a delish weekend

creperie breton, originally uploaded by saburke.

So I finally got around to putting the pictures from our (anniversary... 6 years together, my goodness!) trip to Quebec city two weekends ago up on Flickr. Oddly, my favorite pictures are actually of food... come to think of it most of the best moments of the trip are of food, and the consumption of said food in nice warm environments. The photo here is of the window of the creperie where we had breakfast... to be specific I had a chocolate (dark, dark, rich chocolate) and banana crepe... it was amazing. There are some classic pictures of the Chateau, etc in my photostream now too. We tried to take some pictures at night, but well... it's difficult.

Anyway, we had a great trip. It was cool, and I couldn't find my hat before leaving, so once again I had to stop in at "maison Simons" to pick up a new hat... and maybe new matching mittens. Hubby convinced me that the pink was cuter than the black, so I made a departure from my usual dark winter wardrobe and got them. I think he's right, they spruce up my black winter coat.

Our main mission (besides eating lots of great food) was to look at art. My parents had given us money at our wedding to buy real, actual art... not a poster, not a reproduction... real, bonafide artwork! We were pretty excited about this, and since there are quite a few art stores in Quebec city we figured it would be a good chance to check it out. Except... it turns out we have totally different taste in art! Oh, we should have known from our preferences while at the Musee d'Orsay and looking through art books etc in preparation for the museums. Sigh... So, we're thinking we might just get one of our favorite photographs blown up large and framed nicely instead. Perhaps we can agree more on this!

Places to eat in Quebec city:

Creperie Breton
Bistro sous le Fort

We also had coffee/tea at a nice little cafe, but I can't for the life of me remember the name. Sadly, our favourite brunch choice, L'Ardoise (oddly, also the name of the town my parents are from), has changed ownership... and well... sadly, it's off the favourite list. The Creperie was a new discovery and a great one! I've been to Bistro sous le Fort several times now, and each time has been more delicious than the last. This time I went for the classic Steak-frites, and well, I think it was the best Steak-frites I've ever had. :)


graduate student definition of a week

week: a period of time in which things may, or may not, be accomplished within.

So, I've been thinking about this difference between undergraduate and graduate studies. I remember being an undergrad and being oh sooooo jelous of the graduate students... no assignments, no tests, no exams... why, all they had to do was research, which is fun anyway right? Right??

Yeah, ok, I'll admit, it's nice not to be going into a frenzy right now about exams (like so many around me on campus), which seem pretty meaningless anyway... but, I find myself evaluating what I've managed to accomplish in this past semester and... well... it's not like I haven't done anything, because man, I've been working my butt off... but nothing is very final. It's more like... I've made some, not easily measured amount of progress. In some ways I miss the finality, and accompanying sense of accomplishment that goes along with things that get handed in... on a due date. The majority of things I've taken on since September have morphed into bigger (though mostly interesting) projects than I thought they would be. That's one of the really fun/frustrating aspects of research... the goal line moves... all the time... you learn something new about your data, and it suddenly gets a lot more interesting... and a lot more complex (not like I'm immersing myself in two whole new fields or anything to interpret the data for my paper... oh wait, that's where the last month went).

Add to that the freedom to have perfectionism run wild need to be certain things are correct before releasing them into the world of science, and it starts to feel like you're riding an asymptote... a really long, gradual asymptote. Remember all those assignments that got handed in with #5 half completed, and you were pretty sure your answer to #2 made absolutely no sense? Or that essay that you knew had some ill-formed chain of logic, but hey it was due and you'd stayed up all night and that was the best you could do? You can't do that when you are writing research papers... it just has to be right... or at least you have to be convinced that it is as right as can be at the time. You can't just say "well, I didn't quite finish the discussion section, but I said it was due today, so I guess I'll submit it anyway"... well, you could, but it probably wouldn't be accepted... or worse, what if it was and you had to deal with it being "out there" and people reading your knowingly crappy work? Same with experiments... when you know there's something interesting emerging, it would be silly to stop just because you'd spent a month on it, and that's all you said you were going to do.

Nope, personal deadlines be damned, if it ain't done, it ain't done.

So at a time of year I'm used to a big build up of stress followed by 2 weeks of blissful relaxation, I'm wondering if I'll even be able to truely de-stress knowing that it's all still there waiting... waiting to be inched towards completion.

As an undergrad I probably got as many as, say, 6,7, even 8 "things" done in a week (assignments, midterms, lab reports, whatever). Lately, it's really up in the air whether I get something "done" in one short little week.


things I hope to blog about soon...

There are two big things I really want to blog about, but just haven't found the time:

  1. Nanoscience and Nanotechnology safety and Good Science There were a couple of articles in the journal "Nature" about Nanosci/tech and health and safety considerations and where we need to go to address the potential problems we don't even know exist yet. I am itching to read this, as well as a comment on "science's bad public image". I hope to write something on this soon.

  2. Quebec is a nation... within a nation... consisting of... ? Those of you in Canada will surely be sick of hearing about this on the news by the time I get around to commenting... but being an Anglo in Quebec from another province... I know I just won't be able to resist contributing my two cents to this already over hashed topic!

So... if I could just get this big ol' research paper written... ie. finish the last of the analysis needed to finish writing said research paper... mainly I need to draw a diagram, but it turns out to be more involved than one would think drawing a diagram possibly could be... because it has to be correct... psish... what is it with scientists and being right? Anyway, if I could just get my darned work out of the way I could dive into these fun and interesting topics. sigh~

plight of the grad student

Everything seems hard... until someone else does it before you.

PhD comics: Scooped

Meant to post this a few days ago... meant to print one out to adorn my cubicle too.


rerun, originally uploaded by saburke.

Ok attempt #2. You may have noticed the "test post" from Flickr... I've finally managed to get Flickr set up to post to my blog. Now I'm working on the interfacing between myself and Flickr and blogger... attempt #1 didn't work out.

So, these are the (pretty, pretty) shoes I bought while in Edmonton. I wore them to church on Sunday so I got hubby to help me get a picture before I went and changed into more comfortable attire for lounging around and cooking the rest of the day. The more I think about it, the more these remind me of shoes I had when I was about 3 years old... burgundy t-strap shoes... these are a much more grown-up version, but I wonder if that is why I was drawn to them? :)

Anyway, hopefully this Flickr thing will work this time and I can post lots of pictures this way!

Ha ha! It worked this time! ;)


This is a test post from flickr, a fancy photo sharing thing.


two thumbs way, way up!

So hubby and I went to see the new Bond movie (for those with their heads in the sand, that's Casino Royale). I had heard mixed reviews, so I wasn't really sure if it would be good, but it seemed like a "must see". Some of the complaints I heard were the lack of style of the bond character, you know, that 00- tuxes and martinis and witty banter with the antagonists, a lack of opulence and style in general of the surroundings and other characters, and a lack of gadgets... I mean a 007 without nifto gadgetry? Huh?? Dear god, without all of that where's the Bond?? I was worried they might have even gotten rid of the Bond girls! (on a quasi-feminist note, I see nothing wrong with Bond girls, they are generally sexy, smart, witty, know what they're doing and use it all to their advantage... Bond enjoys it, and everyone has a good time. I like them, and they usually add style and a bit of action relief.)

Well, in general I didn't feel these critisims were warranted. There was a distinct lack of the traditional gadgets, what there was instead was a great deal of use of those kind of gadgets we all seem to have these days: laptops, cell phones, I mean, even lots of people have GPS in cars now! I found the use of these slightly souped-up "everyday" objects very good (for those of you familiar with Alias, think similar to this, a little modification here and there, to make a super-spy-cell-phone, etc). To come up with original "gadgets" is getting tricky without going to the ridiculous like invisible cars a la "Die Another Day". Honestly, I find that too comic-book-like, and I'm not a fan. Also there were no far-out plots to take over/destroy the world, just plain old-fashioned terrorist/warlord bad-guy bankrollers. It feels like a spy-movie, not a super-hero movie, and I think that's how it should be.

As for style, I saw no lack of style. Ok, Bond was a bit rougher around the edges than the recent movies, but I was beginning to feel those were too polished anyway. This one adds in a bit of grit, a few good old-fashioned fist-fights, people get dirty, bloody, sweaty, it's more real. Bond still wears a tux though, still drinks martinis, and still carries on charming, witty banter with the other characters. Oh, and I'm not going to complain about a really, really ripped Bond... sorry boys, but you get the Bond girls for eye candy, we should get something too! ;) That aside, the surroundings are most certainly opulent, the women well dressed, well primped, and dripping in jewelry, the cars are fast and fancy, and well, I'm just not feeling a lack of style here.

Along the same lines as style, I also really loved the cinamatography. The black and white, grainy opener was fantastic and really set the mood for the whole film. The rest of the movie was in a hue that wasn't so much duller as usual, but it really looked like older film. Compared to the recent very "shiny" looking Bond flicks I felt like I was watching one of the old Bond movies (which I always preferred anyway).

As for the acting, I'm not much a critic in this area unless it's really good or really bad... but I'd definitely say that Daniel Craig as the new Bond works (I was skeptical... though not a huge Brosnan fan, I don't like change), and Eva Green as the Bond girl in this film was fantastic, though I did detect an French accent coming through her British character occasionally. The on-screen chemistry was great all the way from "prickly" to very, very warm. As for the villain, I can't tell if I liked the character or the acting or both... probably both.

The plot, based on the first Bond novel by Ian Flemming was great and held me through to the end despite the long-ish-ness of the film. I especially liked the twist at the end (no, I hadn't read the book) where I was sure I knew what was coming... but was surprised with an ending which was much more interesting. ;) I will say no more about that as I will not be a spoiler!

Needless to say, I highly recommend, even if you haven't enjoyed the last few Bond movies. ;) I feel like this is an excellent re-set to the Bond franchise, and I really, really look forward to seeing more!

Now, if I could just get the Bond theme song out of my head... dundedundendedundundedundendun....


land 'o beef and cold

So, as I mentioned in a post a couple of weeks ago I travelled westward for a conference/workshop thing and a chance to see a friend. I had a great trip! So here's the run down...

It started in Edmonton visiting with my friend. Her super-awesome boyfriend came into town and was nice enough to come pick me up at the airport and everything... which was great, even though I'm ok with taking taxis. Last time I took a taxi in Edmonton the cabbie got lost. For those of you unfamiliar with Edmonton here's the punchline: Edmonton is on a grid. The whole city is layed out on a grid, all the streets are numbered and the house numbers tell you the nearest cross-street. It's insane, I've never seen a city so perfectly gridded! Of course I'm used to these nutso east-coast cities were there are probably 5 street intersections, one way streets, streets that stop and start somewhere else, a corner is any angle greater than zero, and a street may take a turn at an angle anything less than 180 degrees and continue on as if nothing happened... etc,etc. Anyway, I digress.

What does one do in Edmonton? Well, when you are hanging out with your best friend who you love shopping with... you shop. We also went to the waterpark... *Awesome*... but it is in the mall, so does that count as not shopping?? I barely behaved myself in the stores... but mostly my pocketbook was safe.

  • Most practical purchase: tie between leggings to wear for hockey (less bunchy than sweatpants under shin guards) and body butter which was completely necessary in the infamous dry cold in Edmonton, especially after the chlorine in the water park. All very mundane and unexciting.
  • Least practical purchase: shoes. oh, but they are beautiful shoes... sometimes we have to make a little room in our lives for beauty right? to be fair to the shoes I bought, they are much, much more practical than the first pair I tried on, which perhaps I loved more, but honestly couldn't have worn... these shoes had already done a full day's duty before coming home as I wore them at the workshop. :)

Now, we didn't spend all of our time at the West Edmonton Mall (though perhaps with an appropriate budget we could have). We also decided to check out Whyte Ave... a trendier, quainter, outdoor shopping strip. It was all nicely decorated for Christmas already too. We took the camera this day (really, we didn't need any pictures of our shopping frenzy at West-Ed) and played around with Melanie's Rebel lens which is different than mine (her's is the film version). I was going to try to link the photos from Flickr since they are already there... but it doesn't seem to want to cooperate. So here's just one of the street:

See how pretty with all the lights? Anyway, after that we headed in to Calgary, crashed at friend's super-awesome boyfriends' place, who once again came to pick us up (what a sweetie!), and then off to Banff in time for my workshop. We had a great day in Banff. Banff is nice. We squeezed in: a short hike, a trip to the hot springs, and yet another little shopping expedition. I think the hot springs were my favorite. I really wanted to go back, but people from the conference were less enthusiastic about it than I was. How wonderful to sit in 39C water gazing at mountains with occasional flurries falling down!? Fantastic! Thank goodness I brought my bathing suit! Anyway, it was kind of overcast, and really on the chilly side to be doing too much hiking or anything without really being prepared. Here's a picture of me on our "hike" along a short section of the "hoodoos" trail...

... yeah, it was cold. Those weird rocks in the background are the so-called "hoodoos"... no idea what the origin of the name is. Anyway, Mel's really a great photographer, she: (a) managed to take pictures of me (I usually pull a duck and hide) and (b) managed to take good pictures of me (no half-closed blinky eyes, open mouths, crinkled chins, etc). I think she should make a career out of it. ;) I put up lots more pictures on Flickr... some of them are Mel's.

After that I was pretty busy with the workshop, but there was some "free discussion" time that was taken into the great outdoors. :) The workshop was pretty good, though I'd seen talks on many of the topics and there was not as much new as I'd hoped, and my poster didn't get a lot of attention. I did meet lots of people though, so it was still interesting and worthwhile.



So, I was tidying up my calendar yesterday putting in some dates that needed to be in there (lest I forget important meetings with lots of people eek!), and I decided it was high time I put in our wedding anniversary. As I typed the details into iCal and set it up to repeat annually, here's how it looked:

Note in particular "end: Never". Now, doesn't that just say it all? :D


the need to be productive

So, not to complain more about being busy... but...

I'm finding it difficult to be productive enough to keep up, and still maintain some semblance of sanity, sleep, and life. I don't think the answer is entirely in working more hours, because at some point I just kind of slow down and amount of work done goes asymptotically to zero. Aside from that, it just isn't sustainable, and my current level of things to do isn't going to subside for quite some time. Really, I need to learn to manage it better.

You see, I'm at this point in my graduate student carreer -- I think this rather enviable point -- where I know what to do. I know what experiments need to be done, I know what analysis needs to be done, I know what things need to be written up into papers, I know what things need to be done to prepare for the next round of experiments in the more distant future, I know what conferences I should attend. My roadmap is acutally looking something like a map... with clear roads to travel. This is rare, as anyone in grad school knows, and I feel pretty good about it (even though I know some of it will probably change... because that's science).

So, knowing that it can't all be done at once, I've got it divided up, and I'm trying to multi-task some of the writting and doing experiments. But still... I feel like I'm moving through it soooo slowly. And yesterday, I realized that to really write up this part of the paper I'm working on properly in a way that will be truely more useful, I have to learn about a whole new area and it seems not that well established/understood, so there isn't a nice book to get from the library, so I'm tracing back through research papers. Yesterday I printed about a dozen of them. So now I'm reading, when I feel like I should be writing.

Here's the question to fellow science bloggers: How do you decide where to stop? I could write something very descriptive about my data without really digging very far into this new area... but I know that it has the potential to add a lot to the paper... and/or eat a lot of my time.

Anyway, next week I'm away on a trip-to-see-a-friend-on-the-way-to-a-workshop... soo... probably no posts. But, probably some nice pictures when I get back!