Tuesday, December 12, 2006

6 scenes from three weeks

11/24/06. In which our heroine watches through tired eyes as her dog begins to stand again.

11/27/06. In which our heroine, presented with grave news about a friend, questions the value of spending 70% of her waking hours working on research and obtaining a doctoral degree. She goes to hug her dog, still dizzy from vestibular disease.

11/28/06. In which our heronie's lower back is pleased to see the dog able to get up and down the stairs again.

12/6/06. In which our heroine walks along the beach of some exotic location after making only a mediocre presentation at a conference to a room full of male peers.

12/9/06. In which our heroine, pressured for time, edits an NSF proposal on an overnight flight from South America.

12/12/06. In which our heroine, buggy on cold medicine, sketches a blog post and prepares to head west for Oregon. Despite the piles of work and sinus congestion, she smiles inwardly knowing she'll be visiting beloved friends and family very soon.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Pooh Glasses

I admit to having a Winnie-the-Pooh phase in my younger years. I'll even admit to not really being out of the Winnie-the-Pooh phase, although the stuffed animals are in a box in the attic. And my father, usually desperate for ideas for holiday gifts, one year gave me the set of Welches Winnie-the-Pooh jelly glasses. Empty glasses. I can still hear him yelling at me, "You know how much jelly I had to eat for those!!"

I actually like the holidays. Our family, when we were whole and young, were always in our best form during the holidays. Aunt Celia hosted the Thanksgiving dinner in Portland, and on the drive there I was on the look-out for Ruldoph along the I-5 corridor. My brother and I played pool with our dorky cousin, and we tried to understand the intricacies of the pachinko game in the basement.

Christmas, too, was always very special in an Inspector Gadget sort of way, with my parents trying to keep my brother in the dark about what he was getting. One year, he systematically opened all his presents, and then rewrapped them. I watched in horror, the same feeling I have when I watch old CSI episodes late at night; the good doctor performing an autopsy. The following year, Mom didn't label any of the gifts, and then couldn't remember what was what. That was the year that my brother got a t-shirt with rainbow hearts and I got blue parachute pants.

My parents divorced in 1985. Aunt Celia died at 38 in November 1994, just two weeks before Thanksgiving. The holidays are more divergent now, but they aren't any less whole. These days, the holidays mean I get to wean myself off my asthma medication and hop on a plane for the cleaner, happier west coast. I get to see friends and family I don't normally get to see anymore. I get to wear a gortex jacket instead of four layers of wool, and I get to ride the light-rail, go shopping and dancing and hiking, and do all the things that make me feel like a whole person, rather than an underpaid research machine. This year in particular will be fun because I'll get to see two of my best friends in full pregnant form. And since they are my skinny friends, I will smile inwardly, knowing for a few months at least, I won't be "The Fat One."

Where was I?


The complete set of Winnie-the-Pooh glasses are with me here in GradShitTownVille, reserved for very special occasions. This evening, while shopping for ingredients for a chocolate pecan pie, I came across one of the greatest things about the holiday season:

The nog.

Ah yes, my love for egg nog is freakish and horrible, and I've been known to splash a bit of the nog on my cereal in the mornings. This year my concern was that my love for nog would conflict with my new-found hatred of corn syrup. But no worries, the local store was clever enough to carry Horizon Low Fat Egg Nog, ingredients including egg yolks and tumeric (for color), but definitely no corn syrup. But this first glass of nog to bring in the new year isn't served in a Pooh glass. The Pooh glass is too reserved, too oppressive for that first gulp of thick, yellow heaven. This evening, in a 9 oz Gibraltar Tumbler, I marked the begining of the holiday season. The dizzy dog, snuggled in her blanket, munched on rawhide in happy approval. And with the first glass down, I ready the Pooh glasses for many future deposits on my arterial walls.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Let us raise our Pooh glasses and toast to all for which we are thankful.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Good Dog.

I have a dog. She's twelve years old. I adopted her when she was four at the Oregon Humane Society in Portland. She's a good dog. She's very laid back and behaves more like a big cat, except when presented with a leash. Then she looks like she jumps around like she's moshing at a Kiss concert. She's been with me through three jobs, two houses, three boyfriends, and has walked thousands of miles with me.

Once, late in our relationship, I said to the boyfriend, "I love you more than the dog." He said, incredulously, "Really?" I thought a little more about it, and replied, "No, not really."

So, when the dog gets sick, my world stops.

This morning, I was eating my breakfast toast when the dog stumbled into the kitchen
like she was drunk. Her legs were moving without any coordination, and she kept falling to the left. Her eyes weren't tracking. Her head was bobbing like a blind musician. I called the vet, and we headed for the car. She was alert enough to understand we were going somewhere, but she couldn't walk, so I carried her. She stumbled into the front seat of the truck and crash-landed against the steering wheel, which was funny even though I was a little panicked. My attempts to stay calm were interleaved with the assumption that the dog was going to die. All this, just three days after I'd reminded her of the "You cannot die when I'm in graduate school" speech.

Twenty minutes later, we both stumbled into the vet's office, with me trying to carry her, and
the dog trying to walk.

This is the same vet that diagnosed her heartworm when we first moved her, which helped me find some meaning to moving to this place. Her old Portland vet never tested her for heartworm. If we hadn't moved to GradShitTownVille, she wouldn't have been tested early, and she probably would have died.

After today's prompt examination, the vet said her condition is very likely explained by Vestibular Disease. It's basically "Old Dog Vertigo." This is caused either by an inner-ear or middle-ear infection (or a brain tumor). He is treating her with antibiotics, which may or may not help. What she needs now is to be still and quiet in a well lit room, and we'll hope for recovery in 7-10 days.

This dog is a true bad-ass. She's had cancer, knee surgery, heartworm, and currently has arthritis. All that, and she still leaps for joy when we go for a walk, but we probably won't be going for a walk for a few days. Nonetheless, we know how to handle these kinds of situtations. We'll get out the old ramp, create the towel pully system, and prepare for a little lower back pain (for me, not the dog). She's sleeping quietly on her favorite rug now, the same rug she always throws up on when she's sick. She gets up from time to time and tries to walk, stumbling to the left. She's still quite interested in petting and food.

I'm looking forward to an exciting weekend of vomiting and doing the odd little dance required for helping the dog outside to the bathroom. Right now, I crack up a little whenever she cocks her head to the left, and then I kind of cry a little.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Room for Rent

Looking over the GradShitTownVille newspaper to find the Sudoku puzzle, I saw an ad that said,
Room for rent in Artist's home. $225 per month. 555-1234
I paused a moment, and tried to remember how many times I've seen such an ad. Quite a few, really, but then I'm from the West Coast. The phrase "artists's home" is inviting, I suppose. I think of backdrops in movies; those very well-lit, airy lofts with maple floors and high ceilings. There's original art on the walls, a pottery wheel in the living room, and in the background, Demi and Patrick are making out. I doubt that this is what the ad's "room" looks like, but that's what comes to mind.

I also realized that you hardly ever see the following ad,
Room for rent in Scientist's house. $225 per month. 555-1234
What would this room look like? Would there be test tube racks and nested beakers everywhere? Posters of Professor Honeydew and Albert Einstein? Maybe an intriguing, gigantic boiler in the basement? Odd.

Anyway, it's something to think about, because these days my brain is stuck in a rut. The boyfriend is out of the country for a few weeks, and I've entered what I call "Hamster on the wheel" mode. The only thing that occurs to me to do is workout or work. I'm never sure why I go into this mode when he's gone, except to perhaps admit that I'm a raging workaholic. The boyfriend, too, is a raging workaholic. But, as I learned from my House MD DVD, he and I are like ethanol and methanol. Alone, we are potentially poisonous chemicals in the human body. Together, we bind together and are pretty harmless.


Which makes me wonder why doctor shows can be so good and shows attempting to demonstrate graduate school are so so so bad. St. Elsewhere, House MD, ER, Grey's Anatomy are all pretty good television shows featuring the trials and dramas of TV doctors. Now, I understand that it's very unrealistic that every single doctor in a staff at an emergency room or hospital would be totally dreamy.

Oh Dr. Burke!

Yet, the medical science featured seems decent. Perhaps that's because I know nothing about medicine, so as long as there's beeping machines and blood and needles, it looks okay to me. Contrast this with that dumbass "NUMB3RS" show. There you get a poorly written show about mathematics, the FBI and graduate school written by people who have no clue. The professor characters say things like, "I'm very glad I hired him as a collaborator."

You don't *hire* collaborators!

You're telling me. Moreover, these guys never seem to have paper deadlines.

You said you were in a rut?

Ah, yes. These days I'm thinking about two major issues that aren't particularly joyful. In a recent turn of events,

I think you already mentioned this, but maybe it was just to me, because you whine about it ALL THE TIME,

my advisor says I need to publish 10 papers in the next three years. So, it feels that I have to look forward to three more years of living in this hell on earth measuring out my life not in coffee spoons but in paper deadlines. I lift my head a bit to look past graduation, and I have the passing realization that the rest of my life will be measured out by paper deadlines. With this huge "10" number looming over my head, I have this horrible stomach ache; that I will have to fit marriage and children and parents and friends between the paper deadlines. I will be either a horrible mother or a horrible researcher.

I guess I'm being overly dramatic, especially with the TS Eliot reference, and I suppose that life has to measured out in some kind of unit, but ...

but you said you were thinking about two things?

Wait for it. Jeez.

I suppose, after almost five years of this crap, I'm just a little exhausted. I'm tired of feeling like Bill Murray waking up every morning to Sonny and Cher's "I've got you babe." I'm tired of getting paid shit to work constantly, and I'm tired of being told to be an independent researcher when I'm trying my very, very hardest to do just that. Okay, so I am whining, but isn't that what "to blog" means?

It's the same root as the verb "to blave," And, as we all know, "to blave" means "to bluff."


...but you said you were thinking about two things?

Yes, I did. But I realize now that don't think the other thing is bloggable. So I will let T-boy finish this one up. Take it, Stearnsy:

For I have known them all already, known them all:--
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Overloaded terms

In case I haven't mentioned it here on this blog, I am learning Japanese. Why? I guess I figure I'll only be a student for a couple more years, and I wanted to take advantage of that by learning something I probably couldn't learn on my own. Why Japanese? I love learning languages, and there's a remote chance I could move there someday, so I might as well learn it. I also have a huge set of Chinese brushes at home, and it'd be nice to actually understand some of the characters that I script.

Yesterday was our first day of Kanji. Until now, we've been communicating in written form using only the two phonetic alphabets of Japanese, Hiragana and Katakana. Kanji is a pictograph-based alphabet, and it's one reason why Japanese is so hard to learn. Japanese newspapers restrict themselves to using "only" 2000 kanji, but there are many, many more.

The word for Sunday is "Ni-Chi-Yo-U-Bi." The Kanji for "Ni-Chi" and "Bi" is the same, but pronounced differently based on context. This freaked out many of the kids in the class.

I say "kids" because they are all undergrads, and I'm actually older than everyone, including the teacher. It's very humbling, since I'm also one of the dumbest kids in the class. I do fine on the exams, but I can barely talk, and I sound something like Benjy in Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury.

And yet, finally! I was so happy to learn that something from computer science could be reused in my Japanese class. Consider the following snippet of code in VBA:

if (a = b) then
a = b
end if

That's right, the same symbol is used for testing equality and for variable assignment. The term is "overloaded operator" and it's particular use can only be determined based on context. So yesterday's Japanese class seemed obvious to me (for once) thanks to science.

Monday, November 06, 2006

I asked for it

In a phone message from Cheryl,

"So I was at Megan's and she says I have something to tell you and she's pregnant. Then we go over to Erin's and Erin is pregnant. Then it turns out Megan M is pregnant, too. Then we go over to Jenny's and Jenny is pregnant and it just so happens that Jenny's sister is also pregnant. So I told my boyfriend he's not touching me."

It's like the Village of the Damned back home.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

It's like the 17000 Yen Shinkensen ticket

Has anyone else seen an iPod vending machine? I just saw one yesterday. Am I so five minutes ago or what?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


The first of these that actually looked fun.

Four jobs i've had:
Orange julius-er,
Book illustrator,
Software engineer.

Four movies i can watch over and over:
The Last Unicorn,
Sixteen Candles,
Groundhog Day (oh, the irony),
Garden State.

Four places I've lived:
Salem, Or,
Portland, Or,
Vancouver, Wa,

Four television shows i love to watch:
Law & Order,

Four places i've been on vacation:

Four of my favorite dishes:
Lentil soup,
La Bourride.

Four websites i visit daily:


Monday, October 16, 2006

Occlusal guards

I went to the dentist today for the first time in four years. I hate the dentist. I go only when my gums start to ache. Dentists are too much like car salespeople for me to do otherwise. Everything is fine. I have no cavities, and I floss like a pro.

Dentists and I have a long history, starting with the moment I met my sadist orthodontist, Dr. Greenbaum. He had a lustful eye for my father's teamster's insurance, and demanded every possible procedure my little mouth would merit. At the end of it all, I had two surgeries, 10 months of head-gear, two years of braces, and a fake tooth.

Despite all that, I have the teeth of a 50 year old woman because I grind them. I grind during the day, and at night. Today's dentist demanded I get a "night guard" at a price of $263, none of which is covered by health insurance. As a result, I've decided to send a bill to each person who has contributed to grinding my teeth.

  1. Alan the professor. $54. For consistently answering questions during other people's presentations at research meetings.

  2. Mocra. $110. For not understanding the concept of "wire wrap gun" and multiple other offenses.

  3. Bartender at campus bar. $12. For referring to the women assisting with the barroom game as "Bingo Bitches."

  4. Advisor. $10. For delaying my prelim until I publish more papers.

I've no doubt I'll think of more. Maybe I'll be able to afford two of these things.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

What we learn from each other

I find myself to be the department's official "moderator." Yes, like Phil Donahue. If there is a panel somewhere in this building that needs to be moderated, I'm often called upon to do it. The reasons for this are as follows:

  1. I have a loud voice.

  2. I listen to what people say, and formulate interesting follow-up questions.

  3. I am funny, which means even if the panelists are boring, the event will still be somewhat engaging.

  4. I am mean, which means I will interrupt people who talk on too long about one question.

  5. I do not embarass easily, which means I can talk in front of a room of very important people, and not really give a damn.

That said, there have been times where I wished I was asked to be on a panel, rather than just moderate for one. This happen to me most recently last summer during a middle-school-girls-in-computer-science event that my College of Engineering hosted. The panel consisted of a group of women in computer science who were gathered together to inform young women about the ins and outs of computer science.

Even if no one was interested in my own life stories, it was nice to be in the room. The panelists themselves were quite good, ranging from undergrads at my university, to recent undergrads, from graduate students to tenured professors. After the panel, the panelists were asked to mingle with the students. I met Isis, Alex, and Jocelyn. I especially identified with Alex, who said she came from a very poor family. When I asked what she wanted to do when she grew up, she said, "I want to be a doctor when I grow up so that I have enough money to follow my other dreams." I replied, "I did that exact thing. I was very poor growing up. I went into engineering so that I'd have a high-paying job, so that I could write a book..." Isis, Alex, and Jocelyn were all writers. Alex was writing screenplays, Isis was writing novels, and Jocelyn was writing poetry. I was instantly reminded of myself at that age, when I carried a little notebook around filled with my little stories.

Thing is, I'm still working towards that "job so that I have enough money" and I haven't written that book yet. Last night, I was flipping through the pages of my writing journal, seeing all of the little stories and ideas that I've recorded over the last eight years. Some of the notes are sketches of entire novels, some sketch chapters or short stories, and some are just two sentences describing a woman eating lunch. I think I have something in that big book of mine, and I think I owe it to myself to sit down and try.

I turn 30 in five days. Some people wrestle with 30, feeling that they are officially "an adult." I feel the opposite. I feel like I've earned 30. I've gone through all the self-doubting, body-hating, self-sacrificing crap. Since entering engineering, I've been mistaken for a business major, fired, mistaken for an account manager, laid-off, mistaken for a project manager, sexually harassed, and told I'm not creative enough as a Ph.D. candidate. And I'm still here. I've successfully made it through the bastions hidden within the dark and dank pipeline, yet having forgotten some of who I was before all this began.

But because I'm only 30, it is definitely not too late for me to do as Alex said; to "follow my other dreams." To that end, I definitely need to do a better job of carving time out for myself. I've been good at making sure to swim and go to yoga, to make healthy meals and spend time with friends, but I also need to make sure I sit down in front of the lappy and get started on something that's been a long time coming.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Three scenes which decrease the weight on my shoulders

Scene 1: It's the morning. Boyfriend is reading last blog post while I'm getting ready for school. He says,

"This is so depressing. I don't want to be in the faculty husband's club."

At which point we have the jokey argument about which of us is smarter.

* * *

Scene 2: Talking with my friend Moira over e-mail. I'm frustrated with all of the female faculty in our department who are in the faculty wives' club. They include Emma who is married to Alan and Lisa who is married to Gary. I say,

"I don't want to be another Emma or Lisa."
Moira replies, "You won't. Besides, your boyfriend isn't another Alan or Gary."

Which is very true. I won't say anything more than that.

* * *

Scene 3: Sitting in my chair, trying to work, thinking about all the reasons why I shouldn't even be where I am today.

  1. First-generation students are less likely to complete the necessary steps to enroll in a four-year institution. Of first-generation students, only 36% aspire to a bachelor's degree or higher, 45% take the SAT or ACT, and only 26% apply to a four-year institution. By comparison, 78% of students for whom at least one parent has a bachelor's degree aspire to a bachelor's degree or higher, 82% take the ACT or SAT, and 71% apply to a four-year institution.

  2. At top research universities, about 15 to 20 percent of [computer science] majors are female (Moreover, it's embarassingly much lower at my own department).

  3. About two-thirds of doctoral students entered their doctoral programs free of financial indebtedness.

If I got this far against the odds, then perhaps I can get further.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

What weighs heavy on my mind.

Elizabeth Dewberry, the author of "His Lovely Wife," articulates perfectly my current life concern. The characters of this particular scene are Lawrence, a Nobel prize winning physicist and his "trophy wife" Ellen. Lawrence and his wife Ellen are discussing the upcoming engagement of Lawrence's colleague Eric and Eric's graduate student girlfriend, Mart.

Lawrence begins,

"...they are getting engaged over dinner, and he wants us to be the first to congratulate them."
"They're getting engaged? You know that for a fact?"
"What if she says no?"
"She won't."
"And that's what he expects? That she's already made up her mind to drop her whole life for him? And what? Join the UCLA Faculty Wives' Club?"
"I don't see Mart in a faculy wives' club."
"Me either, That's my point. Can he get UCLA to give her a job?"
"I don't know. I'm sure he could."
"Yes you do know. He can't. Not in this economy when they know he's not going anywhere whether they give her the job or not. If she wants to teach, she'll have to do adjunct work and get paid beans, and if she wants to work in a lab, she'll never get her own lab, she'll have to spend the rest of her life being someone's assistant."
"Not necessarily."
"It's what happens in dual-scholar marriages. I've seen it a zillion times. If you haven't, it's because you haven't thought about your colleagues' wives. But one of them gets the real job, usually the man, and the other does the shit work for a few years, hoping they'll prove their worth and the university will give them a real job, and eventually, they either get fed up and quit, if they're lucky, or they continue to care about their work and believe in themselves and they get bitter that nobody else does, or they start believing the implicit message of their bottom-of-the-totem-pole status, that they're there because they don't deserve anything better, which becomes a self-fullfilling prophecy, and they start shutting down intellectually and creatively, which drives down their self-esteem, which keeps them from being able to produce anything publishable, and they start blaming their spouse, which is not altogether unfair, though not really fair, either, because the spouse didn't create the system, but usually, the spouse isn't rising up against its inequalities, either, and in fact, the more successful the working spouse is, the more that person has invested in keeping things as hierarchical and unfair as they are, despite the harm it does to the person they supposedly love most in the world. So either they divorce, or the less-accomplished spouse decides she's got to find a way to live within the system, or without it, and she takes up a hobby like painting or photography or poetry, none of which she's particularly good at, and the next thing you know, she's trying to create an identity for herself, but it's somebody she's not, and her whole life becomes devoted to living this lie to herself long enough and convincingly enough that eventually, she believes it. Is that what Eric wants for Mart?"
Lawrence hesitates. He picks up his wineglass, which is empty. Puts it back down.
Then: "I don't know what the fuck he wants for her," Lawrence says. "He just wants to marry her."

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Love and Romance of LTL

Very recently, I've seen an intense integration of my work life and my personal life. My boyfriend, who is another graduate student in my department, is presenting at meetings in my research group. The purpose of these presentations is to educate my group's professors and graduate students on the main ideas of another research area of Computer Science.

This week, his presentation was rather reminiscent of how we met. We met during the qualification exam. We had been assigned the same paper to present to our respective committees; 61 pages of satanic verses on the topic of the synthesis of fault-tolerant concurrent programs. Recently, I heard the original copy of the paper was actually printed on human skin.

If you know me personally, you'll know that my research area has very little to do directly with Kripke structures, AND/OR graphs, CTL, or soundness and completeness. One could argue that any field of Computer Science is related to these fundamental methods of formalization, but such an argument annoys me. Instead, put yourself in the shoes of a second-year CS grad with a background in Electrical Engineering. It took me a couple of days to realize that the "U" in that paper was "Until" and not "Union." It was dire. It was not good. I was going to fail.

And so, that first time we met, he stood at a whiteboard and described the main points of Linear Temporal Logic. He spoke deliberately and quietly, with a slight Southern accent. I was in love, but it took me two more years to tell him so. Weeks later, I was presenting the paper like a pro, thanks in part to that lovely man.

It is very likely that no other person in this week's research meeting found my boyfriend's presentation romantic, but it really was.


In recent comments, folks visiting this blog have talked about that feeling of being in a "larvae stage" in graduate school. If I understand the commenters correctly, the larvae stage of one's life can be associated with frequently saying to oneself, "When I grow up, I will..." When I was in undergraduate school, I suffered from this larvae stage rather significantly, for I mistook life changes that proceeded the larvae stage with the simple obligations one has for living one's life.

This mistake manifested itself most in my health. In undergrad, I was always putting health-related duties off until graduation. "I'll lose all this weight when I have time, after I graduate." "I'll join a gym and exercise 4 times a week, after I graduate." "I'll go to the dentist when I have a real job and real benefits, after I graduate." As you might imagine, one year after I graduated, I weighed over 200 pounds and I had cavities.

Throughout my years of working as an engineer, and my initial years of graduate school, I still had lapses where I mistook life changes with living life. My second year of graduate school was an exercise in self-torture, allowing everything but my research to go to absolute hell. By third year, I was back to weighing over 200 pounds and I was crying every day. Fast-forward to this year. I swim three times a week, I bike when it's warm, and now that winter is almost here, I'm taking a weekly yoga class. I recently finished a 10 month stint in therapy in which I re-located my spine, and thus my ability to stand up to asshole professors. I'm published in my thesis topic. My romantic relationship is healthy. I still haven't gone to the dentist, but I realize--thanks in part to the commenters--that I've shed the little cocoon I used to live in.

I am larvae no more.

Rather, I am an adult who must balance her adult responsibilities to be a healthy, happy, and productive human being. I still have those days when I go home crying, but I make choices that can quickly bring me back to center, rather than wallow in self-pity. As for the big life changes, they are still on the horizon, but I cannot mistake those transitions for day-to-day living.

Now, if I could just get a decent paycheck.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

How to get a piece of me.

Two e-mails recently in which I've been requested to give my time to someone.


I am Student V, a graduate student advised by Professor K. I am about to take the qualification exam. Your advisor is on my qualification exam. and I would like 15 minutes of your time to discuss your advisor's research.

Let's dissect this e-mail. First, he notes that he is advised by Professor K, who has helped me immensely in the past. I figure that this Professor advised Student V to contact me. I feel like I owe Professor K, so this increases the chances that I will make time for Student V. Next, Student V notes a very specific issue to discuss, mainly my advisor as an audience member in a qualification exam. Finally, the amount of time being requested is very reasonable. This Student V and I will be meeting this week.

Next e-mail:


My name is Worker A and I m working for Motorola as Software Engg. I was browsing through the GradShitTownVille University research page and found you.

I m interested in operating systems and computer organization areas. But still not sure which one I should pursue. I might want to go for a MS /PhD. I need some information regarding the same. Do you think you can spare some time ?

Let's dissect this e-mail. First, it's very apparent that the author was just "browsing" since he asks no question in particular about me or my research area. He is interested in two different areas, not particularly related to me, and wants general information about graduate school. He obviously failed to note the "Graduate Student Resources" link on my personal website, or he would have found the list of links answering this question. Finally, he is asking me to spare "some" time, but to discuss what? I am not a professional guidance counselor. I replied to him with a list of links, but I did not agree to meet with him.

Friday, September 01, 2006

A Bad Good Day

This morning I woke up "knowing" that I would receive a paper rejection today. All day long, a stone sat heavy in my belly, made up of equal parts of 1) hopelessness, 2) weak hope, and 3) dread. Typically, my paper rejections involve a couple of days of crying, tearing hair from my head, and threatening to quit the PhD. To compound the emotional difficulty of rejections, my advisor has told me I cannot do my prelim until I have more publications, so another rejection would only prolong my time-to-degree.

All day long, little good things kept happening. The long-awaited book I requested from the library arrived. I didn't screw up too badly in Japanese class. I didn't crash my bike into a stupid undergrad. I ran into a friend that decided to stick with the PhD just a little longer. I had a quick coffee break with a friend. I watched a well-organized practice defense. And during all these good little things, the stone remained in my belly. I figured such good things were just a portent for the bad thing to come.

I waited at school this evening for the bad news I expected via e-mail. I didn't feel like putting both my boyfriend and my father (who is visiting for two months) through the torrent of tears that would come. I could rely on Friday night's empty building to give me the opportunity to cry privately in a bathroom stall.

Carrying that stone all day long in my belly, only to find out 10 minutes ago that the paper was accepted.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Advising First-Year Students

I'm trying to remember how scared I was as a first-year graduate student. How I suffered from information overload and yet how I wanted to know everything. I also remember how stupid I was to worry only about courses my first two years, how long it took me to finally begin research, and how far back it set me to change advisors my eighth semester. I wish that someone as mean and pragmatic as me would have helped me back then.

Act I

Nameless student 1. "Professor Z e-mailed me about a research assistantship, but I'm not sure..."
FCSGS. "Professor Z is one of the strongest professors in that area. I hear she's a good advisor to her students, and if she's willing to fund you, that's really great news. I suggest you take it."
Nameless student 1. "Yes. But I heard she pushes her students really hard."
FCSGS. "Dude. You are at a top-ten university. Everybody is going to push you really hard."

Act II

FCSGS. "Who are you interested in being your advisor?"
Nameless student 2. "I dunno, his name escapes me...but I'm interested in Formal Methods, Security, and Systems."
FCSGS. "Good luck with that."


Nameless student 3. "I'm a TA for this course. How much work do I have to do?"
FCSGS. "You are supposed to do 20 hours of work per week. It's a tough balance between research and teaching, but you will have to manage."
Nameless student 3. "Right, but how much grading will I have to do?"
FCSGS. "I don't know, you need to ask your professor about duties. I never TA'd that course."
Nameless student 3. "But how much work is it going to be?"
FCSGS. "I don't know."
Nameless student 3. "How many classes do I have to teach?"
FCSGS. [eyes wide] "I DON'T know."

Well, I tried.

I need to go vacuum the car. Dad gets here on Thursday.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Mutual Respect

I have the privilege of working with a professor in another department at my university. I respect him very much, for he has done excellent work, and still he regards his colleagues both with consideration and respect. Moreover, he treats his students as colleagues, rather than as students. During a recent teleconference with an important funding partner, he said to the caller, "Let me introduce you to everyone in the room." He proceeded to introduce each graduate student one at a time, making sure to emphasize his or her strength and contribution to the project.

I compare this to the treatment that I get in many of my own meetings with the seven or so professors that I work with in my own department. In multiple meetings, I see a number of examples of poor courtesy. A few weeks back, I was in another teleconference, this time with just computer science faculty. The lead professor introduced only the principle investigators, pronounced all their names incorrectly, and ended with, "Oh and there are some graduate students." I've seen graduate students give presentations and when a question is asked from the audience, without hesitation, their advisor will answer it FOR them. I've seen faculty members say, "My graduate student did this work, but I will present it," all while that graduate student is in the room. I've seen faculty members complain to each other about their personal lives during professional meetings. I've seen thousands of occasions in which people simply interrupt each other. It becomes a game of who can talk the loudest, or who can talk the longest without stopping for breath. I am trying to remember the last time I saw someone actually finish a sentence. It reminds me of the Black Burst wireless protocol in which higher priority nodes are allowed to jam the channel until the lower priority nodes give up. Certainly not all the faculty behave in this manner, but it's certainly the typical behaviour, rather than the exception.

The faculty in our department wonder at the mystery of the "Graduate Students Who Don't Speak Up." There are often large department seminars, and during the presentations, perhaps one or two faculty will ask a question, but the audience is silent otherwise. Graduate students have been chided again and again by various faculty for not speaking up. For the majority of graduate students who are offered no respect, who are nameless technicians just implementing their advisor's visions, why would it occur to them to say anything at all?

As for me, I have the "disability" of being opinionated and snarky. This lack of mutual respect does not silence me, but it does have a detrimental affect on my own morale. Moreover, this lack causes me to wonder if other "top schools" have a similar environment, and if that's really where I want to be once I move on from this place.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The clearing

There's a hike I used to do in Oregon. It was 20.5 miles around Waldo Lake in the Willamette National Forest. If you follow the link, it will take you to a satellite photo, and you can see the scar in the forest. From so far up, it looks like a shiny pink scar on the human body. But it wasn't a terrible radio flyer accident that caused this. It was a forest fire caused by some moron who needed a smoke.

I generally took three days to do the hike. I would start at the southern tip of the lake, and I would reach the scar by the evening of the second day. The first five miles of the third day took me through that scar. It was fascinating to see the forest year by year as it began to recover. At 5500 feet, the hike was already moderately difficult for my little asthmatic lungs, but without the cover of shade, the challenge increased. Gradually, then quickly, evergreen trees would appear on the horizon, and then there's just 8 miles to go. It's still a reasonable distance more with all the climbs and the pack, but I know one of the most difficult distances is over.

Thinking of that hike now, I feel like I just came out of the, well, un-woods. I've mentioned here a "side-project" that's been eating up much of my sanity and my time, and today was a big milestone completion. My colleague and I enjoyed some celebratory hamburgers and shakes, and I watched two hours of television.

Monday, July 24, 2006


This weekend was a roller coaster of feeling of hatred and warmth for GradShitTownVille and my own plight for a Ph.D. Friday evening, I went to see "Monster House" with the boyfriend. While lingering in the cinema lobby, I had the strange feeling that I was at some kind of techie conference. I whispered to the boyfriend, "Is it sys-admin night?" Later on, we realized that it happened to be same the evening that "Clerks II" was released.

One of my complaints about GradShitTownVille has always been how the population is made up of a limited number of social groups. Most visible to my day-to-day haunts are the sys-admins, the sorority girls, frat boys, and mousy-but-snobbish academics. Admittedly, most cities are made up of social groups, but they usually have more than four. Chicago has its hip gay men in Lincoln Park, Tokyo has its Gothic Lolita teens in Harajuku, and Portland has its grunge homeless kids downtown. Human beings are pack animals, so it's difficult to find an acutal American Melting Pot. It's more like an American Tossed Salad, and in GradShitTownVille, it's the same four veggies every night.

That said, Saturday afternoon I was blessed to immerse myself in a social group I rarely experience. Grumpy from sys-admin night, I went to the local Artsy movie house that was showing Krrish, a three-hour Indian science fiction movie. It's like Crocodile Dundee + Batman + Cinderella + E.T. + West Side Story but not like any of those at all. In the audience, filled to the brim, were some of the Indians that populate this town. During intermission, kids ran around and played while everyone else fought for the two stalls in the bathroom.

So, yes, it's partly my fault that all I ever see are sys-admins. But is it also my fault that I have become a workaholic in order to be successful in this place? Is it the place, or is it me?

To continue my efforts to do something new--and perhaps perform a little self-mutilation on my physical body that so often disappoints me--I biked 48 miles yesterday, from GradShitTownVille to Monty-Cello and back. I've been biking all summer, my rides longer and longer, leading up to this particular ride. Yesterday was painful at parts--especially on the country backroads where the corn fields are still the same after an hour of riding. Monty-Cello is a nice little town, with most folks on the outskirts having a horse or two in their back yard. I found a little forest preserve, and the burial site of a woman from a Native American Tribe.

Today, because of the ride, I feel a bit like I do after giving blood. It is the same feeling I have the day before I get a cold. I woke up late with a painful headache, attended two meetings, ate a late lunch, and I sit here very aware that Monday is almost over. I'll be back in the office tonight, as usual, but that does not help me to overcome my current bout of research-guilt. It's been eight days since I've made progress on my research, which is mostly due to a side-project that's eating my time away like moths eat at sweaters in woolen closet. The work--not at all related to my thesis--one year ago was exciting and hopeful. It has lately become a thankless and depressing weight. I push myself towards a self-imposed deadline of next week, so that I might start again on my research, towards actually getting out of GradShitTownVille.

I wonder why I do these side projects; the dance troops, the radio shows, the panels, and the gender research. Is it because I am a person with diverse interests, or is it because I hesitate to do what I need to do to get out of here? If my priority is really to get out of GradShitTownVille, then dammnit I need to act like it.

For a while, I had. I'd been keeping a timesheet of my daily work, making sure to do 6 good hours of research a day (not counting meetings and other menial work). But the side-project derailed me, and I have to really look hard at myself and figure out why I allowed this to happen. My own values are to give back to the community, to be kind to my friends, but these values do not match those of my department which values research over all else. For four years, I've watched an internal battle. Do I do what I think is important, or what they think is important? Over time, I see that I have started to become what my department wants me to be in order to be labeled "successful." Will I complete this metamorphasis, and will I be able to regain my old self afterwards? I doubt it, for life challenges like these mark me forever.

I remember having lunch with an old high school friend, and he said, "You've calmed down A LOT. A LOT." It wasn't really a sense of calm, but something heavy that had euthanised the goofy clown I used to be. Is this what maturity means?

Looking over my old e-mails, I found something I once wrote to Tony. I told him that I'd hit a wall in my research, that I'd become afraid of making intellectual risks. He asked me why, if I was afraid of what my advisor might think of my work, and I replied,

I don't really care what anyone else thinks. It's mostly the fear that I will try and find that I can't do it anymore. I will find that I've exhausted all there is to my intellect and that I cannot go any further. I will find that I have finally hit the wall and I will have
to leave school like so many seem to leave, not with a bang, but with a whimper.

And I suppose this--all this--is why I did not go home for the summer. It's a little more self-mutilation, self-punishment, for going home is always its own reward. But I'm here, I'm hiding out from family and friends, afraid and unable to explain that I still don't know when I'll be done, that I still have not taken my prelim, and that I still hate it here.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Friday, May 26, 2006


Ack...cough cough. What's all this dust? Mrs. Havisham, is that you? Oh my goat! I haven't posted in over a month. Gonna have to get some lemon scented pledge.

There have been multiple forces keeping me from this little electronic journal. Mainly, a paper rejection that demanded I rewrite the whole thing in two weeks. That was fun. What made it more fun were the incredibly constructive paper reviews that I got. Thank Mary for this scientific community in which my work can be peer reviewed and I can improve as a researcher. Let's take a look at some of the gems I received.

The paper is well-organized, well-written, and derives from a study based on a toy car environment that I would love to have in my basement for my children to play with and program (seems like a good Logo application).

This is wonderful. I had no idea that my work could positively impact the lives of children.

On the other hand, you have your experience, and I have mine. (I still think time and the number of systems I have dealt with -- including telecom systems and aerospace software -- are on my side.)

It is true that I have significantly more experience with people who attack me personally than I do with Boeing 777 software. Unfortunately, when I contacted Boeing about getting a peek at their code, they turned me down. Thankfully, this review has helped me to realize that unless I've built an actual rocket that has flown to space, I shouldn't bother submitting papers. I guess I've got some work to do.

The paper is full of trivialities. The importance for "criticality", "restart" and "migration" look pretty obvious; even my netflix system should have them

I...I...I'm sorry, I can't do it. It's really hard to feign chipper appreciation in the face of this kind of useless, faceless animocity.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Best Comedy of the Year

I'm expecting Peter Scolari's latest movie to be even funnier than any movie featuring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

No Comment

The Eller College will be offering a series of summer enrichment day camps during May - August. UA Staff and Faculty can enroll their children at $25 off the listed price! Visit our website for more information or to register!


Explore technology through exercises that appeal to girls: digital photography and scrap-booking, movie making, graphic design and the basics of technology made fun resulting in confidence and knowledge of IT in society.


Explore Technology through exercises that appeal to boys: game development, virtual reality, digital photography, movie making, graphic design and the basics of technology made fun, resulting in knowledge and skills in IT resulting in technology confidence and knowledge of IT in society.

Contact information here.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

National "Ignore A Female Scientist" Week

This on Jane's post just today. Combining her post with my own week makes me think it's National "Ignore A Female Scientist" week.

Like Jane, I work with someone who consistently:

- Interrupts me,
- Disregards my ideas with no rationale,
- Tells me my ideas are wrong, only to repeat them back to me as his own,
- Ignores my intellectual presence.

I've taken all measures I think I possibly can. I've tried to be very direct with this person. I've spoken to my own advisor about it, and was told to cooperate. I've spoken to the Assistant Dean of Engineering, to the Graduate Advisor, to other faculty in the department. I've tried all their advice. Perhaps I'm doing something wrong, but even with all their advice, I've not been able to get this man to treat me with any kind of common courtesy.

It would be one thing if he were just a jerk. Unfortunately, I'm starting to see how his behavior is becoming an obstacle to my own intellectual development, academic success, and general happiness. The work I do for him is simply implementing his ideas, many of which are very mediocre.

What's ultimately frustrating to me is that the only next step I can see to correcting his behavior would be to file a formal complaint with the student grievance committee at the University of GradShitTownVille. I have no information about the formal grievance process, and I'm very hesistant to make a formal complaint as a result. Moreover, graduate students are not generally told that this process exists, and I had to make an inquiry just to find out that there is a process.

If I still worked in Industry, there would be more avenues through which I could resolve this problem. For example:

In Industry, I could quit my job, and find a healthier company. I cannot quit a school and go to another school so easily, though more and more I'm thinking of quitting altogether.

In Industry, I could discuss the issue with human resources, and the issue would come up in his annual review with his own boss. At the University of GradShitTownVille, there are no annual reviews that take student input into consideration.

In Industry, there are other safeties which would not require any action of my own. At IBM Research for example, minorities are tracked according to managers. If a given manager has a history of losing minorities to other managers and other groups, a flag is raised.

Oil Addict

"I love my country, too. The people with the yellow 'Support Our Troops' magnets on their SUVs, they're the ones that really need to stop and think," White says. "They need to follow the path back to where we are now. Every drop of blood that's spilled over there comes back to them."

Taken from "My Name Is Randy, And I'm Addicted To Oil."

Iraqi Free Dumb

An American soldier, born in Sweet Home, OR, publishes his journal about his experiences in Iraq.

May 30

It may just be my newfound cynicism, but I believe these journals to be more comical than historical. These people really have no control over anything going on here.

I've concluded that my time here will not be a total loss: Although I won't get to fight for democracy against the "Axis of Evil," I will save money and get into better shape. It's kind of like a workout program that pays you, a yearlong health spa. That is what it is, Club Iraqi Free Dumb. It has to be that, because it can't be a real war. If you don't believe me, look in the PX [commissary]. They sell a wide selection of incredibly corny T-shirts like, 'Who's your Baghdaddy?' These are such moronic attempts to capitalize on my violent health spa, but these things are selling like hotcakes. Do you think they sold D-Day T-shirts? Who's your D-Day Daddy? How about the invasion of Normandy?

The full text is here.

Friday, March 24, 2006

What am I, a chicken?

Recently took a trip to Texas to attend a conference. Met a guy from New York during my "student volunteer work" (translation: mundane tasks which eat up a lot of good conference going time, but let me attend for free since I didn't get any funding to go). We were just chatting about graduate school. He was complaining about his advisor, and I said, "At least your advisor isn't as bad as that Hwang guy, making his students donate their eggs for research." And then I made some joke about how maybe I should donate some of my eggs to get money to go to conferences. The look on his face was disturbing. I paused. He asked,

"What do you mean 'egg-s?'"

My head was racing. I couldn't figure out if he was asking me how to donate eggs, the actual surgical technique involved in obtaining the eggs, how I could donate multiple eggs at once, or how I could make the choice to donate my eggs. After some further questioning, he finally asked,

"How do you donate a bunch of eggs? Women just make one egg every month, right?"

And I was immediately reminded of this post in which I complain that there just isn't enough sex education in America.

And so, at the volunteer desk of a computer science conference, I'm explaining to a 28 year old graduate student about how human eggs are created during a female embryo's development in the womb, that women have all their eggs when they are born, that thousands of eggs are lost to apoptosis, and that only a few hundred will actually be viable. I told him about how an ovary is about the size of an almond and how the eggs are ejected from ovarian follicles that contain the eggs. I told him about how the ovaries aren't actually connected to the fallopian tubes, and that if one fallopian tube is broken or infected, the other will actually reach around to the opposite ovary to get the next egg. I told him that women who donate eggs inject themselves daily with a series of hormones that cause multiple eggs to be ejected during a single cycle. On the one hand, I couldn't believe that I was telling this to a grown adult, but on the other hand, I was proud of the guy for listening to all of it. At the end of the lesson he asked,

"How do you know all this stuff?"

I simply replied,

"I read books."

I'll admit, my sex education classes in middle school and high school were really boring. Only in the past few years have I learned all the cool stuff. In sex education, I was always shown this picture which looked more like a goat than a grouping of organs. I was given the run-down of the 28-day menstrual cycle. I wasn't told about all the really cool things that a woman's body could do. I also wasn't told other intriguing things like how medical and anthropological research only have THEORIES as to why women have breasts or why women menstruate, and that we actually don't know a lot about the human body. I think that sex education, even without mention of condoms (see other post), could really benefit from these additions. Plus gross pictures, are a lot more fun than this.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Mixed Messages

Since I'm attending a highly rated university, I should aim for a tenure track position. At least, that's what the talking heads say. But the message I get from looking at these graphs is rather different.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Monastic life

Taken from "A Day in the Life of a Catholic Monk"

For most people, the only monks they come across are in Brother Cadfael or The Name of the Rose. It often comes as a surprise to learn that they are also real people. There are still monasteries of monks and nuns in England, most of them belonging to the Roman Catholic Church, all of them witnessing to God by their life of prayer and by a rich variety of works including teaching, running parishes, giving retreats, creating beautiful objects like stained glass and ceramics, and inspiring others with uplifting music and worship. Unlike missionaries and friars, who travel about quite a lot in the course of their work, monks tend to stay put in one place, so that the monastery which they make their home becomes a focus for the prayer life of the local community and a stable point in a rapidly changing world.

During Mass, The whole community is gathered together for the celebration of the eucharist, in which we remember the saving sacrifice of Christ, and renew the offering of ourselves to God. Afterwards, the monks go about their different jobs, whether it be teaching in the school, looking after a local parish, or dealing with visitors. In the middle of our working day, we pause to remember that it is God who gives value to our work and sustains us in our labours. This is followed by lunch. We begin by singing grace together; then, as we eat in silence, one of the brethren reads to us an extract which the Abbot has chosen: it might be an academic article from a journal, or a sermon or lecture. At the end of the day is Compline. It is the last part of the Divine Office, which we sing by heart in the darkened Church. Afterwards, there is silence in the monastery until breakfast the next morning. Some monks will go to bed soon afterwards; for others there is still work to be done: the school will not quieten down until 11.30 p.m. I tend to get to bed around 10.00 p.m.

Hm. With just a little editing...

For most people, the only graduate students they come across are in The Paper Chase. It often comes as a surprise to learn that they are also real people. There are still graduate schools of monks and nuns in England, most of them belonging to the state, all of them witnessing to NSF by their life of research and by a rich variety of works including teaching, running demos, giving retreats, creating beautiful objects like posters, and boring others with boring papers. Unlike professors, who travel about quite a lot in the course of their work, graduate students tend to stay put in one place, so that the graduate school which they make their home becomes a focus for the academic life of the local community and a stable point in a rapidly changing world.

During the research group meeting, The whole group is gathered together for the celebration of the advisor, in which we remember the saving sacrifice of funding, and renew the offering of ourselves to our advisor. Afterwards, the graduate students go about their different jobs, whether it be teaching in the school, looking after an undergrad, or dealing with visitors. In the middle of our working day, we pause to remember that it is our advisor who gives value to our work and sustains us in our labours. This is followed by lunch. We begin by singing grace together; then, as we eat in silence, we read: one of the brethren reads to us an extract which the Abbot has chosen: it might be an academic article from a journal, or an e-mail. At the end of the day is finally getting to work on research. It is the last part of the Divine Office, which we sing by heart in the darkened Church. Afterwards, there is silence in the office until breakfast the next morning. Some graduate students will go to bed soon afterwards; for others there is still work to be done: the school will not quieten down until 4:00 a.m. I tend to get to bed around 1 a.m.

The lesson: Monks get more sleep than I do. Maybe I should be a monk.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Big sigh

A bad day in a string of bad days. I could post. I could talk about naive comments and alarmist fools. I could talk about how, once again, I've committed to way too many things and as a result, I'm back to crying everyday. I could complain about the two Indian fellows in my cube farm arguing about the structure of family names in their respective villages. I could try to articulate the exact kind of chocolate cupcake I am craving.

I will not do any of these things.

Instead, I will post a cute picture.

Have a nice day.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Bea Arthur Wrasslin'

Preparing for a computer science education conference. Reading papers about gender, pipelines, and psychoanalytic feminism.

These stereotypes did not lessen with age, as high school students expressed the same impressions. One high-school student described technology workers as "smart...They've got to be kind of nerdy," and added, "I'm not that type of person...They don't do anything. They don't talk on the telephone...they don't want to do anything by study...it's not a good life." Her description paints a picture of an antisocial person, who is single minded in his or her focus on work. By distancing herself from "that type of person," this student is creating a barrier between herself and people who have careers in technology.

Here's the thing. This high school girl, wherever she is, isn't too far off the mark from where I'm sitting. And yes, I'm sitting in front of a computer. I do work all the time, I do focus on work like my dog focuses on cat turds, and I actually do hate talking on the phone.

I admit, I don't sit in front of the computer EVERY day. I have finally restructured my schedule so I don't sit in front of the computer every day. Fridays are what I call my "face day." I have a lot of really productive meetings on Fridays in which I get to work with other people. On Saturdays, I take off a half-day (maybe the whole thing if I'm particularly mentally unbalanced), but then I start working at the computer again on Sunday.

So, do I live this way because I want to, or because the computing culture at my department forces me to? If this high school girl is so right on the mark, do I really feel like telling her that computer science is for girls, too? And not just girls. Can I honestly say, without lying through my diet coke stained teeth, to a roomful of extroverted people who want to work on teams and do interesting work without sitting in front of a computer all the time, that computer science is for THEM too?

I have no answer. I just go back and forth. Some days I just feel like a genderless machine. Other days, I feel I don't belong here. Other days, I'm ready to burn down the school if that's what it will take to get some attention on the issue of diversity in computer science.

All this back and forth, and I feel like Bea Arthur wrasslin' a velociraptor.

Monday, February 20, 2006


Hey kids, circle round! Auntie FCSGS is going to tell you a story! And by story, she's going to tell you a thinly-veiled allegory involving anthropomorphised animals in the style made legendary by her good ol' buddy Clive.

Once upon a time in 1907, shortly after the first anti-rabbit fence was built in Australia, a hungry rabbit named Mocra sat solemnly in the dust of the Northern Territory. He was an ancestor of one of the original rabbits released in Australia by Thomas Austin in 1859 and he was proud of his great heritage. He was a proud rabbit in general, and would not hesistate to tell other rabbits of his great sacrifices and those of his lineage.

On this particular day, Mocra the rabbit was particularly hungry. The anti-rabbit fence kept him out of his favored farms, and he hadn't anywhere to gather carrots and lettuces. He sat in the dust of the Northern Territory and grumbled while his tummy rumbled.

After many hours of grumbling, a grey hare came by. The rabbit said, "Hello. I'm hungry. Do you have any food?" Mocra replied, "You cannot possibly be as hungry as I. I was one of the first rabbits caught behind the fence. In fact, my ancestors, brought here by Thomas Austin in 1859 were those especially victimized by hunger, for it was they who were the first domestic rabbits who had to learn to live in the wild..."

Mocra the rabbit could not finish, because the grey hare merely scampered away in search for food. Mocra sat in the dust of the Northern Territory and grumbled while his tummy rumbled.

After many days of grumbling, five white bunnies and their mother came by. The mother said, "Hello. We are hungry. We are on our way to look for food in the West. Would you like to join us?" Mocra replied, "You cannot possibly be as hungry as I. You are a mother bunny, and you must have a father bunny to provide for you. In fact, my male ancestors, brought here by Thomas Austin were those especially victimized by hunger, for they had many mother bunnies to provide for..."

Mocra the rabbit could not finish, because the white bunnies and their mother merely scampered away to the West. Mocra sat in the dust of the Northern Territory and grumbled while his tummy rumbled.

After many days of grumbling, a rabbit of the Great Sandy Desert came by. The rabbit said, "Hello. There is great news of food in the harbour! We only need to crawl beneath a hole in the fence. We can feed our hunger there!" Mocra replied, "You cannot possibly be as hungry as I. You come from the desert where there are many cacti for feasting. You must certainly have been to the cape where there are many shipments for scavanging. In fact, my ancestors..."

Mocra the rabbit could not finish, because the rabbit of the Great Sandy Desert merely scampered away to the harbour. Mocra sat in the dust of the Northern Territory and grumbled while his tummy rumbled.

One day, Mocra caught the Myxoma Virus and died.

The Moral: Wallowing in your own self-pity about problems in the face of those who work towards solutions will get you nowhere.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Race from Asia Ending with Tulips

My old 14-inch Apple laptop is sitting on a shelf in my basement; a basement which I'm now calling the "Laptop Morgue." It's 12-inch replacement arrived today, having been shipped from China just yesterday. I'm slightly amused by the fact that my laptop arriving from China beat my boyfriend arriving from Japan today. It's a strangely contrived race, since my laptop had an Army of people in China, Alaska, and GradShitTownVille. The boyfriend has to carry his own luggage onto the plane. Unfair, I know. Who said life is....

Mom? No, that's my own voice. Sometimes my voice box gets stuck in a certain tone and I swear my mother is talking in my ear. Really it's the sound of my own voice.

fair. And so the Army sent my new laptop to me and the kind gentleman in a purple shirt who brought it to my door woke me up today. Since grad school, "THE CRACK OF DAWN" shifted from 5:30 am--the time I used to get up to go to the gym in North Portland--to 8:30 am.

I don't even exercise in the morning anymore. I swim in the evening.

And I swam last night, but stop interrupting me Ms. Italics! The man in a purple shirt--which makes me think of Tom Hanks' "The Man With One Red Shoe"--woke me from a dream that actually didn't involve people trying to kill me. I dreamt of the garden I'd planted at my mother's third husband's house. In reality, he lived on half an acre, and while I lived there, my mother and I filled as much as I could with gladiolas, lilies, columbine, and tulips. It was theraputic. It was over 10 years ago. In the dream, the garden had become wild and overrun with tulips. I sat in the backseat of a car, and as the car drove slowly past Battlecreek Road, I could see the tulips. It was the scene from Logan's Run, except replace the White House with my ex-step father's house and replace the ivy with tulips.

But Logan's Run is a really cheesie movie.

I agree. Which is why I must find it for next Cheesie Chick Flick Night.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Grammar Hotline

Until I was 17 years old I wanted to be an English professor. I loved teaching and I was fascinated by all the rules of grammar that could allow a person to construct a perfect, elegant sentence. At 17, I realized that majoring in English would likely get me as far as waitressing tables. My boyfriend at the time suggested I try Computer Engineering since I was good at math and liked working with my computer at home. And voila, here I am. Thanks Logan Rhodehamel.

When I got to college, I took a CLEP test and received 6 hours of English credit. I never took an English course again. I took Spanish Literature, Modern Art, and 8 hours of theology; including a course on Martin Luther, which I thought was hilariously rebellious as a Catholic University undergraduate. I also took Materials Science, Semiconductor Physics, Signal Processing, and two years of Electrical and Electronic Circuits. As a result, many grammar rules have become foggy for me. Is it "Software Engineering" or "software engineering?" Is it "Department of Computer Science" or "computer science department?" Some searching on the web led me to my new favorite thing: Delaware's Grammar Hotline.

The website also led me to two books I hope to find at the library. I need as much help as possible to write a fabulous research paper which will get accepted and therefore get me closer to my prelim.

Monday, February 06, 2006

During the blues show today

As some of you know, I am a DJ for the local community radio station. Today during the blues show, I played a song called "I'm a Woman" with the following lyrics:

"I can make a dress outta a feed bag and I can make a man outta you."

Thank you Christine Kittrel. And Santa, if you are listening, bring me this for Christmas.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Shoe Shopping (Remotely) in Portland last weekend

One of the reasons I hate GradShitTownVille is because there is no decent shopping. Except for some disposable t-shirts and skirts at Old Navy, I've purchased very little here with regards to shoes and clothing. Last weekend, when I realized that I'd worn out the arch support on both my Keens AND my Merrels, I was determined to get new shoes.

I have weird feet; tres high arches. If I buy just any shoes, I suffer miserably in pain. I've become unhappy with Merrels and Danskos. Sadly, I have also recently become unhappy with my beloved Bastads. They are no longer comfortable for my broken-down feet. I'd tried on a pair of comfortable Sanitas in Portland last month, but didn't buy them. I was determined to find them again. Last weekend, I went to every store in GradShitTownVille that might possibly carry these Danish sweethearts of mine. Two hours later I hadn't found them.

So I called Shannon.

Shannon works at Clogs & More in Portland. It's a lovely store. It is set up so that all the shoes are out and available to try. I met her at the shoe store four months before I moved here and we've been friends ever since. When I'm in Portland, I like to go to the store and try on every pair of shoes while I chat with her.

On the phone, Shannon said she was busy and would call right back. I told her I'd already e-mailed her a photo of the shoes I wanted. She returned my call, reported that they had the shoe, and would send it to me. She got my credit card information. She promised she put a little note in with my shoes. We said our goodbyes so she could get back to work.

For 1 nanosecond, I panicked, thinking I might have to call her back. Then I laughed to myself, "Of course she knows my shoe size!"

I love our friendship.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


My parents divorced when I was 10. My mother went to night school to become a medical secretary. During the day, she worked as a restaurant hostess. Often I'd find her fallen asleep at the kitchen table. She worked hard, but with little reward. The year of the divorce, her earnings were $16,000. After she graduated, she found a job at the local hospital. Seeing her life had settled down, she started dating again. She never dated anyone too long. She was often in the stage of a relationship where she felt she had to impress the guy. If he went away on a business trip, she vowed to my brother and I that she would lose 10 pounds while he was gone.

I told this to my boyfriend on Tuesday when he left for Japan for three weeks. I told him rather than losing as much weight as I possibly could, I would read as many books as I possibly could. Fortunately, there is a good library in town. It's day three and I've read books five and six of the Lady Detective series and Steve Martin's Shopgirl.

I finished reading Shopgirl in the bathtub this evening. I was in the bath, trying to stave off the droplets of depression that were inking their way into my head. These droplets have plagued me since puberty, and without action on my part, they cloud my perception to its negative worst. I find myself a waste of time to my friends who are saints to put up with my horrible company. I cannot possibly graduate. I am a bad dog owner. I am an ugly human being.

In water, I find some relief from the little droplets. If it is a mild case, I take a bath. If it is a severe case, I must go to the swimming pool. I am comforted by the water. I relax, and the droplets rinse off me, bouncing away like warm mercury.

While bathing, I read a passage in Shopgirl about "The Conversation" people sometimes have about the rules of a relationship. The sayer explaining to the listener that they should both "Keep Their Options Open." The sayer is not heard, for the listener interprets it in a hopeful way. The sayer inwardly proclaims the relationship fair and will unintentionally harm the listener in the coming months.

Reading such a passage was not useful to my task. I've been the listener. I've heard similar speeches. I've been harmed. Small scabs were picked at and reopened. The droplets were absorbed further into my psyche, like a weary father coming home from graveyard shift, whispering "I'm home" to his household.

In this state, I am at the precipice of a possible emotional tail-spin. The act of self-loathing begins. I look down at my body in the bath tub and I hate it. I hate the extra weight I carry in my thick thighs. I hate my belly's overhang and its verticle stripe of black hair. I hate the horizontal gulch in my midsection where my pants clutch at my wasteline. I hate my face's suggestion of a double chin. I hate that I'm almost thirty and still hate my body. My life is a waste of time.

The bath has failed. I dress quickly in a flannel shirt and yoga pants. I drive to a campus pool. I go to a pool I've never gone before because the first campus pool has closed. The pool is hidden inside a building on the National Registry of Historic Places. The 12 foot ceilings are ticked by arches with guilded details. The wooden doors have wire reinforced windows. I find the locker room and change into my swimsuit. At the door to the pool, I inhale deeply to test my asthmatic lungs. I gauge that they will suffice without medication.

The pool is almost empty on this Friday night. There are two Chinese lap swimmers. The lifeguard is text-messaging something on his phone. I enter the pool and begin to swim. One of two things might happen. I might ease through water with strong arms and strong legs for a prescribed 30 minutes. I might fight the water and feel my lungs weaken. My laps could leave me escaped from the droplets, relaxed and too tired to let them in. My laps could leave me exhausted, frustrated and too weak to fight them.

I exit the pool, tired but successful. Leaving the building, still admiring the architecture, I am reminded of the Kennedy School in Portland. I imagine turning the corner to go to the movie theatre at the corner of the building to watch Dr. Strangelove for only $3. I marvel at how I am homesick after four years here, but I'm feeling okay.

Tomorrow will be better.