Weekend Getaway to California

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Los Angeles, California

This past long weekend, I went on vacation to beautiful Los Angeles. For me, the Labor weekend officially marks the end of summer, even if some students have already started school. After this date, air travel decreases and starts to rise again around Thanksgiving in the United States. I decided to come to Los Angeles to enjoy the last days of summer!

I arrived at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on Saturday around noon. After touching the runway, things did not go as planned. Our aircraft had to sit on a taxiway for more than 45 minutes because our assigned gate was already occupied by another plane. Once we taxied closer to the terminal, we were towed to our gate and finally deplaned. I took the shuttle and headed to rent a car that I reserved earlier. At the car rental, they told me that all the cars are sold out in the area and that I have to wait until a car returns. I finally got a car after one hour of wait. Now I’m ready to discover LA!

Below are my Top 5 Los Angeles Moments!

5. In-N-Out Burger

One of my favorite location to see aircraft taking off and land out of Los Angeles International Airport is at the famous In-N-Out Burger. The restaurant is located right at the edge of runway 24R. What’s cool is that you can see aircraft just over your head! I arrived at the right moment to see a Lufthansa Airbus A380 landing.

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Lufthansa A380 taken from the iPhone.

4. Santa Monica Beach/Third Street Promenade

The Santa Monica Beach is located just a few miles west of Los Angeles on the Pacific Ocean. The Santa Monica Pier has attractions, restaurants, and shops. The pier has been featured in many films and television series.

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Entrance Sign

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Santa Monica Pier

Third Street Promenade is a popular street in Santa Monica for shopping and dining. Close to the beach, it is a popular destination for tourists.

3. Rodeo Drive/Beverly Hills

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“Two Rodeo Drive”

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Rodeo Drive

Rodeo Drive is located in Beverly Hills. Similarly to the Third Street Promenade, the street offers shopping with some of the most prestigious brands in the world. It also has cafés and restaurants to satisfy your cravings while you shop.

2. Hollywood Walk of Fame

The Hollywood Walk of Fame is one of the most popular place to visit in the Los Angeles area. When I went on Sunday morning, it was packed with people. More than 2,500 stars are spread across the sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard. The stars represent the names of famous actors, musicians, directors, producers, etc.

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Hollywood Walk of Fame

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Hollywood Sign on Mount Lee.

Not far from this street is the well-known Hollywood sign. I wish I had brought my other lense so I could have zoomed more in it!

1. Getty Center

Central Garden

Central Garden

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View of Los Angeles from the Getty Center

This is probably one of my favorite moments during my Los Angeles trip. The Getty Center houses architecture, gardens, and amazing views overlooking the city of Los Angeles. During a clear day, you can see the skyscrapers of the city. Every year, more than 1.3 million tourists visit the Center.

Until next time!

Nicolas

Hunting Aliens in California

Greetings, Earthlings!

First off, I apologize for being so tardy on this entry. I’ll try to be more timely for the rest of the summer. Anyways…

10460212_10152259266303719_86456628812285147_nI am writing to you from sunny Mountain View, California, home of the SETI Institute! For those of you who aren’t familiar, SETI is the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, a.k.a. professional alien hunters. You may think that that sounds like science fiction, but they are a legitimate research institution doing real science, which covers topics including geology, astronomy, biology, and everything in between. And it’s the coolest place ever! Mountain View is basically paradise on Earth – sunny every day (we were told not to expect rain all summer), temperatures in the low-60s in the morning when I leave for work with daily highs in the mid-70s, and NO FLORIDA HUMIDITY.

California is a neat place, with a lot of differences that I’m still getting used to. One of the first things I learned about the Bay Area is that grocery bags cost money – you have to bring your reusable bags or specifically ask to buy paper bags. I was very confused on my first grocery run when the cashier just piled my $60 worth of groceries at the end of the counter and then asked me if I needed a bag. I certainly wasn’t going to carry them all in my arms!

Riding the CalTrain up to San Francisco!

Riding the CalTrain up to San Francisco!

The thing I like most about this area is just the environment and culture. You walk through downtown Mountain View, and it’s all family-owned restaurants (lots of different ethnic cuisines), used book shops, bike stores, and small cafes with people sitting outside on their laptops. It’s gorgeous and feels totally safe and welcoming. Plus being in Silicon Valley, I get to drive past places like Microsoft, Google, etc., which is way cool. Not only that, but there are like four or five performing arts centers in the area – hate to bash Daytona, but it is certainly lacking in that regard! Another great thing is that you can get anywhere via public transit – which is certainly comforting, considering my car is currently parked 3,000 miles away. I’d never ridden a train before, so it was a new adventure for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s also very bike friendly here; I bike to and from work every day: 2.5 miles each way. And the weather’s perfect for it – especially first thing in the morning. In California, bikes are considered cars, so I bike on the roads, stop at stop lights, and use turn signals (and here everybody thought learning those hand motions in drivers’ ed was a waste of time!) It’s kinda scary to be in the road with the cars, but it’s also really neat.

Oh, and I forgot to mention… I may not be working at NASA this year, but I do live at NASA. We are all provided housing in dorms on site at NASA Ames. So hey, that’s pretty cool. SETI and Ames work very closely, in fact most of the SETI scientists also work at NASA.

Some of the cubicles at SETI. Every wall and surface in the office has a poster about space on it.

Some of the cubicles at SETI. Every wall and surface in the office has a poster about space on it.

My first week as a SETI intern was filled with presentations and lectures on all topics of SETI science. It was very cool to hear about all the different things going on here, and to meet science celebrities like Dr. Jill Tarter and Dr. Frank Drake. If you don’t know who they are, you should. The office itself is a lot like a university, minus the classrooms and students. Lots of offices with research posters covering all the walls, scientists walking around in attire ranging from those dressed more professionally to the ones in shorts and sandals, and free coffee all day in the break room. The thing I like most about this program versus an internship at a big, corporate company is just how chill it is. We dictate our own work hours (to an extent; you still have to work them out with your research mentor), wear whatever we feel like (though I’ve been trying to be a bit above my usual t-shirt and jeans fashion), and everybody is just really cool and friendly. It’s a great environment.

This is a plot of 2D temperature distribution in a protoplanetary disk.

This is a plot of 2D temperature distribution in a protoplanetary disk.

The scientist I’m working with this summer is Dr. Uma Gorti, and my project involves modeling the dissipation of protoplanetary disks, which is the astronomical phenomenon that forms planets. Basically what we’re investigating is how fast these disks are going away, and whether or not planets will form before they do that. So not directly hunting aliens but definitely still applicable – the aliens need planets to live on, y’know. I’m very glad I was selected for this project because it’s actually really similar to my work back at ERAU. These disks act a lot like our atmosphere as far as the fluids physics is concerned, and it will be great to have had the modeling practice when I begin working on the model for my thesis in the fall!

I’m also really excited because there’s a good chance I’ll get to present my research at a conference this year, and maybe even get a paper published depending on what kind of results we get. So crossing my fingers for that…!

The beautiful Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

The beautiful Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

The first couple weeks here have been jam-packed with fun. In addition to the lectures and beginning our projects, we’ve had a lot of opportunities to explore the area. On our first Saturday, we all went up to San Francisco to see some of the big tourist attractions: Lombard Street, China Town, and the Golden Gate Bridge. San Francisco is a wonderful city, and I’m sure we’ll be up there again because there’s so much to see and do. And it doesn’t feel icky or scary like some big cities do. Plus it’s just a $7 train-ride away from Mountain View!

One of the views from the Stanford Dish Trail

One of the views from the Stanford Dish Trail.

On Sunday a large group of us went to the Stanford Dish Trail for a hike. Well, sort of a hike – it was a paved road, but very hilly nonetheless. That’s another neat thing about California: there’s so much elevation, not to mention the mountains! Mountain View is very aptly named, because you literally see them in every direction. Florida is flat as a pancake. Which is good in its own way, but the scenery here just can’t be beat. But I digress. Anyways, this trail was really cool because it went past some of Stanford’s radio dishes, and from the top you get a fantastic view of the whole Valley and could even see San Francisco in the distance. It was also really cool to hike because in the biography of Sally Ride that I’m reading there’s a picture of her running that same trail. There’s just something neat about having been to the same places as such awesome, famous people.

A few of us interns outside the SF Giants stadium before the game.

A few of us interns outside the SF Giants stadium before the game.

Our second week of work was split by a company outing on Wednesday to see the San Francisco Giants play the San Diego Padres. For those of you who aren’t very sports savvy (like me), that’s baseball. And we totally kicked their butts – it was a no-hitter! Which means that the other team never even made it to first base. Ha. It was a lot of fun to hang out together, get the day off of work, and spend it in downtown San Francisco. The stadium was right on the bay, so we could see huge ships out in the water, which was way cool.

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“Make your meanest Kahl Drogo face.”

For the second Saturday, a handful of us went up to Oakland to volunteer for the Evolution Expo: a SciFi/science convention in its first year. And boy was that cool. I spent the day working at the photo booth, where fans would pay to stand next to celebrities and have their picture taken. Well, let’s just say the expo wasn’t very well attended, so we ended up spending a lot of time just chatting with the actors and astronauts, and taking some silly photos of our own. Some of the big names I got to meet are Jason Momoa (Kahl Drogo from Game of Thrones), John Rhys-Davies (well-known for Gimli in Lord of the Rings, but I knew him as the professor from Sliders), Tim Russ and Garret Wang (both from Star Trek Voyager), and Amanda Tapping (from Stargate, which I’ve never watched, but I just want to note that she was such a cool person!) They were all really cool. It’s funny to see actors as people and not as their characters. Amidst the actors we also got to chat with astronauts Joe Edwards and Wendy Lawrence. All in all it was a really cool experience, and I’m very glad I woke up at 5 am to do it.

The Sunday after the expo we all packed up into two big vans and headed up to Hat Creek Observatory and Lassen National Park, but I’m going to save that adventure for my next entry… 🙂

Until next time!

-Lynsey

California’s Got Board Meetings.. Lots of Board Meetings

Hello Again! Thank you for coming back to listen to me ramble. This week I continued to work on the splash page for the military training website. At the beginning of this project, I was designing the website using very low fidelity mock-ups. And by low fidelity mock-ups, I mean drawing some pictures of a website on a sheet of paper or toilet paper or Kleenex. I did pretty well; my advisor said my drawings could pass for an advanced 8 year old, so I moved on to creating a more high fidelity mock-up. For people who claim to design websites, but don’t have the knowledge or talent to carry it out, there is a program called Axure RP (rapid prototyping). This is a very simple, intuitive program that allows people to show a website design without writing the code for it. You can also create links for other pages within the site and can “preview” how the entire website would work for the user. So, I’m very happy to have this skill because now I won’t get picked last for teams in my classes anymore!

My next project looked into designing a system for planning missions on aquatic vehicles. The systems used to do this are mostly paper-based. So, the branch I work for is giving the government an upgrade. It’s very deep work. HA! Get it? Deep, you know like deep water? Alright I’ll stop.

This Tuesday was my advisor’s last day at work for three weeks. She is taking time off to go on vacation in her hometown back in Colorado. So, she gave me a list of tasks to get done before she comes back. Oh! And she calls me a smurf, too. It’s probably because I’m shorter than the average 7th grader. I was also approached recently by a friend of a friend who said, “You are so cute! I just want to put you in my pocket!” Do you have any idea how scary it is for a stranger to tell you they want to take you and put you in a pocket? I’m getting off task, here.

On Tuesday, my boss invited me to participate in this event called CX SIG (Customer Experience Special Interest Group). There is an intern at my branch who is actually a graduate student in the Human Factors program at Embry-Riddle, so I invited her to come along. At this Customer Experience event, Human Factors specialists from all over San Diego come together for 1 night each month and evaluate an interface or product from a company. At this particular event, we evaluated the website for a company called “Personal Creations.” This is similar to the “Things Remembered” company, in that it allows customers to order products that can be personally customized before delivery. At this meeting I was instructed to act like someone who was trying to make an order and criticize any part of the website that needed fixing. At first, it is kind of weird to tell the programmers and representatives of the company how horrible their website looked, but as I continued, the arrogance in me began to bloom. Ha! Just kidding my arrogance was there all along.

After this event my boss and a few of my co-workers went to dinner at an Italian restaurant close-by. When we sat down, a friend of my boss and one of the participants of the CX SIG event decided to join us. I found out that he is actually an author of a very successful book used in the Human Factors world that I have been looking through over the past few weeks. He was also featured on NPR (National Public Radio)…a dream for most people! As we were heading out, he gave me and my co-workers his card and offered his help and advisement if we ever needed it. On the way back, I had to drive with my friend, Christian, because his apartment is across the street from mine. Since he brought his motorcycle, I had to hop on the back. Oh! And it was my FIRST TIME riding one!! We were about half an hour away from our apartments and took a highway almost the entire way home. I actually wasn’t scared for having the ground go below my feet at 70 mph. Now I have the itch to get a motorcycle, though. Which is a very expensive itch.

There were some other firsts this week in California. I also got my first Jack in the Box food. Oh boy Florida needs to get one of those. Although, I don’t know if my 5’2” frame can handle another 100 pounds. My other first happened on Saturday, when I attempted to paddleboard and surf. I met with some of the interns at SPAWAR who were trying to make friends while here for the next few months. We rented paddleboards and took them to this large bay where a lot of sailboats were kept. I didn’t fall! I can’t say the same for the people I went with. We also rented surfboards and took turns holding them in the water on the Pacific side of the peninsula. I say holding because that’s all we could do successfully (and unsuccessfully a few times). On the ocean, the water was choppy, and the waves were huge. I could not even stand without one side of the board sinking into the water. So the next time I go, I’ll start off in a puddle.

*Drools

*Drools

Boarding, Surfing, and Falling

Boarding, Surfing, and Falling

Paddleboarding on Mission Bay

Paddleboarding on Mission Bay

It was a really long day, and I had to get some food to wash down all of the seawater. I ate half a chicken at a restaurant called Phil’s BBQ. HALF A CHICKEN!! I’m well on my way to winning a food eating contest. On Saturday, I went with my co-workers and a few other friends to a fair by the closest shoreline called Ocean Beach. I got to ride a motorcycle again to get there! The main street had vendors of all kinds lined up and bands playing blues and rock. There were rides and carnival games at the end of the street set-up for children, but my friend decided they were there for everyone. It was fun watching him fall, but overall I enjoyed seeing the different things for sale. I brought a funnel cake.. and ate all of it! Stay tuned next week when I gain 14 pounds.

Eating Half a Chicken. Good thing I had a bib.

Eating Half a Chicken. Good thing I had a bib.

Cheap masquerade masks, shark fins you can buy for your dog, a shark (you know, like riding a bull), and some dancing fools

Cheap masquerade masks, shark fins you can buy for your dog, a shark (you know, like riding a bull), and some dancing fools

My co-worker trying to show up some kids

My co-worker trying to show up some kids