Saturday, November 29, 2014


 I celebrated my first turkey-less Thanksgiving this year. Although I've been a vegetarian for more than two decades, I understand that Thanksgiving, for most people means turkey. But this year there were seven of us: four vegetarians, and three agnostic meat eaters, who were indifferent on the subject of meat. Let me tell you that you can still pack plenty of calories in a meatless meal. The plate below demonstrates, with two types of alcohol, garlic bread, macaroni and cheese, palak paneer, mashed cassava root, and lentil loaf.
     Thanksgiving is the only day of the year that I miss not owning a television, because I love watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. The parade coverage doesn't stream online, and once again I missed it, in spite of my best efforts. Of the three friends I asked, not a single once could help me out - one doesn't own a television, and the other two use Netflix but have no standard broadcast TV access. I suppose this is a sign of the modern era.
     Because my guests can't watch television at my house, I need to offer other forms of entertainment. Of course, there's always the old standby, "Pet the dog and cat continuously." When that grew tiring, we played cards and cut out snowflakes. Yes, paper snowflakes like you used to make when you were a kid. I've used them before in my decorating, but this is the largest house I've lived in and thus I needed close to a hundred. Yesterday, it took three of us an hour just to hang them, but now the house is a winter wonderland.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


     I was on the University of Maryland campus for almost seven years, but I never noticed that they had a labyrinth. This is probably because physics graduate students walk a path from their home/parking place to the physics department, with occasional detours for food or the gym only. I never had occasion to go poking around the Memorial Chapel, where this is built.
     A group of people from my Unitarian church took a trip there last weekend. I learned that labyrinths are now often built as places of contemplation, open to people of various religions, and I learned the difference between labyrinths and mazes  - a labyrinth only has one path to the center and back again.
     I found it quite meaningful to walk the path slowly. This is something that I wouldn't have enjoyed a few years ago, but I think I've become more contemplative. I'm still terrible at meditating, because I have an abiding urge to get things done and that doesn't easily quite during meditation. But I'm better at using forced times of inaction (like on a car ride) to sit and think. I now regularly think about life, the importance (or relative lack of importance) of various activities in my life, and what should really matter to me. I assume this come about as a result with my close experience with death. I thought this might fade as my grief grew less acute, but so far it hasn't. In contrast, the expectation that anyone around me could drop dead in an instant has lessened, and I am grateful for that.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


I work at One Physics Ellipse, in a four-story building of physics organizations. This is pretty unusual, because most physicists who work outside academia are in companies where there are just a few (or one) physicists. This has been quite a different experience for me personally. Although I worked at universities before this, in physics departments, I didn’t always feel part of the department. My research was in physics education, and it is not always the case that other physicists consider that to be “real” physics. I thought it was – I had to take the same classes and pass the same qualifying exam, and I think like a physicist. I’ve even been involved in some rather heated debates with physics professors about whether people like me should be part of their department (and that was at a party, which is to say I wasn’t quite prepared). At my new job, I almost never have to convince people that I’m a physicist – it’s in the name of my organization, even in the name of the street I work on. And I like that.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


I grew up in a family that cherished two-wheel vehicles, but mainly those with engines. While I have a fondness for motorcycles, it turns out I like bicycles as well. This fall I’ve been cycling more, which is partly inspired by my new bicycle. I’m rather proud of it, not because it’s especially beautiful, but because I had to stand my ground at the bicycle shop in order to get the bike I want. For example, I wanted the beat-up bike my dad bought at a garage sale, with a few new parts, instead of the expensive fancy bike they wanted to sell me. Likewise, I wanted handlebars that I could reach with my quite-short arms; I couldn’t find any handlebars that did this, so I ended up buying a stem that was designed to move the handlebars further away, for very tall people, and rotated the stem 180 degrees to do the opposite. I’ve been contemplating adding some strategic duck tape, just to make the bike a bit uglier.
     It’s time to bid a temporary adieu to my bicycle, because the weather is getting cold. I know that there are hard-core cyclists who ride throughout the winter, but it’s not me. Partly this is because I don’t have special gear – I bike to work in my work clothes - and partly this is because I can walk to work when I don’t bike. This year I was also a bit lazy and never attempted the ride to the grocery store with my bike trailer. But I vow that I will do that next year.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Project Day, episode 8

     This weekend turned into a special double-edition of Project Day. My friend N and I are re-purposing an old console radio that my father gave me. The radio tubes and phonograph were ripped out, and we’re installing shelves so it can be used as a liquor cabinet. I think it would be great to have this done in time for my big Christmas party. (Because planning a big party isn’t enough, I’m using the occasion to redecorate my bedroom and refurbish furniture at the same time. I admit this is a bit ambitious.)
     The most difficult part of the project is the front cabinet door. The radio originally had a phonograph that slid out from the front. When not in use, a door closed over it. We need to change the door so that the hinges are on the side (picture how a refrigerator opens) instead of at the bottom (picture how an oven opens). The door has curved edges and weighs about 10 pounds, so if I didn’t know technically minded people, I don’t think I can do this. Luckily, N is sketching out the hinge in Mathematica (a computational program we often use in physics) and my father will fabricate the hinges. It’s good to be related to an engineer, especially one as gifted as my father.
     If all goes well, there will be pictures in about a month. If it doesn’t go well, you’ll never hear about this again.

Sunday, November 02, 2014


     My cousin AinA goes crazy for apples the way I go crazy for strawberries in the spring. I can't compete with her, but I do buy several dozen pounds over the course of the fall. One favorite use is apple cake. I have made several this fall, but none has been quite right. I was looking for a high ratio of apples to cake, and most had too much cake. Perhaps I really wanted a pie, but pies tend to be gooey-sweet and I just don't love them.
     However, I made my Alexis'  Dutch apple pie, and I think it is the winner. It's not overwhelmingly sweet, and has a shortbread base topped with almond paste*. Then you just pile on apples, tossed with cinnamon and jam. It's pretty straightforward, although it would have been easier if I had already had almond paste (instead I made it from scratch) and if I hadn't fought with the translation so long. (It took me a while to figure out that "Push the meat to good." meant "Press the marzipan mixture into the bottom.") I highly recommend it. If anyone wants to make it, email me and I'll send you a cleaned-up English language version. It's definitely worth it. And here's the recipe!

*Edited from marzipan to almond paste. I just figured out that they are different things - almond paste is softer, and the almond isn't ground so fine. That's the one you want, not marzipan.