March 30, 2011

The Power of Flow

As mentioned in my last post, over break I didn't get as much done on one of my papers as I'd hoped. Thus the first half of the paper was done in one or two hour stints over the course of two weeks. The second half was done in a single twelve-hour marathon.

Today the seminar met to critique everyone's first drafts. The consensus was that my second half was better than the first. Go figure.

UPDATE: Another comment that got general agreement was "Your distinctive voice comes across very clearly in your paper." I'm still not sure if that was intended as a compliment.

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March 23, 2011

Vacation + Research = DIV BY ZERO

Last week was spring break. Despite knowing that grad students don't really get breaks, I chose to visit with my immediate family in New York. Joining me was my GF, who would thus get another chance to socialize with my parents, as well as seeing my old hometown.

We decided to take my car, as Hil's father was taking her car to a dealership while we were away. We made the correct choice, as her car ended up getting its steering column replaced. That would have been mightily expensive, but the car was just barely still under warranty. The downside is that my car has a manual transmission, which Hil doesn't know how to use, so I did all the driving. The trip isn't too long, so the task was not excessively onerous.

The trip down was disappointing, with rain and fog limiting visibility. The route along I-390 is quite scenic, but Hil was probably annoyed by my saying "To the left, behind all that fog is a beautiful valley!" and "Most days you can see a wind farm to the east!" and so forth.

We spent a couple of days with my father. We saw a ballet of Sleeping Beauty, rode bikes around Big Flats, and spent a bit of time at the Corning Museum. We even figured out a better way to load the bike carrier on my car. Hil has a step-through frame, while the carrier was designed for bikes with top-tubes that are parallel to the ground. The original rigging had a very off-center weight distribution, which was suboptimal for a variety of reason. With Dad's advice, we detached the front wheels and mounted Hil's bike on upside-down, which evened out the balance. As a bonus, small children in other cars on the highway stared at the strange-looking arrangement.

On the way to my mother's, we stopped to visit an aunt of Hil's. The aunt lives up a steep dirt road outside of Elmira. It's not on maps and not in the GPS, but we managed to find it, and my car growled up the road in low gear. She was nice, but we spent little time there, as the aunt was on lunch break. We concluded that visit by driving Hil's cousin to her riding stable.

At my mother's we were somewhat less active. We went to the town history museum, which had a new exhibit on the area's clockmakers of the nineteenth century. I had to grit my teeth a couple of times, but perhaps I should be generous to the efforts of the volunteers that work on a local museum. After all, I'm not taking the time to do that. After the museum, we hit up a large local used bookstore, a place that is very dangerous for members of my family. Despite our hopes, we didn't get to bike around Owego, as the weather was nasty for the whole time we were there.

The last stop on the itinerary was my sister's place in Springwater. Their choice to live on a hilltop with a dirt road means I don't take my little car up to visit them until the snow melts! But things were quite pleasant up there. My brother-in-law had a client visiting to work on a hotsaw, so we didn't see him much. My niece, now six, used to be terribly shy. This visit it seemed that someone had flipped a switch to "gregarious" and she happily chatted away and showed off her room and her stuff. The dog seemed disappointed that the humans were spending all their time talking and not nearly enough time throwing balls to be chased.

On the drive back to Buffalo, the weather cleared up. So Hil got to see the valleys and the windmills. The valleys are more attractive when they are green, of course– even in the sunlight, this time of year all the forests and fields are brown and gray. Still, spring officially arrived during the last day of the trip, so I have hopes.

Sadly, I had a lot of research and writing to do over the break, and I got precious little of it done. In fact, my writing this blog post is itself a form of procrastination.

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March 11, 2011

Mine Fit the Model Too

We were talking about Hitler in seminar. My professor said "I read a couple of dozen grad school application essays every year. At least half follow a particular model: 'I have faced many difficulties in my past. But I overcame them through strength of character. Now, work with me and we will have a glorious future!' You know what that sounds like to me? Mein Kampf."

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