Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Not what I expect from an over-priced coffee shop

(Originally posted on Tuesday, November 29, 2005 by Cathy)

This story is actually most of a month old, but I was reminded of it today and thought it was still worth telling.

So we were at the mall trying to do some shopping, when Tim decides he needs an Orange Julius. Now, there -is- no Orange Julius in the mall. Actually, there's very little of anything in this mall. In terms of clothing, there's very little in petites, and all of it is would look just fine on a 70 year old. Most of everything else is geared at the 18-22 crowd, which I guess makes sense, considering where we are and all. Anyway, there's no Orange Julius. What we do have in the mall is a coffee stand. So I manage to convince Tim that a smoothie from the coffee bar might vaguely resemble an Orange Julius. Although I'm willing to drive to the mall in Roanoke for clothes, I am NOT willing to do it for an Orange Julius. Go figure. Life isn't fair.

So we're in line waiting for this smoothie and eyeing the various over-priced pasteries, giant muffins, etc that seem to be ever-present and ever-overpriced at these sorts of establishments. As usual, everything looks good, probably because everything looks fattening. Then we see this cake slice. It might be a pound cake, but it has this radioactive neon yellow frosting sort of spattered on top, under the layer of saran wrap that is protecting the cake slice from the rest of the world, or maybe protecting the rest of the world from the cake slice, in this particular case. It doesn't look good. We don't buy it.

Later on, still running errands, we're at Walmart. Yes, I know, Walmart is evil. Walmart is also the only place in town that stocks vegetarian salami slices, which are really the only type of fake lunch meat actually worth eating. So we go to Walmart with some regularity, at least for the fake meat.

To get to the fake meat at Walmart, you walk sort of through/past the bakery. I wasn't really looking at what was in the bakery, except that there was this radioactive neon yellow glow coming from one display. So we looked closer, and it was something that looked suspiciously like a pound cake, but with yellow frosting spattered on the top. I guess the frosting looked slightly more appetizing before being smashed into a piece of saran wrap, but we were still highly amused to see that the small $4/piece cake slice in the over-priced coffee shop had begun life as an $8/cake cake at Walmart. Somehow, that's just wrong. If I'm going to spend $4 for a piece of cake to go with my $3 trendy coffee-like drink, it had darn well better have a better pedigree than Walmart!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Argh, domain thieves

(Originally posted on Saturday, November 12, 2005 by Cathy)

A combination of errors today:

  • My credit card expiration date came and went since the last time I paid dotster for a domain.
  • The email address I use for domain email (and mostly spam) was on the fritz.
  • labarchive.net expired
  • I didn't notice during the grace period.

So someone poached it. Don't bother going there to look, you'll just drive up their traffic. The lab archive is now at labs.timistry.net. Go THERE for science lab experiments of all sorts.

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Let's Celebrate!

(Originally posted on Tuesday, September 6, 2005 by Tim)


Did you know that it's National Payroll Week? Neither did I. The above message greeted me in cheerful, bold, capital letters when I opened my paychecks today. When I think of it, pretty much all of my paycheck is written in bold and capitals. Well, that is, everything except the actual amount I am being paid. That is written small, non-descript type. If fonts were animals, my payment type would be an ant. Not the big, black ants that seem to follow us around from state to state. It would be a small ant...the kind without mandibles.

So how the heck did we get a National Payroll Week anyway. Did some past president stand behind the podium and announce, "I hereby dedicate this week to all the payrolls out there who work hard to maintain this great nation of ours." How am I supposed to celebrate? Am I supposed to buy someone a card? Can I go down to my local Hallmark and find the Payroll Week cards between those for Plumbers Day and Lawyers That Aren't Evil Day (a small section). Once I have picked out an appropriate card, who do I give it to?

While you reflect on this questions, I wanted to share another funny moment from my day. Cat and I work at different schools that are about 25 minutes drive apart. As such we communicate alot by email. Well actually, we've been known to communicate by email when we've worked six doors down the hall from each other, but now it's better justified.

We only have one car and so one of us drops the other off each morning. I try to drop Cat off more often than vice versa because she can take the bus home and that makes the total car commute 45 morning minutes and 15 evening minutes vs. 45 morning minutes and 45 evening minutes. It just so happens that I did the driving this morning. Cat's parents and sister were in town this weekend and we are still trying to finish off the massive quantities of leftovers from when we had them over for dinner. In pursuit of this goal, I packed some large lunches.

As I drove in this morning, I ended up arriving at work just as the lab I am teaching was starting. I have three labs to teach today as I am covering for a co-worker and this means that I have only 11-12pm and 2-3pm to eat my lunch. At 11am, I head back to my office feeling hungry and I am decended upon by multiple students who delay me by about 20 minutes. I now only have 40 minutes to eat my lunch, grade some papers, and finish off my annual faculty report. I start hunting around my office to find my lunch and it is no where to be found. I think, "Hmmm, I must have left it in the car and the car is at Virginia Tech. Rats (not the actual word I used), I'm going to have to buy lunch and I've got no free time today." I fire a quick email off to Cat and ask, "Did I leave my lunch in the car?" I then proceed to do a bit of grading.

Cat replies to the email in a couple of minutes. Remember that I have the car at Radford as I dropped her off. Her reply is, "That module in wife is not installed. In addition, YOU have the car. However, based on your question, I would have to assume the answer is yes." Sigh, well this doesn't quite seem as funny as it did earlier today. I guess you had to be there.

Just in case you were curious, my lunch was in the car and it was quite good.

Monday, August 29, 2005

I also love my swing

(Originally posted on Tuesday, August 29, 2006 by Cathy)

We're slowly evolving into a pattern where Dalton takes a morning and afternoon nap. Well, sort of. If we're out and about (like this morning, when we interviewed a daycare provider), Dalton will snooze in the carseat, but we'll get home and he will be tired and cranky and need a longer nap, but it can be a couple of hours of struggle and fuss before he takes one. (Can you say "overtired"? I can say it, but I keep causing it anyway.) So today the "morning" nap started at noon. Then the afternoon nap starts who knows when. Actually, I'm a big fan of the "afternoon" nap starting around 5pm, so that we can make dinner using all four adult hands. On Sunday, the afternoon nap started late enough that it was still going at 7pm. "Oh great, I thought, I'd better wake him up so that he'll actually sleep tonight." So I procrastinated until 8pm (some things don't change), and then tried to wake him up.

You'd think, having slept for three hours that he'd have been ready to wake up, right? Nope. I even changed his diaper, which is usually good for several Moro reflex startles, followed by wide eyes. Well, he did open his eyes and look at me, then promptly fell back asleep and the end of the diapering routine. Aw heck, I thought, we're really in for it now. So our quiet baby free evening had this overhanging sense of dread, since we both figured we'd be up at 2am. Miraculously, he actually slept (aside from more or less constant nursing) through the night, and wasn't raring to go until 6am. Phew.

Anyway, back to the picture. Dalton generally won't fall asleep in the baby swing, but he will sit in it for a solid 3 minutes (long enough to pee!), staring at the rotating stuffed bugs. He'll also nap in it, as long as he's asleep when I put him in. He tends to open his eyes and/or make cute little whining noises every so often, but then the eyes slam back shut and he goes back to napping. Good enough.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Mmmmmm, turkey leg

Cathy left town to see her family today so it is a bachelor’s weekend for me and dogs. As you can see, I decided to celebrate in style. Turkey legs were one of my signature foods when I lived alone. They are easy to prepare and quite tasty. In addition, they tend to be pretty cheap. Somewhere in my life, I acquired a taste for dark meat. It has been my impression that this is contrary to the population at large. Most relegate dark meat to the same category as broccoli stalks, apple cores, and onion skins. They are all unfortunate side products that come with the things that people really want. As such, I usually can get what I want at a discount. On a side note, I have a recipe that makes tasty use of onion skins. I could have sworn I had written it up, but I can't find it now.

Bachelors’s Baked Turkey Leg
One two pound turkey leg
3 tbs of vegetable oil
3 tbs fresh chopped parsley
Fresh ground pepper

Remove your only baking pan from under the dishes in the sink and wash thoroughly (remember, this is a bachelor’s recipe). Pour oil in pan. Next, remove turkey leg from plastic wrapping and place in pan. Pause cooking motions to yell at dogs for standing on your feet. Rub oil into turkey leg and sprinkle with parsley on all sides. Liberally salt and pepper the leg.

Push dogs out of the way and set the oven to bake at 350oF. Place pan in oven uncovered. Allow to bake for 20 minutes and then run back into the kitchen to turn off fire alarm caused by splattered grease hitting the heating element in the oven. Remember to jump over dogs when returning to kitchen. Cover pan with aluminum foil and cook until leg exudes a clear (not pink) liquid. Allow leg to cool for 10 minutes, throw dogs out into the backyard, and enjoy.

Saturday, July 16, 2005


(Originally posted on Saturday, July 16, 2005 by Tim)

It has been a long time since I?ve written up a recipe here. We actually haven?t been making many new meals lately. To be more honest, I haven?t been making many new meals of late. Cat has been trying new things and she?s found a few that are quite good.

Our big score this summer has been ?Chicken Fried Tofu?. Dave and I had a long discussion on ICQ over this one. He objected to the fact that the actual recipe contains no chicken and is not fried. This recipe come from our cookbook by Crescent Dragonwagon. Yes, that is her real name. I would guess she blames her parents. Almost all the meals we have made from this book have been good or great. We may have had one recipe that was OK. Once.

The best part of the Chicken Fried Tofu is an accompanying recipe for vegetarian gravy. Crescent goes on and on about how great this gravy is. I?m a pretty skeptical person and take all such ramblings with a nugget of salt. In Crescent?s case, I should just get over my cynicism. Whenever she goes on and on about something, it?s really good.

Vegetarian Gravy
4 cups vegetable stock
1 whole head of garlic, unpeeled
1 carrot, halved
1 onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
½ tsp coarsely crushed peppercorns
¼ cup nutritional yeast
½ tsp paprika
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
Extra salt and pepper to taste

Place stock, garlic, carrot, onion, bay leaf, and peppercorns in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 45 minutes. Remove from heat and pour stock through a strainer. You're interested in the garlic in the strainer and the stock so make sure to save both.

Allow garlic to cool. Squeeze the garlic cloves out of the skins into the stock. Mix in the paprika and nutritional yeast and place on low heat.

Melt the butter over low heat. Whisk in flour and cook until flour paste browns slightly (3 to 4 minutes). Slowly add butter/flour mixture to stock with stirring. Simmer stock until slightly thickened. Season with salt and pepper.

This stuff is amazing. I like to season it with lots of salt and fresh ground pepper, but I'm like that.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Things you don't want to hear from your dogsitter.

(Originally posted on Wednesday, June 15, 2005 by Tim)

So I've neglected to mention one detail of Cat's adventure to graduation on Friday morning, the call from the dog sitter. Cat got the call when we were speeding down Fair Oaks street (roughly 3 miles from Caltech). I didn't hear the conversation, but it did involve the phrase, "an impressive amount of diarrhea."

This is not a phrase you ever want to hear from your dog sitter. We have a great service that does the dog sitting. Besides the being great with the dogs, they also have a steam cleaner if you catch my meaning.

The event got me to thinking about what other things you wouldn't want to hear from the dogsitter.

Dogsitter top 10
10. "Did you have two or three plush chairs in the living room?"
9. "Wow, normally dogs get over that around age two."
8. "some dogs are just diggers"
7. "I think he made your vet's day"
6. "maybe you can call us back when he get's a little older"
5. "where did you leave that blank check again?"
4. "the officer left his card on the door"
3. any sentence that contains both the words "barf" and "wallpaper"
2. "Well, the dining room still looks OK..."

and, of course

1. "an impressive amount of diarrhea"

enjoy your dinner :)

Saturday, July 9, 2005

B'burg transit

(Originally posted on Saturday, July 9, 2005 by Cathy)

What I love about Blacksburg transit:

  • Buses run exactly like the schedule says, to the minute.

    This is a first. In Seattle, buses ran pretty much when they felt like it, and could be 10 minutes early or late. (Which meant you could easily stand in the rain for 20 minutes waiting for one.) At VT, you can sit there and watch every bus that timepoints somewhere on the drillfield start up and pull out at exactly quarter past. It verges on freaky.

  • Free buses.

    Ok, technically they're "pre-paid" for VT students/faculty/staff/spouses with ID. But since that's all of B'burg, they're pretty much free. No scrounging for quarters in the bottom of my bag, no waiting while someone else does.
  • They take the by-pass to Christiansburg, instead of stopping every four feet.

What I don't exactly love about Blacksburg transit:

  • Limited summer schedule

    Granted, the ridership I see seems pretty limited, but not running the first bus on the line I need until noon means I can't take the bus to work. Cutting the bus schedule back so far seems counterproductive. Sure, there aren't all that many people on campus in summer, but the ones that are there are almost certainly either graduate students/post-docs, who have to be in first thing in the morning and last thing at night despite the summer schedule (but might sleep in on Sundays since it is summer), students taking and faculty teaching summer classes, most of which are over before noon, and staff, who work pretty much the same schedule in the summer as during the year (but with fewer interruptions). I guess the problem is that the bus I take home is the shopping mall run, and BB transit figures that no one shops before noon anyway. (Given how late our mall opens, this is almost true.)

  • Stupid 20 minute loops around the mall and the Walmart.
    I actually take two buses to get home. The Blacksburg half of the two-town trolley line takes the bypass to the Pepper's Ferry exit, then goes to Walmart, then loops all around the mall before coming to a stop at the movie theater entrance at about 20 'til. At quarter 'til, the Christiansburg half of the TTT heads out. It goes to Walmart, then K-mart, then briefly heads north (right, back towards VT) to catch the DMV and Goodwill. THEN it starts heading towards C'burg. Notice how both buses visit Walmart? If you get off the TTT-B'burg at Walmart, you can actually sit there for 18 minutes (I've timed it) and get on the TTT-C'burg when it gets there. Yep, there's 18 extra minutes in the route. If someone would just offset the two bus-lines by 18 minutes so that the C'burg bus pulled up to Walmart at the same time as the B'burg bus, I could get home in 40 minutes, instead of closer to an hour. And that's without moving a single stop. Let me move the stops around and I could do it in 30. Actually, I guess I'd need to think about the impact on the northbound bus route (maybe that just puts the 18 minutes there), but since the northbound route is precisely useless to me this summer, I'm pretending it doesn't exist anyway.

  • Limited stops

    Ok, I'll fess up. I love the fact that the B'burg bus takes the bypass. But I want the C'burg bus to stop closer to my house. From Pepper's Ferry, there's no point on getting back on the bypass anyway, so the bus just goes south on 460 business. It hits the highlights - the kroger, the rec center - but other than that, it just doesn't stop. It goes right by these places, going no more than 30 mph, with stop lights and all, but you can't get off. I walk twice as far home as I'd have to, if the powers-that-be only thought that letting me off near my corner was worhtwhile. (Unfortunately, the only thing near my corner is a detailing place, which is pretty worthless for a bus rider!) Given that the C'burg bus generally has like three people riding it, having a few extra stops on the book (that the bus just blows past) wouldn't slow it down. And heck, it might just increase ridership if the bus stops occured in quanta of less than 2 miles.

  • Stupid stops

    The B'burg TTT bus makes two stops on the drillfield. The two stops are at 9 and 12 on the clock, if you have a Dali-style clock anyway. At 9 o'clock there is no shade and no bus shelter. But down at 6 o'clock is a nice bus shelter, with benches inside and out. (Did I mention that my office is at 6:15? No bias here.) I don't mind walking up to the 9 o'clock stop when the weather is nice, but when it isn't, a 5 minute walk in the rain with NO nice dry bus shelter at the end of it, when there's a nice dry shelter just outside the door to the building? Seems kinda silly. I got totally drenched on Thursday waiting for that bus to show up.

Monday, June 13, 2005

She made it!

(Originally posted on Monday, June 13, 2005 by Tim)

So our Thursday quest to get Cathy to graduation was filled with stress and angst, but mostly successful.

As described in the previous post, we had driven over 4 hours to Dulles Airport to catch a flight that would land us at LAX at 9:30 am. Graduation starts at 10:00 am. We had a very stressful morning. It was so stressful that I can?t actually bring myself to write about it at length. Essentially, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Well no, we didn?t run out of gas.

Here is a quick summary of what went wrong at Dulles Airport on Friday.

1. It took 30 minutes to get from the parking lot to the airport.
2. United?s e-ticket machines didn?t recognize that Cat had a ticket.
3. United?s e-ticket machines brought up ticket information for ?Andre Jahn? when I inserted my credit card.
4. An alert United employee directed us to the wrong line.
5. Cat got her ticket fixed but couldn?t fix mine because I was still holding our place in the ?wrong line?.
6. We missed our flight and got put on one with an arrival time of 10:30 am. Remember, graduation starts at 10 am.

It was really a very awful morning. Yet despite all the forces of fate against her, Cat still managed to get to graduation in time to be officially ?hooded?. The bulk of the credit goes to the Caltech Graduation Czar, Deborah White, and Cat?s Dad?s mad taxi driver skills. Jim literally sped up the sidewalk at Caltech, Cat jumped out the car, and Deborah rushed her over to the podium where she was slipped in as the last person to receive her degree at graduation. The picture above is not one taken by me, but one taken by an official Caltech photographer and posted on the Caltech website. I think that Cat?s expression adequately communicates what she had been through that morning.

In addition to the picture, there?s a whole video of graduation on the Caltech web site. You can download if for viewing here for broadband or here for modem. Rather than make you watch the entire thing, I thought I?d point out the important parts. It?s best to watch this while listening to the theme to Mission Impossible.

Under the section labeled ?Presentation of Doctoral Degrees.?
22:02 Cat runs onto the platform in the upper right hand corner of the screen.
22:06 Deborah on her walkie talkie calling Cat in.
22:15 Cat?s name is discussed in the background.
22:40 Cat gets her hood!
22:50 Someone says, ?You made it!?
22:56 David Baltimore (the President of Caltech) has to chase Cat down to hand over her diploma. For those of you who can?t read lips, she?s says, ?Where do I go??

I think that Cat and I have really bad travel karma and Jim and Carol have really good travel karma. Essentially, once Jim and Carol picked us up, everything started to go right. An example of this can be seen in the ?Introduction to Commencement? section of the video. Note that at 28:40 there is a 65 second ?moment of confusion?. Without this ?moment? David Baltimore would have begun his concluding remarks before Cat arrived.

So that was our Friday morning. The rest of the vacation has been a lot of fun and mostly stress free. I?ll try to post more later in the week.

Thursday, June 9, 2005

Yeah Right

(Originally posted on Thursday, June 9, 2005 by Tim)

I have to write in here more often, or go to Roanoke Airport less, or both. Two posts in a row focused on our travel woes seems like a bit much.

Cat and I are on our way to CA once again. This time we're off for her to walk at graduation and to vacation with her parents for a few days. I'm looking forward to relaxing, eating good food, and spending some time with Cat's folks. However, to get to CA, we have to go through the purgatory that is Roanoke airport. This time we decided to double curse ourselves by choosing Roanoke and the corporate disaster that is United Airlines.

I could speculate that United is yet another terrorist organization trying to drain the productivity from this great land of ours. However, I have yet to see a United employee throwing ducks at landing Delta jets, so I have to conclude that they¡¦re just hopelessly disorganized.

For today¡¦s adventure, we were trying to get to Dulles to catch a connection to LAX. Before we even left the house we were pretty much doomed. The flight we were taking to Dulles comes into Roanoke and then flies back again. When Cat looked up information on that flight, it listed as "Delayed due to equipment swap." I don't think basic math skills are highly valued at United (can you say bankruptcy proceedings). The incoming flight was delayed by 2 hours and our outgoing flight on the same plane was listed as A OK on time! Hold on, it gets better.

We jump in the car and Cat calls United on her cell phone. It begins with her fighting with their voice recognition system.

Cat: 8077
Cat: no
Cat: 8077
Cat: No
Cat: 8077
Cat: NO!

I couldn't hear the computer on the other end, but I think I can extrapolate from what Cat was saying. I'd like to thank Mom and Dad for all those expensive years of college, without which I would be unable to accomplish intellectual feats such as this.

Too Happy Computer Guy: Welcome to the United Automated Arrival/Departure system. What flight number?

Cat: 8077

Too Happy Computer Guy: 1775? Did you know that 1775 was the year that the first vintage port was created?

Cat: no

Too Happy Computer Guy: Amazing huh? How many bottles do you think were made that year?

Cat: 8077

Too Happy Computer Guy: That is a whole lot of bottles. They had not quite developed automated bottling methods back then. Do you really think it was that many?

Cat: No

Too Happy Computer Guy: I always get distracted when people start talking about port wines. What was the flight number again?

Cat: 8077

Too Happy Computer Guy: Speaking of port, we have a lovely steak tartar that we server on westbound flights. It is served with the United house port. Shall I replace your reserved vegetarian meal?

Cat: NO!

Well, more adventures have ensued which have resulted in our staying overnight at Brian and Anduin's house this evening (thanks Brian). We're still hoping to get Cat to graduation on time tomorrow. Wish us luck!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Congratulations Dr. S.!

(Originally posted on Tuesday, May 10, 2005 by Tim)

Well, this is 2 weeks delayed at this point. I blame finals week and the nice weather and grant writing and...well you get the picture.

The title says it all. Cat and I journeyed out to Southern California this week for her Ph.D. defense which she passed with flying colors. I was torn on the title for this post. I wanted to name it, Cathy's big adventure after the cornucopia of mechanical problems that Delta subjected us to on Tuesday.

It all started in Roanoke airport. There are several things that I dislike about living removed from civilization and Roanoke airport is one of them. You can't go anywhere direct from Roanoke and it seems like we get delayed 50% of the time leaving the place. The worst thing is that the delays can be caused by events across the country. We have been delayed in Roanoke due to weather problems in Chicago and mechanical problems in San Francisco. As far as I can figure, if one of the luggage guys in Atlanta develops a hang nail, it translates into a delay at Roanoke.

Well, this time the delay was actually caused at Roanoke. It seems that when our plane was landing, it hit a bird. Said bird was clearly trying to get at the pilot because it bounced off the windshield rather than getting sucked through the engines. Come to think of it, the bird may have been a terrorist trying to bring our great nation to its knees by causing delays at Roanoke airport. I wonder if it had a laser pointer? In any case, the bird hit the windshield and took off the windshield wiper. Apparently the FFA considers windshield wipers essential and we couldn't take off until it was fixed. Of course it wasn't that simple. First, we were told our flight was canceled. At this point, everyone gets up and charges the attendant. Cat grabbed her cell phone and ran down to the ticket counter to try and make changes there. I sat and courageously guarded the luggage. I wasn't going to let it out of my sight and allow some crazy plane charging bird get at it.

After roughly 30 minutes, the attendant comes back on and tells us he was kidding, they didn't cancel our flight after all. It seems the maintenance guys were able to pull a wiper blade off an old VW bus out in the parking lot and attach it to our plane with a liberal amount of duct tape. Cathy comes back from the ticket counter and, with high hopes of making our connection, we get on the plane. Unfortunately, an on time take off was not to be. After we get into the plane, we end up sitting at the gate for 40 minutes. Eventually the pilot comes on and tells us that our resourceful maintenance guys forgot to write the make and model of the VW bus in the repair log. For us to take off, this critical information must be inscribed in the tome of repairs. So all they have to do now is find the maintenance guys and get the information they need for the log. This takes another 20 minutes and needless to say, we've missed our connection in Cincinati.

Arriving at Cincinati, we find that Delta has rebooked us on a later flight to Los Angeles. The flight is two hours later, but still gets us in at a resonable hour. I'm thinking, "Ok, not perfect, but it isn't too bad". Of course I should have knocked on wood or sacrificed a small animal or whatever one does to ward off bad luck in that situation. It turns out that our plane in Cincinati is also broken. I actually didn't listen to what the problem was, but they went and put us on a different plane, resulting in another one hour of delay. Cat was enjoying the extra time to work on her thesis and I managed to get this cheerful picture of her. Our new plane is coming in from San Francisco and there are some sort of delays there (probably mechanical). They keep bumping back our departure time and we lose another hour waiting for it to come on. Now, we're looking at getting to the hotel at something like 1:30 am in the morning.

Finally our plane arrives and we board. Then we sat at the gate for over an hour, big surprise huh. Eventually, one of the ground crew comes on the intercom and says, "We've been here at the gate for some time and we just wanted to let you know what is going on. There's a small fuel leak in the right engine and we're waiting for a ground crew to come look at it and tell us if it's too big a leak for us to take off." A SMALL FUEL LEAK! Clearly, someone needs to school these Delta guys in a little creative lying. If not creative lying, how about a little creative not giving out all the details.

So we wait some more. Meanwhile, as is always the case with these things, we have someone freaking out adjacent to our seats. This time the individual is in front of us. He calls the flight attendant over and says, "Can the Captain make an announcement? I'm a liscenced pilot and I'd never take off with a fuel leak." The flight attendent informs him that jets fly with small fuel leaks all the time and that he's welcome to walk up and talk to the Captain or get off the plane if he feels uncomfortable. Well he doesn't talk to the Captain and he doesn't get off the plane. The first thing he does is call his significant other and tell her/him to sue Delta should the plane goes down. Next he and the women across the isle start going on about how crazy it is to take off with a fuel leak and mutually raise each other's anxiety level. The flight attendent finally has to come over and tell him "mostly politely" to quiet down as he's scaring the natives.

Eventually the mechanics get there and determine that the leak is not large enough to prevent us from streaking through the troposphere. The Captain does come on and inform us that the leak is one drop every two seconds. I do a quick (and conservative) calculation in my head and inform the pullus minimus in front of us that it translates into us losing a whole liter of fuel over our four hour trip.

Finally, we pull out from the gate. Yay! We taxi out on the runway. Yay! We're 10th in line to take off. Yay! Well, ok, not yay, but we are in line. Then we sit. We sit for at least 30 minutes before the Captain comes on again and informs us that he has an "indicator" in the left engine and we have to go back to the gate. It turns out that the indicator is a fuel valve that needs to be replaced. We've now been on the ground so long that our flight crew is running out of time before they have to take a break and get us a new crew due to FFA regulations. So we sit on the runway for 25 minutes hoping that we get the fuel valve changed in time. If we don't, they need to get another flight crew and we will certainly be stuck in Cincinati overnight.

Well, people like to say that "Alls well that ends well." They managed to chainge the valve in time and rest of our flight was without event. We landed in Los Angeles at 2:30 am and got to our motel at 3:30 am. Cathy managed to get enough sleep to do very well at her defense and she is now Dr. S. I've attached some of the pictures from her defense below for your viewing.

Picture captions in reading order are:
1. Cathy opening champagne.
2. Cathy, Cynthia (Lab Administrative Assistant) and Marie (Lab Technical writer).
3. Cathy and Steve (Advisor).
4. Cathy and Steve (Advisor).
5. Happy Cathy.
6. Cathy, Rhonda (Lab Manager), Cynthia and Marie.
7. Cathy in the Mayo Labs.
8. Cathy outdoors.
9. Cathy by the DNA fountain.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Spring Flowers

(Originally posted on Sunday, April 24, 2005 by Tim)

My goodness it's been a long time since I've written in here. I could blame the insanely busy school year, but World of Warcraft (the new video game Cat and I are playing) gets some credit too. With all this stuff going on, we haven't had too much chance to try out new meals. It has been old, and easy, comfort food of late. Lots of BocaTM burgers with corn on the cob and potato soup for us. We do have a new, and easy, vegetable fajita recipe but I'll leave that for a later post. Today I will talk about the flowers in our yard.

Cat and I put in some bulbs last fall. It's the first time we've seriously put in bulbs from a landscaping point of view. We did put a bunch in the brick flower boxes at the old place but that doesn't really count in my mind for some reason. Maybe it's because there were supposed to be flowers there.

In any case, we put a few hundred bulbs in last fall running along the fence and right in front of the house by the steps. Most of those bulbs have been coming up this spring. Some sad sad bulbs decided to come up during a warm spell this winter and got themselves a very rude surprise. In addition to the bulbs we planted, there have been some nice surprises in the yard. Apparently someone planted a bunch of bulbs at some point and all the flowers were gone by the time we moved into the house last summer. Either that or all the flowers were keeping their heads down for fear of the old wiring resulting in a fireball.

Of the flowers we have planted, daffodils and tulips have begun to bloom. Unfortunately I only have a picture of the daffodils at the moment. The tulips came up over the last few days and there is a nice variety of red, orange and white. We have a whole army of them that came up along the west fence that haven't bloomed yet. I'm expecting them to look quite good. You might want to click on these pictures to get a better view.

As I mentioned, we have a number of surprises in the yard that we weren't expecting. There are a number of daffodils coming up around the yard. We have a few coming up next to the grape vines. These are right next to the door and the dogs love them. I somehow doubt the feeling is mutual.

We also have a large bunch of daffodils coming up right next to the blackberry vines. The dogs don't seem to like these as much. I think the thorny blackberries and the daffodils have some sort of symbiotic arrangement. I have yet to figure out what the blackberries get out of it. I kept going back and forth on whether or not I should take the blackberries out. On one hand, they are a very invasive weed growing close to the house. On the other hand, they make blackberries. In the end, I was never next to them with a clippers and some spare time on my hands so they will get at least one more summer.

The yard also has a nice collection of purple and white wildflowers in the lawn. I've seen this sort of thing in a few yards around here. It looks very nice. I've been thinking of asking around to see if there is a way to encourage more of these to grow.

We also have this clump of surprise daffodils and crocuses in the front by the steps. These appear to have been growing thick for a number of years. I have a friend in Physics who is good with plants and landscaping. He has said that you need to dig things like this up and split up the bulbs. Digging up bulbs to just replant at the end of every couple years offends my sensibilities somehow. I want to plant bulbs and have them come up forever with little or no maintenance. Maybe if I was to plant roses? You just need to hack those back every once and a while, no?

Finally, we've a bunch of these purple things coming up in the front by the steps. I originally thought I had planted them, but I've found them in a couple of other places in the yard where I do not think I planted anything. When I dug up this section in the front, I dug into a bunch of bulbs that were already there. I think these are some of those I dug up. Note my attractive dead leaf mulch that I put in last fall. This stuff didn't turn out looking as nice as I would have hoped. I may have to consider real mulch next year.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Whining about computers.

(Originally posted on Monday, February 14, 2005 by Cathy)

having major issues with assembling large documents in Word. I just
assembled a three chapter research proposal that included 5 hours of
swearing and ultimately printing (to PDF) the 65 page document in a
dozen small chunks, reassembling in a different order with
then manually editing the pages in acrobat to fix the page numbers.
Utter misery.

The crux of my problem is that The Desired Format for these
things is body text, then endnotes, then tables/figure legends/figure
(any of which may include references which must be included in the
afore-mentioned endnotes). I used to do my endnotes with
which didn't mind much if I picked up the endnotes and plunked them
down in the middle of the file. (It wouldn't do it automatically, but
at least I could do it manually.) Unfortunately, EndNote is
expensive, and I no longer am in a place with a site license.

So I figured I'd use Word's built-in endnotes. How bad could it
be? Bad, very bad. Word doesn't let you move endnotes around in the
document (putting them at the end of the section doesn't work, since
I need some endnotes to show up BEFORE the section that references
them). It doesn't let you cut and paste them to another document so
that you can print the pieces in the right order (unless you want
them all renumbered to '1'). It doesn't handle multiple uses of the
same endnote in a nice way either.

(Word also likes to majorly screw up formatting if one dares to
use a master document to join together separate chapters, but that's

I tried yanking my word documents over into OpenOffice
as an 11th hour solution to my problem. No luck, in fact,
OpenOffice's conversion of my Endnotes made them their own separate
sections (I think?), and I couldn't move them in OO either. This
isn't OpenOffice's fault, since it was dealing with my stupid word
file, but I haven't been able to find much about what OpenOffice's
native endnote capabilities are. (I see that it has some, I'd like to
hear from Chez Modi's extensive readership how well they're working for you.)

So here's my question: Suppose you need pretty powerful endnote
and cross-referencing abilities. And you need to deal with 200 page
documents (including figures) without too many hiccoughs, preferably
as sub-documents. And it'd be nice if captioning figures and
cross-referencing to them was less of a pain than it was in Word.
(It's entirely possible to get some adjacent text included in the
figure caption, which makes cross-referencing it VERY strange.)
Should I be using OpenOffice? Should I buy EndNote and just deal with
Word's lousy handling of figures (which might be tolerable if Word
wasn't also screwing up my endnotes). Is there a better piece of
software that won't totally break my (impoverished grad student)
budget? (Aside: I write on a newer machine running XP and a 3-year
old machine running Win 2000.)

P.S. to those keeping track - I'm on a plane to Caltech on Thursday to defend my props at long last!