Wednesday, December 27, 2006

So that was Christmas. . .

. . .And what have we done?

Well, Reg and I just got back from San Diego for Christmas. Fun times had by all: Saturday was spent fixing stuff around my mom's house (Merry Christmas. . . here are some motion sensitive flood lights!), and then hanging out with K-lee and Dimitri in the evening; Sunday was spent trying to build a screen to replace a broken one at my mom's house, then hanging out at Reg's Grandma Jackie's for dinner, then midnight mass with my mom, sister, and the Plunketts. Holy Trinity has a new pastor, after the beloved Father Brian Corcoran moved to a different parish. He will be missed, but the new pastor seems like a nice guy. Christmas was spent at Grandma Jackie's in the morning, then at my mom's for the late afternoon and evening. Tuesday was a not-too-bad drive up to Long Beach in the mid-day, a few hours of volunteer diving, and then a not-too-bad drive home.

A decent amount of driving around, but nowhere near the hassle of a few years ago, when we were going to 5 different christmas events on the same day!

Monday, December 18, 2006

To Drive or Not To Drive. . .

. . . that is the question.

So it's just before a new quarter at school, and I'm considering a question that man has wrestled with since before civilization began:

Should I take the Metro Rapid 761 bus to UCLA and back everyday, or should I pay for a parking permit and drive there?

It's basically weighing cost against convenience: If I buy a parking permit (as I have been for the last year or so), I can come and go when I want, and will have my car in the parking garage right next to my building at school. I can go between UCLA and our home in Sherman Oaks (~11 miles) via Beverly Glen, Sepulveda, or the 405, depending on traffic conditions, in anywhere from 20 minutes to 1 hour one-way. Also, on Tuesdays, when I go to the Aquarium in Long Beach, I can work at school for the morning, then hop in the car and drive down to LB in ~30 minutes on the 405, and having the car nearby in Westwood also frees me up to run errands on the way home (like stopping at the grocery store).

But a parking permit costs $171 dollars for the 12 week Winter Quarter, and of course, with gasoline costs, I end up paying closer to $300-$350 for gas/permit to get to/from UCLA all quarter. The alternative is to get a UCLA-discounted MetroPass, which would allow me to take the bus to/from UCLA all quarter for a total cost of $42.

So I'd save ~$300 over the quarter if I took the bus to school instead of the car, and of course I'd be producing less CO2 by not driving my car as much (the bus runs whether I'm on it or not), so the bus would be the "greener" option, I suppose. But I'd be sacrificing the convenience and freedom of showing up and leaving UCLA whenever I want. . . as well as taking slightly longer to get to school or home, given the bus' many stops.

Aquarium Tuesdays would probably be dealt with by me just working at home in the morning, and driving to Long Beach from Sherman Oaks, not going in to UCLA at all on that day.

hmmmmm . . .

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Finally, an update

. . .yeah. . . sorry about that. So I lagged on updating my blog a bit. By a bit, I of course mean 4 months. yeesh. Time flies.

Well, in that time the fall quarter of school came and went. I can't believe I'm starting my 4th year of grad school. My friend Dave just defended his thesis, and he was a 4th year when I came in. Crazy.

I've been working all quarter on this research project that I am having trouble actually finishing. Been working on it on and off for a couple years now, and I'm finally to the point where I think I can write it up and submit it to a journal. It's a statistical study observing the daytime increase in plasma density in the plasmasphere, thought to be due to heating and ionization by solar EUV of the Earth's ionosphere. One of those things that has been long predicted, but never reliably observed. If it gets published, it would be my first scientific journal article as first author (I've been co-author on a couple others already, but this project is all me, with help from my advisor and a collaborator in Arizona). Shouldn't get ahead of myself though, I still have some work to do on it before it's ready. Sigh.

Of course, I've managed to distract myself with other pursuits this quarter as well. For one, I took a classical mechanics course (last time I took classical mechanics was over 4 years ago in undergrad, and I wanted to brush up with the help of a professor I really respect.) This was also in preparation for an orbital dynamics course that's finally being offered next spring, and will be taught by the same professor that taught mechanics this quarter. I'm looking forward to this class, as its listing in the catalog has enticed me since I got here over 3 years ago, and this is the first time it's been offered in like 5 years.

Another distraction (though a very welcome one) has been my Scientific Diving class at Aquarium of the Pacific. I've been a volunteer diver at the Aquarium for a year now, target feeding fish in the exhibits, cleaning the exhibits, and giving underwater presentations. But this Scientific Diver certification through the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) will allow me to participate in various science diving projects in the open ocean. We'll be doing fish counts, invertebrate counts, algae surveys and other projects throughout the L.A. and Orange county coasts, as well as on the oil rigs, Channel Islands, and Catalina. The class was pretty rigorous: 3 hours of lecture every monday covering topics from physiology and dive physics (mainly buoyancy problems: ex: if you want to lift a 200 lb object that takes up 3 cubic feet of volume from 100 ft depth in sea water, how many 50 lb lift-bags do you need and how much air should you bring down from the surface?). We also had some really interesting lectures about decompression theory, given by the head of the Catalina recompression chamber. Some of the stories the guy told about people with extreme cases of the bends, arterial gas embolism, and emphyzema were definitely enough to make me wary about using my computer and dive tables conservatively.

In addition to the lectures, the meat of the class was in the dives themselves: every Sunday from 7 am to ~3 pm. We practiced laying out transect meter tapes, using lift-bags for salvage, scientific data collection methods, etc. The final two dives were just plain fun: one was on the Ellen-E oil rig off Huntington beach, where we saw millions of brittle stars and strawberry anemones, as well as a few sea lions that played with us underwater. The second dive was a blue-water dive (ie: can't see the bottom or any other topography underwater, just out in the open ocean). We used a "blue-water-rig", which is essentially a connection point for tether ropes that everyone attaches to their BC's, so we can all stay together and at a given depth when collecting jellies or whatever (see picture above right).

Our group at the Aquarium is also partnering with an organization called ReefCheck, which is trying to train and use volunteer divers throughout California to consistently monitor fish, invertebrate, and algae species abundance at various sites just off the coast. Thanks to them, I'm getting better at identifying the various so-cal species.

I'm looking forward to going on some of these dives soon in the new year, both because it gives me another opportunity to do something I really enjoy, and because I actually feel like I'm contributing something useful by diving for a purpose. Goes along with that whole "pursuit of purpose" part of my blog title. :)

In other news, I'm looking forward to spending more time with family as Christmas approaches. Reg has gone into super holiday mode, mailing off cards and categorizing christmas lists. I'm sure this will result in at least 3 pages in her scrapbook! Seriously though, she manages our lives expertly. . . I shudder to think what my level of personal organization would be like without her.

And, probably most importantly, another major event has occurred in my life: Nintendo has finally released its latest incarnation of the Legend of Zelda. What with that and my addition to Survivor, Lost, Heroes, and (suddenly) Battlestar Galactica, I feel more secure in my nerdhood than ever before.