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Cooking up a storm August 31, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in family, younger son, older son, food/cooking.
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I have to admit that I think we’ve finally got the hang of this whole cleaning/cooking thing.  A while back, I mentioned that we’d gotten a housekeeper.  That lasted for almost a year, but then we decided that it wasn’t working as the housekeeper couldn’t keep up.  I suspect it’s because of the overload of fuzzy creatures.

We changed tactics: basically, we just pick a time every weekend to spend a couple hours cleaning (although it doesn’t work so well when we’re gone for multiple weekends in a row) and we all spend an hour or two working through the list.  Each item on the list is worth a certain amount, depending on the effort involved, so this is what the kids get for an allowance.  I think we spend 1-2 hours every week cleaning, and while the house is more cluttered than I like, it’s actually staying reasonably clean.  Also, I no longer have to spend tons of time instructing the kids on how to clean the toilet AGAIN since it has only been a week or two since it was last cleaned.  (Our biggest problem comes in the fact that every one likes to put the cleaning supplies in different places…)

In the past year, though, I found that I am sensitive to even tiny amounts of contamination in a lot of gluten-free foods, and this resulted in a shopping list that involved almost no processed foods.  The amount of time I spent cooking increased drastically, so I recently decided to try this same approach with cooking: the kids now spend about an hour in the kitchen getting dinner ready or helping with other things (baking bread, making snacks) 3-4 nights a week.

It’s only been a short while, but this seems to be working, too.  I’m not sure why I never tried this before, although I suspect some of it is that I was nervous about the younger son handling certain cooking activities, particularly those with knives.  (I have to admit that I still give a lot of those chores to the older son.)  He loves to bake, though, so as long as I get the ingredients out for him, he’s getting pretty good at following recipes.  He makes a pretty mean beer bread…(with gluten-free beer, of course).

I’ve been very surprised how positive their attitude about this has been, particularly since they don’t get allowance for this.  (It wasn’t quite pitched as, “You don’t help, you don’t eat,” but I think they understood that my frustration was almost to that level.) However, I uncovered another reason why this may be working: I suspect the real motivation is that they’re tired of waiting for me to make their favorite foods.  The baking, in particular, tends to be put off in favor of making dinner.  They must’ve realized that if they learn to do it themselves or help take care of some of the other cooking chores, they don’t have to wait as long.  I have to admit that if there’s something they really want to cook, I’m not inclined to say no.

The alpha and the hungry August 30, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in older son, pets.
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The older son mentioned at dinner that dogs equate food with love.  This was, of course, a response to Gigadog trying to stick her nose on the table to horn in on our Friday night pizza.

Wanna share that?  I'm kinda hungry.

Wanna share that? I’m kinda hungry.

I said that actually, he wasn’t that far off.  The alpha dog of a pack is actually supposed to determine what it is that the pack hunts for and, in a sense, is responsible for providing the pack with food.  Therefore, it sort of makes sense that food and love are equivalent in dogs.

After a brief pause, I said that Teradog was a prime example of a good alpha given he really knows how to look forlorn so that the human will provide the pack with food.  In that sense, he’s a very highly successful alpha dog.

rainier_front

This prime newfoundland specimen is on the hunt for treats…

 

And you thought puppy dog eyes were all about being cute…

Oh, that’s right! I have a blog! August 29, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in family, grad school, older son, personal, work, younger son.
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Summer, at least the social construct of summer, officially comes to a close this weekend for most people.  The younger son has been in school for a week, and I’m scratching my head, wondering where the time went.  It was the summer of “the best laid plans of mice and men,” if you get my drift.  

I did accomplish a lot at work.  However, shifting deadlines there required I push off other stuff.  In response to that, I decided to take some time off and get caught up on some of those other things, which will be easier now that the younger offspring is busy plodding through the halls of a reputable educational institution rather than ones created in Minecraft.  I have a couple weeks of crunching numbers at home before going back to work to do it.

The other thing that will help is that the older offspring has decided that his odd work schedule really isn’t doable, despite a serious effort on his part.  I am relieved because I seem to be getting more sleep again, which has made me a saner, kinder, and more productive human being.  Also, I appreciate being able to form a coherent sentence…

I hate to say it, but I’m glad school has started again.  I usually love summer, but I’m very glad to have a routine and time to work on my own stuff back.

How was your summer?

Rapid reviewing August 12, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, papers, research, work.
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I was on a trip this weekend and forgot that I had agreed to review a conference paper.  Not a problem, though, because once I got the reminder, I figured I’d still have plenty of time.  Except there was a problem: when I got home from my trip, I realized that the review was due at 1 a.m. that morning and not midnight of the next night: it was due 23 hours sooner than I had expected.  I realized this about 2 hours before the review was due.

I am a slow reader, so this immediately put me into panic mode, but rather than wait until morning and send it in late, I decided to see if I could at least get something in before the deadline.

Despite it being a bit stressful, I actually managed to read through the whole thing and get a decent review written up.  In fact, when I looked at it the next morning, I was rather shocked at how long the review was.  I did realize later that there is one minor point I missed, but I think that, overall, I caught some important errors and that my assessment overall wouldn’t have changed.

I have to admit that this was also made easier by the fact that the paper was reasonably well-written.  Reviewing papers and grading have one thing in common: the worse the submission, the longer it takes to review.

Not that I plan to leave all my reviews for the last minute, but it’s a good thing I realized I can do this in less time: two more review requests showed up this morning.

Greener pastures August 11, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in personal, photography, younger son.
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I don’t know about you, but sometimes I have a hard time figuring out how to celebrate birthdays.  Some years, you just go out to eat, or sit around the house, or hope someone makes your favorite meal.  This year has been rough because of everything I have on my plate right now.

Milestone birthdays are important in an odd sort of way, so I try to do something extra fun, and it’s important to take those opportunities when you have them.  On this occasion, I thought maybe riding a horse with my grandmother and the younger son would be a cool adventure.  I’d never been on a horse before.

horses

The ride was an hour-long, guided trail ride in Medora, ND.  You can see Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the background, so the scenery was fantastic.  I found out that horses scare me a bit, and that you shouldn’t pat them on the rear flank the way your dogs like their people to do.  (Apparently I almost sent my horse over one of the guides while she was trying to remove his halter.)  After the ride, I found out that my grandmother had used to love riding horses in her younger years, but hadn’t been on one since my mom was a little girl.

It was a great way to celebrate my grandmother’s 85th birthday.  I hope we can keep having wonderful adventures together for a long time.  I just hope she doesn’t want to go sky-diving any time soon…

Never ask a woman her weight…but her kinetic energy is fine August 2, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in math, physics, running, science.
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Today, I had one of the most awesome runs I’ve ever had.  In particular, I sustained a much faster pace than I have over a 3 mile distance.

I couldn’t help but wonder, however, about the factor weight plays in one’s speed.  As much as I try not to worry about weight and focus on being healthy, there’s this part of me that thinks it would be cool to lose a bit of weight because then I would go SO MUCH FASTER.  Or at least that’s what I tell myself.  However, I wondered if maybe I was exaggerating a bit, so I decided to check it out.

While it’s a bit of an oversimplification (that doesn’t take into account muscle tone, lung capacity, hydration, electrolyte levels, altitude adjustment, and the 18 bazillion other things that can affect a runner, even as stupid as that kink that’s still in your neck from last Thursday’s swim (okay, that only affects the triathletes here)), a quick check is to use the kinetic energy equation.

First, of course, we have to assume a perfectly spherical runner.  Or a Blerch:

The Blerch

The Blerch

(As an aside, if you don’t know what the Blerch is, you must check out the Oatmeal’s wonderful cartoon on running.  We all have a Blerch deep inside of us.)  Either way, perfectly spherical things are happy for physicists because of all the lovely simplifications we can use in learning about them.  So, if you’re a perfectly spherical runner, remember that physicists will love you.

Anyway, our hypothetical runner will have a mass (m), which is, of course, directly proportional to weight.  (Weight, of course, is also referred to as gravitational attraction, so the more you have of it, the more attractive you are, at least from the perspective of the planetary body you’re closest to.  Also, it may start to be more attracted to you if your velocity starts to approach the speed of light.  Maybe this is why many humans also find runners attractive?  Not sure.)  The unit of mass is the kilogram.  The runner will also have to maintain an average speed velocity (v), and of course your pace is inversely proportional to your velocity.  Your velocity is probably measured in miles per hour by your local race, but since we’re being scientific, we could also use SI units of meters/second.  That being said, if you double your speed in one unit, it will also double in the other.  There’s nothing fancy that happens because you’re using one unit or the other.

The kinetic energy of our runner, assuming an average velocity, can be written as

(1) KE=½ mv2

If we have the kinetic energy and mass, but want to find out the velocity, we first divide both sides of the equation by the mass and then take the square root of both sides.  This leaves us with the following result:

(2) v=√(2 KE/m)

Let’s take an example.  If we have a runner who has a velocity of 5 mph (or 2.2352 m/s) and a weight of 140 lbs. (or 63.5 kg).  If we use SI units to compute this runner’s velocity, it turns out her initial kinetic energy (KEi) is 158.63 J.

On the other hand, we don’t really need to know how much initial kinetic energy the runner has, in terms of numbers.  We can just define it as the quantity KEi. It turns out that physicists are kind of lazy about using numbers, so we’ll try to go without them because, in my opinion, it sort of confuses things. (You’ll see why later.)

How this this help us?  Well, if you want to take a drastic example, let’s assume a runner loses half of her body weight.

First, let’s establish that her initial kinetic energy is defined also by an initial mass mi and velocity vi.  (These would be the same as the 5 mph and 140 lbs. above.)  This means her initial kinetic energy can be written as

(3) KEi=½ mivi2

and her initial velocity would therefore be

(4) vi=√(2 KEi/mi).

If her weight drops by half, we can write this as her initial weight divided by 2:

(5) m=mi/2

If we put (5) into our velocity equation (2) as our new mass and keep the same initial kinetic energy, we get

(6) vnew=√(2 KEi/m)=√(2 KEi/(mi/2))=√2*(2 KEi/(mi))=√2(2 KEi/(mi))

You can see that the last part in six is basically the square root of two times our initial velocity from (3).  That means that by losing half her weight, our runner would run about 1.4 times as fast, or 40% faster.

Now what if she only loses 10% of her weight?  It turns out that (5) would become

(7) m=mi/1.1

so our new velocity would be the initial velocity times the square root of 1.1, which is about 1.05.  Losing 10% of her weight only makes her 5% faster.

After spending time looking at this, I decided that going on a massive diet definitely isn’t going to help me speed up significantly.  (In fact, if I manage to go from my current weight to my ideal, I would maybe get a gain of a bit over 1/2 mph.)  It’s the fact that the mass doesn’t play as strong a role as velocity does because velocity gets squared and mass doesn’t.  If you want to go faster, you are better off practicing running faster.

So please pass the ice cream!  I need it for my fartlek recovery.

The competitive spirit July 24, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in family, younger son.
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I have often joked to the older son that I learned, far too late, that I didn’t have to do everything perfectly: I just had to do it better than everyone else.

While that statement reeks of hubris, it comes with an extremely large side of truth.  More importantly, it was something that enabled me to get over my perfectionistic tendencies and just get things done…because I would never find out if I did it better if I never did it at all.

That never-doing-it-at-all thing is something that keeps showing up with both of the kids.  Both of them have this huge fear of not doing things perfectly, and it will keep them from even attempting.  I do realize that both of them grew up comparing themselves with the adults around them as reference points, and knowing they can’t do things as well as much older adults has had a pretty lousy impact on what they perceive as success.  That is, no effort will ever be good enough to compare to the adults, and they want to give up before starting.  (I have wondered if this would be different had they been closer in age, but that’s an experiment for an alternative universe.)

I discussed earlier how the older son is fighting with perfectionism in his classwork.  The younger one has had a related set of challenges.  His, however, center around sports.  He is in two somewhat related sports, the second one showing up as a desire to improve his skills in the first.  Earlier this year, he was told he could move up a level in the first sport.  He has repeatedly told me he doesn’t think he wants to because he wants to get the current level “perfect.”  Once I heard the word perfect, I decided it was time to move him up.  He has no idea that he’ll never really get it perfect, and that sometimes the practice to get better comes from starting to master more advanced skills.  Given he has complained about going over basic skills that he knows inside and out, it’s definitely time to move on.  I’m just waiting for the complaints, however, that the next class is too hard.  He often forgets that the hard things become easier with practice.

In the second sport, we started looking at another training facility, and someone asked about evaluation for the competitive team.  The younger son immediately said, “I’m not competitive.”

I’m going to be honest: I’m a pushy mom.  I’m not one of those moms that expects their kids to be perfect at everything.  I’m not one of those moms that signs her kids up for everything regardless of their actual interest. I am, however, one of those moms that wants her kids to push themselves.  This, to me, was bald-faced fear that was going to prevent younger son from even trying.  He was afraid he wasn’t going to measure up to the other kids, so he wasn’t even going to try.  In doing so, he’d never learn to push himself.

Unacceptable.

However, forcing him to go through the eval without any interest is not the solution, either.  He would intentionally flub it if he didn’t absolutely refuse to do anything at all.  (It doesn’t take much to figure out that would be the end of it.)

I spent a lot of time thinking about how to discuss this with him, and I finally settled on telling him a couple things that I wish I’d known when I was younger.  I suspect it would’ve completely changed my view on sports, as well as academics…and, well, on life.  (And it’s a much healthier viewpoint, IMO.)

First, I said that if the coaches think he’s good enough to be on the competitive team, he really ought to try and see how it goes.  If he has a talent that he’s interested in developing (and he has expressed the desire to learn to do this stuff really well), then he will move a lot farther along with some good coaching.  I also told him that the coaches are the best judge, and if they don’t feel he’s good enough for the team, that’s okay: he can still go to lessons and keep learning.  He just won’t get in as much time to develop this skill as if he were able to make the team.  If it’s still fun, he should keep doing it regardless of what the coaches think.

Second, and far more important, is that being on a competitive team does NOT mean that I expect him to go and win awards and beat people all the time.  Being on a competitive team means that I expect he will work hard to improve his skills.  The only person he’s really competing against is himself.  If he happens to win awards doing it, that’s great, but that’s not required.  He just has to want to work hard to improve himself and to keep improving.  It’s about learning how to work hard to become better at something.

I know that coaches are evaluated on how many of their protege do just that.  Unfortunately, that’s reality, and so I think coaches are smart enough to spend time on people who they know will be able to become really good.  Therefore, if they don’t see the talent, I doubt they’re going to want to spend much time on that particular student.

I also know that, in the back of my head, there are people who think competition is beating everyone else.  I’ve seen the uber-competitive parents at various sports throughout the years, and they bug the heck out of me.  The idea that it’s about winning is a thought that robs a lot of people of the joy of doing things and making them better people.  I did a triathlon a few years back that brought that front and center: if I had done it to compete, I would’ve never started training.  After I finished, dead last, no less, not only did I not care that I didn’t place, I didn’t care that I was last.  I accomplished my goals and did something that I’d never done before (and that many people thought was extremely crazy to attempt), and that was far better than winning an award.

There is an inherent satisfaction that comes with mastery of a particular skill that has absolutely nothing to do with what other people think or compare.  Pushing yourself within healthy limits and without regard to what the rest of the world thinks is very rewarding, and, to me, makes almost any endeavor worthwhile.

“I’m busy” is a euphemism July 22, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, family, grad school, personal, work.
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I’ve read a couple articles about how we all get caught up in being so busy.  A lot of them talk about how we need to escape the busyness spiral.  Xykademiqz expressed frustration with people who are always busy.

I guess I’m coming at it from a different angle.

I’ve come to realize that the phrase “I’m busy” is just a polite way of saying, “My priorities are different from yours.”  That is, the requested action is more important to the person asking than the person who is supposed to perform the action.  Particularly relevant to my personal situation, it’s also a way to avoid saying, “I need time to work on my thesis.”

Because I’m starting to find that pretty much nobody cares if you need time to work on that.

“Aren’t you done with that yet?”

“You sure have a lot of time off.”

“I’m sure you can do that some other time.”

“Can’t you put it off for just one day?”

Except I’ve been asked to put it off more days than I even have available to push it off from.  As much as I hate telling people I’m busy, I hate even more that people won’t respect my schedule.  Part of the issue is that I am technically only part time at my job.  If you’ve ever had to work part time at a job without a very explicit schedule, you can forget that.  People want things done on their schedule, and when you’re gone you’re taking “time off.”  Apparently raising two kids and a PhD is “time off.”  I’m jealous of those people who actually get to take vacations on their time off.

A lot of times the outright rejection of working on a dissertation isn’t verbalized.  Kids, in particular, really don’t get that you have other things to do besides take care of their needs night and day.  Not that I can blame them as I sure wouldn’t mind if my mom showed up to clean my house once in a while.  (I know, Mom…you’re busy, too.)

Admittedly, doing all of this is a choice.  It’s just unfortunate that a lot of people don’t respect that choice.  It’s particularly frustrating when people want you to do things that they’re capable of doing but are “too busy” to do themselves.  It seems that rather than get into a verbal sparring match with them about how they disagree with my priorities, it’s just easier to say, “I’m busy.”

no jinx July 19, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in Fargo, personal, running.
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I didn’t want to post about this until I knew it would happen.  I’ve had bad luck with my training in the past: I’ve attempted twice to train for a half-marathon, both times being unsuccessful for health reasons.  (One was directly related, but the other was not.)

Today, however, I have managed to cross that item off my list.

becky_perham

The lovely lady on the left is my friend Becky.  Becky started running shortly after I did, but has gone on to be a much faster runner and has left me behind in terms of distance.  I kept saying that doing a half was still on my bucket list, and so we talked about doing a race together.  Because I’m so slow, a lot of races have cutoff times that were below my estimated finish times.  Also, I would need to find a race that Becky wasn’t planning to try to PR on (like the Fargo marathon, being so wonderfully flat).

We decided to do a small race in a cute little town about an hour east of Fargo called Perham.  The race had a four hour time limit, so I hoped I would be able to handle it.

I was so worried about things getting derailed again.  I ended up learning a few things, like that I did not used to consume sufficient electrolytes when exercising.  I also learned about the joys of sports tape:

taped_feet

See how I taped the foot on the right with less tape than on the left?  I found out at the end of the race that while no tape is best, less tape is really, really bad.  I ended up with blisters on both feet, but the one with less tape ended up with a nasty blister from tape rubbing.

I find it ironic that I use tape and compression sleeves to immobilize my legs…in order to run.

The race itself was very small, very quiet, very uncrowded.  It was great in that there were aid stations and port-a-potties available every 2.5 miles.  The down side is that there was a stretch of gravel that really wreaked havoc with my left knee.  Becky, as I mentioned, was faster than me, but she also has a lot more experience running on gravel, so she was in better shape.  There were also hills.  Not that they were horrible, but coming from Fargo, hills are a thing to be scared of.

Still, I managed to finish and much faster than my anticipated time.  I fully expected to show up at the four hour mark….or maybe a little after.  As it turns out, Becky’s faster pace pushed me during the runs portion of our run-walk intervals, so we made it in just over 3 1/2 hours.  I was dead last – but that’s okay.  Most people think about getting first, second, or third.  However, last place is the one everyone who isn’t a contender for first, second, or third think about.  Therefore, I appreciate being the one to come into the fourth most frequently discussed place.

Also, I got bling:

perham_medal

After getting back, I got to spend the evening at a baseball game.  I’ve determined that baseball games are really great after long runs as I can sit there and eat junk food that I normally wouldn’t eat and also recover.  It’s one of the few times I don’t feel pulled to be doing something work or dissertation related.

Anyway, tonight’s baseball game was a special treat as I got to meet the mascot:

hawkeye

And now, I think I’m going to collapse.

 

Doing the victory dance…on my own July 14, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, research, work.
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Over the past couple months, I’ve been putting insane amounts of time into a project in preparation for some field testing.  Once the widget was deployed, I was fully expecting to feel this great sense of accomplishment.  In particular, this was something that some people were skeptical would work, so getting working widgets out for use is a big deal.  Even some people who advocated for the widget were probably not expecting I’d be able to get it to work as they seemed surprised when I informed them I had finished.

One would think I’d be overjoyed.  I should be waiting for people to pat me on the back.  I should be intensely satisfied that I can tell the doubters, “Told you so!”  I should feel vindicated and totally kick-ass.

Except, I don’t really feel that way.  I just feel a huge sense of relief that the crunch in over and maybe I can actually sit and focus on finishing the never-ending dissertation (aren’t they all?) for a while.  I can disappear for a few days and not have constant distraction.  I don’t have to field questions and phone calls and emails even in my off time.

It’s not that I even want to go on a vacation or do something like that.  I’m okay with working…I just don’t want it to be around other people.

This, friends, is success for an introvert: being left alone for a while.  But I’m dancing on the inside.

dilbert

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