Statistically Improbable Phrases: Multilingual Chick Peas

I went over to Daniel's place for dinner last night--fried califlower, and asparagus & chick pea pasta. Very tasty, and a fun evening. It reminds me--I haven't been cooking vegetarian meals for myself lately; I should get back in the habit.

We were both entertained by the number of languages shown on the can's label--how to say "chick peas" in twelve different languages!

If there are any geeks out there who want to weight in, feel free to check out the link above. Current train of thought is:

French-Portuguese-Greek around the one side, with Arabic, Farsi/Coptic, and Hindi in the middle on the left, and English-Spanish-Italian around the right one, with Hebrew, Chinese and Tamil in the middle.

It's the Rosetta Can! Man... I want more packaged food goods labelled in Linear B! Or Esperanto!

Weather, Biking, and Zero-Sum Games

The weather has been ridiculously warm recently: forecast for this week is above. Yes, this is southern Ontario at the end of January. Based on my experiences from last year, January and February are supposed to be the months when people walk down the street crying because of the cold. But instead, we have lows that only occasionally go below freezing. Oy.

So I took advantage of this weather and went out for a fun (albeit muddy) bike ride (yes, I have butt and back stripe on my jacket to prove it). Nothing hard-core; maybe 10-12 miles round trip--enough to feel like I actually went on a ride. Did I mention that it's January? WTF. Surprisingly, I am not saying "Oy my tuchus" today.

I also took the opportunity to clean and lube my bicycle chain afterwards--quite necessary considering the amount of road splash. It was a nice 'taking care of maintenance in advance being-a-good-boy' moment. I use White Lightning, as per the recommendation of a hard-core cyclist friend: instead of an oil, it is wax dissolved in a mineral spirit carrier. The mineral spirits evaporate and leave a film of wax, so it is effectively a dry lubricant. Pretty neat and clever technology.

But one thing that I have noticed--a lot of my friends have this creeping suspicion that this warm weather implies that we are going to get out asses kicked at some later date--be it incredibly cold weather in February, or a completely insufferable summer. Thoughts of global warming aside, it does seem like we all have a Puritan streak of seeing weather as a zero-sum game. In fact, I think I have a zero-sum attitude towards life: for every 'win,' there must be a corresponding loss. For instance, in bike riding, each hill you smoothly coast down means that you're gonna get your ass kicked by a panting rubbery-legged uphill. Yes, I know that life isn't necessarily so, or at least shouldn't be lived in this way, but I think that I'm inescapably hard-wired to think like this.

As another example to this worldview, as I glance at the butts of undergraduate girls walking by me, my overriding guilty thought is, "Man... if I'm enjoying this as much as I am, the payback is going to really suck..."


Teach or be Teachened

My advisor was out for Thursday and Friday, so he asked me to fill in on his Friday "Intro to Building Science" undergrad class by doing a tutorial. He set me up with some problems to do on the board, as well as some lecturing and corresponding overheads.

First, let me make a few things clear:
  • I don't have any desire to go into teaching as a profession. However, I'm doing the teaching assistant gig for this course because, well, it just seems like part of the grad student experience. Teaching is only a small part of the TA job--it is mostly grading.
  • I admire the teaching profession, and realize that it requires a lot of skill to do well.
  • I know that in order to teach something, you need a lot more than just a basic working knowledge of the material.

Now, understand that I have co-taught brief seminars at energy efficiency conferences, and I have given more than my share of normal presentations. But this job seemed additionally intimidating, because (1) I'm teaching to a large, smart technical audience, (2) it's a 1.5 hour lecture, and (3) although I've been in this field for about nine years, the stuff I was teaching (convective and radiative heat transfer) really isn't stuff I deal with on a regular basis. Also, I know that I don't think well on my feet--I'm easily flummoxed by questions that I could answer if I had a few seconds to think them out.

So last night, I spent about four hours going over the textbook portions that deal with this material and going through the sample problems. I think I found a mistake in my advisor's textbook; good thing I caught it before putting it up on the board.

Doing the tutorial was a mixed experience at best; I don't think I did that well in terms of keeping the students engaged or conveying the information. They are all upperclassmen. A lot of times I opened up for the class to answer a question and got very little in the way of answers: it felt like I was doing a crap-ass job of getting my ideas across. I was reminded of that saying: "A lecture: information going from a professor's notes to a student's notes without passing through the brain of either."

I got stuck a few times just because, well, I don't know convective heat transfer coefficients (and why you bother using them) as well as I should. I also got bitten on the ass because the sample problem my advisor set up had some wrong numbers, so ended up standing at the front of the class with a calculator, trying to figure out why the hell the formulas for something I've done dozens of time were not working.

I was most comfortable when I could just sit on the table and tell a anecdotes on how this is applied in the field--such as figuring out if you have a low-emissivity coating on a window by shining a flashlight through it and looking at the four reflections (one for each surface of glass).

Well, I guess that I made it through and it's over. And it's Friday: I pounded out my aggression by skating, and the group went out for beers with lunch. I'm glad this week is done.


Parties, Travel, Cooking, and Oral Sex

Okay, the title of this post is completely deceptive, and I could be accused of gratuitous titillation. Oral sex is neither given nor received in the events described in this post. And that includes splitting a hotel room with Wasabi, mind you.

This past weekend was Jofish's 11th Annual Robbie Burns/Birthday Party in Ithaca--always a spectacular and enjoyable event (see last year's party). This year had the special treat of several out-of-town visitors (JMD, Wasabi, Jess and Julia, Kip, and myself), in addition to the complement of Jofish's wonderful in-town friends.

Haggises (both traditional and non-traditional vegetarian), neeps & tatties (turnips & potatoes), baked salmon, other Scottish treats, and a variety of spirits were enjoyed by all, followed by poetry readings. My selection was Garrison Keillor's versions of the national anthem, as re-interpreted by several poets--William Carlos Williams below:

This is just to say
I have taken
The flag
That was

And which
You probably expected
To see
This morning

Forgive me
It was beautiful
So free
And so brave

Other poetry highlights included dirty Dylan Thomas poems, Ogden Nash on the common cold, readings in Greek, German, and Russian, Allen Ginsberg's America, Chuck performing Baby Got Hack, and Jofish and Wasabi singing Sorority Girl (a hard-rocking re-interpretation of sorority songs, as sung by, uh, two guys).

Travel to and from Ithaca was made a lot enjoyable by road tripping with Daniel (and Rover), who has friends in Ithaca that he was more than glad to visit for the weekend. It worked out remarkably well--it was great to have company and conversation for the drive, we share similar tastes in music, and he brought along several years' worth of This American Life on his iPod. Rover was wonderfully well-behaved for the whole trip. A bonus cinematic moment: as we drove through the refineries flaring off gas to the night in Hamilton, ON, we put on the soundtrack to Blade Runner. Too cool.

Anyway, I was part of the cooking team for the party; I think we all had a fun time working together doing the kitchen prep.

But it got me thinking and reverse-engineering my personality again: I might actually enjoy the 'working' part of a party at least as much as the 'social' aspects (hanging out chatting and drinking)--possibly more. It might be my social phobias--"at least I can be useful, if I don't want to deal with talking." I have been like this for a while--I remember spending most of Tep parties cleaning up cups and working bar. Don't get me wrong--the party was a lot of fun, and it was great to catch up with the Ithaca folks I've met on previous trips. Maybe I feel the happiest if I'm doing something that I'm good at, like cooking. You might want to force me out of the kitchen to go socializing more, but I think I'm really having a better time if I get to distract myself by having a 'primary job', and just chatting here and there.

Also, Anthony Bourdain described why he loves the profession of cooking so much in Kitchen Confidential:

To enjoy the instant gratification of making something good with one's hands -- using all one's senses. It can be, at times, the purest and most unselfish way of giving pleasure (though oral sex has to be a close second).

After all, it's a lot easier to cook dinner for 35 people than... uh... I'm going to stop now.


Car Repairs

During the trip back from New York to Waterloo, my car developed a leak or hole in the exhaust system. I sounded like a small truck jake-braking while heading up hills; I had to turn up the stereo pretty loud. Also, I started worrying about carbon monoxide... "Am I feeling kinda sleepy and headachy, or is that just paranoia?... hmmm... time to drive with the windows open..."

So as fun as it would be to have a Subaru station wagon with pimpin' phat pipes, I decided that fixing it might be the wiser plan. My initial thought was to see if I could fix it myself--some type of kluge repair involving muffler tape and hose clamps. However, given how unpleasant it would be to crawl under my car in this weather, I decided just to take it to the local Midas.

They put it up on the lift, and found a problem with the front pipe, between the header (where the two pipes coming off the engine merge) and the catalytic converter (i.e., the pipe between the "two blobby things"). They said the gaskets were shot, but that it was likely that they would have to replace the pipe, since the flanges might not survive the procedure.

To orient yourself, those are the front wheels in this picture. In case you're wondering, I'm enough of a geek that I asked the shop, "Could I take a few photos of the underbody of my car while you have it up on the lift?" It is likely that Canada has fewer frivolous lawsuits by stupid people, since they said yes.

Anyway, they called me later that day, and said they just replaced the gaskets, and they did it for free ($0.00 CAD). I was astounded. They said the repair might not last for all that long, but given that I am but a starveling graduate student (ok, who has nice consulting contracts on the side once in a while), I appreciated that solution. I wondered why they didn't charge anything--the parts they had to use cost ~$80. My best guess is that given the lack of confidence they have in the repair, it is not worth their while to give an implied warranty by charging for the work. Pretty weird how things work like that, but for now, I'm happy.

So for my two passengers this weekend (who both read this blog)--hey, I'm not going to give us carbon monoxide poisoning on the trip! Yay! (This is coming from somebody who once drove from Boston to New York with his muffler dragging along the ground, until a road plate ripped it off on the Hutchinson River Parkway. And my sister was in the car too... that was extra fun.)


They're Made of Peeeoooople!

Warning: this posting is a set of reflections (and an image) from the traveling exhibition of Body Worlds—the preserved corpse exhibition. If you're really squeamish, you might not want to read it. If you're only somewhat squeamish, you might just want to turn off images in your browser.

I spent a good portion of Sunday at the Ontario Science Centre's Exhibition of Body Worlds 2, the exhibit of human bodies that have undergone the process of plastination, or replacement of water and fats in tissues with polymers. The wikipedia entry provides a pretty good concise description of the exhibit. I have to say that plastination is an amazing technique, both in terms of visible results (the exhibit), as well as the fact that even microstructures are preserved. Overall, I was very impressed by the exhibit, and it did not seem as disturbing as I have heard it might be: the process makes the body appear to be a plastic model more than anything else.

Oh, in case this is far enough down on the page, here's an example photo from a postcard.

There were two aspects of the exhibit mixed together: glass cased individual organs, and those spectacular full-body plastinations that are typically shown on the news. I think that the organs provided more of a learning experience--they demonstrated the pathology of polycystic kidney disease, cirrhosis of the liver, enlarged hearts, coal miners' and smokers' lungs, uterine tumors, etc., in close-up detail. I bought the audiotour, and there was a lot of useful information on it.

The full body plastinations were bodies posed in various 'active' ways, such as ski jumping, fencing, figure skating, and skateboarding. I found them a lot less informative: although the placards said they were demonstrating this or that portion of the musculature, I think that if any part of the exhibit could be considered "exploitative," this would be it. The "creative" dissections (such as 'the angel'—a woman with two flaps of her back lifted up like angels' wings) seem more of a gimmick than actually providing greater understanding. In hindsight, it reminded me of the way that Hannibal Lecter disembowels the correction officer and spreads his viscera out across the cell like wings in Silence of the Lambs. On the other hand, based on my reading on the web, these types of 'artistic' displays have been part of anatomy illustrations/demonstrations for much of its history.

There were a couple of full body plastinations which did provide useful information, such as the body demonstrating how surgical implants such as bone stretchers, forceps, and mending plates work. Also, there was an obese (300 lbs) man that they cut into vertical (sagittal) sections. He had this complete "rind" of subcutenaceous fat all the way around him... it was pretty amazing. There were some full bodies showing individual systems (nervous, circulatory): the technique used and results were pretty amazing. Another plastination was of a pregnant woman, cut open to show the fetus (five months?): it was actually quite touching, knowing that she donated her body, knowing that she was likely to succumb to cancer before giving birth.

There has been some vocal criticism of the exhibit, such as one art critic accusing it of being a "shameless Victorian freak show", or for its shock value. However, these people did sign over their bodies knowing what use they would be put to; there have been some accusations of non-consenting donors (hospital patients from Kyrgyzstan and executed prisoners from China), but current reports seem to refute the accusations.

Personally, I guess I didn't overcome the abstraction barrier of these being people for much of the exhibition. Also, being non-religious, with a distinctly materialist view of the world, I was not offended based on cultural baggage--I wonder if more religious people object on the grounds that this exhibit takes away from the grandeur of creation, or more on the sanctity of the body?

On a less serious note, while I was looking at some of the body dissections, I couldn't help from playing narration from Good Eats in my head:

Alton: So one rib cage, three ribs, really. I mean you've got baby backs, spare ribs, what is this?
Butcher: This right here is the chest bone you take off the spare rib right here ...
Alton: Uh, huh.
Butcher: ... and that's what make it a Saint Louis cut rib.

Well, as Flanders and Swann put it, "If [god] had meant us not to eat people, he wouldn't have made us of meat!" Remember, I'm the guy who indicates where pork loin comes from by showing off parts of my torso. Hey… that gives me a really cool idea for a full-body tattoo…


The Term So Far

Boring general update post... apologies if it is more perfunctory than inspired.

Well, the term has actually started (just had the first meeting one of my classes), so here's what it is looking like so far.
  • I am TAing my advisor's course (undergraduate 4th year introduction to building science). It appears that there is not much teaching involved: mostly grading assignments and exams. However, there will probably a lecture or two that I will have to substitute in for. I'm a litle nervous about them; I don't think I've ever done a talk for the scope of a full lecture (2 hours). [Edit: actually, I did teach a one-day course in Atlanta; it required a lot of work and was stressful, but I did ok.] Also, I'm a little worried about the big piles of grading landing on me, and what effect that will have on the rest of my work.

    I was sorely tempted to introduce myself to the class during the first lecture in a completely incomprehensible Japanese accent ("Oh crap, it's one of those TAs again...") and talk for a few minutes before pausing and saying (in my normal voice): "Sorry guys. I'm just fucking with you." As much as I loved the idea, I did have some worries about genuinely offending people who don't have English as their first language--I have to say that I sympathize with both sides. Or offending people with no sense of humor (but they don't get any of my sympathy).

  • I am taking a course over at the University of Toronto, from the professor emeritus who taught my former boss. Pretty cool. In my old job, I learned from Obi-Wan; now I get to learn from Yoda. I've known the professor for years, so I have been looking forward to getting a 'brain dump' of a chunk of his experience. Also, I've always wanted a chance to get to know him and his work a bit better. It looks like I am answering a lot of the professor's in-class discussion questions, which makes me feel a bit guilty, considering I've been in this field for over seven years.

    The drive is annoyingly long (over an hour each way), but we only meet once a week, and there are three of us driving together to pass the time. I hope that I will be able to spend a bit of time in Toronto after class meetings--seems like an ideal opportunity to hang out and see the town.

  • I am writing a paper for a conference in August: despite my time being a Real Person in this field, it will actually be the first scientific paper I have first authored. The draft is due at the beginning of March, so I'm already getting worried about it. I'm nervous for a few reasons: a lot of papers have been written about this topic, so there's always the chance that I've missed this or that vital piece of the literature. Also, a lot of people have investments in various World Views of this problem, so it is possible I will be savaged by some reviewers.

  • As for other things I've been doing since I got back: caught a few movies on DVD and at the local theater. I have been taking advantage of the ice skating rink on campus: I figure I will probably never have the opportunity again in my life to be able to walk 10 minutes from my job and skate over lunch break. We have a stretch of ridiculously warm (~40 F) weather, so I am hoping to get my ass out on my bike tomorrow or Saturday.

So basically, one week into the term, and I already have resounding feelings of guilt and falling behind whenever I am doing stuff that isn't work-related. Ah well. Just 3.5 more months to go.


Yep. It's Cold (Weather/Logging Geekery)

I doubt that my level of geekery will surprise any of my readers, but here is data I have been recording of my apartment (bedroom) temperature with matching weather data (from the University's weather station).

It covers December and the beginning of January; it includes both the end of the term, and the time I was away from home. You can easily tell that stretch--I had the heat completely turned off, so the temperature shows much less variation (i.e., I turn heat on and off if I am in the room). However, even with the heat off, it only drops to the low 40's--no risk of freeze up. But remember: I'm in an apartment on top of another (heated) unit; don't try this at home, kids. You can also tell the neat phase-shift and damping caused by the thermal mass of the building--a spike or drop in outdoor temperature is echoed a bit later inside.

I cranked the heat all the way into the high 60's at times--yeah, I know, pretty wussy. However, I should probably move the temperature measurement location--it is on a shelf above the radiator. I run the kitchen consistently at 50-60 F.

Incidentally, if any of you have random logging projects that you'd like to play with, I strongly recommend the equipment from Onset Computer--relatively low cost, completely intuitive computer interface. It is the equipment I'm using for these measurements. They even have stuff that records motor on/off runtimes, based on either vibration or AC field. In case you're wondering, I'm using one of these to measure T/RH in my apartment.

The second thing I wanted to do was compare the weather between Boston and Waterloo. I have always felt like Waterloo was noticeably colder, but I wanted data to demonstrate how much: as the magnet on my filing cabinet puts it:

So yeah: Waterloo is definitely colder. As you would expect for a location that is away from the tempering effect of the ocean (i.e., large thermal mass that is not frozen). In case you didn't know this, the latitude difference is pretty small (Waterloo is equivalent in latitude to Portland, ME). It seems like there is often a 10 F difference between the two, but there are times when temperatures overlap.

Also, it is interesting to note that some weather patterns come to Boston with about 12-24 hours delay: take a look at the temperature drop on 12/11 and 12/12, or 1/6 and 1/7, for instance.

In terms of adjusting to climate: being around freezing nowadays feels completely balmy to me--just requires a bit of layering up. When it gets down to the 10-15 F range, that's when life sucks. You can see this happens more often up here in the great white North, eh?


Parathas and Instant Gratification

From my 2005 year end summary to complete minutae. Oh well. Also, no photo with this post: my camera is unhappy again.

I made some Indian food tonight: chicken vindaloo from a jar mix, carrots and peas with onion and cumin seeds, and basmati rice. As a side dish, I realized that I had some frozen prepackaged parathas stashed away. They were quite yummy. But I looked at them as they cooked: they're green. I looked at the ingredients: Wheat flour, water, vegetable shortening, margarine, sugar, salt. Are parathas supposed to be green? Should I be worried? Are they using green shortening?

I went out to the local art house theater tonight to see Good Night, and Good Luck (Edward R. Murrow's battles against Joseph McCarthy). Very good--I'd recommend seeing it. But one of the things that struck me the most was the jazz soundtrack--the film showed a combo with a singer performing in a nightclub, and my first thought was, "Hrm... that sounds perfect... which of the great ladies of jazz from that era are they lip-synching to?" However, that was my bad: it is the jazz singer Dianne Reeves; my reaction when I found out was, "Why the hell haven't I heard about her before?" Anyway, the instant gratification came in the form of buying the soundtrack off of iTunes Music Store minutes after I got back home... definitely a worthwhile buy. However, that instant gratification of using iTunes was only possible due to significant planning and effort.


You see, I had an iTunes account in the US; then I moved up to Canada, and all my credit cards went to my new address. I quickly discovered just how US-centric most of the web's purchase engines are (for instance, ON is typically not on the pulldown list of states). Therefore, I had to switch to the iTunes Canadian store (which, incidentally, has a smaller selection). When I tried to enter my credit card information, it told me that my credit card was not a valid Canadian credit card. Yes, it's drawn on a US bank, and was started in the US, but it has a valid Canadian address. Grr.

So I got myself a Canadian credit card with my bank, which was an effort all in itself: since all my assets are in the US, and I'm making grad student wages, they would only let me have a credit card if I put down a security deposit. Good grief. At a later bank transaction, the teller looked at my account, and said, "With this much money in your account, why do you have a secured card?" ("Because you wouldn't give me a card otherwise, eh?"). He kindly issued a new unsecured card to me, so that I could cancel my old card and get my deposit back. The new card showed up about a week later. I then spent about half an hour on hold and being passed off between several customerservicebots before being told I needed to fax a written signed request to cancel my old card. Went ahead and did that, and it turns out they cancelled my new card. Swell.


I decided to bypass the Canadian iTunes store entirely; due to some clever arrangements, my old accounts now works. Heh. Go me.


2005: That Was the Year That Was

School: As of the end of the 2005, I just need to finish one more class (winter 2006 term) and my thesis to get my Master's degree. This year, I took my advisor's advanced building modeling class, and a concrete durability class in the fall. I have a thesis topic picked out (interior basement insulation systems); it will use data that I am currently collecting from a project from my old job. I will hopefully be done at the end of this calendar year.

For a while, I was considering going for a PhD, instead of a Master's, but ultimately, I fear my motivation for it is in fact diminishing. I have been very cautious about the ratio between motivation and required work due to my unpleasant undergrad experiences. Also, I stress far more than appropriate about academic classes, even though I have done consistently well.

Life in Waterloo: I have a not-bad life in this town, if a little solitary; I have enough free time that I do leisure activities like catching movies at local art house cinema and on DVD. However, throughout the year, I traveled to visit friends in Boston, San Francisco, Ithaca, and New York.

I go out for walks daily, either to school (~20 minutes each way) or "must-get-out-of-the-house" wandering down to a café or lunch place. I have been doing a fair amount of bike riding around town--nothing hard core, mostly puttering and exploring. Between walking and biking, I'm keep my car use low--I have gone months at a time between filling up. I need to figure out if I can find a way to continue this lifestyle when I return to Boston. If is definitely colder up in Waterloo than back in Boston; it doesn’t help that I keep my apartment way too cold.

Personal: I socialize with the other members of my graduate group (including my advisor, who I have almost more of a collegial than mentor-student relationship with). I started hanging out with Dan and his sweetie Daniel: Dan is a fellow survivor of the 'tute who is now a professor here. Hanging out with them gave me a very nice feeling to know that there are great people out there to meet, and I have not lost the ability to be socially functional and make new friends.

As for my romantic life, well, it's mostly pathetic. I have not gone out on any dates in Canada, but then again, that's not much different from my patterns back in Boston. I am working on reverse-engineering why I am how I am.

Dental: I had a series of miserable experiences with my rear molar, including a failed filling, a root canal, a gum boil, treatment with antibiotics, failure of the root canal, extraction of the tooth, installation of a dental implant, the dental implant crown falling off, and replacement of that crown. But it works fine now.

If you're still reading, here are other events from this year (by calendar quarter), with the appropriate links to my blog:

2005 Q1

2005 Q2:

2005 Q3:

2005 Q4:


22 Hours In: Corning, New York

On the recommendation of Dan and Daniel, on my trip back from New York to Canada, I did an overnight stopover in Corning, NY. As you can see from the map, it's a pretty reasonable midway stopping point. Dan explained to me that Corning is a 'company town' with a company that still makes money, so they put a lot of effort into their downtown, to keep it a non-embarassing place to visit.

One interesting thing on the drive: to get across most of New York State, I was on the highway NY-17, which was labelled "Future Interstate 86." I had never seen that designation before, and thought, "Oh, how cute, it's going to grow up to be an Interstate someday..." and "...when you adopt a highway, you never think that it might end up maturing into an Interstate..." or "After the larval state highway stage, the road then undergoes a metamorphosis period, covering itself in orange signs..." Anyway, here's the story behind it--it's just an extension of an existing Interstate; they are changing the intersections with traffic lights to overpass flyovers. Actually, it will do a nice job of straightening the path for this trip.

Caught dinner at a local brewpub (Market Street Brewing Company)--beer was acceptable, food was take-it-or-leave-it. Incidentally, while looking for their website, I found The Beer Traveller website--looks pretty useful for future reference (e.g. "I'm on the ground in West Virginia, and I really don't want to go to Thank Applebee It's Chili Bennigans for dinner.") The downtown section of Corning (Gaffer District/Market Street Historic District) was very pretty, but it was close to empty at 8 PM on a Tuesday night.

Cityscape, Jay Musler, 1984
Glass; blown, cut, sandblasted and airbrushed oil paint.

Anyway, on to the museum. The Corning Museum of Glass is pretty neat, in that it covers the art, history, craft, and science of glass. For instance, the museum has a huge collection of historic glass, from Egyptian times through today. The art is incredible--includes vases/glasses, cut leaded crystal, stained glass, and sculpture. I appreciate that they have exhibits explaining technique (e.g., all about 'cut glass')--perhaps this makes me all left-brain anal retentive, but I get a kick out of knowing how and why artistic techniques give the results that they do. For instance, I always wondered just how Rodin made his sculptures (clay -> lost wax or something?).

The science exhibitions were understandable without a huge technical background, but they didn't insult your intelligence in any way. I completely geeked out on their exhibits of borosilicate glass (i.e., Pyrex), fiber optic telecommunications, the mold for the Mount Palomar's 200" mirror, the development of float glass (i.e., creating flat glass by floating it on a layer of molten tin).

Another really cool exhibit was the process for making ultra-smooth glass for LCDs--you have to make a sheet of glass without touching either side (i.e., float glass won't work--too many imperfections where the glass contacts the tin). Therefore, if you follow the link, it's a technique where they create continuous sheets of glass in a manner so that neither face ever touches anything besides clean room air. Pretty slick.

Also, it did a great job of filling in various pieces of knowledge: Why did they ever decide to make 'lead crystal'? (increases index of refraction, and therefore 'sparkle' Just don't store your booze in it). Tiffany stained glass windows and lampshades were from the company created by Louis C. Tiffany--the son of Charles Tiffany, of the jewelery store.

I'm back home now in Canada. Driving back wasn't too fun: it was raining for most of the drive back, and it is difficult to tell white lines from shiny spots on the road with the glare of oncoming traffic and no streetlights. Wow... I guess driving wears you out: I woke up at 1 in the afternoon, after sleeping for 10 hours.


Another NetMeme: Bem Sex Role Inventory

I saw the meme of the Bem masculinity/femininity test first on Snowninja's LiveJournal (where she scored higher than 95% of her age/gender cohort), followed by Catherine's analysis and criticism/debunking of said test.

That being said, I took it, and I found the results interesting enough to write about them. To wit, my test results:

You scored 60 masculinity and 56 femininity!
You scored high on both masculinity and femininity. You have a strong personality exhibiting characteristics of both traditional sex roles.

My test tracked 2 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 42% on masculinity
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 34% on femininity
Link: The Bem Sex Role Inventory Test written by weirdscience on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

I ended up with a relatively balanced/androgynous reading, which surprised me a little bit, but not too much. At least 2/3 of my answers were in the sometimes/often category, which pushes me towards the middle. The bar charts mean that 58% of my age/gender cohort had higher masculinity scores. Note that the test is not an assessment of external masculine/feminine "flags"—e.g., sports, cars, and tools vs. makeup, jewelry, and shoes. It was meant more to gauge stereotypical (read: 1950's) gender behaviors:

Twenty of the characteristics are stereotypically feminine (e.g., affectionate, gentle, understanding, sensitive to the needs of others) and twenty are stereotypically masculine (e.g., ambitious, self-reliant, independent, assertive).

Understanding the limitations of this test (see Catherine's post and comments), I found it interesting to gauge myself against "classical" male behavior. I'm not naturally assertive; I would rather not lead, given a choice. But I will take charge if I have to and nobody else seems to be stepping up. I know that I am self-reliant in spades (perhaps 'pathologically independent' would not be a stretch), but not enough to counteract the side of being (at least moderately) helpful, sympathetic, and understanding.

The lack of aggression/confidence in my personality could partially explain my romantic situation: the male has classically been the active/instigating/hunting partner in male/female relationships. I.e., since I'm not asking them out, they're sure not asking me out.

Second, I wonder if this might shed some light on why I end up being typically being 'friended' by women: "You're a really nice guy, and I like you a lot, but I can only think of you as a friend." Perhaps the androgynous subconscious signals I'm sending say "I'm just one of your girlfriends," and that's how they end up mentally mapping/pigeonholing me. Then again, given my lack of raging sex appeal, wanting to be a "friend" instead of dating me makes a fair amount of sense.

Entertaining cats

This is my mom's kitten, being entertained by something I put together in a spot of inspiration while on Long Island.

The wire is a Cat Dancer--a pretty neat, simple cat toy that seems to entertain a lot of cats pretty well. The randomness of the motion of the cardboard rolls on the end is impressive--it does appear to be a bit like an insect or something.

Anyway, the toy comes with a string to tie the wire to something, so the cat can entertain him or herself. However, it didn't seem to be a very effective attachment mechanism. Well, one Handi Clamp later, it can be mounted anywhere you want to distract a cat. (involved drilling a small hole in the handle, and some plier work). Kitty goes totally nuts over it; it's vastly entertaining to both parties.

Incidentally, I realized that most of the places I stayed at on this trip have cats: JMD's (three), Bird and Jen's (four), U5's (one), and my parents' house (one). I wonder, however, whether cats were coming up to me and sniffing me and my stuff dismissively because I had been 'marked' by other cats.


Odds and Ends

Happy New Year! I hope everybody had a happy and safe celebration! Mine was pretty low key: movies at Doug and 'Stina's place on the West Side (Godfather I and II, accompanied by chianti and lasagna), with a break to watch the ball drop on TV. I'll get a year-end summary posting up soon. Really.

New York is large: I might have mentioned this before, but New York City is friggin' huge. Manhattan is 13 miles from tip to tip: that's basically from downtown Boston out to Peabody, past 128. And remember, Manhattan is geographically the smallest of the five boroughs. As another presentation, here's Central Park's footprint (4% of Manhattan's area: 3.41 km2 on 85 km2) superimposed on Boston.

Tourists suck:. One of my trips in the city required catching a 2 or 3 (Express) train: instead of getting a 1 or 9 Local and switching to an Express, I decided to walk down to Times Square. Yuck. Mistake. The sidewalks in Times Square were completely packed with bovine, slow-moving, directionless, gawking, stop-in-the-middle-of-the intersection tourists. Yeah, I guess that should be expected given the holidays. It's still annoying. The statistics (from "If the Sidewalks Feel Jammed, Well, They Are") say:

E-mail messages from the Times Square Alliance on Thursday, which detailed the latest pedestrian counts, were prefaced by words like "outrageous" and "insane." The group's researchers, which clicked off mechanical counters, said that from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday 9,226 pedestrians made their way along the sidewalk, at 1501 Broadway between 43rd and 44th Streets - 57 percent more than at the same time on Dec. 18, 2004.

Some of the city's businesses and cultural institutions were prepared for the crush. The Museum of Modern Art, which is usually closed Tuesdays, decided to open the Tuesday after Christmas to capitalize on its "Pixar: 20 Years of Animation" exhibit, which it had expected would draw families with children during the holiday week.

It was a relative relief to wander around the East Village (which was not tourist saturated) on my Quest for Frites. Also, I am happy with my plan to go to relatively obscure museums (Noguchi, Transit) instead of the big names, which were mobbed (MoMA, MMA, Natural History).

I live for cheap: Another New York Times article was about the Greenpoint Hotel , a crack addict and hooker fleabag hotel in Brooklyn:

The Greenpoint Hotel is still listed in a few tourist guides, which promise cheap rooms and warn of the brusque if efficient staff. But few map carrying bargain-hunters stay there these days. The hallways stink of marijuana and urine; the bathrooms - one per floor - are caked in dirt, and hot water is rare. The front desk is barricaded shut with sheets of plywood. Theft and violence are a constant threat.

It was rated the 'most dangerous single room occupancy hotel' in New York City (weird… Expedia Travel doesn't include that metric…).

Anyway, the reason I'm writing about it (besides an ill-formed desire to dwell on the tawdry aspects of the city) is that the rent there is $450 a month. My rent in college-town Canada is $525 CAD/month, or $448 US/month. It was just amusing to note the equivalency between the two (i.e., "Man… I could be living in a crack hotel in Brooklyn instead! Classy...").