Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Portion Sizes. Or, how what we learn from our parents follows us for a looooong time...

Every night, my father walks to the laundry room, opens the freezer, and grabs a pail of ice cream (Kemps, of course). He pours chocolate sauce or maple syrup into a bowl, and puts it in the microwave. Granted, this was after I scolded him solidly for days about microwaving things in plastic containers - his response was, "Well, if the asbestos didn't kill me, I sure don't think a little plastic will." But he acquiesced, and now that he has a warm bowl, he starts scooping. Eight scoops of ice cream. It nearly spills over the top of the bowl, although not as much as it used to since we now have larger bowls. He settles in his leather chair and digs in.

This happens every night. And this sort of habit is why I have such a horrendous problem with portion sizes. I had no idea that this was far more ice cream than you should ever consume until college. I kid you not. I'm not trying to place blame here...but it is a reality that children will notice what parents do and mimic these habits.

Today I discovered a website that shows 300 calorie portion sizes as they really are ---

It's amazing what browsing through these pictures will do for your sense of awareness of the size of things. They include the dollar bill and credit card to provide a sense of scale, something really important to think about when you are learning to control portion sizes.

Slightly unrelated but still relevant are the differences between the costs of these different servings. And we wonder why there is such a correlation between poverty and obesity?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Champagne and Sushi Tasting

The night before the epic journey home to Minnesota was spent with Scott in Waltham for a dinner out at the behest of my grandmother: we chose a sushi and champagne tasting, something we definitely could not have afforded otherwise. Luckily, there is a bus that started about two blocks from my apartment and went straight to the tasting. Unluckily, it was late. And cold outside. So, I called the person in charge and let them know we would be late, and she promised to save us two seats. When we finally arrived, two of the five courses had already been served, and there was only one remaining place. Slightly peeved (on the basis of the effort it took to get to this place as well as the cost of the meal for each of us, which, while not astronomical, was certainly enough to object to missing the food). The hostess, slightly annoyed at our sudden presence, fixed us two seats, and after consulting with management, agreed to give us each a complimentary bottle of champagne. The menu for the evening was astonishingly good: portions were, in my opinion, not large enough for the amount of alcohol consumed, but still delicious. The eel was amazing: succulent, if you will. There really is no words for how delicious the food tasted. (note: sorry for the lack of pictures -- the foodie in me just wanted to stop the clock and take beautiful pictures, but it was a bit too formal for me to bring out my camera)


Grilled blue point oysters with green onion vinaigrette
Paul Cheneau Reserve Cava Brut Blanc de Blanc

Hamachi sashimi with spiced strawberry cinegar
Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace Brut Rosé

Braised stuff daikon (shrimp) with Japanese mushrooms and creamy miso dressing
Lucien Albrect Blanc de Blancs

Sake glazed salmon with green peppercorn-grapefruit vinaigrette
Nicolas Feuillatte Rosé Brut

Broiled eel with apple, pear, and sansho pepper
Nicolas Feuillatte Blue Label

After some deliberation, we decided on the Blue Label and the Cava, together worth about $65 at their prices (I got kind of sad looking at the online prices being much cheaper...but that's Boston for you!)

The gentleman who presented the wines was quite nice as well, and not pretentious in the face of how little we knew about champagne (we were easily the youngest people in the room by about 5-10 years). Also, instead of drinking from champagne flutes, we drank from white wine glasses, apparently because it's easier to taste the flavors, and as you are drinking the champagne immediately, you don't need the same bubble conservation that the flute provides. He also laughed at my use of tin foil to preserve bubbles in unfinished bottles of champagne.

All in all - it was quite a lovely night, and maybe something we'll do again. But for now, we'll be enjoying our two bottles of champagne...

Adventure #1 of Winter 2008 - getting home.

I’m sitting in the terminal in Boston, feeling very nostalgic for this past spring full of grad school visits and so much time in airports. Terminal E at Logan is actually much more chill than others, yet I’d rather be downtown Boston, or at home, or in Cambridge. Because of a winter storm both here and in Minnesota, we’ll see if I make it back tonight.

edit: Nope. But keep reading...

I suppose the other part of this story is that I stayed up all night keeping a certain someone entertained and full of apple cider and brie while he was finishing his final exam for discrete math (something with euler circuits and cacti. Nothing I truly understand…). Anyway, his flight out of Logan was at 9 am, so I have been at the airport since about 8 am – I’m glad I am decked out with banana chips, cheerios, fruit leather, hard-boiled eggs, and chocolate chips. Although, it is quite odd to have nothing to do (no schoolwork, that is). Thus, I vacillate between reading old random papers and organizing folders and old documents on my computer (hello report on oysters from age 11) or drifting off in an uncomfortable sleep listening to rather awful holiday music.

Then, in my semi-asleep stupor, I spied a gentleman named Alex in a spiffy winter coat and scarf. Alex is currently a student at Carleton studying biochemistry and theater, and I met him a few summers ago when I worked as a musician in the pit orchestra for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

He had talked to me earlier about spending some time in Boston this December, but then it came to pass that I would be leaving and he would be arriving on the same day…oops. I called out his name, and he positively jumped out of his shoes. And then we ate at the Wok and Roll (no joke) and talked for awhile as my plane was pushed back even later into the night.

Weather picture one (around 12:30 pm Friday afternoon)

So, I went back to the gate and waited for my 1:25 pm departure time...and the plane was indeterminately delayed. Bad weather in Michigan had stopped our plane from arriving at the gate. However --- hallelujah --- the plane arrived at 5:30 pm. Okay - this is progress. We boarded at 6:15, and got ready to go, the pilots and flight attendants being super generous and staying past their time to get us home. And two hours later, after problems finding a crew to de-ice our plane, the pilots announced that the airport had been shut down. And so...back off the plane.

Weather picture 2 (around 8:30 pm Friday night):

After half an hour waiting in line to get my plane rebooked (and running down my cell phone battery calling the hotline), they announced that the plane was not canceled but rescheduled for the next day at 11:30 am. Good thing, too, because the people that finally got through on the hotline were aggravatingly shouting, "What?! There are no openings until December 23rd? That is absolutely unacceptable!" Our luggage finally returned on the carousel (well, most people's luggage...mine was MIA and there was no one out there to look for it, so I got myself a toothbrush from the luggage office and tried to find food that wasn't Dunkin' Donuts). I had to go over to Terminal C, walk through all of the weird office-y corridors, until wandering enough to find a food court. That closed at 8 pm. Sweet. Okay, so onto the next plan...a bar! I really just needed food, and given my four hard-boiled eggs and cereal menu for the day, I just wanted some vegetables. And boy did they oblige...with rubbery eggplant, nasty tomato, slice of mozzerela, all wrapped ever-so-sweetly on a butter-toasted hot dog bun. Beautiful.

I slugged my way back to the terminal, paid $8 for internet, and spent some time reading emails and catching up...actually, mostly trying to stay awake. At this point I had been up about 40 hours, and I was really dragging. After the airport finally quieted down (two international flights kept things hopping until 2 am), I slept awkwardly on those benches with armrests. Let me tell you --- sleeping to nonstop blaring Christmas music is not my cup of tea, that's for sure. I got up at 5 am, wandered around, and finally talked to the luggage people. Apparently my bag had gotten on the 11 am flight the day before - I certainly wish I had gotten on that flight...I got checked in, went through security, and made my way back to the gate.

The next day: weather picture 3:

The plane was on time, but then it was delayed...again, and again. We had a plane this time, but first no pilots...and then by the time we had pilots and were loaded and ready...the storms were so bad in Minnesota we couldn't take off. Finally, at 5 pm, we took off for Minneapolis, and I arrived in one piece at 7:10 pm central time. Phew. My other bag was just fine, and after waiting outside in the bitter cold, my dad picked me up from the airport and I was home to the snow and loveliness of Minnesota. Woo-hoo!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Semester 1: a retrospective

And now, for your reading pleasure, some thoughts from this semester (randomized, of a stochastic process induced by SNOW!! and to think it was 60 degrees yesterday...welcome to Boston, I suppose!)

-my new lotion, the olive and aloe ultra moisturizer for sensitive skin from Kiss My Face, makes me smell like bread dipped in olive oil for the first few minutes after I put it on...and I love it!

-despite all indications, the absolute value of my learning in 420 was immense (this is the kinetics/programming/math class). I am really proud of myself. I worked my butt off. And I have never quite had the cards stacked against me like that. Now, granted, this doesn't mean that I passed the course (frankly, I probably shouldn't), but regardless...I did something that I didn't think I could do. Also, props to all of the other BE students who helped me know who you are. Thank you.

-I had a dream once where I was running my own TV show on new science developments - the equivalent of Jon Stewart, science edition. Can I do this for a job? Please?

-biochemistry = da bomb. Mitochondrial pathology, metabolomics of cancer..this stuff is cool.

-watching TED talks while I eat breakfast makes me SOOO excited about the world.

-the concoction of yogurt and brownie mix is delicious

-one of the upsides in living in an apartment is that, even without turning the heat on, my room is always toasty. This is first time in years I have not had to wear two pairs of socks when going to bed, and you can bet I'm excited...

- I really really really want to be able to ice skate in my backyard when I get back - but I understand that this may not happen.

-I love making some dumb biology joke or reference during class and everyone getting it and thinking I'm hilarious. This never happens outside of class, but I'm not giving up hope.

-oral finals are really interesting. You feel like you can never prepare enough, for you have no idea what the questions could cover.

-the worst part about being sick for me is not being able to work out in combination with not being able to think, sleep, or do really anything else.

-I will be taking a two hour introductory class to Alexander Technique this January, and I am so pumped. I need help with relaxing while playing French horn, and this might be just what I need!

-I miss having a tree to decorate. A lot.

-I saw a special on re-discovering the Alexandria of Cleopatra on National Geographic while I was working out tonight, and I was reminded of my fourth grad book report in which I dressed up as Cleopatra and brought a rubber snake to school in a bowl and talked about why I killed myself (and then killed myself by sticking the snake at my throat and falling on a pillow). I cannot believe my mother let me leave the house to be a morose and dramatic Egyptian queen for a project. Actually, I'm pretty impressed in my persuasional skills. Or something like that.

-I could sit and watch glass-blowing for hours. And I would still be just as entranced as when I started.

-I want to be Ms. Frizzle one day. Actually, I want to be Ms. Frizzle + Bill Nye + Michael Pollan + Olivia Judson. All at once.

-I am excited for next semester. Life is going to be great.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Article from "Nature"

I read the following story in Nature today. I give full credit to the author, but as many of you would not be able to access Nature online, it is repeated below instead of linked.

"A long and happy life?"

The suicide note itself wasn't particularly remarkable.

Handwritten, of course. Even the oldest computers would have detected the quiver in the voice, or parsed the strained phraseology, and automatically alerted the authorities. The blue ink scratched its way across the paper, as if hard pressed to recall the individual shapes of letters. At one point the nib had pierced the white sheet. Few people wrote regularly with pens. It was still taught at school, but the odd love letter or shopping list was as far as most people got. And suicide notes, of course. This was no different; the writing was that of the very old, or the very young.

In a way the hand was old, the oldest that had still lived. But just as the sunrise is as old as time and new each dawn, so this hand was new: three months and twelve days, according to the factory's records.

Even the words, the symbols of the man's thoughts, were not worthy of note. They would have won no literary prize; inspired no doomed, romantic quest; enquickened no tired and demoralized army. The very human story was the usual one: of love, of ennui and, ultimately, of heartbreak.

No one, least of all himself, remembered quite when or how he had lost his first hand, more than 300 years ago. The accident was recorded, but if the loose-leaf binder still existed, the cheap ink was long faded into obscurity. Sometimes he claimed it was an explosion in a fume hood; at other times a gas cylinder had fallen from its moorings and crushed him.

What his memory was clear on, and what was attested to in the medical literature, was that he had attached ('single-handedly, haha!' he would joke) an artificial limb to the remains of his own arm. Not a simple prosthetic, but a fully functioning organ of composite fibre, ceramic joints and golden threads carrying two-way nervous traffic. The body's own electrical impulses provided power to the tiny servos that drove the slender titanium flexors and extensors.

No accident, the second prototype: it was tested and retested, planned months in advance. His wife directed the operation, and when he woke, his right arm to the shoulder was fully robotic. A fortnight later, while he was still delirious from antibiotics and analgesic, she was killed by a drunk-driver.

The record shows that he opened a new lab with venture capital, employed three dozen scientists and disappeared into his research. The exclusive clinic followed: he himself was its first patient, walking out on legs of alloyed titanium — and straight back into the lab.

Half a dozen more clinics started up across the nation, opening their doors to anyone whose medical insurance would pay the fees. For ten years the company replaced natural limbs with artificial constructs that were functionally equivalent to the original. More than equivalent: these never wore out, never got cancer, never got tired, never felt weak or cold.

For ten years the clinics operated and the lab researched. No papers were published, no patents applied for, and investors grew nervous. Interest waned. Two clinics closed; a third of the research staff was laid off. Rumours circulated, created by and lost in the noise of the Internet. It was another three years later when, finally, a press conference was called on the lawn of the first clinic, the handful of journalists who bothered to turn up were turned away — — and were called back, to face a man who under crepusculine clouds glistened.

The patents and the papers followed on the morrow: the artificial blood, the fuel cells, the intricate and minuscule fibres and vessels and motors: in short, a body wonderfully and fearfully man-made.

Only his face appeared natural, and over the following years even that was slowly replaced. Having no need of food, depending solely on a defined and especially formulated medium, protected by filters and powered by the elements, no toxins could threaten him. With hard, durable alloys and man-made composites in place of bones and tissues, redundant systems and every organ replaceable, he was all but indestructible.

Alzheimer's had been cured by the time he reached 105, and the last bastion of mortality — the uncontrolled cell division leading to legion neoplasms — tamed a few years after that. And then he was a living brain in a metal and plastic shell, talking, walking and living: never fatigued, immune to all disease, the Tree of Life incarnate.

For 200 years he lived like this, never needing to eat: a weekly cocktail of nutrients and pharmaceuticals keeping the one, irreplaceable fleshly and uniquely human organ alive.

When the end came it was without fanfare or press conference. No papers were written, no patent lawyers notified. With the finest of Torx drivers he opened an access panel, removed a wire, took out a power cell, held it — his life in his own hands.

The suicide note of the world's first immortal ended simply enough:

I cannot live without her.

-rpg (nom de plume of a molecular cell biologist and hopeless romantic at the University of Sydney)

Nature 456, 836 (11 December 2008) | doi:10.1038/456836a; Published online 10 December 2008


Monday, December 1, 2008

Wedding Gifts + Holdiay Consumerism

I know this may sound like an awfully awkward title for a blog post...but stick with me. My friend M posted a few days ago about wanting gifts that really meant something during this holiday season - something that would useful, or meaningful. And many times, this is something personalized, or something that is an "event" that you do together. For instance, my gift to my brothers this year are shirts that I buy online. They wear shirts. Ergo, useful.

Then, yesterday I came across this posting in Apartment Therapy Los Angeles (which has a long convoluted name for a blog that is basically a home design blog all about improving your surroundings - lots of pretty pictures, lots of interesting ideas, and it's especially good to give you a sense of what is possible in any given living space). It lists some ideas for wedding gifts which the couple will be able to actually use that are particularly amenable to my age bracket...we want to give something that the couple will like, but all we can afford on the registry is napkins.

Weddings are hard - registries are almost a necessary "evil" these days, and people assume that yes, you're going to need something, or celebrating starting a life together requires the gift of a blender or these steak knives or these very specific tablecloths. I think there has got to be a better way.

My first roommate this year, Elaine, and I talked about weddings for almost two hours, and one of the things she described was the nature of gift-giving in China. According to her, it would be completely unacceptable to give one of your cousins less than $2000 for a marriage gift. And if I was very close to said cousin, the gift should be closer to $3000. If you cannot afford that kind of gift, you do not attend the wedding and reception. Period. Elaine said that some young adults her age go into debt because they can't afford to attend all of their friend's weddings.

This shocks me. I cannot understand why in the world celebrating marriage became so dependent on money and consumerism. It distresses me, I guess, that some people give more thought to the gifts they will receive rather than celebrating something so special and full of love.

And this goes for all holidays as well: if you are, for example, an uncle/aunt, the best gift you could give would be of your time. Instead of toys, give your niece/nephew an entire day, just between you and them. (bonus gift for the parents as well). I can't tell you how much more I remember and appreciate a tradition with my aunt to go downtown and look at the Dayton's holiday exhibit compared to a Target gift card.

Anyway, what follows is a list of some ideas for newlyweds (many are also applicable to your friends for other times of the year and not just wedding-exclusive). And I understand that things break down for different couples and the relationship you may have with them: - gifts are not one size fits all. You know your friends - their likes and dislikes, and what they would most appreciate. People are different, and not everyone will appreciate the same thing.

-give them the gift of flowers - give them a gift certificate for flowers in their new home.

-become "part of the wedding" --- make the cake, do the flower arrangements, play music for the ceremony, make some sort of dessert, fold napkins artfully, make name plates on the tables, etc...everyone has some sort of skill that can be utilized in the whole beginning to finish project that is a wedding.

-if they are moving to a new city and don't know anyone who lives there (but you do), give them a map of said city and do some research on restaurants, places to see a concert, etc... so they can start feeling at home in their new city.

-if they love pets but won't be able to keep a pet in their apartment, make a donation to the Humane Society in their name.

-breakfast in bed/tea tray - completely indulgent, but can be really fun. You can find these at home stores like Marshalls for a decent price, or thrift stores (these can be refinished or repainted as well, if you're crafty)

-if you are giving a gift as a couple and live nearby, give the gift of "sitting at home watching the game with the boys" and "going out shopping with the girls" - obviously, this would be tailored to the couple in question. Bring snacks and watch a movie with one, or bring ingredients to make cookies, or go out for drinks with the other, etc...make it a gift of time to spend with the other person.

-give them a tree (rainforest, taiga, park-related - there are lots of online sites to donate flora and fauna). There is also a fun family tradition to begin which involves planting a tree whenever a child is born so you can watch the child grow with the tree.

-my mother clued me in to the idea of buying decorative plates (with snowmen, santas, etc...) and some ornaments or cookie cutters as something that they can share for their first holiday season in their new home. This isn't something "essential," true...but it is something that will be used if it is there. You can also put a greeting on the bottom of the tray with permanent marker, something to the tune of "Congratulations X and X! --Your name, 2008"

-surf the site - it has lots of homemade and beautiful gifts that are often inexpensive. Also, you can go in together on gifts..if there is a group of you (say, for example, you were close to three other people on your high school soccer team) -- you can come up with a gift together.

-my aunt frequently makes quilts (not for the novice sewer, to be sure, but if you can -- it's a gift that will be used)

-plants (if they like plants -- given the harried nature of most weddings, you may want to just give a card and say you'd like to buy them a plant for their new home, and in their first month or so, make a date to go and pick out a plant (and have coffee or something similar - it's a good way to catch up on their lives as well)

-get together with a bunch of college and/or high school friends and put together an album (either old-school with photos or using a program from the web) of pictures from that time in their life - artsy pictures of campus, plays, dances, football games, parties, can also personalize it and have old teachers and friends put in memories about their time at school.

-one point that the article (and many of the comments) brought up is that some people actually NEED the things on the registry, and getting anything but that is wasteful and rude, basically the cardinal sin you could do at a wedding, and you end up with lots of stuff you don't want because you decided to be more "thoughtful." I'm torn on this one: I guess buying something inexpensive from the registry and then making it more your own works best in that instance: for example, you could buy a cookie sheet and oven mitts and include some of your family's favorite cookie recipes.

-a favorite board game from high school or college

gifts for parents:

-if your parents have a lot of their photos only in "picture" form, consider digitizing them for archival purposes

-same goes for a home inventory - if you're feeling brave, consider photographing and setting up a home inventory for insurance purposes - it's one of those things that everyone knows they should do, but never get around to

-offer yourself up to do whatever they ask with no complaining for a day

-bake cookies for the holiday season - all their favorites. And then put them in the back of the freezer so they have something to snack on in January

-wake up on a snowy morning and shovel the walk/driveway

gifts for siblings: = gold. $10 a shirt - each is offered only that day, so check back frequently. Some are odd, but they're a great deal.

-do their chores

-take them to matinee movies, and make a contest to see who can smuggle in the most food

Friday, November 28, 2008


This year, I was able to spend Thanksgiving at my friend Nancy's home - it was delicious and welcoming - there was tons of food, and lots of fun to be had from a long walk around Porter and Davis Squares as well as naps, Apples to Apples, and meeting new people.

Nancy, the premiere chef of the night!

We had artichoke dip and chips, broccoli ramen salad, black olives, sweet potatoes, stuffing, wild rice, turkey, rolls, mashed potaotes and gravy, cranberry sauce, mulled wine, much food! And that doesn't even count dessert - pumpkin, cherry/cranberry, pecan pies, pumpkin bread, fresh whipped cream, chocolate truffles, chocolate chip cookies. It was lovely!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Finishing the apartment

I was finally able to make it out to Ikea...and I have gone from a living room is full of $400.00 worth of stuff:

to a quasi-FINISHED apartment:

And - I have dishes! Full place settings for eight, in fact --- dinner parties, here I come!

I also hacked a pantry out of two filing cabinets that the Bioengineering department was getting rid of: while heavy, they are certainly useful in keeping food and files contained.

I'm still waiting for the "desk" top - it's super heavy and I haven't been able to find anyone to carry it back to Ashdown with me.

AND my room is finally a bit more complete (minus the shoe rack which is still at home).

Life is good!

As I journey back and forth from Minnesota, I imagine that my apartment will become more finished, and my space and home will become more packed away (and yes, mom -- much more organized and out of your way...believe me, it bothers me more than it bothers you!)

I have also applied to become a Graduate Residence Tutor this upcoming January. A GRT is kind of like an RA, but older, wiser, and that cool connection between peer and mentor. We have to keep our doors open for residents to come and chat for ten hours a week, and hold a study break every two weeks. However, we never have to be "on call" per se, yet if we see something going down, obviously we need to step in and take the proper steps (eg, call the police, notify the housemaster, etc...). For this, I have free housing in an apartment within the residence, which means I'd be able to save a substantial amount of money in the next few years.

Even without the money, I really do miss mentoring younger students, and as someone who did a complete 180 in music to biology, I feel I have a lot to offer in terms of advice and encouragement about life decisions. Precisely because I have no idea what I'm going to do after I graduate, letting students in college know (especially one as stressful as MIT) that it's okay not to any clue about future life plans is really important to me. Also, I miss the sense of community from IWU: although dorm life had its downs (ugh. BIG downs) it is so different to come into Ashdown and know absolutely no one except my roommate and people from BE (plus one or two others that have done the unthinkable and GASP -- made eye contact and said hello). I'd like to know people where I live. I miss that.

Boston Philharmonic: November 22, 2008

Last night, I went to see the Boston Philharmonic at Jordan Hall on the campus of the New England Conservatory. Two of the other MIT Symphony horn players met in the freezing cold outside of Lobby 7 and took the one bus down Mass Ave to reach our destination. We were able to buy $8 student rush the second row. And let me tell you - seeing a concert with soloists and being in the second row is a real treat. You can watch their facial expressions, their fingers, and hear their musicality. It is really great.

The Boston Philharmonic is a semi-professional orchestra made up of professionals, students, and "highly-skilled amateurs." What I wouldn't give to play up on that'd be so much fun! They must have some pieces that could use a low horn player, right?

The program included:

Bach's Concerto in C Minor for Oboe and Violin
-beautifully done. I love the sound of harpsichord with orchestra.

Berg's Violin Concerto
-I know it may be odd, but I would much prefer playing the Berg than listening to it. Music that is different like this deserves many listenings.

Beethoven's Eroica (Symphony 3)
-wow. We're playing this on December 5th, and it's quite the workout for horns. They did quite well, although the conductor restarted the orchestra for the third movement...kind of a bummer.

The violin soloist who played Berg's violin concerto was quite the interesting fellow. He was Algerian and raised in France, yet the only languages I heard him speak onstage were English and Italian. He did a quick encore, which went from Bach to gypsy fiddle to Mozart to country to bluegrass to rock that would almost feel at home on an electric violin.

Jared, Elise, and I in front of the stage: what a great concert!

We also ate at Uno's Pizzeria, just steps from Jordan Hall, making Jared a very happy fellow. I had a really good Mediterrean thin crust pizza, but it definitely failed on the kalamata olives. If restaurants want to use kalamata olives, great. They are delicious. But don't put them in a big glob in the center of my pizza. They are meant to be used sparingly. Cut them up into pencil-eraser-sized chunks, and spread them all over. Please.

Monday, November 17, 2008

For archival purposes...

I have added my notes about my REU program to this blog - they predate the original start by quite some time, but as this is intended to in many ways be a source for students looking into the research sciences, I thought it would be good to have them here.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Homeland

Although to many, Ikea is a place for a great value on home-decorating pieces, for me it is also a slice of a second home. My father is a full-blood Swede, and his uncle stayed behind in Sweden while his father and two remaining uncles came to America. During the summer between seventh and eighth grade, my mother, Eric, and I visited Sweden, spending half of the time in Stockholm with a friend of my mother's teaching there for a year, and the other half was spent in Gotland, where my father's family is from.

My cousins Birgit and Åke (beer-ghit, oaky) live in Stenkyrka (sten-shurka), Gotland, not too far from the town of Vall. When my grandfather and great-uncles came to America, the immigration officials told them that there were too many of "them" - meaning the Johansson was too common of a name. Thus, they were forced to take the name of the city where they were from in Gotland: Vall. But the immigration official spelled it wrong, giving us the surname "Wall."

Visiting them was nothing short of lovely, and Ikea's selection of Swedish foods reminds me of the time I spent with my relatives on the island.

Lingonberries: slightly less tart than their close relative (cranberries), these berries are extremely prevalent in Scandanavian cuisine due to the climate and ease of preparation (as well as their high vitamin C content). I was able to buy both lingonsylt (jam) and saft (see's the GIGANTIC gallon of concentrate. I am so excited!). Lingonberry also makes a really good mixer for drinks, going very well with vodka and champagne)

Anna's Pepperkokkar (Anna's Gingerbread): Swedes enjoy a coffee and chatting break around 10 each morning, and gingerbread cookies are often the sweet of choice (and for those of you that just really need something sweet as a snack, they are small and fairly low in calories).

Elderberry saft: saft is a fruit concentrate that you dilute with water before drinking (kind of like a classy European koolaid with much better flavors and no fake sugar).

Bilar: chewy candy cars: deliciously odd tasting candies.

Unfortunately, they don't have such delicacies as almond buns, real fresh sill (fish), or beet salad that dyes your tongue bright red...I'll just have to go back some day.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


I had my first Zipcar experience this past week to go pick up groceries, the chore that is, in a practical sense, quite a pain. Trying to bring over two bags of anything up to my apartment takes soooo long. (I know, poor me, right?). I have to sign out the moving dolly, bring it outside trying not to break any of the glass in the doors, load all of my groceries onto the dolly, fumble my way back into the lobby through double locked doors, beg the woman at the front desk to watch over my things as I return the car, then walk back to my apartment, wheel the dolly upstairs, bring all my groceries inside, put away the perishables, and finally return the dolly. Whew. It was a much easier process at home when I could just carry in two at a time and leave the car unlocked...oh well.

In other news, I found out today that as a graduate student, the money I make puts me in the top 2% of the world in terms of monetary wealth. That brings me to two concepts: I need to be more thankful for where I am and what I do and the opportunities I have. Two, even if I am at the top 2% monetarily, how does this correspond to happiness? Or well-being? Global markets put an economic slant to everything, but sometimes that isn't the most robust rubric to judge a person, group, or country. How do we rectify this? Is there a way? Should we even try?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Ponderings of the Future

“Rosa sat so Martin could walk. Martin walked so Obama could run. Obama ran so our children can fly.”

- text message sent to Ed Welch, Manufacturing Training Alliance instructor (non-profit which teaches technical skills for manufacturing jobs) regarding voting

I look into the future, and I get teary hoping this will happen. Maybe it's just my idealistic soul, but I do see hope. And I do see possibilities. I dream of that world, and the fact that my children might grow up in a time when public service is valued...where education is deemed one of the most essential human rights...where conscious consumption drives the market...where everyone has enough food to eat...where everyone has health care...where the world is at peace.

Obama: you have a hard road ahead. But I'm there with you. Let me know what I can do to help.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I Voted!

This year, I officially put down roots and declared myself a resident of Massachusetts. I voted for president and for a myriad of public officials, all democrats running with no opposition.

I must say, it's kind of funny with all of the two past years of election hoopla that the piece of paper that makes it all happen is plain, unadorned, and you have to actually look where you're filling in the's not like there's a big red elephant next to McCain/Palin, or a blue ray of hope next to Obama/Biden. It's just black and white text. Pretty powerful, when you think about it.

In addition, I voted on three propositions:

-eliminate personal taxes (aka a whopping tax cut) - no. Education, energy reform, and America's infrastructure need this money.

-transition marijuana possession under 1 ounce to a fine-based offense (about $200) - yes. This reform also includes much harsher penalties without jail time for juvenile offenders: they have to both pay the fine and do community service (with their parent's knowledge - parents are informed of all offenses). At the end of the day, I believe that police should be focusing on larger crimes, not marijuana. The jury is out for me on whether marijuana should be legal or not (yes, it is bad for you), but regardless...police officers, your help is needed elsewhere.

-make greyhound racing illegal - yes. This is a practice that just needs to stop. It is inhumane. Plain and simple.

So yes - my final thought of the day is GO VOTE! You have the right. Use it.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

In Memoriam

Pa -

I thought that five years would give me better words to describe what you meant to me. But the truth is, it is all summed up by how much I miss you and love you.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fall in Cambridge not like fall back in Minnesota where my childhood was spent raking leaves into piles and jumping in them...only going inside when mom MADE us come in. Then we'd drink hot cocoa and watch Gopher football and Eric and I would drowsily pass out on the couch, completely tuckered out from a long day of leaf-pile jumping.

It's not like the fall at Wesleyan, either. Watching the trees change every day as I walked to class was pretty much my favorite thing to do:

Fall in Cambridge is more subdued...there just aren't enough trees to see the change of colors like I did just walking through my backyard at home. The sky is an alarming shade of blue some days - it always seemed more cloudy in Bloomington or home.

I want a day to rake leaves all morning, and then get cozy with a good book and some fresh apple cider...sigh. Someday.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Biomolecular Kinetics

Little did I know that I would be taking several foreign languages here at MIT....and this class has them all smushed into one big garbled mess. The professors are teaching in Latin, my TAs speak Finnish, my problem sets are all in Chinese, the textbook is in a combination of cuneiform and middle English, the programming is in Math, but the help files are Esperanto, and I have to turn in my assignments in regular English (although, this is engineering English, which does have subtle variations). Thank goodness that there is at least one person who can translate each respective language for me in this class...otherwise I think I'd be a goner.

Don't get me wrong--I can see why this class is important, and I can see that after this class I'll be thankful for what I've learned and what I have accomplished. But right now? My feelings can be summed up as seriously overwhelmed, with a chance of hope that I'll make it out brain cells intact.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


One of the questions I often receive here is, "So - what do you do exactly? What is this bioengineering thing all about?"

Here's what MIT has to say on the matter:

"The goal of this biological engineering discipline is to advance fundamental understanding of how biological systems operate and to develop effective biology-based technologies for applications across a wide spectrum of societal needs including breakthroughs in diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease, in design of novel materials, devices, and processes, and in enhancing environmental health."

In English, this means that bioengineering uses engineering principles (physics, chemistry, math) to better study and fix biological problems. These can range from:

-building better ways to study isolated liver tissue in order to assess toxicology before bringing out possibly dangerous drugs into clinical trials

-hacking the immune system in order to force antigen response to cancerous tumors

-using engineered viruses to bind inorganic materials in order to "build" batteries without toxic chemicals

Click here to watch a video delivered by Doug Lauffenburger, the head of the bioengineering program here at MIT. It's a great introduction to a particular facet of engineering.

This is an interview with Linda Griffith, the professor I worked for this past summer. The stuff that this department does just blows my mind...

If you are interested in viewing other Open Course Ware materials, click here for the youtube site. The great minds of MIT are being videotaped, and if you want to be astounded and amazed - this will do it. Forget David Blaine...this is the real deal.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Is a $40,000 wedding green?

At the ripe old age of 22, I am starting to attend the weddings of my peers. It's scary. But that is another while on Google reader, I came upon an article about Clay Hill Farm and a special contest they are having:

A $40,000 wedding. Let me type that again...forty THOUSAND dollars.

“The Green Wedding Giveaway will be a daytime wedding ceremony and reception at Clay Hill Farm on June21, 2009, the summer solstice. Rehearsal dinner, ceremony, catered reception, Hand-painted watercolor invitations, flowers, photography, DJ services, live cocktail music, cake, hybrid bridal transportation, spa services, organic beverages, tuxedo rentals, wedding-night suite and honeymoon week.”

Now, the definition of what is "green" varies widely, and people enter this spectrum at many different places, adapting their lifestyle accordingly. But when I think of what it really means to "be green" is a commitment to conscious consumption of what you need. Therein lies the rub: do you need a wedding? What are the boundary conditions and requirements for this important time in the lives of two people, and their families/friends? (edit: gag me...I just used programming terminology from my engineering class in a blog post. What is my world coming to??)

I don't think I could say no to a wedding. And I don't think a wedding I have could be completely green, anyway (anyone met my father? yeah...). But, I hazard a bet that a non-green wedding that costs $5000 will be a whole lot less wasteful that a green wedding that costs $40,000.

So...what do you do? I am at a loss. The best thing I can think of is to really think about what you both want out of a ceremony and party, and how best to interpret that in a meaningful way.

Thankfully, I have quite some time to think on it...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Apartment update

Good news...and bad news. First of all, I love my roommate...spicy Sichuan food and other forms of deliciousness always seem to be cooked just when I need a snack.

And I love doing dishes, which she hates, so it's a pretty good match. Also, I "keep her young." Granted, she's only 28, but it's a large enough gap that it does make a difference.

Bad news...Elaine is moving out October 31st. She is moving in to an apartment closer to her classes. Since she is in Sloan (business), her classes are almost a mile and a half away. In her new place, she'll be able to leave five minutes before class starts and still be early. Her boyfriend is also coming back from China, and they'll be living together. There was a whole mess last spring when they were trying to set up housing, and it ended up that things didn't work out as planned. So, this sadly means that I'll be roommate-less until MIT housing decides what to do with me. This also means that I need to find silverware. And dishes. And pots. And all sorts of other things that I haven't bought since Elaine has them. Hopefully the three of us will go to Ikea sometime soon - they can buy things for their unfurnished apartment, and I can buy things to catch up.

Since some of you are curious, here is what my room looks like now:

Sorry about the odd angles, but it's not an easy room to take a great picture of...I'll try to do a better job next time. I'm not necessarily thrilled about the layout, but I decided to leave it the way that it arrived just so I could get a feel for what I liked and didn't like. The only light in my room is on the side of the wall above my desk and wardrobe, so it is kind of obscured. That definitely needs to change. I'll post more pictures when I'm finally satisfied with the end result.

Also, I'm looking to spruce up my room with some decals...any recommendations?

Friday, September 26, 2008

MIT Symphony Orchestra

For those of you that didn't know, I actually began my time at Illinois Wesleyan as a music major. Long story short, as time went on, I found out that it just isn't the right place for me. At all. I switched to a music minor, and now I have continued this loving music thing in grad school. I'm really thankful and happy to be playing still. It makes my Tuesday and Thursday nights (we rehearse from 7:30-10:00 pm).

Even so, it's really interesting to see the differences between the orchestra at IWU and the orchestra here. First, there are an absolute PLETHORA of string players. They just go on, and on, and's amazing. I think we're at around thirty violinists. At least. And the brass section is decent, but sometimes we're down a trombone. Apparently, it's a lot harder to keep the winds/brass section to the normal grouping that is in an orchestra due to player turnover. Most of the instrumentalists are in undergrad, but there are a few grad students (including my favorite, a five foot tall girl tuba player who is in nuclear engineering).

Our first concert is October 10th, and one of the odder things was that we didn't read one of the movements to a piece until last Tuesday...quite the change from the typical day 1-sightread, day 2-perfect notes expected by Mr. Eggleston. We also call our director by his first name, Adam, and he makes it a point to be very approachable. I think part of the reason for this is that over time, MIT faculty/staff/administrators have recognized that it is crucial to have extracurriculars that help students keep their sanity, as well as have other adults in their lives that aren't giving out terrible problem sets.

Anyway, our first concert is:

"Punkie Night" by Peter Child (an MIT composer)
"Troisieme Piano Concerto" by Prokofiev
"Carnival" by Dvorák
"Sinfonia Sevillana" by Turina

It is definitely not my favorite concert ever, buuuuut next concert is Eroica, which should be really great. And let's be honest...I'm just glad to be playing.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Revisiting the lists...

After living here nearly a month, I thought I'd revisit my lists for my life here in Boston and give an update on what I have, what I need, and other things I have decided to axe or that are more important. I got the idea from blogs I have been reading from friends in the Peace Corps, as well as blogs of their fellow PCVs. Here goes!


Yes it is in our apartment
Need to buy/bring it!
Additional items I forgot
Things I don't need

The kitchen:

-rice cooker (Elaine has one - all the instructions are in Chinese, so I really don't understand it, but it makes great rice!)
-toaster (Elaine has one)
-microwave (provided in the apartment)
-George Foreman grill (meh, would be nice, but we have so little counter space already)
-silverware - spoons, butter knives, forks, Asian ceramic soup spoons (Elaine has some, but mostly chopsticks...I'm borrowing some from a friend right now, but I'm going to look and
-silverware storage
-wine glasses (Elaine has four stemmed and four stemless)
-wine rack
-brita filter pitcher - plus extra filters (I continue to debate this one...the tap water here is pretty good, both on the taste and safety side...)
-regular glasses
-large ceramic mugs (for tea) - Elaine has two
-small nalgene (I ended up ordering Siggs online - they are stainless steel bottles that don't leech)
-stainless steel mug (see above)
-plates - (I'm kind of using all of Elaine's - eventually I will have to get my own)
-kitchen knives (Elaine has a cleaver and a fantastically sharp knife from China)
-bowls -(I'm kind of using all of Elaine's - eventually I will have to get my own)
-vegetable peeler
-cheese grater (wow...this is one thing that is actually mine!)
-small potato masher
-wooden spoons
-spatula (plastic and metal)
-pizza stone
-mixing bowl (I ordered a full set from Pyrex, but the wrong order came! It should arrive soon, though)
-cookie sheets
-drying rack for cookies
-casserole pan
-spice rack
-cheesecake pan
-muffin pan (and paper muffin cups)
-standing mixer
-measuring cups and spoons
-slotted spoon
-can opener
-ice cube trays
-covered glass and plastic dishes (for leftovers, cooking in the oven, and lunches)
-pyrex measuring bowl
-frying pan - one large with a cover, one small (Elaine has a large one, and I have a small one, but I'm trying to save up for a non-bad chemicals large one)
-cast iron skillet (it's still at home...I couldn't lug it here.)
-pots (from small to large)
-cake pans (circular, 9x13 (with metal covers), 9x9; both glass and metal)
-cutting board
-hot pads
-rolling pin
-chip clips
-serving platter
-pie plate
-colander (still at home)
-vase (Elaine has one)
-hand towels
-dish soap
-swiffer wet jet (maybe in the future? Right now our non-carpet space is very low, so this isn't very practical)
-aluminum foil
-parchment paper
-saran wrap
-plastic Ziploc bags
-paper towels
-dish towels
-napkins, placemats, and tablecloths (I use fabric, so I picked up a bunch cheap at goodwill)
-drying rack for dishes (plus a drain board)
-garbage bags (plus garbage container)
-magnets (for the refrigerator)
-nifty cake carryer/chips and dip tray (got it for $5 from Pyrex)

The bathroom:

-toilet paper
-cough syrup
-toothpaste (Tom’s of Maine is natural and odd-tasting at first, but after going back to a regular toothpaste because I couldn’t find it in Illinois, I much prefer the non-chemically taste)
-antibiotic cream (bacitracin, Neosporin)
-aloe gel (nope - aloe plant instead!)
-gauze and tape
-sunscreen (Aveeno SPF 55)
-soap (in the pump; try to get non-antibacterial and not too obnoxious smelling...Trader Joe's is pretty cheap)
-razor (Preserve Recylcine razors are recyclable! Excellent!
-shave gel
-barrettes, clips, hair ties
-facial cleanser (day and night)
-face moisturizer (with SPF!)
-lotion (go cheap and as large as you can)
-contact lens supplies
-travel caddy (plus the ability to take all of your necessary toiletries on a plane, so under 3 ounces)
-windex (Seventh Generation version)
-some sort of all-purpose bathroom cleaner (Seventh Generation version)
-paper towels/sponge for cleaning
-toilet brush
-toilet plunger
-hand towels
-bath towels
-mat in front of the tub (we still don't have one. I guess we're lazy?)
-shower curtain (already in the apartment when we arrived)


-blankets/comforter (I’m going to splurge and get a down comforter – I get really cold, and these are really good for keeping you warm)
-sheet set (I’m moving into a place with an extra-long twin, so I’m going to use the sheets that I bought for my dorm room freshman year)
-mattress pad (since I’m going to be the first person sleeping in this bed, I am not going to bother buying one)
-curtains (there is a full-out shade, but I'd love to have an inbetween gauzy curtain where I could have light and privacy at the same time)
-bed risers - and underbed storage units are a maybe (beds are already raised and have drawers inside)
-full length mirror (already on the inside of the wardrobe that they provided)
-carpet cleaner (like Resolve)
-light bulbs (I'll need these as soon as I get a lamp)
-bath towels
-laundry detergent
-stain remover
-bleach (Elaine has some - I'll buy it if I need it)
-heavy duty drying rack
-dusting rag
-trash can (provided)
-3M hooks (remove easily with no residue)
-hangers - thicker wooden ones for blazers, skirt hangers, and either plastic or a thicker wire (I only have a few - I need to grab more from home)
-batteries (AAA and AA, plus any other specialty ones)
-phone charger
-computer cords/mouse/external harddrive
-iron and ironing board (have the former, but not the latter...I rarely use my iron anyway, so it'll be a special occasions kind of thing)
-surge protectors
-furniture (tbd depending on what I need; probably will be purchased at IKEA or at the nifty exchange program
-beginner’s tool kit (the basics: screwdriver, hammer, pliers)
-carbon monoxide and smoke detectors (provided)
-duct tape (plus clear tape and brown tape)
-paper clips, rubber bands, other clips etc...
-three-ring binders (I feel like I need about 87 more...I have so much paper in my classes here!)
-post it notes (3M now makes a version from recycled paper – pretty cool!)
-biking bag (mine is from Chrome, and it was expensive, but worth it)
-school bag (mine is a “teacher bag” with a laptop sleeve)
-file folders (I am getting old - for insurance, bank stuff, etc...)

Also, I have plants! Aloe, ivy, pothos, two kalencoe, and a bromeliad. Life is good!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Week one!

After two weeks of classes, I can finally say that I'm starting to feel of the apartment and where I live will be my next post, since my roommate is still clearing boxes and such and things are a slight mess.

Registration Day was this past Tuesday after labor day, and it was kind of a rather shot-gun meeting with my advisor where she had me sign up for four classes and didn't tell me that most people take three...more on that later.

My first day of classes was Wednesday, and I started out with 7.51 (7 meaning biology, 51 being the class number). Termed "Principles of Biochemical Analysis," this course was biochemistry on steroids with thermodynamics and equilibrium thrown in just for fun. The professors were both engaging, full of metaphors for binding Bob into his chair and thousands of Bobs competing for the same chair, and Bob standing on his head and only sort-of fitting on the get the idea. It's very interesting to me to see the binding of a ligand (for example, a hormone) to a protein (a receptor that receives the hormone on the cell surface) taught from the angles of biochemistry, cell biology, and biomolecular engineering and modeling. I feel like I know the subject, but really, I know it in four very distinct makes you wonder what you would be missing from the big picture if you were only attending one of those classes.

My second class was a "Eukaryotic Cell Biology." This one is going to be really interesting, for they hold you responsible for GOBS of material - think 200 pages in a textbook per lecture. Lecture is two hours long, and it's really cool to see the concepts taken above and beyond what I know (although two hours is looooooooong...eesh). The other portion of the course is a discussion day, and on those days, we spend the two hours all thoroughly analyzing two or three academic papers (about twenty students total). Now, you'd think, "Oh...two or three papers...piece of cake! I could do that in my sleep." Oh how wrong you would be. They call on us randomly to explain figure legends, ask us "why the writers didn't include a negative control?" or "can you expand on the results? what else can be inferred from this figure?" It is intense. Even after spending about eight hours with these papers prior to lecture, I still feel as if I missed so much. But, that's the idea...they are giving us a crash course in how to read papers effectively, efficiently, see through the crappy data, and come to scientifically meaning conclusions. I am truly a fan of this class. It's with almost all biology students, but I do have a pal in Fernando, a second year BE student from Portugal.

My next "class" is actually a seminar period, and during this time, two bioengineering professors present their work and talk a little bit about what it means to be in their lab and pretty much convince us that we should work for them. It's really a great process, because not only do they feed you, but you also get a feel for the breadth of research and exposure to quite a lot of different lab settings and projects. This goes on all first semester, and I will be meeting professors individually, seeing their labs, and talking to their graduate students before finally choosing a lab to work in this's in effect a five year marriage, so you want to choose carefully. I have no idea who I want to work for, so this is a really crucial time-consuming process that needs to happen.

Class number three is called "Analysis of Biological Networks" and it's all about -omes. Most people have heard of the genome, which is basically a catalogue of DNA - the stuff that stores what you look like, how many liver cells are in each node of your liver, etc...However, there are many other -omes that catalogue other parts of the process that connect DNA to a physiological product in your body. For example, DNA has to be changed into a protein to be useful, but this is a complicated process with lots of players. It's kind of like an assembly line putting together a car - there are lots of different physical parts to the car, so if they're not working, the car won't work right. But, you also have to keep in mind that the machinery putting together the car has to be working correctly, or otherwise you will still have a broken car. So, studying the -omes is kind of like studying car doors, or the mechanism of the arms that attach the car doors, and so on. It's complex, and really quite fascinating. We also have to write a grant proposal for this class. Just what I wanted to do...seriously.

My final class is called "Biomolecular Kinetics and Cellular Dynamics," and this one is my engineering class. I get to do lots of math and programming, of which is kind of daunting, but I think with a lot of work I'll be able to handle it. I have to sit in the very front of the room to be able to see and hear and make sure I'm taking things in, but that's ok. The front row is for cool kids.

As expected, by that first Friday, I was sufficiently fire-hosed.

Former MIT President ['71-'80] Jerome Weisner coined a colorful and often quoted description of the MIT educational experience:

"Getting an education from MIT is like taking a drink from a fire hose.''

So, some students decided to take an actual fire hose and hack it to a drinking fountain in front of the biggest lecture hall on campus during finals week...and the phrase has reached verb-dom, and it's something you do hear around campus.

After such a week, and talking more with other graduate students about classes and such, I decided that four classes plus choosing a lab is a terrible idea. Absolutely awful. So - I ended up dropping the biochem class, mostly because I have had biochemistry, and I have not yet taken an official cell class, and the rigorous manner in which they break you into reading academic papers I think is really the way to go. So, with three classes, and lots of seminars, plus orchestra, I think I'll still have a pretty full schedule this semester. It should be fun!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Finally at MIT!

A quick update: I arrived at MIT after a crazy flight (on the day the FAA computers failed and there was a tornado in Atlanta...even so, the plane was only 2 hours late arriving into Boston). I have been orientation-ing since then, moving into my apartment (pictures forthcoming!) as well as getting an ID card (I'm a real student? Whoa...when did that happen), plus meeting all sorts of random cool people. Also, it kind of freaks me out that I'm starting 17th grade. That is a lot of school. Yikes.

Tomorrow is the farmer's market for some real-people food, plus finishing some cleaning/organizing and figuring out what on my insanely lists must be purchased first. I have trips that must be planned to Target, Linens and Things, Ikea...believe you me, there is lots to do! I'm also going on a harbor cruise on Sunday, which should be a whole lot of fun. I must say...I am really glad to have Monday off as well: it just gives me that extra little bit of time to settle in.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Google Walk

As some of you may be aware, Google maps implemented a new feature a few weeks back to provide directions to walk between locations instead of just driving. Pretty cool, huh?

See here for a map of how to walk from Aldrich Arena to Lake Phalen. Some key trails were missed that I definitely would have taken (State Trail, Bruce Vento Trail), but it is a beta version...I will give them time. Now, what I'd really like to see are directions for biking based on both time, hills, etc...that would be brilliant.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

SMA Golf 2008, or why "skort" is just a fancy euphemism for "creates instant wedgies"

Yesterday, I awoke at 3:45 am and was out the door by 4:15 with my brother, groggily chugging an energy drink. We drove the long stretch of 35E all the way down to Prior Lake (into plain old Highway 35 territory) to Legends Golf Course to work all day for the Spinal Muscular Atrophy 9th Annual Charity Golf Tournament. My brother has worked for an event planning company called FILO (First in, last out) for a couple of years now, and they needed a bit of extra help at this event, so I tagged along. See here for their website: I personally vouch for their efficiency, organization, and ability to pull off just about any event.

At 5 am, the truck arrived, and we started to unload and set up registration, tents, tables, and the drink stations. After the 7:30 am round of golf began, we all began to set up for lunch and ferry coolers with drinks around the course. The caddies were clad in orange polos, working long days out in the sun to save for college (and scrounge free meals as well). Then there were the cart girls in their short shorts and polos, wearing Coach shoes and super-tan, driving around the course selling drinks and snacks. I was assigned the job of "hydration management" on the patio, which meant I spent all day refilling coolers with ice and drinks, as well as "fishing" for people who gave me the glare for not having water that was cool enough. Absolutely, sir, I will plunge my hand to the very bottom of the cooler with ice up to the middle of my upper arm to try and find you a colder water. Sure thing.

It really was fun, though - I got to talk to a lot of people, from celebrity golfers (anyone know Jim Colbert? Me neither. But apparently he's really good...) to seeing Mark Rosen (didn't get to talk to him, though). In addition, a lot of children with SMA and their families were in attendance, and I think it's great that they do have a presence at the event.

KFAN Radio also does an all-day broadcast at the course, as well as a telathon. In the past eight years, this series of events has made a combined total donation of over a million dollars to SMA research...which brought up an interesting point through my conversation with some of the people planning the event. It is very hard to make out where money will go when it is donated to an illness-related cause. It's all for research, right? People in white coats will take the money, do something to it, and then find out something and it'll be great. There is no real itemized way that scientific research is proportioned. When you donate money to a camp, you are told that "Your $400 will buy a canoe," and you understand exactly what that money goes toward. They don't tell you at the "Run for the Cure!" events that the $60,000 raised will go towards funding the time, labor, and brainpower of one year of work for a postdoc (industry slang for a scientific researcher who has earned their doctorate and is working in a laboratory). Or that a $25 donation will buy a lab a set of pipettes used for one experiment. Or that $100 will buy enough culture media for a week of keeping cells alive for study. It's a very hard thing for people to conceptualize, and part of it stems from the all-around ignorance of the general public of how science works. Now, I don't pretend to know it all...and there are many professions in this world that I have no comprehension of at all: farming, architecture, food processing, computer science, etc... But, this doesn't negate the fact that there is a huge leap between what people see on CNN and what goes on day-to-day in a science lab. I just wish there was a way to let the public know how scientists are trying to improve drug testing, or cure cancer, or use stem cells as a part of an innovative therapeutic technique. It's not all about the white coats.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Planning for graduate school: part eight (clothes)

As I mentioned earlier, I got rid of a bunch of clothing early this summer (“What not to wear” style). It was rough, but a very, very good idea. Having a friend there who is invested in having you look cute is a must. They are better at telling you (even if it’s brutal) that you shouldn’t be wearing something anymore. If you get sentimental, take a picture. I also wimped out on most of my costumey clothes, but they are currently happy in the back of my brother’s closet, and it’s not like I’m wearing that awesome mermaid costume from high school every day…My wardrobe is now gleaned down, although there are some things I still really need (brown pants, blazers, jeans, button-down shirts, black pumps, and wedge boots for the wintertime)

-nylons/tights (I get cold easily. The cheapest place to buy these is at thrift stores; there are usually a bunch for sale for $1-$2 and they are brand new and unopened)
-long underwear (Again, I get cold easily)
-sweaters (during the winter sales, try and find some cashmere. It is worth it)
-long sleeve tshirts
-tshirts (both plain colors and non-logo decoration; see shirt.woot, American Apparel, H&M, and for examples)
-both casual and dressy tops (you should have at least one cheap top you can wear to a bar and feel cute but not have a heart attack if beer is spilled on it)
-dresses (I’m an addict; I really enjoy wearing dresses in the summer, so I shop the sales right about now and find them for about $15; there are so many styles available, so pick one (or in my case, seven) that fit your body type and your coloring; cotton jersey is my favorite since it breathes so well; make sure to have at least one that is of a modest enough cut to wear to a wedding in a church, and that one is fancy enough to wear to the opera)
-scarves (utilitarian, fancy (for the opera), and jersey – one of the easiest ways to keep your neck warm is by going to the fabric store, getting 2.5 yards of cotton jersey, and cutting it with a scissors widthwise; you can usually get 3-4 scarves that you can give for gifts…I now have jersey scarves in light blue, sage, black, maroon, salmon, and lavender)
-skirts (try to have skirts in the basic neutrals: blue, black, gray, brown; plus a few fun patterned or bright skirts)
-black (as a musician, I own a lot of black because you never know when there will be a gig)
-underthings (keep in mind that this is usually the limiting factor when doing laundry, so you can always pull the quintessential guy thing and just buy more instead of doing laundry)
-blazers (something I always keep an eye out. Cuts always change, and this is one area where you have to really stick with what fits you, not with what is “fashionable.” Try consignment shops if you need a blazer and the current season is just not working for you)
-pants/jeans (I’m bad at this one. Have a pair of jeans that go with flats, and one with heels. If frustrated, keep trying. And trying.)
-suit (gotta have it. Try and have a couple of tailored shirts as well)
-pajamas (summer and winter)
-swimsuit (or two or three)
-winter coat
-dressy black or brown wool coat
-casual flats, sandals, flip flops
-black and brown pumps
-boots (if you have to walk to school or work, skinny heels on boots are truly an asinine idea)
-sneakers (for working out)
-work out clothing
-clothing storage bags (like dry cleaning bags, but more permanent, with zippers and a porous side so air can circulate)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Planning for graduate school: part seven (the paperwork)

Health Insurance: Due to Massachusetts’s new health insurance requirements, MIT students need to have extended coverage (a basic package is included in tuition, which is paid for in our fellowships). This extended coverage includes emergency room fees, as well as dental and optical, which is great, given that I like clean teeth and having up to date glasses and contacts. Word to the wise: keep a record with notes from your doctor’s appointments, especially if you had to go to the hospital for something (your primary care provider has to order these records after getting your signature, and it usually takes a month to get ahold of them, which is, from experience, a pain in the neck). Also, bring along copies of your prescriptions: there are laws about doctors from your home state calling in prescriptions to other states. Apologies to my male readers for mentioning this, but please, if you’re a lady, keep track of your cycle. The big picture and possible problems (from infertility to cancer to hormonal imbalances) can sometimes be hard to see if you’re wishy-washy when things are happening or not happening. This is advice gleaned from both doctors and scientists: the better and more complete the data set, the better the knowledge, the better the diagnosis.

Orthodontics: I had about six years of braces, and there is no way I am wasting the time and money it took to get my teeth straight…I use a retainer every night, and I now go back every year or two years (when I am home) to get them checked up. My orthodontist is also a friend of the family, so it’s kind of a fun visit. If I have any troubles or something breaks, I would give him a call and see what he would advise.

Voting: I am very torn between voting in Minnesota or in Massachusetts in this upcoming election. If I do choose, however, I have my voter’s registration from Ramsey County, and I will be able to go to my polling place (probably somewhere in Cambridge) and register there with my driver’s license and proof of address.

Telephone/Cable/Internet: These are all included in my rent (as well as heat, water, and gas). We have Ethernet, local MIT calls, and basic cable...but I don't think I'll be buying a TV. They have a good number in common rooms, and I just don't want to spend money on something that could be a potential distraction.

Compost/recycling/garbage: I’m still trying to figure out Cambridge recycling rules, as well as how I could work out composting. My roommates and I composted in our backyard last year, but doing so in an apartment may get tricky. There are three different variations: a compost machine (about $400), vermiform composting (basically a plastic bin full of worms) and bokashi (a Japanese fermentation process). I'm going to keep looking into things and also see how the roommate feels about any of these options.

Car insurance: my parents are trying to make a case to our insurance company to drop me from their plan by insisting that I will not drive when I am home (which is fine with me).

Passport/birth certificate/social security: I will have my passport and copies of the latter two while in Boston.

Banking: Since US Bank does not have branches in Boston, I will be opening a Bank of America debit card...there is an ATM on nearly every corner, which is certainly more convenient. However, I will be able to keep my credit card with US Bank and just pay my balances online, which is rather nice.

Transcript: I only have a copy from before I graduated, and I will have to present MIT my final transcript and grades, so I will need to contact IWU and get said transcript (as well as a copy for myself just so I have one)

CV: I just finished updating it with my final GPA, future plans, etc...keep it handy, because you'll never know when you'll need it. (Also - convert it to a pdf file to print: it will look much prettier