Nina's Stillwater Calendar

Wednesday, January 31

Biting Off More Than You Can Chew

On Monday, while attempting to do a homework problem, I determined that I am too stupid to be in graduate school and they must have admitted me by mistake and any day now somebody is going to figure out that I have no idea what I am doing and kick me out so I should just give up now and go home. Of course, Monday wasn't the first time I had a train of thought precisely like that one. Every so often I enter this miasma. Then I finish a homework problem, or maybe even manage to understand a homework problem, and the spell is broken and I am innoculated for a little while. It is like a period, except voluntarily self-inflicted.

Toshi, another grad student, sent me this picture. I wonder if I can take this as a metaphor for my time in graduate school?

Tuesday, January 30

"All Your Base are Belong to Us"

This is a popular reference to really bad Asian (specifically Japanese) to English translations. I was going to blog on it, but it turns out that Wikipedia already has a well-written article devoted to the subject. I love Wikipedia. It even includes a short history of the video featuring bad videogame music and robot voices. And I learned a new word. Engrish refers to English as badly translated by Asian speaking people. And of course, "All your base are belong to us" is the best known example. Wikipedia lists other choice examples in its Engrish entry and has pictures of Engrish examples from Japan.

My 汉语 teacher often tells us when we translate from English to Chinese that we sound like 老外, or foreigners. Plus, English speaking people often get objects from wall-hangings to tattoos with characters on them that they don't know how to read. So, I went looking for American targets of Asian mirth. A Chinese-American man has set up a website dedicated to such people. I highly recommend it.

Monday, January 29

Maybe You Are Missing the Point of the Problem.

This evening, Barbara and I worked on an exercise from our Algebraic Geometry homework. We tried a promising approach, but ran into a roadblock. We tried a few similar approaches to ease around this block, but couldn't manage. We were certain it wasn't insurmountable though. After all, it was in a homework problem so there must be a way. We joked a bit, sat in mindless stupors, wrote on the board, talked it over, but no lightningbolts of understanding struck us. Then Scott, the engineering and business major, piped up with "Maybe you are missing the point of the problem." I looked at the exercise again. It turned out the roadblock we kept running into was insurmountable, but that wasn't a problem. The problem was in attempting to navigate the wrong road! And we needed an engineer and business major, not to mention a man, to point it out to us. It was utterly humiliating.

For those of you who know what I am saying here: We were trying to work with t, a scalar in k, an algebraically closed field, when we should have been working with t = (a_0:a_1), an element of P^1, the projective plane.

Bellagio Fountain, 2 Ways

My officemate recently showed me a photobook she made that included a picture of the Bellagio fountain in Las Vegas. It is quite a sight so I thought I'd share with you a few ways of viewing the fountain from home:

1. A video of the actual fountain
2. A video of a recreation of the actual fountain using only Diet Coke and Mentos

Sunday, January 28

You'd Think I'd Learn: Chocolate-Dipped Tomatoes and Other Disasters

Our monthly Sunday afternoon tea was today. Halfway through the dishes I decided I deserved a break and sat down to blog the evenings horrors for your delectation.

We borrowed a chocolate fountain and everyone brought goodies to dip. There were some wonderfully creative choices: Nature Valley Sweet n Salty Nut Bars, gummi worms, gingerbread, a sweet bread a guest from Senegal brought. And a not so wonderful choice: sun-dried tomatoes. In my defense, the tomatoes looked just like dried figs. I once put salt into a container and forgot to label. I later used that salt in a recipe in place of sugar. You'd think I'd have learned my lesson then. But no. Those tomatoes came out of an unmarked ziploc baggie.

That was just the prelude unfortunately. The big adventure of the evening involved our pièce de résistance: the chocolate fountain I borrowed from a friend. My chocolate was thick and I didn't want to add enough oil to thin it...No. Time to 'fess up. I thought I was smarter than the box and owner, both of whom told me to add oil. I thought cream would work better. And I found people online who claimed this worked. Armed with my own misplaced self-confidence and some online backup, I added cream. And then more cream. You couldn't seem to add enough. It was just too thick. Here I should have resorted to evaporated milk, for stability. But I was too busy in the kitchen to go to the pantry and get a can to open. Even better, I should have done as I was told and added the oil. But again, I was convinced I was smarter than the box and owner. So I grabbed a jug of milk. It worked great for a bit. Then it started to glop. It just kept getting worse. Finally, we added oil. It worked beautifully. The chocolate sheeted down the fountain just like in the pictures. For maybe two minutes. Then the milk clumped. The fountain gurgled and splat like there was a chocolatey swamp creature trying to rise from the muck. We resorted to melted chocolate in a pot and carried the fountain away in disgrace.

Does It Blend?

When looking for kitchen appliances, you want to know if it will stand up to the horrors of your kitchen. Will the motor burn out when I mess up the dough. Will it hurt the pan when I burn food into an inedible lump? Well, one blender company is trying to put your concerns to rest by demonstrating on video that their blender will blend anything. Like food or golf clubs or whatever. Check it out:

Saturday, January 27

Trivializing Trauma

I must apologize to all my loyal readers, all, like, seven of you. But I am just not feeling funny today. This post is something of an extension of So, what do you do? but on a more serious note.

A friend of mine was a first responder at the Murrah Building and we discussed some of his experiences last night. He found that the best way to deal with the trauma was to talk to other people about it. Sharing the load left him with less to carry. But it took some time for him to share. His group had been at the periphery and hadn't been involved with the more graphic scenes. Because he was exposed to less he felt less of a right to be traumatized.

I recalled an article I read about helping couples coping with a miscarriage. Some couples feel they haven't the right to grieve because they never actually had a baby and some fathers feel they haven't any right to grieve because their wives have the stronger claim. The article cited a few choice comments often made by well-meaning but thoughtless people to those who have suffered a miscarriage. Observations like "Susie had five miscarriages in a row." and "You can always try again." tend to trivialize the hopeful parents' experiences, robbing them of the opportunity to grieve for their loss.

I also recalled how I felt when my brothers died. I wanted to talk to other people about it. Like my friend the first responder, I wanted to share my load. But there were so few people I could talk to about how I felt. Some people tried to 'outdo' me, citing their own losses or imagining how they would respond. Others judged me, finding me too reserved, and decided I must not care. After a few of these incidents, I became overly cautious about talking to anybody. As a result, I had too few people I could share with.

In the post So, what do you do?, I discussed how new acquaintainces trivialize our endeavours and, sometimes, our passions. Not until my friend shared his experiences with me, did I recognize how far that tendency goes. After my brothers died and I had been on the receiving end of this, I thought back to things I had once been stupid enough to say to people and cringed. Of course, I still trivialize others' experiences. Except now I usually have the decency to keep my mouth shut until I get over it.

Friday, January 26


I love scrapbooking the same way I love playing the piano: I really enjoy the results when someone else does it well. Scrapbooking takes way too much work, planning, and random stuff. So I don't do it. But then all my photos are left sitting on a hard drive feeling lonely and unappreciated. Let me introduce those of you who also dread the patterned scissors, hole punches, stamps, stickers, and general bling associated with scrapbooking to a new way of life: photobooks.

To make a photobook, you upload your digital photos to the photobook wysiwyg editor of your choice. You choose soft/hardcover, photo/fabric/leather cover, paper, font face and color, photo framing, layout, etc. Of course, choices are more limited than with scrapbooking, but what I lose in choices is made up for by the fact that I actually finish these books. Then drag and drop, click and type all your content. You can save as you go and come back to the book a week, a month, a year later to finish. Then press print. The book is professionally printed and bound and mailed to you.

Photoworks : Excellent looking layouts. Photo upload program is very good. The photo drag and drop interface is particularly good. Interface takes a while to load in the web browser. Bottom Line: Easy to get professional looking results but with fewer options.

Shutterfly : More choices of paper, including some beautiful premium options. Ability to change styles within the same book. More layout options, though of generally lower aesthetic quality. Photo upload utility is a little finicky. Bottom Line: More and different options make for a more scrapbooky, but less professional, look.

Viovio : Viovio's service is run through an app you install on your machine. The final result is uploaded to a website, so you can't work on your book anywhere you happen to be. I haven't used this service, but it gives a great deal of control over the final results. I think this matches a corresponding increase in the effort you have to put in. Bottom Line: Let me know what you think if you use it!

Picaboo : Picaboo's service is also run on your machine. The app is difficult to use and photo selection is a small nightmare. Bottom Line: Great results possible, but then same is true of scrapbooking. Just too much trouble.

Blurb : I haven't tried this out yet, but I read about it in the article below and it looks awesome. It actually has support for reading your blog and putting the whole thing into a book that you can then edit to your heart's content. I thought this might be good for you Jill, since your blog is something of a diary. All you have to do is add and layout pictures! Bottom Line: I think this one is worth investigating.

For another, more professional opinion, see the New York Times article Technology Re-writes the Book.

Thursday, January 25

Comment People!

I am pouring at my heart and soul here people. Please, tell me what you think of my writing! Be harsh, be funny, be sweet, or caustic. Just comment.

So, what do you do?

There are two especially awkward moments when people meet for the first time. One is after all the 'standard' pleasantries have been exhausted and everyone is left groping for something to say that will be interesting to someone else who's tastes and interests they don't even know. That moment is for another blog though. Today I am thinking of a moment earlier in the conversation right after the question "So what do you do?" We know that no matter who we reply, this person who doesn't even know us will find some way to trivialize our life's work. Some examples are in order:

"I'm a grad student in math."
"I hate math. Can you tutor my 8-yr-old kid?"

"I'm a software developer."
"Really? My computer has been acting wierd ever since I went to this free porn site..."

"I run a meth-lab."

Before your next introduction, consider how you can modify your answer to get a better response. I have a few examples designed to avoid the pitfalls demonstrated above:

"I'm a grad student."
"I work with a development firm."
"I'm a small-business owner in the pharmaceutical industry."

Your goal is to avoid anything in your description that is familiar to your listener. Everyone wants to take all your expertise and equate it to their own limited experience. Many people believe mathematicians spend all day doing college algebra and software developers spend their time installing print drivers or setting up email forwarding. It is like people on American Idol who believe superstar singers are just doing glorified karaoke. So the rule is make your answer unfamiliar and generic.

There is, unfortunately, a very common and tricky situation this technique doesn't apply to:

"I'm a stay-at-home mom."
"It must be nice to have all that time to do whatever you want."

I recommend making something up to account for all the free time you don't have:

"I'm a stay-at-home mom and in my free time I work as a volunteer fire fighter and take online courses in international finance."

This sounds impressive and has the advantage of being thruthful. You might not realize this if you aren't a mathematician, but it is the "in my free time" clause that saves you.

Wednesday, January 24


This might sound hopelessly backwoods to those of you from hip and/or cool places like California. But, chickens are entertaining. Maybe not Batman Begins entertaining. But certainly more fun than a long list of other flicks I have paid money for, e.g. Pirates of the Caribbean II. To illustrate, I threw a banana peel in the yard. Three chickens and two dogs ran to the peel and halted in a circle around the peel staring each other down over the coveted peel. Most gave in and wandered off, leaving a Rhode Island Red hen and a Terrier mutt to duel. The hen darted forward suddenly, grabbing at the peel to run off with it. She didn't get a good hold, so had to abandon her prize in order to avoid the jaws of death/Murphy. So Murphy scooped up the peel, tasted it, dropped it, and wandered off. The remaining dog and three chickens then took turns inspecting the peel before it was forgotten by all. Okay, maybe you had to be there. But just imagine throwing a prized toy to a group of mute five year olds and you have some vague notion of what it looks like when you throw a fat juicy beetle to a group of chickens.

Chickens aren't just funny, of course. They are useful. My chickens, for example, are guard chickens. They keep my home safe from invading hordes of bugs. They even killed a snake once. It was a harmless garden snake, but I took it as a demonstration of competence for the task assigned. Like a security guard demonstrating he can shoot at a moving target. Hens also lay eggs. I know there are white, egg-shaped products sold cheaply at many stores. But it just isn't the same. Specifically, those egg-shapped products have yellow yolks. When did we all get the idea that yolks are yellow? Real yolks are a lovely orange color. They have lots of fat and flavor. And they come from my entertaining guard hens.

Tuesday, January 23


UPDATE: Check out this video of Bush singing Bloody Sunday!

Today, at lunch, we discussed the upcoming State of the Union. I won't be watching the State of the Union. I will be watching American Idol. Because at least on Idol, my vote counts.

I shared these sentiments and everyone laughed. Then others at the table began making fun of Bush. I would like to repeat for emphasis. A table of people I don't even know at a Protestant Church in Oklahoma began spontaneously mocking Bush. Even though if Bush ran today against a Democrat in Oklahoma, he would probably win. This sort of freewheeling derision is what I love about American politics. So, in honor of a witty and entertaining lunch conversation, I am posting a few favorite political lines (chosen purely for humorous effect):

- Bush: Like a Rock. Only not as smart.
- An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought.
- Impeach Clinton. And her husband. (I know its old, but it was so funny at the time.)

However, the best line about politics (not chosen for humorous effect) comes from Einstein:

Equations are more important to me, because politics is for the present, but an equation is something for eternity.

Monday, January 22

Anil's Photos

Anil never sent me a link to his photo gallery. But I finally bothered to Google his name and found it myself. So check it out under "My Friend's Online Home", on the left side of the screen! For those of you in the math dept who know Jennifer Stone, you can see pictures of her and her sister Gina under People.


Last night I did something bad. Well, I dreamed I did anyway. Only when I woke up I couldn't remember what I did wrong, so I can't make it right. I just have residual feelings of guilt gnawing at me. Which, since I didn't actually do anything, is illogical. So I spent the morning trying to think of something I actually did do yesterday that I could attribute the guilty feelings to, so I could get over it. Somehow, I think I would feel less guilty about something I remember doing, and can plan on and procrastinate fixing, than something I didn't do and can't remember. But I don't feel guilty about anything obnoxious that I did yesterday.

I made a face at something redundant that someone said at church. I am working on doing that less, which is why I only made one face during the whole 3 hrs I was at church. So that is a good thing, no guilt. I didn't watch Desperate Housewives, which I gave up last month during Sabbath day and now wait until Monday night to watch. I didn't pay enough attention to my dogs, but then I don't feel guilty about that any other day, so why start now? Wait, I didn't print tea invitiations or make a few phone calls. I can feel guilty about that. Since I have felt a vague inclination to guilt over those two things for almost a week, it isn't even out of my way to pile some unrelated guilt on top. And tonight, I can transfer all my accumulated guilt to my husband by complaining to him about how the printer isn't working. After all, I did press the print button last night, even if I failed to do anything about it when nothing happened.

Sunday, January 21

Chocolate Fondue Fountain

My first experience with a chocolate fountain was at a wedding. I squealed in delight and began hogging the fountain in my zeal to dip every type of foodstuff provided. I realized those fountains would make for an unforgettable and ridiculously easy Sunday afternoon tea. Then those little fountains started popping up everywhere. You can get one at Wal-Mart for under $30. I decided to get one and considered where I would put it. Then I recalled where I had piled my juicer, citrus juicer, ice tea maker, waffle maker, lemonade maker, George Foreman grill, sandwich grill, rice cooker, crock pot, dehydrator, electric wok, ice cream maker, popcorn machine, and deep fryer. I am not going to buy a chocolate fondue fountain.

Luckily, a friend got a chocolate fountain the same way I got most of my aformentioned appliances: Christmas. Now I can, free of charge, use a chocolate fountain whenever the mood strikes me and then return it, with some leftover treats, to its grateful owner for storage. If only I could do this with my husband...

Friday, January 19

? Storm, Day ?

Today and yesterday were above freezing. But tonight is to see snow again. So do I call this Snow Storm, Day 1 or Ice Storm, Day 8? Since the ice on the gound has been continuous it seems silly to create a break between the counts. However, the last two days have provided opportunities to go to the grocery store, etc. So the dogs may survive this storm with their remaining legs. So perhaps the ability to go to a store justifies a restart on the count.

I am looking forward to the snow. I believe everyone in Stillwater has slipped and fallen on the ice at least twice. The snow should help prevent falls, and if it doesn't, it should cushion the impact. Then we can stop walking in a shuffling little step with our arms out for balance.

Wednesday, January 17

We went to campus last night to take pictures since we won't have that many opportunities to take pictures of ice covered Stillwater, OK. Above is the Edmon Low Library and below is the Student Union. We took one picture of us. I stood still, but Scott just couldn't help moving so he looks like a chicken flapping its wings. I am always telling him to stay still and calm down. Now I have evidence that he doesn't listen.

Tuesday, January 16

Being a Snob

Last night my husband offered to pack a lunch for me to take to school the next day. I primly informed him that I had a "standing lunch engagement" for Tuesdays this semester and would not be needing a sack lunch. I declined to mention that this "engagement" is with a friend and frequently her boyfriend as well so I am really unnecessary. Plus the lunch is done by the Methodist student group near campus (The Wesley Foundation) so I am essentially a freeloader. It takes a special sort of hubris to be prim and self-important about your role as a social parasite.


We had two homeworks assigned before the ice storm. We all spent three and a half days during the storm with no school and nowhere to go. The results: My officemate Naomi did 2 problems. I did 1 problem. And our friend Barbara did part of a problem. Later this week, we will all have many things we could go and do but instead we will be stuck in our offices finishing the homework.

It's like when you are 11 yrs old and sitting at home bored and your dad tells you that if you are bored you can help with laundry/yard work/etc. Or maybe just my dad always did that. Which begs the obvious question: Why didn't I learn this lesson back when I was 11? I mean, I knew what the results of procrastinating would be. And if we got a few days off again I would use the opportunity to not study again. So perhaps the real question should be: Why do I absolutely refuse to learn this particularly lesson?

And, of course, the real answer is that I enjoy playing too much to give up an opportunity to indulge. Like chocolate.

Monday, January 15

Ice Storm, Day 4

Chickens are gone...puppy dogs are looking yummy...

Okay, well, the storm is over. But there is still enough ice on the roads to furnish an excuse to stay go sledding again! (though not quite enough ice to justify doing homework) Scott put a post at the top of the hill and strung a rope down so we all had a way to climb up.

Sunday, January 14


While ice storms may be bad for driving, they are very good for sledding. You don't have to compact the snow first to make it slick. It is frozen solid and you just glide along the top. Scott had the bright idea of using a chicken feed bag to slide on and we were off. He took Murphy down on his lap a few times. And then when Nina went sledding, she ran along beside.

Ice Storm, Day 3

Getting low on rations...Will start eating chickens soon...

We are so happy to have friends within walking distance so we can get out and see other people when it isn't sleeting. We tried driving somewhere during the morning during Day 2. The rain froze as soon as it hit the windshield and we had to pull over to scrape. So, now we only go places we can walk. Actually, we could stop playing, reading, sleeping in, cooking, eating, etc. and actually study and do homework during the storm. Hmmm...nah. I don't think so.

Tuesday, January 9


Scott went to work yesterday morning. He came home this morning, about 26 hrs later. He was back at work before noon. And then he went home about 4:30 and he was just called back in. Poor guy. I whine with my office-mate about staying up until 2am doing homework, but then I turn it in and take a nap in the office the next day. It ends.

Well, enough about his trouble. Now about mine. Our assistant department head assigns TAs to teach various courses without consulting their class schedules. Then, when conflicts inevitably arise, he tells them to work it out or drop their courses. No one wants to drop their courses, that is why we are here! So we try to work it out instead. This semester was particularly bad. There were multiple conflicts involving quite a few people and no good solution could be found. So a workable, but not good, solution was adopted. Now a number of faculty and grad students are upset with each other. Which is frustrating. Even more frustrating is the fact that not everyone seems to understand that others are upset, but no one wants to try to talk to each other about it because that is difficult and tricky.