Thursday, December 27, 2007

Delta comes through (but boringly)

Guess what showed up in my SkyMiles account online yesterday morning?

It looks like Delta's bureaucracy isn't completely broken, just dysfunctional. I'm disappointed, though, that they just silently credited me with the miles. I wrote them a five-page letter, and they didn't even respond? Oh well. I guess you can't really expect a big, faceless corporation to have a sense of humor. At least they have some sort of sense of honesty.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Dear Delta, please give the rest of my name back

This weekend definitely wasn't the best one of my life. Among other things, I was stuck in the airport for a lot of Saturday. I was flying home for Christmas with my brother, my sister, and her husband. Our flight was supposed to leave at 11:35 a.m., but it ended up being delayed until 2:00 p.m. because of mechanical troubles. That meant that I had an extra two and a half hours in the airport to... do something. What do you do in an airport to keep yourself busy?

I had some trouble getting my flight put on my frequent flyer account, so I used some of my "bonus" airport time to go talk to a Delta representative. She told me that because the name on my boarding pass ("CHR/BRUCE") differed from my actual name, I would have to call the Delta SkyMiles customer service line to get the problem resolved.

The situation ended up becoming pretty funny, although it wouldn't have been if getting credit for the flight were really important. I ended up having to write a letter to Delta headquarters to get the problem resolved. To pass the time and brighten an otherwise melancholy weekend, I decided to have a little fun with it.

For the rest of the story, you'll have to read the letter. It's a little long, but I think it's worth a read. After all, I wrote it. :) I faxed it to Delta tonight. We'll see what happens. Maybe Delta will return the missing eight elevenths of my name.

This post was brought to you by the department of superfluous verbiage and the letter V (as in Victor).

Zion! (with four girls...)

For the impatient and/or illiterate: the pictures.

We had final exams at BYU last week. Outsiders (and some misguided students) think that finals are the worst time of the semester, filled with nervous studying and stressful, sleepless nights of cramming. I know better, though: finals are a great time for having fun! Just think: your regular class schedule is cancelled, it's almost Christmas break, and all you have to do for the whole week is spend a few hours taking some tests. My freshman year I went skiing three times during finals; last year I climbed a mountain.

As good as finals are, the best part actually comes before they start: reading days. For those of you not in the college loop, reading days are two days right before finals when the school calendar is cleared so that students can study for finals. That's what BYU thinks, anyway. We students know better, though: reading days are the best play days of the semester.

Reading days were Friday and Saturday, 14-15 December this semester. I went down to Zion National Park with what ended up being four girls to go camping and hiking. The original plan was to go canyoneering with a bigger group that included more guys than just me, but we decided that canyoneering wouldn't be safe because of the freezing temperatures and the water in the canyons. The guys who were going decided not to come since we weren't going canyoneering, so it ended up being just me and the ladies.

We drove down on Friday afternoon and camped at Mosquito Cove right outside the park, which was noticeably lacking any mosquitoes at this time of year. We got there, set up camp, and played Scum for a little while in the girls' tent. When it started getting cold, we decided it was bedtime. It was pretty chilly at night (maybe 15 degrees?), so I was glad that I brought warm clothes. The four girls slept in a tent together, and I slept alone outside in my new bivy sack. It worked pretty well, and I stayed warm for most of the night, although the frost on the inside and outside of my sack when I woke up made it look like I might have frozen to death.

We woke up the next day, had breakfast, packed up camp, and headed into the park. Carianne worked at (but not for) the park this past summer, so she was our expert guide. She listed off a few places that we could go for the day, and we decided to hike up to Observation Point where we would have a great view overlooking most of the park. That's the same trail that I hiked up a few months ago when I went canyoneering in Echo Canyon.

The hike was beautiful. Water slowly flows out of the sandstone at several places along the trail, and since it was cold in Zion, the water was frozen into amazing ice formations. There were icicle gardens, impossibly thin plants that were embalmed in inches of heavy, glittery, crystalized ice, and beautiful (but small) ice waterfalls. As we moved higher, there was snow covering parts of the canyon, especially in shady areas.

We reached the canyon rim and had a beautiful view of the Virgin River canyon. We also had a good conversation with a man from Ireland who was spending a few days hiking the park.

We hiked back down to the trailhead and drove up Zion Canyon and through the tunnel to the to Canyon Overlook trailhead. It was getting dark, but people coming back said the hike was only ten or twenty minutes, so we decided to go for it. We watched the sunlight creep up the highest walls as it fell over the horizon and headed back to the car before the light had completely faded.

Although my grades might have benefited a little from staying in Provo and working, there's more to life than school. I'm glad that I went. After all, what will I remember in twenty years? The difference between an A- and a B+, or a trip to Zion?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Trip to Colorado

I flew to Colorado Springs last Thursday to interview for an internship at Lockheed Martin, the world's largest defense contractor. I left on Thursday night and came back Saturday night.

My flight to Colorado was kind of fun. I took my GPS on the plane, and it was cool to watch our speed, altitude, and location change. I had chosen to sit in an exit row seat so that I would have more legroom, but I accidentally sat one row back. I'm glad I did, though, because I got to talk to a cool guy from Colorado Springs.

I had a window seat, but it didn't do me much good for most of the flight because it was dark and cloudy. However, as we descended below the clouds as we approached Colorado Springs, and I could see the city. It really felt like the holidays when I looked out the window and saw neighborhoods full of houses decked in Christmas lights. I felt a little like Santa flying in on his sleigh.

I arrived pretty late, so I just picked up my car (which turned out to be a minivan), drove to my hotel, and went to bed. I slept better that night than I had in a long time.

Freezing Fog

I woke up the next morning to a cold, foggy day. Colorado Springs supposedly has 300 day of sun a year, but last Friday was certainly not one of them. I arrived at Lockheed right at 11:30, and when I got out of the car, I felt a strange sensation: freezing fog. Freezing fog is supercooled water vapor, which means that it's actually colder than the freezing point, but it hasn't actually frozen. To turn into ice, water needs a starting point--something solid that an ice crystal can grow on. Freezing fog just hangs around as water vapor in the air until it touches something like your car, a dust particle, or your skin, and then it freezes almost instantly. It was a strange feeling to walk through it.

Interviews

I had a funny experience while I was waiting in the lobby. Another interviewee started talking to me, saying that he was behind me on the plane last night. After we talked a little more, we realized that not only were we both from Utah, but we both went to the same school, had the same major, and were even in the same class the semester. I guess I need to get to know my peers a little better. :)

The group that I interviewed with is called Information Systems & Global Solutions. They're Lockheed Martin's largest division, and they do a wide variety of things. It seems like the group in Colorado Springs focuses on satellites, missiles, and command and control systems. They build and operate things like nuclear missiles, space junk tracking systems, satellite and space communications, and battlefield command and control information systems.

After a boxed lunch, a quick tour of a secret-level conference room (make sure you leave your cell phone at the door!), and a short presentation about Lockheed, I had interviews with four managers. Interestingly, they didn't ask me a single technical question; instead, they were all behavioral interviews. They asked typical questions about things like how I work in teams, how I communicate, and how I manage my time. I think that the people I talked to liked me, and I liked everyone that I met there. They seemed like genuinely good people who would be good coworkers.

However, through the presentation and my interviews, it became clear that the division of Lockheed that I was interviewing with didn't have a lot of opportunities for me to do the kind of work that I want to do next summer. I want to work on embedded systems or digital logic design, designing hardware for things like cell phones, robots, or airplanes. Lockheed IS&GS does mostly systems integration, gluing preexisting systems together, rather than developing new hardware systems. Other parts of Lockheed Martin, like their Space Systems division, do have lots of opportunities in hardware development, and the people I talked to said that they would pass my information along.

The prospect of working for a defense contractor raises some interesting questions. After all, they make stuff that kills lots of people, and they receive a huge portion of our taxes. I haven't totally decided how I feel about working for an organization like that. On the one hand, they develop some really cool technology that would be fun to work on. They make the F-16 fighter jet, lots of parts of the Space Shuttle, and intercontinental ballistic missiles--all things that I thought were really cool as a kid (and still do). However, there are lingering ethical considerations about working on military systems that I haven't quite worked through yet. It would certainly be a lot simpler to just work on space systems, where I could still do cool stuff without having to worry about the ethics of killing people.

Hiking

It was snowing a little bit when I left my interview around 5 p.m., and the snow picked up through the night. I grabbed dinner (and Cold Stone for dessert, since Lockheed was paying) and then went back to my hotel room to plan my hike for the next day. There were no flights available out of Colorado Springs late enough on Friday night, so instead of flying back Saturday morning, I had decided to stay the day and go hiking.

After checking conditions and routes, I decided to take the Crags Campground route up Pikes Peak. It would be a solo hike in the snow, with more falling through the day, but it was a safe route, and I felt prepared with warm clothes, good boots, a map, and my GPS. I packed my gear, set my alarm for 5 a.m., and went to bed.

Although I set my alarm, there was one little problem: it turns out that I didn't actually turn it on. I woke up around 9:30 a.m. the next morning to a beautiful snowy day. The good news is that I got to eat a yummy hotel breakfast; the bad news is that I woke up too late to hike Pikes Peak. I did a little research and chose to hike up Raspberry Mountain, a smaller peak south of Pikes. I wrote up a trip report and took some pictures.

Return to Utah

I made good time on the way back, so on my way to the airport I stopped by Garden of the Gods, a park full of nifty sandstone formations. It looked like it would be a fun place to hike and climb. I had just a little while there, so I didn't get to see a lot of it. However, I got out and hiked around for a few minutes, and during that time I saw a herd of female deer and then a lone buck a few minutes later. I also saw a rabbit and some birds. I took some pictures.

My flight back was delayed because of weather, but it was pretty uneventful. I sat next to a guy who was in Colorado Springs at a wrestling camp. He's apparently a good wrestler (three spots away from being in the Olympics), but he sure wasn't a very enthusiastic talker, so I just read for most of the flight.

I'm glad I went to Colorado this weekend. Interview trips are a little lonely, but it's fun to see what a company and a place are like.