30 July 2009

Grad School: Apparently it IS a real job

Those readers who know me in real life -- and if I have any other readers after my nearly year-long absence from blogging, I'd be shocked -- are well aware of the fact that I am currently finishing the first year of a PhD program. They are equally aware of my belief that graduate school is a Real Job -- one with hours and salary and bosses, the whole kit and caboodle. In spite of my tirades on this subject, it's clear that some of my friends still didn't believe this, because my news this week shocked even the most stouthearted.

You see, my friend G was just fired. From grad school.

To those of us in academia, this is not an unheard of occurrence. For whatever reason, professors occasionally decide that they no longer want to do research with a given student. If the student is lucky, they will be able to find a new adviser and new funding. If they're very lucky, they were the one to make the decision and already have a backup plan ready for action.

G was not lucky. After 10 months of graduate school, five under the supervision of Professor D, he was let go. Not with a Master's degree, as is typical for a PhD candidate, nor even with sufficient warning -- a grand total of about three weeks. In fact, there was little consideration for G at all in the situation -- Professor D knowingly let G sign a lease, buy a car, and furnish a home, all the while knowing it wasn't going to work out. In short, G was promptly and summarily fired.

I've been planning all year to write a post about graduate school -- how it's going, who I've met, what I'm doing -- but the timing never seemed right. Somehow, it seems right now.

Thus, my first year of grad school in ten easy steps:

1. Made friends with A.
2. Made friends through A.
3. Dated A.
4. Broke up with A.
5. Lost friends through A.
6. Made friends with G.
7. Made friends through G.
8. Dad got diagnosed with cancer.
9. Dozens fired in my career field.
10. G fired.

Second year can't get here soon enough.

10 June 2009

Dr. Kindle-love or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the E-Book

Warning: the following post should, in all honesty, be three posts. You may want to grab your favorite beverage and a comfy chair before beginning.

Why E-Books?

I should preface this post by mentioning something my readers may not know about me: I love technology. Given the content of this blog, that may come as a surprise to those of you who don't know me in real life. Yet, in spite of my love for art, travel, and romance novels, my degrees are in engineering and I've worked IT on and off for years.

Having admitted my love for all things wired, I have to admit one thing: I really, really hate the idea of e-books. There's just something about the oft-cited "dead tree book" -- the smell of ink, the feel of the paper, the sound of the pages as they turn. Reading a book is, above all, a sensual experience that one cannot replicate with files and machines.

That being said, over the past year, I have begun to realize the practicality of e-books. This process began as I moved into my current set of rooms, my little 250 square foot refuge from the world outside. Of course, at least 40 of those square feet are occupied by various book-holding devices -- an entire wall of them in my living room, with another half-wall in my bedroom. Some of these books -- particularly those devoted to art, with their glossy prints of paintings and buildings -- I simply cannot regret buying and owning. The presence of certain others, however, has begun to grate on me. I love mass-market paperbacks, be they romance or mystery, and will staunchly defend them to any literary snob, any time. Yet, I find the sensual experience of reading these to be largely identical from one to another -- the same inks, the same papers, the same sounds. Though I continue to enjoy them, I have ceased to enjoy the taunting presence of dozens of them, all over my room. Yet, I enjoy reading and re-reading them too much to simply check them out from my local library -- which, it must be said, is sorely lacking in these genres as it is.

Another element of my growing curiosity regarding e-books has been my travel habits. An avid reader since the age of five, I find it impossible to go anywhere -- be it the grocery store or Italy -- without at least one book. If this travel involves the crossing of state lines (or any hotel or hospital stay), I take at least five. For international trips, nothing less than ten will do. Do I always read all of the books I bring? No, but as any reader will tell you, not every book will do for every mood, and I like to be prepared. Of course, towing ten books along on an airplane is by no means easy or convenient, and I can't count the number of pulled muscles and aching backs I've had thanks to a carry-on laden with pound upon pound of books. As the frequency of my travel increases, the prospect of spending eternity with a bag full of books becomes more and more foreboding.

Finally, there's the issue of business travel. While carting around bags full of books is bad enough, it becomes even worse when traveling with one's boss and co-workers. Imagine the scene now: I sit down on a train, across from The Advisor and His Lovely Wife. As we get settled in, we each pull out our reading material for the journey. TA has several journal articles. HLW pulls out Team of Rivals. And M? M pulls out Her Master and Commander, or perhaps The Viscount Who Loved Me, complete with the requisite cover clinch. Hell, even if M pulls out a very appropriate journal for work, just digging through those books to get to it can be embarrassing. Now, I will defend my reading of romance and the genre as a whole until I am blue in the face, but there are some situations in which you simply don't want to explain yourself and your reading selection. With an e-book, TA and HLW can't tell if I'm reading the Journal of Cultural Heritage or Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Phillander.

Kindle vs. Sony

With these reasons in mind, I decided a few months ago that this would be the year of the e-book reader. Resigning myself to losing the sensations of book reading, I began to explore the different types of readers on the market. As most people who have explored the subject know, there are currently two big players in the e-book reader market: Sony and Amazon. Though other readers are out there (see the Cool-er, the Cybook, and others), none have been so well tested, poked, prodded, and reviewed by both media and consumers alike as Sony's PRS-700 and Amazon's Kindle 2

(Those familiar with Amazon's product line may wonder why I don't mention their recently released Kindle DX
. The fact is, the Kindle itself is almost too thin for me; the same thickness with three times the surface area strikes me as ridiculous. Not to mention, who wants to find room in their purse for an electronic item the size of a piece of paper?)

My greatest frustration in making the decision between these two devices was that it is nearly impossible to see one in person before purchasing it. The PRS-700 can occasionally be found in stores (I was luckiest with Target) and Amazon has a community devoted to seeing Kindles in your area, but in both cases it takes more effort than I would like. As a result, I worked almost exclusively from YouTube videos, reviews and user comments when making my decision.

When looking at the PRS-700, its benefits seem readily apparent: thin but not too thin, few moving parts, and built-in LED lighting are all aspects of its design which initially impressed me. In fact, at one point, the PRS-700 was my clear frontrunner. Then I began examining it more closely. Constructed of aluminum (as opposed to the Kindle's white plastic), the PRS-700 is considerably more prone to dings and dents. Additionally, the feel of cold metal is NOT a sensation I enjoy while reading a book. Furthermore, the Sony software is not offered on Mac, a pet peeve of mine when it comes to Sony products in general. YouTube videos also revealed that the "advantageous" lights in fact created so much glare as to make them an annoyance.

With the Kindle, I was first aware of the disadvantages. To begin with, I have recently taken issue with some of Amazon's business practices, making me uncertain about supporting the company. I was also somewhat disturbed at the idea of locking myself into purchasing books from one vendor for the rest of my days. Finally, there was the fact that I rather agreed with the Smart Bitches: Kindle 2 resembles nothing so much as a delicate piece of matzoh. However, my further investigations in this case revealed the advantages of the device. It turned out that transferring documents and non-Amazon e-books was, in fact, fairly simple, and would take no more software than what I would have to install to simply run the Sony machine on my Macs. Additionally, transferring these documents could be done free of charge with my USB cable. Though this is not necessarily an advantage over the Sony, I feel it is something that many people don't realize when considering the two options. Additionally, the documents can be transferred using Amazon's Whispernet 3G wireless for $0.10 each. This is a clear advantage over the Sony, which has no wireless capabilities whatsoever.

However, the wireless advantages don't stop there. The main method of purchasing books from Amazon is, in fact, by browsing the wireless Kindle store, though they may also be purchased from a computer and sent to the device. Thus, with the Kindle, you can be sitting on the tarmac, waiting for your plane to take off, suddenly remember that Eloisa James's This Duchess of Mine
was just released, and be reading it within 30 seconds. Though this sort of instant gratification is dangerous, it can only be seen as an advantage. As a result, even when traveling without a laptop, I still have access to the entire selection of Amazon books, magazines, and newspapers. If you're unsure whether a certain book is, in fact, the one you're looking for, you can also have Amazon send you a free sample chapter before you make your decision.

Love, at Long Last

As I'm sure you can tell from the picture on this post and the previous paragraphs, I went with the Kindle 2. Choosing Amazon's flat-rate $3.99 one-day shipping, I went home and began purchasing e-books. A mere 17 hours later (again with the instant gratification, Amazon?) I was holding the Kindle in my hands and the books I had purchased were already installed on the machine.

And, in spite of my reluctance to adopt e-books, I have to say...I love it. The best thing about the device is something I overlooked altogether during my shopping -- the e-paper screen. Thinking it was merely a way for Amazon and Sony to justify giving us a greyscale screen instead of a color LCD, I assumed it would be my least favorite thing about the device. Instead, it actually feels like you're reading a book -- I don't know how to describe this properly, but one look at an e-paper screen will convince you that this may be the best innovation to come to technology in a long time. In the form letter which accompanied the Kindle, Jeffrey Bezos (Amazon's founder), hoped I would be able to forget I was using the device and simply enjoy my reading. Between the lightness of the machine and the fascinating screen, I have to say this ended up being the case. If anything, I find reading on the Kindle to be less tiring to the eyes than reading a book -- certainly not true of LCD screens. Though I certainly will not stop buying "dead tree books", I feel that the Kindle will allow me to be more discerning with regards to which books deserve a place in my ever-so-small apartment.

Check back for updates about my first weeks with the Kindle -- and updates about real life, of course!

16 February 2009

couch to 5k: week three

This week: Much more running, much less walking. Two reps of the following: 90 seconds of running, 90 seconds of walking, 3 minutes of running, 3 minutes of walking. This feature the longest runs yet, as well as much less recovery time than before. Because of last week's shin splints, I did some research and decided to slow my paces some. For this week, my walk was 3 mph and my run was 5.5 mph. Though the run felt a bit slow, the shin splints quickly went away.

Workout 1: After a lot of good stretching and a very long warmup walk, I got on the treadmill and was very careful about not dragging my heels, either while walking or running. Though there were still some problems with shin splints in my left leg, they were far better than last week.

Workout 2: I was able to get rid of the really long warmup and by simply stretching and watching my form had absolutely no shin splints whatsoever.

Workout 3: By this point in the week, I was wondering whether or not I was supposed to do 3 reps instead of 2. This is the great thing about this program -- just when things start to seem easy, they get harder.

I have to say, I'm so glad I finally decided to do this program. I really look forward to the runs every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I've also found that I'm feeling more energetic during the day and sleeping better at night. I'm definitely excited for the next few weeks, as the runs get longer and longer.

Grade: A. Remembered my water and my music everyday and finally made some smart decisions so I don't end up injuring myself.

14 February 2009

happy v-day, everyone!

I hope everyone's enjoying spending the day with their loved ones. As you enjoy the day (or not), take a minute to think of those affected by California's recent constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and Ken Starr's case which is even now attempting to end the marriages of 18,000 loving American couples.

"Fidelity": Don't Divorce... from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

To get involved, go to the Courage Campaign's website.

13 February 2009

m talk politics: paul krugman should step up or shut up

I'm the first to admit that I'm not one to serve my country lightly. I don't see myself joining the army -- in fact, I would be far more likely to run away to Canada if necessary. This is not really due to any pacifistic streak -- though I do have an unholy fear of guns -- but more because I believe I can better serve myself and my country by using my brain rather than my relatively feeble and incompetent body.

For there are several ways in which we can serve our country, not only with our lives, but also with our minds, our time, and our skills. I believe that when one is in the top 1% of a certain skill or knowledge set, keeping that to yourself in an economic climate like today's is not only selfish but also dangerous. As this year's Nobel Prize winner in Economics, Krugman is in the top 1% of that 1%, representing the best of what the field of economics has to offer.

However, in spite of his reputation as a leading liberal economist, Krugman let it be known soon after our current President's election that he was not interested in -- and would not accept -- a position in the new administration. At the time, I assumed that this was simply his way of refusing a public post in order to accept a more private one.

Unfortunately, that has simply not proven to be true. Instead of serving as a private, behind-the-scenes adviser to President Obama, he has placed himself firmly within the opposition camp, consistently opposing the administration's ideas. I fully agree that the legal right to express one's opinions is crucial to the continuance of democracy in America. However, at a time such as this, the prioritization of one's own reputation over the economic health of the United States is simply irresponsible. Simply speaking, this is what Krugman has done, frequently and repeatedly. He has allowed an administration with which he theoretically agrees to fail, all the while providing him with ample fodder for his New York Times column.

I admit that there may be facts unknown to the public in the current situation. Perhaps, for example, the White House has turned down Krugman's offers of assistance. If this is the case, however, the citizens of the United States ought to be informed of this. As it is, the administration seems incompetent for its inability to secure the opinions of the world's foremost liberal economist and Krugman seems petulant for his unwillingness to help an economy on its way to collapse.

Final opinion: Krugman should step up or shut up, but I'm tired of hearing his too-late opinions.

12 February 2009

a thousand and one dates: sushi and starlight

a thousand and one dates is a feature telling the story of a young woman dating in the world of 21st century academia.

On Sunday, while drinking coffee downtown with S1, I received an email from S2, also from speed dating. I was thrilled; of all eight guys I met that night, this was the one I had clicked with the most. That, and he's absolutely adorable.

The original plan was to grab coffee one evening this week. However, when he realized I would be coming straight from work, he suggested we grab dinner instead. When he asked if sushi was okay, I was in seventh heaven -- talk about an adventurous palate! Not even Mishi eats sushi! After a long day at the office, topped off by an even longer meeting, dinner with a cute boy sounded wonderful.

And...it was. We shared a wonderful dinner -- he shares my taste for eel -- and wonderful conversation. The setup of the restaurant meant that we were able to sit near one another without seeming sketchy. When the time came to pay, he wouldn't even hear of my paying for my half. Considering we're all but strangers, I was pretty impressed.

Then, just when it was the most wonderful, it was over. It was not as abrupt as it sounds -- when dinner was over, he walked me home, even though it was two miles out of his way. Unlike with S1, there were no awkward silences stretching on without end. For this reason, it may be good that the date ended when it did, leaving us both wanting more.

Grade: A

Prospects: God only knows. I'm now reliving every moment of the night, hoping he enjoyed it as much as I did, worrying that I somehow sent an incorrect signal. Here's hoping I hear from him again.

11 February 2009

m recommends: twist

I'm not one of those girls who thinks that no-fat, no-sugar frozen yogurt is an adequate replacement for ice cream; I prefer my ice cream fatty and frequent. That being said, I also enjoy yogurt, including frozen yogurt that actually tastes like frozen yogurt. Imagine my joy, then, when a new fro yo place opened downtown. Since my readers tend not to be from Princeton, I usually wouldn't review a local restaurant. However, Twist is a national chain, so I'm going to feel free to recommend that you find your local branch and give it a try.

This is not just any fro yo place. First of all, the concept behind the store is interesting -- it's all self-serve. You pay a certain amount per ounce, and you get to choose how much yogurt you want, how many toppings, which toppings, how much of each....everything. This is perfect if you're just wanting a little something sweet in the afternoon on your way home. Secondly, the selection is fantastic. Each day, there are eight different flavors, including fake-ice cream flavors (vanilla, ghirardelli chocolate, mocha, etc.) and three "tart" flavors which actually taste like yogurt (tart, eurotart, and green tea). If, like me, you're a Pinkberry fan who lives 50 miles from the nearest Pinkberry, give the eurotart a try -- I couldn't tell the difference. Finally, the Princeton store has really aimed itself at the student community. With comfy couches, office supplies, and tv, and 10% off refills, students are encouraged to hang around working on problem sets and chatting with friends. Even on the colder days in the last few weeks, there have been at least 10 people there each time I visit.

So what's the downside? The space the store is renting has never gone more than a year with the same restaurant inside. Hopefully, that's about to change. After all, in a town that manages to sustain 5 yoga studios and 3 ice cream shops, there must be a niche for fro yo, right?

10 February 2009

let's go to the movies: vicky cristina barcelona

let's go to the movies is yet another chance for me to inflict my opinions on those foolish enough to read this blog.

To begin with, I ought to admit that I went into this movie a Woody Allen virgin. It's not that I've never thought about seeing one of his movies, it just never seemed to happen for me. Certainly, there was a part of me that acknowledged that once I saw a Woody Allen film, I'd have to start having opinions about Woody Allen. Considering people seem either to love or hate his movies, I was somewhat afraid of alienating those on either side of the matter. Sadly, my fence sitting days are over.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona tells the story of two friends, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) and their vacation in -- you guessed it -- Barcelona. Cristina is a passionate free spirit, in and out of relationships, who believes that love, though painful, is worth every twinge and pang. She has recently completed an 11-minute film about love which she detests. Vicky, on the other hand, is pragmatic and cerebral. Not one for dalliances, she is recently engaged to the dependable but boring Doug. On one of their first nights in town, they meet local artist Juan Antonia (Javier Bardem), notorious for his violently passionate relationship with his ex-wife, Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz). He invites the friends for a weekend away, full of food, wine, and love-making. Though Vicky disapproves, she ends up coming along as a chaperone of sorts -- or so she thinks.

What I loved most about this movie was that it didn't take itself too seriously. The entire film is narrated by an anonymous voice (Christopher Evan Welch), whose lightly sardonic tone lets you know that it's okay to find these characters ridiculous at times. They are set up as caracatures of themselves, so emotional (or sensible) that we are allowed to mock them while still seeing the bit of them in ourselves. This was particularly the case for Mishi and I -- she, the wild and reckless one, and I, the overly cautious one, were able to acknowledge at the end of the movie that both Vicky and Cristina were -- to quote directly -- "batshit crazy".

The movie also plays interestingly with the ideas of freedom and change. Though Vicky finds herself judging Cristina for entering into a relationship -- and later a menage à trois -- with Juan Antonio, Cristina finds herself fulfilled in ways she hasn't been before. Yet, her urge to roam eventually gets the better of her, leaving her dissatisfied even with this new and incredibly different relationship. Vicky, on the other hand, attempts to veer away from her practicality to embrace a passionate life with Juan Antoinio, only to find herself overwhelmed by the whirlwind that is his life. In the end -- and the end is certainly one of my favorite things about this movie -- both friends return as they came, Vicky sure of her future (if not her feelings) and Cristina unsure of anything at all.

Final opinion: At 96 minutes, this is a short little treat that most will enjoy.

09 February 2009

in the kitchen with M: conchiglie balsamico

While Mishi was visiting this weekend, we had a lovely dinner at my favorite local Italian eatery, Teresa's. There, Mishi ordered one of my favorite dishes, Cochiglie Balsamico. In this dish, shell pasta, asparagus, and chicken mingle in a balsamic cream sauce. Warm and filling, the dish pairs well with either a dry white or mellow red.

When I first ate this dish, I was so impressed that I decided to try to replicate it while in Oxford this summer. When Mishi heard this, she asked for the recipe, which follows.

Note: As with most Italian cooking, ingredient amounts are only loosely based on truth. For the most part, they are only to help with shopping. Also, as much as I love one-pot dinners, this isn't one of them. It's feasible with two, but three is preferred.


Asparagus (1 large stalk/3 mini-stalks per person)
Balsamic Vinegar
Chicken (1 breast per person)
Cream (2 cups per person)
Garlic (to taste)
Olive Oil
Onion (optional)
Parmesan Cheese
Pasta (Shell)
Salt, Garlic Salt (to season)

1. Fill saucepan with water, bring to a boil.
2. Mince garlic and onion. Using olive oil, brown gently in a sauté pan over medium-low heat.
3. While waiting for the onion and garlic to brown, cube and season chicken. Begin to brown the chicken in olive oil in another saute pan*.
4. Blanche the asparagus in your boiling water. This should take no longer than a minute -- you still want a bit of bite left in the asparagus (unless, of course, you don't). Once the asparagus is cooked, cut it on the bias into bite-sized pieces.
5. Using either the asparagus water or newly boiled water, begin to cook your pasta.
6. By now, your garlic and onion should be soft and translucent. Add enough balsamic vinegar to cover the bottom of the sauté pan. Let the vinegar reduce until it is thick but not too thick -- think grenadine syrup rather than molassas. The vinegar should now be sweet an able to coat the back of a spoon.
7. Pour the cream into the pan containing the vinegar, onion, and garlic. Let reduce until the sauce is as thick as you would like it. I recommend adding finely grated Parmesan cheese at this point to both add flavor and help thicken the sauce.
8. When the sauce is ready, add in the cooked chicken, asparagus, and pasta. If your chicken is ready before the sauce is, remove it from the heat so that it doesn't become too tough or dry. Using cream or Parmesan, thicken or thin the sauce as necessary.

Serve with Parmesan cheese.

* Though you can theoretically brown the chicken along with the onion and garlic, I prefer (for reasons of cleanliness and good results) to just wash a third pan. If you do brown them together, remove the chicken before adding the balsamic vinegar.

Hope you enjoy -- if you give it a go, let me know how it turns out!

couch to 5k: week two

This week, the intervals continued and extended: 90 seconds of running followed by two minutes of walking. Though somewhat more challenging than Week 1, I felt the effort more in my legs than in my lungs which, for me, is impressive, to say the least.

Workout 1: During my first workout of the week, I learned a very important lesson, indeed: NEVER have a big meal before a run. In fact, I would argue that one shouldn't eat much of anything before running. A dinner of onion soup, cheese fries, and chicken? A very bad idea, if I do say so myself. Other than the desire to be sick all over my treadmill, the run was fine.

Workout 2: Another day of learning. Shoes? They're important. Good shoes, that fit your feet and don't have worn out soles? Really, really important. Using your old gym shoes from 8th grade? Very, very, very bad idea. Especially if you don't want to end up with an enormous blister working its way under your big toe. The day after this run, as I took myself down to The Running Company and got myself fitted into a real pair of running shoes. They may have cost a bit, but my feet were very grateful come Friday. I also forgot my water. Again.

Workout 3: And the week of learning continues. Stretching? Turns out that's ALSO important. 12 minutes into the 20 minute run, my legs -- specifically, the right tibialis anterior -- were cramping like you wouldn't believe. Ironically, the pain was worst while walking. An investigation of the Wikipedia article on shin splints may reveal the reason: the tibialis anterior is used to bend your foot up. Though my running style keeps my feet flat or even slightly pointed (I tend to run on the balls of my feet), my walking generally involves more upward bending of the foot and heel contact with the treadmill. I'm going to try to do better warm-up walks and stretches this week in the hopes that the pain will go away. If it doesn't, I might need to consult with a trainer about my form, which would suck. A lot.

Grade for the week: B, but I learned a lot that should be useful for the future.

08 February 2009

a thousand and one dates: coffee on a sunny winter day

a thousand and one dates is a feature telling the story of a young woman dating in the world of 21st century academia

There are very few feelings in life better than rolling over on a Sunday morning in mid-February after a week of blustery winds and catching the distinct scent of spring in the air. When this scent and the ray of sunlight coming through your window also mean that you can wear a silky top and pashmina instead of a bulky coat and mittens for your coffee date with a new boy, all the better.

After seeing Mishi off on the train in the not-so-early morning hours and catching another four hours of sleep on my couch, I donned my pre-planned, casual-but-not-too-casual outfit and headed off for the first in my marathon series of Valentine's week dates.

First impressions count, and S's was certainly above average. Showing up my characteristic 5 minutes early, S managed to be there even earlier. Ms. B will be very happy to know that the first sight I had as I walked up to the coffee shop was him looking adoringly at the dogs lined up on the sidewalk with their owners. Two coffees later (dutch treat), we headed for the tables outside the public library to continue our 3-minute conversation from a few days ago.

For the first forty-five minutes or so, all went well; each of us asking questions, each answering, no awkward silences. After this, though, things were a bit rough. As the silences grew, my desire to fill them with inane chatter did as well. Because I usually find myself on dates with friends or friends of friends, the idea of carrying on a conversation with someone I know not at all was daunting and nerve-wracking, to say the least. Finally, we managed to agree that it had grown cold and that the time to leave had come. In spite of the fact that it required walking across campus from his office -- where he was headed to work -- he chivalrously walked me nearly all the way home.

Pieces of clothing purchased for this date: 1, ivory silk cap-sleeve J.Crew top

Grade: Solid B, maybe higher if we take into account the fact that it was a first date with a complete stranger.

Prospects: At this point, I'm putting the odds at 50/50 for a callback, possibly improved by my acknowlegement of my tendency to chatter nervously as we parted and the walk home.

07 February 2009

speed dating update

Well, it looks like speed dating was, in fact, a success -- out of the five men I said I'd be willing to see again, four felt similarly. Of those four, two got in touch within 24 hours to make plans. For an awkward few moments, this nearly meant that I was double-booked for tomorrow. Luckily, I was able to use Mishi as an excuse to move one of them to later in the week.

It has crossed my mind that this may be the busiest Valentine's week of my entire life up to this point. This was not an unhappy realization by any means. Well timed, graduate social committee.

The week will start off tomorrow (Sunday) with a coffee date with S. A math major who has graduated from Choate, Cambridge, and Harvard, I must say his academic pedigree is above reproach. That, and he's an adorable number theorist -- a particular weakness of mine. Mischi has particularly high hopes for this one, in spite of never having met him.

Later in the week, I'll be meeting with C for -- I kid you not -- a tennis date. Nothing screams "Ivy League" quite so much as a sport with its own dress code. I haven't legitimately played tennis since middle school, but I'm hoping this won't be too much of a problem since C already knows this.

More updates coming soon!

04 February 2009

speed dating: the next frontier

When an it-could-possibly-work relationship recently became an it-simply-isn't-going-to-happen relationship just days before I received an email about a speed dating opportunity, I decided to join the hordes of busy young adults around the world giving this new trend a try.

For those (like my adviser) who are unfamiliar with the concept, speed dating is based on the idea that you generally know within minutes of meeting a person whether or not you'd be interested in seeing them again. Rather than going out on one interminable bad date on a given evening, you get a chance to go on several "micro-dates", each lasting only a few minutes. If after this you find you still want to talk to them, you circle "yes" next to their name on your scorecard. The organization running the event then tabulates the results, emailing you the next day with any "matches" -- that is, people you wanted to meet again who wanted to meet you, too.

Now, this was not just any speed dating -- no, this was grad student speed dating. I have to say, I went in with less-than-high expectations. Graduate students are already an interesting lot (myself included) and these were the grad students who couldn't get a date (again...myself included). I fully admit to expecting hunchbacked Russians with calculators still in their hands.

I couldn't have been more wrong. Sure, there were a few less socially gifted guys, but on the whole I was rather pleased with the selection, which included the following characters:

3 math majors, including one set of friends studying the same subject
1 plasma physicist who managed to explain what a plasma is during our 3-minute conversation
1 chemical engineer who knows all of my officemates (and was sketchy as hell)
1 music composition major whose music was described as "classical forms, but pop-based sounds" (the next John Williams, anyone?)
...and two more, who currently elude my memory.

Of the 8, I found myself saying I'd be happy to talk to 5 of them again. Sometime this afternoon I'll be receiving a list of who felt the same way -- wish me luck!

28 January 2009

couch to 5k: week one

For the first week, the program focuses on interval training, alternating between a minute of running and a minute and a half of running for a total of twenty minutes (plus five minute warm-up and cool down walks). At my pace (3.5 mph walk, 6.0 mph run) this is almost exactly 2 miles.

Workout 1: To give you an idea of my starting point, this was probably the first time I've been on a treadmill since a badly thought out attempt to join the crew team five years ago. I have tried running some since then, usually when I was living near a particularly nice park or track, but in no way do I consider myself a runner of any kind. I was astonished, then, to find the first run was actually...fun. Usually, the pain of gasping for breath while my legs cramp greatly outweighs any endorphins generated by the exercise. However, the setup of these runs meant that I never found myself in much pain (I did have some cramping in my legs) while still enjoying a great high from the exercise.

Workout 2: Again, the run was really pleasant, perhaps more so due to the fact that I remembered to bring water to the gym. Being well hydrated seemed to make a huge difference; I was able to run far more easily, though still with some discomfort in my legs.

Workout 3: Forgot the water, but remembered the music! Handy reminder: running without water and then going to the departmental happy hour is a very good way to find yourself waking up in the morning with a VERY dry mouth. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

I have to say, I'm very glad I read up on the program before starting. Others who have tried it warned that even though the first week may actually seem easy, but that you shouldn't skip ahead or you'll risk an injury from overtraining. Had I been doing this on my own, I might have pushed ahead to the second week without stopping to think about the fact that the point of the program is to make running a pleasant (rather than punishing) experience.

Grade for the week: A

26 January 2009

m recommends: couch to 5k

Are you one of those people who always wished you enjoyed running but never quite did? Well, you may want to give the Couch to 5K program a try. When I was in Oxford this summer, one of the girls in my knitting group was starting it, and I've been wanting to try it myself ever since. And what better time to start than at the beginning of the New Year?

Basically, the program is designed to take the less athletic among us from being barely able to run for a minute at a time to running three miles without a break -- no exaggeration. Though many may find the first week or two almost too easy, you are encouraged not to skip ahead, as the easier exercise helps build up your aerobic abilities, making you more ready for the harder workouts to come.

Today marks Day 1 of my training -- I'll be posting weekly updates about how things are progressing, so check back for more information!