s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: January 2006

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Week 1

Today represents the end of my first full week back in Urbana, back in school and back at church. I wanted to blog about the whole week, but I sort of got carried away when I got to Tuesday. So here’s Tuesday.

This was the first day of class, as Monday was a holiday. Normally I would have had my discussion section for Libraries, Information and Society, but we hadn’t had our first lecture yet. So I just had my Metadata class in the afternoon.

There are about three guys enrolled for every girl, which is the reverse of most of my classes. (I’m glad I’m not taking children’s lit.) The class might be best described as a cranky purple trying to scare a bunch of greens (and succeeding). The funny thing is that I find it rather endearing, or at least familiar. I know that it’s going to be insanely hard, but I also know that he’s going to be fair, and that he’ll be much nicer and more helpful in person than he is in front of the group. Really it’s like being back in 430. Yes, it was hard, but it was also kind of fun, and I did end up with an A. (Not to mention that Dr. Manning wrote one of my recommendation letters for grad school, and I got in, so I must have done something right.)

The really funny thing about this whole situation is that I can feel myself slipping, slipping inexorably yellow, even yellow-orange in response to Dr. McD’s purpletude. I could tell that the class was very greenly trying to win the professor’s approval, while I just sat there thinking “Of course he’s going to like me. I’m so cute!” (Actually, it was more like (in the midst of designing a simple XML schema) “Well, I’ve clearly got to allow for that element to have a cardinality greater than one. And I’m cute!”)

This is a little surprising for one of my classmates, who had two classes with me last semester and saw me be very green and purple, respectively. In the first, I tried vainly to win the approval of the teacher all semester, while never shaking feeling that she was vaguely annoyed with me, for some reason. (That said, I got a 99.5% on the final. Booyah!) In the other, the professor was insanely yellow. He refused to give us homework, tests or a final, spent most of the semester toying with ideas like making our class into a game, and told us that having ideas was generally more important than actually doing anything. I spent most of the semester in a purple haze (ha!), saying highly grounded things like: “But what makes you think this is a good idea?”

So he was a little surprised when I made public wisecrack about the technical definition of a “document” and a tree falling in the forest, especially after Dr. McD had just warned us against being glib. (But it wasn’t glib. It was more like . . . sassy. And I’d explain the joke, but I just don’t think it would be funny out of context.) Anyway, I think I’m going to like the class. And my goal for the semester is to make Dr. McD crack a smile.

Saturday, January 21, 2006


I read 28 books last year (not including required reading). I know this because I keep a book diary, and have done so for over five years. It’s not much: I record the name and author of each book I read, write them down in the order I finish them, and make a note at the beginning of each new year.

This is actually the worst year I’ve had in a while. In 2002 I read 62 books, and then in 2003 that plunged to 38. You can tell that was the year I graduated – once I started working full time I came to appreciate that as a student I’d spent nowhere near 40 hours a week on my schoolwork, and that I’d probably spent most of that extra time with my nose in a book.

Of course, from sheer numbers you can’t tell if the books were hard or easy. Some were pictorial essays with very little text like Phil Borges’ Enduring Spirit. Probably it took me less than a day to “read” it. Others, like Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach, took me an entire semester, or longer, to finish, although I was still reading and finishing other, easier books during that time. (Actually, it’s pretty rare that I’m reading just one book. Often I’ve got a “hard” book and an “easy” book to balance each other out.)

You can see me going through phases, like reading Kurt Vonnegut in 2001 or Maya Angelou in 2002. That was also the year I went through this weird Kurt Cobain phase; I still wouldn’t know a Nirvana song if it bit me, but I’ve read three biographies of their lead singer. You can also see me coming back to old favorites, like Oliver Sacks, Jorge Luis Borges and J.K. Rowling.

The book diary is also useful for reminding me what authors I liked (and might want to read more of), what books might be useful for presents, and for jogging my memory when BBBC selection time comes around.

I have to confess that Melyngoch finds my book diary unnerving. Probably it was that moment when we ran into one of our professors who asked me, offhand, what I’d been reading and I reached into my backpack and pulled out my neatly detailed diary. (Actually, the professor was a bit shocked, too, but recovered enough to express disapproval at one of my choices.) The reason she finds it unnerving (as I understand it) is that it’s the sort of thing that every serious reader is “supposed” to do, but of course none of them actually does it. Except for me, apparently.

Anyway, I was going over my reading list for 2005 because I wanted to pick out what I thought were the best books I read last year:

1. Six Degrees: the science of a connected age

This book, although ostensibly on mathematics or statistics, actually explained a lot to me about my social life and difficulty in making friends. (And the fact that a math book could adequately explain my social life probably says something else about me.) It comes highly recommended to anyone without a mortal fear of algebra.

2. Bono: in conversation with Michka Assayas

I bought and read this book in Massachusetts, during a particularly trying two weeks coming at the end of a particularly trying five week business trip. I had neglected to pack my scriptures during this trip, and ended up being too sick and tired to attend church meetings half the time, anyway. So instead of going to Church or reading my scriptures, I read this book. You know what? It was just as good. (Disclaimer: Huge fan though I may be, I am not suggesting that a book on U2 is an adequate substitute for holy writ in general, just that in my particular situation, at that particular time, it happened to suffice.)

Recommended for anyone with my odd, quasi-spiritual relationship to U2 and Bono, so probably no one.

3. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

A good book, but of course it left a lot of loose ends hanging. Really, it’ll be the next book that decides if I like this book or not, because it’ll be in the next book that we find out if Harry lives (I think he will), if Dumbledore is “really” dead (I think he is), if Snape is “really” evil (I hope he’s not), and if Harry and Ginny can get back together and live happily ever after (I hope they do). To the extent that the last book fails my expectations, I will probably dislike the sixth book as well.

1a. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

I decided that I couldn’t really put re-reads in the same category as first time reads, just because the re-reads would have an obvious advantage. So this is my favorite of last year’s re-reads. I checked it out to find quotes for Blue-beta, and then I had to check it out again last week to research a Board question. Both times people noticed me with it and complimented me on my literary taste.

2a. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

This is one of my favorite books, by one of my favorite authors. And I got to select it for the BBBC, and I got to re-read it and I think pretty much everyone else who read it liked it as well.

3a. Till We Have Faces

Yes, Tolkien Boy, this is a great book. And this was only the second time I’d read it, so the “trick” ending caught me off guard as completely as it did the first time. (And if I didn’t participate as much as you wanted during the discussion, it’s not because I didn’t like it or I didn’t care, it’s because you were posing these insanely deep philosophical questions, and I didn’t want to be glib. So I stayed quiet, instead. But I need to read more C.S. Lewis, either way.)

Sunday, January 15, 2006

I look like a boy

This was the conclusion I came to yesterday morning as I went to check out of my hotel. I was riding the elevator down to the lobby, and it stopped at the second floor, where a couple of maids were waiting with a laundry cart. It would have been a bit cramped with the three of us and the cart, so the one maid says to the other maid (who can’t see me): “We can’t go. There’s a gentleman there.” And turns to look back at me, and pauses, and suddenly says “I mean a lady! Sorry!” And the elevator doors close.

If I still had my long, curly locks, this would not have troubled me at all. I would have called it an odd slip of the tongue and not thought anything more about it. But my hair is short now. Really short. And apparently a woman in Cheyenne thinks I look like a boy.

My features are reasonably feminine. Certainly more so than my brother’s. (We used to look a lot alike when he was younger, but the hulking man-child turns more into man than child every time I see him. If this keeps up, his chin and brow will thicken into Neanderthal proportions.)

I am short. If I’m a boy, then I probably have a Napoleon complex. (Bonaparte, not Dynamite.)

I am petite. I’m not Laulau, but I’m also not one of those hippos from Fantasia. And even if I’m wearing a loose comfortable pair of jeans and a hoodie, I think that I still have more curves than a boy!

Probably I should have been wearing makeup. (First thing in the morning, in a random hotel, in the middle of a three day road trip. Right.) Or maybe I should start dressing like Eleka. Or Arwen.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Thoughts on I-80

Road trips aren’t as much fun without Melyngoch.

Buying the Book of Mormon on CD for the trip was a good idea. It’s interesting enough as a story to relieve the boredom a bit, and it’s been a comfort to listen to. Also, I could stand to be more familiar with that work of scripture.

I really like Holiday Inn – they’ve got free wireless internet, breakfast delivered to your door, and it’s really not that much more expensive than some places I could be staying.

Wyoming is much more pleasant to drive through when there’s not a huge storm.

My back is killing me. I sort of threw it out coughing over the last few weeks and I have yet to “throw it back in,” so to speak. Must remember to stretch before bed tonight.

I miss my Utah friends already. My last week in Urbana drove home the fact that I have yet to make a real friend in Illinois. Mostly I realized this because there was no one I felt I could talk to when my life was falling apart in several ways. I think I’ve about exhausted the friendship possibilities in my student ward, but I might be able to make some friends in my program. I will pray, at least, to find a genuine friend.

The advantage of driving east is that the sun doesn’t blind you when it’s setting.

I really love cruise control.

Wheat Thins do not constitute lunch.

The CD of organ music my grandma gave my two years ago that I never bothered to listen to is actually really good.

My voice is still a little hoarse; at this point no one would marry me for my singing voice. (Probably no one would anyway, but I can usually hit a note, at least.)

“How Firm a Foundation” can be a very comforting hymn. Especially the parts about being away from home. (I’m not sure if home is Utah or Illinois at this point, but it’s definitely not Wyoming.) I copied out the words to take with me so I could read them as I drove. (And ended up crying every time I read through them, but I would have been crying anyway.)

Taco Bell is not as good as Wendy’s, in my opinion, but it still beats McDonald’s.

High winds aren’t much of a problem in a low-profile vehicle.

I miss NPR. Christian radio is no substitute.

When you have short hair, random bits of it stick out in odd directions. Most of it was tamed this morning with water, gel and a comb. Had I had more time (and been more concerned with my appearance), I would have attacked the rest with a curling iron. Heaven only knows what my hair will look like this summer when it is more humid. At least it will be longer.

My Mom said I was a lot happier over the break than I’d been when I left. (I was a bit of a pill to live with last year.) In fact, she said I was happier than she’d seen me in years – that I was mostly back to my perky self. This would imply that something’s going right in Illinois, even if it currently escapes me. In the end Illinois is where God wants me to be, so He needs to make it OK for me to be there.
Hmm. I think that any one of these thoughts could be turned into a full scale blog entry. Maybe I’ll do that in the coming days. Or maybe I’ll just write some more about knitting.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Shaven and shorn

So I got a haircut. (Astute readers will remember that this was on my “absolutely must do” list from my last blog entry.) And it’s really short. I mean really short. I don’t know that it’s been this short since I was 18 months old and just had baby hair. (I was practically bald for the first two years of my life, and then I had hair almost to my waist from the time I was 14 until a couple of years ago. Maybe this counts as a second childhood.)

Anyway, I discovered late last semester that it gets pretty cold in Illinois. And I also discovered that walking to school with wet hair makes you even colder (and it makes your hair dry oddly if you stick it under a hat). Add to this that I have trouble getting up early enough to shower, wash and dry my hair (the latter can take up to half an hour) and you’ll see why I decided that I needed my hair to be much, much shorter.

My grandma came over today and just about died when she saw how short it was. She went back and forth between telling me that she was going to cry that I’d cut all my curls off and saying that it actually looked pretty cute. It’s barely long enough to go behind my ears on the sides, but very short in the back and sort of bangs-y in the front without losing its wash-and-go quality. I’m pretty happy with it, although I’ll probably cry when I see it tomorrow; it always takes me a few days to get used to a new haircut.

This is what my hair looks like:

It’s the same cut as the girl on the right. (Not the llama.)

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Christmas Break

What I meant to do over Christmas Break:

Learn Python
Help out with housework (especially since Mom was sick)
See New York Doll
Hang out with BB and Board friends
Knit a scarf and matching hat
Work out
Spend time with extended family
Go Christmas shopping with Trevor
Go to Deseret Book

What I actually did:

*cough*cough* cough* cough* cough* cough* cough* cough*
*throw up*


What I absolutely still need to do:

Get a duplicate copy of my car registration (I lost the first)
Get a haircut

I am happy to say that I did get to hang out with BB folks a bit, although I think I missed over half of the festivities that were held, including the all-important New Year’s Eve party. But my scarf is over 50” long, which isn’t bad. (The sad thing is that I’ve done at least half the knitting while waiting at the doctor’s office; I’ve been there at least three times in the last two weeks, and that’s expensive without insurance.)

But I still can’t sleep flat on my back. Or even at a 30 degree angle propped up on pillows. This morning I just gave up and tried to sleep sort of sitting up on the couch. I actually got a good hour in before people woke me up going to church. (Another thing – I’ve been here four Sundays and I never made it to my “home” ward to see how it’s changed since the split.)

If I am very lucky (or blessed), I may be better in time to drive the 20+ hours back to Illinois. If I am unlucky (or un-blessed), I will get to make the trip in my sickened state. Better stock up on Kleenex and cough drops, either way.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Pick a state, any state

My brother asked me a relatively innocent question the other day: Where will you live after you graduate?

My answer was: Wherever I can find a job.

Probably I should have specified: Wherever I can find a job that I wouldn’t hate to live and that I feel right about moving to.

The downside of wanting to take a very specific type of job upon graduation is that there are very few such positions open at any one time. I would estimate that maybe 30 positions are open a year, in the entire country. So I rather expect to have my living circumstances in large part dictated by the available positions, and not by my own preferences.

Happily, I don’t have huge preferences one way or another about where I live after I graduate. I have this weird antipathy to California, but it’s insanely expensive to live there, anyway. And the South did not particularly agree with me when I spent a month in Alabama (meaning no offense to Becca). But that still leaves upwards of forty states in which I could be fairly happy. I don’t like hot weather, but I can probably adjust if I end up in Texas or Arizona. If I survive a couple of Illinois winters I don’t see that the cold will be much of a problem either. And one of the beauties of wanting to be an academic librarian is that I will, almost definitionally, end up living in a college town, so one assumes there will at least be a decent bookstore.

I have to admit that moving from the bustling metropolis of Provo to the less bustling Urbana-Champaign area has been a bit hard. This is not to say that Chicago doesn’t rather outrank SLC in terms of amenities and attractions, but I wish it was a touch more convenient than 2.5 hours away.

Actually, I saw a job posting in Waltham, Mass. the other day that definitely made me salivate. Boston’s got such a good public transportation system – I refuse to live in a big city that doesn’t – and Waltham’s only 9 miles out of the city, on one of the commuter rail lines. Then I started looking at housing prices and realized that I could only afford to live there (sans roommates) if they paid me about 25% more than most such jobs do. I can dream, at least.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Things I have recently learned

(This has nothing to do with New Year’s, by the way.)

1. It does not, in fact, matter which direction you wrap the yarn around the knitting needles if you’re doing an row of straight purl stitches. (This leads one to suspect that Ambrosia was on crack when she was miming how to purl and she said it looked funky if you purled the wrong way.)

2. If you are knitting, the yarn has to start at the back. If you are purling, the yarn has to start at the front. If you try to pull the yarn over the needle, after you make the stitch, the result will look very, very crappy. And it becomes impossible to figure out how many stitches you have. You have to pull the yarn between the stitches, under the needle, before you make the stitch. (This is the very most important thing I have learned in the past week. Possibly this entire semester.)

3. If you are trying to do a rib stitch and you purl with the yarn going clockwise around the needle, it starts to look . . . funky. This means that it does, in fact, matter which direction you purl if you are alternating between knit and purl stitches on the same row. (This leads one to repent of having doubted Ambrosia’s mental state when giving the original purling advice.)

4. If you go straight to a wrongly-purled 1 x 1 rib from a stockinette stitch, you get these really funky holes in your knitting. It’s kinda pretty, if that’s what you’re actually trying to do.

5. If you get a stitch off on the second row of a 1 x 1 rib, it looks really bad and you have to unravel everything you’ve done after that point.

6. If you make vertical purl/knit stripes (i.e. ribs), the knit side sticks out. If you make horizontal purl/knit stripes, the purl side sticks out. Leave it to me to be thinking about the topology of knitting.

7. You can get a lot of knitting done during two episodes of Firefly.

8. You need to stop admiring the 10” of knitting you’ve done because you’ve got 50” more to do.

9. Knitting is a good hobby for an invalid (such as me).

10. Knitting is fun! (Well, scarves are fun, anyway. We’ll see how I feel after I attempt a hat.)