Life of Megan

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


I took (and passed) my qualifying exam today, so I am officially in the Ph.D. program now. I have been studying for this exam for quite some time, and although I would have liked to do a bit better (I was a little nerve-rattled at first), I feel great!

The whole lab is going out to celebrate tonight, and I hope to see Star Wars afterward. That means that right now, I have to go home and pack/clean to be ready for my trip home tomorrow.

My brother is graduating from high school on Friday! If you have any good gift suggestions, and you are not my brother, please e-mail them to me (we want it to be a surprise, you know).

If you are my brother, feel free to post a list as a comment. ^^

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Digital coaching

Having the Forerunner is teaching me a lot about how I run. I did a short, easy run on Friday morning and felt awful the first mile. My pace was a choppy 11+ min/mi, and I was really feeling the effects of not having any easily accessible energy sources. After the first mile, I settled down, accepted the fact that I would be running uphill for another half mile, and my pace dropped to 9:30 min/mi. I turned around after about 16 minutes, just shy of 1.5 miles, and continued to pick up the pace, now heading downhill. I noticed that when I start breathing harder, it means my pace has dipped below 8:45 min/mi. I have become an efficient downhill runner and was able to run the last half quite quickly, adding on a few tenths to finish 3 miles in 28:30.

Yesterday, I took the Forerunner out on my long run. I have not been doing particularly well on long runs lately, and I suspected it was because I was running too quickly at the beginning. I set the pace alert to ring if I ran below 9 min/mi and checked frequently with the goal at staying between 9:30 and 10:30 min/mi for the running segments. I found I had to slow myself down throughout the entire run. Several times I'd just be running along and suddenly discover my pace had improved to 8:45 min/mi. Staying slow was a bit of a challenge, and I felt a little frustrated and nervous about my overall time, except that with walking included, my pace per mile was always between 10:15 and 11:00 min/mi. Still, I felt strong the entire time, and I was able to run the last few miles at a faster pace than the rest of my run. In the end, I ran 9.1 miles at an average pace of 10:30. Last week I ran 8 miles at an average pace of 12:00, having become quite fatigued after 5 miles. It's a little counter-intuitive to run slower to have a faster time overall, but it's also time-honored marathon strategy. Most marathoners try to run either even splits (all miles at roughly the same pace) or negative splits (with the second half faster than the first). The best racing advice out there is to control your pace at the beginning, even if it means running the first mile slower than goal pace.

Anyhow, with all the fun and practicality of my new gadget, I am wondering why I waited so long to break down and buy it. All those years I struggled in cross-country... Maybe if I had this thing, I could have finally broken 24 minutes. But then, maybe I still can. =)

Friday, May 20, 2005

My mom can officially torture people!

My mom spends so much time at the Y that they finally offered her a job there. She's one of these inspirational people who you expect to see on Oprah or Dr. Phil talking about how she lost a lot of weight (I have lost count, but it's more than 150 lbs!) the old-fashioned way. Her progress is so evident that I can't go to the Y in Rock Hill without someone coming up to me and saying: "Are you Lynn Thompson's daughter? I have to tell you how great your mom is... She's a complete inspiration..." It's always good to hear, even if it's a little scary that I look so much like my mom that I can be identified as her daughter by complete strangers.

At any rate, she started advising/exercising with people who have recently undergone gastric bypass surgery and started taking the Y's class to become a personal trainer. Last week she passed her test and began teaching aqua aerobics classes. This means that I now get emails that say: "Meggie, who do I complain to when the instructor kicks my butt, and I'm the instructor?!"

But I think it's a good thing. Not only am I sure she's a good instructor, but I think it's good for the class attendees to see a normal person in the front of the room/yelling at them from the pool.

Way to go, Mom!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Apartment life

I live in a lovely apartment building that consists of a big house and an adjoining 1920s building that used to be a dormitory for nursing students. It is generally very quiet, and the residents are very helpful with things like opening doors and offering to give your car a push if you're stuck in your parking spot because of the snow. My only real complaint would be the occasional loud sex from the girl upstairs. If I had a sturdy broom, I could be one of those grumpy downstairs apartment types. But I don't (mine's plastic), so I have to listen to loud moaning that makes Meg Ryan's famous outburst in the movie When Harry Met Sally sound like soft whispering. Fortunately, she doesn't have sex often. Unfortunately, when she does, it is always the night before one of my big exams, and always around 2 am. My apologies to my parents and other adults who may be reading this. I hope it just reminds you how much it stinks to have other people living around you.

Anyhow, someone propped open one of the hallway doors with an MCAT study-guide book. It was there for several weeks. Last week, a note appeared on the hallway door asking whoever took the MCAT book to please return it to the apartment upstairs. A few days passed, and now the note has the addition "Who the hell would steal an MCAT book?! Please return it. You don't have to show yourself."

I really want to write: "Who the hell would prop open a door with a necessary study guide when there is a stack of phonebooks in the foyer?" It seems cruel, though, and I worry that I would be blamed as the thief. At any rate, I am almost certain that one of the apartment maintenance people just threw it away. You aren't supposed to prop open doors in my building.

Meanwhile, there's been a TV sitting out in the hall of one apartment for well over three weeks now. I think the person moved out, didn't have space for it, and figured someone would pick it up. This TV is significantly bigger than my own. I keep planning to call the office and ask them about it, and then forgetting during the day. Maybe I'll do that tomorrow. To be honest, I'm not really worried it will walk away at some point.

So that's what my little apartment complex in Ithaca is like. Now I'm going to try to get some sleep.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Running club

Last week, Baskar asked if he could accompany me on my run, and it turned out to be fun. Today, Badri joined the two of us. So it seems I have running partners. We went about five miles around the Cornell plantations (I say about because it took me a while to realize you have to start the Garmin forerunner timer for it to track your distance and pace and whatnot).

So now I have a very small, nerdy running club, and I'm pretty happy about it. I don't mind having company/competition on my runs as long as they aren't holding back too much to stay with me, and it adds legitimacy to my time outside of the lab.

The Garmin is cool, but I discovered I only have one computer which I can use for linking the device with the logging software. My laptop doesn't have a serial port, and my personal desktop doesn't have Windows. Ah, well. Such is life sometimes. I think it'd be possible to find a USB/serial converter somewhere.

Tomorrow I'm either going for a short but continuous run or for some nice time on the bike. Woohoo!

First bike ride

Yesterday, Mike, Jud and I went out to the Outlet Trail for a long bike ride with a subsequent visit to Dr. Frank's Vinifera Wine Cellars. The Outlet Trail is part of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, which basically seeks to convert unused railway tracks to biking/running/cross-country trails. The path we took was either 15 or 16 miles round-trip, and because I wanted to be close to the winery at the end, we ended up doing the easy way on the way out. The trail was really nice, but we were really glad we had hybrid bikes and not road bikes. The weather seemed perfect, and we kept a comfortable pace the entire time except for one bit on the way back when my hamstring was hurting, and I was feeling the effects of having forgotten my inhaler.

Dr. Frank's was a nice place that offered the best Gewurztraminer I've tried so far. I thought the Riesling was not quite crisp enough (a little round), so the Wiemer riesling is still best in my book. Dr. Frank's history was pretty interesting too. All in all, it was a nice winery to visit, despite the tour buses.

Today I am a little sore but am feeling a little sore but proud of myself for going so far on my second bike ride in years. I would like to get a good ride in at least once per week, but I don't know how that will work out with my long runs. It seems like it'd be kind of dumb to follow a long run with a long ride, but it worked for me this weekend.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Random musings

My quads were not as sore this morning as I'd feared they'd be, but my butt is still sore following yesterday's bike ride.

My bike manual was mainly in CD-ROM format. Very odd.

New York is trying to raise the smoking age to 19 so that it is illegal for any high-schooler to smoke. Vermont is trying to lower the drinking age back to 18. I don't really see how changing the smoking age will make a difference at this point, but I do think it's good to try to keep cigs away from schools. Of course, I think it's good to keep cigs away from everyone. Personally, I'd like to see more smoking lounges and stricter laws so that you can only smoke at home or in specially designated, closed-off places. I think Vermont's attempts to lower the drinking age are a step in the right direction, but I think it will probably lead to an increase in alcohol-related car fatalities as teenagers pour into the state from its borders. Maybe they could limit the law to VT residents. I wonder if alcohol-related car accident rates are higher along the Canadian border than they are in other parts of the US with similar demographics.

Three fishermen found a body in Ithaca Falls yesterday. The Cornell community is waiting to see if it is the body of a student, Daniel Pirfo, who disappeared almost a month ago after a night of heavy drinking. The body was decomposed, and no ID was found, so we are waiting for identification via dental records. If Ithaca Falls is where I think it is, it would be relatively easy for a drunk person to fall to his death there. I think we are all assuming the worst. Grief counselors are already preparing students. I can't imagine how horrible to be Daniel's friends, family, or roommates right now.

I really disliked the way Carolinians (and people from Charlotte, in particular) were described and portrayed on Sex in the City last night (reruns on TBS) last night. The couple, who had said they would let Charlotte (the character) and her husband adopt their baby, had thinning hair and heavy accents. They'd traveled to NY even though they had decided to keep the baby after all because they wanted a chance to see the city.

Gilmore Girls has definitely jumped the shark. I think this will be the last season I watch. Rory steals a boat? I don't think so!

My grandfather is having a pacemaker and automatic defribillator implanted tomorrow. My thoughts and prayers go out to him.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


I picked up my bike this afternoon, learned how to use all the quick adjustment features, discovered I get a free tune up in 30-90 days, and headed off down the road. Jud came over so that he could ride with me. I am still having trouble getting started quickly (one of the problems with a properly fit bike is that you have to lean considerably to have one foot on the ground). It's easy if there's a curb nearby (which is the case around campus), or if the ground is flat/downhill, but otherwise, I'm doing my best not to wander into traffic.

Anyhow, Jud and I rode back to his apartment via a recreational trail (no cars), and I had so much fun that despite achy quads I went out for twenty minutes once we arrived. Poor quads... Running doesn't use you enough.

My butt is a little sore, but the seat is one of the most comfortable I've tried. I will buy a good pair of bike shorts if I find that it's a problem for short cross-training outings.

Tomorrow, I promised my friend/labmate Baskar that he could come running with me, so that should be interesting. At least I'll have someone to talk to for a change!

Monday, May 09, 2005

Spending spree

Well, I finally broke down and bought basically everything I've been seriously considering since August or earlier, and I am really excited about it. I bought:
  • A Black-and-Decker 10-cup food processor
  • A Soehnle Myra Digital Food Scale
  • A Garmin Forerunner 201 GPS/running system
  • A Trek 7100 hybrid bike and accesories
The food processor arrived today and has already saved me a ton of time. It works really well and can handle dough in addition to vegetables. It chops onion insanely quickly, and it handled my zuccini with ease.

The scale has 1-gram precision and can handle up to 2 kg. It has a nice tare function and wasn't too expensive. I had considered more precise scales, but I think volume measurements are sufficient when it comes to measurements that are on the order of 10 grams.

I had been considering the Forerunner ever since my dad bought his. I chose to go with the 201 over the slightly less expensive 101 edition because the 201 is slightly smaller and lighter, and I like the idea of uploading data from my runs to my computer. I am a geek, after all.

The bike seems well-suited to both road-riding and rails-on-trails cinder-type surfaces. I was able to take it on a test ride around Cornell's campus, which gave me some experience with hills, and it shifted very smoothly and felt great. Better yet, it was $200 below my price cap. It came with a bell, too. (My dad will understand why coming with a bell is great.) Along with the bike, I bought a helmet, a U-lock and cable, a water-bottle socket, and a front/rear light. So my riding will be legal in NY, even if I go out wthin an hour of dusk. I pick up the bike at the shop tomorrow, and I plan to use it for cross-training then.

Normally, I wouldn't buy so much stuff at one time, but these are all things that have been in and out of my online-baskets (or on my mind, anyhow) for months. I think they'll all be great for me.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Saturday's run

Today I went out on my "long" run (I'm just starting my build-up after all the injury) of seven miles. The plan was to follow the Shannon Park route suggested by the Finger Lakes Running Club. I had checked out all the directions with Google maps and felt confident that it would be easy to follow. Most of the mileage was along one of two roads, and I knew I'd be able to remember all the names, so I thought trying it without driving it first would be all right.

I got lost twice. The first time, I was trying to run from Wyckoff to Highland, and I realized I'd been running farther than it seemed I should. Pretty soon, I saw a guy working in his yard, so I asked. He very nicely gave me detailed directions, and I thanked him profusely and turned around to go back about a quarter-mile before heading up a really steep hill, down another road, and on to Highland. Later, I remembered that the map showed a little dip iin that area. Later, I misread an intersection and failed to stay on Highland. This time, the mistake was more serious, as it took me almost half a mile to spot another street sign, which told me I had somehow wandered onto a different road. I thought maybe I would eventually cross the road I was seeking because of the way the road turned, so it took me another stretch to figure out I should just turn around. So on my way back, I asked some people who were out walking and who gave me great instructions but seemed very concerned about the distance I wanted to travel until I explained I was out for at least 7 miles. Thanking them profusely, I got back on track, permanently, this time. I was really lucky because only a few minutes later, my nose started bleeding, and I ended up with blood all over my shirt.

The run turned out to be really good but extremely hard (Ithaca is really hilly!). The people of the Finger Lakes Running Club claimed the last few milss would have a gentle downhill slope. There was a brief downhill stretch, but the rest was definitely a mix of some good uphills and some flat areas. The end was straight up! Grr... I knew it would be hard, as runners rarely use the word "stagger" when describing the end of a route, but sheesh!

Oh, well. I made it, and I feel great now. Next week, I need to pick out an eight-mile route. =)

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Weekly wine update: Bordeaux

Today we covered the wines of Bordeaux with a wonderful guest speaker, M. Jean-Michel CAZES (I like the French method of spelling names), who brought us thick Bordeaux guide books and enough expensive wine to give the class quite a treat.

Anyhow, Bordeaux is a wonderful region for wine. The fine wines can be very fine and extremely age worthy (some have aged over 100 years and still been excellent), but the simpler wines are affordable, enjoyable, and capable of being consumed young. Bordeaux itself is a very large region with 57 different AOCs, most of which are difficult to remember. The region can be divided into the left bank and the right bank, just like Paris. Wines of the left bank typically have more prestige than those on the right bank. Left bank red bordeaux have cabernet sauvignon as their primary grape, because it flourishes in this area's gravelly soil, while the right bank specializes in merlot and cabernet franc.

Bordeaux wines were classified in 1855 using a system of growths. The first growth (premier cru) wines are best, followed by four other growth classes (2eme-5eme cru). These are all expensive but quite good. You can find good deals in Bordeaux, so don't fear too much! There's even a cru bourgeois ($15-$30) that you can count on as a good value.

While 85-90% of Bordeaux's production is red wine, Bordeaux does make some great white wines as well. The typical white bordeaux is a blend of semillon and sauvignon blanc and is crisp and delicious. One region in Bordeaux, Sauternes, makes a great dessert (read: sweet) white wine. Sauternes is affected by the same disease that makes the special late-harvest German riesling so special, noble rot. The grapes used are a blend of semillon, sauvignon blanc, and muscadelle, which, under the influence of noble rot, produces a wine with flavors of honey, apricot, and orange. The labor intensive process leads to expensive wines ($30-$300). Fortunately, half bottles are available, and neighboring regions make similar wines for a reasonable $15-$25. For these, look for Barsac, Cadillac, Loupiac, or Sainte-Croix-du-Mont.

So here's what we tried. Prepare for sticker-shock.
  • Sauvignon Blanc, Lurton, AOC Bordeaux, France, 2002 ($8)
  • Chateau La Chapelle Despagnet, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France, 2000 ($20)
  • Chateau La Lagune, Haut-Medoc, Bordeaux, France, 2001 (3eme GCC) ($32.50)
  • Chateau Lascombes, Margaux, Bordeaux, France, 2001 (2eme GCC) ($56)
  • Chateau Beychevelle, Saint Julien, Bordeaux, France, 2001 (4eme GCC) ($37.50)
  • Chateau Rieussec, Sauternes, 1999, (1er GCC) ($50)
Well, folks, that wraps up my wine class, and thus ends the weekly wine updates. It's been grand!

Monday, May 02, 2005

The passionating nature of language

Isabelle is good proof that it is relatively easy to construct grammatically correct English sentences that make absolutely no sense. She also deals well with the frustration of knowing the perfect word in her native language and discovering that their is no English equivalent. For this reason, she invented the word "passionating." Today was the first time I saw it in practice, but she has apparently used it since August and only recently learned that it isn't actually a word. Fortunately, that doesn't phase her. She eagerly asks us things like "Isn't astrophysics passionating?"

How do I feel about astrophysics? I'm not sure. But inventing new words that are fun to say? It's passionating!

The great politeness experiment

Generally, I don't pay attention to the people around me (meaning other customers in stores, etc), but in light of all my Southern friends' assertations that Southerners really are more polite (or, as spautz puts it, have a lower rudeness threshhold). So for the next week or so (as long as it takes me to get bored with this), I will be paying attention to how other peoople interact.

Today's first test was Collegetown Bagel, since I slept too late to make oatmeal for breakfast. Collegetown Bagel is a combined coffee shop/deli/bagel shop whose setup is not particularly conducive to being polite. You follow a queue up to a counter, where you order the sandwiches/bagels you want and receive a slip of paper to take farther up the queue to the cashier. It's generally loud, and there are several employees making sandwiches and taking orders at the same time. So you just stand there until someone looks up or, ideally, asks you what you want. They're working really hard and trying to keep up with roughly five sandwiches each, plus new customers, so it's hard to say they're impolite.

I was able to hear two people both in front of and behind me for a total of four. The shop is just outside Cornell's campus, so there's no real telling where the customers are from, though it seems the vast majority of Cornell students are originally from the North. Here are the results from ordering the bagels:
  • Two people said "Can I get a ..."
  • One said "I'll have a ..., please"
  • One said "I'd like a ..."
  • All four said either "Thanks" or "Thank you" upon receiving their order slip
I'll let you draw your own conclusions about this. For my part, I think the customers were less polite than they would have been in the South but that they certainly weren't rude.

Next I reached the cashier. You don't have to ask the cashier for anything, except perhaps a coffee. But I was the only one in my area who wanted a coffee, and I am excluding myself from this experiment. Once again, everyone around me said "Thanks" or "Thank you" when his order was completed. Later, when receiving my sandwich (you wait around to hear "sesame with cream cheese!"), I noticed that about half the people said thank you, and that when they had to reach over someone waiting in line, almost all said excuse me.

So that's all I know for now. Time to learn some solid mechanics.

May 4, 2005
Today I noticed that all the kids thanked our bus driver when we got off the shuttle from my apartment to campus this morning.

I spoke with the Yankees who sit around me about politeness in the South. One of them is from New York, and the other is from New Jersey. They're both really nice and have even invited me to parties. So anyhow, they said they don't feel welcome in the South. They feel intimidated by a high prevalence of bumper stickers that either have the Confederate flag or say things like "Yankees, go home!" They think Carolinians have too much pride. They also talked at length about a friend of theirs who went to Texas for grad school and has been having terrible service everywhere and who hasn't been able to make friends. Weird...

May 9, 2005
This is from a thread on the Runner's World Forums about the best greetings received while out on a run:
I used to just say "mornin'" if it was morning. But, though that is appropriate for someone from the northeast, the southerners didn't seem to like it. After people remarking that yes, it was morning, I've added a "good" to it!