Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I have sinned...

Must not buy clothes off internet. Must not buy clothes off internet.

Aw hell.
(today's shirt.woot.com)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dear non-sciencey professor

I wanted to love you, I really did. But then, you did something unforgivable.
You said....
you said...
that the analytical engine was "just a really simple calculator".

I cry now.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Go big or go home

When I get an idea for something ridiculous, it's gotta happen.

I'm writing an essay about tampons for my science/environment/society class.

The instructor is an older, semi-retired male engineer that likes to spend our classes talking about himself, mostly. The only criteria he would divulge for the final essay were:
1. Must be about a non-technical subject
2. Must be about something the instructor finds interesting
3. Should not be about something the instructor knows about already
4. Should also not have been covered in a final essay by any of the students that have taken the course in the last 20 years he's been teaching it (or something like that).

As if 2 and 3 together weren't enough, sheesh. First I have to read minds, then I have to satisfy some sort of paradox.

Anyway, I figure:
-he likes the environment
-he doesn't know anything about "feminine hygiene products", or knows very little
-none of my predominately male classmates will have chosen the topic in the past

Thus, if I write an essay/paper/assignment/thing about how the taboo surrounding menstruation hinders awareness of more environmentally friendly "feminine hygiene" products, I subsequently fulfill all of the above criteria. Right? Also, for bonus points, as a comparison I'm going to talk about the greenification of sex toys as the adult industry becomes more acceptable/less controversial.

Judging from the looks of horror on my classmates' faces when they heard my essay topic, this is going to be awesome.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dear classroom presenters: suck it.

Someone's been doing dirty business behind my back! They've been going to schools and telling the kids that engineering is REALLY HARD, and saying things like:
"You have to take more math than a math major." (not true)
"You have to write 600 tests every year." (the hell!?!)
"Everyone says that it's the hardest degree you can take." (I'm quite sure some of my classmates would find an English degree nearly impossible)
"If you don't have straight A+'s in math and science, you may as well not apply because you'll fail. And even people with 100% averages fail sometimes because it's too much work."

I don't know how the male students react, but some of my female mentorees have been sending me increasingly worried e-mails as of late, like "DO YOU SERIOUSLY HAVE TO TAKE 600 TESTS!!!!!" Some of them have been reconsidering their career choices (which is fine, I want to see them end up somewhere where they're happy, which I fully realize may not be engineering) because of these presentations. Isn't that the opposite of what you want to accomplish when you're presenting at a school?

I don't see the point of all this chest-thumping. The only explanation I can think of is that the engineering students want to stroke their egos and convince the high school students to worship them. I've noticed that some people even have that attitude on campus, and constantly need to complain to every other department about how their workload is impossible, the courses are the hardest ever, etc, etc.

Maybe the presenters just want to discourage mediocre students from getting their hopes up, and they figure that's the best way to do it. However, I don't see why they couldn't just talk about the admissions averages and then encourage C and D students to spend a year at college or something if they really want to go to university, then transfer in.

Maybe they're just joking and think that the high school students will catch on. Which is fair enough, but... from what I'm hearing, some of these kids don't have any idea what university is like, and trust its representatives to give a fair and honest description. I know I didn't have the foggiest idea about university/postsecondary until I got here. Some of my high school students honestly believed that there were 600 tests a year in engineering. I know that's ridiculous, I'm sure the presenters know that's ridiculous, but if the students don't know anyone in engineering or any university students, then what are they supposed to think?

I spent way too many years in a subpar school system that told the students that we weren't the "good schools, like the ones in (big city) ", we didn't have the good teachers, good enough resources, whatever. And you know what? It kind of stuck. Some of my teachers told me that I wouldn't be as prepared for university as kids from other schools (which was kind of true, but not to as severe of a degree as I thought), and even that I shouldn't go because I wouldn't be able to handle it.

That turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy for me. Whenever I ran into something I didn't immediately understand, I would start to panic and extrapolate everything into a catastrophe (which I can't blame on my high school teachers, only myself). Once, a professor told the class (in the third lecture, no less) that if we didn't understand a concept introduced that day, we should drop out of engineering because we would never be able to be engineers if we were that stupid. Guess who didn't understand the concept? Funnily enough, the administration told me that there was a rule that you can't drop out of engineering until after the first two weeks of class are over, because they have too many people that want to drop in that time to process the requests. Or something. I'm not sure if they were lying or not, but thanks, registrar's office, now I have a degree!

Anyway, I know the school presenters might seem like a trivial issue, but they're really frustrating me. I spend a lot of effort encouraging people to be excited about learning things and curious, and to consider career paths that they might not have considered otherwise. It's really disappointing to see other people coming in and discouraging high school students from something that could be really fulfilling for them, especially by calling it hard or even impossible. Should high school students freak out because something is going to be hard? No, but that's another post...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Wherein I get the edits back...

It looks like more word salad from my group members...

"The human misery described by Hardin includes pollution, over population and the inability to acquire energy is argument suggests that each individual must collectively view the world as finite in order for sustainable development to succeed"

Filter the kelp through your brain a few more times, *then* send it to me, please.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A bit disappointed

I went to a panel discussion the other day hosted by a women's group on campus that's branched out to support people in non-traditional careers. So, there were lots of women in industry, and a male nurse. The panelists came from several different industries, which was really interesting to hear about. But, overall, I still have to say that I was a little bit disappointed.

Most of the panelists were strikingly normal. Not like that's bad or anything, in fact, it's really reassuring, but I was hoping for at least one participant who really stuck out, or walked their own way. (I think) All of the panelists were married, and most of them admitted moving out here because their husbands got jobs here. Most (all?) of them had children, and talked about how they arranged to get home in time to serve supper, and how family time was really important to them (which is also a great discussion topic). But I guess what I really wanted to see was someone who didn't have children and didn't feel the need to defend that, or someone whose husband stayed home with the kids, someone who made her husband move here for a job, had a husband that was responsible for the majority of housework and childcare, or something. Not like I expected that from all the panelists, but even one panelist who did something really, really different would have been neat.

Even the nurse was pretty gender conformist. He has an MBA and now manages a bunch of hospital staff. Which is great, but I would be more curious to talk to men in nursing that interact daily with the patients and aren't at a management level. How did their family react to their decision? Do people mistreat them because they don't feel that nursing is a "manly" enough profession? I have talked to some guy friends that were considering going into nursing but voiced those concerns, and it would be neat to hear from someone who took a somewhat less "acceptable" position.

Also, some of his comments rubbed me the wrong way. One of the participants asked him how he managed his work-life balance, and he (the MBA nurse) mentioned that it used to be really easy until his wife wanted to re-enter the workplace, and he wasn't sure he liked that because it would make things harder. Gee, really, balancing children and a career can be difficult? It was just irritating because it made it sound like he had never had to consider changing his work schedule or making accommodations for his kids before, like that was strictly his wife's problem.

And while it was really great that all of the panelists were happy with their careers and felt supported, what about a panelist that could discuss what they did when crap happened to them? I've had really interesting conversations with some of the participants (and one of the panelists, at a previous event, I think) about dealing with discrimination in the workplace appropriately, which is advice that I really value. However, the only advice that they really had was, "Work hard to show that you belong there and are competent, and don't talk about shoes a lot because guys don't want to hear that."

It seemed like everyone wanted to be super sunshiney and roses on the panel. I can't tell if there really are 8 or so of them in non-traditional careers, from many different backgrounds, that have never had a bad experience at work, or if they have and just wanted to sound optimistic, or if they think that they should just deal with whatever happens to them, or what.

To sum up my feelings about the discussion, I'm just a bit disappointed because I felt like the most radical person there. And, I suppose I was expecting more stories about people overcoming challenges and fighting against norms and expectations. I'll just have to stick to calling my grandma for inspiration :) Or I can call the other grandma and have her tell me to stop wasting my money on an education and start having babies already. Wooo.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Labmate Rats

My labmates were curious to see what was in the big plastic kit that I brought for the strawberry DNA demo, so naturally, I had to show them. Part of the demo involves eating a strip of PTC paper to see if you have the gene that can taste PTC bitterness, and oh, woe on you if you do. Out of pity for the children who can taste it, the kit also contains a big pile of candy.

Oddly, every single person in the lab could taste the paper (compared to 25% of the kids I gave it to). Apparently there's supposed to be about a 50/50 prevalence of the gene. This made us very curious and we had to experiment on everyone that came in the lab. And, oddly, they could taste it all too! We had to try a few professors as well to round out the bunch.

Our conclusion is that the ability to taste PTC makes you bitter, and engineers are bitter, therefore engineers can taste PTC. It might need a few revisions, but so far our supporting data is really strong!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

And then your parents found a strawberry seed and poured your DNA on it!

Today was great, I pulled off the best science demo that I've done to date at a local Catholic school. The kids got to learn about DNA, chromosomes, and genes, and even got to test themselves for certain genes! Then we extracted DNA from a strawberry, which is fun and gooey, and it's also a good opportunity to learn about solubility.

The best part, though, was definitely the Q&A session afterwards. They were so curious, and the whole class was really attentive to the questions being asked so it grew into a great (and really long) discussion that blossomed out in many different directions. Some of the topics included:
-DNA testing
-gel electrophoresis
-goats that make spider silk
-genetic mutation
According to the teacher, the kids were so interested in the discussion that they insisted on spending all of their computer time this afternoon researching DNA and genetics! Wait, kids voluntarily and excitedly learning things? Win! They also asked me to send them the instructions for the demo so that they could try extracting DNA from their food at home. I predict an increase in fruit mortality.

The funny part of all this was, the kids hadn't even studied reproduction yet! It was obvious that some of them knew that things have sex and the babies get their traits, and other kids were totally out there. Did I mention I was at a Catholic school? This resulted in some interesting discussions.

Kid: "So... if I want to make a strawberry at home... do I just plant DNA?"
Me: "Well, seeds have DNA inside of them. Remember how we talked about how DNA is like a recipe? The seed reads the DNA, which gives it the instructions it needs to build the plant."
Kid: "So if I pour DNA on the seed, it will grow?"
Me: "The seed already contains all of the DNA the strawberry will need!"
Kid: "Do humans come from seeds?"
Me: "Yes, a different kid of seed."
Kid: "So, my parents poured my DNA on a seed and planted me?"
Teacher: "I think it's time for the next question..."
Other kid: "No, your parents both injected their DNA into you before you were born!"
Another kid, incredulously: "So... wait... this is why... if you have two different kinds of dog, and they have a baby, it doesn't look exactly like either parent, but it has traits from each? It gets some genes from each parent?"
Me: "Spot on!"

I'm curious as to -
A: How that one particular eleven/twelve year old has absolutely no concept of sex, or that humans don't grow in dirt.
B: What heredity makes so much more sense than.

Other interesting questions:
"If you get an organ from someone and you have their DNA in you, does that mean you're related?"
"If you get a blood transfusion, do you turn into someone else? Does their DNA show up at a crime scene, or does yours?" (for some reason, regardless of what demo I'm doing at a school, one kid ALWAYS asks me something about either committing a crime, or evading the police, hahaha)
"Could Jurassic park really happen?"
"If I put spider DNA in me, can I be Spiderman?" (VERY enthusiastically)
"Do you have to trade kidneys when you get a kidney transplant?"
"Do diseases show up in DNA? Why did the doctor want to test my blood so many times? "

The last one was actually the scariest question I had, she phrased it in such a way that I didn't see where it was leading, so I talked about a whole bunch of diseases that you can screen for and how. I hope I didn't scare the crap out of her and that she doesn't think that she's about to die or anything. Every time I go do these demos I get a bit better, but I always end up saying something regrettable, too. Hopefully the good parts stick around longer :)

(image: MyScienceBox)

Losing the little pieces

I haven't even made it to a quarter of a century and I'm already losing it. And by it, I mean, basically anything. I guess I'm more stressed out than I think because I seem to be losing track of small details. In the past few weeks, I have:
- lost my gloves (twice)
- lost, and subsequently found my wallet in a snowbank (that snowbank has great deposit security!)
-lost my mouse
And, the kicker:
-found a hairbrush I lost about 3 weeks ago in one of the lesser-used women's washrooms in my building. Next to my concealer. And my watch. The worst part is that I think I've only been missing the watch for a week! So I must have left it next to my other missing possessions WITHOUT EVEN NOTICING.

... it's time for me to retire, I think :D

Friday, March 12, 2010

In which I burn bras and corrupt children

Recently, I received a scholarship from the government for "furthering the advancement of women in non-traditional careers". I had a really great time working with the programs I was/am involved with, and it almost feels wrong to accept any money for volunteering. But, I figure if I can relax about money a bit and do what I enjoy doing, then I'll have a lot more energy to put into other things, like volunteering and science outreach.

Apparently, other people think that it's wrong for me to receive the scholarship, too, but for different reasons. I was sharing my excitement with some friends, while sitting in a larger group, and had someone tell me that it's crap that I get a scholarship just for being a woman (!), and that it's unfair to men to have scholarships that encourage women. After all, there's no rule saying that women can't be (insert profession), so they should just stop whining and start working harder. And if they aren't as good as the menfolk at (insert profession), then tough luck, they should just find something else to do.
(/insert profession)

You know, I get a little bit jealous when someone else gets a scholarship or other award, but I'm pretty good at keeping that to myself, and I don't feel the need to publicly shit on them afterwards. It baffles me that he can go on and on about how unfair it is for to discriminate against him by supporting programs that encourage women and minorities to pursue engineering, while he's about to graduate in a class that's about 15% female. And seriously, he could have just said, "Congratulations!", or even " (complete silence) ". So basically, I went from providing hands-on skill building, encouragement, and leadership development activities to young women, to being a radical feminist that hates and wants to destroy men, all in the span of one conversation. I guess perspective really is everything.


Fuzzy Morning Midterms

I had the nicest thought the other morning, around 8:13 AM or so. The thought was, "Awesome, this stoichiometry problem has all of the co-efficients equal to one! I guess they must have wanted to take it easy on us."

Haaa. Seriously, brain... Ethane != C8H2.

It's funny how even the simplest things (relatively speaking, I've known how to solve these types of problems for, oh, 7 years?) turn into rocket surgery early enough in the day.

Monday, March 8, 2010

I did it!

I got my grad pics taken wearing a pirate hat! Ahahaha. Now all I have to do is sneak them past whoever approves the final framed thing with all the pictures of my graduating class in it and I'll be a legend.

Friday, March 5, 2010

We have a winner.

I've received a lot of strange/creepy/awkward/unwanted pick-up lines, and thought I was at the point where they don't faze me. I was wrong.

"Sex is like war. Nobody loses, but nobody really wins either. But, it can still be fun!"

Dear Sir:
I tend to veer off on tangents. Pick your tangent from the menu on the right.