Quantum Mechanic

Content tagged Life

Our Bodies, Our Hearts, Our Software

posted on 2016-08-23 22:10:04

I don't really keep up with the various Linux conferences that happen now and then, but I certainly follow various free software planets, which generally filter the good stuff out for me anyway.  Something that slowly made it through my filters recently was Karen Sandler's keynote address at the Australian Linux Conference, where she, unsurprisingly, talked about the importance of FOSS software.  The part that was surprising, though, and really hit home for me, was when she started talking about her internal defibrillator.

Apparently, Karen has an abnormally large heart, in the physical sense.  She is at risk of suffering what her doctors called "sudden death," which means she could simply die with no warning.  Luckily for her, there is a great treatment in the form of the internal defibrillator - a small device that can be wired directly into her heart that will issue a shock to restart her it if she suddenly, well, dies.

I'm going to take this moment to urge you to go watch the video, it's a bit long, but listening to her talk about her own heart is going to do more for you than I can manage.

For those of you not watching the video, there are two scary parts.  First - when she talks about being at risk of sudden death.  The second is the sequence building from her cardiologist not knowing much about the device he was offering to implant to the point where he hangs up on her in frustration.  His frustration came from her desire to see the code running on the device he wanted to put in her, the company's unwillingness to show her the code, and his lack of understanding about why that's important.  If you're wondering why this sort of thing is important at all, it's because this machine is wired to her heart.

What we put into our bodies...

When we go out to dinner somewhere, we expect to be told what's in our food if we ask, we expect to know what's in the drugs we take, so why shouldn't we expect access to what's in the devices implanted in our bodies?

Let me phrase it another way.  A company makes an electric heart that you need because yours was stabbed like Jean-Luc Picard was in Star Trek.  You get it and want to know what makes you tick, and they tell you that your heart is their intellectual property and you're not allowed to know how it works. Furthermore, you're not allowed to modify it, open it up, or see its source code.  There's a well-known bug in it?  There's a firmware update?  You might not get it if it doesn't make money for the company.  You want to install it yourself?  That might be illegal depending on the time of year and what phase the moon is in.

When Karen told her story, her concerns were that she couldn't check the logic of her device, herself, nor could she have a friend or consumer-advocacy group do it.  Four years ago, when I started writing this, that was where the story ended.

Things that come out of our bodies

A few weeks ago, I came across this article, which I thought might be a bout Karen, again.  I opened it, hoping to read more about her and, hopefully, what progress she had made.  Instead, I learned about a brave, new person taking up this baton, because the same problems were still around.  It turned out that, on top of Karen's original concerns, people were now taking data from Marie Moe's device and refusing to give her access to it.

At first, as I read that they were collecting the data, I hoped it was available to her.  Wouldn't that be cool?  I could make graphs of my heart rate, if I had that data.  But they seemed to think that the data was theirs.  Her doctor seemed to be too busy to help her get at it either, which isn't surprising.  To me, this feels like going into the doctor to get the results of your blood work and being told, "I can't show you the numbers, but your cholesterol is fine.  The company owns your iron levels, but you aren't anemic."

There's an old maxim that is often forgotten or ignored that you don't own anything you can't take apart.  Warranties are nice, but when farmers can't repair their own tractors you start to see why user serviceable parts, even skilled- or trained-user serviceable parts are important.  In a world where any data that's collected is often sold and firmware updates come twice a year and stop as soon as the new model comes out.  People with implants are at an ever greater risk of losing control of their body parts RoboCop-style.  Malfunctions happen, and a thriving, open community is a great way of keeping the process more transparent and hopeful for everyone.  I would hate to have a malfunctioning defibrilator in my chest and have nowhere to turn, once the company tells me it's outside warranty or the like.

Finally fixed my phone

posted on 2016-05-15 14:32:00

I like to tinker with things, I own. An important part of deciding to buy any given device is that I can tinker with it, take it apart, install whatever hobby OS on it I like, &c. I'v generally been delighted by my Nexus 4 phone, which I've had for perhaps two and a half years and is my favorite smartphone so far!

Recently, though, Google stopped providing android updates for it (well, I think they'll still security patch Lollipop for a while) when Marshmallow, the sixth food-version, came out. I always like to poke at the new things in life, so I started looking around at my options and saw that there was a Cyanogenmod 13 image for my phone. CM goes by their own numbering system, and 13 corresponds to 6 in the official android versions, which is the latest. I had played with Cyanogenmod a few times over the last few years and so I felt pretty comfortable trusting them with my phone.

On top of trying the new version of android, which seems fine, but hasn't really blown me away with anything new, I also tried unlocking my phone's LTE modem. It seems the n4 shipped with an LTE modem which isn't turned on by default because maybe Google never got it properly tested. Some people got it turned on, though, so it's possible to upgrade your data connection considerably! It was like getting a new phone!

Unfortunately, I also had to seek out and install some Google apps. I'm finding Google increasingly irritating, recently, both in their apps and that they called me for an interview, screwed up the scheduling, then the programming language they were interviewing me about, then let me try again in the right language, and finished up by never responding. Mostly, I would seriously suggest the F-Driod repository of FOSS apps, but I need to install the Google Play Store for my banking app, many things I need for work, and I also make heavy use of the Maps app. So, I bit the bullet and installed Google Play using the Open Gapps project.

For a couple weeks, I tolerated the nightmare of continual modal popups from Google Play Services that informed me that it had stopped. Over and over again, it stopped. In the middle of typing words, it stopped and interrupted me. While trying to get directions, it stopped and never figured out where I was. While trying to find emails, it stopped and got confused. It was really annoying, but it tended to happen in terrible, agonizing bursts, so I could still function. I was busy adopting a dog and being an adult human, so I tolerated it.


I finally sat down and got it fixed.

I tried a billion forum posts that suggested combinations of wiping partitions and dances around blood-spattered stone circles, but that wasn't really useful. I know that most of those things are essentially Skinner boxes, and so I try to avoid them, but desperation makes fools of us all.

I had avoided hitting the 'Report' button on the error dialog, because, on the stock android version, this brings up a wall of legal text about how Google is going to pack up as much data as it wants and ship it off to their servers when you submit the bug report (disclaimer: I never read that and have no idea what it really says, I'm just tired of accepting legal agreements). On cyanogenmod, though, the data will be shipped off to a bunch of friendly hackers (in the best sense of the word) who I don't know, but trust to care more about my privacy than Google, for some reason. I didn't submit the report, but being made by hacker-friendly people, the CM report dialog shows the Java backtrace of the problem. This was the most helpful information I'd gotten so far, and it informed me that the problem was
com.google.android.gms missing android.permission.ACCESS_FINE_LOCATION
But I had given Google Play services that permission!

Eventually, I found an issue that seemed to address it on the Open GApps issue tracker, that contained these commands:

pm grant com.google.android.gms android.permission.ACCESS_FINE_LOCATION
pm grant com.google.android.gms android.permission.ACCESS_COARSE_LOCATION

and that was it. No problems, yet.

I hope that this saves someone all the hours it cost me!

Exploring the Hudson Valley

posted on 2015-10-19 00:32:40

Sarah and I took off from work this past week, which I'd been meaning to do for a while now.  You tell yourself you'll take a break when you finish a project and then it goes on for four months and then you say, 'enough.'

Looking south over the Hudson from the walkway.

We took a  few days to recover and relax at home, in Queens.  Because sometimes it doesn't feel like we get to use our home that much.  We didn't want to just sit around at home for the whole week, though, and Sarah found something that involved the term "vegan brunch," and I was sold.

We spent two nights at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary, which is a nice, vegan BnB that's attached to and supports a rescue sanctuary for farm animals.  I haven't really had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with other people who don't eat animals.  I had a friend in high school, knew one or two people in college, and otherwise haven't really had too many around.  I could do with more people around, period, but the proportion of veg*ans has been historically low.  It was nice to  have someone else asking me not to put anything not vegan in the fridge.  I can do that.  That's the way I live, too.  It was nice not to be the weird one for a few days.

The first night, we had vegan pizza at the Catskill Mountain Pizza Co. in Woodstock.  There were a bunch of people crowded around the bar, watching the baseball game and most were wearing different hats.  It was was open and friendly and felt good to be there.

Me and Jailbird
Me and Jailbird

The next morning, we took a tour of the Sanctuary. Goats are delightfully weird and were easy targets for petting. I also got to hold a rooster.

Jailbird was rescued from a meth lab.  Some of the chickens were boiler chickens -- the kind that are bred for ovens.  They grow so fast and big that they have a fraction of the lifespan of their not-engineered-for-food brethren, and joint problems to boot.  The same goes for the pigs and cows.  Another popular origin story was the pig who was supposed to be a cute little pet and grew to normal pig size.  Some were re-rescued from animal shelters for cats and dogs, where people had left them.

One downside of being around vegans is the popularity of anti-science and, specifically, anti-vaccination.  It seems like people come to it from different directions, but it always saddens me.  It's strange to discuss with people older than me how terrible the old diseases are.  How their unvaccinated children put others at risk; including others who have compromised immune systems and can't be vaccinated, even if they want to be.  I think on some level, I see it as a sort of social pact.  Sort of like how we try to be polite to each other and don't set each others houses on fire.  Putting everyone else at greater risk like that falls into that sort of category in my mind.

These piggles will be 800lbs as adults.  It is not a healthy size for a piggle.
These piggles will be 800lbs as adults. It is not a healthy size for a piggle.

People keep telling me that when I become a parent, my whole viewpoint will change.  I don't imagine becoming a parent will make me so constitutionally different from who I am that I wouldn't vaccinate my children.

Later that night, we explored Saugerties, which was another little town in the area.  We got some yarn for a knitting project I'm going to try and walked out a lighthouse on the Hudson. The lighthouse was also a BnB. It was a little disappointing and the path was soggy.

Saugerties lighthouse.
Saugerties lighthouse.

There were several stores that had vegan options and I was super happy.  I had a vegan ice cream sandwich, which I posted about earlier, and we had tasty soup for lunch and dinner at Rock da Casbah, which was very friendly and provided a tempeh burger and vegan mac 'n cheese.

An animal sanctuary is a place that raises a lot of questions.  Questions like: 'What do you do with the sheep wool, that you have to cut anyway?' and 'Have you seen a rise in goat/chicken/duck rescues as part of the modern homesteader movement?' and 'What sort of relationship can we aspire to with animals?'  They're tough questions, but I missed having real tough questions in my life.  They're things that make it feel more meaningful.  The real hard problems in my day to day life have been dealing with other people for too long, and it filled me with hope and aspirations for what my life could be.

Thanks for reading.

I have become Programmer

posted on 2015-07-11 23:54:00

As I mentioned last time, I've taken a new job in a new field. I've left academia, which I'd like to write more about, because it was important and difficult. Now, I'm working as a Software Engineer for Octopart, where I've been working in Python and Javascript, mostly doing fronted work.

It's been exciting doing something I've done for so long professionally. Octopart is a small team and it means I have a lot of freedom to work on things I think need work, but some of that is a bit disorienting, especially as someone working in the field for the first time. It's hard to know what expectations are in any situation, but people are trusting me to do what needs to be done and I'm working the confidence to believe my decisions about that are correct.

I also haven't really worked in Python before. It's always nice to learn a new language – especially with such a defined project – so that's been a plus. I am surprised again and again by how different languages handle importing files/packages/modules and how often it feels magic, weirdly difficult or some other sort of uncomfortable. Lisp has the strange duality of packages and ASDF systems, which aren't the same thing but often effectively are. Python has it's own difficulties, but in many ways is simpler. You pretty much just use paths with dots replacing slashes for folders. I'm not sure I'm a huge fan, but that's probably more stylistic than anything else. Even though python has a command line REPL and more sophisticated tools like IPython, I miss SLIME when I'm working in it.

Really, I miss lisp, generally. One downside of working in programming is that I have little enthusiasm left over after work for looking after my own projects. Hopefully, I'll get better at that in time. In any event, go check out Octopart if you're into electronics and let us know how we can make it more useful. It's made by a lot of nice people who care about what they're doing.

Keeping the Fun Alive

posted on 2014-12-16 19:53:00

Over the last few years, with college done and friends scattered out over the US. It's been hard to keep in touch and, every time I do see people, we talk about how we'd like to keep in better touch.

I was reading Blaster Nation, today (all of it!) and it made me miss my friends. So I set up a mumble server and a Google Calendar, and we're going to see if we can play games together, even just randomly, but also in some planned state.

In my mind, it could be something like twitch, or steam, or maybe really it should be like meetup for playing with friends.

Maybe that would be a fun project?

Starting Over All Over Again

posted on 2014-11-11 14:15:00

So, back in July I took the plunge and decided that I wasn't cut out for the world of Academia. Grad school was taking an emotional toll that was turning into a physical toll and wasn't paying the fulfillment dividends that it needed to. I'd spent years acquiring very specific skills in quantum computing research that people didn't value at all. The pay was terrible. The social environment was terrible. The management was terrible. It was time to leave.

So I went ahead and enrolled in App Academy, which my friend Scott had done before. So, for the last two months, I've spent every waking hour programming (well, maybe a few reading and playing Dota). I know Ruby, Rails, Javascript, Backbone (learning Angular) and I already knew Common Lisp.

Most importantly, I feel like it's a good life choice. I miss doing physics, but the universities have made it such a horrible environment to work in, it's not worth it to me, anymore. I'm happy I get to keep problem-solving in programming and, if I'm lucky, I'll find a job that uses my considerable skills in debugging and engineering.

The Job search starts today and I'm confident it will give me a fuller life than a career in Physics was offering.


posted on 2014-02-24 02:55:00

Tonight, Sarah and I went with some friends to the local makerspace, KwartzLab, in Kitchener. It was a 'bring your own project' night, though only a few people were there while we were.

There was a pretty impressive array of machinery represented, although, from what I've read of makerspaces, it was probably pretty run of the mill. 3D printer, laser cutter, …. the usual.

One thing that we saw that I've never heard of before was a knitting machine. It was a long line of hooks that the knitted piece hang on. You slide a piece back and forth across and it somehow automatically knits! Apparently, they're also programmable, which is nice. Unfortunately, though, it seems most are programmed with punch cards and the woman operating it claimed that they predated modern computers!

Hopefully, we'll manage to make it back for their Tuesday night open house to work on something. It was nice being around a bunch of people working on projects.

Let's Try Anyway

posted on 2013-11-12 15:49:00

A great problem in any job is orthodoxy. I see it everyday in myriad ways at the University where, despite nominally being all about the future (students, research, etc.), we really do the same things, uniformly, over and over.

A few moments ago, I head a colleague talking about a class she is a teaching assistant for. All I head was someone asking if it "would work with three people," and her saying, "Well… probably not." This particular conversation is not important, but it's an example of something that happens a thousand times a day in this building alone. I'm certain of it!

We make many snap-judgments in our hectic, university lives. How to grade, how to teach, how to assemble experiments in vacuum environments. A good deal of these things are simply based on prior experience; things which haven't necessarily been taught, just picked up. A lot of these things have never been thought through. Some of them don't even make any sort of sense when thought through. Some of them make sense but don't hold up to scrutiny.

I would like to work in a place where people say, "I don't think that will work, but let's try it anyway."

I think it implies that people have enough time to explore, that they are supportive enough to want to explore your ideas, and that they are open to the possibility that they are wrong.

I dislike the capitulations that seem to be required of any statement today, but I do concede that these moments of support and understanding happen – but only occasionally. They should happen in far greater numbers, though.

The First Days

posted on 2013-09-25 15:31:00

So now I'm about two weeks in, I have homework, about 40 lab reports to grade, and need to find a sub for my lab TA section. I've gotten a social insurance number from the government of Canada (the Canadian equivalent of a social security number) and it seems likely that I might get paid this Friday. Now, while I have a few minutes before I go upstairs to get to better know some of my new colleagues over lunch, seems like as good a chance as I'll get to go over what I've been thinking about since I started here at the IQC.

First, dealing with office staff is always frustrating. As a foreigner, even from the US, it was a mess of people not telling me what I needed to do in time. I still laugh thinking about the email that came out a week or two before classes from the international office explaining how to put off coming to school for a term because they hadn't really told people in time to apply for visas.

Getting my study permit was something I got done well in advance and, consequently, without much help from the university at all. The SIN was another one of those things. Sarah and I biked out to the service Canada center on a hot day and arrived sweaty, carrying our stacks of documents, only to find that Sarah, who doesn't yet need a SIN because nobody is paying her anything, could get a number, but I – the reason we were in the country in the first place – hadn't been supplied the right paperwork by the University to get mine. There were a number of other small things as well, but that was the one that required the most physical effort by far.

I'm now slowly being won over to the idea that the university might actually care about some of us, but they certainly didn't show it at all until long after I'd arrived and started attending classes.

Now that I'm here, though, it's nice to be teaching a little (as a Teaching Assistant) and good to have some things to think about during the day. The minor office snafu's keep coming (I wasn't given a key to the room I TA in yet), but we'll iron them out and hopefully I'll have less and less to ask of confused people in offices as time goes on.

There are people from a lot of different countries here. It's hard to tell how much is the university and how much is Kitchener-Waterloo generally, because both seem to be fairly diverse. The grad students from India have commented that they can get some of the same food as at home since there's such a large population with Indian heritage here.

After our year in Evanston/Chicago, I think we're doing a pretty good job of setting up a life here. Making new friends is hard, and takes a lot of time. Sadly, I don't really get to see the other grad students much other that at lunch, which I try to make the most of. Hopefully, some of them will be friends, and perhaps someday, we'll make it to Food Not Bombs here in Waterloo or in Kitchener, closer to home, and meet some people there, too.

Moving Again

posted on 2013-07-25 05:00:00

Hopefully, a week from now I'll get up at my Aunt and Uncle's in East Lansing, Michigan and start out to the border with Canada. Hopefully, later that day, Sarah and I will move into an apartment in Kitchener and start setting up a new life there for a few years.

Chicago has been a rough nine months. I pushed for moving here because it seemed like I was going nowhere in New York. I had gotten work at two colleges there as a lab assistant in shitty conditions with decent pay and then with great coworkers and very little pay. I was at the end of my rope and thought there was nothing more for me there, that I could never afford to live there and would be back in a parents house or living off of Sarah forever. Then I moved to Chicago, where nobody was interested in hiring me for anything more than one tutoring gig that lasted about two months.

Financially, it would seem, I moved to Chicago to burn money.

Luckily, though, there were a number of upsides. I got to meet a lot of nice people mostly Northwestern students but a bunch of great people from Roger's Park community organizations like Food not Bombs, who are doing awesome things in kitchens and gardens and on the streets!

It's given me some hope that I can still make new friends and try new things, and I'm hoping to bring those feelings with me to Kitchener and my new job and my new school.

Here's hoping I see everyone again soon.

No Gods, No Bosses

posted on 2013-06-14 00:17:17

Andy Wingo from Igalia has started writing about the company and their cooperatively run organization on his blog.  It's interesting both because of the exciting way they organize and run themselves, but also in the language Andy chose to use to talk about them.

Nobody likes to talk about Anarchism these days, and people who use its lexicon are usually buried in the media, as the recent Occupy movement was.  It's an immediate red-flag, and I know I intentionally avoid using words like "revolution" and even calling Anarchism by its name because I think people will just shut off and stop listening to me if I say them.  I find this sad, and I'm sadder still that I self-censor in this way, because there are important things to say, that I care dearly about, which use these words.

What I mean to say is that I really appreciate both the content of Andy's posts and how he chose to write them.  it makes me feel a little braver, a little more comfortable with something that is part of who I am and what I believe, and safer bringing it up in public.

You can find the introduction here and the first part here.

And for something fun and related, here's some Chumbawamba!


posted on 2013-04-30 20:39:31

This past weekend was the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo and, having been meaning to try going to a con for a few months now, I decided to get tickets. For my first convention, one-day tickets for Saturday seemed plenty to get me overstimulated and looking for a hole to crawl into by the end of the day.

I met up with my guides around 11, and we made it down to the south side, where the McCormick center is located by a not before 12:30, when we finally made it into the hall.


It was enormous in there.
I have never seen so many little action figures, toys, and comics in one place. Not to mention the art, which was all sorts of styles I don't get to see enough, sporting all permutations of popular game characters and styles. There certainly was no want of things to buy.

Some of it was really creatively done, but I think in retrospect, with the afterimages of star trek medallions faded from my eyes, a lot of it was crap based on popular shows and comics. This is probably just my mental image of the event not lining up with what it actually was supposed to be, but I would have loved to see more original work there - less of the industrially produced story and some of the greater breadth of storytelling that has been gaining fame in comics lately.

Even the panels had a lot of a corporate feel to them. The first one I visited was on role playing and tabletop games, and what was supposed by the three panelists to be new and exciting in them. They did have a few honest suggestions, which I'm hoping to look into, but after the first run through the panel died the death of industry talk and made up business speak that I hated when I worked at SAP.

The second panel, though, was on censorship and comics, and was far and away the most interesting thing I witnessed that day. There, I heard about rulings as recent as the 80's, when an artist was told he was not allowed to draw - complete with random house checks by the police to make sure he hasn't been drawing. The artist was Mike Diana and the comic that landed him in trouble was called boiled angel. An earlier comic battle was back in the 50's, when Bill Gaines testified in downtown NYC that horror comics were not obscene and should be allowed to be sold as they were. Unfortunately, public opinion was against him and led to strict rules on what could be printed in comics for decades. The speaker was from the comic book defense league, and was a great speaker.

Finally, to end on a question, it was exciting to see all of the costumes at the show. People obviously took a lot of time to design and make them, and it was fun to have superheroes and demons walking around, but there is obviously a gap between the genders in skin shown and body parts on display. I certainly have no problem with anyone wearing a revealing costume, I just worry about the double standards that are obviously there somewhere, and I hope that gap will close somehow in the near future. We need more brave men in sexy costumes, I think!

Reintegration into Society

posted on 2013-04-23 20:43:29

It's been nearly six months now since I held a job I did more than one day a week. It's been a year and a half since I worked acting close to full time, and even that was an internship. On a certain level, it feels like a cop out to call a matters position in physics my first full-time job since graduating, bit it's the closest I've got, and I'm getting very excited for it, so it will have to do.

While I'm excited about the future and the work I'll get to do, I'm now faces with for months until I go, and what to do in that time. Certainly don't of it is to breathe a sigh of relief that I have a job waiting for me, but after that congress the doubt and uncertainty.

Having not worked for a while, I feel anchors about going back to a work environment, even one as open as academic research can be. When you've been unemployed a while, you go out less, because you can't afford to eat out, or go out for drinks, and so you see less of other people as a result.

Can I still deal with criticism? How long will it take to get used to working with other people again? I know these problems will sort themselves out, but there's still doubt and fear even now as I'm happy to have a chance to do science again, something I thought was slipping away from me.

Fear and doubting aside, realizing how much socializing can cost was disappointing, as was realizing how few ways I knew to do it. Lately, I've been spending more time trying to think of good ways of guttering people together with less of a buying things aspect, and I'm hoping to have more game and movie nights, as well as language practice nights in the near future.

It lives!

posted on 2013-04-06 06:50:15


Today I finished my first foray into home appliance repair! Apparently, the most common point of failure by far for rice cookers is the thermal fuse, which seems to be hidden along some wire inside the cooker.
I found mine in a piece of plastic shielding near the edge of the casing, presumably where the 142 degree tripping temperature would indicate a serious problem and stop the machine from seeing things on fire. Thankfully, a YouTube video had all the answers, and, having located the little device, it was a simple matter to get another from my local radio shack and replace it tonight. Now I'm watching its lights flow again, and it's starting to steam. So, as long as it doesn't catch fire, I think I can count my first repair a success.
It's empowering to be able to fix the machines that work for you. I find myself hoping that something else fails soon so I can learn how to fix something else as well!

Reflections on a year of Job-Hunting

posted on 2012-11-15 21:28:49

The past year has been one of unending frustration and despair.  I've had jobs, sometimes even jobs in Physics, which is my favorite kind of job, but even those have paid little, been short-term only, and sometimes been in very unwelcoming environments. I feel a lot of anger and frustration, because I feel like a lot of people misled me.  I don't think they did it on purpose, and I think a lot of it is disconnection with some parts of life both on my part and the parts of others.  I think my professors didn't know what sort of world they were sending me into, and I think they generally assumed either that my classmates and I wouldn't be continuing with Physics, or that we would be going right to graduate school.

I do think many of my classmates jumped off the Physics ship as soon as they got done with college.  But I know I've felt rather lost in the last year, which feels like it has been far longer, with some significant help from my research adviser, Kiko Galvez, in terms of names to talk to and introductions, but by and large, the year feels like a random walk experiment.

Let's think about the degrees of freedom for this random walk:

Where is the available job

Moving is tough.  Trust me, I've done it at least annually for the last five years.  Once you start owning more than a bag of clothes and a computer, it becomes a serious undertaking that eats up days and requires large amounts of truck/storage space to execute.  Even then, it requires lots of planning and labor.

Understandably then, I don't really want to have to do it, and companies don't really want to help me do it because it costs them money, and, well, there's this guy who already lives here and can do the job, so let's hire them.

What is the job called, and do I know that title means "you can do this"?

This is my favorite. I have no idea what I should be typing into job search engines.  Should I be 'technical support staff,' 'assistant researcher,' 'open-rank lecturer,' or maybe a 'wind resource analyst.'

Do I use the right words to describe myself

You used a bunch of words in your job posting that I don't understand.  I'm not a black belt and I don't know what bearing that has on electrical engineering.  I think I'm far more likely than six-sigma.

I've looked these things up now, but they sound too stupid for me to ever consider signing up for a course in them.  Plus, I only need a job for a year or so, until I can get back into grad school.

You can't do Physics with a degree in Physics

I dare you to try. Apparently, what professors meant when they said "you can do anything with a degree in Physics," is "I have no fucking clue what you can do with a career in Physics.  In the realm of research jobs in Physics, I need to be in graduate school, and I wish somebody had told me two years ago so I didn't have to look for a job and a grad school at the same time.

In with the out crowd

posted on 2012-07-13 16:39:31

I was skimming through Planet Fedora today, and came across a post by Mairin Duffy, one of the designers at Red Hat. She was writing about a conference called Ada Camp, which exists to support women in the IT industry especially in open-source software.  I always jump on these sorts of posts because I care about equality in life and, not being a woman, I don't get to have (maybe even can't have) the sorts of conversations that happen at these things.  I was, therefore, very interested in what she and the other women had to say.  While I'm more of an enthusiastic onlooker (and user) to Open Source, I believe there are parallels to any other field where women (or any other group) are a minority, such as my beloved physics.

I started going through the links in her post, and pulling out book names, because my reading list isn't big enough already.  On one book about breaking into the IT industry as a woman, I noticed this comment by 'kittenchicken0398,' which made me think about the different ways we react to attempts at inclusion.
Reading about the changes they instituted made me retch a little bit. They talk about specifically approaching female students and having "women in CS" gatherings. While I'm all for creating a supportive community, if my university had done this, I would have turned and run the other way. The reason I enjoyed my CS department so much was because nobody talked to me like I was any different, or made an issue of my genitalia, I was just another computer science student.

I agree with her!  I certainly wouldn't go to some group that's trying to get me to feel involved!  Religion and other things have taught me to be afraid of those because they usually want to sell me something (or want me to sell other people something). It's more complicated than people just shying away from peer groups, because as Mairin also talks about, people tend to stick with a working group longer if they're in a more homogeneous minority group.  That is, if there are two Caribbean women in a group of (probably) white men, they'll be more comfortable and friendly than one Caribbean and one Chinese woman.  Weird!

I think it's at least interesting that attempts at making people feel comfortable with people of other races/genders can be hampered by how different people's personalities are!  Not terribly helpful to a first approximation, but interesting.

In the final estimation, I think all the programs need to continue, and all the bonding over favorite video games in the hallways needs to continue.  Some people will be made more comfortable through meetings and organizations, and some will find their own way.

I'd like to hear more about about
3. We’re all fighting for that “token women” position.

So sometimes it feels like there’s a bit of cattiness when two women encounter each other in a male-dominated group – it’s this weird thing that happens when there’s less women in a group. There was another session on day 2 devoted to this topic that I also sadly missed. :("

because that sounds tough, and the explanation that it's just some "weird thing" makes me want a better explanation.

Kicked too hard

posted on 2012-04-23 21:44:13

I moved to New York City last October, and the search for work has been never-ending.  My greatest success so far has been an ushering position I got through some friends.  They hours are pretty irregular, aside from regularly taking my Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons, and that doesn't really make for the most relaxed or ordered life.  I'm grateful to have the work, though.  Nevertheless, when I got the opportunity to do some physics research again, by surprise, I was really excited -- even if I was only offered minimum wage.

Now, for the second time since I've moved here, I've made it a month into a research job only to find out that I'm not on payroll at all.  I'm hoping to sort it all out next week, when the person in charge of payroll gets back from vacation, but there's always the fear that there won't be the money to pay me.  If communication was so good as to put me in this position in the first place, I'm rather afraid that someone didn't check if they could hire me at all.  At my last research position at Columbia, I suspect that's what happened, and why, two and a half months into my time there, I was finally handed a contract which said I wasn't allowed to work more than three months.

Needless to say, I'm feeling pretty down -- and have been a while now.  Having three part time jobs to keep track of, none of which come out to much in the month, feels like getting kicked over and over, and you don't get time to take a break and come up for air.  Every turn has meant pushing the whole way to find any work at all and then pushing again to get myself paid for it.  I can't say I'm impressed with hiring at the colleges of NYC.  It makes me angry, and it's one more challenge I really don't need now.

Hopefully I'll get paid for the month I've already worked, but as the summer comes and the tutoring and concert seasons start to fade out, I need to find a new summer job, and I just feel like I've been kicked too hard.  I don't know where to look.  All of the job search sites seem to only have listings with skills I don't have, experience I don't have and degrees I don't have.  More than ever, I want out of this country -- at the very least, this city.

Hoping to post about other things I've been working on once any of them hit a point worth talking about.

You can't change the system from within

posted on 2011-11-29 23:30:17


posted on 2011-11-29 23:28:27

The last few months have gone by with a speed and obliviousness I couldn't have imagined, and don't miss in the least.  Moving in was a blur, and things still haven't come together quite yet in terms of decoration, but this apartment, like many before it, is starting to feel like home.

One of the tough things I dealt with recently was quitting my job.  I was working as a researcher at Columbia, which really is the best job I could have hoped for out of school.  Unfortunately, they could only offer me the pay of a graduate student, although I wouldn't get (and didn't want) housing or classes through Columbia.  Also, the professor really didn't know what I was working on in a way that made life very stressful for me.  It gave me a glimpse of grad school and what it could be, and I hope I keep this in mind when I finally go for my own grad experience.  What I found was multi-faceted, and I hope many of them were Columbia, because they really made the experience unpleasant.

First, the professor had no idea what I was doing.  He was an expert in quantum optical nanodevices, which apparently doesn't really overlap with experimental quantum optics for quantum computing very much at all.  The experiment I was trying to pull together on my own was nothing new, and in fact would have just replicated results over ten years old for no reason I could make out.  I felt stuck on that project and didn't think it was nearly so important that I should be putting the time, effort, and emotion into it.

Second, there was almost no lab community.  The few people who were kind enough to talk to me didn't lead to much conversation at all.  The people seemed to barely talk to each other, and many of my lab mates were difficult to speak with at all, because their english was sometimes lacking.

The list goes on as I process it all.  One of the most difficult parts, though, was the reaction of my family.  While I was working at this job, I was stressed, worried, and extremely unhappy.  The constant presence of deadlines, the contradictory instructions of my professor, and the ontinuing lack of results made my days full of dreading being at work and not being able to do anything all over again.  Despite my misery, all my family could manage was to tell me to suck it up and stick to it.

I am all for sticking to hard situations.  I often insert myself willingly into strange or difficult situations because I know I'll learn from them.  In this case, though, I was genuinely unhappy, and not learning anything and I was stuck between the rock and hard place of a job I hated and a family that thought being in work was more important than my happiness.

Now I'm unemployed, and while not knowing when I'll be making money again is hard, I know I'm far happier than I was at that job.  Pos


posted on 2011-11-08 01:49:00

Just a little update on what has been going on with my move and new living situation in New York City.


Found.  I now live in Washington Heights.  It's pretty interesting being in a place where the first lanaguage is probably Spanish and mostly the younger generation knows English.  The supermarkets have different focus -- much more yucca, lime, and corn.  Also, there is quite a lot of malt available, which I've only put into rice and beans so far.

Also awesome is that we live within 20 minutes of the Little Red Lighthouse.  Which was a character from a children's book when I was little and I had always wondered about.  I heard that it still existed, but I didn't believe it until about 3 weeks ago.


So far, I've met up with two different groups of people in the city, and I'm looking forward to more.  I've been to the Drinking Skeptically event put on by NYC skeptics, and the Kaffeestunde put on by Columbia's Deutsches Haus.


Finally am doing paperwork for Columbia's Department of Mecanical Engineering, where I'm doing quantum optics research!  Not sure how long I want to stay, but after starting work almost two and a half months ago, it's about time they got around to paying me.


posted on 2011-08-17 04:15:14

Tomorrow, my hunt begins in earnest.  I'm moving to New York City, if possible, and to complete that task, I'll need to find a job and an apartment.  Finding a job in physics seems like the sort of thing that will be impossible at the beginning and then decay exponentially in difficulty until it's quite an easy thing to do.  This is because, as far as I can tell, jobs in physics are gotten on a word-of-mouth basis.

I have yet to see a physics job advertised.  Excluding schools looking for visiting professors, that is -- something I'm wholly unqualified for at the moment.  This leaves me with little choice.  I can't find jobs online, and e-mailing professors has been an utter and complete failure (I have received exactly zero replies) so I will take things up another step and simply go and demand work.  This is my plan.

Tomorrow, I will descend upon New York City with all the confidence and self-assuredness I can muster and go door-to-door.

And now, as with many of these posts, I'm too tired to continue coming up with things to type.

Being Invincible

posted on 2011-07-31 23:10:35

A few months ago, Sarah got me started on the Thrawn trilogy by Timothy Zahn.  I hadn't read Star Wars in year... and apparently I never really did by the standards of most other people who read Star Wars books, because most of them seem to have read most the Star Wars books that existed as they were going through middle/high school.  I read just a few.

I finished that trilogy, and moved on to more -- what I believe is called the Hand of Thrawn trilogy, for reasons I assume I'll find out -- and thinking about them today, I realized something, or remembered it.  There's a race in the book, the Noghri, that end up being bodyguards for Leia.  This follows well established sci-fi tropes of loyalty based races and slavery, but the thing about the Noghri that makes them so important is that they are silent and deadly killers.  Ever vigilant, they are never mentioned in the same sentence with words like 'stressed' or 'tired' and it gives them the air of superbeings.

They may yet have some weakness other than a sort of naive sense of honor, but for the moment, they seem unstoppable -- cunning, quiet, reliable -- and it makes me think of this assumption I had as a kid.  The first thing I thought of was how I used to (used to?) like designing spacecraft.  Imaginary Star Wars style things that had thousands of laser cannons and torpedo bays and special shield systems with some clever idea I'd just come up with, and that they were probably indestructible.  You could beat all comers in them, hands down.  Then I thought about that feeling, of security and sureness, and how absent it was now.

I definitely used to have a sense of absolutes.  That's what a lot of Star Wars was built out of, the well-demarcated good and bad (not the EU necessarily, just the movies), and I think that's something that's gone away as I got older.  Between not being able to become quite the person you imagined, or finding out things about the world that are more complicated than you expected, and just general rational learning, it's pretty hard to ignore how varied, complex, and lacking in easy judgment the world is.

This is, of course, not to suggest that Zahn writes such simple morality plays.  His characters are interesting and grow and change, sometimes predictably, but not stupidly by any means, and I quite enjoy the books.  It has, however, made me notice how differently I feel about the things around me from when I was little.  There's so much t juggle in this adult world - where to live, how to get food and who to know and how to spend time with them.  I also don't mean to suggest that such things are absent from the world of children, but how I approach them now has none of the easy, clear delimitations I remember.

Getting by

posted on 2011-06-30 01:26:18

I suppose it's not unexpected, but I have been plagued by a great deal of getting by lately. A summer internship in central New York wasn't something I imagined to be a social outing, but I still wasn't prepared for all of the car-damaging, mind-numbing lack of excitement Utica has to offer - especially when you know no one.

I think it's given me a much better image of what I hope to avoid in the next place I live. For one - I'd like someplace where it seems nice to walk outside. My neighborhood here is not only in the middle of nowhere, but doesn't look friendly. I'd also been thinking that a city would be nice, and perhaps it would, but living in a rickety place really doesn't make one feel good.

Mostly, though, I think the real lack of people around me has had the most profound impact. Only at work do I have people around me with expectations and habits of their own, so only there do I really have a structure. At home I can really do whatever I want whenever, and often that means not getting to bed as often as would probably be healthy. I'm also just starved for human contact.

Wir tauschen Zeit für Geld (und hoffen lass mich jetzt nur so weit sein)

posted on 2011-06-16 02:27:10

Man, I've had a blog for how many months and haven't included a song in a title in some way?  These first two weeks have been my introduction to the life of a working physicist -- specifically a government-employed physicist.  Even more specifically, as I found out today, most of whose co-workers are computer scientists.

The lessons I learned today are two-fold: Never go to a set of 5-minute talks.  You will not remember anyone who spoke (ok, maybe one or two) and 5 minutes of talking means nobody gets to explain anything.  Also, they will go over 5 minutes trying, but still not really manage to talk about much, and you won't want to listen because of all of the other talks lined up after them.  Those were some of the dullest 4 hours I have lived through, my friends.  Wow.

On the brighter side, I am doing work now!  It's a lot nicer than sitting in a cubicle all day doing nothing.  Now I read books and articles, and try and make octave do math.  I'm even getting plausible numbers!  Today, I also experienced my first research group meeting, which was new and neat.  Getting a bunch of people together who are working on a common project and hearing ideas, suggestions, etc, was rather exciting, and certainly made me feel more a part of something.  I think a lot of people come in and out of the group, so people don't really go hugely out of their way to welcome newcomers, which makes sense, but didn't make me feel very at home very quickly.

That said, everyone's very friendly and accessible, and it's fun learning new personalities and seeing how they interact.  Unfortunately, I don't think I'll be writing much about my day to day research, as sharing what I'm doing is discouraged, but I'm already looking for the next thing to do and I'll make sure there are no problems sharing it.  That's what science is about, after all.

Working for the Gub'ment

posted on 2011-06-06 22:36:07

Well, now I'm out of school, and the tradition is to find a job. One way or another I ended up with a job and now, much to my surprise, I'm working for the air force. This also makes for the first time I've moved somewhere for a reason other than to take a class. I've been to Germany, to Rhode Island, and Hamilton, but they were all for school reasons, now I'm in Utica for work.

It's been pretty strange moving into a city all alone. I only managed to find an apartment here two days before I moved in, and I was pretty lucky for that. That said, I'll probably have a roommate soon, which will be a little different. Especially since I don't get to choose who. The apartment feels sort of middle of nowhere, although I'm pretty close to the Matt's Brewery, not that that means I get free beer or anything. It's hard to express, though, how strange being here alone is. I'm very glad I know some people nearby, and that my friend Dan was able to come up yesterday. The first night was pretty lonely. There are so many new places to learn, grocery stores to find, neighbors to meet or become comfortable with not seeing, parking arrangements to sort out.

So far, the job hasn't been great either. I had my first day today, and felt like I got nothing done. I wasn't expecting much, but today was something especially dull. I spent all day trying to get my security badge, but was behind other people in line until late in the day, when everyone who could sign my forms had, apparently, gnone home. So, I needed to have people escort me all over the building, because I wasn't allowed to be un-chaperoned. I even needed someone to walk me to the bathroom.

That aside, I'll be glad to be doing some research work, and look forward to meeting more of the people, because so far, the scientists have been exceedingly nice.



My First Magnetism Lesson

posted on 2011-04-24 22:51:30

So, I'm taking a class on science and math education this semester because I think they're important things for people to know, because so much of our modern world depends on them, and they often run so counter to our intuition.  Even as someone who has been taking physics courses for the last six years, I often find myself not completely sure of how things work, or at least unable to explain them to people when the chance arises.  For this class, I've been visiting a local high school and sitting in on their physics class.  I get to help out a little, and I'm slowly learning a bit about the craft of teaching.  While the part I'm most afraid of is classroom management (Not necessarily the best and handling conflict) I can only learn that from experience, and to get experience I have to plan some lessons...

The first lesson I've been given to teach is magnetism.  Specifically, I chose to deal with magnetic fields, which are something really strange to people because they float invisibly in the air around us, and we don't usually think about them so much as the effect of the things that cause them.  As far as I was concerned, I had two real examples to work with: The Earth's magnetic field and the magnetic field of bar magnets.

The best method I could find or come up with for introducing magnetic field lines was to take a compass and a bar magnet and trace one out.  I think that actually got things across pretty well, because you have the compass needle pointing in the direction that the field points at any given spot around the magnet, and you can go from there, talking about the direction of the field (from north to south, which I taught backwards once) and then on to field strength.

I then fell back on iron filings and different shaped magnets for a lab section, which went pretty well, too.  The Magnets Lab was supposed to teach about the loops of magnetic fields by showing, using the paramagnetism of iron filings.

Most of what I took away from the lesson, though, was organizational.  The students needed me to write down the important things I was saying so they could take notes.  I also needed to demonstrate the lab, and other things that I'd long since forgotten about, while being in college.

Leaving facebook

posted on 2011-04-06 01:33:19

Last Monday, I took a step I'd been meaning to take for about 4 years, pretty much since I joined.  I left facebook!  There were certainly enough reasons, all of the information leak scares, knowing how much people rely on it for day to day information about people they don't really know, and the increasing feeling that I was just a pawn in someone else's money-machine.

It's been pretty interesting being out, since most people are know are still in it.  I get lots of conversations that start with "What do you think about... oh wait, you're not on facebook, so you probably haven't seen..."  Apparently a friend of mine was awarded a Fulbright recently, and I just found out today because she announced it on facebook.  It's the sort of thing that makes me wonder whether I made a right choice.  I know how much time I wasted refreshing the page and only getting news about people from high school I don't care about, who post far more than anyone I do care about.  I like to think that was a failure of facebook in interpreting and selecting information, but now I'm still out of the loop on a lot of things.  There are some people I don't have e-mail addresses for, and might not be able to easily contact at the moment, but hopefully I'll collect information from mutual friends and be able to get in touch with people when the need arises.

In what I like to think has become a reflexive exercise for me, I find myself thinking, what was it that I didn't like about facebook, and can I find something that is better.  I don't really know anyone who uses microblogging software, indenti.ca being the notable FOSS option there, so there seems no reason to start.  Maybe I just need to send out this blog to more people, and hope they'll check in on me from time to time, or add me to an RSS aggregator.

Reflecting in a different way, this is yet another way I've willingly limited my interactions with other people.  I don't eat meat with them, I don't go on facebook with them, etc.  I hope it makes other interactions more meaningful, instead of just cutting people off.

Hamilton in the Winter

posted on 2011-01-31 02:41:34

Winter in Hamilton is long - long enough that you can even notice distinct stages of it if you have to deal with it over and over again, as anyone who lives here does.  Now that it's almost February, we're entering the Slush Time.  That said, it still manages to be pretty beautiful sometimes, when you're not dealing with the wind blowing through the valley as you walk home through the slush that half melted earlier.

So, on the first day of classes (the 17th of January, this post is slightly out of order), I had the good foresight to take my camera along for the day, and since it was hideously cold everything was very clear and there were some interesting light-effects with snow in the air and whatnot.  There was a cloud hovering over the stream that runs through campus that you could walk through and not see people a few feet away.

Hello world!

posted on 2011-01-07 10:35:30

Finally, after many many years since my last website, I will have some space of my own on the net again.  I've been frustrated with the limitations of just having a blogger blog for a while now, and NearlyFreeSpeech.net offers quite cheap hosting that I think even I can afford.  I found help for setting up WordPress here and it's been relatively easy from there.

Right now, I'm having difficulty getting WordPress to upload images, which is, apparently, some permissions error I'll have to resolve.  I'm sure it'll get sorted out and I can show you all pictures of food I cook and whatnot.

Time to go find a good theme and generally hack about!

Doing many things poorly

posted on 2009-12-04 01:17:00

There comes a point in every semester when the overwhlming lack of sleep and the number of large projects build up and reach a critical point of no motivation. It's a rough time for many reasons but, more than anything, I find it frustrating because of how hard it is to dogood work during. I'm currently involved in preparing a talk and paper about my own research, pulling together ideas for a final paper for my Latin class, and trying to divine through augery what to do for the final project of the one liberal arts core classes I have have left. Most of the things I'm doing I rather enjoy at this point in my education, which makes me all the more upset when I just don't have enough time/sleep to devote to them.

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