Tuesday, September 27, 2011

If It Does Not Serve You

I am not particularly dedicated yoga person. I have been to a handful of yoga classes this year, either because I was going with various friends, or because I got the hair-brained idea that I would ENJOY the class, despite all anecdotal evidence to the contrary. I own a mat and towel and tote for carrying the above supplies (have the right tools, right?). But in general, I am not the bright-eyed, 6:30am, lets-do-this yoga person.

I have to admit I appreciate the exercise, and the hot yoga classes where the room is heated to 100 degrees (also called Power Yoga, of which a particular subset class is Bikram Yoga) in particular are excellent workouts. But the humming before class? The directive to open the heart's eye and similar instructions? Doesn't do much for me, because I don't subscribe to the spiritual side of the practice. 

I do, however, really enjoy the connection between mind and body that is developed during class. You have to breathe, you have to notice all the feelings and sensations in your body, and you have to mindfully carry out the postures and moves in order to complete the various choreography. It's rare in my life dedicated to developing a highly educated brain that I get to step back and focus on the physical instead of the intellectual, and I think there is value there.

I have a Groupon for five classes to the yoga studio just up the street, so for the past three Sundays I have hoisted myself over there and taken a class. And one thing the instructor said this past week has really stuck with me, coming back to mind over and over.

"Get rid of," she said, "everything that does not serve you."

Emotional and mental hangups is what she was referring to - jealousy, spite, worrying, anxiety, etc.

But I like thinking about things this way, and I think it applies to more than just mental states. If something in your life does not serve you - has no purpose - does not bring you joy, or help you learn, or do a useful job, then why are you keeping it? So as well as applying to gossip, procrastination, etc, I think it applies to physical objects, and activities too.

Even dumb stuff. I had old vegetables in the fridge which I was keeping to try and make soup, even though I really don't want to eat them. So why keep food you really don't want to eat? Because it might be worth all of two dollars? Come on. It does not serve me, and I'm wasting mental energy worrying about whether I should cook it, or what I should make, or feeling bad because I shouldn't have let the food go to waste.

So I tossed it, took out the trash, and focused on the fresh beautiful farm produce that I actually WANT to prepare and eat. No regrets.

I have a sweatshirt that is a little too small for me, but I keep it because I feel bad about throwing it away, because there's nothing wrong with it. I have a Tshirt I really don't like wearing, because I think it makes me look like a funny shape. I keep it because there's nothing wrong with the shirt, and I bought it at the store and paid money for it.

But I don't like wearing them, it does not bring me joy, so I gave them to Goodwill. My closet is less full, and I am left with clothes I enjoy.

I had a small side project that I was working on because I felt I had to, or that I should, or that it would be a good idea. But you know what? My time is limited enough, that if the projects I am working on do not truly interest me, I am not going to participate. So I've decided to stop that activity, and even though it didn't take much time from my week, it leaves me feeling mentally more free.

So this week my goal is to get rid of the things which do not serve me. Mentally and physically - both the thoughts in my head, the things that I own, and the activities I choose to participate in.

Perhaps you readers as well might benefit from at least thinking about it - does what's in your life serve you?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Engineer Blogs, End of August and September

I've been posting regularly (almost! I try!) at Engineer Blogs, so if you haven't checked it out, go take a look at:

The clothes and accessories I see around campus that express the nerd perspective...

Trying to wrap your mind around the reflections and inversions used in lithography...

A trick for wrapping Teflon tape, and great discussion in the comments on the uses (proper and improper) of Teflon tape...

And a description of how to measure the contact angle of a droplet using a goniometer.

Also have to point out my personal favorite post this month at Engineer Blogs (by Chris Gammell, not me), simply for the volume of comments - Would You Marry an Engineer?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Salmon Asparagus Wraps

I have been enjoying cooking lots of meat lately. I got tired of vegetables all the time, and just got a hankering for MEAT. I came home from the grocery store with sausage for breakfast, chicken for lunches, and salmon on special for dinner. 

Very similar to this recipe, I tossed mayo, mustard, seasonings, and a bit of Worcestershire sauce for a dressing.

Look at those beautiful white and green asparagus spears, from my farm share!

Meat. Protein. Oh yes.

Assemble ingredients and wrap each filet up in parchment paper packets, roast in the oven until the whole room smells delicious.

When the fish flakes with a fork, it's done. And enjoy!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Professional Sports: Lacrosse

Boston is a fantastic place to be a sports fan. We've got professional teams winning things right and left, it seems. I got here in 2007, and that year the Red Sox won the World Series, and then in 2008 the Patriots went to the Super Bowl and the Celtics won the World Championship, and most recently in 2011 the Bruins won the Stanley Cup.

There are many things I want to do in Boston during my time here - because why not take advantage of everything life and the city you are in has to offer? One of my goals is to go to at least one of every professional team's sports games. I've been to basketball, baseball, football, and lacrosse. And just today, I bought a ticket to see the Bruins, so now I've added hockey. I think that completes my mission - unless there are any I'm missing?

Celtics vs. Detroit Pistons: March 5th 2008

Patriots vs. Denver Broncos: Oct 20th 2008

Celtics vs. Detroit Pistons (second annual!): March 1st 2009

Red Sox vs. Texas Rangers: Jun 5th 2009

Blazers (lacrosse): April 3rd 2010

I realized I hadn't shared the photos from any of these. Too avoid completely boring you with old stories and pictures, I'd just like to say a few words about the lacrosse game.

Figure: First of all, aren't these great seats?

The Blazers play indoor lacrosse for the National Lacrosse League, which I had barely even heard of. But they were selling discounted tickets at World's Best School, so I bought a pair and went with a friend. I expected the attendance to be pretty low, given that's it's not as popular of a sport as baseball, football, etc. But when I got there, I was surprised to find that there was a pretty rowdy crowd in attendance.

Why were all these people so excited? I had no idea. Usually people only get this hyped for homecoming college football, or after the fifth inning in baseball when they are pretty tipsy from the beer...

But then halfway through the game, I found out why everybody was so excited.

Lacrosse players FIGHT. Not like football, where some guys will shove at each other, and then the refs come running over and break it up. There are RULES to the fighting. You can only fight each other if the helmets are off, or something, and I think there's an actual throwing down of a glove that starts a fight. I didn't quite understand all the etiquette, but I do know that guys were hanging onto each other's jerseys (so they can't get away) and just whaling on each other, while the refs stood watching with folded arms. And the crowd went wild.

Figure: Crowd also went wild for the cheerleaders, I should mention.

I will also say, that lacrosse players STINK. You can smell them coming from thirty feet away. SHEESH. I guess I understand it - they are sweating hard in those hot uniforms, and all that gear is expensive and tedious to wash, so I'm sure it only gets cleaned at intervals. Their noses must get used to it. I pity them if not....

All in all, it was a great experience. The game was fascinating, fast-paced, and competitive. Our seats were fantastic - only a few rows back from the front row, and right next to the entrance where the players run in and out (refer back to: they stink.) I'm particularly glad that I went when I did in 2010, because now they are moving to a new city.

Take the experiences as they come, I say. I'm looking forward to the Bruins game, coming up later this year - both for the game itself, and to complete the set!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Name Cards Pt. II

The goal of this particular project (because every project should start with a goal): to make balsa wood name cards, for my dorm residents to hang on their doors.

The process:

First, design name cards. I used Adobe Illustrator, because I am familiar with it, and it makes nice vector graphics that port well to the laser cutter. The nice thing about laser cutting wood, is that gradations in tone and pattern will show up as gradations in the engraving on the wood. As an example, a gentle three-tone design like this:

Will show up on wood like this:

Maybe it's a little hard to see, but the light gray parts are a lighter shade of brown on the wood. This also works with color, and works better the more differentiation you have. So also note this color design:

Which turns out like this, where you can more clearly see the range of tones:

Second, cut strips of balsa wood.

Figure: Actually a wafer-dicing scalpel, but we can repurpose.

Mistakes are common. Even with a straight edge.

Figure: What good project doesn't end up with an extra screw, or spare scraps of stock?

Third, prepare the workspace. I had my laptop for designing and changes, the desktop compute that runs the laser cutter, and then the laser cutter with attached vacuum pump.

Figure: Where the magic happens.

Of course there is an oscilloscope in the background. You never know when that might come in handy, for any project. Duck tape, oscilloscope, calipers and coffee should be mandatory at the beginning of every endeavor.

Figure: Note old-school oscilloscope behind computer, on standby like an ambulance at a football game.

Fourth, test the settings of the laser cutter. You have two main variables to adjust - power and speed. The variables are interconnected, as common sense tells you that a high power and fast speed can give you the same results as low power and slow speed - it's all about the amount of energy the laser imparts to the wood. But given a choice between two equivalent power/speed combinations, you might like to minimize the total processing time needed.

In the top example, the speed was too fast, so the whole thing turned out too light - the complete depth of tones was not achieved, and there are no truly dark areas. Bottom example is what I settled on.

Finally, laser cut away!

Figure: Magic is underway.

The finished stack of 26 name cards took me two afternoons to complete, but I am so pleased with how they turned out.

Figure: Success!
In conclusion, here are the finished projects, names blacked out (to protect the innocent, or for security, or for privacy, or something....).

Any favorites, readers?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Name Cards Part I

So I have finally - FINALLY - finished a project that has been languishing on my To-Do list for way too long. I have a lot of side projects, and I've talked about how some projects you have to let die, and some you set aside, but this one was important.

It is a tradition in World's Best School dorms (fairly common in most college dorms, actually) that the residents all have name tags on their doors. This is both nostalgic and pratical. Practical, because you know who lives there. Nostalgic, because the name tags symbolize the different communities the residents are a part of - many residents have multiple name tags. For girls in sororities, I think it is the big sister's job to make their little sister a nametag. Sometimes sports teams will have matching name tags. And, as an RA, often we make name tags for the freshmen to welcome them to the dorm community.

Last year as an RA, I fully intended to make ALL of my residents name tags - not just the freshmen. If name tags symbolize the community, all of my girls are part of the community, right?

The RA before me could paint - and so she custom painted each new resident's door sign.

I'm not so good with the watercolors.

But I DO have a lasercutter. :)

My idea was to buy 4" strips of balsa wood (it's cheap stuff, and I know it comes in standard 4" widths - I used a lot of it when I was building remote control planes), and cut it down to 8"x4" stock pieces. Then I would design name cards in Adobe Illustrator, port it over to the laser cutter, and raster away.

The cool thing using about wood instead of plastic, which I also considered, is that you can get gradations in the final product while using the laser's engraving setting. In plastic, laser engraving looks about the same no matter how fast the laser goes. The plastic just turns white, or opaque. But in wood, applying a laser actually burns the wood. So you can have a range, from "slightly golden" to "toasted" to "completely burnt," depending on how long the laser lingers over each section of the wood.

So if you DESIGN something with gradations in the pattern, you can get some really pretty results.

So last year, I bought the balsa wood, cut up a handful of stock pieces, and started designing. I designed 17 designs, which wasn't as many girls as I had, but I figured a good start. I had 10 pieces of balsa cut up, which wasn't as much as I needed, but I figured a good start. It took me forever to figure out all the appropriate file formatting and adapting needed to get the patterns from Adobe Illustrator, to Corel, to the laser cutter - and to do testing to figure out the appropriate settings for the "golden-toasted-black" range to work correctly. And so you know where this is heading... after all that work, I ended up making three name cards. Three.

"I'll come back and finish this on a weekend," I thought, "and now that I figured out the file formatting, it'll be a breeze."

Did I ever get around to it? Shamefully, no. Those three name cards were the only ones I did. And all year long, they taunted me when I would walk by those girl's doors. None of my girls complained, but I felt like I had failed. So this year, I was determined.

I decided that since I was having enough trouble finishing this project, I would leave it at 17 unique designs and not worry about coming up with all original designs. Besides, I have girls on two floors, so it doesn't matter so much to repeat on different floors. Right? Right. In the spirit of picking your battles wisely, I just ended up with some doubles.

Coming tomorrow, pictures of the process and final products.

Friday, September 2, 2011

RA, Third Year

Oh, it is that time of year again. No longer can I wander freely the halls of the dorm, like the ghost of an old professor, just me and the draft and my billowing white bathrobe. All the girls are moving back into the dorm, and my role as an RA is ramping up again.

It seems so long ago that I started my first year as an RA in an undergrad dorm at World's Best School. And yet, I survived my first year, set up my room, and even managed to run a few events, large and small. And then I headed into my second year, feeling much more confident than the first.

And now - well, now I'm an old hand.

I have seven new freshmen, and some shuffling among the older girls. The biggest change this year is that the dining plan has become mandatory - so all the girls will be paying for all-you-can-eat food in the dining hall. I'm pretty sure this will drive a lot less cooking in the floor kitchens. So maybe, it will be easier for them to keep the kitchens clean? One can dream. :)

And the change in dining also drives a change in the way I run events. Normally I would just put out food, send an email, and girls would show up at my door. But food might not be such a big draw anymore, if they already have food available in the dining hall for every meal. But this is also exciting - it means I can do more creative things. It has always been very hard to do "outing" type events. I.e., girls are used to just walking down the hall for cookies, and aren't motivated to go off-campus. But if the girls become used to events being non-food-based, maybe the turnout will be higher for things like: going to museums, going to the premier of a movie (which we actually did for Harry Potter last year, and that went well), perhaps a picnic by the river. Maybe go out for dim sum on the weekends in Chinatown, or attend one of the many festivals in the Boston area.

The other RAs in my dorm have had good success in the past with doing weekly TV-watching events. If the majority of girls on the floor are fans of Glee, or Bones, or NCIS, then you can designate that as the floor TV show, host a viewing party each week, and provide munchies. The girls talk to each other during commercial breaks, and it's a low-stress, cheap way to run events. So that's a possibility as well.

In any case, I am looking forward to the year, but I am missing the quiet. Plus, my toothpaste got swiped. Who swipes toothpaste out of somebody's bathroom kit? I mean, really. And already there was an angry email (to the entire, dorm-wide email list, no less) about food being stolen. Sigh...

I try to keep my door open when I'm home, but it takes mental energy for me to be social. In the summers, I know that once I get home, I don't have to interact with anyone else that day if I don't want to. Now I have to be prepared for interruptions when girls stop by. But, I have a good group of girls, so the interruptions should be pleasant ones. I just have to switch gears and be sociable and friendly... come on, Miss Outlier, it's not that hard to mingle a little bit... :)

Highlights from the freshmen so far? One couldn't decipher how to turn on the showers, one couldn't figure out how to open her door with the room key. Three haven't ever seen snow. And, one has never seen a pumpkin.

So, bring on school, snow, and pumpkins!