Saturday, September 7, 2013

They Took My Blood and My Sandwich

Poland is a country known for it's springs.  If you don't know this, remind yourself that there is a bottled water company called "Poland Springs."  See, you knew.  Krynica-Zdroj, Poland, is known around Poland for it's springs.  I haven't actually been to any of the springs, but I'm told this place has provided Europe with water since about the time Europeans realized you could actually drink water as opposed to alcohol and not get sick.  Well, some in Europe have yet to discover this, but...

I had a very uneventful trip to Europe.  Once I got to Europe, though, the fun started.  During my flight into Krakow, a young child ate too much yogurt and threw up in the isle right next to my seat.  After some panicked yelling in Polish, the parents cleaned up the floor and I tried unsuccessfully to block that memory out of my mind.  I arrived in Krakow to discover that rather than bring us up to Krynica-Zdroj in a bus, we were riding the "VIP Shuttle," a BMW driven by a rally car driver with a death wish.  Because there are a lot of nice cars here.
That's not a pool.  It's a huge window.
The hotel we're staying in, taken from the gondola to the start

We arrived to our hotel to discover that even though Poland is part of the EU, they aren't on the Euro, so all of my converted currency is worthless.  But the hotel is really nice, and I don't have to pay for anything, so really all that does is keeps me from buying souvenirs and ice cream, so I'm not really complaining.  A penny saved is a penny earned, and I'm a grad student so actually paying money for things I don't need is not something I am allowed to do.  It's all summed up in the Grad Student Handbook.  The one thing that makes me a bit sad is that apparently things are really cheap here.  If I would have known that I would have brought an emptier suitcase and stocked up on non-perishables.
This picture makes the cave look bigger and lighter than it is.
The troll cave

We checked into our rooms and I discovered that my room has a troll cave in it.  Because that makes sense.  This seemed awesome until I realized that the ceiling in there varies in height and the bathroom is all the way at the other end, so I'm a bit nervous I'm going to concuss myself in the middle of the night on the way to the toilet.  Last night I almost stepped on Max King, who doesn't realize how tiny the troll cave is.  I'm not sure if I would have noticed until morning when we peeled a squished World Mountain Running Champion from the floor, but luckily I heard the pitter patter of little feet and turned a light on.

Staying true to the theme of World Mountain Running Championships, there is not much flat to run on here.  Plenty of hills, lot of trees, and some very nice scenery.  Our hotel is right next to the gondola to the start finish, which is great.  Given that the race is at noon tomorrow, I can basically hang out all morning.  Maybe physics will actually make sense then.

During breakfast this morning, I was informed that I had been randomly selected for antidoping control.  We arrived in the hotel lobby to discover that the shuttle that was supposed to take us to antidoping control had left without actually picking anybody up, so we had to board a public bus.  We traveled through town, picking up people on their morning commute.  The ladies in charge of bringing us safely to antidoping control became very interested in talking to me once I mentioned quantum mechanics, so I spent much of the ride talking about physics and neutrons and fun stuff like that.  After meandering through town for a bit to drop people off, we made our way towards the hotel that antidoping control was in, but got caught behind a horse drawn carriage.
Protip:  Rose thorns make great toothpicks.
Protip:  Rose thorns make excellent toothpicks.

We finally made our way into antidoping control and the Polish AntiDoping Agency (PANDA) took my blood.  Insert a panda joke here.  I successfully didn't pass out, and then we tried to leave.  However, we were informed that there wasn't another bus to our hotel for an hour.  I inquired about the VIP Shuttle that brought us from the airport and was told that was going somewhere else.  One of the Polish quantum women tried to sweet talk us into an earlier bus, but couldn't.  We were told we could go to the hotel restaurant and eat while we waited free of charge, so I made myself a sandwich.  Then the waitress came and took it away because I wasn't staying there.  So there I sat, sandwichless, waiting for the bus, until a Russian athlete gave me a rose.  I was somewhat dumbfounded, and by the time I realized what had happened, she had scurried off into a sidehall.  By that time it was time to get on our bus though, so I waited on the bus for the French team, who was 20 minutes late.  During that 20 minutes, the Polish quantum women heard that my sandwich had been taken away and were in a superposition of outraged at the wait staff and seeking vengeance for me.  For a moment I thought they would bring a sketch artist so that they would know which waitress to direct their ire toward.  By the time I got back to our hotel, it was time to go for a short run and eat lunch.
It's like New Hampshire, except you can't understand what people are saying.  Wait, never mind.
Krynica-Zdroj from the start/finish

Other than that, my time out here has been pretty low key.  Running, napping, eating, doing physics, and making sure my electrical converter doesn't start a fire.  I'll try to get a post up after the race to talk about how it goes, but no promises.  The US Mountain Running team will have live updates I am told.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

I'm Going to Freeze to Death in Poland

I'm heading off to Poland for World Mountain Running Championships on Wednesday.  Based on the pictures I've seen, the course looks beautiful.  Here are some pictures taken by an Italian Mountain Running website ( and some more taken by what I believe is the race organization (

Anyways, I'll write more about it when I get out there.  The US Mountain Running Team usually does a great job of getting out updates, especially on race day, so check them out next Sunday.  It's hard to write about a race before anything has happened.  So I'll write about living in AZ and doing grad school instead.

I started graduate studies in physics at Arizona State University in Tempe as soon as I got back from Sierre-Zinal.  They have the first year grad students taking courses in Classical and Continuum Mechanics and Statistical and Thermal Physics.  So from the looks of it, good times with Lagrangians and partition functions, and then better times with even crazier stuff.

We are also starting our preliminary research...soon.  Probably while I'm in Poland.  So that will give me something else to catch up on when I get back.  The big problem with starting research, of course, is that everybody's research sounds really interesting when they write an abstract about it.  So the key right now is to read between the lines to figure out a) what I'm good at, and b) what kind of stuff I want to spend the next 50 years of my life studying.  Okay, I guess I won't be doing the exact same thing for 50 years, but what I research to get a PhD will have affects on what I research with a PhD.  Oh, speaking of which, within 4-6 years, apparently I will be Dr. Glenn Randall.  So then I'll be able to do surgeries and physicals on subatomic particles.  I won't tell the joke about grabbing the down quarks and saying "cough."

I've also been TAing, which is really nice.  This has consisted of me working with small (compared to their 196 person class size) groups to go through problems to ensure they have the concepts down, as well as helping out undergraduates who need help with their homework.  I've decided graduate school is a successive process of being the dumbest person in the room.  I think whenever I become something other than the dumbest person in the room, they're going to move me to a different, smarter room.  I would say that process will stop after I get a PhD, but I'm not convinced.  The exception to that rule, however, is teaching undergraduates.  To them, I am a superhero when it comes to physics, especially if I'm explaining something dealing with their homework.  And to think, I was one of them once, making some of the same mistakes.

I have also been running.  Often indoors.  Because it gets absurdly hot in the Phoenix area from June-September.  In fact, the low temperatures in Tempe are about 20 degrees (F) hotter than the high temperatures in Krynica-Zdroj, Poland, where World Mountain Running Championships will be.  Note to self, pack warm clothing.  But the weather is cooling down, and if I wake up early enough, I can actually run outside.  Plus, there are trails and (small) mountains aplenty around Phoenix.  And if I want flat, I can run on completely flat, right out my apartment door.

But I should probably get back to the homework that I'm procrastinating by writing this.