Friday, July 20, 2007

the deathly hallows

Today is the official release of the final book in the Harry Potter series, in case for some reason you don't know. (It is interesting that the release of a "children's book" is national news, but...hey, so was the trampling of people at Wal-Mart when they started selling the Xbox 360. News, I tell you...)

For those curious, no I did not preorder the book, no I do not intend to rush out and attempt to buy it, and yes I am going to try very, very, very, very hard to not find out what happens until I find the time (and a copy of the book) to read.

I am, however, wearing my Harry and the Potters t-shirt today. It is a reminder to all that no matter what happens in the last book...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

i should have been an engineer


Not that I'm getting worried or anything, but as I embark on this "what am I going to do once I graduate?" quest and start looking into jobs and fellowships and all that jazz, I am discovering that engineering seems like a very lovely place to be. I pulled up a listing of jobs openings being advertised through the University's career services website, and no less than HALF of the jobs were for engineers! And they weren't in boring things like "do research for the rest of your life" or "let's run the same computer simulation every day Monday through Friday for 80 years" or any other rat-race things that seem unappealing to me. They were in practical application settings (like...manage water treatment) and useful, cutting-edge disciplines (like...the U.S. patent office).

I'm sure these jobs aren't nearly as splendiferous as I envision them to be, but the fact remains that a) any one of these jobs would NOT require a PhD and b) any one of these jobs would pay at least twice as much as any job I'll be getting in the next five years even WITH my PhD in biomedical science (unless I go into biotech or pharmaceuticals, which I don't want to do). I think people assume that because a person has lots of letters after his or her name, that person must be earning a whole lot of money. That is not true.

Not that money is everything. But still - I sometimes regret that I did not really comprehend what engineering was until about 3/4 of the way through my last year of undergrad. ...Actually, I didn't really get it until about 6 months ago. I believe I would have really enjoyed engineering, at least certain types of it. Now I feel like it's too late to learn it and/or too expensive to go back to school to study it.

Pity, too, because although there's that geeky, nerdy image always given to engineers, my experience has been that there are actually two categories of engineers. One is that classic kind: Dilbert-esque, with horn-rimmed glasses taped together with white tape, always way more organized than ever necessary, in their own world using language nobody but engineers understand, and entirely socially inept. The other is a completely different breed: they are hot (as in good-looking), fit, suave, charismatic, and could be Abercrombie & Fitch models. I kid you not. I have known many such people! Combine that all with the extraordinary intelligence and drive one must have to be an engineer, and you have pretty much the perfect individual. ...And to think I could have gone into engineering and met a perfect man while sitting in thermodynamics class and fallen in love (since the male:female ratio in engineering is such that any woman has a pretty good chance of finding an available man) and lived happily ever after with lots of money... Sigh. What was I thinking??! But I suppose I would have been just as likely to have gotten stuck with Dilbert.

Anyways, that's not a good reason to embark on any particular career. Beyond the excitement, money and amazing-men draws of engineering, we get back to the whole microbial fuel cell thing. My heart is not set on these or any other sorts of biofuel technologies, but every so often I wish that I held the knowledge that would enable me to hop right into that field instead of needing to work with all my might to open the door to get myself in. It's useful. It's interesting. And it's something I just wish I could understand more. But I don't recall how to do calculus and I can't keep electrochemistry terms straight and I never totally understood quantum mechanics (I know - it was just me who didn't get that concept, right?). It feels like when I look at the fuel cell's in this glass building that I can peer into, but which I need a special key to gain access, and I don't HAVE that special key, so I can never get in. I can't get to that thing that go grabs at my heart, that sparks such an interest in me. ...Probably the fact that I "can't" have it is part of what makes me want it so much...

But what am I talking about? I don't want to have a career in biofuel cell research and development! I want to teach! What am I fretting about?

...But it would be cool if I could teach engineering...


Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Yay! It's Harry Potter movie day!

Before you do anything else, you must go and watch this video about the Dark Lord Waldemart courtesy of the Harry Potter Alliance. Hee hee.

In my infinite lack of foresight, I completely forgot that today was the release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix but had intended to write about movies as referenced in yesterday's post. So, there you go. And thus I begin my post about movies.

I have seen a TON of movies in the past several days. Well, a ton for me, at least. I don't watch much media at all. I have no idea which television shows are good, bad, or even being broadcast (except that NPR made this big deal about The Sopranos ending, so I know that's over). I don't really remember the last time I went to a movie theater before Tuesday night (it was, I'm sure, sometime in the past year, but a year turns out to be too long for me to remember very well). I do remember that I saw Pirates of the Carribbean 2 at the drive-in, but I usually don't count that as a real theater. I've been so conditioned to resist movies that when a certain person whose name begins with D asked me several months ago if I wanted to go to a movie with him, I very promptly said, "No!" with a very big exclamation point. What I meant was I did not want to go to a movie - not that I didn't want to do something with him. I also very promptly explained why I had so emphatically said no. But and my big, uncontrollable, tactless mouth... ...And I wonder why he doesn't talk to me anymore... :-)

Anyhow, the movies I have seen this week:

Sunday I went to Cinema in the Park, which is something run by the Pittsburgh Citiparks where they hoist up this huge screen and show movies. For several years the running joke was that I was never going to be able to actually view one of these, because every time I made plans to go, it rained, and that meant it was canceled for the night. Fortunately, last summer the trend changed, and I have now been able to attend a couple times. This weekend's movie was the Lake House with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves (not my favorite choices, but what does that matter?). Not too bad. Required enough thinking and trying to keep track of dates and times and such, and so it kept me on my toes. Not full of sex, violence, drugs, or other offensive sorts of things.

Monday night I pulled out the sock and sat myself down with some popcorn to rewatch the first Harry Potter movie. It is a little pathetic, but I only own 6 DVDs. I own more videos, but I have nothing with which to watch them. That's okay. The DVDs in my collection are as follows: the first 4 Harry Potter independent film someone I know made...and Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet. I guess that means I like Harry Potter. I didn't quite make it through the whole movie Monday night and had to go to bed just as the kids started playing a huge game of chess.

Yesterday I actually went to a movie theater, which turns out to be a really great choice in the middle of July because there is air conditioning. Incidentally, when I got home yesterday after work, the A/C in my apartment was on, which meant that it's been fixed! Hooray! It's been out for about 2 weeks, although gratefully the unit has seemed to keep itself fairly constantly at about 75 degrees even without the artificial cooling. Still, it was nice for things to be in working order again. The movie I watched was Ratatouille, and I rather liked it. I also rather liked the theater my friend and I attended to watch it - it's WAAAAAAAAY smaller than anything I've ever been to (for quite a long time, Grand Rapids was the worldwide leader in movie screens per capita, and they are still home to 20-theater Studio 28, which was the largest theater complex in the US for some time and (I think) is still the largest in the state of Michigan) but was lovely in its quaintness and reminded me that city-stuff can be nice even if one prefers big, huge suburban-stuff. (I will note, however, that the movies cost the same amount at this little theater as they do at the big theaters at the big shopping centers farther from the hustle and bustle of the city.) ...Ah yes, the movie. It was funny. I found myself laughing out loud a lot. Again it was good, clean humor - appreciated. There's also a short shown at the beginning of the movie, which seems to be the going rate with Pixar films these days - it was quite good, also.

With all that, I'm movied out, so I think I'll wait a bit to see HP5.

After the movie last night the friend I went with and I were talking about films, and the topic of chick-flicks came up. I commented that I don't prefer watching them because I think they tend to breed a lot of discontent and disillusionment. You know - "Oh, even though this relationship I'm in is totally cruddy, in the end a magical man will swoop in and save the day and we'll live happily ever after" or "That couple is so happy...I wish I had a Romeo who suddenly falls in love with me when he looks at me through an aquarium and then I'll lie to my parents and the next day we'll get married even though I don't even know anything about him - like his drug problem and that he was lovesick over some other girl just this past afternoon and his incapacity to control his anger and other emotions and how he and his friends all like to randomly shoot things on the beach..."

My friend agreed and added that in these movies it's the same thing every time: there's an emotional affair. It's like humans can't possibly be entertained by watching a couple remain singly interested in JUST one another - there always has to be at least one competing interest that is preventing either the man's or the woman's life. And thus is it any wonder that this is what happens in real life, too? The concept of having two men to pick between - keeping both of them "around" just in case the other doesn't pan out - seems to have invaded the thinking of the American culture. How sad. This comment caught my attention, and I've been mulling over it ever since. I won't go so far as to say "love," but emotions are a powerful force. I do hope I do not fall victim to their overwhelming tendency to grip and control my thinking, particularly in the matter of relationships!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

in which i actually knit something

Look! Yes, it's true, I have been knitting. I promised! I wasn't lying! Here's what I've been making:

First is a "nursing tank-top" for my friend who is expecting her first baby, a little boy, in August. I thought: cloth-diaper-supporter...appreciates knitting because she can make scarves...having a baby in the hottest month of the year...this lady would certainly appreciate a nursing tank! I don't have a very good picture of the finished (meaning all sewn together) product, but here's something, at least.This was actually pretty fun to knit. The bottom was way boring - just round and round and round stockinette, although the periodic increases did keep me on my toes (and the fear that the whole thing was going to be way too short because it just rolls up and there's no ribbing at the bottom also helped keep me alert). The top part, though, was really neat! It's made in double-end knitting (which means knit one stitch with one ball of yarn, knit the next one with a second ball, continue - it makes a more "durable" (and less see-through) fabric but rather requires using two hands at once) and has many short-rows, and there was one point in the pattern when I stopped and just had to stare at the instructions for about 15 minutes until it all made sense. They're very well-written directions (I did find one "mistake" I suppose you'd call it), and it all worked out in the end. And making the inside triangles was also pretty fun. Then I got to bust out my sewing machine and sew this, that, and the other thing together. What fun! It did get a little stressful when the baby shower kept getting closer and closer and I still had much knitting to do. Fortunately work slowed down enough for me to spend some long evenings finishing up.

The other item I'm working on is another deadline knitting project. I really have to stop doing this "make it by X date so you can give it" although I must admit that everything I've set out to make for someone else has been completed pretty quickly, but the top and socks I started for myself A YEAR AGO are still not done... That's sad. At any rate, the current challenge is sockapalooza socks.

I was sure I had a pattern picked out, but at the last minute I changed my mind. I am making very fast (for me) progress on the Shimmer socks from MagKnits. I started on July 1, and look!Sock one is sorta-kinda-almost done! (It's past the heel, at least, and for me that means pretty much done. Heck, if worse came to worse, I could bind off right now and the sock would be done. Short, but done.)

Part of the inspiration for my very rapid progress on this one is that I have to get it done by August 2 (or 7...the deadline sort of got extended...but I will be way too busy with work at that time, so it doesn't really matter). I realized, "OH NO! I have to magically knit two socks in a MONTH!? Yow..." That has resulted in me knitting pretty much whenever I can. Waiting for the bus...riding the bus...watching movies (see tomorrow's post for insight into this rather rare event)... I was kind of angry at myself for not taking the yarn and sticks with me to the 4th of July picnic I attended...and then couldn't get away from and thus was forced to also not have my knitting as I lamely sat around waiting for the fireworks to start. That was an utter waste of something like 4 hours of knitting time! Gasp. I suppose the talking to other people thing I did instead was of some use, though.

I want to take a moment to rave about this yarn, too. It's Peach Sherbet from VanCalar Acres, a family-run sheep farm in New York. The lady who spins and dyes just happens to be from Lansing, Michigan, near where I went to undergrad. Yay! That means she sells a very lovely green and white sock yarn that I will definitely be getting for myself and perhaps some other people...! The yarn is very lovely to work with, and the colors are awesome. I really like it. Yay!

So, there you have it. I actually do knit. Though obviously not for myself...

Monday, July 09, 2007


The Golden Girls always had cheesecake in the refrigerator. At my old house with the 3 other women we always had Breyer's ice cream in the freezer. My new kick is to always have dark chocolate Dove Promises in the cupboard (or laying on the table, depending on how lazy I'm feeling). These little morsels of comfort and joy are great not just because of their flavanoids and chocolately goodness, but also because of the "promises" printed on the inside of the foil wrappers. These messages are various and sundry, and sometimes seem incredibly appropriate for my personal situations. Let me share a few of them with you:
  • Dare to love completely. That's kind of hard sometimes. This is on the dashboard of my car. Whatever that means.
  • Learn something from everyone you meet. That is wise. It must, of course, be tempered with "don't USE people to just learn something from them!"
  • Don't think about it so much. Never says what "it" is, but trust me, I know! I stuck this message by my bathroom sink, which I guess is where I tend to think about whatever it is I'm not supposed to think about so much, probably because I think a lot right before bed (when I'm brushing my teeth, etc.) and right when I wake up (when I'm washing my face, etc.).
  • Find your passion. Yes. I know. That is what I am attempting to do, particularly since I am supposed to be thinking about a new job...! Whenever this one comes up, I automatically entitle myself to one more piece of chocolate.
  • When two hearts race, both win. Awwww... Isn't that sweet...
  • Test your own limits and keep going. This one is now on my desk. I first read it when I was in the midst of multiple consecutive 20-hour work days (which, incidentally, make me feel really bad for doctors because they probably have 30+ work days, and that really, really is not cool!), and all I wanted to do was crash in my bed for a few days straight, but I had to KEEP GOING! It worked. Probably a combination of the inspiration and the caffeine in the chocolate (and in my Starbucks lattes), if the truth must be told.
  • You're allowed to do nothing. This needs to be blown up and made into wallpaper and plastered all around my living and working spaces. It's really okay if I do nothing? That sure doesn't FEEL true...! It is, however, a lesson I've been learning, and I suppose it's appropriate that it wasn't until last Friday that I found this message for the first time (it's amazing - I eat so many of these, I keep thinking I've read all of the possible messages! Those Dove people must keep coming up with new ones...); it was on Thursday night that the concept of me not DOING being all right really began to sink into my thick skull.
Hm...I'm getting HUNGRY!

Friday, July 06, 2007

dreams and legacies: the irony

In light of the Independence Day celebration on July 4, I will take this opportunity to ramble about the American Dream and the concept of leaving a legacy.

Most people I've informally polled and most articles I've read indicate a very negative view of the "American Dream." According to Wikipedia (the absolute authority on such things, you know), the American Dream is "the idea held by many in the United States that through hard work, courage and determination one could achieve prosperity." I can't say that's exactly what I would define it as, myself, but yes - something along the lines of "do work, achieve comfort." I've also been taught through the culture in which I grew up that the American Dream is "bad." It's selfish, it's driven by money, power, fame, greed, and other things evil, it's all about ME.

Fair enough. I'd say that many people who are well known for having achieved the American Dream did have lots of money, held power (due to the money), obviously were famous since we know about them. Greed...I can't judge on that one.

However, I believe that there are millions of people who have also achieved the American Dream about whom we never EVER hear and about whom nobody would ever say was greedy, money-, power-, or fame-seeking. I think of a young man from the youth group I used to work with whose single-parent home was run by a cocaine addict. When he was a young teenager he left his own lifestyle of addiction and worked his way into circles of people who would give him the care and help he needed. He graduated from high school and jumped at the chance to join the military to defend those whom he had grown to love when nobody at home loved him. Is that so bad? Have you heard of him? Did he get any more money joining the Army then he would have selling cocaine in one of the richest neighborhoods in the city (the answer to that, if you wondered, is a very adamant NO!!)? Is he HAPPY? ...Yes. There are countless examples of average people like this who have pursued the "Amerian Dream" of ending up somewhere "good," which often takes a lot of work and sacrifice.

...And so why is the American Dream looked upon as this evil thing? In my opinion, at its core the pursuit of a stable lifestyle is not really that bad. No evil motivations need exist to want stability. (Right?) And although the Christian culture I know generally seems to say the American Dream is selfish and terrible and bad, I don't feel this really lines up with what the Bible says. I'm not a Bible scholar, so I'm not going to attempt to justify myself with Scripture; I'll leave that up to the reader to pursue if they feel so moved. I'll just say that one example that has made me think critically about the American Dream. The story of Jacob in Genesis chapters 29-31 tells of how Jacob went from being a bit of an outcast, running from his past, to a new place where he fell in love (or lust?) and then worked for 14 years to get the girl he wanted. In the meantime, his work as a shepherd (earning him only the "spotted and speckled" members of the flock) flourished until he was "exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and maidservants and menservants, and camels and donkeys." Heck, in the U.S. you don't need to have maidservants and manservants to be considered fulfilling the American Dream and obviously being a tad too elaborate with your lifestyle! Is the family in the suburbs that has three kids, two cars, a dog, and a mortgage considered exceedingly prosperous?

Anyhow, that's my thought on the American Dream. And I'm going to now compare it with a concept that I hear LAUDED in the "conservative Christian" culture I know. That is the concept of leaving a legacy.

Legacies are perhaps easier to define than the American Dream. A legacy is "how people will remember me." Instead of doing stuff to make life here-and-now better (which is the American Dream), legacy-makers do stuff to make life after they're dead better, be it for needy people they don't know, for their city or region or country, or for their own kin.

I have a problem with this. To me, focusing on leaving a legacy and being remembered is much more self-centered than focusing on working hard to overcome obstacles and exist in a semi-reasonable state. Instead of working towards a dream to sustain one's name (and life) for a few score years, a legacy-maker works to ensure a name FOR EVER. A legacy is ALL about "ME"...which is ironically what I've been fed the American Dream is all about. How in the world does a legacy - which inherently is "Joe Smith did this, that, and the other thing!" or "Jane Doe left us X amount of money!" or "Tom Shmo wrote this awesome song that we'll always remember!" - not give praise, laud, and glory to the person? Isn't it supposed to be about GOD?

And besides that, any of these memories of the person aren't accurate - nobody 100 years from now will be able to accurately recall the person, his or her personality, his or her favorite foods -- the stuff that really IS that person. Nope, 100 years from the time of legacy-leaving, all that's left of the person is a dim reflection (or even a jaded misrepresentation) of who the person really was. Abraham Lincoln's 56ish years of life are boiled down to "president, Civil War, emancipation, beard." I truly think that his friends would say he was much more than that!

What's the reality, per the Bible? Here's one brief section from Ecclesiastes 9:4-10.
Anyone who is among the living has hope--even a live dog is better off than a dead lion! For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun. Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun--all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
Ecclesiastes really puts this all into perspective for me: all this human world -- it's all meaningless. What has meaning? Ecclesiastes 3:14 says "I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him."


So, those are my patriotic thoughts for the week, I guess. In summary, I conclude that any "way of life" can be bad, it's all about the motives. I lean more towards the "American Dream" than the "legacy" and feel angry when I'm told that one way or the other is absolute evil.