Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A day but a whole year older

I want to say thank you so much to everyone who took time out of their day to send me their fabulous birthday wishes.  All I really wanted today was to hear from all of you and I got my wish :)  I am so lucky to be surrounded by a loving and supportive group of friends and family - I really couldn't ask for more.

Not only did I get lovely messages, but a gorgeous package came to me while at work today.  I am not big on extra birthday attention caused by such gift items, but it was extra special in that it came all the way from the other (under) side of the world - Australia!  Well, the chocolate covered strawberries came fresh from DC, but the love came a far distance and it definitely made my smile.  Thanks Spring!  And, you couldn't help but notice the pretty balloon sticking up from my cubicle, so I didn't even have to tell anyone that 26 years ago I was born today ;)
For the occasion, a few office mates haphazardly organized a potluck.  Since no one confirmed that we were actually having the lunch I didn't make my apple cake.  And yes, I am more than happy to make cake on my birthday.  I always find reasons to make apple cake.  But I didn't want to bring it and make everyone else feel guilty for not bringing lunch, so only one person brought food, and his contribution was the rice.   Several of us had a 'potluck' around my desk which consisted of... indian basmati rice with peas (brought in this morning, cold), mixed with my standby lunch can of black bean vegetable soup (again, cold) and/or Franks red hot sauce.  Nothing fancy, but very cute and more I could ask for in the company alone. 

This weekend I got to spend some time with both my brother and sister, which was really nice.  I love coming back to western PA in the fall.  The leaves have almost all fallen off the trees but they still have color; in DC they've hardly changed.  Despite the score, Shell and I (and friends) had a great time at the Steelers game on Sunday, with the pictures to prove it. 

All this traveling has me exhausted, so I'm looking forward to spending some time here in DC to recharge.  Does anyone have a good halloween costume idea?  I was thinking about being '"Josephine" the Plumber (haha) but I think I want to go with something a little... prettier...?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Day trip to Boston

I love Boston! And I got to go there for work this weekend.  I love it's oldness, and how pretty it is there... the buildings aren't too tall, there is so much to do, so much culture.  I guess these aspects are what I love about DC too, so it's similar... but different :) 

I got off to a bad start by missing my plane but caught the next one and went straight to MIT.  MIT hosts the 100K Challenge, a contest where entrepreneurs and engineers showcase and develop their new ideas in a competition made up of three parts: the Elevator Pitch, the Executive Summary, and the Business Plan.  Each of the three parts has it's own separate contest, and yesterday was the Elevator Pitch Competition.  Since the DOE sponsors their Clean Energy Prize, I got to volunteer as one of the three judges in the Energy Track. 

So here's how it works: each person has 60 seconds to "pitch" his/her idea to the audience and the judge.  No props or visual aids are allowed.  After the pitch, the judges have 30 seconds for questions before they quickly score the contestant and on it goes to the next pitch.  It all hapens VERY rapidly, especially as I was trying to understand what their brilliant (and quite technical) ideas are all about and then trying to ask concise, substantial questions after the pitch in order to score them fairly.  There were about 20 entries for the energy track ranging from a device that makes spare parts for oil rigs on the fly to a "green" way to produce silicon for solar cells. 

The winner of each track goes on to the Final Round later that night, where the ten best ideas are pitched again in front of three new judges and a packed auditorium.  No one knows who has been chosen for the final round until their names are called.  If it's called, they run down and just GO.  It was great.  

The second winner for the energy section was the last person to be called in the final round.  He gave a phenomenal pitch that earned him a huge round of applause from the crowd, plus the $5,000 prize.  His idea was a design for an ultra-capacitor (similar to a battery) that sores energy so that stop-and-go electricity sources, such as wind turbines, can provide a steadier flow of electricity.  Since one of the major disadvantages of wind turbines is that they are intermittent, his design could revolutionize the industry and a lot of other applications. 

So many of the students had brilliant ideas that really could work.  But not only were the ideas good, the people were wonderful.  I got to talk about ultra wide band radio waves, people developing solar panels in Africa, and RSS feeds I can use to gather more energy news - it was awesome.  I can't tell you how many energetic and motivated entrepreneurs and scientists talked to me about their passion for clean energy and asking how they can get involved.  There is already so much going on at MIT that I think they're on the right track, but I'd love to find more ways to interact with them.  I made some great contacts on the education side, and I'm hoping to come back in a few months and judge the Executive Summary and Business Plan sections.  It will be great to see how many of these ideas evolve and take form.  

It was a gorgeous, sunny, cool fall day in Boston but unfortunately I spent the day indoors and didn't have much time to walk around the city.  I did however get an added bonus to meet up with my cousin Matt, a talented aspiring actor just starting his freshman year at Boston University.  The rest of his family was in town and happened to be staying at the same hotel!! We went out to a restaurant where I had my first ever bowl of New England Clam Chowder (delicious...) and watched the Boston Red Sox win.  Good stuff.  

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Well, I didn't get to watch the debate in a public place, but i think staying at home was better because (although the crowd reaction would have been amusing)I actually got to pay attention to what was going on.  I liked the coverage by CNN - with the split screen showing both candidates, and I also loved the real-time graph tracking the impressions of men and women.  For one thing, it was interesting to just to see the difference and how the opinions merged and diverged.  It seems like obama's cool nature appeals more to women, whereas mccain's abrasive personality turns them off.  Plus, the technology aspect is fascinating to me.  It's like watching pro football, where ever move is tracked, recorded, and calculated - which simultaneously improves the game and engages the viewers.   The amount of thought that goes into a campaign is mind-boggling.  I can just see it now - huge offices packed with statisticians, crunching numbers, all frantically and meticulously trying to figure out the key phrases that appeal to the audience and the gestures and words that should be omitted from now on. 

Although the commentators insisted that the 'Joe the Plumber' reference was effective, it was clear that women got annoyed with it after hearing it probably more than seven times.  Who is Joe?  Doe he have children?  A wife?  Ten employees or one?  I don't know, but tonight... he's famous. 

I think this was one of the best debates, although I didn't get to watch 100% of the others.  
I really also liked that Washington Post online had a 'fact checker' website so that viewers can go and quickly find reliable data to refute or backup what the candidates said during the debate.  

And of course, I couldn't help but notice that McCain mentioned wind, tidal, solar, and biomass as key energy issues, and Obama continues to mention wind, solar, and geothermal.  Although I don't know much about it yet, I'm pleasantly surprised that tidal energy got mentioned, and I think that tidal energy is going to receive a greater share of attention in the renewables vocabulary in the very near future.  But. although the words sound good, you can't just IMMEDIATELY start drilling offshore and building nuclear power plants tomorrow.  Just the amount of time it takes to get the permitting puts these project start dates probably at least ten years away from now.  It's not that we shouldn't be thinking about options, it's just that we have to be realistic and understand that, sadly, the best answers in the long run are not usually the ones that improve the immediate financial situation or show price reductions at the pump.
That's all I have to say about that.  I dont care who you vote for, just be sure to vote.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

the first sweet tastes of fall

What a the perfect weekend to be outside!  The weather here in DC is still pretty warm - sunny and mid 70's, and fortunately I was able to make the most of it.   Although the temperatures are similar, the difference in humidity from Reno to D.C. is unbelievable!   I am hoping that once the temperatures drop a little I'll be able to enjoy the crisp, fall air that I look forward to all year long.  I know I say this all the time but I love fall - LOVE it.  My roommate Dennis keeps complaining about "all those people who try and put pumpkin into everything just because it's fall".  Well, I don't think he knew what he was getting himself into when he met me, because I am the worst culprit of them all.  I love that such a healthy, orange, robust vegetable (that's really a fruit?!) manages to merge so well into about a million foods and recipes: oatmeal, muffins, soups, pie... I think someone said it right when claiming I am the 'Bubba Gump' of pumpkin... after broccoli :) 

I had been complaining that I've hardly been able to enjoy the restaurants here in D.C. since I've moved about a month ago.  Eating at home has been a great way to save money, but it was fun to get out this weekend and sample what the neighborhood has to offer... Greek on Friday, Mexican on Saturday, and Chinese Dim-Sum for Sunday brunch (after our flag football win).  Unfortunately, Mexican cuisine is NOT the city's forte, and most of the mexican restaurants are actually Salvadorian.  But you can usually get both, so next time I'll order something more adventurous (and appropriate) than the chicken fajitas.  I never knew this, but Chinese dim-sum is where they bring dishes, prepared family-style, around on carts to your table - you just point to the ones you want and they give them to you.  It's fun and I'd recommend you do it with a small group of people for a Sunday brunch. However, I'm not so sure I'd do it again...  I'm a little too reserved when it comes to chinese and prefer to stick to chicken and broccoli :) 

Saturday night I went to my first professional soccer game!  The U.S. team played Cuba in a world cup qualifier game at RFK stadium.  We had really great seats and I wish I would have had my camera for some pictures of the U.S. winning 6-1.  Unfortunately for Cuba, they were two players short.   Two men from the team disappeared from the hotel before the game and are believed to have defected, which means they take off the moment they get a chance when they are able to get out of their country.  I guess this happens a lot and last time Cuba came here they lost about seven players. 

Monday we took a day trip to Annapolis to check out the city and visit my friends Brandie and Matt.  I've posted some pictures here but enjoy the rest from this link.  For lunch I had steamed and seasoned shrimp and a bloody mary Annapolis Style (i.d., with Old Bay seasoning).  Unfortunately most of the bay area was closed off for the sailboat show and we were too stubborn to pay the 16 dollar entrance fee but managed to find some space near the water at the Naval Academy right next door.  Lee-Ann and I each found great hats at Hats In The Belfry - adorable and perfect for walking to work when the mornings get a little cooler.  We had drinks at the Chart House, which is a gorgeous (yet slightly pricey) seafood restaurant with amazing windows that look out onto the waterfront and the boats in the harbor.   We hopped onto the water taxi to meet Brandie and Matt at the Ram's Head Tavern, which had an awesome outdoor patio, live acoustic music, and a phenomenal happy hour.  Apart from my car getting locked in the parking garage at the end of the night, all in all it was a great day, and a perfect way to end an active, yet enjoyable, three day weekend.  

Tomorrow night is the last of the presidential debates, and I'm looking forward to watching it here in D.C.  Most of the bars in the city get big crowds and have specials as they cover the event, and viewers can pick a democrat, republican, or bi-partisan location.  I think we'll go neutral but no matter what it should be an entertaining way see the debate!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Into the Nevada Dessert

Today was our last day in Reno.  We've been here for over a week,  so I'm definitely ready to go back to the East Coast.  It's been mentally exhausting meeting so many people!  I managed to make a lot of really good contacts, especially on the education side, so I'm excited to see what happens after the conference.   Speaking of education... it looks like I may get a chance to head up to Boston next weekend to judge the energy track of the Elevator Pitch Competition at MIT.   I love Boston, so I'll gladly spend a Saturday up there for "work" scoping out new ideas for university challenges. 

We took a field trip out to two other geothermal sites this afternoon located about 60 miles from Reno.  I posted some new pictures at the end of the geothermal album.  When we drove closer to the site we were overwhelmed by the smell of... onions!  The most common industrial use for geothermal energy is food dehydration, and we happened to find an onion dehydration site.  (I can only imagine what it must be like to come home from work every day... ) 

Unless you're a geologist, there's really not much to get excited about at a geothermal plant. However, getting away from the city was awesome!  We had fantastic weather again today - warm and dry with big clear blue skies and hardly any wind.   The dryness is a welcome change from the DC humidity and driving through the dessert reminds me how much I love the mountains... it's a good thing we're leaving tomorrow or I might never make it back! 

Saturday, October 4, 2008

To the Big Little Town of Reno, NV

I've been in Reno, NV since Thursday for the National Geothermal Conference.  Geothermal energy has been receiving much attention lately from new investors, the federal government, and even Google, so the excitement level here is high.  Google recently made a big announcement for major funding for the next generation of geothermal energy, called Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS), which the DOE is also strongly supporting.  I got to meet the Google.org president today, who is very cool and just how I'd expect the 'Google guy' to be, but I'm also meeting a lot of other really interesting, intelligent people and learning little by little along the way about how things work in the industry.  Even though I know it's not an "academic" conference, I am amazed at how political this whole business is... but geothermal's a big deal to the western states and especially to Nevada.    

On Saturday I got to see my first geothermal power plant in Steamboat just 15 minutes away.  It was a lot of pipes and such, which I would love to explain to you here but in the interest of time (and your attention) I'll spare the nerd-talk :)   But if you want, you can check out the pictures.  Our team gets to go on site to another well on Wednesday, which is actually the location of the project I'll be managing, so it will be helpful to have something to compare with. 

Here in Reno I'm sad by how flat and spread out everything is.  There is nothing to do but gamble (which is not really appealing to me) but I will say that it's gorgeous out here in the west.  Looking out of my hotel window you can see evidence of the year's first snow out on the mountain tops just right outside the city.   My favorite discovery thus far is the quiet (albiet, man-made) lake I circled on my early morning run.  I was stopped by the fragrance of lavender and juniper bushes growing all around, a scent I recognize from potpourri and body sprays but not ever from nature.  The desert yardscapes are also very cool. 
Lake Tahoe is only about 45 minutes away and Yosemite National Park is a little over a two hour drive - It's killing me to be so close! I really hope I can make a trip out there. Yesterday was really my only hope until my supervisor encouraged me to stick around the hotel in case I need to be in meetings (which I didn't...) but I haven't given up yet.

Tonight we're off to a little Mexican place called Beto's, where I enjoyed my first ever fish taco the other night. Michael and I discovered it on Saturday night and now we're taking the rest of the work crew.  It's very small and one of the most authentic mexican places I've ever been, so I hope they like it too.  No matter what, I'm sure we'll all enjoy a night away from the hotel casino scene.   

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Miss my blog

I have been neglecting my blog lately.  This week I've had no internet at home.   For those of you who've actually been reading I promise to do a better job of keeping up :) 
Last week was my first full week of work and it got a little crazy.  It's been somewhat difficult to get into a routine but thinking about it... I guess it's because I really don't HAVE much of a routine anymore, with the exception of going to work every day.  I'm usually home by six, so I feel like I have quite a bit of free time to work with and I'm just not use
d to this yet.  Which is pretty lame, I know, but I'm getting used to it.  However, I don't think I can expect it to get that much more comfortable, since I'll be traveling for work and don't expect things to "slow down" anytime soon.  

I do love my DC neighborhood, but there are aspects of State College life that I miss.  I don't have the community here in DC that I was able to establish outside of grad school in State College.  At Penn State I spent a lot of time avoiding doing work in the lab.  Which translates into a lot of time spent either: at a coffee shop, taking long walks at night, or hanging out at the gym.  So far, even though the neighborhood is adorable, I haven't found any cozy local coffee shops near my apartment.  I haven't joined a gym or found a yoga studio.  And, although I consider my neighborhood to be 'safe', it's probably not smart for me to take off on my own at 10 PM at night to walk for an hour in an unknown direction.  

My job... so far I love my job.  It started out pretty well, the people have been great, and it keeps improving now that I have more and more on my plate.  My boss put me in charge of the new educational effort for the geothermal program, which is a dream for me - I have a lot of freedom to take this in any direction that I want.   Our office is small, but we're on the same floor as the other renewable programs (wind, solar, hydrogen, biomass) - who all have contractors working for them.  The contracters are mostly all young engineers so I think I should be able to build somewhat of a social circle through them without having to also work closely with them every single day.  

My family met up at PSU to tailgate for the Illinois game last weekend.  The weather cooperated and, as usual, we had a great time. It was the first time I've ever come back as an alumni! I must say, it was kind of fun to come and invade someone else's place for a change ;) Here's some pictures from the weekend. I caught the rainbow on my drive back to DC - it was amazing and I'm so glad I had my camera handy.
Alright... nothing earth shattering but that's my update.  I just arrived in Reno, NV for a conference so I'm sure I'll have better pictures and stories to share soon!