Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas on Enchanted Rock.

Little Bro & I made our way to San Antonio on Christmas eve to climb Enchanted Rock. I couldn't find any information on it closing on Christmas day and felt like driving along long stretches of road, so I convinced my reluctant brother to come with me to Fredericksburg, population 10,530. After spending Christmas Eve watching random shows on the Discovery Channel in San Antonio, we woke up early to head over to Enchanted Rock.

As we pulled in closer to the park, we could see the pink granite dome in the distance!
It really is pink.

Welcome, visitors
On the website, I'd read that the park can reach full capacity around 10AM (it opens at 8AM), and visitors are often turned away to return after 5PM. On this Christmas day, there were few other visitors and we were able to get in around lazy ten o'clock. 

We made our way past the gravel trails and the huge boulders.
Someone's too cool for the camera
Crossing the streams and the huge jagged boulders, we reached the pink dome. It is a steep climb but relatively easy, there were even families with little kids walking up. The tricky part was that it had rained yesterday and with the overcast sky that morning, the rocks were wet and icy.
Look at the incline

Trekking up
I finally reached the highest plateau and walked around! It was freezing (the weather forecast told me low 30's plus the altitude? My phone froze, literally).
Five layers and still red eyes/nose
Here's a close-up of the 1-billion-years-old pink granite, with huge crystals... although you can't tell without a reference scale.
granite close-up

Trees, cacti and algae growing on top, elevation 1825 feet
Okay, so after Little Brother made his way down, I spent quite a bit of time up here because... I forgot which way I'd come up. After you climb up the boulders, there is no set trail to follow on, you walk up the dome any way you like, and I hadn't taken notice of my path up. Also because the dome is so steep, it is hard to look down for the path you came up. I made a few rounds until I saw another family come up, and I made my way down. No repeat of 127 Hours there.
scenic route back down
The best thing about taking a road trip in 30-40F weather is that your car becomes an instant fridge. We threw our food in the trunk and the food kept cold during the entire trip. Now we're back in Houston, spent and tired, but we stopped by Buc-Ee's on our way back! I thought we'd passed by the Luling location until I turned the corner and saw the familiar Beaver sign.
Typical Buc-Ee's.

Friday, December 23, 2011

research and expectations

A conversation with my co-worker F about research life made me think about expectations. We were preparing our next batch of samples, and we chatted about his decision to attend graduate school (after a short career of rock and roll) and mine not to.
Structure of Hemoglobin Picture

Since I'd heard that first year of graduate school is often the hardest, I asked F how his year was going. "Great", he said, noting that something that keeps him going is high morale. "Do you know who Max Perutz is?" Max Perutz was an organic chemist who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1962 for his work on hemoglobin. If you've taken Biochemistry, you know how tricky (and amazing) this globular protein is. It has four subunits with Fe in the center heme group, and changes its structure when oxygen binds to facilitates the binding of the next oxygen.

Max Perutz spent years trying to determine the structure of this elusive protein. Because hemoglobin has a different structure when oxygen is bound to it, he would crystallize the protein in an anaerobic chamber (for X-ray crystallography) and oxygen would get in, alter its structure. "But", continued F, "instead of thinking he'd fail again, every day he came in thinking today would be the day he'd crystallize hemoglobin' ". And that he did.

This reminded me of another story from my Seattle friend when he was trying to crystallize a protein. Didn't work, kept going at it with tweaked conditions: pH, different substrates, everything and anything for months. I prodded on, "and?", waiting a grand finale of his finally crystallizing that bad boy. "And they canceled the project, and I stopped working in the lab". Hmm.

Pick your attitude. Do you: "Hope for the best" OR "Prepare for the worst."? 
(because can you really do both full-heartedly?)
Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed. -Alexander Pope, 1688–1744

This 2009 study by Golub, Gilbert and Wilson suggests that having low expectations may make you more unhappy than having high expectations, mostly because you make yourself unhappy during the waiting period before you know the actual outcome. If you harbor positive expectations, you can "savor" your daydreams and achievements before you find out the real result, compared to feeling "dread" if you expected the opposite.

To summarize, people have low expectations because:
1) If the outcome is bad, they don't want to be disappointed.
2) If the outcome is good, they want to be pleasantly surprised.

But this study found that the subjects felt the same joy or disappointment regardless of their expectations, implying their expectations only affected their happiness during the waiting period.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Yesterday I had a small Christmas gathering with friends in the shoebox. My apartment was impeccably cleaned for this occasion, and I even had the ingenious idea of opening the gate for guests through my open window instead of running down the stairs every time. (Okay, it's not really "ingenious", but I was so proud of myself for thinking of this!).
Falling leaves, bare trees, 70's weather-  Christmas in Houston
I had been saving this occasion to try something new with everyone: ice cream with olive oil. Yes, you read that right. Drizzle your favorite vanilla ice cream with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt. There are recipes out there to make ice cream with olive oil, but in our case, using olive oil as a novel ice cream topping was enough. The verdict? "It tastes gourmet", we declared, "It's... interesting, not bad". I think if you like to dip your French fries in milkshake, you might like this combo.

The most adorable Christmas cookies with perfect frosting
With non-matching cups and plates out to accommodate everyone with the most random foods laid out on the coffee tables (popcorn, homemade ratatouille and white chocolate cookies by the adorable E, blueberry bread and ice cream among others) we talked about (correspondingly) random things, jumping from topic to topic. But facebook was probably the star of the night- the new Timeline format, dangers of facebook-ing acquaintances, applying(more often adapting) cultural norms to online technology...

By the end of the night, I had to laugh at my makeshift table, probably too small for the occasion. Every inch was covered with cups, ramekins, spoons with the remaining space scattered with dropped popcorn and napkins. A beautiful evening to end a hectic week.
some of the nom nom's of the night- before the party
Merry Christmas, everyone. If you don't celebrate Christmas... Merry Christmas anyway.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

of love and musicals.

I was introduced to Glee by my smarty-pants friend K one evening at the gym: "Glee is on right now!" This was the night of the Madonna episode, and (despite this fact) I grew hooked. Glee satisfies my weekly musical craving, which brings me to my next thought: why do I (or people) like musicals?

Musicals are usually upbeat, with an easy optimistic attitude on events and a comic twist on even the most unfortunate events. Also, musical performers not only sing, but also act, dance, play instruments, all on the live stage day after day, it is hard not to be blown away by their performance. As unrealistic as it is for someone to break into a song (and for the crowd to jump in, just in time for the chorus), you gotta stop thinking "this cannot be real life!", and just come along for the ride.

I love the moment when someone bursts into a song, because they just have to sing what they are feeling, words won't do anymore! My acting professor told us not to pick monologues from musicals because the ones with strongest emotions are written into a song. Also, when you think it is going to be a solo, but another person joins in perfect harmony, the slow soar into the musical climax and the final note, the great ending button and thundering applause... beautiful.

Also, I need to watch more Bollywood movies. Take all the things I love about musicals and multiply by three. I watched Dostana couple of weeks ago (thank you BB!) and I burst into laughter at some parts because they were just so darn ridiculous.
Not to mention that everyone's also so darn good-looking...

And, how is this for an early Christmas present?
The Lion King has published lyrics:
Ndabe zitha / Nkosi yethu Mholi / wezwe lethu
Lefatshe la bonata rona / Lea halalela
My friend commented "they have languages in Africa, you know", sure, but I didn't think they would be written out in alphabets like this for someone like me to memorize and sing along.

I am still listening to the Company soundtrack. If you happen to watch the 2006 version directed by John Doyle, pay close attention to when Robert plays the kazoo during "Side by Side". Did anyone see that coming? So beautifully done and I love the complete change in pace and mood afterwards.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Company: Being Alive.

Reasons why I am still up at 1AM: Raul Esparza as the 35-year-old perpetual bachelor Bobby in Sondheim's Company. I thought Bobby was somewhat of an awkward role to play because while he is the main character, the storyline runs around him in fringes. But Esparza plays this role beautifully

Here he realizes, following a conversation with an older married friend who propositions an affair, that he wants, needs someone he can take care of. Relationships, while they aren't perfect, are part of "Being Alive", a sentiment echoed by his married friends but one Bobby only realizes at the end of the musical with this song.

Raul Esparza as Bobby has the most endearing and earnest expression throughout the musical. He watches his married friends' troubles with a semi-entertained look on his face, because these problems don't apply to him and hey, he doesn't want to be married that much, and yet... 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

another kind of oatmeal.

I've gone grocery shopping three times in less than seven days, at three different grocery stores. Where I live, there are more than a dozen grocery stores within a five mile radius, and I feel productive when food-shopping because I need to eat anyway.

Oatmeal. My go-to food for every meal. I finally finished off my huge cylinder of oats and wandered through the aisles of Fiesta searching for oatmeal this afternoon. There were three different kinds: old-fashioned, "ready in 5 minutes" and "ready in 1 minute!". I don't even know what kind I am used to, let alone how different these are. Turns out the answer is simple, the same two words you put down on every AP Biology exam if you didn't know the answer: surface area. The quick-"cooking" ones are rolled flatter and chopped up smaller in order to cook faster.

In addition, the usual oats we eat are rolled oats. Another kind is steel cut oats(also called Irish oats), which look different from the rolled oats which are literally rolled flat:
rolled oats and steel cut oats Picture

Met up with friends to check out the Farmer's Market on Eastside this morning. I had an Egg in the Basket. (did you know the popularity of this dish rose by 27.5% after V for Vendetta?)
walk and chew Saturday breakfast
Fact: adding oatmeal makes pancakes, cookies and muffins exponentially delicious.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

my Phoenix break.

Flew in from Phoenix yesterday evening! Maybe because Lo and I went to bed late last night (midnight after watching Like Crazy) I dozed the entire day Wednesday- waiting to board the plane, throughout the 2-hour flight, shuttling to my car...
"So... what city are we in?" Picture

We tore up the valley, driving through Glendale, Scottsdale, Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa during the almost-three days I was in Arizona. Laurs played chauffeur to me, despite the fact that she is a busy-bee law student who should have been studying (thank you!!!).
In addition to walking around Old Town Scottsdale, yesterday morning we visited the Desert Botanical Garden. I learned about the different cacti species (barrel, saguaro, prickly pears) in this 140-acre botanical garden. For example, woodpeckers will dig holes in saguaros which "scabs" in on the inside, forming a home for the bird to nest in.
Spending time with Lo was surreal and heartwarming. I finally got to see her daily life I'd only heard about, and in addition to squeezing in an interview here, it was a great mini-vacation for me to visit & hang out with her, eating delicious food and exploring new places. And as per tradition, we got "finals" manicures, with bright colors to cheer us up during finals week.

It is finally December, which means- according to my whimsical friend- we only need to keep up with our 2011 resolutions for one more month. I'm looking forward to finishing up my ESCI class with a bang & my dear brother spending his precious winter break with me here in Houston. I am honored he's visiting me down here in Texas. Whoop.