Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Worst Thing That Happens To You All Day

So I borrowed some glassware.

I borrowed some glassware because I am involved in the Human Powered Vehicle* project. Some people on another HPV team suggested that we use butyl acetate for fusing sheets of styrofoam together. Unfortunately, buying butyl acetate is difficult. So the professor for whom I TAed this semester suggested I synthesize it. For this purpose, he loaned me some glassware.

Earlier this week, I was looking at glassware online, for myself, as I might like to do some distilling at home at some point in the future. I stumbled across the very kit I had been loaned. The price tag: CAD $788.

I didn't end up having to do the reaction — ethyl acetate seems to work well enough and is cheaply and readily available at the chemical store at the university. As soon as I realized that I wouldn't need to actually use the glassware, I decided to return it.

I tried several times each day this week but the lab tech who is in charge of the glassware was not in her office.

In the meantime, the kit lived in my lab on top of a hutch on the vacant desk next to mine. Safe, right?

My roommate and labmate, K, came home today and informed me that she had a rather crazy story to tell me. It turns out that one of the postdocs in the lab happened to lean against the aforementioned hutch at which point it collapsed. And down came cradle, glassware and all. Apparently there was almost nothing left.

So, best case, I look like an irresponsible tool and nobody ever trusts me with lab equipment again. Worst case, I have to pay for the equipment and nobody ever trusts me to TA again. I am invigilating an exam for that professor tomorrow, so I will find out my fate then.

I remember my dad once telling me, "eat a dead frog in the morning and it's the worst thing that will happen to you all day."

I also remember, even at a tender young age, responding, "Yeah, well, eat a live frog in the morning and it's the worst thing that'll happen to the frog for the rest of the day."

* Frankly, it should be called the Human Powered Bicycle competetion, but given that bicycles are human powered by nature, it sounds a bit stupid.
We are well aware that HPV has other definitions which have... less than savoury connotations. We sort of revel in it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Spacing Out

I have, as my friend ~L* says, the November blahs. ~L is also a grad student. My classes are weighing very heavily right now. For one class I have a final presentation, a final report and a final exam all in the next two weeks. For another class I have a final project due just before Christmas. For the last class, I have a final report and a final exam. Plus, I'm expected to be making progress on my thesis. So it's high stress time. And the work is very interesting but there's Just. So. Much of it. It gets pretty overwhelming and I spend a lot of time just spacing out.

Sometimes when I'm spacing out, I think about people. Then I wonder if those people are thinking about me. It is, I suppose, an exercise in narcissism. Then usually I get distracted by a reference in a paper or my growling stomach or something shiny off in the distance.

I suppose Murphy's law dictates that the people I'm thinking about are probably not thinking about me at that time and that the people who are thinking about me are not the people who I'm thinking about at that time. But of course, there's no way to know, for sure, because testing it breaks it - if you call someone to ask if they're thinking about you, of course they are; you just called them. I think this is one of life's great cruel paradoxes, never being able to know if the people you're thinking about are thinking about you.

Also, I think I think too much.

*~L is not the same as L, my girlfriend. I call her ~L to distinguish her from L (the voice of reason) and also because that's how she signs her emails.

Friday, November 21, 2008

6 Month Lag

Today, I had to tell my students that they will be getting a new TA next semester, that I will no longer be assisting them in CHE204. That was kinda sad for me and some of them even seemed genuinely sad to see me go. Even though I probably marked harder than any of the other TAs, I think that, at least for some of them, they will remember me as one of the TAs they actually liked.

Later, L and I got talking about how, within a few hundred years no one will remember me or her. Unless we become really famous. I then pointed out that people have very short attention spans these days, and people would need to be reminded.
She said, "That's why I'm going to permanently carve a huge sculpture of my face in—"
"The moon?" I interjected.
"I was going to say the Earth," she clarified.
"Yeah, well," I pointed out, "it would take at least 6 months for google maps to pick that up, whereas everyone has to see the moon almost every day."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The New Deal

So it turns out I was partly right about going to grad school. I figured I would have a lot more time for things like sleep because, said I, "my thesis won't be calling me at 4 in the morning." Only this last part has turned out to be true — my sleep now comes, typically, in contiguous chunks, however, they are not very long chunks. Turns out I grossly underestimated the workload and took on an extra course I shouldn't have.

Also, my sleep isn't always completely uninterrupted. I woke up at about 4 in the morning a few weeks ago to being punched in the back of the head.

"Ow! You hit me!" I cried.
"Well, you were trying to put a silverfish on me," L explained.
"I was asleep!" I defended.
"Well, don't be mean to me in my dreams and I won't wake you up," she offered.
"Fine. Deal," I said, and I went back to sleep.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Keep Your Stick On The Ice

It is election day in the US. We had ours in Canada a couple of weeks ago. On that day, I was working for Elections Canada as a Registration Officer. It was my job to fill out the forms of people who had not received voter cards in the mail. By hand. For 12 hours.

One thing I noticed at the end of the democratic process is that my writing hand really hurt. Now, I am all for the paper voting process. I like transparency and paper trails. I am the first person to say that if Canada ever tries to switch to electronic voting, I will be the first angry person on Parliament Hill. But would it be too much to ask for typed voter registration forms?

The other thing I noticed at the end of that process is that I don't actually know much about the people in my country. If you were to extrapolate the makeup of the entire country from the people to whom I am routinely exposed you would find that almost everyone has a university degree, many people have advanced university degrees, that incomes are high, and that most people are quite technical. Also, that almost everyone is between the age of 18 and 38. I was shocked to learn that that isn't how the country looks. I live in a bubble.

I don't know why I think it's okay to put a graph in my anecdotal blog, but graphs do serve to illustrate points, sometimes, and I think this graph illustrates the point particularly well. I think everyone is between 18 and 38 because in my neighborhood, everyone really is between 18 and 38.

The point is this: it's all too easy for us to get caught up in our immediate environments. There are a lot of people on the planet and they are all different from you. They all affect you, and you affect all of them, even if it's in minuscule ways. It seems to me you can only truly make a wise decision about how to improve the planet, and thus improve your own chances for happiness, if you take them all into account, in some way.

Anyway, just some food for thought.

To quote a great man, "Remember, I'm pullin' for ya. We're all in this together."