Monday, October 31, 2011

Stress Fracture Round II

Bugger. I did it again.

Yep, my foot is broken. Not really, of course - that sounds more hardcore than it is. :) Just a stress fracture, and all it means is that my foot really hurts and I'm supposed to stay off it and wear an Ace bandage for comfort.

This didn't happy quickly, like I stepped the wrong way and something snapped. I just noticed my foot was sore, and then it kept getting worse and three weeks later by the end of the day I can't walk without limping.

I had to walk home from lab on tiptoes on my right foot because if I stepped flat, my foot cramped so hard my toes curled. Now THAT's an awkward way to waddle home - one tiptoe and one flat. Couldn't decide if it might have been less awkward to just walk both tippitoes!

I asked why this type of fracture happens, and I was told usually because of over-exercise, particularly in bad shoes. Strange thing is I have been so busy lately, I haven't really even had time to exercise. (I miss basketball! Very sad that I haven't played in a month.)

And I swear I don't wear crappy shoes - I have decided that I am too old to be wearing paper-thin Payless flats, and so most of my shoes are Naturalizer or Born or Clarks or some similar quality. This girl does love her shoes, so I do have a variety and I rotate what I wear.

So who knows. Last time this happened, I was completely stressed out over quals. And now, I am completely stressed out because I am trying to do too many things at once. Maybe I just need to start taking calcium as my own personal way of handling LIFE. :P

"Hey Miss Outlier,  why are you taking a vitamin supplement all of a sudden?"

"Oh, right, I'm just worried about a test coming up, and so I figured I'd better prevent my bones from breaking from anxiety..."

Uh-huh. Maybe that theory needs some work still!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Rooftop Garden

In the summer of 2010, another RA and I started a garden on the rooftop of our dorm. The rooftop deck has over 80 planter boxes lining the edges - and in twenty years, nobody has used them. Such a shame! That summer, we only planted herbs, and we only planted the 20 boxes along the front row.

THIS summer, the plan was expansion. We decided to get into vegetables, and we planted almost all of the 80 planters with a combination of herbs and vegetables. Because the planter boxes had not been used in 20 years, they required some work to bring them into useable shape. Many thanks to my brother and my boyfriend, who helped me and the other RA during the gardening work day at the beginning of the summer!

I do really like plants, so this project was a lot of fun. It was lovely over the summer (made it a nice place to have people over), and it produced all the way up until a couple weeks ago when we cleaned it out for the winter. I thought I would share some photos from the height of the season (late August). First of all - don't I have a gorgeous view?

Figure: Come on, let me have one photo to gloat over the Boston skyline.,,

As an overview, the front row we planted with herbs (chairs convenient for enjoying tea and a book):

Right hand side with vegetables:


Left hand side with vegetables:


And the back row we didn't quite finish planting, but it was squashes and more greens:

And then some close up shots of the things we grew:

Chamomile (I wonder if just the flowers are for tea, or the whole plant?)

Chocolate mint
Carrots! The fuzziness!
Sorrell. I didn't even know what that was before this summer.
What happens when lettuce bolts... :)
They are all hiding...
Ooh - this one's ready for picking!

Squash! Striped!

Peppers. Unfortunately these took longer to grow, and I don't have a shot of the pretty red and purple peppers we eventually got.
More peppers - sweet bell variety, instead of hot ones.
Flop! Every experiment is gonna have a few failures... in our case, strawberries were a no-go.
Eggplant. The flowers were a really lovely purple, and then when I took these photos, the very first tiny eggplants were just starting to grow.


Mexican marigold - a.k.a. tarragon
What happen when you let weeds take over one box, then decide they are pretty and let them stay...

We thought about growing flowers as well, but that didn't make it very far into the plan this year (only two boxes). It'll be in the future work section - every good project needs room for growth (*snicker*)!


The whole project has been a great learning experience - cilantro is too hard to keep from bolting, basil is finnicky, strawberries don't grow at all, and vegetables in the squash family need to be planted close enough together to provide shade under the leaves. We learned it's not worth bothering to start the plants inside - best just to toss the seeds straight in the box! If they are not hardy enough to grow outside, we probably don't want them anyway...

The other RA and I ended up generating quite a bit of interest with this project, which I certainly hadn't expected. One group asked us how to replicate the garden at their school, we were featured in an article in the World's Best School weekly newsletter, and we attracted some notice from other dorms and community local food groups. Nothing we did was all that revolutionary, but as long as the girls in our dorm enjoy it, we consider it a success!

And as a final note, I will just say that it is incredibly satisfying to take a salad spinner up to the roof, spend a few minutes walking around with scissors, and come back down to your room with a salad for dinner. It's been a great year, and I'll hang on to the anticipation of next summer all through this long Boston winter...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Leadership Skills

I got my butt handed to me today. I'm organizing a conference, and I'm one of two co-leads. I thought I was doing a good job being a leader, but I had one of the team come to me today and say... hey, Miss Outlier, I was talking with a few other people on the team the other day, and I wanted to share the feedback they gave me.

Basically the feedback was that my team doesn't feel a supportive atmosphere, don't feel like they are contributing, or owning any part of the process - don't feel like it's any fun. Like they are just cogs in the machine, there to execute rather than to be a creative force in the organization process.


I was trying to correct what I felt was wrong in previous years - I always felt that things were disorganized, and as part of the team I didn't know what was going on. So this year as lead organizer I tried a few new things - I send out meeting minutes after each meeting, and I try to keep meetings shorter and more efficient. But I think in trying to make things more structured, I may have squashed some of the good elements in how the organization functioned.

So somehow I have gone too far in the other direction, and people don't feel like discussion and brainstorming is encouraged. The camaraderie has apparently been lost.

Part of this is exacerbated by the fact that we have a very young, new team this year - so the veterans aren't there to shout out ideas and demonstrate that contributions are encouraged. And part of this is because the meeting where we did the most brainstorming - the one where I felt like the ideas were really flowing - was one where only four people attended.

Actually I felt much more comfortable with just the four people - I know how to lead a conversation with a small group, and perhaps I just feel lost with 15 people staring at me while I lead the meeting.

What to do now, then? Well, this weekend is the annual retreat. This retreat is supposed to be a time for the team to bond, to review high-level ideas, to think about the bigger picture. And this is an excellent time and place to build atmosphere - camaraderie, if you will.

So I am going to try my very hardest to let people know this weekend that their ideas are valuable and wanted, that everybody is part of the team, and that this is supposed to feel like a group of friends.

This conference has always been about the people, and the relationships formed - between the team members, and between the team and the international community. And maybe I've lost that in my quest to keep on top of the logistical details. Perhaps I have failed somewhat as a leader so far - but this I know: the real failure is only if I can't change and adapt. This is a chance for me to learn and to grow, and I will do my best.

I really appreciated that the team member who came to me was being honest with me, and that they shared the feelings of the team with me candidly. Because now I have a chance to make some adjustments.

But dammit, it hurts to know I've been trying my best and I'm still not doing the right thing. Being a leader is difficult - so many ways to screw it up!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

RIP Laptop Case

I have had my current MacBook laptop since I started grad school in 2007 (thanks, Dad!). It has served me very, very well. The only thing that has ever gone wrong is that the battery gave out after three years and I had to replace it.

But I take it with me EVERYWHERE. It is attached to my hip. Home, lab, office, class, I am never more than 15 feet away from my computer. It is the last thing I check at night, and the first thing I check in the morning (is that healthy? maybe not, but that's another post...).

I always keep the laptop in a hardsided case, to protect it. And the laptop has now officially outlasted the case. I figured the case had given up the ghost when it reached the point that I started finding bits of case peeled off and scattered around my bed and desk.

But you know what? All that damage to the case, means it was damage NOT done to my computer.

You know what I also found? Because the model MacBook I have was discontinued years ago, there are only a meager few options left for hardsided cases on Amazon. But hey, I found a replacement, and I dearly hope I can get a new laptop before another four years has gone by and the NEW case gives out. :)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Before and After Slide Design

I do like designing things. It appeals to my creative side, and keeps whatever artsy inclinations I have from completely withering away... In fact, I try my hand at designing shirts, posters, and the occasional logo.

Today somebody asked me to send them a process schematic for a particular project I am working on. The details really aren't important, but what IS important is that while trying to locate a schematic - ANY schematic, I realized I didn't have a nice diagram of what's going on. The closest I could find was a slide buried in the backup section of a PowerPoint presentation I had given.

Figure: And in my defense, this wasn't even a slide that I originally made - it was a teammate's.

I decided that this was unacceptable, and I couldn't bear to send out something quite that unprofessional. And so in the 15 minutes I had before a conference call, I rearranged the slide.

It's still not great, but at least less cluttered, and perhaps a little clearer. It made me feel better to at least take a stab at it. Good figures are important.

What do you think - I know it's hard without understanding the context, but at first blush was this an improvement? Or no better?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

English High Tea

Fig: A MySpace picture to mark the occasion - Miss Outlier in pearls!

To my delight, a few weeks ago I got an email from a friend of mine, addressed thusly:

High Tea

Her Ladyship, the Duchess of
Woodsworth cordially requests your
presence for afternoon tea.

Sunday, 23 October, 2011
Three o'clock in the afternoon
 Woodsworth Estate,

Sartorial elegance required.

Kindly R.S.V.P. with your title
and availability.
I love it! And pretty soon the responses started rolling in:
Lady Anne's neighbour, the Baroness Wicker of Lower Woodsworth would be delighted to accept Lady Anne's invitation to afternoon tea.  She also inquires, at the risk of indelicacy, if Lady Anne would wish her guests to bring with them some form of refreshment?
Most cordially yours,
Lady Wicker, Baroness of Lower Woodsworth 

Or this one:
Writing at the behest of his Lordship, this is the valet of Brian Marshall, Earl of East Cambridge, Knight Companion of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Clotted Cream. It is his Lordship’s great pleasure to accept below-described invitation and kindly commend her Ladyship’s most exquisite handiwork in designing said invitation. His Lordship inquires after the relative successes and pitfalls of her Ladyship’s search for fresh clotted cream, and extends his apology for ultimately not being able to source any of the most delectable examples himself.
Half the fun of this was just reading these Reply All threads! After some consideration while trying to compose my own reply, I decided that some Googling of English titles was in order. I quickly discovered that I was only dipping my toe in the waters - there is an entire FIELD of "peerage," and the rules and regulations concerning how to properly address each other are intricate and highly important. Social death awaits at every turn.

So I decided to go as a commoner. Fits me, anyway. :)

Miss Outlier finds Lady Wadsworth most gracious in extending this invitation, and thanks Her Grace for allowing an apprentice from the blacksmithery to attend. 
Miss Outlier will bring either refreshments, or a steel name plate for the Woodsworth estate as an exemplar of my work, whichever Her Grace wishes. 
Sincerely Yours,
Miss Outlier

I'm not sure if Lady Anne believed that I could bring a nameplate for her apartment - although I thought it would be kind of fun to waterjet a thin steel sheet with some sort of historically accurate design. I didn't end up getting around to it, but if she has tea again, I will come back to that idea.

As it was, it was an excellent Sunday afternoon of fun and friends. The food, of course, was excellent as well. Cucumber sandwiches! Clotted cream and scones! Hot tea toddies! Oh my, oh my.

I snapped a picture of me in my getup before I left - and in the spirit of the event, all of the other women came wearing dresses as well, and two also wore pearls! Very proper of us.

Fig: Not bad for Miss Outlier, the blacksmith's apprentice.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Email of the Day

I got an email from a friend of mine, informing me of a conversation she had with a mutual friend, concerning me. It tickled me pink, so I'm sharing it here. The email was as follows:

The conversation went like this

Danielle: You know who is awesome? Miss Outlier...she is awesome
Melissa: You know what is more awesome than Miss Outlier? Two Miss Outliers
Danielle: Three is even better!
Melissa: Well, in theory yes....but then our ceiling would be covered in Wisk Laundry detergent.
Danielle: Good point...two Miss Outliers it is

Thus Miss Outlier...promptly clone yourself...Good Day.

So clearly, I need to change my research promptly to the field of cloning! :) But why the Wisk reference?

These two friends of mine are roommates, and they threw a Halloween party last year that I attended. As part of the festivities, all guests were provided with small cups of Wisk laundry soap. Turns out, Wisk soap glows in blacklight. So everyone was encouraged to draw on the walls, the room was lit with blacklight, and this is what engineers do for fun.

I was having trouble finding somewhere to draw on the wall, so I decided to get a chair and draw my name on the ceiling. I was quite proud of my handiwork.

Turns out nobody else followed my lead (story of my life, ahem). Everybody else confined themsleves to the walls, so my name was the only one up there, prominently displayed in the middle of the ceiling.

My two friends of course cleaned up later and washed the walls (there's soap there already, so why not, and things probably ended up cleaner than before the party!). But they forgot about my outlier piece of artwork while they were cleaning, then even later when they realized it they never got around to wiping it off, and so my name has stayed proudly up there all year. It's still there. Of course soap is clear, but if you look carefully you can see it.

I suspect if I ever want anybody to follow my lead, I'd HAVE to clone myself. :) But perhaps my friends are right - one Outlier, and one cup of Wisk, is enough!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I Want Out

I have been aiming in my head for graduation next June, in 2012. When I tell this to old grad students, they nod at me sagely and say, "Is that your FIRST target?"

I had my first committee meeting in February this year, and my target was to have the second one in August. I tried to work hard this summer, and not to wander, although I made some progress I didn't get as much done as I wanted (story of grad school, right?). Moral of the story is, I didn't have a committee meeting in August. I'm afraid my target graduation date may well slip to August next year, but even that is not the end of the world.

What I've heard whispered in the hallway, and what I am coming to believe is absolutely true, is this:

You graduate when you feel like you MUST get out.

If you are being cynical, this means that you graduate when you hit the desperation point - doesn't matter how much actual work you have done. Slightly more pragmatically, I take it as meaning that when you feel absolutely certain that you are "done with this", then you are ready to leave.

Well, here's the thing.

I want out.

Out, out, out. I am starting to work on projects for post-graduation, thinking about my career beyond school, and looking forward to things I won't be able to do until I'm out of school. It is so much more exciting to work on THOSE things, instead of research.

It's kind of funny, I feel like a switch has flipped. I am laser focused on graduation. Unfortunately I can't be laser focused on research, as I have other things that take up my time, but I am highly efficient and directed as I do my work - always striving toward the end goal. I am ready to be done with this - this must happen. I have been a student for a long time, and I am itching to move on. It is a new season in life - I wrote here back in February that I could start to feel the seasons changing, but I wasn't quite "SO past that" yet.

In other words, I am now SO past this.