s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: June 2006

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

You are what you read

I have a habit of judging people by their books. First, you have to have books at all. (It’s unlikely we’ll ever be good friends if you don’t meet this requirement.) Second, you have to have a lot of books. You will preferably have more books than bookshelf space. (It’s an indication of priorities.) You may deal with this by stacking your books two and three deep, by creatively using other types of furniture for book storage, or both. Third, you have to have good books, such that I can determine that you are a kindred spirit in some respect.

I should clarify that bookshelf contents aren’t make-or-break as far as friendship potential goes (although I reserve the right to make a premature assessment if your personal library consists mostly of the Left Behind series). Rather, they’re an opportunity to peek inside your mind, a possible shortcut to finding a common interest or to learning about your past.

For all these reasons, I was rather disturbed when I recently noticed that the books I own and the books I read (as recorded in my book journal), don’t really match up. There is no evidence of some of my favorite books (Le Ton Beau de Marot, Faster, Six Degrees of Separation). Neal Stephenson, Simon Singh and Jorge Luis Borges are not represented. Oliver Sacks and Kurt Vonnegut get only one book each, and the latter only because I had to buy a copy of Slaughterhouse-Five to answer a Board question.

To be sure, the books that are on my bookshelf do represent various aspects of me. I have an entire shelf of foreign language reference books, a couple of knitting books, a monster physics tome and a growing collection of library science texts. Given the number of reference books, though, you’d think I never read for pleasure. (Or that I read reference books for pleasure, which I don’t. Much.) Even worse, I’m buying an increasing number of books for various book clubs, meaning that I am most actively acquiring books that reflect other people’s tastes.

The simple truth of the matter is that I read much more than I could ever afford to buy, and if it’s a question of buying a novel or buying a reference book, I’m more likely to buy the latter because I’m more likely to want to refer to the latter on short notice. Still, I should probably make a point of buying more of my favorite books, if only to reassure myself of my compatibility with . . . myself.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Love is in the Air

I know many people who have gotten engaged within the past two months. The list includes Toasteroven, a cousin of mine, two of Melyngoch’s old roommates, another Friend of Brick House and four couples in my ward (That’s four couples, not four people. That may not seem like a lot for a BYU ward, but my ward out here is pretty small. Plus the people who’ve gotten engaged to people not in the ward. Plus that one couple that keeps pretending to be engaged.)

The odd thing is that I’m genuinely happy for them, instead of being vaguely annoyed, which is my usual reaction. It’s not that I’m so bitter at being single. (I am acquainted with many gentlemen of the single persuasion, but am pining for none of them.) It’s that any new addition to club married is a potentially smug married, and I am oh, so tired of smug married folk.

Of course, one doesn’t actually have to be married to be smug. I have a cousin, two years younger, who spent much of our college years reminding me that she was definitely going to get married before me. (And graduate before me. And have kids before me. And have more kids than me. She’s a tad competitive.) In the two years since I’ve seen her, she has, indeed, made good on the first promise. And now that they've moved back to Provo, I will probably be spending some time with her in the next couple of weeks. I am not really looking forward to this.

I have half a hope that she’ll still be in some sort of dazed newlywed bliss, and will consequently leave me alone to talk to my aunts and uncles and other cousins. (Who will, doubtless, grill me on whether or not I’m dating anyone.)

But I’m very happy for my newly engaged friends, in large part because I know they’ve gone through prior breakups and heartache; they deserve to be happy. (And perhaps those who’ve been through a little more pain will turn out a little less smug. One can hope

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Amherst? I could live in Amherst.

Head, Image Collection Library (Librarian II or III), University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, Massachusetts


1. Master’s degree in library sciences from an American Library Association-accredited library and information studies program.


2. Minimum of 2 years of experience in progressively more responsible public services positions in an academic or research library, including project management and information management expertise.

I have two years of project management experience, but not in a library. (But it was with a library services vendor. That’s got to count, sort of.)

3. Working knowledge of French and/or German language.

B.A. in French literature. Working knowledge of German, including familiarity with Fraktur script. (Not that I like German, but I seem to be unable to escape from it.)

4. Experience managing collections of digital and slide images, preferably in an academic environment.

Check (but not in an academic environment).

5. Thorough knowledge of AACR2 2nd ed. rev., Library of Congress Subject Headings, MARC 21 format, and the OCLC cataloging system.

Check, check, check and check. (And I even have a year to go as a cataloger).

6. Experience with one or more of the following metadata standards: Dublin Core, VRA Core, METS/MODS, OpenURL, OAI-PMH, EAD, XML, TEI, or others.

DC, OAI-PMH, XML and TEI, check. Plus that one we invented for our document modeling class. (Thank you, document modeling! Oh, and thank you metadata class, for forcing me to learn about OAI-PMH, even if I whined the entire time.) Also, I can probably learn another metadata standard in my digital libraries class this fall.

. . .

9. Knowledge of digital asset management systems, such as Dspace, CONTENTdm, etc.

CONTENTdm, check.

10. Current experience and working technical knowledge of image management and presentation tools such as LUNA/Insight, and computer software such as Photoshop, Powerpoint, Microsoft Office applications, and other common productivity tools.

Photoshop and Microsoft Office, yes. (I suppose at some point I may actually have to learn PowerPoint. But not today.)

11-17. Organization skills, team player, communication skills, etc.


18. Desirable qualifications include a Masters degree in Art History; supervisory experience; and a record of service to the profession.

No M.A. in Art History, but I do have supervisory experience. (I’m not sure what “a record of service to the profession” means, but I can probably arrange to get one. I know a guy.)

Good points:

I really do love Massachusetts. I love the architecture, the scenery and especially the accent! (It remains to be seen if I could love a New England winter, but I figure a couple of Illinois winters should toughen me up.) Part of me would rather live closer to Boston, but Amherst is only a couple of hours away, which is close enough for day trips but far enough away to avoid the problems of crime, congestion and a high cost of living. Also, the fact that it’s a college town means there will likely be a good bookstore nearby, which is a very important thing.

The LDS population in Western Massachusetts is understandably small, but Western Massachusetts is actually not that far from Eastern Massachusetts, which is well known for its large supply of wicked smart single Mormon folk. (Granted, some of them might be really snobby, but some of them might not be.)

Oh, and just for fun I looked to see if there were any good yarn shops in the area. After a bit of research, I discovered that WEBS is about 30 minutes away, in Northampton.

If you’re not a knitter, you probably don’t know why that’s a big deal. You know what Powell’s Books is to independent bookstores? That’s what WEBS is to local yarn shops. It’s . . . Mecca. Who else provides grocery shopping carts to hold all your yarn? Even The Yarn Harlot was overwhelmed when she visited. (And that woman knows from local yarn shops.) So . . . that would be a nice perk. (Or a horrible temptation.)

Bad points:

It seems like this place would be royally inconvenient to fly out of. Either I’d have to drive 2-3 hours to Logan and park or drive to Springfield, take the train to South Station, then take the silver line to the airport. Or I could fly out of Albany, which is closer, but smaller. (Albany’s a depressing city, by the way. Have I ever mentioned that?) Maybe I’m just spoiled from having lived an hour outside of Salt Lake all of these years. (There may not be a lot of direct flights, but where else can you get a door-to-door shuttle for under $30?)

As always, I’m a year away from graduation and not planning on shortening that timeframe. But it’s nice to know that these kinds of jobs are out there. I can always dream, right?

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Introvert Dodges a Bullet

Saturday evening I got a phone call, which my caller ID identified as coming from someone in the ward. My first thought was that she wanted ask me about something to do with my calling. In fact, she wanted to invite me to see a late showing of Cars with her and some other ward members.

As an introvert, social events are tricky. I don’t like socializing, but I also don’t know how to explain to people that like them fine but I don’t want to spend any more time with than I already do. This article claims that introverts are outnumbered by extroverts 3:1. If we’re such a small minority, it accounts for the difficulties in being understood by the more common social butterflies. (I actually think it’s more likely that introvert/extrovert isn’t a strict binary division, but the endpoints of a spectrum of personalities. Even so, I’m in a rather high percentile on the introvert scale.)

In the interest of preserving my evening as well as my emotional contentment, I present five excuses, à la manière de* Cyrano de Bergerac:


On a good night I can catch 6 or 7 hours of sleep. I’d rather not lose 3 more hours (especially since I can’t sleep in on Sundays).


I pretty much promised the Hulking Man-child that I’d see Cars with him when I get back to Provo. (We have a long tradition of seeing Pixar movies together.) I’d can’t break that promise!


I just started a book on the psychology of categorization. Nothing you say this evening is going to be nearly as interesting.


I’m an introvert and I already talked to three people today.


Unfortunately, I am otherwise engaged for the evening. I had planned to read a bit, work on a blog entry, maybe cast on a new knitting project – you understand.

So, what excuse did I finally give? None. My first thought was that she wanted to ask me about my calling, but my second thought was that she might invite me to some social event. Given the risk, I let her leave a message on my voice mail. No direct human contact means no excuse necessary and no harm done.

I had a lovely evening.

*It would be more natural to say “à la Cyrano de Bergerac,” but the French major in me can’t stand to use “à la” + a masculine noun, and I’ll lose non-francophones if I use “au.” I feel like a mythological character who must offend either the god of French grammar or the god of intellectually accessible prose; nothing will suit both of them and both will punish me for the offense.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Job #1

I’m supposed to be at work by 10, but I don’t get there until 10:30. When I arrive, the office is locked, the shades drawn, and there is a note on the door to the effect that the staff members are out running errands, so please inquire at the office of our sister department, down the hall. I don’t have a key, so I head down to the other department. (The two office suites are connected by a back hallway – I’ll be able to reach our office through their door.)

When I get to the other office, I expect to make my way around the front desk to the back hallway as usual, but the receptionist is new and doesn’t know me, so I have to explain who I am and where I’m going. I head to the back hallway, turning slightly right with every few feet. (The building where I work is a circular tower with a small footprint. The offices are in a ring with the elevators in the middle. The floors are so small in area that the curve is very noticeable. It reminds me of the Battle School in Ender’s Game, only it’s the wall that curves, not the floor.)

I go down the hallway to my desk, and find a note on my computer. It’s from E. (one of the staff members). She informs me that I. (our secretary) has the day off, A. (the assistant director) is at meetings in Chicago and that she and L. (her assistant) will be running errands all morning. O. (our new director) isn’t in, either. He’s a professor in another department and is more often at his other office than in our building. And I didn’t see Y. on my way in. She splits her time between here and the library and I actually run into her more often there than here.

I turn my computer on, log in, and realize that I have nothing to do for the next four hours. My main job is to keep the website updated with the appropriate announcements and application information for various programs, but it’s summer, now, and not much is going on. I’m also supposed to work on larger, related projects as they come up, but I wrapped up one of them, earlier this week and the other one, a web tutorial, is temporarily on hold until we can schedule a meeting with someone from another department who might want us to use a different software to produce it. Probably I won’t start working on it again until after I come back from vacation.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my job. My supervisors are incredibly easygoing, the work is interesting (when there is work), and I’ve had the chance to learn a lot about HTML and related topics. (Even better, I might have an excuse to learn JavaScript and SQL later this summer. Wahoo!) It’s rare that the office is completely empty and I’m not the type who needs a high amount of human interaction to be happy, anyway. (Actually, I like both my jobs for the express reason that I don’t have to talk to people, much.) And having an hour or two of free time was invaluable when I had a ton of reading for last semester’s classes. However, there are times, lately, when I get a bit bored.

There are only so many blogs I can read or websites I can surf before my brain starts getting mushy. I can answer Board questions, but sometimes there’s nothing in the inbox that interests me (and it’s not as if I’m under quota). I feel OK about reading stuff online, but I don’t feel like I can actually bring a book to work. I have taken to bringing my Russian dictionary and notebook so I can work on an article I’m reading – that’s actually what I did for several hours on Friday.

At some point I’ll have the tutorial to work on, and I might be able to work on a couple of research projects later this summer. And things will definitely pick up again come fall. But for now, I don’t have much to do.

Sunday, June 04, 2006


I am the queen of soy. Soy milk, soy ice cream, soy protein drink . . . I may even participate in a soy research project this summer.

It turns out that “no corn” means also “no cornmeal, corn starch or corn syrup.” As almost everything has corn syrup in it, I am forbidden . . . almost everything.

I am rediscovering the joys of fresh / organic food. Every week, I buy fresh fruit to go with my cereal and freshly baked whole wheat bread. I am even coming to enjoy shredded wheat, which is a taste I never thought I would acquire. I have either discovered a new world of flavor and texture or I’m beginning to forget what my “old” world was like and am consequently renormalizing my experiences. The latter is entirely possible.

My food worldview has adjusted from the typical Mormon “everything but X, Y and Z” to the much more restrictive “nothing but A, B, and C,” because I keep getting smacked down for thinking something’s OK to eat when it’s not. (I have no idea what was in that Chinese food last Friday, but it gave me a headache for a day and a half.) Even I, ever a creature who finds comfort in familiarity, am finding a diet consisting of about eight different meals to be a bit tiresome. (To quote one of my coworkers: “What do you eat?”)

I can’t decide if I miss dairy or corn syrup more. Being able to have corn syrup again would expand my diet a lot more than being able to have dairy again, but I do miss cheese . . . and cheesecake . . . and sour cream . . . and whipped cream . . . and ice cream . . .

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Play nice

There’s one week left in Summer I term, so it’s crunch time for term project. In my class, each student has two large group projects with accompanying presentations. In working on the projects for my group and in watching other groups, I’ve been struck by how hard it can be for people to work together, even in grad school, when we all presumably have many years of group work behind us. Here are a few tips I’ve found to make groups work smoothly:

1. Plan on doing more than your “fair share.”

Even if you do the exact same amount of work as everyone else, it always feels like you did more, because you’re more aware of all the effort that went into your personal contribution. If you plan on doing more than your part from the beginning, you’ll have a better attitude about the project, and you may be pleasantly surprised when your team members unexpectedly come through. Besides, the more work you do, the more control you have over the finished product – an excellent benefit for a control freak. (Kurt: Now you know why I did so much early work on the Hamlet DTD! ;) )

2. Don’t divide a project into perfectly equal parts.

Some projects or parts of projects are harder to do in a group than as individuals; writing a paper as a group often takes several times longer than it would take any one member individually. Often, making slightly unequal assignments makes for less work overall. (E.g.: split the paper into smaller sections, assign them to individual group members, then put one person in charge of compiling everything.)

3. It helps if the group is

4. There can be only one.

Many projects will benefit from having one person in charge of tying up loose ends. Whether it be the last edit and proofreading of a paper or the compilation of a PowerPoint presentation, the end result will be more consistent if the finishing touches are the responsibility of just one person.

One presentation down, one presentation and one paper to go.