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).