Thursday, January 31, 2013

Something to Talk About

Here are some tidbits from conversations I have participated in this week:

While at dinner:
Friend: I am the Korihor of dating!
Friend 2: You are trying to win people over on to your side.
Friend 3: "And when they were married, that was the end thereof."

About a friend's impeccable sense of style.
Friend: DG, you either dress like a prep or a thug.  Why is that?
DG: Like a thug?
Me: You wore a knit cap the other day.
DG: It was cold outside!
Me: We were inside.  And it was perfectly situated on your head.  I am never sure if you know how perfectly you dress or not.  Is it planned or...?
DG: Me trying too hard?
Me: Well, I wasn't going to say it but...
DG: Yep, I'm definitely trying too hard.

At work:
Me: So, there's gas leaking right outside our window.
Colleague: Is this a problem?
Me: I was just wanting to let you guys know in case you didn't know about it already.  I wondered if it was related to the leak you had earlier this week.
Lab Manager: No, that was coolant leaking.  You say, this is gas leaking?
Me: Yep.  I noticed it on Monday but we just opened our windows and I realized that it's still going so I thought I should let you know.
Lab Manager: The compressor room exhausts gas into the atmosphere after an experiment.  It is probably just the noise of that echoing off the building.
Me:  Hmm...except that this week is the first time I've heard it and you've run the experiment many times before.
Lab Manager: I was hoping you wouldn't notice that flawed logic.  I'll go check it out.

At home:
Linds: You have a big box outside your door.
Me: Yep, I ordered something.  It's probably just that.
<I lug it inside>
Me: It's paper.  Wait, this is all paper?
Linds: Looks like it.
Me: I didn't realize I ordered so much. 5000 sheets?
Linds: Didn't you notice it when you bought it?
Me: Well, no, I assumed it was just a ream.
Linds: Isn't there a significant price difference between one ream and all of that?
Me: Isn't paper expensive?
Linds: How expensive are you talking?
<we look up my order>
Me: Oops. I really did just order an order of magnitude more paper than I wanted.  Oh no!  My poor mailman!  He lugged this thing all the way down here just for me to return it!
[We returned the paper in-store and Linds told the manager the whole story so that he could laugh at my blunder too.  It made his night.]

Here's something awesome: Gershwin playing Gershwin.  It's a different version than how he recorded it later but it's really jazzy and downright inspiring. (nod to Austin for sharing it with me)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Have you ever read House of Mirth?

I'm only a third of the way through the book so there will be no spoilers, I promise.  

Anyway, from page one of this book, my heart has been bleeding for the main character, Lily Bart.  She's "twenty nine and unmarried in a society and connection where those who have failed to get married are simply those who have failed to get a man."  Wait, wrong book but similar idea.

She's been out (in the nineteenth century sense) for 11 seasons and has yet to land herself a rich husband.  At this point, I haven't heard too much about her previous 11 years of conquests (except that she was in love only once).  However, we are immediately thrown into her current state and dilemmas accompanying them.

While reading this book, I often think, "Lily and I are the same person!"

Reading it last night, though, I stopped myself.  "The same person how?!"

Lily is a poor girl, yes, but she was raised as a rich debutante in fashionable and extravagant New York Society in the early 1900's.

Sure, she's around 30 and unmarried, but she is more concerned about her future husband having a fat bank book rather than any other important qualities.

And then, the husband of her friend handed over a check for five hundred dollars and suddenly wanted to be all chummy with her.  I'm being generous in my description of chummy.  I really mean, he would have had no qualms about breaking any of his marital vows if Lily even so much as encouraged him a little.

All of that gave me the biggest pause.  Five hundred dollars in 1905?  Having an affair with a married man?  I gasp in shock at how different our situations are.

And yet, the underlying issues are still there, those issues that have me feeling a bond to this character: She's torn between obligations and expectations of the society she lives in with her own desires and impulses for happiness and freedom.  But do you reconcile the two when you don't have the means, when you're living from day-to-day and struggling to keep your head above water?  

I felt her desperation from the very first page.  She's a person who is inwardly anxious and terrified but outwardly, confident and calculating.  Except she keeps making these mistakes that end her in the above blunder .  Instead, I can only hope that she won't give up and will do her very best to rise above her current situation.  

"Don't give up, Er...erm...Lily!  Don't give up...ever!"

Monday, January 28, 2013

Don't Quit Your Day Job

When I was in Japan, I fell in love with the Pilot FriXion pen.  It's a great pen, with a nice ink that writes easily and clearly and is even erasable.

I loved this pen so much that...
(1) I bought several packs of them before I left Japan.
(2) I gave them as a gift for my labmate as his souvenir
(3) When I attended a Tech fair and could choose between a number of cheap gifts, I chose this pen over the free computer keyboard they were handing out.  Ponta was shocked, "You want that pen when you could have a free keyboard?"  I smiled back.  "Yes!  Besides, what would I do with a Japanese keyboard?  I don't need any more luggage to haul back to the US."

I had no idea if they sold them in the US but I wasn't taking any chances.

Turns out they do sell them here but the Japanese design is better (of course it is).  However, I also found out from my internet searching that the pen uses a new type of ink technology that fades with friction. 

The moment I gave one of the US versions of the pens to my labmate and told him about the ink technology, he started laughing, "Oh man, now I just want to see what will happen if we put a heat gun to this."

We work in a lab that happen to have heat guns so we sprinted downstairs to try it out.  It's true!  Disappearing ink!

It's like an awesome spy gadget.  

Except, you can still see what you wrote, even after it's disappeared.

    And what spy carries a heat gun around them to destroy the evidence?

           Wouldn't burning the evidence be just as effective?

Yeah, so no worries about spies trying to buy out all my pens.

Now, I just have to remember not to leave anything I've written out in the summer heat...ever.

Now you see it.  
Now you don't. 
 Except, you can still kind of see it.  (It's much more clear in person)

Friday, January 25, 2013


After days of learning a lot about wiring and breakers, I found the problem behind our other broken pump.  I had flipped a switch in another lab. 

Days of climbing up and down ladders, opening up hatches and breakers, and following every bit of wiring to find that I had simply left a switch on. 

Such is life.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


Last week, my pump broke.  As you know.  But as it turned out, two pumps broke that day.

Since the pump was broken, as our lab tech and I were pulling out the broken laser-cooling pump to prepare it to be shipped back, we asked a colleague to turn off pit pump for us.

"Sure,"  He went over and flipped the switch.

"Uh... That didn't work."  I called up to him.  "The pump is still running!"

He called back down, "I've switched it 'on' and 'off' several times now.  Nothing's working?"

Hmm, the switch must have failed.  We went off in search of the pump's breaker.

My colleague found it and flipped the breaker open.  The pump stopped.

And then the alarm went off.
"What?!  We have an alarm on this pump?"  My colleague and I scratched our heads for a second, but then, the noise annoyed us so much that we went and flipped the breaker open.

We continued to take the broken pump out and shipped it off.

The next day, someone came looking for me.  "The pit pump is still running.  Is there a reason for that?"
"Yeah, we can't turn it off."

This week, my task has been to figure out how to turn off the pit pump.  And it's turned into a bigger headache than expected.  For one, the switch isn't broken.  We tested it, several times.  Secondly, the wires go down into this very long complicated series of conduits and boxes and other breakers.  Of course, none of this is labeled.  Third, I generally have no idea what I'm doing.

Today, I walked into the lab tech's office to give a report, "So, I went and pulled the fuses from the wires we were looking at.  I then tested the two wires up above and the circuit was open.  I flipped the breakers closed and nothing turned on.  So the short is happening on the switch end side of the circuit."

The lab tech nodded and another colleague stared at me in amazement.  "Wow, you sound like you know what you're talking about."

Seventh year of my PhD and what am I doing?

Learning the hard way about what it's like to be an electrician.  Alternate career path?

Maybe so.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Days We Never Saw the Sun

Last night, I had the weirdest dream.  Everyone I knew was living on a series of rocks - let's call them planets.  There we were, speeding through the universe in a fleet of tiny floating islands.

It looked kind of like this: 
 Image from

Sounds adventurous, right?  I spent most of my time in my bathrobe and pajamas eating food in some cafeteria while people came to visit me and tell me how fabulous their lives were and what new islands they had discovered.

 Finally, someone told me I needed to get myself off the big rock.  I looked out at the fleet of still unexplored islands and said, "I miss the sun."

It seems that we were floating in some big orbit but we were behind some really big rock that blocked us from the sun permanently.

Everyone laughed at me.  "Erin, what a silly thing to say!  Our new lives are so exciting.  Why would you miss something as silly as that?"

But I looked out at the dark, gray, rocks without any kind of growth on them and my heart hurt.  So, I continued to sit in my bathrobe, eating bowls of rice while people came and told me of their adventures.  The people who traveled the furthest out before returning to tell me of their tales got more of my attention.

"Is there an island that I can see earthrise?"  I asked, somewhat hopefully.  They all shrugged.
 Image taken by Apollo 8 Crew, 1968.  Image from

Somehow the hope of seeing earthrise at least was enough for me to venture back into normal life.  I got ready to go and packed my bags and asked how I could get to the farthest island.  My friends were excited to see me taking some steps for myself but when I told them I was going out there to see if I could see the sun or the earth, they stuck me on a tour bus/spacecraft instead.  The tour gave you a fun view of all the islands and stopped several times to laugh at the absurdity of a place with trees and grass.

Their laughs just hurt me more though.  I was homesick and I just wanted to go back.

But for some reason, we couldn't go back and so my friends kept trying to convince me it was for the best.

It was a very sad dream.

I woke up, grateful for the sun and the earth in ways I never thought about before.  Funny, huh?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Survey Says

Today, in English class, we discussed how teachers in schools think that students' ability to significantly changing due to our daily use of technology.

It was inspired by this article from the New York Times. Essentially, the article said this: a survey that went to schools around the country, teachers everywhere regardless of teaching experience and age felt that students were requiring more and more entertaining to stay engaged in the classroom.  The teachers all felt that this was due to digital technology. 

From the article:

"The surveys also found that many teachers said technology could be a useful educational tool. In the Pew survey, which was done in conjunction with the College Board and the National Writing Project, roughly 75 percent of 2,462 teachers surveyed said that the Internet and search engines had a “mostly positive” impact on student research skills. And they said such tools had made students more self-sufficient researchers.
But nearly 90 percent said that digital technologies were creating “an easily distracted generation with short attention spans.”
Similarly, of the 685 teachers surveyed in the Common Sense project, 71 percent said they thought technology was hurting attention span “somewhat” or “a lot.” About 60 percent said it hindered students’ ability to write and communicate face to face, and almost half said it hurt critical thinking and their ability to do homework."
Surveys are kind of fascinating things for me.  When I'm asked to evaluate a product, I usually get the following options: extremely dissatisfied, very dissatisfied, somewhat dissatisfied, neutral, somewhat satisfied, very satisfied, extremely satisfied.

When I read the internet has a "mostly positive" effect, I instantly see a lot of teachers marking the "somewhat satisfied" box.  It's not a good thing.  It's just better than a neutral thing.  That's not saying much.

Likewise, the difference between "somewhat" and "a lot" are pretty different as well.  It's the difference between a happy customer and an "eh" customer.

Then again, I'll just trust that the people who did the survey ran through all the statistical information to make sure it's significant.  We know stats aren't my forte.

On another slightly related note, one of my English students told me she liked me hair but told me that statistically women cut their hair when they go through a break up.  And also that statistically older women like their hair short. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Snow Days

This is what snow looks like in Virginia when it's reduced to little more than frost and you take such a picture that it kind of makes the world look white. 

It's all about presentation. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sweet Thursday

You can't follow up a bad Tuesday without a Sweet Thursday thanks to John Steinbeck.

These are the things that made my day sweet:

(1) I actually am starting to sleep normal hours again and I wake up without a cough.

(2) I talked with Noda-san in my lab today and found that while I was in Japan, my reputation preceded me.  He kept hearing about me from different sources before he actually ran into me again.  As Noda-san put it, "Hearing about an American girl visiting Kakuda Space Center from the University of Virginia suddenly made my world feel very small."  I love having someone to talk with about Sendai and Japan.  It keeps my world small too.

(3) flumpool.  I heart them.  And they now have a music video where they sing in Chinese.  I'm in love.

(4) SNOW!  I loved every minute of it.

(5) I attended a seminar today - yep, despite all the setbacks, I'm still in the right field.  Engineering is pretty awesome.

(6) I went to the bookstore and a friend even came to meet me to help me pick out books for another friend.  While there, we found a 2013 calendar of the world's most eligible bachelor royalties and we couldn't NOT buy it (for a friend of course)  (I promise, not for me)  (But yes, I did give it to a good friend who I plan on seeing a lot of this year)

How hilarious is this?  On sale at  (Images from

(7) I visited with a few friends who I haven't seen in a while.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Lousy Tuesday

Dear Lab,

"Nothing can stop me from running tomorrow," I said.  I should have known better than to tempt you like that.  You like nothing better than to prove me wrong.  Just ignore the fact that I've replaced/repaired/cleaned/maintained every possible thing that I can.  Ignore the fact that I've given you almost seven years of my life.  Go ahead and break that new pump of yours.  Go right ahead.  It's not like I want to get data and graduate or anything.  

Not Love,

Monday, January 14, 2013


For the past five days, I've woken up in the early hours coughing.  I crawl out of bed, go take more medicine, grab a cough drop and then settle down back to sleep.  The nine or ten hours of sleep I'm getting a night aren't helping and I walk around all day, exhausted.  My tongue is swollen from the cough drops.  My lungs hurt, my throat hurts and even my back hurts from my racking cough. 

"This is normal," my friends tell me.  "All my friends who got the flu this year have been this sick for several weeks."

How did they get better?  I plead for answers. 

"Oh, they take the cough medicine I gave you to take." 

It's not working.  Or I'm not working. 

In any case, I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Gnome

I still haven't come up with a good nickname for Niece No.2.  I wanted to call her Dobby because she has the cutest little long legs ever and you just want to put a sock on and free that little house elf.  But her Dad vetoed that idea.  So, until, I figure it out, we'll call her The Gnome. 

Here are some pics of her and me.  Isn't she the most adorable thing ever?

She has this adorable habit of loving to cuddle.  She just settles her head on your chest and is the most content little being.  It's wonderful. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

New Smells

Apparently the word for news in Chinese - 新聞 (xinwen) means 'new smell'.  This baffles me since the character for smell is an ear at a door.  Wouldn't that indicate 'hear'? Or at least 'eavesdrop'? 

But this post is not about my confusion of the Chinese language - rather it is about the News.

Since English class starts up again next week, I thought it would be time to venture back into the world beyond my lab.  Here are the things that caught my eye:

Should we let steroid users into the Baseball Hall of Fame?  Is there a moral line to draw when we've let in blatant racists, drug users, and sex addict?  (NYTimes Sports) Apparently, yes, there is a distinction between being immoral professionally and being immoral personally. 

Does religion have a negative impact on the lives of children?  (NYTimes Room for Debate) Interesting, short read but I'm not convinced to raise my children without religion.  

'Vandal' who defaced Picasso's painting in a Houston museum turned himself in.  (BBC News) Why the quote around the word vandal?  The man who defaced the painting claims it was a political move.

Which led me to the story of a man who defaced a Rothko painting in Europe.  (BBC News) 'Yellowism' is an interesting motive for vandalizing a painting.  What the heck is 'yellowism' anyway?  ('Yellowism' "defined") Is anyone as confused as I am?  It seems we reduce all paintings deemed worthy of 'yellowist' to simply being 'yellow' and nothing more.

Does listening to classical music make our kids smarter?  (BBC Future) Nope.  Apparently your origami skills are improved by listening to anything that you enjoy and it's effect only lasts 15 minutes.

Girl Trafficking in India (BBC News) Yes, it's as tragic and sad as it sounds.  And it's only a small portion of the problem with an obvious gap in gender birth rates.

The latest in Google and China's interesting relationship (BBC News) Google has stopped putting up nice warnings to users noting them that they are looking up censored words.  Apparently, it's just a big headache because China changes censorship all the time (no kidding!).  Google now just transfers all mainland searches to its Hong Kong sites.

In other news, my pump now works!  I was worried that I broke it yesterday when we hooked up the wires incorrectly and blew the system out.  And then I was worried that I broke it when I was putting it back together and the metal casing sparked and shut it down.  Now that I think about, I should probably have counted my blessings that I didn't electrocute myself in the process.  But my concern was only for my pump.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

One of those Faces

Last week, a few friends and I were talking about how weird it would be to have people who aren't related to you who look just like you.  Except about three seconds into agreeing with my friends, I stopped.

"Wait a minute!  This happens to me all the time." 

There was one week when I was a missionary that I was asked three or four times if I was the person they thought I was.  One even insisted that I had lived in New York state.  "Are you absolutely sure that you didn't live in New York?"  As though I would have forgotten that fact myself if they didn't remind me.  "No, I'm absolutely certain I have never lived in New York."  "Wow, I was so sure that it was you.  It must have been someone else." 

One time, while visiting Monticello, one of the ladies in the gift shop asked how track was going.  I looked at her slightly confused and she apologized. "Oh!  Are you not the girl who is on the UVa track team?"  This was a compliment I was ready to take.  "No, but thank you for thinking that I look like the type of person who could run track."  She didn't seem to pick up on my enthusiasm and kindly continued, "You just look so much like her.  I would have thought for sure it was you."

And then, of course, one cannot forget my verbally awkward experience in which some woman came up to me in church and told me that I looked so much like her daughter that she thought I was she.  I just awkwardly stood there, unsure how to comfort her that her daughter didn't come to surprise her at church on Christmas.  So, another daughter, who looked nothing like me, jumped in to dispel the awkwardness, "What did you expect?  For her to show up and sit with another family?" 

Yesterday, I was at the mall and paused while walking through one of the department stores to look at UVA apparel when an attendant looked at me, "Oh, you've come here before!"  I looked back her, trying to recognize her face.  It had been at least a year since I'd been in this store but maybe she just has a really good memory?  "Yes, I have."  I responded, still not sure where this was going.  "You came in last time wearing a backpack."  I thought about the backpack that I always carry and wondered if I had ever come to this store with it.  Confusion must have been evident because she jumped in,  "Oh, it must not be you.  Well, you look just like the person who came in.  She was a very impressive woman.  She had been living out in the woods for an entire year by herself!"  I suddenly felt guilty for looking at non-necessary apparel as she told me the story about my doppelganger whose house that she was living in had been sold by her landlords right out from under her and how she had been forced to live in a tent.  "She's kind of my hero,"  the attendant explained.  "I look up to her a lot."  And apparently, I looked just like her.  "Wow," I agreed.  "She does sound like an amazing woman."  I tried to imagine living in the woods in a tent for a year. 

The lives that people with my face lead!  I kind of wonder - if I were to meet them face to face, would I really see someone who looks like me?  Or do people just see in me what they want to see? 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Can't Turn Back Now

I got my haircut today.  It was long overdue.

And since it was so long overdue, I went a bit extreme and chopped it all off.  Then I got haircut remorse when I took a picture and realized I looked like a guy.

And then my camera broke.

I don't know what's wrong.  The app on the phone just doesn't work anymore.

So I pulled out the camera on my computer and just about went to town.

You can see it for yourself.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Up Close

The world today is grey and dreary and uninviting.  So, on my walk into work, I stopped and took pictures of things that caught my eye.

I've changed my mind.  The world is beautiful today.