Thursday, July 28, 2005

We're #66!

Twice a year, a list of the "fastest" supercomputers is released. This list is called the Top 500 list, and it provides vendors and their clients with a chance to pat themselves on the back. In the latest Top 500 list, our local supercomputer, Turing, made it on the list at 66. Other machines of interest are the fastest machine in the world, a Blue Gene machine (made by IBM) at Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California, and the Earth Simulator in Japan, which reigned at the number one spot on the list for nearly three years before being displaced by the Blue Gene phenomenon. The Earth Simulator comes in at number four on this list, and five of the top ten machines are Blue Genes.

The test of speed is how well the machines perform on the LAPACK benchmarking suite. I won't tell you what that means, because it doesn't matter. Suffice it to say that it is a measure of the computer's performance on a limited set of operations. If you want a computer that does the stuff in the LAPACK suite really well, then this list is a dream come true. Most of us, however, have applications that need a different set of operations to run fast.

The list is fun and everything, but it's little more than a marketing ploy. If you optimize the compilation of the test suite, you can improve your performance by a factor of two or more. Some vendors actually spend a lot of manpower tweaking the system just for the purpose of improving the performance of their machines on the test suite, because they know that people who don't know much about supercomputers but who have the money to buy them (e.g. high-level administrators) are impressed by the Top 500 list. In reality, there are a lot more factors that need to be considered when investing in a supercomputer.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Why I Don't Wear a Watch

Growing up, I was fascinated by calendars. I kept my calendars from years past, because it was just so interesting. I had my own perpetual calendar, and I was so excited about all the patterns in the dates. There are many fascinating patterns, such as the fact that my younger sister's birthday falls on the same day of the week as my birthday, which is, in turn, the same day of the week as Christmas and January 1 of the next year.

I was also fascinated by clocks and the concept of time. I had a digital clock in my bedroom (back in the day, that was pretty cool!), and I was always waking up and taking a peek at the time all night long. I was also interested in time, and how long it took to do one thing or another. When I was ten, I got a digital watch complete with a stopwatch feature, and I was in heaven! I could time everything, and I did. As a teen, I developed a skin allergy to metal, and the metal back of the watch caused my skin to break out. I stopped wearing my watch, and started carrying it in my pocket. In college, I even got a pocket watch.

In 2001, I did a summer internship at Sandia National Labs in Albuquerque. I flew to Albuquerque, so I couldn't take with me anything more than I could pack in my luggage. At that point I got a travel alarm clock. It was the type with a liquid-crystal display, and a button you could push to backlight it if you wanted to see the time in the dark. At first I found it disconcerting not to be able to see what time it was when I woke up at night. Soon, however, I found that I slept better through the night, because I wasn't constantly interrupting my own sleep by opening one eye, seeing the time, and computing how much longer I had before that alarm went off.

When I returned home, I got rid of the clock in the bedroom. Not only was the presence of a clock disruptive, but the light coming from it made it hard to sleep. I just used my travel alarm clock instead. It's been that way in our bedroom ever since.

I've also found that it's easier to get up in the morning after an uninterrupted night of sleep. And I rarely, if ever, set the alarm anymore. I usually wake up at about the same time every morning, so I don't need any help unless I have to get up earlier than usual, or if I have an important appointment.

I've found that I have a fairly good sense of time. I usually know approximately what time it is, within a half hour. I sit in front of a computer that displays the time all day, so I have no need for a watch during the day. Outside of my office, if I really need to know the time, I can use other cues such as the chiming from clocktowers, bank clocks, and the time stamps on receipts.

In some ways I'm probably rebelling against the pressures of society. I don't want my life to be ruled by the clock, so I deliberately isolate myself from it if I don't need it. On the other hand, I am respectful enough of other people's constraints that I always strive to show up on time. I can't remember missing an appointment or showing up late to anything in the past five years.

I find myself getting tense when my life is completely boxed in by time. That was something I didn't like about interviewing: thirty minutes with this person or that one, fifty minutes of giving a seminar, followed by ten minutes for questions, one hour for lunch, then an hour with another person... It was all so constraining. With some people ten minutes would have sufficed; with others I could have spent two hours, and it would not be enough, but the schedule dictated that I spend a certain amount of time. I understand why it's done that way, but it still seems inefficient in some ways.

I guess the point of this rambling entry is that I don't wear a watch for reasons beyond the fact that I'm allergic to metal. My inner mathematician is fascinated by the measurement of time, but ultimately, I don't want to be constrained by a clock if I don't have to be.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Happy Anniversary to Us!

Seven years ago today, I dressed in a majorly hot, floor-length dress with a hoopskirt, and promised, in front of hundreds of people, to spend the rest of my life with a particular man. Seven years later, here we are, still together!

I don't remember that much about that day, although people tell me it was a lovely wedding. The better half and I have always been eccentric, so it wasn't your typical wedding. We always liked medieval stuff, so we dressed in pseudo-historical garb: I wore a purple and white dress, and he wore a purple tunic with black pants and knee-high boots. We held the wedding at the Loudoun House in my hometown of Lexington, Kentucky. It was formerly the mansion of an eccentric millionaire, who built himself a gothic-revival palace, and is now the home of the Lexington Art League (you can see a picture of it on their web page).

Before and after the ceremony, we had a carnival going on. Activities included a dunking booth, a bouncy castle for the children, and snow cones. The ceremony was held in the courtyard, with the hot sun beating down. We had our siblings speak at the wedding: mine, at the beginning, spoke about "love" and "family," and his sister and brother spoke about "growth" and "the future." In the middle, we performed our vows.

So much has happened in those seven years. Seven years ago, I certainly didn't picture myself being quite where I am today, physically or emotionally. We have endured some tough times together, and come out of it closer and stronger. I've never been happier, and I think he feels the same way. I'm looking forward to many more happy years together.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Adventures in Hotness

No, I'm not talking about myself, although, yes, I am totally hot. I'm talking about the weather, boys and girls!

One thing I've always liked about Illinois is its relatively mild summers. It's no Vancouver here, but it is relatively mild compared to, say, Kentucky, for example. Typically we're about five degrees cooler here, and that makes all the difference. Usually in Illinois, you only feel especially thankful for air conditioning for about a week or two; the rest of the summer you can make out just fine without it.

We have had our quota of hot weather already. In fact, we already had it by June. We had a real scorcher at about the time when I defended my thesis, and that wasn't the first. If I recall correctly, it was incredibly hot right around Memorial Day too.

This month has been miserable, too. It's been hot and dry most of the month. Thanks to Dennis (the hurricane) we had some relief for a day or two, but now we're back in the swing of things, with 99.99999% humidity to boot.

The only time that I recall the weather being so miserable here is when I came back after a summer in New Mexico. It's hot in New Mexico, but it is so dry that the apparent temperature is actually lower than the actual temperature. Out there, your sweat actually evaporates and cools you off! Coming back here to cooler temperatures but high humidity was awful.

Last year, we had an extraordinarily cool summer. There were a couple of weeks in August in which the temperature never rose above 75. Maybe we're getting paid back for the easy time of it we had last year.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Thirty Days

I had a late night on Monday because as I was flipping through the channels I saw this show called Thirty Days that I'd heard about and decided to watch it.

The premise of the show is to put someone in a different situation for thirty days and see how it works out. I was fortunate enough to catch the episode in which they put a conservative Christian from West Virginia in the home of a devout Muslim family in Michigan. During those thirty days, he had to dress like a devout Muslim, grow a beard, and observe the religious requirements.

He left West Virginia decked out in one of those little hats and wearing a long shirt. It goes without saying that he got searched at the airport.

In the Michigan town where he stayed, more than a third of the population is Muslim. Some of his tasks while he stayed there were to pray five times a day, attend the weekly service at the mosque, learn about Islam, learn some Arabic, go to a Muslim man's bachelor party, and go to a Halal slaughterhouse. He at first had some reservations about participating in the prayers because he wasn't sure what they were saying and he didn't want to pray to a different god. But eventually after seeing the translations and learning that Islam and Christianity come from the same source, by the end he participated in the service at the mosque, bowing and reciting the prayers while holding a small cross in his hand.

The hardest task they gave him was to ask him to go out, dressed in his Islamic garb, to ask people to sign a petition against racial profiling of Arabs and other Muslims. People said some of the most heartless things to him! I think he really gained a lot of empathy about the plight of the peaceful Muslim that day.

It was very interesting to see the transformation in the man. He didn't convert to Islam, of course, but he gained a lot of respect for the devout followers and their spirituality. And it seemed like he became more compassionate about the difficulties that Muslim Americans go through every day.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Adventures in Bluffing Prospective Employers

The salary negotiations are rather like a poker game. You must reveal enough to indicate your interest in their offer, but not so much that they know you will accept no matter what.

The day after the memorable proposal from Dr. Los Alamos, I got a call from the Oak Ridge guy. He told me what his offer would be, and it was disappointingly low. I told him about the offer from my other suitor, and he was evidently intimidated by it. He told me up front that there was no way he could match that offer, and I told him that was really okay, just to give me his best offer.

Well, today he called me up with a new offer, this one about a third more than the previous one, and I was thrilled, although I tried not to jump for joy or anything. I did tell him that if he got me that offer, I would probably accept it. He said it would take a minimum of two and a half weeks for the paperwork to get pushed through.

Actually, I would definitely accept it. It's more than the threshold I had set in my mind, above which I would nearly unconditionally accept. The cost of living in Tennessee is lower than the cost of living in Los Alamos, and living in Tennessee cuts down on the amount of travel necessary for visiting family, thereby making the cost of living there even lower.

The only case in which I would not accept his offer is if I got something better from IBM. But to tell the truth, it would have to be a lot better. I think the best fit for me is at Oak Ridge.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Adventures in Feeling Lazy

I have very little left to do on my dissertation, leaving me with next to no motivation. Add to that the fact that my advisor is out of town all week, I have finished all my interviews, and my job offers are "in the mail," as it were, and my motivation to work is very close to zero.

Oh, there are things I could do. Like work on preparing my thesis research for a journal article or two. Like clean out my desk so that I can make a fast getaway when the time comes. Like print out my title page and walk over to the grad college to have it checked, or walk my application for degree to the office of admissions and records. Instead I sit here and ramble in my blog.

But, just to make it worthwhile, I will tell you something wonderful I discovered. My left hand, the hand with which I write, is injured, and writing much more than my signature makes it hurt. There are all these forms that I need to fill out for various branches of administrativa so that I can get my degree, send out transcripts, etc. I have discovered that for many of these forms, one can download a pdf file and then use Adobe Acrobat Reader to fill it out. You just click on the line, right where you would write the information, and start typing. You can't save the file if all you have is Reader, but you can print it out and then just sign the form and send it in. That is about the maximum amount of writing I am capable of these days, so this is perfect for me.

I'm tired of being unable to write. I used to do calligraphy, but with the hand problem, that activity is right out. I'm looking forward to getting a job and having actual health insurance. One of the first things I'm going to do with real health insurance is get my hand looked at.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


Go to this page and play Twenty Questions with Darth Vader. Do it now!

Adventures in Job Offers

So yesterday I received another job offer over the phone, this time from Los Alamos. It felt a lot like an 18th-century marriage proposal.

Imagine a book by Jane Austen, in which a lonely widower, kindly but socially awkward, decides to propose to a lively young woman. He walks to her home and knocks on the door. The manservant, Bill, answers the door. He seats the middle-aged gentleman in the parlor, where he waits for the young woman's arrival.

Bill: Miss Rebecca, [the German-American guy] from Los Alamos National Lab is here to see you.
Miss Rebecca: Thank you, Bill. I will be right there.

[After a few moments, Miss Rebecca enters the parlor. The lonely Los Alamos-American widower stands and bows, and she curtsies. Then they both take a seat, she on the couch and he on an armchair.]

Widower: How are you today?
Miss Rebecca: Fine, thank you. And you?
Him: Fine, thank you. Listen, I'm calling to see if you're still interested in working for us.
Rebecca: Yes I am.
Him: Good. Because we would like to offer you a job. [He kneels in front of her and takes her hand.]
Rebecca: Oh, that's great!
Him: I talked to my boss about you. I told him I'd been looking for someone like you for nearly four years. He told me that he would be willing to pay for the balance of your salary from his funds if our budget doesn't come through.
Rebecca: Why, thank you.
Him: You are exactly what I've been looking for. You answered all my questions so well.
Rebecca: Thanks for the compliment, but to be honest, your questions weren't very hard.
Him: Oh, I know. I could have asked much harder questions. But I'd lost hope of ever finding someone who could answer even the simplest questions correctly. I was very impressed by you. That should make you feel very pleased.
Rebecca: Yes, I am very pleased about that. Thank you.
Him: [Returning to his chair] But you mustn't feel obligated to me for this. You must make a decision for yourself.
Rebecca: Of course!
Him: If you chose to accept, how soon could you come work for us?
Rebecca: Well, I have a few things to finish up here. I need to deposit my dissertation and I need to sell my house. So I would need a couple of weeks.
[Eventually they negotiate a timeframe for the offer.]
Him: You should expect to receive an offer from us in about two weeks.
Rebecca: Okay, that's great! I'm looking forward to it.
Him: Okay. Just don't give up on me in those two weeks. Give me the time to do all the paperwork.
Rebecca: Don't worry. I understand.
Him: Good. But listen, you are under no obligation to accept my offer. You need to figure out what is best for you and your future. I would be very pleased if you accepted, but don't take my feelings into consideration when you make your decision. It is all up to you.
Rebecca: Yes, I understand. Thank you for saying that. I am looking forward to receiving the offer.
Him: Okay. Let me know if you have any other questions.
Rebecca: Okay. Thanks for calling. [She stands.]
Him: You're welcome. Goodbye. [He stands and kisses her hand.]
Rebecca: Goodbye. [She curtsies, he bows, and takes his leave.]

Monday, July 11, 2005

On London

I was too busy to write on Thursday after I heard about it, but I'm very sad about the bombings in London. I'm familiar with the city from the year my family spent living in Kent, and our trip to Europe two summers ago.

We would visit London fairly frequently, to explore the city and go to the museums and cathedrals. It was an easy day trip on the train. Dad joined some sort of club where he and Mom would buy a regular train ticket, and then we three kids could get tickets for one pound each. The ticket was also an all-day pass for the underground and the buses. So I have many fond memories of riding the public transportation there.

In addition, I took my husband to London two summers ago. In fact, almost two years ago to the day is when we were there. He's not a big fan of cities, but I think he really enjoyed London. And once again, we got all-day passes on the public transportation system.

Perhaps that's why this act of terrorism in London had a bigger impact on me than the one in New York. I'd never been to New York City until my interview at IBM last month. But when I read about the attacks in London, I knew where they were. I could picture it happening. I could picture myself riding one of those buses or trains.

I feel for the people of London and the whole of the UK. While I've never lost a loved one to a senseless act of violence, I have lost someone very dear to me. It is hard to understand what could drive someone to commit such atrocious acts against innocent people. I have an inkling of understanding, because I have known a similar feeling of hopelessness. Sometimes it does feel like murder is the only way out of a predicament.

I'm curious to know how they feel now. The authorities believe that these bombs were on a timer, rather than the work of suicide bombers, so the bombers are probably still alive. Do they feel any better after killing all those people?

I doubt it. The Buddha says, "Hatred never ceases by hatred but by love alone is healed." To quote Benjamin Franklin, "Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame." I think they've only dug themselves even deeper into sorrow.

In the end, I think I feel sorry for the terrorists too. They've had a life consisting of feeling oppressed and hopeless. From their point of view, life really sucks. "If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should see sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility." (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

I think that the terrorists should be treated as we would treat any other human being. They should certainly be held responsible for their actions, but we should follow all the laws of a civilized nation in bringing them to justice. I wish I could say that the United States has done that, but I am mildly optimistic that the UK, which, as a country, is more even-tempered than the US, will do the right thing.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Adventures in Bad Grammar

Lately, because of all my travels, I have had lots of time to read. The Urbana Free Library has a huge collection, so I've simply taken library books on my journeys. I've been enjoying a series of books about antebellum Savannah lately.

Now, I admit to being a bit anal retentive about grammar and spelling. But there's something in these otherwise enjoyable books that really gets to me. The author has these exchanges where people are discussing slavery, for example. So person A says, "I believe X," to which, person B replies, "Everyone doesn't believe X."

This really gets to me, because person B's reply is logically impossible. Saying "Everyone doesn't believe X" means that there is no person who believes X, when, plainly, person A does believe X. What she should say is, "Not everyone believes X." It is the word "everyone" that should be negated.

The same sort of problem occurs when people misplace the word "only." This morning, I heard a commercial on the radio about some sort of steak that you could "only get at Outback." I think I know what they mean, that this type of steak is unique to Outback, but the "only" in that phrase is modifying "get," which makes it sound like they mean that the single thing you may do concerning that steak is to get it. You can't order it or eat it. You can only get it at Outback. What they should have said was you can "get it only at Outback."

I'm not even going to get started on my personal pet peeve, the misuse of it's. "It's" is short for "it is." "It's" is a contraction and it does not mean "belonging to it." "Its" means "belonging to it." I don't know why, but for me, this mistake is particularly jarring.

I know I am guilty of my own grammatical mistakes. For example, I have a tendency to use too many commas. And until my advisor pointed them out to me, I didn't know the differences between "compare with" and "compare to" or "topology" and "topography."

Answer for "compare to/with": Remember the line from the sonnet by Shakespeare: "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" Compare to compares two unlike things (e.g. you and a summer's day) and compare with compares two like things (e.g. two algorithms).

Friday, July 01, 2005

Even More Adventures in Interviewing

So on Tuesday morning, I left for Los Alamos, NM. The flights were uneventful, and I arrived in Albuquerque in the early afternoon. It was actually a bit rainy and windy when I arrived. I got a rental car and began the two-hour drive to Los Alamos. I was on the lookout for tourist attractions or shopping, because I needed to get a really nice gift for the woman who covered karate for me last week. Because our teacher is on his annual, two-week national guard training, that meant she had to cover both the children's and the adult classes on both Tuesday and Thursday. I stopped at this big tourist shopping mecca called "Traditions" that looked pretty deserted. I think it must have been built with taxpayer money but hasn't been as commercially successful as they had hoped. But there were some shops there, so I was able to buy her a very nice piece of Navajo pottery with geometric designs on it. I hope she has the same taste as I do in pottery!

The drive to Los Alamos was beautiful. I wish I had thought to take a camera with me. My poor descriptions shall have to suffice. The stormy weather made the scenery appear particularly dramatic. The mountains are mostly covered with pine trees, although there are some interesting geological formations, such as a large rock dubbed "Camel Rock." Even though the area was hit by a bad forest fire a few years ago, it seems to be recovering. There are still burned-out trees visible, though.

Los Alamos itself is a tiny burgh. A special county was carved out of the other counties in the 1940's, to make the lab. Los Alamos county is small, maybe 10 miles east to west and 15 miles north to south, with a population of 20,000. The city of Los Alamos has about half the population; the other city in the county is called White Rock. Locally, land is scarce so housing prices are high. It might appear that there is lots of empty land, but most of it is owned by the government or by local Indian tribes. So housing prices in Los Alamos are high, relative to the rest of New Mexico.

I arrived mid-afternoon, and after I checked into my hotel I called my husband to let him know I'd made it. After resting for a while, I walked a few blocks to a small diner and had a good meal. The waiter was nice to me, despite the fact that I was alone, so I gave him a 40% tip. I like to encourage people who are nice to lone diners, because I've been snubbed too many times for dining alone.

After my meal of chicken-fried steak, french fries, and a salad, I decided I needed to take a long walk to work it off. So I walked in the direction of the lab. As it turns out, the lab is right there on the edge of town. Unlike Oak Ridge or Sandia, it is just right there, so if you lived in town, you could probably walk or bike to work nearly every day. That was very appealing to me. I walked about three miles round trip. To get to the lab, I walked over this huge bridge spanning a deep gorge. It was very scenic, and once again made me regret leaving my camera at home. The bridge had a large sidewalk for pedestrians and cyclists, and I saw lots of people out and about that evening, cycling.

The hike left me out of breath, unfortunately. I'd like to think that I'm in the second-best shape I've been in my life (the best being after that torturous summer spent running around the track), but the thinness of the air is what did me in. Here in Illinois, I think we're at about 800 feet above sea level, whereas Los Alamos is more like 7000 feet above sea level. So the air is very thin, and walking up a flight of stairs leaves the unacclimated out of breath. Another interesting elevation-related thing that happened was that when I opened up my shampoo bottle, the shampoo spurted out all over me. And yesterday, when I came home, the half full water bottle that I had closed in Albuquerque was all collapsed onto itself when I arrived in Chicago. Also, this morning I woke up with a nosebleed.

Wednesday morning, I woke up early and dressed in my exquisite purple suit (see the picture of it here [that's me in the center, in case you couldn't tell!]). Then I made it over to the Badge Office to obtain my visitor badge by 7:45 a.m. I was met by my host at the badge office, and he escorted me to his building inside the fence, where I was to be interviewed by him and his group leader. But they couldn't take me inside the area where they worked, which had an additional layer of security, so we met in a very nice conference room.

The interview itself was like a second qualifying examination. The group leader, a formerly German but now American citizen, reminded me of one of those rocket scientists the United States acquired after World War II, except that he was a couple of decades younger. But he definitely had a strong German accent and a certain German manner about himself. He asked me about the three main classifications of second-order partial differential equations, about discretizations of PDEs and error analysis, and about multigrid. All of the questions were fairly simple, but he and my host were impressed that I knew the answers. I kind of felt like I would have been a disgrace to the numerical analysis profession if I hadn't known those answers. But apparently I was a rare specimen who actually got them all right. It makes you wonder what quality of candidates they interview, because one unsuccessful individual was doing discontinuous Galerkin methods. I would think that one would need to know something about PDEs for that sort of work.

After I knew how to answer their questions the group leader said they would offer me a job on the spot, right then and there, were it not for budgetary woes. They are looking for someone who knows both numerical analysis and computer science. They want someone who knows enough NA to support the physics users, but who also knows the computer science and can implement solutions to the physics users' problems. I fit the profile very well.

After that interview, I met with the deputy division director, who seemed like a very nice fellow and who had a lovely view out the windows of his office. After that, my host had to go to a meeting, so he left me to fend for myself in the library. At Sandia, the library is inside the fence, but at Los Alamos it is open even to the general public, with a photo ID. There are restricted areas of the library, however, which presumably contain classified material. I sat down with a large atlas of the world, and read through it as I waited. Then, I met my host and another man who works there at the cafeteria for lunch. It seemed like a nice cafeteria. I had a chicken caesar salad, which was decently good. This other man seemed really nice too. We talked a lot about Los Alamos and the surrounding communities. This man lives between Los Alamos and Santa Fe on some land that has been in his family for generations. I think he could be a member of one of the local tribes, but I didn't ask.

After lunch I was once again left to my own devices for an hour in the library, and I continued my perusal of the atlas. After that, we went upstairs in the library to a conference room, where I gave my seminar. The seminar went very well. I tried to keep everyone engaged, and a lot of people asked questions. After the seminar, I talked some more with my host, who said that as soon as the budget woes are figured out, he would give me an offer. I think that they will get their money from the budget, but since they don't know for sure yet, they can't offer me a job yet. But he said they would know in about two weeks.

The interview was over by about 4:00. I returned my visitors' badge and went back to my hotel. I changed my clothes and rested a bit before going out to eat at another local eating establishment. I didn't like this one as well, and the waitress wasn't as nice as the guy from the night before, but the food was pretty good. I had meatloaf wrapped in strips of bacon (interesting) with mashed potatoes with corn and cilantro (unusual but very good). After dinner I explored "downtown" Los Alamos. I went to the library, which seemed like a pretty good library, but no Urbana Free Library. I'm afraid that I've been spoiled by our local library. And I also walked around downtown and peered in the windows of the businesses, all closed for the evening. Aside from restaurants, the local grocery store was the only thing still open, and even it closed at midnight. So there is no 24-hour shopping in Los Alamos. I returned to my hotel room, turned in early, and slept in until 7 a.m.

I left Los Alamos at about 8:30 a.m. on Thursday morning. I was still on the prowl for touristy stuff, because I wanted to get something for my dear husband. I stopped at one reservation town that had a visitor's center, but it was too early in the morning and the visitor's center and the museum next door were closed. To pass some time, I went over to the nearby tribal grocery store. It was interesting, because the offerings in the store were a bit different. For example, they had lots of big bags of flour of various types, such as tortilla flour. I also noticed that you could buy a huge can of baking powder, about the same size as a large can of tomatoes. I found some locally-made tortilla chips flavored with red chilies and some beef jerky flavored with green chilies, so I bought those for Jeff because I know how much he loves spicy foods.

When I got to Santa Fe, I stopped at a mall to buy something special and southwestern for Jeff. I went to a western wear shop, and I was going to buy him a nice hat, but then I was afraid that I would get the wrong size, so instead I went with a bolo tie. I made it to the Albuquerque airport with time to spare, and returned my rental car and checked in. My flights were safe but rather bumpy, and I got a bit airsick. By the time I got home, I felt really sick. Still, I was glad to be back.

Something that entertained me while I was on my trip was this book of puzzles courtesy of Rachel and Laura. They wanted to get me something that would help me pass the time, so they got me a book of Sudoku puzzles. They are a 9 by 9 grid, in which you place the numbers 1 through 9. You place them such that there is exactly one of each number in every row, column, and 3 by 3 subgrid. The puzzle starts with some of the numbers already filled in, and using those as clues and the constraints of the puzzle rules, you fill the rest in.

I have to admit that I am now a Sudoku addict. I have a bit of a problem with pain in my hand when I write, but not too much writing is involved in the puzzles. After the second or third one in a row, however, my hand would start to get sore, but I would keep going anyhow. It was worth it, just to keep doing the puzzles. I think they distracted my from my stomach misery, too. So thanks, ladies, for the gift!

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