Life of Megan

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Confessions of a reality TV junkie

As a member of the elite geeky class, I try to live up to their standards. I am playing not one, but two D&D campaigns right now, and the only thing keeping me away from the multi-player online role-playing games is my knowledge I don't have the free time to play. I read Slashdot, which is set as my homepage, Penny Arcade, and like to shop at Think Geek. My running is seen as a little unusual, but then Vin Diesel is decidedly in the geek camp, and he's far buffer than I am! Anyhow, there's a slight problem. Real geeks don't like reality TV. I love it.

Now, I've never really gotten excited about Survivor or The Bachelor/Bachelorette. I think Survivor doesn't feature enough surviving. Also, I don't see why it always has to take place in tropical environments. Sure, there are snakes, but it's just too easy to get along on these islands. Maybe if they had a Survivor: Siberia, I would watch. As for The Bachelor/Bachelorette, the other dating shows are just more interesting. I don't like American Idol either. I think it's painful. The only person I like on the show is Simon, largely because he seems to be the only one who says what I'm thinking (I am not mentally nice to people who can't sing/dance but think they can).

Anyhow, there are plenty of reality shows that I do enjoy and even try not to miss. My current favorites are Hell's Kitchen, The Amazing Race, Average Joe, and Beauty and the Geek. I have also been known to watch all the TLC reality shows and all the child-rearing based shows (e.g. Nanny 911 and Supernanny). How can people let their kids have all the control?! Last night, I watched Dancing with the Stars for the first time. It was great! Seeing the guy who played J. Peterman on Seinfeld doing a musical rendition of a matador taunting a beautiful woman was both hilarious and strangely beautiful.

The chef on Hell's Kitchen really is a jerk, but half the time, it's hard to blame him for being so angry. How many times does he have to tell these future chefs that if they don't like the food, they shouldn't send it out to the guests? I'm always rooting for the guys on Average Joe, and they always lose. The big problem so far is that when they bring the hunks onto the show to fight for the love of the beauty queen, one of the hunks is inevitably a nice guy. One of the beauties chose a hunk who lived with his parents at age 26 over an average Joe who happened to be a millionaire. That hurt. Beauty and the Geek is Ashton Kutcher's "social experiment." They've paired off geeks with beauties who, as a team, work to understand each other better. Amazing Race is fun because you see how little people really know about traveling and can easily imagine yourself in the same situations. I think Jud and I could be a formidable team if we could learn how to drive stick. I am pretty good at navigating these days. I still think my family should have tried out for the family edition.

A new season of Biggest Loser is starting soon. You know I'll be watching.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Megan vs. her Ford Focus

My ride to Boston and back was wonderful. As usual my car was responsive, fun to drive, and as perky as an inanimate object can be. I got back, parked the car in my apartment lot, put on the emergency brake, and merrily skipped off to bed. Over the weekend, I hitched rides from Judson. Then we went to Long Island. When we got back, I was shocked to discover that the left rear wheel was completely locked up. I got out, looked underneath, kicked the tire, and tried again. All I got was a sore foot. I tried driving it a bit, hoping to loosen it up (suspecting the emergency brake was somehow at fault), and dragged the tire around a bit before I realized I was just ruining the tire.

Then I joined AAA.

A few days later, I placed a call to the Ford dealer, hoping to get my repairs done free (after all, the warranty just expired in April, and I've only put 27,000 miles on the car). No luck. I checked the Car Talk mechanic files, talked to Jud's roommate Mike, who had just had car work done, and selected Bill's Sunoco Service. Mike was quite pleased with Bill's, and the service center is just a short walk from my office.

I had my car towed to Bill's last night via AAA. This morning, I met with Bill and got a lecture about why you should never leave the emergency brake engaged for long periods of time. I'm not really sure what you're supposed to do if you drive a stick and have to park on a hill and go out of town. At any rate, it had been quite stormy when I parked the car, and later everything dried. So rust formed on both the drum and the shoe (or the rotor and the caliper--I don't remember what type of brakes I have in the rear), effectively gluing the friction material to the drum and keeping the brake engaged. If you are in search of a good adhesive, you may want to consider rust. I was impressed. Now I understand why you never saw parts flying off old cars commonly described as "being held together by rust."

I knew the actual repair would be cheap. I also knew I'd have to pay for two new tires. I was correct.

So now, with parts totaling $210 ($207 for the two tires and $3 for a can of "Brake Klean") and labor, tax, and tire recycling fees totally $60, my car is back in good working condition. The good news is that somehow my tires, which only cost $10 more than I had hoped for (they're these low-profile expensive suckers in a weird size) are Z-rated and have a AA rating in traction with an A rating in temperature. I don't remember the treadwear rating off the top of my head. My old tires were rated B in both traction and temperature. I know I don't need the Z-rating, but it's sexy just the same.

So take my advice and don't leave the emergency brake on a parked car in wet conditions for extended periods of time. And if you don't listen and your rear wheels freeze up, please be smart enough not to drive around the parking lot hoping the brake will disengage.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Why I am not replying to comments on the "Linguistic Profile" post

I recently learned my family members and Laura are disappointed that I am not commenting on their linguistic profiles. I am sorry to disappoint, but I just don't have much to say about it!

I doubt this little quiz was accurate enough to have any scientific bearing at all. I don't know anything about linguistics, so I have no clue how I would go about analyzing differences among my family members. I'm not surprised Laura has a high "General American English" score--she's Portugese. How would she know little bits of slang like "sunshower"?

If I just had to guess, here's what I would say. Adam grew up entirely in the South. It should come as no surprise he has a robust Dixie vocabulary compared to the rest of us. I learned to talk in the North, lived a long time in the South, but have spent the last year in the North. I imagine it's not difficult to adapt to minor changes in pronunciation and to incorporate new slang. My mom grew up mostly in Baltimore and Ohio. She has spent the last 20 years in the South. She's incorporated quite a bit of the Dixie vocabulary but has held onto some of her earlier regional traits.

But that's my uneducated guess. I don't want to be saying things that are blatantly false and start pushing one of my good friend's buttons!

Friday, June 24, 2005

Linguistic profile

Okay, this is not a scientific test, but here are the results:

Your Linguistic Profile:

55% General American English

35% Yankee

5% Dixie

5% Upper Midwestern

0% Midwestern

I have no idea how I could spend most of my life in the South and come out with these results or how my parents, who are both from Ohio, haven't influenced my speach more. I would venture a guess that 1) I rapidly adopted to the Ithacan dialect and/or 2) it has something to do with learning to talk in Massachusetts and spending a lot of my time reading. Whatever. It's sort of interesting just the same. And what group of people has a name for the day before Halloween?

Sunday, June 19, 2005

To refrigerate or not to refrigerate,

That is the question. I'm talking about a half-open bottle of red wine, of course. Following arguments with Becky and Spautz on this topic, Jud and I did a little research. Most web sites and books we've checked, along with the information we received in class, encourages refrigerating open bottles of red wine. The logic is scientifically sound. Wine loses its flavor through oxidation, and it turns to vinegar because of bacteria. Oxidation occurs much more slowly at lower temperatures, and bacteria likes moist, warm environments--meaning it doesn't survive well in the fridge. That said, with a lot of deeper digging, Jud discovered there is some evidence that red wine may last longer when not refrigerated. Unfortunately, we didn't find this evidence, and the article Jud saw indicated scientists are not sure why this may be. Our theory is that there could be some sort of enzyme, present at much higher concentrations in red wines than in whites, that breaks down in cold temperatures, leading to yucky wine. The temperature dependence of enzymes is much more complicated than that of other compounds. If enzymes were to blame, it seems plausible that some red wines would have much higher concentrations than others, and because of this, some would need refrigeration while others should go without it. This means that Jud and I aren't crazy when we claim our red wines have lasted longer and stayed truer to form when refrigerated, and Spautz and Becky aren't nuts when they claim the opposite. In the end, you have to do what works for you. And speaking of methods to preserve wine, our research seemed to indicate that the inert gas method is the best way to keep oxidation at bay. Your nerdy friend, signing out. =)

Friday, June 17, 2005

First conference

Yesterday, I gave my first conference presentation at the Third MIT Conference on Computational Fluid and Solid Mechanics. My topic dealt with computing the strength of materials at the microstructural level in a friendly, cohesive toolbox. You can read the Powerpoint presentation here. I know the slides are ugly: it was not my choice!

Anyhow, the whole experience was interesting, nerve wracking, and somewhat fun. I think I did a pretty good job. Next time around, I'll try to finish up my slides earlier so that I have plenty of time to rehearse--I ended up bringing along index cards to help me remember the difficult parts (which I thought would be better than looking backward to read the slides). I got a few other nice pointers from the guys in my lab. I had a pretty good audience--the classroom was essentially full--and they all seemed interested in what I had to say. I was able to answer all the questions I was asked too.

I also met several people who had really nice things to say about our lab, saw several interesting presentations, and learned there may be a way to mesh real three-dimensional microstructure images. It seems there's currently a big push to simulate the human heart accurately. I really wanted to attend one of the seminars, but they all conflicted with other seminars I had to see.

So that wraps up the technical side of things. As far as the rest of the experience went--it was interesting. I drove up with my labmate Baskar as my passenger. Baskar was leaving for North Dakota today, so we just made a one-night trip out of it. The trip over was basically uneventful, but I've never seen anyone so excited about McDonalds (except maybe me after my marathon). Baskar has this strange ability to sleep for five-ten minute periods and then wake up startled and apologetic.

When we got there, we met up with Baskar's friend Lux, another Indian guy from Purdue whose name I instantly forgot, assuming I ever heard and understood it. Lux had swimming lessons to attend, and I wanted to go for my six-mile run. Luckily, Baskar was also up for a run, so we took off along the Charles River at a pretty good pace. My Forerunner was struggling to figure out where it was with the move, the clouds, and the tall buildings, and it was only 50 degrees out, so we decided to run an hour. I'm sure we covered at least six miles. The end was a bit of a struggle, but we finished. I still felt strong, but I think it was a little much for Baskar. Afterwards, we found Deep and Lijian, two other guys from my lab who were also attending the conference, met up with Lux and the Purdue guy, and waited for Anita, who I was staying with, to arrive so we could get some dinner.

We went to a place that none of the locals had visited but that had been highly recommended to them, my suggestion of Legal Seafood being rejected for fear of a lack of vegetarian dishes. We arrived, and I had a bad feeling about it. A glance at the menu, and I was feeling a bit defeated. I suggested we try somewhere else, but was outvoted. We all ordered. No one really liked the food. Only Deep ate most of his fish, which was too bony for him. For my part, I was having a hard time looking away from the gruesome fish eye. I was just glad Deep didn't eat it. I ordered a prawn and noodle soup. The smell was nauseating, but the noodles and prawns were actually decent. Afterwards, we dejectedly headed to a desserterie, which is a place where you can get desserts for $15+ per portion. I had the creme brulee, which was decent, but not up to French standards.

I finally arrived back at Anita's dorm around midnight, when I discovered she didn't actually have a bed for me. No big deal for me--I noticed a long couch when we arrived. After around ten minutes of Anita's claims that the floor would be good for her back and that she would really be more comfortable there, I convinced her to let me sleep on the couch, and she convinced me to take her pillow. I checked over my slides, read a little, and finally got to bed around 1:30.

The couch was surprisingly comfortable, and I felt pretty good up until noon the next day, when wandering around with my laptop, its accessories, and the MIT conference package began causing noticeable pain in my right shoulder. For some reason, I cannot comfortably carry my laptop (or my purse) on my left shoulder. I think it has something to do with keeping my dominant arm free of burdens. The pain grew worse all day until my entire back was aching. I was relieved when we finally headed toward my car to drop off the laptop and head to dinner. Finally, I got to take everyone to Legal Seafood.

I was a bit nervous because I had been talking about the restaurant all week, and I wanted everyone to like it as much as I do. Baskar had never really eaten seafood before, but he was eager to give it a shot. I knew Deep would like it because he loves salmon. I didn't know how Lijian would react. I introduced Baskar to the mojito. He loved it. Deep found a tasty salmon dish. Lijian ordered fish with a Chinese fruit sauce, which he really enjoyed. The waitress helped Baskar settle on haddock, which is apparently a mild fish. He had it cooked with the Cajun seasoning and loved it. I had the lobster casserole... Mmm... Obviously, the restaurant was a big success. Even better, the guys all spontaneously decided I should pick the restaurants at all future American conferences. So a big thanks to my dad for introducing me to Legal Seafood and winning me new respect in my lab. =)

Baskar and I didn't hit the road until 7:30. I drove through a number of storms, some bad, before we made it across the state line and into dryer weather. The trip back was uneventful, and we finally rolled into Ithaca around 1:30 AM. I slept past noon today but am still tired. I think I'll probably head to bed soon.

So that's the long, relatively boring review of my first conference experience. I'm glad it's over, but I feel proud that it went as well as it did. Between it and passing my Q, I am finally starting to feel like I belong here at Cornell. It's a nice feeling.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Havin' a heat wave--a tropical heat wave

For the eight-billionth (eighth) day in a row, it is roasting there in Ithaca. Let's take today for example. As I type this, the temperature is 83 F; the humidity is 69%; and the heat index is 88 F. Now, before you Southerners start talking about how you'd like to trade, I would like to report the current weather for Rock Hill, SC. There, it is 80 F; the humidity is 61%; and the heat index is 82 F. So it is actually hotter here than it feels in Rock Hill. And we don't have air conditioning!

Fortunately, with record highs yesterday and temperatures that have been unseasonably high (as in it's never really this hot here) for a full week, we are officially having a heat wave. The average high this time of year is 76 F, with an average low of a cool 56 F, meaning that it's never difficult to sleep. It dropped to about 78 F last night. Cloud cover is trapping the heat. We spend the days hoping it will storm, giving us a temporary reprieve.

My running has not been going well. I had an awesome 9-mile long run a few weeks ago and a great 10-miler when I was out with my dad two weeks ago. Last week, I barely slogged through 10 miles of an 11-mile run. I made it through my 3-mile runs all right this week (one of which went great, but was at 7am), and I survived a difficult 6-mile run on Tuesday. Today I went out for 8 miles (it's a cut-back week, thank God). I was dying by the end of the second mile. After three miles, I felt like I couldn't go another step. I shortened my run intervals, stopped and stretched, and chugged my Gatorade and made it to the 3.5 miles. Then I decided that I could probably go another half-mile to do the entire 8, but any benefits would probably pale in comparison to the extra pain and dehydration I would amass, so I turned around. I think that was the best decision I made all week. I finished relatively strong, but my average speed for the seven miles was 12:30 min/mile. I am just going to have to get up earlier to do my runs from now on. It wasn't considerably cooler, but the shade might have been better. At least it would have been mentally easier than running at 11 am.

Later, Jud and I went to the mall to be somewhere with air conditioning. We went through Best Buy and then bought a few books at Borders and spent a few hours reading and sipping on iced lattes at the adjoining cafe. I am finally reading Flowers for Algernon. It's excellent so far.

Well, that's about all I have to say right now. The heat is making me too tired to type more. ;-)

Friday, June 03, 2005

Teaching the teachers

It seems my first teaching experience will involve giving lectures to middle- and high-school math and science teachers at Cornell's annual Teacher Professional Development Day. As far as I can tell, the objective is to explain ongoing research to teachers in such a way that they can understand the material and use it to inspire their students. Dr. Zabaras correctly assumed I am the only one in the lab who thinks this sounds like a fun activity. I think the hardest part of this will be figuring out which aspects of my work are interesting to other people. Fortunately, the workshop isn't until March, so I have a while to think about it.

Meanwhile, I found out that staying at the Wickaninnish Inn would cost around $480 per night for the smallest rooms. This was one of the places I'd been considering for my honeymoon. The rates are $100-$200 cheaper per night for the non-summer months. So I haven't completely rejected the idea (hey, you only get one real honeymoon), but I am definitely going to look around for other places to stay and even other parts of the world to consider. The Wick Inn even sounds like it'd be more fun in the winter, when there are whales and big storms and the like. So now I'm looking into the Adirondacks and will probably investigate California (especially the San Francisco region) and Europe. I'm always open to honeymoon ideas. I don't want to go anywhere that could be considered "tropical." I'm just not a hot weather beach person.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Woohoo! I'm not dumb afterall!

I know, I know. I shouldn't talk about how I am dumb. But after a lackluster first semester, it seems I have turned things around. Last semester, I got two Bs and a B+ in my classes. This semester, I had to drop kinetics (note to my grad school friends: don't think you can make it in a class whose prereqs you lack), but I ended the semester with an A- in Solid Mechanics II and an A+ in Computational Material Science. A+!!! I haven't had one of those since middle school! =D

Big crystal bowl

Well, I'm back in Ithaca after a very nice visit with my family. Adam looked great in his graduation gown with all his stolls, hoods, and clangy medals. Northwestern conducted the ceremony in straight alphabetical order instead of placing the honors kids first as they had when I graduated, so we had reason to pay attention throughout the ceremony. The school decided to do everything in its power to keep people from celebrating until the end of the ceremony, which means we received cards and phone calls warning us to follow the dress code and not to make noise. Police lined the arena. One lady was removed when her baby was crying a little bit. Other than that, the only peep from the crowd as names were called was a relatively quiet "woo woo woo" delivered by a man at the top of the arena who clearly expected to be removed instantly (and who was removed). I understand that they want respect and that other kids may not have as great an experience if their names can't be heard over air horns and the like, but I think the school went overboard. I felt like I was a prisoner who had been escorted to an opera on a field trip for cultural enlightenment. The kids were so afraid to detract from the solemn nature of the event that almost all the honors students held their medals as they walked to the stage and back, fearing the noise the medals made as they clinked together.

After many threats of not getting any graduation presents, Adam told me he'd like a DDR dance pad, so I got him one of the wireless versions, along with the game DDR Max 2. He's been progressing pretty well and has unlocked many songs already. I really impressed my family with my DDR skills, but their shock was almost insulting.

My runs have been giving me some pretty serious black toenails and blisters, and I finally gave in and bought another new pair of shoes. These are Brooks and are a half-size bigger than my previous shoes. I am supposed to have a lot more room in the toebox now, so I hope my duck-like feet respond accordingly. It's a bit scary when the thought of sticking a needle into your nail bed no longer makes you cringe. I bought the new shoes, along with a new sock wardrobe, at the Charlotte specialty running store Run for your Life. My dad needed some energy gel packs and was looking for the 26.2 bumper sticker, and I'm the one who spent all the money. My grandfather got a new pair of shorts though.

I had a really great time going to spinning classes with my mom. She's a much tougher cyclist than I am though. We went to one bridal store, and the dress I tried (which was in the size I generally wear) was way too small. Stupid wedding dresses and their ultra-tiny sizing. I really don't care about the size--just the fit--but I didn't realize they would be so small. Maybe it was just the one I tried though.

We got Adam a Cookie Bouquet, and when we unwrapped it, we discovered one of the cookies read "You dit it." Now, this thing cost my mom $70, so we were a bit frustrated. When we called, the Cookie Bouquet people were mortified and gave my mom a full refund. Those were some good cookies!

Jud's parents visited him while I was in Ithaca and investigated possible spots for the rehearsal dinner. They brought along an engagement gift from them and one from Grandma Powers, which I learned are my gifts (Grandma Powers knows all the social traditions). The Powers gave me a very nice Bodum Assam Tea Pot that is a tea press for loose teas along with a set of the matching Assam glass mugs. Grandma Powers gave me a very large, heavy crystal bowl. I don't know what this bowl is for. It's too small to be a punch bowl. Maybe it's a big salad bowl. I need to find out soon because I want to send a thank you card. It is basically a cylinder with a base (but it's one solid piece with a slight curve in the transition from sides to base). The crystal is 1/4" thick. If you have any ideas, please let me know ASAP. Here are some pictures of the bowl:

I had a good long run with my dad last week. It'll be a bit lonely running 11 miles by myself this Saturday. Oh, well. I tried to convince Jud to go with my for my easy three-miler yesterday, but I failed to convince him.

Well, this thing is long enough, and I'm basically out of things to talk about. Maybe I'll discuss the new game Turbo Cranium some other time. =)