Megan and I got married on July 31st in Roanoke, Virginia.  We had a ton of fun at our wedding; thanks to everyone who came and partied with us! We had a lot of help from friends and family, and everything worked out great (except for the weather).

Here are a few of the great pictures that our photographer, Sam Stroud, took.  We’ve also posted a ton to Facebook, so check there too.

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Birthday Dinner

Last weekend we celebrated Megan’s birthday with dinner and some friends out on our porch. We were lucky to have a fairly cool evening and the bugs stayed away at least for the first part of the meal…

I should have been better about taking more pictures of the people and food, but I was busy grilling.  Megan also made a chocolate almond cake topped with cheesecake topped with dark chocolate frosting with raspberries on the side that was every bit as delicious as it sounds!  Here are some of the recipes so that I can repeat them some other day.

Spiced Chicken and Grape Skewers

These were fun because most people haven’t had grilled grapes before. They go really well with the chicken, and their juiciness makes up for the fact that I tend to overcook everything when I grill!  This is pretty much identical to the recipe from the Food Network.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1 pound chicken breast, cut into cubes
1 1/2 cups green grapes
8-10 skewers

  1. Whisk together the oil, lemon, garlic, and spices in a small bowl.
  2. Pour over the chicken and let marinate for 30 minutes (I kept it in a plastic bag for easy mixing).
  3. Alternate grapes and chicken pieces on the skewers
  4. Grill for about 3 minutes per side

Veggie Kebabs

A simple vegetable marinade with some middle eastern spice that goes well with the grape chicken above.  This recipe is also similar to one from the Food Network.

2 bell peppers
1 onion (I forgot to do this)
1 zucchini or summer squash
a few handfuls of grape tomatoes
1/2 container of mushrooms (not sure how big the container was…)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper

  1. Chop up all vegetables into skewerable shapes, cut mushrooms in half
  2. Place vegetables on skewers
  3. Whisk together all marinade ingredients
  4. Brush marinade over vegetables and sit for 10-15 minutes
  5. Grill for about 3 minutes per side

Deluxe Israeli Couscous

This is basically the recipe you get on the back of the box from Trader Joe’s Israeli Couscous, but it is even better if you use their Harvest Grains mix since it has couscous and a few other colorful grains as well:

1/2 cup chopped onions
1/3 cup pine nuts
3 tbsp butter
1 stick cinnamon
1 bay leaf
1/2 package TJ’s Harvest Grains(or just Israeli Couscous)
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup dried cranberries
optional: lemon rind, parsley, etc
(Note: this is from memory, and may be wrong… if in doubt, follow the package)

  1. Fry up 1 tbsp butter and the pine nuts until golden (2-3 min), then set aside.
  2. Add remaining 2 tbsp of butter and fry up onions until tender
  3. Add cinnamon stick, bay leaf, and couscous. Fry 5ish minutes, stirring occasionally
  4. Add chicken broth and salt and bring to boil, then reduce to low heat
  5. Wait until liquid is all absorbed (10ish minutes)
  6. Turn off heat, add pine nuts, raisins, cranberries, and any other goodies you can think of


I’ve spent a lot of hours driving and cleaning the house lately, and that means I’ve also been listening to a lot of podcasts. Lately I’ve been especially enjoying Radiolab, a show out of the public radio station in New York.  My good buddies Chris Knauer and Ira Glass both recommended the show to me ages ago, but it wasn’t until recently that I began listening regularly. It’s a quirky show similar to This American Life in the type of stories it covers, but is generally more focused on science topics, making it especially interesting to me.  All the back episodes are available free online.  Here I’ll ruin a few of the episodes for you by describing some of the more surprising findings:

Google maps thinks I can bike this 2,964 mile route in 10 days and 15 hours (after 1183 turns and no sleep). I'm less confident.

5/16/2010 Limits – talks about the limits on our bodies and minds. They claim that the human body is very conservative about its own limits, and will make you sore and exhausted long before you really come anywhere close to running out of energy. The energy gets saved just in case something truly terrible happens and the body needs to release some extra bursts. They describe the Race Across America, which sounds like an absolutely horrible experience.  People bike all the way across the country, more or less non-stop; sleep is “optional”.  The winner usually takes about 8-9 days, and bikes 22 hours each day. The radio show describes a rider from the Slovenian army who has won the race in five of the last seven years. Not surprisingly, he basically goes crazy after a day or two of pushing his body so hard, but this just leads to him having vivid hallucinations about being chased by enemy soldiers… in turn, these terrifying visions fill up his adrenaline and trick his body into giving him just a little bit more energy.

6/28/2010 Oops – this show covers various unlikely events and their even more unlikely consequences. One segment discusses the Berkeley Pit in Montana, a lake of toxic waste leftover from mining operations. The spot is of course a huge eyesore, but it was even worse in 1995 when a flock of over 300 snow geese landed in the pool thinking it would make a nice rest stop… they were sadly mistaken. Despite the poisonous nature of the pollutants in the pit, biologists have recently found a number of amazingly hardy microorganisms able to survive there.  One of them is even able to do a remarkably good job at transforming the waste into less harmful substances. The kicker: that particular microorganism has only been found one other place–the bowels of snow geese!

I’ve really enjoyed listening to these and other episodes of the show.  Sometimes the results from one segment of the show are used a bit too freely to make claims about later parts, but it is still quite thought provoking. The two hosts make a great pair, and give the show a nice style.  Highly recommended!

Back Porch Farming

I’ve been farming virtual popcorn on this blog for a while now, but this year Megan and I decided to try our hand at some plants for our back porch.  The term porch is a bit generous, it is more likely an empty concrete swimming pool sticking off the back of our townhouse, but at least it is outside!

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T-Mail: The Transit of Venus

Each week, it is my job within the department to send out the emails announcing various department events like “Thursday Tea” and “Monday Morning Coffee”.  As the official “Message Meister” elected by the other grad students, I am supposed to impart some wit and humor into these messages.  Apparently I do this well enough that I have not been allowed to stand down from the position for the last year and a half, despite an over abundance of bad puns and esoteric historical references.

In the hopes that my messages will be remembered beyond the department’s spam filters, I’ve decided to record some of them on this blog.  So here is this week’s Thursday T-Mail.

This week’s tea is graciously sponsored by XXXX, and will start in the atrium at 4PM sharp. I apologize in advance for the length of this email, as I attempt to combine our recent themes of history and astronomy, along with the story of perhaps the most unlucky researcher in history. I’m also sad to report that this will be the final tea of the semester!

Edmund Halley (he of the comet [1]), was an astronomer and scientist born in 1656. One of Halley’s many contributions was to suggest a way of measuring the mass of the Earth. Via a circuitous path of equations (with thanks to Newton), Halley pointed out that by measuring the time it took for Venus to pass across the face of the Sun during its orbit, one could calculate the universal gravitational constant, G, which in turn could give you the mass of the Earth [2]. Unfortunately, Venus does not pass across the sun very often, and to make the calculation would require measuring the time of passage from multiple view points across the world.

As a result, in 1761, the first significant internationally cooperative scientific venture was formed, with scientists across the globe setting up their telescopes and Timex watches to record Venus’ trip. If you’ve experienced the “joy” of attempting a research project overseen by multiple advisors and with collaborators in different parts of the world, you can predict how well this worked out: disastrously. Not only did the participants fail to gather sufficient clean data to reach any reliable conclusions, it led to one of the most unfortunate research stories I’ve ever heard, the story of Guillaume Le Gentil [3,4].

Le Gentil was a French scientist who planned to observe the transit of Venus from India. He set off on his journey a year ahead of time to ensure his timely arrival, but met so many misfortunes en-route, that he was still on the ship when Venus passed by the sun in 1761, and thus was unable to make any measurements. However, the nature of Venus’ orbit meant that it was to pass the sun again 8 year later, so Le Gentil continued to India to be ready for the subsequent passing. For 8 years he arranged his viewing station and prepared his instruments. On June 4, 1769, Le Gentil’s nearly ten year journey was to reach its climax, and he prepped his equipment under clear blue skies. Then, just as Venus was about to start passing over the sun, a cloud appeared and completely blocked his view of the event [4].

Things only got worse for poor Le Gentil. He packed up his gear and headed home, but was further delayed by dysentery and hurricanes off the coast of Africa. When finally he returned to France, more than 11 years after his departure, he discovered that his relatives had declared him legally dead, and had happily looted his estate.

I hope that this tale puts any of your own research disappointments in perspective. And remember: never, ever give up, because the harder you work on a project, the more comical and ironic your failure may be!



Ireland Trip Notes – 2006

While cleaning out my web directory I just found some notes I had written during a trip to Ireland in Summer 2006 for a conference. It was my first conference trip as a graduate student, and I was presenting work done by another student from my lab. Rather than just let my notes disappear into the recycling bin, I figured I’d post the story here.  It covers most of the trip except for a day trip I took outside of Dublin to Glendalough. You can find a less detailed but prettier description of the trip here.

My trip was to start with a flight from Hartford to Philadelphia and then a flight on to Dublin. I’m used to things going terribly wrong at some point during my international flights, so I was less than surprised when while sitting in the terminal in Hartford, sirens started going off and the loudspeakers informed us of a “critical situation” requiring us to evacuate the building. People gradually got up and headed towards the exit of the security area. There, everyone seemed to be milling around, unwilling to leave the area since then we would have to check back in through security. Weighing the risk of a fiery explosive death against having to take off your shoes is quite a difficult decision! Just before I was about to give in and leave the building, the sirens stopped. There were no further messages or explanations over the intercom, but we all assumed that this meant everything was fine and we were allowed to go back to our gates.  I suppose the sirens also could have stopped because the terrorists finally reached the control tower and disabled the alarm, but fortunately it appears to only have been a false alarm. Continue reading

Gal’s Departure

One of our good friends and former roommate, Gal, was recently deported back to Israel due to visa issues. To commemorate his departure a group of us had a farewell dinner with a ton of good food and a liquid ton of good wine.

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Christmas Part 2 – Kiddies

After spending a few nights at my Dad’s we went down to stay with Megan’s family in Lynchburg for Christmas. We spent most of our time entertaining Megan’s nieces who are quite adorable.

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Christmas 2009 Part 1 – Nelson County VA

This Christmas Megan and I went down to Virginia to visit both of our families. We first stopped at my dad’s (relatively) new house in the boonies (AKA Nelson County). Nic and Alison met us there the first night and we had a delicious dinner.  We had a few gifts to exchange and stuffed ourselves with cheese and cookies.

Later in our trip we returned to Nelson County (for more gluttony) and witnessed a spectacular sunset. There are always nice views from their front yard, but the wide glowing sunset really showed off the mountains!

When we first arrived, there was far more snow in “tropical” Virginia than in Massachusetts!

We also took a ride up into the hills around their house so we could see what real farm country is like.

Thanks to Monika for the extra pictures!

An Ambitious Plan

Red = Day 1. Blue = Day 2.

This is a long overdue post about the canoeing trip Megan and I took along with a group of my old highschool chums: Chris, Matt G. and Mike. The plan was an overnight trip from Dingman’s Ferry down about 28 miles to the Kittatinny Point Visitor Center. We used Kittatinny Canoes to rent our gear, and they equipped us quite well, except for one key item: we were not given a map of the river including the camp sites along the way.

However, most of us had canoed this same trip at least once before, so we were confident we would find ourselves a campsite for the night. So we set off in a pair of canoes and a kayak. The weather the night before had been miserable, but fortunately the skies began to clear as we headed downstream.
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