Nina's Stillwater Calendar

Friday, June 29

Visiting the B-Reactor

For those of you who don't know, Richland (seriously, the whole town) was built during WWII as part of the Manhattan Project. Its sole purpose was to house people to work at the reactor making plutonium for nuclear weapons. Interns get to tour B-Reactor, which is where the plutonium for the Nagasaki bomb was made. We were told we couldn't have cameras until the bus got to the reactor and then we were told that of course we could have cameras! My officemate Megan whipped out her cellphone and started clicking. So the quality isn't great, but it sure beats nothing. And I have a picture of myself running along the evac route in a nuclear reactor. How cool is that?

It's Just a Message Board, Not a Political Statement

The interns of PNNL have a listserv. A listserv is a nice place to make announcements. It is an inconvenient place to coordinate schedules of a large group. Like the poor girl who asks the listserv what weekend is best to go wakeboarding and then deals with sorting through 30 responses. Then the only people who know what is going on are the 30 who responded and so no one gets to change their minds and decide to participate. This particular listserv has the extra invconveniences of being only available at work, so not good for weekend planning, and a changing membership, so as new interns come in they don't know what is going on unless someone sends out another email announcement. Being the brilliant organizer and all around good person that I am, I created a message board where people could organize events. And post to a calendar. And create polls for people to vote on dates. Doesn't that sound nice to you? Well, it didn't sound nice to everyone on the listserv apparently, as demonstrated by these postings to the listserv:

All future volleyball postings will be on the discussion board. Unfortunately, I think we will lose some players but if it's easier to log into a discussion board then to just delete an email in your inbox then so be it.

Same with all wakeboard/boating Postings. It's a shame it had to come to this to make a few people happy.

We live in an age and a country of political correctness… it's where the masses must bend over backwards to appease the desires of the few. It is unfortunate, but it is also the unchangeable state of affairs of our society.

I totally didn't make that last one up. Some of this actually hurt my feelings. I mean, I spent time evaluating message boards, setting one up, checking that no one at PNNL would object, and I expected to spend quite a bit of additional time administrating the board. All to be nice. Fortunately, I also had several admirers who got the point. For example:

I wouldn't say anything, but "the few" should speak up and show that we are the many. Please don't get me wrong. I like the announcements, but I think the correspondence afterwards should be kept on the boards.

Monday, June 25

Family Resemblance

Scott flies out to visit me on Wednesday morning. If you didn't already know this, you must not have talked to Scott lately. I've heard he has told everyone. But then, he hasn't seen me in nearly 6 weeks, so it isn't surprising he is excited. What is surprising is that he looks something like Murphy does when she feels pathetic and needy. I didn't have picture of Murphy looking pathetic and needy because when she looks that way you better either pet her or run away. The middle ground just won't do. But I think this picture gives an idea of how she expects to be worshiped. Now imagine this little princess is feeling ignored and hurt and you get the idea. And that is what I heard Scott looks like. Poor guy. Unfortunately, I happen to like a man who gets the puppy dog look when he misses me. So long as I don't actually have to put up with the puppy dog look, of course. So I am disinclined to try to make him feel too much better.

Friday, June 22

Gifts Translated, Again

A certain clueless man has objected to the interpretations I have provided for each gift. I would like to remind my readers that each meaning was intended to be worst-case, not typical case. Lest anyone get carried away and believe that 'worst-case' means 'unlikely', I will attempt to expand on my previous translations by providing a more comprehensive list of both what the man means when he says "This is for you" and what the woman means when she says "Thank you." All women should feel free to disagree.

Candles, Worst-case
Him: I forgot it was (your birthday/our anniversary/whatever) until I was checking out at the drug store, so I just grabbed something girlie-looking. See? It's purple with flower things on it.
Her: I wonder if a cheap scent masquerading as "Lavender Midnight Dream" can possibly mask the bathroom odor when he gets done?

Candles, Best-case in reality
Him: I forgot it was (your birthday/our anniversary/whatever) until I was on the way home so I just stopped at a nice store and grabbed something girlie-looking. See? It's purple with flower things on it.
Her: Mmm...smells good for lavender I guess, but doesn't that store have a rose-scented candle that would've matched the potpurri in the bathroom?

Candles, Best-case in some sort of romantic fantasy
Him: I remembered both your love for rosemary-cinnamon scents and (your birthday/our anniversary/whatever) well enough in advance to actually find a rosemary-cinnamon scented candle.
Her: Thank you.

Stuffed Animals
Here I made a mistake in my original list. I stated that the worst possible translation that could be given to a gift of a stuffed animal was I think of women as curvier but no less silly versions of thirteen-year-old girls. I forgot about I assume you receive so few dates that you must need a stuffed animal to share your bed. Honestly, the difficulty in choosing a worst-case interpretation for a stuffed animal is in choosing just one. I propose instead that any clueless men reading this post agree not to give women they don't know well a stuffed animal, and I concede that some women do like one on occasion.

Flowers, cut and wrapped
Him: I screwed up somehow and want to head it off before you realize it.
Her: Lovely. Now I have to root around for a vase, clean it, add fresh water, trim each and every thorny stem, and arrange the flowers before I can go get some dinner. I wonder if a second date is too early to pretend I care enough to dry and keep them? I have a piece of string handy.

Flowers, arranged in a vase
Him: I screwed up somehow and want to head it off before you realize it.
Her: Thank you.

By now you may have noticed a pattern regarding the price of items in this post. Specifically, more expensive items get better reviews. Really, the point is that quality items of a thoughtful nature get better reviews. Three dozen red roses wrapped up and handed to lady right before a date is actually worse than one dozen. Either a few exquisite wrapped roses or roses already in a vase are much preferred. This is also true for chocolate where three elegant truffles are much better than a 1 lb box of cheap ones. (If the box says something like 6 oz Free!, they are cheap chocolates.)

Chocolate, worst-case
Him: I don't bother thinking about what you might actually want.
Her: If I were going to ruin my diet, it certainly wouldn't be with strawberry cream filled Russell Stover's.

Chocolate, best-case
Him: It's a holiday, let's splurge.
Her: Well, it would be a shame to let Belgian dark-chocolate truffles go to waste...Thank you.

Jewelry & Perfume
I really hate to interpret jewelry and perfume for the same reason that I hate to do stuffed animals. Anything with that potential price range (~$5-$5,000) has too many pitfalls to choose a worst-case. I propose the same deal: you don't give jewelry or perfume to women you don't know well and I concede some women you know well might like it.

I know pajamas aren't racy lingerie, but they are rather intimate clothing. Men may give pajamas to the following three categories of women: wives, fiancees, and friends/relatives who absolutely never will be wives, fiancees, girlfriends, or dates. Giving pajamas to women you hope to take them off someday without receiving permission to do so beforehand is asking for trouble.

Sports Memorabilia
My previous interpretation of I wanted this, but couldn't afford it plus a gift for you so I decided to multi-task. I'll want it back when we break up. was perhaps a little sexist. After all, women like sports as well. I would like to instead address a more appropriately titled category of gifts: "Things He's Crazy About." This is the category that applies when my husband suggests that for my birthday he will upgrade my computer by replacing my two-year-old components with his one-year-old components, leaving him free to buy a brand new computer. Other men buy power tools, lawn tools, grills, sports stuff, or even cars under this category. There is only one possible thing a man is thinking, which is, as before, I wanted this, but couldn't afford it plus a gift for you so I decided to multi-task. I'll want it back when we break up. However, a woman has two possible responses. She either thinks Sweet! I always wanted that! or I wonder if this is worth anything on eBay? Either way, the gift is not returned on the event of a break-up.

Little Souvenirs from trips
I decline for personal reasons to continue mocking little souvenirs from trips. My husband loves it when I get them for him and I don't want to poison the success of such an easy gesture that says Thanks for working hard the last two weeks to pay for my lovely trip without you, darling. After all, I may never again find such a gesture or man to give it to.

Thursday, June 21

Looking at the evidence

Today I did a little online research so that I could write a pithy and entertaining post about "Creation Museum." I wanted to write a post because the museum represents $26 million spent insisting in a pseudo-scientific setting that something is true despite all evidence to the contrary and I thought this was rather silly. Unfortunately, while researching the matter, my internet connection kept failing. At first I patiently restarted my computer and repeated my activities when it would fail again. As time went on, I became less patient. The problem was that every time I went to a particular website (which to my relief was a website I could show my husband without embarrassment) the connection failed. Since I wanted to view this website and absolutely could not believe that a website could possibly cause my internet connection to fail, I kept repeating the procedure to visit this site. And my connection kept failing. At some point it occurred to me that if I continued to insist that the website was not causing the connection to fail, I would not only be unable to write a pithy and entertaining post about "Creation Museum" due to the finicky connection, I would actually be hypocritical in continuing to think condescendingly about the matter at all. I promptly gave up, admitted the site was killing my connection, and stopped trying. Now here I am with a everything intact I need to write a pithy and entertaining post: an Internet connection and an ego.

Wednesday, June 20

You mean the line we passed a few miles back?

The latest craze on the Internet to convince people to give their hard earned money to total strangers is what is known as the hitman scam. Someone sends you an email, either generic or containing publicly available information about you, in which he claims to have been hired as a hitman to kill you and offers to let you outbid whichever of your friends or relatives hired him. As a victim who reported the email to the FBI complained "This is not acceptable. This is really stepping over the line." (I didn't make that quote up.)

Though I agree with him that sending threatening emails intimating that your friends want to kill you and demanding money are "over the line," it isn't clear where this line is. If we have to point out this is "over the line" I assume the line must be somewhere nearby. Would it help if the hitman left off the part about friends and just threated to kill the target if he didn't get the money? It is, after all, a technically honest way to make a living. Assuming follow-through. What about a more personal approach? For example, on which side of the line is a face-to-face encounter involving a knife but no threats of future violence which may disrupt your dinner parties? What about a paper note? If a paper note is "over the line," does a traditional approach, like cutting out letters from newspapers and gluing them in rows, make the note more acceptable? Where do threatening emails sent in the course of a divorce fall? After all, it is actually from someone who was once a friend.

Note: Having spent the day reading Miss Manners, I cannot resist pointing out how a polite hitman should have handled the situation. Assuming this is a hobby (and does a generic email threat sound like a professional to you?), he should have offered to kill the target without mentioning money at all and then acted politely surprised at a thoughtful monetary gift. He should also have thanked the target with a handwritten note.

But Miss Manners Said I Could!

On the subject of playing video games in the evening after staying home sick from work during the day:

"If you have been excused, on the grounds of having a cold, from something you didn't want to do in the first place, you must go home and shut your front door, behind which you may enjoy yourself as much as your health permits."

To Jill

Based on her comments, I fear Jill will begin to think I really believe what I write or worse, act on it. I would like to reassure her by letting her know that while I have the flu this week I am reading Miss Manner's Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior. Some favorite tidbits:

Dear Miss Manners: What do you consider a good conversation opener?
Gentle Reader: Almost anything except, "I've been on a wonderful journey of self-discovery lately, and I'd like to share it with you."

Dear Miss Manners: What is the proper way to eat potato chips?
Gentle Reader: With a knife and fork. A fruit knife and an oyster fork, to be specific. For pity's sake, what is this world coming to? Miss Manners doesn't mind explaining the finer points of gracious living, but feels that anyone you doesn't have the sense to pick up a potato chip and stuff it in his mouth probably should not be running around loose on the streets.

Dear Miss Manners: When is a Vase a Vahz?
Gentle Reader: When it is filled with Dah-zies.

Now that I have reassured her, I would like to thank Jill for introducing me to Google Reader which now has a place on my homepage.

Tuesday, June 19

Multiple Channels

We've all had those moments when someone said something so ridiculous we felt that a sidelong glance at someone else didn't do it justice and desperately wanted to shriek about it but couldn't because it might hurt the persons' feelings. I have found a solution. I can talk on a chat channel with everyone which allows for easy voice communication. But then I can talk on text channels with certain people but not others. I can even mute my shrieking laughter so that no one has to know I am laughing at them. Perfect solution. Perhaps all social interaction can move to a multi-digital-channel format.

Monday, June 18

Gifts Translated

Gifts say things. Unfortunately for men, they don't always say what is intended. So, as a service to all the clueless men I know, I have written this gift guide where each gift is given a worst-case translation. I don't really expect this to help any men pick better gifts so much as make them perpetually nervous that any gift they do choose may be misconstrued in some incredibly awful way.

I forgot it was (your birthday/our anniversary/whatever) until I was checking out at the drug store, so I just grabbed something girlie-looking. See? It's purple with flower things on it.

Stuffed Animals
I think of women as curvier but no less silly versions of thirteen-year-old girls.

I screwed up somehow and want to head it off before you realize it. I bought cut flowers instead of an arrangement so that now you will have clip off the ends, find a vase, and arrange them yourself. Hopefully you will be too busy to notice what I did wrong.

I know you are on a diet, but couldn't bring myself to care enough about you to think of something more creative to get you.

Version 1: Check it out, I have money and like to show it off.
Version 2: Check it out, I have no money but like to pretend I do by buying gaudy-looking cheap jewelry.

I assume I know more about how you ought to smell and what kinds of toiletries you should use than you do.

I want you in bed.

Sports Memorabilia
I wanted this, but couldn't afford it plus a gift for you so I decided to multi-task. I'll want it back when we break up.

Little Souvenirs from trips
I went on a trip without you and wanted to point it out with some tacky souvenir that you can't even use and doesn't coordinate with your decor but that you will have to keep visible somewhere until we break up.

Thursday, June 14

Let's Be Inclusive

I am always making fun of nerdy things mathematicians do. After all, that's who I talk to everyday. So today I am branching out to an Electrical Engineer. A particular EE professor wrote a paper in which he referenced a book he was still in the process of writing. Isn't that cheating? To make it legit, he included a note indicating that he would share the book manuscript (at least everything he had written so far) upon request. So I requested. As it turns out, the book is online, protected by a username and password. After I agreed to keep the information privileged, he gave me the username but not the password. Instead he gave me a hint to the password which was based on his published work. I don't know if it was for fun, some sort of Turing test to prove I was actually interested in his work, or a way around the fact that I was using corporate email which could be inspected by my employer. Whatever the reason, I was amused. By the way, I got the password.

Thursday, June 7

lovable, comfortable, very good, not bad husband

I got some terrible, horrible, no good, very bad news today and couldn't concentrate at work. I emailed Scott to complain about my lack of focus and got this response:
Breath in.....
Hold it......
Keep holding.....
Okay once you pass out you can start breathing again.
This process helps to reboot the brain and root out the inferior brain cells.
Good luck! I hope that you are able to focus soon.
I laughed. I love my husband!
p.s. Anyone who didn't get the reference was reading-deprived as a child.

Wednesday, June 6

Talking to a Black Hole

The great thing about communication is its bidirectional nature. I communicate something to you, you communicate something back, and so on. If information only flowed one way, what would be the point? For example, when you go to the store and ask an employee a question about a product and all you get is "I don't know," you begin to wonder "What's the point?"

Today I went to Fred Meyer's to buy a particular item. There were two slightly different versions of the same item (different brand, so different appearance/details) for the same price of $25. But one was on sale for $10. There was, of course, a problem. There was only one box of the $10 version left and it was mutilated and missing a part. And had some random VHS in. No idea why. So I went to a cashier (This is the black hole part):

Me: This is missing a part.
Me: So it shouldn't be on the shelf.
Cashier: Oh.
Me: Are there any others?
Cashier: Probably not.
Me: Will any more be ordered?
Cashier: I don't know.

Well I went and found a manager and learned that, not only were there other boxes, but there were 7 other boxes. It was just that nobody could find them. So there were 7 boxes of a $10 item at the store that nobody could find which left me having to buy an equivalent $25 item. This didn't make me happy. I asked if I could have the $25 item for $10 since it was the same price, just not on sale. The manager said no and walked away. A few minutes later he returned and I got the $25 box for $15. Which wasn't quite what I wanted and came after I waited 10 minutes while he looked for the box I actually wanted. But I bought it anyway. I feel suckered.

Tuesday, June 5

Inane ideas at sexual harassment training

I recognize this is an easy target. Who has ever been to a deeply insightful sexual harassment training? I don't think it is possible to stick a bunch of strangers in a room to discuss an uncomfortable issue for an hour and get anything interesting out of it. Except perhaps a bunch of people that are a little less uncomfortable discussing the topic than they were previously. And while that may be the point, it doesn't really excuse anyone for making me sit through it.
My personal highlight is came when discussing a particular scenario that involved a man asking a woman to go to a bar for a drink where he put his arm around her. I referred to it as a "date" and some guy pipes up with "Well, the paper doesn't actually call it a date. I don't know if we can really call this a date." I may not have always agreed with what the other women in the class were saying, but at that moment we all had the same thought as we looked at the moron who had piped up with this one. Aside from the word choice not being particularly relevant, who did he think he was kidding? In this same scenario, the woman was actually ordered to go on the date by her supervisor who was hoping for a discount from the company. And some (other) guy argued that the supervisor wasn't guilty of sexual harrassment for five full minutes before realizing he hadn't read the scenario completely and so had missed that part.
Mostly though, there were no highlights, just a lot of answers of the following variety:
"Well, it all depends..."
"I guess it's all about how you feel..."
"We just don't know all the facts..."
"I think it varies..."
"I don't know if we can really say who is more at fault..."
In an entire hour almost nobody managed to say anything at all.

Sunday, June 3

Being treated like a very stupid 7 year old

I bought a really nice cooler at the Wal-Mart in Stillwater, OK for my trip to Richland, WA. This cooler had it all: a telescoping handle, wheels, cool looking cover, power cooling. It just didn't keep drinks very cold. So when I got to Richland, I went to return it. Of course the Wal-Mart in Richland had a different price for the cooler and a different sales tax. So this harried girl (it was Saturday afternoon at Wal-Mart) is trying to figure out how to ring it up correctly while dealing with a ringing phone and the loudspeaker demanding attention. So I just waited quietly. The woman behind me was not inclined to wait so quietly. To be fair, I think she was trying to help and she may have even been right. It wasn't so much what she was saying as how she said it. She told me and the cashier, but mostly me, that we should divide the total receipt by 1.083 (local sales tax) to get the original price of the item. I didn't really get the relevance of this since a) I didn't pay Richland sales tax on the item and b) the original price of the item was listed on the receipt. It later occurred to me that the lady was trying to tell the cashier how to trick the cash register, but it wasn't clear at the time, so I replied with something along the lines of "What's the point?" She explained the division part again using exactly the same words. Since I wasn't having a hearing problem, I still didn't get the point. She explained it again using the same words, only with body language and tone suggesting that I was stupid and adding "I'm an accountant, I know what I'm talking about." I assumed I must have been giving her a condescending look to merit this last remark, so I bit back a retort along the lines of "I am a PhD student in math, I know how to divide" and just gave her a look and then ignored her. To her credit she calmed down and and was extra cheerful the rest of the time in the line so I think the condescending look theory is probably right.

Friday, June 1

Email message from computer science undergrad:

Wow, a real math geek :-) I think I need to go play video games or something to gain back my geek ego…