Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Attention: Students

For my vast audience of STEM student readers, and any professors who advise STEM students:

Have you ever wanted to know what it's like to work at a United States Department of Energy laboratory?  Are you looking for something to do this summer?  Then why not apply for a summer internship at a national laboratory!

The national laboratories offer paid internship programs for students studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  The pay is good, and the experience is invaluable.

If you're an undergraduate, check out the SULI program.  Unfortunately, the first deadline is February 1, but you still have a few days.  In this program, you can apply for an internship at any of the 17 labs, but you have to pick one lab as your first choice and a backup second choice as well.

I should also add that DoE also has programs for community college students, pre-service teachers, and faculty and student teams to perform research at national labs.

As for graduate students, each lab has its own way of administering graduate student programs, so you'll have to check with the individual labs.

If you're a high school student, I know that we have a program at our laboratory but I don't know about the others.

Anybody interested in working on load balancing or mixed-integer linear programming problems, and/or writing lots of C++ code this summer?  Then do I have an opportunity for you!  Leave me a comment (they're moderated; I won't publish anything with personal info) for details.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Thanks for all your kind thoughts and prayers.

My grandma died yesterday morning.  After consulting with the doctor, who concluded that there was no hope left, they removed her from the ventilator and she died soon after.  I was not at the hospital during that event, but I did go to visit the day before.  The decision to remove the artificial support was a good one, although of course it was very sad.

We returned home yesterday, but we'll be heading back on Thursday in order to make it to the funeral on Friday.  My sister Rachel is coming in from Vancouver, but she's not the one with the longest journey; that's one of my cousins, who's flying in from Germany.

I'm feeling really exhausted and emotionally drained right now.  I'm trying to take good care of myself and get enough sleep so I don't get sick.  Good night!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Bad News

My grandmother (not this one, the other one) had surgery a few weeks ago, which ended up causing some complications. She couldn't breathe without assistance, and now she has an infection in her lungs that has caused her kidneys to shut down and she is probably not much longer for this world.

So we are off to Evansville, Indiana in the morning, to be there for my dad during this difficult time. Any positive thoughts, prayers, etc. that you could spare in our general direction would be a big help.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Important Announcement

I am pleased to report that Vinny pee-peed in the potty this evening.  It was just a tiny trickle, but it definitely happened.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

I didn't get a chance to see any of the inauguration events as they were happening, because I was at work, but I did read President Obama's speech and a few other speeches.

Among those other speeches that I read, I was particularly curious to read the invocation by Rick Warren.  A lot of people who voted for Obama were particularly upset by the choice of Warren for the invocation.  Of particular offense were his words comparing loving, committed same-sex relationships to incest and bestiality.  It seemed somewhat inappropriate for a man who ostensibly supports the rights of gays to invite a man with such hateful views to headline his inauguration, but I chalked it up to Obama's political savvy, which is far superior to mine.  Warren supports Obama on several issues that other conservatives do not, so I can see that this is a political move.

Mostly I was interested to see after all the uproar what sort of thing he would have to say.  It ended up being rather bland and mostly innocuous.  (Here's a transcript in case you're interested.)  What follows is my critique.

I liked some of the things he had to say.  Metaphorically speaking, I would agree that "Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in heaven."  (Of course I don't agree literally, since I don't believe in God.)  Like Warren, I hope that Obama will have the wisdom to lead us in humility, the courage to lead us with integrity, and the compassion to lead us with generosity.

The last part of the prayer is where it fails.  From here on out, it follows the pattern of "[God] forgive us when we do X" (where X represents a Bad Thing).  I find this a very weak message, and a morally and intellectually lazy demand on God.

It would have been a much more powerful message if he'd said "Help us learn to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect they deserve," rather than "Forgive us when we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect they deserve," for example.

Supposing for a minute that the Christian god exists, surely He would want to help us to become better people, rather than simply forgiving our mistakes.  Surely He would want us to seek the forgiveness of those we have wronged; to right the wrongs we have committed; to prevent those transgressions from ever occurring again.  This is a lot more work than just feeling badly or saying that you're sorry, but it's the only way to show both God and those you have wronged that you truly understand.

After all, actions speak louder than words.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Telephone Update

So after further investigation, we have determined that the problem with our phone does not actually lie inside our house. I used our multimeter to measure the current within the lines and found that it was extremely weak (somewhere around 0.667 mA, whereas from what I've read, it should be at least 20 mA). The test jack outside, which had worked last night, no longer works. Jeff called the phone company again, and their automatic test confirmed that it there was a problem somewhere along the lines. They're sending out a technician tomorrow to fix the line.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Telephone Troubles

Apparently there is a problem with our phone line and we aren't getting any phone service. We tried to make an outbound call yesterday evening, and it was then that we discovered we had no dial tone.

For your erudition, there is a test phone jack in the phone box on the outside of your house. We tried that test phone jack and were able to get a dial tone. Unfortunately for us, that means the problem lies within our house.

So it looks like my day off tomorrow will be spent fixing the phone.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

More Cooking with Chef Vinny

Vinny is really interested in everything that we do, and cooking is no exception. Obviously, he can't use the stove or cut things up or anything, but I give him some age-appropriate tasks to do.

Today, he stood on a chair in the kitchen and helped me make breakfast: pancakes, scrambled eggs, and sausage. I measured out the flour but let him help me dump it into the bowl. He's really fascinated by eggs so I let him keep his hand on the egg while I broke it into the bowl, and then he whisked the scrambled eggs and also the eggs that went into the pancakes. He did a remarkably good job of it, too! I let him pull the wrapper off the butter and put the stick of butter into a cup to melt. He mixed the eggs and milk for the pancakes, too. And I let him help me mix the wet and dry ingredients for the pancakes.

I've stressed to him that the griddle is hot (or, as I've said it and he repeats, "HOT HOT HOT") and he hasn't tried to touch it. While I'm making the pancakes, I make a few small ones for Vinny to eat while we're cooking.

I usually try to involve him in my cooking if I can. Last week I made a crock pot stew and I let him help me put all the ingredients in the crock pot. I have also made rolls, cranberry bread, and chocolate chip-banana bread with him. He's very interested in cooking and I think that someday he will be an accomplished cook.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Commercial Calamity

A local construction company has a commercial on the radio that is just plain wrong.  There's some fake dialogue about how awesome the construction company is, followed by the actual advertising message.  During this part, while the narrator talks about how wonderful the construction company is, there is a low beat that starts out slow and accelerates, with the net effect of making you really, really nervous.  On the surface, they sound really great, but thanks to this tension their commercial has implanted into my mind, I would never in a million years use them.

Monday, January 12, 2009

My Multiple Left Feet

I have never considered myself athletic by any stretch of the imagination.

I don't know for sure, but I would guess that Vinny inherited his late onset of walking from both parents, not just Jeff (whose mother has confirmed that he didn't walk until 17 months). I was always tall, which didn't help in the coordination department either.

Growing up, I was always self-conscious about my body and its lack of coordination. Anything academic or musical came effortlessly, so I wasn't accustomed to the idea of having to actually try or work hard at something. Instead, I was embarrassed and felt like any complex physical activity would be impossible.

Another thing working against me was my mom's outlook on her own body. She apologized multiple times for being so unathletic and children inherit their athleticism from their mothers, so.... It just confirmed what I believed about myself: I could never do anything athletic in nature.

I was able to rationalize around it quite beautifully. I didn't want to do it anyhow. I had better things to spend my time on. I had a brain to cultivate and my body was little more than a vessel in which my brain was stored.

This type of rationalization is a trap that many otherwise intelligent people fall into. When things get hard, we stop trying, because it's somehow safer to fail outright than to chance failing while trying. "If I'd tried," we rationalize, "I could have succeeded." As I always said to myself, I could be an athlete if I tried. I just don't want to put in that much effort.

It wasn't until I had to develop some actual study habits (i.e., in graduate school) that I began to put that rationalization to rest. I progressed through graduate school because I took a chance on learning to study, and risked failing while trying.  My success in that endeavor helped put the first cracks in the wall of rationalization.

And as I matured as a person and got more in touch with my own desires (something that was accelerated by my parents' divorce and the countless hours of therapy that followed), I realized that I had always wanted to learn karate. Finally I got up the courage to take that risk, and went on to be remarkably successful in karate, earning a brown belt and even teaching children's karate.

Another athletic dream I have long held is the desire to run a marathon. I remember watching the 2004 Olympic marathons, transfixed. I thought to myself, if I could learn karate, what could stop me from learning to run a marathon?

Oh, Rebecca, I said to myself, you don't even know where to begin. Plus, you have weak knees and you are still too overweight.

I didn't learn how to run a marathon at that time, but I did begin running a little bit. I ran to my bus stop every day (a distance of only a couple of blocks), and I checked out a couple of books on running and read them. I listened to some of my peers talk about running and asked them questions. But I never took the leap. I soon graduated, moved to Tennessee, started my new job, had a baby, and then took another job. But the desire never left me.

Then, last month I was talking to one of my colleagues about her training for the upcoming half-marathon at the end of March. She asked me if I was interested in training for it. I took a deep breath and confessed to her my secret desire, but explained that I had never run more than a mile. Realistically, I would not be able to train up to a half-marathon between now and then.

She then asked me whether I'd be interested in training up to a 5K for starters, and then work on getting to a longer distance after that. I said yes, but that I needed to get a good sports bra before I could even think about running. So we agreed on a date by which I would have all the necessary gear.

I've been training for a week now, and I can already feel myself improving.  The first day, I thought I would never resume breathing normally.  Today, covering the same distance but doing more running than last week, I was only somewhat winded.  Gradually we will work up to longer and longer runs, culminating in a 5K at the end of March.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Inquiring Minds Need to Know: Lazytown Edition

  • At the beginning of the show, there's an aerial shot of Lazytown. Why is there a road that goes out of Lazytown and just ends in the middle of a field?
  • If Stephanie is in Lazytown because she's spending the summer with her Uncle Milford, why does she go to school? Also, while Lazytown could conceivably be in the Southern Hemisphere so that Christmas is during her summer stay, there is snow in the Christmastime-themed episodes. Did the summer visit turn into something longer because her parents abandoned her?
  • Why does nobody recognize that it's Robbie Rotten in disguise until his hat/fake moustache/whatever comes off?
  • Furthermore, Uncle Milford is a puppet while Stephanie is a human. Are they genetically related or was Stephanie adopted?
  • Why does Stephanie have pink hair? And why does she wear only pink? I have brown hair but I sure don't wear all brown.
  • Robbie Rotten seems to know a lot more about Sportacus than anyone else does. Have the families of Sportacus and Robbie Rotten been battling each other for ages?
  • What kind of technology does Robbie Rotten use to create all the gadgets he uses to inflict chaos on Sportacus and the inhabitants of Lazytown?
  • What does Uncle Milford see in Miss Busybody? She's pretty obnoxious.
  • Why does Sportacus backflip everywhere rather than walking?
  • How does Sportacus keep his moustache looking like that, especially under his high exertion level?
  • And how does he keep this high exertion level while consuming only "sports candy" (fruits and vegetables)?
  • Does Sportacus ever sweat?
  • How does Sportacus, without any cooldown time following his vigorous exercise routine, manage to fall asleep at precisely 8:08 pm every night?
  • Sportacus lives in his own personal zeppelin high above Lazytown, which is pedal powered. How does he pedal the zeppelin around, when it must be hundreds or thousands of times his weight?
  • Why does Sportacus feel compelled to obey unjust rulings calling for him to leave Lazytown never to return?
  • Why does he always save Robbie Rotten? I'd just let the bum suffer.
P.S. I came across this character sheet for Sportacus. Hilarious!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Today in Vinny-Land

Today, Vinny and I went shopping together, to give Jeff a much-deserved break and a chance to take a nap. He really likes to talk to people and he flirts with everyone he encounters. He thanked the salesperson helping us, who remarked that he was very polite.

He is amazingly polite, and just about always thanks people for giving him things. I suppose that's because we always thank him and he's just picked it up from us.

Then, this evening he and I cooked dinner. He really loves to cook. We whipped up some pancakes, sausage, and scrambled eggs. He helped me with the pancake batter and the scrambled eggs. We cooked 5.5 eggs because he was really excited about the eggs and I mistakenly allowed him to hold one. He then cracked it against the side of the bowl (just like Mama) and then crushed it in his hand (not like Mama).

Something else he loves to do is to take the wrapper off the butter. You have to watch for pieces of wrapper that he missed.

You have to also be extremely vigilant the whole time you're in the kitchen with him. He can get into things before you know what happened. But I do enjoy cooking with him nonetheless.

Adventures with Laundry

Last week when I was folding Vinny's fresh-from-the-dryer laundry, I noticed that a lot of his clothes had green streaks on them. I was bewildered, until I recalled that earlier, I had taken 2.5 crayons out of the washer, and the half-crayon was green.

I examined the dryer drum and noticed that it was a delightful green color. Then I asked the internets how to clean it up. The consensus was that WD40 would clean it up, but that a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser or a paste of Comet cleaner would work in combination with elbow grease. I was somewhat fearful of using (combustible) oil in the dryer. Jeff tried to clean it with the Magic Eraser but it didn't come up very easily. Then he tried the Comet paste and that worked better.

As a test, we put an hold towel in the dryer to see if it would come out green. No green was detected, so we resumed using the dryer.

Now all I have to do is get the crayon marks out of his clothing. Some of them I don't really care about (undershirts and such) but there are some shirts with long green streaks on them. So I'd better do that soon.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

How's the Weather?

It's been kind of crazy here lately.  At the beginning of the week it was warm, but then it rained a lot and cooled down.  Then, there was a lot of wind, which made it even colder.  It's downright chilly tonight, down in the 20s.

That sounds totally wimpy to many readers, and I completely agree with you -- in principle, at least.  But for Tennessee, it's cold.  And when you're no longer used to 20 F weather, it feels really cold.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Everyone Is Somebody's Baby

When we were in Louisville, we entrusted Vinny to the care of his Granny and Granddad, and went to the movie theater to see Slumdog Millionaire, the story of a semi-literate young man from the slums of Mumbai who wins at the Indian version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."  It was a really good movie and I highly recommend it, but I noticed that I was very tense the whole time we were watching the movie.

The movie was told in flashbacks to the main character's childhood, and while I don't want to give away the movie, suffice it to say that he grew up in abject poverty.  Seeing all those children starving and begging on the streets, living in filth and squalor, and being mistreated and abused really upset me.  It took me a couple of hours to get my jaw unclenched and my blood pressure back to normal.

I know that this really is the way life is for many children in the world, and when I really think about it, it makes me sad.  I am struck by how fortunate I was to have been born into such a prosperous family, how privileged my life has been, and how lucky I am to be able to pass along such stability to my own child.  We've never worried about where our next meal was coming from, never had to resort to thievery or deception to stay alive, and our opportunities are unlimited compared to those of people who have grown up under such dire circumstances.

I am so glad to be able to more than adequately feed, clothe, and house my child, and to know that in the event of my untimely demise, he will still be taken care of thanks to my life insurance policy, my husband, and (in the event of Jeff's death too) his godparents.

But I still get depressed when I think about all the children in this world who don't have that kind of support system.

Everyone is somebody's baby, and this hits home even more when you have a child of your own.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Feeling Better

Well, that was rather a short-lived cold.  I felt better yesterday, the only problem remaining was that I was congested.  And today, I'm nearly back to normal.

So, I will go to bed very soon and I should wake up feeling great!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Wiped Out

I seem to have acquired some sort of cold or something, rendering me nearly as useful as a bump on a log. It's a lot of work to just type this.

Vinny spent yesterday afternoon and all night at his Tia and Uncle's house. He had a really fun time with them while Jeff and I spent that time cleaning the house. I cleaned out his closet, removing the four big boxes of baby clothes and reorganizing them should they ever need to be used again. This has freed up some room we will use to store his ever-expanding toy collection. We need this additional space because the big boy bed takes up more space than his crib/toddler bed did.

I'm glad I at least got that done before getting sick. I think I will go to bed early and try to sleep it off.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Different Perspectives: A Photo Essay*

* or, what happens when you accidentally allow your two-year-old to get a hold of your new camera.

Friday, January 02, 2009

In with the New, and More of the Usual

Yesterday, we decided to start the year off by setting up Vinny's new big boy bed (i.e., twin mattress on the floor) in his room:
Then, in the afternoon I took him out to the playground to let him run around and wear himself out:

We came home and made pancakes (a favorite of his) and when I started to eat an apple, the Apple Monster stole it away:

and ate at least half the darn thing:
Overall, a fun day.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year, Old Memories

It is hard to believe that it is already 2009. Why, I remember remarking as a child that I would be so old in the year 2000, so it's kind of tough when I realize that I'm now so old plus nine!

I was thinking about how interesting it is to hear people of my parents' generation talk about what things were like when he was a kid. Life was so different back then. For example, both of my in-laws were born at home, and they remember the days before their houses had electricity. My dad has memories of the family's ice box -- and the ice deliveries that kept their food cold.

Things were quite a bit different when I was a kid, too, although obviously not as different as the generation before mine. Technology has advanced substantially. We (the general public) did not have an internet -- and shoot, even BBS are a relatively recent phenomenon.

I have some early memories of computers, from roughly 3 or 4 years of age. The first was the machines that they used at the library to check in and out books. They didn't use barcodes -- these were much earlier technology. I'm not even sure what they did except that they made a spring-release sound and smelled of ozone.

Another memory I have at about that age was a computer with a modem that my dad brought home from work one time. The modem was a fairly large thing, and you would put the phone headset in this cradle made especially to fit the round earpiece and mouthpiece shape that was prevalent in phones of that era. It looked a lot like the top picture on this acoustic coupler page. I have no idea what the data transfer rate of that thing was -- but I do remember being fascinated by it and enjoying the modem sounds.

I took computer programming classes in the summer at the university when I was in early elementary school, and that was really cool. We programmed in line-numbered BASIC, and typed away at these green monochrome all-in-one terminals. I also took a little electrical engineering course at that age, which was fun too. I put together all kinds of resistors and diodes and great stuff like that. The best one was the chirping doorbell design. I remember that one because I took home the design sheet and told my dad that we should make it for our doorbell.

One of my friends' dads was a math professor, so we got a computer in our elementary school classroom. It was an Atari computer, and it hooked up to a television screen. The keyboard was basically flat but when you pushed on a key it would give slightly and beep. It had a tape drive for storage -- using regular cassette tapes!

In my Quest program class (once a week, every Tuesday, I was relieved from the drudgery of fourth grade, although I still had to make up all the work) I got to use a Commodore 64, again programming in BASIC.

The summer before fifth grade, my family bought a personal computer. I have no idea what brand it was but it was an IBM clone with an amber monochrome monitor. It had two 3.5-inch floppy drives, and you had to insert the DOS disc into A: before turning it on. It also had GW-BASIC, which I used to write programs. We had that computer until my sophomore year of high school, when we got a PC with a 386 chip and Windows 3.1.

I remember when I was doing a summer internship and used a brand-new machine with a 1GB hard drive. I remember thinking, how could you ever fill up a gigabyte of disk space? Today, I have ten times that much data in songs on my computer.

It's interesting to think of how technologies have changed over the past thirty years. What are your memories of the past?