Illusions and Reality

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” -Albert Einstein

Fermi, Creation, Chevalier, and MLK Day 18 January 2010

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Another great week of my Einstein Fellowship.  On the work front it looks like we have actual dates for the Greenland trip now – July 19-25.  I am so excited and we are working on getting the participants finalized.  Outside of work, I had a busy week as well.

Steven Chu, John Holdren and Fermi Award Winners, John Bannister Goodenough and Siegfried S. Hecker

Tuesday night,  the Einstein Fellows were invited to the Fermi Awards Ceremony.  “The Enrico Fermi Award is a Presidential award, one of the oldest and most prestigious science and technology awards given by the U.S. Government. It recognizes scientists of international stature for their lifetimes of exceptional scientific, technical, engineering, and/or management achievements related to the development, use, control, or production of energy (broadly interpreted as encompassing all basic and applied research, science, and technology supported by the U.S. Department of Energy and its programs).”  (from the DOE website about the Fermi Award)During his welcome, John Holdren (Obama’s major science advisor) welcomed the Einstein Fellows as special guests.  During the post-awards reception, we were honored to meet Dr. Steven Chu, the Secretary of Energy and have our picture taken with him.

Wednesday evening, I went with a group of fellows to the screening of the movie Creation that was sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences.  The movie is about Charles Darwin and almost didn’t get released in the United States.  Following the film, there was a panel discussion that featured Jon Amiel, the director of the film, Randall Keynes, author of the book the film is based on who is also a great-great grandson of Charles Darwin.  The discussion was moderated by Bob Mondelo, the film critic from NPR.

Finally, last night I went to a Smithsonian Resident’s Associates program where Tracy Chevalier talked about her new book as well as her writing process.  Her new novel is about Mary Anning, who was a fossil hunter in Victorian England at a time that women didn’t do that sort of thing.  She was from a lower socioeconomic class and suppoorted her family by selling her finds to middle class men.  There are some people who think she might have been the inspiration for the tongue twister, “She sells seashells by the seashore.”

Einstein Fellows with Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu

A nice and relaxing long weekend followed my busy week.  I got some things done around home; laundry, grocery shoppping, and the like.  Sunday was cold and rainy so I spent a good portion of the day on the couch reading An Echo in the Bone, which is Diana Gabaldon’s newest installment of the Outlander series – good brain candy.  Today was MLK Day so I went downtown.  I started out the day stopping by the Lincoln Memorial to stand on the step where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech.  Then I wandered up the Mall by the Korean War Memorial, the DC World War Memorial, and the Washington Monument.  I finished up at the Air and Space Museum where I poked around for a little while.  One of my favorite things about living here is still that I don’t feel like I have to go to every corner of the museum, but I can stop by and see just a few rooms and come back later to see more.

So the weekend is winding down and on the horizon for this week is a brown bag presentation at NSF, a legislative update session, and going to the National Academies Teacher Advisory Council meeting.

 

Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Portrait Gallery 4 January 2010

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The Great Hall

A sunny, cold, and blustery day in the nation’s capital and I decided to head out to check out the last day of the “1934: A New Deal for Artists” exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  While I was there, I looked around the rest of the museum as well as the National Portrait Gallery.  There is one building with two museums in it there.  The building is the old patent office, which is also where Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural ball was held.

Bill Clinton's Portait in the Presidents' Gallery

The Preamble in License Plates

 

Christmas Adventures 2 January 2010

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Christmas 2009 is definitely one for the record books, and not necessarily the good record books.  My Christmas adventure started with trying to

Christmas Tree Farm in the snow in North Carolina

get home from San Francisco.  It all began with the forecast of a giant east coast snowstorm for the weekend of Dec. 19-20.  I was supposed to fly home from San Francisco on a red eye the night of December 18th.  As the warnings got more and more dire, I decided to try to get out San Francisco early and beat the storm to the east coast.  So on the morning of December 18th I went to the airport to try to get on a flight stand by.  This was not to be.  I got as close as the door of one plane while they did a visual count to see if there were any open seats on the plane, which there were not.  Just after noon all further flights out of San Francisco for Washington were canceled and I was officially stuck in San Francisco.  I got a room at the Hampton Inn close to the airport and was rebooked on a flight through Chicago.

The next morning, I was off to the airport where I had to wait to see if I would get a seat on the flight to Chicago.  This wasn’t quite as stressful at it might seem because I was fairly certain that when I got to Chicago the flight to DC would be canceled.  I did get on the flight to Chicago and when I arrived at O’hare I was stunned to see the information on the departure board that my flight to DC was proceeding on time.  Every other flight to the east coast was canceled and my flight was on time – it seemed too good to be true.  Everything proceeded smoothly with boarding and take-off of this flight.  I was so excited that I was actually going to make it home.  As with most things that seem too good to be true, so was this.  The co-pilot came on when we were about halfway to DC to tell us that they had just closed Dulles and we were turning around and going back to Chicago.

Once we got back to the gate in Chicago, an announcement was made that there were no available flights from Chicago to DC until Monday afternoon.  With a sense of dread I went to stand in the most enormous customer service line I have ever seen, which stretched a long way through the terminal in O’hare.  After three hours in line, spent chatting with a couple behind me who were trying to get to New York or Connecticut for their engagment party and Christmas, I was blessed to be helped by a wonderful, miracle-working agent.  At this point I was willing to go to DC or to anywhere in NC.  At first, the best she could do was get me into Reagan on Monday morning, but then as she was checking what time I could come and start trying to go stand by on Sunday, some seats opened up on a flight into Dulles.  Thanks to her quick actions she got me a seat on the first flight out Sunday morning.  With my ticket in hand, I headed off to spend the night at the Westin close to the airport (cheaper than the Hampton Inn – thanks to a discount by United).  The next morning, I got on the flight (which had 193 waiting on standby) to Dulles and off we went.

Snow melter and snow pile in the gate area at Dulles.

Arriving at Dulles, we had to circle a little since there was only one runway in operation.  Once we landed we had to wait for a big pile of snow to be moved out from in front of the gate we were trying to park at.  Finally, I was there!  The second miracle of this trip occurred when I went to the baggage claim area and found my suitcase sitting there waiting on me.  I think that it probably got on one of those flights out of San Francisco on Friday that I was on stand by for.  It had a lot of company – the baggage claim area was full of unclaimed bags that had made it to the airport without their owners.

I got a cab to Margie’s house where my car was waiting and got an idea of just what a huge snowstorm this had been.  The secondary roads were still quite bad which made my decision to spend the night at Margie’s an easy one.  Finally, on Monday I made it back to my apartment almost 80 hours after I left my hotel in San Francisco, making this the most extended travel disaster I have had.  I kept thinking, this is the kind of thing that is on the news and you think, “Oh those poor people.”  Well this time, I was one of the poor people unable to get home.

Little did I know this was only the first adventure of the Christmas season that Mother Nature had in store for me.

A couple of days after my original plan I did make it to North Carolina to visit friends and family.  The second punch of my Christmas weather adventures came with the ice storm that hit Boone Christmas Eve into Christmas Morning.  I woke up Christmas morning to find that the power has been knocked out in my parents’ house.  We spent the morning listening to branches and trees fall in the woods all around their house.  Little did we know at the time that their power wouldn’t be coming back on until late Monday afternoon.

SuperMom cooks Christmas dinner on the grill!

On Saturday, Mom decided she was cooking the Christmas roast so she did.  Using the camp stove and the gas grill, she managed to make all of ourtraditional Christmas dinner, with the lone exception of Yorkshire Pudding – have I mentioned that my mom is Superwoman?!?!  I escaped the powerless house on Sunday to come back to Arlington, feeling a bit guilty for leaving my family – the guilt was eased by taking a long hot shower almost immediately after arriving home.

So these are the stories of my Christmas 2009 adventures.  Despite the troubles, I did enjoy spending time with my family and friends and that is really what the holidays are all about.  I do however, hope that I don’t have an adventuresome Christmas again any time soon.