Friday, September 30, 2005

The Week in Review

Today I got out of work early because they were cleaning our air conditioning units as part of the mold remediation project. They'd already replaced all the carpets in our building and now they are cleaning the air system.

Overall, the rest of the week was pretty good too:

  • On Wednesday afternoon, I went on a tour of the lab for new employees. That was a lot of fun. I got to ride on a souped-up school bus with a dozen or so other new folks, on a guided tour of the lab with a very colorful and interesting guide. The guy had roots in the Oak Ridge area dating back to the 1800's. In particular, his grandparents were kicked off the land that is now the reservation to make way for the Manhattan Project. They were given a hundred bucks compensation. His father managed the theaters in Oak Ridge during the war, and he used to tag along. At that time, the city of Oak Ridge was inside a fence, and you had to have an official badge to enter. He was also there when the city was first opened to the general public, in 1949. The first civilian who entered the city without a badge was a famous star of Westerns, Rory Calhoun. Highlights of the tour included the new Spallation Neutron Source building, which was interesting, and the Graphite Reactor, where the first sustained nuclear reaction occurred in November, 1943. We even got to see the record book, where they recorded that the reactor went critical. The Graphite Reactor is on the National Register of Historic Places, so everything from the era has been preserved. It was interesting to see the analog sensor readouts.

  • I went to Weight Watchers, after one month of chaos, and lost 0.8 lbs in that time. Despite having been unable to do my regular exercise, eat my normal diet, or keep a consistent daily routine, I did not gain any weight. I'm not going to definitively say that I have really lost 0.8 lbs, because the measurements were taken on two different scales and in two different locations at which the acceleration due to gravity differs slightly. Also, here they weigh you with your shoes on and subtract two pounds, whereas in Illinois you take your shoes off. But just the same, the overall message is the same: I did not gain a substantial amount of weight, if any. I made healthy choices most of the time, despite all the chaos.

  • I have nearly mastered the art of writing with the non-dominant hand. I can now write cursive that is about the same quality as a fourth-grader with neat handwriting. I am also about as slow as a fourth grader with neat handwriting. I still do whatever I can to avoid writing by hand.

  • I talked to the division director. The division director, who is my mentor's boss's boss, likes to meet with every incoming employee. I had a pleasant chat with him yesterday afternoon. As it turns out, he has been charged with recruiting new people from the University of Illinois. I told him that I knew how to recruit computer scientists from the University of Illinois, so he promised to take me along when he goes recruiting. I am looking forward to that!

  • I submitted an abstract for a talk at a conference. This morning, my mentor came by my office and informed me that today was the deadline for the SIAM conference on parallel processing. I didn't really react one way or another until he encouraged me to submit something. So I told him that for the paper out of my dissertation, we had concentrated on the optimization method, but that I thought there was enough stuff on the multilayer parallelization there that I could give a talk at that conference. He told me to write up an abstract, and he would take a look at it. He looked at it, made a few corrections, and told me to submit it. Then he showed me the forms I had to fill out for the lab. You have to get all your papers and presentations cleared by the lab before you can officially release them. So I filled out those forms too, and now I just have to wait until November to find out if it got accepted. And if it did, San Francisco here I come!

  • My (former) advisor from Illinois is coming to Oak Ridge for a visit the week after next. I am pretty excited about this because I will get a chance to see him. I e-mailed him to tell him about the abstract (because I'd put his name on it too, since the research was done when I was his student). It's kind of funny to think of him as my former advisor, and us as colleagues, not student and teacher. It's also weird to think about my grad student days, and the fact that I am no longer a student. Until June, I'd been a student my entire life. So it's weird to think that I'm not anymore. Sometimes it feels like I'm just here for a summer internship, especially since I'm here by myself, although the weather is starting to clue me in that this is not the case.

  • I have learned a lot this week. The work I am doing seems to have a fairly steep learning curve. Sometimes I get frustrated when I don't understand, and I talk down to myself and think of myself as an impostor, that it's just a matter of time before everyone finds out how stupid I actually am. Coincidentally, the topic of the Weight Watchers meeting that I went to yesterday was "positive self-talk." People get so down on themselves when they don't lose as much weight in a week as they wanted to. But really, they should be thinking about the fact that they've already lost as much as they have. Instead of beating up on themselves, they should be pleased with what they have accomplished. I realized that I also needed to talk about myself more positively, in the learning department. I really have learned a lot. Two weeks ago, I knew absolutely nothing about wavelets, multiscale methods, and working at a national lab. Now I know a few things about those topics. I'm certainly no expert on any of them yet, but really, if you graphed time on the x-axis and the amount I know on the y-axis, it's an upward trend. The learning curve is steep, and so is the slope of that graph. It just seems like so little because I'm only looking at a small part of the overall picture.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Odds and Ends

(I'm odd, and this post will never end. Read at your own risk.)

I'm still learning my way around Oak Ridge. I have a city map which I study in an attempt to find new, more efficient routes. Unfortunately, due to topographical constraints, Oak Ridge does not have the simple, grid structure of say, Urbana. This can be a nightmare to the directionally challenged such as myself. So I have my map which I use to plan my routes.

On Sunday, I observed on the map what appeared to be a shortcut from the Kroger shopping center to the West side of town. It was a street that went West and then veered to the North, intersecting with the Oak Ridge Turnpike just a few blocks East of where I am staying. To make matters really simple, there were very few roads intersecting with this road, and none that looked like I could accidentally branch onto and inadvertently make a wrong turn. So I decided to be adventurous and try this new shortcut. It seemed foolproof!

My new shortcut looked great -- until I got to the place where the pavement ended and the gravel road began! I passed some people riding their horses. I tried to look confident, like I knew what I was doing. Once I got out of their sight, I started laughing really hard. What a great shortcut!

Eventually, I got back onto pavement, and the road came out just exactly where I thought it would. So if it weren't for the gravel part where you can only travel at 10 mph, that would have made a great shortcut. Ah well, you live and learn!

My car was covered in dust from the off-road excursion, but it rained all day the next day and all the dirt washed off. On Monday after work I went to get my prescription filled. I tried one pharmacy but they didn't have it in stock. So I went to another pharmacy which had it in stock, but because I haven't worked for very long yet, I am not in the health insurance company's database yet so they made me pay the whole price for the prescription. It was only about $8 more than the co-pay, so really I haven't come out too far behind. There are plenty of medications (as we in our family know up close and personally) that cost a lot more than that!

Today was the International Festival I talked about in the previous entry. It was loads of fun. I went with my Canadian friend Rick. Actually, we went separately but we met up there and hung out together. We sampled food from many different cultures: Swiss, Indian, Appalachian/Southern, Hispanic, Eastern European, Asian, British, and African/African-American. At the Asian booth, they had a woman writing Chinese calligraphy for you. When Rick asked her to write an "I love you" message for his wife, I said that I knew how to say that and said "Wo ai ni." And the calligrapher was really excited that I knew so much Chinese (I took one semester of Chinese, Fall 2001, so I don't really know much) that she wrote two things for me: on one piece of paper she wrote the four seasons (spring, summer, fall, winter) and on another she wrote "Oak Ridge National Laboratory." I took the papers back to my office and showed my mentor, George, who is of Chinese ancestry and knew exactly what they said without me telling him.

In the afternoon Robert, the chemist we're working with, stopped by and showed me the software I'm supposed to be working on. He spent several hours helping install it. While we were sitting there waiting for the code to compile, he noticed a paper on my desk and thought it looked interesting. It was actually one I'd downloaded and printed out but had yet to read. Then later in the afternoon George came in, saw the same paper, and also thought it looked interesting. He asked me if he could make some copies of it and I said sure. So I found an interesting paper! Go me! Now I'd better actually read it!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Adventures in a New Place

I haven't written much lately, because I've been pretty busy. Working all day is pretty exhausting, even when your work just consists of sitting around and thinking a lot. In the past ten days or so, I have read three papers assigned to me by my mentor, as well as several other papers with applicable background material. The problem is that I like to take notes while I read, because it keeps me focused on reading. Otherwise my mind tends to wander as the eyes go back and forth and "read" the paper. Unfortunately, my stupid hand/arm injury makes me unable to take notes in the usual manner. I have tried typing the notes, but for mathematically-intense papers such as the ones I'm reading, it's really hard to do without getting bogged down in the mathematical notation.

I've been doing a lot of note taking with my right hand, and I have seen a lot of improvement in my penmanship. I have progressed from illegible to nearly-illegible, so that is progress. In particular, my fingers are starting to flex as I write, which is a big improvement from before.

All week long, I have felt like I had a permanent funny-bone feeling in my left elbow. It has awakened me at night, and it aches all day too. So I asked my mentor for a recommendation for a good doctor. I called that doctor and found out that I couldn't get in as a new patient until January. I asked the person who answered the phone what I could do, and she suggested this walk-in care place. I found out that they had Saturday hours at this walk-in place, so I went there yesterday morning. The doctor decided that I have tendonitis and gave me some super-strong naproxen sodium to take.

Now, I know that if I have tendonitis, it is not my main problem. I know what I have and it's ulnar nerve entrapment. He didn't pay it much mind when I mentioned that when I first injured my arm two years ago, I got an electric shock in my elbow whenever I gripped with my hand, or that the only fingers affected are my little finger and my ring finger, or that I have a funnybone feeling. But I took his diagnosis and I will be back next Saturday when the symptoms haven't improved.

As for work, other than the pain inflicted upon my arm and my brain by trying to learn all this new stuff, things are going pretty well. The lab seems to be a place where you can get plenty of free food. As a recent grad, I still appreciate free food immensely. On Tuesday, I went to a meeting for postdocs, and scored some cookies and lemonade. On Thursday, they had a "Fall Festival," with free brats, sauerkraut, potato salad, dessert, and soft drinks for everyone. This coming Tuesday over the lunch hour there is an "International Festival," which is not free but all the proceeds go to the United Way. I bought my ticket and I plan to sample all the international foods.

On Wednesday I will go on a three-hour tour of the lab that they give for new employees. And on Thursday I have an appointment to meet the division director. He is in charge of recruiting new hires from the University of Illinois, so I plan to talk to him about that. I know exactly how to recruit computer scientists from UIUC.

In the evenings at home, I've been playing World of Warcraft with my better half. It's been surprisingly fun. We are playing gnomes. Gnomes have these crazy hairdos in these crazy colors. I picked a pink beehive hairdo. From the front it kind of reminded me of a shrimp's tail, so I named my character Prawnhead. I'm a mage and I zap bad guys with fireballs from afar. There are a lot of quests that you do, so it's not just killing things, which makes it more interesting.

Thanks to my fearless sister Laura, I was made aware of the fact that Oak Ridge has a farmers' market. It's more like a farmer's market, because there are maybe five farmers there. It is several steps down from the one in Urbana. Still, it was nice to go to it on Saturday morning. I bought a bag of apples and some spinach. The apples are really good. I haven't tried the spinach yet. It was a big-leaf variety that I am unfamiliar with. Still, spinach is one of my favorite vegetables, so I'm looking forward to trying it.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

One Week in Tennessee: A Statistical Analysis

I have now been a resident of Tennessee for a week. I've noticed that some things are quite a bit different here than they were in Illinois. As an applied mathematician, I felt compelled to do some sort of mathematical analysis. Here goes:

Climate and Terrain
Percent foggy mornings: 100%
Ratio of wooded land (TN:IL): 4:1
Relative natural beauty (TN:IL): 8:1
Road Quality (TN:IL): 3:1
Ratio of visibility distance (TN:IL): 1:3
Time of sunrise: later than Illinois

Ratio of times called by pet name, e.g. honey, darling, young lady (TN:IL): 400:1
Ratio of times called ma'am (TN:IL): 100:1
Ratio of Darwin fish (TN:IL): 1:20
Number of times hit upon per week (TN:IL): 2:0
Effectiveness of eyelash-batting, feigned helplessness, etc. on a scale of 1 to 10 (TN:IL): 8:5

Sunday, September 18, 2005


Everybody's doing it, so I will too!

My pirate name is:

Dirty Bess Bonney

You're the pirate everyone else wants to throw in the ocean -- not to get rid of you, you understand; just to get rid of the smell. You can be a little bit unpredictable, but a pirate's life is far from full of certainties, so that fits in pretty well. Arr!

Get your own pirate name from

Birthday Girl

Today is my birthday. I have now officially entered my fourth decade. I’m the big three-oh.

It was a pretty tame day, though. I went to Wal-Mart and bought a game that Jeff wants to play online together (World of Warcraft), a pair of shorts on clearance (only $5!), and a light bulb for the brake light. I thought one of my brake lights must be out because the dashboard indicator was coming on whenever I depressed the brake pedal. I couldn’t tell for sure, though, because I couldn’t see the lights myself. So when I was at Wal-Mart I asked the guy at the tire/lube place if he could see it. Sure enough, one of the lights was out.

One nice thing about being in the South again is that people are very courteous. When I mentioned that I had no idea how to change the bulb, he told me he could do it if I didn’t mind waiting. So I waited. I was charged a whole $2.15, the price of the package of bulbs.

While I was waiting at Wal-Mart, my even more ancient sister called. (She’s 33, for those of you playing along at home.) It was great to get a phone call. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no better way to pass the time than a phone call from one of my sisters. And they both fulfilled their birthday duties: my youthful sister (age 27) called yesterday.

After I got back to my apartment, I made myself an omelet and ate that and some strawberries (not together!). My mom called to wish me a happy birthday, and we had a nice conversation.

I also installed World of Warcraft, but I was unable to download the necessary updates because of the slowness of my dialup ISP. I was pretty annoyed by that. So tomorrow, I am going to go have dinner at Panera, which offers free wireless access, and download it while I’m there. My better half was pretty disappointed, though, because he had hoped to be able to start playing tonight. The plan is to play gnomes with wild hair and gaudy outfits.

I received a lovely bouquet of flowers today, a surprise gift from Laura. It is actually a plant with flowers rather than cut flowers. I also walked around my apartment complex six times, which works out to approximately 2400 steps. I walked the first and last laps slowly, and the others rapidly.

I made it through the first paper I was to read for my job. I didn’t understand much of it, but I think I got the overall picture. It was really hard to understand because I was unable to work through it since I can’t write. You can typeset it in LaTeX, but I have a tendency to get caught up in the notation and not understand any of the math. I wrote out a few things with my right hand, but once again, I get so caught up with making the symbols that I have trouble concentrating on the math.

On Saturday, I went shopping in the morning. I bought myself some more clothes, and then some groceries. I got a new pair of pants and two new tops. It was Jeff’s birthday so I called him and sang happy birthday to him, and Laura called me and we had a fun conversation. Otherwise, that was a pretty boring day too. I miss Jeff a lot. He makes things a lot more interesting.

Adventures in Working

Friday was spent cleaning my office, finishing up my orientation, updating my computer, and starting to read one of the papers I need to read so that I can find out what I’m getting paid to do. In the morning, I drove in to work and was treated like a real employee. I just showed my badge at the gate, and they let me on through. I parked in the real employee parking lot, and headed to my building.

I got to my office to discover that all the furniture had been rearranged. They had been installing new carpet in the building, and evidently they had installed mine on Thursday night. They took out all my furniture and all the items I had left in the room. Luckily, I hadn’t left much. Unluckily, I had left an envelope with important papers that I needed to fill out and return, including my timesheet, and that envelope was missing. I looked around and asked other people in other offices if they had seen it, but they hadn’t. So I e-mailed the woman who gave me those papers and explained the situation, asking her to send me another copy of the paperwork. I felt really incompetent having to do that, but at the same time it wasn’t exactly my fault that the papers had been misplaced.

The secretary gave me some cleaning supplies, and I went to town on the furniture in my office. Despite the fact that the furniture had been moved around a lot, it was all dusty. The previous owner of the furniture evidently drank a lot of coffee, because there were brown stains everywhere: on the desktop, on the bookshelves, and even on the sides of the furniture. (They all came off with a little [right!] elbow grease.) Also, I think that my new office hadn’t been used in quite a while, because there was an assortment of cobwebs everywhere. I even went so far as to clean the baseboards, because they were all dusty too.

All day I wore an ace bandage wrapped around my left elbow, because my hand and arm were really painful. It seemed to make a difference, and also became a source of conversation. Finally when I was able to settle down and start reading that paper, I started taking notes on paper using my right hand, but that was too difficult, so I soon switched to LaTeX on my new laptop computer. (I can’t use Word or a similar word processor, because there are formulae.) I asked people for recommendations of a good doctor, because now that I have real health insurance I am going to get this darned injury treated.

After work, I got some gas for the car (I’m using a lot more gas now than I did in Urbana!) and headed back to my apartment. I ate leftovers and I crashed early.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Adventures in Orientation

On Thursday morning, I went to the office where I was to be oriented to the world of postdocs. Basically it consisted of me skimming a lot of boring documents and signing forms saying I had read them. But by the end of it, my hand was worn out. I should have brought out the signature stamp. I got to the actual lab at a few minutes before noon. I got my badge and proceeded from there.

I have my own office, and it even has my name by the door, in golden letters. It’s on the ground floor of an older building, and it’s across the hall and down a door or two from my mentor. It’s right across the hall from his boss. When I got into my office, the first thing we did was get out my new laptop, which I’m typing on right now. It’s a 15” PowerBook G4, and I’m totally pumped about it. My desktop is going to be a dual boot Linux/Windows box. I wanted an Apple dual G5 desktop, but my mentor overruled that and bought this other machine instead. He’s not all that in to Macs for some reason.

I went to lunch in the cafeteria with a whole bunch of people, including a friendly Canadian guy who started last month. He was really nice and very cheerful. The only problem was that he pronounced Illinois with the final “s.” Sometime when I feel more comfortable with him I will correct him on that one.

Then I spent the rest of the day doing lab orientation stuff: reading boring web pages and completing quizzes. The first web page was about the organization and the management philosophy. It was boring. I didn’t do so well on the quiz, but luckily you could correct your answers after you made your guess that was wrong. There were other lessons, but what I got out of it was this: Don’t give people your password, don’t flush dangerous chemicals down the toilet, and don’t use your badge to scrape the ice off your windshield. Also, downloading porn at work is a really, really bad idea, and always obey the speed limit.

After work on Thursday, I went to the house that we’re buying for the home inspection. The inspector was there and he inspected the house quite thoroughly. Since the seller offered to pay up to $1500 for repairs, we’re going to put every problem that he said on the list. The biggest problem is with the deck, which is a little wobbly. But they can just put in some diagonal supports and it should be okay. So that’s where the first part of the $1500 is going.

I didn’t get back to my apartment until about 9:00. I made my dinner, ate it, cleaned up, and went to bed. It was a long day, but overall a success.

Adventures in Moving

On Wednesday morning, I packed all my earthly belongings in the car (well, okay, just my summer/early fall clothes, my violin, and a few toiletries!) and set off for Tennessee. I made it to Lexington by about 1:30 p.m., and shared a late lunch with my dad. It was fun to see him, and I had him sign my dissertation.

After lunch, I went over to my grandma’s apartment and played the violin for her. I called before I headed over, and she remembered what I said long enough to tell her attendant that I was coming to play for her. When I arrived and pulled out the violin, she told me to dispense with the tuning and just start playing. I laughed and told her that I needed to tune; otherwise the music wouldn’t sound very good at all.

I played for her for about an hour and a half. She said that now that I was playing for her, she was no longer in pain. The attendant confirmed that she had been complaining of pain, and the music was just what she needed. I didn’t really know what to play, so I just grabbed a hymnal and started from the beginning. She sang along, and she seemed to know all the songs. I also skipped to the middle of the hymnal and played the Christmas carols. She loves the carols no matter what time of year it is!

After that, I got back into the car and drove the remaining three hours to Oak Ridge. I arrived at about 8:30 p.m. I unloaded my worldly possessions and then I ate the dinner that my better half had packed for me in Illinois, before heading out to the store to buy some food and other supplies for the next few days. In particular, I bought some Aleve because I could tell that the combination of driving eight hours and playing the violin for over an hour were bad news for my poor left shoulder/elbow/hand combo.

I finally retired at about 11:30 p.m. It was a little later than I had hoped to go to bed, because I had to get up early the next morning.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Adventures in Getting Ready to Leave

Yesterday Jeff called a real estate agent to look over our house and give an asking price for our house so that we could give it to the woman who was interested in our house. I told Jeff to look in the phone book for somebody who has a big ad saying that they like to sell houses. The agent came over on the same day, and did a walkthrough of the house. His starting price turned out to be about what I had thought. Our investment has increased in value by nearly 50%.

Unfortunately, the price was out of range for the woman who was interested in buying our house for her real estate empire. So we are just going to get this real estate agent to sell it now. I have signed all the forms I need to sign before leavnig for Tennessee.

I called the man at Oak Ridge who coordinates with the movers, and I told him to go ahead and award the contract to someone. So one of the movers should be getting in touch with Jeff to arrange a time to pack and move our stuff.

And I moved all my stuff out of my office. It was weird and a little sad to see it so empty. I'm going to miss that place. Unfortunately, I left my plant in the hot car for too long, and it got damaged. I'm hoping it will recover.

Jeff got me a hardbound copy of my dissertation. It's really beautiful. At the end he added ten blank pages, and told me to have people sign the pages, like a yearbook. So I went around collecting messages and signatures. It's going to be a nifty keepsake. What a clever idea he had!

This morning the man from the church that is sponsoring the people from New Orleans came and collected a lot more stuff from us. Also the maid service came and cleaned all our windows. So we have gleaming, shiny windows now. They look great! We should have cleaned them a long time ago!

Tonight I teach children's karate for the last time. I am really going to miss that. Karate is why I didn't leave town today and am instead leaving at 7 a.m. tomorrow. It's about an eight hour drive to Oak Ridge. I will stop in Lexington for a late lunch with my dad. While I'm there, I also plan to stop by my Grandma's and serenade her for a while. She has had some memory problems, but one thing she never forgets is me and my violin.

I am excited and nervous about starting my new job. Hopefully I won't get lost on the way there or anything. I am sometimes "directionally impaired."

I don't know when I'll get another chance to post on this blog, but I'll do my best not to keep you in suspense for too long.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Adventures in Happy Homes

I am a bit of a packrat sometimes. I tend to keep things that I no longer want, because I think that they could have a happy home with someone else, if only I could find that person and give them that thing at the right time. Well, today we had two cases of our stuff finding happy homes. It was a matter of the person who needs it being in the right place at the right time.

First, we had torn down our shed. It was sagging and scary and needed to go. Also, by "we," I actually mean Jeff. Anyhow, he had gotten this really big dumpster. It was so big that it had to be parked out on the street and we had to get a permit. The city let us borrow some warning flashers that we put on either side of the dumpster. I helped with this a little bit, but it was mostly Jeff and our friend Dave who disposed of all the shed residue in the dumpster. Then, this morning, some sketchy-looking men in an ancient pickup truck happened to be driving by and stopped. They salvage metal, so they picked all the siding and the chain link fence pieces we had placed in the dumpster. We were happy to let them have it. Otherwise it would have just ended up in a landfill.

Then, Jeff was chipping in the back yard when our neighbor brought a guy around back who asked him about the mattresses we had put in the dumpster. It was a bed that we had been given by my grandma when we got married, but it was a set of twin mattresses and it was old and kind of uncomfortable so we decided to get rid of it and buy a new bed once we moved. Anyhow, the guy asked Jeff if he could pay him for the mattresses in the dumpster. Jeff said he could just have them, because we were just throwing them away anyhow. Jeff escorted him back to the front yard through the garage, showing him all the stuff we have in the garage for a garage sale and asking him if he was interested in any of it. The man said he'd take it all, and gave Jeff a wad of bills. Then he told Jeff what he was getting all this stuff for: His church was taking in a bunch of people displaced by Hurricane Katrina, and they needed furniture and food for these people. Jeff handed him back the money and told him he could just take the stuff. He also packed up a bunch of cans of food for him, and offered him anything he wanted from our freezer. It was great because we still have a lot of frozen food that we won't be able to use up in time. Now these people who really need it will be able to use the food and we don't have to waste it.

The guy is coming back tomorrow to pick up another load of stuff. I am so happy that our stuff has found a happy home. As they say, one man's trash is another man's treasure, and that certainly applies here.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Adventures in Real Estate

The good news is, the people whose house we're trying to buy rejected the other offer. Instead, they made us a counter offer. The good thing about the counter offer is that they knocked another $2500 off the price. The bad thing is that they want us to remove the sale of our property contingency from the contract. So I called the mortgage loan officer and asked him if it would be possible to swing it if our house in Illinois didn't sell in time. He said we could do two mortgages on the new property, one for 80% and another for 15%, because Jeff and I have such a low debt-to-income ratio. So I think we're going to accept the counter offer.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Adventures in Tennessee

We made it back to Illinois safe and sound. Jeff was a bit freaked out by the airplane travel, but not nearly as upset as he was on the way there.

We made a bid on a house. I don't know whether it will be accepted, because apparently someone else also made a bid on the house. But we are preapproved and very financially sound, so I think our offer is competitive. If we'd known at the time that someone else was bidding, we would have offered the full asking price.

I hope we get the house. It's exactly what we wanted in a house: 2800 square feet, basement ranch, good condition, 3 bathrooms, nice, low-maintenance yard, and, as an extra bonus, it's really cheap. It's only $25-30K more than the value of our current house, so we figured we could use the extra money on other things, like having a nicer car or even a vacation home by the lake.

The house is in Oak Ridge itself, and it would only be about a ten-minute drive to work. That would be awesome, because I hate driving.

When we were in Oak Ridge, we came across this amazing gaming store. We went in and met the people there. They were having a demonstration of this game called "Pirates of the Spanish Main," which is a cross between a card game and a board game. They gave us complimentary starter packs and let us play. It was a lot of fun. I was the longest survivor against the owner of the store, who had a really tough pirate ship that was impossible to beat. But I outlasted my husband and another guy who was playing too.

On the karate front, we drove past the place where the Goju Ryu karate supposedly was, and it was a housing project. We called the number, and it had been disconnected. So I am disappointed by that. But, we did drive past a place in Knoxville that purported to offer kempo karate, which could turn out to be good.

There's a girls' club called "Girls Inc." in Oak Ridge, aimed at low-income girls, I believe. And since I am a sucker for disadvantaged children, and I have experience teaching karate to children, I thought I might see if I couldn't offer them my services to teach karate to the girls. That would force me to keep up with karate. My instructor here in Illinois said that he would be happy to keep up with me and test me remotely via videotape if necessary. But I know I need some sort of outside motivation to help me keep going, otherwise I'll run out of steam.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Adventures in Pre-Moving

We arrived safely in Knoxville on Wednesday afternoon. Jeff was a bit nervous on the flights, but he made it. We picked up a rental car at the airport and drove to our hotel. It's a pretty neat extended-stay hotel. Each room has a little kitchen in it, with a full-sized fridge, a sink, a microwave, two burners, a couple of pots and pans, and two sets of tableware. There's a convenience store in the hotel where you can buy a microwave meal or a snack or a soft drink. At the front desk they have movies you can check out for free.

The hotel is located in West Knoxville, about halfway between the airport and Oak Ridge. Since the next day I was to have a medical exam at 8 a.m. in Oak Ridge, I drove, with Jeff as my navigator, to the medical center, as a rehearsal for the next morning. It worked out really well because I was actually adventurous and took a little risk, and in doing so, discovered a shortcut.

I got up at 6:45 a.m. for my medical exam. Unfortunately, I had to fast for twelve hours before the appointment, so I was pretty hungry by the time I got out of it. I had to fill out a lot of forms, too. Most of them I was able to fill out the night before. For things that just required a check in a box, I just filled them out with my right hand. When I actually had to write, I used my left hand. I wrote slowly and used my special jumbo pen, which minimized the pain. When I got to the appointment, they gave me more forms to fill out, upon which I once again used the same technique.

The appointment was kind of interesting. I found out, upon receipt of the forms I had to fill out, that I might occasionally be required to wear a respirator for my new job. I have no idea what sort of duties I will have that could warrant using a respirator. Maybe if a supercomputer catches on fire and I have to go put out the flames? In any case, they had to assess my ability to use a respirator, so I got to fill out a long form about the health history of my lungs, and to do this fun test where you blow in a tube and it measures how much air came out of your lungs. I passed that test with flying colors, scoring 105% of the expected volume for someone of my height and age. (I attributed it to the kata I've learned in karate class, including one that I've nicknamed "the bad breath kata" because it consists almost entirely of inhaling and exhaling, with a few hand moves for added flavor. I'm sure others would say that it proves that I'm full of hot air.)

They did an EKG, which determined that I do indeed have a heart. I asked for a copy of those results, so that I can show them to the next person who calls me "heartless." I also had a vision test, a hearing test, a blood test, a drug test, a chest x-ray, and an examination by a doctor. I showed him my sad knee, my trick shoulder, and my painful hand. He suggested that instead of carpal tunnel syndrome, I may have ulnar tunnel syndrome, which is the same thing, only with a different nerve going through a different tunnel in your wrist. The more I think about it, the more I think he may be right. I am going to get myself some help with my hand once I start working and my real health insurance kicks in.

I know next to nothing about medicine, so I always ask lots of questions. The nurse really enjoyed the fact that I was actually interested in what was going on. I was glad to make her day less dull.

After my medical exam, I drove back to the hotel and ate some food. Jeff had arranged with a realtor whom he had contacted over the internet for us to view some houses. We saw three houses, the last one of which was really great but unfortunately located farther from work than I would like for it to be.

Today we spent doing lots of pre-moving business. First, we got ourselves a post office box in Oak Ridge. That way we will have a permanent address to which friends and family can send us mail while we're getting settled in. Then, we went to the credit union to try to set up an account there.

The credit union was originally founded for employees of the lab, but since then their charter has been expanded so that they can draw members from anyone who lives, works, goes to school, or worships in the area. Jeff and I don't yet live in the area, and I don't exactly work in the area quite yet, but I thought it would be worth a shot to see if we could go ahead and get our membership there and then get preapproved for a mortgage through them. I was looking online and they seemed to have pretty competitive rates on mortgages.

At first, the woman we talked to was a little hesitant to give us an account. I showed her my copy of my accepted job offer, but she was still afraid she wouldn't be able to give us an account. Then I mentioned that we were in the process of looking for a house to buy in Oak Ridge, and we were wanting to get a mortgage loan. She stopped hesitating and decided to go ask somebody about the rules for getting a membership, taking my offer letter with her. She came back with a man who was their mortgage specialist. He took one look at that letter and told her to give us the membership for sure. So she did. We set up our bank account there, and then after she was done with us we went to the mortgage specialist and he got us preapproved for an obscenely large mortgage. It's well within our price range, less than our theoretical maximum, I hasten to add, but it's about three times our current mortgage loan, which is why it seems so huge. Also, here in Tennessee, money goes really far. Housing is cheap compared to Illinois.

Speaking of Illinois, everyone here in Tennessee seems to think that the final "s" in the name of my current home state should be pronounced. We show our driver's licenses, and they say, "Oh, you're from Ill-i-noise." I never correct them, because I'm too busy trying not to laugh.

Our last task was to find me some temporary housing for the time when I move to Oak Ridge to start work, before our house in Illinois is sold and before we can buy our new house. I had found a place on the internet, and we went there and checked it out. It seemed like a pretty nice place, actually, so we went ahead and made me a reservation for a month's stay there. If I needed to stay there longer, I could. All I have to do is let the woman know a couple of days before my month is up.

Tomorrow we are scheduled to look at more houses. I am feeling pretty excited about it, now that some of the hard stuff, like getting preapproved for a mortgage loan, is over with. I hope we can find a good house and get a bid on it.