New books for 2019

It’s time for my annual “books I got for Christmas” post.  Here they are:

A stack of two books: "How to be a Victorian" by Ruth Goodman, and "The Calculating Stars" by Mary Robinette Kowal.

How To Be A Victorian is non-fiction and extremely interesting.  I’m already 160 pages in.

What are you reading?

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The little new things at my big new job

In my latest round of “I’m really slow at announcing life updates on the blog”: I got a job!  A “real” job, a corporate job, an “industry” job.  I started two weeks ago and thus far, it feels pretty great.  I’m doing stuff that I enjoy, I’m working with good people (except for that one obnoxious intern), and I’m making a real salary doing it.

Much has been written of the difference between academic and industry jobs.  For me, adapting to the big ones has been fairly easy.  Having to get to work at 8 a.m. with no chance of napping is tiring, yes, and finding work clothes involved a lot of frustrating shopping, but those are normal parts of being an adult and they did not come as a surprise.

The surprises have been more in the little things.  At the end of my first day, I tweeted about the shock of being handed a fully functional computer on a my first day.  That seemed to strike a bit of a chord among folks familiar with academia’s approach to IT.

I’m also still getting used to a different approach to physical security.  At a public university, with class-taking students coming in and out all day, the building doors were always unlocked during business hours and there were no restrictions on who could enter.  Closing and locking one’s office door on departure—even if you were just popping down the hall to the bathroom—was therefore of paramount importance.

To get to my new office, you have to badge in once to enter the building, walk past our office manager, and then badge in through a second set of doors to the main hallway.  But once you’re in there… we don’t close the interior doors, much less lock them, even at night.  It feels distinctly weird to be turning off my lights at the end of the day and then just walking out and leaving the door open!  With our laptops right there!

About those laptops: we can take them home and work remotely if necessary.  I’ve got a little electronic doohickey with a code that allows me to VPN onto the office network.  People don’t actually do that on a regular basis, though.  The two guys on my team, with whom I share an office, have left their laptops at work every night and every weekend since I’ve arrived.  I’m sure there will be deadlines when we have to get some late work in, but it’s clearly not the standard.

Not working on the weekend isn’t horribly foreign to me, even coming from academia.  What is foreign is being completely disconnected from work on the weekend.  If I leave my work laptop in the office on Friday evening, I am entirely cut off from all work updates until I arrive on Monday morning.  I am not used to this yet.  It still feels viscerally wrong to walk out of the office on Friday and become unreachable by email for the next 63 hours.

Oh, and my boss has been giving me actual training and guidance on a new-to-me programming language.  What a concept!

I’m going to count this as a parenting win

My older son did a sweet thing today.  Little Boy and I were running around the block this morning (or more accurately, taking a walk break during our run around the block) when I saw a penny on the pavement.

“Look, a penny!” I said.  “Pick it up, it’s good luck.”

Little Boy, currently a few months away from turning four, has a piggy bank made from an old Gatorade tub.  We’ve talked about how money can be saved and used to pay for things that he wants, and he seems to have an age-appropriate grasp of how that works.  I thought he might like the penny and he did pick it up, but a few steps later, he became concerned.

“I don’t want this money.  I can’t put this money in my piggy bank.”

“Why?” I asked.

“It’s not my money.  It’s somebody else’s money.”  And he set the penny down on the sidewalk for the original owner to find.

Can’t really argue with that.

A pile of new books: late additions

I have two late additions to this year’s “books received for Christmas” pile, courtesy of my mother-in-law, who presented them in person when we saw her last weekend.

Marie Kondo's book "The Life-Changing Magic of Cleaning Up" sitting on top of Caroline Fraser's "Prairie Fires."

Don’t worry, I asked for both of these; the Marie Kondo book is not some kind of passive-aggressive mother-in-law comment on my tidying skills.

A pile of new book(s), 2018 edition

The book Artemis by Andy Weir.

Not really a “pile” this year, just the one book.  (A book that I’m quite excited to read, since I absolutely loved The Martian.)  I received some other excellent Christmas gifts, including LEGO’s Women of NASA set and a beautiful framed photo set from my spouse.  I’m still working on last year’s books, plus an extra bunch sent mid-year by fellow blogger Leah, so I’m not in any danger of running of things to read any time soon.

Five children's books.

Little Boy got a more pile-like quantity of books for Christmas.  The picture above includes only the new stuff; my mother also gathered up a half-dozen books from my childhood and sent them home with us.  (She also found and gave us my old Sesame Street sheets and my brother’s Thomas the Tank Engine towel, all in remarkably good shape.)

What are you looking forward to reading this year?

I’ve been looking forward to this

Little Boy went for a run with me today.  Rather unexpectedly, when he overheard me talking last night about my plans for a morning run, he announced that he wanted to run, too.  So I did my main workout, a slow and awkward two miles, and then told him to put on his shoes and join me.

I’ve been looking forward to this, to him being big enough to join in activities that I love.  He may or may not stay interested in running for the long term, but for now he’s three and spending time with Mama is one of his very favorite things.

We ran up one side of the street and down the other, pausing to look at Christmas decorations and the neighborhood peacock.  He ran right next to me or slightly ahead—he likes to be the one in front—while I kept pace comfortably.  It was a beautiful day and it was fun.

Introducing Younger Brother

Kid #2, who shall henceforth go by the pseudonym of Younger Brother, has arrived!  Eleven days early and nearly nine pounds.  He is healthy and adorable and relatively calm for a newborn.

Close-up image of a newborn baby's foot.

I like a good birth story, so I’ll write up the details of my labor for a later post.  I never went into labor with my older son (who was breech and born via C-section), so this birth was an entirely new and different experience.  Recovery has been much easier.

(Side note: You might have noticed that I’ve changed some blog things recently—like the name—to reflect my graduation and changing life.  Those updates aren’t completely finished, so please pardon the mess!)

A fun office trip with Little Boy

Little Boy’s daycare is closed for a few days of teacher training, so I brought him with me to campus this morning.  My office is in a mostly-empty outbuilding, so there weren’t any major concerns about disrupting others.  (Not that there are many other people on campus at 9 AM in early August anyway.)  The plan was to try to keep him entertained with the novelty of it all while I sorted some papers and packed a few things.

It went delightfully well.  When you are almost three years old, there are many new and exciting—and sometimes scary—things to experience at a university.  Parking garages!  Elevators!  Public bathrooms with loud toilets!  And of course, Mommy’s office, with swivel chairs and a dry-erase board and stuffed animals and a vuvuzela (yes, really).  Plus a scientific calculator (he assumed this was a phone at first) and a computer with a mouse that he could click and scroll and use to make new desktop folders!

I had several dozen old pens that had accumulated over the years, and set Little Boy to checking them.  “If it works, give it back to Mommy; if it doesn’t work, put it in the trash can.”  He was quite effective at this task.

The best part of the morning was when my friend, who is also graduating and packing up her office across the hall, arrived.  Little Boy was ridiculously excited to see her, despite only knowing her by name before today.  He spent a good 20 minutes jumping up and down and running back and forth with sheer happiness.  Preschooler enthusiasm is amazing.

When I was Little Boy’s age, my dad was a PhD student.  I’m going to have to ask him if he has any stories about my visits to his office and lab.

Dr. Crazy Mama

My dissertation defense was on Tuesday … and … I passed!

(It’s taken me a few days to sit down and blog about it, because my parents are visiting and Family Time is fun but exhausting.)

It was not surprising to pass—it’s extremely unusual in any PhD program for someone to fail after being allowed to defend—but I am so very happy and relieved to feel like I deserved it.  That was my greatest fear over the last year: that I would be passed out of kindness or pity or just to get me out of there.  I am comfortable that that’s not what happened.

Defenses in my department are a short (30-minute) public talk, followed by an hour or two of private questioning by the committee.  My extreme social anxiety doesn’t transfer into prepared public speaking situations; as long as I’ve practiced (which I definitely did here), it only takes a few sentences for me to get comfortable.  So that part went quite well.

The questions from my committee were generally relevant and reasonable.  It was all big-picture knowledge stuff, plus some questions about possible follow-up work.  No one asked me to justify any of my methodology or even any of my conclusions.  I had to write on the board a few times, but didn’t need to pull up any plots or refer to anything specific in my written dissertation.

My answers were awkward and clunky at times.  Someone once told me that the point of a PhD defense is to find out the limits of your knowledge (and decide if it’s enough)—and so to expect people to keep asking questions until they ran into those limits.  I think not all of the clunky answers were my fault, though.  Some of my committee members were just not very good at articulating what they were looking for, and it took a few rounds of clarification to get there.

There was only one point when I felt really nervous, and that was when they sent me out of the room after an hour of questions, to decide if they were done or if they needed to ask me more.  I began the wait feeling confident, but after about five minutes started to worry that it was taking too long, even though rationally I knew that it wasn’t.  (And it wasn’t: they called me in after about ten minutes to congratulate me and sign the passing paperwork.)

I passed with no revisions, meaning that I don’t have to rewrite anything or add components to my dissertation.  Each committee member pointed out a few typos and suggested a clarifying sentence here or there in my introduction, but that’s all.  This is fairly common in my department, nothing extraordinary, but it still feels good.

Officially, I will receive my PhD in mid-August, when my university confers degrees that were completed during the summer semester.  I do still have to fix those typos and formally submit my dissertation to the university.  (Submissions are electronic these days, with much less stringent margin and formatting requirements than they used to require for paper copies.)  I’m also waiting to hear back from the referee on my latest paper, and I won’t feel mentally totally done until I’ve taken care of revisions on that.

To be honest, it still feels pretty unreal.  Did this actually happen?  Am I actually (almost) done?  My brain doesn’t quite know what to do with it, I think.  But it does feel good.

I love that Moana ties her hair up

The animated Disney film Moana came out on DVD/Blu-Ray last week; we hadn’t had the chance to see it in theaters, so we bought a copy and watched it at home.  It is a gorgeous, wonderful movie, with a strong heroine, great music, and the most amazing animation of water that you’ve ever seen.  Disney put a lot of thought into its portrayal of Polynesian culture and people, and while I have read thoughtful criticisms of some of their choices, the overall response seems to have been quite positive.

Blu-Ray case for the Disney movie Moana.

The quality of the animation is much higher than the quality of this photo.

On top of all that, there is a smaller aspect of Moana that was a joy to watch: Moana’s hair.  She has long, dark, wavy hair—and it behaves like real hair.  When she gets washed up on a beach, her hair is sandy and salt-poofed.  When she jumps or turns, her hair sometimes gets in her face.  And so when she’s getting ready to do some tricky sailing, she ties her hair up in a bun.

It was absolutely delightful to see a female character whose hair did not magically stay in place in all contexts.

I have straight, blonde-ish hair, so I’ve never suffered from a lack of “people who look like me” in movies, nor have I ever had to face the conscious and unconscious racism that can creep into people’s assessments of what constitutes “professional-looking” hair.  It’s still frustrating, though, that the cultural expectation for long-haired women of my age is that we wear it down, without clips or headbands or obvious hairspray to keep it in place.  And this is definitely a thing in popular entertainment—seriously, don’t even get me started on Supergirl’s hair.

My hair simply does not stay in place.  It gets in my eyes when I walk outside, when I play with my kid, even when I’m just sitting at my desk typing.  If I were superhero-ing or navigating a ship across the Pacific, you can bet my hair would be tied up.

It was so nice to see this in a movie!