Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Medical-Study-Approved Breakfast

You might remember that I am enrolled in a medical study, where I have to write down what I eat and stick to a certain amount of calories per day. (Well, supposed to. I don't always... but at least I faithfully report I ate more than I should!)

It's really not so hard to keep your calories low when you realize that: fruits, veggies, and fiber = low calories, and fat and oil = lots of calories. If you just skip a brownie, you can have an entire plate full of veggies. Or bowl full of strawberries.

So I thought I'd share a recent medical-study-appropriate breakfast. If I divide my calories about evenly per day and account for snacks, I get about 500 calories for breakfast.

Figure: Just look at all those fresh foods. And all that color!

Figure: First, we chop away. Miss Outlier loves her Cutco knives.

Figure: Then, we sautee. Items that take the longest go first (potatoes, onion) then the tender veggies go next (yellow pepper, green pepper, red pepper, mushrooms), then the finishing touches (salt, pepper, green onions).

Figure: Then, we eat! Add an egg, cooked in all those delicious sautee juices, and fresh tomatoes for topping. Glass of cold milk and we are good to go.

And the total for all that?

Potato: 177
Onion: 32
Peppers: 33
Mushrooms: 5
Green Onions: 16
Oil for sauteing: 72
Egg: 78
Tomato: 33
Milk: 62
Total calories: 507

Easy and delicious!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Lab Queen

I realized recently I've been doing a lot of things related to overall lab running. I order general supplies when we run out. I instituted lab cleanup. I made executive decisions and ordered organizing containers and storage options. I made a lab email list so I could communicate with everybody. I have historical knowledge, so I answer all questions the new students throw at me. I'm in charge of keeping the lab in compliance with health and safety regulations, which requires some paperwork.

All of these responsibilities used to scare me, but I knew they were coming and after my second year I felt ready. Took a little longer than I expected (PhDs always take longer to graduate than they think they do.... ha!), but now I'm at the end of my third year, and it's finally feeling natural.

But is it coming TOO naturally?

I thought it was kind of funny when I sent out a lab email about the first lab cleanup. I included a list of To-Dos, and one of the students wrote back, "Sure I'll help! Can you just assign me something?" I thought, "Delegating tasks - coming right up!" Of course I can assign things.

Then as we were actually doing lab cleanup - cleaning out old equipment - we realized we had an extra toolbox. "Ooh" said my labmate, "I'll take it!" I laughed and quipped back, "I'd beat you to it!" He chuckled, but said out the side of his mouth, "Abusing the seniority privilege a bit there, aren't we?" Turns out we used the toolbox for something else, so it was a moot point.

Later, I was looking at one of the new student's projects, and I asked why he used crimp connectors instead of barbed fittings. "Because I like them better!" he said, "I think we should make the lab standard crimp fittings, not barbed." I quickly responded, "Oh I don't THINK so. YOU can use crimp, but I'M going to stick with barbed." "Drat!" he said, "Foiled again! Why don't I get to make lab standards?"

So I am becoming too much of a Lab Queen? Too pushy, heady with this little bit of power and responsibility?

Or is it even a bad thing for there to be a Lab Queen? I mean, SOMEBODY has to keep things running smoothly.

I thought back to how I interacted with the two older students who were ahead of me. The most senior one just sort of took care of things - I guess I didn't even notice. He never asked me to change how I worked (like I'm asking people to keep their own things on shelves designated to that person). Supplies just always showed up, he never mentioned it. When I wanted something, I asked, he answered. He never sent announcements to the whole lab (but, there were only three of us, so it wasn't that big a deal).

The only responsibility I can remember that the most senior guy had, that the rest of us did not, was that he was in charge of safety and following EHS requirements.

So what say you, Internet? Should I try hard not to be pushy? Is it okay to lay down the law? How do responsibilities break down in your lab?

In the meantime, as my dad says, "It's good to be the king."

Monday, June 28, 2010

Lab Cleanup Days

I am now the most senior member of my lab - even though there are only four people in it. I've known for a while that the two guys ahead of me were on their way out, and indeed - they've graduated! And last fall, the three newest students were hired.

Now, everybody has their own work styles. One of my labmates who graduated like to have everything OUT. He worked best when all his tools were spread around the workspace. And neither of the older two labmates particularly liked to organize. Add to that the fact that the lab moved twice in two years, and goodness - things were everywhere!

I like everything neat and tidy. I love to organize. It helps my mind feel clearer when my workspace is also clear. Come to find out, YAY, the three new students like to be neat as well.

The new students didn't know where anything was in lab, and for good reason - there was no system to where things went. Now that it's the summer, we are all trying to work in lab at once. We kept bumping into each other, there wasn't a bench for all the projects, and you could barely find a flat surface to set something down.

So I decided to take the reins, and institute lab cleanups.

I am told that years and years ago (maybe six or eight? before my time, at least) there used to be a mandatory lab cleanup every Friday afternoon. The senior lab student at the time had started them, and used to provide beer for all involved to encourage participation.

I don't know if the beer policy would fly anymore, but I liked the idea of Friday afternoons. Who really wants to work on Friday afternoons anyway? And then everything is put away for Monday.

Then I started worrying that maybe there weren't enough items that needed to be taken care of to keep all four of us busy for a couple hours. So I started writing down everything I could think of that needed to be done on the lab whiteboard.

Then I had to move to a new whiteboard.

Okay, there was enough to keep us busy.

So two weeks ago, we had our first lab cleanup. We got rid of a lot of old equipment and consolidated what was left, and then got rid of a rickety old bookcase we no longer needed.

A bit of space opened up! We could move!

Then last Friday, we cleaned off an entire counter.

Flat surface! We could move AND work!

There's still lots left on the To-Do list, so this policy will be kept in place for a while. Even when all the big things are done, an hour a week of maintenance and straightening up can't be a bad thing.

And you should have seen how excited the other three students are now. :) One girl exclaimed, "I just LOVE throwing things away!" as she chucked a copy of software from 1996. And when walking in today, another labmate kind of started, and said "Wow I wasn't used to that whole counter being empty! It feels so much bigger..."

So, lab cleanup is a success. Does your lab clean up on any regular basis? Does each person have a designated area? Have you ever needed to do a thorough sweep of old equipment?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Memories Part II

This post is a continuation of this one, where I'm offering a few old pictures for your amusement.

Fig 22: September 2007. I tried to pick good pictures to show in these posts, but the ones with the best memories aren't always the most artfully composed. Here my sister and I share a giggly sleepover in my Grandma's house.

Fig 23: October 2007. My mother begins exploring photography - with fancy equipment, instead of a point-and-shoot!

Fig 24: January 2008. The winter forces my mother inside for photography, but she has no studio - so we put up a sheet. Making do, making do...

Fig 25: Janurary 2008. My sister always poses in graceful, pensive poses - flipping her hair, gazing into the distance, looking over her shoulder... I don't have the knack for that, so my mother has to work with what she's got. Hey, what do you want from me? :)

Fig 26: February 2008. Taking a class on how to grow and tend a bonsai tree.

Fig 27: March 2008. Was invited to dinner by a friend, and eagerly accepted. When I arrived I looked around the table and thought, "Which one of these, just isn't like the other ones..." Funny to be the ethnically odd one out for once, gave me a new perspective!

Fig 28: June 2008. Trip to Cape Cod, my first time there.

Fig 29: July 2008. First boat trip across Boston Harbor, to visit the harbor islands.

Fig 30: August 2008. Hiking trip with friends in New Hampshire.

Fig 31: September 2008. Kayaking at the engineering women's retreat. We rented out a cottage and ten engineering girls spent the weekend relaxing. Ah.... And you should have seen the good food coming out of that kitchen with all of us pitching in!

Fig 32: September 2008. Trip to Vermont. See how good my mom is getting with that camera?

Fig 33: December 2008. Turns out that I become good friends with that group where I was the odd one out. We still keep in touch now, even though they have graduated and moved on.

Fig 34: Christmas 2008. In Boston there is an event every year where hundreds of people dress up as Santa. A handful of friends and I participated. And then the next year in 2009 we went again, because "we already had the costumes!" the boys told me.

Fig 35: January 2009. I took a trip to Singapore, but I arrived without my luggage. So I had to wear jeans and a T-shirt while everyone else was in suits...

Fig 36: January 2009. I thought I would remedy the situation by going shopping for a dress the next day. But do you know how hard it is to find clothes for a 5' 11" girl in an Asian country? Not trivial... but this dress has a special place in my heart now.

Fig 37: January 2009. On the way back from Singapore, I stopped in London for vacation. Ahem, sorry. "Extended layover."

Fig 38: April 2009. Grad school formal night, with a bunch of single girls. It was fantastically fun. (Formal night 2010 I wrote about here)

Fig 39: May 2009. I graduated with my Master's! This is me standing in front of the machine I built for my degree.

Fig 40: July 2009. Just like my mom and I took a trip to scuba dive to celebrate my B.S., we also took a trip scuba diving to celebrate my M.S. This time we went to Belize.

Fig 41: July 2009. I do have one more degree to go... is there another diving trip in the future? Start thinking now, Mom! Don't worry - it'll be a couple years from now...

Fig 42: July 2009. Enjoying the sun in Belize.

And then all the more recent pictures are since I began blogging. So you readers know a lot of what's happened to me since then.

It's really cool for me to look back over old blog posts now, to have a record of my experiences in grad school. These photos serve the same purpose for my undergrad experiences. And I think all these memories are worth the price.

At the end of it all - the lesson learned? Keep a backup of your backup drive. Storage is cheap these days, recovery is not...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Hard Drive FAIL (Memories Part I)

I keep an external hard drive with all my old files on it, and my space-hogging music and photo files. I've had the hard drive since undergrad - four or five years or so - ever since my Dad bought it for me. It's always served me well.

Until, clumsy me, one day I bumped my desk and the drive fell over the edge onto the linoleum. Ack! Metallic crunches are such sickening sounds...

I plugged the drive into my laptop, crossed my fingers, and.... nothing. Drat.

I noticed the cord was bent, so step one was to buy a new cord. Nope, that's not the problem. Perhaps the connector inside the enclosure was bent? A test with a spare enclosure I had assured me it was not.


I took the hard drive to MicroCenter to see if they could retrieve my data, they plugged in the drive, and the drive showed up! Yay! But they were going to charge me $150 to put the data on a new drive. I thought that was too expensive, so I said no. Ah, if only...

Because two days later when I decided that fine, YES, I would pay them that amount - I took it back, and the drive would no longer mount.

Oh dear.

So then I had to decide - do I send it out to a data recovery place? Having data recovered professionally starts at about $700 and can easily get into the thousands.

OH, that's a crunch on a grad student budget.

I found a place that gives a student discount and free evaluation, and sent it off. They called me back with a range of prices that the recovery would be end up being, depending on the severity of the problem once they took it apart.

I thought about it a long time, and I decided to go for it. If it was just my music that I would lose, or old files, I wouldn't care so much. But my PHOTOS. I can't get those memories back.

And I am blessed to have a savings account for purposes like this. I am fortunate that this is even a choice - I know a lot of students don't have enough reserves to cover a problem like this. In the end, I decided that in ten years I won't miss the hit in savings, but I will miss the memories.

So it all ends well - all my files were recovered. It ended up being at the top end of their price range estimate, and I didn't negotiate. I probably should have, because my Dad tells me this is typical - it's like taking your car to get the transmission repaired. Once they get it up on the blocks, the price just keeps going up... If I had said no or pushed back, they might have brought the price down.

But anyway. I have all my photos. I had a great time looking through all the old pictures, so I thought I'd share some. (I'm only sharing the ones with me in it, or people that I know won't mind being featured, so this whole list looks a little self-centered. I apologize.) Thanks to data recovery, I can relive experiences like these:

Fig 1: April 1st, 2005. My dorm-mates dyed my hair red (they told me it would be brunette) as an April Fool's joke.

Fig 2: Jan 2006. Myself, my grandfather, and my two newest cousins checking each other out.

Fig 3: April 2006. At a ceremony in my honor for winning a scholarship. Apparently I made sure to wear my nerdiest glasses, and most boring blue shirt/black pants combo. Chose a shirt that didn't fit well, for fullest dork impact.

Fig 4: May 2006. Touring a steel-making factory in Japan.

Fig 5: May 2006. An unanticipated local culture quirk - toilets in the floor in Japan.

Fig 6: May 2006. In front of the center of the Hiroshima blast.

Fig 7: May 2006. Mock-driving a Toyota concept car on the factory show floor.

Fig 8: December 2006. Team picture with my undergrad friends. Photo taken for Measurements class, where we managed to make a weekend of fishing into a final project submission.

Fig 9: Christmas 2006. Taking one of my best friends to see New York city during the holiday season. It was her first time East of the Mississippi.

Fig 10: Feb 2007. My friends and I being goofy during senior year. I don't get to see these girls any more, sadly.

Fig 11: April 2007. Visiting my sister's lab, where I was forced to don latex gloves.

Fig 12: April 2007. Gingerly opening a refrigerator in my sister's biology lab. I was clearly not in my element.

Fig 13: April 2007. Showing my sister where I AM in my element. The machine shop where I built all my undergrad projects.

Fig 14: April 2007. Lying in the oven I used to make airplane parts in senior design. It's big oven.

Fig 15: April 2007. Demonstrating how I felt to be done making airplane parts in senior design.

Fig 16: May 2007. Graduating with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering.

Fig 17: May 2007. My sister and mother and grandmother all attended my graduation. The even came early for the reception, which impressed me. My family are not early risers.

Fig 18: Summer 2007. Graduation scuba diving trip in the Turks and Caicos islands with my mother.

Fig 19: Summer 2007. My mother even brought her camera underwater to document the trip. I was impressed. I had enough trouble just with the scuba-ing.

Fig 20: Summer 2007. Horseback riding in Turks and Caicos. My mother's horse just wanted to eat the trees.

Fig 21: Summer 2007. What better way to celebrate before going off to grad school, than to relax in the tropics in front of the sunset?

To Be Continued....

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

DC 5k Walk

Two weekends ago I had the pleasure of taking a day trip to Washington, D.C. with my cousin. I'd never been there before, so I was excited that the opportunity came up. I was planning to do sightseeing, but as it turns out...

The weekend we were there was the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. What you see here is the "before the race" shot. The reason we are dressed differently is because...

My cousin is actually able to travel significant distances by foot. Quickly. Unlike me. So she signed up for the 5k run. I, on the other hand...

Signed up for the 5k walk. More my speed.

As it turns out, a lot of other people had the same idea - there were thousands of walkers.
It took a while just to get past the start line, actually. The first fifteen minutes (at least) were more like a shuffle. I nearly should have packed a lunch - if the pack hadn't finally spread out, it would have taken forever to make it 5k.

But the nice thing about walking, and not worrying about speed, is that I got to stop and take pictures. (See, got my sightseeing in there after all!).

And I did eventually make it to the finish line. I'm not telling you my time because it's not a real measure (all that shuffling at the start). Also it's embarrassingly long. But that's not the point, right?

Somehow though in the "after the race" shot I am just as bedraggled as the girl who ran 5k in 28 minutes. Go cousin!

We also visited the International Spy museum, and the Air and Space museum (where the above was taken). Hat tip to my mother for letting me steal her sunglasses (I lost mine, which is typical. Also why I never pay more than $8 for sunglasses. Or watches. Or earrings. Perhaps I should just learn to hang on to things... I seem to have a long list of "consumables.")

I wish I had more time in the city, as there were all sorts of other places I wanted to see.

I guess that just means I'll have to go back. :)