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It’s a mistery October 30, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering.
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I get asked to do a decent number of conference paper reviews, and surprisingly, some of those conferences have asked me to review in subsequent years.  One such conference didn’t just ask me to review again, but bestowed the honor of making me part of their advisory board.  I accepted, and they sent me a nice letter as an official statement.  Except they sent it to the wrong person.  They addressed it to Mr. Cherish.

So…what to do?

I at first considered responding and pointing out their error.  (Hey, they had a 90% chance of getting it correct, right?)  However, I’ve decided instead that I will keep it as is and frame it.  I think it’s funnier that way.

Wordless Wednesday: True Happiness October 29, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in pets, photography.
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Measure for measure, number 5 October 28, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in societal commentary.
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I generally am not afraid to discuss politics in person, but I don’t do it often here.  I will discuss topics that can be politicized but seldom delve directly into politics, particularly of the local variety.  The reason is that I don’t want to irritate my neighbors.  However, in viewing my site stats, I’ve realized that only about a third of my readership hails from North Dakota.  The other two thirds are divided equally between Minnesota and New Zealand.  (When you only have three readers, it’s easy to divide up your blog readership quanta that way.)  Anyway, I’m pretty sure that my ND reader is a friend and has already heard this before.

The reason I feel compelled to write on this is the nonsense objections I’ve been seeing to Measure 5.  For those not familiar with it, it’s designed to take 5% of oil taxes to the state and set it aside for environmental projects.  Some of the money would go into a trust, but the rest of the money would be spent by the state Industrial Commission (yeah, the same folks who approve permits for oil wells) based on the recommendation of a panel of appointed citizens.

For the sake of disclosure, I am not a member of any of the groups that are backing the bill.  I am a member of one group opposed to the bill (the North Dakota Corn Growers Association).

I received an email from NDCGA describing the opposition arguments.  It said:

  1. Measure 5 mandates government spending – State government would be forced to spend $4.8 billion on conservation over the next 25 years, even if schools, roads, veterans programs, and other priorities need the money more.
  2. Measure 5 diverts funding for special interest priorities – Conservation spending will be put ahead of education, senior services, public safety, tax relief, and more. Do we want that?
  3. Measure 5 is driven by out-of-state interest groups – A full 96 percent of Measure 5’s funding comes from out-of-state interest groups that don’t know or care about what’s best for our state.
  4. Measure 5 offers no accountable spending plan – Measure 5 empowers an unelected, unaccountable advisory board to decide how North Dakota tax money is spent. Their definition of a “conservation program” could be using tax dollars to buy up land so hunters and farmers can’t use it.

Points 1 and 2 are worded for maximum effect, but they say similar things.  The biggest thing is that OMG, the government is going to spend money and not only is it going to spend money, it’s spending it on the wrong things!

First, I never have and still don’t understand why people think that government spending is a bad thing.  As long as the government is spending money to develop the resources to benefit the population it governs, then it’s simply doing it’s job.  No one ever told me, “Don’t spend money.”  They always told me to spend it wisely.  Therefore, I see this argument as just plain silly.  If you have a house, you must spend money to pay for repairs.  However, it’s also a good idea to work on keeping it updated because, as most people know, that money usually increases the market value of your home (at least in a good economy).  In my opinion, spending money on environmental development is the same thing: making a good investment in our state, one that will pay off, financially in terms of tourism and hunting and improved land for farming, later on.  Given the environmental mess in the western part of the state, I think that it is time to do something, and quickly.

The argument about prioritizing spending on the environment over other things is a red herring because the problem is not with the measure but our legislature.  It’s pretty obvious that the legislature doesn’t value environmental development over other things…it just doesn’t seem to value much development at all.  When all this oil money started rolling in, why didn’t the legislature start putting money into infrastructure that was badly needed in the western part of the state?  What happened to the special session they were going to call to deal with it?  There is the possibility they will do that in the next biennium, but it’s almost guaranteed that they won’t do anything for the environment, even if they do manage to find it within themselves to do something about the infrastructure mess out west.

The third point: it’s being driven by out of state interests!  Except that all of the money being spent will be under the advisement of the Industrial Commission.  Those out of state folks are asking us to give money to OUR OWN governing bodies and, with input from some of OUR OWN citizens, spend that money on our own state.  Yep, that’s what those evil folks out of state are pushing for.  Hello?!  This is the industrial commission we’re talking about.  Do you really think that the three people on the commission really are die-hard tree-huggers who want to save owls and pheasants above all else?  (Do you even know who is on the industrial commission?!)  If anything, I think it’s brilliant because you know they’re going to put the money in places that will hopefully both benefit the farmers and hunters and tourism in the state…while also helping the environment.  The industrial commission, if anything, has been far more likely to kowtow to out-of-state oil companies than the likes of the nature conservancy.  (ETA: if they’re so concerned about out-of-state interests, then the fact that over twice as much funding has come from Big Oil interests should be a big deal…but it’s not mentioned at all.)

The last point is a lot of scare-mongering.  Again, we’re talking about the industrial commission making the decision on how it’s spent.  Are they really going to take land out of production?  I think not.  Further, it is simply wrong because the state has laws to prevent this that were put in place to prevent large-scale corporate farming.  We’re protected on that front.  If anything, I’ve heard things about the possibility of a state-run CRP-style program, something that some of my own family members really liked.  There are also a lot of other possibilities on this front.  For one thing, maybe some of this money may go into funding research on more environmentally-friendly methods of farming.  I think the argument against this is that because they don’t know how the money is spent, it’s going to be spent to take our land away.  In reality, the way the money is spent is unrestricted and potentially allows for a lot of creative, synergystic activities between conservationists, farmers, and sportsmen.  That is really the point, isn’t it?  If we mandate spending now, how do we know that it will be appropriated to the right places ten years from now?

None of these arguments makes a lot of sense to me, and the opposition arguments strike me simply as a knee-jerk reaction to anything with the label “environmental.”  That’s sad because knee-jerk reactions don’t enable us to take care of business properly, and our state is desperately in need of some investment into its future.

Wordless Wednesday: Critters October 15, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in photography.
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Not every race can be a good race October 14, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in Fargo, running.
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Earlier this year, I had this crazy idea that I should participate in a race every month during the second half of the year.  I came up with this idea before I realized that August and September are usually pretty bad months for me due to asthma.  Nevertheless, I’ve been sticking it out, and I ran a 10K this past weekend as part of that self-challenge.

It was a lovely morning, though rather cool.  The sun was shining, there was no wind.  I had my hat/balaclava thing to keep my face covered.  I feel like Sub Zero or Kitana from Mortal Combat when I’m wearing that.  There are other better masks out there…but those make the wearer look like Bane.  Either way, you can’t win, but at least I was prepared.

It was grueling.  The run took place along some of Fargo’s most lovely trails, but I was still having difficulty with my asthma.  The problem when you’re having a tough time breathing is that it’s awfully hard to concentrate on the scenery, but I did as well as I could.  I also was feeling sluggish, which I attribute to lack of pre-race banana.  Still, I made it through.  While I was hoping to cut about 4 min. from my previous 10k time, it was only about a third of that.  Still, I got done and actually felt really good the rest of the day and suffered none of the ‘racer mortis’ that plagues me after a 10+ mile run.  Despite the fact that it was a hard run, I did show signs of improvement and I didn’t feel awful the rest of the weekend.

The truly disappointing thing about this race, though, was that there was almost nothing I could eat at the end.  The available food included biscuits, cookie dough, chicken noodle soup, and chocolate milk.  Wheat and dairy.  No bananas!

I’d never been at a race before without bananas.  It broke my heart.  I looked like the purple guy here:

I also don’t handle milk very well but chanced it by taking a couple swallows before throwing out the remainder of the carton.  (And yes, it was the best chocolate milk I’ve ever had.  Anything you have after a race is always the best you’ve ever had.)

I was incredibly disappointed that I couldn’t eat the cookie dough.  I’ve never wanted cookie dough that badly.  I’ve decided for future races that I’m going to try to make my own and bring it along.  That way, if there are no bananas, I’ll have something to eat.  And if there’s no cookie dough, then everyone else will be purple with envy.

Extra-dimensional conversations October 13, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in physics, science, younger son.
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The younger son occasionally has band lessons after school.  Recently, I picked him up and he said that his band teacher hadn’t been in her office when he was supposed to have his lesson.  The next comment surprised me.

You know, in an alternative universe, I forgot my instrument but she was in her office.  And then there’s other universes where I had my instrument and she was in her office and others where I forgot my instrument AND she wasn’t in the office.

Apparently he has combinatorics licked.

I was somewhat surprised at this response, so I asked him what he knew about other universes.

Not much.  I just know you use wormholes to get between them.

I responded that wormholes are supposed to transport you across time and space, but wasn’t sure if the strict physics definition allowed for travel outside of our universe.

Mom, wormholes transport you across dimensions!

This made me wonder if he knew about M-theory.  When I asked him what he knew about higher dimensions, he said,

Well, they’re really similar.  But after a short time, you notice differences.

I was confused, but he continued.

And some dimensions have aliens and some don’t.

Ah!  His definition of higher dimensions was basically an alternate universe.  He was working with the ‘sci-fi definition.’  I needed to change terminology, as we obviously were discussing two different things with the same word, so I said the world we live in has three spatial dimensions and time as the fourth dimension.

Time is a dimension?!

He understood and explained the concept of two dimensional space and then three dimensional space, but he was perplexed about time as a dimension.  My explanation was that you can move through time, but only forward.  With the spatial dimensions, you can move forward and backward, left and right.

I think I blew his mind at that point, so I figured we’d drop it and move on to Calabi Yau spaces another time.  In the meantime, I’m trying to decide if I should introduce him to Abbot’s Flatland.

Science makes you a slob October 8, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in grad school, research.
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I’ve been trying to work through a problem, and it’s one of those things that’s taking up all my brain power.  Unfortunately, it’s turned me into a slob.

I woke up this morning and made myself breakfast and tea.  I went and got dressed.  Then I sat down and forgot pretty much everything.  (I remembered to eat, so there’s that.)  When my reminder went off that I needed to pick the younger son up from school, I realized that the table was full of mail and dishes, I was still wearing the sweatpants I’d thrown on in a hurry, I still was wearing my glasses, and my hair hadn’t been brushed.

Unfortunately, I also still hadn’t solved my problem.  That bothered me far more than the other stuff, but not by much.

Confessions of a really slow and often achy runner October 2, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in running.
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This month marks three years since I started running.  In May of 2011, I walked a 10k with older son with very little training, and we had great fun doing it.  This was already a big step for me because when I had moved back from Minneapolis the previous year, I’d been having so many problems with asthma and my health in general that I was walking about 2 miles per hour.  That’s all the faster I could go.  After a year of training, I was up to 3 miles per hour.  While that’s a huge improvement, I wanted to be able to go faster, so I started looking on the internet for training plans.

There was a couch-to-5k app, so I figured I could be done with that by Christmas and then start on the 5k to 10k bridge app and be ready to go for next year.  Three weeks into the couch-to-5k app, I started having awful knee pain.  I went into the doctor, and it was basically tendonitis.  They suggested that I not run, just walk.  I was angry when I left.

I didn’t know what to do, so I sat around for a week.  Then I decided to try again and found my knees didn’t hurt.  So early on in this process, my body and I had a talk: we agreed that my body does pretty much what I want it to, and I don’t push it very hard and give lots of rest time.  So when I started having aches and pains after another two weeks in the couch-to-5k, I took another week off.  All told, it took me twelve weeks to do a 9 week program.  I later heard of people who do every week twice.

I realized very early on that most training plans are not going to work for me and that my body needs a lot more rest than most people.  Even when training to do half marathons, I do not run more than three times per week and very often I will only run twice per week.  I always give myself two days of rest after any run that is longer than six miles.  I also give myself two weeks between runs that are longer than eight miles.  In the winter, I don’t run outside if it’s below 20 degrees: I can’t warm myself up enough to make running comfortable, and my asthma acts up.  I use the treadmill for short runs and run at an indoor track for long runs.  (Fortunately, the local high schools have tracks that are open to the public during the winter.)  I’ve found that I don’t really progress well on the treadmill, but it at least keeps my cardio stable.

I know that a lot of people would look at that and scratch their heads, probably saying they’d never progress on a schedule like that.  Maybe not, but I guess I would amend that to say that they would not progress very quickly.  A year after I walked the 10k, I did it again and ran the whole thing.  My pace was 16.5 min/mile and I cut 20 minutes off my time.  I also developed tendonitis in my ankle and had to get custom orthotics.

Shortly after that, I found out about the Jeff Galloway run/walk method.  The following year, I used the run/walk method with a 1:1 ratio of running to walking.  I cut another 15 minutes off my time and dropped my pace to 14 min/mile.

After that, I decided to try doing a half marathon.  That was incredibly trying.  First, I made the mistake of using Jeff Galloway’s ‘magic mile’ in the middle of my training.  I discovered my pace had improved enough to go to a 2:1 running/walking split.  Between that and buying a completely different brand of shoe, I gave myself shin splints.  I have discovered that changing time splits, at least for me, should be done very gradually.  I also discovered that I was better off doing very different splits for my long runs versus my short runs.  When I did my first half marathon this summer, I walked 1:30 for every minute I ran.  I gradually shortened that up for the second half marathon so that I walked 1:15 for every minute run.  I am currently in the process of dropping that ratio by 5 seconds per month on the walking side.  By next spring, I will be at the same ratio for my short runs: walk 30 seconds for every minute run.

During this process, I found out that I have to pay attention to fueling.  If you run as slow as I do, it takes a LONG time to finish a half marathon, and I discovered what bonking was.  I also found out that I needed more rugged orthotics to handle the longer runs.  Finally, I found out that I need a month between races.  I considered doing another half marathon next weekend, but I realized this week that I’m not fully recovered from my previous half marathon.  When I run, I run at whatever pace is comfortable.  I find that when I’m feeling well, I run faster.  When I’m not, such as this week because I’m still recovering from the half marathon I ran a week and a half ago, my pace just naturally drops.  I actually ran a 5k at a slower pace yesterday than I ran a half-marathon a week and a half before, and that was after a week of just walking to help myself recover.

I promised not to push myself too hard, and pace and achiness are both really good ways to tell how I’m doing.

Admittedly, a lot of my progression is probably due to discovering that I have celiac disease and going on a gluten-free diet two years ago.  However, I went from a pace of 30 minutes per mile four years ago to under 13 minutes/mile now.  I also managed to drop by resting heart rate by nearly 20 bpm, which is a good indicator of how much better I’m doing.

It’s agonizingly slow…probably too slow for most people to do keep it up.  The running improvements are like a house remodel: they take a while and involve at least a little planning.  :)  The time improvements are just a benefit, though.  I found that I really enjoy running, particularly as a form of stress relief.  I used to try to convince myself to run because I wanted to be healthy.  After a couple weeks, though, I found that I didn’t have to convince myself because I really enjoyed having time to myself and, more importantly, I noticed how much calmer I felt when doing it.  I am not running to get faster: I’m running to feel better, and when you do something because it feels good, it’s easy to want to keep doing it.  That’s probably the only reason I’ve managed to keep it up over three years, even with a lot of achy, sore days.

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.


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


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


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


He started to ooze over the keyboard a bit.


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


Then a paw creeped up beside the first one.


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


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.


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