Sunday, November 30, 2008

Our Thanksgiving Holiday: A Photo Journal

This thanksgiving, we decided to pack the Daewoo and get out of the Bay Area. We didn't know exactly where we were going, but we knew we wanted to see the desert. It was the perfect time to go see the desert because the temperatures were cool and there were less people. We took so many pictures that I decided to make a photo journal and share our thanksgiving adventure!

Cholla Garden
The first place we drove to was Joshua Tree National Park. We didn't go rock climbing here because we were only driving through. It was raining in the desert here. Joshua Tree and most of Southern California is in the Mojave Desert, one of the four great deserts of North America. The Mojave Desert covers most of Southern California. The Great Basin Desert covers most of Nevada. The Sonoran Desert covers South-Western Arizona and parts of Baja California. Finally, the Chihuahuan Desert starts in New Mexico and Texas and extends south into Mexico.

Cholla Garden
This is a Cholla Cactus. It grows mostly in the Mojave Desert. The needles are very special because if you touch them, they have the ability to embed deep into your skin and break off, leaving the tiny needle buried somewhere in your skin! This is the reason they are sometimes called the 'Jumping Cholla.'

Cholla Garden
The Cholla Cacti grew dense in 'gardens' at Joshua Tree National Park. They grew at the transition zone, where the Mojave Desert transforms into the Sonoran Desert. Joshua Tree NP of course also had Joshua Trees, but we didn't take a picture of one for some reason!

Desert Coyote
As we were exiting Joshua Tree NP, we saw a coyote along the side of the road. It paused and let us take a picture. It didn't seem afraid of us.

Saguaro NP
Next, we entered the Sonoran Desert, as we drove into Southern Arizona. Our goal was to go visit Saguaro National Park, where we took a short hike. The weather was great, except it was actually raining and thunderstorming! A very rare event, but it happened while we were there!

Saguaro NP
Saguaro cacti are very tall (probably 10 feet or more) and they grow very slowly. It could take up to 75 years for the Saguaro to start growing an arm. The arms are formed when the cactus flowers. In the picture above, you can see many adult Saguaros and one baby in the middle-bottom of the picture.

Disco Saguaro
This Saguaro is disco dancing. Sometimes the arms don't grow upwards, but sideways. Then they really start to look like people! There are strong winds in the desert. There was one research group which concluded that the Saguaro grows ribbed trunks/arms because it makes it stronger against the wind, preventing it from toppling over in the wind.

Red Rocks
After visiting Southern Arizona, we headed north towards Phoenix and Flagstaff. On the way we drove through Sedona, Arizona. There were a lot of red rock cliffs in the area.

Purple Cactus
While we were hiking around Sedona, Arizona, we found a purple cactus. It was so unusual looking, I had to take a picture! It was even still wet from a short rainshower earlier that morning.

Jenn & Romy
This picture was taken on the way to Flagstaff. We were at about 6,400 ft in elevation. We never knew Arizona had mountains! Haha! The peak in Flagstaff had snow and was around 12,500 ft.

Arizona Sky
The sky in Arizona was so crazy! We saw everything from 'little fluffy clouds' to giant thunderheads.

Grand Canyon
As a last minute detour, we decided to visit the Grand Canyon. No visit to Arizona is complete without peering over its edge! It was really cold! The elevation was about 7,500 ft at the south rim. There was some snow. And suprisingly there were a million other people who also wanted to visit the canyon!

Romy Looking into the Grand Canyon
Romy looking over the canyon egde into the abyss. It was hard to actually see the Colorado River from the south rim. The Grand Canyon was carved over the past 6 million years. It is actually really really deep - almost 6,000 ft to the canyon floor in some places. Thats over one MILE!!!!

Even though it was really cold, we decided to camp anyways in the National Forest land near the south rim. When we woke up, the tent was frosted over. It was about 25 degrees over night. But we were warm inside the tent and our sleeping bags!

Sierra Nevadas
We decided to drive along the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountains on our way back home. From Arizona, we drove to Las Vegas, and then into California. We camped in the Inyo National Forest near the bristle cone pine forest in the White Mounatains. We camped at about 6,000 ft. When the sun came up, we hurried up and packed up the tent and drove up to a lookout in the White Mountains at about 9,500 ft. We saw the sun rise and light up the Sierra Nevadas. They were sprinkled with snow.

White Mountains
Looking east, into Nevada, you can see the rest of the White Mountains and almost into Death Valley.

Sierra Panorama
I created this panoramic picture from three pictures that I took of the Sierra Nevadas next to each other. I am standing on top of the White Mountains, looking west over the Owens River Valley and towards the Sierra Nevadas. Mount Whitney is not in the picture. It is a little south. These peaks range from ~10,000 ft to ~14,500 ft.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Rock Climbing at Pinnacles NM

This weekend we finally got out to go climbing outdoors! We went to Pinnacles National Monument, which is about 2 hours south of the Bay Area. It is a park which lies along the San Andreas fault, and its used to be an old volcano which was eroded away into weird rock formations and pinnacles. There are trails through the park, and two "caves" which formed when deep small canyons got buried in huge boulders. You can hike through the canyon "caves" which are mostly dark, since they are covered in rock debris. There's only a little bit of room to walk through, if you have a flashlight. We didn't bring one, because we went rock climbing. Next time we will visit the caves.

The rock is strange. It is a conglomerate of tiny pebbles, all cemented together like concrete. It has a reddish hue, like molten lava. The rock is scary to climb on because it is loose sometimes, but it was interesting and fun. Here are some pictures:

Romy Rapelling

Romy Rapelling

Romy Rapelling


Pinnacles National Monument

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Birthday Snowshoes!

Today is my birthday, and it was nice, sunny, and about 70 degrees out! We went jogging at Joaquin Miller Park on the trails. I took along my GPS so that we could visualize the path we ran and also record the distance that we ran. We did a total of 2.43 miles. It was our first time jogging since we moved to California! Can you believe that!? When we got back to the car, I plotted the surface elevation of our jogging trail. We jogged the Sequoia Byway Trail, which was between 1,200ft-1,550ft in elevation!
Also, we were searching for snowshoes to get ready for our Thanksgiving holiday, and we found a pair of MSR Lightening Men's snowshoes for half the price! Some guy who works at REI bought them and never used them, and sold them to us for the 'at cost' price. Yay! Here's a picture:

Romy's Snowshoes

They are orange and super light, made of aluminum. The crampons are part of the frame, and there is an extend-able heel bar so that you can rest your heels when climbing uphill. So even though it was my birthday, these snowshoes are for Romy. Now I have to find some for myself!!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Foggy Day

We've been really busy with school for a long time! A few weekends ago, we went to go see the Golden Gate bridge in the fog! The narrow channel that the Golden Gate Bridge spans is the opening to the ocean. Whenever there is heavy fog from the ocean, it all squeezes between the mountains through this passageway, and a stream of fog shoots inland over the bay right towards Berkeley. The bridge is almost completely engulfed by the stream of fog except for the very top! Ocean ships need to use their fog horns, so there was a lot of "tooting" of fog horns a few times each minute. They are really loud! Sometimes at night, you can hear them all the way in Oakland! Here are some pictures:

Golden Gate in the Fog

Golden Gate in the Fog

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Through The Ages

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Labor Day Travels around NorCal

This labor day weekend, my mom flew to San Fran to visit us! We decided to make the most out of our last long weekend before school really started. On Thursday, we went to down town San Fran and rode on the historic trolley cars. We had dinner at Fisherman's Wharf.

San Fran Historical Trolley F
Romy on the F-line trolley in San Francisco

We headed out on Friday in the bus from Oakland across the Bay Bridge. . . except we almost didn't make it over the bridge!!!! There was bumper to bumper traffic (since we left during rush hour) and all of a sudden, as we were approaching the middle of the bridge between San Fran and Treasure Island, we heard a huge and scary 'klump bump thump' from the transmission area. WTF!? So Romy stopped the bus in the middle of the highway traffic on top of the bridge! To make this worse, we were on an incline (since we were on the section of the bridge that lets boats go under it) and the e-brake was malfunctioning. So I had to put one foot on the brake, while Romy went under the bus. I kept my foot pressed down hard on the brake pedal, otherwise the bus would roll over Romy! So he got under the bus, all tucked under so that nobody would run him over on the highway. This was scary in itself, not to mention what he discovered under there. . .. . the driver's side half-shaft just fell off somehow on the transmission side! Thats the shaft that connects the transmission to the rear wheels. Its a mystery how it fell off. He also discovered that one of the ball bearings from the CV joint rolled out, but luckily it didn't roll far! It was still under the bus! So he shoved it back in, and then re connected the shaft to the transmission (part-way). It was messy, with all the grease getting all over, but we were able to drive away after about 15 minutes or so. It was a long 15 minutes. But we had a great view!!!!

We exited right away as soon as we crossed the bay. We parked somewhere in down town San Fran, and Romy continued to reconnect the shaft properly. The threads got screwed up because of what happened, so luckily we had a tap of the correct size in the tool box, so Romy re-tapped the treads and screwed the shaft in securely. There were no problems after that.

The fog was rolling in. It was actually pouring in between the slot between the mountains at the Gold Gate Bridge. Approaching the bridge, you couldn't even see it! When we got on the bridge, all you could see was 5 feet ahead of the bus. In fact, you couldn't tell you were on a bridge at all. The tall towers and suspension wires were within the thick stream of fog. It was like driving through a cloud.

Once in the north bay, we got on Hwy 1 towards the ocean. It was getting dark now, and remained foggy the entire way to the Sonoma coast, where we camped at Sonoma Coast State Beach in the Noreaga Dunes campground. We got site #18 for the night. The fog was creating a mist in the air that hit your skin and made you shiver! It was so cold! But inside of the bus it was warm, and when we woke up, the fog slowly retreated to the ocean. We had coffee and breakfast in Jenner, a small town a little ways up Hwy 1 from the campground. The coast was lined with cliffs, and large rocks jutted out of the water near the coastline. At Jenner, there was a river which fed into the ocean, creating a calm pool area. There were seals swimming and playing in the water!

Seals Swimming near Jenner
A seal swimming near Jenner on the Sonoma Coast

We then continued driving north, along the cliffs and mountainous rocky coast. We stopped along the way at some beaches and scenic places. We had lunch on a cliff-top where we pulled off of Hwy1. The sun was warm, with a cool breeze off the water. We cooked ramen noodle soup. It was spicy flavored (really spicy).

NorCal Coast
Jenn and Romy and the bus on the Pacific Coast

Our goal was to reach the Avenue of the Giants. This is the area where Hwy1 joins Hwy101 in the Coastal Mountain range. This area has a lot of coastal redwoods. Avenue of the Giants is actually the old Hwy101, before they expanded it. It is a 32-mile stretch that runs along side the new Hwy101, but it weaves through old growth redwood groves, and literally lets you drive right past the giant redwoods. There are nice campgrounds all along this route, and we stopped at the Giant Redwoods RV Park in Myer's Flat. We made it to the campground around 6 or 7 pm, just with enough time to shower and make dinner (chilli and hot dogs) before it got too dark out. We didn't have wood to make a fire, so we just had some beer instead.

Drive-Thru Sequoia
Camping in Myer's Flat at the Avenue of the Giants

The next morning, we woke up and drove to the northern end of the Avenue, and made our way south. Along the route, we stopped at some tourist attractions, like a redwood burl which was hollowed out to make a 20 ft high small room (it was once used as a gift shop). There were 3 drive-through sequoia trees, and even a "one-log cabin!" We didn't see the one-log cabin, but I assume its a hollowed out redwood or sequoia log that somebody made into a cabin. We also went to Humbolt Redwoods State Park and walked on a trail around the Founder Tree. We walked past trees over 300 ft high. The trunk diameters on some trees were over 12ft wide! Their circumferences were over 30ft around! It was a little breezy, and the tops of the trees were swaying slowly back and forth. It was softly snowing pine needles and other 'leaf litter.' Mostly is was quiet except for some creaking and birds. And it was like standing in a room with cathedral ceilings, except you were in a forest whose canopy was about 160 ft above your head. Below 160ft, there were just tall 'slender' trunks of the redwoods.

Humbolt Redwoods State Park
Humbolt Redwoods State Park trail at the Founder Tree

My mom in front of a huge sequoia tree near Legget, CA

That afternoon, we headed back south, back home. The ride back was a little boring, because we took Hwy101 the whole way, instead of the coast. But it was quicker. Once we got to the Golden Gate Bridge, it was all clear, so we stopped for a few pictures before crossing it. We happened to cross it on the last day before they hiked up the toll to $6! On Monday, it was really hot out, so we headed south towards Santa Cruz on Hwy 1. We went to the beach. It was windy, but we found a pocket of calm behind a dune. We all got partially burned, but the next day we were tanned. That evening, we grilled dinner in our backyard. Yummy yummy burgers!

Golden Gate
My mom in front of the Golden Gate Bridge

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Getting Ready for School

Our Half of the Duplex
A picture of where we live (we are in the right half of the duplex).

This past week has been strangely busy. Even though there was not much going on, we had to get a lot of 'stuff' set up for school. Most importantly, I had to get funding! Romy has a "GSR" position, which stands for graduate student researcher. When he was accepted to Berkeley, he was offered the position, which pays for tuition and fees and also for health insurance. On top of that, it pays about a $1600/month stipend while in school. Pretty sweet!
Unfortunately, when I was accepted, I had no such luck. They accepted me with no guaranteed funding source, basically meaning that I would have to pay for grad school on my own. That adds up to about $12,500 each semester! Big bucks! Good thing that there are a few ways to go about finding money at Berkeley.
First, you can find a lab which has funding, and is willing to pay you to start doing research (like Romy). Second, you can be a teaching assistant for a course, meaning you get paid to teach a discussion section, grade papers, tutor, etc. Third, you can look for and apply for fellowships and scholarships. I decided to try for all of these options. For the past two weeks I've been looking around and talking to professors who might have open positions in their labs, or need teaching assistants. I've also been looking for fellowships and I'm starting to apply (a long and grueling process).
I got lucky with the Bioengineering department. I happened to go check to see if they had any teaching positions left (thanks to Romy's suggestion), and they did! I also applied for teaching positions in the Mechanical Engineering department, and although they were a bit slow because of the overwhelming amount of work that they do in those offices, they also offered me a position to teach just yesterday. As a graduate student at Berkeley, you are only allowed to work 50% of the time, and study the other 50% of the time, with a total of about 40 hours per week, like a full time job. So I have two teaching positions that are each 10 hours/week, and 15 credit hours of registered classes. That only adds up to 35 hours/week, but that is the minimum, and I'm pretty happy about that.
This semester I will be taking 'Intro to Continuum Mechanics,' 'Advanced Fluid Mechanics I,' and 'Teaching Mechanical Engineering.' I will be teaching 'Intro to Biomedicine,' and 'Intro to Computer Programming for Scientists and Engineers.' They are both freshman level classes and should be pretty simple and fun to teach. The two teaching positions will pay for half of my tuition and fees, plus health insurance, plus a stipend of about $1600/month while I'm in school. So I only have about a $4000 bill for school this semester, instead of $12500. And Romy has absolutely no bill at all.
It turns out that one of our stipends will end up going towards paying rent and utilities. The other stipend will go towards gas, food, and other stuff like traveling or having fun on the weekends. Maybe we will even have a little bit left over to save, but I'm not sure at this point.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Winchester Mystery House

Winchester Mystery House

Yesterday, we went to see the Winchester Mystery House. It is a house in San Jose, CA. And it is very interesting because of its oddity. Mrs. Winchester owned the house, and she has an unusual story, and so does the house.

Winchester Mystery House
Rooftop of the mansion.

Mr. Winchester was the president of the Winchester gun company (not exactly the right name of the company, but whatever). The company made a very popular gun in the wild wild west and was a very good seller. So Mr. Winchester made a lot of money. He married Mrs. Winchester and they lived on the east coast. They had a child, but it died early on of a rare disease when the child was only 6 weeks old! Then, not long after, Mr. Winchester died as well. His wife was left all alone, and inherited all of the company and its wealth. But she was so depressed, and it got to her head.

She was a superstitious woman so she felt as though she was cursed. She want to go see a oracle, or medium, whatever you want to call it, and the man told her she was being cursed by all of the spirits that had been killed by the gun that made her family so rich. The oracle instructed her to appease the spirits. The only way she could do that was to move west, and to begin construction on a house which would never be completed. So thats what she did. She moved to San Jose CA, bought an old farmhouse and began renovating it. The renovations never stopped for as long as she lived, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The house got so huge that it became a mansion. Then, when she ran out of room for building, she tore down sections of the house, just to rebuild them again to keep the construction going! At one point it was 7 stories tall, but during the 1906 earthquake, the highest towers fell over.

Winchester Mystery House
A window in the floor. Maybe it was a skylight? Or maybe she was crazy?

The earthquake was really strong, and it even made a fireplace in one of her rooms fall through the floor! That caused one of the walls to shift, which pinched the door shut and trapped her in the room! The servants took a long time to find her because the house was so huge, but they had to pry the door open with a crow bar. The mark of the crow bar is still on the door.

Winchester Mystery House
Crow bar mark on the door.

After the earthquake, which she thought was some kind of curse (again) for spending so much money on her house, she decided to close off the front, where she spent the most money on, never to be opened again for the rest of her life. She spent a lot of money! She made about $1000 A DAY from stock in the company. She spent about $9000 on a ball room when at the time it cost about $3000 to build a whole average house! She would talk with the spirits every night, and even ring bells in the bell towers at midnight and 2:00am every night. She never took the same path to her bedroom at night, hoping she would confuse the spirits so that they couldn't follow her to sleep!

Winchester Mystery House
The bedroom Mrs. Winchester died in.

Well, she built and built and built until her death. She died in one of her bedrooms in the night. It was a really weird house. After the tour inside, we went outside to visit the gardens.

Winchester Mystery House
A view of the gardens from the 4th floor.

Winchester Mystery House
An old wooden stove in the kitchen.

Winchester Mystery House
Mrs. Winchester's grand ballroom organ.

Winchester Mystery House
Spiderweb glass windows looking out to the garden.

Winchester Mystery House
The freakiest picture of them all! Is that a ghost or spirit caught on camera!?