"I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment... and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn." -Thoreau

Thursday, December 27, 2012

From a Lady to her Love, Expressing Sincere Regret

Dear Blog Of Mine,

    It is true that I have neglected you awfully. This I cannot deny, and I extend my most heartfelt apologies. When we began this relationship I vowed to treat you with affection and consideration. Yet with the passing of time I have allowed greater and greater distances to come between us. From once every few days to once a week to once every two weeks, it seems I am now down to visiting you once every two months. I am truly sorry.
    But, I plead you, you must not think this means that I do not love you. I have not come to see you, I have not sent word of my love, I have given you no sign of my affection or reason to believe in my devotion to you, but I swear that I have thought of you often.
    Yes, frequently have I found little pieces of life bringing me back to memories of you, despite the great distance between us and my voyages in foreign lands. Many times in the course of the last two months have I contemplated what I would say to you, how I would greet you upon our reunion, how I would devise some brilliant idea and present it to you for your admiration.
    Alas, no brilliant idea ever came. It is true, I was distracted, and I let time slip from my hands. I began to grow ashamed. I knew that I needed to see you, I yearned to return to you, but how could I face you as I was, shamefully tardy and embarrassingly empty-handed?
    However, I could wait no longer. I realize that I have been too far for too long, and despite the fact that I return unworthy of your attention, I wish for you to know that my affections have remained constant.
    I do not expect you to believe hollow words. It is not enough to utter statements of love and devotion, for these are empty if they remain unbacked. What can it mean to tell you that I love you, if that statement is the only reason you have to believe that it is so?
    Therefore, I do not propose to fill your head with empty words. Instead, I seek simply to love you. I hope that, if not your affection or esteem, I may at least earn your forgiveness along the way.

I assure you, I hope to remain yours, &c.
    A. Martin

Monday, November 5, 2012

Still alive. Still in Budapest.

Dear Reader,

Yes, I am still alive. And I am still in Budapest. And it is, mostly, exceedingly wonderful.
I am absolutely ashamed that it has been a long (yet short!) two months since last we met. It is embarrassing. I promise it will not happen again!
But, there's no use in lamentations at this point. We must boldly move forward!

So... How to even describe the last two months?
There is no way I can do it justice.

For one, I have developed two very dear and wonderful friends who I almost regard as sisters. Luckily, I get to take those two girls back "home" with me... at least until they graduate in June! Oh noes! But my two roommates have been crazy-awesome and I have come to love them immensely. Our room seems to be always filled with happiness and laughter, or else some good heart-to-heart. I have been infected by their speech patterns, I have started learning how to cook thanks to them, I have been enlightened through exposure to Riverdance, I have learned how to do a mean air-violin to Call Me Maybe, and much much more! Even had I not gained anything else from this program, befriending these two would have made my Budapestan adventures more than worthwhile.

But that's not all!
I have gotten to meet even more awesome people while in Budapest. Alas, most of these are people that I *don't* get to take back to Carleton with me. But I have thoroughly enjoyed our potluck dinners, crepe adventures,  discussions about connectionist neural networks, forays into Euclidean geometry, disagreements about the value of philosophy, late-night philosophical-movie watching, good-humored teasing, and all the rest of it! I love that I have gotten to know a group of passionate, intelligent, well-read, fun nerds who like to laugh and be silly, as well as to share/discuss/explain/argue about ideas. There are a lot of people I will be sad to leave come December...!
But it's been a good two months, and we still have one more! Huzzah!

I no longer embarrass myself at grocery stores (mostly). I have successfully navigated the Hungarian mailing system. I have befriended a couple of Hungarian students and an absolutely delightful French student. I have gone on two excursions with the program as a whole, which provided lots of good bonding time and pretty Hungarian scenery. I have learned to j-walk like a true Hungarian. I have learned how to put together healthy, delicious, and happy one-pot-wonders. I have come to love Budapest and its glorious river Duna.

I have also gotten to venture outside of Hungary. I went on a weekend trip to Vienna with my roommate Lauren. This was glorious-- not least because I was well-accompanied. I also spent a week in Italy for our break: one day in Pisa and three days in Florence (with my other roommate and another friend), followed by one day in Pompei and three days in Rome (flying solo). Oh my goodness... So, so glorious!

Vienna-- definitely the Albertina, with its jaw-dropping impressionist paintings.

Italy... Oh boy!: Climbing the leaning tower of Pisa. The sculptures at the camposanto at the Field of Miracles in Pisa, as well as the sinopias.  Florence's duomo. Michelangelo's David (!!). Pretty much all of Pompei-- ruins and gorgeous scenery both. Passing myself as a Spanish girl from Barcelona while in Pompei... The Roman frescoes at the National Museum in Rome (particularly the four walls of garden fresco... glorious!). The House of the Vestal Virgins at the Forum, as well as the rostrum, Ceasar's mound, and the temple of Romulus. The Colosseum and the Pantheon. Roman sculpture at both the National Museum and the Capitoline museum. Several of the rooms in the Vatican Museum. The art (especially Bernini's sculptures!!) at the Borghese gallery.

I basically discovered during my trip that 1) Medieval art can be hilariously not-that-great 2) David is a piece of beautiful, artistic perfection 3) Roman frescoes/art blow my mind 3) Gian Lorenzo Bernini is (was...) a freakin god.

As proof of that last claim, just look at this. I stole this from the internet (someone successfully violated the no-photo policy of the gallery...), but it is a close-up of part of Bernini's Rape of Proserpine, whose home is at the Borghese.
It's just like flesh!!
But it's marble!!!
Mind: blown. Life is wonderful.

My only point of displeasure is the fact that a number of these beautiful sculptures are supposed to be depicting rape.
...What? Not cool!
There seems to be a disparity between what it is showing and what it is claiming to show. It's weird and I don't understand. So that whole issue curbs my enthusiasm a bit, but... the artwork... and the sculpture itself... is astoundingly beautiful.

Sooo... Italy was amazing. Basically.

A brief note on academics before I must go to bed... It's already rather later than my bedtime...

Our semester is composed of a series of one-week courses, each taught by a different professor and tackling a different aspect of the very broad field of Cognitive Science. Thus far we have had: Intro to CogSci, Cognitive Neuroscience, Cognitive Ethology, Brain Imaging, Philosophy of Language, Cognitive Informatics, Consciousness, and now we're on Embodied Cognition.

The semester started off roughly, with professors who failed to provide texts or supportive materials, did not give very good conceptual explanations, or assumed a non-existent background in their field... but the semester has more or less steadily progressed, which is wonderful. Also, at the beginning, I was quite frustrated by the very cursory one-week structure of the semester as a whole. However, I think my opinion is starting to soften. I wouldn't say that the different classes *build* upon one another- not exactly. But there are certainly overlaps and interesting connections between different courses, and I am really enjoying the conceptual framework that is starting to build across these various sub-disciplines.

In addition to these classes, I am also taking Theories of Meaning, a philosophy of language seminar, "on the side." Much to my delight, this class has complemented my CogSci coursework and my general interests quite beautifully.

So, generally speaking, life is pretty awesome.
I am in a beautiful place with relatively easy access to other amazing and beautiful places.
I am surrounded by warm, fun, nerdy, wonderful people.
I am making connections between concepts and being introduced to seductive fields of study... What more could I possibly want?

Moreover, I feel as though, albeit very slowly and not at all clearly, I am making some sort of progress in life. I am still highly uncertain as to what I want to do, but it's becoming clear that the path I am on can probably take me to wherever I decide I want to go.

So, for now, I will just enjoy the gorgeous scenery.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Language Barriers (and some pictures!)

Hello, hello!

It occurred to me that it would be appropriate to start off this post with a Hungarian greeting.... but, unfortunately, my Hungarian remains virtually non-existent. The only words I know how to pronounce or recognize are köszönöm (thank you) and 205b (my room number).
Yes, this is pathetic.

I have decided that perhaps it should be some sort of requirement for people to venture off to a land where a significant (though certainly not impossible) language barrier exists.
It just so happens that Hungarian is a non-Indo-European language. Of course.
What this translates to is utter impenetrability. Never before have I looked at signs, labels, or any decent-sized body of text and had absolutely no clue- or worse, no hope!- of what its contents is. (Okay- never when looking at a language where I recognize the characters.) It's really rather disconcerting.

I have become more used to navigating the local parts of Buda on foot, and am starting to get a vague idea of the whole transportation thing. So it's gotten to a point where I feel more or less comfortable walking around in Budapest, and it can be easy to forget that I am in a foreign country.
And then I get hungry, and decide to look for food.
And then I realize that I am incapable of ordering food or of communicating my desires to a non-English speaker.
And then stress emerges.

Although my roommates and I are now capable of navigating the grocery store without embarrassment, we have had moments where we decide to not buy something because we're not sure it's what we think we is. Scanning the product description does no good... because Hungarian is not Indo-European!
Life is hard.

It's also startling when I find something written in English or hear English music being played. For a moment it is normal, and then I realize, 'Wait! I understand that!'
It is surprisingly comforting.

So. Yes. I think it might be enlightening for some to experience the sense of hopelessness which can emerge when you are surrounded by incomprehensible words and people who may or may not  1) be able to understand you or help you and 2) be okay with the fact that you do not speak their language.
I think I shall certainly be returning to the states with a greater sense of empathy and understanding.

But anyway, my first Hungarian language class is tomorrow! So hopefully I shall improve my food-procuring abilities and prevent starvation!

Other than exciting language barriers, there has been a lot of... taking care of business (buying transportation passes, applying for a residence permit, purchasing a cell phone, etc) and doing touristy things and enjoying down time. Good stuff, I guess. Class starts tomorrow, though. I'm excited, but a little uncertain what to expect.

As promised, I finally got around to taking a few pictures of my new home!
Here is the front of the building:

These are stairs that lead up to where the dorm is...

And some images from the interior...

The last is the view from my window. It makes me happy :]

Well, classes start tomorrow... I must be up early! It is past my bedtime.
More exciting updates and pictures to come soon!

Au revoir!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

I am in Budapest!

Hello World!


After a long day of travel, I finally arrived in Budapest yesterday!
This is very exciting.

Whilst travelling, I was most impressed by the apparent competency of my foreign travel companions. My flight route was LAX --> OHare -->München (aka Munich, but München is much more fun) --> Budapest.
I felt completely at a disadvantage during the whole international portion of my travels, given that while I, a foolish American, spoke only English (well, and Spanish, but I heard little Spanish), all the foreigners seemed well-versed in a multitude of languages. It was very amusing to have flight attendants look at me and list off a number of languages to figure out how to address me.
If only I were that cool.

Fortunately for me, English is widespread, but I can't help but wish I were cool and European and well-versed in a handful of European tongues. (Adds note to bucket list.) I don't think I've ever felt quite so American.

Eventually, I survived the approximately-20-hours of travel time, and was greeted at the airport by a friendly BSCS representative, only to discover that one of my flight companions was also to accompany me in this whole crazy Budapest thing. He seemed pretty cool and very excited to be in Budapest (which I greatly appreciated), but I was mostly gratified by the fact that his pile of stuff was larger than my pile of stuff.
Ha! Success!

After some taxi travel through this city of seemingly endless pretty buildings, we arrived at our home for the next three months. (Pictures to follow eventually.)
We are dorming in the Eötvös Collegium, which is a pretty building to satisfy my yearning for pretty buildings.

I am rooming in a triple with two other awesome Carleton girls, which I think was a good decision on my part. Friend-making and adventuring! Huzzah!

Last night I had my first Budapest adventure.
My roommates and I decided to venture to a nearby mall for the purposes of procuring dinner, as well as entertainment.
We weren't very impressed by the fast food places inside the mall, so we decided to shop at the grocery store there instead.
Well, that was pretty exciting.

The actual shopping experience was pretty uneventful, because product labeling is pretty excellent and not all that language-dependent. It's not difficult to figure out what things are.

Checking out was an altogether different experience.
Our cashier was not very English speaking, and this led to some fun times.

1) We were supposed to remove our grocery items from their basket.
We did not know this, and his repeated attempts to command us to do this in Hungarian were remarkably unfruitful. And slilghtly mortifying. Eventually, a nearby customer figured out we were clueless English speakers and clued us in.

2) Unlike in the U.S., the scales at grocery markets are apparently useful in Hungary. We did not realize this. Our friendly English-speaking fellow customer had left at this point, and our cashier was now trying to communicate to us that we were to have weighed out our fruit and gotten a price for it in the produce section. Again, he said this many times in Hungarian, and we were left exchanging helpless looks with one another.
Ah, language barriers.
Eventually, he pulled out a piece of paper and managed to write out "measuring bananas," which provided us with instantaneous illumination as to what he wanted.
Again, mortifying, but slightly hilarious.

3) You are supposed to purchase the bag into which you put your groceries. Preferably, this should occur before (or at the same time as) your grocery purchase.
Another embarrassing and hilarious moment for the clueless American girls.
We have finally figured out the whole de-basket groceries and pre-weigh fruit thing, and have apparently successfully completed our first transactions. Woo!
But then we realize a conspicuous lack of bags or bagging, stand around awkwardly, and finally figure out we need to buy our grocery bag.
So we finally do that, bag our groceries, and leave the grocery store in a fit of laughter and many apologies to the poor cashier, who seems glad to have survived this encounter with a group of idiots.

Mind you that this whole process was even more amusing because the failures occurred in two consecutive transactions, since my roommate was bearing the direct embarrassment, and I was following in her shadow (but still attracting attention as fellow clueless American girl.)

All in all, it was an exciting, humbling, and amusing adventure. We've decided to learn key Hungarian phrases like "I'm sorry" (we felt the need for this phrase a lot...), "Thank you," "Please," and especially "I don't speak Hungarian..." (likely to be paired with an "I'm sorry.")

I think this Budapest thing is going to yield some fun times :]

And now I must get ready to do some touristing! Farewell!

P.S. Another amusing thing is how google (and all these other websites) assume that because I am in Hungary, I must speak Hungarian.
Ha! If only, if only.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Lessons from Computational Chemistry!

Hello, hello!

If anyone could explain to me how there is less than a week left of the long month of August, I would be most grateful.

I find myself back in my SoCal home... somewhat disoriented, excited, distraught, happy, lonely, scared, nostalgic... yearning at turns for comfiness&coziness and for excitement&adventure.
Mostly, I feel very unprepared about the unreal reality that, granted the benevolence of the Fates, I shall be leaving for Budapest in five days(!!).

The last two weeks or so since I last wrote were a little crazy, and quite wonderful.

Research ended nicely- and I shall attempt to provide an explanation of the exciting things I was doing! :]
Brace yourself, dear Reader. We are in for a trip!

So... Our simulations for LTA were failing quite miserably, and we believe the cause (or one major cause, anyway) to be the presence of a dipole in our unit cell structure (we'll talk more about dipoles later).

Backing up a bit. My work was with zeolites. Zeolites are pretty crystals, which means they have repetitive structural units-- aka unit cells. What this means is that you can tile a bunch of unit cells together to get a zeolite-- this not only contributes to the beauty of staring at atom-level pictures of zeolites (which I am fond of doing), but it also means that we can save ourselves time by exploiting the symmetry of the system. Look! A picture!
A unit cell is here boxed in red.

In order to run our simulations, we tile together something like 12 to 36 unit cells (pretending we actually have a 2D system, we can see 4 unit cells in the picture) because 1) we can't afford to try to model a super large system and 2) we can use tricks to make the system seem bigger than it actually is (to get more realistic results).
[For those more mathematically inclined, refer to periodic boundary conditions (we’re mapping onto a torus!!)]

We have essentially two versions of the code that controls our simulations-- one which uses Ewald summation to deal with interactions between charges, and one which does not. For the purposes of this discussion, it doesn’t matter what Ewald does. I’m just using it to differentiate between two different ways of running the simulation. The important thing here is that the version of the code which uses Ewald (which is the version we were interested in) needs the coordinates of the unit cell to be such that the center is (0,0). The other important thing is that using Ewald requires that the unit cell not have a dipole.

For those of us who do not remember what a dipole is, dipoles emerge when you have an imbalance of charge. To use my professor's example from intro chem, think of elephants pulling on a rope tied to a tree. If you have two elephants pulling just as hard in exactly opposite directions, the tree will not fall over. If one is pulling harder than the other, or if they’re pulling in a way that the forces they are exerting on the tree don’t cancel out, the tree will fall over. So having a dipole è the tree falls over.
In this case, we don’t want the tree to fall over.

So we want a structure centered at zero. However, the crystal structure does not start off this way. Instead, it starts off such that the (0,0) point is at the lower left corner.

Original, Uncentered LTA Crystal Structure

Ewald thinks that this is not okay, and so there is a function in the Ewald code that “centers” the structure to make sure that the structure is the way that it likes it.
At least theoretically.

Problem: Somehow or another this function was not working quite properly. The original crystal structure has no dipole (we know this because when we use the non-Ewald version of our code, all is well, and when we use Ewald, things go terribly wrong), but after centering it, it does. This suggests that something funky is going on... and the crystal is not, in fact, being centered properly.

 So, my job for the last few days of summer research was to understand what was going on with the centering process— with the goal of modifying the crystal structure such that it is centered (and dipole-less) to begin with, and undergoes no modification when put through the centering function in the Ewald code.

How things are--
 Crystal structure (no dipole, uncentered) --[Ewald centering function]--> Weird, dipole-carrying structure
How I want things to be--
 Modified, centered structure –[Ewald centering function]--> Still nice and centered structure

Alright, so now the problem-solving part.

First, some terminology. 
Because I can’t look at the structure in 3D very easily, I was looking at projections onto a plane.
So what does this mean?

Imagine you’re looking at a cube. This is 3D. Now imagine you start to push on the top of the cube and the inside of the cube kind of collapses so you can flatten the cube into the ground, and you’re just left with…. 
A square, yes? (Yes.) That square is the projection of the cube onto a plane.

Or, if we started off with a delicious donut and for some reason decided to squash it down instead of eat it, we’d get two concentric circles as the projection onto what I shall arbitrarily term the xy plane:

A torus (or mathematical donut)
Projection of torus onto plane

[Of course, there’s no reason why you must squish your donut down towards the floor. You could also think of squashing it against a wall—what would that look like?]

Now that we have that, the pictures we saw earlier were the projections of the crystal structure onto the xy plane. And, again, here is the original, uncentered structure:

And here is the output of the centering function (again, projection onto the xy plane), which then gets used in the simulation:
Centered structure.
Red = oxygen atoms, blue = silicon atoms

See how we’re now “centered” at zero?

However, there is a problem, and it is one which would clearly give rise to a dipole. Remember, we want things to be nice and symmetric (such that for any elephant pulling in one direction, there is another elephant pulling just as hard in the opposite direction to balance things out)—but they are not!

(The problem is with the O atoms, specifically, so here we're just showing the oxygens)

Essentially, in the orange circles we have little oxygen elephants pulling on an imaginary tree at the origin. The problem is, the other two edges are missing little oxygen elephants-- so the tree is going down! Oh noes! 
If we look back at the uncentered structure, which has both Si and O atoms (they're just both in the same color [we also have these "X" atoms at the center of each "ball," but don't worry about that]), we see that we have elephant oxygens along all four edges (as well as two sets along each axis)-- but once we center it, we lose two edges of elephant oxygens, and the tree comes crashing down. Clearly something is amiss.

This means it is time to understand the behavior of the centering function!

Initially, I started trying to think in 2D, and this led to my being very confused about what was happening, such that I didn’t get the point of how things worked. Bad idea.
Lesson learned: when trying to understand something, it’s not stupid or simple-minded to start off with the simple model. Au contraire! Keeping things basic allows you to see and understand the important behavior, which will help you out when the system becomes more complicated. At any rate, it’s what scientists seem to believe, and it was wisdom that served me well.

So, let’s focus on 1D.

First, the function:
 xnew = xold – ROUND(xold/L)*L    (where L is the length of the unit cell)

So let’s pretend we’re looking at a unit cell (in this case, let’s just look at a line segment) of length 8, and let’s see what happens at each “quarter point” – so what happens to 0, 2, 4, 6, and 8.

For 0:                          
  xnew = 0 – ROUND(0/8)*8
        = 0 – ROUND(0)*8
        = 0 – 0*8
        = 0

For 4:
  xnew = 4 – ROUND(4/8)*8
        = 4 – ROUND(0.5)*8
        = 4 – 1*8
        = -4

For 8:
 xnew = 8 – ROUND(8/8)*8 = 0

For 2:
 xnew = 2 – ROUND(2/8)*8 = 2
For 6:
 xnew = 6 – ROUND(6/8)*8 = -2

To illustrate what happens, we can look at the original line, and see where the original points end up in the centered line:
             Original line:


Transformed line:
The color coding is intended
 to "trace" points.

Now, I will point out the interesting things. The points from 0 to right up to 4 (or more generally, from 0 to right up to L/2) end up being unchanged. The points from 4 to 8 (or L/2 to L) end up becoming the negative half of the line (well, plus 0), with L/2 becoming –L/2. It’s like we have cut the original line at the halfway point and moved what used to be the upper half to the end, so that the last point (L, or 8 in thi case) matches up with zero.  

The problem is, that now we have two points that get transformed to zero, and we have no point mapped onto 4, or L/2.

To look at more pretty pictures of projections of LTA….

Below, I noted how the transformation works. The blue is the original input structure, and the beige is the “centered” structure. Because the unit cell has so many nice lines of symmetry, I considered what happened to each of the four “balls” that make up the unit cell. If you don't get what's going on, don't worry about it, and just admire the pretty picture (at least, I think it's pretty). Or use the discussion about our 1D model to try to make sense of it! :]

Once again, I used color coding to trace things.
The arrows are intended to provide  perspective.

And here we see that the “missing points” in the projection are located at Lx/2 and Ly/2, which is to be expected from our discussion.


In other words... it's like instead of having a set of elephants along each edge, as well as along the axes, we now have relocated the elephants which should be along the edges corresponding to the midpoints (Lx/2, and Ly/2) to the x and y axes (respectively). This means we have two sets of oxygen elephants located along the axes... stacked on top of each other, so to speak. This image, quite properly, is rather ridiculous.

Now I’ll fast forward the story, because I’ve probably already long lost my few readers.
(As always, feel free to ask me about anything I've mentioned. I'd LOVE to talk about it!)

Basically, we have the points at both 0 and L mapping on to the new zero point. So what I did was figure out which points in the centered structure which were located at zero (or rather, along an axis) originally came from a point whose x, y, or z value was equal to L, and then moved that point in the centered structure from 0 to L/2. [Well, actually, I moved it just a teeeeny bit to the left of L/2, because if you’ll remember, a point at L/2 gets moved to –L/2 (4 got moved to -4, in our 1D example above)].
To translate into elephant language, I looked at the silly stack of elephants on the axes and relocated the elephants on top to a more dignified position-- along the empty edges.

At the end of this process I had a centered, dipoleless structure (uh, in theory…). Moreover, because this structure is already centered, upon going through the centering function, nothing changes.

Here is the result of centering my new centered input structure (also, just so you know, the projections onto the yz and xz planes look the same):


Yay! Things appear to be fixed!

BUT WAIT. The problem was the dipole, and now I needed to actually calculate the dipole and make sure it was zero. I’ll spare you the detail, but… THE STRUCTURE STILL HAD  A DIPOLE! Granted, it was a much smaller dipole than it originally had… but still! Not cool, man!

Unfortunately, this realization happened at nearly the end of my last day of research, and there was no real time to do more problem-solving.

What I can say is the following. If you will recall, all these pretty pictures are projections onto a plane—aka, squished donuts. I would argue that squished donuts are not as enjoyable as real donuts, and it is much the same with these projections. You lose information in the flattening process.

To get an idea of this, imagine that cube again. Now imagine giving the side edges of the cube a jagged cut, so when you look at it straight ahead, you see something like:


The problem is, if you squish it toward the ground, you still just see:

This isn’t the best example, but the point is, we can imagine that there was important information being lost in the squishing process, such that while the projection was nicely symmetric (and thus dipole-less), the 3D structure still had rowdy elephants causing problems and knocking over trees.

Unfortunately, my story ends here. I have a bit more detailed information about the remaining problem (ask if interested), but alas, at this point my research time was over, and I needed to get ready to get on a plane to visit a certain Russian-enthusiast close to my heart (if very far away in spacetime). So I still don’t understand exactly what was happening in the 3D structure that I wasn’t seeing in the projections, and I don’t understand at all how that problem came about.

I did learn a few things, though, including:

1) I love staring at pictures of pretty crystals. !
2) Start small when trying to understand tricky things.
3) It’s okay to feel clueless and lost and not good enough. You are good enough. Just take a  deep breath, and start grasping onto whatever you can. Eventually things will start to make   sense.
4) It is good to start small, but don’t be surprised (or traumatized) when you take it up a level, and suddenly things are broken again. You’ve made progress! And you’re that much better at fixing things.

I learned this while getting lost in lines of Fortran and suspecting I was actually stupid and incompetent and while fearing that I would never understand what the hell was going on with these zeolite things…

But I suspect that what I learned this summer will extend far beyond the abstract world of atomistic simulations and impact the way I carry myself in everyday life--  in the same surprising way that playing around with code can extend beyond the virtual world and uncover some truth about reality.

Huzzah for computational chemistry! :D

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Summery Crescendo- And a Happy Belated Blogiversary!

Ah, hello lovely people!

Well. It is strange to say, but my summer is coming to a spectacular crescendo finish.
This image of my dry-erase monthly calendar, as written in on August 1st (more things have since been added) may give you an idea of how spectacular life appears right now:

I am currently in the ninth, and penultimate week of my computational chemistry research, which transitions to a Dylan-reunion in which I get to spend FIVE GLORIOUS DAYS with a most-beloved boyfriend I won't have seen in 5 months (and whom I will almost certainly not see again for another four...), only to arrive home with just enough time to bask in the light of kinship before going to BUDAPEST for a semester.

These super-exciting things are interspersed with smaller but also very exciting things-- like the happy "girls' night" which awaits me in but half an hour, a happy anniversary, a chem talk to be delivered on my research for the last nine weeks, a canoe adventure with the chem department, a celebratory dinner at my professor's house, and my last four remaining Summer Social Dance clubs! If we conveniently ignore the miserable packing process which must occur in the next ten days, the next three weeks promise virtually nonstop happiness and excitement. And, given that I then transition into a voyage to Europe...
Life is so great.
I am happy and excited.

In general, I think this summer has been a happy one. I think I have done well in life since turning twenty. Despite the suggestions of my previous post... (it was not a good day or week, and it is acceptable to have those moments of sadness and weakness) I really have done a much better job of feeling confident, worthy of love, and capable of standing alone.

In the past I have struggled tremendously with giving myself credit for anything. While I highly prize modestly and humility, I still think that it is important to give credit where credit is due-- and I have slowly been able to say, "You know what, self- I am proud of you for that. That was difficult, but you pulled through. Nicely done."

Near the end of my "Spring Quest" I mentioned that, in a way, I would be away from Home for a while. I expected year 20 to be a hard one. It's certainly not over yet, but as I reach the almost-half-point, I would say it is less of a hard one than a challenging one with great opportunity for growth. It is true that I have had moments of insecurity and loneliness and sadness. BUT those days could be counted on a hand! (Maybe two hands...) I expected to feel estranged and alone in a kind-of-exciting-but-mostly-scary foreign land.
Instead, what I see is a large number of new friends and acquaintances-- I have effectively expanded the stretch of metaphorical land that I can call "home."
I have helped create a wonderful summer social dance community filled with people I have grown exceedingly fond of, I have deepened old and developed new friendships, I have learned that I can hold a conversation with people I don't know very well and have a wonderful time without crumbling into crippling awkward-nerd-girl-awkwardness. I have gained a smidgen of culinary experience, explored the natural beauty surrounding my Carletonian home, learned that I actually kind of enjoy running (what?), discovered that piano is awesome and beautiful, become fluent in the language of zeolites, and generally partaken in wonderful growth.

There are challenges ahead, however!
I have about a year before I need to make scary decisions about life post-Carleton.
I have three months to take Europe by storm. (Yeah, life is hard...)
I have to learn to be strong and to actually communicate my thoughts to those around me.
I have to push myself to continue creeping outside my comfort zone.

I thought I wouldn't make it past the level of Slightly Slower Slug... but we're making it to Slow Swan this year!

To my very small handful of Readers, happy belated blogiversary!
Yup, this little blog has been in existence for a little over 365 days (372 to be exact).  I don't know that the blog has grown all that much... but I think that I have grown more than I expected. And I would like to thank you, rare and dear Reader, for sharing in that wonderful process with me.

I hope year two brings even more exciting challenges, adventures, and happiness.

Huzzah! Cheers!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Caution: Tears and Insecurities Follow

Dear Reader,

Sometimes little things orchestrate themselves in such a manner… that they hurt a great deal.
Even now, with teary eyes, soiled Kleenex, and periodic sniffles, I recognize that the cause for the tears and sniffles is silly. And not really worth crying over.
...Unfortunately, my feelings sometimes ignore the prudence of my more sensible thoughts, and this is such a case. Nonetheless, sometimes it's good to weep a little weep and ride through the pain, even if it is silly.

Alright, so here’s what’s up.

A friend of mine posted pictures of me on facebook. A number of them are kind of fun pictures, and I’m not upset that they’re there. I don’t care. 
However, and this is very vulnerability-revealing, I will admit to being disappointed by them. Well, not by them- by me. This is going to take some explaining...

 See, I wonder whether there isn’t some caveat to the reasonable and hope-inspiring concept that attractiveness follows confidence. Hmm. It makes sense that, by and large, attractive people are confident, but, in my experience, it would appear that confidence -/-> attractiveness. That is, confidence is necessary (though that itself is suspect, as there are those who seem god-gifted with bounties of beauty), but not sufficient for attractiveness.

The thing is, I usually don’t mind picture-taking. This is kind of unfortunate. It is unfortunate because my internal representation of myself seems to match horribly with what is actually there.
It’s this terrible system, really. Annette feels confident à Annette confidently takes picture à Annette sees picture à Annette realizes picture does not at all align with her conception of beauty, nor with what she so well-meaningly believed it would look like à Annette feels incredibly STUPID. Needless to say, the confidence then breaks down and she feels like hiding in a small, unpopulated corner of the universe.

A classic, embarrassing example of these proceedings followed my senior pictures. When I took those pictures, I (foolishly?) believed I looked passably attractive. I was pleased, I was fairly excited. I still remember my growing feeling of disappointment, shame, and finally great pain when I finally received those pictures and flipped through them with increasing panic, as each one failed to be satisfactory. By the end of it I very quickly- but as calmly as I could- slipped to the bathroom, locked the door, and cried my heart out in a strange feeling of shame and pain. Pain for feeling unattractive and stupid enough to believe I looked good, shame for having the audacity to walk around feeling as though I was passably attractive, and an incredible amount of shame and disappointment for being so silly and superficial as to be crying in a bathroom about it all. It was a good time, really.

Happily, this time around flipping through those pictures did not end in tears and extreme pain. More like moderate disappointment at the disparity between what I hope I look like and what I actually look like. I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but when I take too long before a mirror, or on a day (such as today) when humidity has rendered my hair wild (in the not-attractive way), I’m glad that 1) I’m not the one who has to look at me all of the time and 2) at least other people are used to looking upon my very interesting form—and thus are not too surprised by it. 
And it’s fine. (Usually.) 

Perhaps it is a convenient self-defense mechanism,   but I can say that the vast majority of the time, I am unconcerned by my looks. Sure, sometimes I get frustrated and wish I were a bit thinner, etc. etc. but those are instantaneous concerns that don’t really get to me. I really just don’t care all that much, and my insecurities center much more on feeling like I don’t do enough or that I’m not sufficiently intelligent or that I am lacking sufficient quantities of x substance.
(Wow. I really am mostly about abstract concepts… it’s great!)

Anyway, back to the story. So flipping through those pictures, it was a little like “Well, that’s kinda disappointing. But they’re fun pictures. Oh well, keep moving through feed.”


Someone decided to post this on facebook (you know, for the lolz):

Reaction #1: Jawdrop.
Reaction #1.5: …Are people really THAT douchey?
Reaction #2: What the fuck? Please tell me this is a fake add.
Reaction #3: People think this is funny… ? !
Reaction #4: Absorbs evilness and hurtfulness of ad and bursts into tears, with all sorts of unhappy thoughts flooding through, spoiling Kleenex whilst feeling that this is all stupid and not worth my time.

And at this point I’m not sure what to say.

I could say that what had been most disappointing about those pictures of myself was the fact that my ever-persistent and, at this point, hella annoying (I know. Hella is a terrible word, and I’m ashamed. But if the time calls for it…) acne remains ever-persistent and hella annoying despite my recent optimism that there may be hope for the near future….?  (Ouch.)

I could say that it prompted thoughts of, but I do have a boyfriend, and he’s freakin’ amazing! But that in turn prompted strange thoughts that seem to accompany my femininity—largely regrets/pain at then making him be the guy with the acne-ridden, not-quite-attractive girlfriend…

I could say that it prompted memories of bitingly hurtful comments from my mother- who I know loves me, even if she doesn't always do so in the way I would like...

Or I could say that it made me realize that in a very strange way, I was just bullied. I realized that I form part of the butt of that joke… that I am one of the shameful, non-beautiful members of society to be pitied or laughed at.

I could also say that it reminded me of the disappointment/despair I sometimes feel at the very strong suspicion that I will likely never fulfill the requirements of beauty. Maybe this is the foolishness of a twenty-year-old giving itself away, but my teens were "wasted" with, at first, being "not thin enough," and then the onset of braces and acne, my late teens/early twenties are embarrassingly acne-marked, and the future looks bleak between acne, scars, and aging.... 
Confession: All I really want is a beautiful wedding picture, and sometimes I'm afraid I won't have that.

In half an hour maybe I'll sit down and try to think of a list of my redeeming qualities, or of reasons why I can still try to count myself among beautiful people, or something nice like that....

For now, I’ll take a box of Kleenex and cry my heart out in a small corner of the universe until the pain bleeds away and I can return to a non-superficial, non-silly, and lovely world of abstraction.


P.S. Yes, I am okay. A little hurt right at this moment, but I'll be fine. I'm stronger than this.

Friday, July 20, 2012


Hello, hello!

How quickly life enters a whirlwind state!
That, or I have become incredibly lazy this summer. Certainly, relative to the school year, Northfield has become more of a sleepy rural town- in the correct way. Evenings pass by with a strange sense of leisure and rapidity, as though processing time has slowed down. It is a bit amusing that by 7pm the day feels largely over, whereas during the school year that would give me at least five to six more hours of ideal work time- essentially an entire work day!

But even despite this newfound slothery and small-town sleepiness, the level of excitement in my life took a sharp rise in recent days. This is due almost exclusively to the MU3C Conference I attended at the beginning of the week. (MU3C = Midwest Undergraduate Computational Chemistry Consortium). My relatively slow-paced workdays of reading papers, learning Fortran, and trying to get a handle on how things worked hastened considerably as the conference approached. I learned how to smoothly submit jobs for computation, worked on developing my talk for the conference, practiced said talk way too many times, learned how to lift data (not difficult, but it's amazing how things can get mysteriously screwed up...), learned how to use gnuplot (in retrospect, way better than Excel!), struggled to get a sufficiently good grasp of Ewald summation to be able to explain it to a room of people, and frantically gathered preliminary results to demonstrate to others that we (my research partner and I) are not fully incompetent and have actually achieved something during the last five weeks.s.

Consequently, the past week and weekend  were a little crazy and stressful, and the size of my to-do list was, at a point, rather alarmingly disproportionate with the time available for the completion of its items... but it all worked out just great.

The conference itself was very...chill. I would estimate (I am terrible at such estimations) there were 30ish people in attendance? Talks were given by undergrads presenting their research, and also from faculty members (mostly from University of Minnesota, our sponsoring institution), we got a nice tour of the University's Supercomputing Institute (which I know was impressive, but my ignorance impedes me from knowing just how impressed I should be. I suspect I should be pretty darn impressed though), talked to current grad students about computational chemistry at the U, and lunched and dined with fellow conference members. I was happy to be able to meet other students doing work similar to my own, and on the other hand, it was interesting to see how we all had different skill sets. Some people were using quantum mechanical methods, others molecular dynamics (which uses classical mechanics), and others (such as myself) Monte Carlo techniques (which are awesome and use random numbers to run everything!), in addition to a variety of unique systems being studied-- from collisions between CO2 and H, the chemical pathways involved in acid rain, the study of a protein key to a virus analogous to HIV, CO2 separation and sequestration, astrochemistry, and more. Exciting stuff. As for my own talk, in case you were wondering, it went much better than I would have hoped! I was fortunate enough to receive very kind compliments, and it was gratifying to know that my professor was proud of the work we had done. :D Huzzah!

Now I am afraid I must prepare for a new work day. The day promises to be demanding... Dani (my prof) is a strong advocate of the immersive method of education. To translate, it means she enjoys pushing us into the water and leaving us to figure out how to swim... while she stands in the sidelines and glances over every now and then to make sure we don't drown. Terrifying? A little. But surprisingly effective.

So au revoir for now, dear Reader. At some point I must sit down and compose something that is actually interesting and thought-provoking, but I felt it was necessary to explain the cause of my extended absence.

до свидания!     

Friday, June 29, 2012

Enter that Lovely Maiden, Beauty

Hello Reader-Dearest!

The summer is now well underway.

I am now a competent Fortran-er and somewhat literate in the zeolite world.
Wait, now that I think of it, I don't think I ever mentioned what specifically I am researching this summer. Well... as specifically as it gets.

A model of  LTA, one of the zeolites
we shall be focusing on this summer. 
I am working on simulations of these lovely aluminosilicate minerals called zeolites. "Zeolite" is a fairly broad category. There are a number of different crystalline structures and zeolites can have different chemical compositions, but we're mostly dealing with silicon, oxygen, and aluminum. The cool thing is, their microporous nature makes them good molecular sieves. In particular, zeolites have been found to selectively adsorb carbon dioxide over nitrogen, hydrogen, methane, and other gases. This makes zeolites very promising materials for a number of processes, most notably carbon dioxide separation and sequestration. In the past, my professor and her students have studied pure silica zeolites (well, Si and O actually, but the key point is no aluminum) with varying structural properties, so as to examine the importance of pore structure to selective CO2 adsorption. This summer, we are going to start working on introducing aluminum into the mixture.

A structural model of MFI, another cool zeolite.
As for my own contribution... well, I only just received "the code" on Wednesday... and was immediately utterly lost in the dense network of files and the endless sea of Fortran lines contained therein. Yesterday I managed to calm some of that despair and anxiety so as to make fair progress in getting a better idea of how things fit together, but there is a very, very long way to go. However, I did submit my first few runs today! Yay! Look for more updates in the future!

I must say that, overall, I have been rather pleased with the path my summer has taken. I think I may say that I have successfully rekindled my devotion to the fair goddess, Beauty.

I cannot assure you of the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, benevolent God, but I can attest to the presence of this lovely maiden. I have caught glimpses of her darting swiftly between trees, and placing blossoms in flowing hair strewn over sun-kissed prairie grass; I have seen her floating serenely on the river and heard her joining in on birdsong whilst I make my way through the arboretum. I have heard her at turns laughing at me and soothing me with her song as I feebly attempt to coax music from the keys of a piano. I have seen her hand in gorgeous sunsets and clear blue skies, in giant dandelions, and in graceful, swooping little birds. I have yet to see it myself, but I have heard that she has even taken some of her beauty and placed it within tiny creatures, that they may bring light to the summer sky even when she has gone to her slumber or joined her sisters in distant lands for merrymaking.

Yes, piano adventures and arb runs have made it a lovely, beautiful summer indeed. The arb runs are unfailingly splendid- the piano, less so. But I think I have fallen in love with it nonetheless. I cringe whenever I play a false key, and I feel terribly embarrassed when I stumble over pieces like the too-familiar "Jingle Bells," but my soul begins to thrill when a piece which initially sent a series of winces shuddering through me comes together to resemble something which I may call music. Granted I can only play short and very simple pieces, but I am easily enraptured by the lovely sounds which that instrument is capable of producing when properly encouraged to do so. All in all, I am pleased with the progress I have made in two weeks of playing for about an hour a day, and I am very excited for the next seven weeks! I dare not strive for beauty, for something deep and soul-striking, but I do hope that by the end of it I can play something which may be rightly termed lovely. Nothing crazy or complicated, but still charming.

In addition to the beauty of piano and the natural wonders surrounding Carleton, I have found great pleasure in the social benefits of a Carleton summer. It is wonderful to be at Carleton, to be learning new things and challenging myself intellectually on a daily basis, and to still have time for casual hour-long chats with new acquaintances, for skype sessions with old friends, for cooking adventures, for Sayles slumber parties, for movie-watching, and for pioneering a summer social dance club. I have great hopes for this Summer Social Dance Club (hereafter to be referred to as SSDC), despite what appear to be administrative attempts to crush it. Well, not exactly. But it is very frustrating that the school insists on shutting down all of the buildings after work hours. Nonetheless, this week was very successful in bringing together new and old social dancers, and I now feel like I have dance children to teach and tend to and befriend this summer. It is very exciting! Hopefully logistics will not prove disastrous... but I have high hopes. I look forward to making friends with these new people and hopefully incorporating them into social dance culture!

In short, summer is lovely and sweet. I have been reminded that life has great potential for beauty, if I only toil faithfully to seek her out. She is a shy creature, and must be treated tenderly, but she is sweet and devoted if you patiently cultivate her friendship. I do hope that we may become fast friends.

Happy Summer, dear ones!   

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Hailing the Summer

Greetings, fair Reader!

The summer adventures have begun.

 After a brief, happy sojourn home, I find myself back at school for exciting chemistry research adventures. I have finally more or less settled back into my room, with a new roommate and a new set of challenges to conquer. Exciting!

My research adventures started yesterday, and it rapidly became evident that I definitely have my work cut out for me in the next ten weeks...
I have already gotten a tiny bit deeper into Unix, discovered and explored Emacs, and am expected to gain working knowledge of Fortran by the end of the week, since that is the programming language I shall be working in. So in the last two days I have gone through about 160 pages of Fortran.... only 200ish to go! Woo!
Oh, and let's not forget the 100+ pages of reading that I copied for myself today....
It seems quite daunting, but I am rather excited, to be honest. A lot of work means a lot of learning... and I feel like the amount of learning I will be doing will be slightly ridiculous. In a good way.

But I do love that my nerdiness is increasing significantly. I think I may have to start gaming. Or go crazy and convert to Linux. Somehow or another I need to affirm my transition into this particular realm of nerdom.
In my mind, female computer sciencey nerds have a nice edge of badassery, and while skipping through my Fortran book, I like to think to myself- yeah... yeah, I could do that. I could be a cool nerd-girl. I could totally do that!
...But then I realize that my carefully penned notes, general tidiness and prim&proper-ness do seem to disqualify me from playing the role of badass nerd girl.
But hey, that doesn't have to stop me from feeling super cool about coding, does it?

I don't know why I am so enchanted by coding. Maybe because I have been woefully ignorant of how it all works. Computers and programming seem to be shrouded in some sort of magical veil. In some way, computers seem to grasp at the magic of life- quite literally.
Computers stand at the border between physical reality and the wonderful world of abstraction. They translate between the "real" world and the world of ideas. They partake in the mystery of Meaning.
Magic, I say!

I have set about reading I Am a Strange Loop, by Douglas Hofstadter. He is, quite simply, fantastic. The knowledge that he is at Indiana University seriously tempts me to delve into Cognitive Science and ambitiously strive to end up in his lab, because it could only be absolutely awesome. But I digress.
The book builds upon ideas Hofstadter introduced in Godel, Escher, Bach (GEB), but focuses on the concept of I, or the self. Consciousness. That slippery thing!

To my extreme delight, I Am a Strange Loop has succeeded in weaving together essential philosophical questions with cognitive science, basic neuroscience, logic/mathematics, and computer science. (It's amazing how he manages to meld together so many topics and questions I delight in!)
He plays with questions like: What does it mean to be alive? What does it mean to be me?  What does it mean to know? What is consciousness? How might consciousness arise? How can something have meaning?

I think that, through GEB, Hofstadter really got me to appreciate the idea that structure is the key to meaning. Structure... ah, how magical!
I do not think I am yet ready to write out my thoughts on the subject... my thoughts are still hazy and unorganized, but the picture is slowly starting to come together. I just have unstructured words to throw at you.
Words like logic, and structure, and thinking, and meaning, and language, and binary, and beauty.
Wonderful, magical words!

But I should stop my incoherent rambling on Hofstadter's books for the time being.

The days seem to be virtually endless. There is an amazing fifteen-and-a-half hours between sunrise and sunset!
By 7am it is bright and sunny, and the world beckons me to be out of bed.
Thankfully, I obliged the world today. I went for a walk-jog in the arb, and it was a wonderful, wonderful decision. The morning light was gold-like and happy, the plant-life was gorgeous, and a little creek which I found along my path convinced me that I was part of an enchanted world. It was absolutely lovely.

I am not sure what exactly I want to achieve during these bright summer days, but I know that I want to partake in a curious mixture of gentle loveliness and nerd-girl awesomeness. I want to go for daily walk-runs, I want to improve my flexibility, I want to attempt a plunge into the world of music by making an acquaintance with the piano.... I think mostly I want to realize that I really do have a certain degree of control over my life. It is the sort of truth that lurks dangerously in the background. Dangerously, because it is so obvious it seems to evade belief.

I have spent a lot of time feeling small and incapable and boring... and done nothing about it.
But, ha! That is not how the game is played, World! Nice try, but I've finally caught on to your trickery.
The game is played by soaking in programming languages. By having the courage to try to learn piano. By having the discipline to wake up in the morning and greet a beautiful day. The game is played by realizing that you want to do something worthwhile... and then taking a step in that direction.
It's so terrifying, but so wonderful and liberating!

I may get lost in the arb, or fail miserably at piano, or cook the worst meals ever produced on the face of the earth, or feel utterly lost in the world of chemistry. The chances are pretty high that all of these things will happen within the next few weeks. But I have a suspicion that with a bit of time and a lot of work, it's going to be okay.

Maybe there's still hope for badassery. Hmm. Can I be both lovely and badass?
Well... I do love a good paradox.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

On The Midpoint

Well, the second year has come to an end.

I remember old middle school days, when I felt safely sheltered from adulthood and "growing up" by the endless high school years before me... and now college is half-past.
It is a bit surreal.
The passing of time seems to have a very strange quality to it. The years seem to fly swiftly by on fairy's wings, and yet days and weeks can drag by in an impressive manner.

In the midst of this strange passing of time, I find it difficult to assess my growth. Surely I change in subtle ways between moments, days, weeks, months, years... But the gradualness of the process makes me incapable of detecting the difference.
I am reminded of when I first learned calculus. The concept of the integral made the tricky concept of life clearer to me: it is the accumulation of changes that occur on infinitesimal time scales. Decisions made from instant to instant appear so incredibly trivial and inconsequential, but the summation of the values of those instants make up a life. Magical.
It is fitting that the integral encapsulates the great, elusive concept of infinity. How do we ever reach the infinitesimal? How do we ever progress? When and where do we capture the fleeting Now? How is it that the minutes and days and years slip by?
The mysteries of life and metaphysics seem to me to be intertwined with the wonder of infinity. It is lovely.

Yet somehow the time does slip by. Somehow "life" does get accumulated between duration-less Nows. And somehow or another, I do make small bits of progress.

As the term approached its end, I came to realize that I have learned things during my time at Carleton. Shocking, right? It is the sort of thing one hopes will happen, but it is wonderful when you realize it is actually true.
There are the little things- like realizing that my knowledge of the Greek alphabet has expanded tremendously since my old high school days, where alpha and beta and pi and theta were funky things that you used in math every once in a while. By the end of Set Theory and Computational chemistry, Greek letters were being carelessly spattered all over my work. When did gamma and phi and psi and epsilon and sigma and lambda (etc etc) become a natural resource to tap into?

Additionally, I have come to realize that tossing myself into reckless situations can be a good thing.
(To clarify, "reckless" in this context refers purely to academic recklessness. Reckless, indeed...)
For the first time in my life, I had the experience of sitting in a classroom where the teacher could very well have been speaking another language, because I certainly was not understanding what she was saying. She was speaking other languages- the languages of quantum chemistry, kinetics, thermochemistry... Languages of which I only knew a few basic words. I was a tourist in a foreign country hoping to rely on words like "food" and "bathroom" for survival.
But I still remember the moment where I re-read a textbook excerpt that was being assigned for about the 4th time. And that time- I UNDERSTOOD what they were saying. Between re-readings and nearly impenetrable lectures and frustrated struggles with foreign words and concepts... the pieces eventually came together. It was a glorious realization- and it would not have been possible if I had not taken the risk of utter failure. And I shall admit, for a while there I was rather concerned.
But there is something wonderful about going in scared and mostly lost, with only a bedraggled roadmap for company, and to slowly gain your footing to ultimately emerge triumphant.
I can now tell you a story about quantum chemistry, I can model a baby protein for you, I can perform ab initio calculations and tell you a bit about a chemical system of interest- I can do quite a few things I simply could not have done ten weeks ago.

There is also the world of dance. Two years ago, I probably would have laughed and blushed with embarrassment if you were to suggest that I would find myself waltzing freely with others in a couple of months. "Ballroom dancing" was something magical, wonderful, and fundamentally unattainable to those not blessed with extraordinary grace. Admittedly, I have yet to achieve a satisfactory level of mastery, let alone claim beauty in my dancing (alas, I have not been suddenly gifted with heaps of gracefulness), but I have managed to learn a great deal during the last two years. Waltz, foxtrot, quickstep, east coast swing, west coast swing, tango, cha, rumba, samba... even some mambo and hustle and nightclub two-step... Two years ago I knew nothing, and in a few months I will have the privilege of introducing social dance to a new generation of future social dance lovers! It is terribly exciting.

I think that my understanding of things has also become more complex and subtle. Two years ago, I would probably have agreed with the somewhat vague statement that science is true. My understanding of models and scientific progress was limited. I was a naive empiricist.
I may still be a bit of an empiricist, but my appreciation for models has increased tremendously. I now value the utility of a good approximation and I understand the importance of knowing the limits within which a model can operate. I realize that there are ways in which our scientific knowledge is solidly grounded, and yet that there are more fundamental ways in which the scientific quest is deeply vulnerable to skeptic probing.

To focus on this spring, I think I can be proud of my accomplishments this term. Computational chemistry and set theory were both challenging and intimidating, but immensely rewarding. I did not expect computational chemistry to allow me to peer into the beauties of linear algebra. I remember the moment of wonder when I realized what my professor was explaining about vibrational modes- you want to understand how molecules move? Break down the motions in terms of an orthogonal basis set which will span the entire space of their motion, and now you can describe any movement your heart desires. Bam! Amazing.
I did not really expect myself to ever come to peace with quantum, but we managed to end on amicable terms. And set theory... ah, how to describe the beauty of realizing that you have built an entire world out of nothing? Or the beauty of the natural numbers, like infinite Russian dolls? Or the sheer wonder of successive limit ordinals, like dense black holes?

All in all, I am fairly proud of myself.
I do not think I have been able to say that in a very long time- I do not remember when. But I succeeded in achieving my goals for this term. No, I don't have a perfectly-filled goals chart- there are certainly a number of gaps. More importantly, I succeeded in fulfilling the aspirations underlying the carefully penned goals on my chart.

Three months ago, I was terrified: I really believed that this term was going to be painful, stressful, confidence-destroying, and unbearably lonely.
It has been painful. It has been stressful. I have been less-than-fully-confident at times. I have been lonely. These things are true. But they represent a small minority of my experiences.

I feared that I would have no great friendships during my time at Carleton, but I no longer have that fear. I have grown closer to a number of wonderful people, and planted seeds which I know shall flourish in the upcoming years.

I feared that I would sink into a pathetic fit of loneliness and moping. But I have realized that I am stronger than I believed. I do not have to fall apart when I am alone. Granted, on almost any occasion I would rather be joined by loved ones, but if I must stand alone, I can and I will.

Ironically, it has been one of my most enjoyable and fulfilling terms at Carleton.

I am still filled with fears and insecurities and doubts on a number of points. I still do not know what I shall "do" with my life. I do not know what exactly that mysterious thing called love has in store for me. I do not know what friendships shall blossom, what pains shall be suffered, what life lessons shall be gathered, nor if I shall ever attain beauty in my dancing.
But I am proud of what I have accomplished and excited for the adventures that are in store.

There is hope!
And for now, that's all I ask for.

Here's to the midpoint of my Carleton career. Huzzah!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Portrait of the Artist- Of Sorts.

I am less than tall,
With dark, unruly curls,
Skin that burns not too easily
And eyes of mixed-color whorls.

I live in jeans-
Except when I move into dresses.
I love the golden hour:
Bare shoulders, wild tresses.

I like chocolate chip cookies
And pink lemonade.
My fingernails are long and squared-
They are not painted.

My ears are awkward.
My nose is strangely shaped.
My complexion does not conform
To the accepted topological range.

My favorite pain
Is that of a laughing stomach.
I have two tongues.
Most say I have one sister.
(They know only how to count in blood).

I am afraid of answering the phone.
I am afraid of scraping my knees.
I am afraid of spiders, beetles, bees-
Of far too many things.

I want to befriend a flower,
I want to scatter dandelion seeds.
I want to linger in a tree-

I build castles in the air.
I get lost within my head.
My childhood is scattered
Among the books that I have read.

I am sentimental.
But I prize rationality.
I am romantic.
And I lack practicality.

I can tell you about
Ascending orders of infinity.
I can charm you with paradox,
I can enchant you with irony.

My friends are few.
They are beloved.
I read marriage
As souls intertwining.

My mind is filled with wherefores
And punctuated with question marks.

I think--
I love him.

I write long letters.
I do not tell great stories.
I want to be a good mother.
I hope to be lovely.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Reader, Meet My Letter Box

Greetings, dear Reader!

It is midterm break and I am being very foolish. The prudent thing to do right now would be to go to bed... but I shall be a rebel and stay up a while longer. Ah, the luxury of having a day off!

It has been a while since I wrote a nerdy blog post, and I suspect there may be something on the wonder of natural numbers coming up soon. (I do love the natural numbers. They are so very beautiful...!)
Yay! Spring Dreams!

But that is not why I am here now.
I am here because of a burst of inspiration to briefly share some personal treasures. I snapped a few pictures of some of my trinkets- my sparrow necklace, my letter box, my wall of love, my Latin shoes, my bookshelves, and my Spring Dreams chart- which is now at the halfway point!

It is interesting that I do not seem to have very many trinkets… not exactly. But my wall of love and my letter box hold a downright treasure trove. And I really enjoy my bookshelves. Old favorite books, academic books, my writing box, a cute teacup, my bow-bedecked pinecone, the Rubik’s cube… many little wonders fill its shelves :] 
But for now I shall focus on the letters and notes and tokens of love which most brighten my days, noting before I begin that a curious and courageous reader is encouraged to inquire further into the objects introduced here.

The "wall of love"

They may not look like much, but these little mementos mean a great deal to me, and I am rather proud of my small badges of love. I want people to “see” the people that I love- the cute and clever notes from Dylan, the sincere and whimsical letters from Brynna, handmade cards from my sea-star, short and sweet notes of appreciation from Tristan, cards which once accompanied Friday flowers, postcards from friendly travelers and well-wishing friends, dried flowers (a perfectly-tinted rose from Dylan and mini-roses for my sister), an eerily well-timed post-it note found in a bathroom stall, gorgeous drawings and happy notes from Becca… It is the best thing in the world to have a wall adorned with love, and mornings are made happy by glancing up at the beautiful wall by my side.

And then there are the wonderful items stored away in the letter box. Old love letters, sketches drawn on a whim with friends, wrinkled and torn sheets recording old memories, newspaper clippings detailing my epic room draw victory last year, the absolutely ridiculous product description from the back of a package of trail mix, programs from plays once performed in, pieces of paper filled with strange math things- including a particular sheet whose corner I almost ingested to prevent prying eyes from reaching it (however, that failed, and the very wrinkled corner in question was subsequently re-taped), and a host of other cherished tokens fill this box of wonders. Each note, letter, random sheet of paper, or miscellaneous object brings me back to a time and place of happiness, be it of the somber-and-serious or playful-and-ridiculous kind.

A peak into the letter box
Each object also makes a bit more tangible the connection I have to the people I love. I think that may be why I treasure these things so greatly- and why my letters and notes tend to be so infamously lengthy. I may not have very many friends, but the ones I do have I care greatly for, and the exchange of words allows me to let them know it. My hope is that, someday, when the ones I care for find themselves lonely or frightened or unsure of themselves, my notes may do the job they were intended to perform. I hope that my friends will be able to gather the words given to them with sincerity and affection, and to see that they are amazing, accomplished creatures deserving of (and in possession of) love. I know that their kind words and the records I have kept of old happy times spent in their company have certainly brightened my spirits on a number of occasions.

So, my dear Reader, know that your kindness, your smiles, and your words are remembered and cherished. Know that somewhere, someone who loves you carries those gifts you have given them in their own treasure chest.

Goodness, isn't that beautiful?
At any rate, I think so.