Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Last week at a group meeting, one of the other students presented some figures. His work deals with huge data sets, with lots of manipulation and algorithms to make sense of the vast quantities of data. Most of the time, to be honest, his presentations go over my head and I struggle to understand. I'm a whack-on-it-with-a-hammer girl, not an invert-this-matrix type of girl.

Sometimes, I don't bother struggling. It's all Greek to me (and indeed, a lot of it is. Once you run out of English variable names, you have to go somewhere!). I just nod and smile and hope he's right.

Is that bad of me?

But last week, I was looking at his final figure and it just didn't look right to me. I inquired some more about the particulars, and it still didn't make sense. Usually I would have just let it go at that point, but he was preparing the talk for a conference, and I figured if I couldn't understand it, the conference-goers probably wouldn't either. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I thought he was just plain wrong.

So I kept pressing. I tried to explain where I thought he was off, and I could see a couple others at the group meeting nodding in agreement. So that helped me believe I had a valid point. Some others were just nodding and smiling, like I do when I don't get it... :) I figured even if I was wrong, he ought to be able to explain my mistake.

We spent 45 minutes discussing how he had gotten from his data to that figure, and the manipulations he had done. It involved 3-D matrices, transformations in space and time, corrections for image perspective, and I think there was a hypercube in there too.

My brain hurt.

And at the end of an hour, the whiteboard was full of drawings, opinions had flown back and forth, and all of us in the group meeting had gotten into the constructive debate. All of our brains hurt. We had attacked the problem and expressed the concept from as many angles as we could think of.

I still thought he was wrong, though I admitted I may be mistaken, and just wanted to thoroughly understand. He still thought he was right. I'm not sure what the rest of the group thought. Probably they were thinking of dinner. We had to let it rest, the meeting had dragged far too long.

But do you know what email I got today? Turns out that student went back and double checked, and I WAS RIGHT!

That makes me happy. I stood my ground, understood at both a conceptual and detailed level another student's work, and spotted an error.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Etiquette Question

In the spirit of pushing ahead with my PhD work, I have been contacting other labs and students I know on campus who are working in my same area. Or, at least working on some aspect of what I want to do. I figure since part of being state-of-the-art is knowing what state-of-the-art IS, I should learn as much as I can to make sure I'm not reinventing anything.

Most of the students are very quick to respond. But sometimes I don't know anybody personally in the lab (especially outside my department - I don't spend much time in Chemical Engineering or Materials). Then I contact the PI directly.

I try to follow all the good email etiquette - I state who I am, who I work for, what lab I'm in. I indicate what the lab does that seems relevant to me (showing that I at least did some background work and looked up some papers). Then I ask politely if the PI has time for a discussion on possible overlaps in research, and if I could possibly come look at the lab. I close by saying that if the PI can reccomend one of their students, I would be happy to discuss with them instead. And of course, thank you.

A couple PIs were very good about responding. But the other handful I never heard from. I waited a while, and sent a follow up, and usually by some way or other I can track them down.

There is only one professor I couldn't track down, after a month. So I went to the lab's website, and checked the publication list. I looked at the most relevant papers, and noted who the first author was. The website said that author was still working for the group. So, I sent the grad student an email.

Here, dear readers, is my dilemma. Today, I got an email from both the grad student AND the professor (who suddenly checked his email, I guess).

The professor said, "Sorry, we don't do what you are looking for. Please try these other labs."

And the student said, "Sure! I'll show you around the lab. But I don't actually work there any more, I'm a PostDoc."

So what do I do? I would still like to see the lab, I think it might be useful for me (even if not directly related - maybe I didn't explain myself very well in the email?).

Is it sketchy to have a former grad student show me around the lab, even though the PI said he didn't think it would be relevant? If anyone ever wanted to see my lab, I don't think my PI or I would ever turn them away. Maybe I shouldn't have sent separate emails - I feel like perhaps I went behind the PI's back, but I was just trying to not bother him in the case that he was too busy.

Ack! How should I respond to the two of them? What would Emily Post say?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Roast Chicken Part III

Well even after making Chicken Divan from my roast chicken, I still had leftovers. Next up was a recipe for Minced Chicken on Toast.

Now, mushrooms are one of the few ingredients I don't care for. That and tomatoes. But now that I'm watching my calories AND getting fresh farm ingredients every week, I've had to rethink my dislikes. Because mushrooms and tomatoes come in large quantities from a farm, are healthy, low calorie, and nutritious.

I am determined to make them delicious as well.

Ah, butter! That makes everything taste fantastic. And bacon. But I couldn't work that into this recipe (next time, my friends). Sautee green onions and mushrooms, and then chop up the leftovers:

I guess technically I was supposed to "mince," since it is Minced Chicken on Toast, but in actuality I don't know how mincing is any different than chopping. So I just make very small pieces, and call it a day. I also don't use toast, so just call me a rebel like that.

Add some of the white sauce I had on hand, to add creaminess and bind the elements together.

As a side note, I fondly remember cooking with my dad while I was growing up. There were a few dishes my family ate that were specifically my dad's. Those included double cruncher cookies, brownies, any sort of grilled item, and eggs a la goldenrod. The egg dish calls for white sauce, and I remember we had a falling-apart Betty Crocker cookbook with a recipe for white sauce. I learned to make it with my dad - and was always amazed at how the simple ingredients combined.

I was also amazed that mine always had lumps and Dad's didn't. Fortunately nobody cared.

This is toast. Doesn't look like it? Well it is. When I don't have toast on hand, I look at the package of rolls, and call it toast.

You know, I have to be honest. This was a simple, filling meal but it wasn't my favorite. Maybe it was the mushrooms? I just wasn't used to the taste. Also I think I needed a bit more white sauce to make a better filling - it was too dry, needed to be more like chicken salad consistency.

I say, next time, more butter.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

On the Importance of Intermediate Testing

I replaced a sensor in my machinery on Monday. It was quite an involved process that required tearing apart a good chunk of the equipment, because the sensor was integral to the function of the equipment. Both the hardware and the wiring had to come out.

I put in the new sensor, and laboriously hooked up all the wiring the same way the old sensor was wired. It was the same manufacturer, same product, just a newer model.

And of course, because this is a precision machine the screws are tiny and I kept dropping them, and the wiring was on the back panel of my electronics box, and I couldn't move the electronics box because OTHER stuff was in the way, and the tiny screwdriver was missing again, and WHO BUILT THIS THING? Oh, yes, I did.

Deep breath.

I finally had everything back together, and I fired up the laptop and ran a test program to collect some data and see how everything was working.

Um, no signal from the sensor.

I took another look at the wiring, and at the specification sheet, and oh guess what? You know how every sensor I have from this company has red, black, green, and white wiring? Well this new sensor has red, black, green, white, AND YELLOW. And you know what? They DON'T EVEN USE green and white anymore. Yeah. Now they just use the yellow. Just to mess with you.

So back into the electronics box I go, armed with the tiny screwdriver which I found hiding under the spec sheet. Which I should have read first, before I began.

Properly wired up, I ran the test program again. Now I get a signal, but the signal doesn't move or change. Not good.

So I whip out the oscilloscope, a measurement device which displays and graphs electrical signals, and I hook it directly to the output of the sensor.

Figure: This is our oscilloscope. We're old school like that. No really, it's very old.

I jiggle things around and mess with the sensor, but still no change in the signal.

Tech support, here I come!

Well, actually, to home I went. I gave up for the day and decided to sleep on it.

Tuesday bright and early I tried things again, double checking everything. Still having problems. I ring up tech support for the sensor company - oh wait, that's right, they are in California, they don't have engineers in until 9am which is noon here.

That's okay - break for lunch!

The end of this story is that the sensor isn't working properly even though I did everything correctly. I had to take apart the equipment AGAIN to get the sensor out, and then I boxed it up and shipped it back (still under warranty).

But I could have saved myself a day and a half if I had just hooked the new sensor up to the oscilloscope BEFORE I put it in the machine. So the lesson learned is, test test test, always test. Test everything you can, as early as you can. It never hurts to have more data, especially if it doesn't take long to collect. Then I would have known immediately the sensor wasn't working.

Figure: Should have tested that before they set it in stone. At least mine was under warranty.
(picture from failblog)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Roast Chicken Part II

One of the cookbooks I use pretty often is called The Pleasures of Cooking For One. I particularly like the chicken recipes. My first attempt at making a whole roast chicken in January was a rousing success. But although I could NEARLY eat a whole chicken in just a couple sittings (it's that good), eating chicken just straight gets a little old.

But happily, the cookbook gives you multiple choices for leftovers. The next recipe is for Chicken Divan.

You start with a bed of steamed broccoli.

Add a sprinkle of feta cheese.

Then whip up some white sauce, with a dash of vegetable broth (mine was pink from beets!).

Add in leftover chicken, with some scraps tucked in the sides.

Top with the cream sauce and another sprinkle of cheese, and pop under the broiler to toast it all together...

And whala voila! Chicken Divan, or: Roast Chicken Take Two!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Problems with Mangoes

I've never really had any major issues with my graduate career. I've always felt I was progressing, even if slowly. I've never been really upset at my advisor, or unhappy with my situation.

But I've encountered a problem recently. It won't do any good to describe all the details, so I'm going to take a cue from Candid Engineer and just tell the story using "mangoes."

Last summer, my advisor realized that there were a lot of students and professors on campus studying mangoes. Some studied how to eat mangoes, some how to grow them, how to peel them, and some how to measure mangoes. But the problem was everyone was doing their own little pieces for their own degrees, and nobody was actually doing the whole process. So nobody was getting to eat any finished mangoes.

So - brilliant idea - my advisor started a summer collaboration between all of the students, and the goal was to create a mango factory. Everyone would contribute their expertise, and together we could eat mangoes day in and day out.

That was fine, but as usually happens, we didn't finish all we wanted to during the summer. Our mango factory sat dormant, and my advisor wasn't satisfied. So the next summer (this year) he started the factory again, part II. Here's the problem - between last year and this year, all of the other mango-studying students graduated. I'm the only one left from the original project.

Now, at the end of this summer, we are VERY CLOSE to having a fully automatic mango factory. I am trying my hardest to finish this project. My goal is just to get a few mangoes through the factory, collect some data, and call it a day. I have already spent a lot of time this summer on the mango factory project.

Here's where the frustrating part comes in. Last week in the mango factory meeting, I was basically told to go back and rebuild my mango-making machine. I could do this. I have a lot of ideas on how to make the mango machine better. But I DON'T WANT TO. I want the factory to be good enough as is, I don't want to do a revised version, even if it would be better.

I am trying to move on. The mango factory was my Master's work, and I'm trying to get on with my PhD. I passed qualifying exams a year ago, I need to make progress on my PhD.

And the kicker is - the other students involved in the factory part II this summer are Master's students, leaving soon (one in August, one in Jan). So come next year I will AGAIN be the only one left who has worked on the mango factory project. I don't want to work on this project NOW, and certainly not any more AFTER they leave, either. But I'll be the only one with historical knowledge.

I am going to talk with my advisor tomorrow. I think I may recommend that if he wants to keep the mango factory active (or, ahem, rebuild any of the machinery), he needs to hire another student to do that.

Do you think that's the right approach? Or is it common to get stuck on time-sucking side projects? Wish me luck.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Why I Love Going to a Technical School

Here at World's Best School, we are decidedly skewed toward science, math, and technology. I adore the atmosphere here - at no other time in my life, I think, will I be surrounded with more people like me. And I love that no matter what your interest, no matter how nerdy, you can find kindred spirits here. I've attended the Science Fiction Movie Marathon, and played Motherboard Jenga.

But sometimes even I have to laugh at some of the events I get notifications for. Several selections from email announcements for your enjoyment (all real, I promise):


World's Best School Rubik's Cube Competition!

If you're planning to come to this Saturday's Rubik's Cube Competition, don't forget to sign up online this week! We may not have room for everyone who doesn't pre-register.

Sponsored by the World's Best School Rubik's Cube Club

Time: Registration opens at 9:00; 3x3x3 runs from 11:00 AM until 1:00 PM

Events will be held from 9:30 AM until 5:00 PM, including the 2x2, 3x3, and 4x4 cubes, and the 3x3 one-handed competition

Cost: $5 for first event plus $1 for each additional event. For students who help judge at the competition, the $5 fee is waived! Spectators are welcome at no fee!

Anyone who can solve a Rubik's Cube in less than ten minutes is welcome to attend! All competitors who successfully solve a cube will be ranked by the World Cube Association! Come and meet some of the best cubers around!


Integration Bee

Do you have what it takes to be crowned the next Grand Integrator?

Come try out for the epic nth annual World's Best School Integration Bee!

20-minute qualifying exam:

Tomorrow, Monday, xxxx 2010

Stop by at any time from 5pm-6pm

Main Event - Come compete if you qualify, or cheer on your integrating classmates!

Wednesday, xxxx 2010

Prizes will be awarded to qualifiers and winners.

Bee there or bee square!


Robosub Competition

Have you ever gone to the beach and thought, "This scene could really be improved by a bunch of unleashed submarine kill-droids fighting laser sharks"? Who hasn't, right? Well in that case you may be interested in this year's AUVSI autonomous underwater vehicle competition webcast:


The webcast is a week from Sunday. Someone should enter Dogfield in a scuba suit:


Anyway, check it out if you're an aquabot type!


So I never thought there would be an audience for these kind of things, but I am told these were all well-attended. As was the "pi recitation" competition on March 14th, the Medieval club jousts, the slackline practices in the courtyard, and the juggling in the hallway on Sunday evenings. The sophomore robotics competition fills half the hockey rink with onlookers. And hey, I went to underwater hockey for a while, which is pretty far off the beaten path - so really, why not? To each his own!

What oddball stuff goes on at your campus? Have you ever tried something wacky just for kicks?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Introducing Outlier Tech, LLC

I'm pleased to announce that I have formed my own company - let's call it Outlier Technologies, LLC.

This doesn't have anything to do with the business classes I've taken. I've just known for a while that I am interested in entrepreneurial activities, and I thought that having my own company can be useful for a variety of reasons. For instance, recently a classmate asked me to make a prototype for a business idea of his. Having an official business to fund various projects like that is helpful to me. I have lots of other side projects I'd like to explore as possible businesses, and now I have a platform to do that from.

And it sounds a bit silly, but another reason to have an LLC is that the sooner you open a corporation, the longer you can say you have been in business. It's a lot more legitimate to say to potential investors, "I've been around for six years" instead of "I filed the papers yesterday."

Also, some grad students eventually do consulting work. I don't have any consulting job offers or plans to do that at the moment, but if I want to do that in the future, I can invoice and charge my time from the company rather than just sketchily pocketing cash.

I used an online lawfirm to do the paperwork for me, and I've incorporated in Delaware. I'm the sole owner and member. I've opened a business checking account at Bank of America, and I have an official business debit card.

Bring it on!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Caramel Pudding

I've been eating a lot of vegetables in the past month since my farm share began. But one can only eat so many leafy greens before they get a hankering for sweets. Actually, I can get a hankering for sweets without ANY eating of vegetables, but that's beside the point.

I was craving something simple, unfussy, and of course sweet - and I recalled this article from Smitten Kitchen on caramel pudding. Perfect!

Only five ingredients. Even I can handle that. You start by caramelizing the sugar, which I've never done before. What a concept - you can make your own caramel, instead of buying the ice cream topping jar that says "caramel"! Sugar and water is all it takes (shown above).

Then you let it boil. You have to watch it carefully during this stage (does that slow down the boiling process...?). It boils, and nothing happens, and it boils some more, and still nothing happens, and then suddenly you have:

Toasted sugar! And then you have to quickly move along, before it burns. There is a thin line between caramel and burned sugar, and that line is somewhere between "toasted toffee" tan and "roasted coffee" black. So I had to stand there on my toes, pot holder at the ready. Navigating that small window of opportunity was nerve-wracking. They should make a reference Pantone color card for this purpose.

My mother tells a story of herself when she was small and making no-bake cookies, which harden quickly after they boil. Apparently, my mother as a child was very stressed about the hardening process. Must. Spoon. Onto. Waxpaper. QUICK before the cookies are RUINED!

I am of the opinion that you cannot ruin no-bake cookies. I think the stress was just a useful excuse to eat another cookie to calm down. :)

These pudding cups work the same way. Caramelizing too stressful for you? Here, have another serving.

Stressful or not, they tasted fantastic! I can't promise I will never buy another jar of caramel topping, but I do look forward to trying this again. I've been informed that cane sugar is excellent for caramelizing, so I may attempt that. And hey, if it doesn't turn out, I'll just try again and have an extra serving for my trouble. :)

Friday, July 9, 2010

TA Evaluation Results

This past spring semester was the first time I've been a TA. Actually, I was technically a half-time TA, even though I was the only TA for the class. I didn't have to teach recitation, just hold office hours, make up homework sets and some exam problems, and then do the grading.

Figure: Miss Outlier at the beginning, trying to optimize the grading process.

Oh, the grading. It stinks. And takes forever. It took about ten hours to grade a homework set, which is not bad if you spread it over a week and keep up with it. But I didn't keep up with it.

I kept trying to keep living my life the way I was, spending the same amount of time on my own classes and research. But the problem was that I didn't have ten extra hours a week to spare in my original schedule.

Figure: Miss Outlier becoming more frustrated with grading

I kept deluding myself: Oh, this set won't take ten hours - I can do it faster. This set is shorter, shouldn't take as long. Oh, I'll just sit down on the weekend and just push through the whole thing in one go. The students don't mind if I get this back later - as long as it's before the exam, right?

And then it slipped to: Even if the students don't have their graded papers back, as long as I put the solutions up before the test, it's okay right? As long as I have everything back by the final? Solutions up by the final?

Figure: Miss Outlier coming full circle back to the solutions

Ack! I knew I wasn't doing a very good job. At the end I really rushed to get it all done, and actually the last two assignments I just glanced through and assigned simple A, B, C, D, F grades. I felt bad about it, but at least the class ended. We assigned final grades, and we were done.

And then last week I got the results of the TA evaluations that all the students had to fill out. I cringed when I opened the file, because I knew what it was going to say. Yep, sure enough, comments such as:

- Wanted more timely feedback on homework
- TA took extremely long time to return homework
- Grading was very slow

But in my defense, I did get:

- Extremely helpful, explained things well
- Very responsive to email (but assignment feedback could have been more timely).

Okay so that last one was only half positive.

On the plus side of the whole thing, the homework wasn't a majority of the grade for the class. Even when we did assign final grades, the line between As and Bs was pretty clear based on the exam scores and projects. And I mean, come ON people did you know that HALF the class gets As? And the other half Bs? And only two Cs? That's ridiculous! I knew grad classes graded easier than undergrad, but goodness... nobody should be upset about the grades. (Also, why do I try so hard in classes again?)

But on the minus side, I still feel bad because I knew I didn't do my best. An average of four weeks to return homework sets is a bit silly. In my life, this is just a blip on the radar - but for the students, it's the only time they will take the class and my actions affect their only experience with the subject. I feel guilty for doing a barely competent job.

Students at my school are encouraged to TA at least once during their time here, although many TA more often for funding reasons. Fortunately I already have secured funding, so I'm hoping I won't need to TA again. The only reason I would have to is if there isn't another student available to TA the class. The TA has to be a student who has already taken the class, isn't international, hasn't graduated already, and wants to/needs funding - which actually narrows down the list a lot.

But all you need is one other student to take the job, and I will recruit one myself if it means I don't have to do this again. Whew, let's just move on.

How did your TA experiences go, readers?

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Last fall I joined a CSA (community supported agriculture, which basically means you buy a share of a farm's harvest). It allowed me to make all sorts of yummy things I wouldn't have made otherwise. It stopped for the winter eventually, but I went ahead signed up for the next year.

And now the harvest is here! Every Friday I pick up my load of fruits and veggies. I'm loving it.

The first week we got a lot of dill, so I made cheddar dill biscuits. And dill carrots, and dilly potatoes. Then we got kohlrabi, which is a funny looking vegetable if I ever saw one. Maybe even funnier than fennel.

I made a coleslaw with that, by shredding it with cabbage and carrots and turnips and garlic scapes. Oh yeah - garlic scapes:

Those are apparently the curly things that grow out of garlic bulbs, above ground. They taste like garlic, look like green onions. They also taste good in slaw. With a dill mayonnaise sauce.

Last week we got THREE POUNDS of cucumbers. (That's why we had cucumber salad at my 4th of July party.... with dill).

And the fruit! Fresh picked strawberries, raspberries, and cherries. Yum!

This week I am told we have a choice of herbs. We can either have basil, or.. wait for it.... dill.

I'm a little dillied out. But fresh basil? With a bit of mozarella, tomatoes, and balsamic vineagar? Yes please. Bring on the harvest!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Miss Outlier, Hostess

I have never hosted a party while I've been at World's Best School. I've been to quite a few friend's parties, but they live in apartments or houses, and I - well, I live in a dorm. During my first two years I lived in a graduate dorm, and now I live in an undergraduate dorm. I'm going downhill, people, downhill! Never have I had space to entertain.

But I was at a dinner party a couple weeks ago, and the topic of July 4th came up. I started raving to my friends about how excited I was - because my undergraduate dorm is perfectly positioned for fireworks watching. Last year I had to stand squashed between thousands of other people, trying to see the fireworks. And trying to get home? Not fun. Public transportation is not equipped for hundreds of thousands at once.

That's when I realized - now I live in an undergrad dorm with a VIEW. And it's EMPTY in the summer. Only four RAs are here, plus the housemasters - and the housemasters are out of town.

So I thought - I should have a party in the penthouse! There's a rooftop deck on my dorm, with both an inside lounge area, and an outdoor patio. My view looks like this:

And the inside lounge area (this was set up with tables for a dinner, but I had couches and chairs and coffee tables for the party):

The best part is, for the 4th of July Boston has a huge fireworks show. And they shoot off the fireworks from a barge in the river - right beside that bridge in the first photo! Perfect vantage point! Just this summer we planted a bunch of plants outside, so there's a rooftop garden from which to enjoy the fireworks show. And there's a big screen HD TV inside to watch the broadcast of the Boston Pops.

So I hosted a party.

I sent the email to the Dinner Club friends list (the people I go out to eat with once a month). I figured hey, we'll have food, it counts, right? :)

I got so many responses! I think most of them were just excited about the view, maybe not just my charming self, but hey - I'll take it. I was out with my friends on Wednesday, and ran into a MechE friend of mine. He said to me - "Hey Miss Outlier, can I come to your party on Sunday? I hear it's the place to be!" I told him of course!

And it sounds silly, but that made me really happy. I'm glad that my friends were excited, and I felt like if this were highschool, I just became popular.

There's strict security at the dorm on the holiday, so I had to set up a guest list. So I know that there were exactly 36 people who came to my party. At first, I was a little nervous. I've never hosted that many people before! But then I thought - wait, yes I HAVE! I'm an RA! I was an RA for a year at the grad dorm, and I've been an RA for a year at the undergrad dorm. I've provided food for more than 36 people more times than I can count. I even have all the serving platters, dishes, cooking supplies, and tested recipes to use. So really, who better to host a party?

You guys, I had so much fun planning. I always buy my serving dishes and platters in white, black, and blue (so it all kind of coordinates even with different brands) so it was already kind of festive. I added vases of flowers of my own plants for decoration. I arranged furniture and brought in extra chairs so people could sit outside if they wanted.

We couldn't have a BBQ because I'm not allowed to have a grill, so I planned a menu around a picnic theme. We had chilled corn soup with fresh cilantro for appetizer, then roasted chicken and zucchini sandwiches, mac n' cheese with butternut squash, cucumber dill salad, and spinach salad with quinoa and chickpeas. Then I added snack items - fresh strawberries that were on sale, baby carrots and celery, crackers, chips, and nectarine salsa. I actually meant to make deviled eggs, but I ended up skipping that recipe. It was okay - one of the guests brought deviled eggs as a potluck offering!

Then for dessert, I made my family's classic Striped Delight recipe (which is layers of chocolate, a cream cheese filling, and whipped cream on a graham cracker crust). And - the piece de resistance - my dad's Double Cruncher cookies. Those were my favorite. They are thin, crunchy cookies made with cornflakes, coconut, and oatmeal. You sandwich two cookies around a filling of chocolate, cream cheese, and powdered sugar. Sinful, and delicious.

I remembered to put out paper plates, napkins, utensils. I had buckets of ice for drinks, trash cans for garbage, and recycling for bottles. I remembered to put out a Sharpie for marking cups. I greeted all the guests, tried to make sure people were all talking and enjoying themselves. In short, I did the best job I could as a hostess.

The best part was - in the end, the party was (I think) a success. I had fun, I hope my guests had fun. People brought food to share, drinks to share, and we all shared the fireworks.

And at the end, we clapped and cheered, and then laughed as we watched everybody far below (half a million of them by official estimate) trying to leave en masse. We just helped ourselves to another brownie. Because, you know, the Double Crunchers were all gone. That fact right there is how I really know it was a good night.

Happy 4th!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Air Conditioning and Independence

My window air conditioner unit has become a metaphor for my life. It began as just a simple item on my To-Do list, and it's grown to a battle of wills.

Let me explain.

Last year, my mother and sister helped me move in to my new apartment. They also helped me install my air conditioner window unit.

Then last December, I took it out of the window (It had icicles.) It's a nice big, powerful model (which I love!), but SHOOT I didn't realize how heavy it was. I hefted and heaved and carefully got the AC inside my room. But then - THEN - I realized that the best place to store it would be above the closet. Oh dear.

I hoisted it up to my shoulders, balanced on a chair, and just barely shoved it into the closet. There was a scary moment when I thought: oh gees, we're tipping backwards! But when push came to shove (literally), I'm pretty strong and I wasn't about to let an AC fall on me.

So all was well and good. But fast forward to now.

It's July. It's hot. And sticky. It's been this way since June. But since June, I've been avoiding putting in my AC. My problem? I didn't think I could get it out of the closet. Up is one thing - but down is a tricky problem too.

Today it came to a head. I was cleaning all day today, and during the afternoon it kept getting hotter and hotter. I thought to myself, this is ridiculous! I OWN an AC!

But unlike last year, I have nobody to help me install it. There is nobody in the dorm - everybody has left for the summer. Even housekeeping is not around today, it's a holiday. I have a few friends who might give me a hand, but they don't live close by. And though I hate to admit it, I'm stubborn to a fault. I don't like being dependent on other people. For anything. Which apparently in the way my mind works, includes installing ACs.

So. I'm independent! I can DO this! And first things first - to get it out of the closet.

I cleared everything around the AC, and gave it an experimental heft. Umphf! Yeah. It was still heavy. But I was sure since I got it up there, I could get it down. Right? Right.

Folks, it wasn't pretty. There was some grunting involved. There was another scary moment. It was a good thing I had a chair nearby to set it on. I may or may not have a bruise on my knee. The important thing is, I got it down.

See? Still independent!

Moving on. I opened the window, installed the mounting hardware (yay for tools!). I lifted the air conditioner up to the sill, and.... well, this is where I got stuck.

I just simply did not have the physical arm strength to hold that heavy thing out the window and get it properly installed. I tried, though - but it's a problem of levers. Leaning out the window, you have much less leverage than when you hold your arms close to your body. And the compressor, the heavy part, is way out on the back end.

And even if I DID have the arm strength, I don't have an extra arm left over to close the window around the top of the AC to hold it in place.

But MAN the whole thing frustrated me. I wanted the AC installed NOW. And I can DO THINGS ON MY OWN. No matter that I could possibly drop this on someone's head walking under me on the sidewalk. No, I don't need anybody else for anything else in life, why can't this be the same?

I don't know why I got myself in such a twist, but it became a little silly. I thought, come on Miss Outlier, be a little resourceful here.

I thought, well maybe if I had a strap around it to give me better grip? So I got out my box strap (used to hold square drawers or cabinets while they dry).

Figure: Miss Outlier, refusing to accept the inevitable.

Unfortunately the strap didn't fit very well. I was standing there trying to jimmy the thing into working, and I thought - Miss Outlier, why don't you just give up? Obviously you just need to ask for help.

I don't like asking for help. But I need to do it more often. Repeat after me, self: I am not invincible. And I have limited arm strength.

You can actually put in a work request at the dorm for help installing an AC (which makes sense - I guess they don't want undergrads hanging out of windows. Or grad students, I suppose...). I opened up the work order request page. I resigned myself to the fact I need help.

But even then, my mind wouldn't accept it. I thought - really? I can't do this? Surely I can.

So, I'm sorry to admit, I tried one last time. And no, quite assuredly no, I couldn't safely do it.

So I pressed "Submit." At some point a handyman will be showing up to help a decidedly dejected MechE girl install a window AC.

So the bottom line is I may need to attend a self-help class. Hello, my name is Miss Outlier, and I have trouble asking for help.

I wonder why I got so wadded up in this particular issue? I know it seems silly, but it really did feel like me against that AC. I don't know why it's so hard for me to accept my limitations. Are there any other classic overachievers out there with this problem?

At least I can say in the end I did not drop anything out the window. The AC is now sitting on my desk a few feet away from my bed, waiting for the repairman. I did the right thing.

But I swear that AC is watching and laughing at me.... :)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Commenting Issues

Several people who know me in real life have said that they aren't able to leave comments on the blog. I'm not sure what the issue is there, I'm working on it.

But I realized if people online are having the same issue, they have no way to let me know! If you have problems or want to get in touch, you can do so at:


Happy commenting!