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!?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Grilling Burgers on our Patio/Garden

Backyard Patio/Garden

In the past few days, we've been working on the garden in back. First, we assessed the soil quality. It looked pretty bad and very very dry. It was so dry, it was as hard as a rock, like a sheet of cement was there instead of dirt. It was even the color of cement! So we said, we have to go to Home Depot and get some tools to break up the soil and start making it good to garden. There were already two old rose bushes growing back there, and they survived without watering for about a month before we got there, so maybe the soil was salvageable.

After our trip to "The Depot," we were ready to get to work. We picked the hottest day, unfortunately, so breaking up the soil was even harder (although when I say hot I mean 80s). But watering the soil while breaking it up worked well, and we realized that the soil was good underneath the top hard crust. It actually retained a lot of the moisture we put into it while breaking it up. The rose bushes were infested by some crazy green plant with white tubers. It looked at first like green onion, but it lacked the deep green color and the stem wasn't whitish at the base. But it had long finger-like whitish tubers underground. It was stubborn as hell to pull out. There were multiple green tuber plants around the rose bush, which went wild, and I suspect they were slowly killing the old rose bush, taking its nutrients away to make so many tubers! At first I thought they might be good to eat, like potatoes or something, but I got so angry at them after more than half an hour trying to pull all of the tubers out, that I though, 'screw eating them!' Now I'm afraid of the tubers. What if they will grow into more green tuber plants!?

Our Backyard

Once the soil was all turned, we went back to The Depot the next day to get some plants. We tried to pick plants that were either native or didn't need to be watered a lot. So we found some baby Italian Cypres trees for $5 and some golden evergreen shrubs (also for $5) and some native Rosemary, and ivy. I also cut some succulents from the front of the house, and planted them in the back for ground cover. We also bought some California Red Poppy seeds and Morning Glory seeds and sowed them in the soil. Hopefully they will germinate soon! Romy found a weird looking Elephant Foot Palm, and he couldn't resist buying it. We planted that in a pot and put it on the patio.

We celebrated the end of all the work in the garden by grilling some burgers on our patio. Mmmmmmm they were good!

Jenn Grilling

Romy Relaxing Outside

Saturday, August 09, 2008

White Walls Are Blah

So I decided to make our white walls apartment look more colorful! I got an idea a couple of months ago to hang huge fabric panels to add color to the room. I originally wanted to use Marimekko fabric (from Finland), but in a recent trip to IKEA, I saw a few fabric patterns which I thought would match the living room furniture, and they were much much cheaper. First, I had to think up of a way to make a frame, so that I could put the fabric panels on them like a canvas picture. So we ended up going to Home Depot for some wood. I got 8 ft sections of pine, which were about 2X1 inches thick. Then, when we got home, I measured out a mathematical proportion to make four frames, all different sizes, which would hang side by side. Then it was back to IKEA to actually purchase a few patterns of fabric, and then it was back to home to begin constructing the frames.

I attached the wood pieces together with wood screws, but first, Romy drilled holes where the screws would go so that the thin wood wouldn't split. Some of the frames didn't turn out exactly square, but they were good enough. That in itself took a whole evening. The next day I cut the fabric and ironed it really well so that there would be no wrinkles when the fabric panels hung. Next I cut out 4 sections of fabric large enough to be wrapped around each frame and then I stapled the fabric to the back of the frame.

It was a lot harder than I thought. You had to stretch the fabric as you stapled it. And I didn't have a staple gun, so I hammered in each staple by hand! This took the whole morning with no power tools. Then, Romy helped me hang the panels up in the living room. I think the look great! I love the colors! It wasn't expensive at all. The wood was $0.89 each, and I used 6 pieces for the whole set of panels. The fabric was between $1.99 an $7.99/yard, and I used about 4 yards total for the set. Then you add in the price of some screws and staples, and the whole thing was under $30.

Here are pictures of the process:

Our Livingroom
The finished fabric panels hung up in our living room.

Choosing IKEA Fabric
First I tried to match the fabric with the colors already in the room.

Back of Fabric Panels
This is the back of the panels. You can see how I stretched the fabric over a wood frame and then stapled it in place.

Two Fabric Panels
This is the front of two panels. They look better from the front than the back!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Cali Plates and Driver's License

We finally got our California driver's licenses and plates for the Daewoo. We tried to get personalized plates, but the plate "WOOT," "THE WOO," and "WOO" were already taken! We could go online and order plates, so maybe we will pick something else. Personalized plates are really cheap here compared to Illinois. Plates here are only $30/year to renew if they are personalized, and $40 for new plates (first time original plate).

Yesterday we went to IKEA again, and got a dresser, but when we assembled it, it looked funny in our bedroom. There was another dresser we saw which we think will look better, so we're returning the dresser and exchanging it for the better looking one.

I'll post pictures of the apartment soon! We're almost done unpacking everything. Today we are going to our storage place and completely emptying it, and ending our lease at the public storage.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Today I Got a Free Sewing Machine! is so awesome! We've been browsing the items for sale/free on the site for the things we need. I wanted to make some curtains, but realized that I didn't have a sewing machine. I was so used to having one back at home, that it was almost suprising not to have one now. So I checked out for some sewing machines. I also checked out what Walmart had, and the cheapest one was about $80. So I thought that it would be reasonable to pay about $30 for a used one. When I was browsing, I came across a FREE sewing machine. Some lady in a rich area of Oakland was just trying to get rid of hers! So I e-mailed her last night and said I would like to take it if she still had it. So she told me she did still have it and that she would leave it in her driveway for me to pick it up today. I wasn't expecting much for "free." But when we went to pick it up, it looked good, and when I tested it out on a scrap piece of fabric, it sewed great! What a deal!

My Free Sewing Machine

I took a picture of it. I think its from the 80s or early 90s, but I'm not sure. While I was at it taking pictures, I took a few more. Here's a sneak peak of our apartment. I don't want to take too many pictures right now because we still have boxes all over, and its really messy.

Our Kitchen w/ Washer & Dryer

Above is a picture of our kitchen, with the washer and dryer installed. The kitchen hasn't really been remodeled since the 50s or 60s. It has a deep ceramic double sink, with blue and white tile countertop. The stove is gigantic (which you can't see in this picture) and is also from the 60s. I thought I wouldn't like it at first, but it is great to cook on! Its very simple and it has style. All the cabinets are built in, and there are all kinds of secret storage places.

Freshly Picked Lemons

Outside of the kitchen is a lemon tree (which is actually in the neighbor's yard), and lemons hang into our backyard. I've been wanting to pick some lemons, since they look ripe, so today I finally did. Here's a picture of two that I picked. I cut them open to see if they were good, and they were! Its kind of exciting to pick lemons. The good ones are at the top of the tree, so you have to climb high.

Monday, August 04, 2008

PG&E Came, Plus We Got a Washer & Dryer

Today was a hectic day! Last week on Friday, we called PG&E (pacific gas & electric) so that we could turn on our natural gas and electricity to the apartment. They said they were all booked until next Thursday, but when we told them we were living the apartment already, the guy said he would over-ride our request and we should get our service restored sometime on Monday (today). Happily, the technician came around noon. It was an Asian woman, but she was dressed in manly clothes, drove a mean looking pick up truck, and she had a real short haircut. Now I don't want to sound rude, but I thought it was a man with a high voice. It wasn't until 30 minutes into it that I realized 'he' was a 'she' because of her name tag. Woah! She was an appliance wiz! She turned on our electricity and gas, checked all the appliances, lit all of our pilot lights, and was in general really knowledgeable.

Before the PG&E lady came, Romy went to go pick up our 'new to us' stackable washer and dryer which we found on craigslist for $500. They retail new for about $1200. We got about a one and a half year old used Fridgidair set, front loading, from a couple who had to get rid of them because they were moving to Texas. We did two loads of laundry after our gas and electricity was turned on, and they work great! No more trips to the laundromat! Yay!

Then, we found another craigslist gem, a patio table and two patio chairs for $15. All we have to do is get an umbrella, and some nice cushions for the chairs. All we need now is a weber grill. Sad story, there was a free one on craigslist but when I called, it was already taken. Boo Erns!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Pictures From Mt. Whitney

Okay, so I'm finally posting some pictures from our Mt. Whitney trip. Here they are!

Sierra Sunset
Sunset over the Sierra Nevadas

Sierra View
A view of the Sierra Nevadas from the Inyo Mountains. This picture was taken at about 9,000 ft.

Romy & Jenn Under Mt. Whitney
Romy and Jenn the day before the big hike. Mt. Whitney is in the background. It's the peak right above Jenn's head. It looks smaller than the peaks in the foreground.

Sunrise View
We saw a beautiful sunrise as we were hiking up the mountain side. The sun rose from behind the Inyo Mountains and Death Valley.

Mt. Whitney and Peaks
Mt. Whitney is the large peak in the middle of the picture.

View From the Hike Up
A view of Lower Boyscout Lake from above.

A Foggy Valley
A foggy valley below us. Jenn and Courtney take a break from hiking.

Romy Ready to Hike More
Romy is ready to hike on. The stream flowed down these granite slabs, which we hiked up during part of the route.

Jenn & Courtney Taking a Break
Jenn and Courtney taking a break from the strenuous hike uphill! What a nice stream to rest by.

View From Mt. Whitney
The view coming down. You can kinda see how steep the trail was from the angle that the picture is taken.

View from Mt. Whitney
Coming down the mountain, with Lower Boyscout Lake below.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Our New Address Is . . .

We finally got a new address in California! Yay!

We live in Oakland, near the Dimond District, but up in the hills (not too high up, but high enough to have a bay view) on Delmer St and Lincoln Ave. Well, I wouldn't say bay view, more like a bay 'peek.' We can see half of down-town San Fran across the bay, and the bay bridge when it is lit up at night. We can see the fog over the mountains on the southwest bay in the morning. Sometimes it swallows them up whole, other times the fog just hovers.

We live in a side-by-side duplex. We have our own backyard, and our own one-car garage (more like a shack which will just about fit the Daewoo), and our own mini-driveway where we park the Bus. The neighbor is a United Airlines employee, and supposedly is not home for months at a time. We didn't see him yet. Nor has the landlord, which has owned the building for about 7 months now. He's a new landlord, and he's nice and laid back. He owns his own flower shop and is usually very busy. We have another neighbor which has a huge lemon tree which hangs into our yard. I guess we are entitled to as many lemons that end up in our yard. Mmmmmmm I think I will make some lemonade, or something. We also have a GIANT mormon temple up on the hill. At night it is lit up in white and gold and looms over our dining room window! Its so ironic. Sometimes I can't tell if we went to school in Utah or in California! Hahahaha!

For now, we are stealing internet from our neighbor. Tomorrow we will call Comcast or AT&T to set up internt service. We have no electricity or gas until Monday, when the Pacific Gas & Electric Company comes and turns it back on for us. For now, the cold water is not actually that cold, so we can shower. And we use little tea light candles at night for light.

Almost everything is out of the storage space in San Leandro. We've already made two trips to IKEA to get stuff. We got a bed frame with storage drawers underneath. We also got a new louge chair. Well, we're gonna post pics of our new apartment after all our stuff is packed out and I'm finished re-decorating!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Mt. Whitney Adventure & Oakland Apartment

Okay, so we're finally back from our almost week-long trip to the Sierra Nevadas. We met Courtney out in Lone Pine, CA, which is the town right next to Mt. Whitney. We picked up our permits at the Sierra Interagency Visitor Center on Tuesday morning, and I talked with the ranger there for a while about the mountaineering route up to the summit. He said it was tough, and that it wasn't a "trail," it was a "route." There was no marked trail, you just hiked and climbed from cairn to cairn, or if you didn't see one ahead of you, you looked for a worn out pathway up the mountain.

We would need to start hiking before dawn, he said. He suggested leaving at 3 or 4 am, and that we would need to hike the first part of the trail while it was light out, the day before, to familiarize ourselves with it. So we hiked up the route for about an hour. We figured we'd leave at 4am, and it would be dark until 5am, so we'd be hiking the first hour of the trail in darkness with only our flashlights.

The next morning, the day of the climb, we woke up at 3:15am, and it took us a while (1 hour) to get out of the campground! We were soooo sluggish and tired, but we made it out to the trailhead at 4:45am and started our hike with flashlights in hand, under the bright stars and the Milky Way. There was even a huge bright planet shining overhead and the new moon was rising from the east. We hiked up and up and up until the beautiful sunrise lit up our 'path'.

The next part of the trail required some 4th class climbing, and traversing some ledges. We hiked up a cascading creek until we came up to a rock wall which we had to climb. It had some ledges which you zigzagged up. The ledges were maybe one foot wide, with a sheer drop on one side and a tall rock face which you hugged and grabbed for your life while traversing. "Don't look down!"

After the ledges, it was quite a relief. There was more steep hiking up broken rock until we got to the first lake, Lower Boyscout Lake, about 2.5 miles from the trailhead and about 10,000ft. We paused for a group photo, and then moved on. The next part of the trail was hiking up huge granite slabs. We followed the creek, which was cascading down the slabs. It looked like a giant slip-n-slide! We thought it might be fun to slide down the whole mountain. Hahahaha! At this point we started feeling the altitude. We were breathing like fat guys, and our heart rates were sustained at 160bpm or more while hiking. They were even elevated just sitting and doing nothing. It started getting uncomfortable, and we started taking more and more breaks. The slabs were sometimes at 45 degree angles, and we were taking baby steps up.

After the slabs, it was more hiking up broken rock and scree until we got to Upper Boyscout Lake. We didn't stop at the lake, but we went just past it as we got closer to the foot of Mt. Whitney. The peak is one of a series of peaks which looks like huge granite outcroppings from a larger ridge. There was one more lake to hike up to, Iceberg Lake, before the summit scramble. To get there, you had to hike up and over a moraine. Snow was more common to see up here. There was no more plant life, only eroded rock, scree and sky. The altitude was starting to get to Courtney and I. At about 11,000 ft, Courtney said she got a huge headache, and began to feel like throwing up. I was feeling lightheaded, but we kept going up. We finally reached Iceberg Lake, at about 13,000ft at 11:00am. At that point, Courtney and I were ready to puke our brains out, and sick! We weren't physically tired, our legs were okay, but we were so overtaken by feeling sick from the altitude that we just couldn't move without a lot of discomfort (thats putting it mildly). Romy was set to go for the summit.

When you looked at the summit, it was about 1,500ft of 45 degree steep scrambling and 3rd class climbing up. There was also still snow on the chute which you had to climb up, which meant skirting around it somehow. The ranger said the day before that if there was still snow on the route, you would have to do some more technical climbing to get around it. We were gonna go climb up there to check it out, but the longer I sat at Iceberg Lake just looking at the summit climb, the more uneasy I felt about it. It looked as though if you made one slip, you'd tumble all the way back down to the lake. Romy was all set to go, but Courtney and I were soooo out of it! Eventually we decided that it might be too much for us in our condition, since we were dizzy and lightheaded. We decided to take our last pictures at 13,000ft, and start to go down. After descending only about 500-1000ft, we instantly felt better.

The views we had were amazing. Even though we stopped 1,500ft short of the summit, we could see a lot of the peaks around us and the valley below, and all the way across the Alabama Hills to the Inyo Mountains by Death Valley. The weather was beautiful! Clear skies, and the temp was in the 60s with no strong winds, just light breezes (what a relief compared to the gale force winds in Patagonia). I will post pictures later.

We made it down around 4:00pm. We spend about 12 hours on the mountain and we were exhuasted! What a great feeling it was to take off our boots and sit down! Then we all took showers, which we refreshing. All three of us went to town and ate dinner at the Mt. Whitney Restaurant. We were starving! Real food tasted good.

The next day, Thursday, we started driving back to the Bay Area. It took 6 hours to get back. We met with our new landlord, Mike, that evening to sign the lease for our new apartment! How exciting! So now we live in Oakland, 2402 Delmer St. It is about 7 miles from campus. This morning, at 8:00am, it only took 15 minutes to drive to school. Last night, we went to our public storage place to get a few things, like our couch. We have no electricity yet, so we had to put our couch together with a flashlight since it was night. We taped a flashlight to the ceiling fan. It worked!