Monday, July 30, 2012

Overheard in Lab

This afternoon after lunch, in my cubicle I overheard my labmate and another student, heads down hunched over a pad of green engineering paper, busily working through a basic mechanics problem - and by the end of the conversation, they had derived from basic tensor theory the deformation expected in an infinite plane of compressed material, as opposed to an axially loaded rectangular bar, which requires a correction using the bulk modulus because Poisson's Ratio is not in effect.

Whew. Let it be known that I can't derive this from my head like my labmate did - there would be heavy textbook referencing for me to get there... and maybe some Wikipedia entries...

At the end of the whole derivation, however, the answer was a fairly standard equation, and any mechanics folks would recognize the method.

"Do I have to cite this in my conference paper?" asked the thoroughly dazzled student.

"No," says my labmate, "That would be like citing Hooke's Law... it's a commonly understood thing that uses a trivial derivation to those in the field."

There was a moment of silence in the office, and then a small voice piped up from the other end of the room.... "Um, I just cited Hooke's Law in my paper..."

Some of us are more thorough than others!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

EngineerBlogs: What's In My Bag

This week at Engineer Blogs, all of the writers are doing a series on What's In My Bag.

Check out my post here! And check out the rest of the series, too, it gives a great cross section on the life of an engineer in different fields and job situations.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Using Home Built Equipment

When I wrote the other day about training on new equipment, it brought to mind a story from lab.

There is a difference between homemade equipment, and industrial equipment. When I am being trained on new equipment, or training someone else on equipment, that assumes that there are correct, known procedures for operating said equipment.

Such is not always the case. I work in a lab where we build machinery - which means a lot of what we use we make ourselves. I happen to be very proud of this fact. My Master's project involved building a machine that duplicated the function and quality of commercially available equipment, but for $10k instead of $250-500k. Take THAT.

Now my labmate has built a roller machine for his PhD. It is very cleverly built, with precise design and a fancy control system, and nothing else exists quite like it. His whole degree was based on the design and fabrication and testing of this machine.

However, he never actually manufactured anything with it.

Turns out, my work can use his machine to actually manufacture things. This is an excellent example of a cohesive lab research direction allowing students with complementary projects to leverage each other's work.

Or, you know, of me being lazy and not wanting to re-invent the wheel...

My labmate is ridiculously proud of his machine. He wired it up to run with a joystick. He is even MORE ridiculously proud of the joystick than he is of the machine.

Said joystick has a total of 23 buttons, in addition to the roll/pitch/yaw functions, and of course, the trigger. All 23 of those buttons have been programmed for some function, such that the ENTIRETY of the software needed to run this rolling machine is available from the joystick.

Whatever floats your boat, man...

My boyfriend wants to wire his truck to run from a joystick, too. What is it with men and their joysticks?

On second thought, don't answer that....

Now this labmate is actually pretty excited that I am going to use his machine to do real manufacturing (or, as close as we get to real manufacturing in academia... meaning, I am going to make more than five parts in a row...). But he was headed away for two weeks of vacation, and I needed to use this equipment while he was gone.

So he trained me to use his equipment.

We spent an afternoon doing a quick run through, and I took notes in my lab notebook and did my best to follow along. Then we ran some experiments together - me using my equipment to do the initial steps, then running over to jam my part in his machine and finish the process.

The results were gorgeous. GORGEOUS.

Then he left, and I headed down to lab to run some experiments, very excited about replicating these gorgeous results. I could not get the stupid thing to calibrate. I did EXACTLY what I saw my labmate do, and the roll just waggled around and never settled out to initialize. Fine.

I poked around, and discovered a loose connection between two cables. Excellent! Now the roll would calibrate. On to Step 2.

I tried to actually roll something - a blank, to begin with.

No pressure. The roll just floated, never touched anything. Hmm. Went back over to the software, and all my settings had been erased. Hmm again.

Reset the parameters, tried again, and now the roll just MASHED into my blank.

Okay. Now it's getting personal. Going and mashing my blanks...

I futzed around with it for a good hour, and the upshot is that I never got it to work. I sent an email to my labmate, and bless his heart even on vacation he wrote me back with a couple things to try. I attempted, but that roller still hated me.

Then he came back from vacation, and we went together down to lab, and I told him to just watch me run it.

I ran the calibration procedure, so far so good. I then went to roll something - "Wait wait!" he said, "Did you put that in force control now instead of position control?"

Well, no.

"Obviously it defaults to position control while doing position calibration, but if you are running with a force during rolling, you need to switch control methodologies."

Well, okay... not like you told me that "obvious" fact...

Then when I tried to change the settings, once again all my settings were erased. What's going on here??

"Oh, well that's a software bug - if you input the numbers while the data logger is running, it doesn't save them."

Ya know, these would be useful tidbits to include in training...

We discovered a few more little details that he had neglected to mention, just because it's so ingrained and obvious to him, because he built and programmed it himself.

By the time we got all the way through, I found myself irritated that he had forgotten to show me all these things, and just somehow thought I would automatically KNOW. It's not like I can READ MINDS, dear, you have to TELL me what you are THINKING so we can COMMUNICATE in order for this to work...

Then we both looked up and realized how much we were acting like a married couple arguing - and he laughed and yelled, "And we're NOT ASKING FOR DIRECTIONS, EITHER!"

Friday, July 27, 2012


My apartment is being renovated by the landlords this summer - so I am in a temporary place for a few months. I am very excited about moving back into the finished apartment, and I've been peeking my head in every once in a while to check on progress. It's just a one bedroom with a small kitchenette, but even though it is a tiny space, it is my home and it's an upgrade from what I had!

There are several other apartments being redone at the same time as mine. I knew the apartments were going to be tiled, and I knew the plan was to match the tile currently in the hallway. I ran into the landlady on my way out of the building in the evening one day, and she was talking about the overall construction progress. She casually mentioned that in the other apartments, they had indeed matched the tile to the hallway, but instead of doing the solid color tile, the construction crew had apparently decided to match the checkerboard pattern in the hallways.


The checkerboard pattern is different on each floor in the building; there is always a cream color but the accent color is either green, blue, or red.

I had visions running through my head of a horrid red-and-cream checkerboard sprawling across all my pretty new bedroom and kitchen...

I raced up to see what damage had been done, and then stopped short when I realized that my floor was still bare concrete. There was still time!

I sent an email off that night to the landlady, and the construction crew manager, asking if there was any way to do my floor in just cream, or to somehow tone down the pattern. (Solid cream in kitchen/living room, solid color in the bedroom?). The landlady said that the tile had already been purchased in a 3:1 ratio, so they couldn't do only cream, but she would talk to the construction folks and see what could be done.

I anxiously waited the next morning for the fate of my floor.

At the end of the day, I got a terse email, and I quote for you verbatim: "unfortunately, this morning as I was trying to get the managers to understand what I was asking for, the tile guys laid down the tile.  I suggest you look into area rugs."

Sigh. Very sad.

And then I started thinking about it, and the more I thought about it, the odder it seemed.

I mean, how fast was this tiling crew? They laid it down AS WE SPEAK?

Or how slow was this construction manager? How hard is it to explain, "don't do a checkerboard"? I mean, unless you get a Louisiana-type guy who speaks about three words a minute, or a complete idiot who can't wrap his brain around alternate pattern options, it shouldn't be that hard to work through a change in plans.

I just imagine my landlady, standing outside the doorway of my apartment, frantically waving her arms, while the construction manager stands there barring the door, scratching his head, slowly drawling, "Weeeeell, ma'am, I just can't quiiiiiiite tell what you are loooooooking for....". And in the meantime, through the open doorway you can see the workers desperately slapping down tile, whizzing across the square footage to finish before they can be told to make a change....

In the end, I rather suspect that neither the landlady nor the construction manager really wanted to accomodate me, as any change would just be additional work and time lost. So I don't think the landlady tried that hard, and the construction manager just couldn't be bothered.

Oh well. The good news is, the pattern is cream and green, so not nearly as bad as cream and red.

I may still get an area rug...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Moment I Think That...

The moment I think that...

...I am losing all my eyelashes, I realize my new mascara is the "tube" kind and is designed to wash off in clumps.

...I cannot possibly eat another lentil, ever, I realize that four cups was just TOO MANY lentils for one person.

...I should be proud of myself for making it to the gym, I realize that the tiny girl next to me is using double my weights.

...I have done the right thing by renting a ZipCar truck to haul stuff, I realize that thunderstorms are coming in and I'll have to squeeze everything in the cab of the truck after all.

...I am being frugal by buying a bus ticket on sale, I realize I selected the wrong date and must pay a $4 change fee.

...I deserve a pat on the back for making it through a stressful day, I realize I am incredibly blessed that these are the sorts of the problems I am dealing with! :)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Equipment Training Karma

A couple weeks ago, I was sitting in a very cold equipment room, doing a long set of very tedious measurements.

Suddenly I heard banging at the door, as someone fumbled with the keypad entry. A curly head popped in, and a guy who looked about 12 chirped at me, "Hi! I'm new here! Hello! I'm supposed to learn to use this equipment! Hi there! Hope I'm not bothering you?"

Whew. New kids....

But I put aside my cranky old grad student persona, and offered to train him how to use the equipment (it also helped I was dead bored with what I was doing). Turns out he was genuinely enthusiastic, very sharp, and picked up the procedures really quickly. He thanked me, and I felt like I had done my good samaritan act for the day.

Now this week I have gotten new samples of ink for my own research, but because they are one-of-a-kind, the manufacturer does not know the viscosity. I need to know the viscosity, though, so this leaves me a bit in a bind.

However - SCIENCE! It's what we do here. Surely there is a way I can figure this out.

I inquired around, and a friend of mine introduced me to a friend of hers who knows how to do viscosity measurements. The equipment you need is called a rheometer. I arranged to meet with the guy, and this morning went over for an initial chat.

What do you know - it was the same chirpy 12 year old!

The upshot is, that this guy knows how to use the most sensitive rheometer on campus, and this Friday he has dedicated 10am-5pm to work with me - training me on the equipment, and then helping me run a bunch of samples.

What goes around comes around, and in research as in life, if you can help someone out more often than not it is worth it.

Knowledge - pass it on when you can!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Artists Are Funny People

In my career thus far, I can unequivocally say that I know how to deal with engineers. I have also spent a good part of the last few years learning how to deal with business people, and with entrepreneurs - I wouldn't say I'm an expert, but I'm trying to learn how to relate.

Artists are a set of folks I have no clue how to deal with. Graphic arts, UX/UI designers, web developers, fine arts - they have their own language and I don't speak it.

My mother is a photographer, but bless her heart she has been surrounded by engineers for so long, she has an honorary engineer communication degree!

One of the students here at World's Best School has been posting a set of photographs on Facebook to commemorate his time here (he just graduated undergrad). I am not usually particularly affected by photos, particularly of the quality you normally find on Facebook, but these were just stunning. Not only are they technically gorgeous (and thanks Mom for the fact that I can recognize that!), but they actually evoke emotions for me - community, joy, loneliness, pride. Not an easy feat to make an engineer feel emotions, from a piece of art at that... When I leave World's Best School, these photos capture how I want to remember it.

So I wrote him a note, told him how much I appreciated his work, and asked if he'd be willing to sell the set.

He wrote back - and this is where I just don't get artists - and said that yes, he would be willing to send me the high-res versions of the set. And he said yes, his work is copyrighted, and he sells them for a fee, but he doesn't want to set a price for this set because it is very special to him. But a "gift/donation would be much appreciated. Let me know."

So.... you'll give them to me, you don't want to set a price to sell them, but your copyrighted stuff is only available for a fee... so please donate?

I think perhaps nobody has ever offered to buy his photographs (he is an undergrad student in the sciences, after all, this is his hobby). So maybe he's afraid to set a price because he has no idea what a ballpark would be? Hate to either low-ball yourself, or set something outrageously high, right?


Whatever the reasoning, I'll take a stab at a reasonable number for a gift, and I'm just happy I'll be able to have copies to enjoy. I'm already thinking of ways to display them... can't just hang them in frames, come on now, I'm an engineer commemorating her grad school... that calls for building something special!

This is as close as I'll probably ever get to commissioning a piece of artwork.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Preparing for Committee Meeting

I have a committee meeting tomorrow - #3, and hopefully the next-to-last one. If I can bang out some awesome research results this summer and next semester, squeeze in meeting #4 in the fall, get a defense date, and write like crazy, then I might be able to graduate in December. Maybe. I'm going to try.

Wish me luck.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Mini Posters

The overall lab I work in consists of about eight or ten different professors, each with their own individual research and students. All of the combined students in the overall lab work at cubicles in two big offices, which I think is a great way to "house" the grad students, allowing for both socialization and cross-pollination of ideas across labs.

But eight or ten professors all working on related, but still substantially different, projects in their own labs is hard to keep track of. So once a year we have a symposium. All the professors give high-level overview talks about their current projects and research direction, we usually have a couple guest speakers, and it's generally a chance for everyone to get together and align themselves about what in the world is going on across the hallway.

All students are required to submit posters for the symposium. This sounds like a great idea, and in theory it is. (Shoot, I don't know half of what students are working on at any given time... there are just too many! Plus I'm old and crotchety and don't socialize as much as I should.) But in practice, grad students don't particularly like taking time out of their research lives to create a poster for, essentially, an internal event. So we don't take it very seriously. In fact sometimes, we are known to submit posters on work that is over two years old (that wasn't me, oh no of course it wasn't...).

So there is much grumbling, but everyone has to do it, so there is mutual complaining around the water cooler and then we all buckle down and make the poster. 

There is prize money awarded, for 1st 2nd 3rd place, so there is some incentive. But there is a fatal flaw in the prize-dispensing system. Only people OUTSIDE the lab are allowed to vote - ostensibly to avoid biased voting. But because so few guest people come to this symposium, if you get two votes you are pretty much guaranteed to win something. So the voting doesn't mean much.

But the PRIDE (and the testosterone, in some cases...) is a powerful driver. And the BRAGGING RIGHTS. Those are forever, prize money or no. So my office takes much enjoyment in friendly trash-talking about whose poster is the best. This year one of the older students was so pleased with his design, that he printed out a mini-size and pinned it to the cubicle wall.

Not to be outdone, it wasn't long until others did the same - we all have to make a file to send out for full-size printing, so why not dash off an 8.5x11 as well?

Inspection. Very important.

So we found ourselves with a wall of mini-posters. And I tell you what, I learned more about other people's research from sitting around gossiping about these mini-posters, than I ever do at the actual symposium. Because nobody takes the time to stand and read every poster when there is an open bar, let's be realistic. But if you pass the same posters for a week in your office, you pay attention.

In the end, this mini-poster display in our office has been one of the most helpful things to make everyone aware of the research that's going on. We should just do THIS, and skip the symposium! :)

On second thought, there is the prize money, after all. Although of course nobody wins prize money for a poster that is based on work over two years old... oh no of course I didn't... Maybe let's keep the symposium!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Night at the Bar

This week an alum from my lab happened to be in town for a short time, and in order to see the most friends he could with a minimum of scheduling fuss, he just decided to camp himself at a bar in Harvard Square, and anyone who wanted to say hi was welcome to stop by sometime during the evening. An excellent solution, I thought, and very efficient - just like you'd expect an engineer's planning to be!

So I made my way to Harvard after work, and spent some time catching up with him and the other mutual friends who were there.

And at some point, of course, I had to use the bathroom. While I was waiting in line (only one restroom), I heard the girl behind me warn her friend "Yeah it's a bummer, the flush doesn't work on the toilet..."

Really? That seems like more than a bummer, in fact that seems like a pretty major issue in the ONE BATHROOM.

When the girl in front of me came out of the restroom, she said to the line in general, "I'm just letting you know, the flush doesn't work." And you could see in her face, she was really trying to say, "It's not my fault the toilet hasn't been flushed... I tried, really I did... don't blame me!"

Oh great, well, I guess I'm next up...

Sure enough, the toilet was in a pretty sorry state. Fortunately everybody had been nice enough to only pee... too much information? Well, sorry...

But the top of the toilet tank happened to be off - and when I took a peek, the problem was obvious. The little chain that attaches the flushing bar to the valve at the bottom of the tank, had just came unhooked.

Now, I'm an engineer, and this is a problem where I know the solution. You can guess what I did, right?

Yep, I took a deep breath, reached in there, and re-attached the chain and fixed the toilet.

Then washed my hands REALLY WELL.

Not sure whether to be proud of myself or not. Don't think there's very many other women who fix the toilet while they are out at the bar, so at least the rest of the ladies waiting in line should be grateful. Can't be normal, can I...

Thursday, July 12, 2012


I had a flashback to when I was about fifteen this past Sunday - because you know what I was doing? Babysitting.

A good friend of mine in grad school has a wife and a baby. I can't believe their daughter is a year old now - I remember like it was yesterday making a meal to take them as new parents.

I was talking to the husband over coffee one day, and he was explaining how he and his wife coordinate their schedules so that someone is always home taking care of the baby (his wife works part time), and how it's expensive to use daycare when they have to both be away. So it occurred to me that they probably never have any time to themselves, and after mulling it over a couple days I offered to babysit for them if they ever needed a night out just the two of them.

You have never seen such a look of relief as what came over this guy's face - I didn't realize how hard it must have been on them in the past year. I have a lot of respect for those who can manage a family while in grad school, just like I have a lot of respect for those who work while they are in school. In both cases, I can't even imagine how they handle it all - I have my hands full having done undergrad and grad school WITHOUT having to work or raise kids!

I offered to babysit on a Wednesday, I think, and the very next Sunday I found myself knocking on the door to their apartment. Offer eagerly accepted, I'd say!

It was so darn cute to see the wife dressed up in a cute outfit and heels, and the husband similarly in a smart button down and slacks - clearly they were excited about date night!

The little girl was an absolute dream to babysit. No fussing at all. She and I played catch with a little ball for a straight 45 minutes... she was all into that! I have to admit my diaper-changing skills were a little rusty. When I was changing her, she kind of looked at me slant-wise, as if to say, "You really aren't very good at this, are you?" Well, gees, I'm working on it kid... :)

And I have forgotten how soothing it is to sit and read a book to a small body curled up in your lap, sucking on a sippy cup of milk. And how it pulls your heart strings when they start to get sleepy, rubbing their eyes and nuzzling a stuffed animal as you put them down to bed.

I have no plans to have a family any time in the near future, but the whole thing reminded me how strong the motherly instinct is, and how precious children are.

And, at least for now, how nice it is to give back the kid at the end of the day when the parents get home! :)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Tense Night

Last night I washed my face and got ready for bed, and as I walked across the hall to my room, I saw a big dark blob skittering along the floor. In my bare feet, and without contacts in, I groped around for a shoe or something to squash it with. When I turned back around - with heavy book in hand - I was just in time to see the thing dart into my bedroom and go behind the door.

When I followed in hot pursuit, behind the door was empty.

I had lost a big dark crawly hoppy thing in my bedroom.

Try as I might, I could not find it, even after I retrieved my wits and my glasses.

It was a long night trying to get to sleep. I still can't decide whether it was a mouse or a cockroach.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Pick Up Line

I squish my toes through the sand, enjoying the walk in the sun.

I nudge my boyfriend, "Can we go get chocolate at the candy store?"

"Of course!" he replies. "I was figuring you might want to do that."

He knows me well.

I'm on vacation, I have nothing in particular to worry about, so my mind wanders and I watch the highschool-age beachgoers flirting, trying as teenagers do to impress each other.

"You know what I don't understand?" I postulate to the world in general, "I don't know why guys always try these cheesy pick up lines. If you just say 'Hi, how are you, my name is Joe. You look lovely this evening.' it really does just fine."

My boyfriend glances at me out of the corner of his eye. "Oh, I don't know about that. Most girls need more than just 'hello' to get them to pay attention to you."

I ponder this. I'm still pretty sure that all the girls I know don't really go for "Hey angel, did you fall from the sky?" or whatever nonsense guys think is going to work.

I look at my boyfriend again - and oh, he's grinning. I missed that mischievous twinkle in his eye the first time...

"That's why we pilots wear the flight suit!"

Top Gun. A must-see for anybody dating a pilot.
Okay. Well. Point conceded.

Monday, July 9, 2012


Following a recipe is not too hard, but I think that the real art of cooking lies in figuring out how to combine what's in your fridge into a meal. (See, Bridget thinks so too!) I peered in my fridge last week and saw shrimp and chicken that needed to be eaten, lots of homemade stock, and I knew I had saffron  I just bought for the first time - ah, paella! I was so proud of myself for coming up with that one.

I have tried risotto several times, and I have to admit that I'm just too impatient - I end up boiling over, or burning it, or something else because I can't maintain the slow-and-steady stirring and adding routine that gives you that luscious final dish.

But paella, man, now there's a dish I can get behind. Once you add the rice and liquid, you NEVER STIR IT. It just boils merrily away, with the rice getting plumper and plumper, until you take the lid off and boom! Dinner is served.

This was my first ever attempt at paella, and I can assure you it won't be my last. SO tasty!

What's the Spanish version of bon appetit?
After making this, I learned that this dish is also a favorite of my boyfriend's. Now I also happen to know my boyfriend makes fantastic risotto, so I'd say surely we can work out a fair trade system - my paella for his risotto, what do you say? :)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Special Call

"So how goes the project?" I asked my intern as I poked my head in to check on his progress.

"Well, I'm actually kind of mad," he said, "because I accidentally fried the heater controller."

My eyebrows went up, but I asked carefully, "Are you sure it's unusable?"

"It went 'POOF' and I took it apart and there are burn marks, and it rattles when you shake it."

Yep - to quote McCoy, he's dead Jim.

And how did this happen, you might ask?

"Uh... I hooked up the AC power to the wrong terminal."

Yep again - that'll do it. 120V A/C into a 5V DC signal terminal.

Sigh. Mistakes happen, goodness knows I've done stupider things. I told him it was okay, and that I would order another one. Bless his heart, he really was apologetic, and he hung his head but then eagerly pushed his college-ruled notebook toward me.

"But see, I called the company, and got us a special deal. They will give us 20% off the replacement. Here, I talked to John, and here's the case file I opened and the phone number to call."

Slightly impressed by this, I told him to send the information to me in an email, and I'd get it taken care of.

Yesterday I tackled this item on the To-Do list, and I started by looking up the original part number on the manufacturer's website, so I'd know what to order. I looked at the company's phone number at the top of the website - and noted that oddly, it did not match the number the intern sent me. Not even close, like it might be if he had simply mis-transcribed a number.

I brushed it off, and used the number he gave me, thinking perhaps he had a direct line to the John fellow he had talked to. 1-800- yadda yadda.

Recorded phone message: "To talk live, please visit to register."

Huh. Sounds odd, but maybe directing me to get in touch with customer service via the website? I consulted the website again, and noticed that the main number was 1-888 instead of 1-800, so I thought I would try 1-888 plus the number the intern provided, which I figured would go to the direct line of the service guy.

"Hey sexy, how you doin' tonight?"

Say WHA? Flustered, I snapped the phone shut. HELLO.

About thirty minutes later, I get a text to my cell, something along the lines of:

Barely legal party girls waiting to hang out with you! Call now, or RPLY to unsubscribe.

By now I had put two and two together and figured out I called some chat line, and some dubious organization now had ahold of my cell #. I texted back to unsubscribe myself, thinking that would end it.

Thirty minutes later, I got a second nasty text, worse than the first.

And three minutes after THAT, I was on the line with Verizon setting up a block on anything incoming from that source.

So now my question is - what in the world was that number that my intern gave me? I can't fathom how it got on his notes to me. My best guess, and I hate to say this - but I bet that he looked in his cell phone through "recent calls" to write down the number he called to customer service, and he picked out the WRONG RECENT CALL.

Any better guesses?

All I'm saying is, if that was really the number he called, he may have sweet talked his way to a deal and gotten 20% off something, but it sure wasn't a heater controller and a Type K thermocouple...

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Beach Day

This weekend I went to the beach - at the generous invitation of a friend with a house right off the beach, membership in a yacht club with private beach, and a boat. Those are the type of friends you like to keep around. :)

This was my first time in the water this summer, and I had to scrounge around to find a bathing suit in one of my packed boxes. Fortunately I managed to find my red and white striped one, so with blue shorts I even managed to be seasonably patriotic. Sometimes these things work out!

When we got tired of lazing around on the beach (as if), we took a boat ride around the area. Lovely! The fifteen year old son was the skipper, and man he was proud as a peacock to be ferrying around five young ladies.

The husband was also an excellent tour guide, giving us the history of the area and some background on the mansions and who owned them. The area we puttered around - from Beverly (across from Salem and Marblehead) up to Manchester (you could see Gloucester in the distance) - is very wealthy, very old, and very storied. Lots of marine history here - Salem and Beverly disagree on which one was the base for the very first U.S. Navy, shortly after 1776, but whatever the case, this area was smack in the middle of sailing and naval activities. And also shipping and commerce - in one stretch of rocky coast, there is a stairway cut into the stone tucked into a crevice. It led up to a government official's house, where he would have alcohol smuggled in by boat during the Prohibition.

And now, it is prime territory for the rich and famous to have a seaside summer house. Or you know, summer mansion. The lighthouse here is one of the best postings for a Coast Guard lighthouse keeper to aspire to. This area is not far from Singing Beach, which is one of the more well-known beaches in the area. And it's one of the few coastlines that alternates between stretches of rocky cliffs, and sandy white beaches. You can get the best of both worlds - whatever tickles your fancy!

I had a lovely time relaxing - and since I slathered on sun screen, managed not to get sunburnt which is quite the accomplishment for me. Ended the evening with a lobster dinner (good thing I learned how to eat a whole lobster just a few weeks ago!), and went home full and happy.

Monday, July 2, 2012


Good morning. 

Where I live there is a falcon that hangs around. I kid you not. A falcon.

Sometimes he has surprised me by staking out a spot on the rooftop garden, and I'll see him perched on a planter at the other end of the row I'm weeding. I usually then go weed somewhere else.

Not a picture of my particular falcon, but the scene with the city in the background is about right.

But this morning, he chose to land and camp out on my window A/C. You know, the typical window-mount A/C unit with the back half sticking out the window.

This one is also perched on a window, but he's a cute baby. I had his mama looking through my window.

So when my eyes fly open this morning, I'm staring at a black beady eye about two feet away from my pillow. Because the back half of the A/C may be outside, but the FRONT half is right by my bed, and in my fuzzy mind I actually forgot about the window and thought he was coming right at me.

Okay so he didn't look as threatening as this, but CLOSE.

And then it shrieks at me. That is a terrifying sound first thing in the morning when you have forgotten there is a window, folks.

You know how in old westerns, you'll hear the hawk cry across the abandoned frontier town, and it symbolizes the raw, lonely, power of the desert?

When you hear that shriek next to your ear, it symbolizes more the raw power of making you pee your pants.

Suffice to say, I am up and at 'em today at work, and I didn't even need coffee to do it!

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