Thursday, June 30, 2016

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History | Washington, DC part 1

Welcome to the first of my three-part recap of my trip to Washington. It's an image-heavy post with very little accompanying, relevant info to the specific images, which I do apologize for. Really, consider this a post as my thoughts on visiting DC in general accompanied by photos from the nation's treasure chest/cabinet of curiosities/attic. Founded in 1846, the Smithsonian Institute serves that purpose, and as a vehicle for research in science, history, art, "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge."

Also, a DC trip to see the landmarks, memorials, federal buildings, and National Mall (where most of the museums are clustered) is extremely obvious and unoriginal. It's an itinerary that is extremely popular among middle school tour groups, which flood the capital in the summertime. I have tried my damnedest to keep the throngs of youths out of these pictures, but just know that the museums are large, crowded, and loud.

The Natural History and American History museums are most susceptible to this, but do quiet down considerably in the afternoon. I visited DC when I was in fourth grade, and it's hard to communicate the overwhelming sense of wonder at everything contained in the museums, all the information and things to look at. I distinctly remember going through the Natural History museum with my mother for hours, getting lost among the exhibits and frantically tearing through the exhibit halls when the museum was closing. I've only really taken pictures of taxidermy and minerals, but the museum contains extensive exhibits about astronomy, geology, the oceans, mammalian evolution, human origins, insects, etc, etc.

I go as far to say that this museum did more to inspire me towards science at that age than any book I read, or lesson I had in school. While there certainly are many thorough placards to read and a lot of information to digest, this is a very kid-friendly place. Be careful not to step on any of them.

A whale hunt and the Lord of Three Realms

I went to DC with my mother, who was there for a conference and only had time to see this museum. We stayed around 2 hours before she had to go, after which I went to the American History museum. No pictures from there because it was even more packed, and very poorly lit. This museum is for everyone, and the most accessible form of American history is American Exceptionalism. Keep a critical view of American history, how we have affected international economics and geopolitics especially since WWII, and enjoy the exhibits. There is plenty to see even if the lighting is not good, and the vast exhibition halls on transportation (a dealership of ye olde automobiles, trains, etc) and the history of electricity (a hardware store of ye olde appliances, transformers, generators, batteries, etc) are not to be missed. The "food in America" room is also very interesting.

The "Price of Freedom: America at War" exhibit is pretty exhaustive in terms of information and artifacts, but extremely cramped and crowded and dark. It's a huge portion of the museum and I recommend seeing it in the afternoon when crowds are smaller.

I stopped by some other museums, but my favorite on the National Mall is the Natural History museum. Here are some samples of displays in the metals and minerals hall. There are dozens of these cases, and hundreds of samples to marvel at. Out of all the topic areas in this museum, the mining and metals section is the richest in information and things to look at.

I've tried to group these photos based on mineral type. These are both elbaite.

I decided to try out DC's Capital Bikeshare system on this trip, and it worked out reasonably well. Because I haven't been on a bike since high school, it was more challenging for me to get accustomed to riding with traffic (very busy) and searching for bike stations. DC is very flat, but streets are very wide and sometimes bike stations are empty. In any case, biking is far more comfortable than walking in DC, which is hotter, sunnier, and more humid than I'm used to.

Celestite, a chief source of Strontium in the world

IIRC, these are all sulfate-based rocks

Fluorite of all shapes, colors, and sizes. The funky cubes come from uneven degradation of the crystal, whose basic unit cell is an isometric cube. This means that the crystal grows in cubes and decays in cubes. Use some Wikipedia-fu to learn more about crystal structure.

More fluorite.

An assortment of blue crystals.

Arkansas quartz

I am certain you can find pictures of this most impressive quartz with some people standing in front of it. It's about five feet tall, I believe.

Lots of opals

Monster opal

This large piece of amethyst quartz is free to touch

Left: Hall sapphire necklace, platinum, with 195 carats of sapphires and 84 carats of diamonds
Right: Logan sapphire, 423 carats

Left: Post emerald necklace, Art Deco Cartier
Right: the Hope diamond, 45.52 carats

Look here for more info on mineral and gem specimens at the Natural History museum.

I'm trying to space out my picture-heavy posts from Washington and Germany, but really, I need some time to write about everything I saw and learned in Germany. My Germany posts will mostly go in chronological order, but there is room for non-linearity. Because I use this blog as a way to thoroughly document things that I witness/think about/etc, there will be lots of museums, history, and politics because those are things that interest me.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

On hiatus!

I just got back from a quick trip to Washington and took many pictures of our nation's great federal buildings and museums. I'm now on my way to Germany for the next three weeks, and will probably not post while I'm away. Goodbye for now!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Dwight D. Eisenhower | Extracts

For something completely different, I'm going to try my hand at sharing some extracts from a book I read last semester. Part of the purpose of this blog is to document my personal journey towards living a life that I am proud of and happy with, and part of that is working towards personal qualities that I admire in my heroes. So here I go.

The Allied invasion of France on the Normandy coast, the largest seaborne invasion in history, happened on June 6, 1944, or D-Day. Operation Overlord, as it's famously known, was instrumental in the liberation of western Europe from Nazi Germany, and was meticulously planned and executed by Supreme Allied Commander in Europe Dwight D. Eisenhower. Between the end of WWII and the '52 election, Ike held a number of very high offices and played a huge role in establishing post-war stability in Europe: Military Governor in Germany, Army Chief of Staff, president of Columbia University, and Supreme Commander of NATO.

The point of this post isn't to discuss the things Ike did. Rather, I'll share a segment adapted (numbered, instead of pure prose) from Paul Johnson's biography Eisenhower: A Life. This passage describes some "virtues" that General Fox Conner, an early mentor, saw in him:
  1. A clear, analytical intelligence
  2. The ability to articulate conclusions in excellent English
  3. He could get on well with anyone, especially hard cases -- which were common in an army where thrusting individualism was encouraged and promoted
  4. Adept at resolving differences and promoting solutions, especially compromises that worked
  5. Admirable persistence in pursuing reason in any military enterprise
  6. He concealed his strengths
  7. Ike was very hardworking, often for prolonged periods, yet he always appeared relaxed
  8. Consistent aims in life, quietly but vigorously followed
The effect of the Staff School was to confirm this combination, and especially to enable Ike to get his thoughts onto paper in a pellucid manner, something very rare in the U.S. Army, indeed in any army. It also implanted in Ike a keen realization of the connection between military power and industrial capacity, which became a salient part of his thinking about the future.
These are virtues that any person could benefit from, and I hope I can move in that direction. Regardless of your opinion on his actions and policies, I do think that the eight points above are qualities worth working towards.

I'll end the post here. See below for another passage, thoughts about the biography itself, and a bit from General Conner.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Anonymous personal style (or, style thoughts at Anthropologie)

About a week ago, I had some time to kill in my hometown and went into Anthropologie, which is a favorite window shopping location with my friends and me. I must be honest: I like its whimsical, happy homemaker, slightly storybook aesthetic. My friends and I always spend some time in our hometown's Anthro when we visit, mostly looking at the homeware because the clothing, quite frankly, is not for the likes of us. I have no doubt that when I'm thirty and an attending, I'll find some dearly beloved frock there for leisure wear.

I've been thinking a lot more lately about personal style lately. It's been a very long time since I've purchased anything that wasn't black (this time last year, I bought a maroon blouse for med school interviews). In looking at Into-Mind's resources for refining personal style, I got to thinking that I occupy a very sartorially conservative,  almost featureless comfort zone of style. I'm not all that confident in my own clothes, and as I seek to build my personal and professional wardrobe over the next few years (and transition into adulthood, of course), I need to know myself better.

And before I keep rambling, the spoiler is that you can know yourself better by trying on clothes you have no intention of buying at all, and critique thoughtfully.

As a starting point, I present the following two dresses, both fast fashion items that I happen to be very fond of and wear often:

Though I haven't shared much of what I wear on this here blog, these dresses fly in the face of what I normally wear (though, they are both blue). I like the bold floral prints on both of them, though the left dress can be interpreted as 50-50 floral-psychadelic. What I know about myself from these two: I am comfortable wearing loud prints in an otherwise plain wardrobe, I favor knee-length and wide to full skirts, I like to show my arms and waist. They're both synthetic, but I'm prefer natural fibers in general.

With that in mind, I set off to play dress-up in Anthropologie. This is what I came up with:

  • Pros: great shape, cotton feels good, ample pockets
  • Cons: unlined bodice, pale plaid bores me to death, way too much fabric
  • Pros: trousers are nice and flowy
  • Cons: shapeless, thin synthetic fabric

  • Pros: linen, turmeric yellow looks okay on me?
  • Cons: unflattering cut, shapeless, makes me look like ye olde peasant wench in a bad way

  • Pros: paprika red + navy + cream work for me, loud and haphazard botanical pattern is great, linen, ye olde peasant wench in a good way
  • Cons: a ton of fabric and a generally shapeless cut, but I kind of like it
Long damn post, but here are my final thoughts about this exercise:
  1. I never put a lot of thought into what "season" I was, but from the colors I think look good on me and my own coloring, I'd say I'm an autumn.  I was surprised to see that scarlet + dark yellow + navy + cream (muted, warmer colors) look better on me than midnight blue + white + baby pink (clearer, cooler colors on my high-necked floral dress)
  2. Do not fear prints, especially if they are botanical.
  3. I picked these items to represent outfits I thought would be realistic and practical (shirt + trousers), different but still conservative (yellow dress and plaid dress), and a complete novelty (last dress). As it happens, the last one was an unexpected favorite that I could see myself wearing often. I suppose the lesson here is to just try on a lot of clothes before making a choice, and to be aware of unlikely stars
  4. I much prefer the feel of linen and cotton to synthetics, regardless of the cut
  5. Though I generally prefer a defined waist, I liked the cut of the last dress quite a bit. The plaid dress was weighed down by too much fabric everywhere (sleeves, waist bow, skirt), and generally looks more juvenile
  6. Reaffirmation of preferred dress: fuller skirt, mid-thigh to knee length, show arms, define waist
  7. Black leather sandals match everything