Shared Joy is Twice the Joy, Shared Pain is Half the Pain

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Say Hello to Eggplant Week

I got back to Boston on Saturday, and hit Trader Joe’s Sunday morning with only one limitation: I biked, so I could only buy as much food as I could fit in my backpack. Usually, when I go shopping, I’m thinking about the leftovers I have in the fridge, or the half-opened box of pasta that needs to be finished – I typically adjust my purchases based on what I need to finish. But this time, it was just me, my backpack, and an entire store of possibilities.

We already know how much I love produce. I mean, farmers markets are basically my best friends, right? So being back in Boston, where I’ve got access to better produce than that which was available at the Stop’n’Shop in Upland, NY, where I can cull herbs from my baby herb garden on the porch, where I can go to a farmers market just down the street every Saturday… Let’s just say I’m happy to be home.

But back to TJ’s. They had graffiti eggplant for sale, which I’ve never seen before, but they looked cool, and since they’re smaller than regular eggplant, they seemed small enough to work for just one person. So I bought one.

Here’s the thing. I’ve never really liked eggplant.

But I figured I’d try it out. At a total investment of a whopping $0.79, it seemed like a reasonable risk to take.

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In case it isn’t already painfully obvious, I’m now a fan of eggplant. And, in an attempt to experiment with my new favorite mid/late-summer ingredient, I’m dedicating this week to the eggplant. By which I mean I’ll be incorporating eggplant into every dinner I cook for myself this week, and hopefully I’ll end up with a few awesome ways to prepare and consume the strange purple vegetable. And then, since eggplant season is basically now until mid-October, hopefully I’ll have plenty of dishes to whip up as the school year (and my very last semester of undergrad) gets started.

Tonight’s dinner was Eggplant “Bruschetta,” taken off the smittenkitchen site (my favorite of all cooking blogs, incidentally) and was surprisingly simple and filling. It required slicing and baking the eggplant coated in a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Then they were topped with diced tomatoes, onions, cheese, and some mint from my herb garden.

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(Side note: the cheese was Trader Joe’s Farmhouse English Cheddar with Italian Truffles and was very possibly the best cheese I’ve ever had in my life. Just smooth enough without being too creamy; flavorful enough to go with salami yesterday for lunch but not so overwhelming that it drowned out the tomatoes tonight…basically heaven in block form.)

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“Fewer is More”

If I have a mini-passion inspired by my life experiences, its that scientists need to learn to communicate more effectively. We learn all these amazing things about the world around us: in just the past week, scientists have made discoveries as large as ancient ice on Pluto and as small as the existence of pentaquarks.

While images of Pluto are breathtaking and inspirational, a significant amount of discussion has been had in recent days regarding how to justify to the public the importance of visiting the outer edges of our solar system. An entire generation of scientists – the generation of scientists who are making these incredible discoveries today – were inspired to be where they are now by the Apollo explorations of yesteryear. And yet, they have no idea how to convince the general public that the next generation of scientists are being created today by the very same thing: inspirational trips to discover the unknown.

For someone like me, who already knows and loves physics, the announcement of the pentaquarks is even cooler. We know protons and neutrons, which combine to form the nucleus of every atom of every element, consist of three quarks. Scientists have discovered two different particles composed of five quarks each, and though we don’t know what they create, we know they contribute to explaining the Standard Model. Beyond that, who knows what this discovery will mean? Perhaps the next generation of scientists, the kids in classrooms who watched the images New Horizons sent home last week, will figure it out for us.

And herein lies the problem: the current generation of scientists doesn’t know how to talk to the next generation of scientists (or their parents). We barely even know how to talk to ourselves. Regardless of what I decide to study when I move to the next phase of my schooling, I’m absolutely not going to be studying anywhere unless they have courses in science communication. I want to learn how to speak to other scientists, especially scientists in other fields, and explain what I’ve learned. But most importantly, I want to be able to speak to non-scientists. Scientists need to be able to speak to non-scientists.

We can’t just assume that science journalists will do our job for us, because the journalists are easily duped by false science (case in point: the chocolate is good for you study) and the reality is that you can only truly explain what you understand. So if a journalist can understand 50% of the significance of a discovery, then the public will, at best, get 50% of its importance. But if scientists could learn to express the significance themselves, then the public has a better chance of understanding the fundamental beauty of whatever has just been added to the body of human knowledge.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just that scientists don’t know what to say, they also don’t know how to say it. The number of times I’ve bitten my tongue to not correct “fewer” or “less” over the past five weeks is innumerable. And its not just to my fellow students; professors, lecturers, and lab techs have all said “less data points support this conclusion than that” or “something has fewer probability.” (Don’t remember which to use? Just remember: your grocery store is probably wrong.)

We have a 1,500 word research report due in a few days, and everyone is stressing because they don’t know how to put their thoughts and understanding down on paper. They’re more worried about the paper than the presentation that will require standing in front of ~20 people, not because they’re comfortable speaking in front of groups, but because they’re terrified of writing a paper.  (For reference, this post in total is 704 words; I wrote it in about 20 minutes.) Now, I’m not saying that I am always grammatically correct, or that I have perfect English. But scientists are the people who have discovered the world, and so many have no way to express it. How many incredible discoveries have been lost to history because the report manuscript was rejected for poor clarity? How many were lost because the research proposal was indecipherable? How much time and energy is wasted because nobody bothered to teach the scientist how to teach the world?


Hold!

After almost two years of wanting, I finally got myself a ticket for Matilda the Musical on Broadway and it was everything I hoped it would be and more. (Even though I was literally in the last row of the second balcony … there’s only so much money a college kid can/is willing to spend on a Broadway show, especially with trips to Book of Mormon in Boston and possibly If/Then in SF planned for the relatively near future…)

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The set was as beautiful as the pictures, and the cast was amazing. The show is SO much better with the visuals associated with sitting in the theater than it is just listening to the songs. The actors were fantastic, the choreography was beautiful, the entire show from start to finish was perfect. Well… almost perfect. Almost perfect for any average audience member and more than perfect for a techie like me.

There was a moment, in the middle of the song “Revolting Children” when things went wrong. The sets transition from classroom to living room to bedroom to Ms. Honey’s house to classroom to Ms. Trunchbull’s house to classroom to…to…to… Each time the classroom arrives, nine desks rise up out of the floor, and just as often, the desks sink back down. Except for when they don’t. In the middle of the song, eight of the nine desks dropped down into the ground, and the center desk … didn’t. For a moment, it seemed like that was just the choreography. A group of ten-year old professionals, not a single kid looked surprised, least of all the kid who’s desk wasn’t moving. But then the God mic sounded out: “Hold! Hold please.” Followed by about a second of silence as the kids stopped singing and the orchestra stopped playing and then, “All actors off the stage immediately.”

Never in my life have I seen a group of kids follow directions that quickly. In absolute silence, they were off the nearest wing in about two seconds flat. And, most significantly, either the sound tech muted all the microphones in a hot second or they were all completely silent for the five minutes they were backstage. Because that’s about how long it took for the curtain to come down, the announcement to the audience to be made, the desk to be dropped, and everyone to be ready to go.

The final aspect of the process that absolutely fascinated me was how quickly the kids figured out where they were when they started up again. Professionals through and through, even though they’re all between 8 and 15 years old. When the curtain came up, the lights were back to the previous cue, and the kids walked on immediately and stood where they’d been standing at that light cue. Once they were there, the music started and within about two beats they knew where they were in the music. And within a four count they were all singing and dancing as if they were standing on their sinking desks as normal. I know they know the music inside and out, but that still blew my mind.

And once they started up again, I knew exactly why that hold had to be called and why it had to be called immediately: about four bars after the Hold call, additional actors came onstage doing leaps, axles (a jump/spin combo), and cartwheels right over that desk. Had it been still standing, it would have led to some very confused and possibly injured actors.

The rest of the show finished seamlessly, I laughed some more, I cried some more, and I loved it all. But I will never forget the show I saw on Broadway where I was reminded that even on the biggest scales, with the most professional of professionals, live theater is just that: live. No retakes or post production editing; it’s all about being quick on your feet, making the split second decisions necessary for the safety of all involved, and keeping the audience informed and excited. No matter how many shows I see in my life, I’ll remember this one for that.

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Bookshelves

I’ve always felt like bookshelves say something about their owners. The various English teachers for whom I’ve babysat always had bookshelves filled with classics; friends who are “closeted history buffs” almost always have a shelf or two devoted to historical fiction and historical non-fiction; many of my scienc-y friends have (no longer) surprising quantities of fantasy on their shelves.

I distinctly remember visiting a family friend about a week after they’d moved. Very little was unpacked – a few boxes of clothes, about half the kitchen, a box labeled “bathroom” half empty in the hall. The bookshelves were empty save three books – one she was clearly reading, one that was obviously his, and What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Now it doesn’t take much of a genius to figure that one out, but they were nonetheless surprised when they told me a few months later and I said “I know.” Even an almost-empty bookshelf says something about its owner.

But I’ve felt for the past few years that my bookshelf didn’t say much about me. I fly across the country and essentially displace myself and my life four or more times every year, and I have for the last four years. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret my choice to live on the East coast, but it does make having a personal library a bit more difficult. All through college, I’ve felt like my bookshelf was nothing more than evidence of that semester’s (or that year’s) courses. More than half of my shelf was usually textbook, or books required for classes. Sure, there have always been a few books that were there for fun, but they never meant much – they were there for convenience, or because I happened to be reading one the last time I got on a plane.

Today, my book collection is, naturally, limited since I’ll be in this location for exactly six weeks and one day. And yet, when I look at it, I can’t help but think it does say something about me.

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I’ve got two nuclear textbooks. (One chemistry, one physics) I’ve got a lab notebook and a chart of the nuclides handbook and the June edition of National Geographic. I’ve got a math book (Emmy Noether’s Wonderful Theorem) and two policy books – Arguments that Count (about missile defense systems) and The Politics of Nuclear Energy (I think you can figure that one out…) To round it out, there are two books for fun – the beautiful and thought-invoking Invisible Cities and the somewhat horrifying House of Leaves.

I glanced at my bookshelf this morning, looking for my notebook, and something hit me. It was as if I was looking at someone else’s bookshelf. I read the person to whom it belonged as easily as I read the pregnant-but-not-sharing-yet-couple’s bookshelf years ago. This person was obviously passionate about nuclear science and nuclear energy, with a bit of time – but maybe not as much as they’d like – to read something else as well.

I glanced at my bookshelf and I realized who I am. Until this morning, I thought of nuclear energy as maybe just another phase. Like all my other passions, I’ve spent the last six months or so expecting to grow out of it. But the reality is that the more I learn and the more I study, the more questions I have and the more desperately I want their answers. The more I hear about where the reality of nuclear energy is, the more I want to fix the problems, and the more I worry that I’m a naive twenty-two year old with impractical hopes, the more I realize that my hopes aren’t that far off from the experts’.

I glanced at my bookshelf and I think I’ve found my future.


Spring Break

It’s Sunday, which means that the weekend is quickly coming to a close and, more significantly, spring break is coming to a close. Spring break, what a term. It implies sunlight, warmth, parks, and maybe hints of summer just around the corner. Boston, needless to say, is none of these things. Okay, it is sunny today, but sunny in a deceptive, wind-rushing-at-your-face-and-pulling-scarves-away-from-your-neck-so-it-can-bite-into-your-still-pale-cheeks kind of way. But that’s okay! Because I didn’t do a normal spring break trip (once again…) and opted to go skiing instead.

My dad and I went to Vail, Colorado for four days of spring skiing, which basically just means temperatures the same as they are in Boston and about as much snow. (Have you heard? Boston is having a crazy winter and we broke the snow record! Oh, you already knew that? It’s been the trending news story across the nation for months? Oh.) Anyway, pictures:

Panorama #1 of Many

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We had an amazing time, skied an average of 17 runs and 20,000+ vertical feet everyday, and experienced all the snow types: ice in the mornings, slush in the afternoons, perfection somewhere in between, dust on crust one afternoon, three inches of powder the next morning…

We also ate amazing food, drank some great wine, met some really fun people on and off the slopes, and generally had a pretty fabulous winter break experience. (spring break. SPRING break. Sorry.)

Stayed silly, too.

Spring Skiing Selfie!


Winter Means Icicles Galore

I have mixed feelings about icicles. On the one hand, they are beautiful. On the other hand, they often indicate ice dams which, I have learned this winter, can be a real concern and destructive. I know this, because our window is leaking, and will be until the spring comes, the snow melts, the moisture dries, and the leak can be found and caulked.

But – icicles! My personal favorite was this, which I spotted while walking home the other day. Icicles formed on the wires immediately below the corner of a roof.

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With the snow and rain of this weekend, I knew the icicles were going to slowly (or not-so-slowly) disappear. So I went out on a short “icicle walk” to find cool specimens and take some pictures. Fortunately, no icicles fell on me whilst taking these photos; let’s hope that remains the case for the duration of the semester…

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Blanket!!

I’m sitting at the kitchen table, once again. I’ve got a cup of tea by my side, once again. I’m watching snowflakes falling outside my window, once again. The weatherman says this time, the snowfall will be about 4″, which will bring us to about half a foot shy of the all-time snowfall record of Boston with a month of winter left.

But this time, something is just a tiny bit different. Namely, I’m sitting with my tea and my computer and my snow and my blanket! Yes, my blanket. Not because I own it, but because I made it.

IMG_1606The blanket was dreamt up a bit due to the freezing temperatures outside, a bit from a desire to get back into knitting, a bit from the harsh reality that senior year is stressful and knitting is, as my friend Jackie puts it, “cheaper than therapy.” But now that it’s done, I have to say, it is perfect.

Amelia loves it because it’s “squishy.” Claire calls it luxurious. Dorie likes how heavy it is when you put it on your lap. Needless to say, I love it for all these reasons and more. I love that it is small enough to be a perfect lap blanket but also big enough to tuck under your toes. I love that it transitions from cream to blue to blue to gray and that you can’t tell that I used two different types of yarn. I love that the big needles I used (size 35mm!) means that it went from 10 balls of yarn to a beautiful blanket in just over two weeks. I love that I made it and that I can brag about it.

I’m going back to my job applications now, since I’m warm and cozy and the snow is still falling.