Monday, January 16, 2017

Wine and a short whine

     I manage a project that runs 10 simultaneous conferences every January. I always attend one, and so this weekend I was Hamilton, near Toronto. Other people do the heavy lifting of organizing and running the thing, but there's still enough for me to do. On Sunday morning, in the span of three hours, I gave a plenary talk, sat on a panel, and ran a workshop. Events like these are absolutely the hardest part of my job for me. I'm actually pretty good at talking in front of people - I'm organized, my slides contain the right amount of information, my talks are super interactive, and people laugh at my jokes. (I hope, of course, that they also learn something.) But I really hate it. I usually manage about five hours of sleep the night before, and then I'm wiped out for several days afterwards.
     Today I flew home and tried to make myself rest by not working on any house projects. Instead, I decided to take a trip to the wine superstore. It takes about 45 minutes to get there, so when I go, I stock up on a six-month supply. Alas, the two-hour errand turned into three when I remembered that I had left my wallet in my other coat, which was still hanging on the coat tree at home. I will not let a mere trifle like that come between me and my wine, so I drive home, fetched the wallet, and then drove back to complete the purchase. Those of you who visit me between now and July can appreciate my efforts when sharing a glass with me

Friday, January 13, 2017

Christmas Recap

Here's a quick look back on my Christmas holiday in Ohio before I forget everything. My brother and his family came from California and we all had three days celebration together.
Everyone else rides motor vehicles as part of their Christmas celebrations, right? My niece, on the left, is posing with a four-wheeler, but my father was riding with her. Of course, there's a small, kid-sized four-wheeler that they can drive themselves.
Ada received many gifts. I wonder if she even remembers what it was like to survive on the streets of Miami.
Dinner was individual Beef Wellingtons and a Buche de Noel. I loved the Beef Wellington recipe, which could be assembled the day before. The individual puff pastry packets had so many delicious fillings (cheese, fresh spinach, caramelized onions, and portabella mushrooms), that I simply left the beef out of mine and it was still amazing.
The kids were entranced with the idea that mushrooms could be made of candy (i.e. meringue).
The kids decided to throw a tea party, with the good "crystal" and the fancy tea set. We were all invited, and it was very exclusive - you couldn't get in without presenting your written invitation.

I also used the Christmas break as a training exercise. I realized that I've been using "Renee Michelle" as my first name for over 15 years, and there were still members of my family that hadn't caught on. I'm happy to give a pass to relatives and friends who see me rarely, but the rest of my immediate family needed to figure this out. For three days, I either turned away or didn't acknowledge comments addressed to "Renee". If needed, I'd follow up with "Who is this Renee?" I tried to express lots of appreciation when they got my name right. Soon other family members were helping remind each other. I understand that it con be annoying when someone arbitrarily changes their nomenclature, so a big shout-out to my family for playing along so well.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Fixing things with physics

     This week I managed to fix something all by myself. That is, the internet helped, but for once I didn't need to ask my father. My microwave started arcing - a scary sight, I'll admit. I thought I'd have to replace the entire appliance, but some googling suggested that this can happen when an interior part (the waveguide cover, to be precise) is damaged and the sharp edges cause sparks. Although I could have ordered a replacement part, that would have been expensive. Instead, I found that you could buy sheets of mica, sold for exactly this purpose, that could be trimmed down to the exact size of cover needed by your microwave. Two days later, with some careful cutting and installation, I have a microwave that is working great. Cue the increase in self efficacy. Of course, I've felt kindly towards microwaves ever since I successfully explained how they work during my oral qualifying exam.
     The car, on the other hand, has been a drag on my happiness level. After many phone calls with my father, extensive consultations with online tire suppliers, calls to local junkyards and mechanics, I think I have a solution to my busted wheels. I first had to learn the difference between a wheel and a tire. Then I had to learn what size tire I had. (Do you know how to read the gibberish 180/ 60-R 15? Because now I can decipher that.) Then I had to figure out if anything could be repaired rather than replaced (Answer: the front wheel and tire need to be replaced but the back wheel and tire may be partially salvageable. I had to determine what kind of wheel I had (Answer: steel.) and what kinds they sold (Answer: mainly aluminum.) and learn about why no one would sell me a steel wheel, and also why I wasn't allowed to have both steel and aluminum wheels on my car at the same time, although I can choose either one as long as all four wheels match. Actually, I'm still not clear on that last one: the physics-y answer is that the moment of inertia of steel and aluminum are different, but I don't really understand how and when the differing moments of inertia will become a serious problem in car handling.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The world is actually doing pretty well

As an counterpoint to the general doom and gloom about 2016, my uncle wrote in a recent post that 2016 was actually a pretty good year when he looked at immediate surroundings. He's right that we need to take a long-term view. Since I'm a person likes to believe what the data tell me, this blog post filled me with optimism. If we look at the past two centuries, the world is richer, more literate, healthier, more democratic, and more educated. By a lot. From the big picture perspective, I sure am lucky to be living in this century, where I am well-fed, well-educated, and healthy.

Monday, January 02, 2017


     When I was visiting my parents list week, my dad and I were discussing my car. We determined that I've been neglecting my tires. I got new ones 18 months ago, but hadn't kept up with the rotation and alignment schedule. Trying to be a good (well, less lackadaisical) car owner, I made an appointment right away and took care of both of those services this afternoon. Three hours after that, I was driving down a rainy, dark road and mistook a curb for a painted turn lane. Boom and crash, I need two new tires, two rims, and a new alignment. Sigh...
     It could have been worse. I had my friend N with me, and he's stronger, so he could get the lug nuts off. It was raining and cold, but it wasn't raining that hard. I reaffirmed that I know how to change my tire, and only one tire went instantly flat (convenient because there's only one spare, of course). Still, I'm kicking myself a bit.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Sunshine and stairs

The dog stairs are done and they are a qualified success. If cheese is placed at the top, Ada the dog is happy to run up and down the steps all day. I was worried that she'd be scared of the quite narrow steps, so I'm relieved. The main hangup is that she hasn't figured out that there's a window up there, so she never goes up on her own.  I think a few more sessions of cheese and peanut butter will help her with this.
My church held a solstice service last night, which was just lovely. As a gardener, dog owner, and bicyclist, I spend more time outside than I used to in days of yore. As a consequence, I notice the seasons and weather more. I always welcome winter solstice; it means I've already survived the darkest days of the year. Solstice also reminded me how much I appreciate having seasons again. I know I've said it before, but living in Miami with its two hot and not-quite-as-hot seasons has made me forever appreciate four seasons. It's cold now, but in one month I'll be able to bicycle again, and in three months I'll be planting.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Trifle and introverts

     The results of the fruitcake research were, sadly, inconclusive. People did NOT notice the two plates contained the same thing - if you have food scattered over a few tables, no one keeps track of things. A bit more of the "fruitcake" was consumed than the "brandied spice cake", but there wasn't a large enough difference to say anything. Nonetheless, it was delicious, boozy, and vegan. I'd definitely make it again.
     Guests were impressed by the trifle. I suspect this was mainly because no one ever makes it in the U.S. It was a standard component of my UK Christmases, so I was a bit more critical. It turns out that you can't use too-dense leftover cake in place of ladyfingers. But add enough custard and fruit and hardly anyone notices.
     I am the odd introvert who enjoys throwing parties. I love planning for weeks, cooking, and decorating. I love dressing up, turning on the music, and lighting the candles. I want my friends to have a delightful time, and I work the room, introducing people and make sure that all the different friend groups are mingling and no one is left alone. But after the conversations are going strong, and the plates are loaded with snacks, I wish I could just slip away for the rest of the evening. For me, the creation of the party is the achievement and I don't actually need to participate in it. Fortunately I have enough social savvy to know this would be frowned upon.