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I half done it again September 22, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in bismarck, bismarck marathon, running.
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The Missouri River, facing south from the Expressway Bridge.

The Missouri River, facing south from the Expressway Bridge.

I’m ashamed that the picture above didn’t come out better.  My focus was way too close (on the fence in front of me).

That picture really doesn’t do the scene justice, but that’s all I have.

I spent the weekend in Bismarck running my second half-marathon…despite the fact that I have been fighting asthma and allergy problems over the past couple weeks.  I’m so very glad I went, though, because it was a beautiful course.

If you want the low-down on the race, it’s a nice size.  Much smaller than Fargo but bigger than some of the local races.  There were about 500 people in the half.  There are also full-marathon, 10k, and 5k distances.  (The kids opted to do the 5k with a friend.)  The course is absolutely beautiful as it mostly consists of paved trails through parks.  Because it happens late in September, you get a lot of fall colors.  It also takes you across two of the three bridges that cross the Missouri River, and the views really are incredible.  There were volunteers everywhere, frequent water stops (and port-o-potties!), and it was really a great race.  I’m trying to decide if I should wait or just sign up for next year already.

Personally, I was a miserable puppy going into it.  I had a headache (lack of sleep and an overabundance of caffeine, likely) and seriously abused my inhaler just so I could breathe.  Despite my reluctance, I had to take some ibuprofen to keep going, but it was worth it.  I definitely felt better as the race went on.  It’s really amazing what a beautiful run can do for you, though, and as I felt better, I really enjoyed the course a lot more.  It was really nostalgic to run through parks where I’d spent a lot of time as a teenager.  I wished I’d had the kids with me so I could’ve pointed out some of my favorite places.

Even though my first half was just a couple months ago, I improved my time by quite a bit and now have affirmed that I enjoy running this distance.  Even though it may not be until next spring, I am already looking forward to my next half-marathon.  I just hope I can find more races as gorgeous as this one.

The amazing, oozing Macrocat September 18, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in pets, work.
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There is a definite disadvantage to working at home.  In some cases, it comes in the form of a four-legged furry creature.  One that wants you to pet it.  While you’re typing.

Today that creature was Macrocat.  The following is a series of pictures I took while I was attempting to work.

mc1

Apparently the keyboard looked like a great place to perch and keep an eye on me.

mc2

Pretty soon, though, he was trying to run things for me.

mc3

But when I switched over to something else, he got bored.

mc4

He started to ooze over the keyboard a bit.

mc5

I tried to move him away, but he just turned his head.

mc6

Then a paw creeped up beside the first one.

mc7

And he moved his head over again.  Actually, this is after I moved him off the table and he came back.

mc8

And that wasn’t quite doing it for him, so he stretched out again.

Finally, he put his paw on the trackpad and put pressure on a key. The computer started making a beeping sound to protest, but macrocat thought the computer was purring at him and merely laid down and purred more loudly in response.

And that was the point where I finally had to banish him.

Ms. Cherish Goes to the Atheist Meeting September 17, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in gifted, religion.
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I’ve contemplated writing on this topic for a while.  At the same time, I haven’t wanted to.  Probably because I’m not sure what the point of revisiting this is other than to gripe.  But then I came across this article about misogyny in atheism and decided I was just irritated enough to say something.

What’s a blog if not a soapbox for such issues?  That being said, if you feel the need to vent about the article, please take to the site where it is published.

Let’s start with some background: I am an agnostic Quaker.  Yeah, such things do exist.  What this means is that I am a fence sitter on the concept of a god.  I don’t think there’s really any way to disprove that a god does or does not exist (and I have a pretty good background in both physics and math, so I’m fairly certain I know what such a proof would entail).  I know that makes me a heathen in some people’s eyes and an idiot in others.  I could think that way of other people, but that’s where the whole Quaker thing comes in, so I try to refrain.  If nothing, it’s at least a minimal attempt at humility and recognition of the respect everyone deserves…even when I really don’t feel inclined to give it to them.  Or when they aren’t giving it to me.  It’s hard, but I do try.  (In the words of Howard Brinton, it is better to be inconsistently good than consistently bad.)

Because of my varied interests, I have a friends who fall along the whole spectrum of belief not to mention diverse religious preferences among those who are believers.  It’s not a suprise, therefore, that a friend invited me to go to an atheist meeting a while ago.  He said that I would probably fit in very well because of the whole agnostic thing, the fact that I’m a scientist, the fact that my husband and I regularly read Skeptical Inquirer.

Except I didn’t.  And I fully didn’t expect to.  Part of this is because I used to read a lot of skeptical and atheist blogs, mostly for their scientific content.  I started getting irritated a while ago because the tone of such conversations often devolved into religion bashing.  I stopped altogether after the Watson/Dawkins debacle on PZ Myers blog (mentioned in the article above).  Why in the world would I want to spend my time associating with people as obnoxious as Dawkins?  (And I love how Neil deGrasse Tyson makes this point in the video below.)

First, there was the whole Quaker thing.  While a couple people were familiar with it and felt that it was kind of cool, there were others who were just plain stupid about it.  I was grilled on why in the world would I belong to any sort of religiously affiliated group.  “Traditions are inherently bad,” I was told.  I should have replied that sweeping overgeneralizations are not on the top of my list of good things.

Later in the discussion, something came up about raising children.  In particular, one person voiced an opinion that parents don’t have the right to make decisions about their children’s education and that the state ought to have the right to keep parents from passing on religious beliefs to children.  (Not surprisingly, this person isn’t a parent.)  Now, let’s start with the fact that I think this is an extreme view and not representative of most people I know how are non-believers.  But this is also the basis for many (overly vocal) atheists’ opposition to things like the homeschooling.  It seriously pisses me off.

I know that most of the people who are opposed to homeschooling use the whole socialization argument, so being as irritated as I was, I started asking questions to move the topic to that point of discussion.  Then I nailed the person with the fact that research shows that homeschooling is in fact a superior method of socialization compared with a typical educational environment.  As it turns out, I’d spent some time researching the topic and wrote a post on it.  Obviously this person wasn’t going to take me at my word, so I got his email and later sent the link to the article about it.  Silence.

Finally, there came the sexist comments.  They came in the form of praising a female atheist, going on at length about how it was nice to have such a ‘lovely and beautiful woman atheist’ in the group.  It felt like she was being flirted with on a public platform.  Obviously ugly women atheists aren’t all that interesting. Hello?!  I thought freethinkers understood that praising a woman based on her looks rather than her skills and abilities is sexist.

My whole irritation with the freethinker/atheist/etc movement is that it strikes me as the flip side of religious fanaticism.  Instead of fire and brimstone preachers, there are the charismatic (and often assholish) ringleaders who are just as vitriolic as the Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern types.  They are intentionally inflammatory and disrespectful.  Further, they’re an awful smart lot, and they can rationalize everything and they think they know everything.  This is a problem because that’s not what a skeptic or freethinker is.  It amazes me how many people will spew their opinions on topics as fact even though they haven’t done a lick of research.  The thinking from the most vocal atheists is just as black and white as a religious zealots and only sometimes better informed.

I actually think that a lot of this does go back to that whole socialization argument I had with the fellow at the meeting.  Almost everyone I know who is a non-believer is very highly educated.  Most of them went through some sort of formal schooling environment where they learned that they were smarter than everyone else.  In fact, a lot of them will be very forthcoming on that point given their identity is very wrapped up in their intelligence.  And there is a lot of research that shows gifted kids left in that environment have problems, even as adults, relating to others.  The resulting behavior a form of maladaption that can follow people for the rest of their lives.  If they’re never around people who are as smart as they are, they don’t learn much in the way of humility, discussion with others as peers deserving of respect, and continue to underestimate and challenge people (because it’s an ego boosting behavior) as adults.

That’s what really bothers me about this.  Some of these people are incredibly smart and they assume they can figure anything out because they’re rational.  They fail to see complexities and nuance in discussion about difficult topics, particularly if those complexities involve emotions.  They assume that they can solve any problem with their reasoning without actually researching topics to understand where their reasoning may have faults and failures.  They fail to see their opinions as exactly what they are: a dogmatic response to something not always grounded in research or respect for others.  Agreement is the litmus test for whether or not you’re really a ‘good’ atheist.

It’s not all of them, but it’s a lot of the most vocal ones. And it’s very off-putting for people (regardless of gender) who may otherwise be interested in what they have to say.

Wordless Wednesday: Two Step Falls September 9, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in geology.
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two_step_falls

Running with kids…or maybe from them September 7, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in family, older son, running, younger son.
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Even a couple years ago, it was hard to get a workout in once the younger son was home.  I was lucky in that the older son is a bit of a homebody and could watch his brother if Mike wasn’t around.

Now, however, I have a new dilemma.  The younger son has decided he’s over this “kid’s race” stuff and wants to start doing 5ks.  The older son likes doing 10ks.  I’m currently training for my second half marathon this summer.  How am I supposed to train with my kids??!  They’re not terribly motivated to train on their own, but they like going with me.  I suspect this is because I turn into a zombie when I run so the kids have my undivided attention and I don’t say much.  They can speak unimpeded for a long, LONG time.  On the other hand, they like doing races because of the freebees.  However, training with them on top of my own running is a bit too much, so I started to get creative.

This morning’s training run was 12 miles, so I decided to break it into a loop of three miles.  I did one loop by myself, ran the loop twice after that with the older son (who is starting to have a hard time keeping up with me), and did it one more time with the younger son (who apparently decided after a mile that we needed to walk…and my feet agreed with him).

This worked great because I also found out that this eliminated the need to find gas stations along my running route.  Unfortunately, gatorade bottles don’t sit nicely in my race belt.  Also, my husband wasn’t expecting me to try to give him a sweaty hug until the end (doesn’t everyone do this to their spouse?), and I was able to nab him mid-route.  He still went and got me some post-run celebratory ice cream, so I guess that was okay.

I just imagine that there were some people scratching their head as I walked past for the fourth time this morning…

Fungible funding September 3, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, research, science.
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I was reading a discussion the other day on funding sources when it occurred to me that I’ve made a big switch on the topic.  I used to think that industry funded research was *always* bad, *always* biased.

Nope.

I guess being in engineering has changed my view considerably.  A lot of engineering work is funded by industry, and this is a good thing.  First, it means that the research actually has a chance of getting used.  Second, it is helpful to the majority of researchers that are likely unable to get any funding from large governmental funding agencies.

In engineering, a lot of the conferences I’ve gone to have had large numbers of researchers from industry.  (In a couple sub-fields I’m involved in, *most* of the people come from industry.)  Those fields are the “too applied for NSF” type work that is still rather interesting and useful.  Without companies funding some of their own research, they probably wouldn’t be going anywhere.

Despite my great appreciation of the system we have for government funding, it is still very limited.  And even when things are funded, I’m not sure how many of these concepts actually make it to industry.

Now, looking at science from this engineering-informed background, I’m not as suspicious about industry-funded projects.  Admittedly, science has a different approach than engineering, but I wonder how many areas are being underfunded.  There are far more good ideas and questions to be answered than funding available.  Is it better to let a question sit unanswered or to try to work with an industry partner to do some type of study?  Just about every university will have a conflict-of-interest policy.  While these aren’t bulletproof, I would assume they’re going to hit some of the basics.  And maybe, just maybe, researchers really want to find the answers to their questions no matter how they get the funding.

That isn’t to say we shouldn’t be skeptical when research is funded by industry…but neither should we just write it off as biased.

Cooking up a storm August 31, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in family, food/cooking, older son, younger son.
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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.

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