Thursday, September 27, 2007

Memories of My Grandmother

I found out today that my maternal grandmother is suffering from congestive heart failure, and is likely not much longer for this world. I am saddened by this fact, but at the same time she is 98 years old (if only she could hold on until November! She'd be 99!) and has lived a long life. She is very thin and frail and unlikely to linger or suffer too much longer.

I am sad because I love my grandmother very much, and I don't want her to die. I don't talk about this much on this blog, but I'm estranged from my mother, and consequently, her brother and his family. So Grandma is really the last connection I have with the maternal side of my family, and I hate to see it severed. But that is not the point of this blog entry. The point is to honor Grandma, and share with you, my vast blog audience, the love I felt for her.

When I was very young, Grandma and Grandpa lived in California. But after Grandpa died, my mom eventually managed to talk Grandma into moving to Kentucky, just down the next side street from us. It was at this point that I really got to know her and appreciate her.

She moved to Kentucky the summer before I started my sophomore year of high school. We drove out to California and drove her back home with us, while her younger brother Harold drove the moving van. In the car, I got a chance to talk to her a lot about her childhood, and it was interesting to learn about her life, growing up on a farm in Nebraska in the early 1900's. In fact, that year for my birthday, she gave me a book of essays about farm life. This was particularly touching because I think it was the first gift that she'd ever picked out just for me. (When I was younger, she just gave money to my parents to buy something for a gift.)

I really enjoyed talking to her and I always felt that she was under-appreciated and undervalued. My grandfather had always been larger than life and the center of attention. But quite frankly, I think that she was a much more interesting person, and it's too bad that people could never ignore his antics and focus on her instead. She was a very intelligent woman. She was very up-to-date on current events and politics. One of her favorite channels was C-SPAN. If you needed to know about politics, she was the person to talk to. Something fun to do was to get her started on Richard Nixon. My normally calm and collected grandmother would begin to turn red and you could almost see steam coming out of her ears! Her sense of justice and fair play had a big influence on my own political persuasions.

When I was in high school, I would go over to her house or call her on the phone several times a week. We would talk for hours! I have no idea what we talked about. Probably nothing very interesting or worth remembering! But she and I enjoyed each other's company and that was really all that mattered.

We would take her on our family road trips, too. She went camping with us, and on long hikes that we probably shouldn't have taken her on, too. She was always a good sport and easy-going.

I stayed in town for my undergraduate career, so I saw her less frequently, but at least a couple of times a month, and I would still call her sometimes too. She attended all my orchestra concerts, I remember. When my parents spent the year in France, I stayed home, and looked in on Grandma every couple of days. I remember I had her over for a special birthday dinner, too. And I made sure that this veritable oracle of political knowledge made it to the voting booth, helping her to use the voting machine as macular degeneration took more and more of her sight.

I was sad to move away to Illinois for graduate school. But she did come to visit one Thanksgiving, along with my parents, and every time I was back in Kentucky I made an effort to see her. By this point she was living in a retirement home, because the macular degeneration made it hard for her to take care of herself, and no longer possible to drive.

In 2002, my parents got divorced, and my mother moved away, leaving Grandma behind, still in the same city as my dad. Within the next year Grandma had some small strokes, leaving her unaware of the world around her. But she still remembered me, and my violin, whenever we came to visit. Two years ago, I stopped in on my way from Illinois to Tennessee, and played for her for an hour. I think that really pushed my arm problems over the edge, but she was worth it!

Every time I visit my dad I always visit her too. I am really glad that Vinny got a chance to be with her twice. Here is a picture from their last visit together, in June:

I'm really going to miss my grandma. The funeral is going to be very difficult for me. I hope I can be strong for her sake.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Inquiring Minds Need to Know

With the recent 25th anniversary of the emoticon, I have to wonder about proper emoticon parsing within a parenthetical comment (such as this one). How many right parentheses should be typed?

If I make a smiley face, it ends in a closing parenthesis. Should I then add another closing parenthesis? If I were to do that, the vi editor would tell me that I had mismatched parentheses. On the other hand, a lot of programs such as Word and AIM automagically turn the : and ) into a smiley face, and if you don't add another ), it looks like you're missing a closing parenthesis.

Personally, I consider the ) following the : to be part of the emoticon, and add an additional ) at the end, preceded by a space. But I would be interested in what others think! (So tell me your opinion :) )

Adventures in Weddings

This past weekend, we went to my bonus sister's wedding in Evansville, Indiana.

Unfortunately, since I just started my new job, I have no vacation days at all, so it had to be a quick trip. We left home on Saturday morning and came back on Sunday evening. But it was good, the bride and groom successfully got married without anyone chickening out or anyone falling off the stage or anything, the food was good, and Vinny had a good time.

My sister Laura was there too, as were my bonus mom and my dad, and my other bonus sister (who was the maid of honor). And they invited my other relatives who live in town: my aunt and uncle, and my grandmother all attended.

We stayed overnight at my aunt and uncle's house, and we really enjoyed getting to spend some time with them. They were crazy about Vinny. I am named after this aunt (my middle name is her first name) because she was the favorite aunt of my oldest sister, who died at the age of four the year before I was born. I could really understand how a little kid would just be crazy about her (which is not to say that as an adult I'm not still crazy about her)!

They have a dog and Vinny had never really seen a dog. (I'm allergic to pets.) He enjoyed touching the dog, and he was always pretty gentle with her, just touching her instead of pulling on her fur. At breakfast, Vinny was sitting in a high chair eating cheerios when he started feeding them to the dog. The thing was, he doesn't really understand that when you feed somebody a cheerio, you have to let go of it. But the dog was licking his hand and trying to dislodge the cheerio from between his fingers, and she got several of them from him. Once, though, he decided that he wanted that cheerio after all, so he just shoved it into his own mouth, after the dog had licked all over it. Ewwwww!

Anyhow, we went out to lunch at a Mexican restaurant, in celebration of Jeff's and my birthdays. We ordered a bowl of frijoles for Vinny, who ate all of them and still wanted some more. After we were finished with our meal, they brought out two giant sombreros and put them on our heads, took polaroids of the birthday people, and gave us two dishes of fried ice cream. It was pretty darn good, and helps to explain why my weight jumped up this week.

After lunch we left for home, and got home by about nine. It was a good weekend but the only problem was that I didn't get much of a chance to recover from the workweek.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Women in Science

There has been a big to-do lately about the fact that The Scientist asked seven prominent science bloggers to recommend their favorite life science blogs, and the seven prominent science bloggers were all men. Ever-fearless Zuska took it head-on, and explained why this is more than just a simple slight. PZ Myers of Pharyngula, who was one of the seven male bloggers, understood what Zuska was talking about and lamented the anonymity of women's contributions to science in the past, and the blind spot that society has even today when it comes to women in science.

One of Zuska's commenters poignantly said, "The many little instances of gender bias don't just add up; they compound (like the interest on my mortgage). Each little disadvantage leaves us slightly less able to deal with the next one."

I deplore the deterrants that my sisters in science endure in order to do what they love. I am saddened by the societal dysfunction that discourages many until only the most persistent few remain. It feels lonely at work.

My male colleagues are very nice, don't get me wrong. They are lovely people and I have never experienced any inappropriate interactions with any of them. But I can see how different I am, how much of an anomaly. They walk on eggshells when I'm around.

I try to combat this by becoming friends, by going to lunch with them, by telling lively and entertaining stories, and by appearing just as competent and confident as everyone else. I want them to understand that the biggest difference between us is that I have a big nasty scar on my left elbow and they don't.

And I combat my loneliness by befriending the secretaries. It's good to have somebody to talk to, plus it's strategic to befriend the people who make things work! But it would be nice to have a female friend with whom I could discuss the more technical details of my work, too. There are a couple of other women in my new group, so I'm hoping I can get to know them better.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

In Which I Climb onto My Soapbox Once Again

I am a two issue voter: healthcare and marriage equality. There are other things I care about, definitely, but these are my two hot button issues because they impact me directly in very tangible ways.

Anyhow, I learned that the senate will soon vote on the renewal of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which, if it passes, President Bush threatens to veto. There is no good reason to veto this legislation!

Children need health insurance coverage, this program covers them and has proven quite successful. It saves us all money when children receive adequate preventive care and are treated for small illnesses before they balloon into big ones. But more importantly, children deserve to be healthy, no matter what family they are born into. Is my son somehow more deserving of healthcare than another boy, born on exactly the same day, whose parents are unable to afford any health insurance? I don't think so! This program is a good way to get health coverage on those children whose parents cannot (for whatever reason) provide them with health insurance.

For more information on this, see the Families USA Children's health campaign webpage. They urge you to write your representative and senators.

Amazingly, both of my senators voted for the legislation in August. My representative, however, did not, so I shot off the following message to him. Feel free to borrow from it to write your own message if you'd like.

Dear Congressman [his name]:

I noticed with interest that one of the headlines on your web page today was "HEALTHY MINDS NEED HEALTHY BODIES." I agree that healthy minds need healthy bodies, which is why I am particularly bewildered by your vote against the reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program in August.

Children who are covered by health insurance are more likely to receive preventive care and more likely to receive appropriate healthcare treatments before a small problem turns into a big one. Children with health insurance coverage are more likely to have the healthy bodies that you and I both agree are integral to their well-being.

The SCHIP program provides health insurance coverage to children who need it. Ideally, it would be nice if all parents could provide insurance without government assistance but the reality is that not all parents can, and this program protects children from getting into precarious healthcare situations that are beyond their control. I urge you to support the SCHIP legislation and to prevent it from being undermined or vetoed.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Birthday Fun

I had a good birthday. When I arrived home from work, Jeff presented me with cards from him and Vinny, and a picture drawn by Vinny (with a little help from his Daddy). The picture, which Jeff had framed, consisted of multicolored lines in crayon, and red and blue handprints and footprints made with fingerpaint. I marveled both at the artwork and at Jeff's bravery for loading up an eleven-month-old's hands and feet with paint, even if it is washable!

Then, we went out to dinner at this restaurant where they serve burgers of unusual types, the Buffalo Mountain Grille. I had an ostrich burger, while Jeff had an elk burger. The ostrich was pretty good, and I could tell that Jeff enjoyed his burger too.

After we came home, we had some of the Texas sheet cake that I had made for our birthdays. The nice thing about having practically the same birthday is that I can get away with making one cake for the two of us. Really, we don't need any cake, but this way we can eat less total cake than we could if our birthdays were more spread out.

Anyhow, it was a really good way to start my 2Nth year!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

When It's Personal

It's easy to abstractly support an ideal (e.g., people should make enough money from their jobs to be able to have a certain standard of living; we should put a stop to global climate change; people who are in love should be allowed to marry, regardless of sexual orientation). What's hard is putting your support of that ideal into practice (e.g. not buying cheap shit made in China at Wal-Mart, and advocating for improved working conditions; keeping driving and unnecessary consumption to a minimum; advocacy on behalf of marriage equality).

I would be the first to admit that I have a lot of ideals that I believe are important (and I named a few of them in my parenthetical comments), but that I don't tend to do much about them until they're somehow personal to me. I suspect I am not alone in this.

I was not a big advocate for marriage equality until it occurred to me that half the members of my first family (excluding myself) were deprived of the right to marry the person they loved, and it wasn't fair! Oh sure, I supported marriage equality in the abstract, but I lacked the passion that I now feel for advocating this position.

Similarly, I was not a passionate supporter of universal healthcare until I experienced the nightmare that is our country's health insurance system first-hand. I discussed some of this last year in my post on Pareto-optimal healthcare and in several other posts on healthcare.

It was experience that led me to understand the great impact of these issues. And if I want to find some passion about these other principles, they somehow need to become more personal to me.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Last Day of Work

Today was my last day as a postdoc. (Tomorrow is my Friday off.)

I had my exit interview at 8 a.m. Unfortunately, I had to fill out a few forms for that. But I got through them, it just took twice as long as it should have.

In the morning, I tried to figure out what the heck was wrong with my program. It seems to work except when a processor tries to send a message to itself. I read on the internet (what did we do before Google!) that I needed to create buffers and attach them to MPI, but I tried this and was unsuccessful.

I also gave my boss a card. It was pretty cute: on the front, it said "You're the world's greatest boss" and inside it said, "This is just one of many things we learned while surfing the internet on company time." I also wrote a little personal note to him on it. He was touched that I made the effort to write a note. I told him he was worth it!

At lunchtime, my usual lunch group took me out to lunch at this very nice restaurant that Jeff and I had gone to on our anniversary. The food was delicious. I had roasted pork loin and terragon carrots, which were to die for.

In the afternoon I continued to try different things on my crazy program, but to no avail. I had hoped to solve this problem before leaving, but it was not to be. I will tackle it again next week. (After all, I'll still be employed 1/3 time by my current boss.)

I wasn't really sad about it being my last day of work. I guess this is because I'm only moving over to the next building, and I'll still be working with the same people, along with some additional new people. It's a transition, but it's not a major, life-changing adjustment.

Monday, September 10, 2007


A week from today, I will begin my new job. Also on that day, Jeff will turn 2N+1.

A week from tomorrow, I will turn 2N. Also, my mother-in-law will turn 2N (where Nme is less than Nm-i-l).

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Humorous Equations

Over at my blogfriend Lab Cat's blog, she has posted a humorous slideshow of some funny but true math equations. One of the most accurate ones: anxiety = fear/control. I agree with her that the polar bear equation is one of the funniest ones.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

New Scientiae Carnival!

The latest scientiae carnival is up at Thus Spake Zuska. I really enjoyed reading all the submissions and I think you will too!