Monday, March 28, 2005

So Long for Now

I'm just about ready for my trip to the Land of Enchantment. I have one thing left to do, and that is to put all my slides on a CD to take along with me. Well, I also have another thing to do. I need to pack for my trip, and settle a few things around the house. But otherwise, I'm essentially all set to go.

I'm kind of excited about the interview. I'm sure that the day of, I will be terrified out of my wits, but right now I'm kind of looking forward to it. I have all these pretty clothes that I get to wear (most of them hand-me-downs from my advisor's secretary) that I don't usually wear otherwise. My knee is still a bit purple, but it shouldn't be noticeable because it's not too swollen anymore. And I'm going to get to meet all these new people, and learn about their work. I always enjoy talking to people.

I'm going to see a friend of mine who recently graduated and who now works at Sandia, along with his wife, on Thursday night. Because I know how much they miss the Illinois winters, I bought them a University of Illinois snow globe! I also bought them a little Illinois t-shirt because they're expecting a baby in July. The snow globe is very nice and a little out of my price range, but I managed to talk some people in the NA posse into going in on the gifts with me. I think my friends will get a kick out of the gifts.

Wish me luck, people, and I'll see you on Monday!

Friday, March 25, 2005

Busy B

I've been very busy lately; so busy, in fact, that I haven't found any time to update this blog since Monday.

Mostly I've been working on things for my upcoming interview at Sandia. I wrote my slides, and I thought that they were perfect and completely understandable. Then, I presented my interview talk to the weekly NA seminar, and discovered that there was a lot to improve! Another problem is that I actually went over my alloted time of 50 minutes, which is bad news. So I'm having to cut some material, in addition to revising what I've already written. So I've been spending a long time incorporating the professors' and my fellow grad students' feedback into my slides.

One thing that I've enjoyed doing is getting a chance to draw some diagrams. My mom is an outstanding visual artist, and being raised by her involved lots of fun art projects. From her, I learned a lot about graphic design and making clear diagrams. So I'd say that I make presentations that are more visually pleasing than average.

One diagram that I'm particularly impressed with myself for making describes pictorially the recursive nature of creating a finite difference matrix in arbitrarily high dimensions. It shows the development of the finite difference stencil, and relates that to the development of the matrix, using only color. It replaces five slides of words, and does a better job of explaining what's going on! Naturally, I'm going to use some words to explain it when I give the presentation, but I think that the pictures will provide a link to help my audience understand it much faster.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Nicest Rejection Letter Ever

I already knew that I didn't receive the Wilkinson Fellowship from Argonne, because a fellow member of the NA posse had gotten an interview for it and I hadn't. But I did not expect them to send me a rejection letter, because people are notoriously bad about letting you know these things. Nor did I expect them to send such a kind and encouraging rejection letter.

I'm being serious. Most rejection letters make an effort to be polite but don't quite succeed. This one was polite, complimentary, and kind. I'm going to keep this letter as a model for when the day comes that I have to send people rejection letters.

The letter-writer said that I was on the short list, but unfortunately, they couldn't interview everyone on the short list. They even thanked me for working so hard on my application. So I guess I was the equivalent of "Honorable Mention" for the fellowship. That makes me feel good, because I hadn't expected to get even that far.

Friday, March 18, 2005

New Applications for Math

Some researchers at the University of Bristol have developed a unique way to visualize the Lorenz manifold: by crocheting it!

An article from BBC News describes in more detail the motivation for the crocheted Lorenz manifold, a creation of Hinke Osinga and Bernd Krauskopf. Anyone adept enough with the hook can make a Lorenz manifold of their own with only 25,511 stitches, by following the instructions they provide in their paper, downloadable from

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Shameless Bragging

I feel the need to show off right now. Feel free to skip this entry if you're uninterested.

I am pleased to report that this morning I made my weight goal at Weight Watchers. My goal was 179 lbs, and I weighed in at 178.4! That means that I have lost 64 pounds since August, 2003.

Now I just have six weeks of maintenance, meaning that I have to remain below 181 for that whole time, and then I will be a lifetime member. My six weeks will be up on April 27.

I am quite relieved about having reached this milestone. When I go to New Mexico the week after next, I won't have so much to worry about in terms of eating. I'll still want to be careful, but I just need to maintain, not to lose any more weight.

Before and after comparisons:

Weight (lbs): 242.4/178.4
Pants size: 20/14 (I can fit in a 12 but I like 'em loose)
T-shirt size: XL/L (likewise, I like 'em loose)
Cup size: DD/C/D
Rings: tight/loose
Jean jacket: tight around waist/too big around waist
Winter coat: roomy/way too big, even with everything tightened
Dresses from 2001: too small/way too big, and several inches longer
Shorts: ride up in the center because of legs rubbing/no longer ride up because legs don't rub
Karate uniform size: 6/5
Kicking ability: kick to shoulder/kick to head
Push ups: 7-10/15-20
Running: 0.5 blocks/to the bus stop
Endurance: walk from workplace to home and feel exhausted/walk from home to workplace and feel refreshed
Chins: 3/1
Clavicle: not visible/visible
Self-image: fat and ugly/good-looking

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Adventures in Job Hunting

This morning a guy from IBM who works in an area I'm interested in gave me a call. It was nice talking to him. He asked me to send him a list of dates when I would be available to visit up there for two days. So it seems like things are moving along nicely there.

And today I sent my seminar abstract to my host at Sandia. I also asked him how to proceed with giving the presentation, like whether I should make transparencies or what. I don't have a laptop, and getting one in there would be quite a hassle anyhow, what with all the security precautions. I also wouldn't be able to take in my little USB drive, for the same reasons. He told me to e-mail him the slides, and also to bring along a backup copy on a CD, and give my presentation using his laptop.

That sounds like a good way to do it. I hate the idea of making transparencies. It seems like an inefficient use of plastic, because I'd use it once and then pitch it. I'll have to make sure it's not a re-writeable CD, so that they won't think I'm trying to steal anything. It's too bad that I won't be able to recycle the CD, but I hope that it's less wasteful than 50 or so transparencies. Am I right?

Monday, March 14, 2005

Hurry up and Wait

As you, my devoted fans, already know, I worked all weekend on a program. I am pleased to report that I even got it to work. But now is the "hurry up and wait" stage, as I await the results of a 65-hour computer job. Assuming that I requested the right amount of time, I will have the results on Thursday. If I didn't, I'll either have results earlier, or I'll have no results at all and will have to put it back in the queue with a larger request for time.

There are plenty of other things to occupy my time, though. I'm working on my presentation for when I go interview at Sandia. I'm also working on writing my thesis. So far I am up to 73 pages, counting the acknowledgements and table of contents and the like.

My knee is slowly healing up. Right now, the main problem is that it aches a lot internally. As for the rest of my health, I am feeling better than I felt late last week, but I'm still feeling a little dragged down by this cold. Also, my ears periodically ache, so I think I might go to the student health center about that.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Working Hard

I'm feeling better today than I felt yesterday or the day before. Yesterday I had to go home early because I was feeling really yucky. Today I am working in the office. Although I generally try to avoid working on weekends, since my deadlines approach quickly, I have decided to work weekends until I finish up.

I do have a bit of good news: My application for the fellowship from NIST passed the first review, and is going on to be reviewed by the agency! If I am ranked high enough with respect to the amount of funding they have, I will get that fellowship. I should find out in the next 6-8 weeks.

I'm all registered and ready to go for that conference in Sweden. All I have to do is make the poster! Actually, that shouldn't be too hard because I have all the results I need for it, I just need to put it in poster form.

Tomorrow I'm going to come in and work some more, and then help out with the visiting graduate student weekend. I signed up to set up lunch (and in exchange, get a free lunch!), and to help with the numerical analysis area presentations. I'm not exactly sure what that second job entails, but I will find out!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Under the Weather

I'm feeling pretty under the weather today. I think I caught whatever my husband had, and it's really taken hold of me. Tonight I'm definitely going to sleep as long as I can. Unfortunately, there's a lot to do between now and then: survive one more hour here, and teach both the children's and adult karate class. The adult class will be easy, because I'll just leave everybody to their own devices. Depending on how I feel I may even leave before the adult class is over. Yeah, I'm feeling that dead.

In other news, yesterday I got all my travel arrangements for Sandia ironed out. I'm leaving on Tuesday the 29th, and coming back April 1 in the morning. In most ways this is very exciting. In other ways, I'm terrified about it. I feel so unprepared! I've written some slides, but they're far from complete. Also, I'm trying to figure out what is wrong with my Monte Carlo hack, and just when I solved one problem, there's another. Because I'm tired and under the weather, I grow convinced that I'm never going to solve this problem and therefore graduate. I think I'm going to have to stop working on it for a while and concentrate on something else, such as writing.

Speaking of writing, yesterday I had to fill out a bunch of paperwork for the Sandia interview, and it came on these forms where the boxes were tiny and too small to type in, so I had to hand write the answers. This was particularly cruel, because my hand hurts the most when I'm writing small. Also, I have a special ergonomic pencil, but this had to be filled out in ink, so I had to write with a normal sized writing utensil. What I ended up doing was writing slowly and taking breaks. I would fill out one entry in the employment history, and then wait a few minutes, and fill out the next. I managed not to hurt my hand too much, although certainly by the end of the day I had performed more than my quota of writing.

I've contacted a friend of mine, who defended in January and now works at Sandia. I'm going to get together with him and his wife while I'm out there at Sandia. I asked him for any words of wisdom about the interviewing process, and he gave me a lot of them. It was helpful, but long. I'm glad I asked, though, because he provided me with some ideas of things I can do to be prepared.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

More Than You Kneed to Know

My knee is doing a lot better. It's difficult to get into a left front stance, because of the pain, so I don't do that. It's also prohibitively painful to get down on my knees, so no bowing-in ritual for me. And I've given up jumping jacks and other high-impact exercises for a minimum of three weeks, to give that cartilage time to recover. I'm healing up faster than I thought I would.

My only worry is that the abrasion I sustained from the fall is not healing up well. My uniform is made of thick canvas, so when I fell, my knee scraped a very sandpapery surface inside my clothes. I have kept the abrasion covered by a giant band-aid, because it hurts too much to leave it open and have it rub the inside of my jeans. The wound has not yet completely scabbed over. Every time I take off the giant band-aid, it has soaked up some goo from the wound. I think I am going to call the dial-a-nurse sometime soon.

Another problem is that due to the circumstances of being sedintary, holding an ice cream party, and taking anti-inflammatory drugs, I've gained 1.6 lbs. This is particularly frustrating because I had only 0.4 lbs to go before I reached my goal weight. Some of that 1.6 lbs is clearly water retention. I have noticed that this drug has caused me to feel extremely thirsty. I have been drinking a lot more, yet retaining it because there has not been a marked change in number of trips to the bathroom.

I think I will be able to resume walking to work next week. I won't be up to full speed yet, but I think I will at least be able to get some of the exercise in.

Last night I taught karate class and I was able to work around my disability. The most advanced student in the children's class volunteered to lead the bowing ritual, which was a very good idea. So she came to the front of the room and bowed for me by proxy at the beginning and end of class. She also volunteered to count out the jumping jacks. I stood and watched as they did their jumping jacks. Actually, that is a charitable statement. I was amazed by how half-heartedly they all did jumping jacks. I chastised them because it was really pitiful. Also, because I couldn't do the stances very comfortably, I got a chance to do more observing during the across the room exercises. I saw so many lazy not-so-long stances, and cat stances with too much weight on the front foot! I was horrified, especially because they were coming from the most advanced students!

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Adventures in Credit

Since I live in the midwest, today is the eighth day that I could get a free credit report from For those of you unaware, a new federal law now allows consumers to receive a free credit report from each credit reporting agency annually. The date for which consumers in different regions can begin to take advantage of this law was staggered, so that the agencies wouldn't experience an overload of requests. For those of us in the midwest, we can receive the report starting March 1. Check the website to find out when you can request your free credit report.

Anyhow, I thought I would take a look at my credit reports. I don't think that I've had any identity theft lately, because I recognized all the accounts and they were all in good standing. So that is one thing I don't have to worry about.

Whenever you can get one of these credit reports, I highly recommend getting them. It's an interesting experience to see what they report and what the creditors are evidently looking for.

Monday, March 07, 2005

B's Knees

My knee is a lot better today. I can bend it without too much pain, and I can put weight on my leg as long as I keep the knee straight. I still can't bend it and hold weight without pain. But I can definitely get in a cat stance with my injured knee at the front. I don't think I'll be able to do the bowing ritual for several weeks.

On Friday night I managed to scrub the bathroom floor despite the fact that I couldn't get down on my knees. I scrubbed it while sitting on my rear and keeping my left leg to the side. On Saturday morning, I did a lot of pick-up and cleaning because we were having the qual ice cream party at our house at 2. It is fortunate that I am flexible enough that I can bend over and touch my palms to the floor with my legs straight, because that's what I had to do when picking up the clutter from the floor. But bending so far at the waist and lifting things is not the most comfortable thing for the lower back, and I'm still a little sore from the cleaning.

I also got out my Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and went nuts on the walls. I have trouble with inertia, and it hits me in the cases of both inaction and action. I will just let the clutter and grime pile up, and likewise, when I start cleaning, I have trouble stopping. When I get out the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, I have trouble stopping. I always see another smudge that I could rub out, and after I'm done with that one, I see another, and another...

The impending arrival of guests is what made me put Mr. Clean away. I think the public areas of our house (living room, dining room, kitchen, hallway, and bathroom) look spotless right now. They look better than they have in months. Maybe I can keep myself inspired and do some more cleaning next weekend, this time cleaning the private areas of the house.

The qual party went well. A good time was had by all, and much ice cream was eaten. It was good to catch up with some of the NA posse whom I haven't seen in a long time.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Brought to My Knee

Last night I injured my left knee pretty badly. In the children's karate class, we were doing this exercise in which everyone lies on the floor with their legs in the air, and people take turns going around the circle stepping on their stomachs. This is to strengthen the abs. Anyhow, I was hurrying around the circle counterclockwise, and I stepped on one girl's stomach with my right foot. Just as I stepped on her, she raised her legs, and I tripped on her legs with my left leg as I was taking my next step. I fell and landed on the next child in the circle. So I not only took myself out for the evening, but I took out two kids along with me. Luckily, it was not my night to teach, so even though I was out of commission, the class went on.

I spent the entire evening sitting on a chair with a cold pack on my knee. The two girls I injured also sat with cold packs on their legs. I told the girl I landed on that I was grateful to her because if she hadn't broken my fall, I might have broken my arm. She was glad to have been of service. The other girl who I tripped on felt like it was her fault, but I told her that it was just an accident and it wasn't her fault. At the end of class, I talked to both of the girls' mothers, and explained what had happened. They seemed very understanding, and they were not at all angry that their children had been injured.

I think I got the worst of it, though. I tripped on the one girl's thigh, and landed hard on the other girl just above her knee. I went to the student health center this morning, and apparently I landed hard on my patella and pushed it into my femur, damaging the cartilage between them, and causing bleeding and swelling. Fortunately, I didn't twist my knee as I fell, so there was no ligament damage or anything like that.

I got a sports physician for my walk-in (or, in my case, hobble-in!) appointment this morning, so I think he probably knew what he was talking about. He did some weird things to test my knee, including sitting on my foot and pushing on my bent knee to make it go "thud." It did go "thud," which he said was a good sign. He gave me a list of exercises to start doing in about a week, after my knee starts feeling better, and also a prescription for some super naproxen pills which I am to take twice a day for at least a week and a half.

He seemed to think that it should heal up just fine, in time. For the time being, he said I would probably have to do less teaching by example, since my knee isn't going to want to do some of the things we do in karate. The main source of pain, aside from the swelling, is when the muscles in my thigh pull on my knee. So bending the knee is very painful, and squatting is pretty much out of the question for the next week or two. He said that swimming would actually be a good source of exercise that wouldn't hurt too much right now. I could also do some elliptical training, but walking will have to wait, and working up to full karate will take a while.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


Because I'm going to start interviewing soon, I decided it was important to cultivate a well-groomed appearance in order to make the best impression. So I'm taking small steps, a few at a time, to improve my appearance.

Today I got a haircut. Actually, I got just about all of them cut. After hearing lots of different recommendations, I went to a salon in downtown Champaign. All told, it cost me $35 to get my hair cut, but I think she did a pretty good job on it.

She was fairly impressed by the sheer volume of hair that I have, but it didn't seem to overwhelm her or freak her out, and she knew exactly what to do with it. I felt really good because I expressed concisely my attitude towards my hair, and she accepted it without trying to change my opinion. I am not interested in spending lots of time on my hair or putting hair products in it. I don't even want to blow-dry it. I usually just wash it in the morning, and let it drip dry. She was totally happy to cut my hair accordingly. She got rid of some of the heaviness of it around the neck by making two layers.

I think it looks pretty nice. She didn't do anything fancy with it before sending me off, so that means there's hope for me being able to replicate this look.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Winter Marches On, Too

One would think that since it is March already, it would stop snowing. One would be wrong in that case. Today it has snowed all day. Last night the temperature was in the teens (Fahrenheit) and the wind was bitter cold this morning.

The weekend before last, my dad asked me what was blooming up here. "NOTHING!" I replied. He then proceeded to tell me all about the flowers in Kentucky. I have seen a few foolhardy snowdrops venturing out of the ground in the past week, and yesterday as I walked from my house to my office I saw some maple trees blooming. So those are a few signs that spring is eventually coming.

Spring is my favorite season because every week is more beautiful than the next. Just when I think I've seen the most gorgeous flowers ever, the next plant blooms and I am overwhelmed by its beauty. I'm looking forward to this year's display.