Sunday, July 27, 2008

Fifteen facts

I've been trying recently to be a little more introspective, and my friend Cindy's recent blog post suggested a good way to do that. Here's the idea: list three joys, fears, goals, current obsessions, and random surprising facts about yourself. Some of these categories were pretty easy for me; others were pretty difficult. Each made me a little more aware of who I am. Here's a little glimpse into my head:

  • Making someone else happy.
  • Accomplishing something difficult that's worthwhile.
  • Seeing a child grow and learn.
  • Doing things that will limit what I can do in the future.
  • Social rejection (but only by certain people).
  • Disappointing people I care about.
  • Marry someone amazing.
  • Become more culturally literate (music, movies, literature, history).
  • Develop greater charity.
  • The outdoors.
  • Technology.
  • Language.
Random facts:
  • I'd really like to live and work in another country for a while.
  • I really like soft things, like the hamster I had in third grade, fuzzy blankets, and my hair.
  • I've always thought that I would marry a girl with brown hair. This isn't a requirement (after all, my last girlfriend had blond hair), but for some reason that's what I think.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Weekend fun

It's been a really fun weekend, for a couple of reasons.

Yesterday I left work a little early and went with some friends to Muir Woods, across the Golden Gate Bridge just north of San Francisco. We hiked through a redwood forest for a while, enjoying our surroundings. We passed a couple on the trail and asked them to take our picture, which turned out to be a little more of an adventure than we had planned. The four of us went and sat on a fallen tree. About half a second after the guy took the picture, the log broke between me and Camille. She ended up on the ground, and we all ended up laughing. (Camille has some pictures on her blog.)

Despite our apparent excess weight, we still got dinner after in San Francisco. :)

Here's the second reason my weekend was fun (more pictures):

Stats: 13,000 feet, 50 seconds freefall, 3:30 gliding.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Things I'm thankful for

Here are some things I'm thankful for (in no particular order):
  • My family. There are seven people in my family, and each one of them is amazing. I was definitely blessed to be born into such a good group of people. Going to college with two of my siblings (and being roommates with one of them) has been a lot of fun.
  • Good friends. I don't live with my family right now, so having good friends is really important. I'm thankful for having some great friends.
  • Difficult experiences. Sure, they're hard, and I don't always like them in the moment, but they have made me a better person. Doing hard things (and often failing) also helps to keep me humble. I've found that it's important to ask "what can I learn?" rather than "why me?" when trials come.
  • Mountains. It's no secret that I like mountains. I'm thankful for the beauty, tranquility, and serenity of being high on a rugged peak—especially a pristine, snow-covered one in the early morning. Moses went into the mountain to talk to God; I think he was onto something. For me, the mountains are an escape from the grind of everyday life—a place to step back, feel small, and think about the bigger picture.
  • Telephones. These days we take it for granted, but if you stop and think for a minute, the telephone is an amazing invention. I'm thankful to be able talk to people I care about, even when they're far away.
  • Cereal. No really. I'm serious. I've eaten cereal for breakfast about 99/100 days of my life. It's quick, nutritious, and yummy. What more could I ask for? :)
  • God. I know that God is real, that he loves me, and that he has a plan for me. That gives everything else in my life meaning and purpose. I'm thankful to know about him.
  • My talents. I'm certainly not the most talented person you'll ever meet, but I'm thankful for the talents that I have. I'm especially thankful when I can use them to bless others' lives.
  • Freedom. I'm thankful for the freedom to think, say, and go where I want. Depressingly few people in history have been so privileged.
  • Snow. I still get excited and giddy like a little kid when it snows. It's pure, quiet, and beautiful. (It also provides the setting for some of my favorite activities.) One of my favorite memories is riding my bike home from work in the dark late one night when I was a freshman in college. A few inches of fresh snow glittered under the yellow glow of the streetlights, and snowflakes gently swirled around me as I pedaled down a deserted street. The snow muffled the sound of my tires, and it felt like I was the only person in the world.
  • Frisbee. Tossing a frisbee is a great way to have fun, have a good heart-to-heart, and exercise, all at the same time!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

San Francisco

My parents came to visit for three days this weekend, which was a lot of fun. Yesterday we went to San Francisco (or "The City", as it's called around here) to do the whole tourist thing, complete with Ghirardelli Square, cable cars, and the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a lot of fun. I put some of the more interesting pictures below, but for the whole story, take a look at the rest of the pictures.

The Cable Car Museum had a bunch of newspaper clippings from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, when the city was under martial law. Read this one carefully (you might have to click on it to see the big version). That's got to be the most interesting capital offense I've ever heard of. :)

Chinatown is full of Chinese people, it turns out. A lot of them. I wished that I spoke Chinese so that I could talk to them.

I saw this at the Chinese restaurant where we ate lunch. The concept of a 50-lb. bag of MSG had never even entered my mind before. (My bowl of MSG also contained "salted egg & mustard green with sliced pork" soup.)

See the blue bottled water bottles on the steps in the background? I wonder if there's a similar refilling program for the green bottle. :)

This store sold some of the most interesting (and expensive!) things I've ever seen. Shark fin ($280/lb), swallow's nest ($3840/lb), about 15 different types of ginger, and more!

We went down to the Presidio (an old military base right on the water, now turned over to the Park Service) to see the Golden Gate bridge. Serendipitously, the sun was setting right when we got there. As you can see, it was a little windy.

Sunset under the Golden Gate Bridge—a beautiful end to a great day.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Rocket science

I have a little secret: I'm a rocket scientist.

OK, so maybe that's stretching the truth a little bit. I don't do ballistics calculations in my sleep, and I barely know what a Rayleigh number is, but I have worked on the 20-foot-tall BYU ARES rocket for the last three years. The rocket has a custom-built composite airframe with aluminum cross braces. It is powered by a hybrid liquid-solid rocket motor, using a ceramic nozzle manufactured by ATK—the same company that makes some of the rockets for the space shuttle.

So, how does someone like me go from being an average Joe to a contributor to a big huge rocket? My roommate initially roped me into the whole situation. He worked on the avionics system (all of the computers and electronics in the rocket), and one day while we were hiking way up in the mountains, he convinced me to join the project. I've been working on it ever since—until last month, that is.

Last month was our launch date. I flew out from California to Utah and drove out into the barren desert near Green River, where there was a university rocket competition. The goal was to get as close as possible to 10,000 feet above ground level. At least, that's what the stated goal was. Our real goal was just to launch the thing. We had all spent lots of time (hundreds of hours for me) on the project, and we really wanted to see it fly.

Since I had to fly in, I showed up a little bit late. When I got there, everyone was really glad to see me, because there were some problems with the avionics system. Matt (the other avionics guy who was there) and I got things straightened out, and we did a dry run test of the launch. Things went almost flawlessly. It was too late in the day to attempt a launch at that point, so we were going to go first thing in the morning.

The next day we showed up, fastened down the final screws, and rounded up a big crew to lift the rocket from its support cart and slide it onto the launch rail. The plan was to slide it onto the rail, raise the rail so that the rocket was vertical, fill it with fuel, and then launch the rocket.

Reality turned out to be a little bit different. As we were sliding it onto the rail, someone smelled something funny. Then someone heard a hissing sound. We stopped sliding the rocket onto the rail, and Matt frantically unfastened one of the aluminum skins that covered the avionics system in the rocket. When he got it off, he found that the batteries were self-destructing, spraying electrolyte all over and getting really hot. He disconnected them (which wasn't an easy task, since the wires were all melting together at that point), and so the situation was under control.

After three years of work and 1000's of man-hours of work, we weren't too excited about the now very real possibility that we would have to scrub the launch. It was crunch time for me to determine if we could repair the system in a few hours.

The power supply system was almost completely destroyed, melted into one big blob of plastic and metal. A fuse was blown. A power connector on the data communication radio was melted into its socket. Things smelled funny. The batteries were completely destroyed. We were out in the middle of the desert without access to an electronics store. It wasn't looking good.

I determined the absolute minimum system that we would need to launch safely: a way to open the oxidizer (liquid fuel) system valve and a way to actuate the igniters.

We tried to find batteries to borrow from other teams. We soldered a new power connection onto the radio. We bypassed a lot of the power system. After all of that, though, we discovered that our main control circuit board was fried. There was no way to control anything without that.

As we considered our options, two ideas emerged: either "hot wire" the system directly to a couple of car batteries (borrowed from our vehicles) and launch the rocket essentially as missile with no way to deploy the parachute, or scrub the launch. We talked to our faculty adviser and debated for several minutes. Many of us were graduating, and this would be our last chance to see a launch. Our faculty adviser was moving on to another project, so things were losing steam. The arguments for just lighting the fuse and running were pretty persuasive. In the end, though, our adviser decided to not launch. That was the end of the road. We packed up and went home. We had seen several other schools launch their rockets, but our own launch just barely slipped through our collective fingers.

I feel really bad about the situation, because it was my system that failed. It failed, and I feel a bit like I failed. If my system had worked, all of the time that everyone spent on the project would have been culminated in a launch. It didn't work, though, so now there's a beautiful blue rocket sitting in a lab somewhere on BYU campus, waiting to hopefully fly another day.

I'm still not sure what happened. Obviously something shorted out the batteries, but what? And why? Why did our test the day before go almost perfectly, and then why did the system short when we were loading the rocket onto the rail? I'm going to do a postmortem in the fall when I get back to school, but we may never know.

The project may be "off" right now, but I'm hopeful that the big blue rocket will fly one day. Even if it doesn't, I've enjoyed working on it, and I've learned a lot from the project.

More pictures:

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Half Dome

This weekend I hiked Half Dome in Yosemite National Park with my friend Tim. Since it's really popular on weekends, we decided to beat the crowds by hiking it at night. We left Palo Alto a little before 8:00 p.m., left the Yosemite parking lot at midnight, and made it to the top around 5 a.m.

This was my first time to Yosemite, and I was really impressed. The towering granite cliffs, the powerful rushing rivers, the delicate tiny flowers all reminded me of God's love for us. I feel really blessed to have gone, and I have a feeling that I'll be back in the future.

As you can see, the sunrise and the hike down were both amazing. You can see more pictures in the gallery.

3:16 a.m.: Sign at the junction of the John Muir Trail and the Half Dome trail. We had already hike almost seven miles at this point.

5:18 a.m.: waiting for sunrise

6:11 a.m.: the sun starts to poke up above the mountains.

6:15 a.m.: first glimpse of the whole sun. It had been hiding behind Clouds Rest (and then clouds, ironically) since sunrise officially started at 5:45. (Levels adjusted with iPhoto.)

6:17 a.m.: taking in the beauty. (Also adjusted.)

6:42 a.m.: heading back down the cables that protect the last 800 vertical feet of the Half Dome route. (Note to self: get a sweet purple shirt like that.)

6:51 a.m.: Tim just about to the bottom of the cables.

11:25 a.m.: rainbow and lush vegetation along the Mist Trail at the base of 240-foot Vernal Fall. This is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.

11:26 a.m.: people on the Mist Trail. (Second note to self: make sure to take off shirt more often.)

11:29 a.m.: Vernal Fall.

Friday, July 04, 2008


...but only sometimes.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


A couple of weekends ago I went to Havasupai, in the Grand Canyon. The opportunity came up at the last minute, and I jumped on it, since I've been wanting to go there for years. I wasn't disappointed. I think you can see why.

For more pictures, see:

Havasu Canyon, with the amazing Colorado Plateau above.

Lots of people pay to have their gear packed in by mule, the same way that mail is delivered to Supai. Not us! We hiked the 10 miles in with 35-pound packs.

Lush meadow in the bottom of a dry desert.

Joel making the tricky climb down to the bottom of Mooney Falls. You have to climb some vertical rock (protected by chains) to get there.

Navajo Falls made me really excited.

120-foot Havasu Falls.

One of the many dogs running around.

How would you like to live here?


Scout troop.

End of a long hike out—well worth the trip!