Archive for March, 2011


activation energy

March 31, 2011

I have spent a lot of time lately thinking about my defense, my need to prepare, and the eighty other things that need getting done right now (yes, even after submitting my actual physical electronic thesis last week).  For some reason, the only thought that really sticks long enough is, “I need to do these things, right now — but oh look over there, there’s something safe, cuddly, and non-threatening!”

A bit ago, speaking to a similarly-struggling friend, we decided: we lack the activation energy.  The potential barrier (i.e., the overwhelming terror, in my case) is too high to overcome right now.

This makes me laugh despairingly, since it is so terribly apt — I’ve spent what time I’ve spent on science recently worrying about population transfer, potential barriers, and thermal activation between several states.

Now if only I could get excited.


thesis 2011: final countdown and the aftermath

March 28, 2011

Greetings, internet.  My thesis has been submitted!  At 10:45pm on Friday, I finally emailed a massive document to my committee, only a day and some hours later than I intended.  Ah, well.  It got there before the weekend, which was the really important part.  The preceding several days were, well … hellish.  Some of that probably came through on this blog, but not much, because I severely restricted my internet use during the final run-up to it all.

In an effort to channel the silly thoughts that often prompt me to post on here, I decided to keep a running list of things I was thinking about on paper, so as to minimize the time required to record them and prevent me from opening my browser.  Because I find them to be an amusing study in sleep-deprived, stress-driven brain function, I post them here for your enjoyment (also as an explanation, if you called me last week and I repeatedly ignored you).  I imagine it looks somewhat like a crazy person’s twitter feed, if a crazy person needed to write a graduate thesis under extreme duress. I translated and commented only where necessary, and the title was assigned during this whole project of sorts.

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how to write a graduate thesis in a week

March 24, 2011

Don’t.  Bad things happen as the coffee to sleep ratio approaches infinity.


mt. desk

March 22, 2011

Colorado has a new fourteener: my desk.  I am usually guilty of piling lots of crap on it, but thesis crunch time is sending the wreckage to new heights.  If I can find a camera, I’ll post a picture update later this week (as it can only get worse in the next few days).

But, while I sit here eating my lunch of french fries and ice cream (don’t judge, I’m stressed out okay), let me tally the destruction so far:

  • three piles of textbooks, at least one foot high each;
  • three empty coffee mugs;
  • one seriously old fruit juice bottle;
  • a bowl and spoon (perched precariously on the tallest book pile) that have been used for both cereal and ice cream (FYI: surprise mint chocolate chip granola is not a pleasant thing to eat after an all-nighter);
  • a saucer with PB sandwich crumbs on it (all the plates were dirty);
  • two dead highlighters;
  • an invitation to a friend’s wedding in May;
  • four ripped-up envelopes with crucial calculations and important phone numbers written on them;
  • my winter hat (it’s been 70 this week, so I have no idea why this is here);
  • a pot I ate macaroni and cheese out of at 4am this morning;
  • an empty wineglass (sometimes booze is more helpful than coffee, and certainly frazzles the nerves less);
  • a plate with french fry crumbs all over it (I just finished them, mmm);
  • an honest-to-god legal copy of Windows 7, which I don’t even run (Ubuntu and a VM’d XP for me);
  • two dessicated tea bags;
  • my humidifier, which is empty and probably needs cleaning;
  • various actually useful things, like my computer, monitor, assorted paraphernalia, and a couple lab notebooks and printed thesis outlines;
  • about eighty pens, most of which are probably dead.

It’s a really good thing that I have a gigantic desk.


in which recent (and upcoming) events are discussed

March 21, 2011

My thesis must be handed to my committee on Thursday.  I am not ready.  NOT READY.  It seemed like a surmountable task yesterday morning, but the realities of my need for sleep and newly-reduced tolerance for caffeine (I hate it that my plan to quit actually worked well enough to make me feel wonky after a few cups of coffee now) have kicked in, and it’s panic time.  Panic has served me fairly well in my past experience with such things, so I have hope, but it’s not a very cheerful sort of hope.  More like a, “I hope I can actually get my act together well enough to pull a few consecutive all-nighters” kind of hope.  That’s how I finished my undergraduate thesis, so I’m not exactly shocked that it’s what’ll be required here, though I am a bit sad that my planning-ahead abilities haven’t grown much in the past 4 or 5 years.

But, some things in life are most excellent.  Spring league ultimate frisbee began yesterday, and I woke up today in a very contented sort of pain.  My muscles are berating me for neglecting them all winter.  My foot is screaming at me that I should not have slacked off on my physical therapy exercises.  I have a nasty scrape on one knee, a milder one on the other, a beautiful bruise on one arm, and three blisters on my otherwise not-hurting foot, and it’s awesome.

Okay, maybe not really, but I’m really excited that league has started again, even if it means I broke myself yesterday.  For once, I broke myself actually contributing, and my team is both a ton of fun and composed almost entirely of folks I haven’t played with before, so I’m happy.  Oh, and I got told I was fast and people hated having to mark me, which always thrills me even though I always have a hard time believing it.

Today’s moral: yay frisbee.  Boo thesis.  Hello, caffeine.


infinite orbit

March 15, 2011

I have seen this cartoon before, and many of you have as well, no doubt, but it pretty aptly summarizes what my life is like here in final run-up to my thesis submission deadline.  I am in the “infinite orbit” trajectory right now.  Unless you want to look at the big picture, in which case, I am definitely following the “complete repulsion” path.  I did, after all, find graduate school to be completely repulsive (in a non-vector-field way, even).



local agriculture: sometimes it doesn’t matter

March 9, 2011

Shocking!  A title like that, on my blog?  All of you are busily checking your address bars right now to make sure that yes, indeed, Lady Quantum really is writing this piece.

I’m being intentionally inflammatory here, in the grand tradition of irresponsible bloggers, but it’s also true.  Sometimes local agriculture is an irrelevant or even a worse choice … but it depends on what your values are in terms of food.

Values?  In terms of food?  For many of you reading this, that isn’t an outlandish concept.  For those of you for whom it is, however, let me explain by example and anecdote.  Energy intensiveness — how much energy something requires — is a huge personal issue for me, and it informs many of my choices.  My attempts to cut my energy use are why I refused to get a car for so long, why I was vegetarian for a few years in high school and college, why I piss my roommates off by keeping the thermostat at 60 degrees overnight, and why I reuse yogurt containers until they melt.  Energy intensiveness is something that I try to consider when I buy food, and really, for me, that’s what’s most important, given the non-negotiable boundaries of time I have to cook, my need to eat at least marginally healthy, and my restrictive budget.  Other people I’ve met have vastly different food values.  Prioritizing animal cruelty would mean that you never buy meat, eggs, dairy, or even honey if you’re obsessive; prioritizing water pollution would mean that you only buy organic products, no matter the cost or the distance they travel, to avoid the pollution caused by fertilizer and pesticide runoff.  What you care about can — and should! — inform your food choices, giving you a set of food values.

With this in mind, I was very surprised to read an article today from the Post Carbon Institute titled “Beyond Food Miles.” Based on data from an USDA report on energy use in the American food system, it tears holes in arguments typically used to support buying locally-produced and organic products.

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