Saturday, May 31, 2008

Career Day

Thanks to everybody for all your advice on career day. I gave a 30-minute presentation full of slides with interesting pictures. I began by asking who liked math. I got a show of a few hands. Then I said, "I'm glad that some people here like math. But for the rest of you, I have bad news. Any career is going to involve math to a greater or lesser degree. And generally speaking, the more math that's involved, the more money you'll make."

I had some pictures from popular television shows to get them interested. I asked them if anybody watched "Gray's Anatomy." There was a show of a few hands. "Well," I said. "What if you're a doctor and you prescribe 200 mg of a very potent medicine instead of 200 µg?"
I also had a picture from the show "CSI." Again, I asked if anyone liked that show. And then I asked what would happen if you were working on the very last DNA sample and you added 5 mL of solvent when you meant to add 50 µL? In both of these cases, knowledge of math is vital for job success.
Then I talked about my job. I told them about our supercomputers, giving the really cool numbers about how many flops* the machines do; our huge, expensive cooling system (capable of cooling 640 large houses); how much our power bill is ($5-7 million/year), etc.

And I told them about the science. I showed some pretty pictures of various applications, starting off with combustion. I asked who got to school today thanks to the power of internal combustion. There was some confusion, but after it was established that I was talking about engines, just about everyone raised their hands. Then I asked who had heard their parents complaining about the high price of gas lately. Everyone raised their hands for that one. Well, I said, that's because some of the best cars, such as mine, get maybe 30-40 mpg. But wouldn't it be cool if we could get more like 300 or 400 mpg? That's why we study combustion.

I ended the presentation by talking about my educational background and then what they could do if they were interested in a career like mine. I told them what sort of educational activities they should do but above all encouraged them to be persistent and don't let other people discourage them. I also showed a slide with pictures of some of the youngest and most attractive people I work with. In addition to being more visually appealing, they are more diverse, and it is part of my mission as a member of an underrepresented group in computer science to encourage students from underrepresented groups to join us. (I showed pictures of three people, two of whom were women, and two of whom were African-American.)

After my presentation was over, I got quite a few good questions. One joker asked something about my advanced age, but otherwise the students were genuinely curious. I felt that career day was a success and I'm grateful for all your advice.

* A flop (in addition to being a bad joke that nobody laughs at)** is a FLoating-point OPeration -- basically, any arithmetic operation involving numbers with decimal points, such as 1.1+1.1. Our big machine does 263 teraflops per second, or 263 trillion floating point operations per second. If everyone in the world were capable of doing one floating point operation per second, and we all worked together, it would take us nearly half a day to do what it takes this machine one second to do.

** Standard leadership computing facility tour guide joke.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day Fun

My plan for Jeff's Father's Day gift was to get him a nice grill. I know nothing of grills, however, so I wasn't sure what to get. Luckily, my boss is quite knowledgeable about the subject, and found a good one in the newspaper circulars. It was on sale for Memorial Day, though, so I decided to go ahead and get it early.

Seeing as it's impossible to hide a grill, and that even if it were possible, Jeff has psychic powers that give him the ability to discern the contents of any gift package, box, or envelope, I decided to just let him know what he was getting. My boss graciously helped me go pick up the grill in his enormous truck (it wasn't going to fit in our VW Beetle or even our Chevy Impala), and he and Jeff unloaded it and put it on our deck.

Here's a link to what I got him: it's a Kenmore gas grill with 770 square inches of grilling space. It also has a side burner that you can use like a normal stove burner. (I paid less than they are currently asking for it.) He is really enjoying it so far. He grilled out twice during the Memorial Day weekend, so I consider it a successful gift.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Friday, May 23, 2008

Thursday, May 22, 2008

That Amazing Little Boy

Vinny, despite his painful mouth, continues to be quite cheerful most of the time. He has come down with a cold courtesy of his generous mother (who got it from a generous friend at work) but is still a happy boy overall.

This afternoon, instead of napping, he was singing. Here's a transliteration courtesy of his father:
blug-bo-blug-bo-goobar-goo.... dug-do-dug do- hi hi hi hiyea yo yo hiyea yo yo hieyeah dooo gooo blug goobar goo

(Pure poetry, don't you agree?)

He has an interesting sense of humor and tells you when something tickles his funnybone, by declaring it "Fuuunny!"

One of the most hilarious things in the world is to peer at Mama through something (e.g. the hole between the handle and the body of the toy toolbench, or through a translucent cup). "Ahseeeooo!" he shouts. "Fuuunny!" he announces, and laughs.

Another funny thing is to touch his foot to mine and wiggle the toes. This warrants a big grin and the statement of "giggle giggle giggle."

Other humorous highlights include smacking my belly and watching it jiggle, beeping my nose or pinching it and making a Model T horn sound ("ga-HOO-ga"), and pointing out my eyebrows (when he says it, it sounds more like "eyeball" than "eyebrow", but he's definitely talking about eyebrows).

He's extremely ticklish in the armpits, so it's pretty easy to get him making that deep belly laugh. That's a sound I will never grow tired of.

He loves this book called Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb. He calls it "Thumb" when he pushes it into my hands. "Wead? Thumb?" he inquires. I think I've read it to him approximately 8,257,913 times, so I have it memorized by now. The thing he loves about it is the rhythm. And since I read it more rhythmically than Daddy, he prefers my rendition, and so I am cursed blessed with the opportunity to read it quite frequently.

He continues to just amaze me with his vocabulary. Thanks to Jeff's efforts, he knows the word for just about everything that he encounters on a daily basis. He learned the word monkey from the aforementioned book, and interestingly, believes that Cookie Monster is a monkey, as are the faces depicting various emotions that are on this magnet on our fridge. He also learned the word plum from that book. I told him that prunes (one of his favorite foods) are made from plums, but I will have to get him some actual plums before long.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Happy World Metrology Day!

I hope that you all had a wonderful World Metrology Day. Today marks the anniversary of the signing of the Meter Convention, which created the International Bureau of Weights and Measures.

The theme for this year's celebration is measurement in sports. I discovered this (and the existence of World Metrology Day) back in October when I wrote a critique of the techniques used to measure downs in American football.
Anyhow, I hope you're all enjoying the fruits of metrology today as well as every day!

Tooth Update

Thanks for all your kind words in the comments of the previous post. It meant a lot to me. I really appreciated hearing from all of you, even those of you who are complete strangers to me. Thank you for taking some time out of your busy life to comfort someone you don't even know.

I took Vinny to the dentist yesterday morning. He's a pediatric dentist who was recommended by my (extremely young, fresh out of school) dental hygienist, who went to him when she was growing up.

Anyhow, the dentist took a look at his tooth and told me that it was unlikely that the baby tooth damaged the bud of the permanent tooth growing above it, and if it did, it probably didn't do much damage. The baby tooth could take up to a year to descend back to where it belongs. At this point, we don't know if it's going to die or not, but I'm to bring Vinny back in a month and we'll reevaluate then.

I felt relieved by the visit, but it was a bit traumatic for Vinny. The nurse and I held him down while the dentist checked his tooth and squeezed out some gooey white substance from under his gum. "Is that pus?!?!" I gasped in horror. But he said he didn't think it was, because not enough time had passed for so much pus to form. But just in case, he wrote a prescription for amoxicillin. And Jeff and I are to wipe Vinny's front teeth with a piece of gauze with peroxyl mouthwash solution on it, twice a day. It feels so cruel to do because it makes Vinny weep and beg for us to stop. But it has to be done.

Anyhow, I'm feeling better about the whole thing and Vinny is getting better. He's able to sleep through the night now (unlike the first two nights) and his appetite has returned. The mouth is still tender, though; tonight, he was goofing off and waving his arms around and accidentally bonked himself in the mouth, which clearly hurt a lot. But in time, it will be better.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Worst Mother Ever

I am the Worst Mother Ever.

We were having a pleasant morning. Vinny and I were horsing around on the bed. Jeff was in the kitchen making his own breakfast.

Vinny loves to tumble. I try to be very careful and make sure he doesn't tumble off the bed. But he was closer to the edge than I had thought, and I didn't catch him in time. He tumbled another full rotation and landed on his face.

He was screaming. I grabbed him and held him to my chest, trying to calm him down. Then I noticed that there was blood coming from his mouth. I thought he had cut his lip or bit his tongue, but he screamed bloody murder when I tried to take a look and I saw that his front left tooth was pushed up into his gums. I called to Jeff and said we'd better take Vinny to the doctor. He called the doctor's office and they said we should take him to the emergency room. We decided to take him to the Children's Hospital because they seem better equipped to handle children than does our local emergency room.

I tried to hold some ice to his mouth while we were going there, but any kind of pressure on it made poor Vinny scream bloody murder. After what seemed like an eternity, we arrived at the hospital. I took him in while Jeff parked the car.

His tooth got pushed up into his gum, and it should descend on its own, according to the doctor. We need to take him to a dentist sometime within the next week or two, to determine the extent of the damage and whether the baby tooth has damaged the permanent tooth bud. He said to give him tylenol and ibuprofen, and a soft diet for seven days.

I looked to see what Dr. Google says the prognosis is for our sweet boy's smile. According to this site, if it's pushed up more than 6 mm (which I think it is), it's pretty much hopeless. The tooth will die and will probably need to be extracted.

I feel like the worst mother in the world. I should have stopped him from tumbling so close to the edge of the bed. Thanks to me, he's probably going to have a huge gap where his front tooth belongs for the next 5 years. I will take him to the dentist next week and find out for sure.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Landmark Decision

I was ecstatic when I heard the news that California's State Supreme Court has struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriages!

This is a very important issue to me, because half of the members of my first family (excluding myself) are gay. I have always been a proponent of marriage equality, but the fact that it directly impacts my loved ones raises its importance to me.

I am pleased by their decision because it underscores the fact that marriage, in the eyes of the government, is independent of religion. The only objections to same-sex marriage are religious in nature, and therefore irrelevant when making the decision on whose commitments can be granted legal recognition.

I got goosebumps when I read the wonderful news in an email from the ACLU. Here are some particularly poignant excerpts:
Simply having the California Supreme Court say that constitutional principles demand that marriage be open to same-sex couples is an enormous win. This Court has a remarkable history of leadership on civil rights and civil liberties. It made landmark decisions on race and sex discrimination, on freedom of speech and privacy, and on treatment of the disabled and poor people long before the U.S. Supreme Court. No court in America has more authority to say that marriage for same-sex couples is an issue of basic freedom than this one.


Marriage in California will transform the discussion of marriage nationwide. California has one of the largest economies in the world. Given the state’s economic clout, the fact that California is marrying same-sex couples will put considerable pressure on the rest of the country to recognize those marriages.

Even more important, the rest of the country recognizes that California is America’s cultural trendsetter, that cultural change in California is usually a preview of what is to come in the rest of the United States. Most Americans already believe that marriage for same-sex couples is bound to happen sooner or later. I think marriage in California will help persuade many of them that this is an issue of basic fairness, and that the time for it is now.


Thank you, California, for giving those of us who value equality a little hope for the future! With a lot of elbow grease and a little luck, the committed relationships of same-sex couples such as my own family members could be legally recognized within a decade, which pleases me to no end.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Vinny's Latest Obsession

  • In the house, pointing at the front door: "Opeeeeeen! Opeeeeen! Moon!"
  • In the car, looking through the sunroof: "Moon!"
  • Upon seeing a streetlight: "Moon!"
  • Upon seeing a cookie, a coaster, a croissant, a Boppy pillow, nearly anything round or crescent-shaped*: "Moon!"
  • The only thing that can cheer the inconsolable little lad, who was sobbing late at night before he spiked a fever: Google image search for moon
  • The top three entities in his life: "Mama, Daddy, Moon!"

*You might think that a pizza would also elicit this response, but pizza (or, as he calls it, either "piZAAAAAA" or "miZAAAAA") is fourth on the list of important things (beating out prunes, shoes, and refried beans), and is therefore generally not conflated with the moon.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Sickness Strikes the Family

It's virus central here at Casa Rebecca. Vinny had a temperature of 103.5ºF and spent most of the day moaning yesterday. We took him to the doctor and while he did not have strep, he did have a nasty sore throat. But today he bounced back and is doing fine, just in time for me to feel miserable. I'll probably be fine by tomorrow, just in time for Jeff to get it.

There are some foods that I crave when I'm sick. A big one for me is canned fruit with cottage cheese. The most comforting is canned plums, but I have to admit, I have a weakness for canned peaches and canned pears too. In fact, I just snarfed down a can of peaches that was rightfully Vinny's. Jeff always needs a grilled cheese sandwich when he's sick.

What's your comfort food?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

May Scientiae Carnival

The May edition of the Scientiae Carnival is up at my blogfriend Flicka Mawa's place, A Cat Nap. The topic of the carnival is "career paths, perspective, and changing self-image." Flicka Mawa was kind enough to include my graphical interpretation of my ever-evolving self-image.

Go forth and read it! It's really great! Thanks, Flicka Mawa, for putting together such a fascinating carnival!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

In Which I Solicit Advice from My Vast Readership

O Vast Readership, maybe some of you will be able to help me figure out what I should do with the latest opportunity I have been afforded!

Later this month, I will be speaking at my local middle school's career day. My topic is "Math Careers," and I have a half hour allotted to me during each math period. My target audience is 8th graders (13-year-olds), I believe, but the school goes from 5th-8th grades.

I'd like to engage them and keep them interested in what I'm talking about. I could drone on and on about things that they will probably find boring, but what I was thinking was that quite honestly, every job they will ever have will involve math to a greater or lesser degree. I thought I might inform them of that fact, give some examples (e.g., cooking, which requires knowledge of fractions, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction) before proceeding on to more math-based careers (such as scientist, engineer, computer scientist, and mathematician). But I'm not really sure what specifically to say and I'm not sure how I'm going to fill a half-hour, or maybe let's say 25 minutes with five minutes for questions. ;)

This is where the expertise of my vast readership comes in. I was an atypical 13-year-old in that I would have actually been fascinated by anything an actual mathematician had to say, so I am lacking a certain perspective. Any suggestions?

Friday, May 02, 2008

Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

Sometimes I think I live in the land of dinosaurs! Neither of my senators voted for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Oh sure, there are misinformed people who believe that by allowing someone to sue for back pay after 180 days, there would be a catastrophic ten percent decrease in everyone's pay, but quite honestly, this does not follow. (If you believe that one, I've got some waterfront property to sell you -- it has a view of the water from all directions! Very lovely!) What it would do instead is make employers that much more careful about systematically discriminating against anyone.

Anyhow, here's what I wrote to my senators:

Dear Senator:

I was disappointed to see that you voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act recently. I cannot understand why you would vote against a bill that would remedy unfairness in pay.

Senator, I am a woman and the breadwinner of my family. It is a well-known fact that due to bias (both conscious and subconscious), women do not get the recognition that they deserve for their hard work, and this includes promotion and raises. I am a scientist, and there have been peer-reviewed, double-blind studies that have shown that a woman scientist has to be more than twice as productive as a man scientist in order to be considered equally competent. If a man must publish ten papers a year, then a woman must publish twenty in order to be considered his peer.

Therefore a woman who works as hard as her male counterpart will not receive the same reward, and fall behind in pay. It takes time to ascertain the pattern of iniquity, and this bill seeks to allow women and others subject to this type of discriminatory practice the time necessary to do so.

Senator, I encourage you to change your vote the next time this bill comes up. My family deserves your support in making sure that I am remunerated as much as I deserve.


[me], Ph.D.
Computational Scientist

Thursday, May 01, 2008

My Awesome Husband

My husband is the coolest guy in the world. Here are a few of the myriad of reasons why:
  • He is very brave. Like me, he defies gender stereotypes in his chosen vocation. It takes a lot of courage to be a stay-at-home dad and face gender discrimination every day. I admire him for doing what he wants to do despite the pressure to do otherwise.
  • He is very loving. I love to watch him play and interact with Vinny. It brings so much joy to my heart to see the way they interact! Most of what I know about parenting, I've learned from him.
  • He is a really good cook. When we first got married, he didn't know much about cooking. I taught him everything I knew, but he took that knowledge and ran with it. He has a knack for combining flavors in just the right way. Last week he made this catfish with lime and some combination of herbs and spices, and it was just superb. He didn't get the recipe from a cookbook; he just made it up! He has a blank book in which he writes all his special recipes, and I told him he definitely needs to add that one to the list.
  • He is amazingly artistic. He has more artistic talent in his big toe than most people have in their entire body. He's recently taken up drawing. Most of the time, people start with simple compositions, such as a still life. But Jeff started by drawing portraits and figures. He is getting really good. The drawings are becoming more realistic every time. I am amazed by how well and how quickly he has picked up this ability!
  • He is incredibly creative. In addition to his artistic talents, he has a knack for storytelling, which he uses for role-playing but also to develop plots for books. He has several books of fiction all planned out in his head. I keep telling him to write one down already so that we can live off all the money it will bring in! ;)
  • He is empathetic. There's nobody in this world who understands me as well as he does. He really gets everything I say. I think he's also the perfect feminist boyfriend. He sees the damage that our patriarchal society does to women and to men. There aren't too many men who really get it like that.
  • He loves me. I am continually baffled by the fact that despite my numerous character flaws, he really cares about me and wants to spend his life with me. I try not to let on about my bewilderment, but I always keep in perspective how fortunate I am to have him as my partner in this journey through life!