Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Crater Lake

The bandwagon rolls on. This was supposed to be a leisurely day of driving. Or so I thought :). Going by the Memento style of blogging that I promised, let me introduce my companions for this part of the trip, one by one. I have an awesome photo of Jeff Fingler from today. Here is him munching on a leg of lamb at an Ethiopian restaurant called Jarra's in Portland Oregon.

Jeff is a physicist like myself who works on the human visual system at Caltech. He is on his way towards developing an effective and quick method of taking a map of the blood vessels around the retina. He claims that these techniques will help diagnose eye diseases quicker. He does all this cool work when he is not in his caveman mode.

So moving back to the highlight of the day, I notched up another national park on my significant belt. The national park in question was Crater Lake national park, which is a caldera that was formed about 7700 years ago by the collapse of a big volcano, much like Mt Rainier or Mt Hood (which we should meet tomorrow, rain Gods permitting). The crater left behind by the collapse is about 6 miles (10 km) in diameter and is very close to being a perfect circle.

None of these photos are photoshopped. The lake is really this beautiful. It is because of its unique geography. The lake has no inlets or outlets and is thus only connected to the outside world via the atmosphere. Evaporation is the only way the water can leave the lake. But given that the lake is the deepest freshwater lake in the world, the surface area to volume ratio is very low and thus evaporation is very slow. The only input is through ice and snow that directly falls into the lake. It took about 150 years to fill up the lake after the initial implosion. All this makes Crater lake's water one of the purest on the planet. A friendly park ranger was telling us about the distance to which an 8-inch black and white patterned disk can be seen in direct sunlight in this water. It is upto 144 feet (more than 3 times the nominal 30 feet for clear water).

The island that you see in the previous photo is called the Eagle island and it is a volcano in its own right (more like a cinder cone). The water around it formed some of the most spectacular patterns or aqua, blue and topaz colors.

All this is well and good, but you probably don't get a sense of scale from all these photos. If you noticed some photos ago, there was a little boat in the photo. This boat gives you perspective on the immensity of this wonderful place. Besides the water was so calm that the waves left behind by the boat spread out in a beautiful pattern that is usually destroyed by ambient noise sources like wind and currents (non-existent here).

We had lunch looking at this ancient beauty and then drove about 5 hours to get to Portland, where we were greeted by rain. It was nice to be in cool weather with rain pelting down. Tomorrow we will roam around Portland and drive to Seattle in the evening.

First Couple Days (SF and Redwoods)

I have to make a post for the crazy party and packing spree that I had just before I left. But I will start with the first couple of days and get to the party later, somewhat in a Memento style of reading for you poor readers.

Thankfully Harmony drove for most of the first day and I slept or sleepwalked through most of the day. We just drove from Pasadena to San Francisco on the 5 and had dinner with Shwetank and Rangoli at their place. I did not take any photos because of my generally sleep deprived state.

Today was the real start of the crazy journey I am about to undertake and if it is anything like today, it will be very interesting. We drove for about 100 miles in the morning and we heard some weird noises from the right tire. It turns out that the plastic designed to keep rocks from entering the car was rubbing with the tire and making noises. I had a toolkit, but not the right kind of nuts to fix it. So we limped to a nearby town with me cringing at the noise for about 10 miles. And it was fixed within 10-15 minutes and cost a thankfully low $15. We then drove on after lunch to the redwoods. It is my third time through the Redwoods and it doesn't stop to amaze me. Here are a few photos from the Redwoods.

On the drive along the coast, we saw an amazing sunset and here are a couple of crappy shots that I got from the moving car. It was a great sight, but hard to capture on camera and we didn't have the time to find an exit in order to see it in peace. I hope the photos give you an idea about its beauty.

At the end of the day, when I was about 2 miles from Medford Oregon (Harmony had reserved a hotel there), a cop pulls me over. I was surprised, as I was definitely not speeding. He then tells me that I had my fog lights on and that it was illegal to have those on when not driving in fog. He let us off with a verbal warning.

PhD Defense

Feels kind of weird, now that I am Dr. Patel :). The feeling has not really sunk in yet. While I was never really stressed about the defense, the repeated practices did hurt the ego a little bit. Especially when friends were given the license to go for the jugular and boy did they go for it :). Thank you Varun, Zeesh, Swarnima, Joe, Vladimir, Jenne, Nic, Leo and Steve for listening to me drone away for a couple of hours.

Here is the room that was used for my defense. It has busts of Einstein and Feynman. Pretty scary ones. The same room was used for my candidacy as well. Being a bit obsessive about being early, I was there about an hour ago with some very nice cookies and with Varun on his way with coffee.

After the defense which was pretty peaceful, we had champagne that Xavier had brought for me. It was a very nice gesture from him to come all the way from Milwaukee. My committee really loved my thesis, for which I had Alan to thank for. We went to the Atheaneum (a very nice faculty club at Caltech) for drinks and popcorn afterwards. Here are some of the pictures we took there.

There are a lot more photos that need uploading. Will do so once I get the chance.