Saturday, November 29, 2008


I am in Rochester for the Thanksgiving break for my first American Thanksgiving, turkey and all. The trip to Rochester is long, that is about as descriptive as I can get. We left at 8.50pm from Ann Arbor by bus to Toledo and then waited for the train for 4 hours. The train station itself has limited comfort and a little drafty. The train trip took roughly 7 hours, stopping along the way. The seats were reclineable and came with footstools, so we could stretch out and sort of sleep.

The Thanksgiving hype was well worth it. The amount of food was amazing, xmas x 2. We had 14 people at dinner and managed to blow up the microwave an hour before dinner. Fun times. We watched Moulin Rouge afterwards.

Today we ventured to Niagara Falls in the freezing cold and saw the American side, I don't have a visa to see the Canadian side. It was snowing for periods while we wandered around over the rapids and on the observation decks. We got a little wet from the spray from the waterfalls.

Following the falls we watched Quantum of Solace. I liked it and appreciate the continued storyline. The fight sequences were very well done and I really really like the fight scene on the pullies in the church. The body count was astronomical though.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Collegiate Ballroom Competition

Attached to OSB is the National Collegiate Competition that the University of Michigan takes part in. We drove there on Friday night (see previous post) and watched the professional dancers on Friday night. The competition is split into four parts, American Smooth, American Rhythm, International Standard and International Latin. For OSB we can sign up for up to 2 levels and 8 events total, far less than Purdue.

Saturday morning was American Smooth and meant I could sleep in. I only had to dance from 12.05 which was the International Latin section. I participated in 4 events, Bronze Chacha-Rumba, Bronze Samba, Bronze Jive and Silver Samba-Jive. Lining up I realised why you can only sign up for 8 events. Bronze Chacha-Rumba had 119 couples! I marvel at the organisation involved in marshaling such numbers. The picture below shows the layout of the back of the exhibition hall we danced in.

After the Latin section were fun dances, I have no clue how to do Bolero, but I can do a decent Paso Doble (at least in the fun section). Kevin and I (apparently a Bronze couple can beat the Gold couples) placed fourth.

Round up for day one:
Bronze Chacha-Rumba: Semifinal
Bronze Samba - Quarterfinal
Bronze Jive - 2nd place (woohoo)
Silver Samba-Jive - First round
Fun Paso Doble - 4th place :P

Day two started with American Rhythm which meant another sleep in (yay) but they ran so far ahead of time (1.5 hours) that our leisurely morning became somewhat short, our warmup dance was the first round of Bronze Standard Waltz, not ideal. Bronze Waltz-Quickstep had 118 couples, so the same chaos as the previous day applies and hence the same number of rounds to get to the finals (6 rounds in total). I had a lot of fun doing Standard but was so tired when i had to dance QF,SF and finals in a row without leaving the floor. Need water....

After collapsing in a heap next to the dancefloor we were priviledged to watch the Novice to Championship dancers and WOW, I can't describe the gracefulness and musicality of the couples. I am positively jealous.

The last event of the day were the fun dances, something I think UCT should adopt for Intervarsity next year. Anyone can get on the floor and the judges walk round and pick 6 couples each, next round 4 etc until 6 couples are left for a final. Sunday's dances were Hustle, Merengue, Salsa and West Coast Swing. I learnt the basic on the floor during the dance for West Coast Swing (still don't get it). Kevin and I have been practicing for weeks with Matt and Julia for Hustle but due to lift issues Julia had to leave. Kevin and I won, which in all fairness should be Matt and Julia's first, they taught us all their moves. The Fun Merengue was a blast, Eric Yu (president of UM Ballroom Team) and I sometimes dance it together at Open Dance but we pulled out all the stops for Merengue, I have never shaken and shimmied that much before. We won which was hilarious. Definitely something to remember, I'm glad there were no camera's at that point though.

Round up for day two:
Bronze Waltz-Quickstep - 6th place (yay for fixing Waltz dynamics)
Bronze Tango - Semifinal (we finally got the sharpness right)
Bronze Foxtrot - Semifinal (I'm slightly annoyed we didn't make finals, if I look as bad as a few of the couples in the final I should just give up now)
Silver Foxtrot-Tango - First round
Fun Merengue - 1st place (with Eric Yu)
Fun Hustle - 1st place (never let it be said a foreigner can't beat the locals at their own game :) )

I am now tired and sore and have heel size bruises from people heeling me in various dances. I am officially done with competitions over here and am quite happy with the results, I did much better than expected given the number of couples in each level and the competitive attitude I have yet to adopt. That aside, I can't wait to come home and dance at my first UCT social again.

Ohio Star Ball

My lasting impression of OSB is glitter and sparkles, but that is getting ahead of myself. The car trip to OSB was uneventful until we hit Toledo and a freak snowstorm and accidents. I don't think I ever want to drive in the snow on a highway again. After this I went to sleep for the rest of the three hour trip but I'm told there was another snow storm about an hour later. Arriving in Columbus Ohio was interesting, there was bumper to bumper traffic. I must mention that the biggest football of the season between Michigan and Ohio State was also in Columbus this weekend.

The hotel - Red Roof Inn - was OK. Numerous people had complaints about the beds and our sink clogged. Apparently the room allocations got screwed up when the hotel lost our bookings and so instead of 4 people to a room we had 5.

Registration packs included tickets to the real Ohio Star Ball (not the collegiate competition we were in) which has pro shows and World Champion Standard and Latin competitions. The first night we went (in black tie - there is a dress code) they were still judging rounds of competitors for both Amateur and Professional American and International style. We started naming people according to their outfits. Peaches and cream, flamingo, medieval, gypsy, bondage, bunnytail, bee etc. The dancing was awe-inspiring. especially the quickstep and samba. I have to state though that the costumes had sooo many sequins and rhinestones, a little over the top in some cases.

The second night was the finals and America's Best and was taped for PBS. Black tie again. The professional finals were just WOW. You see some of it on TV when you watch Strictly Come Dancing or Dancing with the Stars and they do demonstrations but an entire floor dancing infront of you is something else. Its is funny though the amount of collisions in a final of a world championship though, apparently floorcraft can suck at any level. We have arrived at the conclusion though that a couple could have great floorcraft but their egos say they have right of way and everyone else should move.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Noodles Benefit Dinner

This last Thursday was a fund-raising drive for the UM Ballroom Dance Team at Noodles and Co. The idea is that for everyone with a flyer that eats during a specific time frame, Noodles and Co would donate 25% of their meal costs to the team. It was also a great way to carboload before the killer dance weekend. I'm not sure how much was made in the end but the idea is worth investigating for UCT.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Journal Club MTG8: Isoprene emissions

Today's article "The effect of elevated CO2, soil and atmospheric water deficit and seasonal phenology on leaf and ecosystem isoprene emission" by Emiliano Pegoraro describes an experimental biosphere laboratory in that looks at stresses to cottonwood plantations and their responses with respect to isoprenes. The experiment ran over a few years, and looked specifically at the fall of 2000, fall of 2002 and spring of 2003 to cover the range of phenological influences. The plantations were controlled, one with present day CO2 levels and one with elevated CO2 levels. The plantations were both stressed as a result of a vapour pressure deficit (VPD) and drought conditions. The idea was to measure the isoprene emissions under various conditions. The results show a correlation between photosynthetic photon flux density (PPFD) which makes sense as isoprene emissions shutdown with the absence of light. It was interesting that as the drought conditions continued, no matter the CO2 concentration, the isoprene levels tailored off to roughly the same emission rate.

As a side note, I am finally learning all that high school biology I didn't take.

Chocolate cake in a cup

For those of you who don't have baking equipment, I finally tried a recipe for making chocolate cake in a coffee cup.

4 Tablespoons cake flour
4 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons cocoa
1 Egg
3 Tablespoons milk
3 Tablespoons oil
1 Mug

Mix the flour, sugar and cocoa, add a beaten egg and mix well. Add the milk and oil. Mix very well. Cook on high (1000watt) for 3 minutes in the microwave.

A few comments, I think there is too much egg in the recipe and too little sugar. I also think that if you added baking powder the cake might explode as it may rise too much. I think a nice alternative might be to include chocolate chips in the batter (might also add to the sweetness).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hairspray and Lipstick

Just woke up after getting back from Purdure Uni in Indiana, its snowing!! The drive there was 6 hours (not the reported 4.5) and mostly in the rain. We arrived late and missed most of the welcome function :( We registered and found our host for the night, a postgrad named Jennifer who actually lived 20 mins away and wasn't dancing cause he partner pulled out at the last minute. 6 of us stayed with her including 4 newcomers and kevin and myself. I had to teach the newcomers to iron!! I ended up ironing a whole satiny dress between other cotton skirt layers. Eventually they stopped asking us question and let us sleep (at 2am).

We got up at 6am and startig getting ready, I'd just done my hair and started my makeup when a newcomer arrived saying she didn't know how to do her hair and had no gel/hairspray/hairclips. So I ended up doing it and then running late. As a side note, I never finished putting on all my makeup, I still haven't used my fake eyelashes or my proper lipstick or my top eyeshadow to match my dress.

The day itself was really really tiring. I danced 2 levels, Bronze and Silver and my lasting impression of the day is standing in line waiting to go on, I did it so much. I danced both American and Internatinal for both dances. The first section of the day was American Smooth (ballroom) and the first time I have ever done an American tango was the first round!

Final tally as follows:

Bronze Smooth(waltz, tango) - Quarterfinal (QF)
Bronze American Foxtrot - 4th place
Bronze American Viennese Watz - Second round (I'd like to note the first time Kevin and I did VW was friday for the saturday competition)
Silver Smooth(waltz, tango) - Semifinal (SF)
Silver Smooth (foxtrot, Viennese waltz) - SF
Bronze Standard (waltz, quickstep) - SF
Bronze Intl Tango - SF
Bronze Intl Foxtrot - 5th place (woohoo, apparently the improvement/hard work shows)
Silver Standard(waltz,quickstep) - first round
Silver Standardd(foxtrot, tango) - SF
Silver Intl Viennese Waltz - SF
Bronze American Swing - 6th place
Bronze American Mambo - QF
Silver Rhythm (swing, mambo) - SF
Bronze Latin (Chacha, rumba) - QF
Bronze Samba - QF
Bronze Jive - QF
Silver Latin (Chacha, rumba) - SF
Silver Latin (samba, jive) - SF

I would like to point out that I did equal/better in Silver than Bronze. There is this theory that the rounds are too crowded for the judges to see everyone in Bronze but Silver had the same number of people on the floor per round (approx 25 ppl).

The trend here is to hand out ribbons not medals which say first to sixth place. Each have a distinctive colour. Its not quite the same as walking away with a medal or trophy but its definitely easier to pack! The results are also announced throughout the day, actually straight after each final (have to love electronic judging - see below).

By the time I sat down at the end of the competition I was soo tired I could hardly move. My legs cramped at the end of ballroom (right before lunch) and I lost a toenail (I'm waiting the next one to go) from various occasions of being trod on. My legs in general are talking very loudly today about their overuse.

Final dance tally: 74 (number of times I had to dance each one)
American Waltz - 5, Waltz - 5
A Tango - 5, Tango - 6
A Foxtrot - 7, Foxtrot - 7
A Viennese W - 3, Intl VW - 2
Quickstep - 5, Swing - 5
Mambo - 4, Chacha - 5
Rumba - 5, Samba - 5
Jive - 5

Overall the competition was managed using a computer system. There were multiple screens wirelessly getting information and updating almost instantly, a huge projector screen showing the results and upcoming heats. When you lined up, the marshallers checked you off on palmpilots and the judges marked on palmpilots for almost instant results. There were no delays, nothing major broke(the wireless died occasionally). The judges each had a palmpilot to score competitors and by the time you walked off the dancefloor, the results were already submitted and if it was a quarterfinal upwards the results were already on screen. Another interesting judging note was that the judges called back the top whatever number from all the heats, but a part of each heat so there was less bias. Interesting system and one you can see has been perfected over the years. I have to say the MC and DJ both did an decent job.

At the end of the competition there were fun dances including Salsa, Merengue, same sex rumba, girl lead, guy follow waltz. They were very entertaining to watch and if we didn't have to leave to go home I so would have done them. If we had time to do these at Intervarsity I think it would be great.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Climate Saver Campaign by WWF

I attended a talk titled "The Business Response to Climate Change" with WWF's Matt Banks (Senior Program Officer of Business and Industry). I thought it would be about initiatives in industry within the USA but I learnt more about polar bears and how the Arctic ice sheet is disappearing. This I suppose was an emotional ploy to the audience but the speaker came across as bored. I lost interest within the first 10 minutes. I did learn though that HP, Johnson&Johnson and CocaCola have all signed on to this Climate Savers campaign.

Competition Preparation

This weekend is Purdue Ballroom Classic in Indiana. This is a five hour drive away. The hosts are providing crash space for the Michigan team. With the competition now days away preparation is well under way. I have organised all my clothes and stocked up on makeup and hair flowers. I bought my first pair of fake eyelashes today (did you know they come in different colours and sizes and density?) and next week I'm going for my first spray tan (I feel wrong getting a fake tan). My next step is to try clean my satin shoes. The voice of experience here said hairspray and a toothbrush works. I'm going to experiment.

Monday, November 10, 2008

First Snow

It snowed for the first time today. Apparently it won't "stick" but just fall for the next few weeks. I think the locals thought I was crazy, I was dancing around outside in the snow catching snowflakes :) I am sure I will hate the snow soon, but its still a novelty. Next time it snows enough to collect on the ground its snow angels and snowmen time.

In other news, the Engineering Graduate Symposium took centre stage on Friday. The day started with an overview of what to expect doing Engineering at Michigan and then department talks. This event is directed at undergrads looking to join Michigan and is sort of like UCT Open Day but for students already in university. The AOSS grads presented topics ranging from regridding climate models for translation from cubes to lat/long, Venus and its oxygen and nitrogen nightglow, Aerosol composition and cloud formation and Mars's middle atmosphere. Afterwards we went to dinner and drinks on Friday night and we took over 2 tables in the end. Dinner was nachos, salsa, burgers, beer and a Cookie-tini! The girls shared it, the thing is huge, 7 cookies and 5 scoops of ice-cream.

Friday, November 7, 2008

UMBDT Ice Skating

The UM Ballroom Dance Team graciously provided discounts for team members to skate around and make a fool of themselves at the Yost Ice Arena. I haven't skated in years and it shows. I was guided around the nice by the guys for most of the night telling me to glide and coast etc. Meh, somehow I don't think I'm ever going to be an ice-skater. The worst is that I now have areas on my feet with no skin and a competition in one week :( That being said, I had a great time and might have to go more often when I get back to CT. I mean the ice rink is only 5 mins away.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


CUDA by NVIDIA is a new C language environment for developers to solve numerical processing problems on Graphical Processing Units(GPUs). The speedup of certain problems in astronomical such as an N-body problem can get up to a 100x faster. The GTX200 has 1.4 billion transistors and can reach 1000 GFLOPS as opposed to a quad core Xeon which reaches 96 GFLOPS. The reason is the difference in architecture. The CPU is designed for minimum latency, not throughput, something a GPU excels at and number crunching is essentially a throughput problem.The speaker Jonathan Cohen believes the scientific community and their problems are ideal for the GPU architecture. A few interesting features of the GPU include 240 processors split into groups of 8 to create shader multiprocessors(SM). Each SM has 6 SPs, 2 SFUs and and a DP. Note that Double precision (DP) processors are not needed for graphics/games and included for scientific reasons. The SFUs are optimised for sine/cosine/sqrt/exp operations, all common in scientific computing.

One application is transferring the cloud microphysics subroutine from WRF into CUDA and John Michalakes at NCAR reported a 1.3 speedup. This shows that it might be possible to build much cheaper clusters with more powerful GPUs and run climate models faster and for far less. Cohen is building up to a ROMS-like system for GPUs. A group in Italy built a computer with 8 GPUs (8 TFLOPS) for $6000. Think of the possibilities...

Journal Club MTG6: Global Change and Ozone Air Quality

This week we delve back into organic chemistry with an article on ozone quality over the United States. Titled "Effects of 2000-2050 global change on ozone air quality in the United States" by Shiliang Wu et al (2008), the paper looks at various changes in climate and anthropogenic emissions of ozone precursors using the GEOS-Chem model. Looking into the sensitivity of ozone to climate events, one can see minimal changes in the southeast, but large increases in ozone as the cyclone tracks change and don't protrude inland as far as presently occurs. The anthropogenic emissions are looked at under the A1B scenario from IPCC and has a decrease in emissions in the US and as a result a significant decrease over southeast. The final consensus is that the emissions cap currently in place at 40% needs to be increased to 50% to take into account the effects of climate change by 2050.

An interesting question at this point is, given that decreases are going to have different effects in different regions, should we have one solution at a federal level(in the US) or a state level?

Fading to Winter

Winter is steadily approaching Ann Arbor, but Autumn is putting up a fight. Today is a bright sunny day and the trees are showing off the last of their vibrant colours. Walking to the bus this morning I passed the tree in the picture on the right. I'm going to miss the yellows, oranges and reds in the next two weeks when the first snows are forecast and the last leaves fall.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama prevails

The votes are in, the country has spoken and the winner by a landslide of electoral votes (not popular vote) is Barack Obama. We all sat glued to screens as state by state the polls closed and CNN started projecting winners from exit polls. This map became our whole life for the evening: CNN Results. People had to explain the electoral vote system to me, but I got there in the end. McCain gave a very nice concession speech, one that was both gracious and appreciative of Obama's methods, a change from his usual rhetoric. Obama's speech was one focused on the people, not himself and his wish to be the president of all, not just the Democrats, which I hope the Republicans appreciate.

I would just like to point out that this is the starting point for Obama, not the finishing. He has arrived at what could be the dawn of a new America and I hope he can carry through with his promises. The rest of us (the world) will be watching and hoping.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Election Fever

I am surrounded by wannabe politicians who debate the pros and cons of every candidates policies and standpoints. I wish the whole thing was over and done with and I can go back to turning on the TV or read a paper without seeing the latest stupid thing Palin just said or the new terrorist they found in Obama's past. Its truly scary being here right now, everyone has election fever, and somehow when the results comes out on Tuesday night its not going to end, they'll start debating what went right/wrong. Its also interesting to see the incentives shops are giving to citizens to vote. I've been accosted to register since I arrived and that finally ended with the registration deadline, but now shops are spamming facebook, email etc with offers of free coffee, ice-cream etc when you've finished voting.

However, if you are following the election with equal fervor as the American people, look at:
Barack Obama for president: Endorsement by the Times and their endorsement history. Its actually quite interesting to read. And I realise I just lost the battle to stay neutral in this debate and have become a social liberialist. Or perhaps I always have been?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Halloween Party

Undergrad parties rock! I had forgotten just how taxing an undergrad partying is. The place was packed and smoky and loud. I dressed up as an African fairy.