Tuesday, December 30th 2003

I send Christmas cards to dead people
posted @ 2:41 pm in [ - ]
No, gentle reader, this is not the upbeat yuletide sequel to “The Sixth Sense”. In three separate cases, I actually did have to follow up my annual holiday carding with sympathy cards. If you got a Christmas card from me this year, take some vitamins and look both ways crossing the street, okay? Although, if you have actually received a card, you’re probably out of the woods.

My godfather’s dad and my great uncle died the same week, just after I had done my annual mass-mailing, which was pretty sad. They were both really good men who had served in World War II and been hardworking union guys. Then, the other night, I got a letter in the mail from Wichita. The only person I know in Wichita–that is–KNEW in Wichita was my grandmother’s step mother, technically my great-grandmother by marriage. I send her a Christmas card every year, even though she never sends me a damn thing, because I’m nice, and she’s old. Or, she WAS old.

So I was intrigued by the letter, whose return address I didn’t actually recognize. I opened it to find a brief note from this great-grandmother-figure’s nephew, telling me she had died several years ago. Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la! Now that explains why she hasn’t sent me a damn thing for the last several years, but not for the previous twenty-some-odd. How could I not know that a family member had been dead since the last century, you may ask? The answer is this: she is literally just as prolific a correspondent since her death as she had been previously.

Sure, I cut people slack for not writing back to me because of extreme old age, or stupidity, or total lack of interest in getting any sort of mail that doesn’t have those pernicious little windows, and I can certainly cut them slack for being deceased at the time of receipt of my epistles. However, having sent three–count ‘em–THREE Christmas cards to people who were already dead THIS YEAR ALONE (apparently, I’ve only been sending the one for quite some time), it does make me feel like there is some sort of problem here.

Now clearly, since I didn’t KNOW these people were dead, the fault is not mine. I blame people who refuse to communicate under any circumstances. I think we should all think of the Christmas card as a sort of annual beacon, announcing to your acquaintances all over the world that You Are Not Dead Yet. Indeed, next year, I may send out cards with that simple, plaintive holiday message: I still draw breath. Happy Holidays.

I’m going to start right now. Happy New Year. I remain sentient.

Tuesday, December 23rd 2003

posted @ 1:22 pm in [ ]
One of the things I use this blog for is to figure out what I think about stuff. So I have something sticky I’m trying to work out my opinion about today: personal perception and poster sessions.

These days, I’m on a couple of committees of the chaos society I belong to. One of the committees is the education and training committee, which is currently discussing what the different kinds of structured conference interactions should be like. We’ve talked a little bit about workshops, and now we’re talking about poster sessions. Something happened today in the poster session discussion that made me feel a little squeamish, and I’m not sure quite why. I’m going to try to get at it here.

Now, I dig poster sessions. You can get exposed to a lot more ideas at once, you can stroll around and absorb at your leisure, and unlike with a paper you’re reading, if you want to ask the author what she means by something or how she arrived at that conclusion, or whether there’s a good source for this area, there she is. Ask her. I also think it’s a great way to include more folks. You only have so much space in a conference program for speakers, and poster sessions can give voice to a bunch of other ideas and are a lot more interactive. It also allows for greater participation by folks who don’t necessarily feel comfortable giving a presentation to a large group, and a more comfortable format where they can share their ideas. So poster sessions: good.

The point that came up today was that some people just feel the need to talk about their stuff, so we should have an introductory set of brief remarks (say, 5-7 minutes each) by the authors to kick off the poster session. Now, for the people who wanted to talk but there wasn’t enough room in the program, this is a wonderful thing. They’ll take 15 minutes and say some fraction of what they wanted to say and get herded away from the podium. For those who actively like poster sessions because it gets their ideas out without having to make a speech, it’s a terrible idea. I greatly identify with this segment, and inwardly, I recoiled from the suggestion. I dealt with it in the moment by suggesting that we make the speaking time optional: if you don’t want to get up and talk about your poster, you need not.

Why recoil, though? I’ve done a lot of public speaking and performing, I’m not uncomfortable in front of large groups, and on various videotapings, I even look pretty natural. But for some reason I feel differently about scientific stuff. I think that the truth is that I like poster sessions because nobody can see me. They just see my ideas and there is no reaction to my physical presence. To tell the truth, I often wander off from my poster during poster sessions and look at other people’s stuff. I come back if someone looks especially interested in my poster, but honestly, I think I prefer to, well, hide, at least for a little while.

I think part of this goes back to some things I mentioned in my posting from April 2003 about the Sigma Xi poster session I participated in then: scientists (both male and female) are often not nice to young women, and many of us are frequently assumed to be morons until we can prove differently. I want people to have some opinion about my ideas before they get a look at me, before they see I’m female (I usually author my stuff as M. rather than Meg), and young.

I feel like every time I have to talk about my ideas in a scientific context, a great deal of my energy goes toward proving I know what I’m doing so I won’t just be dismissed (which I wouldn’t have to do if I were, say, a middle-aged man), and a lot less of it goes toward discussing what I came to discuss. Sure, I prove myself, but it really makes my ass tired and wastes my time. I like it when people see my ideas BEFORE they see me, because then I don’t have to deal with much of that crap.

At least, I think that’s what’s bothering me about this.

Thursday, December 18th 2003

And a few more things I suck at
posted @ 4:25 pm in [ ]
66. Making margaritas. I know, it seems like I should make really great ones, but I don’t. I mean, they’re terrible. Seriously, these hands have created the worst margaritas I’ve ever had. Feh.

67. I’m not a very good juggler yet, but I think I will be sometime soon. I say I suck at it, though, because I’m at that stage where you can actually tell what I’m trying to do enough to know that I’m doing it badly, and that’s progress! I mean, being a sucky juggler is still being much more of a juggler than a non-juggler.

68. Being in the military. Okay, I don’t have 100% confirmation of this, but I can’t imagine I’d be any good at it. It’s on my mind because I recently applied for a linguist job… with the Navy. It would be hard enough for me to work for the Navy WITHOUT enlisting, but it might be worth it to get paid to learn and use a whole pile of languages for a while. I’m waiting to hear if I actually have to join up, in which case, I’d have to give the Navy an emphatic f*ck no.

69. Respecting authority just because I should. Yeah, that’s part of the problem. The admiral, the president, the pope, my thesis advisor, whatever boss I end up with, they all just put their pants on one leg at a time, that is, if they can even dress themselves. I’m afraid my respect has to be earned by the satisfactory completion of respectable deeds. I know, it’s limiting.

Thursday, December 4th 2003

posted @ 12:39 pm in [ ]
So I’m home today, feeling kinda sick and crappy. It seems to be a sort of low-grade sick rather than the sweaty, body-wracking, gut-squeezing illnesses just about everybody around me seems to have contracted, and for that I’m grateful. It’s like I got cowpox. Still, I didn’t sleep well, I didn’t ride my bike, and I don’t have quite enough energy to deal with a lot of the things I’d like to accomplish today. On the other hand, I’m not SO sick that I can justify sleeping and just blowing it all off–I’m merely uncomfortable rather than miserable.

This seems like an excellent time for a chat about flu shot roulette. I know lots of people who are just scrambling to get flu shots. I’ve never had one myself, and so many people are into flu shots out here that there’s often a waiting list or at least a priority list, and being a healthy person in my early 30s, I am WAY down on that list. I might not be able to get a flu shot when I wanted one in any case.

Now, this is a rough year for the flu in Colorado. We’ve had a bunch of people go into the hospitals for the flu, not to mention drop dead, and let’s face it, what a lousy way to die. However, the “killer” strain of flu is not included in this year’s flu shot. The flu shot we have this year protects against a mere 4 strains of flu, and that’s not one of them. So I think, do I really want to go through a bunch of bureaucracy to prove I deserve a SHOT so I can haul my butt to some flu shot outlet to let someone with minutes of training stab me and give me a mild case of four flus that won’t even kill me? Hmm, it’s a tuffy. I think I’ll stick with cowpox and taking my chances.