Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Season's Greetings to all! This is a test message from my cell phone.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Skeptic and Santa Claus

Vinny is really excited about the upcoming visit of Santa Claus.  I am enjoying his excitement and enthusiasm.

After he was born, I had some reservations about Santa. I enjoyed the tradition of Christmas stockings filled with gifts.  But I was unsure how to handle the existence (or non-existence) of Santa Claus.  I did not want to lie to my child, after all.  On the other hand, I recalled a story about my parents telling my older sister that Santa was not real -- "I don't want to know that!" she replied. So being truthful wasn't all it was cracked up to be, either.

I remembered from reading "Ask Marilyn" years ago that she told her kids that Santa represented holiday joy and love, but was not real, and they would all pretend to believe in him.  I thought that was probably how I would handle it, until I read the book Parenting Beyond Belief by Dale McGowan.

In the book, they had dueling articles about whether a freethinking family should endorse or eschew the Santa legend with their children.  After reading them both, I was convinced of the wisdom of teaching my child about Santa, to give him an early lesson in reasoning.*

Santa, you see, has a number of parallels with the another supernatural peeping-Tom myth that persists well past childhood in the majority of the American population.  They are both watching and judging you. They both have big white beards.  If you are good, you will be rewarded.  Whatever you get, you deserved -- anything lacking is your fault.  So puzzling through the Santa myth is just a dry run for puzzling through the God myth.  The same logic refutes both.

I've already gotten some skeptical questions about Santa from Vinny.  "How does he go to all those houses?" I was asked just the other day.  "Some people say his sleigh is magic," I replied.  "What do you think of that?"

For now, that was an acceptable answer to his question.  But at some point, says McGowan, the desire to know the truth about Santa will outweigh your child's desire to believe in Santa.  The trick is to allow your child to reason through it on his own, and to never lie to him when he asks direct questions.  That's why, following McGowan's lead, I deflected with "some people say," and allowed him to assess the validity of the answer.

Someday, he will puzzle it all out himself.  He will realize that Santa and his parents use the same wrapping paper, and have the same handwriting.  He will fathom the sheer numbers of houses Santa allegedly serves, and deduce that it is impossible.  He will no longer believe in magic.  And he will put it all together, decide that the benefits of knowing the truth outweigh the benefits of living in denial, and stop believing in Santa.  And when he makes this decision, it will feel good, and not be disappointing, because he figured it out himself.

And I will be proud of my little skeptic, and feel confident that he will use his intellect to dismantle other myths he's exposed to (not just higher powers, but myths about gender, race, politics, relationships, himself, etc.).

* Read McGowan's Santa article here, and then buy the book to read the rest!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Adventures in Speaking Too Soon

Alas, I spoke too soon in the previous post.  He was able to sleep on his own for about a week but now we're back to square one.  Sigh.  I know it can't last forever -- if nothing else, he'll become a teenager and not want anything to do with us at some point.  But it sure is frustrating.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Adventures in Migraines

I can't say that I am a fan of migraines, but the last one I had actually resulted in something good.

I've been getting them with more and more frequency, probably 3 times a month over the past couple of months, which has been pretty unpleasant to say the least.  I went to the doctor, and she has scheduled me for a CAT scan to make sure I don't have a tumor or something, but otherwise I just have to collect information and try to figure out any kind of pattern to them.

On Wednesday night, I had a really, really painful one.  It is my job to put Vinny to bed every night.  Lately he has been too scared to fall asleep on his own, because developmentally he has gotten to the stage where he knows something about death and is afraid of being alone.  So I have sat there and played on Melvin (the tiniest, babiest computer) until he falls asleep -- thus the recent spate of prolific postings on this blog.  But on Wednesday, my head just hurt way too much to be able to do that.  And of course, that evening he was particularly hyper and not ready to fall asleep at bedtime.  I was getting angry and because I was so frustrated and in so much pain.  So I went downstairs to Jeff and asked him to help me.  Jeff went upstairs and lay down the law, telling Vinny that Mama was going to bed because her head hurt really badly, and that Vinny could goof off and play if he wanted to, he just had to stay in his room.  There was some crying, but Vinny did it.

The next morning, Vinny pointed out to me that he had been promised a prize for falling asleep all by himself and staying in his bed all night.  (This prize had been dangled in front of him after he returned from that week at Grandpa and Grandma's, where he had fallen asleep by himself with no problems, in an attempt to convince him to do the same thing here, but to no avail at the time.)  Upon confirming what had happened that night with Jeff, I agreed and awarded him the prize: sunglasses with blinking blue lights on the sides (one of the best pieces of swag we picked up at the conference).  Then I told him if he did it again that evening, he would get another fantastic prize.  The next morning, he was rewarded with another piece of light-up swag.  And yesterday I told him if he did it for the next two nights he would get yet another prize.  Last night was a success, and I anticipate tonight will be too.

I think he'll be falling asleep on his own for the foreseeable future, which is a great thing!  So for perhaps the first time ever, something good came out of a migraine!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Winter Weather

It has been pretty cold here lately!  Why, today I don't think the temperature rose above freezing.  I excitedly wore several layers of clothes today.

It doesn't get quite this cold that often here in Tennessee.  The weather (although not the complete lack of snow) reminds me of my days in Illinois.

Speaking of Illinois, when I told Vinny that one of his cousins lives in Illinois, he suggested that his cousin actually lives in "Billinois" and just laughed like it was the most hilarious thing ever.  Then I suggested that Vinny lived in "Sillynois" and laughed a bit myself (although Vinny did not find that as humorous as his own joke).  I am still trying to figure out the four-year-old sense of humor.  So far it seems to me that watching him laugh is about the funniest part of his jokes.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Fun with Creative Play

Vinny's been really into creative play these days, which I really love.  He has a great imagination and it is so fun to see what he comes up with.

Tonight, he was C3PO and Jeff was R2D2, and when I joined in the play I was dubbed Darth Vader.  Luckily, I didn't have to behave like Darth Vader particularly, and all our conflicts were solved with a pizza party.  If only it were that easy in real life!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Computers and Me (Part 2)

In that first semester of grad school, I suddenly realized that I had a lot of work to do to catch up to all these people with computer science bachelors degrees.  I was a pretty good programmer for a physicist ("for a physicist" being the operative phrase) -- but the thing is, there is so much more to computer science than just programming.  It was pretty tough going, but with help from friends and my very patient adviser, I eventually learned everything I needed to know to get that doctorate.

I was more on the math side of things than the programming or hardware side through my graduate career.  (Thus the title of this blog, started in my final semester of graduate school.)  I resisted learning any more of the technical side than I needed to, but I knew I needed to learn more.  But I was scared -- it all seemed so complicated, and to admit that I didn't know something was a big risk -- what if I failed at learning it?

I took a research assistantship at the supercomputing center, which turned out to be the best thing I ever did careerwise.  I got used to working with big supercomputers and started to feel a lot more comfortable programming in parallel.  This allowed me to do the computing I needed to do for my dissertation, which could not have been done on anything smaller than a supercomputer.  It was a risk I took that paid off many times over.

In my postdoc, I learned a lot more about programming and designing scalable parallel algorithms, which was awesome, but I was still kind of light on the hardware side when I started my current job.  I had hoped to stay that way but quickly realized that I was on the side of things where I actually had some input into the design of the next-generation leadership supercomputer.  (Okay, very little input, but more than I had ever had.)  So instead of just not having an opinion, I had to actually start thinking about computer architecture and how it impacts the scalability of parallel algorithms.

But I really didn't know enough about computer architecture to have a particularly valid or useful opinion.  So, when I was asked to help give a workshop on using our machines, I volunteered myself for the part where we explained the machine architecture.  I then learned Computer Architecture 101 (courtesy of Wikipedia) and translated what I had learned into a presentation for a lay audience.  This helped me to understand computer architecture in a way that I had never understood before.  Suddenly all those discussions about next-generation machines made a lot more sense.  And I could throw around computer hardware jargon with the best of them.

Today, I am pretty sure that I have no interest in designing computer hardware, but I am interested in how the components fit together and how this relates to algorithms for high-performance computing.  I am really happy in my current job because I now have just enough knowledge of computer architecture to understand what is going on.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Computers and Me (Part 1)

I have always loved computers, as long as I remember.  I remember my dad bringing home a computer when I was very young, and using a modem (which was a cradle for the rotary phone's handset) for something-or-other.

The summers between my early elementary school years I took some computer science classes for kids.  We programmed in BASIC on some mainframes at the university.  One of my teachers was a woman, but I don't remember the gender makeup of the class.

I do remember being the only girl in the electrical engineering class I took the next year, though.  I was self-conscious about it because I was just learning about gender roles and the fact that my interests were not typical for those with a matching 23rd pair of chromosomes.  I think I was a bit overwhelmed by the boys in the class, but I did learn a lot about resistors and capacitors and other interesting things.

When I was nine, we got our own home computer.  It had two floppy disk drives, no hard drive, and a monochrome (amber) monitor.  You had to boot it from the A drive.  It had BASIC so I was able to write some programs, just like I had done in my computer science classes.

In junior high, I was interested in joining the computer club, but I was intimidated by the boys in my class and did not join.  They weren't just loud and boisterous; they actually made fun of me for wanting to join the computer club, urging me to return to the kitchen where I belonged.  So it was not a welcoming or safe space for me and I stayed away.

I went to a math, science, and technology magnet school for high school.  In my math class my sophomore year, we wrote programs in Quick Basic, so no line numbers were necessary.  I remember for our final exam we had to write a code that would determine whether the number you input was prime, and that I wrote a program to do this in no time flat, while the rest of the class was struggling with it.  (Of course, the method I used, namely counting by odd numbers and testing whether the number was divisible by any odd number from 3 to the square-root of the number in question, is not scalable for large numbers, but that is beyond the scope of this post.)

There was an advanced computer science course offered, but at the time I had found that I had a great interest in chemistry, so I took AP Chemistry instead of computer science.  I enjoyed playing on our computer at home, but my formal computing education waited until college.

In college, I took a class on FORTRAN for engineers.  It was really easy and I aced the programming projects and the exams.  At that time I was majoring in chemical engineering, but I soon switched to physics. 

I thought I wanted to be an experimental scientist until I did a summer internship simulating physics on a computer.  At that point I discovered where my heart really was!  So I did a concentration in computational physics for my major.  To do that concentration, I took a class on numerical methods, and aced it.  It was in that class that I got the first inkling that maybe I could go into computer science.  I got a problem set back with a 100% grade and a personal note from the professor: "Have you considered graduate school in computer science?  I would love to have a student like you!"

I took an extra year to complete my undergrad and took some additional CS classes that final year.  I was overjoyed to discover that I was admitted to the institution from which I eventually earned my Ph.D. some seven years later.

(Stay tuned for Part 2!)

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Debugging in Parallel

Sometimes* when you write a computer program, there are bugs in it.  Some of those bugs can be easy to catch (e.g., I forgot to put a semicolon at the end of line 67 and my code won't compile), while others are not.  There are different types of bugs, too -- memory errors that cause a segmentation fault, typos that might cause one variable to be updated instead of another, and errors in your algorithm, to name a few.  Each of them is uniquely challenging to find and fix.

But when we add an additional layer of complexity to a code by making it run in parallel, the difficulty of finding and fixing bugs goes up by several orders of magnitude.  The most insidious of bugs will appear only at high process counts, or irregularly.  How then can we find out where our code is going wrong?

A classic method of finding bugs is by inserting print statements in the code.  Using the print statements and running the code, we can follow a sort of bisection algorithm to determine where things go bad.  Typically we insert a few print statements at the first pass, and then further hone down to the point where the error occurs with several subsequent runs.  But this is highly time consuming, and produces a lot of excess data.  I for one would hate to insert all those print statements in a complicated code, not to mention sift through the output of print statement debugging across 200,000 processes.  It can take weeks to find a bug in this way, especially if you have to wait for a batch system to run your jobs.

The best solution is to use a debugger.  Using a debugger, you can pinpoint the exact line at which the bug occurs in a single trial (for bugs such as segmentation faults).  And you can insert break points around areas of the code you suspect are faulty, and examine the contents of the variables.  You can also step through the code slowly and figure out how x came to equal 27 instead of 32 (for example).

Parallel debuggers exist, and do scale up to hundreds of thousands of processes.  Of course, these are commercial products but I'm guessing you don't have a 200K-core supercomputer in your basement.  Most supercomputing centers have a license for a commercial debugger such as Allinea DDT or TotalView.  Both of these are great products that will help you to find your bugs quickly and relatively painlessly.  And if you stubbornly insist on not using a commercial product, most mpirun or mpiexec commands allow you to attach your favorite free debugger to your parallel execution.

Do you think it is too hard to learn to use a debugger, that by the time you do learn it you could have already found that bug and moved on to something else?  Invest in your future and learn to use a debugger anyhow!  Let me tell you the sad, sad story of a graduate student I knew quite well.

This graduate student felt that by the time he/she learned to use a debugger, that final bug sitting between the student and graduation would have been found and fixed.  Because, of course, that was the final bug.  He/she said this, bug after bug after bug.  Looking back, this person realized that by investing a day learning to use a debugger, he/she could have graduated (and started earning for-real money instead of measly graduate student stipends) about six months earlier.

Don't be like that graduate student.  Learn to use a debugger and stop wasting your time!

* Actually, pretty much every time you write anything more complicated than "Hello, world!"

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Running Me Ragged

So, today my Mean Running Coach* took me on a route that was over 5 miles.  This is farther than I have ever run before.  I hasten to add that I probably ran half of it at most -- but we did complete the whole thing in maybe an hour and a quarter, which is pretty respectable.

But oh, was it painful!  The good thing is, it will be a lot easier to do on Friday.  It is amazing how the body gets stronger so quickly.

* She is actually really nice and one of my dearest friends at work.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanksgiving Adventures

We had a good holiday weekend.  I stayed home on Wednesday so that I could cook for our Thanksgiving dinner.  I went grocery shopping and made an apple pie and cranberry sauce that day.

Then on Thursday morning I put the turkey plus some carrots, parsnips, and the appropriate herbs and spices in our super-deluxe oven on the slow-cook setting before we left for a Thanksgiving-day race.  The entire family participated in a fun run, and Vinny got a medal upon completion of the race.  We headed back home and we continued cooking: rolls (made from my favorite leftover oatmeal bread recipe), corn pudding, fresh beets and greens, macaroni and cheese for Vinny, and Jeff's broccoli casserole.

The turkey was delicious -- very moist and falling off the bone.  I'd never tried parsnips before but I liked them.  I ate all the beets because I am the only family member who actually likes them, but Jeff tried some of the beet greens and thought they were good.  Vinny feasted on macaroni and cheese, rolls, and cranberry sauce.  We all enjoyed the pie for dessert, but especially Vinny, because it was an "X" pie (lattice top).

My dad and bonus mom arrived on Friday and we enjoyed some of their leftovers and ours, plus Italian roasted pork loin, for dinner.  They came so that we could go to a football game together on Saturday -- the annual Kentucky vs. Tennessee game, which is always held on Thanksgiving and which Kentucky has consistently lost for 26 years in a row now.

On Saturday morning we got decked out in layers of clothing (blue of course!) and headed to the game.  We had a pretty good view of the field despite being near the top of the stadium.  The stadium was filled with a surprisingly high proportion of people wearing blue.  It wasn't half, but it was more than a third.  We had a good time even though our team lost.

Dad and Marvis left after we had dinner.  On Sunday we went to the same Christmas tree farm that we went to last year, and cut down a tree.  We are slowly decorating it -- I got the ornaments and lights down from the attic last night, and we have put a few strands of lights on it as a reward for good behavior in everybody's favorite four-year-old.  Tonight I plan to make a 25-link paper chain like I did last year for him, to illustrate the countdown to Christmas.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My Little Nerd in Training

So, while Vinny was staying with his grandparents, my dad was walking with him through a parking lot, where Vinny proceeded to rattle off the make and model of every single car.  If he could identify cars, Dad thought, then surely he could learn to identify trees too.  So that week, Dad helped Vinny to create a leaf collection and learn all the leaves.

There are a couple dozen different leaves in that book, and Vinny knows them all.  He can flip through the book and rattle them all off, but also he can identify them out of order or even outside of the book.  He took the leaf collection book to school and showed it during show and tell.  His teacher was amazed by his leaf knowledge, and so am I.  I think that at this point, he can identify more leaves than I can.  The mind of a four-year-old is like a sponge!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Travel and Home Again

We took Vinny to his Grandparents' house on the Wednesday before we left for the conference, because we wanted to take a CPR/First Aid class on Thursday.  We did, and are now both certified in CPR and First Aid, at least for the next year.

We left on Saturday, driving to New Orleans.  We spent one night in a beautiful new hotel for a bargain price (the gubmint rate, since I was on business travel!) before arriving mid-afternoon.

Jeff had a great time in New Orleans -- he explored the French Quarter and went on a cemetery tour.  I spent the majority of my waking hours in the convention center, although I did get a chance for an evening beignet excursion to Cafe du Monde, and to go out to dinner one night with my boss and his wife (and Jeff too), and another night with Jeff alone.  I tried a lot of new foods, including rabbit, which tastes like a cross between chicken and pork.

Finally the conference was over, and before leaving New Orleans, we went on a swamp tour.  We saw lots of alligators and other creatures, and we got to hold a baby alligator.  Then we started driving.

We stayed in that same hotel at the same gubmint rate -- unfortunately I suffered a migraine when we got out of the car for dinner, so Jeff made the executive decision to stop.  We arrived home on Saturday evening -- only to get up early the next morning to go pick up Vinny.

We spent the afternoon with Jeff's sister and brother-in-law, allowing Vinny to play with his cousins.  It was a lot of fun, especially for Vinny, but we had to leave earlier than we would have liked, to make it home at a decent hour.  I was terrified that the migraine would make a reappearance, but luckily I remained migraine-free.  This morning marked the return to our regular schedule -- Vinny to school and me to work.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Prepping for the Conference

Remember last November, when I was the signage chair for a major conference in my field, and how exhausted and burned out I was, and how I said I wasn't going to do anything for the conference this year?

Yeah.  Uh, so, I didn't exactly keep my promise to myself there.  I'm not doing anything as hard or involved as that, but I am one of the judges for a student competition, a speaker for the part of the program aimed at attracting minorities to the field, and I am presenting a session (along with two of my colleagues) at the conference.  Also, I was asked to help some students who won a prestigious fellowship find their way around the conference.  (I was also told I should use this as an opportunity to recruit shamelessly for my employer, so I have them all set to meet some Important People from my workplace.)

The conference is in New Orleans, which is just close enough to drive to (although far enough that it is still a big trip).  Jeff is going with me, and we are once again leaving Vinny with Grandma and Grandpa, who were kind enough to look after him once again.  Unfortunately, their house is in the opposite direction that we need to go, making the trip about six hours longer each way (since we have to go there and back once each way).  But I think Vinny will have a good time, and so will Jeff, exploring the city.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Electric Car Update

A few weeks ago I got an in-home inspection to determine whether I was eligible for a free charging dock for my Nissan Leaf.  And it turns out, I am!  So, that's $1500 that I don't have to spend to install a charger.

The charger is at the same high voltage level as the plug that connects to your range or your dryer, and it takes about 8 hours to charge the car from 0% to a full battery.  Using a regular wall plug, it would take 18 hours.  Using a fast 400-Volt charger, it takes about 30 minutes to charge from empty to about 80%, but that's not what they install at your house.

It'll cost me a dollar at most to fully charge my battery.  My employer is installing special charging stations at work, so I may charge even less than that at home.

And I am now able to order my Nissan Leaf!  I am really excited about it.  I talked to the dealership last week.  The good news is, they are not tacking anything onto the price above the MSRP.  The bad news is, I'm not sure when the car is arriving.  Depending on when I get it, I have to make different financing plans.  I'll be eligible for a $7500 tax rebate, but if it comes after January 1, then I'll have to wait a while before I get my money back, and the car payment for a (roughly) $35K car is not cheap.

So, I have to talk to the salesman and find out when it arrives.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will be December 31 or earlier.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Solution for Sweet Potatoes

So, our CSA is over, but we still had a bunch of sweet potatoes left from it.  I was trying to figure out what to do with all those sweet potatoes, so I turned to my trusty cookbook, The Joy of Cooking.  Imagine my delight when I saw a recipe called "Sweet Potato and Peanut Stew."  And it got bonus points because it called for zucchini too!

In addition to using ingredients I had too much of, it sounded like an interesting combination of flavors.  It calls for bell peppers, jalapenos, ginger, and garlic, sauteed in peanut oil (I substituted sunflower oil).  Then you add chili powder, cumin, and red pepper flakes to that, before stirring in the sweet potatoes, some tomato paste, and enough water to cover the veggies.  You let it simmer for 45 minutes while you cook up some ground beef or turkey, which you add after the simmering, along with the cut-up zucchini.  The final step is to combine some of the stew liquid with some peanut butter, and then stir that into the stew and simmer.  You can eat it plain, or over couscous or rice.

I made it last weekend, and boy, was it ever delicious!  It was kind of spicy but not too bad for me, especially with the couscous.  We liked it so much that I'm making a double recipe of it right now, and we're going to freeze some of it for later. Thank you, Joy of Cooking, for this recipe!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

New Shoes!

This past weekend, I got some new running shoes.  I realized, when I was stretching before the night race early last month, that the bottoms of my shoes were so worn out that they were slick!  So I went on Saturday and bought a new pair of shoes.

My old ones were okay, but they rubbed a little too much on my little toes, so I got a new pair that was wider in the foot.  The problem is that they are also wider in the heel which makes me feel a little like my foot is going to come out of the shoe, unless I tie them in a special way, the runner's tie.  (By the way, can I just say, that website is cool and there is some awesome math behind shoelaces and tying knots/bows!  Also, there are some really interesting ways to lace up your shoes there.)

Anyhow, I'll let you know how they work out for me.

Monday, November 01, 2010


So, I recently signed up for a free month's trial of Netflix, with streaming video that we can get on our Wii or on our computers.  So far I am enjoying it a lot, but it has prompted us to discuss movies a lot.

One thing we were thinking about is sequels, how they are pretty much never as good as the first movie, with a few notable exceptions.  The sequel has to be substantially different from the original in order to be any good -- it can't just be a rehash of the same plot, as so many sequels inevitably are.  It's like trying to repeat the same experience again, and it just can't be done.

It's kind of the same way in life, too -- the novelty of an experience is part of the experience, and a repeat performance lacks that novelty.  Sequel-makers can't be blamed for trying, I guess, but at the same time they should know it will never work.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

EcoGeoFemme is hosting the November Scientiae carnival, and asked us to write about the best and worst parts of our lives as scientists.  Generally I love my job and my life, but there are definitely superlative aspects of all of it.

The best thing about my job is that I enjoy what I'm doing, it intellectually stimulates me, and it allows me to live a lifestyle that is (mostly) conducive to my happiness.  The big fat paycheck, flexible schedule, and cushy benefits are the top three benefits that I enjoy outside of the workplace.

The worst thing about my job is that it can take over my life.  You may recall me grousing starting in June and going through September about how much I needed a vacation.  This past summer, I bit off way more than I could chew, and then somehow had to swallow it all down anyway.  I was having trouble keeping it together every day, because of the stress, and because I was unable to get away from it all, even for a day.  Lesson learned.  Don't do that again!

Anyhow, I have taken on a new role at work, as I indicated a few months ago, which is postdoc supervisor.  It is (mostly) a lot of fun, but just for some added hilarity, I will tell you about some of the best and worst moments of that!

We are trying to fill a couple more slots (Anybody wanna be a computational science postdoc?  Lemme know!) and I have been doing some recruiting, interviewing, and hiring, and there have been some... interesting times.  Let me tell you about one of the most special of all snowflakes that we interviewed.

I had the privilege (?) of hosting him, and got him all to myself for an hour first thing in the morning.  We were engaged in some small talk, because we had already run out of technical things to talk about, when he asked me what the weather was like in the winter.  I told him that the winters were mild, and he breathed a sigh of relief, because he'd had to quit his postdoc in a Cold Northern State because he couldn't stand the weather and he hated all the deadlines.

At this point, the interview was already over, because a) he had not put this postdoc on his CV and b) we have lots of deadlines.  Unfortunately it was not yet 10:00 am.  But I am polite, and instead of sending him on his way to the airport, let him complete the day.

He sent me a thank-you email talking about how awesome he was and what a
perfect fit he was for the position (fair enough, everybody does that).  But then he sent me more emails... and more emails... culminating in one that literally asked if he could have the job.

At this point, I sent him a message that anyone with at least one-tenth of a social skill would recognize as being of the "Dear John" variety.  I even wished him well on his career!  Evidently he lacked that fraction of a social skill, because he did not get the message.  Upon advice from other colleagues with more experience in hiring people, I had the recruiter send him a rejection letter.

Then things started getting ugly.  He sent me a personal nastygram, and then another nastygram about the mean hiring manager who had made this decision (which he evidently did not realize was me), but I was expecting this blowback and did not reply.  (I'm not sure in what universe insulting or badmouthing the person you want to give you a job is a good idea.)  I thought all had calmed down until a month later when he sent an email to a colleague of mine in a completely different division who did not know him but who shared the same alma mater, asking him to persuade me to hire him.  My colleague said he could not do that, and told the guy to give up, which I believe he has.

Anyhow, that was an interesting time, and then when we interviewed the next candidate, that person was like a breath of fresh air.  We made him an offer but sadly he turned us down.  Ah well, it's all part of the job!

Monday, October 25, 2010

My Poor Sad Head

Last Sunday, we decided to go on a hike with my dad and bonus mom.  It was all great until about five minutes in, when I realized that I was beginning to see the signs of a migraine.  Sure enough, my vision went bad and when it returned, the pain began.  We were still hiking at that point, because I didn't want a little headache to ruin everyone's fun (including my own).  The trail was beautiful and the weather was perfect; the company was great too.  I went home afterwards and slept a bit, but and it got a little better for a while, but the next day, I just felt miserable.  I went to work but only survived a half day, and came home and slept most of the rest of the day away.  I felt better on Tuesday but I did not begin to feel like myself until Wednesday.

I'm glad to be feeling better, but I am getting concerned because I have had several migraines over the past month, which is unusual for me.  I wish I knew what exactly triggered it and I'd quit doing that!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Partying and Partying

At the beginning of the month, we held a family party for Vinny's birthday, just the three of us.  Then, when my dad and bonus mom came last weekend, we celebrated again.  Then yesterday, we had Vinny's big birthday party to which we invited his class from school and many other friends.  And then in the evening, we celebrated his birthday again with Jeff's parents, who drove down for the weekend.

That's four parties for one little boy!  I joked that it was one party per year old, but that is not a scalable tradition to keep up.

Monday, October 18, 2010


I came up with a pretty funny joke on Friday, and I was actually fairly proud of myself.  Vinny and I had been talking about his shoes, and how he has to pull the tongue of his shoes up before he straps the velcro straps.  I pointed out how silly it was that shoes have a tongue and people have tongues too.  Then I asked him,
"Vinny, do you have a tongue?"
"Yes, I have a tongue.  It's in my mouth."
"That's silly!" I said.  "I thought only shoes have tongues!"

This led to some more similarly structured jokes:
"Vinny, do you have any ears?"
"Yes, I have two ears, here and here."
"That's silly!  I thought only corn has ears!"

and punchlines
"I thought only tables have legs!"
"I thought only potatoes have eyes!"

Others I thought of include:

  • Bread has heels
  • Roads have shoulders
  • Cows have calves
  • Macaroni has elbows
  • Roses have hips
I'm sure there are more out there.  Anybody?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Oh, Hi!

I've been a little bit busy lately!  So busy that I failed to commemorate the anniversary of the birth of my beloved son (that was October 5), or discuss the family party that we held for him, or talk about the student who started working with me at the beginning of the month, or the vacation I've taken for the past week.  I'll try to remedy that right now:

  • I can hardly believe that Vinny is 4.  He is such an amazing little boy and I am so glad he came into my life four years ago.  Every day I love him more and more, as if that is even possible.
  • Since his birthday was on a Tuesday, we held a family celebration the Sunday before, just the three of us.  Vinny's aunt and cousin had a little online video chat with him for his birthday.  We ate homemade pizza and a Dora the Explorer cake for his birthday dinner (more on that cake later).  He got lots of great presents, including a remote controlled car; Lego Rock Band plus a guitar, drum set, and microphone for the game; and a fun set of gears that you can put together on interlocking backing.  He was positively thrilled with the whole thing.
  • He had requested a Dora cake for his birthday.  I said okay, I would make him a Dora cake.  Jeff bought a Dora cake pan and I baked the cake.  That was the easy part.  The hard part was decorating it.  You need 10 different colors for decorating Dora.  For example, she has light brown eyes, but dark brown hair.  Furthermore, she has the whites of her eyes, the light brown iris, the black pupil, and a little dot of white in her eyes.  She also has a bracelet that has light blue, dark blue, and yellow beads in it.  Luckily I bought some sort of frosting mix that was probably actually some amalgam of petrochemicals.  I mixed up all the ten different colors of frosting in ten different bowls, but I was having a lot of trouble with doing everything I had to do to follow the directions.  I had to change out frosting colors, which was an arduous process, especially because I had only one tip of each kind that was required.  A lot of times I just had to do one or two little tiny things and then I had to move on to the next color (for example, red was used only for Map's mouth and nothing else!).  By the end I was going so nuts that Dora's eyes and hair were the same color, and furthermore, she did not have a pupil, not to mention that glimmer in her eyes.  And she evidently forgot to put her bracelet on, because even though I had mixed the blue colors, I did not use them because if I had, I would have completely lost any shred of sanity I had at that point.  I had allowed myself two hours to decorate Dora; it ended up taking five!
  • I have a student working with me who worked with me the summer before last.  He has a prestigious fellowship and worked with me the other summer on something completely unrelated to his research.  He asked me if he could come back and I could help him with something that he's doing for his research.  I said "of course" and the rest is history.  He's a really smart dude and easy to work with.  He is close to graduation, so he asked me to write him some letters of recommendation for jobs.  I'm trying to figure out if there's a way we can hire him at my workplace.
  • Last weekend, we went to Memphis.  We saw the children's museum, which Vinny loved.  They had this wind tunnel with a model airplane in it, and you could turn the fans on to create the wind, then operate some levers which would operate the flaps on the airplane and lift it into the air.  He absolutely loved that wind tunnel because it had fans!  He was talking about the "fan tunnel" for days.  We also went to a place called Incredible Pizza, which was a pizza buffet plus arcade games and also larger games such as miniature bowling and go-karts.  Vinny rode with me in a go-kart, and we were winning the race until somebody hit my go-kart in the back left corner and spun me out, which caused the race to stop until they cleared it up.  Some of the other go-karts had passed me before they had to stop for the cleanup, and they ended up winning.  Anyhow, the food was pretty good and the games were fun too.  The next day we went to Graceland, and that was a lot of fun to the adults in the party but not so fun for the four-year-old.  On Monday we headed back home but we stopped at Shiloh National Battlefield Park, where a major Civil War battle was fought.
  • Then, I stayed home for the rest of the week.  I went in to work for a half day on Wednesday, but otherwise I just spent the week at home.  I did some cleaning up around the house, and I did some shopping, and Jeff and I went out to lunch together once, but I basically took it easy all week, which was really nice.  I really needed to get away from work for a while, and I feel really refreshed after this time away.
  • Today, Dad and Marvis are coming to celebrate Vinny's birthday.  It should be a lot of fun!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Night Race!

Last night, I participated in my first-ever night race.  A friend of mine is involved in a community organization that held a 5K race that began at 9:00 pm.  I did the race, and while I didn't win any prizes or anything this time, I felt like it was a huge success for me.

I talked Jeff and Vinny into doing it too.  Vinny was lured into it by the promise of a flashlight.  Jeff graciously agreed to supervise Vinny and participate in the race instead of just cheering me on at the sidelines.

All my other races have been in the morning, so I would just wake up, eat something like a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast at least an hour before the race, and then go race.  I wasn't quite sure what to do for an evening race, because I could have really worn myself out during the day and been too tired to do the race in the evening.  I tried to just take it easy for most of the day, and then I ate an omelet for dinner at about 6:00, and then did not eat anything else for the rest of the evening.  This worked out well, and I was just at the right stomach fullness to be able to race.  Eating any later I would have still been sloshing at 9:00.

We got to the race at about 8:00, because Jeff and Vinny were participating in the 5K walk, which started at 8:30.  They started off on their walk and I stretched and talked to some friends while I waited for the run to start.  The race started at an old Revolutionary War-era fort, and they used a canon as the starting gun for the race.

I knew that I would be the slowest runner in the race, so I started at the very back of the pack.  I ran really slowly and in fact enjoyed a personal police escort right behind me during most of the race.  There were some people who faded and I passed, but I was definitely one of the final people across the finish line.

That being said, I was really proud of myself because I ran for 90% of the race.  I just started running and kept running at my extremely slow pace.  The only times I walked was when I got the water (because I didn't want to choke on it like I did in the last race I was in), and again for about 30 seconds up a hill, but after I got my breath back I started running again.

During this race, I realized that for me, breathing is the trick to running: as long as my breathing was not out of control, I could run.  When I had to coordinate breathing and drinking, I couldn't run.  And when I was going up that hill, I got out of breath and had to slow down until my breathing could get under control.

I counted my breaths as I ran.  This helped me to focus, and I was able to talk myself into running further by saying "Okay, I'm gonna run until I get to 600" and then "Okay, you're at 600, let's make it to 650," etc.  As I was nearing the halfway mark, I saw Vinny and Jeff on their walk, and Vinny waved and shouted "Go, Mama!" which was also an inspiration to keep running.  Also I would tell myself that I wouldn't want my police escort to be disappointed by me slowing down and walking.

When I saw I was near the finish line, I tried to run a little faster, and as I neared the finish I looked for Jeff and Vinny, hoping they were there to cheer me on.  As it turned out, they were not yet there; we all finished our races at about the same time.

Like I said, I did not win any awards or prizes, my mile pace was just over 13 minutes, and in fact my total time was longer than it was in the previous race I was in, but I am just so proud that I ran almost the entire race.

I was also really proud of Vinny for completing the 5K walk (with some help from Daddy).  We have a stash of gold metals and when we got home, we gave him one.  I think this really encouraged him to do more races.  And in fact, I saw that there is another race on the same route in November -- the flyer was in the packet they gave us -- and it says they are giving prizes to walkers.  So I think maybe he and I will walk that one and if we are lucky they will give him a prize (and if not, I will take along another gold medal and ask them to present it to him).

Friday, October 01, 2010

Happy New Year!

What, you didn't hold a party last night and stay up until midnight?!?!  Okay, neither did I.  But it is a new year -- a new government fiscal year.  My project that was due at the end of the fiscal year is done, so I'm feeling free!  Hopefully this new year will be as much fun or (better yet) even more fun than last year.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Adventures in Little Things Making a Big Difference

So, at work I work with some scientists in a field that rhymes with shmooclear shmisics.  These people are very smart application scientists, but definitely not computer scientists.  I love them because as long as they exist, I will always have a job.  They write pretty miserable code, because that's really not their thing.  They just want to do the science.

Half of my job with them is improving their code, but more importantly (if I want my efforts to not be wasted), I spend a lot of time developing a working relationship with them.  You see, they are a kind of insular community, and don't generally trust some "hot shot" outsider who doesn't know the science.  But I have been able to do a few simple things that have drastically improved the performance of their codes, so I think we are getting somewhere.

Most recently, I was profiling one of their codes, and discovered that it spent more than 50% of its time sorting.  I looked at their sorting algorithm and saw that it was some homebrew sorting algorithm that was kind of like bubble sort (with computational complexity order N2, or the worst possible performance without doing something completely stupid).  My guess is, they didn't know that some smart computer scientists had thought a lot about sorting algorithms and developed smart ways to sort; they probably just thought of how they would sort things and implemented that.  So I replaced their Frankenstein sort with a heapsort algorithm (worst-case complexity N log N) and the sorting became an insignificant portion of the total runtime.  Then, I showed my primary collaborator what I had done, and they discussed it in a meeting the next week.  As it turned out, nobody knew why it was sorting; it was some legacy of an abandoned algorithm.  I removed the sorting altogether and am in the process of doing a little benchmarking study.

It was pretty amazing, though, that this piece of code that nobody realized was being executed was taking up more than 50% of the test problem runtime, and more than 20% of the benchmark problem runtime!

The next bottleneck in their code is the I/O.  They are reading the input in a very unintelligent way (all the processors opening the same file and reading it), so I plan to fix that for them when I get the chance.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Vacation in My Future

I am pleased to report that there is a vacation in my near future.  I have a student coming to work with me beginning next month, but there are times when he will be gone to some conferences, so I will be able to take some time off then.

This is really good because I have kind of a short fuse these days from not being able to be away from work.  I still have quite a bit of work to do this month, but after that, I am looking forward to a vacation!!!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Judge Not, and Don't Feel Judged

I grew up in a very judgmental family environment.  We were a liberal/progressive family, so the judgment didn't manifest in disapproval of others' life choices; it manifested in the conclusion that everyone should think just like us.

After my parents' divorce, I was forced to rethink everything -- to reexamine the structures in my mind.  It was hard -- but it was also freeing.  I railed against this idea nine years ago, but as some of the people in my adult children of divorce mailing list said (the ones who were further past the traumatic events), the divorce was truly one of the best things that ever happened to me.

I left no stone unturned.  I felt, for the first time, free to do what I concluded was right, rather than what others told me was right.  I grew up.

Many things I reconsidered and came to the same conclusion, e.g., washing your hands after you use the potty is a good idea.  Other things I reconsidered and came to a deeper conclusion, e.g., respecting other people's autonomy extends to their freedom to think and draw (possibly erroneous) conclusions, in addition to their life choices.

And still other things I reconsidered and came to a different conclusion.  One of those things is about judging others and taking offense.  I used to look at everyone and make judgments about their intrinsic worth.  I was taught to take the tiniest thing, and analyze it to a conclusion about that person's character.  For example, a woman touching her hair while she's talking to you is vain.  After that, it was hard for them to change in my eyes, except perhaps for the worse.  In return, I always felt judged by other people, and took the conclusions to which I believed they had arrived quite personally.

Then I learned that there are entirely different ways of thinking about other people.  You don't have to categorize and judge people; furthermore, people don't fit well into the boxes we put them in.  For example, I had a professor who had once done something to offend me who I had to work for shortly after my parents announced their intentions to divorce.  I was very angry and apprehensive about working for him, because I thought he was really unkind and judgmental.  As it turned out, we ended up getting along very well, and he was highly supportive of me both personally and professionally.  He was a little eccentric and socially unskilled, yes, but had the best of intentions.

I also learned that I don't always have to think the worst of others when they do "bad" things.  I've talked about this before in terms of people doing mean things to me, but this also extends to people who make life choices I would not make or draw erroneous conclusions due to what I perceive as poor judgment.  So, instead of automatically assuming that a poor person who eats a lot of fast food is lazy or gluttonous, I can examine all the factors that have led to those in poverty eating such unbalanced diets,* and actually come to a more positive conclusion.

Today, I tend to suspend judgment of other people.  This is not to say that I just let somebody who did something hurtful to me do it again; I just don't take their bad behavior and subtract from their intrinsic worth as a human being.  As much as I dislike some people, they are human beings and deserve at a minimum a basic level of respect and dignity.

This also means that I deserve a basic level of respect and dignity, something I didn't realize before.  By being less judgmental of others, I am also able to feel less judged myself.  And that is a huge weight off my shoulders.

* Fast food is cheaper (per calorie or per ounce) than nutritious food, so a person with little money would choose fast food to maximize the fullness of their belly, under constraint of their small budget.  Furthermore, there is a paucity of fresh and nutritious food in poor, urban neighborhoods (which are often referred to as "food deserts"), making it even more difficult to get nutritious foods.  Given all the constraints on time and budgetary limits, I would probably make the same choice in the same situation.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today is my birthday!  I am 35, which is the product of two odd prime numbers (5 and 7).  I haven't been the product of two odd primes since a decade ago (25), and won't be again for 14 more years (49) 4 more years (39).* which is the product of twin prime numbers (5 and 7).  I was last the product of twin primes two decades ago (3 and 5), and I will never again be the product of twin primes unless I live to be 143 (11 and 13).

The next time my age will be the product of two prime numbers that are adjacent in the sequence of primes is when I am 77.

Just as something cool to think about, 5 and 7 are one less than and one more than 6, respectively.  Remember in algebra the product of x-1 and x+1?  It's x2-1.  Plugging in six for x, we have an alternate way of computing 5 times 7. Six squared is 36, and 36-1=35.  Cool, huh?

This formula is actually more handy for computing the squares of numbers without resorting to a calculator or long hand calculations, in my experience.  For example, what is 21 squared?  It's 20 times 22 plus 1: 440+1 = 441.  You can change the 1 to any integer a, and get a formula (x-a)(x+a) = x2-a2.  So what is 43 squared?  It's 40 times 46 plus 9: 1840+9 = 1849.

* Math is hard.  Also, I need a vacation.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Me: Vinny, I have a question for you.  Daddy's birthday is on Friday.  What do you think we should give him?
Vinny: Hmm.  Maybe a remote-controlled car.*
Me: ...

* Apparently Jeff got the same answer when he asked Vinny what they should give me.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Spinner for Dinner

The money we spent on a fun food game for Vinny is arguably the best money we've ever spent.  Vinny is a picky eater and doesn't like to try new foods.  We bought this game that consists of a plate that's kind of like a cafeteria tray from elementary school, except that in each part of the tray it has a picture.  Then there is a spinner with those pictures, and which ever one you land on when you spin, you have to take a bite of the food in that part of the tray.

Vinny absolutely loved playing "spinner for dinner" as he put it.  He even tried a food that we thought he would like but would not have tried without "spinner for dinner."  And he liked it!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

More Okra Adventures

We still have a lifetime supply of okra, so I tried to find more recipes for it.  I got in the mood for something involving corn and okra, and I found a recipe that inspired me to make a delicious vegetable dish.  First I fried up four slices of bacon.  Then I took the crispy bacon out of the pan and added some chopped garlic and sliced okra.  I fried that up until the okra looked pretty well cooked, then added a package of frozen corn.  After that looked like it was thawed out and mostly warm, I added a large tomato, diced.  At some point I also added salt and pepper to taste.  After everything was piping hot, I crumbled up the bacon on top of it.

This dish was absolutely to die for.  The okra was not slimy at all, and the other veggies and the bacon made it just plain delicious.

Monday, August 23, 2010

In Defense of Curse Words

If I had a native tongue other than English, it could be sailor.  In my unfiltered state, I've been known to use a lot of words of the four-letter variety. 

Why?  Because I like the feeling of stress relief as they roll off my tongue.  And because I enjoy being reminded, if only briefly, of the very natural bodily functions they evoke.  So it satisfies both my inner Hulk and my inner three-year-old (whose enjoyment of these bodily functions is eclipsed only my real-life three-year-old's).

Speaking of Hulks, my role model Feminist Hulk recently* said
 I couldn't agree more.

At the lowest level, words are collections of sounds that we speakers of a language mutually agree have meaning.  "Bjurmp" is not a word, for example, at least in English.  "Shit" is, however, and it is a word, one to which we have assigned a particularly derogatory meaning.

There are some people who banish words like shit, and asshole, and fuck from their vocabularies.  I don't have a problem with that; everyone should be free to use words that they feel comfortable with.  At the other extreme, there are people who pepper their speech with these types of words to the exclusion of other, better descriptors, which earns my pity rather than my ire -- it is a sad thing that some folks' verbal expressiveness is limited by their vocabularies.

Ultimately, I do not see the offense in describing excrement, or the sphincter whence excrement exits the body, particularly because there are synonyms to these words that are not considered offensive.  It's not the meaning behind the words that is taboo.  It's these particular collections of sounds that have been labeled offensive, something I find ridiculous.  Feminist Hulk has it right: the only bad words are those that are used to make people feel less than others.

So, while many consider "shit" to be a bad word, I much prefer it to hysterical, mouthy, or ball-busting, terms that are applied exclusively to women** to make them feel small for asserting their wants, needs, and rights as human beings.

* Okay, July 5, which is recent for large values of the word recent.

** or sometimes to children, but only to men as a double insult -- they are as bad as women.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Okra Extravaganza

We've been enjoying our CSA this summer.  We've gotten all kinds of great fruits and veggies.  My favorites have been the strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and peaches.  I've also enjoyed learning how to cook some new stuff such as bok choy and kale.

The only thing is, we have gotten way too much okra.  I am not a big fan of okra myself, but I felt that it was pretty important for us to use it if we could.  So I looked on the internet for recipes.  Something I came across was a recipe for "Arkansas Fried Okra."  I made it for dinner last night and Jeff and I both liked it.

We still have a bunch more okra to eat, so maybe I'll make that again or make something else on this great okra resource (where I found the above recipe too).

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Summer Success Stories

All my students have now left.  The last one's final day was yesterday.

I think it was a very productive summer for all three of them.  My high school student had some amazing opportunities that most high schoolers don't get.  She learned a lot about nuclear physics, visualization, and working at a science lab.  She was very appreciative of the opportunity and I hope she'll be able to come back next summer.

My undergraduate student learned Unix, Fortran, and how to use a supercomputer.  He was a very bright young man and the work that he did was top notch.  I think it was a good experience for him, and he may be here again next summer.

My best success was with my graduate student.  She worked for me last summer, and came back again this summer.  My goal this summer was to get her a job, and I succeeded!  She'll be starting next month in a sibling division at my workplace.  I am really excited for her!

The summer was fairly stressful, though, and I realized that three students were too many for me to really be able to handle.  Just mentoring them was a full-time job unto itself.  Also, two of them were sitting in my office, and that meant I didn't have much of a chance to be alone.  And then, I was starting to get stressed out but did not feel like I could take a vacation because I had three students depending on me.  And unfortunately, because of my big project, I can't take vacation for another six weeks at the earliest.  So my stress levels are pretty high and will remain so for the near future.

I'm having another student come for 10 weeks beginning in October.  I worked with him last summer.  But he is a senior grad student and just coming to work with me on developing a new algorithm for his code.  My role will be to brainstorm with him about developing a more scalable parallel algorithm, which he will then implement.  So I think this will be fun rather than stressful.  He's going to be in and out, so I'll plan my time off around him.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Breaking the Glass Ceiling and Falling off the Glass Cliff

I found myself nodding in agreement with every sentence as I read this article on diversity in the workplace.  The article at first seems negative (listing bullets on "what not to do" rather than "what to do"), but within the sarcastic wrapping there are plenty of positive suggestions to be found.  I showed it to a colleague of mine and together we identified workplace initiatives or situations that fit every single "what not to do" bullet in the article.  I saw that it was adapted from a book and I'm thinking I should buy a pallet of the books and give it out like candy to every high-level executive across the entire country.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Personal Shout-Out to Judge Walker

Judge Walker, I just wanted to thank you for advancing this country one step closer to the day when half my first family can experience true equality.  I read the entire findings and conclusions document for Perry et al. vs Schwarzenegger et al. and it brought tears to my eyes.  Marriage has indeed changed over the course of history, and it is becoming more egalitarian as it should be.  You are a fair-minded man for being open to this evolution of society.

If I actually knew you, I would bake you the most beautiful and delicious cake that I could, in thanks for your help in making this country better and stronger through the fair-minded application of justice.  Instead, just know that I appreciate you setting us on the path toward equality for all Americans!

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Electric Cars of the Past and Future

First of all, let me say how much I cannot wait to get my new Nissan Leaf.  Thanks to my employer, we are among the first markets for its release.

But it's not an original idea.  My sister alerted me to the fact that a century ago, there was a company that released a line of electric cars aimed at doctors and women (because electric cars didn't have to be cranked before starting).  The cars had a rage of 80 miles between charges -- only 20% less than the advertised range for the Nissan Leaf.  I don't know how fast these cars could go, and I suspect that the Leaf is a bit safer.

Speaking of the Leaf, you might worry about the fact that water and electricity do not mix, but the batteries have undergone extensive testing.  And in other news, I may be eligible for a free charging station installation in our garage, but I just need to call the company who's determining the eligibility back sometime soon.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

There and Back Again

We were gone for a week, headed up to Wisconsin for a family reunion.  Overall, a good time was had -- both of my sisters and their families were there, and Vinny had a great time playing with his cousins -- but there were some hair-raising moments.  Family is a double-edged sword -- it can bring out the best and the worst in people.  It was quite interesting (in a horrifying sense) to see sibling rivalries still playing out, fifty years later.  It was somewhat jaw-dropping to see the blatantly rude glares and dagger-throwing stares of family members whose fundamentalist views were so rigid that they condemned their nearest relatives.  But it was also refreshing to see the fierce loyalties between family members whose views may differ, but still share the bond of love and mutual respect.

As you might guess from the previous paragraph, although I took vacation days to attend this event, it was no vacation.  But it was at least a different type of tension than the one I experience every day at work, and there's something to be said for variety.

All of this is to say that I am a woman in desperate need of a vacation.  I've been (to quote Dr. Isis) losing my junk a lot lately.  The stress is enough to drive a person crazy.

I can't take a substantial vacation yet, though.  I have a big review the middle of this month, and then it's crunch time for my super-hard project.  I won't have a chance to take more than a long weekend until October.  In the meantime, I believe I will have to plan that week in October, to have something to look forward to.  So, vast blogging audience, any suggestions for a family with a will-be four-year-old, a destination that won't break the bank, won't take too long to travel to, and will be enjoyable for all three parties involved?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Knock-Knock Jokes Redux

We've had a lot more fun with knock-knock jokes lately.  I taught Vinny some pretty hilarious* jokes, including:
A: Knock knock!
B: Who's there?
A: Boo.
B: Boo who?
A: Don't cry, it's just a joke!

A: Knock knock!
B: Who's there?
A: Ach.
B: Ach Who?
A: Bless you!

A: Knock knock!
B: Who's there?
A: Anita.
B: Anita who?
A: Anita tissue! Achoo!

The entertainment value of that last joke has just been priceless.  When I first told Vinny that joke, he then responded with the following joke:
Vinny: Knock knock!
Me: Who's there?
Vinny: Roger.
Me: Roger who?
Vinny: Roger, I need a tissue!  Achoo!

I didn't understand the connection until I remembered that Anita and Roger are the dalmatian-owning couple in 101 Dalmatians, which then made the joke hilarious**.

This past weekend, I taught him the banana/orange knock-knock joke:
A: Knock knock!
B: Who's there?
A: Banana.
B: Banana who?
A: Knock knock!
B: Who's there?
A: Banana.
B: Banana who?
A: Knock knock!
B: Who's there?
A: Banana.
B: Banana who?
A: Knock knock!
B: Who's there?
A: Orange.
B: Orange who?
A: Orange you glad I didn't say banana again?

We have gotten tremendous mileage out of this joke too.  He was able to tell it to Daddy, who laughed heartily (as required).  But it has now hybridized with the "Anita" joke to become
V: Knock knock!
M: Who's there?
V: Banana.
M: Banana who?
V: Banana, I need a tissue!  Achoo!

* hilarious to a three-year-old, that is...
** even to a thirty-something

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Foods I Cannot Bear to Buy

If you come across any of the following foods in our pantry or refrigerator, it is not because I bought them:
  • Honey.  When I was a kid, we had a beehive in our back yard.  Yes, in the city.  I can't imagine that this would be legal today, but my dad kept bees in our backyard back in the day.  Anyhow, the point is that honey from the beehive in your backyard is way better than anything you can buy on the shelf.  And freshly harvested honey in the honeycombs... chewing on that is like eating a piece of heaven.  Nothing can compare, which is why I pretty much never eat honey anymore.
  • Blueberries.  We also had blueberry bushes when I was a kid.  You could go outside on a warm July morning and pick yourself some blueberries for breakfast.  These blueberry bushes had been planted by the previous owner, so they were an older variety that produced berries that were much smaller than the ones you buy in the store.  But, my theory of berries is that there is a set amount of flavor per berry, meaning that these small blueberries had more flavor per unit volume than large berries.  I can't bear to buy blueberries at the store because they don't taste as good and they are so expensive!
  • Raspberries.  We also had raspberry bushes, which produced berries twice a year.  Like the blueberries, they were so delicious to just eat straight off the bush.  Those overpriced things you get in those tiny clamshells just cannot compare.
  • Blackberries.  We had blackberry bushes, and I associate blackberries with August.  There is nothing better than a blackberry fresh off a blackberry bush.  I loved biting into them and tasting the unique combination of sweet and sour that is a blackberry.
Luckily, this year I've gotten to enjoy farm-fresh raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries from my CSA, which is about as good as having the bushes in your backyard (almost as fresh, but a lot less work!) so I have been able to enjoy those fruits.  But I don't think I'll be able to find the honey anywhere.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Adventures with Grandpa

We had a relaxing and enjoyable weekend with my dad.  He came down for a visit on Friday night.  Vinny and I went to the city pool with him for a couple of hours on Saturday.  The pool was really nice -- very big, not too crowded (at least in part because it was overcast all day), and had a large section that was just the right depth for a three-year-old.  Vinny had a blast playing with Grandpa and Mama in the pool, and was pretty disappointed at having to leave.  But, he was exhausted, and when we got home fell asleep while playing with his cars on the living room floor.

I was really glad that my dad came and that we were able to have such a relaxing weekend together.  Vinny was very sad to see him go on Sunday morning, but I reassured him with the promise that we would soon see Grandpa again.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Adventures in the Mountains

On Saturday, we took a little road trip to see Fontana Lake, which is a human-made lake dammed by the largest concrete dam east of the Rockies.  It is TVA's largest dam, and it was built to power the Manhattan Project.  We plugged our destination into Gladys the Map (our friendly GPS), and off we went.

What we didn't realize was that Gladys was sending us on US-129, an eleven-mile stretch of which is known as The Dragon, and quite popular with motorcyclists.  There are supposedly 318 curves in those eleven miles, which my stomach can attest to.  Vinny had asked me to sit in the back seat with him, and I acquiesced.  I was feeling pretty sick about halfway into those 11 miles, and requested that Jeff pull over so I could get in the front.

On our way home, I drove, again back on US-129.  (I did not get carsick at all while driving.)  It was challenging, especially because I was not driving the car I usually drive, but I got the hang of it quickly and did not get in any accidents or anything like that.  But I did get home 20 minutes later than Gladys had originally projected, because that road is harder to drive than she thought.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Hello, World!

Hi!  Yes, I do have a blog, even though I don't seem to have enough time these days to write anything on it.  Sorry about that.  Things have been extra crazy here lately -- supervising three students is a lot of work.  It could be a full-time job unto itself if you let it.

In addition, I've suddenly been given another big task (supervising the hiring, care, and feeding of ten postdocs, most of whom have already been hired).  It's an interesting task, and allows me to learn a lot of new things about hiring and supervising people, so in that way it is a really good thing.  But, it is pretty time-consuming as well.  I have inherited this task from someone who didn't quite have enough time for it, and I'm planning to take it and run with it further than was expected.

The postdocs are computational scientists in different application domains, and I don't directly supervise them (but technically, they report to me).  They have mentors in their science domain who have provided them with projects and supervise their daily work.  But I plan to help connect them with different resources on the computational math and computer science side, to round out their computational science skills.  The whole rationale behind hiring ten postdocs in science domains was to train them to become great computational scientists.  So, I plan to help them develop their high-performance computing skills.  In some cases, this requires a lot more work than in others.  One of them never even said the word "computer" when giving the interview talk.  So that will be quite a challenge!

In other news, today is my sister Rachel's birthday.  Happy birthday, big sis, pioneering the way through the ages!  (In other words, I think you're old!  Hopefully this ruins your life once and for all.)

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Today we took Vinny to his first-ever movie in a movie theater.  It was Toy Story 3 (which was very good, in fact).  He sat the entire time on my lap, and paid attention to the movie for the majority of the time.  The previews were painfully loud, though, so I covered his ears at the beginning.  I thought I was going to have bad cramps in my arms (not to mention the pain shooting through my left elbow!), but luckily the movie was not quite so loud, and I was able to remove my hands from his ears.

After the movie we met some friends at a sort of arcade/amusement park place, where our three-year-olds just enjoyed sitting at the driving games and thought they were playing without us having to insert any tokens, and also went on all the kiddie rides (e.g., the airplanes that go round and round, the mini-train, etc.)

Then we went out to dinner together before going home and putting Vinny to bed.  I think I will head to bed really soon myself.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Adventures in Conferences

I'm at a conference for students with a prestigious fellowship, in our nation's capital.  Yesterday there was a workshop on high-performance computing, which I attended.  I really enjoyed it because there was a high-level discussion of the future of HPC architectures and algorithms.

I talked to an old friend (we've known each other for a long time, not that he's old) about his work as a manager, and he said something that made me feel really good about my career plans (I see myself ten years from now more as a manager than a scientist, although I definitely enjoy what I currently do).  He said he may not be publishing any papers now, but that there is definitely a lot of intellectual work to do as a leader in the high-performance computing field, synthesizing ideas together and planning for the future of the field.  I am attracted more to the intellectual stimulation of computing in the abstract, and less to the down-and-dirty details of implementation (although I do enjoy coding from time to time, when I get the chance).

I'll talk more about HPC architectures and algorithms when I get a chance to really sit down and write something good.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Adventures in Being a Grown-Up

Generally I am a fairly optimistic person and I see the best in others.  There are few things that make me lose my faith in humanity, but petty, small-minded bigotry is one of those things.*

I am far from perfect, and have my own moments of prejudice, fear, and hatred.  After all, I have simmered in the broth of our misogynistic, racist, xenophobic society my entire life, so it is no wonder that some of it seeped into my mind.  But I have an innate, very strong sense of fairness that I employ at every opportunity, which helps free my mind of biases.

I told my sister once that what made me a good mathematician was that I was fair with the numbers.  When I come up with a candidate algorithm in my work, for example, I try to examine it from as many angles as I can, both the general case and as many exceptional cases as I can muster.  In this way, I can further refine the algorithm when I find an exception, or verify when that it will work.

I employ the same technique in my day-to-day dealings with people.  Sometimes, people do things to me that I perceive as being (for lack of a better term) really shitty.  The easiest and most direct explanation for why they may have done that is to attribute it to pure mean-spiritedness on their part.  This is a very simple and elegant explanation -- it requires no creativity or originality, it aligns with my angry feelings about the situation -- but it is also completely false in the vast majority of situations.

No, the vast majority of people are not cruel.  They're just regular people like me -- people who make mistakes, who don't have all the information they need to make the optimal decision, who have unexamined biases.  They've been hurt in life, and have buttons that other people can inadvertently push without meaning to, just like me.

Dehumanizing your enemy -- making them out to be inhuman monsters  -- is deceptively cheap, but costs more in the long term.  It also leaves you powerless against this inhuman onslaught of cruelty.  There is no connection to which you can appeal for decency.  There is no way to stop the evil without escalating it to the next level.  This in turn begets more cruelty and suffering, and the cycle continues.

I recently learned of a situation in which I was the target of a great deal of derision and mockery.  That, friends, is my button right there, installed by my upbringing.  My first reaction was to recoil in horror at the cruel junior-highschoolers in adult bodies who were made entirely of pure evil.  But soon I was able to bounce back from the visceral fear I felt because of the situation, and consider the motivations of those people who were so hurt that they had to hurt others to feel better about themselves.  I thought of the times that I had mocked others, even though I have never gone to the extreme levels of derision that these individuals did.  We all have our moments of terrible insecurity.

Then I thought about how I could approach this situation with these individuals.  What do we have in common?  Where can I make a connection, and diffuse this tense situation?  I think I know the answer to that.  And while they may be so hurt that they can't take the hand that I'm extending, I'm okay with that.  The important thing is to maintain my humanity along with my dignity when facing these adverse situations.

* This is not to say that there is such a thing as profound, open-minded bigotry.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Fathers Day!

Happy Fathers Day to all the dads out there who are reading this blog!  We already celebrated last Sunday, because I have to leave on a business trip late this afternoon.  We went out to a restaurant of Jeff's choice, and I made him his favorite cake for dessert.  It was a good celebration.

Also, a special Fathers Day shout-out to my dad.  Thanks for being such a good dad and for loving me unconditionally.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

I Survived!

Just a little note to let my vast blogging audience know that I survived the grueling week I described in my previous post.

The crash course was a huge success.  We are planning to offer it again sometime in the fall or winter.  The only problem was that during the morning session I stood still for three hours and by the time noon rolled around I was so stiff that it hurt to walk and then sit down to have some lunch.  So in the afternoon I moved around more and that seemed to solve the problem.

The playdate today went pretty well.  We will definitely have to do another one.  We did not end up going to the concert tonight, which was just as well because Vinny was exhausted by the day of fun.

I am doing laundry as I type this, preparing for my trip.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Plans for the Next Week

This next week is going to be incredibly busy.

  • The week begins with taking Vinny to summer school, same place as preschool, but at an earlier time.  Hopefully I will time it all right.
  • Once at work, I warm up with a meeting that I have every Monday morning and absolutely abhor. 
  • My second summer student arrives.  Pick him up from his orientation, and then set him up with his computer accounts, go through orientation and training info, etc.  The timing may be such that I can get out of that meeting a little early!
  • New employee arrives, and since I am still emergency backup group leader, I get to go to his new employee luncheon and then set him up with accounts, go through orientation information, etc.  Maybe I can do some of this at the same time as I do the student's stuff.
  • Turn in everything I want to have printed out for Thursday and Friday's supercomputing course.  Endure the wrath of my admin when she discovers she's going to have to print out something like 8000 pages of material.  Thank goodness for amazing modern copier technology!
  • Finish reviewing a proposal that I don't actually know much about, but agreed to do because it was one of those things you can't say no to.
  • Try to spend some time with my grad summer student, working with her on compiling and instrumenting some code that she theoretically can finally access.
  • Ping somebody to give me some code that I want my undergraduate summer student to use for the summer.
  • Argue with people about granting priority to a project that really needs high priority.
  • Make sure that a poster I requested will be available in time for me to take it when I go on business travel next week.
  • Continue to fight for undergrad's new accounts, and new employee's new accounts.
  • Hold group meeting and tell everyone to get a dang ergonomic evaluation already unless they want to have a nasty scar on their elbow (or worse)
  • Write up something to tide my high school student over when she arrives on Monday and I am gone until Thursday late afternoon.
  • Do a phone interview with a potential postdoc (or this could take place on Wednesday).
  • Celebrate my boss' first day back at work after his two and a half week vacation!
  • Brief him on everything he missed
  • Work with my students (hopefully the undergrad has his accounts at this point)
  • Perhaps I will have some time to do some actual work
  • Make sure that all my travel plans for next week are in order
  • Beginning course for the supercomputing course
  • Assist my colleague who teaches this day
  • Sneak out and go to a mandatory meeting with a visitor
  • Come home and entertain my sister, should-be sister-in-law, and nephew
  • Say goodbye to my sister et al.
  • Advanced course for the supercomputing course
  • I have to teach this all day
  • Miss out on a full-day mandatory meeting which was only scheduled last week (supercomputing course has been on the books for a couple of months now)
  • Take Vinny and Jeff to playdate with a man and his 3-year-old whom I met at the children's museum a few weeks ago and who is new to town.  Hopefully I will have invited a bunch of other parents with similarly-aged children, as he requested, as well.
  • Possibly go to an outdoor concert featuring Chubby Checker, but it may just be too danged hot, sticky, and crowded to do that.
  • Do laundry and pack for my trip.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Adventures in Popularity

I have organized a two-day course in supercomputing, which I am teaching along with another colleague.  I have done this course in one form or another for five years now.  It is primarily aimed at summer interns, so that they can learn the basics of parallel programming and using a supercomputer.

Last year I think we had maybe 30 people signed up for each day.  This year, we had to close registration yesterday after exceeding 80 registrants for each day of the course.  The capacity of the room is about 70, and I'm counting on some people just not showing up.

I think we will have to offer the course again sometime during the fall or winter, because it was unusually popular this year with staff members and postdocs.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Irrefutable Logic

Vinny: Daddy, I want to go swimming.
Jeff: We can't go swimming right now, buddy, it's raining!
Vinny: It's not raining in a hotel!
Jeff: ...

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Postdoc Preparations

My boss has been on vacation for a while and left me in charge in his absence.  So far not much excitement has been going on, just a few silly fire drills to take care of.  On Friday, though, I had to actually do something of substance.

A postdoc is coming for his pre-employment physical, so the paperwork had to be filled out before he arrives.  I had to fill out a form, checking the boxes for occupational activities that applied or did not apply to his job, such as sitting, standing, crouching, kneeling, running, etc.  I also had to check off which occupational hazards he would come into contact with, e.g., hot or cold environment, chemicals, biohazards, etc.  There were an awful lot of boxes and I hope I filled them all out correctly.

When I was a postdoc, my postdoc adviser inadvertently checked a box saying that I might sometimes need to use a respirator.  As a result, I had to have extensive testing of my lungs, my ability to carry loads, and my ability to crouch.  I also had to have a physical every year to make sure I was still capable of using a respirator.  One physical was when I was bursting-at-the-seams pregnant, and not physically capable of using a respirator, and as a result my respirator use was restricted.  It was pretty humorous because the restriction did not change the frequency of my respirator usage.  But they had to write up a report that detailed all my respirator usage restrictions and I had an extra tag I had to put on my lanyard that explained the restrictions, etc.

Here's hoping that I did not cause a similar situation for this incoming postdoc!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Adventures with Summer Students

Today my first of three summer students arrived.  This is a student I had last year, so she already knows the ropes.  After her orientation, she just came and got me rather than me having to go pick her up.  She is even sitting in the same room as she was in last year.  But she was a little startled by all the changes that have occurred in the past year, like the construction of a new transformer room down the hall from my office that took away a former lobby and alcove.

But the project is completely different.  She hasn't really started on anything yet because her accounts have not yet been set up.  Last year she did more database work; this year she'll be doing some instrumentation and performance modeling of applications running at full scale on the supercomputer.  I think it will be a good experience for her.

My next student, the undergraduate who will be working on this same project, arrives in two weeks.  Then my high school student will arrive the next week, while I am away at a conference.  I've arranged with my colleague down the hall to look after her for those first four days.

Also, we are offering our summer one-day supercomputing course.  Last year we had about 30 people register for it.  This year we already have 55, and that's before our target audience, the summer students, have even had a chance to register.  The room doesn't hold too many more people (maybe 75 or 80) so we will be in trouble if a lot more folks register.  I'm thinking if it's this popular, we will have to have one course during the year for staff members and another course in the summer just for students.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Today in Treading Water

Sometimes, trying to stay afloat in the sea of things to do is hard.  There are so many requests, so many reports, so many deadlines, so many different things to do, that it becomes overwhelming.

At a certain point, there are so many different tasks that have to be done, that the overhead of switching contexts hogs the majority of your time.  It is at this point that my brain completely freezes up and I lose the ability to decide what to do.  I just give up, ceasing to get anything done whatsoever.

I give myself a little break before looking at my long "to do" list and reprioritizing.  Then I take a deep breath and dive back in, hoping that I can keep my head above water for a little longer this time.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Vinny has recently learned the art of the knock-knock joke (sort of).  Just now as I was putting him to bed, I was treated to the following:

Vinny: Knock Knock!
Me: Who's there?
Vinny: Orange!
Me: Orange who?
Vinny: Orange fan! [hysterical laughter]

Vinny: Knock Knock!
Me: Who's there?
Vinny: Red!
Me: Red who?
Vinny: Red light!
[we both laugh]

Me: Okay, okay, my turn.  Knock Knock!
Vinny: Who's there?
Me: Nighty!
Vinny: Nighty who?
Me: Nighty Night!
[much laughter from both of us.  I kiss him, get up, and leave the room.]

Friday, May 21, 2010

For Days When I Feel Like SMASHing...

... there is Feminist Hulk, who is smashing the gender binary, defying Cartesian mind-body duality, baking for the monthly feminist potluck, and smashing male privilege into hegemonic shrapnel.

I am in awe of such verdent power rising up against oppressive societal norms.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Eating My Vegetables

So last week was the first week of our CSA.  For last week, we got some strawberries, lettuce, arugula, and bok choy.

We had never cooked with bok choy before, but I searched for recipes on the internet, got inspired by them, and ended up making a stir fry with chicken, mushrooms, baby corn, and the bok choy, and boy was it delicious!  I started with cooking some ginger and some garlic in the hot oil before adding the chicken.  Then I took the chicken out and cooked the mushrooms.  I added the bok choy and the baby corn at about the same time, and also added some soy sauce.  It turned out amazingly well despite my complete lack of measurements.

This week we got more strawberries, more bok choy (yum!), some more lettuce, and some beets.  I am pretty excited about the beets.  I love beets!  Jeff does not share my opinion of them.  But hopefully I can cook them in a way that he will like them if he just gives them a try.  We were both kind of skeptical about bok choy but we really ended up liking it, so I think he will probably end up liking beets too.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Vehicular Velocity

A few weeks ago, I had our GPS in the Beetle for a couple of days.  The GPS has a spedometer feature on it, and I observed that the speed the GPS reported was lower than the speed on the car's spedometer.  In fact, it was about 5% off.

I didn't know which one to trust, but then I observed that the radar speed reader that the police put out also put me at about 5% slower than what my spedometer read.  So I'm thinking my spedometer reads 5% faster than the actual speed.

This explains the times when I've been driving along at the speed limit and other cars have come along and driven right behind me, like I'm driving too slow.  I guess I really was going about 5% too slow even when I thought I was going the speed limit.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Summer Student Spectacular

I am going to have a veritable entourage of students working for me this summer.  The graduate student who worked for me last summer is coming back again.  I acquired an undergraduate by being the only person who had an idea for a project for him.  And if I can get all the paperwork done, I'm also going to have a 16-year-old high school student.

The grad and the undergrad are going to work on performance modeling for my big project.  The high schooler is going to work on some visualizations of nuclei.  I'm going to supervise all three of them while doing my regular job.

The way I got the high school student is kind of a long story.  I wanted to bring the graduate student in through a different program than the one she came in under last year.  The only program I could find that would pay her what I felt she deserved to be paid was in a somewhat unrelated engineering field.  All the other programs would have paid her something like $400 less per month than what she made last summer.  Luckily, one of the codes that we are analyzing for my big project is in that engineering field, so I asked the PI of that code if he would be willing to be her official mentor on paper and let me supervise her in practice.  He said of course he would be willing to help like that, so this is how we got her in and at a fair pay rate.

But while we were talking, he told me about a girl who he had coached in soccer, and how she was really interested in science and asked me if I'd be willing to be her mentor.  I said sure, with the caveat that I had to find some funding.  I didn't really think too much about it though, until last week when the girl emailed me to express her interest.  Then I had to find something for her to do.  So I talked with another of my collaborators and found a project and some funding.

Now I just have to go through a whole lot of extra paperwork because she is a minor.  I have to have a special inspection of the workplace, develop an individual, restricted work plan just for her, and also verify that this is not a case of nepotism (fortunately, it is not).  But, if I can successfully jump through all these hoops in a timely manner, I think this will be a really good experience for her, and we'll have some fantastic nuclear visualizations!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Vinny and the Violin

I was only a little older than Vinny when I started playing the violin.  I had always loved music, and it was a logical next step to sign me up.  I mean, I loved music so much that it was one of the only thing that would soothe me when I got upset.  So it made perfect sense to start creating it on my own.

Vinny recently saw a picture of me at the age of 4, playing the violin.

Ever since then, he has been enthusiastic about learning to play the violin himself.  When we talk about musical instruments, he regularly mentions that he wants to play the violin.

I haven't actively discouraged him from it, but I admit that I am less than enthusiastic about him learning to play the violin at this age.  I think he still needs to be a child, and I don't want to subject him to the kind of discipline that is necessary to learn an instrument yet.

And when he is old enough for it, I am not enthusiastic about the violin as a first instrument.  I think he would be much better served to learn the piano first.  Piano is a useful skill.  There are a lot more opportunities for gigs.  Also, musically speaking, you learn to think about more than just a single melodic line, which is very useful when you play in ensembles or even when you're just trying to appreciate music.  I think a lot of music theory would have come easier to me if I'd had training on the piano.

I also worry about the impact that playing the violin has on a young body.  I know that twisting my left arm into the fingering position on the violin starting at such a young age and for so long contributed to my arm and elbow problems.  I would hate for my son to be disabled as a young adult like happened to me.  He's not left handed, though, so maybe he wouldn't have the same thing happen.

In any case, I won't be signing him up for any lessons any time soon.  He needs to just keep enjoying music for a year or two more.