Sunday, June 29, 2008

Almost Right

A few cute things Vinny says that are almost right:
  • Upon seeing something that he desires: Nine!
  • Time for a siesta: Map!
  • Running over to his toy stove/fridge/dishwasher/microwave set: Chicken!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

More on Communting Costs

Thanks, everyone, for your feedback!

Just a little more information for y'all:
  • There is no public transportation available.
  • There are showers in my building, not 50 feet from my office. I could certainly use the showers after I got to work, if necessary.
  • From what I understand, if it has working bicycle pedals and can't travel any faster than 20 mph under its own power, then it counts as a bicycle and no licensing is required.
  • Supposedly, technology has gotten better and the electric motor is much quieter.
  • I can't actually move much closer to work. It's five miles from the gate to my building, so that half of the distance can't be eliminated. The land surrounding the lab property either belongs to an industrial park, a neighboring lab, or it's contaminated, undeveloped land. The closest houses are probably seven miles from my building, which is still too far for me to walk, or bike without assistance.
  • I could carpool; there is a woman down the street who works at the lab and she drove me to work during the weeks my arm was in a cast last summer. But I sometimes keep strange hours; if I'm on a roll on something I hate to quit just because it's 5:00. So I was hoping I could find an alternative method of transportation that would cut down on pollution but still make it possible for me to retain my working-hours autonomy.
It's unfortunate that there's no easy alternative mode of transportation. I'll have to decide if buying even a less expensive electric bike (like the ones Laura pointed out) would be worth doing. Would I actually use it or would it just be another thing collecting dust?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Commuter Costs

My daily commute is more than twenty miles round-trip. I drive a VW Beetle, which gets 30-33 mpg, but I'm always wanting more. I have optimized the manner in which I drive, which is why I'm able to hit 33 mpg more often than not.

My gas tank is almost empty at the moment, and I'm not looking forward to shelling out the big bucks to fill it. I'm always looking for a better solution -- better for the environment and my health, in addition to my pocketbook.

Ideally, I'd like to walk. I enjoy walking and I used to walk to the university several times a week (more than 2 miles) when I was a graduate student. But we're talking an order of magnitude more distance here, and an order of magnitude less free time, so this isn't a viable option.

I talked to a guy I know who rides a motorcycle to work every day. The idea is appealing -- I'd get twice the gas mileage, I'd be able to park in a better parking space -- but it would require a multi-thousand-dollar investment and I'm terrified of being in a motorcycle accident. He told me about a motorcycle course you can take, and I might do that sometime, because it would be worth $75 (the cost of the course) to see if this is even an option for me.

Another idea would be to ride a bicycle to work, but that doesn't seem within the realm of possibility for me. There are big hills between here and there, and I'm no Lance Armstrong. (Also, I don't like to sweat.) Some people park just outside lab property and bike in the rest of the way (just over 5 miles), which might be doable, but it would be a big challenge for me.

I discovered recently that there are motor-assisted bicycles, which got me thinking. The motor kicks in when you're going up a hill or pedaling hard, getting you through those difficult places where I would otherwise have to get off the bike and walk it. The question that remains in my mind is whether they work as advertised.

Some cost as much as a motorcycle, placing them firmly out of my price range. But others cost as little as $800. If it costs $45 to fill my gas tank, then an inexpensive motorized bicycle would pay for itself after the equivalent of 18 tankfuls. If I fill my gas tank every four weeks, then it would take 72 weeks -- less than a year and a half -- for the bicycle to pay for itself.

But I don't know. I'm reluctant to just buy one, in case I bought the wrong thing. Furthermore, even $800 is a lot of money to spend on anything.

So I ask my vast readership: do you know anything about electric-powered bicycles?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sleepless Nights

We are all a bit sleep-deprived here at Casa Rebecca. This is because when Jeff took Vinny for his tooth checkup last week (the tooth's going to be fine -- it's not dead and it will eventually descend back to its original location), the dentist said we needed to take away Vinny's binky (pacifier) because it was shaping the front of his mouth in the wrong way.

This is a very difficult undertaking because Vinny has used a pacifier since a very young age. He was actually prescribed to use a pacifier to strengthen his mouth and his sucking reflex. We'd already reduced his usage to only when he was napping or sleeping at night, but now we have to eliminate it all together.

He doesn't know how to fall asleep without it, it seems. I've sat in his room and held him until he finally falls asleep, for several nights in a row. Also, we've noticed him cramming his hands into his mouth, as if to get that binky sensation. I've observed that he tries to put more things in his mouth than he used to.

I feel awful that he's so miserable without it. Last night he was screaming for binky at bedtime, and I had to hold him down and stroke his hair gently until he fell asleep. Tonight was a little better, perhaps because he wasn't quite as tired as he was last night. I'm hoping that he will soon find another way to soothe himself.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Banned from the House

I banned a toy on Saturday.

I had always thought that the Move & Crawl Ball was obnoxious and annoying. It's a heavy, cantaloupe-sized ball with flashing lights and music that rolls around on its own. It used to frighten Vinny when he was very young but he found it again a few weeks ago and seemed to really enjoy it.

Then on Saturday morning, Vinny picked it up and accidentally dropped it on my toe. I managed to say only "OUCH!!!!!" (despite the fact that it hurt like hell). I took that obnoxious ball and put it up.

I assessed the damage to my toe. It was my big toe that was hit, and the toenail has about a 1/4" crack in it. My toe throbbed for the rest of the day, but it's doing okay now.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

All You Need Is Love

I just want to sob for joy when I see the pictures of all the happy, now legally-wedded, same-sex couples in California! Here's a particularly nice compilation of photos plus music :)

Congratulations, newlyweds! May your marriages endure and your love for one another continue to grow.

Hyphen Nation

In our family, we all three carry the same hyphenated last name. This came about because when we were thinking about getting married, I told Jeff that I didn't want to change my name to his, but that I'd be willing to hyphenate. He decided that since it was important to him for us to have the same last name, he would also change his name to that hyphenated name. Of course once Vinny came along it made sense for him to share our family name too.

We are very unusual in our choice of last name. I know a few women who hyphenated their names, but I don't believe that I know any other men who changed their names upon marriage.

I decided to write about this here for two reasons. First, I saw this blog entry (and comments) and I thought it was interesting. Second, because when Jeff took Vinny to the dentist on Monday, the women at the dentist's office were amazed by his choice and lamenting their own husbands' lack of flexibility on the issue.

There are no perfect choices regarding the last name game. Everyone keeping their own names can feel fragmented, and what do you name the children? Changing to one party's original name can feel identity-erasing for the person who changes. Hyphenation is not scalable -- it works well right now, but what happens when Vinny meets someone by the name of Smith-Jones and falls in love?

Ultimately, it's up to the happy couple to choose the right option for themselves.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


I am not taking a vacation this summer because I have a student working with me for ten weeks, and I am gone on business travel for three of those ten weeks. It didn't seem fair to hire him only to be gone even more than my job requires.

This July will mark our tenth wedding anniversary, but we will delay our celebration until September, when Jeff and I will leave Vinny with his newly-retired grandfather and spend some time together exploring something somewhere.

The only piece of the puzzle that is not yet solved is what exactly we will do. We had thought of taking a Caribbean cruise and seeing the ruins in the Yucatan, before we realized that it is peak hurricane season then! So now, we're thinking of going to the Grand Canyon -- it should be lovely that time of year. I think we'd like to do some hiking into the Canyon. Anybody have any experience or suggestions?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Super-Deluxe Supercomputing Course

Since I came home, I've been trying to catch up with all the work I didn't do last week while on business travel and then on vacation. I have mostly caught up, I believe.

On Monday, I am giving a super-deluxe course in supercomputing. Now that I work for the supercomputing center, I have more resources with which to do this. A colleague of mine is giving the beginner's course, which will be a lot like the supercomputing course I have already presented on this blog, and I will be giving an advanced course, which begins with parallelization concepts and the six basic functions of MPI, and goes on to cover more advanced MPI concepts and OpenMP. (Maybe this is good blog fodder for the future.)

We have more than sixty registrants between the two of us, mostly because we were able to advertise it better. In addition to the opportunity to hear the dulcet tones of either my voice or my colleague's voice all day, I got one Very Important Person to give a keynote address and another Important Person to speak during the (free) lunch.

Also, my colleague and I will both be immortalized on film, and our critically-acclaimed performances will then be posted on the web. I joked to our website maintainer that our web servers would crash because of the high traffic clamoring to see my Oscar-caliber performance. He offered to add some extra dedicated servers just in case. It's good to have like-minded colleagues like that.

All joking aside, I think it's going to be a lot of fun for me and my colleague, and it's going to be a great experience for the students. I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Adventures in Travel

You may have noticed my conspicuous absence from the blogosphere. This is because I have been on travel for nearly a week.

I left on Monday for Austin, Texas, where I was attending a meeting. It was a planning meeting for a big convention which is being held there this year. The meeting went well and I got a lot more work done at the times when I didn't have any meetings and while I was in the airport.

I came back home on Thursday, just in time to hop in the car and drive up to Lexington the night before my dad's retirement party.

Yes, my dad is finally retiring. His department held a nice reception for him on Friday, and invited his family to come too. Four of his siblings made it to the party, as did Laura, one of our bonus sisters, and myself and my family.

In honor of the momentous occasion, Laura and I composed a song in Dad's honor. It's a family tradition to sing a silly song immortalizing the person whose accomplishments are being celebrated. All three of us sisters participated in the composition of the song. I realized while I was in the shower last Saturday that "Yellow Submarine" was the perfect tune for it. So the song started out with:
In the town where I was born,
Lived a man who cared for trees.
And he told us of his life,
And his fight against plant disease.

The song was a big hit, and we had people singing along with the chorus ("He's a hero of plant pathology / plant pathology / plant pathology."). Dad wasn't embarrassed at all (Darn! That was part of the goal!) and lots of people came up and complimented us on the song.

We enjoyed seeing so many relatives. They were all gone before noon on Saturday, but we stayed on with Dad and Marvis until Sunday. Dad took us strawberry picking on Saturday. He knew of a field experiment where they let you pick strawberries for free, so we picked at least three gallons of strawberries, which Jeff and I are in the process of cleaning and freezing. Oh, they are good! I'm saving some out to give to my colleague who was kind enough to take care of my summer student while I was gone all week.

On Saturday night we went out for pizza to celebrate Father's Day with Dad. Afterwards, we went to the park and us four adults hovered over the one child in the group. Vinny had a good time playing on the playground equipment and swinging. We had a late breakfast this morning before taking off for home.

I had a good time in my travels but I am glad to be home. I am looking forward to getting back to work and to meeting my student.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

My Space-Time Continuum

The theme for this month's Scientiae Carnival is Added Weight. The following post was inspired by that theme and the further elaboration upon it in Zuska's call for posts.

I have always been tall. By the time I was in fifth grade, I was taller than my teacher. I outgrew my mother and my older sister by the age of 12. My adult height, 5'11", puts me in the 99th percentile for American women.

I was never thin, either. I was big enough that my classmates thought I was a lot tougher than I actually was. A girl who bullied many of the other girls in elementary school didn't pick on me thanks to my size.

My physical appearance was the object-of-ridicule of choice for my classmates in junior high school. It didn't help that in my family, caring about your physical appearance was discouraged and I wore hand-me-downs and clothing from Goodwill. It also didn't help that I bathed too infrequently for this culture. I felt extremely self-conscious and I wanted to just disappear.

Things were better in high school. I was still somewhat eccentric in my appearance, but I managed to fly under the radar. Nobody but my friends really noticed me and that's the way I liked it. I remained mostly anonymous through college, except for friends and my professors (who noticed my hard work more than my physical presence).

In grad school, I began packing on weight. After a while, I decided to lose that extra weight. I joined Weight Watchers in 2003 and became a lifetime member in 2005 after losing a total of 68 lbs. I also took up karate and became much more comfortable with the location of my body in three dimensions.

As you can see, I've always taken up a lot of x-y-z space. I can't really do much about the amount of space I take up in those first three dimensions, but -- as if in recompense -- I often find myself trying to take up as little space as I can in the fourth dimension (time).

My goal is for people's experience with me across the fourth dimension to be positive. I know that I tend to be long-winded (think about the length of most of my blog posts!) so I try to keep real-time interactions to a minimum. I want people to remember me as interesting and friendly but not a time-sink.

If I can avoid taking up people's time, I do so. I prefer to look on the internet first if I want to know a store's hours or inventory, for example.

If I can minimize the amount of time I take up, I do that too. I try to learn everything I can on my own before asking someone else about it, for example. This is a good trait in many ways, in that I'm usually much better prepared to ask the optimal questions that will help me find out what I need to know.

But, I realize, sometimes I don't take up enough of people's time. I have not asked for help when I needed it, because I didn't want to waste someone else's time, or interrupt the important things they were doing. Instead I wasted a lot of my own time, but since it's my own rather than someone else's it somehow seems all right to squander it.

I've failed to make others take the time to notice me and have missed opportunities because of it. I have been invited to participate in things, but convinced myself that the other person was just being polite and I would waste others' valuable time.

But I am slowly coming into my own. It helps that I have a very avid, 28-pound fan who can't get enough time with his Mama; a husband who has spent nearly ten years of his life with me; and a boss who makes time for me and some colleagues who take the time to listen when I speak. Maybe, I'm beginning to realize, I am worth even more than the time of day.

And that is a good feeling. Losing size in three-space is hard, but paring down in the fourth dimension is a hopeless business.