Sunday, January 31, 2010


As if wine tasting and scotch tasting were not enough, I took one more class this January. Getting my money's worth out of the break, I tell you. :) I took an archery class last spring, and I loved it. So when I saw a beginner kyudo class offered over Saturday and Sunday, I jumped on it.

Kyudo is Japanese archery, and is less of a competition sport and more of a meditation exercise. To properly complete a shot, you have to "polish your mind." The equipment is a very tall bow (mine was about seven feet), the arrow, and a special glove. The bow is asymmetric - the grip is not in the middle, so more of the bow sticks out above than below.

There are seven steps in the arrow-shooting process, and each step has to be executed with excruciating detail and precision. By the time you actually get to shoot the arrow, you are just glad to not be holding your arms up any more! Saturday was spent learning the form, and then Sunday we got to take our "First Shot." The rest of Sunday was practice, and I am pleased to say that I did quite well.

This kind of archery was different from the archery class ("western archery") in a few ways. For western archery, I used a left-handed bow (being, you know, left-handed). In kyudo, there is no such thing as left-handed. So I had to learn how to handle everything with the opposite hands than I was used to. But that actually wasn't the hardest adjustment. I was trained that when you let go of the arrow, you hold everything perfectly still and don't move as you watch the shot fly toward the target. But in kyudo, you pull pull PULL the arrow, and when you release you WHIP your hand back and hold your position in a spreadeagle. So for most of the day, I would get confused and pull pull PULL and let go - hold tight and forget to move - suddenly remember and jerk my arm back, even though the arrow had already hit. Hmm. That technique is not an approved form.

As we practiced throughout the day, the instructors would make adjustments and correct us. After a few shots, my instructor handed me a different bow. He watched me twice more, and then gave me a different bow yet again. Finally he seemed satisfied, and I curiously checked the markings on the bow. Now, each bow is marked with a number that represents how hard it is to pull. You want a bow that you can draw to full extension, but if it's too easy than you are not being challenged and you need a stronger bow. And of course the more tension you have, the farther you can shoot - so it's to your advantage to use the hardest bow you call pull.

The littlest girls in the class used a bow marked "6." Most of the average students used an 8 or so. Mine? The one I ended up with? A 11. Ha! See how that weight training came in handy? :)

And a similar thing happened with the gloves. The glove for your hand has to fit properly (they are not stretchy), so there are a variety of sizes. The tiny Asian girls wore 5s and 6s, and most people wore 7s. Mine was an 8.

But hey, you know what? That just means I have good, worker's hands and a strong back and arms. And that all makes for a very satisfying THWACK when that arrow hits the target. Actually, one time the arrow shot all the way through the target and came out the other side!

When we lined up for the longest distance of the day (28 meters), a second instructor was checking bows as we went by. She saw that mine was an 11, and she said, "Oh, this girl somehow managed to get an 11 - we had better switch that out." My instructor overheard that comment and called back, "Oh no, she's good!" 

You bet I am!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Scotch Tasting Class

I managed this January to not only attend a wine tasting class, but also a Scotch tasting class. I'd like to note that I had signed up for Scotch tasting first (it was one of those decisions caused by, "Well, why not?" syndrome), and then later learned I won the lottery for the wine tasting. Talk about knocking things off the list quickly! Thank goodness they were not on overlapping days.

As it turns out, I had two weeks where Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights I was tasting drinks. Good gracious.

Actually it was kind of cool to take both classes together. Some scotch whiskeys are aged in barrels that used to have wine in them - sherry, or other dark red wine - and I could easily pick out samples that had been produced that way, given all my practice at wine tasting. And in the robust red wines, I noticed similar oak and vanilla tastes that scotch often has.

This was the first time the scotch tasting class had ever been offered, and it was well attended (40ish people) and, I thought, very well executed. The first class was a general overview, a lesson on the regions in Scotland where distilleries are located, and instruction on the different flavor profiles and classifications of scotch. The second class was on the production process, and the third class was "advanced connoisseurship." I don't know if I'm advanced OR a connoisseur, but I feel I can much better appreciate the subtleties of the drink, and I'm much less intimidated by the whole affair.

But I have to admit the first day was a little intimidating. I have actually found a class where there are even LESS girls than my engineering classes. On the first day, I was the only girl. I wish I could say that it didn't bother me, but usually I am used to seeing at least ONE other girl in the room. Goodness, I thought, am I really doing something that far off the beaten path? About half the attendees were middle-aged and older gentlemen, and half were college or grad student age. I suppose that makes sense, as whiskey is traditionally a mature man's drink, and also the class was sponsored by the alumni association. Fortunately at the second and third sessions, a few other girls showed up - so we held our own!

I had a fantastic time at the class (helped, I'm sure, by six samples each night...) and am so glad I took it. I learned an incredible amount (not the least of which is how to pronounce Bunnahabhain, Auchentoshan, and Laphroaig), enjoyed the company and discussion with classmates, and had access to high-quality, well-selected spirits. The teacher was knowledgeable, passionate, and obviously enjoyed his job and made the whole experience entertaining.

Last night was the last class, and to celebrate the teacher passed out drams of a "graduation" drink. It was a 30-year, single cask single malt from an independent bottler. Very expensive, I'm sure, and probably something I'll never get again. (In fact, I know I won't - it was one of only 280 bottles ever produced of that exact kind.)

So cheers to another completed adventure, my friends - or, Slainte!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Wine Tasting Class

Sunday night was the final night of a wine tasting seminar I have been attending. It's a long-standing tradition that the housemasters of my dorm lead this class every January, and it's quite popular - my name was chosen from the lottery to be among the 12 girls who took it this year. It was three nights, six wines each night, and instruction throughout the course.

I loved it. I've always been curious how to appreciate wine, as I'm never sure what I'm supposed to be tasting. And it's expensive to try on your own, because if you get a bottle you don't like, well what then? And if you get a cheap bottle to try and mitigate that possibility, well, then it's just cheap wine.

Plus the people who are wine "snobs" and actually know what they are talking about intimidate me.

But now I feel as if I have expanded my horizons. I know how various wines are made, I know how to read a wine label, I know that the red grape of the Bordeaux region is Cabernet Sauvignon, the red grape of Burgundy is Pinot Noir and the white grape of Burgundy is Chardonnay. I have discovered that I like Riesling and I adore Shiraz, and I know where in Boston I can buy half-bottles (so that it doesn't go bad before I can finish the bottle).

Actually one of my favorite parts of the class was each night at the end - after we tasted all six wines, there was a table set up with food items. Laid out buffet-style were samples of a variety of food - meats (chicken, turkey, steak once with the red wines), several types of cheeses, appetizers, crackers, fruit, nuts, and even chocolate one night. Everybody gets a plate full of samples, and explores tasting the six wines with different combinations of food. It was really cool to see that some foods actually DO taste much better with some wines. And some wines I didn't even like by themselves tasted radically different with seafood, or with cheese (well, they ALL taste better with cheese...). So it's not all just hype by the wine snobs - although everyone does have different tastes, there really is something to the art of wine pairings. 

So, success! I have crossed one more item off of my list of things I'd like to do.

And success, I might add, tastes rich and full - pleasantly fruity on the nose, with notes of spicy blackberry, plum, and pepper.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sigh of Relief

As I write this, I am surrounded by the soft sounds of academia - pencils scratching, papers rustling, chairs creaking. Yes, folks, it's that time of year again - qualifying exams. I took these the last time they were offered, last May. Thank goodness I passed.

This year, I was asked to be the written test proctor. So during last week I read the test problem for every subject, to make sure it was clear for students and free from typos. For the subjects outside my area (like I know anything about acoustics or signal processing...) all I could really check was the typo part. But for the problems in areas I understand, and especially the three subjects that I took, I tried to make sure the problem was not ambivalent or confusing. And then, as a fun little test, I tried to solve them.

Ha. Nice try.

After my ego deflated a bit, and realizing I could not solve them with the knowledge I had floating around in my head, I tried to see if I COULD solve them, given a calculator and an open book.

Ha again. I wasn't even sure how to START. Well, maybe I could see how to tackle part a), but gees! parts b) through f)....

Let's just say that at this point, I breathed a huge sigh of relief, told myself I was just "out of practice", and went back to checking for typos.

Dear internet, it is a glorious thing to be past quals. I have watched a few of my labmates studying during last semester, and preparing more intensely over this past month. I have seen equations on the office whiteboard that bring back memories of long hours of memorization - of ink smudges on my hands, and papers scattered over bed and desk and floor. I remember it being a whole training process - like an athlete, striving to be at your maximum peak at the optimum time.

The other part of being the proctor is actually administering the test, which is where I sit right now. This morning as I walked into the test room to the stares of so many hopeful PhD applicants - as I passed out packets containing the standard by which they will all be judged - all that stress came flooding back. My heart started to race, my palms got sweaty, I started worrying about the controls question. Is there a name for this? I'm going with "Sympathetic Test-taking Syndrome." I've been a student so long that I have built up physcial responses to tests. I wonder how long outside of school this will last? Will I still be haunted by dreams of blue books and TI-89s when I am 40?

Ah, the hour draws near... I see the pace of scribbling around the room has speeded up...

I must go collect tests, and hand out the next one. Some students have one test, some two, and a few poor souls have three written tests. I was one of those with three. I feel for them. 

I see at least two students here today who took them last May with me - which means they failed then, and this is their last, now-or-never try at passing and getting into the PhD program here at World's Best School. I feel for them too.

Good luck, all.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Embracing the Subculture

Author's Note: This happens to be my 200th post. Who'd have thought I'd ever get this far, or have enough to talk about? If I had thought about this ahead of time, I would have chosen some serious subject for this milestone. But as it is I'm just going to go ahead with what's on my mind... which I suppose is appropriate, as that's how I do things on a regular basis anyway...

Last night I attended my second Science Fiction Movie Marathon, a highly popular and well-attended annual event at World's Best School. My first year in grad school, I was thrilled to hear about this event. I love science fiction, and I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in good company here at World's Best School. That year's line-up promised to be good - it was Galaxy Quest, Sunshine, The Host, Gattaca, and Starship Troopers.

For those who don't recognize those movies: The first film Galaxy Quest was a crowd-pleaser, a goofy oldie from 1999. Sunshine was a blockbuster-type from 2008, then there was a break for pizza. At midnight the marathon resumed with a more critical pick - The Host - a Korean movie that was critically acclaimed at the 2006 Cannes International Film Festival. We watched it with subtitles (so I felt very international, connoisseur, sophisticated warm fuzzy feelings) and the movie was excellent. At that point I was about to fall asleep and my rear hurt from sitting on the chair, so I stumbled home at about 2am.

So the movies were good, but it was the whole experience that made it fantastic. I had not anticipated the type of crowd that was at this event. First of all, there actually WAS a crowd - this is the highlight of the year for some pockets of enthusiasts. The people milling around were stereotypically nerdy and geeky - about the same panorama you see at comic conventions, or gaming tournaments. I happen to love that. I love that those people don't care what anyone thinks of them. So what if they are wearing a top hat and cape? Or their hair is green? Or their polo shirt is jammed into acid washed jeans belted under the armpits? None of these people care, and nobody judges. It's very freeing.

Second, the crowd was INVOLVED, man. The event is put on by a student club in a huge classroom auditorium, and the films are projected on a movie-theater-size screen using actual projectors and reels. There are long-running traditions involving crowd participation - for instance, the audience yells out "COMING SOON!" during the previews whenever that phrase comes up. There's good natured ribbing - for instance, whenever there is a mistake (projector out of focus, a hiccup during a reel change), the crowd yells out "FILM CLUB SUCKS!".

And finally, people are dedicated. They bring pillows, they stock up on popcorn and candy, they stick it out for the whole night and emerge dragging their blankets at 7am the next day. That first year, I saw the ultimate example of dedication - between Sunshine and The Host, a special PowerPoint slide was projected up on the screen. It was a landscape with a sky full of stars - and as we watched, the words "I would realign the stars for you" appeared on the bottom, and the sky rearranged itself to say "Will You Marry Me?" As the audience clapped, we saw the tearful girl wrapped up in a passionate embrace, having just accepted an engagement ring from her boyfriend.

That was my experience the first year, so this year there was no way I was going to miss it. Saturday night I arrived at the theater at 6pm. I brought a pillow and blanket so the classroom chairs would not become uncomfortable, and my own candy and drinks (although they have a well-stocked snack stand at the event). This year's film choices were just as well-edited - we had an anime movie first (Evangelion 1.0), then a French film with subtitles (District 13: Ultimatum), followed by Moon, a pizza break, then The Last Starfighter, Back to the Future Part II, and Flash Gordon.

There were no proposals this time around, but I had a great time. District 13 is my new favorite movie - although I'm not sure it will be the same without the crowd whooping and hollering and cracking up throughout the show. I lasted four out of six movies before I was falling asleep and headed home, happy and content.

I'm not sure if there is a point to this post, but if there was it would be this: I'm going to miss this kind of thing when I leave school. I will miss being surrounded by the nerdy, sci-fi subculture. I will miss how the obligatory "please don't smoke" notice before the movie was replaced by a section of programming code that asked people not to smoke. I will miss being with people who could all understand the programming code. And most of all, when I move out of school into the real world, I will miss people who LAUGH at programming code.

Live long and prosper. 

Friday, January 22, 2010

PhD Topic Chosen

I'm pleased to report that after careful thought over the past couple months, I have chosen a topic for to pursue for my PhD. I discussed this with my advisor, and he was enthusiastic about the choice. I followed these basic logical steps:

1) I built a machine that manufactures small plastic devices called "microfluidic chips" for my Master's degree

2) Most of the academic papers I see now involve chips that are made of plastic AND metal.

3) The methods for making these plastic/metal chips are slow, expensive, and not suited to making lots of chips.

4) If these chips are going to change the world (which I think they can), people are going to need thousands and thousands of them.

5) I am good at designing and building equipment to make thousands and thousands of things.


I plan to build a machine that spits out thousands of plastic chips with metal in them.

But that doesn't sound fancy enough, and of course academia is all about the scientific sounding words, so the actual title of my PhD proposal is:

Development of Manufacturing Equipment for Integrated Metal-Polymer Microscale Parts

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


In a desperate last push to get a smidgen more data that my advisor wanted for his paper, (which I already did a bunch of work for), I was working yesterday afternoon with my labmate. Things weren't going well - I didn't have the right pipe fittings (despite having a whole drawer dedicated to pipe fittings), I couldn't find the parts I thought I'd ordered, and just generally I was getting frazzled.

And of course the more you get frazzled, the more mechanical things don't work. The cords were tangling, the retractable swivel hoses wouldn't swivel, and the hex key I needed was all the way across the room while I was entangled in cords behind the workbench.

"I just," I thought, "am so TIRED," frantically tugging away a a stubborn bolt, "of TAKING THIS APART."

I set down the wrench, took a step back (managing not to trip of any of the cords lying around), and just took a moment. For my master's degree I built a machine. I expected when I built this machine that over the course of testing it, working with it, etc., I would be taking things apart several times. But I thought that at some point, the thing would be pretty much DONE and I wouldn't ever have to undo everything again. And yet there I was, undoing all sorts of fittings and bolts and sliding things around.

It all just felt like three steps backward. Can I not just be DONE with this project? Two and a half years is long enough.

And it occurs to me that now is the point I should be writing my PhD proposal. It's time. I'm ready to move on. There is nothing new to learn with my Master's project, it's just undoing and redoing what I've already established.

So. One more time.

I undid the stubborn bolt, collected the data I needed. Today I put my machine back together. I don't have any desire to work on this project any more. I've lost the motivation. I don't care.

Please, let me just work on something new.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Miss Outlier, Mechanic

Author's note: I believe that now, a bit over a year since I began blogging, that I finally feel like I am a blogger. I know this because as I go through the week, I file away in my brain events and happenings that I think would make good posts. And then, because my brain does not hold onto items like that, I write them down. So I now have a backlog of post ideas that would last me a good month or two. So if for two months I do nothing but sit on my tush in bed watching House reruns, I could still manage to make my life sound interesting and full. That, dear internet, may be the true sign I am a blogger...

I'm a student. I have to learn things all the time. I stayed in school for graduate work because I like learning new things. (Before anyone corrects me, I do realize that even if I wasn't a student, I'd STILL have to learn things at a job or just during life in general. I just don't think about that, because I like to fantasize about the point in my life where I no longer have to take tests.)

I learn things in school for research, I learn things that will help me in my career, I learn things just for the fun of it. Over Christmas break, I learned something new because it's just one of those life skills I thought I should be aware of.

My dad taught me how to change brake pads, brake rotors, and spark plugs.

The garage at my parent's home is, well, HUGE first off. It's really less of a garage than an engineer's carefully crafted adult playroom. Although it's a six-car garage (which conjures up images of, oh, say, CARS), no cars are kept inside - unless you count the myriad quads and motorcycles that my brothers keep in varying states of repair. You should picture more of a combined carpentry and mechanic's shop.

My dad's car (a '99 Acura Integra) needed new brake pads in the back. My mom's car (a '01 Nissan Altima) needed new front rotors and brake pads. So one afternoon was dedicated to working on this project.

Now any project begins with a trip to the appropriate store - be it Home Depot for one of my brother's ideas, or A.C. Moore for my mother's art. For this trip, my dad and I hit up the local auto parts store.

Now the auto parts store is a culture unto itself. It requires a certain swagger to enter, a certain brand of brazen leaning-on-counter-with-Carhartt-jacketed-elbow confidence. My dad has this, and I do not. So I trail behind with my hands in my pockets while my dad strides up to the counter.

"Mr. Outlier, right?" asks the guy at the counter. Wow, I thought, they know him by name? "You just called in about brakes in stock?" he continues. My dad affirms this, and the guy disappears to collect the order. I imagine rows and rows of gleaming parts in the back room - that swinging door is the separation between the shelves of vast automotive parts for people who are ACTUALLY working on cars, and the sad shelves of windshield wiper fluid in the front store for people like me, who are doing well if they know where the oil dipstick is.

Boxes appear on the counter - front brakes for this car, rear brakes of this brand, rotors of this type.

Now my dad rocks back on his heels, and wonders aloud "Hmm, is there anything else I need...?" I know this feeling all too well. There is always something you forget, and recall again the instant you leave the store. (The worst place for this is the grocery store - you buy all the ingredients to fulfill the chocolate fix you are craving, only to find you forgot the chips for the chocolate chip cookies...)

"Ah!" he exclaims, "Need to change the spark plugs on the Altima." More boxes appear. There is a discussion of platinum versus nickel, a reference to current stock prices of precious metals, and a quick decision. An exchange of credit cards (after a quick wiping of be-grimed hands on a rough towel) leaves me carrying a box of assorted metal back out to the car.

On the way home, my dad explained that you change brake pads after they wear away, and you change the rotors if they become warped or pitted. "Actually," he remarked, "they used to put rotors on a lathe to clean them up instead of replacing them." Wistfully, he considered the fact that our garage includes a lathe. "But," he resigned himself (as if reluctantly giving up a fun project), "now that rotors are only thirty bucks a pair, nobody does that anymore."

Once home with parts in tow, I successfully managed to back the car into "Bay 2" (as my dad jokingly refers to the area where he keeps the mechanic's tools), and assisted as much as I could while my dad changed the brake pad on the first wheel. I seemed to get the hang of it, so I did most of the second wheel myself. For the second car (which needed both new pads and rotors), I again watched the first one and did the second wheel myself. Then we popped the hood, replaced the spark plugs, and put everything back together.

There is nothing so satisfying as that "thonk" when the hood slams shut. Men have this built-in urge to smack the hood after finishing the job - and although I don't have quite the testosterone for that compunction, it seemed an appropriate gesture.

Have you seen the Fast and Furious movies? Complex and nuanced cinema they may not be, but thanks to two brothers I have seen the whole series. At the end of this endeavor I felt very much like Letty:

Look out, boys. Now I can not only change my own tires, but my own brake pads and brake rotors, the spark plugs, AND the windshield wiper fluid. Next time I go home over break, I'm hoping to learn to change the oil. I might even drape an elbow over the auto parts counter and order my own parts from that shiny back room.

Thanks, Dad!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Roast Chicken Part I

My brother got me a cookbook for Christmas, called The Pleasures of Cooking For One. I was thrilled, and spent a good bit of Christmas afternoon thumbing through the recipes. It's set up so that you cook the first recipe - a meat of some sort, usually - and then there are two or three recipes afterwards that use the leftovers. That way, if you are only one person (which I am) you don't have to eat the same meal for a whole week (which is usually what I do). 

It can be hard to cut down recipes that are made for 8 servings - because you end up with odd amounts, like 1/3 an egg or 1/8 can of beans. And grocery stores don't sell ingredients in single-serve amounts - unless, of course, you are buying Lean Cuisine. But I want to cook, not microwave a plastic tray! So I was excited about the cookbook.

It's written by a French cook, so everything is prepared from scratch and the recipes include such things as "veal tongue" and "sweetbread." As an aside, let me remark that I actually though sweetbread was, you know, sweet and a bread. But no, a Google search returns some really unsavory images of calf parts I never considered edible. Putting those recipes aside, for my first stab at things I settled on broiled chicken. 

I've never made a whole chicken before. But I got myself a broiler pan and gave it a whirl:

I did my best to follow the instructions for preparing the raw chicken. I minced up the herbal undercoating, spread the herbs under the skin and let it marinate for a few hours. Then you preheat the broiler, and pop it in for 20-35 minutes or so. After cooking side one:

Ooh, not bad. I chopped up some veggies and roasted them alongside the chicken while the second side cooked:

Then pulled the whole thing out of the oven after the second side had cooked and crisped up (maybe burnt? eep!):

Now that is a good looking piece of chicken:

And the final meal was delicious. The meat had tenderized and soaked up all those nutritious juices in the skin... Sweet, fresh, piping hot - so much better than the dry white chicken breast I usually cook up in the skillet:

I was left with lots of leftovers, and lots of enthusiasm for trying out the rest of the recipes in the section!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Habitat for Humanity

Today I joined a group volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. We rented three cars (I was a driver) and took the 14 of us to the Habitat site, where they split us up into groups to work.

Many hands were put to labor all over the house - and since I mentioned I had a little experience and a few relevant skillsets, I was assigned to work on drywall taping and sanding. 

Figure: Tools of the trade

Nobody else in our group wanted this job (it's a little tricky if you haven't done it before, and it's messy), so I was working with a bunch of "regulars" (men who have construction experience who show up most weekends). 

Figure: This guy is a professional. Stilts!

I was pleased that after a refresher demonstration, I picked up the technique pretty quickly.

Figure: Mud first, tape, scrape off excess, *plop* drat it, made a mess again

I don't have the energy to be any sort of witty this evening, but I do have to say that I really enjoyed this. I get antsy after a while if I don't do any physical labor (which is why I volunteer for stuff like this), and this fit the bill perfectly.

Figure: Tired muscles, dirty face, happy girl.

In the interest of full disclosure, that picture of me is not from today - it's from the last time I did drywall work. But, I looked pretty much the same today (well actually a bit worse - I managed to get drywall compound in my hair this time... dratted ceiling work.) :)

Friday, January 15, 2010

On Hunger

I am ten months into the medical study I am enrolled in. I have lost exactly twenty pounds, and I feel great. In this study if you follow the program, your weight is supposed to level off by twelve months. The problem is that I still need to lose at least 5 more pounds, ideally more like 7 pounds, to be at my "leveling off" weight.

At the beginning it was easy to lose weight. I cut out the huge amounts of junk food I was eating (typical student food, free pizza everywhere) and it was no problem to see the weight come off. But now my body has adjusted to the new, smaller amount of good food I'm eating. So if I eat even a little more calories than I am burning, those extra calories add up and the numbers on the scale aren't going to budge. I need to really be careful that I am eating just what I need to be full, and not pigging out on dessert and big restaurant meals.

Five pounds in two months. I can do that.

So I am really trying to pay attention to my body - to eat when I am hungry, stop when I am full. I am finding that most of the time when I reach for food, it's not because I'm actually hungry. It's because I'm bored, or I am avoiding doing work, or I want to take a break from doing something else, or it's simply available (free cake someone gave us in lab today is a case in point). Or it's a habit - something to munch on while watching TV. Or it's just "time to eat." It's 12 noon, gotta have lunch - 6pm, let's get dinner on the table.

I don't want this to feel like a diet. I don't want it to be forced. Because if I feel deprived, I just want cake even more. I want this to be sustainable. So I'm practicing listening to my body - hungry? Have food. Feel full? I've had enough. I like what one of my friends said - when you sit down to a meal, think to yourself "This is not my last meal. I will eat again."

I think this is good. I think it is going to take a while, but I can learn this.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Of Cleaning and Jerking

Two of my friends have made New Year's resolutions to run a half-marathon. I am not this inspired, as the farthest I have run in my LIFE was two miles. Once. After which I nearly collapsed. I am so proud of my friends for doing this, and I cheer from the internet-sidelines.

Actually, they told me that during training the idea is to run slowly enough that you are not out of breath. If you are winded, you are going too fast. This reinforces that I am not built to be a runner - because I wasn't aware that it was POSSIBLE to run without being winded. That, dear internet, is called a "walk."

But I digress.

Although I am not inspired to run a distance long enough that it should really be traversed by car, I was inspired to sign up for a four-week class at the gym. I signed up for one led by a trainer, and the description sounded like it would be an all-around fitness class - just sort of whatever the trainer felt like doing that day.

And for the first week, that's what it was. The first day we did some sprinting, aerobics, and bike riding (or, "spinning," in the gym venacular). The next day we did some strengthening exercises with handheld dumbbells. This all I could handle, and felt familiar to me.

Figure: Yep, I look just like that. Hair blowing and everything.

Then this past week, we have moved on to actual weightlifting. Apparently there's something called a "clean," where you pick up the weight to your shoulders.

Then, there is something called a "jerk," where you press the weight up to full height.

Figure: See how happy she looks with herself?

Up to this point, I was following along fairly well. The trainer was supervising, and we weren't using heavy weights, so although I'm sure I looked ridiculous I was able to do everything correctly.

And then, it turns out there are variations.

You can do the clean and jerk, which is the two combined. Okay, I'm good so far.

Then, you can do what's called a split clean, which is where you split your legs apart.

Figure: See now it starts to look like life is not so rosy... this is tough, jack...

And then, dear internet, we move on to jump cleans and jump split cleans. Yowza. This is where you jump - actually LIFT OFF the gound for a moment - while you bring the weight to your shoulders. This is ridiculously difficult on your legs muscles (oh, right, "quads and hams," in gym-speak...). 

Then - THEN - jump split clean and jerks. I can barely say that, much less do one...

Figure: Yep. Definitely not happy now.

this morning, I am ashamed to say that when I sat down to go to the bathroom, my legs - my poor, split-cleaned-out legs - were so tired that I actually had to grab the toilet paper holder to help get up...

Perhaps a bit much information for you, but I'm just illustrating the point that this class is going to be really good for me. I've never done anything with real weights, and I'm kind of curious what I'm capable of. I take comfort in the fact that no matter how weak I am, I am better than the other girl in class who was having trouble even doing pushups against a rail.

Figure: Hmm. If you collapse while trying this, perhaps weightlifting is not for you yet.

To each his own - here's to improvement!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Eggnog Bread

Last year (2008) I made mini cranberry bread loaves for people here at World's Best School as holidays gifts - my advisor, the secretary, the shop guys, the graduate student admin head, and one big loaf for the lab to share. The little loaves were a big hit, so this year (2009) I wanted to do the same thing. I was going to make cranberry bread again, but at the last moment I thought, "Oh gees what if they remember that I ALREADY made cranberry bread? What if they think I can't make ANYTHING ELSE?"

It's like getting dressed on Sunday morning, and you think - ah shoot, I wore this dress to church last week. Everybody will notice if I wear the same thing, because you know I stand right in the front pew.

When really, think about it, can YOU remember what the other ladies wore last Sunday? Of course you can't.

So I thought, well that's dumb. They don't care what kind of bread it is, people just like to eat.

But by then I had already chosen another non-cranberry recipe and gotten ingredients. So, silly paranoia or not, here is my Eggnog bread (recipe here).

This was my personal loaf, which was gone embarrassingly quickly.... 

See? Already another piece gone. :)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How Business is Done

Over Christmas break, I had the chance to go with my dad to a business meeting. I like keeping up with my dad's work - he's a mechanical engineer just like me, (or maybe I'm just like him?) so what he's doing is generally interesting to me. Plus, he's got an entrepreneurial bent (okay, so maybe I am just like him) so I enjoy watching how he handles all the projects and ideas he's got going.

This particular meeting was with several people besides myself - my dad, my dad's vice president, the interested finance guy, and the go-between who set the meeting up. We started by giving the interested guy a tour, and then we all went to lunch for more discussion.

Now, I was there for the whole thing. I listened carefully, I tried to understand everything that was said, and tease out the meaning behind the conversation. I thought I did a pretty good job of observation.

And then, the interested finance guy had to leave. So we sat around the table, and everyone discussed things about that guy. "Well you know, he really meant such and such...", or "His intentions are probably this and that....", and "Given his background in so-and-so, it's likely he will propose x and y....". Gees! I hadn't caught any of that during the whole morning.

A bit later, the go-between departed and my dad and his vice-president discussed the outcomes of the meeting. And again, it was all new to me. "We'll have to wait and see if they offer choice A or B, but we both know it's probably going to be choice C..." and "I'm not sure if that was really based on fact..." and "I wonder if they are trying to go behind us to do unethical thing 1 or 2...."

So I missed all of the business-speak. I am well versed in academic-speak, and parsing out the meaning of technical speakers or seminar talks.

But I think now, if I attend a business meeting again, I would be much more prepared. The probing questions by both sides, the feeling out of where each side stands. The suggestions, the ideas tossed out to test a reaction. The intentions behind the discussion, the information used for leverage.

I am hoping that my dad updates me on the outcome of the meeting and any further discussion, as I am interested to hear where things actually go.

Because after all, as my dad said as we drove home, "That's how it's done."

And I would love to learn to do that too.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Conference Pictures

Last November I attended a conference in Sunny, Warm city, and I had a great time all around. However I realized I failed to show the pictures I took! So:

First stop upon arrival - bed!

In the morning, making my way through the hotel lobby to the conference:

Okay, so I tried to be a little artsy with it. :)

Next day, exploring the grounds in the afternoon:

Taking note of some interesting sculptural details at dinner:

In the middle of the conference, the Lamborghini Murcielago LP 670-4 SuperVeloce was unveiled and placed on exhibit. Lamborghini actually gave a talk on how they make this car - some pretty advanved stuff goes on, including intense aerodynamics, innovative lightweight carbon-fiber composites, etc. 

Of course, all anybody cares about is the new 670-horsepower engine that achieves a top speed of 212 miles per hour:

And of interest to me - look at the size of the brakes needed to stop this thing!

You don't think I passed up a chance to sit in the driver's seat, do you? :)

All in all, it was a much needed vacation as well as academic exercise. It was good to sit back and just let life (and the sun) soak in. I should go to conferences more often. Maybe I should get back to work this morning so I can write the papers to get me in. :)

Friday, January 8, 2010

It's Almost Like it Was DESIGNED for This...

When I went home for Christmas break, I had the poor luck to choose to travel on the ONE day it snowed hard enough to shut down bus service. Now, I'm not a stranger to vagaries of weather and travel. I CHECKED the bus website before I left, to see if there were cancellations. The website specifically said that service "is canceled to all points south." 

I, dear internet, was going west. So I packed up my duffle bag, (full of heavy Christmas presents for my family), and hiked my way all the way across campus to the subway station. I gratefully sat down and took the subway to the middle of the city, then schlepped myself to the bus station. I waited in line behind ten people at the ticket counter, only to find that buses had been canceled west, as well as south.


So I slung my bag over my shoulder again, and retraced all my steps to make my way home.

The next morning, I repeated the whole process. Everything was good this time, and I finally made it to my destination and had a fantastic break with my family. When, sadly, the break was over, I once again packed up to go home. This time, I had an even heavier bag full of the generous, fabulous gifts from my family.

And as I was hoisting myself across campus for the fourth and last time, that bag kept getting heavier and heavier. I tried switching shoulders, or carrying it in my hands, but any way I tried it was just awkward and uncomfortable. Toward the end of the walk, I found myself going slower, and slower, trying to estimate how many steps I had left to take... straining to make it the last few blocks.

And I had this thought - WHEELS. Just that. What, you think in complete sentences? Well, my mind is just efficient like that. So - wheels.

Wouldn't this process have been so much easier with wheels? Enter a Target run:
And now (on sale no less), I am now the proud owner of this duffle bag with wheels.

Ah, the power of product engineering... never mind that it took the actual engineer four trips to think of it...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Entrepreneurship Workshop

World's Best School has a club that organizes an annual workshop, which I'm calling the Entrepreneurship Workshop (EW), that is going on its 13th year. This conference is the world’s premier student run entrepreneurship conference, and this year it's being held in March in Cold Foreign Land, far away from here. The conference focuses on fostering entrepreneurship through the creation of infrastructure such as that epitomized at World's Best School. Originally founded to help inspire business plan competitions around the world, the EW has expanded and shifted its focus towards building sustainable environments for entrepreneurship.

I haven't mentioned this on the blog yet, but I'm on the organizing team for this year's conference. The conference is three days long, and it's full of keynote speakers, panels, case studies, mixers, and other exciting activities. I am in charge of one panel, and one case study. I decided to do the panel on the subject of "Young Entrepreneurs," because that's a subject near and dear to my heart.

I have lined up an excellent moderator for the panel, and three successful young entrepreneurs from around the world - Canada, the UK, and San Francisco. Actually come to think of it I did kinda skew that toward English-speaking countries, didn't I? Maybe I should add someone from the India/China region... My case study is on "Starting a Company without Venture Capital," and I haven't officially confirmed the speaker but I'm excited about the company I'm trying to nail down.

The organizing team is split into two parts - the team that organizes the content of the conference (event planning, recruiting speakers, organizing panelists, logistical issues, housing and transportation, etc.), and the team that does contacts (marketing, sales, cold calling, generally getting people to show up to this thing in Cold Land Far Away). During last semester, the content people (that's me) were very busy nailing down the substance of the conference. Now, the majority of the content is (or should be) settled. Now it's the other way around - the contacting people are very busy with the marketing and calling efforts.

The contacting people have to spend a certain amount of time each week manning the phone banks, calling potential conference attendees from our database. The content people ALSO have to do this, although only two hours per week.

So I've now done a total of four hours of cold calling people to come to this conference. I've never done sales before, I've never done telemarketing, or anything of the sort. I had a training session, but it's still completely new to me. I had some trepidation about this, because... well shoot, everybody feel squeamish throwing themselves out there to strangers and asking them to spend money.

Each person has an appointed a region of the world, and all the database contacts in that region are then assigned to that person. My region happens to be Africa/Middle East, and I have about 450 people in the database assigned to me. After I got into the swing of things, it's really not as bad as I expected.

It's actually kind of exciting knowing I am sitting here, comfortable in my chair at the phone bank, calling up Egypt and Nigeria and Tunisia and Morocco and Syria. I've only been hung up on once, and I've gotten a few good leads. A lot of the time the person answers the phone in some other language, but on most occasions when I pipe up "Hi, I'm Miss Outlier" they change over to English. Broken English, perhaps, but usually I can untangle it.

This morning I called Seychelles. I had to Google that before I called to make sure that's even a country.

So now I'm feeling very multi-cultural, very global, very small-world-after-all. 

Miss Outlier, meet world - World, Attention, la voici... [Watch out, here she comes... in French, the language of choice in Tunisia]

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Apple Pie in an Iron Skillet

Recipe orginally from here.

It starts, as all good recipes do, with butter and sugar.

Add in freshly picked and sliced apples and let that simmer away:

While that's boiling and softening and generally becoming awesome, you mix up the batter to pour over the top. Pop the whole creation in the oven (that's the beauty of the cast iron, ahem), and 20 minutes later you get:

Ah, see, my mouth is watering now just REMEMBERING how good this was. Yum.

Not medical-study-diet approved, but fantastically satisfying nonetheless. Fortunately I had plenty of help to eat it from the girls on my floor, so I wasn't "stuck" with all the leftovers...

Definitely a keeper recipe.

Figure: the only piece I was able to eat, and picture I was able to snap before a hungry flock of girls descended

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Apple Baking

Author's Note: this is, again, old material that I'm clearing out of my "drafts" section - but hopefully you enjoy anyway, and I couldn't bear to waste the pictures by not showing them...

You remember the apple picking I did last fall? Well that was actually for an "apple baking" event that my dorm held. We went picking on a Saturday, and then Sunday was the baking event.

First we set up all the ingredients that the girls might need:

Just look at all those apples, just begging to be turned into sweet creations:

Then the baking supplies and suggested recipes:

Here's the recipe that I contributed, it's for apple pie in an iron skillet (don't worry, a post is coming on that shortly):

Then when all the girls showed up in the afternoon, the kitchen turned into a hub of activity. Laughter and voices from all across the room as girls worked in groups, all manner of pans bubbling on the stove:

Pretty soon, cider was heating up and making the whole floor smell like cinnamon-y goodness:

And baked goodies ready for the oven were appearing in pie plates and cake pans:

While the girls were baking, we had a table set up with sample apples (a few of each variety that we picked) so everybody could taste test:

Then, we loaded up the ovens:

And while they baked, we cleaned up the aftermath:

But man, the wait was worth it (note the ice cream, because what's apple pie without vanilla ice cream?):
Bon appetit! We dig in:

I'm pleased to say that everything was eaten (with some help from other dorm residents who stopped by, drawn by the fantastic smells). Everybody had a great time, the event was a success, and I anticipate we will do more of the same at the dorm. Man, life as an RA is tough. :)