March 30, 2007

Is it a bad sign when…

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:55 pm by a11en

when you hope that when you type in the MyCokeRewards code on the bottom of the coke-cap out will pop a paper with the answers you are seeking for in your thesis research? 🙂 I can just imagine it now… type type type… ding… out pops an article about the proper method for calculating all misorientation symmetries for a misorientation and how to calculate the orientations correctly (and why the microscope appears to be incorrect)… yippee!! Yay for CocaCola! 🙂

Personally, they should consider something like this… they’d make some grad-students really really happy. Hell, probably even happier than a trip to Hawaii…


March 27, 2007

Positivism and grad-school…

Posted in Procrastination, Work at 10:00 pm by a11en

Well, just a few days from my optimism-v-cynicism post, I find myself a bit in the dumps about work.  I hate how my emotional state directly effects my productivity.  David Allen talks about this at times also… basically, our brains aren’t good tools for figuring out what to do.  They’ll pick either the items that have the largest emotional burden on us, or they’ll pick the item which was made closest to “now”.  That emotional comment struck home for me.  Just today we learned that our heaterblock wasn’t fixed by a simple re-soldering.  So, it’s being shipped back to the company, and will likely also not be able to be fixed.  Hopefully they’ll ship us all the parts back, because I’d like our crack-machinist to have his hand at it.  With enough time, I’m positive he could fix it.  The man is a genius at his job.

So, I lost some time to me just sitting and pouting about this stuff.  Totally stupid, totally no reason to do so.  If I had had all my ducks in a row, and my lists in proper order for the *next* actions, I wouldn’t have been in that situation… just look through my lists and hammer through this stuff.  I need to overcome this as it will make me an ineffective worker at times.  I’m sure you all get this also.  Things going bad, makes you think for long periods of time about how to fix them, or just malaise of them going badly is enough.  A slump in other words.

Well, I think I’m back on the horse today.  Hammered out a few more matlab programs to do my work.  Need to write another tonight before I’ll feel I’m getting somewhere.  I’ve found someone is wrong… either me, or some other fellows who wrote the books, or the software company.  We can’t all have different answers to this one- so somone or some of us are wrong.  Will need to be absolutely sure about my calculations before getting anyone on the phone from tech-support, however.  Can’t just say they are wrong without proof.  🙂

So, here’s to another night of hard work, if possible… and to letting your brain forget about the crap, and plug on through it.

Let me know how you like to get yourself into your work even when things are going rough, if you’re inclined to share!  I’m sure Fiore would have some good quotes about this, but will look for them later if I have time.

March 20, 2007

Grad-student Woes, Post #1- Cynicism -v- Positivism

Posted in Procrastination, Work at 4:42 pm by a11en

[Trying to go through some old posts that never got finalized and get them out of the in-box here.  More coming soon…]

One of the first ways a graduate student can have a crisis of faith in science is in the growth of an internal conscience of cynicism. From without, the hallowed halls of scientific study appear pristine in all their perfection- each old brick standing credence for all that is contained within; an unshakable and infallible human institution.

From the inside, the older graduates here will known- it isn’t all shiny baubles and Jacob’s ladders like in the movies. Surprise! This human institution is fallible. (Is anything human ever infallible?) For those of us who are idealists, this presents us with a serious crisis. My comment on this to my fellow idealists is: Deal with it! If you don’t, you will never survive an existence as a human. (Unless perhaps you grew up on Mars, Mr. V. M. Smith.)

My Prof. once said: “Allen, you’ll never make it as a scientist if you are a pessimist. A good scientist is an optimist.” How true. And so, I offer to you the importance of balance: Cynicism balanced by Optimism. This is best of course if you are cynical of all work done by other research groups and optimistic about your own group’s work. 😉 This is one of the true ironies of science. Scientists claim to be completely impartial to the outcome of their work, but in conducting their work, they focus on an hypothesis and do everything they can to show their hypothesis is true. Sometimes they completely ignore statistical significance, and sometimes ignore other “uninteresting” reasons an observation may occur. Now, a scientist will say that ultimately it doesn’t matter whether the hypothesis proves out or not, but with today’s extremely difficult funding environment, at least on one level, this is certainly not the case. As well, it must be conceded that the scientist is truly focusing on a single hypothesis at the detriment of all others, at least until he gives up hope (faith) in proving it true.

Now, the fallibility of the Prof., and perhaps more importantly, the graduate student (who’s likely doing all the work after all) means that most scientific research must be scrutinized with the utmost care. Hence cynicism is your friend:
“What was forgotten in that ‘landmark’ study?”, “What isn’t being said?”, “What is ignored and how serious is it?” When you start digging (especially in the soft sciences) you find numerous questions abound. Frequently, there are little to no answers to be had. Sometimes it’s amazing science survives at all. So, be cynical. Dig for problems. Attempt to avoid them in your own work as well.

Speaking of your own work- being too good of a cynic will cause you problems. You see- Gradschool is ultimately one big ol’ problem. 99 out of 100 times you will fail at the test you are running. I myself have worked on well over 10 major projects in my grad studies. An example: Want to run some Hall-effect measurements (DC) on the old machine in the back lab? Well, the machine may need to be fixed, or reprogrammed, or perhaps babied to work. This will happen at each step of the way. At times it will feel like the Universe is conspiring to prevent your work from succeeding. Likely it is. Sometimes the problems are too coincidental to ignore. However- lamenting this fact will not help you. Here is where my advisor’s words ring true. If at each impasse you sit on the ground Indian-style with arms folded and bottom lip pouting- complaining that said experiment is doomed to failure… well, you can imagine how well and how fast that work will turn into your thesis! Ultimately, that’s what you are here for.

So being cautious and slightly cynical about your work can help, but it must be balanced by optimism. If it isn’t, you are in for a world of hurt. Your optimism can come from any source you feel is acceptable- internal, external, etc. This we will save for another post.

So, learn to balance your new Grad-student pathway. Cynicism has it’s useful points, but it can easily become so overwhelming so as to hurt your progress (procrastination), create malaise (procrastination), and ultimately cause failure of your goal. You are here to attempt this great job of “Science”- and it would do you well to pay close attention to those in your field who are successful in it.

(BTW, you may even have to face the odd firing squad. You had better learn optimism so that when faced with it, you can stand up to the onslaught. Questioning yourself, your work, and your purpose can be a good thing- just remember, they don’t give out theses for “questioning” nor for “internal struggles” – They only give these out for tangible work. More on internal struggles in future posts…)

Good luck with all your experiments. Hang in there- yes, it’s likely to not work- but, well, you won’t know that until you actually try it, now will you? 😉 So, get in there and try it!

Whew- Prof. comes through…

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:36 pm by a11en

Hey guys- well, the Prof. came through.  We’ll buy a replacement heaterblock if this one can’t be fixed/turned in for stuff, etc.  That’ll likely save us a 2month downtime.  Thank goodness!

March 19, 2007

Going Postal… (why GTD)

Posted in GTD, Rants, Work at 8:47 pm by a11en

Free-wheelin’ post here… just a brain-dump. Trying to keep myself positive since I just discovered our growth system may be down for a long while here… [and time is not a commodity I can spend right now].

While listening to some GTD related audio that a friend sent me recently. Wonderful stuff. An idea I thought I’d share with you clicked for me: You know the postal service, right? And the jokes about people that go “postal”… the reason is always given that the mail “never stops coming.” It’s very very true. I mean, think about it… gobs and gobs of mail on Monday, gobs and gobs of mail on Tuesday, gobs and gobs… well, you get the idea. Not to mention that rain or sleet or shine or snow, they’re out there- walking that beat, or driving their little trucks. It’s all gotta get to people on time. My hat’s off to the postal service. I can completely understand why insanity may ensue!

I just realized, we are all pretty much experiencing a very similar effect. The never ending stream of things we have to do. That’s right, gobs and gobs on Monday, gobs and gobs on Tuesday… no matter what the weather is like outside, you and I most likely will be continuing to receive large amounts of things we must get done. In this day of the information age, things can fly into the inbox from around the world in less than a minute. (How long is that Satellite lag, or the land-line in the ocean again?) If you’re like me, rarely can we accomplish those tasks in that amount of time. So, we can expect to have bags and bags of these things that we are hoping to do, or are being told to do, lying around somewhere. Perhaps it’s in your head. [Need to drop the transmission from the bike, and fix the dog-eared shift-lever… Need to do the oil in the car… Need to write the ending to the preliminary document…] The list goes on and on. This is why we are darn well close to going Postal. Insanity. Never ending stream of stuff we just never really seem to get done.

In fact, as you get better at doing things (like fixing the growth chamber), more work comes your way. Someone says: “Hey, Allen is pretty decent at fixing this stuff… he did it last time… let’s let him do it.” And so, another item hits the inbox. This is actually a good thing. It means people want you to do things. They value your work; value your help. [I guess perhaps they may just not want to do it, but perhaps they are making this decision because they don’t feel they’re the best person to do “it” for some reason.]

So, how do we cope with this? How do we cope with that one last piece of straw before it breaks our backs? [Say the heater isn’t working anymore?] We must try and keep our brains clear of information so that when these issues arise, we can have the mental ability to work our way through them. In the information age, we must flow like water around rocks in our path. We must constantly adjust, renegotiate, find solutions. If you don’t, you’ll be left behind. You’ll snap, you’ll go postal. You’ll never improve.

What you need instead, is a trusted system, where all your “need to research x price on internet”, “need to buy oil from wallyworld”… etc. lives. When you have that trusted system, your brain can relax. Why? Because it knows where to go when it has time, and it’s ready to do something. When that crisis arises, you now can look at your trusted system, review anything that might be pressing (meeting at 3 more important?)… and chose wisely. In the heat of the moment, you’re likely to forget that meeting at 3pm, likely to miss something important, and more likely to despair if you do not have trust in a system that is more precise and durable than your short-term memory.

That’s what I got out of some of what I’ve been working on lately. And, I think I’m still sane… not postal yet. 🙂 Heater block is busted… perhaps… but we can swap it out for the old crappy system.. yes, it’s crappy, yes it brings into question our work… but at least it may still work… Had I despaired and not stopped to think of ways around this last straw… I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish any work tonight.

So, I struggle to have a mind like water… one of these days I’ll succeed. 🙂

March 1, 2007

Wet Shave Update

Posted in shaving at 11:39 pm by a11en

A tip of the hat to Merlin over at Merlin’sTower for talking about the wet-shave. I completely agree with him. A wet-shave is something I look forward to, compared to the chore that shaving used to be. It also produces much better results. I figured it was about time to update how things are going with my wet shaving. Before, I do, one disclaimer: I haven’t taken the plunge with an old style safety-razor and haven’t started in on straight-edges yet. I may get up the cojones to do this sometime this year (my small shaving goal), so, my method still includes a Mach3 at this time. [Feel free to convince me to get off my keyster and try one of these two out.] But, a standard shave for me now consist of using shave-soap and a badger-brush, as mentioned in my previous posts. Here’s a bit more about my process… (I’m no expert, so if you have suggestions, please let me know!)

Before I get into the shower, I soak my brush. I use a coffee-cup (an old RV mug if you must know) to soak my badger brush in hot water. So, before I get in the shower, in goes my badger brush into the water to soak. Immediately after the shower (trying to keep the beard wet), I usually start in on my shave. I first replenish my mug with piping hot water for the brush, and let the excess drip out of the brush before I start. My shave-soap at this time is Taylor of Bond Street Lavender. It’s lasted over a half-year now, with regular shaving every other day (luckily I’m fairly decent for a day- that might change in the future when I’m in the real-world… at school, this is more than adequate). I still haven’t hit bottom on my shave-soap bowl (nice wooden bowl), and hope to go for a full year! We’ll see. I lather (created in the shave-soap), shave, and repeat once (sometimes cross-grain)- but the first shave is usually adequate, and I use the second only to catch anything that was missed with the first (and touch up the side-burns etc.). After the shave, I go ahead and wash my face with my anti-zit soap, then I dry my face and use a 50/50 mixture of Bay-Rum and Witch-Hazel. A bit of a warning- pure Bay Rum, while smelling wonderful, and reminding me of my heritage, actually will feel as though your face is burning off your skull. So, I’d suggest you don’t use it, unless you really want to. 😉 For the longest time I’ve used WitchHazel, which is extremely cheap at your local grocer, for my after-shave. Does a great job. Finally, if I feel some sort of moisturizer is needed I use either Aveeno or my American Crew after-shave lotion. May be overkill, and mix of scents some may not like, but for me, this does a fine job. Again, some days I just stop at the Witch-Hazel, and I’m good. Some other little tips- I use the water from the soak of the brush to clean the brush afterwards, then use this water to take care of the stubble in the sink. I also tend to use a face-cloth on the front of the sink (usually at this time I’ve got my pants on in the bathroom- no need to scare your SO or anything…) to keep my pants dry from any splash around the sink. My method of using the soap and brush means that things get a bit messier than using a bowl to make your shave-foam. I tend to create the foam on my face, which removes a step, but tends to be messier and may not kick up those amazingly thick foams you sometimes see online. But, I gain the advantage of a great soap on the skin, and a brush that picks up my hairs and gives me the closest shave I’ve had with any method to date. [Again, I haven’t tried everything yet.]

So, very little has changed since I started. My soap is lasting forever, even when used copiously. I’ve gotten better at making my lather, of course, and also the addition of the Bay Rum is a fun change from just Witch-Hazel (remember my warning- you won’t soon forget if you try it yourself). But, all in all, I’m quite happy with the results. I’ve heard that things get even better with an old safety-razor, as well as with a straight-edge. Having the straight-edge available for interrogation use may also prove useful, so I may just go for that. A good friend of mine would say (about anything quite pointy and sharp): “You could make someone talk with that!” 🙂

I think the wet-shave may be taking me a bit longer in the morning than my old method, but it’s so much more effective that I can’t see myself returning to my old sticky shave-cream from a can (yuck!!). I’m still extremely happy with my Vulfix brush, amazing price compared to some, and it’s doing wonderfully. There is only one thing that I’m having mild trouble with- my little plastic brush holder (the brushes need to dry pointing down, so as to improve drying and extend their life). The brush holder, while cheap, just isn’t too stable- I could mount it on the wall, but prefer it seated, and in that position it loses the brush at odd-times (falling into the sink with a nice klunk klunk klunk…) So, when I have the funds, I’ll likely spring for a good brush holder, and a few other niceties.

There’s something about having these small luxuries in life that makes life more fun to live. Some may say the expense isn’t worth it (after all, the travel Mach3’s and some regular old soap may get the job done)… but, with how long my soap is lasting, how long the brush will likely last, and the cheap after-shave (Witch Hazel is like $1.30 for 4months worth)… I suspect I’m not doing that badly with cost. Besides, if your girlfriend is anything like mine, she spends the amount it costs for a single shave-brush during one trip to the cosmetics counter. This isn’t metro-sexual… if anything it’s uber-sexual… the manly man… after all, they had to kill a badger for the badger-hair brush… and considering the secondary use of a straight-razor, I think you could easily stop your friend’s laughing at the smoothness of your chin. Hell, I’d respect anyone using a single blade to cut their beard with. [Now, if only I could learn how to do that… the sheer loss of blood scares me…]

I strongly suggest trying out a good badger bristle brush (not the $5 store kind- that’s likely boar’s hair), and a wet-shave with good shave-soap. It has been a joy to do my shaving ritual, not a chore, and the results keep me coming back. [Merlin looks as though he’s doing a small series on the wet-shave, so don’t fail to visit his blog for the video and next installment!]