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Wordless Wednesday: Good idea! April 16, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in photography.
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installing_spring

 

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Married to my work April 13, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, family, personal, societal commentary.
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In the past two weeks, I have been introduced as Mike’s spouse twice in professional settings.

I usually view this as something akin to the Kiss of Death: the person receiving this news is likely to consider me an appendage to my spouse and therefore rather useless.  It’s not that I mind people know I am married to Mike.  He’s very competent and he’s a nice person, so I’m certainly not ashamed of it.  It’s often the reaction I get that bothers me.  We have both noticed that some people will make a point of talking to him and ignoring me entirely, even when the project is mine and has nothing to do with him.  (Of course, people do this even when they don’t know we’re married…)

In the first case, I found this rather interesting because it had a couple oddities relative to other introductions of this nature.  First, the person I was being introduced to had no idea who Mike was, and in fact, never did meet him.  I’m not sure why my marital arrangement was the first thing that came up, but I just sort of sigh and roll with it.  Second, I think one of the people we were with was more annoyed about the way I was introduced than I was.  While I just sort of shrugged and carried on as though nothing happened, shaking hands with the visitor, one of the other people who knew me repeated my name to the person two or three times.  As much as I’m resigned to this sort of thing, apparently other people are not, and my inner voice yelled, “Huzzah!”

The second situation was very unnerving.  Mike and I coauthored a paper which was accepted at a fairly selective conference.  The introduction to our presentation explained that we were a husband and wife team, and I inwardly cringed.  I was expecting the fallout to be very awkward for me.  What was odd is that, for the most part, this didn’t seem to make a difference to anyone.  Or maybe they already knew so it didn’t matter.  Mike has had a paper accepted there before, and I was invited to give a presentation last year, so we’re not complete strangers to this group of people.  With perhaps one exception, there wasn’t any noticeable difference in the way anyone treated him versus me.

While the “being married to my coworker” thing has it’s problems, it seems like some people aren’t letting it be as big an issue as it used to be.  It’s kind of nice to be considered a colleague and not an appendage.

It’ll make my day when people regularly introduce him as my spouse, though.  (It has happened once or twice, but not nearly as often as the reverse.)

This title isn’t nearly innovative enough April 12, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, research.
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I’ve been pondering a question…and asking a few people, as well.

What do you consider innovative?

In particular, I’m wondering if people say it is only innovative to have a new idea that no one has thought of before.  What about a different scenario: would you consider it innovative if you came up with a viable way to make something work when people have already had the idea for a long time but never been able to make it work?  Are only abstractions innovative, or is there innovation in pragmatism?

I have more to say on the topic, but I first want to see what others think.

Beautiful, elegant models March 27, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, geology, physics, research.
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I’m interested in the different uses of the word model.  Of course, the most common reference (outside of science and engineering) is to someone who wears expensive clothes.  Upon encountering such a model, most of us in the sciences and engineering wonder how they could charge so much for so little fabric.

In science and engineering, however, I’m discovering that I don’t like the use of the word because it’s ubiquitous and therefore nearly useless.  The problem I’ve run into is that everyone uses it but not necessarily for the same things.  In one field (or to one person), it means the equations describing a phenomenon.  In another field, it’s a computational model incorporating those equations in a specific configuration.  In yet a third field, it can describe a computational framework.  Then there are models that are simple calculations to describe inputs and outputs of a system.  And finally, I’ve also heard someone refer to it as a non-quantitative description of a process.

I’m slowly realizing that a model depends on what you and your field emphasize.  It’s used to describe an abstraction or an idea of the process, but what you’re describing as a model is extremely dependent on your training.

I think I may go back to using it to describe the walking mannequin.

Cynicism and the academic market March 25, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, grad school, research, work.
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I recently had someone ask what I was planning to do after I graduated.  I’ve had this question asked of me before.  When I responded, “I’m interested in a tenure track position,” I have, more often than not gotten the “Yeah right.  Let me know how that works out for you” response.  Not in so many words, of course.

This time, however, I responded that I was interested in a TT position, and added that I knew it was highly unlikely.  The reaction to that was, “Not necessarily.”

I was appreciative of the comment because I think, without reading too much into it, it was meant to be encouraging.  However, I still have to stick by my stance that it’s pretty unlikely, mostly because I think it’s not best to be wed to the idea.

The data seems to back me up on this one.  There was a study done on those who make it into TT positions in political science, and the conclusion is that there are very select schools from which everyone is trying to hire.  I don’t have any direct info for my field, but this seems like a reasonable proxy.  The conclusion is that 20% of TT hires come out of a half dozen elite colleges.  And as your school goes down in ranking from there, so do your chances of getting hired.  I’ve also seen numbers, at least for physics, that only 1 in 10 grads finds a TT spot.

Just looking at these numbers makes me think that I would be rather stupid to count on getting a TT spot.  So as much as people may want to be encouraging (and I do appreciate it), it seems like I should try to stay pragmatic and keep in mind that there is life after academia.

A filtered education March 3, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, math, older son, physics, science, societal commentary, teaching, younger son.
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The older son is a lot of fun.  Despite his statements that he has no desire to go into science, he seems to get and make a lot of science jokes.  I know he’s not a scientist, but I feel comfortable that he’s scientifically literate.  As he was homeschooled, I’m feeling pretty proud of myself.

I’m more anxious about the younger son, though.  This weekend, he brought home his science homework, which focused on optics.  The kids were studying filters, and one of the questions asked about what kind of light would you see if you shined a flashlight through a blue filter and then a red one.  I asked him what he saw, and he said nothing.  Unfortunately, he was told that he saw nothing because the flashlights just weren’t bright enough, but that what he should have seen was purple.

I’m pretty sure that if I had ever been bombarded with gamma rays in the past, I would’ve turned into She-Hulk at that very moment and started smashing things.  Fortunately (or unfortunately, if being She-Hulk happens to be a goal of yours), that didn’t happen.

I find it infuriating that, throughout my years of homeschooling older son and teaching younger son math, I have constantly been questioned about my ability to teach them.  The implication has always been that I may have a degree, but they are experts on teaching.  In fact, this particular teacher attempted to take me to task earlier this year about the younger son’s math curriculum…the same teacher who apparently doesn’t understand that light and pigments work completely differently.

After I managed to calm down, I explained that light filters are like sieves, except that they only let one size of particle pass through: nothing bigger can pass through the holes, but nothing smaller can, either.  After this explanation, the younger son was able to correctly explain that the reason he saw no light from his flashlight is that the two filters together had blocked all the light.

I’m going to be watching very carefully to see what kinds of scores he’s getting on his answers and whether the teacher realizes she made a mistake.  This was very disappointing.  There was a new science curriculum introduced this year, one which I was very excited about.  The focus was supposed to be on hands-on, problem-based learning, which is great for science.  Despite that, it seems that younger son’s science education may be lacking.  What good does it do to have a top of the line science education curriculum (or math…or anything else) when our teachers don’t understand what they’re teaching?  And how is it that these same teachers can justify questioning the ability to teach material that some of us understand far better than they do?

An engineer’s desk (not mine) February 27, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, food/cooking, research, work.
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deskThe challenge in engineering is not to make the best technical decisions but to determine how to stay alert enough to make technical decisions…

 

Driving Miss Crazy February 25, 2014

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I had a workshop in Minneapolis today.

Or…I thought I did.

I needed to attend some training, and to get there, I have to drive about four hours each way.  It’s not a huge deal.  The weather was relatively nice (aside from the 35 mph head/cross wind on the way back).  I have done day trips like this a million times before.

Except that when I got there, I found out that the training had been moved out two weeks and I hadn’t been notified of the change.

If you’re exhausted from getting up very early and being on the road for a long time, hearing something like this is bound to make you blow up at the person delivering the bad news.  I almost did.  However, I got a grip pretty quickly and asked if there were any materials that would have been available at the workshop that I could start looking at.  Obviously having a fit wasn’t going to solve anything, so I figured I’d try to salvage what I could.

The admin person was very nice and helped me find someone who could provide such documentation.  After hearing about what had happened, this person did something even better: he found an instructor for the training who sat down with me and ran through all the stuff I needed.  When he couldn’t find someone at first, I said some documentation would be helpful, so that would be enough.  He responded,

You drove four hours to get here.  I’m not going to shove a piece of paper in your hand and turn you away.

I was surprised at how emphatic he was that I get something out of this trip…and grateful.

He did find an instructor after a bit.  I was able to ask the instructor specific questions and pretty much avoid all the pointless stuff.  We actually fixed a couple problems I was having, and, better yet, I spent half the time working with the person that I would have spent in the training.  (I do feel bad that I sucked this person away from other responsibilities, but he was extremely polite about it.)

The day was still a very long day, but I definitely feel like it was worth it.  It’s always nice when someone behaves in a professional manner, but it’s beyond awesome when they’re willing to go out of their way to help you out…although I’m sure the driving bit had something to do with it.

3 Karrot Gluten-Free Muffins February 23, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in food/cooking.
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(Note: I’ve made a couple changes since I originally posted this.  It produces much fluffier muffins, and fluffy muffins are good in my book.)

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I could tell you what I’ve been up to lately, but it’s pretty much the same thing I’ve been up to for the past year and a half: I’m either working on a paper or a proposal…although now and again I’m trying to help my student out.  But really, it’s kind of getting silly to say this as it hardly changes.

I have, however, been spending a lot of time perfecting my carrot cake recipe.  One day, a few weeks ago, I had this horrid craving for carrot cake.  The problem I have is that a lot of gluten-free food in general tastes pretty awful: I haven’t had one I like yet.  Second, even if I did like them, most mixes I come across are not FODMAPs friendly…meaning they have some ingredient or other that will make me sick.  (If you’re not sure what this is, you can read about it here.)  Finally, I try, as much as possible, to eat paleo.  Unfortunately, FODMAPS friendly paleo foods are rather tough to come by.  Most use nuts or coconut flour (or taste even worse than the run-of-the-mill gluten-free foods), so those are out.

I decided I had to come up with something myself.  I added the condition that my friends who eat ‘normal’ diets must enjoy eating it, too.  I am pretty sure this one succeeded.  I also tried, very hard, to make it mostly carrots.  I don’t think I succeeded, but I did manage to at least balance the carrot to flour ratio…it’s much better than the standard 3:1 flour to carrot ratio in most recipes.  (Most carrot cake, in my opinion, is just spice cake pretending to be healthier than it is.)   I am aware that most people don’t consider sugar or brown sugar to be paleo, but those, along with molasses, are the only FODMAPs-friendly sweeteners I can handle.

I’ve finally perfected my recipe, so I’ll share it below.  I’m very excited because it’s one of the very few baked goods I’ve made lately that I can actually eat myself.  I will warn you that it’s really a pain to make, but it’s totally worth it.  However, I’m quite serious when I say not to deviate from the instructions.  As much as I love kitchen short-cuts, you don’t want to just throw everything in the food processor and call it good.

And one last note: while you may want to try substitutions, be very careful about maintaining the moisture balance in these muffins.  I learned the hard way (and repeatedly) that one little change can leave you with hockey pucks or mushy gunk in short order.  Therefore, this recipe won’t work if you decide to throw honey in for the brown sugar.  You CAN get away with 1/4 c. of a dry sweetener instead, like palm sugar or raw cane sugar, if you want to try something else.

If you do make changes, please let me know so that I can pass them on to anyone else who is interested.

carrot_muffins

3 Karrot Muffins

Makes about 12 muffins.

Ingredients

  • 11-12 oz. fresh raw peeled carrots
  • 2/3 c. dehydrated carrot (make sure it’s not processed on the same equipment as wheat…I buy them online)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 c. potato starch
  • 1/3 c. tapioca flour
  • 1/3 c. sweet rice flour
  • 1/4 c. white rice flour
  • 1/4-1/3 c. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 c. coconut oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

Optional cream cheese ‘filling’

  • 4 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tsp. coconut oil
  • 2 tsp. sweetener (sugar, maple syrup, whatever)

I’m going to start with the cream cheese filling: you don’t have to do it.  If you’d like to do it, there’s an easy way and a harder way.  The easy way is just to cut your 4 oz of cream cheese into 12 chunks of the same size.  It tends to dry and crack a bit though, so the harder way is to blend the cream cheese and coconut oil (and sweetener, if you want some) in a small bowl using a mixer.  This will have a nicer texture and look nicer, but it doesn’t really taste much different.  Put it in the fridge for later.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Mix the eggs and dried carrots in a separate bowl.  Set aside.  Leave this sitting for a while.  In essence, you’re using your eggs to rehydrate the dried ones.

While waiting for the carrots to rehydrate, add the following dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl:  potato starch, tapioca flour, sweet rice flour, white rice flour, brown sugar, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt.  Combine thoroughly.

Place the raw carrots in a food processor or blender (if it’s a really good blender) and run until the carrots are finely chopped.  (By finely chopped, I mean ‘not quite a puree but as close as the machine can get.’)  Next add the dried carrots and egg mixture.  The eggs should whip up and give the mixture a lighter orange color, and it should look like a puree.   (Note: don’t shortcut and throw it all in the food processor at once unless your machine is VERY good.  I tried that and ended up with a serving of baked carrots in the middle of a couple of muffins.)

Before you take the next step, get your muffin pan ready.  I generally like to use foil muffin papers for these as they seem to soak through paper liners.  I also suspect the foil liners do a better job of baking the muffins evenly.

Add the coconut oil, vanilla extract, and lemon juice to the food processor and run again.  Add contents of the food processor to the bowl of dry ingredients and combine thoroughly.  I usually just use a large spoon to do this as the mixture seems awfully thick for a mixer.  Divide batter evenly between muffin liners.

If you’re using the cream cheese (mixture), add about 2 tsp. to each muffin.  Make sure to press it down into the batter a bit.  I don’t recommend making divots in the muffins as it seems to create big air bubbles.

Bake for 25 min.  Let cool for a couple hours at room temp before serving (even though they smell incredible).  Because of the raw carrots, these put off a lot of moisture and need to be cooled properly.

The moment you’ve all been waiting for… February 21, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, feminism.
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Before I make a small announcement, I’m going to provide a wonderful piece of advice.  If you plan to marry an engineer, add a whiteboard and some markers to the registry.  You’ll need them in case you ever have an argument with your soon to be spouse.

Now that that’s out of the way (and you’ve waited for a moment, so that the title of this post is appropriate…although I have to admit waiting much longer than that), I wanted to thank the folks at Engineering Commons for inviting me as a guest on their podcast.  I discussed the issue of women in engineering (among several other things), and it was quite a bit of fun.  If you’d like to listen, you can find it here: http://theengineeringcommons.com/episode-49-women-in-engineering/

Please let me know what you have any thoughts on the conversation!

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