Random Happenings

Random notes and pics about events in the life of a not-your-typical Computer Science grad student. (Yes I am a nerd, but I don't live and breathe the SciFi channel, well maybe Stargate SG-1...)

Friday, June 30, 2006

Lost in space

This was taken on one of our incredible wall dives. A wall dive is where the ocean floor makes a steep drop down (like a cliff) and you dive along the drop, or wall. What is amazing is that on one side is a wall of coral that extends farther than the eye can see and on the other side is nothing but blue, blue ocean.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Into the abyss

Our second day of diving in Belize, we signed up to dive the famous "Blue Hole." The Blue Hole is a perfectly round limestone sinkhole that is 1,000 ft across and 400 ft deep! For divers, it is basically a huge bottomless pit. (The deepest a diver like me and Nathan are allowed to go is 130 ft.) We had never been on a dive anywhere near that deep before, but we were told that if you go to Belize, you just have to dive it. So we thought, "why not?"

The alarm woke us up at a leisurely 4:30am in the morning. I'm not sure why, but it wasn't until that moment that we started to wonder what we had gotten ourselves into. We strolled out to the dock from our hotel with our dive gear slung across our shoulders and waited for the dive shop to pick us up and take us to our breakfast feast of bananas, sweet bread, Velveeta cheese (quite a delicacy), and coffee. The early rise was worth it though, the sunrise was absolutely gorgeous!

We finally arrived to the Blue Hole, which I've lovingly nicknamed "the abyss", after a 3 hour boat ride. Nathan and I were one of the lucky ones that didn't have to feed the fish all morning. I think they had a little too much Velveeta.

Our dive master, Carlos, begins our dive briefing with a question, "How deep have you all been?" Of course all the macho guys start shouting "95ft!" "110 ft!" Nathan and I exchange sly glances and subconsciously start slouching down and avoiding eye contact with Carlos. We felt like kids again sitting at the back of the class hoping against all hope that the teacher wouldn't call on us. I thought, "How deep did we dive yesterday? 65ft? That's how deep I've been..."

Despite our inexperience, we were actually some of the calmer ones on the dive boat. There were about 30 of us all together. After the briefing, we all strap ourselves into our gear and to a last minute buddy check (i.e., make sure all your buddy's equipment is working and the tank is turned on). If you have never seen it before, I must say it is quite comical to watch everyone waddle to the back of the rocking boat with heavy equipment on and huge flippers to jump in. That was worth the trip right there.

After everyone is in and we all signal to each other "ok", we slowly begin our descent into the great abyss. I have to admit, it is a little unsettling at first to look down in the water and see nothing but blue down below you --- especially when you know that the visibility is 100ft+. It was fun though and felt like you were just floating down, down, down.

As we descend further, the water gets noticeably colder and darker. We finally reach our maximum dive depth and get to swim through these amazing stalactites. We were at 133ft feet, officially the deepest I've ever been. No worries though, no one had nitrogen narcosis and started talking to the fish.

After just a couple of minutes (you can't stay long at that depth), we started our ascent. It was a bit like playing "follow the leader".
Just when we thought the adventure was almost over, we spot this huge reef shark swimming toward us. It's hard to tell from the picture, but it was big. It looked like the sharks you see in "Jaws." It had to be at least 10-12ft long. I was definitely glad it was content to keep its distance. I certainly was content to keep mine. At our safety stop, we spend most of our time watching the school of reef sharks below us get larger and larger as more sharks appear from the depths. It was amazing to see so many swimming together like that. All in all, it was a great adventure and I'm glad we were brave enough to do it.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

You can't say she dosen't pull her own weight

Audrey loves to help out with the chores around the house. Here she is "helping" me make the bed. It never fails --- as soon as I throw all the pillows and the bedspread on the floor, she climbs on top and makes herself comfortable!

"She's a full-figured gal"

Two months ago I took my dog Audrey in to the vet for her annual check-up. Unlike most dogs, she actually enjoys going. All you have to say is, "Audrey, want to go for a car ride?" and she is jumping and spinning in the air until you let her in the car.

Every time we go, she is weighed. This time she weighed-in at a whopping 73 pounds! I was shocked! I actually thought she had lost weight since the last visit, especially since we had started jogging together in addition to her frisbee breaks. The vet responds with, "Let's just say she's a full-figured gal." That's right, she called my dog "full-figured." What's an owner to do?

I decided (unbeknownst to Audrey) that it was time for her to go on a diet. Poor Audrey. Gone are the days of bottomless food bowls, high-calorie doggie treats, and the occasional piece of cheese or lick of peanut butter. For the next few weeks, Nathan and I carefully measured out each breakfast and dinner portion for her, much less than she was used to having. For a little while, she would check the kitchen several times a day to see if there was any more food in her bowl. Poor Audrey.

For a while that seemed to be working (or so we thought). She was definitely noticeably hungry at mealtimes, she always finished her food, and she looked a little thinner. We left for a week for our Belize scuba diving trip and had to put her in a kennel. We gave them strict orders about how much and when to feed her. We were determined that she would loose weight. When we got back, she had actually lost a couple of pounds. "Great!" we thought. It's working!

A week or so later we decided to weigh her again. She must be thinner. We were convinced. She hopped in the scale and the numbers started climbing. She gained the weight back! How was this possible? We had two options at this point, feed her less or change her food. The portions already looked so small compared to before. You could practically see the bottom of her food bowl! We just didn't have the heart to give her even less. So, we decided to put her on "weight-management" food, Jenny Craig for dogs.

Well, I have good news. It's been a few weeks since we changed her diet, and she has actually lost a few pounds! It's a start. She's still pretty hungry, she goes in to the kitchen to lick the crumbs from her bowl from time to time. I have to admit it's a little sad. But she looks better so it's worth it. And she doesn't actually have a choice. :)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

That's it, it's war

I've finally had enough. I'm declaring war on the squirrels! That's right, I said war. Yes, they may look so cuddly and cute. And yes, they may be fun to watch flying from tree to tree. And yes, they may act so sweet and innocent when they beg for food on campus. But today they crossed the line.

I'm talking about the broken bird feeder I found this morning with a big, fat, hungry squirrel sitting on top of it scarfing down the last few morsels of bird seed. Bird seed that I put out for the birds, not for the squirrels. Hey, I don't mind the occasional squirrel grabbing a quick bite to eat from the feeder. That's to be expected. Who could blame them? But to chew through the string so the feeder plummets to the ground just to turn it in to an all-you-can-eat feeding frenzy is just plain wrong. It's wrong, I tell you.

Between the tomatoes I worked so hard for and the broken bird feeder I lovingly put up this weekend, I officially declare war on the squirrels. My first act was to unleash the ferocious beast, Audrey, on them. --- She is actually a terrible guard dog. The only way she would prevent an intruder is to lick them to death. --- This sent the chubby squirrel scampering up the nearest tree, and it wasn't until a while after we went back in the house that it decided to show it's face again at the scene of the crime. That'll teach 'em.

I guess the next thing to do is to buy some super-duper, heavy-duty, extra-strength rope to hang the feeder back up. The squirrels will probably be back and will no doubt be more determined than ever after the sweet taste of victory, but I still have hope that despite the squirrels' efforts, the feeder might attract a few more birds to watch. Here's to the birds. I'm there for you. And so is Audrey.

Get 'em, Audrey! Get 'em!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Someone else is eating the fruits of my labor

This afternoon, I discovered this sad little excuse for a tomato hanging on my tomato plant. I had been dreaming about summer tomatoes all spring long. Nothing is better than a homegrown, ripe tomato straight off the vine. I had been watching this particular tomato the last few days as it turned from green to yellow to orange to red. Just when it was time for picking, I find that something else already beat me to it! I suspect the squirrels. To show you how much I had been looking forward to fresh veggies this summer, last spring Nathan and I built a small vegetable garden in the backyard.

To start, we first dug a really big hole.We then built a bed frame out of landscape timber.
Next we loaded the bed up with bags upon bags of dirt.Here is the finished product with Audrey standing guard.
Well, I can take solace in one thing --- my herb garden does not seem to be tasty to the tomato thief. So, if I can't enjoy tomatoes, then I guess I'll have to settle for fresh pesto from the garden.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Shark bait

A month ago (pre-blog), Nathan and I went scuba diving in Belize with the Texas A&M Scuba Diving Club. It was so amazing! We left for an entire week of nothing but diving, shopping, eating, and lounging around on the beach (well, what little there is of it --- let's just say people don't come to Belize for the miles and miles of sandy beaches). Here I am on the beach in front of our hotel.

We went scuba diving for 5 days with 2 to 3 dives a day. Here we are underwater. Pretty goofy looking. I hope we don't scare the fish!
Since my only previous diving experience was the Blue Lagoon in Huntsville (basically a glorified swimming pool, only 30 feet deep, and no fish whatsoever) and Lake Travis in Austin (not really known for its wildlife since I was thrilled to have a couple of perch fallow me around, a little bit creepy actually), I was totally unprepared for the amount of things we would see and how clear the water was. We saw angle fish (all kinds, even a Queen angel), butterfly fish, grouper (yum), parrot fish, damsel fish (my favorite, oh so cute), trumpet fish, porcupine fish, sea turtles, sting rays and spotted eagle rays, moray eels (both green ones and spotted ones), lobster, crab, coral, sea sponges, sea fans, ... I never dreamed I would see so much!
Sea Turtle (Rare) Spotted Drum
Yellow Sea Sponge Queen Triggerfish
Spotted Moray Eel Vase Sponge
Brain Coral Sting Ray
As promised, here is hard evidence that I actually swam with sharks. (And no, I know what you're thinking, I didn't just overlay a picture of me with a picture of a shark in PhotoShop. Sadly, I don't even know how to do that. I am a disgrace to all techie kind.)
"Hmmmm... look at the pretty sand and coral...", I think, totally unaware of the stark looming nearby. Way to keep those survival instincts primed!
At least in this one I'm actually looking at the shark!
You may think I'm crazy, but I'm definitely not as crazy as the dive masters that pet the sharks. My theory is that all that compressed air finally went to their brains.
Finally, I couldn't resist putting this next picture up. Aggies are usually the subject of harmless jokes like "How many Aggies does it take to screw in a light bulb?" and "Did you hear about the Aggie kamikaze pilot? He flew 22 missions." But, I must say that we are not helping ourselves out when we pull stunts like this. Let's play the game "What's wrong with this picture?"
Give up? The brilliant Aggie taking the picture never noticed that the flag is backwards! Oh well, I guess we need to give people something to laugh about! We seem to have quite the knack for it. (I suppose I could fix this in PhotoShop, but it wouldn't be as funny then, now would it?)

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

How to build a world-class smoker from a flower pot

My husband and I are big fans of the food TV show Good Eats. Good Eats, for the unfortunate people out there that don't know, is like mad scientist meets chef. The host is a little off-beat, but that's what makes him so fun to watch. Plus, the food is great. A week ago, we were watching an episode where he builds a terra-cotta smoker out of a couple of flower pots --- yes, really. We got kind of excited/crazy and decided we would try to build one for our backyard. (We also watched a special on BBQ ribs, and let's just say that ribs can be very motivating.) We, of course, are not the first ones to try this and if you Google around, you'll find tons of documented homemade smokers out there. Here are the pictures proving that we actually built one and lived to tell the tale. The ribs were so good that we had to smoke some more the next day.

Step 1: Find a really big pot with a hole in the bottom and put an electric hot plate in it. This is as high-tech as it gets.

Step 2: Put a cake pan over the hot plate for the wood chips and a replacement grill grate for the top.

Step 3: Admire your handywork so far. Take a break, you've worked hard.

Step 4: Find another big pot for the lid and put a grill thermometer in the top.

Step 5: Smoke some ribs, of course.

Step 6: I think you can take it from here.

My very first post (how cute)

Yes, I have finally joined the rest of the world and started my very own blog. This is pretty ironic since my non-techie friends have blogs and I, the Computer Science student, am still in the stone age. Well, the wait is over (and yes, I know you all have been waiting) and my blog has begun...