Monday, November 29, 2010


I'm a little slow about reading Science (the journal). Sometimes there's good stuff, but more often than not, I'm just not that interested, and there are other journals that have many more articles of direct relevance to my research. Sometimes, though, Science gives exposure to articles that, while outside my research area, are still interesting and even useful. Last week's (which I finally got around to skimming today) included this article, in which physics students were asked to either write an essay about their most important values (the affirmation group) or an essay about why something they don't value might be important to others (the control group).

Women (but not so much men) who wrote about their own core values did better on exams and better on the tests than those who wrote about someone else's values. The effect was particularly pronounced for women who start out believing men are better at physics than women. The thinking of the authors is that when people reaffirm their values while in a hostile environment, they basically remind themselves of their own worth and that allows them to perform better. Men apparently don't find physics classes quite such a hostile environment, so the exercise did nothing for them.

So, if you, or a girl you know, is entering into a learning environment that might be considered hostile in some way, perhaps a little directed journaling at the beginning of the experience, focused on core values and why she finds them important, will remind her what a talented, awesome woman she is and provide a buffer that will aid her in learning.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Good end to a good weekend

I made probably the best apple pie I've ever made in my life for thanksgiving. I added about a tablespoon of sugar and maybe 1/4 tsp of baking soda to the crust, omitting the vinegar and pre-cooked the crust 'till light brown. I pre-cooked the filling, too, sauteing the apples in butter and brown sugar before adding cinnamon and cloves and a couple of tablespoons of flour. For the top crust I made my typical crumb topping--1/4 c butter, about 1/3 c each brown and white sugar, a few tablespoons flour (and I added about 1/4 c spelt flour, since we had it), and then probably a cup of oats. Spiced with a bit of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg and a bit of salt and sprinkled over the pie it was delish--and made enough for another pie.

The pecan pie was more of a tart, modeled after this one but using a graham cracker crust and pecans. Oh, and it was beautiful!

We spent thanksgiving with Matt and Sam--a couple of friends from college--and Matt's parents, who live in San Diego. It was a night of good food and good company, and between the six of us, we made it through half of each pie (Sylvia had ice cream. About 5 helpings of it).

Friday we shopped (I shopped at stores, Derrick shopped online), hung out with more college friends at the SD zoo, and had Mexican food at a local hole-in-the-wall we like.

Yesterday we shopped a bit more and just hung out as a family. We haven't done that in a while because we're all so busy, Derrick especially, and it was very nice.

To round out such a good weekend, church was actually really good today. Sylvia went through three wardrobe changes before I found something for her to wear she couldn't take apart. I made her an "I spy" bag, which she just wanted to dump out (or "spill it"), but her friends enjoyed playing with. Sunday school was probably the best one I've been to in this ward, and was actually a pretty good discussion overall. Last week (which I didn't blog about on purpose, not wanting to complain all the time) wasn't so good. The teacher isn't my favorite and I thought about not going, but went anyway and regretted the decision when the teacher (not the same one as this week) suggested AIDS was punishment for homosexuality. I was livid. I didn't walk out, though, and eventually, after several minutes of people going on about how much better the lives of those who follow the gospel are in comparison to those who don't, I asked the (rhetorical) question, "how then, do we explain bad things happening to good people? How do we explain evil people prospering? How about kids with cancer?"

So, since last week's teacher pretty much just moved on, we discussed my question this week. I didn't say much--just re-stated my question. I have my own thoughts, mostly relating to the probabilistic nature of our existence and the conflict between that and our deterministic (or Newtonian) expectations for the world, but really other people said much the same thing without relying on physics analogies. It was much more interesting to hear how people deal with the question of the unfairness of life, though, than to sit through a superficial comparative analysis of the blessedness of gospel living vs. non-gospel living.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The lost women

As a female working in science, it's sometimes discouraging to see how little women have contributed historically. Admittedly, there are very few people who make it through the filter of history to begin with, but the erosion of names that leaves behind only a few pillars makes it seem like the only people who have been involved in science were those male pillars. Here is a summary/review of a book that details the lives and contributions of the women the Royal Society refused to admit to its hallowed halls but who nevertheless were important contributors to science in their day.

One quote, from Maria Mitchell, struck me especially. She said,
"The laws of nature are not discovered by accident; theories do not come by chance, even to the greatest minds, they are not born in the hurry and worry of daily toil, they are diligently sought… and until able women have given their lives to investigation, it is idle to discuss their capacity for original work."

The discussion below the article contains the typical, 'men are more accomplished because the distribution of intelligence is flattened, leading to more smarter--and more dumber--men' (debunked--entertainingly--here and here. Personally, I think Mitchell comes much closer to the mark. My experiences tell me cultural factors, especially expectations regarding women's roles, are far more important. Women are responsible for so much, especially for children. Having a small child prevents one from giving their lives to investigation completely, so as I'm struggling to finish my dissertation the tension between my two lives--my life of the mind and of investigation, and my life of the home--is quite stark. I've been extraordinarily lucky to have people supporting me through my graduate career, especially post-Sylvia, but it's much, much harder. In the end, there is nobody who can (or, perhaps more accurately, is willing to) do the job a mother can for her own children.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Nice moves

I'm going to write down a few more Sylvia stories that I found entertaining (though I'd understand if everyone else is bored by them).

Yesterday morning, Sylvia asked for chocolate for breakfast. I looked at her and said, "Dude, no."

With perfectly matched inflection she repeated back, "Dude, no."

Last night we had friends over for dinner. Sylvia was sitting on her little stool, wiggling as she ate. Somehow she fell over backward and hit her head. It made a pretty loud crack, and our friends were obviously a little concerned. Her response: "Woah, bonked head."

This morning Sylvia was dancing and Derrick told her, "Nice moves." Apparently repeating that saying is a little harder than "dude, no" because she told him, "Nice boobs." Derrick laughed, so my ham of a child ran around the house saying, "Nice boobs. Nice boobs."

I really hope she doesn't repeat that one at school.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Career options

My daughter has a career in advertising waiting for her.

This morning, Sylvia, after climbing into bed with me, started mashing up my lips. As if that wasn't enough, she then let me know about the inadequate state of my lips, telling me, "What's wrong lips? Scary lips."

Her solution:


Wednesday, November 17, 2010


A couple of months ago, Sylvia had a really bad fever--like 103.5 degrees. Needless to say, it was very worrisome and, since it (predictably) happened on a weekend (oh, yeah, and since the doctor our oh-so-intelligent insurance company assigned her to isn't actually a pediatrician), we took her to an urgent care center to see a doctor. Over the course of the hour or so it took for us to be seen, Sylvia's temperature dropped to less than 100, so by the time we saw the doctor, I was feeling rather sheepish about having her there.

But no need to worry--the doctor took Sylvia's former temperature seriously, checked her thoroughly, diagnosed an ear infection, and sent us on our way with a prescription for antibiotics and a bottle of bubble solution.

The paperwork given along with the prescription said that something like 2/3 of ear infections are caused by a virus, which said to us there was a 2/3 chance the antibiotics wouldn't do anything, so we decided to wait and see if Sylvia got better on her own before filling the prescription. In our case, that was the right thing to do--Sylvia was better by Monday and has been none the worse for wear.

I found it odd, though, that the doctor didn't suggest we wait a few days to see if Sylvia would get better on her own. Apparently, given the quantity of antibiotics prescribed for ear infections very few doctors tell people to wait it out, or very few people listen to that advice. As grateful as I am to have antibiotics, it bothers me a bit we use them so freely, given their expense and the possible complications they can produce in the form of antibiotic-resistant microbes.

Friday, November 12, 2010

I do not think that means what you think it means

Sylvia calls many things "scary" lately. We're guessing she picked it up at school from Halloween activities. Some of it makes sense--I understand calling strangers walking down the street after dark "scary," but today apparently elephant noises and toast with jam also both qualified as scary

Too bad Mandy Patinkin isn't around to correct her.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Since it's a holiday today and since we're out of necessary ingredients for most breakfasts, Derrick suggested we make waffles this morning. He pulled out the waffle iron and set it up in its usual spot while I made batter. After the batter was made, and our starving-to-death child occupied with a handful of frozen blueberries, I sprayed the waffle iron (and of course, everything near it) with Pam and started a waffle. Derrick was annoyed I'd sprayed his clean spice grinder with Pam, so he moved it next to the sink and washed it, and then went back to getting Sylvia's lunch ready.

A few minutes later, the first waffle was done--and none too soon, since the blueberries were no longer sufficient to placate my daughter. So, I carefully tried to open the waffle iron. And it didn't open. So I not so carefully lifted the whole waffle iron by the handle. Still didn't open. Realizing my Pam-job hadn't been sufficient, I pulled out a fork, tried to loosen the edges in hopes that would free the waffle, and finally gave up and pulled the whole thing in half and started prying off the waffle in pieces.

Sylvia didn't mind--taste is more important to her and, as I might have mentioned before, she was STARVING! We've faced this situation before--where the waffle just sticks to the waffle iron and there's no way to remove it other than slow, careful scraping, so I heated up a skillet to start making pancakes (not Derrick's favorite. In fact, probably something that's only slightly better than cereal in his opinion). Derrick volunteered to finish cleaning off the Awfful (as Sylvia was calling it) so I could make the pancakes, commenting "at least this isn't the worst thing that could happen."

To which I said, "yeah, at least this isn't something that'll ruin the waffle maker so we can never make waffles again."

I didn't want to spend all morning cooking pancakes, so I pulled out another cast iron skillet and rinsed it, and in the process knocked over the lid of the spice grinder, which broke into two pieces when it hit the floor. Derrick put it back together with some epoxy and rubber bands, and then, since he hadn't given up on waffles, went back to cleaning the waffle iron. A few minutes later it was apparently his turn to be clumsy. He dropped the still-warm waffle iron from three inches into the sink, breaking the plastic piece that holds the cover over the heating plate.

Unless anyone knows of heat-resistant epoxy or has the necessary equipment for attaching a new handle and cover to our old waffle iron, it appears our waffle iron has made its last Awffle.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


My father in law called me a commie today.

Admittedly, I goaded him into it, telling him that the government should be in the business of redistributing wealth. Not that I think income equality should be strictly enforced--there are jobs that certainly deserve higher or lower pay--only that the current system supports too much income inequality and, since people are unlikely to take the steps necessary to fix that on their own, the government should step in.

But that's big government, and I'm a tax and spend liberal, a.k.a--communist.

Derrick, being the caring son that he is, called his parents back later to skype with Sylvia and go through stuff we want them to bring out at Christmas. He really is a good son and I skould learn more charity from him.

In other news, there's a bit of a baby boom in my new ward. Something like 9 women are pregnant--many suddenly (to me, gone for a couple of weeks) visibly so. Seven or eight of women got together for a picture after church, which reminded me of the picture we took of all us pregnant ladies just before Sylvia was born.