Saturday, December 30, 2006

Stuck in Dallas

This post comes to you live (um) from Dallas, where I am officially stuck. I'm here at the public library, with16 minutes remaining on my Internet session. I guess I better type fast :-)

The plan for this week was that Mosch and I would drive to Dallas on Saturday (done), I'd drive to Houston on Sunday (done) and spend the week with my mom and the dogs (done), drive back to Dallas on Friday (done), and Mosch, Terpsichore, and I would drive back to Denver starting today (not done).

Terpsichore, Mosch's girlfriend, is moving to Denver, so Mosch's plan for the week was to pack up her apartment and get ready for us to leave this morning. At this point I personally doubt we'll be ready to leave even tomorrow morning, and I should probably be at the apartment helping to make sure that happens, but I pretty much am just not willing to do it. I think I'm leaving in the morning whatever happens, so...we'll see if anyone is in the car with me or not. (In the plan, Mosch drives the U-Haul, towing Terpsi's car, and Terpsi and her cat Cybele ride with me.)

I'll post more later when my clock resets. 13 minutes to go!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

End of Semester To-Do

This is the list of what I still have to do for the rest of the semester. I'm dividing it by due date.

For Monday
Finish the 3 (short) sections of Proofs homework assigned last week.
Finish up the last homework, which was returned pending the final, so that it's complete when I turn in it - I have to complete one short additional section for that.
Write a 4-5 page "axiomatic development" paper on hyperbolic geometry.
Study for the final exam.

For Wednesday
Complete as many sections of homework as I can manage, but at least 4-5 so I don't have to do extremely well on the final to get an A. (I am about 10 sections behind in total.)
Study for the final exam.

See, that's all ;-)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Successful and Exhausting Campus Trip

I went to campus today at lunchtime to accomplish various tasks related to graduating, passing classes, etc., and I managed to miraculously accomplish all of them. I drove to campus and got 12-hour parking for $5, and then walked over to the library.

I went there last night to try to get some books on hyperbolic geometry (the topic for my Proofs paper due Monday) and I found two good books (both slim - whew) and went to check them out, figuring I could pay my years-old fine at the circulation desk. But no. My fine is in collections and I had to pay it at the admin office, which was already closed.

So that was my first stop today, and I found the admin office (in a far-flung corner of the extremely large library we have; I never realized how huge it is before) and waited a few minutes until the fine guy showed up so I could pay the money I owed. Then I got my two books from where they were held from me and checked them out. Score!

Next I went to the Math Department office, where they were holding my signed Individualized Degree Plan. It got signed two weeks ago, and I had them hold it for me so I could pick it up, but I never got around to actually picking it up. That was dumb. But after I retrieved it, I carried it over to a different building where the Center for Individualized Studies is to deliver it.

Of course, the guy there who I talked to last semester about wanting to do an IDP was pretty huffy that I had gotten it signed by the department folks without running the final one by him first. "Did I tell you to get it signed?" he asked. But once I backed down and explained that yes, I knew I was doing everything in the wrong order, but that I kept not getting it done and was trying to get it finalized this semester so I can graduate on time (because you can't file an IDP with fewer than a certain number of hours remaining to take), he became helpful and kind, and told me he would look it over and email me with any problems.

The one problem I already know about is that, when the transfer office evaluated my transcripts, they transferred 12 hours of German credits from Rice, but did not count any of it as having satisfied my "Communications" general studies requirement. For that, you need the second semester of a foreign language sequence, and I was able to skip that at Rice because I had 3 years of German in high school. So I needed to get a form from the Modern Languages department, via the head of the German sub-department (whatever they call it), stating that I've met the requirement.

I've been trying to contact the German person by email and phone, but she hadn't replied yet. I went by her office (in another far-flung building) and, amazingly, she was there, about to go to her class starting in 10 minutes. I explained my situation ("oh, you emailed me" she said) and, after she was done sternly correcting me for making mistakes - like saying I needed my "foreign language general studies requirement" (which they don't have here; it's 'Communications' and I guess you don't have to take a foreign language if you can meet it another way) - she said I could leave my transfer evaluation form and she would do the form I need and forward it to the registrar, leaving me a copy (which I already know I'll never pick up) in her mailbox. Catching her like that was pure luck.

After all that, I ate lunch in yet another building on campus, and then walked back downtown. I have classes tonight, so I'll walk down and then be able to drive straight home. So right now I'm pretty tired, but very pleased to have accomplished all of my missions, even the improbable ones.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Best Birthday Present Ever!

While I was in Houston for TG, my mom gave me my birthday present(s). I got a couple of neat CD's, but in addition, I got the best birthday present ever! No, really!

A few years ago, my mom started reorganizing various photos of me from my childhood, and she actually finished this project and made two giant photo albums with everything in them. There are even sections at the end with pictures of my two cousins on that side of the family.

She claims her main observation about my childhood, from seeing the pictures, is something like, "Damn, you had nice clothes." And this is true. Pictures show me out in the yard in gorgeous little cotton outfits that look classy and beautiful even now. (I mean, as opposed to how clothing from other decades typically looks dated and silly.)

Later, of course, I grew up and became the slouch and sloppy dresser you all know today. Poor Mom :-
My main observation about my childhood, from seeing the pictures, is that I had a ton of relatives and they all thought I was the cutest thing ever. Of course, every little child is pretty much the cutest thing ever. But that was good to see, all the same :-)

I do not actually have the albums, because they seemed too heavy to lug through the airport and I didn't want to check them, but I'll bring them home after Christmas and scan something in for you guys :-)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Today we are supposed to have a high of 19°, with windchills below 10° or something crazy like that. Brrr! (But even though they said a high of 19°, it's currently 22°, so go figure.)

It has been super warm lately - warm enough for t-shirts during the day. Yesterday it started snowing, and snowed all night. Fortunately, my car cooled down before most of the snow fell, so the only ice was on the hood where I didn't need to scrape it off. I cleared the snow off the rest of the car using the child-sized plastic snow shovel we keep in the car. It was faster than using the telescoping brush/scraper that we also keep in the car.

It's still snowing. The low tonight is supposed to be 1° or something. And I'm supposed to go to classes tonight! (I usually walk, but maybe I'll drive.)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Thanksgiving Feast

I have to admit, when my mom said we were cooking for Thanksgiving, I was a little apprehensive. I've never been part of making a meal with a bunch of parts. But it was fun, and we ended up with quite a feast.

We made these things ourselves:

broccoli-cheese-rice casserole
green bean casserole
a baked cauliflower dish with a lot of delicious cream, topped in buttery breadcrumbs - yum!

in addition, from Whole Foods, we had

dressing (of course!)
mushroom gravy
mashed potatoes
roasted brussels sprouts

There were also rolls & butter, and, for dessert (hours later), an assortment of tiny cheesecakes.

"But wait? What about the turkey?" For our ritual poultry, we had Quorn Chik'n Cutlets (like a fried chicken breast, but made of quorn, which is a vegetarian protein source). I know the idea of vegetarian meats makes some people nervous, but whenever you see them served up as a fried thing, you can be pretty sure they'll be delicious, and these quorn chick'n things were no different. Plain, they would be a fine substitute for a frozen breaded chicken breast, and with dressing and mushroom gravy, they were just great.

All in all, the whole thing was very easy to put together, and we had fun. And also enough food for about 10 people. Yum!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Holiday Adventures

Next Wednesday, Mosch is flying to Dallas to visit his girlfriend T for two weeks.

The following Wednesday, I am flying to Houston for Thanksgiving. (Most commonly asked coworker question: Is your mom going to cook?) (Yes, my vegetarian mom is going to cook a whole Thanksgiving dinner for the two of us. Right, mom? Mom???)

But these aren't the real Holiday Adventures. The real adventure is that Mosch's visit to Dallas to visit T will be their last visit in Dallas, because at Christmas time, T is moving here to Denver!

The idea is that Denver will be a better place for her to live than Dallas, and since Mosch will be here about another 18 months, he can help her get settled in. (T is completely disabled with debilitating headaches - a condition that manages to destroy your quality of life and remove any possibility of supporting yourself while being very difficult to prove for social security disability purposes.)

The plan is this. The weekend before Christmas, Mosch and I will drive my car to Dallas. The next day, I will drive to Houston, where I'll spend Christmas week with my mom. That Friday or so, I'll drive back to Dallas, and then the next day, Mosch and T and I will drive back to Denver. T, along with her psychotic cat, will be in my car, and Mosch will drive a U-Haul towing T's car. We'll drive back over two days assuming all goes well (no blizzards shut down I-70, etc.)

Now that's an adventure! T will then stay with us for a few weeks while she finds a place to live here. I'm really excited about her moving here, and I think she'll like Denver a lot.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Weight Routine Adjustments

During the semester, I'm trying to get to the gym to do strength training at least twice a week. I don't always meet that goal, of course, but last week I finally used up the last blank on the chart I printed in August.

I work out with arms/abs and legs/back on different days, so these days I'm basically doing each one only once per week. This results in slow progress, but I'm still progressing, so that's good.

My arms/abs routine consists of assisted pull-ups, assisted dips, shoulder presses, one-armed rows, bench presses, and ab crunches (with weight). My legs/back routine has traditionally had squats, stiff-legged deadlifts, calf raises, and back hyperextensions. (The links are to pictures, most of them from the wonderful I do two sets of each thing, with about 8-12 reps per set, depending on what I can handle. When I can do two sets of 12 reps of anything, I increase the amount of weight I use, and for some of the moves, I increase the weight even earlier than that.

Up until very recently, I wasn't ready to try squats using a bar. I was just doing the squats with my body weight, and that was plenty. The first time I ever tried them, I did 5 or 6 and was basically crippled for a week. Now I can do two sets of 15! So it's time to move on to using a bar and, eventually, a bar with weights on it.

So last night I did a lot of experimenting, using the large aluminum bar at our rec center. The regular bars are made of iron or something, and they weigh 45 pounds, but this aluminum one is an easy-to-handle 15 pounds. I set everything up in the squat cage and had Mosch help me figure out the mechanics of the movement. I eventually did 2 sets of 10 squats with this bar.

Afterwards, I wasn't able to do the stiff-legged deadlifts, because my thighs were so weak that I couldn't stand without locking my knees, and that's not a good way to do those. The stiff-legged deadlifts are questionable in my mind anyway: they can be dangerous if you do them wrong (which is easy to do, it seems to me) and, although they are supposed to work your hamstrings (back of the thigh), the back hyperextensions seem to work my hamstrings much more.

So I think I'm dropping them from my routine completely. That pushes my legs/back routine down to just three things - squats, calf raises, and back hyperextensions. (I was able to do the calf raises and back hyperextensions even with my weak legs, so there's no major conflict there.)

I'm thinking of adding the machine that is for hamstrings and glutes to the routine to bring it up to 4 things again. I'm not sure what the machine is called, but it is similar to this picture. I don't normally use these types of machines, but I think it will help round out the workout, plus give me some intense work on that area (hamstrings are my primary concern, but anywhere I can build muscle is good).

Anyway, I absolutely love strength training. I don't like that my progress is so slow with it lately, but still, every other week or so I am raising at least one weight, and sometimes several, so things are going well.

Initiative Results

Via Andrew Sullivan, this summary on results of initiatives in various states including Colorado.

Election Results

Well, it looks like the Democrats have taken the House with a decent margin. The Senate, as of this morning, is still up for grabs, with two seats (per MSNBC) still un-called. Democrats need both and (again, as of the last time I looked) are leading in both counts, but by very small margins. Those are Virginia and Montana. So we'll see.

Here in Colorado, both of the gay rights issues went against me - Coloradans voted to amend the Constitution to enshrine heterosexual marriage, and against a referendum creating domestic partnerships for same-sex marriage. Apparently our Constitution is pretty easy to amend (seeing as we do it several times every election), so I'm disappointed but not terrifically concerned about the amendment. I'm more disappointed with the rejection of domestic partnerships. Still, both items had small enough margins to indicate continuing progress on these issues.

The local Republican I voted for despite the approximately 1000 pieces of mail I got about how much she hates seniors (Ramey Johnson) lost to Democrat Gwyn Green (the "fighting grandma" or somesuch). Now, I really don't think people should treat the political parties like sport teams ("I root for the Democrats, and whoever is playing the Republicans!"). I am non-partisan enough to try to vote for the better candidate in many races regardless of party. But I have to admit I am still partisan enough that, when I vote for a Republican and she loses, I feel mostly glad and relieved. So that's kind of crazy, but whatever.

Ed Perlmutter, my Democratic House candidate, won a previously Republican seat, and our Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Ritter defeated Bob Beauprez. And it looks like a good picture nationally. I still have my fingers crossed for the Senate.

One funny thing was last night on MSNBC, they were interviewing a guy (I don't know who) who was talking about the language that Democrats need to use to make themselves look good (e.g., referring to "oversight" rather than "investigations"). That's all well and good, but then the guy said that when he heard Newt Gingrich in 1994 refer to a "Republican Revolution," he knew the Republicans were in trouble.

Oh, really?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I Voted

So I voted this morning at the nearby church that was my polling place. I had to show ID, which I didn't know was required to vote here. And I got to use one of those wonderful paper-trail-free touch-screen machines, so there's no telling if my vote really got counted properly. (Aside from that, the machine was very pleasant and easy to use. Granted, not knowing if your vote is counted pretty much invalidates the whole thing no matter how nice the interface is.)

I got some pushback from Mosch on Referendum H, the one that "eliminates tax breaks for employers who hire illegal immigrants" (that's more or less how it's presented), so let me elaborate a bit on that. Referendum H basically says that if an employer claims deductions for wages paid to illegal immigrants on their federal tax returns, they will owe that money to the state, provided that they knew the workers were illegal at the time of hiring. (Just to be clear, there is not some state or federal tax exemption for hiring illegals; it's just that wages in general are a cost of business and are thus deductible from your income for tax purposes.)

So basically, if you knowingly hire illegal immigrants, claim their wages as a deduction on your federal taxes, and then admit this to the state on your state tax form, you will have to pay extra state taxes. The state gets to keep up to $150,000 of this money; the rest would be returned to taxpayers. (We get an income tax refund every year that the state has a surplus relative to some formula; the state doesn't get to keep the money and spend it on new things).

Let's assume I was pro-immigration (which I am) and unequivocally committed to enforcement of existing immigration laws (when in fact I am equivocally committed to it). I would still have to conclude that the only purpose of this almost completely ineffective ballot measure was to draw anti-immigration folks to vote so that they would (presumably) support related candidates and causes. Since I am not one of those anti-immigration folks, I am definitely not going to respond to this pathetic ploy by voting yes.

It'll be nice not to have the phone ring a thousand times a day for a while. And maybe I'll be getting less mail about how some people are grandmas and others hate seniors and want to make their drugs really expensive.

Of course, a Democratic takeover of Congress would be good too. We'll see!

Monday, November 06, 2006

How I'm Voting

Tomorrow is Election Day! Just today I found out where my polling place is and downloaded a sample ballot, and I've just finished marking it up.

I am basically a slightly-libertarian-leaning Democrat, sort of a Clinton Democrat if you will, and I take this voting stuff seriously. Here is how I made the decisions below.

For the national congressional races, I am voting Democratic. I think it's important that control of Congress pass from the Republicans at this time. (We don't have a Senate race here, so it's just the one House district.) For the major local races, I consulted the endorsements of the two major local papers (the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post). Where they agreed, I am following the endorsement. Where they differed, I read both endorsements and decided which was more credible. For the minor local races (where the papers had no endorsements), I consulted the web pages of each candidate and made my decision that way. For the referendums and other measures, I used the endorsements of the papers as described earlier except as noted below. For any issues or candidates for which the above methods did not yield an answer, I am abstaining.

My decisions are as follows.

U.S. Congressional District 110 - Rick O'Donnell (R) vs. Ed Perlmutter (D)
I am voting for Perlmutter along party lines.

Governor of Colorado - Bob Beauprez (R) vs. Bill Ritter Jr. (D)
I am voting for Bill Ritter. It looks like he's going to win. He seems like a much stronger candidate than Beauprez, who I have somewhat vague bad feelings about.

Secretary of State
I am voting for the Republican Mike Coffman against the Democrat Ken Gordon due to the text of the Denver Post's endorsement.

State Treasurer
Democrat Cary Kennedy received the endorsement of the Denver Post; I found their endorsement more convincing (especially given that I'm a Democrat) than the Rocky Mountain News's for Republican Mike Coffman.

Attorney General
Republican John Suthers received the endorsement of both papers.

Other Local Races
I'll mostly skip these, but for the benefit of any mythical local readers, note that I'm voting for Democrats Karen Middleton, Stephen Ludwig, Maryanne Moe Keller, and Linda Rockwell, Republicans Ramey Johnson and Dave Auburn, and abstaining in four other races.

Amendment 38
Amends the state Constitution in mysterious ways relating to initiative and referendum petitions. All or nearly all of the papers statewide came out against it. I am voting No.

Amendment 39
Amends the Constitution to require that at least 65% of school budgets are used for direct educational expenses. I am voting No. I haven't seen any convincing arguments about why this needs to be in the Constitution, even if it's a good idea, which I'm not sure about.

Amendment 40
Amends the Constitution to implement Term limits for state judges. I am voting No following the recommendations of the papers, which regard this as a move to further politicize the judiciary.

Amendment 41
Amends the Constitution to severely limit gift-giving by lobbyists to all state employees, and imposes a 2-year cooling-off period for retiring public officials. The major papers were split, and I read both positions. I was leaning towards voting yes on this, but given that I'm not sure it's a good idea, I think it's best to leave it alone. There is a good argument to be made that this is better left to legislation than to a Constitutional Amendment. I am voting No.

Amendment 42
This is a big one locally. It amends the Constitution to raise the Colorado minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.85, and mandates that the minimum wage continue to grow, indexed to inflation in the Denver/Boulder area. I am voting No on this. Although increasing the minimum wage always sounds like a good idea (given that it doesn't seem to cost me anything as a taxpayer, and I like for other people to make more money), there are several problems with this increase. Putting it in the Constitution makes it difficult to adjust if needed. Indexing wages to inflation risks increasing inflation. And indexing statewide wages to inflation in Denver/Boulder risks hurting areas that are experiencing slower growth. Also, increasing the minimum wage is not a very effective way of helping the poor, most of whom do not make minimum wage. (Many people who do make minimum wage are middle class teenagers.)

Amendment 43
Amends the Constitution to forbid gay marriage. I support gay marriage, so obviously I am voting No.

Amendment 44
Amends the state statutes to make possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana legal. (Right now you just get a fine anyway, and growing and selling it remain illegal.) Even though the papers are not endorsing this one, I'm voting Yes on general principles.

Referendum E
Exempts completely disabled veterans from paying property taxes. I guess I'm voting Yes. I don't feel very strongly about this one either way, but the estimated fiscal impact is low. It's not a great way to help disabled veterans given that the ones who own homes propably need the least help,

Referendum F
Something about recall provisions being updated. I'm voting Yes following the Post's endorsement.

Referendum G
Elimination of obsolete Constitutional provisions. Yes.

Referendum H
Exempts local businesses from tax exemptions for wages if they do not verify that their employees are not illegal aliens. The fiscal impact is expected to be minimal, and I don't really see the point of this. To the extent that I do, I'm basically in favor of immigration, and I plan to vote No even though the Post and Rocky Mt News are endorsing it. I'm sure it will pass anyway. (I am actually in favor of enforcing immigration laws, but I think this is best done at the border. I think suddenly making illegal aliens who already live here unable to work is foolish.)

Referendum I
Creates domestic partnerships for same-sex couples. I'm voting Yes. I really hope this one passes.

Referendum J
This is a "lite" version of Amendment 39. It wouldn't change anything since all schools already meet its requirements. I'm voting No.

Referendum K
Requires our Attorney General to sue the federal government for not enforcing immigration laws. I am voting No because this is a pointless waste of resources.

That's it. I welcome comments, of course, and I'll try to report back on how the election went afterwards.

American Accents

Via Note of the Living Deb, there is a quiz here to determine what (American) accent you have. It's tricky to answer the questions correctly because sometimes your idea of what is right conflicts with how you actually speak. I tried my best to tell by using the words in real sentences.

Anyway, my results:

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The South
The Inland North
The West
The Northeast
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

Go take it and let me know what you get!

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Tyranny of Objects

I really try not to accumulate stuff, as I may have mentioned before. It's not that I'm not materialistic or anything like that - I'm naturally acquisitive, like most people, and, if there were no costs to it, I'd like to live in an infinitely large space with an infinite collection of things that I could access instantaneously.

But here in the real world, keeping stuff has costs. It takes up your living space. You can't buy anything because you don't have space to put it. You're afraid to move. You can't find the things you want among your possessions. Plus you should probably occasionally dust all that crap.

A few months ago, I went through all of my books. I kept the children's books that were in good condition because I might have a child. I kept non-fiction books that I enjoyed. I kept books I have not yet read but intend to read (of which there are only a few). I kept a very small number of books where the actual copy of the book has sentimental value to me. And I kept some books that I like to read over and over.

All other books (about half of all the books I owned) went to a thrift store. If I ever want to read one of them again, I'll be able to find it at a library. Meanwhile, I have a lot more space in my room and, as a bonus, someone else will get to enjoy those books for cheap.

I also went through my knick-knacks, of which I really own very few. Knick-knacks are dangerous because, the longer you keep something, the more meaning accrues to it, until suddenly that ribbon that meant nothing to you when you were 8 and got it for participating in a 1k run is something you can't bear to part with, just because you've seen it so many times. This can happen in just a couple of years. A mug from a job you hated will become a treasure because it reminds you of a prior era in your life. Throw it out early before it starts to accumulate significance.

Objects are not memories. I believe in keeping a real minimum of memory-objects. This includes family heirlooms. If a thing is useful to you, or looks good in your home, then keep it. But you don't have to keep everything your grandparents, great-grandparents, etc., ever owned just because they owned it. I feel like we should really fight the way that meaning accrues to objects over time, because it leads to owning way too much crap just because, you know, "Oh, that was the pan my mom always made brownies in." Get rid of it! Take a picture first as a keepsake. You can store a lot of pictures in the space it takes to store one artifact.

Another thing people keep is objects that might be useful one day. Say you bought a pickax a few years ago for a project. It's a pretty nice pickax, so you've been keeping it in case you ever need to use it again. Maybe you think you'll need a pickax once every 10 years. Is the cost of a new pickax in 10 years really worth storing a pickax for 10 years? Think about this carefully. Many useful things can be rented or borrowed when you need them. And there is probably someone else out there who really does need a pickax, and would be happy to have your old one if they found it at a pawn shop or thrift store. Pickaxes are made for use, not sitting around, and yours will thank you for getting it back into work rather than leaving it propping up your garage wall for years at a time.

Clothing is also good to consider giving away. How many t-shirts do you have, and how many do you need? Do you wear one daily and do laundry twice a month? Keep 15 or 20 of them, then, and get rid of the rest. If you're keeping them for sentimental value, take a picture instead. Do you have more than one set of clothes that you'd only wear to a funeral? Is this in case you have to go to two funerals on the same day and you get dirty inbetween? How about interview clothes? Do you have some items that you could, in theory, wear, except that they don't fit quite right, or for some other reason you don't ever actually wear them? Do you have clothes that are a size you probably will never be again? Are you hoarding these things because you're afraid they will stop making new clothes for you to buy if you need some in the future? Or is a hypothetical $200 you might someday have to spend on a few new pairs of pants or a business suit really worth storing dozens or hundreds of items for years?

Objects are not memories. Useful things can often be rented or borrowed. You don't need to own things you can readily get access to for free, or for very cheap. Storing items has a cost. Fight the tyranny of objects!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Spring Preview

Metro's class schedule for next semester was just released Monday, and I finally went to have a look at it. I can register on the 30th.

Those of you who have seen this process in the past know that I typically change my mind a lot before the semester starts, or right as the semester starts. However, I only have six more courses to take for my degree. Six! So I'm running out of options.

After this semester, I'll have all prereqs out of the way for everything, except that two of my upcoming courses are a sequence: Software Engineering Principles, and Software Engineering Practices. The CS department sets these up so that one is in the evening and one during the day each semester, staggered so that you can take them in consecutive semesters either both in the evening or both during the day. The Spring is when I need to take Principles in order to have them at night, and Spring of 2008 is my last semester, so I have to take Principles this semester. It's on Tuesday and Thursday nights from 7:00 to 8:50. Yuck!

Fortunately, two of the other classes I need are at adjacent times. I can either take Linear Algebra from 5:00-6:50 on those same nights, or I can take Foundations of Geometry from 5:30-6:45. (It's a 3-hour class, which is why it's shorter than the others, which are all 4 credit hours.)

Given that I have this grant project going on, and how late the second class will run, I think I'll go for the shorter one, Foundations of Geometry. That lets me leave work half an hour later, and gives me a few extra minutes between classes (probably wasted time, but I don't mind).

I keep thinking I have two years of school left, but after this semester, it's just 3 semesters! (OK, so that's one and a half years. Still, I'm impressed.)

Registering for next semester's classes always makes me feel better about the current semester. It's like the light at the end of the tunnel - something to look forward to. (I always, always look forward to future classes.)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Debt Reduction via Snowball

I was going to title this post "Snowballin'," but I have a bad feeling that might be a term for some kind of sex act. (If you find out, don't tell me. If I wanted to know I could google it myself.)
Anyway, the "snowball" method of debt reduction generally means paying all your minimum payments and then sending any extra money to one particular debt. Once that one is paid off, you'll have even more extra money to send to the next priority.

Generally, people either advocate paying off your high-interest debts first (thus paying the least amount of money overall) or paying off your smallest balances first (thus keeping yourself motivated because your number of debts shrinks faster).

Recently I've been looking at this handy snowball calculator, which lets you calculate your debt schedule either way. You can do this yourself with Excel, but it takes a while, and this little website is pretty nifty and quick. Plus it makes a nice compact spreadsheet for you.

I put in my existing debts, and the amount I have available every month. In the past, I've based this monthly number on my budget, but this time, I looked at the past 5 months and took an average of what I've actually paid to my debts each month. (I didn't go before that because I got a raise and some other financial details changed.) So I think that's the most realistic number I can have. It does not take into account any bonuses or other additional money I might get - I'm actually expecting $3000 in grant money this year, plus probably a Christmas bonus at work.

It's good that this schedule isn't too optimistic, because according to the calculator, it'll take me 32 months to pay off my debts. That's too slow! I really want to be out of debt when I graduate in May of 2008. So I hope I can speed it up.

Anyway, according to this, it will take me 32 months to pay off my debts regardless of whether I do smallest-first or least-interest first. Doing smallest-first will cost me an additional $252 in interest over the entire 32 months. It allows me to pay off my first four debts in 2/07, 5/07, 12/07, and 10/08 rather than in 2/07, 10/07, 8/08, and 6/09, so it should be more psychologically satisfying. I estimate that the greater motivation of paying off more debts more quickly is worth the $252 (not that I'd pay $252 for the satisfaction; more that I think I'll send in more than enough extra to compensate as a result of the additional motivation).

Anyway, without further ado, here is the full chart. I hope to reference this later with good news about how I'm doing in relation to what it says here. Hopefully this will expand if you click on it.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Google Spreadsheets

I keep this big ole spreadsheet about my budget. It has a tab for the budget, tabs for each of my checking & savings accounts (1 checking, 3 savings, 1 HSA), a tab on which I track my debts, and various other things that all interact to let me know what's going on financially.

I keep the file on my data stick, which mostly lives its life in parasitic attachment to my work computer. (A few years ago, I decided to keep all of my personal files on that type of storage device so that I can always just take them with me from work, instead of having them live on my work computer at the mercy of my company. But I usually just leave the stick here.)

Sometimes I want to look at my checkbook at home, but then I'm just SOL.

So I'd heard that Google now has an online suite of Office-type products, and I decided to see if keeping my big budget spreadsheet online was feasible. I knew their spreadsheet program had fewer features than Excel, so I wasn't sure if it would have everything I needed (formulas, freezing panes, formatting, multiple tabs - I had no idea what might be missing).

So I went to Google Spreadsheets and I was able to import the whole thing, and format it, and the formulas still work, and basically it's just super. It's slightly slower than Excel (since it's online rather than running on my computer), but not very slow. And I can access it from anywhere! That's pretty cool. Good job (as usual), Google.

Should you be so inclined, you can also share your Google Spreadsheets with other people, either for viewing or for editing, and if they look at it at the same time as you, you can chat with them right there next to the spreadsheet. Nifty!

The Circularity of Work

Something happened today at work that happens all the time in my office. To some extent it's probably unavoidable, but it can be a bit maddening. All names below have been changed to protect...well, me.

So yesterday, Peter asked Rich for some pieces of information for the SEC. Peter suggested to Rich that I might be a good source for some of the info, so Rich came and asked me to get it to him today. This morning, I did the research and emailed him the info. He forwarded the email to Peter.

Just now, Peter asked Kristin, a woman who works with me and is slightly junior to me in the department, for some of the exact same information. Fortunately, Kristin came to me to ask for help with it, since she wasn't sure exactly what he wanted, so I was able to call up Rich and let him know Peter was asking for this still. We don't know if Peter didn't read the email, or if he did and still had questions, or what, but it's kind of odd that he would ask Rich to ask me, and then would himself ask Kristin.

Usually it's more like our boss Steve asks my immediate boss Ken for something, Ken says he will get me to do it, he assigns it to me, and then Steve asks my pseudo-boss Brenda for the same thing, and she asks me for it, and I say, "Is this for the same thing Ken is asking me for?" (since sometimes people just happen to want the same thing for their own diverse purposes) and then Brenda and Ken both get annoyed at Steve because he can't remember (or doesn't care) that he already asked Ken to handle it.

I'm sure this happens in every office, and sometimes it can't be helped. Today it was just amusing.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Follow-Up to Proofs Quiz

I posted the other day about my Proofs quiz that nobody seemed to complete. Last night we got the quizzes back. I got 10/10 on it, but unfortunately my professor doesn't discuss the overall grades with us, so I don't know how other people did. (The woman next to me got 6/10.)

But there were hints. The professor told us he would drop our lowest hundred consecutive points. He also told a long story about taking his grad school prelims and totally blanking out and feeling like he knew nothing and could not even get started on the things he had to do. So he said he understands how you can blank out or have a bad day.

I conclude from this that my surmise was correct.

He did also go over the proofs that were on the quiz, in detail, and at least one of them could have been done in a much shorter way than how I did it. His grading is kind of capricious, and it's hard to guess how much explicitness he wants in the proofs, so I tend to err on the verbose side.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Proofs Quiz on Set Theory

I am fast at taking tests. My speed is pretty much independent of whether I know the test material or not - I am often the first to finish a test whether I make an A or an F. I'm just quick (perhaps careless, or unusually self-assured, or a fast reader - I don't know).

On Monday, we started on Set Theory in our Proofs class. As a short primer, here goes:

Venn Diagrams can be misleading because they include implicit assumptions that may not be part of the problem at handA set is a collection of objects. It can be defined by a list, like {1, 2, 3}, or by a rule, like "numbers between 1 and 3, inclusive."

The basic set operations are union, intersection, and complement. The complement of a set is everything not in that set. The union of two sets is anything in either set. The intersection of two sets is anything that is in both sets. Easy-peasy.

There are properties that define various things about these operations. For instance, if A is a subset of B, every element in A is also in B (just like it sounds), and if A = B, that means that A is a subset of B and B is a subset of A (again, just like it sounds).

So on Monday, we were introduced to these concepts. We did one small proof, and then we were told we'd have a quiz Wednesday. I didn't really have time to study for this quiz or anything, so I didn't.

Quizzes in our class are designed to take about 35 minutes. They typically consist of some questions (including a "short essay" where you write a few sentences about something) and some proofs. This quiz was no different. In addition to a short essay and a definition question, it had 3 proofs for us to write.

When I saw what we had to prove, I probably literally paled, because I thought there was just no way I could do them. They were actually pretty simple relative to the realm of set theory proofs, but having never done a single one of those on my own (in recent years, at least), I was nonplussed.

Nevertheless, I started working on them. After I had finished one of the three, Dr. Johnson noted that only I and one other person were still working. I started the second one and the other guy turned in his paper.

"I can go out in the hall," I said.

"No, it's OK, we'll wait," said Dr. Johnson. Then, "Wait, how much more do you have to do?"

"At least a proof and a half!" I said, perhaps somewhat obstreperously.

So he had me go into the hall. With my second proof done, I had completely filled up the back of the paper the quiz was printed on, and had only the tiny spaces between questions on the front side to write my third proof in. I contemplated interrupting the class for more paper, but decided against it. So I ended up writing the third proof in the space under where it was written. I used it as two columns and, instead of writing statements and reasons separately, I put the reasons in brackets after the statements. And I wrote really small. And I barely fit it into the space.

When I turned in my quiz, I noticed that the backs of all the other quizzes that I could see were...blank.

So either the other people in my class have some amazing proof-writing mojo that lets them write a 20-line proof in 4 or 5 lines, or the majority didn't really try the proofs at all. I will find out on Monday. I suspect he's going to have to make this quiz extra credit or something; I doubt he will actually flunk the entire class.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Hark, Austinites

This restaurant review is enjoyable in its own right. It also concerns an Austin restaurant. That combination of factors sufficed for me to link to it:

Review of Buenos Aires Cafe on "I Blame the Patriarchy"

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Cute Cat Edition

If you dislike cute cats, or pictures of cute cats, you should definitely skip this one. But you might as well also just kill yourself now, because, let's face it, something is definitely wrong with you, and it probably can't be fixed.

We recently caught Tigerlily practicing a Cuteness Routine she no doubt learned in cat finishing school:

it's how she keeps her spine flexible
Here's a closeup:

I swear she posed for theseShe continued doing it for a good 10 minutes.

She has to keep in shape for this, of course. One of her favorite exercises is flinging herself onto the screen door:

the entire screen is full of marks from this
Here is the dismount:

she hasn't lost a toe yetI'm not sure what look Sammy was going for here, exactly:

Sammy has lost over half a pound since this picture was taken
When they're not charming our socks off, they spend a lot of time doing this:

Mosch's window has the best viewor this:they have a hard life

Food, or...?

As I mentioned previously, this weekend I cooked a Weight Watchers recipe called "Indian Vegetable & Lentil Stew." It has these ingredients:

1/2 cup yellow lentils (I used red lentils)
1 serrano chile, diced (including seeds)
1 pkg frozen brussels sprouts
1 cup canned diced tomatoes
1 T canola oil
2 tsp (I think?) mustard seeds
3 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 T chopped cilantro
lemon juice (1 T I think?)

You cook the lentils and mash or blend them up. Meanwhile, you cook the mustard seeds in the oil (heat the oil, put the seeds in, cover it with a lid, and wait until the popping subsides), then add the garlic and serrano chili, then the diced tomatoes, some water, and the sprouts, and then, once the sprouts are done, the mashed lentils. Then you remove it from heat and add the cilantro and lemon juice.

I ran into a little snag. When I cooked the mustard seeds, they didn't start popping very readily, so I jacked up the heat (thinking it might be needed because the pan was so large). So the mustard seeds burned and turned black. Then I put in the hot chile and garlic, and, predictably, the house began to fill up with toxic smoke. It's always great when your cooking can be mistaken for chemical warfare.

The finished product looked a bit gruesome:

is this food?
But I'm brave, so I had a tiny bowl to taste. It actually tasted fabulous! It's really spicy, which is surprising for WW. I immediately had a big bowl of it for dinner.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Not Buying Crap

unicorn tote bagOne of the blogs I read regularly is Stop Buying Crap. The blog itself is pretty fun, but I think what's best about it, for me, is just seeing the words "Stop Buying Crap" in my list of links or Favorites.

It's difficult for me to control my spending adequately. I have a general instruction to myself to not spend money, or to spend as little as reasonably possible, but "don't buy more stuff" is a more specific idea that also brings in my strong desire not to have a bunch of useless possessions.

One piece of crap* I wanted to buy today was this bag (pictured above) from Natalie Dee. Part of why I want it is that I just enjoy her site every day, and I'd like to buy something from her so she makes some money. And part of it is that it would be an amusing counterpoint to this bag Mosch has that has a carousel horse on it. And it's just a kind of funny bright red bag.

But our apartment is absolutely lousy with tote bags, and I don't use a tote bag that often. I certainly don't need another tote bag. I doubt many people actually do need another tote bag - you get them at conferences and they are sold everywhere. They're like t-shirts except that you can't wear them as pajamas.

This is where "Stop Buying Crap" really comes in handy. No tote bag for Tam.

(*just to be clear, I'm not at all meaning to suggest that Natalie Dee's excellent tote bag is "crap." It's only crap in the sense that, if I owned it, it would be more crap that I owned. And I'm trying to avoid owning more things of a non-essential nature.)

Generic Diary-Type Post

My life isn't boring, but lately it hasn't been such as to give rise to good blog posts either.

Last night, I had my first test in Calc 3. Barring any uncaught arithmetic errors (or conceptual errors - less likely because I probably would have thought of them by now), I should have aced it. I was reasonably well-prepared and the test was pretty straightforward and didn't ask any of the really tricky types of things.

Tomorrow night, I have my first test in Proofs. This is seriously a pretty fearsome class, which I didn't expect, and by tomorrow I need to have simply learned some proofs I don't currently know and probably can't make up on my own, like a proof of the Mean Value Theorem. I also have a giant homework assignment due, of which I have done 9 pages, which I estimate represents about 30% of the total, and which took me several hours to complete. I'm thinking the rest won't be finished by tomorrow.

In addition to doing crazy amounts of homework this weekend, I also cooked crazy amounts of food. I made a tofu stir-fry, similar to last week's but with plain old cabbage instead of bok choy. I made another bean salad, half as large as last week's but with proportionately more avocado. I made a vegetable dish of black-eyed peas with spinach and onions, using frozen spinach since fresh spinach is currently unavailable. And I made a recipe from my WW cookbook called "Indian Lentil & Vegetable Stew," which involved (accidentally) burning some mustard seeds & hot peppers and filling the house with toxic smoke, but which came out pretty tasty in spite of it all. (I may post a picture of this concoction later. It definitely doesn't look like something a person should eat.)

I have no future plans other than to try to prepare for my Proofs test and continue surviving the week.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Working Too Hard

No, it's not me who's working too hard (crazy head).

Last night I ran into a problem doing my calculus homework - something I should have been able to logic out, but just couldn't. I emailed my professor, Ms. Ethredge, about it. I didn't expect her to email back - I really just wanted to say "would you go over this in class?" and also help clarify my own thinking by writing the email.

She not only wrote back; she attached a Word document with equations and a 3D graph pasted in from Mathematica explaining and demonstrating the answer to my question. I mean she actually wrote a Word document for me to explain this thing.

First reaction: Wow! That is awesome!
Section reaction: Yikes! She works way too hard!

Bean Salad

So this weekend, when thinking of food to prepare for the week, I remembered this great recipe that was in this artsy cookbook my mom had. It was a recipe for a kind of bean salad. Robin made the salad for me one time and ended up keeping the cookbook (sorry Mom!) and I think my mom bought another one.

I really liked this salad, and I was thinking of calling Robin and/or my mom and asking if they had this book and would look up the recipe when I, you don't really need a recipe to make a salad with beans and cilantro in it. It's not rocket surgery.

So I got some ingredients and mixed up the following in a giant bowl:

2 cans of black beans, well rinsed
2 cans of corn, ditto (though I wished I had only used one can when I saw how much it was)
3 very good tomatoes, diced
2 avocados, cut into chunks *
1 small onion, chopped up pretty fine
1/2 of a cilantro bunch, diced to within an inch of its life
1 T olive oil
several splashes of lemon juice
salt, cumin (probably not enough to make a difference), & pepper

It didn't taste like anything right after I made it, of course, but after day in the fridge, it was pretty fantastic and exactly what I had hoped it would be (good in exactly the way I remember that recipe being good). It would probably also be good, and a little spicier, if you diced up a fresh jalapeno pretty finely and put that in there.

I ended up with about 10 cups of the stuff. I brought a 4-cup container to work to have as snacks, and the 6-cup container is at home. My boss wanted to try it, so I brought her about 1-1/2 cups yesterday, and she liked it a lot. (She said, "See, I could be a vegetarian if it was like this. This has flavor." Obviously she has not had much vegetarian food!)

(* I diced the avocados by splitting them in half and removing the pits, as one does, and then scoring each half down to the skin with a steak-type knife, in a criss-cross pattern. Then when I scooped it out with a spoon, it came out in little chunks.)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


For the past couple of years, I just can't seem to sustain the mental focus necessary to lose weight. It might seem sensible to take a break, but what I find is that "taking a break" just leads to gaining weight, even if technically I'm trying to be on a strict maintenance diet (that is, eating enough calories to maintain to my weight), for the simple reason that, at my best, I'll be on the maintenance diet, and then sometimes I'll go off, which overall leads to weight gain. (It's like if your financial plan is to spend exactly your salary, and then you sometimes overspend, you'll end up in increasing debt.)

So given that I really don't want to slowly gain weight over time, the only option I have is to continue to try to lose weight (which I need to do anyway), even though I may only lose very very small amounts (like ~ 5 lbs so far this entire year) or just maintain as a result.

Anyway, right now (the past couple of weeks) I am using the Weight Watchers "Core" plan. I've done this before, and I really like it, and I usually lose weight on it fairly easily for as long as I can keep it up.

On the regular Weight Watchers plan, called Flex, you get "points" to eat. A point is generally about 50 calories worth of food, but higher-fat foods are worth more points, and higher-fiber foods are worth fewer points (so that, for instance, most regular vegetables are 0 points for a regular serving). So it's basically kind of a modified calorie-counting plan. It's pretty simple.

Core is even simpler. You can eat "as much as you need to feel satisfied" of any of the foods that are considered Core, and then you get 35 points per week of any other food you want. (You also earn points by exercising, which is true on Flex as well.)

The Core food list isn't some small list of, like, cabbage soup, carrots, and chicken breasts. It basically consists of all fruits and vegetables, lean meats, non-fat dairy, eggs, non-creamy soups, beans, meat substitutes (soy crumbles, tofu, boca burgers, plain soymilk, soy cheeses, etc., but not sausage-type veggie meats or, for instance, chik'n patties), and whole grains (but not flours). The main things that are not Core are fatty things (cheese, nuts, etc.) and baked goods (bread, crackers, tortillas, cookies, muffins, and so on). Overall, it's basically a volumetric plan (emphasis on foods that have a low ratio of calories to weight), but made very simple by the list & rules.

It's working pretty well so far. The main obstacles to Core are that you have to basically cook your own food (almost no restaurant or fast food, or pre-packaged stuff, is Core), and if your diet relies on bread or other baked things, you're kind of SOL. I don't eat many baked goods, so that works out for me. My other challengs is to be sure to include enough really tasty Core foods (like avocados) so that I don't go nuts because of the lack of indulgence.

Anyway, this time around I've at least figured out what to do for breakfast, which is good. The only cold cereals that are Core are shredded wheat, puffed rice (not rice krispies, but the plain kind of puffed rice), and all bran, none of which I can stand. Oatmeal is Core, but I only like it if it's pretty well-sweetened, which is not Core. (It's OK with frozen blueberries cooked in it, but that takes more time that it's worth in the morning, even in the microwave; my tolerances for breakfast are very narrow.) Anyway, Kashi makes a cereal that is identical to shredded wheat except that is has cinnamon (Core) and sugar (1 point worth for more than one serving of the cereal), so that's what I've been having most days, and just counting the 1 point.

So it's going well so far. My tofu recipe this weekend was Core, and tomorrow I'll post about the other big dish I made this weekend. It's nice not counting calories and being able to just eat a (Core) snack anytime if I feel like it. And I tend to eat more fruit than otherwise, which is good.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Blogs That Never Update

You may be surprised to hear this, but even I, author of a blog that never updates, become increasingly irritated at other blogs that don't have new posts. Eventually I will just remove them from my favorites.

Drew of toothpaste for dinner has an excellent blog post about this phenomenon. It also explains, right away, why my mom does not have a blog. Something about arm dogs.

One of the best things about Note of the Living Deb (which I always misremember as "Site of the Living Deb") is that she posts every single day (except during the occasional vacation or something, but usually even then). Way to go, Deb! It's really nice not pointlessly checking someone's blog all the time.

"Rsch Case-Based Reasng Web App"

Since I might as well work for credits in addition to money, I signed up for independent study credits in conjunction with my CREU grant project. Dr. Paul and I got the form filled out and submitted just right before (literally the day before) the census date for the college, which is the last date you can register for anything, and by the day after census it had not appeared in my online registration info, so I thought it might not have actually been processed in time, but apparently it was, because I just had to pay $200 for the 2 credits and now I have the course title above in my unofficial transcript.

image of my unofficial transcript
I just feel sorry for the person in the registrar's office who had to figure out how to abbreviate our original (very long) course title.

If you want to know more about our project, it has its own blog here: No funny comments over there, please :-) It's a shared blog with Olga and Dr. Paul, though the only post (as of today) is by me.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Tofu Stir-Fry

I made a pretty decent stir-fry today. I started with a Weight Watchers recipe for Vegetable Fried Rice, but modified it a lot. Here are the ingredients:
ingredients all laid out for cooking
1 block of extra-firm tofu
1 bunch of bok choy (leaves & stems separated)
1 onion
1 red bell pepper
2 1/2 cups brown rice
1 1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger (first time I ever worked with that!)
1 T canola oil
2 t sesame oil
1 1/2 T soy sauce
2 small eggs

After heating the oil, I put in the red pepper and bok choy stems and cooked those a bit. I added the onions and tofu, meanwhile scrambling the eggs in another pan. When the onions were mostly done, I added the rice, ginger, bok choy leaves, and soy sauce. Once the bok choy leaves were wilted, I added the scrambled eggs and mixed everything up. Here is how it looked:

tofu stir-fry
I divided this into five portions for lunches. I had one portion right away. It's pretty good - kind of mild, and the ginger is pretty noticeable. I've never worked with bok choy before, and the leaves turned out a little bitter for my taste, but still edible. The stalks came out really good. (I've had them in Chinese food before, of course, but cooking something yourself is different in terms of appreciating its qualities.)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Sunday night, I really wanted to go out to eat. But I'm already over budget on spending this month (largely due to needing textbooks for school), so I thought I'd try making a pizza. I saw a friend do this once and it looked pretty easy.

Mosch and I walked over to the store and bought a little packet of pizza crust mix ($0.50; I chose the Kroger brand because it didn't have partially hydrogenated oils) and a bag of shredded mozzarella ($2 or $3; we used half). We already had a jar of spaghetti sauce ($3 for the jar; we used 1/3 of it for the pizza), onions (we used way less than 1/2 of one), and sliced mushrooms (on sale this week for $0.88 for the 8-oz carton; we probably used 2 oz at most).

It took about 10 minutes to prepare the dough according to the package directions. I laid the pizza out on a cookie sheet, not filling the whole sheet. (The other option was to use a 12" pan, so that's about how big the pizza was, I suppose.) 1 cup of sauce, about a cup of mozzarella, and onions & mushrooms as seemed appropriate. 12 minutes later it was done.

I thought it was a pretty excellent pizza for less than $4. Not counting the pleasant stroll to the store and back, it took less time than ordering a pizza and waiting for it to be delivered. Because the crust mix only says to let it rise for 5 minutes, the crust was not puffy/bready/yeasty, but more like a thick cracker (not crispy, just not risen). But it was fine for me. I'm sure you could accomplish the same crust with some flour and yeast and the same amount of effort, which would be even cheaper, and then you could use part or all whole wheat if you wanted.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Small Multiples

Edward Tufte, who has written a series of beautiful books about data representation, advocates what he calls "small multiples," a form of display where you have repeated small pictures to show something like changes over time, or the performance of different groups on the same test, or whatever you might otherwise try to display all at once resulting in a jumble.

Last week, my boss's boss asked for a chart showing rentals due in Arkansas this year. He said he also wanted a map that would show each month's rentals in a different color. I thought this would create an irritating, confusing map in which patterns would not readily jump out and to read which you'd have to keep glancing back and forth to the legend.

So I decided to try it as small multiples, creating a calendar style map. I also created the map he had asked for, in case he really liked it better. I was hoping the small multiples would be seen as better, but it's hard to separate real needs from "stuff I'm proud of because it's cool and some guy wrote a book about it."

Anyway, both of my immediate bosses liked the calendar version better. Hooray! They like how it really shows that September and October are the big months. Here are the two maps, so you can compare for yourself. I'll do my best to make sure these expand if you click on them.

small multiples map

regular jumble map

These definitely look better on a large sheet of paper (the original is 11x17, or like two regular sheets of paper side by side), but hopefully these pictures will do them some justice, at least. Obviously if you were really making maps for computer display, neither of these would do.


Before the behemoth DIA airport was opened, Denver's airport was Stapleton, which is closer in to town. Now that area is being revamped as a mixed residential/business area. Slate today has an article about Stapleton in the guise of an article about New Orleans. I always enjoy reading about Denver, of course.

There have been some fun radio ads about Stapleton houses also. They take the general tone of, do you have some friends who reject suburban life, who like living in a unique house in an older neighborhood, who are willing to put up with not being able to shower and wash dishes at the same time in return for the joys of urban life? Boy have we got a housing development for them! That's the gist, anyway. I think they're pretty funny, and also appealing because, while I'm not actually a person who wants to live in an old poorly-plumbed house in an urban neighborhood instead of a giant cheesy suburban McMansion, I wish I were. I have aspirations of gritty urban authenticity.

Math Lesson of the Day

A fun thing happened in Calculus last night as a result of my having done my homework ahead of schedule. It's not very advanced math, and I'm going to describe it for fun.

One of the sections of homework that is due Monday has this problem:

Determine whether these points lie on a straight line:

A(2, 4, 2) B(3, 7, -2) C(1, 3, 3)

Now these are points in 3D space, which is why they have three coordinates each. At first, I couldn't think how to solve this problem easily. (In 2D, you could try drawing them and see if they look like a straight line - though that wouldn't be a precise answer - but my 3D drawing isn't good enough and the paper is too flat to see very well whether the points would be on a line.) After a while, I came up with a solution that I'll describe in a bit.

In class last night, the professor brought this up as a homework problem that students typically don't know how to solve, and she told us how to solve it. This official method is much simpler and more elegant than mine, so here is how it works.

If three points are on the same line, then the distance from the first one to the last one (along the line) should be the sum of the two distances inbetween. Here's a diagram I drew:

You can see in the top figure, the points are in the line, so the distance "c" is the same as the sum of a & b. In the bottom figure, the points are not in a line, so "c" is the third side of a triangle, and thus it's a shortcut from a to c, so it's shorter than a + b.

Makes sense, right? Why didn't I think of that?

So here is the overly complex solution I used. I know how to take 2D points and get the equation for the line they would be on - this is something you learn in algebra at some point. (It's possible to get the equation for a 3D line, but I don't know how - apparently we learn this later in the course.) So I reasoned that if the three points are a line in 3D space, they must also be a line in all three of the 2D combinations.

In math terms, what I mean is, given the points above:

A(2, 4, 2) B(3, 7, -2) C(1, 3, 3)

where the first value is the x-coordinate, the second is the y-coordinate, and the third is the z-coordinate, the points should form a line in each two-coordinate system, meaning these points should be on a line:

xy: (2, 4) (3, 7) (1, 3)

yz: (4, 2) (7, -2) (3, 3)

xz: (2, 2) (3, -2) (1, 3)

When my teacher gave the method of solving this in class, I mentioned having used a different method, so over the break, I showed it to her. She had to think a minute before deciding I was right.

The key is that showing the line in each of the 2 dimensions is the same as projecting it onto each plane formed by the axes of the graph. You can imagine a 3D graph if you look at the corner of the room you are in. The corner that goes up and down is the z axis (by the conventions used in this class), the bottom of the wall that goes to the left is the x axis, and the bottom of the wall that goes to the right is the y axis.

So now imagine that in the room, we place three points (just dangling in space), which may or may not be in a line, and we string ropes between them. Of course, if you really did that, you could probably see if the points were in a line or not. But to project them onto each of the three planes (the same as my method of seeing if the three sets of 2D points are on a line), you could shine a light through the points onto each of the two walls and the floor. If the points are in a line, a line shadow will show up on each wall (and the floor). If they're not, you might get a line on one or even two walls, but at least one wall will show an angle (two sides of a triangle) instead.

Once the professor agreed with me about this (not the room analogy, just the "projection onto each plane" thing) I felt very clever, even though the "official" way of solving this problem is much simpler and more elegant.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Joy of Cataloging

My mom (cataloger extraordinaire) emailed me this article about (library) cataloging. Ever wonder how someone could want to have this job? Maybe it's because of this:

"Though most catalogers don’t have the luxury of reading everything that comes across their desks, it’s amazing how much you learn through osmosis while figuring out what a book’s about and how to treat it. I often feel like I get paid to learn every day."

or things like this:

"Oddities we’ve found at my library recently include an OCLC record for a box of Band-Aids, photos of some sort of German festival in which participants dress as haystacks, and a squirrel sewing machine (don’t ask). Not too long ago a friend two cubicles down got to catalog something that appeared to be an
inflatable swimming pool (it turned out to be a globe). Another found an OCLC record for a book that, according a note, was “impregnated with cheesy smell.” My coworkers and I like to talk about “the whimsy of cataloging.”"

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Back to School, Part 2: Intro to Proofs

When I got to this class (a few minutes early), the professor was already talking. I hesitated, suddenly unsure whether I might be walking into the end of the previous class, and he said, "Sit down, sit down! I just can't help talking when I'm in here."

Dr. Johnson is in his 60s and really reminds me of my grandfather (my father's father). Of everyone who reads this blog, only my mom[m] has ever met this grandfather, so I guess all I can say is that my professor is also somewhat like Tom Bosley. He's very friendly and funny.

He handed out a syllabus - his own syllabus - and then proceeded to go over it, admitting in the process that three separate things on the syllabus are not true. It is not true that we can't miss more than three classes without penalty ("the only penalty is from're adults, I'm an adult, I'm not going to penalize you for not coming to class"), it is not true that homework can be collected any time ("no, I'll only collect homework if I tell you ahead of time that I'm collecting it"), and it is not true that one of several specific models of graphing calculators is required for the course.

He also gave us the deparmental syllabus for the class. He thinks all professors should do this so you can see if you're getting what you're supposed to be getting. That was interesting.

We briefly talked about some famous mathematicians, then started talking about logic.

The first time I was introduced to formal logic, as far as I can recall, was in a summer enrichment class at Rice when I was in middle school. It was pretty easy for me then. Since that time, the subject has been covered thoroughly for me in at least my high school geometry class and the logic class I took at Rice (in college). So this material - discussing AND and OR, constructing truth tables - was pretty dang boring. It's not difficult enough that you forget it over the years and are refreshed to re-learn it or anything. But it's being presented pretty quickly (probably slightly too quickly if you're not already familiar with it), so hopefully we will move on to something more interesting soon.

We have homework, but he didn't indicate that he'll be collecting it. So given that I don't have the book yet, and assuming the homework is more of this truth table stuff, I don't intend to bother with it.

Back to School, Part 1: Calculus 3

Last night I started both of my classes. I'll talk about Calc 3 first.

I am not too sure, going into this class, how much trouble I might have with it as a result of basically not remembering a lot of math. (The last time I felt really smart and competent in math was probably my freshman year at Rice - 1992!)

The professor is a woman probably in her 50s with naturally multi-colored hair (some white, some almost blondish, some quite dark) and a somewhat spacey demeanor. But she seems very solid on the math, as you'd expect, and very kind. She started class by taking attendance and making sure each of us passed Calc 2 with at least a C. When I said I took it 14 years ago at Rice ("Where is Rice?"), she was concerned and told me to make sure and come to her right away if I needed help. She encouraged the whole class to come to her for help during her office hours or whenever she is around, and pointed out that the math tutoring lab is a good place to do homework and is right across from her office, so if no tutelage is available there, you can just come over for extra. So she's nice in that way (which most professors seem to be, though a lot don't advertise it as much).

The material in at least this first class was not too hard. It was about graphing things in 3 dimensions. So we talked about the equation for a circle (already known) and derived the equation for a sphere. And drew graphs of things like '1 <= y <= 5' and other stuff in 3D. Then we started the section on vectors. So far, so good. I did run into one math technique I wasn't familiar with ("completing the square") but it didn't seem very difficult.

We already have the list of homework assignments for the entire semester. For each section we cover in the book, there is a set of problems we have to do from the book (e.g., "3, 7, 9, 11, 19"). each problem set is due on the Monday after she finishes covering that section, so if she finishes a section on Monday or Wednesday, the homework is due the following Monday, but if she has only started the section and not finished it, no homework is due yet.

Because I'm crazy and enjoy going back to school, I had stocked my binder with three types of paper - regular lined notebook paper, graph paper, and blank unlined paper. I wasn't sure which would be optimal for the classes. I started taking my Calc 3 notes on the lined paper, but it was making me irritated. When I switched to the blank paper, it made everything so much nicer. So evidently that is the right choice for calculus, which I remembered thinking in 12th grade and at Rice...but it's been a while, you know?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Monday Fatigue

For the past few months at least, I've tended to be tired on Mondays. I'm droopy all day, and when I go home at night, I have no energy for anything, and I usually get a mild tension headache. This is despite the fact that I almost always go to bed on time on Sunday nights and get a full night's sleep after having a relaxing weekend.

I noticed that when I had tennis classes this summer on Monday nights, I wasn't too tired to go to them. In fact I wasn't really tired on those Mondays at all.

And I just recently remembered that I never used to be tired on Mondays. Coworkers would complain about its being Monday, and I would think, and sometimes say, that I was usually happy and upbeat on Mondays, and didn't mind them. I think my whole life I've basically liked Mondays OK.

So what gives?

I've decided it must be purely psychological. I used to like my job at my last company, despite how screwed up the company was, and when I started this job, I loved it, but lately I've kind of hated my job. So I think the only thing making me tired on Monday is the oppressive thought of having a whole work week ahead of me.

The origin of this Monday Droop is important because, starting next week, I'll have class on Monday night until 8:15. That would be a tiring schedule on any day, but I'd wondered if it would kill me on a Monday. Now that I know that the Monday thing is just in my head, I think I can fight it better. Something that's physical and inevitable seems harder to combat than something that's just an attitude problem.

No more whining and extra fatigue on Mondays! I refuse.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

I Betcha

I bet that guy John Karr had nothing to do with JonBenet Ramsey's death. I just betcha.

Translating What?

One of the companies consulting with us to implement Sarbanes-Oxley compliance has this motto on their cards:

Translating Thought Leadership... Creating Business Results (TM)

I'm OK with "Creating Business Results", but I have no idea how to parse "Translating Thought Leadership." Is "thought leadership" something they translate? Are they trying to say they are leaders in translating thoughts (in which case "thought translating leadership" might make more sense)? The structure of the whole slogan suggests it's supposed to be parallel, but that only muddies the waters.

Does this make sense to other people?

My Semester

Classes start Monday - woo! Exciting!

I have two classes, as is typical for the spring & fall semesters for me. I'm taking Calc 3 and Intro to Proofs. Both of them are on Monday & Wednesday nights. Calc 3 is 5:00-6:50, and Proofs is 7:00-8:15 (shorter because it's a 3-hour class).

I'll be coming to work at 8 AM every day. I only take half an hour for lunch most days, so leaving at 4:30 on Mondays & Wednesdays shouldn't be a big deal. The other days, I'll stay until 5.

As school schedules go, this is a pretty easy one. I'll have two hard nights, but the rest of the week is normal. Then of course, I also have my grant project to work on. So it might be a semester with a lot of work. But I think neither of my math classes will have projects or anything like that. Math seems like such a straightforward subject to take classes in.

Then there's the question of whether I'm ready for Calc 3, given that I basically didn't do much calculus this summer at all. (I got through about half of Calc 1 in review before I quit.) Hopefully I can pick up or quickly relearn anything I need to know. I think it will be OK. I'm looking forward to the semester.

My Degree

Last semester, I decided to craft an "individualized degree program" rather than continue with my Land Use major. The idea was that I had about six classes left to take, and a lot of them were really stupid classes with no use to them at all, and by going this other route, I could basically take six better classes and still get a degree. I could even get a degree with a better name!

I gave up on finishing the process last semester because I was running out of time between various projects. I have to finish it this semester, though, because you have to finish a certain number of hours after your plan is approved (21) - presumably to keep you from trying to craft a degree out of exactly the classes you happen to have already taken.

My school (Metro) has minors. So under this program, you can make up your own major (and then have a regular minor), your own minor (with a regular major), or your own extended major. Of course, you have to write up a thing about why your plan makes sense and what kinds of jobs you might look for afterwards, and get departmental approval, and all that.

Anyway, since I wanted to have fewer GIS/Planning/Land Use classes and more Computer Science classes, I called mine "Geographic Software Engineering." I think that sounds pretty cool. It was to be about 1/3 each of GIS, Computer Science, and Math.

Since I've been thinking more about teaching lately, I've been revising this plan to incorporate the types of math classes taken by teachers, and to make sure I end up with enough math classes to qualify for alternative certification in Houston. (It takes 24 hours, with 12 "advanced". In Denver, you have to have 30 hours to be alternatively certified.)

This is my current extended major. Classes in blue are the ones I still need to take.

GEG 1100 - Introduction to Physical Geography
GIS 2250 - Introduction to Geographic Information Systems
GIS 3250 - Computer Cartography
GIS 4840 - Remote Sensing [damn that was a great class!]
GIS 4850 - Advanced Geographic Information Systems
GIS 4870 - Spatial Database Design, Implementation, & Management
MTH 2410 - Calculus II
MTH 2420 - Calculus III
MTH 3100 - Introduction to Proofs
MTH 3110 - Abstract Algebra
MTH 3140 - Linear Algebra
MTH 3650 - Foundations of Geometry
CSI 1050 - Computer Science 1
CSI 2050 - Computer Science 2
CSI 3050 - Computer Science 3
CSI 3210 - Principles of Programming Languages
CSI 4250 - Software Engineering Principles
CSI 4260 - Software Eingineering Practices

This is 62 hours, of which 41 are upper-division. I'ts a pretty strong degree, I think (for an undergrad degree from a mediocre school, I mean) - I'm only required to have 27 upper-division hours. It gets me enough math for HISD, and the math I'm taking is a subset of what teachers here take, so it should look like about the right kind of stuff (that is, more theoretical math and not too much engineering/practical type math).

I have 29 hours left to take, which is basically 2 years for me. Argh. I seem perpetually 2 years away from graduation.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Toothpaste for Dinner

I occasionally post a comic from Achewood'>toothpaste for dinner (like here and here). I think the guy is frequently pretty funny. He also has a blog which is much funnier than mine. Check it out!

Friday, August 11, 2006


I graduate from college in four semesters - so around May of 2008. I have a pretty strong desire to change what I'm doing then, in one of several directions. One of the possible directions is to go into teaching.

I've always wanted to teach, but back when I was poorer, I was nowhere near having a degree, and once I got near to having a degree (like, in the past few years), I was making too much money to readily consider taking that kind of cut in pay.

But recently, I've worked out that if all of my debts were paid off (which will take either a few years of disciplined effort, or my company's stock price going up by about $1), I could live on a teacher's salary. And when I graduate, I'll have enough math credits to be a secondary (jr or senior high) math teacher.

I won't have a teaching certificate, but both Denver and Houston have alternative certification programs that involve teaching while going to school for one year (Houston) or two (Denver). The pay is not horrendous - in Houston, I'd make about $30K the first year, which includes a deduction for the program costs. In a couple of years I'd be making $35K, and it goes up from there. With a paid-off car, no other debts, and a slightly cheaper lifestyle than I have now, I could live on that pretty well.

The reason I'd like to do this in Houston is that, given that almost everyone I know lives in Houston or Austin, it kind of sucks to live in Denver, even though Denver itself is fabulous and, if I had my druthers, everyone I love would move here instead. If I got my certificate and taught a couple of years in Houston, I could try to get a job in Austin later if I wanted to. Colorado and Texas are also reciprocal with regard to teaching licensure, so I could also move back to Denver if I chose. (Conversely, I could get certified here and then move to Texas.)

What I really don't know is whether I would actually detest and loathe teaching. In theory, it really sounds great to me. But in practice, it seems like a lot of people really hate it and want out. Would I be one of them? It's not as though it would ruin my life if so. I can come back and get another job in oil & gas or GIS, or try to start a new career in computer science - especially if I've successfully adapted to living on $35K or so.

Lately I'm trying to think of money not in terms of something you want to stockpile so you can live bigger and better, but in terms of something you want to cut your dependency on so that you can make your life about other things than having to maintain a certain income level. It's not retirement that I'm after (though being independently wealthy is always welcome, and of course I do plan to retire someday and not have to live on the street) so much as a life that is more fulfilling or more enjoyable or more involved than what I currently have.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Tam Rules the School: CREU Grant

At the end of the last school year, my computer science advisor (Dr. Paul) asked me and another student to apply for a grant under this program ("Collaborative Research Experience for Undergraduates in Computer Science and Engineering" by CRA-W, part of the Computing Research Association). Under the program, you do some type of research/computer science project and receive a grant.

So we submitted a proposal. My partner Olga was interested in diabetes research (she was an endocrinologist in Russia), so we put together a research project about creating some type of a patient database to be used by different doctors remotely that would then use some type of artificial intelligence algorithm(s) to recommend treatments based on similar cases.

Well, it's been about a month since I thought we would be notified, but we finally found out that we got it! Yay!

At the time that we applied, the grant amount was supposed to be $1500 per student, but since then it has changed to $3000 per student, so that's extra exciting. We apparently were also awarded $500 for conference travel or other related project costs. (The money is exciting, partly because we had already decided to work on the project next year anyway, for general experience, resume building, and possible independent study credits. So it was a question of "work hard on something all year for intangibles" or "work hard on something all year and get money.")

We are required to keep a weekly journal of our efforts and an updated web site about our project. The three of us are (tentatively) going to meet the week after next to get started.

Edited to add this note: a semester of school costs me about $1000, so this is, in essence, a full scholarship for this upcoming year for me.