Category Archives: Ohio

On my 1,000th Geocache

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A little over four years ago, while killing time before class in my M.Sc. days in Cleveland, I was looking around for new apps for my iPhone and remembered a thing I’d heard about called geocaching.  It was the idea that a person would hide a box somewhere (the geocache) and upload the GPS coordinates to the Internet, and then other people would find them in a bit of a scavenger hunt.  It was an idea that I found interesting when I first heard of it in college, but a GPS was too pricey for me as a student (and I had no car, making me a lot less mobile) so I promptly forgot about it.  But a search that day revealed that in the smartphone era one could go geocaching via a smartphone’s GPS, and there was even a free app, and hey there are a lot of these things around Cleveland!

I promptly went out that weekend to start finding a few of these things and the rest is history, as it turns out geocaching is a great thing to do when searching for an adventure.  The thrill of the hunt aside (and occasional swag to trade), they tend to be hidden in interesting locations that someone wants to bring you to, so a little research before traveling to an area on popular geocaches there rarely disappoints.  So far geocaching has taken me to extraordinary viewpoints from Italy to Tanzania…

IMG_2173girl-at-ngorongoro

Re Teodorico, Verona and NgoroNgoro- A Big African Caldera Continue reading

2011: A Year in Review

When I think back on 2011 it will undoubtedly go down as the year where I did more in 12 months than most people do in a lifetime.  If I didn’t personally already defend a thesis, become a published author, move to a different country, and explore 20 countries on 4 continents along the way I would accuse myself of lying because I’m tired just thinking about it.  But I apparently did because I lived through all of it! Continue reading

Photo: What Science Looks Like

I’m not sure if this is one of those things that only a mother could love, but my M.S. thesis (“An Extended Study on the Effects of Incorrect Coordinates on Surface Detector Timing”) is submitted and will be defended next week. This fellow, alias “Figure 6,” is the most colorful and hence cutest of the graphs.

Yes, I just called a bunch of Gaussian distributions cute.  Shut up!

For anyone who actually wants an explanation here, what I basically did for my M.S. thesis was take GPS units similar to those in the Pierre Auger Observatory and test to see what would happen if the position got increasingly wrong on them.  In addition to position data a GPS unit also gets timing from satellites, making them a very accurate clock, and accurate timing is exactly what you need when you’re trying to track a shower of particles hitting the ground at nearly the speed of light.  Literally every nanosecond counts!

Normally in the field we just set the position to make the timing data more accurate (because the GPS won’t have to worry about finding where it is and what time it is with each cosmic ray strike), but sometimes that’s off for a myriad of reasons.  So the above graph is the product of modeling that: one GPS “clock” was allowed to find the correct position/time and the other was given an increasingly incorrect position, and the difference between the two tells you what happens when you actually have an incorrect position in the field.  Then when you add up all those differences over the time it took to collect the data (five days was typical, with one data point each second) and plot the distribution, you discover that the higher you go the quicker you receive the signal.  Just what you’d expect when a GPS is getting signals from overhead satellites really: when you go higher up you’ll receive the signal just a little bit quicker.

And that, ladies and gents, is what science looks like.  Thank you, I’ll be here all week.

Ohio Geocaching- From Creeks to Cliffs

Goin’ on a cache hunt (goin’ on a cache hunt)

Gonna get a big one (gonna get a big one)

We’re not afraid… (not yet afraid…)

Up the creek (up the creek!)

I think after this weekend my friend Alison and I can safely say that we have seen a lot of the most extreme terrain North East Ohio has to offer.  See I found a list on the geocaching website on the best caches in the area and two fairly close to each other just southeast of Cleveland caught my attention, so we spent Sunday searching for them.  The first one took us to the inspirationaly named West Creek in Brooklyn Heights Village Park-

Hey, it’s a nice creek.  The thing about this creek is that you need to wade along in it to get to the caches, which considering the humid weather lately was much appreciated!

Showing my strength on top of a granite boulder dubbed “the Canadian” as such boulders in this part of the world were deposited in the past few million years by retreating glaciers from the north.  One of the thoughts that never ceases to amaze me while looking at the Great Lakes is how very fleeting the terrain in this part of the world is because in a blink of an eye on a geologic timescale Lake Erie was mercilessly crushing the terrain under several miles of ice.  Of course such hot days make you wonder when this might happen again, but that’s another story.

We posed at this rock by the way because it turns out the Canadian is a geocache in itself- a special kind known as an earthcache where instead of finding a container you find an interesting geological feature and answer a few simple questions about the science.  They can be pretty fun (and hey, if you ever find yourself at Mosi-oa-Tunya you should do that earthcache as I set it up!), but we ran into an issue here when we read the description and realized the criteria required us to measure the height and circumference of the rock with a tape measure we didn’t have.  Units weren’t specified however, so we ended up doing the old physicist trick of units that suited the problem at hand and thus our answers were “1.5 arms” and “2*pi*arm” respectively, where 1 arm is the length of Alison’s arm from shoulder to fingertips.

Continuing along, we turn into a smaller, narrower creek that was in a rather impressive steep valley for this part of the world.  Alison here is demonstrating that we probably should’ve done the water caches last, as we inevitably got rather wet and soggy for the rest of the day (problem was there was a lot of sediment in the creek and visibility in the water was nil after more than a few inches, so we stepped into the deeper water more than once).  Or at least, you know, considered the possibility that wading up a creek was a good reason to bring an extra pair of shorts.

At the end of the creek in front of (another earthcache) waterfall- the physical cache we came up here to find is nearby, but telling you where it is defeats the purpose of the game right? *wink*

This picture, by the way, resulted from one of the questions for the waterfall earthcache telling us to estimate the depth of the pool and when you’re totally soaked the logical way to find the answer is go wade in and find the deepest spot, right?

Goin’ on a cache hunt (goin’ on a cache hunt)

Gonna get a big one (gonna get a big one)

We’re not afraid (though maybe a little tired…)

Up the cliff (up the… wait, WHAT?!)

I don’t know what’s more strange, the fact that there’s a decent-sized cliff in Parma, Ohio or that if someone posts on a website that I should scale it to find a tupperware container I actually end up doing so.  Hard to get a good picture though of the whole thing through the trees!

Anyway, it turns out to get this cache you have to work your way down the hill, ford the slippery creek, and climb the cliff on the other side up a little.  Most of our energies were devoted just to finding any way up whatsoever, being a cliff and all, until finally finding a mad scramble that one could only get down later by sliding down whilst sitting.  Then you had to search along a ledge area amongst all the rocks for the one with a cache behind it…

Huzzah!  Found it in about the third place I checked while Alison was still scrambling up to the ledge area, which was a nice feeling because it would’ve been depressing to go through all that and not find it I reckon!  Then, of course, it was time to go home and indulge in those showers we’d spent an increasing amount of time fantasizing about (cleanliness is like food- when your lack becomes obvious it begins to dominate the conversation). All in all a successful cache hunt!

Photo: Ham Radio Contest

Taken November 16, 2008

So you people don’t know this, but I actually live a life of secret celebrity.  The issue is to quote my brother it’s in a hobby that’s probably up there with accordion playing so you’ve never heard about it.

In short I have been an amateur (Ham) radio operator since the age of 16, and because there’s a greater gender disparity than a physics department and I happen to be good at operating- think I set a new record for the Great Lakes region in our last contest good- most people who hear me on the air immediately know “the YL [young lady] from W8EDU,”  the callsign of the Case Western Reserve University station. (I have my own callsign too of course, KB3HTS.) Or maybe they looked up amateur radio operator on Wikipedia, whatever.

Anyway so what is Ham radio anyway (is it kosher?) and why do I like it?  In short, you take an exam and get a callsign and get on the air and talk to people- Hams are the ones who will get on the air when disaster strikes and all other communications are knocked out, so you’d better be nice to us.  What I always loved most about it though is the broadcasting- I know lots of people must think the Internet got rid of the intrigue of talking to people in faraway lands (and to be fair for many it did), but there’s definitely a romantic magic to getting your station on the air and knowing anyone from San Francisco to Swaziland might call back over the cackle of static.  For someone who loves to travel, there’s something amazing about knowing my voice has traveled to every US state and Canadian province and nations spread over five continents, even if the rest of me never did.  I’ve talked to people in war zones and remote Atlantic islands, people sailing from California to Hawaii and even heard the astronauts chattering above.  How could the Internet replace that?

Anyway, I’m wrapping this up now because I’m heading off to see the USA-Ghana game in a sec and then going out for the biggest Ham radio contest of the year- 24 hours simulating emergency conditions, which means generator power and temporary antennas (and believe you me, when the tornadoes sweep through our area people are glad someone knows how to do this).  Wish us luck!

Where I Live and the Coventry Street Fair

As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s a little strange to go from traveling around the world to settling in Cleveland, Ohio.  If you ever do though you can’t pick a better street to live off of than Coventry, a funky little community that used to be populated by the area’s hippies but now is mainly filled with students and hippies-at-heart mainly.  There is a sense of history more than you usually find in Ohio- my hardware store down the block has been in business over a hundred years, John D. Rockefeller is buried in the cemetery bordering the north side of the neighborhood, and while my apartment from the 1920s has wooden floors that have a distinctive slant it does have the novelty of two doors, one for company and one going straight to the kitchen for the milkman (who does not make rounds anymore but this door is quite useful when carrying groceries).  And when you toss in Mac’s Backs, the secondhand bookstore where the second story is all science fiction and the proprietor swaps tips with you on reading material and the Winking Lizard where one can participate in the yearly World Tour of Beers, well!

The problem with anyplace you live is it gets so normal that you don’t think it’s particularly interesting on any given day regardless of that actuality, so to introduce you to Coventry here’s a photo tour of our Street Fair last week.  Where a good time was had at all, until the end when word on the street says some youths started getting into a fight for reasons unknown and the paddywagon came (I was a few blocks away at the time), to the great worry of all the locals who are hoping it won’t be considered reason to cancel the fair next year.  Always the bad apples ruining the fun stuff for the rest of us, isn’t it?

First of all, as I said, if you want to be a hippie in Cleveland you probably hang out on Coventry a lot, but I say it’s more about being a hippie-at-heart these days because I can’t say you smell pot walking down the street, even during a street fair!, which I hear was the norm during the sixties.  Plus c’mon, not like they’re breaking out into drum circles in the middle of the road right?

Um ok, nix that.  We are the only street I know of that has drum circles during our street fair, but we usually don’t normally ok?  Really!  Plus anyway, I did join in with the drum circle for a little while and it was pretty fun though I classify more as a “free spirit” than a hippie anyway.  You can tell the difference by my lack of illegal drug consumption and knowledge that anyone who thinks communism is cool has never lived under it.

Back on the more normal side of things, this was the band that was playing on the opposite side of the street.  They were really good, and those little kids were having a good time dancing in front.

There were a couple of these stilt walkers about as well, though they stood out a bit…

And giant puppets galore too.  Honestly I’d never seen one quite like the above before in terms of size, design, and color- the artists did a great job!

Little puppets too, doing a puppet show!  Like any fair the world over ours consists of lots of booths lined up and down the street- the stores and cafes just go a step further and set up shop outside and the middle is taken over by local artists and street performers.  The food wasn’t particularly interesting to me because I can get what they were selling all the time (and do!), but as a member of the fairer sex that enjoys shiny things I couldn’t help but pick up a pair of earrings and new necklace.

Though by the way, does anyone ever spend time thinking about how much time us ladies spend enjoying and thinking about jewelry, which is inherently worthless but we like because it’s pretty?  Did you know that some archeologists associate the beginning of homo sapiens in the fossil record with the moment shellfish jewelry showed up?  What would make you want to do this so far as evolution goes? (To be fair men do this too, but their shiny things tend to involve watches or electronic gadgets and prefer things that have a “useful” component to impress however tenuous the connection!)

Anyway, moving along…I have absolutely no real explanation of this picture other than I like it and yep, my street is random.  I think he was there with one of the stalls and they were selling jewelry and pictures with a giant superhero eyeball on them, or something, but clearly the marketing didn’t completely work on me.

Anyway, this picture was taken towards the end of the Coventry Street Fair while the first of the booths were breaking up, the rest were trying hard to push in a few last sales, and apparently a near-riot was breaking down on the other end of the street.  And among the activity I settled in at the Wink for a tasty wheat beer from the Czech Republic and struck up a conversation with the street performer who’d juggled knives and his friend who was a magician.  Almost like travel.

West Side Market, Cleveland OH

It is a sad, sad place in the world that has absolutely nothing noteworthy about it.  Fortunately Cleveland has a few, and one of these is the West Side Market, which is a century old and without question one of the best markets I’ve ever been to.  Certainly the best in the USA where we unfortunately don’t have many around anymore!

Inside view from the upper balcony, usually occupied by people-watchers eating lunch.  Nearly all the places are family owned and lots of tasty ethnic eats- my favorites are the bratwurst stall, the crepes stall, and the gyro one.  Settled for a gyro this past weekend, and the ones at the stall are so delicious that word got out to the Travel Channel’s Man vs Food- a show on them will be aired June 23rd.

Anyway, lunch done, time to go look around and see what the market has to offer- in short, everything.  And somehow it’s so much more of an experience to go around peering through the cases to decide what exactly you want, people in the crowd exchanging tips with each other on where to get the best smokies or fresh-baked bread, smiles and banter from the stall owners trying to catch your eye, eventually making selections and handing over cash.  Funny how even the cash part seems novel to me, as most of the time you use plastic these days.  But what are you going to do when the dairy stall that cuts butter from a block and sour cream from a bucket wants two dollars and definitely has no credit card machine?

Mmmm cheese- the only place to ever stock up for a wine and cheese party, though the mice are optional. *wink* Lots of crazy-expensive imported ones too…

Surf ‘n turf as fresh as it gets in a landlocked city at least.  The fish place (across from the gyro stall!) has a sign promising to fillet your fish for free, and the pig is there to establish you can get pretty much any cut you want.  Seriously, I know many a happy forgeiner in Cleveland who gets excited because you can find liver and kidneys and all sorts of delicacies you never really find in the US because we don’t eat the insides of an animal.  Or go to butcher shops for that matter, I can’t think of one not at the West Side Market, where there’s several so you’ve gotta stand out (there’s a Hungarian butcher too actually, specializing in kolbasz and salami).

Speaking of ethnic delicacies…

Found on the shelves of a European and Middle Eastern importer.  One interesting thing about Cleveland is everyone came over with an ethnicity and still holds onto it hard and our market reflects that- Hungarian sausages, Italian pastas, French crepes, Syrian hummus, and in more recent years stalls run by Mexican and Cambodian families have opened.  So if I cannot travel the world, it’s nice to have all the food of the world come to you!

Last but not least, time to pick up the fresh produce!  Wandering around, checking prices, trying samples, finally stopping to ask an accented lady how much the raspberries are.

“For you, three dollar,” she says, but I shake my head.  We size each other up in a second when she realizes I’m the rarity of an American who knows how to bargain, or knows that you should in the first place.  We finally settle on a container of raspberries and two of blackberries for four dollars, which leaves us both happy.  And I won’t even get into the lady I negotiated blackberries and apricots with, mainly because I wasn’t planning on getting apricots in the first place!

Anyway, finally left the market and headed for the train stop with the wallet $40 lighter and canvas bag a great deal heavier with fruit, fresh mozerella and sour cream, pad thai, dumplings, sliced ham, corn salsa, tzatziki and pita bread, and half the gyro I started at lunch later (if anyone actually eats one of those gyros in a sitting I’ve yet to see it).  All in all enough to keep me fed for a week- no idea why you’d go to a supermarket with such a place nearby.