Sunday, September 25, 2005

still an alien, but now i can be a working alien

friday afternoon was a lazy day, a sunny day, just another day of going to the mailbox and not finding my work permit. as i came back into the house i decided to check the homeland security webpage that contains information about my file. the last time i checked the webpage it said the office had received the information that they had requested and now i would have to wait. so as i logged into my file i expected to see a statement to the effect of "our decision has been mailed to you". but lo and behold the statement said "this case has been approved, your card was mailed to you on september 22, if you do not receive it within 14 days contact our office." i was so happy i nearly jumped out of my skin. i immediately called becky but she wasn't answering her phone. she walked into the house 5 minutes later while i was talking to my mom.

and so now i need to go to the social security office tomorrow at 9 am and apply for a card. i can apply for any job i want, i just have to tell them that i have a work permit and that my social security card is on its way. hopefully and prayerfully within a couple of weeks i will have a job.

thanks to becky, my parents and my lifegroup for your support
and thanks be to God. jeremiah 29:11

Friday, September 23, 2005

Bike Musings

I ride my bike to and from work on average about 4 days per week, 2 1/2 miles on the way to work and 6 miles home (I take a shuttle up the mountain to my lab and then I ride home the whole way). Biking is a good time to think about life and about things that matter. It's also a good time to think about inane things, because attention spans on bikes can be rather short. Lately, I've been mentally tallying up a list of things that occur to me while I ride, and I thought I'd share it with you:

1) There are a lot more bugs at 5:30 PM in September than there are at the same time in July.
2) Bugs hurt when they hit you in the face at 40 miles per hour.
3) Glasses are a good thing.
4) Somehow, roadkill always ends up in bike lanes.
5) Like the shoemaker, I have elves. Only, my elves don't make shoes for me at night - they loosen the strap on my bike helmet, so that every day I have to retighten it.
6) Sometimes the fastest way home isn't the best. A bike path beside a creek beats a bike lane on a street every time.
7) My hands hate the cold.

If you ride, feel free to add your own musings. The list is open.
If you don't ride, but wish you could, I say: just do it. It's very worthwhile.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

imagine breathing 1/3 the amount of oxygen and then try climbing a mountain

yesterday i had the pleasure of meeting a man who joins a club of six other climbers (he is the first american) who have climbed the 14 highest peaks (8000 meters or 26,246 feet) on the planet without using supplemental oxygen. on may 12, 2005 ed viesturs reached the summit of annapurna, the tenth highest mountain in the world.

kai and i went to r.e.i. yesterday afternoon where ed was doing a meet and greet before his presentation at the boulder theater last night. he signed this poster for becky.

he told the story of his sixteen year quest to climb these mountains and he talked about his experience regarding the 1996 tragedy on everest. he talked about the impact that climbing at extreme altitudes has on the human body and of course about his sponsors who have supported him over his career. most importantly he talked about his wife who supported his decisions to climb and his climbing partners both past and present who shared in these adventures. his pictures and stories contained tales of caution and inspiration as it relates to safety and success on these high peaks. his mantra has always been - getting to the peak is optional, getting down is mandatory.

his autobiography is going to be released next year and i'm sure it will be just interesting and inspiring as his presentation was last night.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

red tape

last week i filled out some job applications ... i got as far as the section that asks for proof of your eligibility to work in the usa. for the past couple of weeks i have waited anxiously for the mail truck to make the turn down our street. i have been expecting a letter from homeland security telling me if i do or do not have work authorization. each day i put kai down for his nap and then sit at the computer checking my email or looking at a variety of different web pages on climbing, mountaineering and other sports. from the desk i only have to lean over to look out the window when i hear a vehicle turning around on our dead end street. today is the last day that i am going to be held captive by this expected letter from uncle sam. i will continue to check the mail of course but i won't go looking for the mail truck.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Tourism at its best...

We were true tourists this past weekend. My three boys (Keith, Kai and Jake) and I went south on Friday afternoon to "the springs" (aka Colorado Springs, for you non-coloradans). We weren't very smart about choosing our route, and we soon found ourselves stuck very soundly in heavy Denver rush hour traffic heading down I-25. Note to self: avoid Denver on Friday afternoons. Scratch that. Avoid Denver.

Finally free of the traffic, and with a Red Roof Inn in Colorado Springs as our destination, we boldly went where MANY tourists have gone before.

Aside: I'm not sure how other people with 2 1/2-year-olds manage, but our kid WON'T sleep in a hotel room while we are awake.

Our destinations included a number of the "NOT TO BE MISSED" points of interests on our Colorado Springs Vacation Guide: Garden of the Gods (huge spires of rock that got lost on their voyage east and headed UP instead), the Pike's Peak Cog Railway (a highlight for Kai, who had to bring his Thomas the Tank Engine along for the show), the Manitou Cliff Dwellings (700+ year old apartments fashioned out of the side of a rocky cliff) and the Manitou Springs (naturally occuring lukewarm Perrier bubbling up from a mile below the surface - actually pretty neat, once you think about it.) We actually had a really good time, once we were able to ignore all the billboards advertising all of the above and other tourist spots.

I don't know that we'll go back to the springs again... but all good touristy places need to be experienced at least once.

Maybe next week we'll go hiking again.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Home again, home again...

I'm home... Perhaps some of you didn't know I was gone? Well then - let me fill you in:

Last week I had the incredible privilege of being picked to be a part of ACCESS VIII and the GRC, which respectively stand for "Atmospheric Chemistry Colloquium of Emerging Senior Scientists" and "Gordon Research Conference". The former is an opportunity for recent and soon-to-be recent PhD graduates in atmospheric chemistry-related fields to meet together, discuss our research, socialize and schmooze with a number of US agency reps (read: NASA, NSF, DoE and NOAA big-spenders) for three days prior to the Atmospheric Chemistry GRC, which happens immediately following ACCESS. These happen every two years, with the last two GRC meetings (2003 and 2005) taking place at Big Sky in Montana, and ACCESS in Yellowstone Park (Wyoming). For the record, I owe a huge thank you to my good friend Alex Thompson, who attended both ACCESS and the GRC two years ago and basically insisted that I apply this year. Cheers, Alex!

I've never been to either Montana or Wyoming, and I was absolutely in awe... Yellowstone is beautiful (all three photos shown here are from Yellowstone Park), and has an incredible number of stunning and amazing sights and wildlife. I really can't do them justice to describe them, but if you're interested, you can check out the rest of my pictures on the Shoppers site (along with some lengthy descriptions.) A warning - there are a LOT of pictures... my apologies to those of you with slow internet access.

The truth is, I don't know which was more exciting - ACCESS and Yellowstone or the GRC part of the week. The format of a GRC meeting is such that I not only got to listen to some of the best and brightest in our field during the morning and evening sessions, but because we are a relatively small group (conference-wise, at ~160 people), eating, sleeping and living in an environment not unlike a high school youth retreat, there were numerous opportunities for interaction with more established scientists throughout the week. As members of ACCESS, we were like the "new elite", and thus we garnered almost as much attention as those giving talks. The conversations over dinner often broke out into scientific discussions of the state of the world (and our futures), sometimes even in the absence of "current" senior scientists...

It occurred to me today while I was reading my friend Rhian's blog that many of you probably don't really know what it is that I and other atmospheric chemists actually do with our time. She explains it much more eloquently than I can, but essentially, we study the gas-phase and aerosol (gas-liquid and gas-solid) chemistry that occurs in the complex mixture of the atmosphere.
There are two major foci for current research: climate change and air quality. The first talk of this year's GRC contrasted the issue of climate change to the Antarctic ozone hole. Unlike the relatively straightforward job of assessing the causes and establishing a workable solution to the ozone hole issue, the difficulty of interpreting and reporting on climate change is that it isn't as easy to identify direct causes, model anthropogenic v. natural impacts, and develop a reasonable plan for what we can do to stop the impact we as humans are having on our world. Climate change is more than just the greenhouse effect. It involves such a vast array of factors that are barely understood (if at all) and much more difficult to model than the ozone issue ever was. Is it happening? Definitely... Why? Well... on a basic level, it has to do with what we (humans) are doing to our atmosphere that is causing our climate to change at an seemingly unprecedented pace. What can we do to stop it? Hard to say. I think it's even harder to implement. Just ask the people in charge of Kyoto.

As for air quality, atmospheric scientists are mostly concerned with the increasing number of megacities (> 10 million people) - only 4 in 1975, currently 16, and 20+ by 2015, mostly in less-developed nations. Problems such as ozone (near the surface, ozone is bad, in the ozone layer in the stratosphere, ozone is good - I know, it's complicated), fine particulate matter and NOx are some of the the bigger issues in urban air - typically related to adverse health effects. This is the focus of my current research, as I prepare for a field study that will look at impact of the urban outflow (polluted air) of Mexico City as it is transported into the surrounding regions. As chemists, we are looking at the major factors involved in the chemistry of this polluted air mass, to determine the impact it has downwind of Mexico City. Perhaps someday this work will help us to better understand the complex chemistry of urban air in such a way that it will enable policy makers to do their jobs more confidently.
It certainly is an interesting ride. We don't have all the answers. If we did, I wouldn't have a job. For now, I'll keep toiling away in my corner of the field, feeling a little more confident that what I'm doing can fit into the big picture and maybe someday make a difference.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

my brothers birthday

today my brother christian turns 30. happy birthday my dearly loved little brother.

i'm not sure if it was the day he was born or shortly after but i remember seeing him and my mom from their hospital window in lindsay, ontario those many years ago. i remember my dad standing with tyler and i on the grass of the hospital and i think our mom threw us some candy out the window. i don't have a lot of memories of christian as a baby but i do remember one incident when he was a toddler, he fell off of the couch and split his chin open. he had to get some stitches of course and i thought that was the most amazing thing in the world.

needless to say that was not the only accident that he would have over the next 20 or so years.

so if you can, raise a glass to my little brother tonight and let him know he is loved.

cheers buddy.