Oh, sure, I’ll play.

•November 29, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I keep neglecting this thing. I’m in a stressful place and I don’t just want to post about crap, and it’s a little hard when I don’t have time to post about the good things that happen.  : P

Modding is okay for now because I generally don’t have to do much. I’m trying to not have to step down this time around *clings to JFF* but next semester is going to be fucking hideous. 

This semester is pretty trying too. Math Physics had an exam last Tuesday on Fourier analysis. I have to wait to find out that I failed that until this coming Tuesday. My other classes are fine but they keep me busy with a lot of smaller assignments peppered throughout my week, while Math Phys is the giant looming in the background, and in the foreground, and kind of everywhere. 

  • I’m taking both a Psychology of Women and a Women and Gender Studies class, which are very similar to each other, except I like WGST more. The PW professor calls herself a Feminist Psychologist. I consider myself to be a feminist (provided folks who use the word understand that it’s more inclusive than just being for women) but I don’t understand how a feminist psychologist would not automatically produce research that is inherently biased. But moving on~
  • I’m taking some gym classes to minimize the actual class workload. This means I run a few times a week, practice MMA once a week and have dedicated a weekend earlier this semester to aerobic dance. I am the fastest runner and the smallest fighter. I get thrown around a lot. Fun times.
  • I have two astrolabes (ha ha) this semester, but we already only have two weeks left. Spectroscopy – my favorite – and then H-R Diagram + Quiz 2.
  • I have extracurricular astronomy textbook fun I have yet to have the chance to crack into. This is what I want to do the most, but it unfortunately has to be at the bottom of my list of priorities. Life is suffering.
  • I am forgetting about something. YES. I’m taking an online class about Climate Change in Modern Times. We’re probably fucked and we’re really stupid about it.

Next semester will include some piddly bullshit things to offset Ethics, E&M (Round 2) and Mechanics (Round 2…). I heard a rumor that we can take the gym classes^ more than once, for credit, which might help me, although I might switch up running for volleyball. And it’ll probably be my last semester of teaching labs, like, ever, because I don’t know if I could even get into grad school at this point or deserve the chance if I magically got it. So there’s that. 

That’s all for now. Time to get ready for next week.


But wait, shouldn’t the — ah, fuck it.

•May 5, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been too burned out to think out loud about my life or any shit classes.

I have a decision to make about which classes I want to retake next winter. Unless I don’t make a decision (which is terrifying and probably the most likely outcome) and take E&M, Quantum and Mechanics all at the same time and spend all summer studying all three classes. Life is sad either way.

So far I’m working in the office up at school over the summer and teaching a lab section, which starts in an hour and fifteen minutes. I do not feel like teaching today but at least it’s only the intro activity. Just spent all morning updating my syllabus, so now I won’t really have to think when introducing the schedule and observations. All of my shit is essentially brand new because everything I had died with my old laptop. And now everything important in my life exists in Google Docs, because fuck this ever happening again.

I’ll wrap this up here until I have something else I actually want to talk about.

The Balloon Launch: Capstone 2015

•April 17, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Sorry in advance for all the pictures, and if this entry destroys the internet.
This is a big one, so let’s make matters worse and here’s a song to start you off.

We successfully launched and retrieved Hans’s balloon yesterday morning. Kind of. I have come prepared with pictures, don’t worry. Except for the most important ones. The GoPro camera on board the payload crapped out for whatever reason during the entire flight, like it has video of before launch and of Jeff picking it up after it landed but nothing from in-flight, so we don’t have any cool pictures of our own. I will include some from previous teams near the end. Our story comes first.

This was my team’s payload box that I described last time. It’s got a face and everything. The eye is the switch that controls the entire payload apparatus, the mouth is made of sensors that needed to be exposed to the air, and Susan drew on an eyebrow because it needed to be done.

The next picture is of both teams’ payloads bundled together. Our little brick dude is hanging out in the middle. Hans’s team had two payload boxes. One of them has the GoPro camera attached to it, but it’s not in the picture. That’s the antenna for the GPS sticking out the left side. Oh, yeah – right before launch, their team’s GPS shit stopped working too. There was still a cell phone inside one of the payload boxes, which had a tracker installed that spit out coordinates upon texting “gps please” to it, but phones can’t receive signals for the entire duration of the flight because of the high altitudes, and we are not legally supposed to launch without being able to know where our payload is the entire time it’s in the air. So none of the teams this semester were really cleared for launch at all. Reason number one why our launch was illegal.

But anyway, yeah, those are the payloads wrapped in that net. The maybe-orange-and-white striped wire is rigged to the FTU.


After a few mishaps that included a few members of their team rigging the FTU beneath the parachute (you know… the thing that cuts the wire… beneath the thing that stops everything from plummeting to its demise…), we were finally ready to let things go.

It was at about this point that the FTU wire from the picture before had to be severed because their team fed the wire through the parachute in such a way that letting go of the balloon would have shred the parachute. Remember how I said we needed two cutdown mechanisms? Reason number two why our launch was illegal. But oh well. Have another song.

In this picture, my teammates, Susan, Hunter and Matt, are holding the balloon. It was pretty windy, so it was Matt’s job to try to stabilize it whenever the wind got crazy enough. That balloon stretched out SO MUCH in the wind, I was sure it would rip before ever leaving the ground. Hans is standing in the background as some of his teammates are holding out the rest of the payload trail. The parachute is hanging out there in the middle by itself.

Since we launched at an elementary school outside of Adrian (sparsely populated), P invited the grade schoolers to come out when he initially got permission to launch on their premises. They gave us a countdown and then we were off.


Susan, Hunter, Matt and I went to a pub for lunch at around 11:00am to eat and kill time. We also had a celebratory beer (except for Susan who doesn’t drink), since I’d been up since 4am and their stories weren’t much different. Then we set out again, I texted “gps please” a few times (our phone signals were terrible, so the balloon’s was too), and met up with P and the others at the landing site.

The balloon payload landed right inside the perimeter of someone’s farm, so we just walked over and grabbed it. We didn’t even wait to get back to campus or even inside of a building to retrieve the data – we set up camp right on top of one of our cars on the side of the road, ripped the payload boxes apart (Hans opened his with surgical precision), took the SD card out of the DataLogger and plugged it right into Hans’s laptop.

We needed all that duct tape just to keep the walls together. See how the walls don’t quite fit together? This was an older team’s payload box designed for only their FTU that we ganked because we really, really didn’t want to make our own box all over again the night before launch. And see all those tiny little silver bumps on the red sensors poking out? Those are solder joints. I soldered those. Tiny-ass shit. I love it. And apparently Matt cut his finger in the ballooning events leading up to this picture.


Still waiting for data to be parsed out and distributed to the class, but that’s okay. I’m in no particular rush to write another paper.

Here are some pictures taken by other teams. Since I’ve already posted a ton of my own, I won’t post too many here.

That is Lake Erie off to the right. SPAAAAAAAACE!


Here is a shot of their balloon bursting. You saw how big the balloon was on the surface in the pictures. Apparently, by the time it reaches its target altitude, the balloon has a diameter of roughly 30 feet. That balloon was large enough to envelop several people. Think about it.


Time to come home!


There’s a possibility P will give some folks permission to launch another balloon over the summer. Since so far it looks like we successfully got all of our data between our two teams, I might see if he’d be okay with me just rigging up and launching a payload with a few cameras but without any sensors. The regular project costs about $1200 for all the equipment and sensors and everything. Launching just cameras, Arduinos and GPS shit wouldn’t cost nearly as much, and I think he likes seeing me enjoy myself in classes, so I might have a shot.

We’ll see.

T minus ten hours!

•April 15, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Well, sort of. Our payload system consists of two general categories of electronic devices: sensors, and tracking devices. The sensors on board track temperature, humidity, UV-exposure, accelerations and pressure. The tracking setup consists of a custom-made Titan launchpad and an Inventek GPS device, which speak to each other and ultimately transmit satellite-given coordinates back to a ground station (our radio) in real time. It was a really exciting time this morning: One of our teammates sent out an email saying the GPS was finally working – something that had been giving us problems the entire semester – and we were basically ready to launch. But when I walked into the reading room before going into the lab to work on my team, P saw me in there and told me I should go look at our payload box. Just go look. Okay.

Walked into the capstone lab, set my stuff down. The entire payload box had been sawed in two, with the innards spilled out onto the table.
“Hey guys… how’s it going?”
“Our Titan blew up, we aren’t going to be able to launch tomorrow.” Okay.

Walked right back out to P in the reading room, looking defeated.

We’re sending up the rest of our payload, which has been reduced to all the sensors stuffed into a styrofoam box roughly the size of a brick, with Hans’s group’s balloon and payload around 10am. Brandon just got back from working in the lab, like, twenty minutes ago, because some arrogance and a GPS coding fuckup has just stopped their team from being able to launch entirely. Mostly because our team has already been given permission to launch with Hans, and attaching a third payload at this point would put the entire apparatus over the weight limit. I’m going to try to get permission to launch a balloon over the summer with a few folks. It’s been done before.

I have to sleep. Getting up at 5am tomorrow for the launch is going to suck.

Look at me, still talking when there’s science to do.

The Tape Incident

•April 2, 2015 • 1 Comment

T’was the class before Test One
And all through Strong Hall
The students were struggling
To cram up through Gauss’ Law.

Our class notes were sparse,
Expectations unfair.
Our teacher was distant
And all was despair.

We expected, of course,
For some sort of review,
And everything seemed new.

We all took our seats,
Bright-eyed but wary:
He came in with props and
The future seemed scary.

The beginning of class,
We split into pairs.
As he passed out instructions
And tape strips, we stared.

The point of the game
Was to layer the tape,
Rub both pieces at once,
And make charges separate.

It’s clever, of course,
With science to learn,
But this is 350 –
We saw that last term.

This went on, and on,
For three-quarters an hour
While anxiety spiked
And expressions grew sour.

After all this time wasted,
Did we get to review?
No, of course not –
He started something new.

Then, on exam day,
Despite open-notes,
The test was disastrous,
Which totally blows.

Only six people passed
Out of, like, 20ish.
The average was wack, so
Hellooo~ D minus.

The class did so bad
The de facto Boss heard.
So P sorta panicked
And did Things Absurd.

But that goes beyond
The story at present.
So “here” ends the tale
Of The Tape Incident.

Gob performing

Does anyone else smell burning?

•March 31, 2015 • 2 Comments

I hope I didn’t say anything out-of-line or upset you. Please tell me if I did? =/

All the fun, all the time! Get settled in, and play it as many times as it takes lol.

Undergraduate symposium happened this past weekend. If you remember, I had presented before, two years ago, for P’s M-GITM project. As part of course requirements, the entire Capstone class presents at symposium as one big group about the high-altitude weather balloon project (although this year there was a wind tunnel team too, so two separate talks). I talked for about four minutes about the atmosphere, “why build a weather balloon,” and “what we can expect.” Nobody had any questions for me that were relevant to my presentation, because I am the only person in the class who was not forced to specialize in either a sensor or an Arduino or fucking anything. Pretty sure P just thinks I’m an idiot – I had time to figure out what I wanted to say prior to my talk, so he accused me of practicing a lot because I could calmly and clearly address a room of people after three years’ teaching classes. That’s okay. At least I’m not the idiot who wore X-Men Chucks with a shirt, tie and khaki pants to the fucking symposium. Should I mention that the idiot was his own research student? Sure? Okay, consider it done.

dean fuck the police

Speaking of Capstone, our assigned launch window is, like, right now for another two weeks or so. Are any of the teams ready? Nah, probably not. Except maybe Hans’ group, since he is German and obsessive and a 40-year-old grown man and the only student with any experience using sensors because of a career and all this shit, so he’s built everything for his entire team and wrote most of the coding used by the other teams. My own team apparently rewired and then messed up our sensor setup, seeing as we burned out an Arduino, so [the culprit] is taking the setup home, fixing things and then soldering them onto the board as they get them correct. So I don’t even get to do that anymore.

Hopefully we won’t be ready to launch this weekend. If Saturday ends up being nice enough, I’m afraid he’ll make us launch regardless of whether or not we’re ready, and I won’t get to be there for the end of it (payload retrieval) because I have an appointment for my taxes in the afternoon. I’m going broke, and rent is due tomorrow, and I need money more than my team needs me.

dean destroyer

Oh – check this hilariously frustrating shit out. We have a pressure sensor on board the payload of the weather balloon so we can measure how, y’know, atmospheric pressure changes with increasing altitude. The sensor P had us using has a minimum range of 20kPa. This will get us roughly halfway up our vertical climb until the pressure drops below that value and we can’t trust any data we get from the sensor anymore.

While that is certainly a big deal, it isn’t the big deal. Our balloon is supposed to go to a height of about 30km and then be finished climbing. FAA regulations require any unmanned balloon to have at least two cutdown systems to make sure the balloon’s flight is controlled and ends before such things as going too high, becoming a danger to other aircraft, entering restricted air space, etc. The balloon itself is made of latex, which will expand as it climbs higher in the atmosphere until it finally bursts from the lack of air pressure outside the balloon. We know this happens, and we know roughly where it will happen in the atmosphere, because physics and material engineering. This counts as one cutdown mechanism.

The other cutdown mechanism for each balloon is a flight-termination unit (FTU) located between the balloon itself and the parachute (here is a picture of a balloon; you can’t see an FTU but you can see the parachute beneath the balloon and then two payload boxes suspended beneath the parachute) consisting of a strip of nichrome wire rigged to an Arduino. The Arduino will be programmed to send an electric current through the nichrome wire, which is characterized by having a super-low resistance to current and will immediately burn and snap, detaching the balloon and sending our payload and parachute system falling but hopefully not recklessly plummeting back to the Earth. Exactly when the FTU is activated depends on how each team decides to program their Arduino. We know the flight should take about an hour and a half, so my team has set our Arduino on a timer to activate the FTU once ninety minutes has passed. If the balloon reaches 30km before 90 minutes, the balloon should burst somewhere around there anyway.

One other team had not employed such methods. Since we know how high our balloons are going in general, we know roughly what the atmospheric pressure should be as the balloon approaches 30km in altitude. One team was all set to program their Arduino to activate the FTU once the pressure sensor spit out a pressure reading from that point in the atmosphere. The problem is, the pressure up here drops below 1kPa. Twenty times less than the minimum rating of the pressure sensor. Who knows what would have happened or even if and when the Arduino would have been activated by the pressure sensor. P could have gotten the university in trouble with the government by having teams send up balloons with malfunctioning and potentially dangerous FTUs because he didn’t do his research and had us using pressure sensors not suited for our project.

But he can stand in front of the room and tell the entire class to “get their fucking shit together.”
It’s okay. Someone in E&M today challenged something he wrote on the board, and he happened to be right. When he complained that “that was a waste of time,” I laughed, oops, which prompted him to take it back.

I have spent the majority of this semester teaching myself E&M. He had been entirely uninvolved in Capstone until like two or three weeks ago when he suddenly became a control freak because we were all behind schedule, because that’s what happens when we spend all semester trying to construct this shit without any guidance.



EDIT: Brandon also tells me he mentioned the tape incident aloud at about the same time as I laughed. I didn’t hear him, but he thinks P did.

Holy five years!

•March 21, 2015 • 1 Comment

Turns out that’s a pretty long amount of time when you sit down to think about it, which I rarely have time to do anymore.

A lot’s happened, so get comfortable.

Met new people and made new friends all over the world. Got to see inner workings of how a forum operates. Broke off an engagement, moved on and met even more new people. Rented my first and second apartments. Spent two months homeless.

Took my first physics and astronomy courses five years ago, went on to get a double-bachelors degree in sociology and psychology with a minor in social work, only to fall in love with the stars and then take a huge leap into physics anyway. Switched to physics research earlier this week, because I’m taking all the harder classes for it anyway and my adviser finally saw the email I sent her about it a year ago, hot damn.

Bunnies happened. Puppies happened somewhere around then too, as did a gerbil. Had my first job at Meijer – still have the plant I bought at the end of my time there, and it’s huge now. Being a copy-editor happened. Coached long distance runners in track for two seasons (well, one and a half). Been teaching astronomy labs for three years now.

Two laptops, the one before this purchased specifically with AVEN in mind. Got my first car about five years ago too. Broke a few phones but always kept the same number. Grew my hair out, cut it super-short and then grew it back out again. Ran my first marathon. Sparred with an eating disorder.

Other firsts, including leaving the country for the first time, failing my first class and getting into mountain biking and kayaking, and stuff. Went skiing for the first time. Acquired my first telescope. Watched one of my old high school friends get married. Helped (helping) mom through her first stroke.

vulvagia oh lord
Anyway. Thanks for all the ups and downs along the way, AVEN. You’ve impacted my life in drastic ways. :cake: