Life lessons

I have recently spent a rather large amount of time being upset at life, often without clear reason.  Needless to say, I have become quite well acquainted with the concept of limited emotional bandwidth.

Friends who message me at the right moment get a good dose of my philosophizing, usually packaged as a rant.  I had this really interesting conversation last night that went something like this:

Background: Friend thinks I am taking things too personally.

Friend: People don’t think exactly the way you think.  Not everyone is nice.

Me: [giant rant about how I think everyone at the core is trying to do the right thing, though sometimes it doesn’t happen]

Friend: No.  There are assholes out there.

Me: [giant rant about how assholes aren’t actually trying to be assholes.  Most people, all else equal, would be nice, right?]

Friend: No…

Me: I don’t know if I’m projecting, but I just don’t see how somebody could not be trying to do the right thing.  I think some people just try harder than others.

Friend: You are projecting.  People are not nice out there.

Me: …well this is depressing for humanity.

Friend: But you just need that realization, and then you’ll feel better about the things around you.

This actually echos a conversation I had with another friend the week before.  So a) ❤ my friends, and b) I think these people are really onto something.  Why exactly this makes me feel better is still pending further analysis, but I don’t think it’s just the implicit flattery of “you are a nice person”.

Anyways, this revelation is making my day, so just thought I’d share.  I feel a lot better about life, now that I’ve been convinced that the jerks are among us and in fact occupy a larger portion of humanity than previously realized.


In other news, on one fine Sunday night, my bike Jake was brutally murdered:

RIP Jake

So I upgraded myself to a road bike.  Meet Damian:


Isn’t he cute?  He is also like 10X faster than Jake.  And so shiny and pretty that I refuse to ride him in the rain or to theft-prone areas like Boston Commons at night, which makes him less useful.

Anyways, less than 24 hours after picking him up, I took Damian on a ride.  About 1/3 of the way through I had this ridiculous and rather spectacular crash.  (No, a car was not involved, except the one that stopped and asked if I was ok.  The crash was between me and the floor.)  Wounded on all 4 limbs, I of course decided to just get back on my bike and keep going.

Afterwards I took him back to the bike shop downstairs to get him fixed up.  One guy took a look at my knee, which was gushing bright red blood (and it gushed for days- went through a bandage and stained my sheets and everything), and was like, “lolz, did you fall?”  And the other lady looked at my bike and was like, “Hey, I just worked on that bike yesterday!”

That bike shop is unfortunately closing.  I was quite upset and started bugging them regularly (trying to compress “tuneups for life” into one week) and I think I seriously annoyed some people in there.  Hah.


And the last bit of news is that I am signed up for a mini seminar on fiction literature this quarter.  I’m quite excited about it.  It looks like all fun and games.  In fact, it’s pretty much advertised as fun and games (quote, “Samplings [are] a less intensive means for students to sustain a commitment to reading and textual interpretation”).

It’s basically me and a bunch of seniors.  We’ve had one class so far, in which we philosophized about detective fiction (our theme) as possibly an extension of the human condition, and also watched 3/4 of a movie.  Our instructor is this friendly guy who’s prone to random fits of guffawing.  Oh, and he brought us cookies.

This is gonna be great.

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Roller coaster pt. 2

So I was (partially) wrong about the roller coasters.

You CAN feel pain as you’re free falling.  Especially if you’re falling for, say, a month and a half.

The difference is that you have so little control.  No matter how much you hate it, you can’t really do that much about it, besides maybe sit at home and cry.  So you better just soak some tea bags in your fridge and roll with it.

These guys live in my fridge. You know, just in case.

These guys live in my fridge. You know, just in case.

Anyways, I made it through my Crazy Social/Travel Month+ and I am pleased to announce that I am still alive.  And I have emerged with great photos, fun stories and a tattoo!  Also, a really nice tan new layer of skin from a severe sunburn over my entire back.  Unfortunately I couldn’t quite pull it off as well as the snakes do, so needless to say that when I’m fully done shedding, I will be cleaning my apartment and doing laundry.


I don’t know if it’s just my job, or a property of all jobs, but sometimes I find myself wasting a lot of time in my hamster wheel.

yup- that’s me.

I just spent three full days reading about MOSFETs so I could pick one and design a circuit for it, and at the end I still didn’t really know what I was doing.  (Advisor to the rescue: confirmed I’m ok, and then made my decisions for me).

Learning is great, and I *love* that it’s part of my job.  It just feels really frustrating sometimes when you spend forever on something and then in the end emerge with so little product.  And sitting in a chair and reading in confused circles feels extra stale.

I guess a PhD is probably at one end of the spectrum of jobs, in terms of how much your work progress / success is tied to your personal progress / success.  That doesn’t help.

Well- at least I now know almost as much about MOSFETs as I did in undergrad.

Oh, who am I kidding!  That’s not true.

Anyways, now ahead of me is the giant puzzle known as routing a printed circuit board:

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 12.54.20 AM

AHHH!!  What a mess!!!

The goal is to turn it into something nice and clean, like this:

Look! Gummy bear!

Look! Gummy bear!

Here’s how it’s going, so far:

Traces for rough placement only. No judging.

Traces for rough placement only. No judging.

Well that is hideous.  I don’t think I can do this in 2 layers.

This is actually one of my favorite parts of my job.  It’s like a grand puzzle to which I can apply all those extremely useful skills I picked up playing Starcraft in high school (think spastic clicking / key pressing).

It does sort of invade my consciousness though, and then I have trouble sleeping because my brain can’t stop routing.  Sometimes I route in my dreams and then wake up and am surprised that my board is less routed than I thought it was.


And how were my travels?

Why, thank you for asking.  New York was great.  Scotland was great.  Tampa was great.

I may or may not write about them later.  In case you haven’t figured it out (or closed the window) yet, the point of this post was not to share my travel adventures, but to rant about work.

Also, again hunting for new hobbies.  Something new that I can get better at (and then feel good about my progress), and preferably that does not involve sitting in a chair for long periods of time.  Any ideas?

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Roller coasters

Things have been pretty crazy lately.

So there was this bachelorette party in New Hampshire- which did have a lot of the traditional bachelorette goodness, but my favorite part was probably the last day.  After checking out of our cabin the morning, we headed over to this mountain lake:


It was really pretty.  Also, it was apparently pollen season, and all the lakes had a bunch of yellow pollen floating on the water surface.  This lake was super cool because you could see pollen clouds coming at you from the horizon.

But the real reason I liked this lake was these guys:


Can you see the little mini legs?!?!?

We swam off to the side of the lake and there were just a whole bunch of these little guys, of various sizes, stages of development, and intellectual ability (as judged by their ability to escape capture).  We spent a great afternoon catching them.

It was totally worth getting sunburned on my scalp.


A few days later came Irene’s Surprise Birthday Adventure.

What happened here is that my friends picked me up at school and whisked me away.  I had no idea where we were going.

Actually, even after we were standing in front of a ferry that said “To Block Island”, I still didn’t really know where we were going, since I’d never heard of Block Island.

It turns out that Block Island is this little island between Rhode Island and Long Island.  A friend later described it as a “less well-known Nantucket”.  There was a bit of nature stuff- we took a hike, and the sound the water makes when it rolls off the rocks is amazing!  (I got a video too- I’m a big fan of videos these days, they’re so much more fun than photos).

IMG_0319 IMG_0331

We must have looked a bit out of place there, because everyone we ran into (generally a generation up) kept giving us tips on how to do Block Island on less money.  “You’ll find a cheaper restaurants that way.”  “It’s much cheaper to book a house than to stay at a hotel!”

We sort of used this to make ourselves feel better when we realized later that we spent 2 hours at a bar that night playing darts and ping pong, without actually buying anything.

Er.  Well.  Four giggling girls really help a bar’s atmosphere, right?

It was still a bit too cold for the eco kayak tour the next morning, which was sad because I’m a great kayaker*.  So we instead spent the morning torturing this alpaca:


*blatantly untrue

Anyways, that was probably the best birthday I’ve ever had.  Kudos to my friends, who either by natural talent or through 5 years of PhD training, were able to perfectly execute a surprise birthday adventure.


And that brings us to today.

I think the scariest part of a roller coaster is going up.  It’s all the anticipation and fear, and it just builds and builds.

But actually, once you’re on the other side, you’re just in free fall.  Even if you hate roller coasters, you don’t really have time to feel fear or worry or pain- all you can do is hang on and deal.

This is actually a tactic I came up with to help me overcome my fears.  Sometimes we’re afraid of something, but we’re also in charge of the trigger that makes it happen.  We’re afraid, though, so we can’t bring ourselves to actuate.

But everything you want is on the other side of fear.  I think that most of the time, it’s easier to live with the consequences than with the regrets.

Often the trigger is something really quick- like showing up at a party, walking into a sports class on the first day, or initiating a tough conversation.  So I just try not to think of what’s going to happen afterwards, and how horrible that will be, and I make myself pull the trigger.

It’s so quick- like the twitch of a finger.  And then after that, you’re in free fall.  You’ve got no choice but to follow through.


And then sometimes you’re not in charge of the trigger.  Sometimes, time just carries you there- like that presentation you have to give, or your upcoming move to a new country.

In those cases, I still use the roller coaster to make myself feel better.  I tell myself that, no matter how nervous or scared I am, it’s just going to happen.  And then once it happens, I’m in free fall.  I’ll deal with whatever happens, and I’ll be so busy doing that that I won’t have time to feel the pain.  And then it’ll be over.

Rollercoaster graphics


Anyhow, this is relevant because I’ve pretty much just reached the top of the roller coaster.  Things are about to get insane.

I mean, it’s all fun stuff, involving some of my favorite people.  I’m looking forward to all these events individually, and I have no doubt that I will enjoy each one.  I’m just a bit anxious that I’ll get tired and burned out (remember, introverts get tired from social contact).

Actually, I thought free fall would start tomorrow.  But quite inadvertently, I think it started two days ago.  So… whee?

Anyways, I’ve got about a month and a half of falling.  And then, I’ll emerge on the other side.  Tired, probably.  But hopefully also happy and enthused!  …and not just puking into a trash can.

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Mt. Everest

“6th year of PhD is the best!  That’s when you really come into your own as a researcher, and you start knowing more than your advisor.”

Is that what’s happening?  Because right now it doesn’t quite feel like that, it just feels like a permanent frenzy.  AHHHHH!!!

And yet, somehow, days like today still happen:

  1. Wake up.  Later than anticipated.
  2. Leisurely morning routine involving stovetop oatmeal, smoothie making, and lunch prep.
  3. Morning gets even more leisurely when 2 friends msg to chat, back to back.
  4. Roll into work late and do stuff I had hoped to finish last night.
  5. Free noontime bootcamp at the gym.  Tied with spin for Best Workout Ever.
  6. Nice lunch outside with friends.
  7. Sit at desk and enjoy smoothie.
  8. FINALLY get to work.

Except that work bit didn’t last too long.


So I’m sitting there designing this voltage divider for my photomultiplier tube (after several months of trying to push back against my advisor on whether or not I REALLY need to work out the details of something I can just buy prepackaged… here I am) when my friend pings me again.

What ensues is this lengthy conversation about people who climb Mt. Everest.  Apparently she was watching this documentary that talks about how humanity sort of gets thrown aside on the mountain and people, in their quest for the top (or apparently this was not-quite-top), will leave strangers to die by the side of the path so they can continue their own climb.

Well, that is a lot of people.

Anyways, this quickly evolved into a conversation about whether or not we have the right to judge these people for their inhumanity.  And now, before reading the rant below- where do YOU fall?


For me, I don’t think we can judge the people climbing Everest because we don’t know what it’s like to be there.  Climbing a mountain can be life or death, in sometimes indirect ways- conditions can change so quickly.  So when it’s your safety vs their survival, it’s harsh but I think understandable if people don’t risk themselves to save a stranger.

For the more ambiguous cases, my friend was horrified that people would just leave others to die so they can reach the top (“for their own narcissistic bragging rights,” she said).  I agree this sounds terrible.  But I still don’t feel like I can judge these people because, frankly, I’m not them.  I’m not in their position, I don’t know what it took to get there, I can’t understand what it means to them, and I also don’t know what it’s like to actually be on the mountain.  I don’t know if there’s something that I’m missing, in all I don’t know or understand, that makes that sort of choice happen.

It’s almost an inductive argument.  See, I think that no sane, normal person- sitting in front of their computer at home or whatever- would say that they would just leave another person to die.  But apparently tons of people do it on Mt. Everest (“3 groups walked by and didn’t help him!”)  So I think it must be something about being there, or what it takes to get there.  And I can’t judge, because I haven’t been there.  It’s like that experiment with electrocuting people- I can’t say I’d be better than anybody else, because I’ve never been tried.  [For this, my friend argues selection bias- these are the kind of people that go up Mt. Everest].

Obviously there’s also a range of cases- different amounts of sacrifice and different amounts of benefit (e.g. likelihood that you can save the person).  But… ok, I will severely cut short the ranting now.  Since the internet has been so great at telling me that it doesn’t know whether I should get a cat or not, I will ask again.


And now.  With no more background information than the above,


Take the poll, people!  I’m really curious.  More curious than about whether you think I should get a cat.


And onto brighter topics… continuing Irene’s list of accomplishments for the day:

  1. Free fancy dinner
  2. Bike home and get hit by a car (lightly, no real damage- we both stopped, and then another cyclist cursed out the driver for me)
  3. Second dinner at home, because the first one was too fancy to feed me properly.  I mean, I thought I ordered a salad:
  4. Spend way too long writing blog post
  5. [In progress] frantically work in vain attempt to make up for today’s unproductivity.


Oh, and, to brighten your day, check out my latest fail:

flower fail

[Note: vase comes with five (5) bulbs].

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To cat or not to cat?

Continuing my trend of making rather big decisions without thinking them through as carefully as I probably should, I am seriously considering getting a cat.


Isn’t she cute?  Her name is Kiki.  They seem to have named her for the wrong member of the duo.

I’m planning to go to the shelter tomorrow to see if Kiki and I like each other.  I am NOT planning on returning home with a cat- although maybe I should show up with my bike basket, just in case… (doesn’t riding around town with a cat in your basket sound like fun?  You just have to hope the cat is still in the basket when you arrive at your destination).

I can’t really foresee the ways a cat would change my life, or if I’d be ok with them.  Probably I should try cat-sitting first.  But then Kiki will get snatched up!

I really do think that, sometimes you just have to do stuff, and then deal with the fallout afterwards.  You can’t plan or foresee everything.  And besides, “everything you want is on the other side of fear”, says the Quotable Magnet above my desk.

Although in this case, it’s also a matter of responsibility.  The consequences could last for a very long time, and I won’t be the only one who has to deal with them.  hmmm…



In other news, I am currently in the market for a new hobby.  I really wish ballroom dance would work out, but unfortunately dance is not fun when you don’t actually dance, and you can’t dance if you don’t have a partner.  At this point I think it might be time to just let go.

So… new hobbies.  I’m thinking of rock climbing, though I don’t quite like how it works out schedule-wise.  Maybe sailing or SUP.  Also considering non-sports, like photography or music.  Open to ideas- ping me!  (I’m guessing all of these will start to look more attractive as I slowly give up more and more on the idea of saving my dancing career.)

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Random update

I don’t really have anything interesting to say.  I’m just writing because I had a committee meeting today and want to decompress, but my online video streaming isn’t working right now and I can’t restart my computer because I have results up on MATLAB that I haven’t bothered to analyze yet.

Our committee meetings aren’t so much hard work as they are emotionally stressful (said a friend today: “Emotional stress is real work too!  You have to give yourself credit for that!”)  This one went fine, though.  At least I could follow the entire conversation.  And I think my committee had a good time brainstorming field sites for me.  It was actually suggested that I take a walk along the Concord River to look for a nice site, towing my instrument behind me in a canoe.  That sounds kind of fun, doesn’t it?

But yes, I’ve proposed field work this summer, which is a big step in my project.  Wahh!!  So many things to work on.  It feels almost like life has got me by the throat and is squeezing tighter and tighter.  And also shaking me.  Really hard.

I guess that’s a good thing, though, because it means I know what I’m doing now.  Which was not true for a lot of grad school.

Enough chit chat.  Pictures!

Spring is definitely here.  Check out the flowers:

IMG_8572 IMG_8546

I’ve actually gotten into the habit of buying myself flowers.  Sorry, mom, I know it goes against everything you taught me.  Blame the friends who send me pictures of their flowers.  I gotta reciprocate.

But aren’t they pretty?


I got this custom bouquet from the florist down the street because I was feeling bad that day, but usually it’s just grocery store tulips.  Did you know you have to change the water for your cut flowers?  Haha.  The first tulips I got never bloomed, they just died.

And in the theme of flowers:


This is from our April snow.  I was not in a good mood that day- when I saw these, I laughed SO hard.

Here’s some Boston love:


And some DC love while we’re at it:


(I was sleep-deprived, food-deprived and delirious when I took this picture.  It’s even nicer if you imagine viewing it through a fog of delirium).

Oh, there’s this too.  What is THIS?


Art?  Prank?  Or just naptastic?

And finally, this lovely lake:


I sat by this lake and cried for an hour.  It was actually really nice.  No shame in crying, and if you have to do it, I recommend going to a lake.

Ok, so, rough Spring for Irene.  It’s ok, though.  I have a pretty big birthday coming up in less than a month now, and I’ve decided it’s going to be a power anthem.  I’m going to go into this next decade with clear vision (in more ways than one- I got LASIK) and in control of my own life.  I’m gonna kick some ass.

But in the meantime… speaking of birthdays.  I’ve spent my past two birthdays alone in Singapore.  To be fair, last year I actually actively made the “alone” part happen by turning down a dinner invite (I felt a little ridiculous doing that, but a) I was pretty sure it was completely innocent but I wasn’t TOTALLY sure so I decided to avoid any awkward confusion; b) he didn’t know it was my birthday and I wasn’t about to tell him, but that would mean I didn’t get to celebrate; and c) I really wanted to buy myself a fruit tart).

This year I’m not going to Singapore- I would love to escape across the world again, but it’s just not justifiable with research where it’s at.  So I’ll spend my birthday here.  I originally wanted to go on a crazy trip or something, but that fell through.

So the last interesting piece of news is that, inspired by my totally failed birthday plans, I have booked a trip to Scotland this summer!  This trip was conceived and then booked in the span of about an hour, while I was complaining to my friend about my crashing birthday dreams.  (If you’ve never spontaneously booked a trip before, I recommend it- you get a HUGE adrenaline rush, it’s so much fun).  Ok, so maybe it was a little crazy, but I think it’s fine… the Scottish highlands sound like just what I need right now.

Anyways, that’s all.  Now back to work… ahhhHHH!!!  Breathe breathe breathe…

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Spring has hit Boston, it seems.  The weather’s been amazing.

I don’t know if I’m quite ready for spring yet, actually.  Meh.


The friend I met for lunch today sort of introduced me to her boyfriend as this crazy, adventurous traveler who was busy hitting up country after country.  Which was interesting, because it’s not the first time I’ve heard that.  But I really don’t think it’s true (except maybe the crazy part.  But face it, we’re all crazy).

I know there’s that whole social media effect where everyone thinks everyone else is living some super glamorous exciting life, because it’s all they see.  I just never thought I’d be the subject of such glamorization.  My day-to-day minutiae is really not very glamorous.

But that did remind me of the one self-glamorizing thing I like to do, which is write in this blog.  So I will now proceed to do nothing in support of my argument, by writing about my latest trip.


Two weeks ago, I went to a conference in New Orleans.  For a variety of reasons, I was pretty nervous about this conference, and the lead-up was pretty awful.

But, I survived, and I think it actually went pretty well!

I stopped by Tampa on the way home to visit my brother and sister-in-law.  Views from the plane:

Having just come from an Ocean Sciences conference, all I could think about was algae, humic content, nutrient cycles and who’s field site this is.  I mean, look at that eutrophication!

Anyways, probably the most notable thing we did in Tampa was the manatee swim.

I was super excited for the manatee swim.  Because.  Manatees!

I was also slightly nervous.  I knew wetsuits were involved.  I suspected it would be very cold.

So here’s the deal with the manatees.  In the winter, the water in the Gulf gets really cold, so the manatees all come into the warm springs to shelter.  The place we went to was one such spring (or, if I understood correctly, had a bunch of these springs).  So it’s a common tourist attraction to visit in the winter and swim with the manatees.  (We actually ran into the Fish and Wildlife Services guy who issues permits for tour companies, at a bar the night before, who went on a semi-rant about the ethics of all this.  A discussion for another day.  Perfect over a beer.)

We did our manatee swim at 7 am.  The earlier the better, they said, for seeing manatees.

Here’s the place we went to:

Getting up early was sort of painful, but this scene made it worth it.  I guess the water was warm from the springs, so you could see the fog rising from the water, which was super cool.  (Incidentally, my research has to do with eddies, so I kept thinking about eddies and turbulent transport).

It was also really, really cold.  I asked if they had a thicker wetsuit, but they just looked at me like I was crazy.  Sigh.

So we put on our wetsuits over our swimsuits and then went and sat on the little motorboat.  Our in-water guide came in, took one look at me huddling under my towel, and left and came back with a stack of blankets and a huge jacket.  But, she said, only for AFTER the swim, when we would be even colder.  (Eventually she took mercy on me and gave me a blanket to huddle under).

Manatee swim technique involves no kicking, only arms.  You wear a scuba mask, and a pool noodle around your waist keeps you afloat.  The water was supposed to be 72 degrees, but 72 degrees is actually pretty cold.  I was cold.  I bit the scuba mask to keep my teeth from chattering, so at least I think I can say that my chattering teeth weren’t what scared all the manatees away.

Anyway, the first site we went into had really low visibility.  The physics of the pool noodle kept dunking my head under water, but all I could see under water were floating green things and… uh, sunlight?  It’s a bit disturbing to not be able to see a few inches in front of your face.

I think this site actually had manatees, but the visibility was so low that you couldn’t see them until they were right in front of you.  So you’d be floating there, hoping to see a manatee (and trying not to shiver too hard), and suddenly… this BIG GRAY THING would loom up out of the darkness and pass right by you.  So there was a bit of screaming among some members of our group.  It only happened to me once, though.  It was like some monster of the deep- a big gray barnacled thing with no discernible form, here then gone.  (I don’t think manatees are actually barnacled, but it was hard to see… I think most of them do have marks on their backs from boats, though.)

Eventually they pulled us and moved us to another site.  This boat ride in between was pretty miserable.  I wasn’t the only one shaking violently and with teeth chattering so hard that it was impossible to talk.

The second site had much clearer water.  It was right outside the entrance to a popular spring, which was, ironically, closed due to too many manatees.

The water here was also cold.  But there were warmer jetstreams- probably 72 degrees streams from the springs.  You could definitely feel cold and warm currents.

Anyways, I was still cold.  To keep warm, I tried to focus on the excitement of potentially seeing a manatee.

In the end, I saw one manatee.  It was swimming somewhere under me.

Then eventually we went back onto the boat.

On the boat, they gave us hot chocolate.  My hand was shaking so much that I spilled hot chocolate everywhere.  As the Coldest Looking Person On Board, I won the big jacket.  I felt bad watching everyone else shiver- like I should offer up my jacket- but the thought was unfathomable.  So I just sat there and felt selfish.

On the way back, we saw a few more manatees from the boat, including a mom and a cub.

I know this has been a long post with few pictures.  So I will now break it up with a random picture of some manatees that I found online:


Aren’t they adorable?

When I told my friends about the manatee swim later, they asked me if I’d do it again, and were surprised when I said yes.  Well, I know the manatee to misery ratio was not very high this time, given that from the water all I saw was one manatee and one Loch Ness.  But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it!  And besides, I didn’t get to go face to face with a manatee, so of course I have to go back.  I just might bring my own extra-thick wetsuit…


Oh, and how has life been?  Uh, not too great, actually.

But, whatever doesn’t kill me just makes me stronger.  Right?  (Sometimes it does feel like life is needlessly brutal.  But I like to think that in the end it’ll all come around, and someday I’ll look back and be glad at all the things I’ve learned from all my experiences).

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