Friday, June 29, 2012

Difficulty Tackling To-Do List

I have some items hanging around on my To-Do list that I just can't seem to get around to doing. I'm not as busy this summer as I was this spring by a long shot, so why am I having such an issue? I even had an unprecedented three free evenings in a row, which would have been prime time to knock some of them out, but I was a lazy bum instead. Why is that?

Besides pure laziness, which can't be all of the explanation as I am highly capable and driven when I can get my mind around it, the are other factors that I've noticed make it much harder for me to cross certain things off the list.

1) If I'm not quite sure where to start

If I'm not exactly sure what it is I need to do, then it's hard to get up the motivation to start. On my list right now is to tune up my bike. I know the tires are flat, but I tried using the pump from the dorm desk, and it didn't work - and now I don't know if it's an issue with the tires or the pump (safe money goes on the pump...). And something is wrong with the shifter, but I'm not sure exactly, and the fenders I think are a little bent... all in all I'm just not sure of a clear path to fix it, and so I just put it off.

Fix: This is my hardest one. I haven't come up with a good strategy for this yet. I just have to muster up some self-will and dive in and force myself to start SOMEWHERE.

2) If it seems too large to tackle in one sitting

The self-help books will tell you to break a large project into smaller manageable pieces, but oftentimes the reason I have left it as a big piece is because I don't know how to break it up (see #1, not sure where to start). Usually it takes me some overhead time just to research, Google, get together my materials, or whatever else I need to do the scope out the project. I used to see this as wasted time, as you don't see any measurable progress from spending an hour or two just figuring out what it is you need to do, not actually doing any of it yet. Especially frustrating if you are picking up a project in the middle - like didn't I already do this? But the truth is if you wait too long, you have to re-do this overhead work to figure out how to pick up the pieces and start making progress again. However if I recognize the necessity of this preparation time, and give myself mental permission to spend a while just on the overhead, it seems much better. And as a bonus, often after picking through the details I then have a mental handle on the project and I can split it up into smaller pieces, a la the self-help cliche.

Fix: Designate your first task as simply overhead, as in "figure out where I left off" or "figure out where to start," and don't expect to make progress immediately.

3) If it doesn't seem high priority

Some things seem like good ideas, but there is no urgency, as the information isn't changing. Filing chemical MSDS sheets is on my list at the moment, as are writing lab SOPs for various equipment. Or updating my personal medical records. They should be done SOMEDAY, but TODAY a nap sure seems like higher priority. Shoot, TV seems like a better option, even.

Enter: Sunday afternoons. I never, ever feel like being productive on urgent things on Sunday afternoons. (Nothing should be urgent on Sundays, and naps should be mandatory. Can we make both of those a law?) But for some reason I have had really good luck working on long-term, non-urgent things. I've had my nap for the day (obvs), and I don't want to do work because that can wait until Monday, and no good TV is on Sunday afternoons, and usually I have nothing social/with friends scheduled for that evening. Yet doing NOTHING just leaves me bored. Thus, I naturally tackle the low-priority, yet good-idea I-should-do-that items.

Fix: Find a time you feel un-rushed and un-hurried, preferably on a regular basis. Maybe such a thing doesn't exist for others, but Sundays sure do it for me.

4) If it's been there too long

I'm constantly surprised how LONG some things hang on the To-Do list, and then how SHORT a time it actually takes to get them done. I always think of my grandmother for this one, who related to me once how she always hated changing the beds to clean sheets. And then one day she timed it, and it only took 14 minutes, after all the mental agony she went through procrastinating. And so now she's much less likely to put off changing the sheets, because she rationalizes "it's only 14 minutes, I can so do that!" I had a similar experience when I realized a sink full of dishes only takes 9 minutes on average. Makes washing one sink-load unit a lot less intimidating.

Fix: Time it, to get rid of the mental block! And then use that as motivation to get on it sooner.

5) If it doesn't seem fun.

Prime examples are paying bills/recording finances, and doing tedious measurements for research. Best way I've found to combat this is to bring an iPod to do measurements, or to watch TV while doing paperwork. Distracts my mind from getting bored.

Self-help books will say you can also promise yourself a treat afterwards (chocolate, or a nap, or whatever floats your boat. The books always tells girls to treat yourself with a manicure, and I always think really? That tedious complicated process is a treat? To each their own...). I never have good luck with that - maybe I'm not the delayed-reward, don't-eat-the-marshmallow evolved person I'm supposed to be! I usually do it the opposite way - I'll fix a chocolate shake and take it TO the lab to do measurements. Safety violations aside, I'll take my reward preemptively, thank you very much!

Fix: If possible, combine with another mindless task (music or TV) to pass the time.

So, now that I've given myself no more excuses, let's see if I can go be productive... or, you know, take a nap first. :)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Energy Business Plan Multiple Choice

I've been interested in entrepreneurship for a while now, and in fact my PhD minor is entrepreneurship, which allows me to take a bunch of classes over on the business side of campus. Between that and a variety of extra-curricular activities I've been heavily involved with entrepreneurship-type stuff for a while now, and energy entrepreneurship in particular for about a year. I've heard about every possible business plan known to man, and if you think that you, too, have the next big energy idea - let me help you out. Simply select your choices from the below, and it's a guaranteed winner:

I am going to provide a ____________
A) Software as a Service (SaaS)
B) iPhone app
C) integrated platform

that is ____________
A) green
B) in the cleantech space
C) ecofriendly

because it involves ____________.
A) wind
B) solar
C) energy efficiency
D) utilizing an alternative fuel
E) All of the above

My product includes features that are ____________
A) wireless
B) remote
C) automatic
D) in the cloud (triple points!)
E) provided by analytics
F) cell phone activated
G) networked
H) All of the above (why not, right?)

and my technology will be ready in ____________
A) 5 years
B) 10 years
C) It hasn't actually been demonstrated yet, but if it DOES work, it will be awesome
D) Engineers say it won't work, but I believe I have the core strengths to tackle these technological challenges

if I can get ____________.
A) 20 million dollars from VCs
B) a guaranteed loan from the feds (just like Solyndra!)
C) hired employees, to, you know, build the thing

The company is named ____________
A) Qwertzle
B) Kleirly
C) Wiflerta
D) Any other random combination of Web 2.0-sounding letters with a bubbly logo

and my team consists of ____________.
A) two MBAs and a sales guy
B) one MBA, one EE, and an "experienced entrepreneur" (his last attempt failed)
C) three MBAs (we'll just hire the tech talent we need)

We are planning to implement the product first in ____________,
A) Africa
B) India
C) the developing world. All of it. Isn't it the same everywhere?
D) the military

but I have not yet thought about ____________.
A) who will fix this if it breaks
B) how to actually make money from this idea
C) the fact that someone else already tried this six years ago

I have confidence that we can face these issues and challenges as they come because don't worry, we have on our advisory board ____________
A) Obama
B) The world's most famous VC
C) Hot entrepreneur star of the moment

and in fact, look at us, we've already got ____________.
A) a website and a Twitter feed with followers
B) an awesome sixty second elevator pitch
C) a prize-winning business plan
D) connections because we attended SXSW and totally hung out with famous people at the afterparty
E) interested customers (they said they'd take it if we gave it to them for free)
F) admission into an accelerator program
G) generated buzz created by networking and facilitating connections between people with mutually overlapping interests and core competencies and leveraging the synergies and oh I can't stand writing more of this...


You think I'm kidding, but oh sir, I am not. You think this is cynical (well, maybe a little)(maybe a lot), but I have personally seen each of the above options set out in a business plan or presentation with an entirely straight face. Please, energy innovators, do yourself a favor and find an engineer (even better if they have no interest in entrepreneurship and no business training) to vet your technology and give you a straight answer before you embarrass yourself. Or, you know, don't - because if you think about it a minute - these kinds of ideas are getting millions from VCs, and did you know you don't have to give that money back if you go under?

There are good ideas out there, let's make them easier to find amongst the noise!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Becoming a Thought Leader

Over at EngineerBlogs, I've posted my reactions to attending an event at a marketing firm, and the advice to establish yourself online as a thought leader.

Go check it out, and sound off in the comments - Do you find it personally useful to develop a reputation online, and if so how do you go about it?

Monday, June 25, 2012


I have been feeling all sorts of disorganized lately, and so this past weekend I tried to get myself in order, including doing a computer backup and sorting through old photos.

And what did I come across while looking through old photos, but a few shots of my (sadly now irrelevant since I've moved) neat and tidy storage solutions. I remember being as pleased as punch when I took these shots, because I loved having things in little cups and caddies and all correctly in their proper homes. Feeds my logical, orderly mind...

Bookshelf. Why yes, that is over a half a shelf of Star Trek books...

Scarves and mittens. Boston has a long winter, I like lots of options.

Desk drawer. Rubberbands! Paperclips! In tiny cups!

Makeup drawer. Interlocking caddies in mix-and-match sizes!

Hair stuff. Now if I actually took the time to DO my hair once in a while...
And my personal favorite:

Earrings. I made this earring holder myself from cherry wood, because I dislike the metal mesh ones, and no other solution had *ahem* quite enough hooks for my collection...

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Saffronsbröd - Swedish Saffron Batter Bread

My first culinary experiment with saffron was this weekend - I made saffron bread, from a traditional Swedish recipe. This was my contribution to my friend's Midsommar potluck, a Swedish holiday celebrated on the longest day of summer. Excellent food and excellent company - I look forward to it every year! 

(I had to borrow the pan from her - it's a kugelhopf pan. Similar to a bundt pan, but a different pattern/shape to the ridges. And now you've learned something today!)

Saffronsbröd in a kugelhopf pan. Say three times fast.

The recipe is as follows:

Swedish Saffron Batter Bread (Saffronsbröd)
Originally from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas

1 package active dry yeast
¼ cup warm water (105ºF to 115ºF)
½ cup butter, room temperature
½ cup sugar
3 eggs
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk, scalded and cooled to lukewarm
¼ teaspoon powdered saffron
3 cups all purpose flour
¾ cup golden raisins
powdered sugar

1.  In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the ¼ cup warm water.
2.  In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar.
3.  Add eggs and salt; beat until smooth.
4.  Stir in milk, saffron, and yeast mixture.
5.  Gradually beat in the flour.  When all the flour has been added, beat with electric mixer at medium speed for five minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally.
6.  Mix in the raisins.
7.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 ½ to 2 hours.
8.  Meanwhile, generously butter a 10 cup kugelhopf or bundt pan.  Dust lightly with flour.
9.  Stir down the dough and pour into the prepared pan.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until dough almost reaches the top of the pan (about one hour).
10.  Preheat oven to 350ºF.
11.  Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until loaf is well-browned and sounds hollow when tapped.  Let cool in pan 15 minutes, and invert onto rack to cool.  Dust with powdered sugar.

The bread was a hit, and is gone already.

I also made a marinated flank steak with fresh green beans and lentils cooked in duck stock for dinner this evening, so all in all the weekend has been fantastic from the culinary standpoint!

Friday, June 22, 2012

For Lack of a Coupon

Today I am irritated because I can't find a $5.00 ExtraBucks coupon to CVS.

It's a silly thing, but it's driving me NUTS that I lost it.

1) I went through seventeen hoops at the end of May to get a transportation pass for June - World's Best School makes it so difficult. (You have to sign up online FIRST, two MONTHS ahead of time, and if you forget - then you have to come to this one room in the basement on this one day... We only take cash... did you sign up for July and August, online, which you must do before you can get June? Did you spin around and click your heels three times?) And then I lost that silly thing on June 4th. The FOURTH. And it's not replaceable - I have to wait until July to get another pass.

2) Because I've moved recently, most of my things are in boxes, and I feel all sorts of unsettled because I can't find the clothes I want when I want them.

3) My bathroom stuff got cleaned out, and so I lost all my toiletries I had stored there.

4) Last week before I left for travels, I put a lemon-blueberry tart in the office for my labmates to finish off. They said it was delicious, but somebody accidentally threw out the base plate it was on. That base plate was the bottom half of my springform pan. Gees! Silly men didn't recognize it wasn't disposable, and I didn't think to leave a note about it.

5) I can't find my research stuff half the time either, because our lab is on the "everything out in the middle of the room so you can't put your hands on anything" part of the cleanliness cycle.

6) My boyfriend is traveling, so I have lost him too - he's rather like Schrodinger's cat, I have no idea where or in what state he exists any given day... :)

Suffice to say, in general I am feeling all kinds of discombobulated.

I went to CVS to replace the bathroom stuff, and paid careful attention to make sure I got the coupon deal - buy $15 and get $5 ExtraBucks - and felt good I had saved some money.

I brought my stuff home, took it out of the CVS bags, and left the receipts and coupon in the bag.

And now today I can't find the bags. I only live in two rooms, so this shouldn't be that hard! What I think I did is unload the stuff in the bathroom, and my best guess is that I left the plastic bags on the counter and someone threw them out. Because how else did they dissappear? If I had tossed them or left them lying around, it would be in one of my rooms or one of my trash cans, and it's not.

Gah. In the end $5 is not that much, but I am just so irritated that I can't seem to keep things in order around here!

Ever have weeks where nothing seems to stay where you put it?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Through the Firey Furnace

A while back I managed to order a whole tub of a fancy material that I thought I could use for research.  (Almost thought I couldn't do it...) Turns out that direction of scientific inquiry didn't bear any fruit, but I still had this tub of goop and that I had obtained at great cost (they don't sell small amounts of this stuff) and effort (customs is a pain when you are ordering material that can be used to shield missiles from radar...).

So I hung onto it - and turns out a neighboring lab had a use for it. So I loaned it out to an undergrad student to run some experiments. And now, a labmate actually needs to use this stuff. So I go to reclaim my tub - and, whoops, it is nowhere to be found!

I searched high and low, asked around from other students ("it isn't there? really? I though it was... no, I didn't move it...") and emailed the undergrad (*crickets* no response, they graduated and hightailed it out of here...). Finally I asked the lab manager, and he said that he remembered seeing it, but couldn't recall where it went after lab cleanup.


That is a bad word to hear when looking for a missing item. The typical cycle of lab cleanliness goes from sparkling clean, to the middle ground of the commonly used items being out and accessible and easily-findable, sliding down to ALL items out and you can no longer put your hands on what you need, ending in lab cleanup putting everything away so you have no idea where anything is again.

If you lose something in that cycle, it's kind of like missing children cases - the more time goes by, the less likely you are to ever see it again.

So the lab manager offered to replace what had been lost, which was very generous of him. But I was torn - do I make this neighboring lab go through those purchasing hoops all over again, for a material I decided I wasn't going to use for my research anyway?

Fortunately my conflict was resolved when a few days later I got word the tub had been found.

Apparently it was hiding in the furnace!

It had not, thankfully, been FIRED in the furnace, or it would be ruined. Somebody just tucked it in there.

Really, folks? That's how you do lab cleanup - shove things in random cubbies? :) Oh well, I'm guilty over here too of sweeping things under the rug that I don't have a place for...

Once word got around that the furnace was the hiding place, I also heard rumors that my tub of goop had been spotted previously in the fridge, too. Goodness! Any more temperature cycles I need to know about?

Glad I got it back, if the trend continued I may have just rescued it from the freezer!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Cleaned Out

I was away this weekend, and before I left I saw an email float by about "cleaning out the dorm, please label your stuff, yada yada, thank you please." I was caught up trying to get ready for my trip, and so I quickly forgot it.

I was only away for Friday - Monday, and I was visiting family who love me and couldn't care less WHAT I wear or look like, and so for such a short trip I decided to make packing an exercise in minimization. A challenge in packing light. An ode to efficiency!

Not really. I didn't get to do laundry, and I packed the morning I left.

So! A testament to procrastination, then!

In any case, I just brought a few clothes and the bare essentials in a small shoulder bag. I decided not to even bring shampoo/conditioner/soap, because again, I'm visiting family, and SURELY THEY HAVE SOME. (And indeed, they did.)

I got back from my travels at one in the morning, and collapsed into bed. This morning I groggily pulled myself to the dorm bathroom, and there was nothing there.

Nothing there.

No towel, no shower caddy, all my toiletries gone, my toothpaste! No toothpaste.

The housekeeping staff had gone through and completely tossed all bathroom items that weren't labeled. To their credit, they gave fair warning, and I should have heeded it, or sent an email that I was away, or something. Something. Save the toothpaste!

So now I stand there faced with trying to scrounge together items with which to make myself ready for the day. First up is the towel. Because I've recently moved, most of my belongings are still in boxes. So I gamely hunted around in my bathrobe with scissors in hand, trying to remember and open the box with the spare linens. I did manage to procure a spare towel, check.

Then, ironically, I pulled out the travel-sized shampoo and conditioner and soap bottles that I did NOT take on my trip, and used those for my shower. Sadly though I had used up my travel-sized facewash and toothpaste, and I didn't have extras. (I rinsed out my mouth and chewed an Altoid. For one day, I'll live. Don't judge.)

Post-shower, I took stock of what I had in my meager carryon from the weekend - not much. Small bottle of contact solution, that's good. And at least I saved my razor, which is good for all those who I play basketball with and must view my legs at close range...

Then I had a flash of relief - usually I take mini versions of everything when I travel, but for this trip I had fortunately brought the normal size of one item I use daily:

They took everything, but I STILL HAVE MY FULL SIZE TOOTHBRUSH.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

There And Back Again

I have been wanting to get back into blogging, and every time I think about it I get slightly overwhelmed at what important thing to put as the "first" post. But shoot, this is my blog, I can say what I want, and it doesn't have to be monumental.

So, hello world.

I am back blogging, I miss it. I had to reset my password because I forgot it (which could have more to do with my faulty memory than the length of my hiatus...)

Over the past six months that I've been away, I feel like I've been "there and back again," as Bilbo Baggins would say. I became incredibly busy - too busy for my sanity - with running a conference, starting a company, doing research for my PhD, being an RA for my dorm, and trying to wedge some sleep in there.

Thankfully I have extricated myself back to a manageable lifestyle.

Life is good, and I look forward to sharing some of it with you again.