Well, I'm back in Indiana after some amazing winter break time in Barcelona (amazing seafood, Gaudi, and a Filipino dinner), Wunstorf (discovered I'd learned enough German to ask Sebastian's mom about her awesome food processor), Hannover (bookstore trip and candied almonds), and Valencia (amazing drive, and my rudimentary Spanish goes a long way).

And I am... happy. And relaxed. And wow, it's different to come to campus and to class and see people I know a little, a campus I'm no longer constantly lost on, it's... it's so much easier to be here this semester. Trying to maintain breathing room, trying to keep myself from working all the time... so far, so good. I'll cut things if I need to. And I'm asking for help; I'm going to request CART this week, I've discovered the writing center, I finally went down to talk with the speech and hearing clinic (I'm something like 6 years overdue for screening) and... guilt for using services for their intended purposes is curiously absent now, although this may just be start-of-semester buzz. I hope it stays, though!

What I wanted to write about, just to get out there (this won't be a well-written post, it's trying to cram too much information into too little text because I'm also about to fall over from jet lag) is the adventure quests I've started going on. One per day. Inspired by the Adventur Programme (via Sumana) with the intent of getting me out of my apartment, into places with people, having and appreciating experiences and life, and basically having something to do other than work, so I wouldn't throw myself into yet another deep pit of workaholism. I asked Sebastian to set me up with adventure quests and he kindly did so. I have, in turn, been asked to photodocument and blog about them.

My first three quests:

Eat lunch at Pret A Manger in Heathrow airport. I had a London layover on my way from Spain back to the US, and am notoriously (1) cheap and (2) absentminded about food. Therefore, I was asked to promise that I'd get lunch in Heathrow. And because Sebastian is a giant travel geek, he knew the terminal I'd fly into and out of and that both terminals contained a Pret A Manger restaurant. He's been raving about the place since we ate there in downtown Chicago this summer when we were there for a U2 concert, and thus I was requested to specifically eat there. This is a photo of my (excellent, if overpriced) falafel wrap and carrot soup. Om nom nom!

Order something Sebastian would like at Greyhouse. Greyhouse is a coffee shop on Purdue's campus and another place we went to over the summer that Sebastian instantly adored and won't stop talking about (the chocolate gelato and the crepe menu may have something to do with this). I upped the quest level by walking there during the sunrise, which was gorgeous, and I ordered the drink I'm going to try persuading him to get the next time we both go there: a matcha latte. It was fantastic, huge, and slowly sipped while I worked my way through chapter 9 of 12 of my German grammar book (today's lesson: prepositions and reflexive verbs -- we got the book in Hannover less than a week ago and I'm already 3/4 done and fascinated by grammar for the first time).

Climb inside the Purdue Terrestrial Observatory tracking antenna. This was an unexpected bonus quest; unknown to most, Purdue has a pretty ridiculous setup for receiving satellite data. We're talking a maybe 125 meter high platform atop 4 feet of concrete with a fiberglass sphere containing an antenna with a dish 4 meters in diameter, tucked away from campus at an obscure site surrounded by a barbed-wire fence. This past fall, I'd asked Larry Biehl, who maintains the system for Purdue, if he could take me out the next time he went up there; Larry had warned me that he only goes up every couple of months, and I said it was ok if it took a while.

This afternoon I got an email: "I am just heading out." I scrambled to my car and was soon hitched to a harness and climbing up and into the dome's tiny porthole, where Larry graciously walked me through the system and explained all the equipment, answering my constant supply of questions. Fiberglass dome with lightning rods on the outside means the motors can be smaller since they don't have to be rated for the outdoors (both in terms of weather-resistance and being strong enough to resist 100+mph winds battering a 4m diameter dish). The system tracks maybe 10 satellite passes per day, each one taking somewhere between 8 and 12 minutes. It's 3-axis, 2 motors per axis to load-balance and reduce wear on the motors. Redundancy everywhere. Flies, too. Sweltering hot in the summer; in 2011, one of the motors hit 60 degrees C and just shut down. What happens if the power's out? What are those buttons? These are the motor control breakout boards? How did the negotiations go with the city 5 years ago when you were trying to figure how to run the power and data out here? He walked me down to the nearby building where the signal cables run into a large boxy unit that converts the raw data into a more consumable form; I was in geek heaven. Many, many thanks to Larry for an incredible opportunity... I wish my cell phone could take pictures that would do it justice.



Tomorrow's quest is to try out the yoga studio down the street. I'd better sleep soon to make sure I'll be awake for class, though - jet lag is calling my name (I got back from Spain the night before my first class started at 9:30am).