Je Vote

As it's election time around here there have been signs going up saying "Je Vote"... an encouragement I guess for all of us to get out to the polls on election day.

That has nothing to do with this post.

I want you to head over to Jim Gibbon.com to vote on the Haiku contest. You can vote for my contriubtion under physical sciences (I'd be thrilled!)... or not.

Just go vote.




photographic lull... old pics to keep you amused!

curiosity, originally uploaded by saburke.

I've been in a bit of a photography lull these days. Mostly because it's been so cold outside; I just can't imagine pulling my fingers out of warm mitts to take pictures... even after a beautiful fresh snowfall. I also need to get over to the place I get film developped to submit my first roll from the Olympus OM-1, and pick up some more film. I'm still really excited about it, just haven't had a chance to do anything with it.

Anyway, to keep you all amused, I've posted some of the pictures I took last year in Germany when I went to the Duisburg Zoo to Flickr. I like the way a few turned out, and animals are generally amusing anyway!

new and improved blog! new features!

Ok, well, one new feature. I added a weather box to my sidebar. Now you can see how cold it is in winter (ok, not very cold today) here, and how freakin' hot it gets in summer!

As hubby said the other day: "You know you live in a crappy climate when it makes you uglier."

No, that wasn't directed at me, or he would have gotten a pretty ugly stare down rather than a chuckle. Though... *sigh* ... no amount of special soaps, or "potions", water, or vitamins can save my skin and hair from this climate. Thank goodness spring is around the corner! *fingers crosed* Meanwhile, I need to work on getting us out of here and into healthier climes! California sounds good, no?? ;)

where am i?

I guess I haven't posted in awhile. I had planned to put up a birthday post on Sunday, and possibly even do a birthday self-portrait photo shoot... but since I spent most of the day in the lab I was cranky. So no post for you! Sorry... not your fault, I'll try to behave.

Anyway, I'm tired of complaining about work here, so I'm trying a new policy akin to the "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" advice. I'm going to make a concerted effort to avoid the "waaahhh, everything sucks" post. That may mean a sparser blog for awhile, but I don't want my blog to become a negativity feedback mechanism, and honestly, who wants to read a whiney blog?!

Related cute, anecdote: When I was still just a little tot, my mother claims she tried to sit me down and talk to me about "whining". Knowing my Mom, I'm sure she sat with me and tried to reason that there was no purpose in mere whineing, and tried to make sure I understood as she went. At the end she asked once more if I understood, and I apparently nodded knowingly and with a big smile on my face said "No wine, apple juice!"... a reference to getting apple juice in a wine glass at dinner parties where the "grown-ups" were having wine. Clearly I had missed the entire point... I guess she just laughed and accepted that I might just be a bit young to grasp that one.

So, turning a new leaf here. Mad Scientist will (hopefully) no longer be Whiney Mad Scientist.

No whine, apple juice!


Entertainment is Haiku:
participate you.

Check out this fun contest over at Jim Gibbon.com, challenging the academic blog-o-sphere to write their research in Haiku.

Here's my contribution:

Buckminsterful|erene on KBr studied by High Res'n NC-AFM: Molecu|ar nucleation and growth on an insulator*

C60 islands.
molecules do not like salt;
strange shapes resulting.

Yup. Acutally that's pretty much it in a nutshell. Sad that it boils down to 17 syllables...

*(Excuse the "typos"; I deliberately messed with the title a bit to make it not appear when googled...)


Knitting: first article of real clothing!

My new vest... made by me!, originally uploaded by saburke.

Ok, so it's a chunky knit vest (hahaha... take that sleeves!), that took me less than two weeks to complete despite being insano busy. Here's the run-down on the details:

Pattern: "Tank Top" from "Classic Knits" by Erika Knight

Yarn: Substituted suggested Rowan Big wool for Araucania Limari, a hand-dyed bulky weight wool/alpaca/silk blend, in "black" which is actually more like a charcoal grey. 2.5-3 skeins, each 100gr/56m.

Needles: 10mm and 12mm.

Gauge: pretty close to the specified 8sts/4in on 12mm (ahem, there is an error in the pattern gauge, it reads 18sts when it should read 8sts). I was going to knit a size up with this yarn, but since the gauge was reasonably close and the garment meant to fit snugly I stuck with my original size.

The pattern is written in a reasonably understandable manner for someone who has done a bit of knitting. That said, I got a bit confused with the neck shaping, and I have some suggestions for the decreases.

In particular, the pattern for the front of the vest is written out for only one side of the v-neck. The other side is stated merely as "complete to match first side, reversing all shaping". Ok, I'm decent at geometry and all, so this isn't so hard. However, the decreases for the first side (right side as you look at it) read k2tog tbl (knit 2 together through the back loops) to make a left slanting decrease. Naievly, I assumed that I could just use k2tog on the other side to make a right slanting decrease. Except these two decreases bare no resemblance to eachother but in name! k2tog tbl creates loops that cross the stitches knit together, this doesn't happen with k2tog at all. I stared in horror (ok, so I was being a little over-dramatic, but this is my first garment ever, I wanted to love it!) at my totally completely asymetrical vest. I took out the row. I knit it again. I stared in horror again. Repeat. On the third attempt I started looking for alternatives as I'd determined at this point I was decreasing quite properly, but using the wrong one. Upon consulting the great internet I came across: the great life-saving visual chart of decrease techniques (there's one for increases too). Thank-you Amy Finlay. Thank-you for explaning knitting in ways I understand, and sharing with the world through the power of the internet.

I used the "crossed right slanting decrease" on the second side of the front, which matches k2tog tbl satisfactorily.

Alternatively, I might have used an ssk on the first side and merrily k2tog on the second to match.

Interestingly, the photograph in the book appears to have the garment knit as I started to do, with k2tog tbl and k2tog... but it really seems strange for me to have two sides of a vest not be mirror images of each other!? Maybe I'm too much of a perfectionist...

The other note I have is that the armhole shaping suffers the same mismatch, and I'd suggest using ssk rather than the k2tog tbl as it won't be loopy... I don't really care that I didn't notice at that stage however as this more or less ends up in your armpits... so, as you wish. ;)

Anyway, I enjoyed making this, and I've already enjoyed wearing it. The bulky yarn is super-warm, so even without sleeves I was toasty. Ok, so I wore a thin cotton jacket over it...

As for the rest of the book, I've got my eye on both the "military cardigan" and the "kelly cardigan" (I like cardigans...). But I'm really excited to try the "Bardot sweater" which is a rolled top, sortof off the shoulder sweater in a less bulky, but still fairly chunky gauge.

More photos (L-R: yarn ::"knitting with pylons" aka, orange, plastic, 12mm needles :: in progress :: finished!):

Yarn for "Tank Top"knitting with pylons"Tank Top" in progress"Tank Top" from "Classic Knits" FO

click image to view on flickr


too many monkeys

Lately, for both hubby and I, work has primarily been a case of too many monkeys on our backs. You know the feeling? Like there are always a bunch of little things naggling at you, and you can't get any real work done becuase you are carting around a bunch of hairpulling, noisy, little monkeys? To add to it, we've both got home monkeys as well as work monkeys on our minds... little stuff like appointments that need to be made, projects around the apartment, etc. Of course the work monkeys have taken priority for the most part... meanwhile, I still need a haircut, a doctor's appointment, new eyeglasses, and a trip to the dentist. At what point is it reasonable to say, no, I need to look after myself?

Anyway, Hubby brought up the monkeys analogy this morning (as he was sorting through online optics catalogues for work.. on a Saturday morning), and so all day as we've dealt with various assortments of them, we've peered over our shoulders at the imaginary monkeys and made little monkey noises. Sometimes I think we are losing our sanity...

The whole thing reminded me that my Dad got quite a kick out of the phrase "Please check your monkeys at the door", to the point in fact where I made him a sign for his office. Not sure if people really stopped passing off their monkeys to him... but humourous none-the-less.

I wonder if I made a sign, or added it to the signature line of my email if people would get the hint??

(Note: Graphic shamelessly stolen from Telus Mobility site)


Le point de craquer*

I think I need to read this in detail: Six steps to a stress-free career (seen at: YoungFemaleScientist).

Of course, not everything (or much) is really under one's own control on that list...

  1. Create a good space: Mm-hmm... mm-hmm... I hear you there. I hate working in the sunless, cold, noisy (pumps), uncomfortable chair lab environment unless I'm doing an experiment and actually have to be in this environment. But I'm also not to keen on working in my overly warm, moth-infested, noisy-neighbour, bad creaky chair environment of my office either. Except... I don't think anyone would take kindly to my demanding a sunny corner office with no noisy co-workers, and a light pipe for the lab so we don't feel so much like Doozers (Fraggle Rock? Anyone?).
  2. Raise your status: Mm-HMM... yes, being the boss would alevieate stressful incidents like last night, what a great solution, dang-nabit, why didn't I think of that?!? Except... I don't think anyone is going to hire me until I've jumped the hoops... and even then it will be a while before I can start pawning off responsibilities and get that nice corner office complete with real sunshine.
  3. Be social: Uhhh... lost me here. I mean sure, a little chit-chat might feel good at the time, but it's like a sugar hit. Get back to your desk and realize your to do list is just as long as when you left? Crash... sugar-low. A little socializing... ok, but I think it's rare for grad students anyway, in shared offices and lab spaces to be lacking in social contact.
  4. Don't be too social (aka: too many interruption): Yup. They say the average worker has 3 minutes to focus between interruptions. Yipes. You see this is what happened yesterday... everytime I turned around another task popped up making it virtually impossible to complete tasks. I just ended up with a to-do list in constant flux.
  5. Learn to switch off: This is exactly what I didn't do last night. It started out well, Hubby and I had dinner, watched some TV (yay, Grey's Anatomy! except... they won't kill off Merideth will they??? they can't... right??), I did some knitting. Then I picked up my computer to do some aimless web-browsing or possibly play a few turns of Civ before bed, and somehow I automatically clicked on email immediately after turning on Airport. Ok... sure... whatever, might as well confirm there's nothing there, or maybe a message from a friend? No harm? Right? Email from boss... bad idea. If I'd just left it alone, I wouldn't have worried about it until the morning when it likely would have been too late to do anything about it. And so be it. It wasn't like I stopped work early (~6:30-7pm... right around when the email was sent). It would have been perfectly reasonable for a normal person to have simply just not gotten the message. Dang. No more email at home. Not unless there's a reason.
  6. Modern stress-busting (yoga and other trendy things): Sure whatever. I'm going to hockey class in an hour and a half and have a game on Sunday. Maybe slapping some pucks around will help with my stress. It's also social, being a team sport and all.

Moral of the story? Probably the worst stressor of all for grad students is having the majority of these things out of our control. So take a deep breath, pound down some coffee, find a way to get your aggression out, and wait for that glorious moment when you get to the top and can demand that perfect office.

* title taken from a grade school french text I had: "le point de craquer" was at the top of the "stress-o-metre"... "je suis a le point de craquer!!!!" became a silly expression amongst my friends and I.


i ♥ PhD

"Piled Higher and Deeper" that is... the comic.

I just lost it... I just went officially batty.

Two days ago, I submitted a paper I worked on for ~6 months. It is 9+ journal pages long. Anyone who's written a paper of that length, I'm sure knows what pain, oh what pain that is. That damned paper also represents work I've done... no, committed to for the last 4 years of my life. 4 years → 9 pages.

Normally, I think that would warrent a bit of a break.

Except... I can't really rest on my laurels because there is another to write, and word on the street is someone else has observed something similar in a really similar system. I think it's okay... I won't exactly be scooped, but the shine will be taken off of it a bit if I don't get to it first. So I've got to get this sample done next week to prove (enh... maybe disprove, but I'm pretty sure of this one) a biggo hypothesis I've got and get right back to writing.

On top of this...

Yesterday Hubby and I had to go to this politico conference/buisness schmooze thing and put up the posters that we've been dragging around to conferences to show how awesome nano is here. No one cared... but we added to the statistics of the number of "great posters by students". Super...

Today, I had just gotten to work set up my laptop and was about to head to the little girl's room after being out in the cold (you know, morning coffee + cold air = trip to little girl's room?) when Supervisor pops by with the job candidate for today for a lab tour.

Once that was done (and I made my trip to the little girl's room), I check email. Re: submitted paper, problems with manuscript (wha????). Re: TIME SENSITIVE: scholarship app I asked about over a month ago... due IN ONE WEEK. Re: theory collaboration, put some results together can you look 'em over? Re: slides from pizza lunch talk for new undergrad project. Re: job talk at 11:30. Re: regular seminar at 4:00.

Somehow in the intervening spaces between talks and lab visits I actually dealt with the scholarship app (except transcript), looked over the theory stuff, though didn't reply yet. Went to BOTH talks. Found and sent the slides. And knocked 1 1/2 things off my existing to do list that I was OH SO LOOKING FORWARD to eliminating in these two last days of the week before I have to start a sample which will KILL next week (if I'm lucky!).

no... dice...

And then I got an email from Supervisor. Tonight. At 10:30pm. Can you take the speaker tomorrow morning? I have a meeting. Oh, and maybe have Hubby show him his stuff too. Hubby says "too bad, I've got stuff to do". Note: Hubby was not emailed about this... only me.

I nearly cried.

Last week it was publicity materials for this schmooze-fest we went to yesterday (in addition to the scientific poster). It seems I'm becoming go-to-girl. Although in a way I appreciate the respect, and the recognition that if I'm asked, it will get done... I'm tired. I need a nice long nap... maybe on a tropical beach.

Hubby told me to drink my beer. My beer that was supposed to celebrate submitting the paper, because I didn't drink it on Tuesday because we had to get up at 6am. I think I'm going to have to pour it down the drain again. Waaaa...

So when I went to PhD comics and saw this... I just laughed... and laughed... and laughed... not that I really feel it's particularly relavent (actually Supervisor doesn't usually come to see demos... perhaps because of group legend that this used to happen?) but... just... so... funny.... PhD comics: brightening the bleak and dreary lives of grad student everywhere.

I'm going to go cry myself to sleep now, so I can get up and to meet with Mr. Speaker bright and early tomorrow morning.