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My birthday was this weekend, so to celebrate I bought myself a Tiny Hannibal Lecter, NBC show edition. I intend to pose him in various situations and take silly picture for my own amusement, and sometimes I’ll use them as a lazy post when I can’t be bothered to have strong opinions about things.

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Tiny Hannibal wanted to slice the pork… or perhaps it was a forearm…

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Then he took a shot at the lamb… or perhaps it was a bit of rude rump roast…

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Tiny Hannibal stands over his master carving skillz.

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Then, of course, there was the chocolate cake. I’ll let your imagination run wild with what might be baked into it.

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Next up (probably): Tiny Hannibal does Christmas.

Happy Holidays, whichever you celebrate!

I nearly forgot to blog this week!

Excuses:

  • Last week was finals week
  • I’m leaving town on Thursday and must do all of my Christmas shopping before I leave
  • I celebrated my birthday this weekend with school friends
  • I haven’t even started packing yet
  • Life is chaos.

So instead of my opinion about something, or an update on school (I’m done with classes forever yay!), today you’re getting spam poetry. Also this is an excuse to clean out my spam folder.

Thanks for the Meal

Should have been doing long-ago, nevertheless
to novelty picks
like Choose of Fate,
these picks
won’t just allow you to play,
but make sure you seem good doing it.
Typically they’re afraid
the youngster
or they will not stick to it.
MENACING GUITAR CHOICES

It is believed that steel was learned
weapons
arrowheads
spears.
There are many different choices
going all the way to the edge.

stagecoach drivеrs
on the Oldd Wеst
who barely topped out
roughed up wіth thhe men.
Anyone named Ɗanny frοm Windsoг

The heart of your writing
did not sit well with me
Someplace within the sentences
unfortunately jumps
end up being amazed.

a colleague
bought me dinner simply
because I found it
Thanks for the meal!!

Next week I will write to you from a different city!

Let me tell you a story.

On a dark and stormy night back in my sophomore year of college, a horrible thing happened.

My hard drive crashed.

It was epic. It was the kind of crash where your computer makes weird noises, and instead of a nice, clean, apple logo, I got a frowning folder telling me everything was gone. And I mean everything. Photos, documents, manuscripts, class assignments (luckily nothing I was currently working on), a few applications… The loss of the photos (even though my dad had some of them, and facebook had the best ones) and my novel manuscripts was the most devastating. The crying-in-the-bathroom-alone kind of devastating (it was an on-campus apartment, so I didn’t have my own room). I was pathetic. AND it was during NaNoWriMo, so I was doubly upset that I’d lost that particular manuscript. I wasn’t anywhere near finishing, but I liked the story enough to want to pick it up later. There was a really great scene about pancakes… Ok, maybe it wasn’t that great, but it was NaNoWriMo, and it seemed like a great idea at the time.

“Why is this so devastating if she backs things up like a sensible person?” you might be asking right about now.

Yeah, I, uh, didn’t.

I was in a more naive phase of being an Apple user where I thought this sort of thing could never happen. It’s Apple after all, they don’t get viruses, blah blah blah. Don’t worry, I’m still in love with Apple products, despite the expense, but that’s a discussion for another day. The point is, I was an idiot, and didn’t have anything backed up. I might have had a few things in dropbox by that point, but not my manuscripts, and not my photos. To me, this was the end of the world.

I have since obtained an external backup hard drive that I use with Apple’s Time Machine, backed up everything important in Dropbox, and even put all my thesis stuff (and a few other things) on another portable hard drive. Oh, and I also backed up my thesis stuff to the department’s servers. I have a multitude of redundancies when it comes to backing up my data.

Which is why last night’s computer troubles were not nearly so terrifying as my hard drive crashing all those years ago. This time, I was prepared. Though, I hadn’t ever needed to reformat or restore my system before, so it was terrifying in that sense. But at least this time I knew everything important was safe. Theoretically. I still don’t totally trust technology. It may have taken a million hours, but I’m right back where I left off yesterday before I had to perform a brain reboot operation on my computer.

Point of the story: back up your stuff. Hopefully this is not a message most people need to hear anymore, as there are enough horror stories out there to scare people into being redundant. But just in case, here’s my story, and my advice is to BACK UP YOUR SHIT. Often, and in several different places.

Don’t be stupid-sophomore-me. It’s not worth it.

Now, back to the microscope!

A couple weeks ago I wrote about how being in graduate school is an emotional roller coaster. It was kind of a negative post, because I was on the uphill side of a really sweet hill of said roller coaster. Yes, the semester is still winding down, but so is my to-do list. I am so much closer to only having teaching and research responsibilities in my life.

And it feels fantastic.

The Thanksgiving holiday certainly helped a ton as well. I am one seminar (which requires me to critically read a scientific paper in my field of research), 2 classes, and 1 final exam away from being alone with my research (and teaching, but that’s easy and fun).

As for my research, I’m focusing on “point counting” right now, which is difficult, but pretty straightforward. Basically, I’m looking at very thin slices of my rocks under a polarized light microscope.

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I move the slide around in a grid pattern controlled by the microscope stage, and identify whatever lands under the cross hairs. I have to identify 500 “points” of the basic “framework grains” (the more common things found in sedimentary rocks like quartz, feldspar, and rock fragments), and keep track of them in a spreadsheet.

microscope

That’s it.

I mean, distinguishing between different rock types when all you have is a fragment the size of a fine grain of sand is often difficult. But after a while you get used to what certain things look like, and your options are just volcanic, metamorphic, and sedimentary (yes, you can have fragments of sedimentary rocks in a sedimentary rock, though they are generally more rare in sandstones, which is what I’m looking at). There are a few other things I have to identify, but I won’t bore you with the details.

Essentially, this is what’s ahead for me for the next two months of graduate school research.

This, and the Christmas/my birthday holiday of course! This is my giant skylight in the tunnel that is graduate school. It’s going to be a perfect time to recharge and relax and have some fun. Even if it is only 10 days. But I haven’t been home since March, and I’ve been working really hard, so I’m pretty sure I deserve this break.

The point of this post is to prove that graduate school is indeed a roller coaster of emotion. You’ll have weeks where everything piles up on top of you and you can’t even begin to think of a way to dig yourself out. Then you’ll have weeks where everything feels like it’s falling into place and you’re moving right along with the progress of your work.

Granted, things can change in an instant with a few simple words from your advisor, but this can be bad or good. Honestly, I was afraid to tell my advisor I’d be going home just for 10 days because I have very little work I can do remotely right now. After I told him, I realized it was a completely irrational fear. It’s only 10 days. It’s a freaking family holiday, and I didn’t leave town last year. I have no reason to feel guilty for doing this. He also didn’t seem to care AT ALL.

My advice to those of you starting graduate school or thinking about going back to school – it’s really hard, but it’s also very rewarding, and you will have your ups and downs. Know what you’re getting yourself into, and don’t beat yourself into the ground over nothing. And for those of you who are in the thick of it – if things are looking bleak, remember that they’ll probably change in a week or two, so try not to worry about it too hard. Just keep making progress.

You can do anything for a year, and you can do many things for two years. I can’t speak for PhD candidates, but this much I know about getting a two-year degree.

I may not read very many comics, but I adore film and tv adaptations of them. Through the years, I’ve set up my tent firmly in the Marvel camp, in the competition between Marvel and DC Comics. This is generally because I think they make better movies, but also because they have better female representation. I’m not saying they’re doing a fantastic job (I mean, can we PLEASE have a Black Widow movie already?), but for the most part they’re doing better than DC.

the flash

While I enjoy Marvel adaptations more than DC adaptations, I was more than willing to give The Flash a try. Only five episodes in, and I have very mixed feelings about this show/story. I like Barry Allen, as it turns out. He’s kind of mopey, but he’s smart and sweet and all those good things a hero should be. Very few flaws, which is totally unrealistic, but I feel like he’d be a fun person to hang out with. He has room to grow. I also like the set-up for the story, mostly because there’s lots of science-gone-wrong involved. I like that scientists are main characters. I LOVE Jesse L. Martin (secretly I’m hoping one of the meta humans will start walking around making everyone sing just so I can hear his voice). But I have two very specific problems with this show.

First, the portrayal of “nerds” as borderline-annoying brainiacs with very few social skills grates on my nerves. This is one of several tropes that absolutely drive me crazy. Just because you’re smart, and you really like science, does not mean you have no social skills. This is a myth that needs to end. It’s part of the reason I stopped watching The Big Bang Theory.

But the trope I really want to talk about is the one that Iris falls into. I don’t know the name of it, but if you do – please let me know in the comments. After my praise of Marvel comics, I must admit that Mary Jane of Spider-man also falls into this trope. Iris and Mary Jane are trophy girls. They’ve been in the hero’s life for a really long time, and he loves her, but she is completely oblivious, yet everything she does is for him is written to get a reaction from him. I’m going to focus on the specifics of Iris’s character, but I’m sure you’ll be able to see the parallels with Mary Jane.

Pilot

(Isn’t Barry Allen adorable though?)

Iris suffers from a severe lack of agency. Everything she does is either for The Flash, or written in a way that gets a reaction from The Flash. She never does anything for her own reasons, it is ALWAYS tied to The Flash.

Exhibit A: She’s his best friend, yet has no idea that he’s been in love with her since the beginning of time.

Exhibit B: She starts dating her dad’s partner, not because the guy is particularly interesting, but because the writers want Barry to feel sad that he can’t have her.

Exhibit C: She does school? Maybe? And works in a coffee shop? Supposedly she’s into journalism. But we don’t really know what she does with her time when Barry is not pining after her to her face.

Exhibit D: She’s obsessed with writing a blog about The Flash.

Exhibit E: When The Flash confronts her about the blog and asks her to stop writing it, she confesses that she’s been writing it for Barry (a.k.a. The Flash) to prove that the impossible is possible.

Beyond these things, we don’t know anything about Iris. We don’t know what she likes, what she hates, what she wants to do with her life, why she gives a damn about her dad’s partner. I mean, really, who is that guy and why should we care about him? He doesn’t really have any agency either, for that matter.

This is lazy writing. Comic book heroes get reinvented all the time, so why can’t the other characters in the story? [Edited: misleading comment from Wikipedia page on the various iterations of Iris’s character] Seems simple enough to give her some agency and her own purpose in the story outside of how she affects Barry Allen and/or The Flash, don’t you think? I mean, right now Iris is the most boring character on the show, aside from the detective she’s dating. This is mostly because we don’t know anything about her, or what she wants for herself. We know plenty about what she wants for her best friend the superhero, but she is painfully two-dimensional.

It is early days for The Flash, and Iris has plenty of time to become more interesting on her own (a friend of mine hinted at some things from episode 6 that I haven’t seen yet because I don’t watch things when they air that could bode well for her). I have hope.

But that doesn’t make me any less tired of seeing this same thing over and over again: female love interests in comic book stories that are merely a prize for the hero to win after many trials and tribulations, whose desires and goals in life are meaningless unless they are also tied to the hero.

When something is adapted to film or TV, what’s the point of doing it if you can’t at least try to make it better or different than the original?

This post is for graduate students, people contemplating graduate school, and people who want to understand what their graduate school friends are going through.

phd1029

from PHD Comics

 

Graduate school is hard. This, hopefully, is not a surprise. But it’s difficult to understand how hard it really is without going through the experience.

The end of the semester is rapidly approaching, and thus I find myself on an emotional roller coaster. I have a thousand and one things to do, and they all feel like they needed to be done yesterday. I have a lot of feelings about attending graduate school, why I chose to go, why I’m still here. It’s complicated. But I’m writing this post for people who are still thinking about going back to school, so they can make informed decisions, at least about the emotional side of things.

I feel the need to explain that I am in graduate school for geology, and the logistics of how that works. First off, geology, like most sciences, is generally a paid graduate program. You are there either on a research or teaching assistantship (I’m here on a TA), and so you are getting paid to do one of these two things, and your tuition is waived. I don’t get paid much, but I essentially don’t have the stress of worrying about how I’m going to pay for this education in the present or future (although, I do have student loans from my undergraduate degree, so I am not without a significant amount of debt – I just don’t have to worry about paying it right now). This is, of course, different for non-science graduate programs. Some are paid for, some you must pay for yourselves – there are many different ways to go about graduate school. Paid or unpaid, both have their benefits and drawbacks. I, for instance, don’t have to pay for what I’m doing, and I am indeed paid to teach and do research. But this means I am both attending school and working a normal-ish job, so my workload is a bit higher than it would be if I didn’t have to teach.

As a geology graduate student TA, I have to take a minimum of 24 course credits, plus at least 6 thesis credits, during my time here. I am on the semester system, so I teach/grade for two classes each semester (right now it’s Geology 101 lab and grading for Historical Geology/Earth System History, for those who wish to know). I may only have 6 thesis credits required, but the actual time it takes one to complete a thesis is much greater than that. Theoretically, this must all be done within 2 years (and I mean full years, not 2 academic years – I get to use my summers as well).

On top of all teaching and taking classes, I must also produce a thesis project for my Masters of Science degree. Hours upon hours of research and data collection, follow by hours upon hours of writing. Right now I’m neck-deep in data collection.

My third semester is almost over.

Of course, the panic tends to set in for everyone at the end of every semester. Final exams are approaching like fire-breathing dragons (and some professors like to give exams right before Thanksgiving… I have one tomorrow, despite the fact that there are only two and a half weeks of class left before finals. Ugh.). Final projects are due (I’ve got one due next Tuesday, before Thanksgiving). Holiday/vacation planning is in full swing, if you allow yourself to take the time off. It’s a stressful time of year. And it happens twice a year for students.

For graduate students, at least in the sciences, it’s compounded by the fact that your advisor is breathing down your neck asking why you haven’t gotten things done (whether or not they are actually doing this in real life, they’re probably still doing this in your head). It is both a gift and a curse to have an advisor who cares about you finishing your degree on time. I almost wish I didn’t, because it makes me feel guilty when I don’t have time for thesis stuff any given day. As a result, my brain sometimes begins to spiral.

You have research to do! Why on earth did you decide to take that extra class, even though it’s really interesting and will likely help you get a job in the future?? Why are you doing this to yourself? What was wrong with your life before graduate school that you had to abandon it for this life of torture??!

Graduate school, at least in my case (and many others in the sciences), is a juggling act of teaching, learning, and researching. You’d think that taking our the teaching might make it less horrible, but honestly? Teaching is probably my favorite part of this whole experience. It’s also the easiest. Next semester I won’t have any more classes to take, and I do have the whole summer after that. The goal is to start writing my thesis in the middle of spring semester. At this point I honestly have no idea if I’ll make that deadline. It feels far away and scary and there are SO MANY THINGS that need to get done between now and then. Weekends are no longer real. The future is not so vast, and it’s hard to keep things in perspective in graduate school.

In the grand scheme of life, I do not regret this decision. I have met many wonderful people I otherwise never would have come in contact with, and I am happy I have them in my life because I chose to go to graduate school. I am sure my degree (once I earn it, hopefully before I snap and run away) will help me get a better job in future.

But right now I’m in a dark tunnel and I can’t see those shiny lights at the end.

This is what graduate school is like. Not all the time, but at least once a semester. It’s made even harder when you see what your friends back home are doing on facebook and twitter, having a grand ol’ time of life. Or when you see your new, non-graduate school friends go to work and come home able to relax and do whatever they want. I know what that life is like – I took two years off before going back to school. On the one hand, I’m glad I did, because it helped me figure out what I wanted to learn about in graduate school. But on the other hand, I know what I’m missing without school in my life, and that’s hard.

Graduate school is stressful. It is the most stressful thing I have ever gone through. Would I have decided to go if I could go back in time with the knowledge I have now? I don’t know. That’s a really difficult question, one I try not to think about (but inevitably do around this time of year).

I must keep reminding myself that if all goes according to plan (and I honestly don’t know if it is right now) I have less than a year left of this life. My stepmom always says you can do anything for a year. Thing is, I’ve been doing this for a year and a half already. But I’ve made it this far, it would be stupid to run away now. I am not a quitter, and I would hate myself forever if I just gave up and walked away, so no worries of that happening.

It’s really difficult to balance relaxation and fun time with the amount of work you are required to do. This is something I have struggled with my entire life though. It’s exhausting. My greatest advice to new graduate students is this: make time for fun, and for yourself. You may find yourself working 12 hour days (that’s where I am right now). But you need to find a way to cut yourself some slack when you do that, or you’ll burn out. This past summer I did an internship, and it was basically like a real job. Yes, it set me back on my research progress, and yes, it didn’t end with a job offer. But it gave me another taste of the real world post-school, and a chance to recharge for the second year of graduate school (not to mention I met one of my best friends there). I don’t know if I’d be in a better place now, mentally, if I hadn’t done that internship. Sure, I’d have more data for my research project, and I’d be further along with it all, but I’d also be taking another class right now, and that sounds awful.

microscope

Like I said, graduate school is an emotional roller coaster. You get really excited about things like staring down a microscope at sparkly minerals and rock fragments, but then you also get overwhelmed by the amount of work you have to do in such a short amount of time. I am going to take things one day or one week at a time, because looking further ahead than that is terrifying. I promise it is not all gloom and doom. I have learned a great many things here and I am thrilled to know them all. I love what my project is about. I just wish I had more time.

Here’s a great list of 8 struggles only a graduate student will understand. Although it’s also a good read for non-graduate students who want to understand what their friends and family members are going through.

The Almighty Johnsons is an urban fantasy genre show out of New Zealand. Over there it’s in its 3rd season, but the 1st season just appeared on Netflix in the US. Netflix recommended it to both my roommates and me, so we thought we’d give it a shot. Keep in mind we’ve only seen the first 3 episodes, but I think that’s enough to have developed some decent first impressions of the show.

thealmightyjohnsons

The basic premise is this: four brothers – Mike, Anders, Ty, and Axl – are all decendents of Norse gods. Olaf – the only guy in the photo above in shorts – is actually their grandfather (he just ages really slowly because of his god power). Way back when the gods decided to live amongst humans, they left Asgard for Earth. Later, when people stopped believing in them or something, they got chased out of their homes and fled to New Zealand (Yes, New Zeland, of all places). Now, whenever a god and a goddess have a child together, that child becomes a god on his or her 21st birthday. They’re immortal, it seems, because they are continuously reincarnated.

Before I get into more detail, I feel the need to tell you that this show does not take itself very seriously. At all. The sense of humor is very blunt. They’re all gods, and they know they’re gods, but they appear to only really have memories of their current reincarnated lives (this might not be true, but I’m only 3 episodes in, and this is the way it seems). I LOVE the humor in this show. The situation is absurd to begin with, and they just roll with it. It reminds me a bit of the humor in The Fades. It’s blunt, and it’s quick witted, but there’s also a lot of 21-year-old boy humor. It’s an interesting combination.

The story begins on Axl’s 21st birthday, when his family informs him that his “cousin” Olaf is actually his grandfather, and they all have weak super powers because they’re gods. They do this silly little ritual – forcing Axl to strip naked and hold a sword in the air for “the lightning bolt” and suddenly he’s a god. But he’s also a 21-year-old boy. You can see how ridiculous this can become.

Here are a few more ridiculous things:

Olaf also has the fun duty of being the family Oracle. Sometimes he knows things. Sometimes his chill surfer dude lifestyle seems to take over his ability to know things. At one point he snaps out of a god-induced coma thing and starts dancing around, topless, with a lamp. I love Olaf.

The 4 brothers’ parents were the god of the sea, who ran off when they were kids, and their mother was the goddess of… I can’t remember. But she decided raising four sons who would be gods was too much to handle, so she ran into the forest to become a tree. Apparently the absurdity of godly behavior transcends the years.

Then there’s that one time that the god of all things dark and cold, and the goddess of… apples(?) have sex and make it snow apple-flavored snow. Indoors.

I don’t know very much about Norse mythology, mostly just the big-name gods and goddesses, but people who do know it will appreciate that many of the lesser-known gods and goddesses are in play here. It makes for many hilarious situations, especially when you start to think about the original relationships between all of them.

The only relationship they stick to is that between Odin and Frigg. There are a bunch of signs the day Axl turns 21, and this leads to him being the reincarnation of Odin. Odin has a big job. He has to find Frigg. This is his quest. If he fails this quest before he dies, then his whole family also dies. No pressure, then.

The set-up and the humor alone are enough to get me to start watching The Almighty Johnsons. But whether or not I stick around will be based on how they portray women on the show. I’m three episodes in, and so far the women are either mortal background characters (Axl’s roommate has a massive crush on him, but I can’t remember her name, and he is completely obvilious, and otherwise I have no idea what her purpose in life is. Then there’s Mike’s wife, who pretty much hates half his family, and might have originally been Mike’s best friend’s girlfriend?? But again, no idea what she does otherwise.), prizes to be won (Frigg, the goddess of Eden), or enemies.

There appears to be a whole coven of women who are probably goddesses, but this hasn’t really been confirmed. They tried to kill Odin, but failed, so now they’re trying to find Frigg. We don’t really know their names (at least, not their goddess names). But when the gods found out they existed, they were like “oh shit, goddesses hanging out together is really bad news – we have to find Frigg first!” Which, to an outsider like an audience member, is completely out of the blue. So far, the women haven’t been treated like people with their own ambitions (though I do have hope for Anders’ assistant, Dawn, who appears to be the only gorgeous woman Anders hasn’t tried to sleep with). They are entirely dependent on the gods’ storyline. I really hope this changes, but if it doesn’t, I don’t think I’ll be leaping for joy when season 2 comes to Netflix.

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