Sunday, August 27, 2017

Solar Eclipse Trip

We were lucky enough to have to go see the total solar eclipse for work, as part of supporting the school trip down there. Was a pretty nice single long day trip. Our pictures on Flickr.

Given the anticipated traffic and the distance to the Roper Mountain Science Center in South Carolina, where we were going for the day of the eclipse, the bus chartered by the school left at 3:30AM sharp even though the eclipse itself wouldn't occur until mid-afternoon. Traffic wasn't as bad as anticipated, however, so we arrived mid-morning and had a few hours to see what the science center had to offer. They apparently wanted a bus to block traffic in a certain spot so we parked at the absolute front of the parking lot, which was nice.



The Science Center turned out to be pretty big, with numerous large buildings spread over the mountain and surrounding fields. We first went to the Planetarium, which was showing a movie about eclipses in general and this one in particular, and it was kind of funny because it had clearly been made some time ago to hype this particular eclipse.

After that we went to go peer through their rather large telescope at the sun (through a filter).


Despite the large telescope, it was hard to make out much detail - could see a sunspot or two but the view was not that impressive overall (I guess the 93 million intervening miles were not entirely cancelled out by the telescope). Among the many exhibits and activities, we also went to a lecture from a NASA researcher on eclipses and the solar corona, their butterfly garden (well I think they had about three of these, we went to several), and the stingray petting zoo. We didn't have time to see everything and there were attractions for all ages set up across the campus.



Felt like Jell-o to me.

We needed something to eat, and because the Science Center had both limited admission and solid planning there were several food trucks with lines that were long but not complete murder. We had four kinds of tacos from two different trucks, encompassing beef, pork, chicken, and shrimp - nothing life changing but eating tacos outdoors for a work trip works for us.

Shrimp tacos

Due to the aforementioned planning by the Science Center there was plenty of room to spread out blankets and so on in fields for eclipse viewing as time got close. We didn't have to fight for space in a grassy area - plenty to go around.


Requisite eclipse glasses selfie

As advertised, it did get quite dark and the temperature dropped a lot - which was lovely as it was fairly hot out.

Our camera is not the best at eclipses, even total eclipses, which this was taken during. Eyes worked a lot better and it was pretty otherworldly.

We did observe the crescent-shaped shadows between leaves characteristic of eclipses - sometimes you'd look at them and assume the leaves were curved like that and then look up and nope, not even close - feature of the light from the sun itself.

We didn't hang around long after the eclipse, anticipating bad traffic getting back out, which we definitely did find. However, it wasn't as bad as we'd originally predicted, since we got back at 11PM instead of midnight, which was the predicted return time. Very happy the bus driver was the one driving so we could sleep in the seats. Great day trip, glad we got to do it.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Florida Conference Trip

We had a conference to present at in Daytona Beach, Florida late this summer and had a little time around the edges of it for tourism and recreation. We didn't pick it for the location but it didn't hurt any! Pictures on Flickr as usual.

We flew down from Raleigh, almost got some airline vouchers after volunteering to get bumped to a flight all of three hours later, but they went back and forth on whether they needed us about three times and we ended up on the flight anyway. We drove from Orlando instead of Daytona because it was faster, cheaper, and resulted in us having a rental car. When we booked, we didn't know the exact time of the conference start so we flew in on Saturday, and after times were posted it turned out we had most of Sunday for tourism so that was a nice discovery.



It sure seemed like the conference hotel was one of the ritzier ones, as it was both on the actual beach of Daytona (though our room didn't face that way) and was quite nice inside. The restaurant in it was also very good and we ate there several times very enjoyably. Our view looked back at the water between the Daytona shores barrier island (where the hotel was) and the mainland.



With the mostly-free Sunday we obviously went to Kennedy Space Center, which was about an hour from the hotel and also a place where I (Lee) had not previously been, though Ana had once or twice.



We signed up for the early spaceflight special tour, so we got to tour the blockhouse that launched Alan Shepard into space and saw some seriously old-school technology, which for engineers was awesome in a few different ways.

This scale reported the weight of the rocket as they topped off the cryogenic fuel and oxidizer so they knew if they needed to add more (manually) - gloriously analogue technique, that.

The Air Force missile museum down there has one of two remaining V2 engines in the world - I honestly didn't know any remained in existence. Very pleased to see such a historically notable engine in person. Compared to the replica of Goddard's liquid fueled engine nearby it seemed like a lot more time had elapsed between them than actually did. 


This one is a replica of the one that shot Alan Shepard into space - they had a spare real one (original would not have survived use) but it blew over in a hurricane a couple years back.

Also had a whole spare Saturn V, and a building big enough to keep it in.

Touched a moon rock - that's not something you do every day.

Looking at the Saturn V from the front.


Not a huge Shuttle fan since I consider it an enormously compromised and over-complicated system, but I'd not seen a real one in person before (had seen the mock-up, Enterprise) and the real ones definitely have more gravitas. The museum around is was pretty amazing and I wish we'd have had more time to explore every little thing instead of heading back for the conference - but we were actually supposed to be there for the conference itself, so that took priority.

For the conference (the First Year Engineering Experience), we weren't presenting until the second full day, so we enjoyed the presentations and workshops until then. We had previously met a large percentage of the attendees at other events or at Purdue so it was nice to run into people. The presentation we were doing together; we generally try to work on different projects and had never written a paper together before, but this particular piece of research crossed both of our main areas and it only made sense to team up. The presentation went fine and got mentioned at the final wrap-up of the conference, so that was nice.



After the conference we went to a restaurant that was on a pier over the water - you expect that kind of place to be all view and no taste but it was pretty decent and not too expensive and it is hard to argue with the view from the table. While we were there a storm came through north of Daytona and there was lightning over the water as it got dark, which was fairly dramatic, but it didn't rain onto us.


Table view, blocked by two strange people.



One neat thing the hotel did was give each room a s'mores kit that could be used over the nightly fires out back in front of the ocean - was a nice touch and we enjoyed that and the hot tub nearby.



Last morning down there we got up to see the sunrise with our toes in the surf - nice end to the time in Florida. Apparently we were at the very end of the busy season because the beach was pretty empty the whole time we were there.


Photographic evidence of the surf-toes.



On the way out before our flight from Orlando we got a mediocre lunch at Disney Springs, which is kind of like a mall with a bit more dressing on it - just so that Ana couldn't say she'd been to Florida and not done a Disney thing. She located a quotation with high applicability to our work in the coming academic year. Time to hit the ground running!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Wilmington NC Trip

Another short summer trip, another quick post. A few pictures are on Flickr.

We went down to Wilmington NC, on the coast, for a weekend break. The town is definitely a tourist destination but it also seems pretty classy - at least the older part of town by the river, we didn't go down to the beach. The main attractions were seafood and the museum battleship USS North Carolina. We drove in on Friday night and went to an oyster bar and got some oysters and a steamed sampler of everything else, which was delicious.

Saturday morning we headed to the ship. Those who may have previously complained about us visiting other major works of engineering will note that this one is fully set up as a museum and the exhibits are even in English. We showed up early but missed the tour lead by a human being because the group in front of us took the last spot. However, that turned out to be OK - they have an app for phones that gives the tour when walking around - it was a little shaky but it allowed a tour at completely our own speed and we spent about 3.5 hours touring the ship, a non-zero portion of which was assessing how various things had been manufactured because we are professional engineers and also nerds. A much higher percentage of the ship was accessible for touring (and some things even were functional and allowed messing with) than we'd expected and that was great.


Lousy picture of us on the deck. 


The main gun turret periscopes seemed to be fully functional - drawing light in a binocular fashion from lenses about 40 feet apart (one on each side of the turret) and still very clear more than 70 years later with all controls working. 


Despite having several hundred tourists on board, the ship was built for more than 2,000 people to live there. With most of it open for touring, waiting a minute or two would generally get you a space to yourself. We had the bridge of the ship to ourselves for several minutes to spin the wheel and sit in the captain's chair without being judged by five-year-old children waiting to do the same thing. Ana also enjoyed the buttons that made authentically obnoxious noises play over the bridge speakers.

Later on Ana found a kitchen mixer of a size that met her approval. I think it said they made 700 loaves of bread a day on board so they needed some scale.

We both geeked out on the machine shop - the available tooling was very impressive, and of course all of this stuff was made by hand and controlled by hand. Probably represented pretty close to the state of the art at the time and the quality (and scale, power, etc.) is still strong by today's standards.

After touring all morning and into the afternoon, we had a pretty nice seafood lunch followed by a nap followed by a pretty fancy seafood dinner that wasn't even outrageously priced.

We ended up both wanting two of the specials so we got them both, ate half each, and switched. Scallops and lobster both delicious. Sunday it was raining and we didn't feel like messing around, so we just headed home and got some stuff done so we didn't start the week completely behind.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

West Virginia Hiking Trip

Quick entry for a quick trip - we've been quite busy with finally completing the move to North Carolina (house in IN is sold and Ana lives here in NC now, finally) and the whole starting a new school of engineering thing, but we found time for a quick overnight hike in West Virginia on the way to a workshop and conference in Ohio. Pictures on Flickr.

We specifically wanted West Virginia because it is home to the darkest skies east of the Mississippi, which is supposed to result in excellent stargazing. We were interested in seeing what the skies looked like with as little light pollution as possible and also getting some hiking in. We found a trail with an easy two-day length (16.5 mi) near Spruce Knob, the center of the dark sky zone. We did some driving and stayed in a hotel the night before the hike so we were sure not to have any difficulty doing the miles we needed to get to the desired campsite.


Arriving at Spruce Knob, it sure looked like the weather reports had been fibbing and we were walking into a storm of some sort, with dark and fast-moving clouds all around. We hung around a little to see if it was just about to start but nothing changed so we set off anyway.


Fears of a storm blew over quickly as the sun came out and we made good time into the backcountry. The trails and campsites showed remarkably little use with lots of grass and plants growing on both - one of the highest beauty / use ratios for all the places we've hiked. Some mud was present from rain in previous days but overall it was fine. Most of the trails had tree coverage but there were also some open sunny meadows which were very scenic.


We were aiming for one of the campsites along the creek at the bottom of the valley, which were supposed to be pretty nice.  The whole area was pretty nice actually. Saw our first other person on a hike right at the end, where he was fly fishing for trout in the creek.  He reported they were going after the lure but he wasn't any good at hooking or netting them. We saw many fish, so I think he was getting plenty of practice. 


The trail crossed the stream several times, which was nice on feet at the end of a day of hiking. Ana found a designated campsite that had seen so little use that the tent site was covered in fluffy grass, which was pretty amazing. It also had great trees for convenient bag-hanging, easy access to water, stone chairs to sit in and more flat stones for food prep. 10/10

Picture from the next morning 

We went to sleep fairly early but set an alarm for later at night to look at the sky. When the alarm went off the skies were clear and we could get a good look - but I have to report that it was not notably more spectacular than looking skyward from home on a mountain in New Hampshire. We'll have to step it up to the darkest place in the continental US in Texas at some point, or do something really spectacular like Gates of the Arctic I guess.


We took it easy getting up and going in the morning since our mileage target was very achievable and we were not under any time pressure. I picked up a really disgusting heavy bag of trash in another meadow that had obviously been left by one of the university groups that had also camped in the area - I usually wouldn't want to cart something that heavy out, at least not if 'out' was far off but with only 6 miles or so to go I sucked it up. At the last stream crossing (the only one with a bridge) we ran into an older couple who asked us how we could possibly fit everything we needed into such small and light packs so we stopped and had a substantial conversation about the costs and benefits of our equipment choices and recommended a few websites for them to peruse later.

We posed with the sign after hiking back up the mountain. The view from the tower was also very nice and the weather while breezy was pleasant.


On our way out, we stopped at a family diner at the base of the mountain (Gateway Diner, if you're in the area) where Ana ordered the fried local trout (apparently didn't get enough in Japan). Trout can be hit or miss, especially at a diner, but apparently the mountains of West Virginia is the place. Very fresh and crispy and overall worth mentioning. Darn cheap, too. We drove up north for a while through some very pretty country before finding a hotel in Morgantown for the night.

We had the whole next day to get to our hotel in Columbus and the drive wasn't that long, so we had a huge leisurely breakfast then stopped at a local winery / distillery named Forks of Cheat (which is apparently the local river or something) near Morgantown on the way. I had kind of expected it to be new and cheesy but they've been there for quite a while and had some impressive products, which, since we weren't flying, we could purchase in some quantity and drive home ourselves. 


From there we continued on to Columbus where we were staying at a pretty fancy hotel downtown that was attached to the convention center hosting the workshop and conference. We had the evening free before the 8 am workshop start so we found a combination bar/movie theater (Studio 35) showing Wonder Woman. It was outstanding. We'd tried to see the movie the previous week and found only sold-out shows locally, even on the third weekend of release and hours before showtime. Seeing it with a not-notably-overpriced pizza and beer with only adults in the movie theater was great - hope more theaters like this open near us. 


After that we had two days of workshop and two days of professional conference. We've been in the field long enough that we know a lot of people and constantly run into them at events like these, which made it probably the most fun conference of this type we've been to yet. The workshop was the Advanced tier of the National Effective Teaching Institute, which focused on best practices and implementation strategies for a lot of the techniques we use already, but there were some interesting twists and sound advice to take things further. The conference was the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition and that was a nice mix of catching up with colleagues, a bit of networking, seeing research presentations, and making research presentations. It also turned out that the food in downtown Columbus is pretty amazing in some cases - we recommend Wolf's Ridge Brewing, which we thought was a standard gastro-pub but was considerably higher quality than that, pushing potentially into our top ten dinners out of all time though we only split some appetizers and a dessert.

Left to right: chive gnocchi (the best $10 I've spent in years), steak tartare, and scallops crudo. I think the scallops were the most impressive - multiple flavors and textures melted together in the mouth. Bonus: work paid for the food (but definitely not the booze)!

Back in NC now teaching a summer class. Living the dream!

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Drs. Rynearson

Our lives seem to be in approximately 4-year chunks. Undergrad was five years, Japan was 3.5, and then came grad school.

Four years ago, we moved to West Lafayette, Indiana, and started working at Purdue. The first semester was rough, with a lot of reading, a lot of working, and undiagnosed Lyme disease. We chose research areas, applied for major grants, and Lee received an Honorable Mention from the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program. 


By the end of the first year, both our advisers left for another university. Our work responsibilities evolved, our intended research focuses changed, and the reading load stayed high. While it wasn't our plan, we wound up with the same adviser. Lee earned all possible graduate student teaching awards while at Purdue, and even had almost 30 of his first-year undergraduate students attend his doctoral defense, a first in our program. Ana won a dissertation fellowship and the departmental service award for her work.


We eventually zeroed in on PhD topic areas. Ana had some problems getting research subjects, and wound up restarting her dissertation in March 2016, when intending to graduate in May 2016 (or at least by August). She managed to get it done, but it was rough. Meanwhile, Lee was already working in a new job, trying to finish his dissertation while setting up a new engineering undergraduate program halfway across the country.


So what exactly did we do for four years? If you're not sure what getting a PhD means, take a look at the Illustrated Guide to a PhD. Lee studied how to help student groups in first-year engineering courses work better, and Ana followed seven elementary school students through three years of learning about engineering and technology to see how they learned. Combined, our PhDs are over 500 pages of work.


Wine and humor got us through our PhD years - we enjoyed classics like Grad Student Deconstructs Take-Out Menu, What Should We Call Grad School, and finally made it through the Snake Fight. We both defeated the snake.


After all, the best dissertation defense is a good offense.



Along with grad school came home ownership, pet ownership, and Midwest living. We're keeping the cats, but we'll be renting for now and moving back east, though more south than we've been before.


Here's to the next four years!