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So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

The Profile

Age. 34
Gender. Female
Ethnicity. that of my father and his father before him
Location Altadena, CA
School. Other
» More info.
The World

The Link To Zanzibar's Past
This is my page in the beloved art community that my sister got me into:


Extra points for people who know what Samarinda is.
The Phases of the Moon Module
Croc Hunter/Combat Wombat
My hero(s)
Only My Favorite Baseball Player EVER

Aw, Larry Walker, how I loved thee.
The Schedule
M: Science and Exploration
T: Cook a nice dinner
Th: Parties, movies, dinners
F: Picnics, the Louvre
S: Read books, go for walks, PARKOUR
Su: Philosophy, Religion
The Reading List
This list starts Summer 2006
A Crocodile on the Sandbank
Looking Backwards
Wild Swans
Tales of the Alhambra (in progress)
Dark Lord of Derkholm
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
The Lost Years of Merlin
Harry Potter a l'ecole des sorciers (in progress)
Atlas Shrugged (in progress)
A Long Way Gone (story of a boy soldier in Sierra Leone- met the author! w00t!)
The Eye of the World: Book One of the Wheel of Time
From Magma to Tephra (in progress)
Lady Chatterley's Lover
Harry Potter 7
The No. 1 Lady's Detective Agency
Introduction to Planetary Volcanism
A Child Called "It"
Is Multi-Culturalism Bad for Women?
Americans in Southeast Asia: Roots of Commitment (in progress)
What's So Great About Christianity?
Aeolian Geomorphology
Aeolian Dust and Dust Deposits
The City of Ember
The People of Sparks
Cube Route
When I was in Cuba, I was a German Shepard
The Golden Compass
Clan of the Cave Bear
The 9/11 Commission Report (2nd time through, graphic novel format this time, ip)
The Incredible Shrinking Man
New Moon
Breaking Dawn
Armageddon's Children
The Elves of Cintra
The Gypsy Morph
Animorphs #23: The Pretender
Animorphs #25: The Extreme
Animorphs #26: The Attack
Crucial Conversations
A Journey to the Center of the Earth
A Great and Terrible Beauty
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Dandelion Wine
To Sir, With Love
London Calling
Watership Down
The Invisible
Alice in Wonderland
Through the Looking Glass
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
The Host
The Hunger Games
Catching Fire
Shadows and Strongholds
The Jungle Book
Beatrice and Virgil
The Help
Zion Andrews
The Unit
Quantum Brain
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
No One Ever Told Us We Were Defeated
Memento Nora
The Name of the Wind
The Terror
Tao Te Ching
What Paul Meant
Lao Tzu and Taoism
Libyan Sands
Sand and Sandstones
Lost Christianites: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew
The Science of God
Calculating God
Great Contemporaries, by Winston Churchill
City of Bones
Around the World in 80 Days, by Jules Verne
Stranger in a Strange Land
The Old Man and the Sea
Flowers for Algernon
Au Bonheur des Ogres
The Martian
The Road to Serfdom
De La Terre à la Lune (ip)
In the Light of What We Know
Devil in the White City
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
Red Mars
How to Be a Good Wife
A Mote in God's Eye

want to read: Last Hunger Games Book, Honeybee Democracy, The Bell Jar
The Juanes Module

Juanes just needed his own mod. Who can disagree.
Life in General
Saturday. 1.28.12 4:35 am
Long General Update:

Sharkboy is BACK! I drunk-dialed him last night, intending to leave a silly message on his voice-mail, but I got the real thing! Then it was awkward because he was really sober and hanging out with his parents. Haha. But we talked for a good while and it was great to hear about his trip.

Wine is horrible. I like how everyone always says, "Oh, this wine is so smooth, it goes down really easily." By this you mean that the wine that you usually drink goes down like burning gasoline and you are surprised and delighted when you taste a wine that you are physically capable of swallowing. But I'm in France, and drinking gasoline is part of the territory. Luckily a "delicious", "smooth" wine in France is like 80% of the cost of a comparable wine back home, so my strategy of poisoning myself to gain the social acceptance of my peer group isn't too hard on my pocketbook.

Last night I went out with some random french people including my co-worker and his girlfriend. I meet up with his girlfriend every Friday at a cafe. We drink hot chocolate or soda and practice speaking in English and French. She's actually really cool and I like her a lot. She was apparently talking to a friend of hers in Japan who said that she's having lots of fun because even though she's alone people invite her out practically every night. My friend was inspired by the story to invite me out with them because I was similarly alone in a big foreign city. Aw.

We went to a little bistro and drank red wine and ate an assortment of cheese and a charcuterie plate (assorted meats). They said that you really couldn't get much more french than that and that I should take a picture. I didn't, because I'm too cool and they were joking, but I wanted to.

Last week I had an "American" dinner for my friends. My new canadian best friend and I went to the American grocery store and bought a bunch of delicious items and then fixed them up for our friends. We wanted to serve things that were very American and that our friends hadn't heard of before. We ended up having Jell-O shots as an aperitif (served in champagne flutes, how classy!) We passed around a root beer so that everyone could try it, and to my great surprise not everyone hated it! For appetizers we had potato chips and sour-cream and onion dip, Nacho cheese Doritos, and little peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that I cut into fours and garnished with toothpicks. Everyone was sidetracked for a while admiring the jelly container, which was a squeezable type with one of those lids that dispenses jelly in a flat sheet so that you don't need a knife. I was so proud of the technical accomplishments of my fellow countrymen. For dinner we served a chicken and stuffing casserole made with cream of mushroom soup and another strange casserole with three layers: cranberry sauce, bacon, and mac n' cheese. The canadian said that she'd had it once at a restaurant outside of Boston, and while it wasn't strictly traditional American, it combined three things that were traditionally American, and it tasted fucking DELICIOUS. Holy shit it was so delicious.

After our guests had decimated all of these things, the Eiffel Tower started sparkling, and I told everyone that they should come and take a look. Everyone started moving from around the table, when suddenly my friend bumped the table and the entire thing collapsed. Considering that my tabletop is a giant slab of incredibly heavy wood, the collapse was catastrophic, breaking nearly all of my dishes and glasses and spraying onion dip, Doritos, and red wine all over the room. We were lucky that most of the guests had gone to look at the Eiffel Tower, or there could have been some serious injuries. Luckily we were finished eating, and the dessert was on the counter in the other room. For dessert we had cupcakes and a big cake with funfetti icing. The theme of the evening was "dinner from a box", so naturally we made nothing from scratch. Someone else brought Chips Ahoy, and the europeans brought macaroons and champagne and wine, so our dessert was a mix. Everyone was enchanted by the funfetti icing, and even though they all laughed and said they were full when I cut the cake after the cupcakes, they all ended up taking an extra piece anyway. The best part of the cake was that they only ate a third of it, so over this last week I have been pretty much eating the rest. We had a German, an Italian, an Ecuadorian, a Frenchwoman, a girl from La Réunion (french overseas territory in the Indian Ocean near Africa), a Canadian, and an American (me).

Work is going ok. We are working on an important project, and the only outstanding part is my part. This is naturally stressful, since I am new to this field and not well-equipped to solve any of the many problems that I encounter. I was really starting to feel like a huge idiot, but my director came in and sat down and explained a lot of things to me, which helped a lot. Now instead of watching random numbers go by on the screen I feel like I can watch numbers and see the atmosphere breathing. That's pretty cool. Still, everything I try to fix the problem doesn't work, and it gets me down. It always seems like the other post-docs are progressing at a faster rate than I am. I also occasionally see the whole group having a meeting that I wasn't invited to. They have been testing out Python as a potential better programming language and I'm the only post-doc that wasn't asked to participate even though I've actually taken an entire class in Python programming.

At the end of my PhD I really had everything together, and I was at the top of my game. Now it's like I'm a freshman again and I know nothing. I know that it's better that way because I'm learning, but it's tough.
It's nice to be able to balance challenges areas with comfort areas. Right now I feel like I am living my entire life in a challenge area, where I'm an idiot at work because I'm not an atmospheric scientist, and I'm an idiot in every other arena of life because I'm a foreigner. [If you are ever feeling stressed about dealing with repairmen or cable companies or the government, stop and thank your lucky stars that you at least get to speak in your own language!]

For this reason it was nice to talk to my coworker, who while French, is also from outside the field. We finally talked about how frustrating it is to work with our current model and how we're making hardly any progress. He told me that he's always having to tell our director, "Everything you just explained actually means nothing to me," and the director has to start all over again. I had an idea to make the model more idiot-proof and I proposed it to the group but nobody ever got back to me. My coworker told me that he thought it was actually a really great idea. Thank you! I also talked to my director and we determined that the problem that I'm having is actually really complicated, instead of just something stupid. That's bad news for the model, but at least it makes me feel better for not being able to figure it out.

I went for a free tour of the Louvre, and I was the only one that showed up, so I got a private free tour. The lady was really nice and she said she didn't speak English that well so I said that she could give the tour in French. She asked where I was from and I said "the USA," and then she said, "Oh, well then I guess I should give the tour in English." I said that it was really ok so she gave the tour in french. She spoke slowly and I already knew a lot about greek mythology and european history, so she was easy to follow.

Hmm... what else? Ah yes, there is a giant mystery novel unfolding in the hallway of my apartment building, but that is complicated so I will leave it to another entry.

Someone I know on Facebook posted this photo:

And for some reason it made me soOOooo homesick for the USA. Nothing better than a little American BBQ with babies. =)

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Captain's Log
Wednesday. 1.25.12 6:24 pm
Captain's log, stardate 41147.3. It has been at least a million days since Sharkboy left for Patagonia. The crew maintains that our sense of time has been distorted by the massive black hole that has been left in his absence.

Since his departure we have been drifting aimlessly in space. Just kidding, we have been dining out with friends, learning parkour, and getting free private tours of the Louvre. We have also been eating delicious cake. But it still feels like drifting aimlessly in space, especially because we forgot when he is supposed to come back. He did promise to catch a fish in the captain's honor.

France, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Zanzibar. Its 2-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

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Feats of Courage
Saturday. 1.21.12 5:17 pm
It is said that life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage (Anaïs Nin). [I had a friend who was so afraid of driving on highways that she never went to Target in Providence. Every time she talked about it, I would say something helpful like: "Are you going to live your life SHACKLED BY FEAR?"]

For this reason, I have been working on my courage through Random Acts of Bravery (RAB?)

Today was a big one.

Paris is the birthplace of the amazing Art du Déplacement, or "parkour". For the uninitiated:

As I have wanted to do this since I was able to walk on two feet, I was incredibly excited to find out about GravityStyle, a group that teaches the fundamentals of parkour in a not-so-jumping-off-high buildings kind of way. I was a little worried about going because:

1. The gym is located in a random place in the burbs.
2. It is run by the very gods of Parkour themselves.
3. Everyone speaks french. [This was actually the biggest fear.]
4. I haven't really been in shape since.... um... the fall of 2010? [The PhD thesis will do that to you.]
5. I'm old now. My bones don't heal as quickly. Don't laugh, in a few years all of you will be old, too. Lookin' at you, didi. Just kidding, I was looking at you, Middaymoon.
6. My friend said that she might come with me, but I couldn't get a hold of her.

Anyway, I thought of a half a dozen reasons that I shouldn't go today. But for the sake of bravery and for the sake of expanding my life here in Paris, I took the plunge.

And parkour, ladies and gentlemen, is AWESOME. Not only did the instructor look exactly like Shia Laboeuf, but he was very welcoming and great at teaching. There was only one other girl in the class, and almost everyone there was at least ten years younger than I was, but that meant that I was more coordinated than they were, and that I didn't have to worry about "fitting in", because I was essentially in a gym full of hyperactive adolescent boys. One of them even spoke English and took it upon himself to explain things he thought I wouldn't understand and to walk me from the first training session to the second even though he had a bike.

I think he was surprised when I let on that I was a Mars researcher....

There was also an "army" type guy with a buzz cut and army boots who also seemed new like me. He seemed about my age and he was clearly in great shape, but stumbled and tripped like everyone else who was new. I was aided by the fact that one of the fundamental moves of parkour is a front roll that you do to avoid breaking yourself when you fall, and I had already learned that move ten years ago in Tae Kwon Do. I have also spent my whole life practicing jumping over fences and balancing on railings, which gave me an agility +10.

The thing that sucks about going to the gym is how pointless it is. Sure, there have been plenty of times that I've gone to the gym regularly. I lifted lots of weights, I ran around the track a bunch, I did lunges and felt sore, but the big question always in my head was WHY? As soon as I stopped working out, my endurance would leave me and my body would go back to the way it was. I wasn't really learning anything. When I ran track, I lifted and ran because I wanted to WIN on Saturday. When I played sports, I wanted to run people down and steal the ball from them, and I wanted to play the whole game and never have to come out. When there was no more goal I had no more ambition. "Looking good" or "being healthy" are just not concrete or immediate enough to motivate me. {Being a badass like The-Muffin-Man was much more motivating.}

Parkour is all about gaining mastery over both your body and your environment. The better you become at parkour, the better you're able to judge distances, the better you know the limitations of your strength, the better you are able to move fluidly through your environment. Parkour removes boundaries. For example, our gym has stairs leading up to it....? We were just sitting there minding our own business, when a guy just leaped right over us and into the stairwell. No "going around to the stairs part" for him... he just jumped right down the stairwell, no problem.

"Pourquoi est-ce qu'il l'a fait??" "Why did he do that?" asked the incredulous preteen boys.

"Probablement pour draguer les filles." answered a sage 15 year old, looking at me and the other girl.

"Probably to pick up chicks."

More courage needed to make the necessary [french] doctor's appointment to be officially cleared to join the gym....



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Fun Times...
Monday. 1.9.12 8:22 pm
Watching 6 PhDs try to figure out how to take a median.

J: "I think it's like a kind of average."
V: "No, it's different, like a middle number thing."
Me: "You write down all the numbers in the set, order the set, and then you take the middle number in the set."
V: "The number has to be in the set???"
Me: "Yes!"
V: "What if there are an even number of numbers in the set?"
Me: "......" ::consults Wikipedia::

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œuvres in the louvres
Saturday. 1.7.12 12:09 pm
I invented a new hobby for myself. I have a year-long pass to the Louvre, so I decided that on Wednesdays or Fridays when they're open late I will go there and draw things.
Here are my œuvres from yesterday:

Originally a wooden statue of an angel, missing its hands.
It took me a while to draw that one, so I decided to draw some fast ones at the very end:

Another wooden statue, also supposed to be an angel.

This one was a marble statue of Neptune. He was killing a sea creature in a very awkward pose and the museum was closing, so I changed my mind about drawing the rest of his hand. I was trying to work on drawing mouths. Overall a fun hobby, but next time I'm going to choose a better lit part of the Louvre because it hurt my eyes....

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My Obsession with Saturn
Thursday. 1.5.12 3:17 pm
Saturn videos. I can't get enough of them. I'm trying to be really on task so I've only watched this video three times today.

I'm flying to Baltimore on Sunday but I have 8 million things to do between now and then. I'm on a NASA review panel... I'm not sure if that's supposed to be a secret or not. I won't tell you which one it is.

And now I bring you a landslide on Mars:

You can imagine how excited the scientists were when they realized how lucky they were to get this shot.

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I am...
Sunday. 1.1.12 8:48 am

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Quantum Paths Untaken
Monday. 12.5.11 12:32 pm
Now that I know how extremely cool quantum mechanics is, I regret that I never became a quantum physicist. If I had read this book on the quantum brain in high school, I probably would have become one. But naturally if I had read this book on the quantum brain in high school, I wouldn't have understood it, and therefore I wouldn't have become a quantum physicist [what a conundrum!].

I guess I can blame my college introductory physics professor, who was an expert in relativity. He made relativity seem very cool indeed, and I was so inspired by his descriptions of it that I calculated how much less I would age than my classmates who didn't go home for Thanksgiving, taking into account my speed and the length of my trip and so on (it was like 5.11 x 10^-26 seconds or something). When it came to quantum mechanics, however, our textbook showed a series of "quantum machines" where a photon would go in the entrance to the machine and come out of one of the two exits. The exit that the photon came out of was random, but in aggregate the number of photons that came out of each exit had a particular statistical distribution.

What did I just say? Statistical Distribution? I can't think of anything less interesting than a tiny particle that you can't see going into a black box and then coming out in a way that was described by a STATISTICAL DISTRIBUTION. Gag. Every bit of quantum mechanics annoyed the shit out of my 19-year-old scientist attitude towards life.

1) First there was the black box, the "quantum machine". In the book it was drawn like a little combustion engine or widget-maker banged out of metal with steam coming out the top. What the hell is that supposed to be? I felt like there was something I wasn't being told, that my professor was keeping the secrets of physics to himself and not revealing them to us because he thought that we were too stupid to understand them. Black boxes seemed to be the anti-science. Why were there 20 of them in my text book?

2) Secondly there was the statistical distribution. I've always hated statistical distributions. This could be because I never really took a decent stats class, so statistical distributions were like Reimann sums... each year your teacher takes 15 minutes out of one class period to describe them, but you never really figure out what they're talking about. When I finally did understand statistical distributions and Reimann sums, they had already earned a reputation for being annoying. But real reason I've always hated statistical distributions is because they are a giant stark reminder of a bunch of things that we don't know! If we knew everything perfectly, the flap of a butterfly's wing in Texas, the movements of tiny molecules as they get heated up and interact with each other, etc., then there would be no statistical distributions. Statistical distributions said to me, "We are too lazy/lack the computing capacity to model everything we need, so we're making broad parameterizations of the Unknown in the form of statistical distributions." [I've learned since then how useful and time-saving this is, and how it is useless to waste time modeling things which can be handily summed up in a statistical distributions, but at the time I thought of statistics as a tool that politicians used to fool people into thinking anything that they liked.]

3) Thirdly I had mono during the quantum mechanics and thermodynamics sections of introductory physics. I didn't realize it at the time, all I knew was that I was so sick that I didn't move from my room for a week or more. I must be fair and admit that the mono may have had an effect on the way I viewed quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, and anything else that required statistics.

Had my professor explained that the reason there was a "black box" instead of a mechanical process for how quantum particles traveled from point A to point B was because there IS no mechanical process... had he explained that far from traveling a specific trajectory that the particle traveled EVERY possible trajectory simultaneously.... had he bothered to mention that the "machine" in which the quantum particle was traveling was not only as large as the universe but extended in to multiple parallel universes... had he mentioned that quantum particles move but are not moved by anything in the physical universe... had he specified that while most statistics was just parameterizing of smaller, not-as-well-modeled mechanical interactions, while quantum uncertainty was TRULY RANDOM... had he explained that by creating an interference pattern with a couple of classroom lasers and some tiny slits that we were probing into the deep secrets of the matter and energy and the Universe ITSELF... had he told us that the little cartoonish machine in the textbook represented a giant frontier of mathematics, physics, neuroscience, humanity, and GOD, then maybe I would have paid a little bit better attention. Then again... what if he DID say those things and I WASN'T paying attention!? What if I was flat on my stomach in my dark bedroom lying on a pile of clothes shivering and feverish and hoping that I would die?

It may be ironic that due to small random quantum movements in my cells and those around me being amplified by my brain and forming my thoughts did I reject quantum mechanics before really knowing what it was.

I considered being a physics major. I didn't want to take Particle Physics, which was the next required course. I didn't like the idea of studying tiny little things that you couldn't see ricocheting off of other tiny things in a dark and sterile laboratory. Lasers were cool, on the other hand, as were lenses. I liked my physics to be on the macro scale. I liked building circuits, but I hated analyzing them. Electric fields bored the crap out of me. I didn't like angular momentum. Rotating coordinate systems were the banes of my existence. I liked being outside. I enjoyed tromping around the desert in the sunshine. I liked clambering up boulders and smashing things with a hammer. When I studied the planets I could get a handle on our corner of the universe and I could still have a heavy, solid object in my hand which I could saw apart without feeling bad and which looked pretty under a common laboratory microscope. I could think about things at the scale of the Universe and the Beginning of Time while still being able to tell people where they should build their houses, why their crops were failing, and how deep they were going to have to dig their wells. I became a geology major and made money on the side as an undergraduate physics TA.

I don't regret my choice... geology rocks.
And after all, I'm talking like my life is already over here! As long as I'm alive I can still do whatever the hell I want!

I could become a quantum physicist. I could found the field of "quantum geology". I could create a french salon and invite important and witty people to sit around drinking wine and discussing the philosophical ramifications of quantum theory. I went to a talk one time about Hilbert Spaces, and I had no idea what the fuck they were talking about. But I could go back and figure that out if I wanted to.

So I say to you:


Don't you see how important it is to know that? Don't you see that no matter what things are like right now there are an infinite number of superposed possibilities for things to get better? Don't you see that even if you feel like your hands are tied by money and family obligations and your supposedly limited skill-set that there is actually an ENTIRE UNIVERSE out there and you live on a giant spherical paradise exploding with life and opportunities????

In the end, YOU decide what you are going to contribute to the world. You decide to think great thoughts. You decide to write moving stories, moving songs, moving poems. You decide to keep trying to understand even when it takes you five times as long as anyone else in your class. You decide to apply yourself to something more profound than what you are going to eat for dinner. Do you think Einstein thought of general relativity because he sat around watching TV all day? NO! [Because TV didn't exist back then!] He sat around doing equations just for the hell of it! It took Einstein TEN YEARS to go from special relatively to general relativity. He screwed up many many times. But unlike everybody else, he just kept going! Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Guess who said that? That's right--- Thomas EDISON, whose name also begins with an E!

Anyway, I'm getting off topic here. The point is that quantum physics is awesome, and that I am starting a salon filled with incredible, deep-thinking, universe-pondering, world-changing geniuses, and I'm calling it Nutang.

You are all invited.

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