Friday, October 31, 2008

Cross your fingers! (and updates)

I am probably about to find some glaring error on my CV. This is because I just sent it to the potential postdoc adviser (from my first post). I spent too long composing an email to him because I do not like to do these kinds of things, and I really hope he gets back to me soon, so I know that my email and CV are not too horrible.

Also, my pie deficit is at -1, for anyone who's counting. Maybe I'll have +1 pies after the weekend . . .

Another also, the LP is a bee today. Last weekend, the LP was also a bee and I was a bee-keeper at a Halloween party, and TE went as a flower patch. (Technically, TE was just holding some fake flowers, but it is hard to convince him to dress up, so I was happy. One year I went as TE so that, though he was not dressed up, I could pretend he was coordinating with me to both be TE. BTW, I made a pretty handsome TE, even if some people were confused by my drawn-on "stubble".)

No more crying for LP (or much less, anyway)

Last week we tried letting the LP "cry it out" for brief times in his crib. The idea is that you get a set bedtime and a specific routine going, and after all the routine you put him in bed and leave for 5 minutes or so, and then you come back just to remind him you are there and you haven't left, but he has to go to sleep now, and you leave again. The time gets longer, up to maybe half an hour. We thought the LP was old enough now to know that if we say goodnight and leave, we are really still in the area and everything will be fine. (He's older than one would typically start the "cry it out" because of several reasons. Two of them are that I thought he would learn on his own eventually, and that we haven't really had the time/energy to commit to it--it's important to try it for real and establish a clear routine.) I think he knows that we are still in the area, but he does not know that everything will be fine, and he did not learn that after a week of trying. The first night, LP cried a lot but fell asleep in about an hour total. The second and third nights were a bit better. I still let him nurse in the middle of the night, then I kept him in bed with us, because I certainly didn't have another hour to devote to the crying process in the middle of the night, and I don't think that would be good for the LP either.

Then the LP kept doing worse every night. It was really sad to come try to pat him and calm him down, because he would grab our clothes and try to get us to pick him up, and he would panic again when we left. Two nights ago, he wasn't crying as much but was yelling periodically while waiting for us to come back. I think the longest we were gone was about a half hour. It may have been more because I thought he was sleeping--then I heard him crying again, and when I looked in, he was standing there staring at the door. He eventually went to bed after maybe 2 hours total. It really wasn't working, and it was making him terrified of bedtime. I can't say if it would have worked in another few weeks, but we were not willing to find out and risk that it got worse instead.

Last night, before bed, we decided we were done and he could come sleep with us, but we would keep the routine and work on him sleeping in his own bed on the floor next to ours. LP didn't know that of course, so he was in a bad mood as soon as we started the bedtime routine. When TE got to the last page of his book (the last step before bed), he started crying. He was screaming as I took him to the bedroom, but as soon as we laid down in our bed and he realized he wasn't going to the crib, he calmed down and went right to sleep, much faster than he usually did before the crying it out. Maybe the experience helped him figure out how to sleep a bit better overall, but we're all glad it's over.

P.S. LP's last cuspid has poked through the gums!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Theory and thinking: my favorites

My favorite thing about being a theorist is that you can ignore things you don't like. Let's say you have some particles but can't or don't want to model silly real world things like their shape, size variation, and attraction/repulsion between them. You can just say they are hard spheres! Sure, not everything can be modeled as hard spheres, but it is something to know what hard spheres would do in a certain situation, regardless of applicability to a particular problem. Even if you want to know about a real system that isn't following the trend you calculated for hard spheres, the way in which it deviates likely tells you a lot about how the stuff that the real system is composed of is different than hard spheres. This is just an example, of course . . . the point is that you can learn something, perhaps even something relevant to a particular "real world" system, by greatly simplifying the problem. As a theorist, you are in control of your simplifications! After you have a basic understanding, you can add in the details and continue to explore! What I really love about this is having an exact answer, something that I know is right, even if it only applies in a limit that is not particularly "real world"-y. That's not to say that experimentalists can't also ask fundamental questions, get relatively exact answers to certain things, or that they can't make simplifications . . . just that they are seemingly more often constrained by actually having/measuring a particular thing that exists, which has certain properties which can't be turned on and off or changed at will.

This is why undergrad was so satisfying to me--the homework problems had answers. Much more often than for research (understandably), you could spend a certain block of time working something out, and come to a conclusion that was either right or wrong. There's something very soothing about having an answer at the end of a bunch of calculations, especially if it is something simple like a quantity or graph (as opposed to working on a research project over the course of many months eventually contributing to a better general understanding of the area). Of course, open-ended questions or long-winded (by necessity) answers aren't without their merits.

My second favorite thing about being a theorist is getting to think about the limits. If you are measuring the temperature dependence of something, you must have a certain range of temperatures at which you can reasonably take data. If you instead have an equation to describe your system, you can ask (and answer) what happens as temperature goes to any value. What happens as temperature goes to zero, or is extremely large? Are there certain temperatures at which the behavior changes in a qualitative way? Of course, your equation may be completely invalid, as it relates to the real world, at near-0 or very large temperatures (or even may be mathematically invalid at some point). However, the limits or critical points tell you important things about the theory itself, and if it describes the "real world" over a certain interval, then you have a better understanding of what effects are operative during that interval. In trying to be general, I hope I have not descended into something that will be read as near-gibberish. If confused, you may rest assured that I know exactly what I mean.

My work here has taught me to immediately ask what the limits would be, even for non-work-related problems. On occasion, I have amazed TE with surprising insight into his research, homework problems, or design work for tinkering projects. On other occasions, I have also gone a bit too far with this sort of thinking without fully understanding the problem, and have made assertions and mistakes that may be considered patently ridiculous to the typical person residing in the "real world".

I guess both of my favorite things boil down to this: as a theorist, you are not constrained by the "real world". You may note I did not attempt to define "real world". I do not intend to do so, but I think the point here should be relatively clear without a formal definition.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Future posts: I am a Tinkering Theorist, really!

For all the imaginary readers out there, who were expecting tinkering or theorist related posts: I realize several of my posts have been about food, while none have been about tinkering and others are only marginally related to theory or being a theorist. Of course, cooking can count as tinkering in the kitchen, and everything I do is somewhat related to my life as a theorist, but I do plan to post about a more classic "tinkering" project, as well as how being a theorist makes me think, and I want to comment about a conversation I had recently with Alice of Sciencewomen. Maybe if someone finally makes a comment somewhere on this blog, I will be inspired to write one of these posts. They'll be here eventually.

Pie update: -0.5 and falling

I brought in 2 pies this morning, and a half is still in my refrigerator from last night. There were 2 pumpkin (including the one for me) and one pecan. The peach pie will have to wait for another day, because it's intended recipient is leaving town today. The pecan pie has no corn syrup . . . not because I am against corn syrup, but I don't like to keep things around that I only use once or twice a year, if there is a good alternative. Apparently this is a big deal, because, from the Wikipedia page, it seems like pecan pie was invented/popularized by the major corn syrup brand as a way to use corn syrup. (How did we ever live without Wikipedia?) If I am invited to have some of the pecan, I'll let you know how it tastes without the corn syrup. Some recipes have maple syrup instead, but mine had no syrup of any sort and a lot of brown sugar, because I suspect this particular pecan pie recipient would not prefer a maple flavor with his pecans.
Overall Tinkering household pie count: -0.5 (which will be -1 in a couple of days)

(UPDATE: I am told that the pecan pie is quite good, even without corn syrup.)

P.S. I love that we can be the Tinkering household here online, with no dash between names! Sometimes it would be nice to share a last name, especially if it were mine, though of course I do not regret our name keeping decision and it is working out fine.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pie deficit

When friends babysit the LP we usually give them a jar of jam from the farmer's market or other such gift, but sometimes we forget and have to give them something later, such as a pie. I promised one babysitter a pie several weeks ago, and racked up my pie deficit to three when I needed help from a couple of coworkers for my little volunteering adventure on Monday. Today I am going home early to make 4 pies (we have to have one for ourselves, right?). Pumpkin, peach, and pecan are due to others, and ours will either be pumpkin or apple, I think. I wonder if I have 4 pie pans?

In any case, right now I have -3 pies, but by late tonight I hope to have +1 or +1/2 depending on how late we are talking about :). Hopefully this will be a fun activity to do with my mom, although she probably won't be able to help much since she will be playing with the LP.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I really have to stop eating things off the floor

Even if seems like a lot of food would be wasted by refusing to eat it after dropped on a clean floor (since LP drops a lot of food), maybe I should rethink my eating dropped food policy. Why? I just dropped a small piece of food and picked up and nearly ate a similarly shaped leaf. Hmmm . . .


I am having a hard day already, and it is pretty early, and it is harder because I don't really know what my problem is. I left my first blog comment under my new pseudonym yesterday, and it was apparently so poorly worded and incoherent that it was read in the almost opposite sense of how I meant it. I am kind of upset about that. I don't know why I care so much, but I suspect it is because I had a very long day yesterday and am not feeling well. Our 4 hour volunteering slot turned into more like 6 hours of stuff and accompanying disruption of my and LP's schedule yesterday for various reasons. I had a really great time during the event, but it was tiring, and my back hurts now. We did get on the local news, but I didn't see it. Maybe I will search for a video of it, because I am not getting any work done now. I really need to do work, though, because my meeting is today, but when I tell myself to not be upset it makes the situation worse, so I guess I will just sit here and be for a few minutes and then hopefully everything will seem better. I think that I, like LP, am more emotional when my mom is around, because you just kinda feel like she is there to make everything better, and then it is a bit harder when everything is not perfect and right with the world. My mom was really sick yesterday and so LP spent the whole day in daycare, then the night during the volunteering stuff he went with a friend of mine and then my mom felt better and picked him up halfway through. She says she is feeling better today so I hope she is up for going to dinner and then we can all hang out with LP. Maybe I am also a bit sad because we are going to quit bottles at daycare this week, and only nurse at home. I don't want to wean him completely yet, but he is getting good with cups and juice and he isn't allowed to have bottles in the big boys and girls room anyway, where he is moving in a couple of weeks. I don't like being emotional because it doesn't happen very often and I am not good at it.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Best title of a paper ever

"An Introduction to the Conjugate Gradient Method. Without the Agonizing Pain." Jonathan Richard Shewchuk

I should note that I haven't read the whole paper, but I looked through it last year, and always meant to come back to it. Maybe when I have "more time".

Updates and a Question

Here are some updates to stories the reader has probably not been following, as this blog just started on Friday. So I will provide a bit of background.

--The little poker's poking finger is healing well, and not even a band-aid was needed today, which is good, because he has learned to take off bandages by sucking on them until they are not sticky anymore. (The poor guy got it into a cooling fan a little more than a week ago.)

--I called a former coworker now working in my hometown where I am looking at getting a postdoc (see prior post), but he wasn't there and hasn't called me back. I hope it's not because he is unsatisfied with his position (in my message I made it clear that I wanted to talk about my applying there). It's likely he is just busy.

--My mom is visiting most of this week, and babysitting the LP. We are taking the opportunity to do some volunteer work tonight to help with bicycle safety. Hopefully lots of people will come to our station even though it is getting cold (soon it will be too cold to ride without gloves and a hat).

--We decided to try to add another even littler poker to the Tinkering family! I guess what we decided was to go for late July, as we already knew we wanted another little one. I am not sure if my thesis defense can be scheduled before late July, but earlier is better for other reasons. 1) My mom can come help, as she doesn't work in summer. 2) It will be (much?) cheaper, because we will get all our prenatal lab tests on the same "policy year" as labor+delivery, allowing me to only go up to one year's worth of out-of-pocket-maximum costs (plus any random charges they decide not to cover). This is especially important since our little trip to the ER last week for the LP's finger. Maybe we can even get to our family out-of-pocket-maximum, which I think is smaller than 2-3 individual out-of-pocket maxima (I hope!). 3) Wouldn't it be silly to let the unscheduled thesis defense get in the way of my long-term family planning? Especially because now I will have a reason to work hard and finish earlier! 4) If we don't get pregnant on the first try, we still have time to have the baby during grad school (the basic idea is that schedules are more flexible than with a "real job").

--We have been getting ready for the even littler poker, though we are a little less prepared than last time. We just got our flu shots. I started taking vitamins just a few weeks ago, though I really should have been taking them still, since the LP is nursing, but I had run out of my prescription (they are free from the student health people if you have a prescription, so I had to do the doctor's appointment thing first).

--I have not yet told my mother about the next baby, but I know there will be a "discussion" about naming. The LP took my husband's last name because he shared his gender, and now the next one is supposed to take my surname. The other surname is/will be the middle name in both cases. Mom is not interested in the kids having different last names, but I think they will be fine. She claims that it "sounds funny" to put my husband's last name before mine, supposedly because of the particular names that they are, but I think the real reason she thinks it sounds funny is that she is looking for another excuse to be against the kids-have-different-last-names decision.

I have one question for the hypothetical blog reader(s): is it ethical to try to have a baby of a certain gender? Recently some research suggested that there might be a slightly better chance of having a girl if the mother does not eat breakfast (there was an apparently somewhat plausible reason for this discussed in the paper). Even if this is a real effect, if I stop eating breakfast the chance of having a girl is not changed very much. However, I wonder if it is a bad idea anyway. It strikes me as a poor frame of mind to put oneself in, that one kind of child is more desired than another. Somehow it seems like there is an ethical line between thinking it would be nice to have a certain kind of child and actually doing something to make it so (whether that something works is beside the point).

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Postdoc Search Begins

Hello all! I'm a graduate student theorist in an engineering/physical science discipline, and I'm graduating next summer-ish. I've been thinking of starting a blog for awhile, but today a bunch of events came together (I have something on my mind, my old blog--just updates to friends--is not working well, and I thought of a reasonable name) and I started this blog. Maybe I will do more intro later, but this post is about what I'm going to do with the next few years of my life. As I want to be a professor, and the departments I am thinking of would not likely hire me without some more experience, I recently started looking for postdocs.
On my mind today is whether I should apply to a postdoc in my hometown. I have been looking at top departments and top people in the field, and a few national lab positions. None of the very top (top 20, say) schools are in my hometown, but there is a government research lab which I just learned has postdocs in my field. I feel qualified for the position and I am sure I would learn a lot there. Moreover, it is the perfect location, and while I had resigned myself to living far away for several more years (or life), I have gotten myself really excited about the prospect of living at home again, if only for a year or two.
The problem is, it's probably not the ideal position for someone who's looking to be a professor. The person there who would be my adviser is not a professor and maybe not as well connected as some of the other advisers I'm considering. Also, based on my initial impressions, the research there isn't as fundamental as I would like it to be. (My future undergrads would probably appreciate someone who understood applications or "the real world" a bit, but I doubt this project is applied enough to make a difference on that front--after all, it is still theory/simulation.)
So, what to do? I am not prepared to significantly hurt my career for one year at "home", but really this would be, at worst, taking a small risk of slightly dinging my career path. In fact, maybe being happy at home will make me the ultimate researcher and I will get tons done and therefore help my career? The deadline is fast approaching!!! ahhhhh!!!