Monday, July 30, 2007

Mission Report

3....2...1... Mission Report.... Just a brief note from to let you know I am still alive. Who would have thought that after my exam the workload would have dramatically increased. I'll be back as soon with many stories to tell.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

ISU v/s China

I am conflicted about what to tell you. I don't have a ton of time to blog, but I am going to try and get better about doing so. The conflict comes from whether to talk about what is going on at ISU, or what I am seeing and doing in China. Of course, I want to tell you everything, but I can only type so fast. You don't want to read a novel every day.

On one hand, the ISU schedule and curriculum is online, but that doesn't give you a good impression of what our daily life is like. On the other hand, China is a fascinating place, and I would like to share my stories. Likely you will get a mix of both.

Tomorrow we go to see the Great Wall of China. We are going to Badalin, which I hear is one of the more rebuilt and tourist oriented areas. (I would rather
go to a more rustic location on the wall. Perhaps I will arrange a trip later in the summer.)

What will tomorrow hold for you? What will you make of it? Anything you want.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Where Am I?

So, where on Earth am I? By now you should know that I am in Beijing, China, but Beijing is a really big place. In homage to my recent remote sensing class, I have created this Google Map for you. You can either follow the link or search for ISU SSP 2007-BUAA. This map shows some of the key locations Beihang University (BUAA) where we have class, eat, sleep, etc. From there you can zoom out and explore the rest of Beijing. Without too much trouble, you should be able to find:

1. Tienanmen Square
2. The Forbidden City
3. The Summer Palace
4. The Olympic Park
5. The Airport

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Updates... Sort of

Wow, Week two is over. I had planned to spend a large part of today updating the site, perhaps posting pictures.... but I got a headache... a big one. It not only kept me from going shopping, but also kept me off the computer. Instead of going into a lot of details, I will instead give you some thoughts from when I first left the US and arrived in Beijing.  With the internet issues and my schedule, I haven't had time to post them before now. This covers the flight and my arrival in Beijing.

Flying to  Beijing

If you are reading this, I must have arrived in Beijing, buty this entry, I am typing from the flight from Washington D. C. Dulles to Beijing. Much to my surprise, I was upgraded to business class which makes a huge difference.  The seats recline almost horizontal, I have a cool personal video display which I can control, and the food is pretty good.

The video display has a map that shows me where we are, the route, and some relevant statistics. It is hard to believe, but it has been 9 hours, 52 minutes since departure.  Only 3 hours until arrival. Currently we are flying over Russia, but getting close to the border with Mongolia.

After leaving Dulles, I quickly fell asleep. I woke up long enough to eat, but for most of the first 6 hours of the flight, I was asleep.  I woke up long enough to note that we flew due North, and at one point were very close to the North Pole.

Leaving was hard. I have been so busy over the past six months, I haven't had the time to really do the things that would allow me to get excited about this trip. (For example, reading my books about China, planing places to tour, etc) Within a day or so (perhaps hours) I will be excited and ready to embrace this experience. Right now, I am still well aware of what I am leaving behind.

Evening in Beijing

It is now 11:00 PM in Beijing, China. I haven't yet got internet access in my room, but I wanted to type something up anyway.

Wow. I wish that I could have just recorded everything I saw and heard to play back. My broad opinion is as follows, it is not as foreign as I had expected. It is not just the prevalence of English or Western stores, it is also the big city attitude, the clothes, the attitudes of the people. I definitely feel as if I am in a foreign city, but it doesn't seem as foreign as I expected. Perhaps being in Dublin so recently has something to do with it.

Thankfully I got some sleep on the plane, so I wasn't completely sleep deprived, but I wasn't at my best either. Arriving in China posed no real problems. There are three steps: Quarantine (to look at and see if you said you were healthy), Immigration (Where they look at your passport and visa), and customs, (where you declare anything you are bringing into the country.)

From there, it took a bit of wandering to find the ISU folks. Having a bit of time before the bus arrived, I went to get a drink and perhaps some food (even though I wasn't hungry), My options were Starbucks and KFC Express.  I settled for water and an egg sandwich from Starbucks. I only ate about 1/3 of the sandwich.

From there began the ISU experience. Meeting fellow classmates. I was really impressed with those with enough excitement and energy to run around introducing themselves to everyone. I talked to whomever I was near, but I didn't have the energy to implement a broader effort.

RavenCon Update!

OK, so I finished this on the flight to Beijing. There is no really appropriate time to post it since it is so long overdue. Now is as good of a time as any.

Wow, was RavenCon really that long ago? I have been dreadfully remiss in posting about this great convention. It is kind of funny that it takes flying to China for me to finally get this post completed.

The whole experience started on Thursday. I was already taking Friday off work, and I had class on Thursday evening so didn't gel  on the road to Richmond until very late. The drive was pretty uneventful, until I got to the Richmond airport. I drove around for 20 minutes trying to find the hotel. Once I found the hotel, I discovered that I hadn't extended the reservation to include Thursday night. (D'Oh) Did I mention that this was after 1:00 AM and I needed to meet folks at 8:00 AM? Of course, it turned out to not be a big deal. The very kind hotel staff just extended the stay.

In the week prior to the convention, I had been pooling a variety of sources for cool handouts. My efforts were rewarded with about 6 boxes of handouts for the high school and the convention. After checking into the hotel, I had to spend the next couple hours sorting out materials for the students and teachers of Monacan High School.

Friday was a day of highs and lows. The next morning I met Tee Morris, Peter Prellwitz , Rich White and many others. (Sorry to everyone I didn't mention.) With my several boxes of hand outs, Peter Prellwitz and I drove separately in my car. On the way to the high school, we were separated from the main car. Thank goodness that I had printed supplementary directions and that I had Peter with me to navigate. Despite being hungry and lost in Richmond, Virginia we managed to make it to Monacan High School on time.

As I posted earlier, I had a great time speaking to an astronomy class about the James Webb Space Telescope and working in the space industry.

After the high school event, we returned to the convention. My plan was to update my blog and take a nap. The blog update happened, but l the nap did not. While updating my blog, I turned on the television as I usually do. That eliminated the possibility of a nap. For the next few hours I was glued to the television watching the drama unfold at JPL. I posted a bit about this as it was happening, and I don't want to go into a major tangent here.

Remaining sleep deprived, I finished working on my two presentations for RavenCon. I decided that I should re-join the convention. I walked down to the dealers room and talked to a lot of great people. Two months after the convention, I can't remember everyone I met. Everyone humored me in my sleep deprived, depressed state.

I did meet the Geeklabel Podcast crew who I have been listening to for awhile. Not only to these guys do a funny, geeky podcast, they make awesome, custom, geek T-shirts at www,

The other major event from Friday evening was dinner. Tired, I wandered into the hotel restaurant expecting to eat alone. While there, I ran into my good friend Tee Morris. Joining his group of 2, the prospects for an interesting dinner improved. We were only a group of three for a short time as we kept accumulating new people, including the author guest of honor, Robert J. Sawyer.

Bob Sawyer is a great person. He is very social and approachable. He made a point to make sure that people were not eating alone. I shouldn't have been surprised that such a cool dinner event could occur at a con, especially a small convention like Ravencon. Yet, as I went to dinner, I had no idea that it was going to be such an interesting evening. Eventually I had to excuse myself for exhaustion, but it was a wonderful time.

Saturday was a pretty standard Convention day. John and I both had presentations that day. My presentation came first discussing private versus governmental space flight.  I had a LOT of help with this presentation from Will Pomerantz. The talk went well, but not as well as I would like. The talk went a lot better once I stopped the presentation and opened it up for questions and discussions.

John's talk on the "Once and Flu-ture Pandemic" went very well. The room was packed and he gave an excellent presentation.

There was also the issue of the many boxes of hand out materials that I brought down to the convention. I had excellent materials of Hubble provided by the Space Telescope Science Institute, James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) materials provided by the project office at NASA Goddard, and a few things from NASA Public affairs. Stocking the handout table turned out to be a bit of a logistical challenge. Overall, I ended up with some extra (which was distributed at Balticon 41) but I don't think that anyone who wanted something went without.

Outside the presentations, we did a lot of socializing, such as more chatting with the Geeklabel Crew. We also attended several of the other panels, specifically the podcasting panels. I think we may have gotten a bit of sleep, but not much.

Sunday was a half convention day. I gave my second presentation . This one went a little better than the first. It mostly covered  my project, JWST, but I also made a point to cover other things going on within NASA. For this talk the room was packed.

RavenCon was a great time. I hope to be invited back next year, and regardless, I plan to visit Monacan High School again. As I am finishing this write up on a plane to China for the International Space University, if I do get invited back, who knows what the presentation topic will be. I expect to have lots of ideas.