Monday, September 27, 2010

Bye Dad

My dad passed early this morning.

I will always love you, Dad. I will always miss you.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Family comes first

Over-commitment gets interesting when I suddenly leave town for the fourth time in a little over three years. I'd give it all up to get rid of my dad's cancer. It's the only thing wrong with him.

My mom called me Saturday because she had to call a non-emergency ambulance for my dad. He couldn't stand up, which meant he couldn't get out of the house for treatment. When my mom called me to tell me about it, she was obviously having a very hard time with it. She couldn't even choke out that she wanted me to come home, but I knew she did. I packed a few changes of clothes and whatever else I thought I might need or want, washed any dirty dishes that might grow, and drove north.

My dad is not doing well. The doctors say he has weeks left at the most.

My mom and I are sharing primary care of him as part of home hospice care, which is more than a full-time job for each of us. We are glad we got to bring him home. Now family can visit whenever they want, Mom and I have more support, and we have better food. He is also more comfortable and receives closer attention. I know this is the best place for him.

I cannot fulfill my copyediting duties because I can only do them in the newsroom. I may be able to write for the university engineering and science magazine. I can work on research and news bureau stuff from here, too. However, I have no idea when I can fit it in between all my other responsibilities right now.

I'd like to keep up with my commitments, but family is priority right now. My adviser said to focus on family, that everything else is extraneous. I intend to follow that advice. Most of my time here I watch after Mom or Dad. Most of the leftovers I make sure legal and financial affairs are in order for my parents and for me or call friends for support and a break.

I am glad I have a big family so we can help each other through this hard time. They are invaluable in my Dad's care. We could not have brought him home without their help. Aunts and uncles help third shift, more aunts and uncles help first shift, and we have a full house second shift.

Even though this is a heartbreaking situation, I feel lucky for everything else in my life.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Intentionally over-committing

Have you ever intentionally taken on a little more than you think you can handle? If you have, why?

I'm doing it this semester because I don't want to give my mind time to wander. My dad is not doing well. I don't want to publicize the details, so you'll have to believe me. The doctors either cannot or will not tell us what his current group of diagnoses mean in terms of prognosis except to say, several times, that it's not good. I don't want time to consider possible implications of his current health beyond an initial thought. Oddly, this situation seems to help me concentrate on work most of the time. I'm making progress on most fronts.

In pursuit of the goal to keep myself busy, here are my major work-related activities this semester:
  1. Prelim: The proposal write-up is due November 23, and the oral presentation is tentatively schedule for December 9. That leaves me a little over two months to write it. My to-do list says "come up with plan for prelim."
  2. Research for AMS 2011 in January: I don't know if I have a poster or oral presentation yet, but it doesn't matter. I need results to present either way. The first step is downloading data. Thankfully I wasn't optimistic enough to believe I could have model results in time.
  3. @#$% MS paper: Yep, still going. The Energizer paper. At least I'm working on a first round of revisions to most of the text. Computers still are not cooperating to finish the final two figures.
  4. Copyediting for the school newspaper: This only consumes three hours one night a week. It'll give me a taste of what working on a tight deadline is like without too much time commitment.
  5. Writing for the school STEM magazine: Only one issue will be published this semester, so I will write one article for print, one article for the web, and two blog posts. It should be straightforward and relatively quick since the articles are supposed to be short. It'll challenge me more to choose a topic than to write the articles.
  6. Intern as a science writer with the university news bureau: I'm excited about this. My mentor actually gets paid to write about science! And she's professional about it! How refreshing. The internship can take as much or as little time as I let it because I accept (or turn down) assignments as they crop up. Finally, some reliable mentoring in writing.
The work for my only class should pull double-duty with my PhD research, so I don't count it as a major commitment.

I also intend to help my family as possible and as needed, attend all the jujitsu practices I can, and occasionally go rock climbing, ice skating, and biking. Oh, and cook tasty food. I have to eat, right?

If you think I'm crazy, you're not alone. I think my mom is the only person who doesn't question me anymore. She's learned that many of my seemingly crazy ideas are some of the ones that work out the best.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My go-anywhere "lab" tools - Scientiae, September 2010

This month's Scientiae topic is research equipment. For me, it's pretty simple. My main equipment consists of my laptop, research group computers, the department computing clusters, and a supercomputer or two. So, yeah, computers. "Lab" is a foreign concept.

This setup lets me work from many locations. In the past few months, I've worked from Wisconsin, Illinois, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland (I was too tired in Ohio and refused to open my computer in New York). I can log on to any of the big computers through the internet. Even the data I use is available remotely. I download it to my laptop or directly to one of the other computers from whoever stores it (usually some government organization).

I use the terminal window religiously. I recently added nxclient to my repertoire, which gives me a GUI desktop for an interactive node dedicated to my research group. That's handier than I expected. Between these two interfaces, I can run programs interactively or in batch mode (submit a job that will run when the resources become available).

I reroute the output into a text file so I don't have to babysit the program, I can review the output later, and the program will not crash if my laptop dies or I lose my network connection. If I had to run everything interactively and couldn't record the output, I would have violently and permanently killed at least one computer by now. As it stands, I have non-violently killed several computers several times (including single-handedly jamming the department cluster), but I, my adviser, or the sys admin were always able to bring them back.

And my little macbook is the portal to it all. It's wonderful and dangerous at the same time.