Monday, May 31, 2010

My internship.

It's not that complicated: I sit in a freezing cold room and search the internet for ways to present a file of a model in stereoscopic 3D. That's right. My goal this summer is to be able to stream a real-time computer simulation for a robot arm in Avatar 3D. All in the name of telepresence.

This is the huge lab.

This is the robot.
The PhD student I'm working for is transferring principles of telepresence from aerospace and nuclear applications to the industrial setting. Definition? Telepresence is like being the robot without being the robot. This can be achieved through a force feedback joystick so you can, in essence, feel what the robot feels...and apparently through 3-dimensional projected modeling. Bla bla bla, who's bored? I personally think 3D vision is an unnecessary overcomplication. It provides an initial "wow" factor without actually adding any important information to the process...besides, it gives me headaches. Did you know it basically forces you to cross your eyes in order to simulate depth from a 2-dimensional format? Like a perpetual magic eye book. Don't get me wrong, those things were cool and if you could see the hidden picture YOU were cool so at least they had important social value. 3D effects just might be as a way to sell a remake of Fern Gully meets Pocahontas jacked up on Unobtanium...or during a U2 laser show meets Windows Media Player visualizations...or when I have to write the 3D rendering myself using C++ computer programming language.

Hi. This is me.
I'm really cool.

The point is, I have no idea what I'm doing and I spend a lot of time resisting the urge to just go home (not home, home mind you) - I'm not exactly supervised, you see, and the PhD student isn't exactly inflexible. Sometimes he asks me if I'm coming in the next day...and I think, "Is it really an option not to?" So sometimes I come in at 1:00 or leave around 3:00...or both. I'm a little worried that he'll turn out to be less flexible than I assume he is (like THAT'S ever happened before). Until then, this is how I survive.

But even if I didn't have that, I would still have Germany.

Together forever. For 10 more weeks.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Being here.

I had always imagined the Autobahn as a very wide, very intimidating super-highway – 10 lanes wide, cars speeding off to infinity. It turns out that it’s just a regular divided highway where you can drive really fast – 120 mph, I believe, is what we got up to.

I was picked up at the airport by this nice, middle-aged, English speaking couple who arrived at the tiny Memmingen airport with two paper signs bearing my name in large bold letters. The airport is so small, however, that I was sitting right in front of them as they walked in. No signs needed.

First impressions of Germany? Gorgeous. We drove through open wooded country before arriving in Munich. A light fog had settled in over the ground, as if der Vaterland was determined to greet me as the picturesque setting of Grimm’s fairy tales. I have since learned that this is a country without grocery bags, where people carry their groceries home in little canvas bags they bring to the store themselves, where you have to make sure you bring enough cash to the grocery store since they don't accept credit cards - of course I learned that the hard way. I have also learned that Germany is a place where Chip and Dale are Chip and Chep, where people can laugh about communism, 13 year old boys play concertos for prelude music, and Pentacost is a national holiday. It is a land where they use the word "bitte" like we use salt...or trans fat...or the word "green" - for everything, they have automatic two-way escalators, and a very strong electric current - on which I may or may not have partially electrocuted myself when plugging in my camera battery.

My first impression of Munich was merely that it was a big city. Sister Hoffman, the lady that I'm living with, took me out last Monday to help me buy a pass for public transportation...and also to try and teach me how their underground works. "I get it, I get it, if we want the U3 and it's not on the sign here...then that's not where we should go." We were out for awhile without seeing anything really noteworthy, so later, I struck out on my own. I went to Marienplatz, the city center, just to wander around. I've been back there twice now: once again on my own, and Saturday with a friend, a girl I go to church with, who generously offered to show me around the city.
With her, I saw the Rathaus-Glockenspiel play as well as a store where I can buy a dirndl. We went to this large market where I had my first sausage and took a picture with real Germans. REAL Germans, guys. We also walked around the Englischer Garten and watched the urban surfers - unfortunately, they weren't very good and there weren't very many.
There are parts of Munich, like the Rathaus and the Englischer Garten, that are absolutely impressive. Both of them are HUGE and gorgeous - one of them Gothic, the other one green. The Theatinerkirche St. Kajetan is probably the most beautiful Catholic church I've ever been in. The inside is all carved white stone and it's lit by high, luminescent windows.
Munich is big and it's old and I haven't run into any Nazis...yet. It's very easy to love a city when you see what it has to offer - and when it has more than pretzels and beer and very stoic people, though they definitely have more than their fair share of that. Their mustard is potent, their biergartens are popular, their language is difficult at best, Leiderhosen is everywhere...and I only have 11 more weeks to go.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pictures of Cambridge.

Pregnant pictures...

...of both of us

King's college cathedral

King's college, River Cam

The way to Grantchester

Tea and scones at The Orchard

Grantchester chapel

St. John's college cathedral

The Bridge of Sighs in St. John's

Getting there.

After months and months of preparation...I almost didn't make it to Germany.

Katherine and I spent days enjoying Cambridge bliss – we toured the colleges, we walked past every "Private – No visitors“ sign, we ate a Cornish pasty, we walked to Grantchester and had tea and scones where Virginia Woolf used to swim naked with Rupert Brooke, we went to a Eucharist in the King's College chapel – we thought it was just an Evensong with the choir but it was much...much longer than that, we took a brief nap in the Botanical Garden, we read about paintings in the Fitzwilliam Museum. Everything was pretty. The weather was perfect. The window seat-bed was just barely long enough. Katherine was wonderfully pregnant. I should have known that as soon as I left things would fall apart.

At 3:30 AM I woke up to go to the airport. When I arrived at the ticket counter I hefted my suitcase onto the scale – 8 kg overweight. Eight kilos over a weight limit of 15 kg, which is roughly 30 pounds. Somehow I had to fit 20 pounds of stuff into my Jansport backpack! Can you believe that? I'm still using a Jansport backpack!

Attempt #1: 5 kg overweight. My Jansport was already fit to bursting. I felt the cause was hopeless so I accepted the fine – 100 pounds. You thought fines were ridiculous in the States, didn't you? They're not ok with breaking rules over there in the UK. I moved myself out of line to empty out my life savings...and couldn't find my debit card. Maybe I dropped it when I took my wallet out in line? Nope. Maybe it fell out sometime at Katherine's? Hopefully, but that wasn't going to help me. The only other card I brought? Discover. Do you think anyone accepts Discover card anywhere useful to a girl in a crisis situation? Nope.

Downtrodden and desperate I went back to the lady at the ticket counter and told her my sob story. She motioned me over to someone else in charge of closing flights...because that's what they were doing...closing my flight. I told HIM my sob story and he told me I had better get rid of 5 kg of stuff if I wanted to make my flight and I had better get rid of it now. That's right, get rid of it. Throw it away. I went to repack my backpack again (of course I wasn't actually going to throw anything away, I barely brought enough as it was) and immediately he told me he was closing the flight.
"I'm sorry, can I go through my stuff?"
"You have two minutes and then I'm closing the flight."

Attempt #2: 3 kg overweight. Not enough.
"How close does it have to be?"
"15.9 kg."
He was not budging.

Amidst constant encouragement, "Ma'am, ma'am, I'm closing the flight," I tried attempt #3 (and you have to understand that by now I had a growing pile of clothes next to my backpack – I thought perhaps I could put them all on if I had to since they also charge 70 pounds for an extra carry-on): 2 kg overweight. "Oh, brother."

Luckily, before I even put my suitcase on the scale this time he had printed and was placing a luggage tag onto the handle, "You had better run." He didn't have to tell me twice. In fact, he didn't have to tell me at all. I strapped on my backpack, scooped up my pile of clothes and ran...20 feet to the security line.
"I'm late for my flight."
"What time does it leave?"
"It's a quarter to, now. You have time."
I was so taken aback that I stepped in line...which was not short.

Perhaps I now had time to shove more into my backpack so I didn't have to carry so much. I dumped my stuff on the floor and tried to change my shoes – the shoes I had on were flatter than the ones I was carrying, you see. Unfortunately, and so comically, the line was moving faster than this kind of operation allowed. So, backpack open, bare footed, clothes strewn all over the floor, I tried to stay with it. Failed miserably. I like to think that people looked at me pathetically as I hurriedly tried to zip everything up and abandon my attempt. Finally, I got through the line, dumped the clothes in a bin, took my laptop and my liquids out and then clothes came laptop came through...but my backpack was set aside.

No one was searching one was searching it...!!!
"Excuse me, I'm late for my flight and that's my backpack."
"We have to go through it and everyone's busy at the moment."
Of course they are.

Finally, someone grabbed it and began to search YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME. What is with these people? I thought the FRENCH were supposed to be unlikable characters but I have never been more grateful for the American Revolution.

It turns out, in my rush to repack, I had included some liquids that were 1) too big or 2) not zipped up in the magical anti-terrorism Ziploc.
"You're aware of regulations?"
"Yes, ma'am, it's been one hectic morning."

Free to go, I decided I could fit more if I carried my laptop so I left it out and only had to carry a jacket and a sweatshirt. Then, running, running, out-of-breath-running, fast walking, running, sweat. Naturally, the gate wasn't close and two minutes into my sprints training I heard them announce over the loudspeaker, "Flight 2404 to Memmingen (Munich) is now closed." CLOSED. Finito. Ah, oh well. Still running running I thought maybe God will spare me this one agony today and let me make the flight...somehow. I arrived at the gate area desperately out of breath and almost out of hope.
"Laura S-----?"
"We were waiting for you."
Oh my goodness. Thank you, thank you, thankyouthankyouthankyou. Seriously, thank you.

Exhausted, relieved, sick over my debit card, I sat down on the plane and realized I left my laptop at airport security...
This, mind you, is the laptop my parents overnighted me two days before I left for England so I could keep in touch with them while out of the country (my laptop is terribly unreliable as far as staying on goes).

Honestly, it's so laughable now. What a morning. What a mess.

To spare you the details, after agonizing over my debit card and walking through every moment I saw it or even thought about it, I realized I put it in my camera case with my student id just in case I needed it in the city. It was the missing student id that ultimately tipped me off.

I called the airport yesterday and they have my laptop. Katherine's husband may be able to bring it here since he's going through the same airport to come to Munich in two weeks.

In essence, after all is said and done, I got out of paying a 100 pound overweight luggage fee. It took 10 years off my life but I've never really wanted to live that long anyway.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

Tomorrow, I leave for Europe. TOMORROW.

First stop? Cambridge, England. I'll spend three days visiting two of the happiest people I know.
Then I head to Munich, Germany - the great unknown. I did find a place to live (thank you for all of your suggestions) and am living with an old German lady. I found her through a friend of a friend who served her mission over there. So this lady is LDS...but she doesn't speak English.

Good thing I have a great phrase book to rely on. I'll be able to say things like "Is there also a hovercraft?" and, "My ears hurt, please give me something to drink," as well as, "Is there a Vedanta Society in this town?"

I know, people may start to wonder - but don't worry! This phrase book also has, "I'm a foreigner, but I'm not stupid," just in case I need to stick up for myself. I'm glad it's so useful because I can't figure out how to read the Oxford German minidictionary that my employers bought me as a going away present. Perhaps I should resort to only using facial expressions? I could really get behind that.So, my dear American friends, I will miss you...and will try to continually update you on my travels.

Auf Weidersehen!