Friday, December 17, 2010

Making fun

It's official: I'm staying in grad school at least one more semester. I'm submitting a paper with my adviser early next week, then submitting my fellowship renewal. If next semester goes well, I'll just finish grad school. If it doesn't... well, I'll have to face that later. I'll assume for now that it will go well. At least I've learned about academic bureaucracy through this whole process.

In order to do what I can to have a productive semester, I intend to make it fun. I will make fun in my research life, my non-research academic life, and my personal life.

Research is still a question mark. I need to do something related to my proposal, but it does not have to follow it to the letter. In my last post I mentioned that education and outreach may be a good supplement to keep me interested in my research. I don't know how to do that specifically, but I will definitely think about it over the holiday break. Any ideas from the peanut gallery? If I make research fun, I will have no problem completing my PhD.

I'm registered fifth-semester German and third-semester Spanish. I miss languages, so it'll be nice to work with them again. I'm not too concerned about the classes' difficulty because I catch on to languages pretty quickly. I'm also taking a hydrology class. Hydrology will be a new subject for me. I hope it will give me a better sense of nature as a system. Most of my classes only touch on the atmosphere's relationship to the rest of the Earth system.

Making my personal life fun is (for once) the easy part. Jujitsu, biking, cooking, friends... easy :).

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Huh, maybe not. Oh well.

Moving to DC doesn't look like it will work by January. That means I will most likely commit to another semester (at least) of grad school soon (i.e., renew the fellowship).

Fortunately, other developments have made that more palatable. It turns out I have more leeway in my fellowship and proposal than I thought. That may be enough to find a way to get through the PhD as a grad student. It'd sure be quicker than doing it alongside a full-time job.

Grad school would also leave me time to do some education and outreach work. Based on a conversation last night during which I briefly explained global climate models and how hail forms to a friend who is not in my field, doing that more may keep me excited about atmospheric sciences. I enjoyed talking about it in that way to an interested (or at least semi-interested) audience. It's been a while since I enjoyed talking about my field.

I don't think I have a bad option right now as long as I can approach it with the right frame of mind. Not to mention, staying in Grad School Town lets me continue with my jujitsu dojo, which I really like :D. I may have to take some day trips for suitable biking terrain.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Quote on taking chances

‎I ran across this in my Google Reader this morning (I like well-said phrases):
"I guess what I'm trying to say is, I don't think you can measure life in terms of years. I think longevity doesn't necessarily have anything to do with happiness. I mean happiness comes from facing challenges and going out on a limb and taking risks. If you're not willing to take a risk for something you really care about, you might as well be dead."

-- Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider
The sentiment sounds familiar ;).

Friday, October 22, 2010

A big departure

I'm finally ready to share my plans with the world. I just needed to ask my adviser and the department head for their approval first. They're both very supportive and sorry to see me leave.

I'm planning to start a leave of absence from school in January. That will give me up to a year to return to PhD studies without having to reapply. In the mean time, I can take time away to reassess what I want to do and if it requires a PhD and if I have the drive to finish the degree without wasting any more of my or my adviser's time.

I am applying for jobs in the Washington, DC, area now in hopes that I will find something I can start with the new year. I am focusing on this area because I like the city, I'm familiar with it, one of my relatives lives there, and several friends live along the East Coast.

I also want to keep the option open to pursue a master's degree in science writing with Johns Hopkins. They have a part-time evening program that I could work through while I work a normal daytime job. Ultimately, I want to communicate science to non-scientists, so this path makes sense.

It will also help me financially. Though my tuition is fully covered and I'm paid a livable salary in grad school, it still costs me to be here. I have a lot of debt from undergrad that is accruing interest. These are mainly loans with Sallie Mae, which must be run by soul-sucking profiteers the way they've handled my loans. With a job I can start paying the loans off and perhaps even take them away from Sallie Mae. I don't know how the loans work yet because my dad helped me with that. I may borrow a friend's mom to help me weed through my options. If that doesn't pan out, I may be on my own to figure it out.

So for the next two or three months I'm finishing everything I need to in order to minimize the impact this has on my adviser, who is going up for tenure this year. One of my biggest concerns is that I don't cause him a problem because he's only along for the ride this time and I'm grateful to his flexibility and understanding through the most difficult three years of my life.

I'm nervous, scared, and excited. This is the biggest departure I've ever taken from the established path through school to a career, but I truly feel this is the right decision for me right now.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Settling back in

Due to scheduling issues, my prelim will not happen this semester. My school-related goals now include finishing the interminable paper and completing enough of my PhD research to give a talk at AMS in January. And catching up with class.

My house is getting messier, but I spent most of the day cooking so it's okay for now. I made a beef roast, chicken soup, salmon, and cookies. I have more cookies planned so I can use some nifty little fall cookie cutters I bought while I was in Wisconsin.

Personally, I'm doing okay. I'm still low on patience. I've run my patience to the brink of losing it over the past five months. (I wasn't very involved in the first few months of my dad's treatment, so it wasn't as difficult then.) I think I'm just emotionally burnt out. And tired. And still stressed, in good and bad ways. I don't know how to recover from this besides wait and hope it doesn't take too long.

In other news, change is in the air. I'm not ready to release my ideas to the world until I'm more sure of them, but they are big. I'll let you know when they're ready.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I hereby declare...

...that I have the best friends ever!

Three flew to the Midwest from the East Coast on short notice for my dad's funeral and stayed with me through the weekend, six drove almost 300 miles from Grad School Town, and one drove almost two hours to stay overnight the night with me and my mom and made us breakfast the morning of the funeral. On top of that, I came home to a clean house because three of the friends from Grad School Town cleaned my house while I was gone.

I dare you to deny that they are the best!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Upcoming return to pseudo-normal

I will return to school at the end of this weekend. I will have to make up for three missed weeks of classes and research.

I still plan to complete my prelim this semester. Excuse after excuse has delayed it for a year. No matter how valid they've all been, I'm tired of putting it off. I want it done so it doesn't hang over my head anymore and so I won't have to take more classes. I also learned yesterday that I am scheduled to give an oral presentation at the AMS Annual Meeting in January. On top of those, I need to renew my fellowship at the end of the calendar year.

Lucky for me, all of these goals are related to the same work: my PhD research. If I make good progress on that, all of these should be within reach. For the prelim, I add a proposal and oral defense. For the meeting presentation, I put together a short talk. Last, and probably least demanding, I write a progress summary to renew my fellowship. Sounds like a tall order, but those are my specialty.

That leaves writing and class out of the mix. I don't know what my new class deadlines will be, but they should be flexible since my adviser teaches the class. I don't know about writing. I really want to continue with everything I planned before. I think I'll try to and hope for the best.

Four days and I return to my life. It will be much the same as before, and yet forever different. More different than I have ever experienced. I never imagined life without my dad find me this soon.

Whether or not he is here, I will continue to make him proud of me. I am thankful for the time we had together and all he taught me.

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.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Finding motivation in observing science

I didn't present at the workshop in Knoxville. I wish I had something from my PhD work to present because I was a minority in focusing on the physical and dynamical aspects of climate science rather than the chemical and biological. I think I would have added breadth to the two days of talks.

Since a lot of them focused on chemistry and my last chemistry class was introductory chemistry for science majors six years ago, I did not understand many details of the studies. Nonetheless, I found the workshop valuable beyond the basic conclusions I gleaned from each talk. Hearing about other's work inspired me to return to my own research. Perhaps Musings of a Life-Long Scholar hit on a good motivational tip: read 1000 words of scientific literature at the start of each work day. I might remember more of the literature that way, too.

Ironically, it is difficult to work while at a workshop. I attended talks all day and networked/socialized in the evenings. It was a perfect time to run programs that require hours of computer time and little babysitting. Running those programs gets me much closer to finishing the figures I need for the MS paper. I hope to have a full draft by Labor Day weekend, if not earlier.

I realize I've set goals like this before and missed them. Too often. I need to meet one of them to restore confidence in myself as a self-driven student. I used to know that without question. I'm not always sure anymore. I keep telling myself that I need time to adjust to the personal upheavals of the past year. At what point do reasons become excuses?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Whirlwind to whirlwind

My brother's wedding was not perfect but it was close. We only had a few minor problems that were easily remedied. Music and toasts were good and dinner was excellent. My mom and I hosted the gift opening yesterday morning (with a lot of prep help from family). Everyone liked the food there, too. My family likes food.

I enjoyed the whirlwind wedding weekend. I'm also glad it's over. My abstract for the 2011 AMS Annual Meeting is due today and I'm still short on sleep. Today I'm free to rest, bike, and work. Tomorrow and Wednesday I'll take my dad for treatment. Wednesday evening I will return to Grad School Town for a few meetings and to prepare for my Great East Coast Tour.

I haven't told you much about that yet, have I? It involves six cities over fifteen days: Knoxville, TN; Charlotte, NC; Hampton, VA; Alexandria, VA; Adelphi, MD; and New York City.

Family and friends keep asking why I decided to take this trip. It started when I realized that Knoxville, where I'm attending a professional workshop, is halfway to the East Coast. I may as well drive the other half to visit my friend in Adelphi. And since I'm in Adelphi, I should visit my friends a few hours away in Hampton. Then my brother's mother-in-law invited me to visit her in Charlotte. I couldn't pass that up. After all that, I thought about the one friend on the coast that wasn't part of my travel plans. Why wasn't he included? No reason, so I decided to drive to NYC to visit him, too. I convinced my Adelphi friend to meet me in Hampton and accompany me to NYC. Yay, more friend time!

I'll miss the first week of classes, but that's not a big deal. I'm taking my adviser's class. He'll be gone for most of the first week, and when he returns he'll cover some computing basics that I already know.

Of course my road bike will come with me. I plan to ride the Apple Cider Century in southwest Michigan on September 26, so I need to incorporate training rides into my travel. Between the Tour and the Century, my jujitsu dojo is attending a big workshop in Ohio the second weekend of September. Stories will surely ensue. I'm excited on all counts!

I hope I'm still alive at the end of it. I need to do some serious work this fall. I will also try to work on my handy dandy laptop during my travels. Will I ever leave work at home when I take a vacation? I cannot escape this love-hate relationship with technology.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A year makes all the difference - Scientiae, August 2010

I celebrated the first anniversary of depositing my master's thesis a few days ago. Reading my posts from a year ago, it would seem that I have gotten nowhere in the last year. I just started writing my prelim proposal and have yet to submit the paper based on my thesis. Despite my lack of visible productivity, I have accomplished a lot in the past year personally and professionally.

On the personal side, I went from living with my ex-boyfriend and two cats to living alone. That involved a drawn-out transition that I believe is finally coming to a close. My house is much cleaner and more peaceful than before, and I'm confident that I've made good, if difficult, decisions in light of the circumstances life handed me. I am now free to help my family on short notice if my dad's condition suddenly changes. When I'm not visiting family, I am able to focus more on myself and redirecting my life along a more satisfying path. I am becoming more the me I want to be by the day. That involves new career goals, new and renewed hobbies, and learning from all the trials of recent years.

Professionally, I admitted my passion for language and broad learning. As a scientist, I'd face deep learning and technical, utilitarian writing--not the best fit. Because of this seemingly obvious epiphany (as so many are in hindsight), I began to seek training in journalism. A couple of the instructors from the journalism department at my school are working with me to plan a curriculum that will fit with my PhD work. I'm really excited to meet with them in a couple of weeks! I feel more certain in my career plans than I have in years even though they're still developing. I'm running on pure faith that I'll find a way to pay off my undergrad loans (I suppose that's not much of a change).

My hobbies and hope for the future carry me over all the hurdles I face. Part of my life is unpredictable right now because of my dad's illness, but it does not comprise my life. In pursuit of being the best me I can, here some of my goals:
Six months
  • pass my prelim
  • complete the first objective listed in my PhD research proposal and present the results at a national professional conference
  • submit the MS paper
  • ride a century (100 miles)
  • gain experience in journalism and/or science writing, either through a class or an internship
  • test for my blue belt in jujitsu (a stretch, but not impossible)
  • continue to read as if my books are disintigrating before my eyes
One year
  • complete more of the PhD-specific goals I'll come up with as part of my prelim (TBD)
  • have a portfolio of usable writing clips
  • start working on the first paper based on my PhD research
  • ride my bike a bunch--at least one century next season
  • gain proficiency in jujitsu to at least the level of green tip
  • travel somewhere new
Instead of feeling lost as I have for many months, I'm excited for all the opportunities coming this year. I only dread two possibilities: letting fear get in my way and my dad's treatment not going well. The former I can prevent. The latter I will ignore unless it happens because there is no way to prepare for it.

To end on a positive note, I am elated about my upcoming tour of the East Coast. I can't wait to visit so many places and good friends. It'll be a great adventure!

Posted for the August 2010 edition of Scientiae, hosted by Alyssa at Apple Pie and the Universe.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

2010 ranks high in global temperature records

This year is setting a variety of records for global average temperature, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). Much of the record high global average temperature is because of unusually high land surface temperatures. This June exceeded the previous record, set in 2005, by 0.20°F. Ocean surface temperatures placed fourth.

Not everywhere is experiencing record heat. Spain recorded its "coolest June temperature anomaly since 1997," and Guizhou, China, saw record low June temperatures. Despite that, June 2010 was the 304th consecutive month with the global average surface temperature above the twentieth century average.

Near where I live, March, April, and May were all warmer than average. Most of the prior eight months were below average (November was a prominent exception). The High Plains Regional Climate Center has a neat tool to look at a bunch of climate variables across the U.S. How does your region jibe with the global average?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Macs win

You know that program that's been regularly crashing the department computer cluster for at least a couple of months? It runs fine on a Mac (thanks, adviser!). Go figure. At least I can make the final figure for my paper now.

Speaking of the paper, I have something resembling a draft. I haven't written the conclusions or abstract yet because I want to clarify the focus of the paper with some revisions before I try to summarize it. I'm having trouble with the organization. Each figure shows a series of six times for a level of the atmosphere. I used the figures to make a paragraph-by-paragraph outline that the adviser said looked good. After the introduction, data, and methods, I point out the significant features at each level and follow them through time. Now I want to connect the levels of the atmosphere to show a somewhat cohesive system and address teleconnections to show that the phenomenon I'm studying affects areas outside my focus region. Despite my seemingly logical outline, the discussion seems haphazard. I hope it only needs some heavy editing, but what if all the editing in the world will not make this organization scheme flow?

Friday, July 9, 2010

From NPR: The Writer Who Couldn't Read

Did you know that writing and reading are distinct processes in your brain? Howard Engel, an author of detective stories, lost his ability to read when he had a stroke, but he could still write. Check out how he relearned to read through writing: The Writer Who Couldn't Read.

Found on the Writers Write blog

Writing my first paper: Oh, the pain!

I am in the midst of editing my first scientific paper, and it's painful! I'm sure most of the pain is self inflicted. It's not bad once I sit down and start working, but it seems like the work never ends. I've been working with the same (last) figure for the paper for many weeks, fighting computer problems that defy explanation. I finally moved the scripts to a different machine. I don't think it's working. Though the program is still listed as an active process, the output file is showing no progress.

The part of the paper that I can write without the last figure is coming along. I'm flailing a little because I'm not sure how to write it. I suppose I'll find out if I'm doing it correctly when I send my polished-as-I-can-get-it draft to the advisor. To do that, however, I need to plot the last figure.

I have completely given up hope of finishing the prelim before the end of summer. I'd have to figure out how to run a model, generate preliminary data, write everything up, and figure out what else I have to do for a prelim in the next two weeks before my adviser and I are both out of town for the majority of August. Dammit!

As a result, I am registered for a class this fall on using the WRF model. I suppose it'll be a useful class. I still don't want to take it.

In positive news, my journalism (copyediting) professor invited me to chat with her about finding a way to get the experience and knowledge I need to break into science writing. I'll definitely take her up on that.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

My house gets clean when the computer dies

Ahh, the pleasure of a clean house and the sinuses to prove that I did the cleaning! I still have to clean the bathroom, the bedroom, and a few things in the kitchen, but I've made huge progress over the past couple of days. Pretty soon my house will be ready to host even those who are allergic to cats. (I gave my cats to a good home since I will not be here consistently enough to take good care of them.)

On the research front, the cursed paper I've been writing for the last mumble, mumble is delayed yet again. This time it has nothing to do with motivation or distractions. The department computer cluster doesn't play well with my code. I may have single-handedly frozen the file system several times. The cluster is now down for service. I'm going to start working on my prelim in the mean time since I feel like I'm wasting time waiting for technology to work. I don't have much hope of getting it done before the semester starts anymore, but I should be able to make a significant dent in it.

In other news:
  • I'm still enjoying my class. It turns out that I'm pretty good at copyediting (when I pay attention to such things).
  • My dress for my brother's wedding should be ready Tuesday, which is in plenty of time for the wedding. I need light gold shoes. Let's not discuss my progress on that
  • Dad's doing well for someone on a heavy chemo regimen.
  • I'm riding 62 miles on Sunday in the JBC 4th of July Metric Ride. This time I'm riding solo--no family, no friends coming. I guess I'll have to talk to strangers!
  • I have not yet turned my AC on despite some days above 90°F. I'm enjoying being stubborn.
  • I like fireworks.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Subjunctivitis and participle popsicles

Even though my copyediting class has taken up time that could I could theoretically have spent on research and paper writing, I think the class is well worth it. (For one thing, I probably wouldn't spend the extra time on research stuff anyhow.) I never felt like I learned English grammar and syntax very well. My teachers often praised my writing, but I wrote on intuition. "Hmm, that sounds about right." I didn't even learn what adjectives and adverbs were until I studied German in middle school.

The copyediting class is illuminating all those dark corners of English usage. Did you know that the word republican should be capitalized when referring to a member of the party but not when referring to a type of government? It's humbling to realize how many constructs I've avoided or desecrated. Some of the rules have historical or logical reasons and some are simply grandfathered into the language. All this examination of the details of English can't help but improve my writing, and I find that a rather stimulating prospect. (The construction of that last sentence is itself a point of contention. Follett's Modern American Usage does not approve of the phrase cannot help but, but Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage does.)

This week we read the chapter on grammar. It was the most difficult chapter (so far) for me to understand. Part of it talked about the subjunctive mood. What is that? It sounds like a crabby mood. And what's a participle? Is it soem sort of popsicle?

I'm sure I use these things. I feel like I should have learned at some point in my education what the are, but I have no clue. In order to learn how to use them correctly, I need to figure out what they are. Double-duty this week!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Blogger updates

Blogger added new format options. What do you think?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Technology's toll on my time

Technology is often my lifeline. Especially recently (because I've been helping care for my dad through his cancer treatment), I have relied on it to keep up with friends, family, work, and the world at large. I also use it to read and listen to music, among other entertainment. Am I a technology addict?

A recent article in the New York Times, entitled "Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price", focuses on the technological habits of the Campbell family. I've noticed similar habits in myself. I have a hard time not answering my cell phone when it rings, and I compulsively check my numerous email accounts throughout the day. The Campbells do this to the extreme. Kord Campbell, the father of the family, sometimes sleeps with his laptop or iPhone on his chest. I may have slept next to my computer a few times when I was on a tight deadline for school, but I have never slept with my computer on top of me.

I admit that I spend a lot of time on my computer more days than not. But I have reasons. My job requires that I write and run computer programs, write papers, and communicate with colleagues across the country. Some of my best friends live several hundred miles from me and are very busy. I use email and occasionally instant messaging to keep up with them, and I don't receive a paper newspaper, so I read my news online. Of course, I also use my computer to write these posts. All those add up to a lot of screen time.

They are also excuses. A lot of my computer time does not work toward any of them. A certain amount of time for non-productive entertainment is permissible, if I can keep it under control and realize how much time I'm really devoting to it. When I catch myself spending several hours on my computer with nothing to show for it, not only do I feel apathetic from having my eyes adhered to the screen for so long, but I also feel terrible for wasting so much time. I usually can't name anything I enjoyed during that time. It was mindless. On the other hand, some of my best days are the ones devoid of technological gadgets. Are you seeing a trend?

That's not even when it started. Growing up, I waged a second-hand battle with the TV. My dad watched it a lot. When I tried to talk to him, he frequently shushed me because I was interrupting--that is, if he heard me at all. I missed going on bike rides and talking with him like we did when I was younger. I was angry with him for that, but I was also angry at the TV. I swore I would not do the same to my friends and family. I would not let TV rule that much of my life.

Now I barely watch TV, so it certainly is not ruling my life. It still drives me nuts when someone reflexively turns on the TV. I wonder, though: have I have simply supplanted one technology for another? One of the first things I do when I wake up in the morning or get home is open my laptop to check the latest of everything online. Will I let my computer and cell phone distract me from my friend sitting next to me or my family sitting around the table? I ask myself these questions nearly every day.

I am certainly not claiming that technology is inherently evil. It provides many benefits. The way people interact with it is what causes a problem. I fervently hope that, by noticing and questioning my tech-related habits, they will not become a problem.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

My fifth longest ride ever this year

(Note the lack of hyphen between the words fifth and longest in the title.)

I am happy to say that I lived through 75 miles of biking and 5.5-6 hours in the saddle. It went better than I expected. I now have more confidence that I'll reach my goal to ride a century this summer. I'm tired and a little delirious between the ride and not getting enough sleep this week, but a good night of sleep tonight should do worlds of good.

Before I incur the wrath of the weather gods for granting my wishes, I must credit them for giving me and my fellow riders a beautiful day. The rain held off until well after the ride was over, the temperature was perfect, and the sun was shining. The wind was a little bothersome at times, but nothing to incite crankiness. I've had much worse riding near Grad School Town.

Lastly, I giggled with excitement yesterday when I saw that the great goddess Dr. Isis kindly mentioned my little blog. Perhaps she spoke with her colleagues in godliness?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Ride On!

Tomorrow is the infamous 30th annual Miller Lite Ride for the Arts. I'm crawling into bed early tonight since I have to get up by 5am to drive to the startline at the Summerfest grounds. My group, those riding the 75-mile route (which is actually 77.5 miles), depart at 7am.

This is a fundraising ride. All the proceeds help pay for fine arts programs in the Milwaukee area. I'm particularly interested in helping the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra (aka MYSO). I played string bass for two years in the Philharmonia and two years in the Senior Symphony.

Despite my continual grumbling about practice, I loved being part of the group. Being the backbone of the symphony, anchoring the sounds of brass, woodwinds, percussion, and strings all in harmony, was intoxicating. Through all the trials of high school--a part-time job, no study halls in school, a few health problems, and conflicts with friends--music was always there for me. We made great music, too. My gramma overheard a passerby at one of our playathon concerts at a local mall say, "why, they're just kids!"

Unfortunately, I had to give up playing when I went to college because of time and money constraints. A string bass is amazingly expensive and difficult to transport. I keep telling myself that someday I will return to a symphony. Someday when I have $4000 to plunk down on a bass and a few hours free each week for practice and rehearsals.

Even before I was part of MYSO, I wanted to participate in this ride because I liked biking. All this time, I figured I'd try the 25-mile route on my mountain bike and see how that went before doing more. Nope. In typical NJS fashion, I'm diving head-first into the longest route available. I bought a road bike earlier this spring and I've been riding consistently since then to prepare for this ride. It is my first big step towards my ultimate road biking goal this summer: riding a full century (100 miles). I'm really excited!

May the weather gods smile upon me tomorrow.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Celebration (Scientiae, June 2010)

This months Scientiae topic is "celebration." I'm facing a lot of personal and professional challenges right now, so it's a good time to force me to look at what's going well.

Professionally, I feel like I'm finally seeing where I want to go. I love writing and words. I always have. But I have also always loved learning how things work and analyzing the bejeezus out of them. In undergrad, I chose to pursue science because I knew I'd get to learn about and analyze the natural world. I also that scientists have to write a lot. Little did I know of the chasm between the writing I loved in English class and scientific writing. If I wrote a paper in scientific style for any other audience, it'd be burned in horror.

I've also noticed throughout my education that scientists and non-scientists often have difficulty communicating effectively. Each side has a hard time putting themselves in the other's shoes. Scientists want the public to be more informed, and the public wants scientists to explain things more clearly. When one side or the other lacks the ability or inclination to remedy the situation, an intermediary can help.

That's what I want to be. I want to be the middle-(wo)man who helps people see how science impacts their lives and helps scientists understand the needs of society. I want to write about science for a less specialized and non-scientist audience. Given my recent aimlessness, this realization is certainly cause for celebration. It has renewed my enthusiasm for learning and research. I'm really enjoying my copy-editing class and I'm making much better progress toward my PhD on a more consistent basis.

I don't need a PhD to be a science writer, but it wouldn't hurt to have the credential and the time in graduate school may supply many more professional development opportunities. With those extra experiences in hand, I'd have a better chance of finding a suitable job when I graduate, and I'd maintain financial security and flexibility in my schedule and location in the mean time.

Personally, I've been committing more time to things I enjoy. I'm writing more, I'm reading more, I'm traveling more, and I'm more physically active. I've read more books this year so far than I did all of last year, or maybe even in the last two years. I'm riding 75 miles next Sunday. I recently received my yellow belt in jujitsu, which I attend reguarly when I'm in Grad School Town. I spend all of spring break on the east coast with friends just for fun. Before last November, I don't remember taking any trips that were just for fun. They were all family vacations or work-related.

It's incredibly liberating to chase my dreams and passions. None of it is without stress or worry (because those are present no matter what), but it is all completely worth it. I am much happier for following my heart even if it means taking a (sometimes significant) chance and hoping it works. After all, if I won't take risks to be happy, what's the point in having dreams?

See the rest of the carnival, June Scientiae Carnival: We’re Having a Party, at Rocket Scientista.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Catching up

Today was a mixed bag. I got some work done, but not as much as I hoped. I'd be working on some programs right now if I could log in to the damn department computer cluster!

Despite my modest programming progress, I don't feel too bad about today. I replaced a few parts on my road bike so it's ready to ride and possibly ready for my big ride in a couple of weeks. I'll take it out for some laps around a park up the road even though it'll be hot again tomorrow (mid-80s for a high and sunny). I also got some much-needed extra sleep this morning.

I'm working on finding a routine here even though it's kind of futile when the circumstances are so fluid. I at least set up a pseudo-office in my bedroom: an office chair and a couple of TV trays. If I run out of "desk" space, my parents have two more TV trays :P. At first I was annoyed with the arrangement, but I think it's growing on me. It's kind of cozy.

Tomorrow will be a bit of a broken day with a doctor appointment and a bike ride, but that may not be bad. It won't give me enough continuous time programming to want to beat myself over the head with my laptop.

I'm really excited to get out on my bike tomorrow :D.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Summer... break?

The semester is finally over and I have chaotic plans for the summer. The foundation involves bouncing around the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic US. Then I'll fill time between travel with everything else.

It's already started. Actually, it started before the semester truly ended. I spent a week and a half in Wisconsin, after the end of classes and before my sole final exam, helping my parents while my dad started chemo. I've been in Grad School Town for a week and a half. Naturally, I'm leaving again tomorrow for Wisconsin. I'll be there three weeks this time for various events that happen to be spaced a few days apart and another week of heavy chemo for my dad.

Beyond the next few weeks, I have a trip to Tennessee in August and a trip to Virginia and DC at some point. I don't have many solid plans--just an idea of what I want and need to do. The only reason I know when I'll be in Tennessee is because someone else planned the timing. I hope to make it to New York, too, but that might have to wait until the fall.

Filling in between the travel, I'm taking a class on copy-editing through mid-late July. I like writing and I want to take advantage of free classes while I have the chance. It can't hurt to improve my self-editing skills, plus I might want to be a science writer after grad school.

I also met with my advisor this week to set some research goals. We want a full draft of the paper from my MS by June 4th at 5pm. I know I've set goals like this before, but this one feels more reasonable. I really want to get this out of the way so I can move on to the next step. I'm talking about the prelim, of course. I'll spend the rest of the summer preparing that so I am not required to take a class in the fall.

Then there's random bike events, which are mostly not planned yet. I'm registered for a 75-mile ride in Milwaukee on June 6th as part of the Ride for the Arts. I'll attend jujitsu when I get a chance in Grad School Town. When I'm in Wisconsin, I'll spend time with my family and help my parents keep up with their lives. I also hope to fit in some cooking, reading, hiking, writing, movies, and dancing.

It'll be a packed few months, for sure! I think I'll make it... :P

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Quick update, details in subsequent posts

Sorry for the extended absence. I believe life is under some sort of control again such that I can return to blogging.

It turns out that my dad's tumor is more complicated than they originally thought. It is a mish-mash of three different kinds, so they can't tell us much about it. My family and I are forced to take the news as it comes rather than having some idea of what is next.

Dad is half-way through his first round of chemo and radiation. He's doing as well as we can expect given the fact that they're irradiating and poisoning his body. He's only had a little loss of appetite and some fatigue. We are happy with the state of things right now.

As far as school, I think I'm slowly getting back to where I was. I have new/additional plans to give me direction since the past plans didn't seem to help enough. I've enlisted outside help in the form of a career counselor. I want a better idea of my eventual career goal so I have a more solid idea of where I'm going.

In the mean time, I purchased a new-to-me bike for a very reasonable price: 2002 Giant TCR zero. If I plan to ride a century (100mi) this summer (which I do), a road bike is extremely useful. The only problem right now is that I don't know how much money I have due to slow university bureaucracy and I still need to buy some accessories for the bike (shoes, gloves, etc.).

In short, life is almost its normal, busy self and I'm enjoying it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

good and bad and lost

My dad's brain tumor is cancerous and fast-growing. The surgery removed most of it. He went home from the hospital last Saturday and found out the basic diagnosis on Wednesday. He has an appointment next Tuesday to get the details and lay out treatment. I'm hoping for relatively good news and not bothering to prepare for bad news because I don't see any way to do that.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Silence due to intracranial mass

While my silence here may not be unusual, the reason for it is. Here's the (abbreviated) story of the past few days.

My dad had a persistent headache for two or three weeks when my mom finally convinced him to see the doctor last week. The doctor scheduled an MRI for him this past Monday. The MRI showed a lime- or lemon-size intracranial mass (read: brain tumor) and he was immediately admitted to the hospital. I drove from Grad School Town back to Hometown on Tuesday, barely a week after I'd made the same drive the other way returning from my holiday visit. I packed enough clothes for a week since I had no idea how long I'd be staying.

The surgery to remove the tumor went "as well as [the doctors] hoped." They took out almost everything they intended to, leaving a little behind to avoid unnecessarily damaging his brain. Three hours after the surgery, my dad was looking around and chatting with everyone just as he was before the surgery. His recovery is going very well so far, so we are all relieved and happy. We still don't know what lays ahead for his continued recovery, but we are extremely thankful just to have him return from surgery as the same person.

I slept at the hospital Tuesday and Wednesday night. Last night I slept at my gramma's house since things seemed to have settled a bit more at the hospital. Shortly after I returned to the hospital today, Dad moved to the regular neurology wing. That means he has a private room, fewer monitors, and less frequent nursing checks. He and Mom should sleep better tonight. I'm sleeping at their house tonight and will return to the hospital tomorrow.

Dad will probably stay at the hospital at least through the weekend. We are taking it day-by-day until the pathology report comes in (probably by Wednesday). That should help us lay out a more long-term plan. Dad keeps saying he's going to fight this as hard as he can for his wife, his kids, and the rest his family and friends. "You can't hurt steel."

I don't know when I'll return to Grad School Town. Luckily, I brought everything I need if I get a chance to work or don't make it back in time for classes. Hopefully that will keep me from starting the semester too far behind. Posting may be sparse and/or brief.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New plan for a new year

Welcome, everyone, to 2010! I hope your holidays went well.

2009 closed just the way I hoped it would: quiet, happy, with friends and family. I didn't even attempt work over the holidays, so I feel much refreshed on that front.

My biggest challenge last semester was that I didn't know where I was going or why I should care about my work. I wasn't sure I wanted to follow the professor path anymore, and I'm still not sure of that. But, I think I figured out a way to continue with grad school while exploring other options. It's at least worth a try. I should also get back to my motivational program from October. That was a good idea.

If I don't want to be a professor or researcher, why do I need a PhD? Maybe I don't, but it's not going to hurt. The experience of finishing a huge project can apply to myriad jobs. I'm particularly interested in science writing. I've always liked writing, and it's obvious that I like science enough to attempt a PhD. I also see poor or non-existent communication between scientists and the rest of the world. Perhaps I can make a real difference there.

I'm a little disappointed that I didn't try for a journalism degree in undergrad, but that would have added another year and another ~$17k in loans. I have enough school debt as it is. I'm not sure I can take J-school classes here, either. Most of them are reserved for journalism majors. (Why is that, by they way? It was the same in undergrad.) I emailed the teacher of an undergrad science writing course in a different department to see if the course would be useful to me. He suggested it'd be more useful to get an old journalism book and practice on my own since I already (presumably) know how to write. The Idiot's Guide to Journalism isn't exactly a textbook, but it's a start. And it cost me less than five dollars.

Here's my plan. I'll keep working on the PhD and try my darnedest to get the prelim out of the way before next fall semester starts. Then I'm not required to take any classes the rest of the time I'm in school. That will either free me to take whatever classes I want (whether or not they are related to my field) or to leave Uni-town altogether. I can treat PhD research more or less like a normal job, maybe even give myself a time sheet (that probably wouldn't last very long, but it's a funny idea). Then I can schedule at least a few hours a week to work on science writing type stuff. Those add to maybe 50-60 hours/week? If I decide science writing is not for me, I can easily replace it with something else and use the same general framework.

If my mom can handle a full-time job and two tech-school classes on top of normal life, I should be able to make this work, right? I just need a little more self-discipline than she does since I have much less accountability for my time and progress. Maybe a more quantitative plan... next post? We shall see.