Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Adventures in Getting Ready to Move

Yesterday we had two movers performing walkthroughs of our house, one at 10 a.m. and one at 1 p.m. This is so that they can make estimates and provide bids to my new employer. We sorted, cleaned, and organized like maniacs on Sunday and early Monday morning. We still need to go through the basement and all the closets in the rooms, but the house is otherwise fairly respectable.

Today I finally got the travel itinerary for our upcoming house hunting/medical exam trip to Oak Ridge. We leave tomorrow and they're flying us -- I'm just glad I'm not the one having to pay for it. They won't reimburse you for driving above 350 miles one way. Despite the fact that in this case, with the premium they've shelled out for last minute tickets, they'd save themselves a fortune if they paid for us to drive.

Anyhow, we leave tomorrow and we return the following Wednesday. Then I guess I'll be here for maybe another week before departing to begin work. I'm not completely sure on that because I don't have an official start date yet.

Also today, I was interviewed by a man doing an article for Access, which is a publication of the NCSA. Basically, they publish articles about what people are using NCSA supercomputing resources for. I think they sift through the allocation proposals, and when they come across something that seems interesting, they track down the project investigators and ask to do an article on it. Our proposal on "Inverse Problems in Magnetotelluric Geoprospecting" struck their fancy, so they contacted my advisor who then deferred to me. The guy came and interviewed me for nearly an hour. It was fun to be asked all these questions. It made me feel really important and special to be interviewed!

Tomorrow we leave for Tennessee. I will try to keep my fearless readers informed about exciting East Tennessee, but I make no promises. On Thursday morning I am scheduled to have a medical exam, including a drug test. The only thing I am mildly concerned about is the fact that on Sunday, we went to Barb and Glen's house for an early birthday celebration, and Barb had made poppyseed cake. But I don't think I ate enough poppyseeds for it to jeopardize my drug test so I should be okay. Then after that, we are free to explore the area. Jeff has already hooked us up with a realtor and we should get a chance to see a few houses while we're down there. We saw a few online that we liked, but seeing them in person will be a better test.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Adventures in Finding a Karate School

The biggest worry I had about moving to the Knoxville area had to do with finding an appropriate martial arts class. I am a karate fiend and I don't know what I'd do without my karate fix. The thing was, searching on the web myself, all I could find was Isshin-ryu karate. Now, Isshin-ryu is a legitimate style of karate, but it is completely unrelated to shito ryu, the style I've been studying here in Illinois. So I would basically have to start over, which I wasn't too interested in doing.

So I asked my karate teacher to help me find out where I could study down there. He has a lot of connections across the country, so he sent out an e-mail on a mailing list asking if anybody knew of anything in the Knoxville area. One person responded back and said there might be somebody teaching goju ryu down there. Sure enough, I googled for "goju ryu karate knoxville" and found a listing for a goju ryu school there.

Goju ryu is related to shito ryu, although not as closely related as the shorin ryu they offer at Los Alamos would have been. But it's still related enough that I should be able to step in and catch up quickly. I already know three kata that they learn in their system (as well as twenty more that they don't do!) so it won't be as disastrous of a transition as it could have otherwise been.

The nice thing about studying shito ryu is that our style has a lot of kata. Most systems require that you learn one new kata per belt level, whereas shito ryu requires a minimum of three kata per level. Ni kyu (2nd brown belt), for which I'm studying right now, requires five kata. So in some ways, I think that earning a brown belt in shito ryu is more of a challenge than earning a brown belt in most other systems. I'm glad to have studied shito ryu first, instead of having to catch up with all those kata.

I can't express enough what a relief it was to find that there probably exists a karate class for me! That was my main concern about moving to Tennessee. I still have to call and make sure that it's right, but it's good to know that there's a chance to keep up with karate after I move.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Adventures in New Technology

In honor of the fact that I will soon be gainfully employed, we ordered some new gadgets, which arrived yesterday. For Jeff, we got a laptop computer, and for me, an iPod. The laptop is an Apple PowerBook, and it is totally awesome. The iPod is pretty cool too. I am particularly excited about the iPod because I love music; plus, it can be used as storage for all my data from my research.

Until I got the iPod, I'd never owned a personal music-playing device. Growing up, I never had a walkman or a diskman or anything like that. Yesterday I charged it up and loaded my entire music library on it. This morning I used it as I walked to the bus stop. It was a lot of fun to listen to music as I walked. It was kind of like having my own personal soundtrack. (Don't worry, I didn't turn it up so high that I was unaware of my surroundings.)

Something interesting that I noticed was how loud it is on the bus. I set the music volume for a comfortable level for walking, but when I got inside the bus, I couldn't hear the music anymore. And it wasn't because anybody was talking; it was because the engine of the bus was really loud.

The laptop is great. I love Macs. They are just the right mix of graphical user interface and hackability. OS X is built on top of unix, so you can open up a terminal shell and hack away to your heart's content.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Adventures in Depositing

Today I deposited my thesis. I only ran into one snag, which was that my abstract was formatted incorrectly. But I fixed it and went back and deposited. So now I am a certified mad scientist. Applications for the position of "minion" will soon be available.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


So I called my suitor at Los Alamos yesterday afternoon. He was disappointed, but he took it well. He asked me what the deciding factors were, and I told him that it came down to being closer to family and the work being more interesting. He asked me what I'll be doing at Oak Ridge, and I told him multiscale methods for computational chemistry, and he commented that he knew I was more interested in numerical analysis.

I tried to reassure him that my decision had only to do with me, that I thought that the prospect of working for him would have been wonderful, but I just needed to make a choice between two great opportunities, and I had no way of dividing myself in two and taking both jobs. I told him that I talked to one of the women who worked for him, who had only great things to say about him and the work environment in general, and that had made the decision even harder because I was just looking for a way to eliminate one or the other job from my consideration. He told me that he hadn't talked to those women about what to say to me; he wanted them to be able to tell me the truth without fearing any consequences.

He asked me if there was anything he could do to change my mind, and I just chuckled. I didn't want to get into a bidding war. It was time to make a decision and stick with it. So I said no.

I told him about my officemate Bill, who will be graduating in a year or so, and who is much more interested in that sort of thing than I am. I told him that I hoped if he had a job available then, he would consider Bill. He told me to encourage Bill to apply when the time came.

He said that both Los Alamos and Oak Ridge are DOE labs, and so he hoped that our paths would cross again. People have made the move from one to the other, and he hoped he could interest me in Los Alamos someday. I told him that I would like very much for our paths to cross again, and that I really liked him and enjoyed getting a chance to meet him and the opportunity to work for him. And with that, the conversation was over.

I feel sad to have disappointed him. But mostly, I feel sad because accepting a job marks the end of my time here in Illinois. I must now move on.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Adventures in Making a Decision

Our road trip took us as far as Kansas. We originally got the bright idea to drive to Colorado, because Jeff had never really been Out West. Unfortunately, we ran into some really big rainstorms, so we abandoned our ambitious idea in favor of a shorter drive. We made it into the middle of Kansas before turning around. We went as far as a small town called Wamego, where we saw the city historical museum (kind of rustic and fun) and a museum about the Wizard of Oz. The trip was a lot of fun and I'm glad we got a chance to just get out and go somewhere together.

But I'm sure you're actually reading this to find out about my decision. So I'll not leave you in suspense any longer: I decided to go with Oak Ridge. I called George, my future supervisor, this afternoon to let him know.

It was a hard decision to make, but ultimately I think that remaining gainfully employed is dependent upon enjoying the job. So even though Oak Ridge is offering less money, and the outside activities are less numerous, I think I will be better off there than at Los Alamos.

Parallel I/O is mildly interesting. Computational chemistry is pretty cool. I'm gonna go with the latter. Now I just need to notify my suitor from Los Alamos. I know he's going to be disappointed, but someone had to be.

Friday, August 12, 2005


Jeff decided that we should rent a car and travel. He thinks that this will give me a chance to think a lot and decide which job to take. I'm not sure where we're going, except that he wanted to go to Arcola, just south of here, but I suspect that we'll be going much farther. We're picking up the car at 3:00. Be back Monday or Tuesday with the decision.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Thoughts for the Day

(Courtesy of my officemate Bill)

1. Yesterday he implored me to use my super-powers not simply "for good," but "for awesome."

2. He also reminded me of my aspiration to become the best second-rate mathematician in the world.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Now I Have to Make a Decision

So I got an e-mail saying that Oak Ridge has sent me a FedEx. I am glad to get it, except for the fact that I will now need to make an actual decision.

I've continued trying to push my suitor from Los Alamos away, by asking him questions. This time I asked him if there were any women in the division and if so, if I might get into contact with one of them. He responded graciously, telling me that

In fact CCN Division is one of the Divisions at LANL that is very high in minority representation.
In CCN-8 we recently had 6 women staff members. Two of them just retired when their husbands retired.
Another one was part of a CCN-8 team that is now the core of the newly-formed group CCN-9.

and providing me with the names, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers of the remaining three, and cc'ing them on the message. One of them e-mailed me soon after, offering to give me a call sometime this week. I replied to her and plan on setting something up with her.

I hate this, because I'm having to decide something difficult. If I eat brand X or brand Y cereal for breakfast, the consequence is that I am full either way. Maybe one tastes better going down, but the end result is the same. That's how I get through making that decision.

Really, this decision boils down to the same thing, in that if I choose Lab A or Lab B I work and get paid, and A might taste better than B in some ways, while B tastes better than A in other ways. But it seems so much more serious than that. Also, I know that some of my current indecision has to do with the fact that people are telling me not to do something I see no harm in doing, and I'm feeling rebellious about it. Continuing the cereal analogy, when I was a kid, my mom wouldn't buy us Rice Krispies because they were mostly air. Today, I regularly eat Rice Krispies, precisely for that reason. You get 50% more spoonfuls of cereal for the same count of calories if you have a low-density cereal like that. So there are legitimate reasons for going with the Rice Krispies. That man from Los Alamos is offering me boatloads of money. It is hard to say no to that! If nothing else, it is a good starting point from which to look for other jobs. It would take me a decade of very generous raises at Oak Ridge to reach this starting salary at Los Alamos.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Adventures in Confusion

So I read all the information in my offer to play linebacker for Los Alamos National Lab, and it all sounds good. They have really good benefits options, and they're going to pay for me to move there, which is incredibly helpful because I hate manual labor and heavy lifting and I don't want to pay someone to do it for me. But if someone else is footing the bill, count me in!

I realized while I was thinking it over that I was unsure what I was being hired to do. After all, when I visited, they told me that due to their budgetary uncertainty, the job for which I had applied no longer existed. So I fired off a quick e-mail to my suitor, who replied quickly with the following:


Thanks. Excellent question. The answer is: the job you applied for.
Since the interview I talked with some line and program managers in CCN- and X-Division and the consensus is that we in CCN-8 have been asked to provide an I/O solution for the code teams, which I accepted. We also have the budgets to pay for this.

Rebecca, you have a unique combination of skills in computational and computer science and I am viewing you as a "strategic hire". That means that I think you have the ability to contribute in several areas of importance to the code teams, be it I/O or other performance related areas in computational science requiring a strong computer science background.

I hope this clarifies things. If not, you know how to reach me and ask more questions.

Hoping to get you on board soon.

With best regards, [Suitor Guy].

After I read this message aloud, my officemate Bill expressed pessimism about the idea of an "I/O solution" for massively parallel codes, with which I must agree. Basically it boils down to having one hard drive writing slowly, and trying to apportion that to thousands of processes, all needing to access it at the same time. I think the solution is not a solution, but rather a workaround, since it is nigh impossible to do anything about such a bottleneck. Instead one should redefine what must be placed in output, and what can be recomputed or passed in a different way. I am not much of an expert on this field, and I do worry that he will be vastly disappointed by my contributions (or lack thereof).

Friday, August 05, 2005

Adventures in Decision-Making

I don't have both offers yet, and if I don't get the second one in time, I may have my choice made for me, but in the meantime, based on what I know about the two, I'm trying to start making a decision.

The thing is, I am very indecisive, so this is a particularly difficult thing for me to do. (At least, I think I'm indecisive, but maybe I'm not! What do you think?) In any case, for a person who has trouble deciding what to eat for breakfast, or which shirt to wear today, the prospect of choosing the starting point of my career path is overwhelming.

Here's what I've worked out so far. For things that are rated on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 means "not at all" and 10 means "very much". Blue font mark which ones are "better." In some cases there are no clear winners. (Note: Keep scrolling down for the table.)

Category Location A Location B
Normalized Salary (gross) 1.000 0.6818
Normalized Salary (cost of living) 1.000 0.8832
Interestingness of Work 6 8
Freedom in Work 6 8
Opportunities for Publications 5 10
Reputation of Supervisor 4 8
Personal Opinion of Supervisor 7 8
Recruitment Effort by Supervisor 11 8
Facilities 8 8
Reputation of Dysfunctionality of Institution 8 6
Walk/Bike to Work? Yes (possible) No
Proximity to Family Sometimes, family best appreciated from afar Convenient to visit with whatever frequency I choose
Geography Mountains, coniferous forests Mountains, deciduous forests
Climate Mild winters and hot but dry summers Mild winters; hot, humid summers
Social Climate
Schools Excellent Varies
Universities Small branch of state university Main campus of state land-grant institution
Political "Red" state; locally relatively progressive "Red" state: probably a lot like my hometown.
Fundamentalism Plenty of churches, but not oppressive Bountiful Bible-thumpers and creationists
Things to Do Not Much; 1 hr from medium-sized city Regional center with state university
Karate Related style offered at workplace Different styles available

Even though the linebacker-level salary of location A is very tempting, either offer is more than enough to live comfortably on. Basically I think it comes down to what I want to do in life. What do I want to do? I have no idea. There are so many things to do, which are all tempting, which could all be lots of fun, and which could all suck badly. It's not like there is only one right choice to be made, and by making one choice I have locked myself into a place where I can't get out if I don't like it. But it is hard to get myself to stop feeling so apocalyptic about it.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Adventures in Finishing Up

I am just about done with everything. Yesterday my advisor approved my additions and gave me permission to proceed with the deposit process. Today I did the departmental thesis format review. Tomorrow I will probably do the thesis office format review. The only other task remaining is to write the abstract for the commercial thesis publishing folks, print out the two copies of the thesis plus paperwork, write the check for the deposit fee, and schlep the whole thing over to the Grad College for deposit.

And today I got a call from my dear friend at Los Alamos, who is now going to offer me a salary that seems incredibly high. One friend asked me if I was being recruited to play football for the NFL, because it seemed NFL-worthy. Not superstar quarterback level, but at least average linebacker or wide receiver level.

The Los Alamos guy asked me if I would consider taking a lie detector test to get an express clearance (taking only four months instead of two years), to which I said yes. I told him that I would be an ideal candidate for the express clearance process, having lived an extremely boring life, never even trying a cigarette or traveling anywhere more exotic than Sweden.

They're going to fax me the offer today, and overnight it to me so that it should arrive tomorrow. I am very excited about this. As soon as I fax a copy of it to Oak Ridge, I should be able to get my offer from them, and then there will be a difficult decision to be made.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Adventures in Lots of Different Things

On Thursday evening, I taught both karate classes again. Our teacher was visiting his parents in North Carolina last week, so I taught everything all week. People got inspired to spar, so we did a lot of sparring. Unfortunately, I jammed the middle finger of my right hand while sparring. This was after accidentally getting kicked in the ribs. I'd rather get kicked in the ribs. It hurts less.

I took some ibuprofen that night after I got home, but in the morning my finger was puffy and fairly painful. So I called the student health center, and they told me to come on over. It was such a beautiful day that I decided to walk. On my way over there, I saw an older woman having a personal chat with the grass of somebody's yard. I slowed down as I passed her, because I wasn't quite sure what she was doing: weeding, maybe? I was particularly confused because I thought I knew the people who lived at that house, and she wasn't one of them.

She saw me and asked me to help her get up. She had tripped on an uneven piece of the sidewalk, and fallen there. I helped her up, even though it was very painful to grip her hands in mine, and I escorted her to her home. She had a cut on her face and her glasses were all bent up. She was also very embarrassed. I tried to reassure her that even I've had my fair share of tripping accidents, and that it was nothing to be embarrassed about. She apologized for causing me to divert my route, and I told her it was no problem at all. Then I asked her if she wanted me to call 911 or anything, and she said no.

Not fifty feet from where she was lying were some men doing construction work. I wonder if they didn't see her fall, and I wonder how long she had been lying there before I got to her, or how long she would have lain there had I not been walking that way. I keep meaning to call the city and report that uneven sidewalk. She showed me where she had tripped. One slab was jutting above the next by more than an inch, I would say, and at that time of the morning, there was a shadow over the crack, which obscured it.

I continued my journey and made it to the student health center. The doctor examined it, splurged for some x-rays, and determined that it was not fractured. I had figured as much, because there is a certain type of pain associated with a broken bone, and my finger did not have that. I was more worried about whether I'd damaged the muscles or ligaments or whatever. He just told me to ice it down a couple of times a day, and not to do anything that hurt.

I got to my office and sat down, when the phone rang. It was the folks from the academic office downstairs, asking for one of my officemates. She wasn't in the office, and they said she had agreed to host a visiting student, but if I'd like to do it, I could. I had already packed a lunch (three peaches, cut into quarters, delicious!), but I was game because I didn't really want to do any work. So I trekked down to the academic office, only to meet my officemate there. It was fine, though, because by the time we made it to lunch, the party grew to six: five women hosting one male prospective graduate student. It was a lot of fun. I've always enjoyed hosting prospective students. It was kind of sad to realize that this young man is probably the last one I'll ever host. But, I'm sure I'll get a chance to host prospective job candidates wherever I end up working, and that will be fun, too.

I spent the afternoon proofreading my dissertation once more. On Thursday, I went out to lunch with my advisor's secretary, who encouraged me to just finish the stupid thing and have it ready to deposit at my leisure. So I actually finished it up on Thursday. I made it through most of the way on Friday, and am finishing up the proofreading today. Then, subject to my advisor's approval, it should be ready to deposit whenever I decide to do it.

I spent most of the weekend role playing. It's been a while since I really got into a character to this degree, but now I am addicted to playing Perfidy MacDiarmid, a young woman with itchy hands in a city sundered by civil war. I don't know if anyone still remembers their standardized test vocabulary list, but the word perfidy means "treachery." She started out being neutral to the civil war and unconcerned with others' suffering, until she had a death experience and saw what she faced in eternity for being that way. Now she cares a little more, although she's still more concerned with getting vengeance for the death of her family and acquiring lots of money. But she actually gave a hopeless paladin a pep talk and a reason to live, and saved the city from a plague of undead (to which she had been alerted by the hopeless paladin) by activating an ancient artifact.

Between role playing sessions, I baked like a maniac. I bought a bag containing 18 ripe bananas for $1.35 the other day, and decided to bake various banana loaves and the like. We have a lot of flour that needs to be used up before we leave here. We can't really transport it to our new home, so I figured out that I could bake banana bread with it, that I could then freeze and we could take along as a snack when we drive there. And we could eat some of it right now too. Also, I could continue the "Bread of the Month Club" (now renamed "Bread of the Every-So-Often Club") with my fearless younger sister.

So far I've used seven bananas. I baked a loaf of chocolate chip-banana bread and one of lemon-banana bread (two bananas each), and a dozen banana-walnut muffins from The Joy of Cooking (three bananas). Tonight I plan to swing by the store and get more paper muffin cups and bake some more muffins, because they were easy, delicious, and pre-portioned (unlike loaves).