Saturday, May 23, 2009

In case you were wondering...

I can post video here! In celebration of that, I've uploaded a short video of me doing silks tricks (what did you expect?). I see a bunch of things I did wrong (including the ever-present "look at the camera!") and a few places where, in retrospect, I should have done a completely different trick. I also know that I am pretty awful about pointing my toes. In fact, the only reason I can watch this without cringing is that it shows that I can suspend myself and do tricks for nearly four minutes, at the end of practice. And it spurs me on to do something better -- my goal by the end of the summer is to have something actually presentable, choreographed to music and everything. Who knows if I'll make that goal or if I'll just metaphorically fall flat on my face. (I do not expect to literally fall flat on my face, despite the danger associated with circus arts.) Hopefully, with this video in hand, I can convince the people at the rock wall to let me hang my silks in the off-hours and practice. (They already let other people do so.) (Let me dream, at least.)

And, since I know my parents needed something else to worry about, here's the video:


The past few days have been eventful, to say the least. The most blog-worthy news is that I am learning how to write fancy image processing algorithms like watershedding to find cells and nuclei. It's a blast, and it'll be even better if (when?) I can get it to work.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Well-rounded Success!

And scientific fail?

So, today so far has been the day for well-roundedness. This is manifest in two ways:

1) I did an aerial for the first time ever! Admittedly, I had a bit of a boost from a mat, but I am still thrilled about it. I have never done aerials before (not even in my previous life as a competitive acrobat), and I did something like seven of them. Hooray!

2) NSF results came back; (I got honorable mention, hence "and scientific fail?"; I know it's not actually scientific fail, because Honorable Mention is still good and all that, but... still.) I was reading through my rating sheets, and the very first one included the following (italics mine): "Perhaps most importantly, her application demonstrates that she has extraordinary written communication skills. Her personal statement and statement about her research experience are very professionally written and novel - perhaps she should write a novel in her spare time!"

I find this especially funny for three reasons: first, my other rating sheets are dry and straightforward where this one is chatty. Second, I don't understand the jump from "you can write a good personal statement" to "you should write a novel" -- there are a lot of people who are incredibly good at short-form and essays (i.e. personal statements) and can't or don't want to write novels. The hint at the novel hits really close to home; almost as though this person actually knew that I actually wrote novels in my spare time, and wanted to share the inside joke. (Google search unlikely -- I checked and my name turns up nothing on me for the first five pages.) Third, this isn't the first time I have sent out an application consisting of a personal statement and a research proposal only to get back a comment along the lines of "you should make sure to keep writing non-science."

Validation of hobby choices, anyone? I sort of want to print it out and tack it on the wall by my desk. Man.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Finally, a picture!

I took the picture above last night, looking out from behind the Gym into Golden Gate Park. It doesn't really capture how ethereal and beautiful the swirling fog was, but it's the best that I could do. It was warm and sunny and summery in Palo Alto, but in San Francisco (and in the mountains) it was cool and foggy (which I guess is "summery" for San Francisco and the mountains, but I still have trouble getting used to that concept).

At class, I learned the "no-hands wheeldown" which would be great except for the fact that the more I roll down, the tighter the silks get around my waist until (after only two turns, lame!) I can't breathe. I asked Monica about that, and I think that it's something with how I'm rolling, but I'm not sure. In the morning, I went to the "intermediate" gymnastics class, and went so far as to do a front handspring. Which I was pretty happy with, especially since I haven't done any tumbling for about a year. Also worked on presses; I can almost do them. My goals for the end of the quarter: a front handspring that isn't a full stop (maybe front handspring into roundoff or something) and a press. It's not a long time, or I would be more ambitious. The coach is chill and friendly, the people are goofy, and in general it's a fun time. The gym is amazing; of course all of the apparati (sp?) (and a full-sized spring floor), but also pits for all of the apparati. Which is awesome for learning new things (front handspring from tumble-track into a pit was not something I was in the least bit afraid of, although if scrambling awkwardly out of said pit looked half as ridiculous as it felt, well, I'm sure I'd make a good clown). Plus it's fun.

Had an interesting conversation yesterday. People were talking about learning to read, and remembering learning to read in the first grade. These were brilliant people -- five PhD students and one tenured faculty member. And they all remembered learning to read in the first grade. They were puzzled why anyone would want to teach a kindergartener how to read; kindergarten, they proclaimed, was about cutting things out and pasting them, play time and naps. I, by some strange quirk of fate or UChicago-educated parents, was reading chapter-books by that time (bad ones; the Oz series mostly, but chapter-books nonetheless). I can't remember a time before I knew how to read; two of my first memories are of trading books with the neighbors, and reading the words to sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" for a talent show (according to my mother, no one believed I could read then, either, but I didn't notice). I remember the librarian in my Maryland elementary school remarking upon my predilection for bad young adult novels when I was in kindergarten -- you don't want to read those, they're boring and they're at a fifth grade reading level. And my response that I knew what I liked and I wanted to read those. (I guess some things never change, I still have a predilection for fluffy young adult novels, although I intersperse them with "literature" which, as I see it, is the same thing but either with a larger vocabulary, more sex, more philosophy or -- if you're really lucky -- better writing.)

I just find it so strange to think about even a five-year-old kid not knowing how to read. All the stories they're missing out on, all the adventures they could be dreaming of that they aren't, because they don't know how to read. I guess part of that is peculiar to me -- I have always been a storyteller (and I still am, even my science I think of as a logic puzzle and a story waiting to be discovered). I define myself by the stories I know and the stories I tell. To me, before I could read, I wasn't really a person in a way; I couldn't access this vast history of human stories. If that makes any sense at all. I'm not sure it does.

Of course, when I said, quietly, that I could read before kindergarten, and that I was reading the Oz novels in kindergarten, my friends' response was (I guess predictably), "Why am I not surprised?"

I told the story of my brother organizing his friends and dividing the labor of writing/drawing/coloring for writer's workshop, to defuse the situation. It's a funny story, and very Kevin. I know only two things that I wrote in the kindergarten, and I remember them only second-hand: first, a confession that I was angry my brother got moved out of the daycare because he threw a temper tantrum, whereas I had no such choice in the matter (it sparked a parent-teacher conference, I think) and second, the treacherously naive statement: "The world would be a better place if Bill Clinton was President."

It wasn't until first grade that I started writing the beginning of the same story every day. But that has lasted for almost seventeen years so far. Maybe one day I'll finish that story; but then I'd have to find a new one, and that would be terrifying.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Photographic Memory

So, I have a camera. I brought it to silks class last night. And foolishly forgot to exchange the standard-installed 32MB SD card for one of my 2GB SD cards. Which means that after about 10 seconds recording the preparation for the cool new drop I learned (Monica calls it the 'mission impossible'), the card was full and no more pictures or videos of Elizabeth. It pretty much looked like 10 seconds of me flailing about midair. So I'm not posting it, much as I'm sure a few of you would get a laugh out of that.

On the other hand, the trick (which I promise to get video of sooner or later) is really wacky, and somewhat terrifying. It's one of those things that you have to train your body to be used to -- on the verge of very painful, and half the neurons in your head firing saying "I should be falling to a concussive death right about now; the only thing that's holding me up is this tenuous knot that I don't trust." Of course, the other half are firing to say "Wait, what the heck do I do next?"

And then there's the moment when you're suspended fifteen-or-so feet up, horizontal, arms as wide as you can, fabric over your shoulders in an impromptu harness, holding on tightly, and paused midair. And then you slowly let the fabric slide through your hands, and you rotate head-over-heels as you sink to the ground. Flip, flip, flip.

And then there's the best moment of all, which is when you land on your feet, shrug the fabrics off of your shoulders, step out of your impromptu harness, and walk (or in my case half-walk half-skip half-trip) away.

So, to those of you to whom I promised pictures, well, maybe next week? I am hopeful. I am more hopeful about taking pictures of the garden this weekend, which will almost certainly happen, 2GB SD card or no.

In other news, I have fabric burns on the backs of my knees. There's this evil, evil climb (called a knee climb?) which if I ever figured out probably wouldn't give me rope burn, but apparently my knees are not strong enough to clamp on to the fabric, and as such they slide, to interesting (and not altogether pleasant) result. Honestly, I can see the choreographic value of the climb -- it keeps the silks separated and you in the middle, which is the starting position for a large number of tricks, and besides it looks fairly cool -- but... ouch.

In other other news, I think I have a strange talent for remembering lots of random details about a person but not their name. I ran into a post-doc by the coffee machine today (strange only because it's the Pathology coffee machine and we're both Geneticists), and she said hi, and "I think I remember you from the retreat," and I responded, "Oh, I remember you, you're in so-and-so's lab, you're a post doc, and you presented in CIG this fall."

Of course, I couldn't for the life of me remember what her name was. Score one for creepy!Elizabeth. I guess it's better than one alternative -- which is, remember absolutely nothing about anyone, rather like my father -- but I'd sort of like to remember people's names every now and again. Maybe I should write them down, like flashcards. If I work really hard at it, I could become good at remembering people's names. I wasn't too terrible when coaching, although there were definitely a couple of kids who got the worse for it. But that's how I am, I guess -- I'll remember that your second cousin from Missouri's new husband does R&D for GM, but I won't remember that your name is Jim.

She asked how the rotations were going, I told her they were going quite well, and that it just came down to choosing a lab -- and that I was a bit nervous to do so. She said to choose based on the relationship with the PI over the science, because the science is good at pretty much any lab here, and having a good mentoring relationship with the PI can make or break a PhD. Which I sort of agree with, and I sort of already knew, and my "problem" is not really a problem so much as a surplus of good choices -- two out of my three rotations have been interesting projects, with good and accessible mentors, in friendly labs that I could get along with. A couple of the more significant differences between them have recently dissolved, as well. So that's awesome, because they dissolved in the 'potential downside disappearing' way instead of the 'potential upside disappearing' way, but it means there are fewer clear-cut differentiators to make my decision on.

What even makes a good PhD lab? I've heard everything from "The science. The science will sustain you." to "The environment; good environments lead to good science, bad environments lead to burn-outs and misery." I think it's probably somewhere in between, especially someplace like where I am, where everyone is doing "good science", and the question becomes more what is personally interesting to me. But that's never been much of a guide, since "what is personally interesting to me" has always been a terribly broad category (at least I've gotten out of the 'a' word careers: I will be neither an Acrobat nor an Author, or perhaps I will be both but neither as a profession).

I went to a talk on Wednesday, and the majority of each of the three labs I rotated in was present. The talk was very good, and very interesting, and the fact that all three labs I rotated in were there was a demonstration of one thing: even though I have interests in a wide variety of areas, I have narrowed it down in terms of what I want to study. (Of course, narrowing it down to something like "Chromatin Regulation" doesn't say very much; what aspect of chromatin?) I guess I just need to start drawing up a flow chart, full of positives and negatives, and really thinking seriously about the choice I'm faced with. Talk to people outside of any of the labs; they will most likely have advice. Because general subject won't get me anywhere and managerial style or size of the lab will only get me so far. Any suggestions?