Thursday, June 26, 2008

Jaclyn's Wedding

Over the past 3 months, I have attended 3 weddings each of which have been 4 weeks apart. The first of these weddings was the Harmon-Bell wedding, for my cousin Jaclyn to marry her high school sweetheart Jon. He proposed to her right before they graduated from college in 2007, but that's a story for her to tell herself.

my sister, niece, and I with the bride

I was lucky enough to be asked to be a bridesmaid in her wedding, along with my sister, our other two female cousins, and two of Jaclyn's friends. I love the color green she chose for our dresses; it was a great color for a spring wedding in the South!

bride and groom's first dance

Jaclyn and Jon of course are a very adorable couple, even if my housemates think they look like kids on their engagement announcement picture (sorry Jaclyn!). Of course, the differing opinions between the Northeast and Southeast on the right age to get married is a topic for an entirely different post.

wedding cake

Their rehearsal, wedding, and reception were quite beautiful though. Everyone had a great time, even those in the "under 5 years old" category. There was the electric slide which has been played at every family wedding in my generation, a delicious buffet, a chocolate fountain, wine punch (my aunt made them add extra wine), and the joy of celebration. Not to mention the wonderfully warm April weather.

One down, two more to go!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Early bird catches the worm

This morning was not exactly my favorite of mornings. I returned last night from the last of the 3 weddings of early summer, then had the alarm set for 6AM to take Tim to the bus stop for a ride to Boston for a conference this week. Mother Nature, however, decided that 6:00 was much too late for waking up, and thus sent a very loud thunderstorm from 5:00 - 5:45. Needless to say, not much sleeping happened after 5:00.

When we left the house a bit before 7, we noticed that there were a bunch of little white worms that looked like larvae climbing up the stairs to our door. I wish I had taken a picture, but we were in too much of a rush to think about it. It was a bit freaky though; they were climbing vertically up the stairs, the railing, and were even ringing the top of the trash can. It looked like they were mounting war against us!

When I returned a bit after 7, I expected to see them covering the front door as well. However, I instead saw a robin standing on our trash can, and then leaping on to the railing when I parked. There were no worms in sight except for the one in its beak. After I registered what had just happened, the robin flew away.

Thank you, early bird.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Jane Austen -- finally I understand the hype!

I've been hearing for years how much everyone loves Jane Austen's books, but I had never read them. Now, I have still not read them, but I have finally watched three related movies: Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, and Becoming Jane.

I absolutely loved these movies, although I loved Becoming Jane the least. Since that movie is about a fictional version of her life, I guess it shows that she was better at creating good stories than the writers for her pseudo-biography. For Sense & Sensibility though, I watched it twice in 2 days, which is something I very rarely do with movies. I would have happily done the same with Pride & Prejudice if I had the time when I rented it.

These movies really entertain me because they are not only interesting, but they also create a tangled mess of relationships that is slowly sorted out by the end. Of course I had my suspicions on how everyone would end up, but I could not have guessed the paths that would lead them there. The characters were extremely engaging, most likely due to how different they were from each other (both female and male characters). There were also strong female characters, who always keep me engaged. As far as movies based on love lives of a group of people go, these are much deeper than most newer movies.

If you haven't seen these movies, I definitely recommend that you at least see Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility. After you have watched them, if you are hungry for the same type of movie, then by all means watch Becoming Jane, but don't expect as intertwined of a plot as exists with the other two.

Monday, June 16, 2008

JK Rowling Gives Harvard Commencement Speech

Sorry, I'm a little behind on the news it seems! But perhaps not all of you have seen this speech yet.

Both the video and transcript of her speech

Today I ran across a link to the speech that J.K. Rowling gave at Harvard's commencement this spring. Among other things, this speech gives insight into why her characters are the way that they are, and why the evil characters are evil in the ways that they are. It seems that she values empathy and compassion above many things, mostly due to her experiences working at Amnesty International while in college. It was great to see the speech that she gave, both because it echoed many of the thoughts I have had over the past few years and because it helped give insight into who she is besides the author of the Harry Potter books.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Movie: Sex and the City

Last week I went with a few female friends to see the Sex and the City movie. I was never a big fan of the show, mostly because I have never had HBO, although one of Tim's housemates used to watch it regularly so I watched a few episodes with him the last few years. Thanks to that I at least knew the characters and what the show is about.

One of the people I went to the movie with was an avid fan of the show when it was on originally, so she explained much of the backstory after the movie. However, I was never lost throughout the entire movie and actually enjoyed it! Although knowing the backstory made the movie a little more rich in plot, I think it stands fine by itself. Granted, it was not one of the best movies I have ever seen, but it was not the worst either. It was entertaining despite some cliche lines and the obsession with certain clothing brands, especially as it really hit home on the fact that strong independent women sometimes do want what less career driven women desire as well (such as marriage, a nice wedding, etc).

One of my favorite aspects of the movie is that the personal assistant Louise the main character hires halfway through is an African-American female Computer Scientist (played by Jennifer Hudson)!! Not only is she portrayed as smart (she fixes the main character's website, is able to organize her life, and gets the main character back on her feet), but she is also beautiful, and interested in "girly" things like fashion. With so few women and African American computer scientists, I hope that this character helps to subconsciously remind girls and women that they too can succeed in our field. Too bad she wasn't doing something stronger computer-wise (websites can be fairly basic when compared to other types of computer work). It's also sad that she was one of the few non-white characters in the entire movie, but I suppose that is something for someone else to write about.

Overall, it was entertaining and fun to watch, even if it was a weakly done chic flick.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

College Kid, hmmm?

I was recently reminded that it is typical for people who understand the reality of some experience to view it much differently than those who merely look in on it. Although after living in some world (such as grad school) for many years, it can be easy to forget how others view one's own world.

To me, graduate school (for computer science at least) is defined by learning and working at the same time, although those two parts can be both symbiotic and in conflict. Graduate school is mostly about research, with the most useful learning not coming from classes but from reading papers, interacting with other researchers, and working. Not only are graduate students learning some small part of their field in detail, they are also beginning their careers by publishing their work, attending conferences, and networking. In a sense, graduate school is almost an apprenticeship where in the end no job is guaranteed, but is still likely to be found. Graduate students are often living their lives as normal adults, sometimes with families but often without, participating in their community, taking vacations, etc. The only main differences between graduate school and an industry job are that graduate school pays substantially less, expects you to work longer hours more frequently, and has more flexibility overall. We don't even pay tuition at many schools, but instead it is waived.

I have recently been reminded however, that many people who have not attended graduate school themselves view it more as "being in college again." As far as I can tell, it is viewed as following the college/university model very closely with just harder classes than are taken at the undergraduate level. As you have hopefully gathered from my previous paragraph, this is very far from the truth in Computer Science! Yes, it can be close to the truth in other disciplines, but even in liberal arts programs the graduate students still take fewer classes than undergraduates, have some form of stipend that pays them to work for the department in some capacity, and usually do some form of research at some point in the program. For instance, I know in Mathematics graduate students generally focus on classes for the first few years and are only then ready to actively participate in research.

I think it's also important to note that there is a different focus in graduate school than in undergraduate education. As an undergrad, one usually learns a very broad range of information including general education requirements. Students learn a large amount of background knowledge that could be necessary in their future careers. In graduate school, this background knowledge is of course assumed, and thus graduate students focus on the area they are most interested in pursuing. More is expected of students overall, as only truly interested and motivated students ttend graduate school (although of course many people who are as interested and motivated in the field choose not to attend).

The department's building is the graduate student's place of work, their work community, and often practically seems like a second home (as sad as that is). Graduate students are generally on a first-name basis with professors, and their opinions are generally valued. Graduate students are often the mentors or teachers for undergraduate students, which may be why grad students often call undergraduates "kids" when talking with other graduate students, even when they are almost the same age. Or maybe we call them "kids" because after a few years of graduate school it's hard to remember being "so juvenile" or "so lost."

Personally, I think at my school the biggest difference is that many undergraduate kids are noisy, obnoxious, and inconsiderate of other people. But then again, I suspect the graduate students at my alma mater probably feel the same about their undergrads.

But either way, do try to remember when talking to graduate students that they have done their time in college and have moved on. They are usually no longer living the college lifestyle except for the fact that they may live in a college town and don't make very much money. They are career focused, independent, and soon to be college/university professors teaching "those pesky college kids."

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Richland WA - Desert or Not?

I spent last summer in Richland, WA. For the record, this is not near Seattle! It is actually across the mountains in the eastern part of the state, where it is much more arid. From what I understand, it was originally desert but has been irrigated enough over the years to now be able to support plants (such as trees and grass). It is part of the Tri-Cities area, which also includes Pasco and Kennewick.


There are many great reasons to go to Richland, besides working at PNNL (my reason for moving there). Many of the roads are extra wide so there is plenty of room for bikes, making it very easy to bike around town. There is also a fabulous (paved) bike path down the Columbia river that has just enough hills to make it interesting without being too tiring. Downtown there is a place that serves afternoon tea in a Victorian setting, there are craft fairs during the summer, and cherries are both very cheap and very tasty for most of the summer. Not to mention that there are many local wineries, at least one of which has a very delicious restaurant with homemade cheese (among other foods).

birds flying over the Columbia river

deer relaxing near the Columbia river

Richland is also fabulous for its wildlife. There are birds, deer, and coyotes (supposedly they were around PNNL in the evening but I never saw one) to name a few. In July I went on an afternoon river tour, where I saw most of the wildlife in the area. We also saw a few orchards and farms growing on the slopes near the river. The tour was fabulous as it started in the afternoon (bright sun) allowing us to see great scenery, and then ended around sunset, allowing us to see that same scenery become transformed into another beautiful setting.


In the summer it rarely rains in Richland; it rained twice while I was there, once was a light sprinkling and the other was actual rain for less than a day in August. Despite the incredibly hot temperatures, this makes the summer quite enjoyable as long as you believe in sunscreen, drinking water, and A/C. If you get a chance to go there, I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A new writer to keep in mind

A friend of mine from undergraduate is about to finish her MFA degree (Masters of Fine Arts) in children's literature. I've had the pleasure to "beta-read" what is likely to be her first young adult fiction book, which is also part of her Masters thesis. The current title of the book is Arion, and I have to say that it is absolutely fabulous. This book is in the fantasy genre, so she has created her own world in addition to her own characters, plot, etc. It's so amazing reading a book that is so well done when I personally know the author!

I would love to share a link with you, but she is still in progress on making her website. However, I can tell you that her name is Kathleen Foucart, and as soon as she has a published book I will be posting again to let you know! She is definitely going to be a great writer if you can appreciate YA books, and I'm not just saying that because I know her!

Monday, June 02, 2008


On May 17th we threw a great double-layered surprise party for a fellow graduate student (her boyfriend, another graduate student, actually organized it). Her birthday was that day, but as both her and her boyfriend were traveling to a conference the next day, they decided to just celebrate the following weekend (or so she thought). However, her boyfriend had actually organized a group of us to meet them at a local restaurant for dinner (her favorite restaurant that they frequently eat at). The eight of us managed to get there about 10 minutes before they arrived, and they managed to get into the restaurant before it started pouring rain. When they walked in and saw us, she was so surprised I don't think it registered for a few seconds that we were eating with them. Before they got to our table though she was all smiles and saying how she couldn't believe it. She was actually very surprised, which is amazing because many of our friends have had surprise birthday parties/dinners organized by their significant others in the past year. According to her, her boyfriend is very bad at planning this type of thing, which made it even more surprising for her as she'd never expect it.

I had also posted on her facebook wall earlier that day wishing her a happy birthday and asking if she had any plans. I also suggested that we go to one of the local bars if she didn't have plans to celebrate. Right before they left for dinner she responded to me (I found this out at dinner as I had already left at that point) saying that they were not celebrating until the following weekend. I wish I had a picture of her face when she remembered this wall post during dinner, she was both amused and mad all at the same time. I think she said something like "YOU!!!" while pointing at me (I was sitting right across from her). It was so hilarious seeing her so mad at being duped so well.

The best part of the entire thing though is that dinner was only a decoy. The ACTUAL surprise was karaoke after dinner (as discussed in my previous post). Her boyfriend had organized us so that less than half of the group came to dinner, and everyone else went straight to karaoke. So of course the next challenge was to get her to the karaoke place. Luckily we are all conniving individuals, and through suggesting and shooting down other ideas for awhile toward the end of dinner we actually tricked her into suggesting karaoke herself! As I am not a fan of karaoke I protested at first (otherwise it would have been way too suspicious!), but was eventually "convinced" by her that we should go there.

When we arrived at the karaoke place, she waited for my car to get there as we were the last ones out of the restaurant parking lot and I had told her we didn't know where to go (only partially true). This gave everyone else a chance to get inside and find out what room the rest of our group was hiding in. My labmate's wife stayed out front and pointed us to which room we were going to have, and my labmate opened the door so that the birthday girl could enter before him. The lights were out and two birthday cakes had candles lit on them. She just stood in the doorway so I gently pushed her in since I was right behind her, and everyone started singing "Happy Birthday." She then blew out her candles, and we told the people there that we had managed to make her suggest karaoke at dinner, which then again caused her to be "mad" at us one more time. Although everyone knew she was really just incredibly delighted.

She sent us all an e-mail a few days later, here is a shortened and edited (names removed) version:

Dear friends,
...I want to thank you all for being a part of what may have been the most awesome birthday party ever. I had an amazing time! Special thanks go to [her boyfriend] for being a sweetheart and planning such an incredible evening, those of you who helped him organize it (for some reason I don't really know who did what :p), and all of you for coming!

It would be understatement to say I was surprised. If I looked annoyed, it was simply because I couldn't believe how [her boyfriend] managed to keep it all a secret and how you all tricked me, but it was a good annoyed :). ...

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you so much!