Wednesday, April 30, 2008

New (to us) art!

Thanks to Grandma and Grandpa, we've been able to adopt several pieces of artwork. Please enjoy the following quick tour of the works' new homes. The camera makes the pictures look really small compared to the wall, but I think they look pretty good.

The houses went in the dining room, overlooking our table.

Adjacent to the dining room, the girl in green on the stairs.

We have one piece in the upstairs bathroom

And one in the downstairs.

One piece in Chad's office

And one in mine.

A few more in the guest bedroom

And finally, a neat face by the back door.

Thanks again for making our walls more interesting!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Happy end of passover!

Properly celebrated, with takeout Ethiopian food. Is there a better way to welcome bread back to your diet?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Hello from Neutronworld.

So I’m at NIST, doing some scattering experiments at the National Center for Neutron Research this weekend. Please hold back your comments about what a party animal I am and how I live it up on the weekend.

**disclaimer: if you don't want to endure my lengthy description of Neutron scattering targeted to third grade teachers and musicians already familiar with x-ray scattering (perhaps that is a small demographic but whatever) please skip to the last paragraph.**

I actually think this Neutron stuff is pretty cool. Neutron scattering is similar to x-ray scattering, but the contrast mechanisms are different. When you shoot x-rays at a material, they scatter off of the atoms inside. The heavier the atom, the more the x-rays scatter (so P (atomic mass = 31) is a better scatterer than C (mass = 12), and H (mass = 1) is practically invisible). When you shoot neutrons at a material, they also scatter off the atoms inside. But the heavier atoms aren’t necessarily better than the light ones. For Neutrons, scattering is larger for atoms with a higher "scattering length" (I'll call it "b" for short), which doesn’t necessarily increase with atomic weight. For example, for C, b = 6.65, and for P, b = 5.13 .

There is a huge difference in scattering length between Hydrogen and Deuterium. Deuterium is Hydrogen with one extra neutron, so it's molar mass = 2. However, for D, b = 6.67, for H, b = -3.4. Big difference! Most molecules that have H in them can be made with D instead of H without really changing any other properties, so scientists can swap Ds for Hs in their molecules to get different scattering in the Neutron beam (so I don’t have to go into a whole shpiel about contrast matching, take my word for it that this is really really useful).

What all this boils down to is that you can do a very similar experiment with x-rays and neutrons and see totally different things. Below is an example of the difference between the contrast available from x-ray and neutron imaging, from UT Nuclear Engineering. "Neutron Imaging" is similar to "Neutron Scattering" in that you expose the material to neutrons, but the optics are different such that you get an image in real space. The contrast mechanisms are the same as with scattering, though, and you can see that each neutrons and x-rays allow you to see totally different things.

Here is an x-ray image of a camera.
The plastic parts of the camera are basically invisible (they're made up of light elements) and the metal parts are basically opaque (they're made of heavy elements).

Here is a neutron image of the same camera.
Now we can see the details in the plastic parts, including the film, because the metal parts are basically invisible. Isn't that cool?

They use neutron imaging a lot for fuel cell research. Inside a fuel cell there is water moving through channels in a plastic membrane, and the whole thing is enclosed in metal. Because of the metal casing, we can't use regular or x-ray imaging to see what's going on inside when the cell is running. But turns out Neutron imaging is perfect for this sort of thing, because the casing is basically invisible but the water shows up great. I would encourage you to read more just because I think it's such an elegant way to study fuel cells.

In case you are tired of my neutronbable, I will switch subjects entirely, to one less science-heavy. I think the picture on my NIST badge is one of the best taken of me in a really long time. Which is too bad because the badge is used for security purposes and belongs to the government, so I am quite sure it would be inappropriate for me to take a picture of it and post it here. Basically I am saying this great picture will be seen by no one, so it’s entirely useless to me. And you’ll just have to take it on faith that it actually exists.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Not Dead!


Look at the little guys. Up they come! They can handle it if we go away for their crucial first few days in the ground. They're tough! And they have lots of friends. Please look at all of the things in our gardens I thought would be dead but are clearly NOT DEAD!

**note: today's post has been brought to you by the simple pleasures department**

Now on with the show (some things look kind of brown in the pictures, but they're nice and green in real life):

Lettuce! (We'll have to thin it soon)





And from the side garden, some of our perennials are coming back. We are very happy to see them, especially since we weren't great about clipping down their pathetic dried corpses from last season.

Black Eyed Susans!

This picture shows the beginnings of the crazy red and white lillies! (I didn't realize those would come back at all!) as well as the return of our mums! I am happy to report that we have not had any additional mum thefts.

And finally, a newcomer: mint! from Grandma. It seems to be quite happy on the side of the house, next to a hosta! that is also noticeably NOT DEAD! Woohoo!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Atlanta 2

As I seem to have forgotten to mention in my last post, Chad and I were in Atlanta for the FIRST world championships. We are VIP guests (or rather, Chad is a VIP and I get to tag along) because Thoughbot is building a new registration platform for the First Lego League.

First is a robotics competition, with different competitions for kids of different ages (the total span is elementary – high school). My favorite is the Lego League, because these teams are by far the cutest – they’re 9-14 year olds from all over. They have to build a little robot out of legos that completes tasks on a game board. I like the Lego League because teams come in from all over. The team from Egypt (in lime green below) competing against the team from Utah (just off the left of the picture). The kids are very excited and creative. In front of team Egypt you find one of my favorite teams: the Fire Breathing Rubber Duckies. Seriously, that was their name. Clearly these kids are allowed to name their own teams. See the inflatable rubber duck tube as part of the team.

I am also partial to teams with lots of pink: see below for the girls from Saudi Arabia (they also get points for their kick-ass name: team Danger Mind)

I also liked team Damsels in Charge, based on their pink boas.

Perhaps the FLL core values (things like teamwork, creativity, professionalism, etc) are more important than pink, but since I'm not a judge I get to pick favorites for arbitrary and/or petty reasons.

The main event, however, was the First Robotics Challenge (FRC). In this year's challenge, the robots had to move around a track, and manipulate these gigantic balls.

These robots are impressive - you can see in the picture how big they are. The kids have to build, program, and drive the robots, as well as represent their team to the judges. The teams are pretty serious - everyone in a tie-died t-shirt above is on the same team, watching their robot. One cool thing about the FRC tournament is that in each round, 6 teams compete in two groups of 3. So each round the teams have to be able to work with different people they've never met before. It is very easy to see how applicable the skills that high schoolers learn in FRC will be applicable in future careers. In addition to the teamwork and professionalism stuff, they're using serious technology that is directly applicable to a variety of industries. In summary, I was impressed.

The last night we were in Atlanta, we went to the FIRST VIP dinner at the Georgia Aquarium. This was such a cool place for a dinner - there were two big windows to the giant tanks, so we could see sting rays, whale sharks, and beluga wales. I also had the opportunity to see just how nerdy my husband is. (I generally know about his nerdiness, but occasionally he impresses even me). He was hoping to find a friend of his at the dinner, but when we couldn't see him anywhere Chad twittered that he was looking. I find this ridiculous. But not as ridiculous as the fact that HIS FRIEND CHECKED FOR THE TWITTER. See below for the two men checking their phones during the nice dinner to see where their communications got crossed.

Maybe it's because my friends tell jokes about the Born-Oppenheimer Approximation (seriously, this came up at the bar on Sunday night), but I like getting confirmation that Chad's friends are dorkier.

Also this weekend: Seder at Dad's and Melanie (Moses! He's our Moses!), a beautiful wedding celebrating all things pink and green (Congratulations Chris and Sharon!!) and a great visit with Grandma and Grandpa (Sure we'll take passover service for 22!). Then we came home to crash. Is it any wonder I don't get posts up in a timely manner?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Atlanta 1

So we’ve arrived in Atlanta. And by the looks of our hotel, I mean ARRIVED.

After living in the city for 5 years I don’t really feel like a country bumpkin often, but I am not used to being places where I don’t touch my suitcase from the time I leave the cab until it’s set on a baggage rack in the room. And when we walked into our room (the guy took us up the elevator and opened all the doors for us, apparently when you have money you lose the ability to open a hotel door) not only was every light on, but the TV as well. With beautiful scenery and calming music.

We were starving when we got in, so we shooed super helpful hotel guy away and went out to dinner. Everyone in this hotel is almost unreasonably friendly. Perhaps I am a bitter northerner, but I find it a bit odd when we’re leaving the hotel and a cleaning lady sees and steps out of her way to say “we’re so glad to have you with us, have a lovely evening.” I’m certainly glad to be with her, but still.

When we returned, everything back on again. And there was ice and water, and chocolate. It’s great. Did I mention the beautiful bathroom?

Things that all hotels should have in the bathroom: Nail file, q-tips, cotton balls, woolite packets (for washing things in the sink, I would assume). Also please notice the requisite phone in bathroom. Which I honestly don’t understand. Who talks on the phone in the bathroom? Other than the weird lady who works in my building and often talks on her cellphone in Russian while in the stall in the bathroom. Awkward, but a story for another time.

But my favorite signals that we’ve arrived are my hotel slippers.

Honestly, not all that comfortable, but still fancy. And also in that picture please observe my hotel bathrobe. Which, according to the sign in the bathroom, I can purchase as a memento of my stay for $100 at the gift shop. In case you are wondering, This bathrobe is not worth $100. Apparently when you have money you also lose the ability to price a bathrobe. Perhaps you are just so relieved to have made it into the room with out the helpful hotel guy that you want the bathrobe out of gratitude. Whatever. As long as they keep bringing me chocolate in the evening.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

First crop

Not from the garden, per se...

I noticed these crazy tufts of grass in the lawn the other day.

And a friend suggested that they may be spring onions. So mid-bocce we broke some off and what do you know - smelled just like onions. Huh. So the other night we pulled up a whole bunch of wild oniony goodness.

Washed them off, chopped them up, and put them in the turkey burgers. Here's to eating from our yard even before we're able to grow anything. Even though the only thing from our yard was the seasoning. And for turkey burgers, that isn't going to change. I don't think the neighborhood cats could handle a pet turkey.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The garden, step 1

Lots of progress towards our 5 minute a day garden yesterday, unless of course we screwed it up and will end up making more work for ourselves. Incidentally, this post could also be titled "Rachel and Chad don't know how to compost." Let's not go into any gory details but leave it to say there were some rather smelly spots in the pile.

Avoiding the worst spots, I do think we got some good compost out of it. And we proceeded to mix it with the soil and make us some beds, following the instructions in our 5 minute garden book as best we could. Planted today: Beans, Zucchini, Cucumber, Radishes, Spinach, Lettuce, Basil, Dill, Parsley, Chives. We also want to do tomatoes, but have to wait until the seedings are ready (probably by the end of the month).

Today was a mission in yard recycling. I want to get the beans to climb up the back wall and up the fence, so I rigged up a crazy makeshift ladder using branches that fell from the tree over the winter.

We also did some general yardwork, digging up GIANT cement things, planted long ago. We think they were probably from a clothesline or something.

The one Chad is rolling in the picture above took both of us forever to get out, and almost broke our shovel. Basically, it was super heavy and dug very very far into the ground. In this big hole.

In digging up the garden we had a ton of extra sod, which we used to fill these giant holes, but there was extra. Which I insisted we recycle by putting out over the grass-less spots on the right side of the tree.

For the record, Chad thought this was a ridiculous idea. I think it is genius. I guess time will tell whether the grass takes or not. But I figure it can't be worse than the dirt that was there before. And how is the tree, you may be wondering?

Still stunning. The petals are starting to fall, but it's hard to be sad about that because even the falling petals are gorgeous. It's a bit weird to rake up piles and piles of flower petals, but really not too bad. And they can only improve the smell of the compost.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

First BBQ of the season

It didn't rain yesterday! Which means we got to run a 5k in the sun. Chad and I were 73rd and 80th, out of 435. Which is exciting (we did it in 25 minutes, which is good for me), except a whole bunch of the runners were in the 7 - 12 year old age group. Which makes it hard to really consider it a victory. :)

The other exciting result of the lack of rain is it allowed us to have friends over outside for the first time this year.

Nothing like bocce amongst the gently falling petals to make it really feel like spring! That and shish-kabobs, iced tea, and cake. And laughing hard enough that people can hear us down the street. Perfect!

Dr. Pytel, P.R.

P.R. = Public Relations, of course. I opened the Ambler Enterprise (our newspaper with an average length of 10 pages) to just skim through it for concerts or something interesting to do before I threw it in the recycling, and found this (click on the article to see it large enough to read).

I was totally surprised. Well, shocked to see my name in a headline but really not surprised after I did, since our director of communications asked me a bunch of questions before I went. My immediate reaction was to be really embarrassed, but then I tried to remember Mom's advice about dealing with the fishy-handed reporter at the Free Press: smile and be gracious. Smile and be gracious. And this isn't that embarrassing after all, since half of the article is the R&H standard press blurb. At any rate take a look, I'm famous.

More about tree

Sorry, I just can't help myself. Here we are, getting ready for our first meal outside of the season.

Notice our new patio furniture! :) The tree is really opening up now, so instead of really looking pink, it's looking a lot more whitish.

I would also like to take a moment to give my camera props for great close-ups! At any rate, I am just amazed at how stunning this tree is every time I look at it.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Look at our tree! It's pretty crazy looking, since it's full of blooms and doesn't have any leaves. I'm not used to giant trees with flowers and no leaves. Can't complain though - look how pretty the flowers are!

So what's a girl to do in order to try to get in some kind of volleyball shape when she's not playing tournaments? Especially when she's got a nice flat patio, a nice back yard, and an afternoon when it's not freezing or raining? Jump rope with my tree!

Oh wait, I suck.

Perhaps with practice, by the time the blooms are replaced with leaves I won't suck as badly. And the jump rope whip marks on my legs will have healed.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Are you paying attention?

Here's your test.

For the future, I will try to refrain from posting random internet garbage. But I have a weakness for dancing bears.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Wepons and furniture

A busy day today. We spent a good portion at Home Depot, waiting for the rental truck to be returned (it only took an hour and a half longer than we expected) so we could bring home our new patio furniture. Hopefully someday it will look like this:

Minus the computer-generated deck and swimming pool. Right now, however, it looks like two giant boxes in our basement. It took long enough to bring it home that we didn't have the energy to start putting it together. Hopefully next weekend.

Also scheduled for next weekend, planting a vegetable garden. We bought a great little book about how to plan and plant a low-maintenance garden. We're going to put it back against the compost (which, according to the book, we have been doing all wrong, but I'm hoping we get away with it anyway) and hopefully in a few months we'll be swimming in our own zucchini.

We attended the second "intro to reconstructionism" class at our Synagogue this morning. I've really been enjoying these classes - lots to think about. But probably for another post.

And the final purchase of the weekend (made while at the grocery store this evening), is intended to get our cats in line. Recently, they've (ok really Entropy is a worse offender) been rather cavalier about prancing about places they are NOT ALLOWED (i.e. the dining room table). We intend to put an end to this behavior.

Pay no attention to the magazine under the squirt gun - I just didn't want it to leak on our coffee table. Though I do like the evil/genius caption. Here is Chad looking to bust some heads (or rather, squirt some heads) after we heard a suspicious noise in the other room.