basically it was the good old home family Thanksgiving.
Once of my other hobbies was is to cook and we got assigned bringing desert- my favorite. I got to try out new things. (I created for the first time pumpkin cobbler, and pumpkin fritters, with the old standbys of persimmon pudding, cherry cheesecake, and an improved pecan pie cheesecake.) All are going into my recipe book. After dinner all of G.'s sisters and mother pulled out their newspapers and started planning which stores, and tracking their paths for the next days sales.
G.'s family are all big game players so we brought canasta to play while there. I am a firm believer in playing my best, and I am good at this game, but all three of them started playing against me and when I was still winning it seemed like less of a game since more and more bitterness got into the game. I think there was more competitiveness then fun at the table, so we played other games the rest of the time we were there.
At the age of 26 L.'s brother finally got his drivers license. So after Thanksgiving on our way to dropping him off back home we let him drive. This was truly a weird experience. As we were driving there was a freak snow storm so he got hist first snow driving experience.

Friday, November 17, 2006

1st/last UO football game

So we decided that with how much this town has an unreal obsession to college football that we should see at least one game to see what all the fuss is about. Students get free tickets but you have to be in line when they give them out or they are gone. The games for this season kept ticking by because we would be busy every day they were handing them out. Finally I realized that the last home game was coming up so really it was our last chance. I set the alarm to wake up at 5 so we would be the first ones in line. As it turns out, we were second... and no one else showed up behind us for 2 hours. I ended up being late for class anyway since they opened the ticket office late.
L.'s brother was coming to visit for Thanksgiving so we got him a ticket too for $20. I knew they spent a lot of money on football and I was curious what some of my tuition was going for. Holy crap, the stadium is huge! I can not believe how much big, new, and expensive everything was. I ticks me off that so much money from education is going into this. I know, "opiate of the masses" and all the other rubbish excuses for why sports are so popular.
L.'s brother T. and I went early and got front row seats in the student section, right at the Oregon goal line. The day of the game was freezing, literally. Freezing fog is really cold and even at noon they still had the stadium lights on it was so thick. L. came late because she had to take her teaching test. Luckily she showed up with our big wool blanket for us to huddle under.
The game itself was pretty dismal. I mean I'm not a big football fan but Oregon only scored one touchdown. I did get to see the pinnacle of fanaticism with people throwing trash at the opposing side flag runner for every touchdown that Arizona scored. We all got to make comments of who was dancing more slutty the cheer or dance squads and wave our little free "spirit" banners to get into the spirit of the game though. Over all I am glad I went and it was nice to walk home to try to warm up.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


In Oregon voting day is not really seen as a big deal. Everything is done by mail in votes so its more of a deadline. With no polling places or voting booths I am sure that the state is saving lots of money. With all the problems and corruption going on with electronic voting its weird to be so removed from that. Apparently with 100% mail in ballots Oregon has some of the lowest error rates and corruption reports, I gotta say I prefer it. (Yes I am fully aware with the abstracted layer something could be rigged but at least there is a paper trail.) It is also easier for me to convince L. to vote since there are no lines to worry about.
Probably the funniest political posters we saw were ones for a proposition that said "protect teenage girls". I mean how much closer can you get to "Won't someone think of the children".

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


The weekend before Halloween we celebrated Halloween by going to a corn maze on Friday and a a party the next day. I had never lived in a rural area so the idea of getting lost in field of corn seemed like something new to me. A lot of people said it was good so we decided to go. It was on about 60 acres and I didn't know corn could get so tall (I was afraid that I would be able to look over it all but this stuff was 10-14 feet tall). We went at night and the fog descended to just above the corn so it was pretty easy to get lost (especially since we forgot to bring a flashlight and the fog made it pretty dark.) There were markers with clues but L. and I had fun just wondering around aimlessly. The main thing learned was to always be between the groups of people so that the "creatures" would not jump out at you. I really enjoyed it and hope to go to more.
One of L.'s teachers threw a Halloween part so we had fun going to that. We had found foam hairdo wigs so we went as Anime characters. I ended up looking like someone from street fighter and L. looked like over the top Japanese school girl. We ended up taking some of her drunk friends home that didn't remember anything the next day and nearly ended up throwing up in our car.
In a rare turn of consequences on Halloween both L. and I did not have any homework due the next day. So instead of handing out candy to ungrateful kids all night we decided to take a break and leave town.
We decided to see the fall colors at the Japanese gardens in Portland. We got a large rebate from Staples from buying a color laser printer that we had to use so L. got a new digital camera. What better way to test it out. When there we decided we should take a good picture there to use as the Christmas picture along with our cards. It was a nice change of pace and pretty relaxing just to wander around. It was very beautiful too and made L. happy that we were moving somewhere with seasons and fall colors particularly.
When the Japanese gardens closed it was still pretty early and neither of us wanted to go home so instead we went to the mall. They were having trick-or-treat to all the different stores. It took away any guilt we had of not celebrating Halloween with all the little kids dressed up begging for candy from all the stores.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

I heart NYC

I got a formal offer the group in New York and decided to accept the offer. So we are moving to New York.... in a year. It is weird that we already know where we are moving when school is over.
We have started looking at homes for sale in the area on reality websites. The scary thing is that only 30 miles from Manhattan in nice neighborhoods and homes are more affordable then they are in southern California. So L. has discovered even with a hatred of reality television she like looking into the lives of people selling their homes, or at least their choice in furniture and wall colors. It really looks like where we are moving there are nothing but old people selling their houses. When we do find an address we have been looking up the address with the satellite picture maps. The detail has gotten good enough and recent enough we can judge the quality of the roof and landscaping. It has also been good to judge how good a neighborhood is.
When we were in Portland we stopped off at Powell's Book (Worlds biggest bookstore) and looked up books on New York. We found this old gnarled leather book published in 1847 about the history of the state. We could not resist since it cost $10. I guess L. and I have had to much school when we like the idea of collecting old books.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

I got a job or three

I was currently fielding job offers from the group in San Jose to design the interface for database software, the one official interview I went to in New York to code the interface for the email group in Massachusetts, and the group that researches accessibility in New York got back to me and said they were interested in interviewing me again. Both L. and I favor living in New York (about 30 miles north of NYC.) and I really like the idea of a research job since as long as it has to do with making software accessible I am free to work on whatever I want. I learned I make quite the first impression. Without any specific need the manager of the group created a position tailored for me, got more funding for her group to hire me, then flew me back to interview for the position where I choose my own research. The catch? It looks like I will be getting my PhD at some point in the future to move up within the research department. (I know, perpetual student, but this is pretty much my dream job so…). The best part is everyone I interviewed with (8 the first day and 6 the second) liked me; so they offered me the job. I guess I interview good.
It was kind of funny, I had emailed the group in San Jose and said I wouldn't be able to make the meeting since I would be interviewing in New York. They were pretty frustrated since they thought they could keep me in limbo trying to get as much work out of me as possible holding a job like a carrot on a stick. I had already got a written offer from the Massachusetts group so that wasn't going to work. So I emailed them what I had then mailed back my laptop when they said they didn't want someone who was looking for other positions. It is for the better since I need time to work on my thesis and I was getting pretty stressed trying to balance everything.
So to take a look chain of events:
-I decide I need a job for the summer to try to save up money.
-My friend says he will be in Europe for the summer so I can use his apartment in New York.
-I look for and apply for internships on NYU and Columbia's websites.
-I get accepted (2% acceptance rate, I had no idea) for the job in San Jose but they pay for housing so I'm OK.
-I decide I want a job in research.
-I look for groups to talk to while in New York
-Since my thesis has to do with accessibility I decide to talk to that group. (trying to find a group's locations was terrible.)
-I get offered the job and will end up living in New York anyway.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Start of School

School has started. It feels different this year since I was already here a few week and there were no hurried last minute preparations right before school started with last minute decisions. L. and I went to the school welcome party. I could not convince L. of the joy of throwing themselves against a Velcro wall but I was able to get myself stuck upside down a couple of times. She did agree to dress up in giant padded suits for sumo wrestling. We also went to her opening picnic and it was weird that all it took was a year to be the respected upper-classmen. L. finished a month long “September experience” were she helped out a speech therapist at schools. She only has one more term of school and she will be done with classes in December. Then she has a school internship for one term and hospital internship for the other term. She is also studying for her test that will test everything that she has learned in the last 4 years that she has to pass for her license.
I am taking it relatively easy this term to allow me time to try to build the device for my thesis. I have been scrounging up broken LCD screen from the campus and recycling centers to try to get the parts I need.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Computer Trouble

Every computer we have decided to fail since I got back. L. got a new laptop when the motherboard failed on her old laptop. The early warning light came on for the hard drives for our computer we use for storage. Then to top it off my laptop decided it wanted to give up the ghost by burning out the LCD screen. The print head then decided to bend off on our printer, and L's iPod does is to old to record her sessions so we had to buy a new one. Replacing everything took a large chunk of the money from my internship. So no matter how much someone learns about technology it should give you heart that computers will still give them trouble."

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Speak Like a Pirate Day

So, this seems like a silly reason to celebrate so why not. For some reason a lot of people like the day on the technical websites I read so I read about it there. I was home for the day doing homework and needed to blow off some steam so I looked up on the internet some recipes to make of what a pirate would eat. I ended up making mango bread, some fish, and a cake for desert that did not come out well at all. I went to the video store and rented cutthroat island and I got a couple of eye patches from the toy section at the grocery store. We just bought a new color printer so to top it off I printed out a sign to test the new printer and taped it to the front door for when L. got home. When she got home she was surprised that I had heard of the day since she thought that it was only at the school she was working at. It made for a nice change of pace that did not cost that much even if we never did use the eye patches.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Area of Research

To get a Masters degree here there are three choices, thesis, project, or just extra classes. I was going in the direction of extra classes so that I could take the psychology classes but I may change my mind.
In two of my classes Spring term I had to write a final paper. To kill two birds with one stone I decided to write one paper for both classes. So as to not feel guilty I did put a lot more research and work into it then I would for writing a paper.
I just happened to read an article on the Slashdot website that peaked my interest. The basic idea is the ability to see using touch(haptics). The highest concentration of touch sensor nerves a person has is on their tongue. So a small grid is placed on the tongue with the other side hooked up to a camera. After a few minutes of training the brain starts translating the information using the visual cortex and is able to translate the spatial information as if it was a third eye.
So that is the current technology, the down side is that it is equivalent to 20-860 vision (legally blind is 20-400, normal vision is 20-20). I realized a lot of improvements I could make while I was writing the paper. I talked to one of my professors and they agreed to be my advisor for the project I wanted to do it. During the summer everyone I talked with, the topic kept coming up, and I got more ideas.
So I have decided to seriously look into it so now I have to build this device. The problem being I don't have any real electronics experience. So I have been desperately trying to learn quickly in this lull before school starts.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


It just happened that L's summer school got out the same day as my internship ended. So she drove down and I parked my motorcycle in the company parking lot. We decided that we wanted to drive down to Southern California to visit my Dad, pick up anything we had left down there, and go to Magic Mountain before it was closed.
My wife and I both visited our previous jobs and visited with past co-workers. Even at just being gone a year it seemed like forever since I had worked there.
On the drive back to Oregon we stopped off again in San Jose for a day for me to learn what they wanted me to do to re-design the interface for another program. Then headed home. We were supposed to go camping but my arm was hurting to much so we headed straight home, with me on my motorcycle and her in the car. The problem it turns out is that I am allergic to Neosporin ointment. So the very thing that I put on my arm to help it heal quicker, instead made it ache and just made it worse.
I felt really bad once we got home since my wife had not had any real vacation since she had summer school. We decided to camp at Crater Lake for Labor Day. We made sure to leave as early as possible since we knew it would be a popular place to go. As it turns out we got there just in time. Since there was a fire in the area a lot of camping spots had been reserved for firefighters and we got one of the few good spots left, complete with needing to shew the deer out so I could set up the tent. We drove around the rim that day and took the boat tour and climbed up wizard island the next day. The lake was beautiful and the trip was relaxing but wore us out from all the hiking.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Ode to riding a motorcycle

Splashing through the cool air trapped under the trees
Watching the explosion of color a bug can create an inch from your eye
Having small children point at you as if you were an airplane
Total strangers telling you their dreams of which bike they will someday own
Getting twice the gas mileage at a time when everyone is complaining
Learning the feel of the perfect turn
Getting thumbs up from pedestrians
Having the gnarliest grizzled biker give a friendly wave and smile to a fellow rider
Instant popularity from being seen as “a wild one”
The different smell of every field, grove or valley
Accelerating faster then anything short of a Ferrari
Sitting up for more air conditioning

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Last Week of Internship

It's funny that in a company this size that they encourage you to meet as many people as possible since that is the only way to get anything done around there. As long as you knew enough people there were ways to get around the red tape and that was actually encouraged. I was drawn to getting a job in research because there is a lot less expected overtime to meet a deadline. Since none of the research departments hired directly from the internship program that I was in I had to hunt them out. Besides the group that I hunted out there in New York this last week was spent just trying to get a interview with different groups there. It's all in the process, that I leaned quickly. Find a group that you want to work for, and make an appointment with the manager for the group. Now even though both you and the manager know you want a job this is seen as an informational meeting. I am not one that is normally outgoing but I put on a good act since I wanted a job. I met with 4 different groups there in San Jose that were involved with User Interface in one way or the other, but none of them wanted to seem to hire someone without a PhD. Since the only real responsibility we had the last week was to document our code a lot of people spent time playing foosball and watching videos on the Internet.
As long as we were in San Jose we thought we would see some of the other companies there too. One of our co-workers husband worked at Google. One of the other guys in our group had set up a tour and I asked to tag along. All the rumors I had heard about working there were true. They do treat their employees good, but seeing everything there together it is pretty apparent that everything is done to get people to work longer hours and spend more time there. While I want to like my job I do not want my career to define me so I don't really want to work somewhere that detracts from me being able to enjoy my life.
Of course the last week was full of parties. We had a group part on Wednesday. I rode my motorcycle down the front of the hill to get to the other set of apartments. I took the last corner to fast, hit some gravel, and slid out because I was concentrating to much on making the perfect turn. It was not that bad but it ticked me off that out of all the times it had to happen it was going to be when my arm would be healing when I met everyone. Everyone decided to have a party on Thursday night. Things were pretty wild. It has been a while that I went to a party where someone drank enough to throw up and pass out. There were plenty of drinking games, but I was just enjoying talking to everyone.
On the last day the manager over the group that sponsored our project approached me and asked if I wanted to work part time from home with the idea that if I did well I would get hired on full time. I saw it as a way to get more money for school since I had no real desire to work for this group so I agreed, knowing that it would be a last resort if nothing else panned out.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Travel to Headquarters

So the whole point of this internship was to get the demo working for whatever group you were working for and these demos were then shown to all the VP's and CEO at the headquarters in New York. Some people went up early to explore New York but I have been there enough times and my friends were in Europe at the time so I decided to save money instead. When we did fly in because of the movie “Harold and Kumar go to White Castle we convinced our manager to make a stop off at White Castle so we could get some mini burgers.
Company headquarters is so big they have their own hotel on site. So at $200 billed to the department/ per person a night I would think it would be a good hotel but I got flea bites on both legs that bugged the crap out of me the rest of the internship. Other then that it was pretty nice except the humidity felt like a wall every time walking out of a building.
The first day we practiced our presentations and set up our booths. The next day was a blur of giving presentations, showing off our demo, eating all of our meals with different assigned VP's, and meeting and watching the other sites presentations. (us from San Jose, Austin, Raleigh, Toronto, and Ottawa). I didn't know who the CEO was so I didn't get as excited as some of the others did when he came around to talk to each of us about our projects. Our mentors also wanted to demo our projects to the research groups in the area and I wanted to meet the research people there in New York since that is where I wanted a job so I convinced everyone from both groups that our mentors were sponsoring that we should give the demos since we were more familiar. I then found the group that I was interested in and tried to set up an interview while I was there. As it turns out she was busy so I met with her the next day.
The next day was devoted to job interviews. Departments that knew they would have an opening in their company the next year interviewed all those interested. None of the research groups were there so that is why I did what I did. The problem was that I had to drive to the other building while trying to fit everything else in too. It finally was over and we took a bus back to the airport. When we landed back in San Jose we found out there was a large scare in the U.K. involving liquid explosive trying to be smuggled on planes. If we had left just a few hours later we would have got stuck in the airport for hours.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Work outings

So besides going to Yosemite they took us to a lot of other places in their bid to get us to like working there. I am sure it would feel like this a little no matter what but it always seemed like field-trips just enforcing the school mentality even more.
Wine tasting: I have been raised in California. So I was curious what all the wineries were like even though I don't drink . As it turns out there was one other guy that was not drinking anything either. (I never could get his reason out of him, and I realize my real reason is just about as ethereal.) They set up a tour of some of the wineries of Sonoma Valley. They rented a “Limo Bus” that supplied 3 bottles of champagne along with the driver, and about 18 people came, so that means that some people were tipsy before even getting to the first winery. The average price it seemed was $5 for 5 trial glasses, and that would be taken off any purchases of wine bottles that mainly ranged from $20-30 and on up. They chose the places according to the cheapest samples. I think people watching was the funnest for this one such as what the wineries would try to sell tipsy and drunk people.
Paintball: It was the middle of summer, and this was at an indoor building, so there really no debate over what kind of clothing I wanted to wear. We all went to the Thrift store and I bought the thinest long sleeve shirts and pants we could. Some people bought suit coats in hopes of getting extra padding. Once of those guys went home early with heat stroke. The only other time I played paintball was a huge hilly field. Here in a building with a bunch of inflated barriers the strategy was a bit different, or rather it was more just Charge! Games usually lasted about 3-4 minutes before all the people on one side were hit. I have no clue how many times I got hit but we all came away with enough bruises for battle wounds.
Sailing: This was done the last week of the internship. A sailing trip on a catamaran around Alcatraz and under the San Francisco bridge. I have to say, this was my favorite. I never get sea sick but I have to admit that it did feel different to be sailing. People that normally got sea sick agreed that it was much better to sail with the wind as opposed to being on a motorboat. Which is good because there was alcohol involved and the last thing I wanted to do was to deal with drunk sea sicks. My favorite place was just a few feet above the waves in the front of the boat in netting they had stretched between the pontoons. The sailing was right at sunset and I really missed having my wife there. Everyone had a very relaxing time. It was a good ending type trip to do.

Monday, July 03, 2006

life as a bachlor

So I am living in an extended stay hotel for the summer that they paid for while I work down here. There is a kitchen but other then that it reminds me of any other hotel I've been in. I feel weird every time I walk through the lobby with bags of groceries. The good thing is that there is grocery store across the street so I can walk since the saddle bags on my motorcycle don't carry that much and tend to squish loaves of bread. The kitchen was supposed to have all needed cooking tools but was missing things for me like baking pans that I had to pick up from the thrift store. I thought the thrift stores here would have lots of old electronics, with this being Silicon Valley, but I guess all the guys that have them are hording them for some other project just like I probably would. It is also weird having a TV again and I have to admit I watch way too much.
I have been exploring the area when I have extra time but most of it is just urban sprawl. It's weird that land around here is so expensive but there is also so many farms and ranches. I guess the farmers are waiting until retirement to sell out. When I talk to the people that have lived in Silicon Valley a while they talk about the dot com boom like nostalgia when they should have sold their houses.
It is weird to need to drive everywhere again. I got so used to riding my bicycle every day. Now I don’t feel like I am getting enough exercise. So when I do go exploring I try to make sure to get off my motorcycle and walk as much as possible but it is just not the same.

Working for a big company

Every company has their own culture. Here they seem to be trying to change theirs. They are known for being stuffy. At the orientation they kept conveyed messages like- you could dress real casual, but make sure it is still nice. It's OK to cut through the bureaucracy - but don't forget to do your paper work. A perfect example is they had a party for all the interns from the 3-4 buildings in the area to mix. It was a BBQ, but we got meal tickets and could only choose one type of meat and two sides, and company policy-no alcohol on site. (Since I don't drink, not having drunk people around was nice though.) But what happened was everyone would come, eat, and then leave since there was no real reason to linger. No one mixed.
The building I work in is purely a research building. This is the place where they invented the hard drive. The prototype is on display in one of the halls. (It's about 6 feet by 5 feet tall and deep with the platters about 3 feet across.)Our office is next door to the particle accelerator so all the lead cuts down on the cell phone reception. There is an atom smasher just down the hall for creating new compounds. We all had to go through extra training for different types of chemical spills that might happen, and they have an entire library devoted to the MSDS books. There is liquid nitrogen on tap and the halls are filled with dewars of helium and other gasses.(a dewar is like a regular tank only 9 times bigger.) They have regular teaching sessions about what they are researching for the other people there and we can go to them too. (Most of what they say is over my head though.) It was funny that I knew I recognized one guy working here and finally placed it that he had written the book for my database class and I recognized his picture from the back of it.
The site I work at is on the top of its own hill and the first time I saw it I thought it looked like a compound. Apparently they bought 6 ranches for 160 acres. There is a guard shack at the bottom and a private road on both sides of the hill. I got to say this makes for the best commute on a motorcycle with the twisty road first thing in the morning and coming home at night. The only thing I have to worry about is deer, since they are everywhere. I usually see them about every other day. Since we are isolated they have their own cafeteria with subsidized food that is restaurant quality so I make sure to get dessert every day.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Hiking in Yosemite

So for the first little "field trip" we went on was for a hiking trip to Yosemite. I guess they waited until the 3rd weekend so that the interns that were in the quarter system like me could go too. L. and I had tried a few times to go to Yosemite but every time all the camping passes were taken for at least a year in advance. The organizers got around that by reserving spots at a hostel outside the park.
There was one group that was going to hike half dome and the other that just wanted to go around the valley floor. I decided I was goingto the top of half dome since I didn't see the chance to do this again any time soon. So the plan was to have a group start at Glacier point about half way up the mountain. This seemed like cheating so we got a group of people to start at the valley floor and hike the whole 16 miles and 5000 feet straight up. The problem lies in trying to get 30 people to get up early enough; we got off an hour late. There was a land slide that closed the easy road in so we didn't start hiking until 10 when we should have started at 7:30. It was pretty straight up the whole way with a lot of stairs cut into the granite. We took the mist trail on the way up and by the time we got past the waterfall everyone was drenched. We stopped at Nevada falls for lunch... and we had beaten the other group that took the easy way to the mid-way point.
After lunch people started going slower and stopping. I said that I was going to hike half dome and that is what I was going to do. The problem was as I got to the two mile to go point I was not able to go more then 200 yards without sitting and resting. At 1 mile to go I couldn't make it more then 100 yards. I realized when the nausea set in and my heart was beating wildly that I was getting altitude sickness. It felt like I had smoked 2 packs a day for my whole life. I just couldn't get enough air and I could feel my neck moving from my rapid heart beat. I had to make it to the top though- I said I was going to make it to the top. I made it to the cables took yet another break and then headed up, slowly. I met the rest of the people that made it at the top. We took some quick pictures of all of us standing on the edge with 5000 feet straight down then headed down.
Now the rest of the problems set in. They told us to bring 2 liters of water, and I had drunk all mine already as had everyone else. We were quickly running out of light and needed to hurry but I was still short of breath. We basically ran down the mountain and a lot of us resorted to getting water out of the waterfall with the thought that an upset stomach would be less trouble at the bottom then dehydration where we were. Since it was dusk one good motivation that kept me going was that anytime we slowed down to a walking pace the mesquitos caught up started feasting. As we got lower I felt I could breath easier, my heart rate went back to normal and it felt like a huge shot of caffine as I got my energy back. We made it all the way down to the bottom right at 9:00pm just as the last bits of light disappeared. I had pushed myself to hard and that mixed with the altitude sickness made me throw-up. We were the last car back and didn't get back to the hostel until midnight.
So was it worth it? Well I kept my word - I said I would make it to the top and I did. I think it was worth it to do it once. The view from the top was amazing. I don't see any need to hike to the top of half dome any time soon though. I think that 3 liters would have been better to take. We should have started at around 7 so we were not so rushed, or better yet camp half way to allow my body to equalize. It really ticks me off that I got altitude sickness, especially since some guys didn't (It was not just being out of shape since I biked to school once or twice a day. Other people that started at the bottom had the exact symptoms too, one guy could not make it up the cables at the end.) Out of 30 people I was one of 6 that made it to the top.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Riding the motorcycle to San Jose

There are some things in life that when you start out you are not sure if you will finish. This was one of them for me. I had been practicing riding a lot but with being busy with school the longest I had ridden up to that point was for 3 hours, as opposed to this 10 hour ride in front of me. It’s funny a year ago to the day we were leaving for Europe. The way that I made it - I took it easy. I would pull off an exit at least every hour and stretch and relax. The only trouble that I ran into was I had hooked up the saddle bags wrong and one of the straps broke by rubbing on the back tire. I fixed it by moving the hook to what was left of the cable using the tire pressure checker and my keys. (I felt very MacGyver-ish.) Once I crossed over from Oregon to California it got a lot warmer and I realized, “hey, yeah this may be fun making this drive”. There were some pretty high winds while I was driving and there were some times that I was leaned over at least 10 degrees just to keep going straight.
So it took me 12 hours for the 590 miles, $40.92 was spent on gas averaging 50mpg. Since being here I have averaged 46mpg around town. I guess that is a good thing with gas costing over $3.00 a gallon now. Its funny that my motorcycle does not have a gas gauge. I guess they did not feel it was important to design that in to the display so I have to make sure to reset the trip meter.
So the statistics go that once you have made it over 500 miles your chances of and accident drop by a good 60-70%. Wouldn't you know it that I made that whole trip nice and safe and the next day while I was shopping for grocieries I hit the brakes to hard with my front tire on one of the white painted arrows in the parking lot. The bike fell over but everything was O.K. since I was wearing full gear and had added frame sliders to the bike before leaving. The only thing that got broke was my turn signal and the end of my clutch lever. They say everyone drops their bike once and hopefully that's the worst I ever experience.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Finishing school

So now the real fun begins. Just as the highest pressure hits for school for the last two weeks for end of term projects, papers, and studying for finals, I also get to add trying to work to the mix. I had tried to finish as much as possible before flying down to San Jose and that helped but since I was leaving a week early from school to return to San Jose it meant that I had to take my finals early with less studying. As it turns out the compilers class was a take home final that I finished in San Jose. The other was for the psychology class which I found pretty easy. (For a computer class you must understand the concept and be able to apply any part of it at will. In this psychology class it was just memorization which is funny since this was supposed to be one of the harder psychology classes since it involved so much physiology.) I ended up getting an A+ in the class, something I did not think was possible for college. The class I had a hard time with was compilers, I just always felt like I was playing catch up, but I think the teacher graded leniently and I got a B. I really got into the haptic computing class and I think I may try to do some research in the area in the fall term.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Memorial Day in San Jose

Since I am on the quarter system my school goes a little longer then for all the people that are on the semester system. This meant they wanted to start the summer internship while I still had a few weeks left. This meant that I had to fly down to San Jose for one day of filling out paperwork. Since I only had the one day there before flying home for 2 weeks I wanted nothing more then to get some details (since everything was confidential work all I had figured out was what I had looked up from the job description on my own.) Instead we filled out all the normal job paperwork, another 10 forms on confidential paperwork and patent filings, and then started the team building. We built towers out of paper, and heard about their work culture. Imagine 8 hours of that. Then we headed to dinner and I got to meet the mentors for our project. So the only info I got to go on for the next two weeks is what I could grill the mentors on over dinner.
The one good thing about being forced to fly down for one day is that I could pre-deliver all my luggage so that I would not have to carry it on my motorcycle. This saved me since there is no way I would be able to take everything that I needed for the whole summer strapped to the motorcycle.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Learning to drive a motorcycle

So before driving down to San Jose I came up with a list of things that I wanted to be able to do before heading out. I had the same feeling I did when I was 16 of being a beginning driver again just trying to learn all the rules. After the motorcycle got a clean bill of health from the mechanic I rode it down to the DMV to practice on a Saturday. Other things on my list were freeway driving, night driving, mountain roads, and traffic.
The funny thing about learning to ride is that everyone seems to like my motorcycle. I get thumbs up from pedestrians a lot; an old lady said she liked the blue color as I was walking into a store, and when I went through a drive-through there were four people at the window. I guess either I look really goofy wearing all that yellow or my motorcycle does not look threatening like a chopper or full racing bike could. I am just not used to people asking what kind of motorcycle it is when I walk into a business.
The down side of learning to ride a motorcycle in Oregon is that I had to learn to ride in the rain real fast. It is not as bad as I thought it would be and as long as I take it a little slower I feel just as safe as normal.

My first MRI

It’s funny, at my old job my boss had to get a MRI for her back. She complained how she became claustrophobic and being forced to stay still for so long. So being part of the psychology group means helping out with the experiments. I volunteered to get my brain scanned while trying to use a tool (one of those gripper hands that extends your reach.) to see how my brain reacted to tool use. All I could think of was, I am totally healthy and here I am getting into this contraption.
Well I didn’t feel at all claustrophobic, and in all reality just the forced immobility was very relaxing, like meditating. I guess I always thought being left handed but logical thinking that my brain would not map out anything like they were expecting. They had a few problems lining up my brain patterns to the way most people use their brains but for the most part it looks like my brain is pretty normal. (but my skull has a large lump on the back that looks pretty funny in the pictures.)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Saving grace of rain

I don't know if it is the humidity or if I have really just acclimated to the weather but 90 degrees here feels hot. Also with all the sun comes growth, lots of it. L. and I have been hit hard by the allergies of all the plants in their supper growth cycle right now. I have heard a few people say that the indians called this area, a valley of sickness and didn't want to live here. I don't know about that, but I do know that it is the "grass seed capital of the world". So in addition to all the normal allergies there is an unnatural amount of grass pollen in the air.
After a couple of weeks of sun though we are currently having a week of rain. I have to say that it is nice to be able walk around without bloodshot eyes, and to be able to breathe though my nose. Its a lot easier to pay attention in class with the distinct lower amount of sneezing from everyone. Now here is the scary part. This small reprieve can not last forever. Soon, the sun will come out again and all the recent rain will just further explosive growth. The people that I have talked to that have lived here for a while say that everyone's allergies go away around July when things dry out enough. I guess I am lucky since I will be leaving for San Jose in a few weeks but I feel sorry for L. since she will be stuck in summer school here.

How to convice your wife you need a motorcycle

I was going to title this post how to brainwash someone, but I wouldn't say that I went that far...
Stage one: make the person feel indebted.
It all started with L. needing to get re-certified for CPR. She has to do it every year for her job. It's boring after the first time, so she wanted me to come along. Just joking around, as I sometimes do, I simply said you owe me. I didn't have anything planned but then when we broke for lunch for the CPR class we went across the street to Pasadena city college and they were having a motorcycle training class and the idea hit me, and I mean hey, its a SAFETY class. Who could argue with that.

Stage two: make the improbable seem sensible.
With the idea of us going to Europe and spending a lot of time in England and Ireland the idea of striving on the left side of the road seemed like a hard thing to do because of the position of the car. Enter the idea of riding scooters or motorcycles through those parts. It was enough to get L. and I signed up for the motorcycle safety course. We ended up renting and driving a car through those countries since it was actually more expensive to rent even one motorcycle because of the theft rates.

Stage three: exclusivity as part of a group.
When driving the 100 miles home we passed about 20 motorcycles, I'd say 3 didn't wave.

Step four: Isolate the person from any contradictory ideas.
Its funny, my friend (her cousin) rides a motorcycle daily and is now calling just to see how I'm having fun or what upgrades I have made. He conveys these ideas to anyone, including L. L.'s mom also used to ride a motorcycle but had to sell it so now she has been calling trying to relive some of her past.

There was the added bonus of involving shopping.
My wife likes shopping for clothes. Buying a motorcycle involves shopping for clothes, helmet, jacket, gloves. The excitement will rub off.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

New Motorcycle

Its all kind of funny how things work. When we moved up here I sold my car since we thought we would only need one car. Now with me going down to San Jose for the summer I would go crazy if I did not have some way to explore the area. I felt that I missed a chance to own a motorcycle while living in California because of my desire to not drive in the rain.
It's funny, one of the other reasons that I originally wanted a motorcycle was to save money. The first motorcycle that I looked at ended up having bent forks (The first time I had a vehicle checked out by a mechanic since I know nothing about what to look for in a motorcycle.) All the other motorcycles in the same price range had me spooked in the same way. We decided to use the tax refund and ended up (after "accessories"-helmet,jacket,saddlebags) spending about the same that we got for selling my car.
Its funny, I was brought up with KNOWING anyone that got onto a motorcycle would end up dying on one. The idea has since translated into the more rational idea of being as safe as possible.
I bought a yellow jacket and helmet to for the highest visibility. I added the turn signals, license plate light, and reflectors back on the bike (why anyone would choose looks over safety is beyond me).
Now before I get all preachy I also have to admit to my own stupidity. So Eugene is not that big of a town, I did all the research on what would be the best (easy to learn) first motorcycle to own. The closest one was in Woodburn. I drove up and bought the motorcycle on Wednesday then brought L. back on Friday with me. Now even though I had my motorcycle license, took the motorcycle training class,and planned the trip to avoid all freeways, this was the first time I was riding a motorcycle on the road and it was for 101 miles home. The first turn I made I underestimated the extra weight of a 650cc engine as opposed to the 250cc motors I learned on. I came close enough to the opposite corner to put my foot down on the curb. It got me pretty spooked so I spent the next half hour practicing turns in a parking lot. There were some wrong turns, but nothing else scary for the rest of the trip (L. was bored out of her mind following behind me.)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Spring time in Oregon-land

"The sun has come out and that makes for some big changes here in Oregon. It's funny when living in California there was a special rack that they would wheel out at stores when it rained full of umbrellas and plastic ponchos. Here they have one for when the sun pokes out that is full of Frisbees and tennis balls. The first few days of sun L. and I couldn't believe it and still left the apartment with jackets on. (It's happened before where it looks sunny then rains all afternoon.) After a few days though we left the house without jackets and something felt out of sorts without them on and us being outside. Feeling the wind on your arms or driving with the window down seemed like foreign actions.
So what does all the winter rain grow during the spring time? People apparently. It is really weird to see so many people sprouted up lounging around on the grass or playing Frisbee.
The water everywhere around the city has weird effects. We hear "peeper" frogs outside our window every night, even though there is only a ditch. I know that the school mascot is ducks but I was not expecting to see any around campus. (I did not see any matadors at my last school in the spring-time.) There are no lakes but ducks are lounging like the people.
Unfortunately it has also brought allergies. L. which has never had a problem with allergies before has been hit hard. She has to take medication every day. I am used to sneezing in the spring and actually have not had allergies as bad here as I did in California, go figure. I just know which parts of town will make me start sneezing.
L. has decided to try and grow tomato plants on our balcony so we got the pots, plants, dirt and other supplies at a sale at Home Depot only to find out they need greater then 50 degrees at night, so we are bringing them in at night.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Spring break

For Spring break L.'s Brother came up to Portland for a writing conference. Since his school was paying for his hotel we crashed it and visited Portland and him at the same time.
One of T.'s favorite authors is Chuck Palahniuk so we had to visit some of the places he mentioned in his Portland guide book. The Portland Museum of Science was on the list. So it was us three, a bunch of kids there for field trips, and tired parents with kids there for spring break. It was weird doing "learning stuff" on our spring break.
While T. was at the conference L. and I went walking around Portland. There were cherry blossoms everywhere. It was fun getting in a cherry blossom fight. Its just like a snowball fight except your hands don't get cold and everything smells strangely refreshing afterward. The down side was that we had cherry petals stuck to our shoes all day.
After living in L.A. with Huntington Gardens, the Arboretum, and Descanso Gardens I really wanted to see the Japanese Gardens here. They are supposed to be the biggest, most accurate, outside of Japan. I liked it, it was so peaceful there. It was really interesting how they used the moss to soften corners or play with perspective. I can see why it would be hard to recreate some of the plants there somewhere like L.A. where it is a lot hotter. I took lots of architecture pictures for future reference.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

30th Birthday

You only get a 30th birthday once. For my birthday we decided to travel to the Oregon Coast.
It has been really annoying having lived here in Oregon for so long without getting to explore anywhere. Of course here you go to "the coast", not "the beach".
Every trip to the coast seems like it must involve a trip to a lighthouse, so we started off with that. This is also the location of the largest sea cave in the world, complete with seals, and a strong smell of fish. Just looking for something else to do in the AAA travelbook led us to a bog full of rare insect eating plants. I have never been to a "bog" before so I just couldn't resist. It ended up being one of the cooler things of the trip.
We went to a local grocery store and bought all stuff we needed for lunch. There were sand dunes behind the store, and that was on our list of things to do, so we hiked up the 3 story hill and enjoyed Strawberry shortcake on the sand dunes. We finished off the day at the florence beach. The rain finally caught up with us so we drove home in the rain. It was just really weird that there are Ocean cliffs, forest, bogs, and sand dunes within a 15 mile radius.

Monday, March 27, 2006


The quarter is over. The classes that I took this term:
  • Artificial Intelligence: good class, lots of logic. For my final project I built an Othello game that learned from your playing and got harder. It was good enough to beat my wife but I couldn't get it good enough to beat me.

  • Advanced Algorithms: Everyone I have talked to says this is the hardest class to take as a grad student. So far I would agree with them. I'm glad it is over. Hopefully I got a good enough grade. This is one instance that I was glad for quarters instead of semesters.

  • Cognitive Modeling: programming a fake brain to try to model a real one. I personally do not have that much faith in getting this thing that much farther then where it is now. (predicting reaction times) but the HCI professor that teaches it, this is his area of study so we learned all about it.

Next term:

  • Intro to Compilers: I am taking this class to kill 2 requirements.

  • Haptics Interfaces: HCI class that looks pretty interesting

  • Perception: Psychology class with the professor I am working for is teaching. good to know for HCI though, what can the human interact with?

last term:
I just realized I never put what I took last term

  • User Interfaces: The reason that I had such a problem with this class is that it ended up being a software engineering class of finding out the needs of the user, instead of what makes a good UI

  • Data-Base Processing: I originally thought it would be a good idea to have some database experience under my belt. I guess it is good that I am now very sure that I never want to be a DBA

  • Distributed Systems: How to run a program over multiple computers, or networks. working for an ISP for all those years made this class pretty easy.

The difference in company bureaucracy

So I applied to Xerox PARC, Apple, Google, IBM, and Microsoft for summer internships. I wanted to get the internships in that order too. I was only contacted back by Google and IBM though (They were also the only ones actively advertising they wanted interns, live and learn.)
Interview process for Google:
phone interview with person that would be mentor. (1.5 hours)

Interview process for IBM:
phone interview with hr person to make sure you are who you say you are. (1 hour)
online intelligence test (1.5 hours)
technical interview (1.5 hours)
interview with project manager (1 hour)
interview with project mentor (1 hour)

So can you tell that Google is a smaller company with less bureaucracy. All this happened during the last week of projects being due and the week of finals so it really added to the stress level, trying to be accommodating as possible when emailing back available times for phone interviews since they are up front about the longer it takes to interview the more positions that have been filled.
The good news is that I got a summer internship with IBM. I will be spending the summer designing a user interface for an inventory program that uses RFID tags. I am glad that I won't be earning next years money working the summer at McDonald's, but this internship offer is beyond my hopes of what I thought I would get since I will be getting experience with both user interfaces and embedded devices My two favorite topics). This will involve me spending the summer in San Jose. IBM pays for my housing but I will be away from my wife for the summer. I guess this makes up for all last summer where we were side by side the whole time.

School is paid for!

Starting spring term I got a salary job at school! It is still part time, but now I have health benefits, and school is paid for. This is a huge deal, if I can keep this job for the next year then just the tuition saving alone are $24,000.
So here is the question that I am now mulling over. I need to come up with a good grad project, and it seems a waste to not use the access I have to MRI equipment. What information could be found out about using a computer from scanning the brain? (Remember this does not have to have anything to do with being feasible since this is a research school :) ) Right now some of the ideas that I am mulling over are: finding out how the brain processes information using direct manipulation (touch screen) vs. having tactile feedback. (real buttons), and the other idea was some kind of control the computer with your brain thing. (See both human-computer interaction related).
It is really funny, since I have GRF (graduate research fellowship- what they call the student salary positions here) through a different department, the computer science department is interested in me. They want to take pictures of the robot and put my picture up on the website to show the inter-discipline work going on, but it makes me kind of feel like the story about the little red hen. Where were they when I was going through the hard time of needing a position.
Oh well this really helps, and it helps the stress level to know I don't have to worry about health insurance now.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

field trip

To try to build up the camaraderie in the computer science department they organized a group trip to the ski resort with the promise to pay for part of the ticket. With no health insurance L. and I decided that it would be best to not tempt fate with breaking a leg since both of us are novice skiers. Then we found out they also had snowshoeing. We both signed up but L. was to sick to go. I have never been snow-shoeing so I still decided to go and L.'s deposit went to waste. I ended up just going with the others that had signed up for the snowshoeing. It was really weird to be walking on 6 feet of snow. (road signs barely poked above the snow.) We hiked for 1.5 miles and found the lake, and courtesy shack complete with a fire in the iron stove. (It helped to thaw out our water bottles) We hiked back and ate lunch. As it turns out all the people that had gone skiing said that it was like ice since it had not snowed in a while so I am glad that I made the choice to go snowshoeing. I don't think that I will do it again, but it was a fun I've done it thing.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Working with magnets

For my work, the office I work in is right next to the MRI room. I didn't know that much about MRI until now, especially since I had to take a training course. There was a problem with the magnet in the MRI, so they had to shut it down. This is a much larger undertaking then I had realized. The magnet is powered by a super conductor. This means that the magnet is running 24/7 even when no one is getting scanned. The super conductor must be kept as close to absolute 0 as possible (0 degrees kelvin, they usually are at 1-2 degrees) to do this they use liquid helium, 90 liters worth. When it expands to as gas multiply that number by 140, it was pretty loud. Once it was fixed they used liquid nitrogen to get the container cold enough before replacing it with the helium. They forgot they left the compressor on and froze the nitrogen solid. When every thing was back up and running, no one was used to having it back on and they brought a "partially safe" camera to close and it flew across the room to the center of the magnet. (It is a good thing no one was being scanned since that is usually where the brain goes.)
The training session that I took mainly showed a lot of videos of floor buffers stuck to the machine. It is pretty sobering when the guy teaching the safety course has a bandage around his hand where he got sliced from the camera getting ripped out of his hand.
So there a lot of wire mesh over windows and brass pipes everywhere to try to deal with the magnetic field. This is of course is the exact opposite of what someone wants when troubleshooting computers. Supposedly there are supposed to be no affect on the computers, but I know that while the magnet was offline there were less bugs.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


So I have another class from the professor that I had so much to complain about during my first term. There is really nothing that I can do about it, he is one of the two "human computer interaction" professors so there is no escape. So I try to make the best of it. I know that it will most likely be through him that I will be getting a salary school job that will pay for tuition so I signed up for another class. This new class (cognitive modeling) is the research area that he is most interested in so it amazing how much his demeanor has changed.
So he invited my wife and I to a party at his house along with other HCI students, where we are able to talk about other interests. This guy shares a an interest in Psychology, Architecture, and is the only other person in the computer science field that has produced his own art to put up on his walls.
Having resolved to dislike this professor after the experience I had with him from the previous term, it is really hard to follow through with that now having so much in common. But that would require me being wrong and no one likes that. I guess I need to keep a more open mind.
Also talking with other people there, most had similar interests as me. I had always just resolved myself to the fact that usually the things that I was interested in were not the normal set that went together, but I had enough interests to have things to talk about something with most people. It was different being able to talk about multiple topics and share mutual interests.

Friday, February 17, 2006

radio stations

Before we moved out of California they had just started a new radio station (Jack FM) that was basically just a MP3 player on random play, with a few commercials thrown in. I really liked it since the ended up not playing the same songs as often and there were no un-needed DJ's.
I just thought that it was some guy that had decided to start his own radio station, but when we moved here we found "Bob FM". Exactly the same format, also a new radio station. So now I wondering how many more there are like this. I really like the idea of some guy just setting up his own radio station though, it was an idea that I would do something similar when reaching the rich phase of my life (You know that everyone plans for.) Oh well at least its a radio station to listen to.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

fun with fish

So when living in California we had a fish tank going. When we went to Europe we gave the fish to someone and it promptly died. So now that we are living here L. really wanted to fill the tank up with fish again. It so happens that the apartments we live, fish are the only pets they allow.
I researched and found some good community fish that would do well together and went out and bought a few to start out the tank. I made the mistake of buying fish from a chain pet store (Petco) and half the fish died from ich. We had some problems with the guppies, usually the most peaceful fish there are. They kept killing each other until there was only one. So now we have the worlds most aggressive guppy, I decide to go in a different direction. We will have aggressive fish but areas for them to hide. I got a couple of pufferfish. One of the pufferfish disappeared one night, then the guppy. So now we are are back down to one fish. That's fine as this pufferfish is like most pufferfish in that it acts more like a pet dog then a fish.
We named him "spot" (red spotted puffer). The pufferfish is curious enough that it will watch anyone walking by the tank. It will also follow your finger around the tank. Pufferfish eat live food like snails so we bought a jar, and put a screen on for a lid, filled it with snails and put it in the take with him. He now watches the jar as if it his own TV. He has also taken to balancing on the thermometer, and chasing bubbles when bored. We finally had to end up getting a separate tank for the snails since we also added shrimp to the diet, so like any fish you buy one and the fish tanks start to multiply.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

How to save Money

So from the last post it may seem that we are pretty destitute. I needed to blow off some steam and decided to write it down so as to not give the impression that it is all roses here. So I decided to talk about some of the changes that we have made in our lives as part of being grad students to try to save money-

  • Got rid of our TV: no cable bill, which really makes sense since we really don't have time to watch anything. We have discovered that we enjoy about 10 minutes of watching something while we decompress from coming home from school or are eating. We have been watching free video podcasts and clips from the comedy central/daily show website for those needs. We also still watch DVDs on our computer.

  • Living Upstairs: I feel bad for the people that live below us, we get all their heat for free. All the heat here is produced by what look like little space heaters built into the wall so I am sure it is expensive. For the whole winter we had to turn on our heaters maybe 10 times, where as I could hear our downstairs neighbor's going 5-7 days a week.

  • energy conservation: To extend the above item, we made sure that as many light bulbs as possible are the compact florescent, and sealed up air cracks under the door.

  • No restaurants: Since getting here we have eaten at a restaurant twice (L.'s Birthday, and while in Florence.) This has been the biggest change for us since we were used to going out on a date once a week. Even eating fast-food is only about 5% of the time. I think we are much healthier for it too.

  • cheap movies: We do have to do something for entertainment and there is a $1.50 theater nearby. Since coming back from Europe we were already behind movie releases by about 2 months so we went the dollar theater to catch up with the movies we wanted to see, and just have tried to make it a rule to wait for the movies to come there. As far as renting movies, our local library has a huge selection of them that are free to check out. We have been getting a lot of TV shows that way too.

  • no traveling: This is the one that is the hardest for me. I'm glad we had the travel voucher for that trip to New York to make an exception to this rule. Living in California we used to take a weekend off and travel up the coast, or down to San Diego. I know this was one of our highest expenses but it was also the quick decompress needed for working and school at the same time. Once I go back to full time this is one rule I will be happy to be rid of.

  • no flight lessons: When I stopped to try to save money for our trip to Europe it was right before my first solo trip. Thinking I would start up again when we got back I did not solo. Now with the lessons on indefinite hold I wish I had. This is another one that I will pick up as soon as possible again as it was really one of the funnest things I ever did, but at $100 a week a little of the question while in grad school.

  • No school parking pass: At $160 it is not cheap, I think I get to school faster on my bike since I do not have to look for a parking spot (However there were a few times that all the bike racks were full and I waited for someone to leave- yes there are that many people on bikes here.)

  • Thrift store shopping: Its a good place to buy things like a laser printer and other small electronics.

Ways that we are still splurging-

  • Car: We really don't HAVE to have one, I usually travel by bike. but it makes our life a lot easier to get groceries, going to the movies.

  • new computer: our 6 year old computer finally just was not pulling it's weight anymore. They had a sale at the school bookstore trying to get rid of the old computers so I bought a mac mini for $399. I realized that this was the first computer I had bought new. Kind of funny since I am almost half way done with getting my Masters degree in computer science.

  • fish: the most expensive fish we bought was $12, its all the other stuff. I thought we already had everything we needed but we had to buy rocks to hide in, new plants, and ended up buying a whole separate tank for all the snails and shrimp to live in.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Scholarships & Internships

When L. and I made the decision that I should go to grad school too it might have been a little hasty. We made sure to save as much money as possible since there would be a good chance of us moving and I would have to quit my job. The back up plan was that if we had to move that we would both go to grad school since they are supposed to help offset some of the cost. However I guess I didn't look into it enough because I was not expecting this situation.
We got excepted into grad school but without a school job. Fine no problem we thought- we find school jobs, but they are not the right kind of school jobs- they don't cover tuition or have insurance. Only working 10-15 hours a week means our savings are still getting eaten away at. To add to it it looks like even after living here a year we still won't be considered residents and will be paying the higher non-resident tuition both years here. So we apply for scholarships, they are few and far between for grad students, and because we have to use last years tax returns it looks like we are still sitting pretty. The problem is still not having insurance benefits. Somehow moving out of state changed the rules for us getting "COBRA insurance" so that the paperwork took longer to get through the system then the deadline to submit it by. I did everything by the rules and still got screwed. Now L.'s retainer broke.
So the last hope I have left is to try to get an internship during the summer to help "replenish our reserves". I took same approach that seemed to work for grad school- the shotgun. I applied for as many as possible, and I'll apply for more local ones when they come up. It would be really interesting to work for some of the places that I applied for and only hope that I get one of them.

Oregon-isms... organisms?

I just couldn't help it, having fun with the play on words. So we have been living here for 6 months now. That makes us locals right? So I guess I would talk about some of the things that are particular to Oregon.

Speed limit: For some reason Oregon did not follow the rest of the US when speed limits were raised back up to pre-1970's embargo days. This means most freeways are still at 55 in the city and 60 out in the middle of nowhere. They also use sand for frozen roads instead of salt which leads to guaranteed window chipping during the winter. I wonder if the two are related?

No sales tax: It is kind of nice going into a dollar store and really paying $1 to buy something. I have a feeling that this has something to do with the belief of eliminating non-graduated taxes. I just know that it is a lot easier to catch being mis-charged for something and walking around with a lot less change in my pocket is nice too.

Pumping gas: In Oregon you are not allowed to pump your own gas. (Fire Marshall says it cuts down on accidents.) One very conservative person complained to me that it was enacted by a liberal government to create more jobs. I also heard a rumor that Oregon still has the highest rate of people driving off with the pump nozzle in their car. (This one makes more sense since there is a larger disconnect between the person and their car) I just know that it does not make much sense in the modern world where everyone pays by card to get out and pay at the pump then wait for someone else to put the nozzle in. It is funny to watch at gas stations near state lines when the gas attendant comes running out because someone didn't know they couldn't pump their own gas.

Rain: Oregon is known for the amount of rain that it gets (At least the west coast is. It is more rainy here then when I lived in Washington). Now that we have made it though the rainy season (down to only raining at night), I have become suspicious of sunny days. In California you know the rain is coming 3 days in advance because it builds up. Here the cloudy/windy/calm/storm/sunny cycle can happen within a couple of hours. I finally broke the habit and now grab my coat without looking outside. (As opposed to California where I would grab my sunglasses without looking.) The rain leads to EVERYTHING outside becoming green. For a lot of lawns it is hard to tell where the grass ends and the moss begins. It is funny to watch tree's leaves turn color and fall only to leave behind a tree still green with moss and ferns growing on it. I did not know that lichens come in a full rainbow of colors. I have to keep reminding myself that moss is not bad like mold. We live in a well insulated apartment so we have not had to worry about mold like some people here.

Coffee: Being in the Northwest means that coffee is an art-form. I'm not to sure of the details since even the smell of coffee makes me ill but supposedly you can tell someone's political leaning based on the brand on their "cup of Joe" (Which everyone has). The only one that I have pinned down so far is Starbucks=staunch conservative (well all relative since Eugene is one of the more liberal places in the U.S.) I think it has something to do supporting big business. It is just weird to have a cup of caffeine be a status symbol. (I guess it's like cocaine in the 80's).

Monday, January 09, 2006

New Years

My friend and I had kept in contact since high school. He had moved to Washington and we kept talking about how sooner or later I would move there too. When I told him that we were moving to Oregon he surprised me by telling me that they were moving there too for a new job for him. Now we were only 5 hours away. We had to get together before school started again so we decided for New Years.
They live in a small town in eastern Oregon where there is nothing to do so it gives the great excuse of visiting the whole time. His Mother and sisters drove down from Washington for New Years Eve and we got caught up.
We ended up staying up until two every morning playing games and talking the whole time we were there. It was great since our schedules never seem to cross anymore when we call each other.
His wife wanted me to sketch some elephants for her for a tattoo she was thinking of. I haven't drawn anything forever so I was scared that it would turn out crappy, however I was surprised at how well it turned out.
So on New Years Day we were all bored silly so we went to go wander around Walmart (my idea of excitement.) Since I was bored I thought I would pester the people in the electronics department and ask for an xBox 360. ummm, I was surprised when they said that they had just got in a special shipment last night and had one left. So me being someone that had no plans to ever shop at Walmart and had no plans to ever own an xBox 360 was now walking out of said store with it in my cart. Why? to sell it for a profit of course. I promptly listed it on eBay the same day thinking the worst that would happen is that it would not sell and I would have to return it to Walmart. While before Christmas these things were commanding a $100-200 premium, all I got was an extra $50. The way that I look at it, it paid for the gas there and back.
The main problem that we had was the cats. I am allergic to them and we had already spent a week with one in New York. Spending another week around them took its toll and I feel like I have a permanent hairball blocking my lungs.
On the drive home we stopped at Powell's bookstore (supposedly the world's largest) to look around. It's huge- 6 stories and a whole city block. I was more interested in the technical book store that was a block away though and was able to find a good book to help me learn programming under Linux better.