U.S. Counties Visited

About a month ago, everyone’s Facebook news feeds were getting clogged with links to maps where people could color in the states that they’ve visited. Checking off states is certainly a cool thing to do. But what about individual counties? Surely that would provide a bit more insight into people’s travel habits — do they take long road trips, or do they generally fly to various destinations and see nearby sights?

Back in 2006 and 2007 (how is that already 7-8 years ago?!) some of my PSU grad school friends and I filled in maps of what counties in the U.S. we’ve visited. I even made a blog post about it in Sep 2007. Here’s what my map looked like back then:

The green counties were counties I’d visited prior to fall 2006, and the red counties were new ones I had added by fall 2007. So what does my county map look like now, especially since I’ve lived in two new time zones since I last edited my map? I took the day off from work today (it is the day after Christmas, after all), so I spent my afternoon updating my map. Here’s my current counties visited map:

The green counties are counties I’ve visited, and blue counties are counties I’ve lived in (Brown, Nicollet, and Hennepin MN, Barron WI, Centre PA, Boulder CO, Monterey CA — Broomfield CO is too small and new to be on this map, unfortunately). I’ve noticed that there are some discrepancies between my new map and my map from 2007 (namely, did my brother Nathan and I follow the Ohio River on the Ohio side or the Kentucky side in summer 2005?, and in what Louisiana parish near New Orleans did my family take an air boat tour of a bayou way back in 1994??), but I’m pretty sure my current map is mostly accurate. I started from scratch today, with my 2013 Rand McNally road atlas as a guide for what roads were in what counties.

Filling in this map was a fun trip down memory lane. I’ve visited counties on all three coasts in the U.S. (Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Pacific). Having traveled on nearly every single mile of I-80 from coast to coast (Kimball, NE to Cheyenne, WY is the only missing segment) sure helped me check off a bunch of counties. Several other interstates are clearly visible here as well from various long road trips, as are locations of a few academic conferences I’ve attended, which are disconnected from my other counties (Seattle, Orlando, Dallas, Austin, Atlanta). Clearly I need to fill in more places in the Pacific Northwest/Northern Rockies, Alaska, the Southern Great Plains, the Mid-Atlantic, and New England. And I think I’ll start keeping a separate counties visited map for our baby once he or she is born in late March. 🙂

So what does your county map look like? Download this blank map from Wikipedia (or if that link breaks, try here), and leave a comment!

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Our Story

Long time, no see. It’s been two years since my last bloggish activity, and I’d like to get back into it at least occasionally. Not so much for recounting what I’ve been up to (though there might be some of that), but more for writing about other things that interest me, like atmospheric science, theology, sports, politics, music, and whatever else seems interesting enough to write something about.

But before I get to those topics in future posts, there’s a lot I’ve been up to in the past two years. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Feb 2012: Started dating Karen Schmidt. 🙂
  • June 2012: Defended my Ph.D. dissertation at Penn State.
  • Aug 2012: Graduated from Penn State with my Ph.D.
  • Oct 2012: Honored by being co-best man at my friend Alex’s wedding in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
  • Oct 2012: Moved to Monterey, California, to start a job as a National Research Council postdoctoral fellow at the Naval Postgraduate School
  • Nov 2012: Proposed to Karen at Lake Isabelle in Colorado’s Indian Peaks Wilderness. She said yes! And of course I went to Jared. 🙂
  • May 2013: Karen & I got married at Calvary Bible Church in Boulder, Colorado! Right after the wedding Karen moved out to join me in Monterey, and we spent a week-long honeymoon on Kaua’i.
  • Sep 2013: My parents paid a visit to Karen & I in Monterey, their first-ever time in California. 🙂
  • Oct 2013: My job at Naval Postgraduate School came to an end, and Karen & I moved back to Colorado. Our ground-floor apartment in Longmont survived the September floods without any damage. I returned to NCAR for a job, this time as a postdoctoral research scientist. Karen was also able to get a job with her former organization, Elevations Credit Union, but this time in the operations department.

So yeah, that’s quite the whirlwind! Shortly after Karen & I got engaged we made a wedding website, and on it we posted our story. That website’s one-year existence will soon be drawing to a close, so for my first blog entry in two years (22 Nov 2011), and to mark almost exactly one year since our engagement (23 Nov 2012), and six months since our wedding (18 May 2013), I’ll repost that here. Enjoy!


Our Story
About Karen

20120915-Karen-FireholeRiver.jpgI (Karen) grew up in Bemidji, Minnesota, and lived a wonderful and idyllic childhood. I am so grateful to God for giving me a godly family and friends to grow up with and live life with. In many ways, they have helped shape me into the woman that I am today.

As a child, I grew up playing “house” with my sisters and cousins, and we talked and dreamed about the day that we would get married. (Yes, I was one of those girls who had her wedding planned from the time that she was a girl.) And I was certain that I would be married when I was nineteen like my cousin Melissa had been. But God had other plans in mind….

As I grew into young adulthood, graduated high school, and entered the work force, I still held on to that dream. My life was good, full of friends and many opportunities to travel and do things that I loved. God was faithful and good to me, and I truly believed that. But as I watched my friends and family members getting married one after the other, and with nothing happening in that area of my life, little seeds of doubt began to root themselves in my heart and mind. I prayed, cried out, and asked the Lord what He was doing. Had he forgotten me? I knew then, and I know now that God has a plan for each of our lives, and that His timing is perfect. But as the years continued to pass, I struggled to believe that. Then God brought an amazing opportunity to me – one that would change the course of my life!

I was able to travel overseas on two mission trips in the span of one year, both trips to a volatile Southeast Asian country, and my fear and apprehension were great as I prepared to go. But God showed me that as I believed Him and His promises, took steps of faith, and trusted Him to provide for my needs, that He is more than sufficient, and will do what He promises. I experienced Him in a new way, and seeing His faithfulness to me in this situation gave me the courage to make another leap of faith. I began to make plans to leave behind what was familiar and safe, and to move to adventure-filled Colorado!

God truly provided for me once I arrived! He gave me a great job, place to live, and a wonderful church filled with a community of people who love God and His Word. I was truly enjoying the blessings of living life in Colorado and this community of wonderful, new friends! Then about a year later, a new guy came to our group….

About Jared

20111019-Jared-CosyCorner.jpgI (Jared) grew up as a PK (pastor’s kid) in Cumberland, Wisconsin. In addition to my family, friends, and Christian faith, I’ve been shaped by many of my experiences and interests. I’ve worked as a farmhand, a “carnie” at a food stand, a DJ at a radio station, a grocery stockboy, an auto rental agent, and now as a research scientist. I’ve acted in seven plays, and have played piano regularly for my churches in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Colorado (and may start soon in California). I’m a big sports fan, which has led my parents to muse about where they went wrong in raising me. 🙂 And for as long as I can remember I’ve loved weather and maps, so I’ve always enjoyed both traveling around the country (39 states so far, plus D.C.) and the world (Spain, Australia three times, New Zealand, Singapore, and British Indian Ocean Territory) and learning more about the atmosphere.

I earned a B.A. in physics at Gustavus Adolphus College in 2005 (my older brothers both graduated from GAC also). Because GAC didn’t offer meteorology classes, I studied abroad for a semester in 2004 at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, where I took three atmospheric science classes to prepare myself for graduate school. My experience at Monash paid off, and helped me get accepted into Penn State University for grad school in meteorology. At PSU I earned my M.S. in 2007 and my Ph.D. in summer 2012. Before I graduated from Penn State, my advisor moved to Boulder, Colorado, and was able to hire me on as a graduate research assistant at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in December 2010, where I worked until September 2012. In October 2012 I began a postdoctoral fellowship at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

Looking back at my life so far, I see an awesome tapestry that God has been weaving together. I could go on and on here (so if you want more of the story, just ask!), but God has definitely been taking care of me, and guiding me into a series of amazing opportunities that He’s provided. Having lived a long distance from my family for several years now, he has also brought some amazing Christian friends into my life, friends who have become like family to me. Despite witnessing God’s faithfulness and care in all these other areas of my life, I was beginning to wonder if He would ever bring a woman into my life who I could love and marry. I tried hard to be content, but singleness was becoming increasingly frustrating. Little did I know when I moved to Colorado that my time of waiting was drawing to an end!

About Us

20120716-JaredKaren-TargetField.jpgIt all began with lefse! Well, not quite. Let’s back up a bit….

Karen: The first time that Jared and I met was at our Young Adults’ group Christmas Party in December 2010. He was wearing a Minnesota Vikings shirt, and I made a beeline over to him, seeing that we had a common connection. It turned out that it was Jared’s first time in our group, and everything and everyone was completely new to him, so he didn’t remember me specifically. 🙂

So, we began to get to know each other as friends. On the 4th of July 2011, Jared, I, and another friend went hiking up in Rocky Mountain National Park. We talked about God, politics, and life, and I remember thinking what a great and solid guy he was. So I began a more focused observation of him. 😉 What I discovered was a man who loved God, others, and wasn’t afraid to stand up for the truth. (That, and he is fun and likes to travel!) Soon after that, Jared’s name began to sprinkle into conversations with my sister, until she finally asked me, “Who is this Jared guy?” I was definitely interested in him, but would never have said anything about it, as I believe the guy should do the pursuing. Just as I was beginning to realize my interest in him, Jared left on a work trip halfway across the world, and was gone for six weeks! A couple of weeks after he returned to the US, I had a lefse-making day with my friend Annika, during which she asked me if I would ever go out with Jared. (I said yes, in case you were wondering.) After posting a picture of the lefse on Facebook, and Jared not so subtly hinting that it looked delicious, I decided to share the wealth with him. And as it turns out, it was one of the best things that I’ve ever done. 😉

Jared: When she gave me the lefse, that’s when I first started to wonder, “Does this girl like me?” Yes, lefse is the way to this Scandinavian’s heart.

Karen: My grandma and mother always told me that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach, but I had started to doubt that that was really true. 🙂

Jared: Fast forward to February 2012. I decided that I wanted to ask Karen out, and to see what would happen from there. I just needed an opportunity. Our friend Katie B. had her birthday party at a karaoke bar in Westminster on Valentine’s Day, and even though I knew I was likely to be the only guy from our group of friends at this dinner, I went because I knew Karen would be there (thanks, Facebook!). She arrived pretty late because of prior plans, but I stuck around until she was ready to leave. She asked me to walk her out to her car, and I began to wonder if she was going to ask me out (she wasn’t, but I didn’t know that) — so I made sure I did the asking first. Success! Less than a month later, on our fourth date (“The Artist”), we were “officially” together. 🙂 Then I pretty much had to go into hiding for four months while I finished my Ph.D. dissertation. It was strange timing for me to start a relationship, but Karen was thankfully very patient and understanding. I was very glad to be all done with dissertating by mid-July so that I could finally spend more time with Karen!

Karen: Our relationship has been a whirlwind of adventure and travel. In May, we went to Southern CO and New Mexico to watch the solar eclipse. In June, we went to State College, PA for Jared’s dissertation defense. July brought a camping trip in Aspen with friends and then a trip to Minnesota for my family reunion and to also meet Jared’s parents. We were back in State College for Jared’s graduation in early August (Hail the conquering graduate!), and also welcomed both sets of parents to Colorado for Jared’s graduation party. In September, we went camping in Winter Park, and then went on an unforgettable trip to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. October began with Jared’s Epic Cross-Country Road-Trip. He went to Nebraska with some of our friends for the Nebraska/Wisconsin football game, drove on to Chicago to see friends from Penn State, and then drove to Ann Arbor, Michigan to be the best man in his best friend Alex’s wedding. That’s where I joined him. 🙂 After the wedding, we drove to Ohio to see more Penn State friends, to Tennessee to see our friend Zac, and then made the 17 hour trip back to Boulder…in one day! Then, in mid-October, Jared made the move to California. Skype quickly became my new best friend. 🙂 He found ways to let me know that he loved me (two dozen roses!!), and I made a surprise trip to CA for the weekend in early November. The next time that we’d see each other would be Thanksgiving…..

The Proposal

20121123-JaredKaren-LakeIsabelle.jpgJared: A few days before Thanksgiving I decided I wanted to propose while I was back in Colorado. I told a couple of my closest friends, but made sure not to tell anyone in Boulder for fear of word leaking out — I wanted it to be a surprise, and knew that Karen wasn’t expecting it just yet. On the Monday night I called Karen’s parents to ask for approval (but had to call my parents to get their number, so that’s how they found out). My flight from San Jose to Denver was that Tuesday night, but instead of putting in a full day at work before driving to SJC, I drove three and a half hours up to Sacramento, the location of the nearest Jared, to buy the ring before driving back to San Jose to fly out. (OF COURSE I had to go to Jared!) After I landed Karen bought my excuse that I wasn’t on gchat during the day because “there were a few things I just needed to get done before the trip.” 😉 I knew I wanted to propose while on a hike, and on the plane ride I thought of a great place for it — Lake Isabelle. It’s one of the prettiest places I’ve been in Colorado, and Karen hadn’t ever been up there, so I wanted to show it to her.

So the day after Thanksgiving we drove up to Brainard Lake to hike up to Lake Isabelle (about an hour west of Boulder, in the Indian Peaks Wilderness at about 11,000 feet). The road was closed at the winter trailhead, however, so instead of a 2-mile hike to the lake, it was a 4.5-mile hike up there. Then we made it up to Lake Isabelle, only to discover that the lake was almost entirely drained (I later found out this is done every winter to prevent spring flooding in the valley below). I was a bit bummed about that, but Karen couldn’t quite figure out why. It was cold and windy, so we found a stand of trees to have some shelter while we ate lunch. After we ate, I told Karen that I had a surprise for her, but that she needed to turn around. I got the ring box out of my backpack, got down on one knee, said she could turn around, and asked her to marry me. The first thing she said was, “Yes!”, quickly followed by, “Is this for real? Is this really happening? And you went to Jared!” I pulled off a complete surprise! Karen pretty much floated the 4.5 miles back down the mountain, in between much jumping, skipping, giggling, and screaming. 🙂

Karen: I was completely surprised! So, in my defense, it took a little while for it all to sink in. 🙂 I looked over at Jared, saying “I’m going to be your WIFE! I’m a FIANCEE! I’m YOUR fiancee!” That’s pretty much how the rest of the afternoon went, with a few “woo-hoos” thrown in.

I’m looking forward to married life with Jared, and ALL of the adventures that I know it will hold. We’re here to testify to the abounding love of our God, Who through all the years of wondering and waiting, was handcrafting our story! To Him be the glory!

And the story continues….. 🙂

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Diego Garcia: Recreation

Before I arrived on the island four weeks ago (!!) I assumed that there really wouldn’t be very much to do, so I brought several books with me. Little did I know that the Morale Wellness Recreation (MWR) program here on Diego Garcia organizes activities every single day. A few are limited to military only, but most are open to everyone. Also, everyone gets a free t-shirt for participating in the event! Here are the MWR events that I’ve done:

  • 500-m Windsurf Board Paddle Race
  • — Heather & I weren’t even planning on doing this one. We just happened to be at the Marina getting a windsurfing lesson on our first full day on the island, when the Marina guy (Poga, more on him and windsurfing later) insisted with a big smile that we stay for the paddleboard race. We said we’d never paddleboarded before, but he said it didn’t matter, and that we’d get a t-shirt out of it. So that sold us! Basically, we could either stand or kneel on a windsurf board, and paddle out a couple hundred meters against the surf, turn left for a hundred meters, and then paddle a couple hundred meters back into shore. The wind was whipping up some decent waves coming into shore, so I thought the way out would be really tough, but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it’d be.


  • Ultimate Frisbee
  • — It took me awhile to find where the field was, and by the time I showed up it was almost halftime. I jumped in for the 2nd half, and played well (I was happy about that, playing with a bunch of military guys!), but when that game was over that was it. Supposedly a few other teams were supposed to show up to have a tournament, but only two teams did. So I got a free shirt for playing 10-12 minutes of frisbee. Not bad work!

  • Moonlight Wander 5k Fun Run
  • — Around a couple hundred people showed up for this run. It’s so hot and humid on the island, it was nice that this was an evening run, starting around sunset. It’s still plenty humid in the evening though, as the dewpoint is almost constantly 77 degrees F. I hadn’t done much running in the previous 6-8 weeks, so that combined with the humidity made me okay with finishing the race in a sluggish 33 minutes. Hopefully I’ll be able to do the 5k at AGU in San Francisco faster than that!

  • 37-mile Tip to Tip Bike Ride
  • — This was one of the highlights of my entire trip! Rachel & I went down to the Marina at 7am one Saturday morning, loaded up on an LRV (think of what the boats that landed at D-Day), and ferried across to the northeastern tip of the island, at Barton Point. The first 10 miles of the ride were on a trail through the jungle, where we had to dodge coconuts, crabs, rats, and roots. Not long after we started it rained pretty hard for awhile, which turned the trail to mud, adding new obstacles. Some of the puddles were quite long and deep with no way around them, and my feet would go into the muddy water when I pedaled. In one of the puddles I was trying to power through, my momentum came to a sudden halt on a submerged coconut. My shoes and legs were literally covered in mud, it was crazy!


    After we got to the R & R Site (just north of the East Point Plantation on the east side of the island), we had 9 miles on a gravel road through forest and jungle. There were fewer obstacles to dodge, but there were still plenty of big puddles. The puddles weren’t necessarily cleaner, but after the Plantation they were gray and chalky from the chipped stone gravel, instead of mud brown. So gradually the brown mud I was covered with was replaced by gray mud, haha. Then at mile 18.5 was a much-welcomed refreshment station at GEODSS (Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance; I may write a separate post about our tour of GEODSS) with fruit, water, and Gatorade. But it was only the halfway mark. (For the first 10 miles there was water every mile, but only every ~3 miles afterward.)


    From then on it was 18.5 miles on paved road. By this point the sun had come out and it was really hot. I was able to keep up a pretty good pace with Rachel until the donkey gate at about the 12 mile mark, but from then on I was really struggling (and Rachel went on ahead). I was very tired and very sore, but I kept going with frequent breaks. Though I was exhausted, I didn’t want to give up — I wanted to finish and accomplish this. Eventually I made it, completing the race in 5.5 hours! I walked around like an old man for the rest of the day, sore in just about every muscle and joint in my body (and I had to work a 9-hr shift right afterward!). I’m not used to biking any distance; other than my ride around Rottnest Island near Perth a month ago, it had been around eight years since I’d ridden a bike more than about 5 miles in a day. I’m sure the going would’ve been easier if I had bike shorts, or if I’d had a road bike for the last half instead of a rental mountain bike. But hey, I still did the Tip to Tip!


  • Scrabble Tournament
  • — I got pwned by three Filipinos. Totally pwned like I was a Scrabble n00b. It was a bit humbling, haha. Of course, my chances weren’t helped my missing three straight turns; two were lost when I challenged words others made (and they were in the Scrabble dictionary, including “gleed” … huh?), and then another was lost when someone successfully challenged a word I tried to make. Oh well, I still had fun and got a t-shirt out of it!

  • 3-person Innertube Swimming Relay Race
  • — Rachel was on shift out at the site, so Heather & I convinced Adam to come out of his room and have a little fun down at the pool. Each of us had to swim 50 meters, or one full down-and-back lap, with our bodies in the middle of an innertube. Heather led off, Adam was second, and then I was our “Team Awesome” relay anchor. I went 110% the first 25 meters, and then around the 35 meter mark I started dying; I’m definitely not used to swim races! I still managed to catch one other team to place us second out of four in our heat. It wasn’t good enough for a “medal” though (14 teams total). The sudden burst of exertion was a little much for normally-sedentary Adam though, as he hurled in a garbage can on the way back to the barracks. Heather & I felt kinda bad for “making” him do it, but he was a good sport about it, and fully recovered a few minutes later.


    I’d say that’s pretty good variety! There have been plenty more events that I haven’t done, such as 6-person indoor volleyball tournaments, 400-m swims, 500-m ocean kayak races, bowling tournaments, doubles tennis tournaments, doubles table tennis tournaments, quarter marathons, duathlons… Most of those I didn’t do because I had to work, or they were team events and the other people down here didn’t feel like doing those. Seriously, there’s a lot going on, it’s great!

    One “unofficial” activity is the Diego Garcia Hash House Harrier runs. Heather & I both participated in two of these. The runs themselves involve trail running as a social event. The trail is marked by spots of flour periodically, and as you pass each marker you need to yell “ON-ON!” so that the people behind you know where the trail is. There are also markers occasionally for clothing exchange (where one item of clothing must be exchanged with another hasher for the rest of the run), for the guys to wait while the women scout out where the trail is, for the women to wait while the guys scout out where the trail goes, for pausing to dance a jig, and most importantly for “BEER NEAR.” Yep, there are multiple breaks during the run for drinking a beer (that’s probably how hash houses worldwide earn the nickname, “a drinking club with a running problem”), haha. There are even markers for false trails too, which are evil. Anyway, the trails can go pretty much anywhere, including on trails through the jungle, through mud puddles, along the beach, into the lagoon, through barracks buildings, along a road… I think the military’s restricted areas are pretty much the only off-limits places for hashing. The runs themselves are pretty fun, but then afterward is the “circle time,” where “infractions” are handed out (with insults and fairly crude songs sung — not such a fan of some of the songs), new members welcomed, some veteran hashers given a hasher alias, etc. Unfortunately the circle time on my two hash runs has been an hour and a half (as long as or longer than the actual run itself), which is waaaay too long. Hash run: lots of fun. Circle time: tedious, boring, and a bit uncomfortable. Circle time should be limited to half an hour, tops. There are hash houses around the world apparently with lots of odd and eclectic traditions, so maybe I’ll check out one in Colorado at some point. But anyway…

    On top of the official MWR activities, the gym and pool are both free to use, which I mentioned in my last post. I took good advantage of those, I feel like. All sorts of sports equipment is free to rent at the gym too, including stuff like golf clubs and tennis rackets. Bikes also only cost $15 to rent for the whole month. Incidentally, there was a bit of a language barrier at the bike rental place though, so I wound up purchasing a cateye bicycle headlight and taillight for $10 instead of renting them (but I think the taillight fell off sometime during the Tip to Tip, bummer), and because none of their helmets were anywhere close to fitting me, I had to “purchase” one from them for $10, but it’s not at all clear to me if I’ll get my money back when I turn in the bike or not. If not, it was still a cheap rental for a month!

    Then there are all sorts of water activities down at the Marina, about a mile away from Downtown. At the Marina you can rent snorkel gear for free. Sadly, I only took advantage of that once, going snorkeling out near our research site in Thunder Cove. I had problems with water getting in my mask though, and there weren’t flippers that fit me, so I didn’t feel comfortable venturing too far out into the coral where it wasn’t safe to put my feet down. The Marina also offers sailing classes periodically, but we didn’t do that.

    One thing I did take advantage of at the Marina was windsurfing. Your first lesson is FREE, and then after that it only costs $2/day to rent a windsurf board/sail. Seriously. Two dollars. So I went down there a few times, but not as much as I probably should’ve. Anyway, my first time I spent falling down a lot (big surprise). On my second time I figured out how to stay balanced much better, and learned how to turn around. On my third time the wind and waves were much stronger than I’d previously experienced, so just staying balanced was a big problem again for me. And then I didn’t go again for awhile, but my fourth time was yesterday. I spent an hour and a half unsuccessfully trying to figure out how not to get pushed into shore. So I asked Poga, a really cool guy who’s the head of the Marina, for a few tips. After another couple of tries it finally clicked and I fixed what I was doing wrong! So I was able to end on a couple of really good runs (really good for me, anyway), including several turnarounds. On my last run I saw a sea turtle playing in the water right in front of me, so I just started watching it instead of paying attention to what I was doing — of course I lost my balance and fell right over, haha. Still pretty cool! And on an earlier run I saw a big stingray swim right under my board!


    Add on to that all the lagoon and ocean beaches that there are to visit (I’ll make a future post dedicated to DG beaches and beach photos), and it makes absolutely no sense for people to say there’s “nothing to do” on Diego Garcia. There’s heaps to do if you’re willing to get out there and enjoy this beautiful island and all it has to offer!

    Oh, and we can make our own homemade recreational activities too, such as “let’s try to cut open a coconut by cross-sectioning it with a small knife and make a big mess in one of our barracks in the process, only to discover well over an hour later that there’s no water in the coconut after all”:


    I just launched my last radiosonde (I’m working the overnight shift tonight). I watched it sail up into the starry sky until darkness hid the balloon. It’s kind of sad that this adventure is drawing to a close. But with only 23+ hours left on the island, I’ll try to make the most of it!

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    Diego Garcia: Downtown

    I can’t tell you what the name of the town is that I’m living in here on Diego Garcia. After three weeks of living here I still don’t know if it has an actual name, but the two most-used names for it are simply “Downtown” or the unwieldy “Naval Support Facility” (NSF). So here’s a quick peek at Downtown/NSF, Diego Garcia, which is located at the northwestern tip of the island.


    First, our accommodations. We’re staying at the Navy Gateway Inn & Suites (or Chagos Inn, it’s sometimes called). Most people refer to them as the barracks though, because all the military personnel are housed in the 30-ish buildings of NGI&S throughout Downtown. It’s a pretty standard motel room, and is permanently air-conditioned (we can’t adjust the temp). All in all, not too bad. All four of us are up on the second floor. Rachel, in the next room over, doesn’t even get most of the TV channels I get, and her microwave repeatedly blows the circuit after 20 seconds of use, so apparently there are some ghetto rooms. Also, the tap water isn’t safe to drink anywhere on the island because of high trihalomethane levels, so we have to fill up 7-liter coolers with water from “potable water” tanks outside.


    We get a few channels on the TV through Armed Forces Network (AFN News, AFN Sports, AFN Prime Atlantic, AFN Prime Pacific, AFN Xtra, and AFN Movies, each of which has a hodgepodge slate taken from various networks in the US), plus stuff like Sky News, CNN International, Turner Classic Movies, Star Movies, and NatGeo. TV reception isn’t great though, and is usually pretty terrible during the day for most channels. What’s puzzling is that reception usually seems pretty good in the mess hall and other places at times that it’s bad in my room. Oh well.

    Here’s what street signs look like on DG. The map of downtown that the motel gave us doesn’t have street names on it though, so it took a bit longer to figure out how to get around.


    A couple blocks down the road from our barracks is the Ship’s Store, which has everything from Diego Garcia souvenirs to bicycle supplies to DVDs for rent to alcohol and groceries. Most everything’s pretty cheap, actually. For instance, bottles of Tiger Beer are 95c each, 12-packs of Bud Light cans (eww) are $3.55, cans of Mountain Dew are on sale for 10c each (!!), postcards are 25c each, and cans of Pringles are less than a dollar. I noticed that ice cream is a bit expensive though. When fresh produce arrives, a green “FFV” flag (fresh fruits and vegetables) is flown across the street from the store, at which point the store gets kinda busy.


    There are a few restaurants in town, all of which are fairly cheap. The cheapest is across the street from our barracks, the “mess hall” (Seven Degrees South Cafe), which has breakfast for $2.40 and lunch and dinner for $4.25. Another favorite of mine is the Officers Club, which is situated at Eclipse Point and has some awesome views. The O-Club has a all-you-can-eat great Sunday brunch for $10, make-your-own-pizza for $7.50 on Thursday nights, 15c wings on Tuesdays… I’m there a lot, let’s just say. Both the O-Club and the mess hall require that you wear shoes (no sandals), the mess hall prohibits tanktops, and the O-Club requires you to wear a collared shirt. All the other restaurants on the island (United Seaman’s Service, CPO Club, Island Room, Peacekeeper’s Inn, Mean Gene’s, the food court, which has Smash Hit Subs, Hot Stuff Pizza, and C-Street Cafe) are fine with flip-flops. And just about every sit-down place has pineapple iced tea for 70c a glass, which I think I’m addicted to.


    There’s also a chapel just half a block down the road from our barracks, the Chapel in the Palms. I’ve been there the last two Sunday mornings for their Protestant contemporary worship service. It’s pretty small, but it’s nice to be able to go to church while I’m here and see what Christian life is like here. The band is a group of Filipinos, but they’re honestly not a very good band because they’re not together musically. But the chaplain likes to sing a traditional hymn a capella during the service too. After this week’s service I overheard him tell someone he’d have a wider selection of hymns if anyone could read music and play it on the piano, so I volunteered to play this coming Sunday. Getting involved! I also was invited to a primarily Filipino Sunday evening church service, so I went to that a couple weeks ago, and a Bible study in the barracks last Wednesday night. Another small, neat thing about being invited to both of those was that I got fed home-cooked meals, and right before that I had just started to complain about always having to eat out for every meal. Thanks God! It’s been nice to meet some of the Christians who are stationed here, both military sailors/airmen and FIlipino contractors. One of the military women even commented that she was surprised to meet a scientist who was a Christian, as she thought all scientists were atheists. So maybe I’ve been an encouragement to them by being here, too.


    Being surrounded by the lagoon on one side and the ocean on two sides, there’s plenty of pretty scenery around town too.


    There’s also a really nice gym that’s free to use, and a swimming pool that’s probably the highest point on the island, as it’s built into a manmade hill. And by highest point, I’d estimate about 5 or 6 meters above sea level. This island is very, very flat. The pool is nice too, especially since it’s outdoors and isn’t overly chlorinated.


    All in all it’s not a bad life here in downtown Diego Garcia. The beer selection could be better, but I’ve been spoiled by living in Colorado, haha. It’s nice being able to walk everywhere, and also to be no more than a 5-minute walk from the ocean or the lagoon. And it’s been fun to meet some of the “locals” too. Hard to believe I only have one week left here…

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    My Thoughts on the Scandal at Penn State

    I have spent much of the past few days here on Diego Garcia glued to the TV and the internet, trying to keep up with the news coming out of State College. I’m just trying to digest it all. Maybe putting my thoughts in one place will help.

    Late on Saturday night (Diego Garcia time) I found out the news that former PSU defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky PSU Athletic Director had been indicted by a Grand Jury with 40 counts of felony child sex abuse, for abusing 8 boys over a 15 year span, and that Tim Curley and VP of Finance were indicted by a Grand Jury with the charges of failure to report abuse (a misdemeanor) and perjury (a felony) by the same Grand Jury for covering up the scandal. I was shocked and horrified.

    While I didn’t read the Grand Jury report for myself, I know almost all of what is in it from quotes I’ve read from people who have read it. I’ve read some news articles, but for the most part I’ve been keeping up by reading BlackShoeDiaries.com, a Penn State sports blog/message board. The details that are contained in that report about what Sandusky did are revolting, and still make me sick to think about them. Those poor boys and their families… My heart goes out to them, as do my prayers.

    So how did this blow up into a scandal that enveloped pretty much the entire administration of Penn State University? I’ll recap it here, since the national media has done an abominable job of actually doing accurate reporting about this scandal. So what follows is what I know of what’s been going on, presented as accurately as possible.

    Here’s what we know from the Grand Jury report. Back in 2002, graduate assistant (and now wide receivers coach) Mike McQueary witnessed Sandusky engaged in an unspeakable act with a 10-year old boy in the showers of Lasch Building (the football building). All parties ran away. McQueary talked to his father that night, seeking advice. The next day McQueary met with Paterno to tell him what happened, though it’s unclear at this point exactly what details McQueary told Paterno, but their Grand Jury testimonies agreed with each other. Paterno testified to the Grand Jury that McQueary was “distraught.” So the day after that (a Sunday), Paterno summoned Curley to his home to relay what McQueary had told him, and to arrange a meeting between McQueary, Curley, and Schultz. Schultz was also the overseer of the University Park Police Department, so Paterno likely thought that this was one better than simply notifying the police. The meeting between McQueary, Curley, and Schultz took place a week and a half later. McQueary testified to the Grand Jury that he went into lurid detail about what he saw; Curley and Schultz denied that, but the Grand Jury found their testimony not credible and charged them both with perjury as a result. Curley and Schultz then told university president Graham Spanier about the incident, but that it was something “inappropriate” that had made an employee feel “uncomfortable.” Curley and Schultz informed Spanier of their decision to ban Sandusky from bringing kids on campus (which Curley later admitted was unenforceable), and to take away his keys from Lasch Building. Spanier must have known that there was more to the story, but did nothing. As near as can be told, the matter was swept under the rug at this point, and no police investigation was ever started. For what it’s worth, Schultz testified that he thought the matter had been referred to Child Protective Services, but it never was.

    Now for some backstory. It should also be noted that Sandusky was investigated in 1998 for a similar incident. Police even listened in to a conversation in which the mother of the victim met with Sandusky, and Sandusky even admitted to showering with the boy, but would not promise not to do it again. For reasons that are still unknown, charges were never filed against Sandusky in 1998. Unfortunately we will never be able to get answers from then-Centre County District Attorney Roy Gricar on why he never pressed charges against Sandusky, because Gricar mysteriously disappeared in 2005. His car was found next to the Susquehanna River in Lewisburg, PA, and his laptop computer was recovered from the river, as was his hard drive eventually (data unrecoverable), but no trace of Gricar was ever found. In 2009 investigators announced that they found Google searches stored on Gricar’s home computer shortly before his disappearance for how to destroy a hard drive in water. Then a few months ago his daughter had him legally declared dead. I don’t think we’ll ever know what happened in that bizarre disappearance, but anyway…

    Another interesting thing that comes from the 1998 investigation of Sandusky is that shortly after that, Paterno informed Sandusky that he would never be the head coach at Penn State, and basically forced him into retirement in 1999. That was puzzling at the time, because Sandusky was one of the best defensive coordinators in the country, and was just assumed to be the heir-apparent to Paterno. Did Paterno know about the investigation in 1998? He testified to the Grand Jury that he did not know about it at that point. Paterno and Sandusky were very good friends for a long time, as Sandusky worked for Paterno for about 30 years, but their relationship did appear to change around 1998. At Sandusky’s 1999 retirement banquet, the normally loquacious Paterno spoke for only about a minute.

    Sandusky also founded a charity organization in the 1970s called The Second Mile, for disadvantaged and at-risk youth. Sandusky and The Second Mile appeared to be doing wonderful, wonderful work for a long time. Sandusky and his wife were also unable to have children of their own, so they adopted eight kids. Sandusky was always around children, and ran youth football camps at Penn State until 2009 (incredibly).

    Fast forward to 2008. Administrators at a high school in Clinton County (PA) became aware of Sandusky, who was a volunteer football coach at the school, repeatedly abusing a boy on school grounds (pulling him out of class repeatedly, despite not being the boy’s father). School administrators immediately banned Sandusky from school district property, and notified police of the incidents. That eventually led to the Grand Jury investigation from 2008-2011, which culminated in the indictments handed down last weekend. That a Grand Jury had been convened to investigate Sandusky was known approximately a year ago, though. Yet Sandusky was still allowed on the Penn State campus as recently as last week.

    It was chaos once the news of the indictments broke on Saturday. Shortly after the news broke, PSU president Spanier issued a statement offering his “unconditional support” for Curley and Schultz, praising their honesty and integrity, and saying he was confident they would be “completely exonerated” on the charges of perjury and failure to report abuse. There was not one mention of sympathy for the victims. This mind-blowingly dumb statement poured gasoline on the raging inferno of a PR disaster on Penn State’s hands. As a result of his asinine, heartless statement, and because of his role in the cover-up (being intentionally ignorant of what actually happened and not taking it to police), I sent an email to President Spanier with the subject line “please resign,” and I calmly laid out my case for why I thought he was no longer fit to lead our great university.

    From the moment the scandal broke, however, the media has been howling for the blood of Joe Paterno, and only Joe Paterno. They claim that he didn’t do enough to stop Sandusky by following up on the investigation or reporting it to the cops. But let’s review the facts here. Paterno received an eyewitness report of an incident (again, we don’t know how detailed) from someone who worked for him. Not being an eyewitness, Paterno decided to run it up the administrative chain of command (which, by the way, is what Pennsylvania state law requires in these situations), and arranged the meeting with McQueary, Curley, and Schultz. At this point, Paterno thought he’d alerted the proper authorities, who would conduct an investigation. Unfortunately, those administrators covered it up and did nothing. We DO NOT KNOW yet whether or not Paterno followed up with Curley and/or Schultz, but from what’s coming out of the Paterno camp, Schultz assured him that an investigation was happening. Schultz even said he thought that CPS had been brought in. If he told that to Paterno, what more is Paterno supposed to do? To wit, the Pennsylvania Attorney General praised Paterno in this case, saying he’s been very cooperative and that he did what he was supposed to do. That’s not been enough for his detractors, though.

    The media coverage has been one-sided against Paterno, to the point that the media has hardly mentioned Sandusky, Curley, or Schultz in the past few days, the only people to have actually been indicted with crimes. There’s virtually no outrage about McQueary failing the victims by not calling the cops right away. There’s virually no outrage about Curley and Schultz failing the victims by covering up this scandal and not reporting it to police like they were legally mandated to do. The reporting has been abysmally inaccurate too, which is why I’m linking to this article yet again. The media is outraged at his heinous moral failures, yet he’s pretty far down the list of people to blame for this:

    1. Sandusky
    2. Curley and Schultz
    3. Spanier (and anyone else in authority who knew enough to know something bad happened)
    4. McQueary
    5. Paterno

    I understand that there’s probably more Paterno could’ve done, but we don’t even have all the facts in yet to make that judgment. That doesn’t matter to the media jackals.

    On Sunday night, Curley asked to be placed on administrative leave so that he could focus on his criminal defense, and Schultz, who was only serving in his post on an interim basis after retiring from it a couple years earlier, resigned entirely. Meanwhile, there was total silence from the normally very talkative Spanier for days. Penn State University was leaderless.

    On Tuesday afternoon, Paterno was scheduled to have his usual weekly press conference about the upcoming football game this weekend. Penn State made an announcement on Monday night that Paterno would not be taking any questions about the scandal, but only questions about Nebraska. Umm, what? Good luck getting the hordes of media from around the nation to abide by that request. So then about 30-60 minutes before the press conference is about to start, a Penn State spokesman announced that the press conference was cancelled due to legal concerns and would not be rescheduled. PSU just could not keep itself from pouring more and more gasoline onto the PR inferno, it was unbelievable. It was then reported that Paterno wanted to hold the press conference, that he had a statement ready about the scandal, and that he was prepared to answer questions about it. Therefore, it was the PSU administration who cancelled the press conference. Unbelievable. Then the Paterno family was reported to be trying to arrange an off-campus press conference at which Joe could speak. It was difficult to keep up with all the news developments coming out of Happy Valley.

    On Wednesday morning, Paterno came out with a statement to announce his retirement at the end of the season:

    “I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case. I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief. I have come to work every day for the last 61 years with one clear goal in mind: To serve the best interests of this university and the young men who have been entrusted to my care.

    I have the same goal today. That’s why I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season. At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can. This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.

    My goals now are to keep my commitments to my players and staff and finish the season with dignity and determination. And then I will spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to help this University.”

    Paterno’s statement showed the grace, dignity, integrity, and class for which he has been known throughout his 61-year coaching career at Penn State. He was the one of the only people in this situation to do the right thing (though maybe not enough), yet was being mercilessly and relentlessly pilloried. So he decided to fall on his sword. Shortly thereafter Paterno met with the team to tell him of his retirement, and both he and the team broke down in tears. Unfortunately the rest of the PSU administration doesn’t have even half of the class or integrity
    that Paterno has.

    Wednesday night the Penn State Board of Trustees met. Throughout the day it had been rumored that President Spanier was on his way out, and that was confirmed after the BoT meeting. They took action on Paterno too. Apparently about 10pm the BoT sent a messenger to Paterno’s house to deliver a piece of paper. The paper asked Paterno to call a phone number. He did, and two members of the BoT answered, one of whom said that he was “relieved of his duties” effective immediately. So Paterno, a coach of 61 years for Penn State (almost half of the 125 years that Penn State has existed!), and who did more for the university than anyone else in its history, was fired not in person. He wasn’t even fired with a phone call. He was fired by a note asking him to call them. What an utter disgrace. Yet another horribly botched situation by PSU administration. It upsets me how poorly they handled this. Here’s Paterno’s statement following his dismissal:

    “I am disappointed with the Board of Trustees’ decision, but I have to accept it.

    A tragedy occurred, and we all have to have patience to let the legal process proceed. I appreciate the outpouring of support but want to emphasize that everyone should remain calm and please respect the university, its property and all that we value.

    I have been incredibly blessed to spend my entire career working with people I love. I am grateful beyond words to all of the coaches, players and staff who have been a part of this program. And to all of our fans and supporters, my family and I will be forever in your debt.”

    While I understand the BoT’s decision to fire him immediately instead of allowing him to finish this season, I think it was the wrong decision. (And while I think it was a wrong decision, rioting was not the right response on the part of the students.) Part of that was the BoT’s admission that they still don’t have all the facts (they’re in a shoot first, ask questions later sort of mood). In essence, they caved to the media mob instead of waiting for the facts about what JoePa knew and did. Another part of that is based on who remains still employed at Penn State: Tim Curley and Mike McQueary (recall that Gary Schultz resigned on Sunday). If Paterno was canned for “not doing enough,” then how come McQueary is still employed? He was the eyewitness and had a far greater responsibility to call police than Paterno did. And Curley? He was the one whose legal responsibility it was to report this, but instead he covered it up, and is now indicted with charges of perjury and failure to report abuse. But they still have their jobs. How is that just??? If “not doing enough” is now the standard to fire employees, then the BoT better fire every other employee who knew anything about the Sandusky scandal, or who knew enough to know that something was going on. That’s going to be a lot of people, including janitors, and, as I believe will be revealed in the coming days and weeks, members of the Board of Trustees as well.

    Believe me, there is a lot of rot in the administration of Penn State that needs to be excised. Paterno probably needed to go after the season, if not sooner. But Paterno should not be the scapegoat in this scandal, when he’s one of the only people who did something right in it. I am upset by the injustice of firing Paterno while several other people remain on the university’s payroll. The blame needs to be first on Sandusky for his unspeakable actions in violating at least eight boys, and second on Curley & Schultz who were told what happened and did absolutely nothing. That’s who our anger should be directed at.

    This is the ugliest scandal in the history of American universities, and it has made me embarrassed to be a Penn State student. It’s shaken me. And I’m angry for what Sandusky has done to those boys, at the cops for not pursuing the matter further in 1998, and at the PSU administration for covering it up in 2002. There’s lots of blame to go around, that’s for sure. As ugly as it is, this is only going to get uglier as more victims of Sandusky’s come forward, and as the trials start. Also, more revelations are going to come out about who at Penn State knew what when — in other words, who else was party to the cover up. Penn State does need to clean house, absolutely. It’s just embarrassing how horrendously Penn State has handled this scandal since news broke. Every single step of the way, administrators have been throwing gas on the fire and making the wrong decisions (except their decision to fire Spanier, that was a good one).

    The media’s behavior in this scandal has been utterly disgraceful too. How do these reporters sleep at night, writing such blatant inaccuracies repeatedly to aid their crusade to take down Joe Paterno? Shame on them all. I remain convinced that the main reason they targeted JoePa was because he’s the face of the university, and because he’s been preaching integrity for his entire 61-year tenure. It had to be that, because it surely wasn’t because he was anywhere close to the person who was most to blame. The media love to see people who preach morals and integrity fall from grace, and love to destroy them and bring them down to the muck. They take joy in that. These reporters should be embarrassed of themselves and of their conduct. They shouldn’t even enjoy the privilege of being called reporters and journalists. It’s astounding that the media wonders why they’re despised so much. It was incredible to me how much ESPN was clueless about why PSU students hate them so much — do they really not know? Yes, Paterno wishes he would’ve done more in hindsight, and he’s the only person involved to have expressed such a sentiment. That’s also telling. But seriously, let’s focus instead on the true villains and victims of this scandal.

    We will stand strong and united through this scandal. We Are. Penn State. And as our Alma Mater says, “May no act of ours bring shame.” And as Paterno taught for decades, let us continue to have “Success With Honor.” Let us restore our repuation for that. And most importantly, let us pray that Jesus Christ will bring healing to this situation for all involved, especially the victims and their families.

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