Getting out for a science night

Last week the Morgridge Institute for Research had an open house and some short talks to show off some of their work.  It was one of those high society fancy pants things, where there was a sizable “suggested” donation, but you couldn’t not pay it to go.  Really a mandatory donation.  But that’s okay, I was curious to at least tours the labs and one of the talks was on 3D printing.   As it was technically a fundraiser, there were a lot of suits and graduate students talking about their work.

It’s always interesting to see how well people can explain their scientific work in terms that sufficiently describe it without losing an audience that doesn’t have the same background.  For example, there was a couple of posters and I went to talk to the authors.  One was on MRI deformable registration, which is a big topic in radiation therapy circles these days.  Imaging is very important to know where to treat the tumors, and CT has been the imaging mode of choice.  However, CT still uses radiation to image and is best for bony structures whereas MRI does not use radiation and is good for soft tissues.  The poster was on some imaging subtraction method, and the graduate student was pretty good at explaining it.  (Note: if you ever want to appear smart at these sorts of things, you can always ask “Does the analysis use a Fourier Transform method?”  I know just enough science about things I don’t know to be dangerous. :))

Poster #2 was on near infrared tomography, though that’s about all I understood about it.  This one was explained by a very smart professor who I think must not talk anyone less than a graduate student these days.  I got nothing on that one, except they are looking to incorporate it into mammography.

Then I went to the talks.  One was on a new phosphorescence imaging technique, which unfortunately had a large powerpoint of a  zebrafish embryo that had been cropped to look like the torso of porn star.  I don’t know how no one did not notice that it looked like a pair giant boobs, I can’t believe I am the only juvenile who was sniggering on the inside.  The poster had the same pic, but rotated 90 degrees and it showed the tail, so it really did look like a fish with bulbous eyes–like it should.  There was a talk on giving free cell phones to people in the slums of Rio de Janeiro in exchange for anonymized health info.  So to get the phone to work, you input health data, such as your blood pressure for that day.  Then they would have a collection of health parameters to do studies on, I believe for epigenetics?  Don’t know how I feel about that, even anonymized. The third talk was on 3D printing and that was cool.  They were using stereolithography to make prosthetics.

But the most fun I had was the mini-blimp they had floating around the lab.  It was about 6 feet long and connected to a PlayStation controller and apparently was difficult to control.  I watched other people drive it aimlessly and bump into things.  However, I got the award for best blimp pilot, I could make that blimp do anything.  Anything slowly of course, there is no fast speed for the blimp.  Probably because a) I have a fair amount of experience with a PlayStation controller and b) you just have to empathize.  Become one with the blimp and all that.  Too bad my apartment’s too small, I think it would be fun to have one.

It’s time to make some changes

It appears that Spring is finally coming and I am so glad of less than frigid temperatures.  But yet, for me Spring has always been a bit sad.  This is the time of year when I finally feel the ending of the last cycle and beginning of the next.  When I was in school, I always hated the end of the school year – another summer of nothing to do and little friends to do anything with.  Autumn was the exciting time, of new subjects and new projects.  But I’m switching that up with some new changes.

First, a friend invited me to get a gym membership, as she had just signed up.  Planet Fitness, $10/month, no minimum term, open 24/7.  What a fabulous deal.  Because I didn’t have the kids over past weekend, we went every day at 5:30.  Guess what?  If you go on Easter Sunday at 5:30 am, there are no crowds.  In fact, there’s nobody at all.  It was just the two of us.  But when there are people, it’s nice to see that there are more girls lifting weights.  I love lifting weights, I feel like I’m actually doing something.  And I don’t particularly care that I’m wearing a Dr. Who t-shirt with no makeup and can only chest press a 40 lb. barbell.   I’m so grumpy when I get up but that’s why I have a buddy, and we can both be grumpy, yet accountable to each other.

Then yesterday I went to tutor math to some grade school kids, including my eldest.  There’s a group of seven, and their math skills are in-between grades – not advanced enough to skip a grade, yet getting bored with the current grade.  There’s a curriculum of what looks to be word problems.  But at the same time, it sucks to say, “Yay, kids, you’re advanced!  So here’s more boring work to do.” (For the record, I happen to love word problems myself)  I decided instead that we should do something fun with math, like Sudoko!  It’s basically a logic puzzle with numbers.  We color coded the numbers so they could look for patterns across rows and columns, and every time a kid figured out a number, I had him or her explain to rest of the group the thinking behind it.  They really liked it.

Rowan has complained about the rote memorization they have to do, and I’ve told her that unfortunately, you need to get through all the stuff first before you get to the really cool stuff.  That math is language unlike any other, and it has a beauty and an elegance when you realize what it can explain. . . and predict.  For example, if you were using words to explain what a sphere was without using a synonym like “ball,” it would take a sentence or two.  But the word “sphere” is far more elegant.  And so is 

(4/3) [pi] r3

When I  was working on a software problem some weeks back and finally deduced that the problem was a conversion problem between Cartesian coordinates and Polar coordinates, it was great feeling to match the discrepancy pattern to a formula.  Maybe it was those Martin Gardner math puzzle books that my Dad had around–I used to pore over them.  But the funny thing is, I was never very good at them.  I’m smart, but not always fast.  And I’ve known many people who are wayy smarter than I am.  It’s taken me awhile to accept that I can still offer something.  I have no PhD in math, but I can still show some elementary school kids some cool math tricks.

One thing that has dogged me my whole life is not feeling like I am ready – not ready enough to dance in front of people, not ready enough to write, not ready to work out the way I should work out, not ready to make those dietary changes, not ready to consistently get up a good time, not ready enough to have this much responsibility.  If only I put more time into it, did more research, practiced more – then I’d be ready.  So now I am moving towards just executing.  Not ready?  Then improve the next time, but keep going.  I still feel that panic of oh no, this is going to be awful, because I’m not ready.

I was telling a friend about how introverted I used to be, but now I consider myself an extrovert.  I’m not sure if that’s completely true though.  When I go out, especially alone, I often still have that panic moment, I don’t want to do this, it’s probably going to be terrible, no one will talk to me, because really, what do I have to offer?  Then I make a conscious effort to interpret my anxiety as excitement, and if nothing else, it will be great opportunity to ask some questions and listen.  Because I always need to improve my listening skills, and as much as I am hard on myself, I find other people completely fascinating.  I want to know.  I want to know the truth, the darkness and the suffering and the insecurity and the authenticness of how people actually live, who they actually are when they are naked and alone.  I also want to know their successes and what they love and who they love and if they think about death, because I do, all the time.  Not necessarily in a morbid way, but I feel it, and want to feel proud of my life whenever it ends, hopefully in the distant future.  For various reasons, I am terribly aware that it could all just end randomly.  I could get up one morning and get into my car and be hit by a semi, and there it all goes.  Or I could live to be a hundred.

I think that is the change I’m trying to go for, not just happiness, but something I can be proud of.  Sure, there are going to be nights when it’s great to chill with friends and some really good whiskey, or watch a Netflix marathon, or camp and hike.  But there are those moments when you’re all alone, just you and yourself in the mirror.  I am glad that I can look at myself and accept the woman I see there now – I used to want to cut her face all up.  But I also want to consistently look her in the eye and feel like I’ve done my best.  That I gave more than I took.  That my existence had more than a net zero effect.  I’m not talking about what my kids or my family or my friends think of me – I am grateful to love and be loved on that account.  But to know that I did my part, however itty-bitty, to help the human race–that would make me so happy.  I’m still not sure what to offer there, still figuring that out, but I know it will involve other people.  And that’s what I’m looking for, my tribe, my friends that carry the desire, and then maybe we can do something great together.



Behind, but it’s all good

I have yet to finish my thoughts about Singapore and Bali and yet I’m back at work in the thick of it.  So that will have to wait.  I loved having a vacation, and yet I also loved coming back to my home and my kids and my work.  I am fortunate in that it is fun to be adventurous, but I always have something to come back.  Ah, how I love my girls.  And how I love my work!  It’s such a great feeling to be involved in something so enjoyable and so challenging at the same time.  There is always so much to do, it is a stretch to keep up on top of it all, but it is nice to feel like I have a positive impact on something.

Today was a good day, I had my taxes done.  I have always done them myself – I used to do them by hand and then I used Turbotax.   But with the divorce I decided to pay someone to do them and as I no longer have a house and the mortgage interest to itemize deductions, I feared what my tax bill would be.  Instead it was a pleasant surprise – I claimed one kid and head of the household and it’s even better than claiming as married.  Who knew?  And I brought the paperwork so they could get started on my ex’s return as well.

I feel very grateful that L. and I get along so well.  He has really been good around scheduling around my travel time, and I accommodate him as well as I can.  We had gotten together earlier to go over tax stuff and coordinate our returns, and he brought his girlfriend over.  She’s a writer and a bit subversive and I really like her.  Is it weird to approve of your ex’s girlfriend?  But I trust her with my kids and she’s the type of person I would hang out with.

And today, at the tax place, my new accountant had such a great vibe.  She was blonde and wore glasses, with super chunky earrings and underground jewelry and as soon as I met her, I immediately liked her.  Every once in awhile, I meet someone and there is that spark of camaraderie – the feeling that I recognize you though I know we’ve never met before – sadly the only words we often have is that “They’re so cool,” but it is a feeling of kinship that goes beyond that.  I LOVE meeting people like that, it just makes my day.  Because I am still looking for my tribe and I think making new friends and being a better friend is going to be my theme this year.


Thoughts in Singapore

This was written while I was away, and I haven’t had a chance to post until now.


The strange thing about being on vacation in a country where my phone doesn’t work and I don’t have set plans, is that time becomes very vague.  It’s light out or dark out, it’s time to eat or not.  Yesterday, we stopped by the market and it was so neat to see all the different kind of fruit, though sadly, lycees are not in season.  We got some longans, which are apparently cousins to lycees.  Then we walked by the shoreline where all the container ships were stacked up.  There’s a nice park where sometimes Malaysian visitors will camp out on the weekends – so they can come to Singapore for a weekend and not have to stay at an expensive hotel.

There are housing flats subsidized by the gov’t for the Singaporeans that are fairly affordable – maybe $100,000 to $200,000.  (Singapore dollars are pretty close to American dollars, so the conversion is comparable).   This is much, much cheaper than buying a condo, where the average might be $3 million.  But a previous gov’t wanted to encourage the women not to stay home with their kids, so many of the gov’t housing flats have no kitchens.  Instead, you go to the market every day for fruits and vegetables and eat at the food stalls near the housing flats.  You can have breakfast, lunch, and dinner for $10 a day.  So each set of housing flats has a market and bunch of food stalls nearby.

Having a car is also discouraged – there is approx. a ~$110,000 fee to simply own a car, and then cars themselves might be 5x the price a car in the US.  So a $60,000 Lexus in the US is $300,000 here.  Knowing that, I was not surprised to see that most of the cars are fairly high end – after all, if you’re going to pay the car tax, might as well make it count.  And then some of the high-end condos have their own car elevators so they can keep their car IN their condo.  A different kind of life, indeed.

Since S. works at the University, he gets subsidized University housing, and the flat is pretty nice.  Many people take taxis or the bus to get around and the streets are flanked with beautiful trees and greenery.  Apparently, this is not by accident and after midnight gov’t workers from the Ministry of Trees come by to prune and beautify.

There are also different schools for most of the main expat countries.  Singapore’s population is about 40% foreigners, so there are Japanese and British schools for the children of those nationalities.  Of the other 60%, perhaps 80% are Chinese – often with a lot of money.  Singapore, financially speaking, is a lot like an Asian Switzerland – it’s an excellent place to park your money.   Then there is the worker class – Malaysian maids and prostitutes and male construction workers from Pakistan or Bangladesh on 3 month visas.  They all get Sundays off so Little India and the Muslim quarter get pretty busy as people spend whatever part of their paycheck they didn’t send home.