Friday, May 27, 2011

My Hawaiian research cruise: Sunrise vs. Sunset

Some people have strong opinions of whether they prefer sunsets or sunrises, but I've always liked both. Truth is, though, I see a lot more sunsets than sunrises; I'm not usually awake before the sun comes up. On the research cruise, however, my midnight to noon shift forced me to be awake--and usually out on deck--during the sunrise. Sunset was right after dinner, so I'd always catch it as well. And I always had my camera on hand.

In this post, my photos of sunrises and sunsets face off against each other. I had some photos in previous posts of Moloka'i at sunrise, the Big Island at sunset, etc., but the photos here must have the sky at sunrise or sunset as their primary subject and purpose.

Which one will win? Sunrise, or sunset?

Round 1:



Round 2:



Round 3:



Round 4:



Round 5:



So who won (either round-by-round, or overall)? Tell me what you think in the comments!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

My Hawaiian research cruise: Moloka'i

This was undoubtedly the most beautiful of the places we saw on our cruise: the sea cliffs on the north shore of Moloka'i. They're the highest sea cliffs in the world, rising 2000 feet above the water. The coastline isolated by those cliffs has been home to a leper colony, but I'm not sure exactly where it is along the coast.

We got there around sunrise, which meant that I was up for my shift. The cliffs are gorgeous and majestic, decorated with varying clouds, and there were whales near shore. We were even close enough at our initial location that we could smell the pleasant mulch-y aroma of the jungle. We noticed one house situated on those cliffs, visible through binoculars. I don't know how the residents get there--I understand you can get to that shore from the rest of Moloka'i either by boat or by mule.

Well, without further ado, here are my photos of the sea cliffs of Moloka'i.

Cute little island in front of the cliffs, at sunrise

Another shot of the same. I couldn't decide which I liked better. Opinions?

Valley between the cliffs, a little after sunrise

The sea cliffs, now fully illuminated by the sun

The cliffs stretched as far along the island as I could see.

That little island in front of the cliffs again

Same but in portrait

Valley between the cliffs at sunset

Lovely sunset over the far cliffs. We've moved farther from shore at this point.

Another shot of the same, with some spray from a wave crashing on the distant rocks

If you like the sunrise and sunset photos, tomorrow, my photos of sunrises and sunsets face off against each other. Who will win?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My Hawaiian research cruise: Big Island

The second day of our cruise brought us through the Alenuihaha channel between the Big Island (aka Hawai'i) and Maui. I think this is the Big Island, but there's a chance it might be Maui. It's at sunset.

Much of the time we were pretty far from land (see above photo), so I didn't get that many good photos of the Big Island, either.

That night, we could see about seven specks of lava spotting the coastline in the distance. It was nothing compared to what I saw on the Big Island last August, but it was still nice.

The Big Island is the newest Hawaiian island, and the one with still very active volcanoes. A month after our cruise, the activity went up considerably. Shame we missed that.

The most frustrating part was that we couldn't take good photos with long exposures because the ship was moving, so they'd just come out blurry. Here, you can kind of make out a plume of smoke illuminated red by glowing lava beneath it. There were several of these we saw on the crest of the land.

The morning was more scenic. Here's a little rain at sunrise on the coast of the Big Island.

I loved how some of the splotches of black hardened lava flows looked like someone had taken a big bucket of black paint and tossed it on the green hillside. The light wasn't very good for my photos, but you might be able to see better if you click on this one to zoom in.

I promise that my photos of Moloka'i tomorrow will be much more spectacular.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Hawaiian research cruise: O'ahu

Our research cruise started and ended in Honolulu, and our first and last destinations were the underwater canyons off of Kaneohe on O'ahu's east shore. My photos of O'ahu aren't that impressive. Since it's the island I live on, I was less excited about the scenery here than I was at the other islands.

Downtown Honolulu

Me, excited to be heading out of the harbor

Islands off a point near Kaneohe, first day of our cruise

Same islands from a different angle, when we went back to Kaneohe at the end of our cruise

Kaneohe (or thereabouts), on the afternoon of our last full day of the cruise.

Tomorrow: photos of the Big Island

Monday, May 23, 2011

My Hawaiian research cruise: For Science!

On the first day of the cruise, my research group put out a wave buoy and a current mooring off of Kaneohe on the east shore of O'ahu (the island with Honolulu, where we started from).

Wave buoy making a splash. This is one of the buoys surfers can use to get a sense of the swell coming in.

There was a lot of downtime while we waited for the ship to move to the right position, or for the line to be let out a couple thousand meters, etc.

This is what my main job was on the ship: hold the line to steady the CTD sensors as they were lowered in and taken out of the water. This morning off of Moloka'i we had some beautiful scenery--photos of that will come later.

That's me on the right. I tie my own bowline knot.

Here's the computer lab, monitoring everything about the ship. That big screen in the center is what I was there to read. Looks kind of unintelligible at first, but it's actually pretty simple: how close the black lines are together corresponds to how close the CTD is to the ocean bottom. Time is on the x-axis, with current time at the right side, and the y-axis is milliseconds for a ping from the pinger attached to the CTD to reach the ship. One black line is the ping that reaches the ship directly, the other is the ping that bounces off the bottom then reaches the ship. The closer the lines are to each other, the closer the sensor is to the bottom.

Arguably the most exciting research project on our ship was this one guy taking some sort of atmospheric data with a bright green laser. Mostly he pointed it up at the sky, but he'd sometimes do sweeps down to the horizon. It's not eye safe for a few miles, so whenever it was on, someone would have to stand watch for airplanes and turn it off if it looked like it might fry the eyes of someone looking down from an airplane window. But it was a great show at night. Also, it was kind of cool to say that I was on a ship that shoots dangerous lasers at airplanes (well, it could).

Here's the laser-shooting apparatus.

And here's the laser, shooting off toward the water.

Pew pew!

Tomorrow: photos of O'ahu from the ship.

My Hawaiian research cruise

I announced on this blog in January that I was going on a research cruise around the Hawaiian islands at the beginning of February. One of the perks of being an oceanography grad student is that we are required to spend some time working at sea. I promised I would share photos from my cruise...and then got distracted. On our 10-day cruise, I took about 1000 photos. I went kind of crazy. The task of sorting through them all to find the best ones to share seemed overwhelming. So I put it off. But now that my classes are over and it's summer, I've finally put them online and will share some of my favorites with you.

The story behind this cruise: A labmate and I applied for a student cruise to gather data for our own research projects, and we were lucky enough to be granted some ship time on the Kilo Moana. The best part was that we were able to merge our ship time with that of a few other research groups, giving us more time on the ship (10 days instead of 5 or 6), more sites to see, and a good amount of downtime while the other groups did their research.

The Kilo Moana is a great ship. A twin-hull, 186'-long research vessel, it's very stable. Granted, I was playing it safe and taking "less drowsy" Dramamine most of the cruise, but I never felt sick. The ship also has a reputation among the research fleet as having really great food. I have to say, I was impressed. Ten days of all-you-can-eat, already prepared, delicious free food is a grad student's dream.

The cruise was amazing. I had about three days of pure pleasure cruising. I spent my free time taking lots of photos (obviously), looking for whales (we saw a few, though I missed the dolphins playing in the bow wake at one point), enjoying the ship's outstanding food, watching DVDs from the impressive collection in their TV room, playing a lot of Dominion (I brought it along and taught about eight people to play) and a game called The Resistance (a bit like Mafia), and even taking a couple martial arts workshops (one of the ship's crew is also an instructor of a certain type of kung fu).

It wasn't all fun and games, though. The least fun part of the cruise was that when we were working, I had the midnight to noon shift. Ugh. Waking up at midnight without a real breakfast was especially rough. The first time I had that shift, off of the Big Island, I somehow got it right and slept for a good amount of time the afternoon and evening before (I woke up for dinner--I didn't want to miss a single meal!) so that I felt fine through the whole shift. But every other time it just didn't work, and it kind of sucked. On the bright side, I did get to see both sunrise (because of my shift) and sunset (because it was right after dinner) every day. When I was working, I wasn't working very hard, but I'd have about 5 minutes of activity every 20 minutes or so, so it wasn't like I ever had a good chunk of time to get something else done, or to take a nap.

Our cruise left from the harbor in Honolulu, and our first destination was the underwater canyons off of Kaneohe on the east shore of O'ahu. Our cruise then went south between O'ahu and Moloka'i, then up through the Alenuihaha channel between Maui and the Big Island, around the Big Island and up through the channel again, then to the north shore of Moloka'i, back to Kaneohe, and counterclockwise around O'ahu to return to the harbor. To the right is a very rough approximation of our route. Color changes from red (start of cruise) to orange (end) to distinguish between earlier and later paths.

I've divided my photos from the cruise into five groups. They will be posted from Monday to Friday this week, one each day.
For Science!
Big Island
Sunrise vs. Sunset

If you missed them but are interested, here are some of the tweets I made while on the ship, giving (almost) real-time reports of my thoughts. A large portion of them are about food.
So far OK for seasickness. "Less drowsy" Dramamine it is. But tomorrow we zigzag through the Alenuihaha--a very windy channel. We'll see.

The food is amazing! Dinner was shrimp scampi, fettuccine alfredo, a great salad (with raspberries), and chocolate-covered strawberries. Mm.

Was less of a scientist today and more of an artist. My labmates put wave, current, temp sensors out while I took photos of them. Fun times!

Slightly disillusioned with how long stuff takes. I was on the deck from 1-8:30ish, and we put out 2 moorings. A lot of hurry up and wait.

We saw a whale! It was far away, and mostly what I saw was its spouting. But it's a good season to see humpbacks, so I'm hoping for more.

I should get more free time in the next week. I have reading, there's a big TV room with lots of DVDs, and I packed Dominion :)

2 Feb:

Overheard a conversation on another deck "blah blah blah ice cream sandwiches blah blah..." I made a bee line to the mess hall. Amazing.

Rockin' and rollin', but still feeling OK. Alenuihaha (haha!) channel didn't turn out so bad (though I don't want to speak too soon).

The sensor we just launched has an iridium beacon. I feel like I'm in Mass Effect.

4 Feb:

So much for my 3-day pleasure cruise. Midnight to noon shift tonight. Science is hard work! (Though much of the 12 hrs will be waiting...)

But on the bright side, we may be able to see lava from the boat tonight. Sweet.

Also: Our ship shoots a serious laser. We have to turn it off if an airplane flies by. Yeah we're pretty cool. I'll have pics to share soon.
Baked Alaska
5 Feb:

Midnight to noon shift. Basically pretending I'm on Buenos Aires time. Not very happy about it, but we can see lava glowing in the distance.

Midnight lava was cool but too far away for good pics. Long exposure just blurred everything because of the ship's movement.

Sunrise was beautiful, though. The coast of the island is gorgeous and unique: gentle green slopes splashed with the black of cooled lava.

7 Feb:

Holy frak, we have the most gorgeous view right now. Highest sea cliffs in the world on Molokai. Whales. Sunrise was beautiful.

9 Feb:

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Finished Dragon Age 2 again

I just finished my second playthrough of Dragon Age 2, with a dual-wielding duelist/assassin rogue. FPS FTW. I'm hesitant to say this, but I may have enjoyed playing her more than I liked playing as a mage. Part of it may be that I was just better at it this time, though. I played my rogue with a humorous/charming personality, while my first character was diplomatic. Here are a few screen shots, plus a lot of quotes that I painstakingly recorded, mostly for my own benefit and that of other people who have played the game. It's nice to remember some of the good ones. See a few of my favorite quotes I caught on my first playthrough here.

Note: Some of these may contain minor spoilers (not really plot points, but character appearances/cameos).

Isabela: I'm more likely to be shanked in a bar than eaten by an abomination. You can hear those coming a mile away. "Grr. Argh." "Oh, is that an abomination coming to eat us? We should get out of here!"
Anders: Abominations don't go "Grr, argh."
Isabela: They don't? Hmn, I should rethink the whole thing then.

Sarebaas: [explaining why he has to kill himself] I was outside my Karataam. I may be corrupted. I cannot know. How I return is my choice.
Anders: Of all the ridiculous, spineless, mind-controlled senseless piece of shit arguments I've ever heard!
Sarebaas: What comfort has freedom brought you, mage? You would have more if you submitted to the Qun.

Fenris: So this relic you mentioned losing...
Isabela: You have pretty eyes.
Fenris: I...have pretty...eyes.?

Hawke: Carry on. I love to eavesdrop.

Isabela: I enjoy a man with markings like that.
Fenris: You enjoy many men.
Isabela: Where I come from, they're called "tattoos." Sailors get them all the time.
Fenris: Not made of lyrium, I'd imagine.
Isabela: Not a one. And the pictures are different. Usually breasts.
Fenris: I suppose a pair of lyrium breasts tattooed onto my chest would make things better.
Isabela: That's me--I'm a helper.

Fenris: I thought all dwarves had beards. Where's yours?
Varric: I misplaced it along with my sense of dwarven pride, and my gold-plated noble caste pin.
Fenris: I thought maybe it had fallen onto your chest.
Varric: Oho! The broody elf tells a joke!
Fenris: I don't brood.
Varric: Friend, if your brooding were any more impressive, women would swoon as you passed, and they'd have broody babies in your honor.
Fenris: You're a very odd dwarf.
Varric: And you thought I was joking about the pin!

Mine worker: You should leave, too. But don't go that way. There's this huge dragon!
Merrill: Oh, are we going to go that way? I've never seen a huge dragon before.

Actually, this is a huger dragon than the one that guy was talking about.

Seneschal Bran: It's clear the City Guard has no excuse for allowing this, unless they were involved.
Aveline: Have any failed to report?
Bran: Several. You should start with one of them. Although where you find a swordsman so eager to sell his honor and duty, I'm sure I don't know.
Anders (interchangeable): The Hanged Man.
Aveline: The Hanged Man.
Sebastian: Even I know that.

Merrill: Don't be silly. A dowry would only matter if you were courting him.
Aveline: Merrill...
Merrill: (Gasp!) You're courting him!

Hawke: Well well well. I never thought you were they type, Varric. I'm flattered.
Varric: It's the chest hair, isn't it? Women can never resist my chest hair. Unfortunately, it's not to be. I'm spoken for.
Hawke: Ah, Bianca [that is, his crossbow] stands in my way again, does she?
Varric: What can I say? She's the jealous type.

Anders: Just mix the ingredients up and boom! Justice and I are free.
Very funny, Anders.

Sketch: Take my advice, friend: Stay away from storytellers. Never know what they'll say.

Aveline: I don't think I've asked to be the butt of your jokes.
Hawke: Donnic.
Aveline: OK, sometimes I have asked for it.

Fenris: [bitingly angry] I didn't realize you were in the market for a slave.
Hawke: I gave her a job, Fenris.
Fenris: Ah...then...that's good. My apologies.

Brittle + upgraded assassinate + Low Blade = Arcane Horror dead several times over.

Isabela: I like big boats. I cannot lie.

Varric: [to Sebastian] You can't even pretend to be interesting, can you?

Anders: [expressing surprise] Well, put me in a dress and call me a templar!

Varric: [about Aveline] She's a woman-shaped battering ram.

Grand Cleric Elthina: [to Meredith] Go back to the Gallows and calm down. Like a good girl.

Aveline: [having learned that Donnic plays cards at Fenris's mansion] What? Why am I not invited to these games?
Fenris: He says you get angry when you lose.
Aveline: I do not!
Varric: Yes, you do.
Aveline: All right, perhaps I do.

This conversation is conditional on Hawke having a rival relationship with Fenris.
Fenris: I am alone.
Hawke: You have friends.
Fenris: [caustic] Oh? And who would those be? You?
Anders: It sure isn't me.
Varric: Hey now, you could do worse.

Anders: Now that I'm living here, there isn't room for you in the bed. Do you understand?
Dog: Awhoooooooo!
Anders: That won't work on me. I'm a cat person.

Isabela: Step 1 - We go to Velasco. Step 2 - Something exciting happens. Step 3 - Profit!

Maker help the mister who comes between me and my sister...

Varric: You know, you play Diamond Back better than my cousin Vedar. You wag your tail whenever you have a good hand, though. Might want to watch that.
Dog: (Barks)
Hawke: Is it brilliant or horrible that you play Diamond Back with my dog?
Varric: All I'm saying is he'd be up more than two Sovereigns if he watched his tells. My uncle Emmit has a whole pack of rat terriers who play every week. They're a cutthroat bunch. You've got a long way to go to be their quality.
Dog: (Growls)
Varric: Now don't take it bad. You're still better than Anders.
Dog: (Happy bark)
Varric: Coming to The Hanged Man later?
Dog: (Barks)

Fenris: Fish, fish, and more fish! Bluch! Let's look for those crates.
I don't know why I thought this one was funny. I guess he's usually complaining about mages, it was funny to hear him complain about something like fish.

Hawke: [about Gamlen's daughter] She looks nothing like you. Thank the Maker for small miracles, hmm?
Gamlen: Really! I--...Hey!

Hawke is amused

Anders: [compared to the Kirkwall Circle] The Ferelden Circle's more fun. Everyone was kissing everyone.

I thought this little conversation was very interesting. I assume it only triggers if you initially "consummate" your romance with Fenris, but then switch to the Anders romance.
Fenris: You, uh, living with Hawke now?
Anders: What's it to you?
Fenris: Be good to her. Break her heart, and I will kill you.

Hubert: The only survivor was the horse, and it cannot speak! Town full of rotten mages, and not one can get answers from a horse!

Zevran: Why they insist on thinking they can kill people like you and the Warden, I will never guess.
Hawke: Let me tell you, it's a burden I bear on a daily basis.

Hawke: Did you really escape the Circle so you could kiss a girl?
Emile: Well, not just that. I've read so much about the other things you can do with girls.
Isabela: Aw, he's like you were. Do you remember, Aveline, when you were stupid over Donnic.
Aveline: Yes, I remember, thank you.

Aveline: You didn't come to my Solstice dinner party.
Isabela: Look at you! Dinner parties. Cooking. Do you have a lace apron yet, or should I get one for you?
Aveline: Don't change the subject. I sent you an invitation and you didn't show up.
Isabela: I thought it would be...I mean, I don't know. I just don't do family gatherings. Besides, one day you and Donnic will have children and I'll be the last person you want around there. Imagine all the awkward questions you'd have to answer. "Mother, what's a slattern?"
Aveline: I'll just point at you and say, "That's a slattern."

Anders: There is justice in the world.
Isabela: Is there? You want to free the mages. Let's say you do, but to get there, you kill a bunch of innocent people. What about them? Don't they then deserve justice?
Anders: Yes.
Isabela: And then what? When does it end? It's like a bar brawl. People are continuously pulled into the fray, and nobody remembers why it started! Justice is an idea. It makes sense in a world of ideas, but not in our world.

Teagan: Well we won't let them swoop down on us.
Alistair: That's right. Swooping is bad.

Varric: So, I've known you for three years now. I give up. You beat me. What is it? You like boys? Sheep? You slept with your sister?
Sebastian: What are you talking about?
Varric: What are you hiding? Nobody's this bloody clean. After you leave the Chantry you get drunk at The Hanged Man and walk around in women's clothes.
Isabela: Not that I've seen...unfortunately.
Sebastian: I've been honest with you and Hawke.
Varric: Liar.
Sebastian: Lying is a sin.

Anders: [at the end of the quest A New Path] That was the noblest thing I've ever seen anyone do. The world is poorer for having you in it instead of her.
Fenris: For once we agree on something.

Grand Cleric Elthina: [to Anders] Your soul is troubled, child. I hope you found a balm for it here.
This wasn't funny until the second playthrough.

Hawke headed toward the final showdown, looking very grim

Hawke: "Death is never justice"--those are the words of Elthina herself, Sebastian. By doing this, you shame her.
OK, that's definitely not a quote from the game, but I so wish it was! If you've finished the game, you know what moment I'm talking about.

Friday, May 20, 2011

This week has been so totally I don't know

It has been a relaxing but emotionally draining week. With my advisor out of town, I spent the week "working at home", taking the time to think about what my Plan is for grad school. Laying out all the facts, all my doubts, all my certainties, and looking at my position rationally, I concluded that the best thing for me to do at this point is to pursue a master's degree. Once that's done I can choose where to go from there, be it a PhD, oceanographic work, or something else entirely. But it still doesn't leave me feeling great. Sometimes there is no wonderful, happy choice. And I give no promises--I could still change my mind at any minute.

Thanks for everyone who offered me advice and support this past week. It's been interesting to see what I can do with this blog that I can't do in real life. First, without people here who know me in person, I feel unburdened by expectation and more free to say whatever I feel like saying. And second, I get to put everything down in writing and organize my thoughts without anyone cutting in, in a way that is difficult to do in person, where everything is verbal, improvised, with real-time feedback. Well, it's an interesting study in blogs and online relations, at least.

Sorry it's been a bit of a heavy week here on my blog. Next week, I have some lighter posts planned, all about the happier side of my experience here in grad school. Yes, I'll finally share photos from my research cruise. It's hard to believe it was over 3 months ago, but I haven't forgotten my promise to post about it. Make sure to check out next Thursday's photos of Moloka'i. I was stunned by the beauty of the island's northern coast. And if you like sunsets and/or sunrises, I'll have a post on Friday in which the sunrises and sunsets I saw on the cruise will face off against each other.

Have a nice weekend!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The state of the PhD: Where do I go from here?

My heart tells me that I will not find happiness here. But my heart is a whiny bitch with no better solution to offer, so why should I listen?

I explained my internal arguments for both sticking with my PhD program and just getting a master's in yesterday's post. So what should I do? I could work through my difficulties with my current project, prove to my advisor that I am PhD material, and churn out a prospectus by the fall. I could even try to find a new project to work on with him, preferably something that he would be better suited to advise me on (since modeling is not something he does). He said he's done this before with a previous PhD student: the student had one idea for a project, but when it didn't work out, the professor got him on a different project that he knew would work out. Alternatively, I could finish a master's with my advisor, probably by the end of next summer. He could give me a tidy, manageable project that would yield results worthy of a master's thesis. A master's is not nearly as complicated as a PhD.

From a master's, I could either leave school to enter the work force or start PhD work with a different advisor. If I started working, I could be a lab tech, but better paid than I was in Maryland thanks to the master's degree, or I could get a desk job for the government or a private company. Potential new PhD advisors include the other professor at University of Hawaii whose offer to be my advisor I turned down, the professor at UH who was my initial contact and advisor of interest at the school but couldn't offer me a position due to lack of funding, and the professor I left in Maryland. She wanted me to be her PhD student, and I did enjoy some of the projects that she was working on. It seems odd that of the four internships I applied to that summer, the one that accepted me but I almost turned down assigned me to a mentor who turned out to be such a good match for me. All the more odd to think that after leaving her for more tropical pastures I might now be considering returning to her. I think I was happy working with her. But a year of blog posts show that perhaps I was bored and distracted in that job as well. Maybe it's easy to look upon the past more favorably than the present.

Those are my options as I see them, but none of them jumps out as the best choice. None of them even jumps out as a particularly desirable choice. I'm still too torn about my inner arguments, and the unfortunate position I've put myself in. I don't want a master's--I'll be miserable if I try for a PhD--I just need to work through it, turn a corner, and it'll all fall into place--it's hopeless--never give up! I think a part of me has always suspected that I won't be happy doing scientific research. But I'm mystified as to what career would make me happier, so what good does that do me?

I'm starting to realize one of the things I have to do: I need to forgive myself for not loving my research. Surrounded by people who love their research, I feel like something must be wrong with me. Am I not good enough to be an effective researcher? Am I not smart enough for a PhD? But it's not about talent or intelligence. It's about passion. If I fail to get a PhD where other people around me succeed, it's not because they're smarter than me, it's because they want it more. I want to want to do research to earn a PhD, but wanting to want something doesn't make it so. That's not my fault. Four years out of college, I still don't know what I want. That is my main problem, for now. I need to accept that.

Here is my current state of mind: I should get a master's with my current advisor. Most students in my program are encouraged to get a master's en route to a PhD, anyway; my two years of oceanographic research prior to entering the program excused me from that pressure, but that doesn't mean there aren't some professors who would happily recommend that path. That way, I can delay my decision for another year or so--whether I want to get a PhD or escape while I can. It would give me another year to try to figure out what I want. The thought doesn't make me happy, but it seems like my best option at this point.

I can't help but wonder what would have happened if I'd started my PhD with the other professor here at UH, or with the professor in Maryland. Would I be making the same agonizing choice I'm making now? Would things have gone more smoothly? I can never know. If this were a video game, I could reload an old save, see if a different option makes things turn out better. But this is the RPG called Life. There are no reloads.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Renewed hope for my sci-fi fantasies

I became very excited when it was announced last fall that a planet known as Gliese 581g, the sixth planet found to orbit red dwarf star Gliese 581 a mere 20 light years away, might harbor life. The tidally locked rocky planet similar to Earth's size was within the "Goldilocks zone" for supporting life: not too hot, not too cold for liquid water. I wrote a whole post gushing about it, and how the description of the planet reminded me of my days of exciting space exploration in Mass Effect.

It wasn't long, however, before some scientists were challenging not the notion that this planet might be habitable, but whether the planet even exists in the first place*. The trouble is that we can't observe these faraway planets directly using telescopes (yet)--we basically have to observe the wobble of the star to determine how many planets it has, how far they are from the star, what their masses and volumes might be, etc. It's still not clear whether the planet does or does not exist, but it seems that this celebration over the discovery of another habitable planet--especially one so close to home--was premature.

If it exists*, Gliese 581g would lie comfortably in the middle of Gliese 581's Goldilocks zone, but it is not the only planet in the range of the star's habitable region. Gliese 581c and Gliese 581d are on the inside edge and outside edge of the Goldilocks zone, respectively, and the existence of both planets is well accepted and supported. However, the temperature (and thus inferred habitability) of a planet depends on more than mere distance from the sun. After all, it has been suggested that Mars is within the outside edge of our sun's Goldilocks region. There is evidence that Mars once had liquid water. It was kept warm in spite of its distance from the sun by high atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, which, as we are now all too aware here on Earth, is a greenhouse gas. But now its remaining water is locked up in ice, its atmospheric carbon dioxide minuscule. What happened? Mars is small so its interior cooled much faster than Earth's, causing it to lose its ability to cycle carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (a process that likely required volcanic activity and burial of carbonate sediments at great pressure and heat). It lost its greenhouse effect, and thus its liquid water. Had Mars been the same size as the Earth, it might have avoided this fate and retained its water long enough to support life. (Kasting et al. 1988)

As for the planets around Gliese 581, Gliese 581c is thought to be too close to the star for liquid water, having surface temperatures over 1000 deg C. Gliese 581d was initially thought to be far enough from the star to be too cold for liquid water. But simulations of the planet's atmosphere have suggested that it may contain high enough concentrations of carbon dioxide to keep the planet warm enough to maintain liquid water. (See BBC News article, and Astrophysical Journal Letters.) Perhaps it has succeeded where Mars did not.

Gliese 581d, which may be tidally locked (with one side permanently facing its sun), receives less stellar energy than Mars but is more massive than Earth. 3D climate simulations predict that it will have a stable atmosphere that could support liquid water oceans, clouds, and rainfall. With sufficient concentrations of carbon dioxide and other gases, global mean temperatures could be above 0 deg C. But we shouldn't plan on moving in--the dense air on Gliese 581d would be toxic to humans.

This is all still far from a sure thing. The predictions are based on simulations which may or may not be accurate, and there are many "maybes" in the predictions. Just because it could support liquid water doesn't mean it does. And of course just because it has liquid water does not mean it has life. But a sci-fi geek can dream, right?

* Update 7/20/12: Looks like scientists have confirmed the existence of Gliese 581g aka Zarmina. Yay!

The state of the PhD: Master's vs. PhD

In yesterday's post, I left out the most demoralizing part of my most recent conversation with my advisor. Noting how I'd spent lots of time working on classes and not much time working on research, he asked whether I still wanted to be a PI (principle investigator--that is, have a PhD and lead my own research lab), as I'd said I wanted to be when I started the program. Research is only rewarding if you love the research (oceanography research doesn't pay too badly, but it doesn't pay well). If I don't enjoy working late puzzling about a research problem and prefer to work on well-defined tasks from 9 to 5, maybe I shouldn't get a PhD. Do I maybe want a master's degree instead?

This is what broke me. I'd thought of it myself occasionally--I'm miserable, should I just flee with a master's?--but to know that my advisor was thinking it too was painful. Do I still want a PhD? Do I still want to be a PI? Do I want a master's instead? I don't know. I go back and forth on the issue multiples times a day. The reasons are all jumbled in my head, so I hope that by organizing them here I might be able to make a better assessment of each argument's merits.

Escape with a master's

I've been pretty miserable with my research here. At times I've been tempted just to quit, but having invested two years of coursework towards the degree, I feel like I should be able to have something to show for it. There are some programs that only award master's degrees if a student is deemed unfit to complete a PhD, where a master's is a mark of shame (e.g. MIT-WHOI), but our department loves to give master's degrees--no shame implied.

I have long doubted my affinity for a career in research. I applied to the undergraduate summer internship that started me on this career path in part to prove to myself that scientific research was not for me. I only returned to that lab in Maryland after I graduated the following summer because I didn't know what else to do, I needed to get out of my parents' house, and it was an easy job to get (the professor happily welcomed me back). I still didn't think I wanted to do scientific research. I hated reading scientific papers, was bored to death in seminars, and only made it through most days with frequent and long internet-surfing breaks.

After a year working as a faculty research assistant in oceanography, in an underpaid job that was heading nowhere, I decided to apply for PhD programs in oceanography because that seemed like the thing to do. Surrounded by smart, interesting, happy people with PhD's, I figured I should be one, too. I was good at what I did, I had a strong academic background and respectable experience in the research field, and it was a way to move forward and advance my career. In a way, it was the path of least resistance. Not a good reason to commit to a PhD.

I see my boyfriend (the Housemate), and he's a person who belongs in his PhD program. He gets to lab early, stays late, works on weekends, and he loves it. He enjoys isolating algae like I enjoy playing video games (well, almost). I call the Dragon Age 2 characters my friends, and he calls his algae cultures his babies. I fall asleep planning what strategy to use against a big game boss, and he falls asleep proposing methods to identify types of viruses infecting his cultures. When I see him reading an academic paper willingly before bed--not just to put himself to sleep--I get a little bit jealous. I wish I could love my work as much as he does. But I don't. Scientific papers and seminars become more interesting as you know more about their topics and can better understand them, but I still don't like them. There are so many things I'd rather be reading or watching. Recently I sat in a seminar, listening to someone present his work, and thought, "Why? How long did it take you to do that? Why did you care? It's soooo boooooringgggg." Is that really going to be my life's work as well?

When I think of it that way, and compare my experience and interest to that of my boyfriend, I see that I am not the sort of person who belongs in a PhD program. I can't be an academic, a PI, writing grants, begging for money. I can't spend four years working on a dissertation. I'll die of boredom long before then. Quitting would look bad, but getting a master's would be a graceful way to bow out of this huge mistake.

Never give up, never surrender!

I don't want a master's degree. I never have. I've worked as a faculty research assistant--a lab tech--before. It has its perks (not having to write grants, making it someone else's responsibility to find money), but I don't want to do it for the rest of my life. A PhD is independence. Yes, a PI still has to answer to many demands and requirements, but your research is your own. Why should I spend my talents answering someone else's question? I want to decide for myself what questions I want to tackle.

The thought of settling for a master's depresses me. Part of it is concern for how it would look to other people if I dropped out of the PhD program to get just a master's. My parents would worry about my career. My aunts and uncles would wonder what I did wrong. My friends would be less impressed. My mentor back in Maryland would be disappointed, as she saw great things for me and would always tell me, "The world needs you!" My current advisor would be disappointed, as he was excited by my writing ability when I started and looked forward to publishing papers with me. I know I shouldn't concern myself with appearances and what other people think, that I need to live my life for myself. But if how much other people adore or respect me affects my happiness, then why should I ignore it? Besides, if I settled for a master's, the person who would be most disappointed in me would be myself. It's a form of giving up. We're taught all our lives that quitters never win, giving up is the worst way to fail, etc. Yes, I've gotten myself into an undesirable position. But if I use that as an excuse to settle for a master's, it will be out of fear. It will be because I was too scared of the work required to fix things. Running away is the lazy solution. If I stop with a master's, I may wonder for the rest of my life how things might have turned out if I'd decided to tough it out, work through the difficulties, overcome the challenges, and earn the PhD. How could I deal with that wondering?

There was a time, after all, when I was happy doing research. I wouldn't have applied for grad school if that weren't true. I enjoyed setting up the computer model simulations and interpreting the results that gave me my published peer-reviewed article. I got completely absorbed in the task of taking 3D gridded model output of environmental conditions in Chesapeake Bay and turning it into a numeric of suitable habitat volume that could be used to help assess viability of fisheries. I worked after hours to solve that puzzle, and that was the research I proudly presented at the international conference in Berlin. Solving such puzzles can grant satisfaction similar to winning a game. With more experience and knowledge, I could come up with my own puzzles to spend long hours tackling.

There are even parts of my experience here in grad school that I have enjoyed. I love giving talks. I can spend long hours putting together presentation slides and practicing my "script" to perfection. And I'm actually pretty good at it. I've been told I have a good "presentation voice", and after last year's division student talks, the professors named mine as one of the top 3 talks (out of 14, so not that impressive). I actually kind of like writing papers. It can be hard to start, and frustrating to gather the appropriate sources, but once I get into it I can enjoy it. After all, if I didn't like writing, and organizing my thoughts into paragraphs of prose, I wouldn't be writing this blog. I also love teaching. I haven't actually had a chance to be a TA yet, but this spring I was a pseudo-TA for a couple people in a class I was taking. The class was on computer modeling of biological-physical interactions (wind-driven model of the Pacific, upwelling of nutrients from the deep ocean feeding phytoplankton blooms and thus zooplankton growth), which is my area of interest, and it being the first time the course was taught, there was perhaps a misunderstanding of what sort of skills would be required for the class. But I was always happy to help explain the model, the grid, the equation derivations, and the programming techniques to my friends who asked for help. This stuff was fun. One friend bought me chocolates at the end of the semester, saying he couldn't have passed the class without me. Some day, maybe I could teach that class better than our professor taught it.

Ultimately, I really love programming. I would use my weekly programming assignments for that class as a reward: OK, self, read those papers for the chemical oceanography class, and then you can do your programming homework. The logic, the equations, and the satisfaction of having the program run and produce output--be it mere plots or nifty animations--just worked for me. That kind of work I found fun and rewarding. The problem with the computer modeling I tried to do last summer was that it wasn't about writing a program, it was about installing the right toolboxes, learning how someone else set up a gigantic black box of a model to run, making grid files, input files, and figuring out what sort of output the model would give me. The problem is that the kind of ocean model that can give the best results is far more sophisticated than anything I could write myself. For now it seems I'm doomed to work with a monstrous black box that I barely understand.

I want a PhD. I want to be a doctor--but not that kind of doctor. I want to be a specialist in my field. I want to ask questions and be paid to answer them. And I don't want to give up when I've come this far already.

What should I do?

Those are the two arguments fighting inside me. Again, this post got really long. My thrilling conclusion will be posted tomorrow: Where do I go from here?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The state of the PhD: Where I am

Note: This is the first post in what looks like will be a two- or three-part series about my personal grad school issues. If you are not interested in personal turmoil or troubles in grad school, please check out some of my other posts.

I finished my graduate school classes last week. While there's a small possibility my committee could decide that I need to take some other class to help in my research, for now I have fulfilled all the official course requirements for my degree, plus all the "hidden" requirements the Physical Oceanography Division demands. I passed with flying colors, scoring A+'s in two of the program's most notorious courses, the highest marks in my "rite of passage" geophysical fluid dynamics class, and the adoration and respect of nearly all of the professors who have taught me. I say this not to boast, but to set up this bomb: No one cares.

OK, so my parents care, my grandfather cares, proudly boasting to his siblings about my marks, but the people who matter don't care. In my most recent conversation with my advisor, he told me in no uncertain terms that at the end of two years, no one in the department gives a hoot what grades I have earned--they care what research I have done. Which has been extremely minimal. Furthermore, he pointed out, I am paid as a graduate research assistant, which means that in theory I work half-time on school, and half-time on research. So if at the end of two years I have only minimal research to show, there's clearly a problem. Students who entered at the same time I did to earn a master's degree are finishing up their theses and preparing to defend. The grad student guidebook recommends we PhD students take our PhD qualifying exams, which include defending a prospectus for our intended research, after 18 months in the program. Given my course load, my committee determined at the beginning that I couldn't take it until completing four semesters of classes, but that is where I am now. Not only have I not started on my prospectus, but I don't even know where to start. After two years, I still do not have a research plan. And with this conversation with my advisor, all the fears that have been smoldering inside me, suppressed by continual burial, were suddenly brought to the surface to burst into flames.

Was that metaphor too much? How about: all the fears that had been bottled up inside me, kept from boiling by extreme pressure, suddenly burst out and bubbled over. OK, I think I got the bad metaphors out of my system now. Apologies.

I held it together there in his office, but when I got home, I broke down. I cried--a lot. This was right before my hell week, where I had a final presentation on Monday, a final presentation on Tuesday, and a final paper due on Wednesday. All that followed by two final exams. It was not the best time to lose all motivation, feel that working on classes was futile, that I should drop out, etc. I managed to pull myself together and bury it again (or bottle it up again...sorry, I guess I wasn't done) in order to get through finals. But now that those are over, I have to pull those issues out and examine them. I have been granted a reprieve in that my advisor is out of town for the week, which means that I have time to gather my thoughts before facing him. Before big decisions have to be made. And so I come here to air my thoughts, present the different sides of my internal arguments, express my doubts and assess whatever determination I have left.

First, let me clarify that I may not be as far behind as my advisor made it seem. While some of the students who entered at the same time I did are writing their theses and planning to defend this summer, there are just as many who entered the year before and still do not have completed theses. For whatever reason, progress is relatively slow at our school, or at least in our particular program. Average time to a PhD is 6.5 years. That gives me 4.5 years to finish before I am truly behind. My advisor has a master's student who entered this past fall, and she is very...driven. Having been handed a manageable research project (unlike PhD students who are guided to form their own), she has accomplished enough in her research to make my advisor worry about the fact that I have made no more progress than she has in twice as many years. At least that's one theory. My advisor has a reputation as one of the nicest professors in the department, and previously he had only ever been supportive and encouraging of whatever progress (or non-progress) I had made. If at some department meeting it becomes apparent that his student hasn't done any research, his peers will judge that it is his fault as well as mine. He needs to start pushing me so that he doesn't look bad. Well, it's another theory. Last week I commiserated with another PhD student in the same position (two years completed, little research accomplished, previously nice professor suddenly applying pressure), and we came up with these theories. It was also reassuring to know that there was at least one other student who was in the same position.

Even if I am not unreasonably behind schedule, the fact is that I am not in a comfortable position with my research. How did I get here? I see my problems coming in two categories:
1) Difficulties and failures of my research
2) Approximately 18 years of previous training to be the perfect student

I chose this PhD program with this advisor because of the research project he proposed (some may recall my tortured decision). I was interested in numerical modeling and biological-physical interactions, and the project involved the study of interactions between hydrodynamics and coral reefs, both through modeling and field measurements. And he promised scuba diving around coral reefs would be part of my job. It sounded great, but things haven't really gone smoothly. I finally got my scuba certification last fall, but I still haven't taken the scientific diver course that is required before I do any scuba for my research. It might happen this coming fall, but that's only a "might". It was fairly well accepted that with a full course load my first two semesters that I wouldn't get any research done until the summer after my first year. When that summer came, I dove into trying to get a coupled model running on my computer. The trouble is, it turns out my advisor is not, in fact, a modeler himself, so he had no better idea than I did of how to get the model set up. A month into the summer, I still didn't have the model running anything beyond the default scenarios, and when I finally took one of the many problems I was having to a professor who does run the same model himself--on the same operating system--he was absolutely baffled as to why I was getting the error I was getting. My advisor handed me some data so I could pull enough research together to give the required student talk at the end of the summer, and apparently I did a great job on that. I used the same results from that August talk in my talk for the general public in November. And I turned that November talk into a short article (again for the general public) this past spring. I've stretched those weak results about as far as they can go, because the fact is the only real research work I've done since last summer was on my February research cruise. I still haven't looked at the data we collected on that cruise (or posted photos...I swear I'll get on that now that it's summer).

Some of the difficulties my project has encountered have been outside my control. My advisor wrote me into a joint proposal with a number of other principle investigators, which started me down a certain path of research, but it didn't get funded. He also directed me toward working with a guy at NOAA, but that didn't work out. After my two months of relatively successful summer research, which was on data from Hanauma Bay, we planned to put new sensors out in the bay to investigate some phenomena we discovered from the initial data. It turned out, however, that the restrictions on instrumentation in the bay had been tightened, and our repeated attempts at trying to comply with the new rules all failed. The February research cruise funded from a proposal a labmate and I wrote, but the part of the project that was supposed to be mine was cut because, again, we couldn't get permits for the sensor--this time because it was within three nautical miles of land off of Kaneohe Bay. I'm all for protecting the sensitive ears of marine mammals, but does it really make a difference to them whether the source of the pinging is slightly under or slightly over 3 nautical miles from shore? Alas.

These are among the many reasons that I was frustrated with my research. The more I failed to understand the model and get it running, the more impossible the task seemed. As I was repeatedly denied more data, it became easier to forget what it was like having data. For the past two semesters, any time my mind would turn to research, it would flinch away. I didn't know how to approach it. Talking to my advisor always seemed reassuring, but somehow I'd go back to my office still not knowing what to do. Besides, why would I work on something so impenetrable and infinite when I had something neat and tidy with clear, achievable goals and an obvious finish line? That is to say, classes.

I've always been a good student. Even in an elite university, I excelled in my classes (well, most of them). My whole life, I've trained myself to work hard in school, churn out good projects, good papers, and score well on exams. I've never been mean about competition, but it's always a personal goal in the back of my mind to be at the top of the class. And just because I took two years off of school between undergrad and grad school doesn't mean I forgot those skills. I don't know how to do "well enough" in classes. The competitive spirit kicks in, and I have to do the best. That is why, when faced with the choice between tackling a perpetually unrewarding research project or pursuing the catnip of a possible A+ to stare at on my transcript, I ignored the research and worked on my class work. (And maybe a good bit of internet surfing. And sometimes blogging).

That is how I got to the pathetic place I am right now. Two years into a PhD program with no prospectus in sight. Since this post has gone on way longer than I'd anticipated, I'm going to break it up. Tomorrow, I will get to the juicy stuff I meant to get to today: My inner arguments for and against continuing toward a PhD.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Smithsonian Art of Video Games Exhibit winning games

Earlier this year, the Smithsonian American Art Museum held public voting for which video games to feature in its planned Art of Video Games exhibit. Voters could choose one of three games in each genre (e.g. action, strategy) on each selected console (apparently no hand-held devices), sectioned off into the different "eras": Start!, 8-bit, Bitwars!, Transition, and Next Generation. See the list of winning games here.

I am delighted that Mass Effect 2, Portal, Diablo II, and Final Fantasy Tactics made it into the exhibition. These four games are among my favorites. Mass Effect 2 was my obsession last year, with an intriguing story, complex characters, difficult choices, tight and exciting gameplay, and beautifully created worlds to explore. Portal was a short but superbly sweet game, perfectly designed to feel challenging and satisfying without being impossibly frustrating, teaching you the mechanisms of how the portals can be used, bit by bit, before setting you loose. Even with what are now primitive graphics, Diablo II had memorable settings and engaging animation, and I remember how wowed I was by the cut scene graphics when I first saw them. I'm actually a little less convinced about the artfulness of Final Fantasy Tactics, but I'm a bit ignorant here because I haven't played any other games like it (it's the only PlayStation, Japanese RPG, or true turn-based combat game I've played). But it was fun, with an intriguing if sometimes confusing and frustrating plot.

Yes, this is the same pic I used in the older post...but it's a good one.

Other games that I've played at least in part that made the cut include Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Earthworm Jim, StarCraft, Super Mario 64, and GoldenEye 007. Other assorted winners I feel like mentioning include The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Halo 2, Final Fantasy VII, Fable, Bioshock, Minecraft, and Super Mario Galaxy 2. Mario and Legend of Zelda seemed to fare particularly well, with many games in each franchise making it into the exhibit.

I was most disappointed to find that Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn did not make it into the exhibition. It was beaten by Fallout, which I haven't played, though I understand it is a perfectly deserving game as well. Still, BG2 is my favorite, so the loss stings. Interestingly, Fallout 3 beat another BioWare game, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Though I really love KotOR, I was less disappointed by its loss, because from what little I know of Fallout 3 I think it earned its victory. It's a little funny, though, because KotOR is five years older than Fallout 3, which puts it in a different league from a graphics standpoint.

One game from each era was selected (not by vote) for exhibit visitors to play for a few minutes, to allow them to experience the games' interactivity. Interactivity, after all, is a crucial component of the art of video games. The selected games are Pac-Man (arcade), Super Mario Brothers, The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst, and World of Warcraft. I still regret never playing Myst. A friend gave it to me in high school, but for some reason our computer at the time didn't like it, making weird sounds and sometimes refusing to launch it (probably a flaw in the disk). Anyway, I gave up, and never got anywhere in it. Maybe some day I'll get back to it.

The Art of Video Games exhibit will be in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, 3rd floor North, from March 16-2012 to September 30, 2012. Mark your calendars.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

May the Fourth be with you!

Happy Star Wars Day! Sorry I've been missing from this blog for a few weeks now. Today marks the last day of classes for this semester...and hopefully forever, for me. By the end of this semester (finals are next week), I will have fulfilled all my class requirements for a degree, but there is still a chance that I'll be convinced to take another class in the future, if it will help my research. But for now it's at least my semi-official Last Day of Class.

Back to Star Wars. Warning: this is a rambling post.

Since my embarrassing lack of Star Wars-themed clothing on last December's Wear Star Wars/Share Star Wars in Support of Katie Day, I have acquired two Star Wars-related t-shirts. One is the I Can Haz Force tee from TeeFury. I've worn it twice so far and have received quite a few compliments. The other is the Daddy's Little Girl t-shirt I just got from Her Universe. It's adorable, and it's on sale! Today is a perfect occasion for me to debut the shirt. See the photo of me proudly modeling it!

There was recently a little bit of a fuss about this article tangentially related to Star Wars. It's basically a complaint about how 1) hot actresses so often feel the need to prove their geekiness on talk shows to pander to the nerds, and 2) this proof so often comes in the form of loving Star Wars, even though the movies are very popular and already "culturally validated." As for the first point, it's not only hot actresses who sometimes wind up showing off their geek bona fides on talk shows. Stephen Colbert discussed Balrogs and spouted a bit of Quenya on Conan O'Brien a few years ago. Was he pandering to the nerds? Or was he just a genuine nerd talking about something he loves to talk about? I think that's how most people saw it. But if so, why are the actresses who do the same thing not perceived the same way? I think there's still a bit of reluctance to believe that a woman as "cool" as a hot actress could like something geeky. Thus, whenever one is seen gushing about geeky interests, she must be pandering to the nerd crowd. It may be that an actress promoting a geeky franchise might fake geekiness to pander to the geeks, but an actor in the same situation does the same thing. Don't take it out on the hot actresses. The world needs to accept the fact that women, even pretty ones, can like geeky things just as genuinely as anyone else.

Regarding the second point, it's true that having seen Star Wars and liked it does not make a person geeky. But love for Star Wars can still make you a qualified geek (if we're at the point people need to qualify to be in the geek club). Have you read the novels? Held Star Wars marathons? Do you own a lightsaber? Can you name the aliens in the Mos Eisley Cantina? Can you spell Kashyyyk? Even if someone has merely seen all the movies a half dozen times and quotes Yoda seriously, I'm willing to accept them as a Star Wars geek. Do these actresses have to prove to the writer of that article why they're a geek for loving Star Wars, rather than merely someone who saw the movies and thought they were fun? The writer was just criticizing the fact that they were sharing their geeky interests in the first place. Give them a break.

In any case, this geek welcomes actresses and actors to talk about their geeky interests on talk shows. After all, I find it far more interesting than when they talk about how well their favorite sports teams are doing this year. Silly pandering to the sports fans in the audience ;)

Sorry, now for less rant-y Star Wars news:

I'm continually becoming more and more excited about BioWare's upcoming MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR). I'd grown up in a Star Wars-loving family--we had Star Wars-themed birthday parties and played Star Wars monopoly and things like that--but it was really when I played BioWare's Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR) that I became a true Star Wars fan. I guess I just wanted to be a Jedi.

I've been following developments in the game on the SWTOR website, but this recent video is the first one I've seen that gave a really good idea of what the gameplay will be like. And I am psyched.

Video on the website here.

Let me just wrap up this rambling Star Wars post with a little anecdote from my morning. The Housemate and I were walking to school, and it being Hawaii, it suddenly started to rain. We pulled out our umbrellas and noted how deploying them was a bit like activating a lightsaber. We swung them around a bit (in extended but still-tied form) imitating the lightsaber sound effect. Then I started to try to deflect the raindrops with my umbrella-lightsaber.

"Do you think Jedi can vaporize raindrops with their lightsabers?"

My boyfriend assured me that they probably could. I'm so glad I have a boyfriend who supports my love of Star Wars, like that other time when I was holding out my hand, trying to summon my water bottle with the Force and he hid from view and tossed it to me. *Sigh*. My wish for this Star Wars Day: May everyone find a friend who helps them pretend they can use the Force.

And May the Fourth be with you!