Alas, no other unifying theme this week
07.09.2009 - 13.09.2009
The trees outside my window are already starting to turn – while I’m pleased that I’ll get an even better view of the mountains, it’s a beautiful reminder that like the Tracy Lawrence song, “Time marches on…”. I’m doing my best to make the days count; I hope you enjoy this week’s adventures!
(and I realize it’s already Friday of the next week, but don’t worry, you (should) be getting the next post soon enough – I’m in the middle of my very own long weekend ^_^ )
SURE BEATS SLUSHY SASKATOON STREETS
Remember when I said that my walk to school was along the shores of a beautiful lake near the top of the island? On Monday, I finally remembered to bring my camera along on my walk to school:
Like I said in the heading, it definitely trumps College Drive.
The path winds its way around the lake and eventually makes it to the campus of the Auroral Observatory. I take a few of my classes in the main building:
and a few of them in the little yellow house around the bend:
The little house is actually the original Auroral Observatory from the 1930’s; it’s where the observation of the Northern Lights all began. Needless to say, it’s where my cool classes are.
Inside the old Observatory are two meeting rooms; the downstairs one (with the couches) was all locked up, but I managed to sneak a picture upstairs:
That’s Alex from Austria grinning for the camera – he’s the feoretical fysikkist that’s been helping me with all the vector calculus we’ve been doing in Plasma Physics (yup, it’s just as hard as it sounds).
A DAY IN THE NERD LIFE
So far, my Cosmic Geophysics class has been a pleasant surprise. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I’ve really been enjoying the informative and useful lectures with a great balance between theory and application (a middle road the Engineer always strives for).
In today’s class for example, we managed to prove (using fairly simple ideal-gas theory) that the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere will decrease by 10 °C per vertical kilometre. This was especially cool to learn, as it was only a few days since I’d been on top of a mountain (1200 m a.s.l.) and noticed this cooling effect first-hand. (note to my fellows on the USST and the 1km climb: this cooling effect is a good thing for our climber!).
It was one of those easy derivations that make surprisingly good predictions – at least, in the atmosphere that a human being can normally experience. And my professor even seems to like when I ask questions in class, even when I refer to the vertical coordinate as “zed”. Though I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m crazy for taking so many classes while I’m here.
HE'S GONE COUNTRY
The highlight of a Monday evening otherwise spent doing homework was an email from one of my Norwegian friends. Believe it or not, he thanked me for downloading “If You’re Gonna Play In Texas” on his computer the weekend before and asked if I would mind recommending some more Country music for him.
With Alan Jackson ringing in my ears, I sent him the best of the best with a few of my favourites thrown in. There’s just something about spreading my music here that I really enjoyed, and I thought you’d like to hear about it.
Tuesday morning started bad.
I logged onto my laptop, and I discovered that I had no internet.
Words cannot describe this catastrophe. Gone was my phone, my access to course material, my television, my library, and my link home. Luckily, the IT guys were on their A game and had the whole thing up and running in under an hour. But what an illuminating hour that was. You know, maybe this is a sign that I’m too dependent on the internet, that I should cut the technological umbilical cord while I still can.
But there’s no time for that now, House just finished downloading.
(oh, and the muses of Technology gave me a little reward as the day went on: I went to the student sports hall to pay my SCUBA membership and learned that they use thumb-print technology for gym access. How cool is that!)
A FUNNY SUBJECT
I want to take a few minutes to tell you about my Numerical Analysis professor, one of the more unique individuals I’ve met here. He’s one of the old guard of the Math department, having taught the majority of his colleagues (indeed, his co-professor is a former student); we’re often left wondering whether or not he’s got his hearing aid turned on (we've deciphered that "maybe" means that he didn't hear us, but is too polite to say so).
As to his teaching style: he never hesitates to call upon a student and ask them if they understand or not - and yet, it’s not the negative type of singling-out that other professors do when students are asleep / inattentive. He’s very aware that he’s teaching students from a variety of backgrounds, and has been exceptional in quizzing the class as to their experience with the topic at hand. Like many other researchers deep in their field, he’s constantly expressing regrets that certain topics are beyond the course - we spend quite a fair amount of time discussing things, “we’re not going to discuss.” Finally, he’s quite willing to answer any questions; we wound up having an entire section of Tuesday’s lecture labeled “Adam” as it was in response to a question I’d posed the previous week.
My very own lecture – not too shabby.
He also has the continuously entertaining habit of using the word “funny” when one would normally use “interesting” or “useful”. This leads to such deadpan sentences as, “The upcoming assignment will be a funny one,” or the classic, “I am confident that you will find Fourier Series to be a very funny topic.” Anyone who’s taken MATH 338 under A. Cheviakov knows that the latter statement couldn’t be less true.
And the best part: according to his other students, he says the same thing in Norwegian. Funny, eh?
SO CRAZY, IT JUST MIGHT WORK
On Wednesday, we had a special treat in Cosmic Geophysics. Our professor was away, so he arranged for us to have a guest lecturer. For two hours, Professor Esser (say that three times fast) gave us a fabulous lecture on anything you’d ever want to know about the Sun. It was illuminating, to say the least.
For example, did you know there’s a valid theory concerning the link between solar activity and global warming? No, I’m not kidding. It’s a known fact that more solar activity causes more cloud cover (has to do with the radiation ionizing particles when then allows water vapour a condensation point). It follows that more clouds equals better Earth insulation equals more retained heat equals increased greenhouse effect. We’ve observed heightened solar activity over recent years – to say the least, it’s a theory worth looking at.
MARCH 13th, 1989
Most of you in the audience probably don’t remember where you were that day. Some of you (including myself by a month and four days) weren’t even born yet. And yet, every one of my professors remembers it well.
That was the day the Aurora brought Hydro-Québec to its knees.
The story as I’ve heard it told in each of my three Physics classes: on the 8th of March, a solar flare erupted from the north-west quadrant of the sun. The flare had a diameter of 3 Earth radii and extended 70,000 miles into space, ranking it among the largest ever recorded.
Think about that size for a second – we’re talking a giant fiery explosion THREE EARTHS WIDE. That makes the distance I flew to Tromsø seem like next door.
Within 8 minutes, the X-ray and UV radiation released by the flare made its way to Earth, alerting cosmic researchers of the record solar activity. Excited, scientists around the globe prepared for the days ahead.
The researchers knew that the solar flare signaled by the electromagnetic radiation was accompanied by a coronal mass ejection (a high-energy stream of particles expelled from the sun by the explosion). Since the particles (with mass) had to travel at a finite speed significantly less than the speed of light (which the radiation travels at), the nerds of the world were well warned of the incoming solar assault.
Unfortunately, they rather neglected to mention it to their non-academic compadres.
On the 12th of March, the charged particles reached Earth, causing the Earth’s magnetic fields to fluctuate wildly. Communication satellites were knocked out, and there were power surges and electromagnetic interference in every corner of the globe.
A majestic aurora was seen as far south as Texas, causing some American citizens to fear that the dreaded nuclear armageddon of the Cold War had finally taken place. On that same theme, the geomagnetic storm knocked out the broadcast of American radio in Russia, causing speculation that the Kremlin’s censorship practices were up and running again.
However, it was in Québec that the true potential of the storm was realized. Electrical ground currents induced by the magnetic storm were unable to discharge through the rock of the Canadian Shield. Instead, they found their way into the far less resistant power grid, causing wild current spikes as the DC current worked its way through an AC system. Breakers began to trip like dominos, and the entire Québec grid collapsed within 90 seconds.
Six million people had to survive a cold Quebec winter night without power, costing an estimated $10 million in damages. If not for a few sturdy transformers on the US-Canada power junction, the entire East Coast could have fallen at an estimated cost of $6,000 million dollars.
(thousand million being the Norwegian numbering system)
Oh, and get this: “Hydro-Québec still remains more vulnerable due to Québec's position on a large rock shield that prevents the current from flowing through the earth. What's more, Hydro-Québec's grid is made up of very long transmission lines, making it even more vulnerable to the Sun's temper tantrums.”
Between that and the ice storms, I think I’ll stay in Saskatchewan, thanks.
…you might be asking why I told you all that detail? Well, I think it’s an amazing description of the effect the sun can have on the Earth, and I feel strangely proud that something that happened in my country a month before I was born has such a noted place in the annals of aurora research. Plus, it’s a cool story.
Wednesday evening was the closest I’ve felt to Saskatoon since I arrived in Tromsø; I made two phone calls across the Atlantic, both of which gave me plenty to grin about.
The first call was to Professor McWilliams, my U of S prof who started my Tromsø adventure with one little email so long ago. On Tuesday, she had sent out a message about another Norwegian exchange program (this one for but a week – a single course rather than a full-blown semester abroad). Jokingly, I replied back to her that I was interested – especially if they would pay me out the travel stipend in cash.
After she realized I was kidding, we talked about the exchange and realized something very cool: the new exchange student would be spending their week taking the very same intense course that I was. In other words, the U of S was sending another Physics / Engineering Physics student over, directly into my adopted home.
Needless to say, this was great news for everyone involved. The new student (plus a few from the U of A and U of C) could leave Canada knowing that there was someone waiting on the other end, while I can politely request the transport of maple syrup and akkavit back and forth. This is going to be pretty cool – especially if one of my friends from back home manages to land the spot.
And the other call: I ended my night off with a hilarious four-way Skype with Pref, Tendler, Sean, and Mandi. I was enjoying the visit quite a bit, but I was confused by references to “reinforcements”, “healing”, and “arm your magic-repel armour”.
Apparently, the boys were deep in a game of World of Warcraft (an online multiplayer game) and figured they could use the open line of communication for more than one purpose. I’ll admit, it was effective – I could tell by the death and killing (and the lack of swearing) on my speakers that they were doing well. Hopefully they don't run out of Hot Pockets.
SATELLITES, ROCKETS, & GYROS – OH MY!
I hope you’re not tired of hearing about how cool my classes are, because Thursday’s lecture on Satellites and Rockets was incredible. Highlights from today’s introduction to orbital mechanics(!!):
- I gained an appreciation of how difficult it is to keep a satellite pointing in the direction you want it to while it’s orbiting the Earth which is in turn rotating about its axis and revolving around the Sun – we don’t have enough Greek letters to cover all those rotations…
- I finally understand the Coriolis effect! (it’s that crazy pseudo-force that causes hurricanes to rotate one way in the Northern Hemisphere and a different way in the Southern Hemisphere. Also rumoured to have an effect on toilets, but I believe that’s been disproven on Mythbusters… sigh.) If you need an explanation, please e-mail me – I’ve known how to do the math for a long (long) time, but I finally understand it!
- If you’ve ever played with a gyroscope, you know that once you set it spinning, it resists your attempt to twist it. This can be (and has been) exploited in satellite telescopes; they have large, heavy wheels that spin within the satellite to help it resist outside forces and keep telescope pointed in the same direction. On a related note, this is also why a properly spiralling football (i.e. not the one that I throw) will stay in a spiral – the spin keeps it straight and true.
- Oh, and we derived THE ROCKET EQUATION. How cool is that?
One last story: the final question our professor posed to the class had to do with the location of the centre of mass of a grenade which explodes in mid-flight. Instantly, I flashed back to Physics 30 with Tay and his love of things that go BOOM! Needless to say, the question was a breeze (the centre of mass continues along the original parabolic trajectory, regardless of how far / fast the fragments fly away).
Did I mention how much I like this class?
THIS IS THE WORD THAT NEVER ENDS…
Anyone familiar with the German language knows that they have a love of incredibly long compound words. Alas for outsiders like me, Norwegian has the same construct.
However, when you examine their reasoning, it really is quite logical. Take for example, that big yellow vehicle that transports children to and from their classes each day. In English, we call that a school bus. However, the Norwegian rationale is that since we are speaking of one specific thing, we should use one word: schoolbus. It makes sense, when you think about it; each word thus describes a single concept. It’s perfectly fine as long as you can tell where one sub-word ends and another begins – therein lies the trick.
This compounding-with-impunity can lead to some rather entertaining words. For example, the Norwegian word for elevator repairman is heisemontør, combining the words for elevator and repairman. Easy enough, eh?
But what if they go on strike? Still one concept, still one word:
And if a repairman crosses the picket line? Then he’s a
And if a man is leading the crossing of the picket line?
And if we’re speaking about this man’s girlfriend?
And if the girlfriends of the leaders have a meeting?
And if the meeting is cancelled, giving the girlfriends free time they weren’t expecting? This is still one specific type of free time, free time gained by the cancellation of the meeting of the elevator repairmen strike-breaker leaders’ girlfriends. One concept, one word:
Granted, this is an extreme situation. But it’s completely valid. Wish me luck!
Speaking with as many international students as I do every day, I’m learning plenty about the way in which I speak English. And I’m not just talking about being Canadian, eh. For example:
- It’s scary how often I use idioms and colourful language in everyday speech. This often leads to entertaining situations where I have to explain why it was that curiosity killed the cat, or why we say “wait up!” rather than just “wait!”. (My favourite so far was when I attempted to relate “beat frequency” to “beat up” – I used a drum beat as my intermediary.)
- I also get to learn new international phrases as my friends attempt to directly translate their idioms into English – for example, “flat humour” is the German way of referring to polite applause. I like that one.
- My occasional pronunciation laziness really catches up to me when I speak with the students here. For example, when I say, “Pardon me?” I tend to glaze over the middle syllable. Marie (from France) finally asked me what I meant when I kept mumbling, “Pahme?” Whoops.
- Finally, my tendency to ask “How are you?” whenever I make a phone call tends to throw the Norwegians off-guard: “How am I? Oh, well, uh, I’m doing well, I suppose – thank you for asking!” This is in addition to my “strange” habit of making small talk at local businesses (or in the case of the Wilcox Post Office, a full-blown life update).
However, in some ways Canadians are viewed as less polite than their European counterparts: for example, according to Alex, it’s much more common in Austria to applaud at the end of a routine lecture – to not do so would be an insult. It’s been a great treat to learn about different cultures like this, even though I haven’t left the North of Norway for the last month – the wonders of an international institution.
THE OUTPOST MENTALITY
Paraphrasing an idea from Will Ferguson (quite possibly the funniest man Canada has produced in the last decade), Canada (and Canadians) are defined by what he calls the “outpost mentality”, a notion that we are attempting to establish ourselves and gain a footing in an unfamiliar landscape, be it geographical, cultural, linguistic, or political. Canada, he argues, is a sum of these outposts (Acadia, English Victoria, the First Nations, etc.), each of which is at risk of disappearing altogether. We are thus shaped by a vague built-in sense of isolation and of survival, even as we live, work, and breathe the easy life of the 21st century.
The reason I bring this up: this is how I grocery shop. My European friends are very much of the let’s-go-buy-today’s-meal persuasion; they pick out only that which they need for the immediate future. As for me, on the other hand: at last count, I had approximately three weeks worth of meat and vegetables in the freezer, and at least two weeks worth of dry goods (soup, pasta, tinned veggies, etc.). Not to mention my supply of indestructible Wasa bread. What can I say, it was on sale.
Oh, and I got my scholarship cheque today, so I also bought some beer. Life is good.
DODGE, DIP, DUCK, DIVE, AND… DODGE?
That’s right, it’s time for DODGEBALL!
The Buddy Tromsø program organized a dodgeball tournament Saturday afternoon for any and all students to join in.
Unfortunately, they rather forgot that Saturday afternoon comes after Friday night.
I was impressed to see a few of my friends from the previous night at Artur drag themselves out for the 11 AM start. (I was myself spared any hangover by my stubborn refusal to have more than two $15 beers. Especially when I knew what was planned for Saturday night…)
After narrowing down the rules to be used (apparently the game varies quite a bit across a dozen different countries), we took to the court. My team consisted of another Adam (in the white), Max (blue), Leslie (red) and the killer Jana (with the ball):
We had a surprisingly good team, helped largely by the fact that I learned to walk en pointe:
…okay, maybe not. But Chris Zrymiak can, you should ask him sometime.
Long story short, we managed to win in a hard-fought final, and netted ourselves free movie tickets! Not bad for dragging myself to school on a Saturday.
(note: the bike ride home on the three-speed was – well, let’s just say that I’m going to be in great shape if I keep stubbornly refusing to walk my bike.)
[INSERT PICTURES HERE]
Saturday evening was spent at the Immatrikuleringsfest, a Sciences-student welcome banquet & social. Highlights included a delicious smorgasbord (I redefined the phrase all-you-can-eat-shrimp - it wasn't pretty, but damn did it taste good) and – ready for this one – a NOK 10 (toonie) bar! Sure, they only had one kind of beer, and it was lukewarm at best, but it was cheap!
It turned out that our table of five (myself, Alex fr. Austria, Raimo fr. Germany, Marie et Pierre-Marie fr. France) were the only non-Norwegians there. We thus missed out on the entertaining toast from the men to the women, and the women to the men (each followed by the Viking-esque standing toast of SKÅÅÅLL!). Regardless, we still had a great night socializing with each other and with the Norwegians, topped off by an excellent walk home under the stars.
Unfortunately, I rather forgot to bring my camera, but I promise I have good pictures coming – something for you to look forward to!
Final random thought: Even though there was a cash bar (operating at a loss, I’m pretty sure) the Norwegians all brought their own alcohol! I’m serious, this was a formal suit-and-tie event, and people are walking in with cases of beer, bottles of wine, flasks… definitely something I wasn’t expecting.
You may think that after staying up all night two nights in a row, I’d be interested in a quiet Sunday at home?
Then you haven’t been bit by the diving bug.
Sunday’s dive was bound for Kvitbergan, another beautiful locale on Kvaløya:
(note: I also learned the location of my previous dive if anyone’s interested. It was on also on Kvaløya, at a site called Blåmannvika. You’re welcome.)
Today’s dive was with (L-R) Morton, Camilla, and divemaster Asle:
(I think – and if I got a name wrong, I’m sorry, it’s tough to remember sometimes)
It was a beautiful dive along a steep but lively ridge; there was tons of sea life, beautiful crushed-shell sand, and a decent current to keep things interesting. Asle also had an excellent lamp that reminded me how much colour sixty feet of water can take away. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my second dive of approximately 40 minutes.
Oh, and my drysuit leaked like a sieve. Forgot to mention that part.
Don’t worry, I had an awesome time – it was actually fairly refreshing to dive in Arctic waters with Artic waters all around you. The only lame part was the trek back up the shoreline; climbing a slippery slope is not made easier when you’re retaining enough water to look like the Michelin Man. In the end though, I made it to my dry clothes and we had a great laugh about the whole event (the best part was when I took off my first layer and Asle commented that my bunnyhug didn’t look that wet – then I showed him the nickel-sized patch on my right arm that was dry and three shades lighter).
Sunday evening, I found myself stuck with an undownloadable country song in my head. Thinking quickly, I used Skype to call 620 CKRM in Regina to try and squeeze onto the request hour. Unfortunately, I missed out this week, but Adam Bouvier was ecstatic to receive a caller from Norway and asked me to promise that I’d call in again. So if any of you listen to the Sunday Morning Request show, keep your ears on…
Though I missed the request show, Adam reminded me about the afternoon Rider game – excitedly, I tracked down Jamie, who had already logged onto CFL broadband. We thoroughly enjoyed the slaughter that was the Banjo Bowl, and I was able to drift off to sleep satisfied that somewhere Nan (who will probably be the first to read this) was proud of her Riders tonight.
Believe it or not, this week marked one month since I left Canada, arrived in Norway, and arrived in Tromsø. It’s been a life-changing experience so far, and I look forward to sharing the rest of my adventure with you. Cheers!