Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Language of Parenthood

I've written before about the sexist jargon in my line of work, and a little about what my husband faces as a stay-at-home parent. But this article explains very well what a dedicated dad faces in our society, and I highly recommend reading it.

Monday, June 29, 2009


Four years ago last week, I successfully defended my dissertation. I went from being Ms. Rebecca to being Dr. Rebecca.

In the four years that have passed, I've successfully transitioned from my student identity to my professional identity. Now, when I look in the mirror, I see a Computational Scientist, not a student. It took some getting used to, but I'm comfortable with my professional identity now.

The only part of studenthood that hasn't gone away: I'll still do anything for free food.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Inquiring Minds Need to Know: Little Bear Edition

Some important questions about Little Bear:
  • Little Bear is an anthropomorphic six-year-old bear. He goes around without any clothing. His parents, Mother Bear and Father Bear, wear clothes. When will Little Bear start wearing clothing?
  • The eponymous animal characters, Duck, Hen, and Cat, are nearly as large as Little Bear. Are they just really big, or is Little Bear tiny?
  • All the animal characters can speak, with the exception of the dog. Why are birds, frogs, and even otters more intelligent than this dog?
  • The time period that the stories take place in seems to be a lot like Little House on the Prairie times. Why then does Little Bear have a toy car and a toy airplane?
  • Where does Mother Bear get her candles? Because they are as bright as electric lights.
  • How do the Bear family make ends meet? They don't seem to work the land and it's not clear that Father Bear works outside the home (not to mention Mother Bear).
  • Little Bear's best friend, Emily, is a seven-year-old human girl. Little Bear appears to really like her more than just as friends, at least from my perspective. It seems kind of awkward, like the "romance" between Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala, only even more awkward because Little Bear is a bear and Emily is a human. Are they going to grow up, fall in love, and have an inter-species relationship?
  • Mother Bear and Father Bear have more patience with their son than two individuals in this world could ever have. Where can I get some of that patience too?
  • What appeals to my son so much that when Little Bear smiles, he does too?
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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Coding Nirvana

I can't remember the last time I really got to sit down and just write some code, but yesterday I finally got a chance to do just that.  

I was originally supposed to have two summer students, but one of them did not show up for personal reasons.  I was disappointed, but these things happen.

I had planned for him to do some coding for me -- implementing a timing class in the chemistry code that I had wanted to implement but hadn't yet had the time.  But I found a little time yesterday to do that coding myself.

It felt really good to just sit there and write code.  I had already planned out the class somewhat, so that my student would have a clear project to do, which definitely helped.  So I didn't have too much thinking to do in some ways.

In other ways, I had a lot of thinking to do.  I had to figure out how best to implement it, and what types of accessor methods were needed.  I had to figure out just how to enumerate the different timers, and how to determine how many timers there were.  

I still haven't resolved everything, but it just felt good to exercise that creativity again.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Running Update

I'm still running.  Unfortunately, it's gotten really hot and humid so we've had to turn to doing it indoors.  My workplace has a gym that you can get permission to use after watching some boring videos and signing a form.  There are various pieces of exercise equipment there, including treadmills, weights, and elliptical machines.  We run on the treadmill for a mile and then we finish up with the elliptical machines for ten minutes.

The treadmill is kind of interesting from a mathematical perspective, so that has kept me going back to exercise in the gym despite the fact that my coach is gone for three weeks beginning this week.  I like seeing how much time/distance I have left and I like adjusting the treadmill speed up and down.

The elliptical machine exercises leg muscles that don't get exercised by running.  It was really hard the first time but it is getting easier so I will probably have to raise the resistance next time.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Playing Pretend

We've been doing a lot more playing pretend lately, Vinny and I.  Some of the more fascinating plots:
  • Vinny's security blanket is an umbrella, and we have to get under it because it's going to rain.  He then makes thunder noises and points out the lightning flashes.
  • Spider Man has to poop in the potty.  I make a circle with my fingers, and Vinny sets Spider Man on the circle and holds his hands.  Spider Man grunts and strains, we celebrate the accomplishment by clapping and cheering, and then giving Spider Man some (pretend) chocolate.  (Spider Man sometimes pees in the potty too, and is rewarded with cheers and a sticker.)
  • Spider Man goes for a picnic up on Mt. Vinny (the top of Vinny's head).  He eats a sandwich, some fruit, some chips, and a cookie, and drinks lemonade.  After admiring the view from the top of the mountain, he comes back down.
  • The penguin and fish bath toys are playing on the slide (the end of the bathtub opposite the tap and drain).  They also periodically need to poop in the potty, and are of course rewarded with chocolate.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day!

Happy Father's Day to all the wonderful fathers in my life! We have lots of plans to celebrate Father's Day here. Hope everyone's days are great!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Vinny Goes to the Dentist

Yesterday, I took Vinny to the dentist for a checkup. He did a lot better than last time, only screaming the entire time the dentist was looking at his teeth, but staying fairly calm while the hygienist cleaned his teeth. (Last time, he screamed the entire time.)

At the office, there was a mobile on the ceiling that consisted of a bunch of ovals. The dental hygienist pointed at the mobile and said to Vinny, "Do you see the circles?"

"No," said Vinny. "I see ovals."

That's one smart little boy we have there.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Gender Knot

One thing I really enjoy doing is learning new things. Fortunately, I have the type of job where I get to learn new things every day. Unfortunately, the scope of the new things I learn is limited to math, science, high-performance computing, and maybe a little bit about the workings of my employer.

But I've decided to carve out some time from my busy schedule to follow along with Zuska's Outreach Project for D00dly D00ds, which involves reading the book The Gender Knot: Unraveling our Patriarchal Legacy by Allan G. Johnson. Zuska's project hasn't yet made it through much of the book, but I've read on through Chapter 5, and I'm really learning a lot.

I took a women's studies course as an undergraduate, from which I learned a lot of things, but the picture was incomplete. Johnson's book really seems to fill in the gaps and provide answers to why a lot of things that would seem to defy patriarchy actually serve to reinforce it.

Johnson's definition of a patriarchal society is a society that "promotes male privilege by being male dominated, male identified, and male centered." Privilege is defined as "any unearned advantage that is available to members of a social category while being systematically denied to others" (p. 5).

You can easily enough see that our society is male dominated, male identified, and male centered. Positions of power and authority are disproportionately occupied by men. The "default" third-person pronoun is masculine and the word describing us as a group is "man;" positive character traits are overwhelmingly associated with masculinity, and negative traits associated with femininity. There are few movies, television shows, or plays with a woman as the central character; too often, in meetings a woman's idea is overlooked until it is brought up by a man a few minutes later.

I've often encountered people who think that if we don't have a patriarchy, then we will have a matriarchy. Is systematically conferring advantage to certain groups of people the only way in which humans can interact? That is certainly not the case. We could interact more cooperatively. Sure, a hierarchy may be useful, but a true meritocracy, in which the positions in the hierarchy are filled based on talents and abilities, would result in a better outcome for all.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Crash Course, Day One

We tried something new this year with the supercomputing course. My colleague taught a beginning class on unix, vi, makefiles, and serial programming in C today. Tomorrow I will teach about parallelism, MPI, OpenMP, and parallel programming.

Today's course went well, and I think the students got a lot out of it. I arranged for one of my friends to be the lunchtime speaker so that we could provide a free lunch, and from what I heard, they enjoyed her talk too (I was off giving a tour at the time).

My colleague and I have different teaching styles. He had very few slides and spent most of the time interacting with the students and doing hands-on activities. I'm more of a lecturer, although I do encourage audience participation. I think also my topics require more explaining, and his required more trying it out for yourself.

He had only two very short handouts. I, on the other hand, have contributed to deforestation with my handouts for tomorrow. But I hope the students will be able to use those handouts as a reference when they do parallel programming in the future.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Adventures in Doing Too Many Things at Once

At work, I have eight regular projects that I work on. I have two of my own research projects, which, theoretically, account for half my time. Then, I have five projects with supercomputer time allocated to them, whom I help as needed. Finally, I have the software infrastructure management project, which eats up a lot more time than I would prefer.

In addition, I have a student working with me for the summer, which is wonderful, but also quite time consuming. I met my student at a conference earlier this year, and when I told her about the opportunities for summer internships at my place of work, she signed right up. She's working with me on our software management, helping us to figure out how to manage our libraries better. She's a smart woman and I'm excited about her working with me.

Tomorrow and the next day is the annual supercomputing course. A colleague of mine is teaching the first day (although I'm assisting with the hands-on activities), in which students will become accustomed to the unix environment and write a serial program. I am teaching the second day (and my colleague is assisting me with the hands-on portion), in which students will learn about MPI and OpenMP, and write a parallel program based on the serial program they wrote the day before. I love teaching this course, but again, it takes time.

Then, we are facing a really big review, which means there's extra work on top of all the regular work we're doing. Everyone is scared to death, which is a good thing in my opinion, because it means we're going to take the review very seriously. But, again, it takes time away from doing what I would rather be doing.

Something I've found is that the more tasks that I have to do, the less efficient I become and the less I end up doing. I think this is because when you have this many different things to do, you can't keep it all in your head. It's kind of like thrashing in computer science: more and more resources are consumed to do less and less work. Basically, when you go from task A to task B, you have to swap out some of your memory. If you have only a couple of tasks, then it's not so bad, because maybe you can even store all the necessary data in your memory, or just swap out a little here and there when you change tasks. But if you have 11 projects, like I do, it becomes increasingly difficult, because you have too many running processes, and you spend more time swapping between them than you spend actually doing anything. I get to the point where I can't even remember what I was doing and end up repeating tasks, or even worse, sitting there blankly while I try to remember what the heck was going on.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


I recently taught Vinny the difference between slotted

and Phillips

screw heads. Then, when he and his screwdriver-obsessed brain encountered the buttons on Mama and Daddy's shirts, he declared that Mama's shirt

is slotted, and Daddy's

is Phillips*!

* The picture is a little overexposed, but the thread attaching the button to the shirt is making an X shape.

Actual screw head photos from McLendon's Hardware.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Today's Milestone

Today, I had the opportunity to cross a major threshold with our 2005 VW Beetle. Here is a snapshot of the odometer when I was stopped at a stoplight, just before it happened:

And here it is, a couple of blocks down the street, when we had just rolled over to the 20,000 mile mark:

No, I wasn't driving when I aligned the camera to take this picture. In fact, I was stopped at a stoplight. Unfortunately the first picture I took was too blurry, so I just left the camera where it was and took another picture while I was driving.

It was a particularly auspicious day for my odometer, because as I approached a gas station a few miles later, I noticed that the price for a gallon of gas (in cents) and the number on my trip odometer matched. I took it as a sign that I should fill up.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Bad Week

This week has been kind of a bust.  I'm ready for it to be over.

  • On Tuesday, my left eye would not focus.  I was getting seriously freaked out by it, and afraid that I'd had a stroke or was otherwise dying.  Luckily it decided to start focusing again.
  • On Wednesday evening, Vinny threw his full sippy cup and it hit me in the forehead.  He wasn't angry and he wasn't aiming for my head.  He was just winging his cup and I was in the wrong place.  It hurt so bad that I almost cried, and I confess that I got really angry.  I told Jeff to take his son away.  I still have a really sore lump on my forehead from it.  Luckily it didn't turn purple or anything.
  • Yesterday, I spent the entire day in meetings and didn't get any work done, meaning that I still have to do everything I needed to do before yesterday, plus all the new stuff from the meetings.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Attention: Breadwinning Moms

Are you a sucker for being part of Science? I know that I am, which is why when I found out about the Bread and Roses project, I had to join. Sociologist Andrea Doucet is doing research on families in which women are the primary breadwinners. There's also a forum on the site where you can post your story or engage in discussion about life as a breadwinning mom. Head on over to the site and make your contribution to science!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Question of the Day

Will the dealership fix my window this time, or will I be taking the car in a fourth time for the same problem?

Sunday, June 07, 2009

A Leisurely Afternoon

This afternoon we had a fun time together -- we went for a picnic and then a swim at the park. There's a city park with a beach on the lake, with a beautiful picnic area overlooking the lake.

After our picnic, Vinny and I went swimming. Mostly he clung to me and I jumped up and down in the water. But I also taught him to kick and paddle in the water a little bit, and also as he got more comfortable, I was able to get him to walk in the shallower water near the shoreline. By the end he was having such a great time that I could hardly pry him out of the water. But he was shivering and tired and it was time to go home.

We'll definitely have to take him swimming again soon. He really likes the water, as long as you don't duck his head in it.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Actual Conversation

Vinny: Mama's glasses have rectangle. [referring to the shape of my glasses' lenses]
Me: Yes, that's true! Good observation!
Vinny: No, Mama's glasses have trapezoid!
Me: [speechless]

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Bullying, Bad Effects, and Benefits

As I indicated in a previous post, I was pretty badly bullied in junior high school. It had always been my worst, most paranoid fear that people pretended to like me, but actually hated me. Then, one morning I woke up, went to school, and realized that it was true!

I was with the same group of classmates in all my classes. Among this group was a clique of girls who really disliked me, for a variety of reasons. In part, they were jealous of my academic accomplishments. But it was partially my fault as well. I didn't bathe often enough, because of pressures I perceived within my family, and I eschewed all things fashion, for similar reasons. I was also very vulnerable. I didn't feel completely accepted at home, so I was already wobbling through life. They just gave me a push and knocked me over.

If I sat at the lunch table first, they would find another table to sit at. They would offer chewing gum to everyone but me. They would roll their eyes and discount anything I contributed to the conversation. And they would plan parties in front of me and not invite me.

(But, when it came time to do homework or play review games for exams, I was the first one picked. They knew where my abilities lay, and what they could get out of me!)

I survived by befriending the boys in my class. They would put up with me. I couldn't go to any social events with them, but at least I sort of had friends sometimes. But they weren't exactly on my side, because if they were interested in dating any of those girls, their allegiance couldn't keep them tied to me.

I made it, and I'd say the worst long-lasting effect I still experience today has to do with invitations. For example, I pretty much can't pick a lunch table and wait for my friends to go through the cafeteria line. I just stall and wait for one of them to show up, and pick a table together. Also, I tend to wait for invitations instead of taking the initiative in social situations. I have a hard time sitting down at somebody's lunch table if I run into them in the lunchroom, for example. But I'm working on that!

There have been some benefits, though. I'm certainly more sensitive to how others might feel, and as a result I basically never make fun of people, even when others are doing it. I temper my words carefully, and offer constructive criticism rather than just laying into people. I don't judge people based on their appearance and I try to appreciate people's individuality and differences, enjoying them rather than condemning them, as best I can.

I think I probably would have tried to be a considerate person should these experiences have never happened to me. But as easy as it is to understand something abstractly, unless you've experienced it yourself, it's a little harder to understand concretely. (For example, I knew that in principle people's academic performance could be adversely impacted by the divorce of their parents, but I didn't really get it until it happened to me.)

So while I will never believe that the things those girls did to me were all right or okay, it did shape me into the person I am today, and to some degree, it was for the better. The same could be said for all the adversity in my life, I suppose.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Planning Ahead

It strikes me as somewhat rude to invite students to spend the summer working with me, only to go on vacation. As it is, I'm going to be on (mostly business) travel for nearly 20% of the time my student is here. (I'm going to Portland this week, Washington, DC next month, and probably New Orleans in August for business travel; in addition, my cousin is getting married in Portland next month so I'll fly out for that as well.)

So, I had decided long ago that we would be taking our vacation in September again, just as we did last year. And we thought that it would be fun to take Vinny with us, on some sort of road trip to somewhere-or-other. We just didn't know where.

When my mother scheduled my grandmother's memorial service for September 26 in Nebraska, that set the destination -- or at least the general direction we would be going. It's about 17 hours to the part of Nebraska we're going to, but I think we'll make some stops along the way in order to keep everyone sane.

We should take advantage of the fact that we're already that far west and go see some interesting sights. One place I wanted to see is Carhenge -- what's not to love about a reproduction of Stonehenge made out of cars? We'd also like to see Chimney Rock and possibly the Black Hills too.

I've ordered the AAA guides for that part of the country, but of course I'd also like to ask my vast blogging audience for advice -- what might we enjoy seeing?