04 November 2010


This week has been a good one. All the paperwork for R is submitted, and will hopefully be finished and ready in 6 weeks or so. Mine took 5 weeks, once the IND had all the documents. That puts us right on track for moving R and the dogs here soon after the new year, which is awesome! R has found a possible service that would take care of flying the dogs here for us, so we're hoping they aren't too expensive. That'd be way easier than moving them ourselves. The bank is crawling along with the short sale paperwork, but we can sign things from a distance if they don't hurry it up. I'm unconcerned with inconveniencing them.

On top of all that, my model's working again! Yay for that! A colleague directed me to where the overfull server was, so I was able to delete a bunch of stuff I don't need anymore. Tomorrow I can run some interesting tests, to look at the performance of a promising cloud scheme change. Then I just need to convince NCL to plot nicely for me, which may take some doing. It's well documented though, so I'm currently optimistic.

I'm very much looking forward to MM's visit tomorrow as well. So overall, even with getting rained on 4 times in 3 days, and biking through the scary Fog of No Visibility, this has been a very awesome week.

14 October 2010

Culture Shock, or, How I Learned to Enable Sexism Without Even Noticing

We had a department meeting last week. Sub-department, I suppose, since my group is only part of multi-scale physics. The point was to update everyone on what we were all doing, since we're a group of two profs, an adjunct, 6 PhDs and one remaining MS student (most of them graduated this summer, and the next group isn't here yet). I have spent the past six months trying, among learning new software while everyone was on holiday for two months and coping with this whole moving thing, to figure out what I'm actually studying. I'm still not sure, to be honest. Eventually I'll be working with another PhD, incorporating his large-eddy-simulation results into my model to try and improve it, but a lot of things need to happen first. For instance, the academic idealized-case not-tied-to-weather-observations version of my model needs to be finished. Or, um, started? It's behind schedule. But anyway.

So I went to the meeting feeling very awkward, because my accomplishments are learning to use some software, and some sensitivity tests that I'm still analyzing, so I really didn't have anything I thought was worth talking about. To be fair, it absolutely did NOT help that I was busy getting sick and learning that sinus headaches can trigger migraines, but still. A lot of that is due to my own tendency to consider my work inferior, not good enough, whatever, if it isn't amazing. I don't know how much of that is me, and how much is imposed, but I'm working on it. The profs filled us in on a couple new PhDs who will be joining us shortly, and some new projects they're looking in to, and some office politics, and then we all got some time to talk. The other talks ranged from 10 to 30 minutes, although a lot of that is because Dutch people just like to talk and rehash stuff like you wouldn't believe. Consensus is huge here. Because I felt like my accomplishments were non existant, I had a very short summary of what I've been doing. Like, 2 minutes, maybe. (Incidentally, I'm blaming this mostly on being sick, because now that I'm getting over the cold I've thought of stuff I could have talked about.) When the MS student asked for more background on my project, since he wasn't familiar with my model and I was absolutely not at my most coherent, I was very tentative in explaining, and looked for confirmation from the profs a lot. At one point, one of them said, "You know that!" and I had an epiphany.

I have never, in this kind of small group setting, been encouraged to be an authority. I could have the test results, but it wasn't up to me to explain them. I could offer an opinion, but not an argument. One on one, I'm fine. Giving a presentation to a crowd, I'm fine. But a small group without a clear structure has me unsure and afraid to speak up.

That in and of itself is pretty good to know. After all, I can't fix something without defining the problem. But what really struck me was how I had to move to Holland to even NOTICE that I do this. I'm pretty introspective, and you'd think at some point I would have maybe noticed how I get super nervous before informal meetings, how I can take charge of project groups with 4 or 5 people (or friends) in them but sit silently in a group of 8, how I blush and stammer and lose my train of thought in a small group but get through presentations to a large crowd with a smile. This is not subtle. I am awkward only in certain situations. Move me to a purely social gathering with the same group of people, and I'm fine (if they speak in English, anyway) and have fun.

Because I am introspective, I wondered why I do this. It's kind of weird, after all. A hint came from my taking charge in tiny groups. I will take charge only if no one else does. If someone else wants to be in charge, I'm not going to fight for it, even if I think they'll suck at it.

I am babying other people's egos. Specifically, I am babying other guys' egos, because I absolutely do not do this in all woman groups. I do not claim any authority, even when I should, if it means threatening a guy's sense of superiority. As a feminist, this makes me sad. I know better. If someone gets all upset because a woman knows more about a subject, or disagrees, or has an alternative idea, or moves outside typical gender roles, that's his problem, not mine.

Except when he makes it my problem.

The kind of guy who finds me threatening is the kind of guy who can't let that go. If he could accept that there's a woman who is better at/more knowledgeable of something than he is, he wouldn't be threatened in the first place. He has to put me back in my place, and reestablish his awesomeness by virtue of a Y chromosome, and that's usually, at the least, irritating as hell. Doing homework with the Aeroboys, after a couple months I was very selective in who to show a possible solution to. Because one of them simply couldn't accept that I had figured out the problem, especially if he was working on the same one. Working on a different problem was another strategy I employed, in fact, because there was never enough time for everyone to solve them all. If I offered a solution to this one, he would argue over random points until one of the other Aeroboys sided with me. He'd re-explain the solution to me, as if I wasn't the one to figure it out. Or he'd sulk, and as someone who's a born hostess, I have a lot of trouble ignoring that sort of thing. Given that I didn't recognize the behavior for what it was for quite a while, and lacked the concepts to explain why it was stupid for even longer, ignoring his displeasure was even worse. Eventually, after he either got bored with it or decided he'd been restored to superiority or whatever, he'd be back to normal and deny anything was ever wrong. It was tiring, it was impossible (then) to explain why it bothered me, and I knew perfectly well he wasn't going to take responsibility for his own issues anyway, so I, without ever really thinking about it, started accomodating him. I let the other guys check my work and explain the solutions to him. I made coffee, and sandwiches, and accepted the nickname of "Mom" and generally did my best to appear non threatening. Asking questions to present an idea, double checking stuff more often than I needed to, that sort of thing. It makes me sad to think about. Although, there was a guy of similar temperament but greater misogyny (seriously, you have no idea. His blatant sexism defeated my good manners more than once) in my grad school homework group and standing up for my work when I knew I was right didn't do any good. He once argued with me for nearly an hour over how to use the chain rule when taking the derivative of a product, and was undeterred by both the rest of the group eventually siding with me and a calculus textbook, and opted to turn in his homework with an obviously wrong solution rather than admit I was right. And honestly, I don't have it in me to fight that all the time. In more subtle ways, too, grad school guy strove to keep the other woman and I in our places at all times. From hitting on her incessantly (I was engaged by then, thankfully) despite her repeated "no" and protests, to merely implying we weren't capable enough to do "real" science (or take charge of our lives in any way), he made our lives unpleasant whenever he wandered into them, and we developed a lot of avoidance strategies, babying his ego instead of confronting him for being sexist, immature, and ignorant.

I'm a little disappointed in myself for that.

And now I'm in Holland, where I apparently don't have to baby egos at all, and in fact they'd prefer I be an (and speak with) authority on my research. I am no longer a threat. This is hands down the biggest culture shock yet. I may never leave.

Now I just have to figure out how to deprogram myself.

22 September 2010

House Auction Fail

The house auction was a smashing failure, with the final bid coming in at $50k below what we paid for the place, and a bit below what we owe on it. The next step is trying to convince the bank that they should take the short sale, because our savings have all been dumped into trying to sell the thing. The backup plan for that is to just leave and ruin our credit, which I was thinking would be horribly awful, but then I realized that since we did everything right; taking out a reasonable loan we could afford, living within our means, trying to save something (this works better if you don't get laid off 8 months after paying off your very reasonable wedding expenses) that it's entirely the banks' fault we're in this situation anyway. On Skype last night, R mentioned we need to write a letter explaining things to the bank. I like this one:

dear bank,
because you and your cohorts bought a bunch of politicians before we were born in order to deregulate your market so you could make pretend money and thereby destroyed the economy, we can no longer pay you for this house. maybe if you had been less greedy the extensive layoffs destroying both our income and the housing market would not have been necessary. This is the best you'll get, so take it.
with absolutely no love, me

Today is not a good day, and I'm very frustrated. So I thought I'd make a list of some things I'm grateful for, in an attempt to change my perspective a little bit.

1. I live in Holland, where the financial sector is heavily regulated.
2. My friends are pretty awesome.
3. I have enough money for food, heat, and shelter.
4. I have extra money in fact, for travel, comfort, and fun.
5. My family is pretty awesome too.
6. I have access to good healthcare.
7. I got a job I like, related to my field, even though the economy is very very broken.
8. Things won't suck this much forever, and I can always earn more money.

16 September 2010

Neat stuff

I went to a really neat presentation yesterday about using magnetic particles and fields to target dangerous medicines in just the part of the body where they're needed. I had no idea this sort of research was even happening, but it's pretty awesome. The presentation was about modeling flow through veins, with I would assume a goal of finding out how much magnetic force would be required to keep the medicine covered magnetic particles in place, resisting blood flow once they got to the tumor or whatever. Really cool stuff, and definitely the most accessible of our mini presentation series thus far.

15 September 2010


I am still suprised by how much I missed biking while I was in the States. It's so much more fun than driving places, and today was perfect weather for it. Granted, that time I got caught in a sudden, very cold, downpour, I did wish for a car, but overall I really like the bike better. There's something very satisfying to me about moving under my own power, and it's a really relaxing way to get around, while still being a decent light cardio activity. If I get lost, it's much easier to turn around and try again than in a car, parking is certainly easier, and it's a nice way to exercise without exercising. I've never enjoyed walking on a treadmill or using a stationary bike, because it seems so pointless. I mean, it's kind of silly to walk 4 miles to nowhere, when you could walk 2 miles to somewhere and back again. I really like how biking everywhere incorporates bits of exercise into my day without making it about exercise. It can be hard to stay motivated to go to the gym; it's easy to bike to work and shops and back, because how else will I get there? It's quicker to bike than take public transport from my apartment. I'm not terribly concerned about cold temperatures, because winter is pretty mild here, and I have wool socks and merino scarves and I'm planning on alpaca gloves. Next spring, I'm planning to try out some of the country bike trails, and see how I do on longer rides. This place is covered in bike paths, and taking my bike up to the tulip fields to ride through them sounds particularly appealing.

Note: Photos taken by W when he and MM came to visit. Top photo is MM and I biking, bottom photo is my bike, which is awesome.

07 September 2010

The Right Choice

R and I have done long distance before, so I'm pretty well used to it. This past trip was different though, because I didn't cry at all when we had to separate again. Before now, I always have, and when I moved here, I cried a lot. Mostly because it was terrifying to move across an ocean to a new country, to start a job with people I'd talked on the phone with twice, to move in with roommates I only knew via email and facebook, and to leave R and the dogs behind to do it. I'm still pretty impressed that I chose to make this move in the first place, because there were definitely less scary options available.

This time, though, the only part of the return trip I dreaded was the actual trip, which was moderately un-fun, although way better than my last trans Atlantic adventure. I was looking forward to coming back to roommates that are friends, and a job that's awesome, and colleagues who are pretty awesome too. And I'll admit, escaping the heat and humidity was pretty thrilling. But I've been happy with my life and still cried when leaving every time before, when I was in grad school the first time.

This time, I think the difference is that I really truly love my life here in Holland, and while it would be better with R and the dogs, it's still pretty good without them. For the first time, I actually wanted to leave, because I'm excited about the next step in my research, and I missed my roommates, and I really missed the cool weather and my bike. Granted, I didn't actually go to work today, but I did sleep for 14 straight hours, so I think my body was busy recovering from my vacation. My very small bedroom feels more like home than the accursed house that hasn't sold yet. It also helps that we're planning to move R and the dogs after the winter holidays, so there's only a few more months of long-distance to go. His paperwork should be done by then, especially since he won't need the MVV and can skip that entire part of the process. Of course, we'll be adding all the fun of doggie passports and tranquilizers and crates to make up for it.

Not crying when leaving my best friend and my canine family behind tells me that moving here was absolutely the right thing to do. Leaving industry for academia was the right thing too, and that's very comforting, considering the salary differences. So weirdly, I'm grateful for being laid off, because I think my current life is a much better fit. I liked my old job, but I like my new one a lot better. I very much prefer my new city, particularly the bike-ability, and the charm, and the public transportation, and the little things, like flowers planted along the bike paths. And did I mention my hatred of hot weather?

06 September 2010

How not to end a vacation

25 hours in airports and airplanes. That's a lot of hours. It is, in fact, 4 inches of a sock that both my feet fit in, ripping the sock back, trying again for 2 inches with the right size but horrible colour pooling, 2 entire Dwarrowdelf repeats, 3 Eddings books, and a 45 minute nap. I flew back via 4 cities and two airlines, and 3 countries, and now I'm very tired.

The vacation was lovely though. MM and W got married, and the wedding was beautiful and sweet and lots of fun. All the pre-parties were fun too, although exhausting, since I plunged straight into them after 1 night's sleep. Jet lag plus busy days keeps things interesting. I also attended my first professional baseball game (the very creative rehearsal dinner) and it turns out I think baseball is boring in person too.

The day after the wedding, rather than relaxing, R and I flew back to KS for a week of hanging out with the dogs. I got bumped to first class, and actually felt like I had enough room. That was excellent. Mom 1.0 and B came to visit for a couple days, and we sent a vanload of stuff back to Parents 1.o's house to store until we can ship it here. The puppies were super happy to see me!

We attended opening night of Macbeth, got my wedding ring sized up so I can wear it again, brushed Quasar until all the matted fur was gone, and shared lots of chocolate. It was a good trip, although a little short.