Monday, October 29, 2012

If You're Going to Believe in Anything, Believe in...


My brother wrote this and posted it to his page on Facebook. As always, I'm insanely proud of him and everything he does. Especially this. It's the height of the election season, with a Category 1 hurricane barreling down on the Eastern seaboard and the ridiculous, ongoing comments made by members of the Republican party.

Someone please explain to me why the Republican Party is so anti-science, yet nobody seems to challenge:

"there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue — on the extent of the warming, the extent of the human contribution, and the severity of the risk" - Mitt Romney September 2012

Mr. Romney, before 2011, there was a consensus on all of these topics among such organizations as the Ame
rican Geophysical Union, American Institute of Physics, American Chemical Society, American Meteorological Association and the National Research Council, along with the national academies of more than two dozen countries.

"First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." Todd Akin August 2012

Mr. Akin, there is no biological mechanism to stop pregnancy in the case of rape, in fact studies suggest that women are perhaps twice as likely to become pregnant from rape.

Not to mention, there are still Republican proponents to the ideas that: vaccines cause retardation, the planet was shaped by an intelligent designer over thousands of years, rather than millions of years, global warming is a hoax, teaching critical thinking skills and similar programs is a bad thing because they challenge student's fixed beliefs and undermine parental authority, and stem cell research is "killing children in order to get research material" (Gingrich).

I'm not saying you shouldn't be Republican and should be Democrat, I'm saying believe in science! Do not refute it because of media or political challenges.

And if you're concerned more about the economy than science, know that half the economic growth since WWII can be traced to innovations in science and technology.

The views expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the policy of the United States Air Force Academy or any other government agency. They are my original views, and the facts presented are not biased, since they are facts.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Adventures in Software

So far, my favorite adventure in graduate school has been concentrated to the next two to three weeks of my education. It's a technological overload and my brain is fried, but I still find myself dreaming about it and giddy about working with it the next day.

This week in Local, we're learning GIS. It's been an up-and-coming important skill for people to have in the past few years, but in case you aren't familiar, you can read about it here. We're learning on a program called ArcGIS, which is produced by a company in Redlands called Esri. Apparently, Esri has been around since the 1980s but despite the technological advances, not much of the program has changed in the last 30 years and is still subject to crashing. Specifically, we're using ArcMAP 10 to complete the class exercises, but we all successfully crashed the program on the first day. Due to this, my colleagues and I have become especially adept at constantly saving our files throughout our work process.

Over the course of the next three weeks, our class will do multiple exercises in the program and follow up with a memo of our work and our experiences. Overall, we will be using our newfound skills to map patterns and trends of littering in the Laurel District, our neighbors right up the street at MacArthur and High. That's one of the neat things about GIS: you can map just about anything.

The first exercise focused on zoning, whereas the second exercise focused on census population and geo-referencing. We'll be doing the third exercise sometime next week, so I'm not sure what it will focus on until we meet for class. On Tuesday, after our first day on the program, I went to sleep dreaming about GIS and how I could revise the map that Jackie and I were working on. That dream made me wake up, jot down a few notes, and go back to sleep. I went to school early the next day so I could hop on the computer and make revisions. Most of them had to do with re-labeling zoning designations (which I have nearly all of them memorized), but I also cleaned up other pieces of our map. When we had class, Mark gave everyone about 15-20 minutes to finish up the assignment. Suffice to say, Jackie & I just sat at the computer, futzing around with the map since we were already finished.

Our second assignment is on census population and geo-referencing. Isabel and I swapped partners, so I'm working with Christine now. We're not moving as quickly as the first assignment, but we also have to upload much more data and use multiple programs (i.e. to do so. We didn't get incredibly far and since I feel like I have this information pretty solid, I'm going to let Christine be the driver on this one and I'll just observe.

Aside from GIS, I'm also learning software for my Qualitative Research Methods class called NVivo. It's a program that compiles and organizes your research data and allows you to do other cool things like coding. We've reviewed it over the course of two class periods, but I don't find this nearly as interesting as GIS. I can see its usefulness for a large-scale, long-term research project. But otherwise, I think I'll stick to computer transcriptions and handwritten coding.

FINALLY. What I'm probably most excited and nervous for: AutoCAD! I found Autodesk, a website that allows you to download the software FREE (not for a 30 day trial) if you are a student or educator. Of course, it only allows you to download one program (so choose wisely!); this ended up being a not-so-big deal, since they only had one Mac version. Otherwise, PCs have a HUGE range of programs to choose from.

I decided to download AutoCAD as a way to increase my skills and make myself more appealing to the internships I'm applying for. In general, it's something that I've wanted to learn for awhile, even if I don't go into planning. As far as learning it goes, this is purely Trial-and-Error. So far, I've only opened the program and then closed (just so I can be sure it works). I don't have the kind of time I would like to really peruse, but I've searched, downloaded, and saved a couple of free manuals and internet help pages. I'm hoping that the tutorials will prove more useful in teaching me what each combination of little tiny button and keystroke does, rather than do it all on my own. Normally, I would take the latter approach but I'm just not afforded that kind of time right now.

Roughly nine weeks into the semester and I feel like I finally have my footing. I'm playing Get Ahead more and more, rather than Catch-Up, but I still have a few things to make up. At this point, much of my time is concentrated on revising my resume, applying for jobs and internships, and trying to find a client for my MPR. Balance that will my daily class readings and memo-writing and you have one tired, hungry, stinky graduate student. I wish there was a way that I could read in the shower or have a machine that shovels food into my mouth as I type. *Sigh* If only.

Also: if anyone out there knows AutoCAD, you are MORE than welcome to lend some of your expertise. There might just be some homemade cookies or brownies involved. :)

Earthquakes: just one of about 192,358 million things you can map with GIS.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Quickie

I have about a million things that I need to tell you all about, but I am stocked full of papers to propose, memos to write, and maps to make. And I am having a generally good time doing all of it.

But soon, I will provide a more comprehensive, detailed update of what is going on. Here's what you have to look forward to:

  • The update on my car;
  • My 23rd birthday;
  • Learning new software (there's been a LOT this week);
  • My progress with my MPR (it's been slow);
  • What few social interactions I've had recently (like debate parties); and
  • My usual ramblings

I love, love, LOVE you all for staying with me and reminding me that I'm not alone in this huge endeavor and that I do, in fact, have a fairly exciting life, despite the lockdown I'm in for the next 7.5 months.

Also, to keep you occupied (see what I did there?), here is my favorite photo from Occupy Oakland, on the day of the General Strike. The woman is a good friend of mine from undergrad at Mills.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Another Reason Why People Should Invest in Bikes

Most of you know how much of a bicycle and public transit advocate I am. However, there are times that I feel like a hypocrite or an impostor: I drive my car (more often than not) and while I work in a bicycle shop, I hardly get to ride my bikes!

But today confirmed everything that I have ever argued against cars. There are many costs, both perceived and unperceived, associated with the car. Fuel, maintenance, insurance. The list is endless. Today, I was reminded of another cost.

The cost of having your tires slashed.

Yes. My tires have been slashed. Who, when, and why: I have no idea. But if I find out what little shithead is responsible for this, I hope karma comes back to them and HARD.

I drove my car to and from school yesterday and parked in front of my neighbor's house with no consequence. I had lunch, hopped on my bike, and left for class at Cal. This morning, I tried to drive to school but quickly decided my car was in no shape and drove Stephen's car to class instead. Initially, I thought my car was being slow and creaky because I was low on gas. My gas light lit up Monday night, but I figured I still had miles to go before it was completely empty. I decided I didn't have time to stop at the gas station on my way to school, so I went back to the house to ask Stephen if I could borrow his car. I went back outside to grab my parking permit off my windshield to put on Stephen's car.

THAT'S when I realized my tires were flat and it wasn't the low gas levels that was making my car creep along.

I didn't have time to deal with it; I couldn't miss any more class. I dealt with it after I got home from school. I called AAA, they came and inflated my tires. Then, we found the cuts. As we were inflating, we could hear and feel air whooshing out of the tire. We found several small cuts on the sidewall of each tire. So we called CostCo. They were still open and told us to tow it on down. Except...wait...we don't have the tires you need. Wait, hold on. We might have two. No, nevermind. They're being held for another customer. We'll go ahead and order them for you.

So I'm out a car (which isn't a bad thing) for an undisclosed amount of time. The plus side to this is that I'm going to be bussing and biking more, something that I am looking forward to. What I'm not exactly thrilled about it is the cost of the new tires. Even though two of them are dead, I have to replace all four, for equal wear and so I don't spin out on the highway in some bizarre freak accident.

This instance (along with so many others) reinforces what I've known all along: that I can and should live a car-free life. I love this car and have many good (and bad) times in it. And I'm going to miss it when it goes. But when it bites the dust, I know I won't be scrambling to a dealership to get a replacement.

Folks! Ride your bike! It's significantly cheaper, healthier, WAY more fun, and people who ride bikes are generally happier than your average car driver.

And to the asshole who slashed my tire (and maybe you were the one who also broke into my neighbor's car or their house): life is out to get you. Watch your ass.

Not Giving Up Yet! OR A Lull in My Motivation

Again, I somehow slipped and it's been two weeks since I last wrote. And shit, these last two weeks have been something along the lines of hell. Being sick, juggling the work schedule, catching up and staying ahead in class. The time-suck of each of these is ridiculous. Looking back, I wonder how the hell I managed to not slippery-slope down the mountainside of all the work I'm occupied with. Somehow, I made it happen. 

Sick. Dear G-d, I was sick beyond anything I can remember in recent memory. It all hit after a week of high stress, late nights, early mornings, and poor eating habits. My focus for the week was largely commanded by a group research project and presentation for Core I. We'd spent the better part of the last three weeks dissecting and disentangling a "problem" for the city of Berkeley that, given our research, doesn't really exist. The amount of work and the late nights created a toxic combination that I eventually succumbed to and spent the weekend and half of the following week in bed, not doing a damn thing. Whoever said "Being home sick is a great opportunity to get work done" was never truly sick to begin with.

I suppose I bounced back fairly quickly, largely due to Stephen's help and care. I didn't fall behind as much as I thought, but I'm still playing catch-up. There are still cases to read, brainstorming to do, memos to write, resumes to revise, jobs to apply for. It's a never-ending list that sometimes has me wondering how I haven't thrown in the towel yet.

Believe me, I've wanted to, especially in the last week. I'm finally learning that amidst all the hustle and bustle of the never-ending list of obligations, I HAVE to take time for myself. I finally did that this past Saturday. I got the day off, I rode to Marin from the Ferry Building with some of my closest friends. We drank delicious microbrews all afternoon, before riding to Larkspur to catch the ferry back to SF. Some of us went to a barbecue on Treasure Island afterwards (in which we each scored some sweet bike stuff FOR FREE). It was easily one of the best days of my life and I realized that I need to stop for a hot second and do something for myself. I can't just plow on through the list without a break. If I did, I'd never get out alive.

That's the short of the long of it. I'll do my best to update again soon, amid lists and papers and everything else that has my arms tied behind my back.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Breaking the Dry Spell and I Am TRULY a Graduate Student

Yesterday was the first day in over a month that I got to ride my bike.

Yes, you read that correctly. Bike Girl was off her bike for a very long, very depressing 35 days. I finally broke the dry spell in riding to class at Cal. And I had to pick probably the hottest day of the year to do it. I was drenched in sweat by the time I got to class and I felt bad for whoever had to sit in the desk after me.

The best thing about riding yesterday (besides the obvious) is that I remembered how good everything about it feels. I forgot what it felt like to sweat and breathe heavily, feeling the burn in my legs and the lump in my throat. More importantly, I'd forgotten how cycling has a way of sweeping my mind clean and seeing things in a new light and with more clarity. For example, we're talking about the impacts that land use has on travel patterns and vice versa. We've been focusing on travel and the urban form, but I suddenly thought of city centers, business districts, new urbanism design in the context of a large university. I thought about how students mill around the property, some buildings more visited by others, housing condensed in the immediate surrounding areas. My transportation-land use juices were flowing like crazy!

Opposite of my love for TLUP, I am growing increasingly frustrated with Berkeley's idea that they have a problem with sexual trafficking. I'm doing a case research with other colleagues, proposing solutions Berkeley can take to combat its so-called trafficking issues. I'll get into the dirty details later, but this case has us working close to 100 hours in the past 4 weeks, with 3 of those weeks spent trying to tease out the issues and differentiate what they are asking of us. This week has been particularly brutal-- every day has been a meeting, accompanied by 2 to 3 hours of work on the project. Today was the wrap-up, having spent a collective 6 hours doing research, discussion, presentation work, and formatting. Tomorrow is the culmination, in which we present our findings to the class. At least we have the cherry on top (re: Celebratory Beer) to look forward to.

Today had me at school from 9am until 9.30pm. There was a brief break to watch the first round of the Presidential Debate. We got the presentation completed, although I wasn't sure if I was coming home tonight. I was certain that if I ever made it home tonight (and I did), I would hit the bed fully clothed and never get around to this post. But today was the indicator that I am TRULY a graduate student.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Celebrate the Small Victories

Today started out pretty crummy but quickly turned around, once I put my head to the ground and got to work.

After submitting essays, transcripts, and commentaries, I was getting ready to go to an information session for the California State Auditor Office when Caro reminded me to get some stuff out of my mailbox. I found a stack of important dates, upcoming class assignments, and graded assignments. The assignment at the bottom was a memo I had written for Local. I was caught off-guard a bit when I saw the grade.

A perfect 10.

I haven't gotten a grade like that, in a class I care about, in who knows how long. I was pretty excited for this little thing. I leaned over and asked Isabel what she got on her memo. She replied and when I told her my grade, she brightened and reaffirmed my own excitement. I told her that this was the best grade I've gotten in so long. She looked at me like I was crazy and told me that I needed to have a little bit more faith in myself.

She's right. Isabel reminded me that even though we're working toward this bigger picture, it's the small victories along the way that make up the bigger picture and make it that much more worth it. I got a promotion at work, along with a raise. I had a good pre-interview today. I got that 10 on a memo.

Like Isabel said: celebrate the small victories.