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The Fellowship of the Relay May 12, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in Fargo, older son, running.
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Those of you who have followed my blog for a while know that I enjoy running.  Or I used to.

I lost my motivation.

Part of that is because the older son got a job with very odd hours.  Because he does not yet have a driver’s license, Mike and I have been taking turns getting up at obnoxiously early hours to take him.  Then I went on a trip to a conference.  Then we all got sick.

The list goes on and on.  The result is that I found it nearly impossible to run except right before bed…and running right before bed has this tendency to keep me awake all. night. long.

However, back in December or January, when I was motivated, a friend and I began talking about doing a relay for the Fargo Marathon.  Then we found out there was a costume contest with the relay.  Well, obviously we had to do it!  If you’d like the full details, you can visit Kari’s blog and check out her post: How to be the biggest geek at the marathon.

We chose Lord of the Rings as our theme, and I got to be a Hobbit.  Except I was a hobbit with calf sleeves.  (Don’t you wonder if Frodo and company would’ve gone faster if they’d had compression sleeves and a great pair of running shoes?  And headphones?  Definitely headphones would’ve helped.)



The beginning, of course, was packed.


This is what it looked like until the 10k turned off from the route, at which point, it became very sparse.  I suspect that’s because I was running in the opposite direction of most of the marathoners, almost all of whom are much faster than I am.  I have to admit that I would like to do the relay again just because I won’t have to dodge around so many people.

Unlike most of my team, I apparently was more confusing than anything in my costume.  No one yelled, “Go Frodo!” or, “Destroy the Ring!”  Perhaps I needed a wig?  Anyway, most people apparently are unfamiliar with hobbits, and the fuzzy feet only added to their confusion.  I did ask someone if they knew where Mt. Doom was, but they just said, “Huh?” and shook their head.

The one person who did recognize me was (Danny) Elvis.  I didn’t get a chance to take a picture of him because I was too busy high-fiving him.  After I ran past, he announced, “Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we have the One Ring right here at the 2014 Fargo Marathon.”  I’m really happy that Elvis is a geek, too.


Once we were together in a group, I became recognizable.  This is a pic of our team at the hand-off between Legolas and Gimli, who was kind enough to take a break from his gig with ZZ Top. (Anyone else have “Cheap Sunglasses” running through their head?  I thought so.)

After Legolas, Gimli, and myself finished our respective relay legs, we went downtown for some free munchies.  Apparently all the marathoners beat us there, too.


Even the street fair isn’t that packed.

While waiting for Gandalf (have you noticed he always shows up at the last minute?), we decided to get out of the heat and took a stop at the Prancing Pony Atomic Coffee.  I’m sure the usual patrons were thinking that the place had gone downhill since they were starting to let dwarves and other unsavory folk in.


Finally, Gandalf came in and we raced to the finish line together to receive our medals…half an hour before they closed the course down.  One thing I learned is that quests can take a long time, and Peter Jackson really glossed over that particular aspect.

Either way, we all had a lot of fun and are already planning for next year’s race.  Better yet, I think I’ve found my motivation again.


The Brain Drain March 22, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, Fargo, grad school, research, science, societal commentary.
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Yesterday, I was getting into my car when I noticed something on my windshield.


My neighbor had seen the article about me in yesterday’s paper and left me a message about it.  In fact, it hit three of major newspapers in the state. (If you care to read it, one copy is located here.)

When I was asked by the public relations person at NDSU if she could feature my research as part of an effort to promote the supercomputing facilities on campus, I was certainly glad to do so.  First, from a simply pragmatic point of view, it’s not a good idea to bite the hand that feeds you.  (Although, to be honest, they have a lot of other projects they could’ve featured.)  Second, and more important in my mind, is that this type of thing counters some of the negative attitude about the state universities in the western part of the state.

People from out of state (probably the 4 of my 5 readers) are probably not aware that there is a bit of a divide in state politics, and it can be roughly framed by drawing a vertical line down the center of the state.  The eastern part of the state has the major universities and sees the benefits of having them.  The western part of the state thinks the universities are sucking all of their hard-earned money, and worse yet – children, away from them.

Growing up in the 80s and 90s all I heard about was the ‘brain drain’ that the state was suffering: all of those bright, hard-working, born-in-North-Dakota kids were being educated at a low cost and then leaving the state.  The people in the western part of the state seemed to think we just ought not to spend so much money educating them.  I don’t think they understood that the likely result of that would not be to prevent brain drain but to accelerate it as those students would end up leaving for colleges out of state.  On the other hand, the eastern part of the state was asking for more and more money to fund already seriously underfunded universities which were teaching a lot more kids than they could realistically accommodate.  And we won’t even talk about research.  The universities are supposed to be there to serve the students from the state…what does research have to do with anything?

I was one of those kids that left straight out to go to college, and I really had no intention of returning.  I wanted to do research, and I knew that coming out of high school.  I knew that because I’d gotten involved in research through a state-sponsored program at NDSU as a high school student, and I also knew that I likely couldn’t do what I wanted here.  And why should I, when I could go someplace better?

If you fast forward to about 2000 (when I came back to return to school), there were some significant changes happening.  Great Plains software was bought out by Microsoft, making it the second largest Microsoft campus in the world.  There were companies in town doing engineering.  There was a way to stay in North Dakota with a technical degree.  And about that same time, NDSU started to make some aggressive moves to increase the size and reputation of its campus.

In the past ten years (even before the oil boom in the western part of the state), this significantly slowed the population loss the state was suffering.  However, the western part of the state was still shrinking, and this was probably aggravating the divide.  The eastern part of the state is right, though, IMO.  If you want to keep people from leaving, you need to find a way to create jobs, and not just any jobs: they have to be jobs that bright, educated people will want to do.  Universities are very often centers of creativity and entrepreneurship, and so bringing in more money to the universities will likely do a lot to create jobs and businesses.  Bright, educated people will start businesses to hire those that may not necessarily have the advanced degrees but are still hard workers.  The state is finally starting to see that, and they’re also using some of the money from the oil and gas taxes to create incentives for businesses to operate here.

Going back to the article, I was excited to do this as I see this as a way to communicate to the skeptics that the universities are good for the state.  Here is a project that I would likely have to do somewhere else if it weren’t for the fact that we have the facilities here and they are easily accessible.  Part of the reason I think my research was featured is not only the coolness factor, but the fact that I’m a native of the state and one of the people who, ostensibly, you don’t want leaving for a better job elsewhere.  So yes, the universities are doing something to keep people here, even if not in the western part of the state.  (On the other hand, it sounds like they have more people there now than they really know what to do with, which is another story altogether.)

My only disappointment in all this is that my hometown paper, the Bismarck Tribune, didn’t run the story.  I can’t help but wonder if that is a result of the fact that the divide still obviously exists.

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Most beautiful hydrograph in years March 20, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in Fargo, geology, science.
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6 pictures meme: North Dakotans March 8, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in Fargo.
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This showed up on Facebook.  Since all of you are not friends with me there, I had to put it here.  (If you can’t read it, click on it to make it bigger.)


Wordless Wednesday: Faux Cats March 6, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in Fargo, photography, younger son.
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FCIWYPSC: Now much warmer March 4, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in Fargo, geology.
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Posting is going to be (and has been sporadic) because I’m traveling right now.  As you may have guessed, I’m a much more southerly part of the US.  Tucson, to be specific.  It’s been about a decade since I’ve been in this neck of the woods, and I have to admit that being here again has made me realize how much I don’t miss it.

For starters, it was about 70 degrees warmer here than in Fargo.  Blech.  We finally got a decent amount of snow up in Fargo, and I have to spend the week wallowing in the heat while the most opportune time for some skiing this winter melts away.  (I know it’s amazing, but some people really do like snow.)  I have also realized that I simply can’t handle heat due to my acclimation to northern climates…especially leaving in the cold to someplace unseasonably warm.

I can also tell I belong on the plains because I really notice when there isn’t any grass.  I’m in a desert, so there’s lots of plant life, but there’s no grass.  Six foot tall grass is fine.  Six foot tall bushes and cacti…not so much.  It just feels wrong.  I find this odd, though, as one of my favorite activities when living in California was to go camping and stargazing at Joshua Tree.  I guess it’s been so long that it’s hard to think about now.

The up side to being here is that I really do enjoy the view of mountains, and I’m hoping to get a chance to go out at least once and check out the view.  As we were flying in, the geologist in me was doing flips at seeing layers in the mountainsides.

So…any suggestions of things I should do or see while I’m here (other than sit at the conference)?  Short duration activities are preferred.

In the middle February 26, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in Fargo, personal.
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It’s hard living in Fargo…and not because of the weather.

When I was a kid living in the western part of ND and the eastern part of MT, there were a lot of things that were different.  I really like small towns because people know each other and are always willing to help each other out (except for a few ornery people).  It was easy to get certain foods like unhomogenized milk or fresh eggs (and usually a lot cheaper than the organic eggs and, if I can even find it, unhomogenized milk that I try to buy now). And there’s pretty much no commute.  Of course, it was hard to get other things (like pretty much everything else), the standard of living was not as nice, and the conservative mindset drives me nuts.  Oh yeah…and the schools weren’t all that great.

On the other hand, I really hate living in big cities.  I hate commuting; it’s stressful and sucks the energy from me. I have horrible asthma even when the smog is at the lowest levels.  In fact, it took over a year before I could breathe normally after moving back from Minneapolis.  People are rude and inconsiderate.  But then I miss certain things like some of the cultural events, cool stores (I’m sorry – I’m a diehard Trader Joes fan), and being closer to other things I like.  (I lived in the northern suburbs of Minneapolis and Los Angeles, and there were some real beautiful parks and other places within a couple hours drive.)

Living in Fargo is difficult because it has just enough culture to want to stay but not enough that you don’t miss some of the other things.  It feels like a small town because the people are still friendly, and on many occasions, I’ve been helped by strangers when an emergency struck.  However, some of the perks of small town life aren’t available.

I don’t feel like I really want to live in a small town, but nor do I want to live in the city.  Fargo is a nice compromise, but I feel like I enjoy living here because I don’t want to suck it up and either move to the country or the big city.

Wordless Wednesday: Hoarfrost makes North Dakota winters beautiful February 8, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in Fargo, photography, younger son.
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The elements quilts September 16, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in science.
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Several local quilters started a project making a periodic table out of several quilts.  The artists have a website that shows the quilt pieces representing each element, along with an explanation.

The quilts will be on display at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead until November 13th.  Additionally, there will be a program about the quilt on Sunday from 2-5 p.m.

After looking through the project, I have to say that my favorites were Helium and Cesium.  Both were very pretty while conveying the idea.  (That, and Cesium had some major bling going on.)  I was also very amused by Arsenic, given how much I loved the movie Arsenic and Old Lace.

Which elements do you like?

Big red splotch headed toward Fargo April 10, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in Fargo.
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The river hit a crest of about 38.75 feet yesterday and has dropped 0.2 feet overnight.  Unfortunately, it’s looking like we’re going to get some rain (the red blob to the southwest is headed right for us).  Supposedly this won’t increase the river level but will keep it at its current level for longer than we’d like.

Additionally, there is a lot of overland flooding in the rest of the county, including Interstate 29.


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