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Purdue Graduate School ('08-'09) - Semester IV

This semester will undoubtedly go down as the most unique in my "tenure" here at Purdue University. The people that helped make everything that happened this semester possible have my sincere thanks and gratitude. You know who you are.

"SKI 101" - Steamboat Springs, CO

This "semester" I disappeared - quite literally. I spent four months in Steamboat Springs, CO. I continued to work for Purdue University in a number of capacities, but additionally worked as a Lift Operator for Steamboat Ski & Resort Corporation. That's right - I was a "lifty." Laugh it up, fuzzball. It was, and I am not joking *at all*, Absolutely Glorious (tm). It was better than skydiving, it was better than sliced bread, and it was better than sex. It was absolutely, unequivocally, unquestionably the best decision I have ever made in my entire life. Did I mention that I basically skied for four months straight? This endeavor comes strongly recommended for anyone physically capable of pursuing it. DO IT. DO IT NOW!

I sent out a number of emails during my time in Steamboat, and they're included below...
Subject: Steamboat Springs Update 1 Date: Thu, 18 Dec 2008 20:40:54 -0500 From: Jeff Turkstra <> Hey Everyone! If you would like to not receive email from me, please let me know (eg, "I hate you PLZ DIE KTHX" suffices). Anyway, I've successfully migrated out to Steamboat Springs, CO. The trip was kind of sketchy at times. I hit the beginning part of the winter storm that's now heading across the US. But, I made it. I also drove straight through, which was only possible thanks to Mountain Dew. Lots and lots of Mountain Dew. It took about 24 hours. Once I arrived I checked into my apartment, which I can best describe as "functional." The Internet access, on the other hand, is mostly nonfunctional. But, I'll avoid complaining about that for now. I have three other roommates, they all seem to be okay. One of them is 45, one is 35 and the other is in his 20's like me. I had my first day on the job today, and it was pretty great. I think I'm really going to enjoy being a lift operator. The uniforms that we were issued are brand new and really nice - I'll be plenty warm while running the lift. When I showed up this morning things were a little chaotic. They thought I had already gone through some training, which I obviously hadn't, but I ended up going out with our crew anyway. I've been assigned to the Morningside Lift, which is the highest lift at Steamboat. The view is nothing short of outstanding. To get to it you have to take at least two lifts, which means everyday I work I'll get to get about 20-30 minutes of skiing in on my way there and on my way back. You can see it on the left side of the trail map. It's a little below the summit of Mt. Werner, which is at 10,568 ft. The lift is also only accessible by "more difficult" terrain, which means that we will get a lot of locals and not too many stupid people. I was kind of looking forward to being entertained by people that don't know how to ride a ski lift, but that entertainment probably would have been short lived anyway. It really is great though. We spent today digging out the lift (it hasn't been used yet this season) and setting up the loading ramps at the return terminal. It was hard, particularly since I'm still adjusting to the elevation change, but it was nice to do some manual labor for a change. Because I had skis I spent a good part of the time packing snow. This involved basically marching in my ski's, specifically doing the chair step. So those 6 years I spent in the AAMB are really starting to pay off now ;-). Anyway, we'll be opening the lift on Saturday. Tomorrow we're going to spend all day training. We did some training today and as far as I can tell running a ski lift doesn't require a PhD in computer engineering, so it shouldn't be that hard. The hardest part is learning the terminology. I've never enjoyed memorization. Well, apparently on Tuesdays and Thursdays they have employee dinners for $3. I've heard they're really good, so I'm going to go get some food. I hope everyone is doing well, and I'll try to give you guys another update after I get through training and we start loading/shoving people onto the lift. I hope you're all doing well, and keep in touch if you get a chance! -- Jeff Turkstra _______________________________________________________________________ "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." -- Benjamin Franklin, 1759
Subject: Steamboat Springs Update 2 Date: Tue, 30 Dec 2008 19:55:43 -0700 From: Jeff Turkstra <> Hello again! A belated Merry Christmas to all of you and a Happy New Year! I have been running the Morningside Lift here for a while now. We completed a one day crash course training session two Fridays ago and opened that Saturday. We haven't had any training since. Regular operation of the lift is borderline trivial. Startup and shutdown is a little harder. We're also expected to know all of the major components of the lift, what they do, and how all of the safety systems work. Apparently there's a Lift Safety Board of sorts in Colorado that randomly comes around and quizzes people on these things. I think I've got pretty much everything down. Anyway, we've also finalized our schedules and I have Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays off. I spent the last three skiing, and it was great. We even got about 8" of snow on Saturday, which made things even better. On that note, last Tuesday we had 26" of snow. Unfortunately I had to work. Unfortunate because I couldn't ski, and also unfortunate because I had to shovel all of the snow that had accumulated on the lift. It was a good workout, at least. Operating the lift requires minimal effort. We take turns at the top shack or the bottom. If you're at the top, you get to sit in a nice hut and watch people offload from the lift. has some shots out of the top shack window as well as my coworkers. The view is fantastic. is a picture of the hut itself. If someone falls down, you slow or stop the lift. It's really simple. As of yesterday the number of non-locals has increased greatly so we have to stop/slow the lift more often. It's amazing how badly people can screw up loading and unloading a chairlift. The bottom shack involves a bit of physical effort, as we must "bump" the chairs as they come around the bullwheel. Basically we briefly slow down the chair's momentum so it doesn't slam into the back of the people loading. This involves some upper body effort, a marked change from typing on a computer keyboard all day. You can see the bottom of the lift in this picture: There are also Gray Jays in the area, and a number of them can be coaxed into landing on your hand... it's pretty cool :-) I really enjoy living in the mountains - the views are second to none and the people, in general, are fairly outgoing. That said, I do miss everyone back home. Well, I think that's about it for now. I hope you're all well, and I'll try to send out another update soon. -- Jeff Turkstra _______________________________________________________________________ "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." -- Benjamin Franklin, 1759
Subject: Steamboat Springs Update 3 Date: Sat, 24 Jan 2009 16:36:53 -0700 From: Jeff Turkstra <> Hey Everyone! I've taken up quidditch lessons here in Steamboat. I've begun practicing flying on my broom, as you can see by the two attached pictures. At some point I should be good enough to fly to Hogwarts. ...anyway... Aside from that things have continued to go well here. I spoke to my supervisors a while back and they let me take my telescope up to the top of our lift a few days ago. I have spent two nights camping up there so far. Both times were absolutely fantastic. The sky was excellent, and I was able to find many of the deep space objects that I have been unable to find, despite numerous attempts, in Indiana. I plan on doing it again soon. You can see my telescope on the upper deck here... We had an employee party a few nights ago too that was fairly interesting. They had a huge tent setup with a live band. It even included free pizza and beer. So that was fun. I also have discovered an excellent restaurant here that has live Jazz every Friday night. Needless to say, I'll probably be spending my Friday nights there. I've been skiing every chance I get. I love it! The past couple of days were particularly fun. Everything is better since I bought new boots - my feet no longer destroy me at the end of the day. Work is, well, work. It has lost a little of its original luster, but it's still good exercise. And, as you can see from the pictures, we're finding ways to make it entertaining when it's slow. Well, I think that's about it for now. As I have almost certainly mentioned to all of you at some point, you should come out here and visit :-) Talk to you all soon! -- Jeff Turkstra _______________________________________________________________________ "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." -- Benjamin Franklin, 1759
Subject: Steamboat Springs Update 4 Date: Mon, 16 Mar 2009 18:02:03 -0600 From: Jeff Turkstra <> Hello again! It's been a while since my last update. Actually, it has been a really long while. I've been keeping fairly busy, though. First it's worth mentioning that I switched off of my "regular" lift of Morningside to being a "rover." This gives me at least one extra day off a week, allowing me to spend more time working on Purdue-related things. Often I get more days off, which is nice because it allows me to do some extra skiing. I have also enjoyed the switch for the most part, as it allows me to experience the different lifts on the mountain as well as meet new people. I have now operated the Morningside, Priest Creek, Sundown, Sunshine, Pony Express, South Peak, Four Points, Christie III, and Burgess Creek lifts. I've decided that while detachable-style lifts are technologically more interesting, they're also more boring to operate after you get them running in the morning (you don't have to bump the chairs, among other things). I prefer fixed grip lifts. Moving on, my Dad and sister visited me three weeks ago which was fantastic. My sister was able to ski both days they were here and, while for most intents and purposes she had never skied before, she picked it up really fast. By the end of the second day she was skiing black diamonds at reasonable speeds. It was definitely a fun visit. A few days after they departed I skied my first canyon ever. Fish Creek Canyon is accessible out of the backcountry gates off the top of the Pony Express lift via a rather lengthy traverse. It was absolutely awesome, despite becoming somewhat stuck on top of a cliff face at one point. I actually skied the canyon on two separate occasions, and the second time was even better than the first. The scenery was excellent, and the skiing was challenging. The following week one of my good friends Michelle flew in and we spent some time snowshoeing as well as skiing. First, however, we saw the Phantom of the Opera at the Buell Theatre in Denver. It was really good, though I found the orchestra just a little lacking (I'm not entirely convinced they had anything more than a single French Horn for their brass section). Regardless, after making it up to Steamboat the next day we hiked all the way up to upper Fish Creek Falls on snowshoes, which was a lot of fun. I was also able to see the area that I skied earlier in the week. We spent her final day here skiing. There are a number of pictures on turkeyland as well. Check them out! That brings me to this past week, during which I visited my ex-roommate/best friend's parents in Keystone for three days. Ken (Ryan's Dad) and I skied at Arapaho Basin, Breckenridge, and Copper. I had an absolutely awesome time. It was my first time skiing Breckenridge, too, which was great. We particularly enjoyed the front side of the Imperial Bowl above Peak 7. Things are starting to wind down here. I'm looking forward to returning to Purdue, but at the same time I will definitely miss living in such an awesome place. With less than a month to go, I find myself dreading the corn fields of Indiana. On a final note, I have included below for your perusal and entertainment a set of "instructions" with regard to loading a chairlift. I compiled these while still working the Morningside lift, but most apply equally to other lifts. Enjoy ;-) Morningside Loading Anti-instructions: (or, what not to do when loading my chair lift): 1. Decide to go right as the chair is coming around the bullwheel (right as it is about to pass in front of you). Here's a hint: you want to maximize the amount of time you have to get on the chair. Wait for one to pass you, then immediately start coming out. Alternatively, you can get hit by the chair. At least you'll provide me with some entertainment. 2. Fail to stop on the red line that says "Please Load Here." Stopping before means your knees and/or rear end are/is going to hurt, stopping after means there's a good chance the chair will just mow you over. 3. Drop something, and then try to recover it. We'll send it up on the next chair, bending over in the path of a steel framed three-person chair that's traveling at 455 feet per minute is always a bad decision. 4. Try to load more than three people. The chair only holds three people. As entertaining as it is to watch you sit in someone's lap, it's a bad idea (tm). 5. After stopping at the red line, move backwards toward the forward moving chair. The chair will come to you. You don't need to go to it. 6. Decide that since your small child isn't on the chair all the way you should abort the loading operation. Jumping out of a moving chair after it has passed the kicker, while incredibly entertaining, is probably also going to hurt. 7. Decide that since your small child has now fallen out of the chair you should hold onto his/her arm. Let them fall. The longer you wait, the greater the distance your child gets to accelerate toward the ground. 8. Ask the operator "What's up?" or "What's going on?". "How are you?" and friends are fine. "What's up?" doesn't make any sense. You know what's up. I'm bumping your chair. 9. Approach the red line with a friend or friend(s) and fail to all be in a straight line. The first person is going to get the chair in the knees, the second person will probably be fine, and the third person will be trying to sit in a chair that has now been launched 1-2ft above its normal loading height. 10. Ask if this lift services any greens. Eg, "is this going to lead to a green run soon?!". No. Just no. You didn't get down here on a green, and the sign says "this lift services advanced terrain." How did you even get back here??? 11. Ask the operator to slow the lift down after you've come out and are standing on the red line. The lift is moving at 455 feet per minute. It doesn't instantaneously stop or slow down. If you want it slow, ask before you come out. Or better yet, don't come to Morningside. 12. Grab the chair where my hand is. I'm holding onto the chair for a reason, to slow it down before it hits you. Don't make my job more difficult. 13. When unloading, after failing to get out of the chair the first time, keep trying. Just sit there. I'll stop it, and you can get off on the deck. Or don't, it's more fun to watch you fall five feet with angular velocity. 14. After falling on the unloading ramp, just lie there, or take your time getting up. It's not like other people are behind you or anything. Heck, you must be the only person on the whole mountain. 15. Drop into the chair like you're sitting on a pile of feathers. It's a chair. Sit in it like you would any other chair. Do you back up to your kitchen chairs and just go limp? My job is to slow down the chair, your job is to sit in it. 16. Start coming out even when I'm yelling "please wait for the next chair. No. Wait!" But hey, if you like being thrown around like a rag doll, who am I to stop you? 17. Come up to the red line and ask me an involved question that takes more than 3 seconds to answer. You lose. 18. Fail to keep control of your ski poles. Put them both in one hand, and keep them close to your chest. Or, you can become the next olympic pole vaulter. Except the only thing you're going over is the kicker (and maybe your own head). And the chair is right behind you. Your call. 19. Take your sweet time getting out to the red line. The chair isn't going to magically slow down for you (unless you asked me to slow it down, which of course you didn't). Once again though, if you like being a rag doll... :-) I hope you have been sufficiently entertained. :-) Well, that's about it. I'll try to send out one more update before I leave, or shortly after returning to Indiana. I hope you are all still doing well and please don't hesitate to send me email if you have any interesting updates. I'll talk to you all soon and probably see many of you as well! -- Jeff Turkstra _______________________________________________________________________ "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." -- Benjamin Franklin, 1759
Subject: Steamboat Springs Update 5 - with an exciting bonus! Date: Wed, 06 May 2009 09:18:58 -0400 From: Jeff Turkstra <> Howdy! I mentioned in my last email that I would try to send out one more update shortly after returning to Indiana. It has been three weeks since I returned to Purdue, but I purposely waited until now to send out this update in anticipation of the news that will follow shortly. If you're strapped for time, or don't like listening to me ramble, skip down toward the bottom. You'll want to at least read that much. Anyway, my last few weeks in Steamboat were excellent. Shortly after sending out my last email we were hammered with incredible amounts of snow (over 6 feet when it was all said and done) leading to an excellent season's end. My sister also made a second visit near the end of March, which was great. This time I managed to drag her down a double diamond (twice!). Aside from that, work continued as usual. About three weeks prior to the end of the season I was permanently reassigned to my original lift (Morningside) due to a shortage of staff. This was fine with me - I was happy to end the season back at my "home" lift. In my opinion it's definitely the best one, at least from a lift operators perspective (not so much from a skier's - but I'm not complaining). Two of my roommates moved out at the beginning of April, allowing me after nearly four months to have my own bedroom once again - at least for two weeks. That was really nice. It really helped make the last few weeks all that much more enjoyable. Eventually the last day of the season arrived. It's hard to describe. Bittersweet comes to mind. I was sad to see the season end, but at the same time I looked forward to being closer to my friends and family. Reflecting on the past four months, one word consistently comes to mind - awesome! I'd definitely recommend the experience to anyone fresh out of college or between jobs, and I will definitely miss Steamboat. The final day the resort was open I spent skiing around until about 2pm, when I headed up to what is known by locals as the "Gate D Party." As it was described to me, a couple of thousand people end up near East Face and basically hang out up there all day, hitting a frighteningly large kicker and eventually skiing down for the final run of the season. This year the turnout was lower than usual, due to somewhat sketchy weather. Nevertheless, it was very entertaining. Following the party I made my final run down Christmas Tree Gulch. It was a great run and an excellent, albeit somewhat sad, end to the season. Now for the exciting news... Beginning June 15, I will start work as a Software Engineer here at Purdue University - specifically with the Network for Computational Nanotechnology (NCN). That's right - Jeff's getting a real job! That said, I will still be working on my PhD, albeit part time. And now for the really exciting news... I am now officially engaged to my girlfriend of almost six years, Shelley Lee Havrilesko! I proposed yesterday on the 95th floor of the Hancock Center in Chicago, and she enthusiastically agreed to be my wife. See, it was worth the wait wasn't it ;-) You can see pictures of the proposal here: ...and closeups of the ring here: Alright, I think that's it for now. We'll keep you all updated with regard to the wedding. I hope everyone is doing well, and if you happen to be near Purdue send me an email and we'll get together sometime. -- Jeff Turkstra _______________________________________________________________________ "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." -- Benjamin Franklin, 1759

"LIFE 201" - Getting a "Real" Job

Upon returning from Steamboat, I applied for a position as a Software Engineer at Purdue University. The position is in the same group with which I have been doing research for my PhD - the Network for Computational Nanotechnology (NCN). After enduring a full day technical interview by five people, they decided to hire me.

While I am now a full time member of the staff at Purdue University, I will still be pursuing my PhD, albeit part time. One of the nice things about my current position is that a fair amount of the work I am doing as a staff member also relates directly to my research. This should hopefully help me graduate sooner rather than later.

Regardless, the job so far is enjoyable and the pay is fantastic, particularly when compared to a graduate student’s stipend ;-).

"WEDD 101" - Engagement

Finally, upon returning from Steamboat I also proposed to the love of my life, my girlfriend of almost six years, Shelley Lee Havrilesko. She accepted, and so we will be wed on August 14, 2010!