Up the Suwannee

First, I must ask that we take a moment of silence to mourn the death of my dear Nintendo DS. I dropped it today, for the gazillionth time, but it was one time too many. For while this fine piece of machinery could handle many a blow (it was the old silver, brick model from at least six years ago), when I dropped it today, a crack appeared on the inner body just above the touch screen. Not just any old crack, but a monster that seemed to completely disable the touch screen. And since you need the touch screen to turn the thing on... we shall mourn its loss (this is especially troubling because Pokemon Black and White just came out, and now I have no means to play them).

Anyway, today we had a little adventure: we took the small boats up the Suwannee River! At first it was a little scary, us being in small boats on a large body of water (aka the ocean), with six of us in one boat:

But once we got into the river, it wasn't nearly as terrifying. It got fresh pretty quick, much to Dr. Brand's dismay (we were in the river delta/salt marsh area and you couldn't taste salt in the water). We went a couple miles upriver, taking samples and CTD casts wherever it was deep enough (according to Dr. Brand). It was pretty amusing: we'd be cruising along, and then all of a sudden Dr. Brand goes, "I WANT TO TAKE A SAMPLE!" (<--- dramatization) and we'd screech to a halt. We saw some pretty cool river-side houses and docks on our way up the river, including this one, which has it's own home-made water slide into the river, complete with dock and lounge chairs to aid in parental supervision:

It got pretty windy on the way back, and Dave pretty much forced Katie and Chris into some of the rough seas gear he had stored on the boat, even though they insisted they were fine:

They called themselves "Deadliest Catch Wannabes."

The Walt Smith was beautiful in the setting sun on our approach back. Dave was nice enough to indulge us in a run around the ship for a photo-op, and this is but one of the awesome pics I got of the Walt Smith at sea:

Finally, we have an update on the Green Flash Watch: conditions today were almost perfect, with a little bit of atmospheric haze on the horizon. Katie, Chris, and I all watched the sun as it set intently from the bridge, where the crew was nice enough to loan us a pair of binoculars to see the flash (which they all thought was going to happen). Chris and I (Chris, of course, was the most desperate to see the flash), were without binoculars when the sun dipped below the horizon, and didn't see anything. Katie, however, was looking through the binoculars, and saw just the tiniest flash with their aid. Let's just say Chris and I were super-jealous. Oh, well, at least I got some more great sunset photos!

Epic Sunsets

So, last night yielded one of the most spectacular sunsets I've ever seen. Add that to the fact that I recently learned what aperture and f-stop are and how to use them, and you get some pretty awesome photos:

And then I cranked up the ISO for a shot of the moon:

NOTE: It takes about an hour to load three photos due to limited bandwidth. The photos above were me seeing how long it took. Therefore, the photos will come slowly, when I have time. Don't worry, they will come :)
According to Dr. Brand, the green flash (a la Pirates 3) really does exist. It's an atmospheric phenomena that occurs in the tropics if the conditions are just right (ie cloudless). What happens is that the rotation of the earth is must longer, and more horizontal, so in addition to getting the reds, oranges, and yellows of the regular sunset, you get green too, but only at the very, very end, just as the sun is about to disappear below the horizon. Because the time period where green exists is so short, it manifests itself in a flash. Chris (short for Christine), Katie, and I are determined to see the green flash before the end of the cruise.

Today we did our normal surface water sampling procedure, plus an additional product with some reagent to account for the type of plankton. We also started using the CTD, but the small one (we won't be using the rosette for a few days yet - we're still doing coastal sampling). We also did sediment samples today, to look for the cysts of some juvenile stage of K. brevis. We had a little sediment sampler, and the big sampler that needed to hoisted with the... wench? Crane? I forget the official ship term, but it takes an operator on the upper deck. Anyway, it was cool (the guy with his back to the camera is Dr. Brand):

Dr. Brand lectured to us today about his research. It was really cool, but the main message I took from it was this:
1) Cyanobacteria (aka blue-green algae) bloom with high nutrient input, mainly in bays.
2) Some species of cyanobacteria excrete a substance known as BMA, a neurotoxin.
3) BMA has been found in the brain of people with non-genetic degenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer's and Dementia) in significant amounts, but not at all in people with genetic degenerative diseases (such as Huntington's). It is hypothesized that it is one of the major environmental factors that trigger theses diseases.
4) The Chesapeake Bay has lots of blooms of these cyanobacteria.
5) Blue crabs eat these cyanobacteria, storing it and biomagnifying it in their bodies, without adverse affects.
6) Politicians from Washington frequent seafood restaurants while in DC, where the main, prized, popular dish is blue crab.
7) Therefore, our senators are ingesting lots and lots of a degenerative neurotoxin.
8) This explains quite a bit.

We had another awesome sunset today, though not quite as spectacular as yesterdays due to the lack of cloud cover. However, this increased our chances exponentially of seeing the green flash. Unfortunately, there was just a slight bit of cloud cover off in the distance right at the horizon, preventing the flash from happening. Still pretty photos though:

Tonight, I discovered that, while a genius in the kitchen, Chef Matt's expertise doesn't extend to the baking realm. His proficiency is only as good as box mix. He was making brownies and carrot cake, and I commented that I loved to bake, and he invited me into the galley as the "Chef's Assistant."

It turned out more to be the role of an unpaid intern or grad student: you do all the work while the mentor "supervises." I didn't mind though: this was the first time I had been in a nice, big kitchen since winter break (yeah, I cooked in the apartment with Jen, but it's not the biggest kitchen). I only helped with the toppings (chocolate chips, crushed oreos, and walnuts) for the brownies, but I pretty much made the carrot cake all on my own (apart from Matt telling me where stuff was in the galley). It was really nice. The carrot cake still needs to be frosted, and whomever made the brownies did the cakey variety rather than fudgy (I like my brownies fudgy), but it all turned well.

There's a bunch of fish following the boat because of the lights, and a bunch of terns following the fish, and therefore flanking the boat on either side. It's pretty cool. We're being escorted across the water by a colony of gulls.

I'm on a boat!

Last year at this time I was at Walt Disney World for Spring Break. A ton of fun, but a little pricey (though, that being said, doing Disney for five/six days for only $250 is kind of unheard of...). I had to scramble to get the funds, and really save up. I had to sacrifice diving and snacks and all sorts of other things because I was spending money on this trip.

This year, I had planned on staying in Miami. Yes, I would have to spend money on food, but at least I had a kitchen to work with (even if it was a few floors up), unlike last year, where I had to live out of a microwave for four days post-Disney. I was going to get a ton of work done, do some extra shifts at the Info desk, and the rest of the time either work at Dr. Fieber's lab or Aplysia. Cool. Then, I got this email from Dr. Fieber:
"Dr. Larry Brand’s RV Walton Smith cruise is in need of student volunteers. He can take 4 to 5 with no problem. The dates are March 14 – 19 /20 (Spring Break) and March 19/20 – March 25. The ship will leave RSMAS and change scientific crew in Ft. Myers and then return to RSMAS. Transportation is provided. This is a great opportunity for UM Undergraduate or Graduate students."
Since I really didn't have any plans, and had never been on a research cruise, I jumped at the chance. I emailed Dr. Brand immediately, and got a spot on the boat. Needless to say, I was ecstatic.Last night, I arrived at the RSMAS dock at around 10PM (thank you Jen for the ride!). I was one of two people, aside from crew, sleeping on the boat overnight (everyone else would arrive in the morning, half an hour before departure). I found out my bunk assignment from Dave (the second mate), and proceeded to move into the lovely Stateroom 7:

That's about it. The bunks are to the left, and there's a cabinet next to the desk. The door leads to the head (bathroom), complete with shower. Yes, the Walt Smith has WiFi (through which I am typing to you now), hence the laptop (and, you know, move-in music). I quickly unpacked my duffel and my backpack, and everything easily fit into what seems like a small space. There are drawers under the bunk that easily fit a ton of clothes, and the closet has three shelves. I decided that one would be shared with my roommate for toiletries, and we would each have our own shelf for our other stuff. It's quite cozy and homey.The door to our stateroom opens up to the dry lab:

This is where all the data-collecting and experimenting happens. We're filtering water from our samples to collect algae (Dr. Brand studies Karenia brevis, which causes red tides in Florida), and when the samples get back to the lab at RSMAS, they'll be measuring chlorophyll and something else (sorry, it was a technical term) that indicates the presence of cyanobacteria. Today we're collecting surface water samples along the keys, and tomorrow we'll start with the CTD. Samples are collected every hour, on the hour, so we've (as in, all the student volunteers), have decided to break up the day into four hour shifts, so each person collects four water samples. Tonight I have the 11:30-3:30 shift, which sounds ouchy, but I actually enjoy being up that late (it's quiet and peaceful). I'm just grateful I don't have the following, early morning shift).
The rest of the boat is quite awesome (I have other pictures, but I don't want to suck up the limited bandwidth, so you can see them in either a Facebook or Picasa album when I get back to shore on Sunday). In addition to the staterooms and the dry lab, there's the wetlab (completely different from The Wetlab) where you get all the surface water samples via the sink (it's connected to the water below the bow). There's the back deck, with all the big scientific machinery (such as the CTDs), the bow (which is just awesome, especially in rough seas, because it's like a roller coaster), the upper deck, and, my favorite, the mess hall and galley. But really, the galley has to be my favorite. It has one of those intense professional fridges (you know, those massive stainless steel ones that are huge with three different doors), a huge pantry, a pantry basement, random assorted spices and cabinets all over the place, and a basil plant in a pot.
In addition, Chef Matt has to be the best person on the face of the planet. First, he made "MattMuffins" (a bad pun off of McMuffins...) from English muffins, poached eggs, American cheese, and Canadian bacon (in a cast iron pan!) this morning for breakfast, and just kept giving them to people. Then, for lunch, there's smoked turkey breast, baked beans, a lovely salad with hard boiled eggs, tons of greens, tomatoes, and carrots, and avocado slices, and a noodle and beef soup he whipped up! It was AMAZING! (Jen, you were totally right) Then, I'm sitting in the galley, knitting with a cup of tea between samples, while some other people are playing some random card game. They struck up a conversation with Matt about whatever snack food they were eating. It was some sort of peanut butter stuffed pretzel bit, so I went over and tried some. They were really good, so I went back to my spot to prevent myself from eating more. What does Chef Matt do? He gets me my own bowl of the things, and takes my teabag and bowl that I was storing it in and throws away the teabag (and takes care of the bowl) for me! Super nice and an amazing cook! Did I mention that he said something about salmon with a teriyaki glaze for dinner?

Anyway... on our way out of Biscayne Bay, we passed through Stiltsville. What is Stiltsville? It's a collection of houses off of Key Biscayne that look like this:
Yep, they're houses. In the ocean. On stilts. Hence the name. There's a whole bunch of them! I've only seen Stiltsville from a distance before, never actually gone through it, so this was pretty cool.

Apparently tonight we're watching some really hilarious movie with Bill Murray about a group of marine scientists and a research cruise. According to the crew, it's just generally funny, but especially funny if you are a marine scientist who's gone on a research cruise, because a lot of the details are actually accurate. So, it seems that it's some sort of sacrilege to go on a research cruise and not have seen this movie. Whatever, should be entertaining.

I'll end with a gratuitous shot of the ocean:

Oh, and Happy Pi Day everyone!


Sorry for the lack of activity lately. I hit a snag of exams and didn't have time to update, and then they just kept coming. I thought it was all going to be fine after that second week in February, but the next week there was a paper and oral exam in French, then a midterm in French, and now there's this week, where I just finished my rousing round of three tests in 18 hours (that includes sleep). I think (hope?) they went well, but you never know.

In terms of yarn stuff, I was working on something super-secret for almost the whole month of February. I can't show you any pics now, but I should be able to in a month or so. In the meantime, enjoy this lovely dishcloth:

Yarn: Lily Sugar 'n Cream Twists, Taupe

Because really, who doesn't love a good Dalek?

I've also been working on Gail:

I'm at 50% yarn wise, and 7/10 pattern repeats (before edging) in. So, I'm at that stage when you think you only have a little bit left to go, but it's really a ton because of the whole rows-that-take-an-hour thing. *sigh*

And then there's the spinning...

All are a 2-ply light fingering (~17wpi), around 50-55yds each.

The colorways, from left to right:
Springtime Dandelions
Bear Cut
Dustland Fairytale

All were spun on my Turkish, which sadly had its shaft snap in an awkward place. However, because it's a Turkish, I was still able to spin on it because the cop doesn't depend on the shaft, but on the arms. So, now it's a midget spindle. It's actually quite convenient for travel (aka throwing in my backpack to go to class) because it's so compact, so I don't have to worry about the shaft snapping.

However, I did get a new spindle:

It's a SpinZone top whorl, made out of Israel Olive wood. It comes in at a whopping 0.8oz, but I love it. I only wish it had a notch, but it still spins great. I'm currently about 2/3 of the way through the first single of a 3-ply I'm spinning out of the roving pictured. It's turning out much more subdued (aka less pink) than I originally thought, which is fine by me. My original aim with this roving was green and brown with subtle hints of pink, so the overwhelming pinkness that resulted wasn't exactly pleasing. I'd much rather have the pinkish gray that's resulting instead.

Well, I've still got two (really 1.5) lab reports to do for tomorrow, then some math, then some physics, so I really ought to be going. Really, the week's only half over. If I can get to Thursday, it's smooth sailing (oh, and spring break) from there.
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