Saturday, March 24, 2012

Maru Counteracts Ego Depletion

I've been working all day but I'm not feeling brain-dead or depleted, I think because:

(1) I'm framing this as doing "my work" rather than "coming up with a research idea for Monday's seminar" and working toward intrinsic (own) goals is less depleting than working toward extrinsic (set by someone else) goals; and

(2) I've watched this unbelievably awesome Maru video a couple of times already for replenishment (hey, it's Maru or Blue Bunny Bunny Tracks ice cream, you know?).  Note how Maru's right front foot looks around 0:32.  It's like the world's perfect furry cat foot (a white foot on a striped cat = gorgeous) mimicking the shape of an elephant foot.  Strangely, I was just last night mentioning to Robert that elephants have the best looking toenails of all animals.  Um, OK, yes that is inherently a strange thing to say.  But I don't know whether thinking of elephant toenails primed me to see an elephant-foot-like quality in Maru or what. 

Or possibly it's (3) I've used my mad psychology-magic skills to drain cognitive resources from Robert to increase my own power.  (This is a kind of mana leech spell, I think.)  Poor Robert had a bad headache for most of the day, and that was before he started working on our federal and two state income tax forms.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

City Owl

Yesterday I was in the lab collecting data all day, then Robert picked me up from campus after work.  On the way home, we saw about 800 people biking along the river trail wearing lights and/or bright neon clothing (a thing basically never seen in Austin, where bicyclists wear their Lance Armstrong aspirations on their sleeves as a badge of protection from vehicular manslaughter) and one owl: a barred owl that flew across the street right in front of our car.  It wasn't the snowy owl I was hoping for this winter, but it was satisfying nevertheless to see an owl right here in town.  At our last apartment in Austin, we took a walk around the complex one evening and had a barred owl fly over our heads.  I guess barred owls make good city owls.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


I thought the sandwich delivery tonight might take longer than usual because everybody is at home watching the basketball tournament, but I didn't think it would take 1 hour, 47 minutes.  The one delivery person working tonight (the other no doubt called in "sick" ahem) got a flat tire on her bike from riding over some of the huge amount of broken glass that's all over the streets in the aftermath of St Patrick's Day.  Apparently the city is not nearly as on the ball with broken glass removal as they are with snow removal.  She was unable to fix the flat and had to walk the bike back to the shop to get a different bike.  The delay was really annoying because we were really hungry (we didn't place the order until about 7:00 p.m., which is late for me) and the apartment is almost 90 degrees again, which is grumpifying.  But at least my evening sucked a lot less than the sandwich delivery woman's evening did.

A Surprise Treat

Despite it being crazy warm, our A/C system for the building has not been turned on, which meant it was almost 90 degrees inside yesterday evening.  When I noticed I was actually starting to sweat just sitting there, out of desperation, I decided to go out onto the balcony, where there was no breeze but the air was at least somewhat cooler.  It was only just starting to get dark, but there was something very, very bright in the sky (our balcony faces southwest), which I called Robert out to see.  He set up his telescope and voila, it's Jupiter and its 4 largest moons.  There was something just awesome and thrilling about seeing the moons of this distant planet (first identified by Galileo in 1609-1610 after he made improvements to his telescope) - they're obviously not nearly as mind-bogglingly distant as any of the stars we see, but something about the very rarity and unexpectedness of it was really great.  So I was right - it was, indeed, much cooler outside (especially with a telescope set up). 

As it got later, some of the big stars became visible.  First Sirius (the dog star), of course - though we didn't immediately know what it was until Orion became visible and gave us an orientation.  (Orion is my favorite, probably because of how big and easy to see it is, how much it really looks like what it's supposed to be, and how you can use it to orient yourself.)  Because of light cloud cover, only the lower right "foot" of Orion was bright but Orion is so distinctive that one foot and a sense that there might be a couple other stars here and here was enough for it to be identifiable.  I shocked myself by remembering (though it felt like guessing) that the lower right star is Rigel (which I confirmed when I brought out my star finder).  (Robert had to admit being impressed but clearly thinks it's related to my liking the muppet character Rygel from Farscape, which is quite possibly true).

Over the next 45 minutes or so, despite cloud cover and the fact that we were in the middle of a major city sitting on our balcony with a very limited amount of open sky available to us, we saw all of Orion (and yes, the double stars in the belt do look really cool in a telescope), Sirius, Procyon (the bright star in Canis Minor), a star in Gemini (I could never decide which one because there was only one visible), and Aldebaran (in Taurus) as well as Jupiter and a satellite that was trying to mimic a planet.

By the way, we are expected to get some relief from the heat by next Thursday or Friday, which I will welcome gladly.  The average high for yesterday's date (March 17) is 37 degrees.  We set a record yesterday of 81 degrees.  Fucking hell.  We also set record highs for the date last Friday, Wednesday, Sunday, and Saturday (and tied or came within 3 degrees the other days of the week).  Robert reminded me that the summer I moved to NC was also exceptionally hot and set records all summer long.  So perhaps this joins my other super-hero / super-villain qualities (no doubt the voice-over on my TV show would say, "They call me the Heatbringer").

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Spring Already?

Last weekend was the beginning of a string of strangely warm days - I mean, highs in the upper 60s to lower 80s.  This may not seem so odd to my southern readers, but it's quite atypical for Snow City.  Today's projected high of 77 is 26 degrees warmer than the average high for the day. 

UPDATE:  Robert says it's actually 39 degrees warmer than the average high for the day.

I almost can't believe I'm saying this, but I was promised a long winter; while I appreciate that there were only a few days I walked to school in temperatures below 0, if this is really the start of spring already, I'm feeling disappointed.

I was not feeling disappointed last weekend, when I assumed it was just a fluke couple of warm days.  On Sunday, Robert and I went hiking (with the idea that we would do some opportunistic birding, too) at a park near where he works, and like most parks in this area, it has a lake on it.  We got there mid-morning (an inappropriate time of day for Texas birding but we've found that birds seem to wake up late here and we didn't have high hopes for seeing birds anyway) and started down the trail from the parking lot.  A couple minutes later, I asked Robert if he brought any snacks and he said Yes, they're in the car.  I said, I'm not worried about starving between getting to the car and driving 5 minutes to somewhere I can get a snack; I'm more concerned that I'm going to pass out 45 minutes away from the car on this trail and you'll have to carry me back.  So we turned around to go back to the car and next to the parking lot, Robert stopped me to look at a tree, where there was a bird.  This kind.

Northern Shrike
That was life bird #476 for me.

We also saw several birds that were new for the state, including a surprisingly early Northern cardinal (they are expected here closer to April 1 than mid-March), a hairy woodpecker, cedar waxwings, eastern bluebirds, a killdeer, and (when we were driving about a block away from the park) a wild turkey.  We saw a total of 18 species but there was good variety and good numbers, especially compared to what we've seen on previous outings in this area. 

I'm increasingly convinced that people here do not trust in warm weather.  This week on my way to school, I almost never saw anyone not wearing a jacket, even though the temperatures were already warm and were expected to get warmer.  (I was wearing lightweight 3/4 length or short sleeves.)  It's like 70 something degrees out and people are wearing sweatshirts, puffy jackets, all kinds of things.  On the way home one day I saw a woman walking on the trail next to the river wearing gloves despite it being over 60 degrees.  Some girls are still wearing their Ugg boots, too.  (I have seen many girls on campus wearing shorts with Ugg boots, though with tights also.  This is sort of the Snow City equivalent of how girls in Austin would wear flip-flops in winter with coats, hats, and gloves.)  It makes sense that people here would be risk averse in that direction, but I've been trained to be worried that it will get even warmer than expected and I'll overheat, so my instincts tell me to err in the direction of being underdressed.  I've made an effort to try to correct for that bias and so this past week, I wore long pants and at least considered wearing a jacket. 

I think I've mentioned before that basically everyone here (men and women) owns and frequently wears black North Face jackets/coats.  For women, the Official Footwear (of the months September - March at least) is the Ugg boot.  In terms of our SAT/GRE analogies:

Ugg boot:Snow City::Flip flop:Austin::Crocs:Boulder

Although the Ugg boot is both ugg-ly and is actually an impractical choice for outdoor winter wear here (it is basically like a big slipper, so it is warm, I imagine, but the surface is not treated to be water resistant so they get really soggy and gross looking when people walk through slushy snow), it does have the admirable quality that it covers people's toes and is not made of neon-colored plastic, so it is preferable to the Austin and Boulder shoe choice.

This weekend, it's time to bring out the shorts (and I think I need to buy a few new pairs as well).  I hope that my getting prepared for all the warm weather spring has in store will cause the weather to turn cool again.  I'm not asking too much here.  Really, I'd be satisfied with several weeks of high temperatures below 65, I think.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Grades and Grades

I suppose it is indicative of the relative unimportance of grades in grad school that I never talked about the grades I got during the first semester of my PhD program.  (I don't know that I ever mentioned my grades at My Master U. either but those grades were boring.) 

So (cue suspenseful music): last semester I got a 3.93.  A's in all my seminars except one, in which I got an A-.  (If that math seems confusing, it's because all our department seminars are 7-week, 2 hour courses, and it's one of those I got an A- in.  But seminars in other departments are typically full semester, 3 hour courses.)

In any event, I am satisfied, my department is satisfied (I do have a minimum GPA I have to maintain), all is well.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Presentation Hump

Did my second of three presentation this morning and it went well. 

Yesterday when I was working on the presentation, it occurred to me that I don't have a laptop at school so I would need to put the PPT on a jump drive and borrow someone else's laptop in class.  One malware attack and about 90 minutes later, I had a loaner laptop in my office.  (Bizarrely, it is the same model as the laptop I got from My Masters University.)  Well, OK, that takes care of that, I guess.

So now I just have one presentation (and paper) on Friday.

I enjoyed this from a Harvard Business Review article about sustainability:

"Patagonia turned to Walmart, known for market strength but not necessarily sustainability, to help get the ball rolling on a VCI [value chain index that lets people compare environmental impacts of different products in an industry].  The two code-named their partnership David and Goliath.  Together, they had the credibility and power required to get their sector's attention.

In the fall of 2009 they sent out invitations to 12 CEOs of companies carefully vetted for their sustainability bona fides.  One recipient later said, 'When you get a letter from Mike Duke and Yvon Chouinard, with the logos for Walmart and Patagonia side by side, it's so bizarre that you have to read it.'"

Monday, March 5, 2012

Presentation Week

One down, two left to go this week.

Robert purchased me a crazy-ass looking but shockingly decent tasting type of brown rice spaghetti this week - it's a kosher rice pasta from Canada that is "Pasta Joy Ready" (tm).  But perhaps the strangest thing about it is its logo of two cartoon rabbits wearing overalls and holding up a grain of rice that is almost as big as they are, topped by the phrase "Not Mushy!"  (Is the rice in this universe gigantic or are those micro-tiny bunnies?)  I can't get a good photo of this from the package, but I can refer you to the site where the logo appears in action twice (telling us also "We bring rice-smiles!") about halfway down the page. 

I think they must use language like "Our entire factory premise and all machines" and "formed to gourmet class" on the package to make us believe that this is an authentic Asian product with language translated from the Chinese.  I also like the idea that it is "an ultimate in the enjoyment of pasta" (my emphasis).