Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Eating on Campus

This semester, at least, I'll be on campus every weekday. I'd like to be on campus more hours than are technically required just to go to my classes, because it's usually easier for me to do productive work away from home. So the question arises of what to do about lunch.

I considered bringing food from home, which is cheap and offers a lot of control over content. But honestly I've always sucked at follow-through on that, and every idea I have sort of sucks. A cold lunch is not that appealing. A hot lunch requires more forethought, and then you have to heat it up, and usually bring the containers back home for washing. That's a lot of trouble.

There are a various places to eat near my building. On campus there is a food court with many inexpensive options like Taco Bell and Chik-Fil-A. Off campus, but still nearby, are some more sandwich shops and the like. The downsides to this plan are that the food tends to be both unhealthy and more costly than I'd prefer on my stipend.

Instead, I opted for a meal plan, like any student. The one I got gives me a meal every day of the semester (85 in total) and the cost per meal is $5.09 including tax. The $5 cost fits into my original budget pretty well, the meals are all-you-can-eat, and it's very convenient. But is the food tolerable?

I've now eaten at a dining hall twice, and the answer is yes. Yesterday I ate at the dining hall that emphasizes more healthful foods (nothing fried, for instance) and I had a very reasonable, healthy, and enjoyable meal. Today I ate at the dining hall nearest to my office and had another decent meal. In addition to the usual hot cafeteria foods (which tend to have very reasonable options, at least so far), there is a salad bar (self-serve) and a sandwich bar (not self-serve). The place I ate yesterday also had a pasta bar and a panini bar. The biggest dining hall has a grill-type area with burgers as well. And there are numerous drink options including a tolerable imitation of iced tea.

I won't say it's gourmet, or even particularly well-prepared, but it's easy to get a healthy protein, some good vegetables, a to-die-for roll, and a salad, and that's a steal for $5. I also like the fact that I'm not wasting much packaging. I kind of hate when you get fast food and everything is all individually wrapped and it comes in a bag. The dining hall is, of course, real plates and silverware and non-disposable cups. I like getting out for lunch, going somewhere, and the atmosphere of the dining halls has been all right so far, with good music in the background too.

Next year, when I'm a TA/TF for real, the deal gets even better. If you are willing to invest in 40 meals, which roll over from semester to semester, then as a faculty or staff person, you only have to pay $3.79 per meal (including tax). At that price it starts to seem silly to bother doing anything else.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

But the Worst Is...

Monday's xkcd tickled me:

But for me, the worst random sound in a song, and this occurs in a few KSAL songs, is the sound of a bicycle bell. Do you know the kind of bell I mean? It's the kind you put on a bike and it has a little lever on the side and when you pull it, the bell goes "zhing, zhing." Hearing that when you're backing out of a parking spot or tooling along in a neighborhood is definitely enough to trigger a heart attack.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ikea Cartoons

Ed and I recently bought some furniture from Ikea. When you buy from Ikea, you typically have to assemble the furniture yourself, and you get a large booklet full of instructions. Aside from a safety warning that is printed in 30 (!) different languages, all of the instructions are in pictures. The first page of our booklet contained the following general pieces of advice:

I find these drawings immensely charming and I love the details like the different styles of frowns on the left-hand people.

But the drawing that gets to me the most is in the second row, where it is recommended that you assemble your furniture on carpet rather than a bare floor. The guy who has broken his furniture breaks my heart:

In contrast to his carpet-kneeling alter-ego, who strokes his new furniture with pride and delight, this fellow is greatly saddened and disappointed by his error. I realize that this is somewhat humorous, but I've always noticed that I find other people's disappointment very painful to empathize with (more painful than grief, for instance), and I actually find this drawing kind of upsetting. I found myself thinking about it in bed at night and feeling sad.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Fall 2010 Schedule

This morning, I met with the graduate advisor and we hammered out my schedule for the fall. I'll be taking four courses rather than the usual three since I have a fellowship and don't have to work as a TA this year. The final schedule is as follows:

5000 Instructional Issues for the Professional Mathematician
M/W 3:30-4:50PM
This is the class for new TA/TF's. I guess I get to take it this year even though I won't really be a TA/TF until next year. This one also meets twice before the semester starts (so, next week).

5010 Mathematical Logic and Set Theory
M/W/F 10:00-10:50AM
This isn't a normal course in the sequence, I don't think, but more of a one-off. The advisor recommended it as being probably very interesting and possibly a good prep for topology later on.

5310 Functions of a Real Variable
Tu/Th 2:00-3:20PM
This is the first course of the core sequence for real analysis. After this course and its successor, I could be ready to take the qualifying exam in real analysis.

5810 Probability & Statistics
M/W 2:00-3:20PM
Prob/stats is not a required core sequence at UNT, but they do have a qualifying exam in it (new this year; nobody has taken it yet, ever), and this is the first course of the sequence for that one.

Dr. B originally had me starting the Algebra sequence instead of Prob/Stats, but I told him I might want to do research in probability ultimately, so we swapped it out so this would happen earlier in my graduate career.

My first job at this stage in the game is to pass two qualifying exams, so it's important to get to the four required core sequences (real analysis, complex analysis, algebra, and topology) as soon as I can. If we count prob/stats (which we can since it has a qual associated with, even though it's not one of the required four sequences), I'll be taking care of two of those this year. Dr. B would like me to take my first qualifying exam next August and the second one in January of '12. I technically have four years to pass two of these exams, but doing it earlier is better.

I also got my campus ID and access to the computer labs (password, etc.) so I'm doing pretty well.

The plan for next semester is that I will take the continuation of the prob/stats, analysis, and logic courses, plus either the introductory topology course (the prelude to the core sequence in topology) or a reading course in something or other (to help me prepare for one of the exams).

Monday, August 02, 2010

My Visit with Mosch

Saturday, I flew to Albuquerque and spent the day with Mosch in the rehab hospital. When I parked and walked up to the building, he was waiting for me outside, standing with his sitter and with Nancy and another friend. I was astonished to see this guy who looked kind of like Mosch and then have it turn out to be actually Mosch. He recognized me as I walked up, which was awesome.

Back inside the hospital, we walked around some. He asked me to tell him about what's going on with me right now, so I did, taking a couple of videos of him on my phone. He wanted to play cards, so we fetched some from the room and played a 5-person version of War. He was able to cut the deck, deal cards to each player when it was his turn, and determine which person won each round. (The only card he didn't recognize, at least before he got a little tired out, was the Joker.) When we stopped, he was able to count his cards in his head, and arrive at the right total (15).

Mosch is walking now, which is great. When he walks, he wears a wide canvas belt around his stomach, and his sitter walks behind him, holding onto the belt. His balance isn't perfect - he walks a little like a drunk guy, basically. But one of the great things about rehab, vs. the hospital he was in before, is that he can walk anytime he wants, and has a sitter 24/7 to go with him. Before he was apparently spending hours restrained and frustrated, trying to get out of bed, which was terrible and unhealthy.

Talking to him right now is like talking to someone who is mildly mentally retarded and/or has alzheimer's or has just woken up from a compelling dream. He talks just like Mosch, with all the verbal tics of Mosch, but sometimes the things he says don't quite make sense (they make, to me, "dream sense"). For instance, Saturday night he kept asking everyone for a screwdriver, which he said he needed to "unscrew his screwdriver."

He was at his best and most alert when I first got there. He was just realizing how impaired he is, and he said to me, "My brain isn't working right, and it's so important to me, it's such a big part of who I am." (It sounded so much like normal Mosch.) Upon my saying that he was doing much better, he said, "Better than what??" He wanted to know whether he had in fact been good (smart or with it or whatever) in the past. At one point he asked if he always walked like he was drunk.

After lunch, Nancy went to the library for a while to return some books, and I sat with Mosch in his room. I told him that I knew a lot about his life, and he asked me to tell him about it, so I told him basically his whole life story as I know it, and then some more little stories about himself. Through it all he had his eyes closed a lot and was nodding, smiling with recognition. Afterwards he said, "Wow. I had no idea you could tell it like that!" When I asked him if he remembered specific things, he would say something like "vaguely." I really enjoyed that whole conversation, which felt very natural and Mosch-like.

He gets frustrated and irritated a lot. They don't really do therapy on the weekends, so there wasn't much to do all day. He seemed to be looking for a purpose a lot. He would ask, "What's next?" We would go somewhere and he'd want to know what we (his visitors) wanted to do, and we didn't really have an agenda, of course, but that was annoying too. Why did we come out here if you didn't want to do anything? was what he seemed to wonder.

At one point we had a long (for him) walk and when we got back to his room, he said, "This is the same place we started out from hours ago. This whole place is BULLSHIT!" I'm sure it's very hard to have so much energy and restlessness without having any attention span or anything you're supposed to be accomplishing. I hope it's better for him during the week when "What's next?" can be answered with the different kinds of therapies. It's obvious that he wants to work. (When we were in the dining area looking at the TV, he said, "I'm waiting for him to take off his clothes so I can practice doing that." They've been doing that in occupational therapy, I guess. While I was there I saw him unbutton and remove a long-sleeved men's shirt, twice, which is pretty great for someone who couldn't use his left hand just a week or so ago.)

He's not so easy on the nursing staff, because he's often not cooperative and doesn't remember instructions. If he wants to get up, he is supposed to let the sitter know, and then s/he will help him with the belt, but instead he usually just starts clambering over the bed rails or bolts up. He often tries to remove the belt, which I'm sure is a little uncomfortable, sometimes over and over again while it's being explained why he shouldn't. He can't seem to hold information about that in his head, or else he just doesn't care. But the sitters have pointed out that having that drive and energy will help him get better faster than if he were more complacent, and I'm sure that's true. Mosch has always been careful to call a baby "easy" rather than "good" and that's kind of what applies here - Mosch isn't an easy patient but he's a good patient.

Overall, I really enjoyed being with him. Of course, with a person who is fully unconscious, like he was on my other visits, you can imagine that they'll wake up and just be normal, and you can't do that with a person who is awake and functioning but not normal. But you can still get some of the Mosch personality and it's much more interesting to interact with someone who is walking around and talking. He seems to be improving day to day and (vastly) week to week, so now it's just a question of how far he will come in his healing process. I'm feeling pretty optimistic about his future.