Pop Art: How Popcorn Works

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I had never seen popcorn pop, so I decided to take the kernels outside of the bag and heat them over a stove. It’s a little creepy to watch them start expanding and then rupturing, but it quickly becomes amusing and subsequently delicious.

popart from Lilian Bui on Vimeo.

If you’re wondering how popcorn “works,” here’s the description according to about.com:

Popcorn kernels contain oil and water with starch, surrounded by a hard and strong outer coating. When popcorn is heated, the water inside the kernel tries to expand into steam, but it cannot escape through the seed coat (the popcorn hull). The hot oil and steam gelatinizes the starch inside the popcorn kernel, making it softer and more pliable. When the popcorn reaches a temperature of 180 °C (356 °F) the pressure inside the kernel is around 135 psi (930 kPa), which is sufficient pressure to rupture the popcorn hull, essentially turning the kernel inside-out. The pressure inside the kernel is released very quickly, expanding the proteins and starch inside the popcorn kernel into a foam, which cools and sets into the familiar popcorn puff.

Given my new, buttery fascination, I would push for a redesign of popcorn bags far and wide so that more people could enjoy the process. Then again, there’s probably a safety hazard attached to standing too close to the microwave for too long.

 

The Tale of Two Sine Waves

The most amazing person in the world made me this wonderfully nerdy Valentine, and I’m bragging about it, as I’m entitled to do. Illustrations, graphs, and poem by Joe Diaz.


This is the tale of two sine waves

One of Teal and one of Blue

Both oscillating towards infinity

As waves are ‘tend to do

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By fate of stochasticity

The two waves did converge

They loved each other greatly

And their amplitudes did surge

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Sharing an axis together

With interference non-destructive

They life they have is exciting, fulfilling

And occasionally seductive

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Though, no two waves are identical

This is true for Blue and Teal

Frequencies can differ

And synchronicity can unseal

Teal is deft and impressive

While Blue is slow and steady

In one second, Teal can complete 100 cycles or more

While Blue might just be getting ready

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A beat frequency is formed

Humming along betwixt the waves

It rises way up and falls far down

As Teal and Blue come in and out of phase

The times when the two part

Can be so low and sad

The phase shifts that go back and forth

Would normal sinusoids be driven mad

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Though, thankfully for us,

Our heroes are unique

The fibers that they’re each made of

Reach resonance and peak!

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Blue realizes he’s not perfect

But wants the best for Teal

One could say he’s (over)driven

To earn her mass appeal

Teal, I’ll always love you.

You are so divine.

From now until infinity,

Please be my Valentine?”

Sensors, Uncensored

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How open sensor data can help enrich storytelling + bolster the media’s potential role in galvanizing civic engagement with the sciences.

By Lily Bui

Listen up, journalists.

Something interesting is happening, and you should be in the loop. Two words: “sensor journalism.”

The term is not entirely new, as it has circulated the blogosphere again and again. However, it’s been popping up more frequently in my e-mail stream and in conversations I’ve had with people on and offline, which kind of, sort of, really makes the science nerd in me tingle with excitement.

What is sensor journalism?

Sensor journalism refers to a method of generating or collecting data from sensors, then using that data to tell a story. You may think this sounds familiar, especially with the rise of data-driven journalism and the open data movement. However, as Kelly Tyrrell aptly puts it, “sensor journalism is the first cousin of data journalism.”

The distinction is this: instead of scraping data from the internet or existing databases, you are collecting the data (or enlisting the help of others to do so). Using sensors. In real-time.

I know that was a mouthful. So, let me show instead of tell.

My favorite example, to date, is WNYC’s Cicada Tracker. Lead by John Keefe, the project engaged WNYC listeners to build their own temperature sensors at home using instructions provided on the station website. The goal was to crowdsource temperature readings around the east coast to predict the emergence of the Magicicada brood. The data were then collected, visualized (beautifully) on a map, and used to tell a story.

The Cicadas Are Coming! from Radiolab on Vimeo.

Both scientific research and journalistic endeavor begin with the same thing: a question. In answering that question, for both science and journalism, crowdsourcing data allows the public to actively contribute to the investigation of the truth.

Who is gathering the data, and how accurate is it?

To reiterate, the idea of crowdsourced data collection is not new. Maker communities like Instructables, Spark Fun, Public Lab, MakeZine, and DIY.org have been around for a while and often focus on building tools (hardware and software) to make remote measurement possible. People who identify themselves as citizen scientists, hobbyists, or amateur scientists connected to communities like Cornell’s Ornithology Lab, CosmoQuest, SciStarter, Your Wild Life, and Zooniverse are also likely candidates for crowdsourced projects.

“This kind of technology is not for monitoring people,” said Travis Hartman in a recent interview with Current. “It’s for monitoring the environment we all share.” Hartman is a journalism grad student with an idea for a project to deploy a set of sensors throughout Columbia, Missouri, in order to study the city’s sound ecology.

As you’ve probably already picked up, Hartman is a j-student, not a scientist. Like him, many citizen scientists are non-experts (i.e. they don’t hold formal science degrees) but have an avid interest in science. That said, the argument against the quality or legitimacy of crowdsourced data does come up. And I’ll concede that it is, indeed, a valid one. How can we trust the data, even if we can track where it’s coming from? How do we know that build-it-yourself sensors are accurately calibrated and in working condition? Or worse–what if the data are biased or completely wrong? We can’t always know, but that shouldn’t deter us.

[AsideThere is also a phenomenon known as the "wisdom of crowds."]

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An academic paper finds, “Most [citizen science] projects employ multiple mechanisms to ensure data quality and appropriate levels of validation. (Wiggins, et al., 2011)” Some citizen science project managers use crowdsourced data sets in an auxiliary manner to observe general trends rather than precise data points. Then, some projects use crowdsourced data comparatively, with reference to existing academic data. The basic message from the research community seems to be, We know. We’re aware. We’re working on it. We’ve found some solutions in the meantime.

Meanwhile, journalists are also finding ways to use crowdsourced data to contextualize and enrich stories rather than relying on them as a primary means of telling them (e.g. WNYC’s Cicada Tracker). At the end of the day, a healthy level of skepticism can only help advance current methods of crowdsourced data collection, as it suggests room for improvement.

How can open sensors benefit journalists?

When it comes to environmental monitoring, government agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) do run regularly scheduled tests on air and water quality. However, this data is not always available to or accessible by the public. Also, if something were to affect the air or water quality between testing periods, and a government agency wasn’t aware of it, the public would otherwise be left in the dark about their environment. Bringing DIY-sensors into the picture could potentially democratize the process of monitoring your surroundings. For journalists, these data can offer insight into pertinent issues that eventually influence policy.

In making a case for why journalists should pay attention to and care about open sensor networks, Javaun Moradi writes (on his blog):

“It’s a responsibility that is every bit as noble as reporting and can achieve the journalism goals of informing the public, investigating corruption, speaking for the voiceless, and seeking truth. The other side benefit is that local media can deeply engage with their audience in new ways.” 

There’s also another dimension to this. While many citizen science projects are national and international (meaning anyone, anywhere can participate), some are local, focusing their research question on a specific region or city. As we all know, news can also be local–even hyperlocal. What could a more robust relationship between citizen science and the media potentially mean? A few things come to mind off the bat:

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  • raised public awareness and understanding of scientific research
  • a growing culture of civic engagement
  • deeper interaction with news audiences + richer storytelling

Local media outlets can also help connect the public to opportunities to take action in their own communities. WHYY-FM (an NPR affiliate station) in Philadelphia has launched a bi-weekly citizen science segment in partnership with citizen science site SciStarter, focusing on projects connected to their broadcast region. A recent story focused on how the public can help report sightings of the woody adelgid in Douglas firs to help scientists track the invasive species in or near Philly. Journalists and media outlets can help facilitate the discovery of these types of local opportunities.

Who else is doing this?

These are some more examples of crowdsourced science (some involving sensors, some not) in the news. No doubt, this is only a small slice of the pie. I sense (get it?) that there is much more brewing beneath the surface.

WBUR: Kite aerial photography to challenge construction permit on nuclear waste site
http://www.wbur.org/2013/07/10/pilgrim-nuclear-waste-permit

KPBS: Monitoring shark populations in San Diego
http://www.kpbs.org/news/2013/jun/04/sharks-attracting-attention-san-diego-waters/

KBIA: Urban sound ecology project
http://www.current.org/2014/02/grad-student-teams-up-with-missouris-kbia-to-measure-decibels-in-noisy-city/

Public Lab’s water monitoring tool, RIFFLE
http://publiclab.org/wiki/open-water
(There are many other Public Lab tools that can be used for environmental monitoring.)

“What Do Open Sensor Networks Mean for Journalism?” blog post by Javaun Moradi
http://javaunmoradi.com/blog/2011/12/16/what-do-open-sensor-networks-mean-for-journalism/

NBC: How citsci project JellyWatch identified species of salps clogging nearby nuclear reactor
http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/04/27/11432974-diablo-canyon-nuclear-plant-in-california-knocked-offline-by-jellyfish-like-creature-called-salp?lite

I am enthralled by how many people are trying new things with sensor data. I love this spirit of experimentation that is circulating, and I hope that it’s contagious.

As we move forward into the future, networked sensors will likely become a more integrated part of our lives. With the improvement of wearable tech like Google Glass, the FitBit, Jawbone, and more, will the possibilities for sensor journalism shift from reporting on our environment to deeper stories on data we’ve collected about ourselves and each other? Granted, these projections are not without their caveats. The incipient ubiquity of networked sensors also raises important discussions about surveillance, privacy, and ethics.

For now, I’d love to hear from you! You’ve made it this far, so you’re clearly interested in this conversation too. (That means we just formed a sacred bond. Sorry, you’re stuck.)

Questions: What other sensor projects (related to journalism or otherwise) have you come across? What other applications do you see for open sensor data that people haven’t tried yet? Leave your thoughts in the comment below or tweet me @dangerbui.

Image: Wikimedia (top & bottom right), USGS.gov (top right)

The Mapparium

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Image courtesy of the MBE Library

by Lily Bui / @dangerbui

It’s 1935. Franklin D. Roosevelt is president. The U.S. population is approximately 127 million. A family’s annual income is about $1,500. Babe Ruth retires from baseball. And the Mapparium opens to the public.

The Mapparium is a three-story map of the world housed in the Mary Baker Eddy Library in Boston and designed by architect Chester Lindsay Churchill. The word “Mapparium” comes from two Latin words, mappa, meaning “map” and arium, meaning “a place for.”

It’s almost impossible to look at the Mapparium without realizing the unique potential of maps as storytelling devices. Not only is the map a projection of the world in 1935; it’s also semblance of how people perceived the world during a time that was incredibly different from ours. Beyond strict cartography, the Mapparium is contextualized by the history and philosophical–even political–ideals that brought it into existence.

Let us begin at the beginning.

Although a surprisingly paltry amount of information about the architect Chester Lindsay Churchill exists, we do know that he was commissioned by the Mary Eddy Baker Library to construct the Mapparium. Along with the library’s board, Churchill recognized that the map’s existence would fill an important need–that of giving the public access to an accurate world map.

In a letter written on August 15, 1935, after the Mapparium is completed, Churchill reflects:

“The next step to achieve was to project mathematically the map of the world on a surface corresponding to that of the earth which encompassed the observer rather than receded the observer.”

This passage alludes to the design of a 12-ft bronze sculpture of the world in the New York Daily News office circa 1930. Churchill felt that most globes inherently place observers on the outside. He wanted something different, something more immersive. So he designed the Mapparium for people to be able to walk through it. The idea behind this is to enable people to stand together and look at the world in relation to one another.

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The globe that inspired the Mapparium from the NY Daily News lobby, 1940 (Wikimedia)

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Blueprints of the original map (MBE Library)

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Chester Lindsay Churchill, c. 1940 (MBE Library)

Construction 

Each grid component of the map was fired by a glass kiln, painted individually, and shipped from New York to Boston to be assembled. Rand McNally in Chicago prepared the map drawings, and Rambusch Decorating Co. in New York fired and painted the panels.

Every color on the map had to be baked separately, so panels with multiple colors took the longest to make. When the Mapparium first opened to the public, it was backlit with over three hundred 40- & 60-watt light bulbs. (They’ve since been swapped out with more sustainable LED lights.)

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Examples of pigments used for the map (MBE Library)

Churchill intended the map to be updated as international borders changed. For instance, Persia changed its named to Iran during the construction of the map, so the panel containing Iran had to be edited and was the last one to be installed. Although Churchill kept change in mind during the conceptualization of its design, the Mapparium’s construction was halted by the start of World War II in 1939 and postponed indefinitely.

Acoustics

Because the map is spherical and made of glass, the surface naturally reflects sound instead of absorbing it. There are two distinct acoustic tricks that you can achieve while inside the Mapparium:

[1] One person can hear his or her voice in surround sound if speaking while standing in the center of the sphere.

[2] Two people on opposite ends of the walkway can hear each others whisper as if they were standing right next to each other. This is called the “whispering gallery” effect, caused by sound traveling along all sides of the sphere and arriving simultaneously on the other side.

Brown Innovations in Boston designed the sound system for the Mapparium’s interactive exhibit, setting up four different speakers that direct sound upward with the intention to have it wash back downward toward the individual.

Some numbers

  • 1 inch = 22 miles on the map.
  • The radius of the sphere is 15 feet.
  • In 1935, the Mapparium cost $52,400 to build. Today, that translates to approximately $855,000.
  • Longitude and latitude are represented at 10 degree intervals on the map.
  • Twenty-two clocks can be found along the equator of the map to represent various time zones. At one point, these clocks were synced with a master clock by a magnetic pulse, although they are no longer functional.

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Map key (MBE Library)

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One of the clocks on the map (MBE Library)

Historical trivia

Because the Mapparium’s construction was postponed by WWII up until the 1960s, the MBE Library’s board decided that the map served better as a historical artifact rather than an up-to-date map of the world. If you look, you can spot a handful of significant differences from 1935 vs. what you would see on a world map today:

  • Israel is not on the map, as it was established in 1948 after the Mapparium was constructed.
  • Alaska and Hawaii were still U.S. territories and had yet to become states.
  • Korea was part of Japan and called Chosen.
  • Germany is split in two by Poland.

While Chester Lindsay Churchill may not have achieved exactly what he initially set out to build, the Mapparium still stands today. Any curious visitor who wanders into the sphere will certainly gain a remarkable, unique view of the world. The map may not tell us where we’re going or where we are, but just as important is this: like any good map, it gives us a deeper understanding of where we came from.

Unique New York

I’ve been to New York City before. But just because you’ve gone once, twice, or even twenty times, it doesn’t mean you’ve been to New York City. Every single trip I’ve taken has been entirely different from the last, and that’s because this urban jungle lends itself to everything from serendipitous encounters to the inexplicably bizarre–the kind of magical realism you can only hope to encounter in a Gabriel Garcia Lorca novel.

Joe and I saw this clip on Louie CK one night. We immediately decided we had to go. (Well, we decided immediately but didn’t really get around to doing it until 3 months later.) The episode (Season 3, Episode 4) is a love poem to New York told through a lens tinged with melancholy and nostalgia, thanks to the tactful eye of Susan E. Morse, Woody Allen’s go-to editor. Among so many other things in Manhattan, the episode features Russ & Daughters, an appetizing store on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

The word “appetizer” comes from the Latin word appete, which means “to desire.” At Russ & Daughters, one can very easily deduce its colloquial meaning: “the foods one eats with bagels.” Even further, there simply isn’t a better word to describe what you feel upon entering the store. It’s as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the belly. We ordered almost everything you can see in the clip: pickled herring, bagels with lox, and the chocolate babka. (It was all mind blowing.)

…And then there was the Birdman. Maybe you’ve heard of him. We definitely hadn’t before last night. But let me back up a bit.

After dinner, I had a specific musical craving for Black Sabbath (you know, to wash down the pickled herring.) Naturally, Joe and I wandered into the nearest record store that we could find–Rainbow Music.

Imagine, if you will, a pack rat’s paradise. A sizeable space made small by tons and tons of stuff. In this case, it was music. We squeeze into a narrow aisle of CDs stacked up to eye level–and then some. There’s barely enough room to walk through it face forward; you have to sidestep your way through to browse the CD titles. A short, older man approaches us and asks us what we’re looking for. Although I have no idea how, he knew exactly where the Black Sabbath CDs were and pulled them for us within seconds.

“They call me the Birdman,” he says, without us asking. “They made a documentary a few years back. It won some awards. People come in here asking me for pictures and stuff.” At this point, I’m hooked. There was no question that [1] we would stay and chat and [2] we would buy something. Talk about sales strategy.

The Birdman, a 73-year old Wall Street veteran who speaks with a thick New York accent, runs Rainbow Music as a sort of passion project. Having cashed out on his hedge funds long ago, he says the store isn’t about the money. (I asked him for any helpful trading tips, but like any good poker player, he kept his cards close to his chest. However, he did let slip his endorsement for pharmaceuticals and food stocks.) Despite not actively researching what’s trending these days, he’s managed to intuit what “the kids” are listening to. In the organized mess of an inventory, I spotted Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Miles Davis, Janis Joplin, Joan Jett, Michael Jackson, Frank Zappa within easy reach. Somehow, he even pinned me for a Django Reinhardt fan within two minutes.

(I realize that the organization of the CDs could probably just come from people sorting through them and setting them down closer to the front of the stacks. For my own purposes, I may just stick with my theory that he’s a musical clairvoyant.)

“This is all going away next month,” he tells us while ringing up our CDs (by hand and on paper, no less). I can’t tell whether there’s sadness in his voice or if I just imagined it. “We’re moving all of it to the Internet. You sell things a lot faster there.” We learn that the building landlord is leasing the store space out for something else, so the Birdman’s son is going to help open an online store–even though he doesn’t currently own a computer. They’ve been there for 14 years.

After stepping back out into the litany of Manhattan on a Friday night, it’s hard to tell whether being in the store was like stepping back in time or if it was just a crude affirmation of the current times. Even though Lower East Side counterculture  warrants the existence and perpetuation of vintage music stores like Rainbow, the Birdman has decided to resign from a brick-and-mortar setup to sell his stuff using digital means. I can’t imagine the buying experience being the same without meeting the Birdman face to face, and goodness knows I wouldn’t have paid $23 for a used CD if he hadn’t chatted us up.

The Birdman from Jessie Auritt on Vimeo.

Joe and I drove back to Boston blasting Black Sabbath, full of good food and good stories. I know that the next time I trek to New York, it’ll be completely different and probably even stranger than the last. I can’t wait.

California Coming Home (pt. 2)

Something about going home allows you to reset. Living miles away–thousands of miles away, even–from home isn’t particularly new to me, but I always end up experiencing a sort of friction with my home environment upon coming back to visit. I don’t mean in a bad way. I always end up thinking, this feels different from the last time I was here, and I think the difference is me. In a sense, the friction I experience is evidence that I’ve changed since the last time I left, evidence that I’ve grown.

Being in Boston has taught me a few things, one of which is to be harder around the edges. While I love the people I work with and the friends that I’ve made, the general populace that you interface with in urban spaces (as a whole) is much less friendly and approachable than what I grew up with back home. Customer service is not that much of a thing here, and as if the lack of daylight hours wasn’t enough, black is the color theme of everyone’s wardrobe. How fascinating it was, then, to experience sunshine again and to notice every speck of color in my surroundings when I came back home. I went on hikes (Outside! During the winter!), drank smoothies made with fresh fruit, saw the ocean, rode a roller coaster, did road runs, took selfies, walked dogs, slept in, bought and delivered gifts, wrote letters, tried skin products–stuff that I never really give myself time to do here in Boston.

But why not? That’s precisely the question. I realized that my excuses are probably the biggest barrier to my peace of mind. The stories that I tell myself are always the same. I’m too busy. I’m too tired. I’m too overwhelmed. I saw Garrison Keillor speak for the first time a couple months ago. He’s one of my favorite radio personalities, Cole Porter fans, poets, and more. Quoting his grandmother, who grew up during the Depression, he advised the crowd, “Happiness is a choice.” And that’s precisely what the secret is. You will always resent and relent something about life. But you can choose to spit and shout or hold it in until you implode. Or you can smile and get on with it. In the end, the choice is always yours.

That said, my resolutions for the new year are simple, but they resonate very deeply.

1. Love myself. So much easier said than done. If 2013 revealed one thing to me, it’s that I’m carrying around a lot of baggage that I don’t need to, and that baggage has become a barrier to loving myself and, in at least one very specific case, loving others. Though the battle against insecurity seems like one that should have ended with my prepubescent years, I’ve accepted that it may be a lifelong war for me. (I’m hoping to win.)

2. Push myself. Harder, faster, stronger. I’ve reflected on the person I am today versus the person I used to be a year ago. In some respects, I’ve grown in very positive ways and learned new things. On the other hand, I do feel like I’ve lost touch with very important parts of myself. I’m less extroverted,  less musical, less driven than I know I can be. So I’d like to dedicate 2014 to finding that average of who I am, who I’ve been, and who I’d like to be.

When I came back to Boston, the temperatures were dipping toward zero degrees Fahrenheit and below, and a blizzard warning was in effect. Despite all this, I still felt like smiling–not because I had any particular reason to but because I chose to despite not having a reason. You can take a girl out of California, but you can’t take the California out of the girl.

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Desert Deviation

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“Madness plants mirrors in the desert.”
― Floriano Martins

Quiet. That’s what I miss the most about the desert. There’s no Boston banter, no city litany, no traffic tumult. Just open space and skies deeper than your eyes can reach. Desert protagonists and antiheroes alike will tell you that once you spend enough time there, eventually, there’s nowhere to look but inward. That’s when you end up running into yourself.

Buried in northern Arizona is a place that almost prides itself in being a little out of the way. Highway 89 stretches across it, inviting views of purple mountains during sunset and star-studded skies at twilight. In the distance, you can catch a glimpse of Thumb Butte (facetiously dubbed “thumb butt” by the younger population). This is Prescott Valley. And you can believe the rumors–it’s just as small as they say.

Joe and I touched down here after spending a weekend in Vegas. (Prescott Valley is home for Joe.) One couldn’t imagine a more stark contrast between the two cities–from casinos and yard-long drinks to dust devils and ghost towns. Here, your best friends are the same kids you grew up with, and your kids become friends with theirs. You’re on a first-name basis with the post office staff, and buying anything other than groceries requires “going into town.” For an urbanite’s idea of fun, you could drive to the modest array of bars at Whiskey Row, but inviting some friends over for drinks and conversation is more the status quo. Here, you live on stories.

I’m a firm believer that a good story is the shortest distance between two people. This is helpful to keep in mind when you’re meeting someone for the first time–especially your boyfriend’s family. Lucky for me, Joe’s mom had plenty of stories to tell off the bat, and we found ourselves laughing over homemade meatballs and wine in no time. I had forgotten how good it feels to give up control and let the conversation run its course.

Through meeting his friends and observing relics of his past firsthand, I was also able to confirm the stories he had long told me about his Prescott Valley years. (I may or may not have snagged pictures from old photo albums for safekeeping. I mean, blackmail.)

I have big things to say about this small town, but most of it is logged elsewhere for my own records. Among the manifold memories made were a stargazing date off the highway, a four-wheel adventure in Sedona, a wedding by Watson Lake, a birthday road trip to California, an exponentially hilarious excremental situation, and so on.

You know you’ve had a good trip when the stories from it cover the broad spectrum–good to bad. Sometimes, we’re too eagerly inclined to scrap the bad and only remember the good, forgetting in the process that we need both in order to grow. An escapist by habit, I was convinced at the beginning of this trip that leaving the city would somehow mitigate my stressors. However, I re-learned that places don’t carry problems; people do.

Now, upon returning to Boston, I feel refreshed and equipped with an arsenal of travel tales–but also with a commitment to looking inward, not wayward, to let go of heavier loads.

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Herald to the Hirsute, Ode to the Beard

How the mustache made it to the mainstream, I’ll never know.
Let’s face it. Mustaches are creepy. They belong to jewel thieves, child molesters, pirates, and fascist dictators. Also, this.
 
Beards, however, are different. Beards are for poets, professors, inventors, and revolutionaries.
Heck, Ben Affleck’s beard won him an Oscar. (Okay, not really. His stellar script and direction for Argo did, but the correlation is there!)
My point is–beards are erudite, pedagogic, and pensive.
Beards are virile, wild, and versatile.
Some are untamed and unruly, inviting you to a life in the backwoods.
Others are prim and pruned for civilized table talk.
What woman doesn’t love rubbing her face into a good beard? Because c’mon. Beards are sexy.
Save the scruff. We just can’t get enough.

The Maine Idea

I’ve been in Boston for roughly 10 months. Little did I realize that, during this time period, I had incrementally lost faith in humanity. Perhaps it was the angry driver who honked and yelled, “Get a move on it, you f@#king cow!” to the geriatric pedestrian at the crosswalk. Or maybe it was the drunk, belligerent Southie couple with no sense of volume or filter on the T. Then again, it could just have been the winter blizzards or manifold “summer” thunderstorms.

But I digress.

I realized all this–that I was living in a Boston bubble–as soon as I arrived in Portland, Maine. After we parked the car, out of habit, my boyfriend and I jaywalked across the street to get to the harbor. Whereas in Boston, oncoming traffic would have accelerated in our direction at the sight of this attempt, Maine drivers slowed down, obstructed traffic, and smiled as they waited for us to cross. (What?!)

That’s not all. Curious about local brews, we stopped by Allagash Brewery in hopes of catching a tour. According to a chipper voice on the phone, all tours were booked for the day, but we were more than welcome to stop by for a drink at the bar. We followed suit. Both of us ordered a flight, which includes four samples of their current favorites. The best part? It was free!

I’m no anthropologist, but I’ll boldly assert that any society that offers you free beer is not just hospitable but enlightened in ways that only Buddhist monks and 17th century European intellectuals would understand.

At the risk of sounding like I’m writing a Yelp review, I have to mention the food! To eat, we chose lobster rolls and oysters at J’s Oyster Bar. Then poutine and French fries made with duck fat at, well, a place called Duckfat. All delicious, no surprise. (Admittedly, I still find myself peering longingly at the photos I took of the meals we had.)

On top of all this, there were rolling hills that overlooked the Atlantic, winding roads that induce your own unwinding, and even a desert in the middle of this New England territory. If Boston has diminished my faith in humanity, then Maine is one of the places in America that can replenish it.

Geborgenheit

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At the beginning of this month, I moved in with my boyfriend.

A few years ago, if you had asked me how I felt about moving in with a partner, I would have adamantly told you that it was out of the question. However, this past version of myself has quickly been foiled by a boyfriend whom I trust, see a future with, and cannot get enough of. (Also, he’s cute.) [Disclaimer: This is not, by any means, an endorsement for moving in with simply anyone. We made this decision after much discussion, mutual consent, and establishing what both of us want in the future.]

The funny thing about moving in together is that you quickly become a master of your own inventory, reducing your belongings to lists and numbers. For example, I learned that I had 2 large suitcases full of winter clothes, 15 pairs of shoes, and (for some reason) 6 bottles of contact lens solution. The next challenge was learning to consolidate. Between us, my boyfriend and I had 5 flashlights, 4 screwdrivers, and 3 sets of towels. (We ended up either throwing out or giving away what we didn’t need.) Despite the cumbersome task of moving, we knew we’d be reducing the commute between both our places to zero miles and would, in the long run, be saving on rent.

Then, after we settled in, something started to happen. It slowly became obvious that the most valuable things were those that could never be catalogued, archived, or quantified. Like, the butterflies I get when he refers to things as “ours.” The relief I feel knowing that I’ll always have someone to rescue me from disproportionately large bugs. How giddy I get when I see our both our names on the mailbox. Sharing breakfast together with the radio on. Learning to make decisions together–big and small. Picking up on each others’ habits (like how I never fully finish sodas and how he tends to bite his nails). Falling asleep on the couch during X-Files marathons. And just how plain happy we are being near one another.

I realize now: the things that quantify a home don’t necessarily qualify one. The latter is up to us. Furthermore, akin to building a home is fostering a successful partnership, a process that is ongoing and–if you’re lucky–well worth it. For now, I’m fortunate to have found an equally invested partner in crime for this venture.

There’s a German word, Geborgenheit, for which there is no English counterpart. It’s used to describe “the sum of security, warmth, protection, trust, and love.” I’m inclined to say that it’s also the sum of what the first month living with my counterpart has felt like. To many, many more ahead.

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