Saturday, December 15, 2007

Re: Snow

From: Me
To: The weather

Please stop with the goddamned snow immediately. There's no place left to put it.

Thank you.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Just now I was trying to figure out what time tonight our latest wintry-mix-turning-to-snow storm is going to start and I discovered that I have made it to the darkest afternoons of the year. Sunset is supposed to occur at 4:23 for the rest of this week, and then on Sunday it will be at 4:24. Woohoo! It will continue to be dark later in the mornings, but I don't care so much about that because it's always light out by the time I walk to work.

And while I'm on a related subject - the high temperatures here haven't been above 30 degrees for more than one or two days since Thanksgiving. In fact one morning when I left for work it was supposedly -5! Since I was expecting to freeze my ass off and couldn't find my face mask anywhere I decided to compensate by wearing a hoodie under my jacket with its fleece liner. Then I wore a hat, my hoodie hood, and my jacket hood. I should mention that this was also the day after I got myself boots because of the incessant snow, so my feet were not losing as much heat as I was used to either. Needless to say I stayed toasty. In fact I felt slightly sick upon reaching work because I had overheated and dehydrated from sweating. So now I'm almost looking forward to February because I want to see how cold it has to get before the above layering scheme fails to prevent me from freezing. My guess is that I'll be fine down to the -20s as long as I can insulate myself from the wind.

Monday, December 3, 2007

In which the protagonist realizes she hasn't been to the gym in six months

We got around four inches of very heavy, icy snow this weekend. Of course, in some places (like my driveway) it was considerably deeper. Also, in some places (like my driveway) it fell on top of six inch piles of leaves (which our property management company was supposed to deal with... but didn't). If you've never tried shoveling snow that's fallen onto a pile of leaves, you have no idea how much fun your missing. The snow gets in between the leaves which become wet and stick together and then getting a shovel to go through the whole mess is practically impossible. I think it took me slightly more than an hour to shovel out most of the snow/ice/leaf crap from the side of one of cars in the driveway (an area about four feet long and two feet wide). It was also fun because the neighbors driveway is immediately next to ours, and the house is on the other side so there's no good place to put the snow without carrying it all the way around to the front of the house. Gah. So now my back and shoulders are really angry.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

In which the protagonist enjoys Thanksgiving (again)

Today, one of my friends returned from New York and, like last time, brought me bagels. So while I'm incredibly jealous that he's been back to the city twice since I left it, I did get a good bagel for late breakfast after picking him up from the airport and another for late lunch when I got hungry again mid-afternoon.

Then, one of my roomies made another turkey and more stuffing (or technically, dressing) and another pie because we were beginning to run out of leftovers from Thursday's festivities. Now I'm completely stuffed again, but I will have to get up to go to class tomorrow instead of hanging around all day recovering (at least this time there won't be a mildly irresponsible combination of wine and cider and hot-buttered rum with brandy to recover from in addition). And, while I'm on the subject of Thanksgiving food, certain readers may be interested to know that bourbon sweet potatoes were a hit with my roommates.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

WI not too bad: In which the protagonist contemplates Thanksgiving

In spite of the facts that I have classes five days per week instead of four (or three last semester), was not given the Monday before Election Day or Election Day itself off, have to sit in several hours of meetings every week, and have been occasionally (i.e. twice) confronted with the horrifying thought that I could spend *one* weekend day not doing work but have nothing else to occupy myself... there's snow sticking to the ground before Thanksgiving. So I'm forced to conclude that Wisconsin cannot be Hell; it's too cold.

Anyway, I get tomorrow and Friday off for Thanksgiving and some grad students are coming over for food/drinks/board games tomorrow. So things really *aren't* that bad. But about the weather - if you're in the NY area and are thankful for nothing else (bagels, pizza, hangover brunch, a reasonable population density, etc.) the forecast high temperatures there are currently 30 degrees higher than here so you can go outside without gloves and not get frostbite. :-)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Oh man...

Why do I have to miss everything exciting? While I've been stuck under a rock in the Midwest, there have been a multitude of exciting Columbia mini-scandals. First the president of Iran was invited to speak, which led to most students skipping class to watch/protest. And more recently several students have gone on a hunger strike. Why are they on a hunger strike, you ask? I haven't the foggiest notion - but apparently they've convinced the administration to change the major cultures requirement and to add more layers (or to expand existing layers?) of the ever-amusing Columbia bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, I've been busy with classes and work and more classes and more work. In fact, the funniest campus semi-protest I've seen was in response to a bunch of rabid evangelical Christians of some fundamentalist variety who spent several days standing out on Library Mall yelling (literally) about how we're all (everyone except these people, apparently) going to hell for tolerating homosexuals, among myriad offenses. So the following week, some kid stood around yelling: "Everyone sucks except me! I'm always right! I could be raising money for charity, or going to class, but I want everyone to know how awesome I am!"

Friday, October 26, 2007


It sucks when you finish midterms on the morning of half-price margarita day, only to call off afternoon festivities because of vertigo. WTF? On the plus side, I don't feel like being far from my bed/couch again today, so I get a nice vacation day (as long as I don't move). I'm not going to write anymore in this post though, because my computer screen is giving me a headache.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Lest anyone suspect...

that I have too much time on my hands. Today I really wanted to listen to some music that's on my desktop, but not my laptop. I can't, though, because I haven't set up my desktop yet... it's only been two and a half months since I moved in. Crap!

Anyway, this is my last post for the next week or two because I'm starting mid-semester hellishness.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Midwesterners: unintentionally comical

Apparently, one of my roommates was in REI and overheard the phrase "Matterhorn of the Midwest" used in serious conversation. Subsequent googling of the phrase turns up Wilmot Mountain, the self-proclaimed Matterhorn of the Midwest, which is located on the Wisconsin-Illinois border. It has a mind-boggling vertical drop of 230'. For comparrison, the WI state capitol building is 50' taller.

In their defense, the actual Matterhorn may be rather taller, but it isn't lit for night skiing.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Citibank: unnecessarily complicating my life since 2003

It took me weeks to get my checking account open and functional back at the beginning of college. Then, their weird labeling of credit card application entries caused me tremendous confusion, and it took a couple days for me to get my credit card working. Then, things went more or less smoothly for a few years, but lately they've gone back to giving me migraines.

First, in July my credit card account "may have been" compromised and Citibank basically shut it down without warning. This was a minor inconvenience, as I was moving the following week, needed a credit card before then, and didn't want them to send it to my old address. I had to call and yell at them to get them to send me a new card the following day. And did they explain *how* my account was compromised? No, they were cooperating with an ongoing investigation and therefore couldn't provide details. This immediately makes me think my account in fact "was" compromised and that whatever happened was their own fault. Gee, thanks.

More recently, in an attempt to pay my credit card bill online, I accidentally checked the button for my Citibank checking account (which has essentially no money in it) instead of my current checking account (which is periodically replenished through direct deposit). So Citibank sent me a letter, which I got earlier this week (ten days before my credit card bill is due), saying there were insufficient funds and they were deducting $30 from my account. Fine, whatever, my screw-up.

But when I tried to correct my mistake, I checked my checking and credit card accounts, and, oddly, both showed that the bill had been paid (my checking account had the amount of the bill added to my balance and listed as credit) - so I couldn't go back and pay the damn bill from my good checking account because the balance was not listed. Today (eight days before my credit card bill is due), I got an email about how my credit card payment was returned due to insufficient funds and blah blah blah and further online transactions from the account in question would be suspended. Excellent! I can finally fix my mistake. And moreover, they're going to save me from my lack of eye-mouse coordination by making sure that I can't pay my bills from a checking account with no money. Unfortunately, when I went to pay the bill now that they acknowledge the balance I see that they have suspended *all* online transactions until I call them and yell at them. Oops, I guess they meant the credit card account then. Bastards.

Next, just for kicks, I decided to look at the current balance of my checking account... and although the credit card now lists a balance the checking account *still* lists that I have that amount in credit. Right now, I'm exhausted and am going to go to bed. But tomorrow I will have to call the bank's customer service to find out what is going on with my checking account (lest they decide to hold me accountable for the amount that the credit card did not actually deduct from the account due to insufficient funds and blah blah blah). Then I will cancel the transfer I was going to make from my savings account to cover the credit in my checking account (lest Citibank decide to hold *actual* money hostage while I yell at them). Then, I will call the credit card company and figure out how to reactivate online payments so I can pay my damn bill. I will not be surprised when this involves talking to clueless people's supervisors, faxing them paperwork, showing up in person at their billing headquarters in South Dakota with fourteen forms of current ID, waiting an entire billing cycle, or otherwise being prevented from paying my bill by it due date next week, costing me another $30, irreparably damaging my credit, and really really pissing me off (because you can tell that I'm not annoyed yet).

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Transportation woes

I went out with some other grad students for martinis this evening (yes I know it's a Tuesday - I missed drinking over the weekend for both academic and health reasons), and while I had an excellent time, getting home was more of a pain in the ass than usual. First, the bus showed up at West Wash later than expected by about five minutes. Then, it went about three blocks, and stopped in traffic because all the barriers were down at a train crossing. Note that there was no train in sight. So, after ten minutes (which is already a factor of two longer than my entire trip should have taken) the driver decided to turn around and take a detour around the intersection by going one block south. Naturally, when we returned to the correct road, the barriers were no longer down. Point: Mad City PD. Unfortunately for me, upon getting home and turning on my computer, I learned that the west end of campus and surrounding area (my former neighborhood) has basically been locked down since 6:30pm because the cops and security are looking for some suicidal guy with a gun. Oh, wonderful. But, had I known this before coming home I could have saved myself the twenty minute bus ride by simply calling a cab company and telling them I was a student (apparently, as part of the security procedure UW arranged to pay for rides with the major cab companies this evening).

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

It's the small things

...that are driving me slowly crazy. In New York, there might be sirens at 3am, but the goddamn undergrads don't ride around on leaf-blowers -- I mean mopeds -- at all hours of the day and night because they're two lazy to walk 500'.

In other news, I got pissed off at the gym website, because it lists the building hours, but not the hours that the weight room/cardio stuff is available for rec use. And I don't want to call and ask because then I'd have to interact with either another human being or worse an automated phone system. Then I got annoyed at the fact that I have to get up for class five mornings a week instead of just four (or three last semester).

So now I've decided that if I'm going to get through grad school in the Midwest without annoying the crap out of everyone around me I need to adjust my diet to contain more (a) carbs and (b) chocolate. Excellent.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Quick! Look busy!

Imagine the following scenario: you, a hapless grad student, are given a small task by your advisor to learn how to read your experiments simulated data and make plots with it. Then your advisor leaves the country for a week and a half - and you promptly forget that she will be back in town for at least one day before going out of town again, so you don't get too panicky about the details of your assignment. Then, on the Friday before she returns you realize that you might be expected to have something to show for the week, so you decide to finally track down someone who can explain what you need to do. Once you have a script to crunch through the data and have compiled the necessary software it's 3:30pm. And then the data server crashes. "Great!" You think, "I'm going to have to do this over the weekend." Then when you wake up on Saturday morning, the data server is down *again.* You imagine how bad it will sound when you tell your advisor, "I'm sorry, I couldn't do what you asked me to do last week because the data warehouse went down on Friday and didn't come back all weekend." :-(


Friday, September 14, 2007

Hey look! I have a blog!!

Heh. I sort of forgot about that for a while. So here's a random story that I was reminded by while talking to Chris and Karen the other day. At some point over the summer, I got into law school. This might be less impressive, had I actually applied to law school or taken the LSAT (something I debated, on account of the questions being fun, but decided against, on account of it costing >$100). Apparently, I was one of 20 people who Rutgers-Camden decided to accept on the basis of their GPA and GRE scores alone. What I'm curious about is what makes the admissions committee at RU Camden think that someone with my GPA and GRE scores would want to move to Camden to pay to enroll in a program that she hadn't applied for in the first place. Anyway, the (unsurprising) punchline is that I decided to stay in Madison where they pay me and I can go outside at night without getting mugged. Right.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Life post-Germany

I'm too lazy to come up with a coherent post, and I also feel like I need to go find a coffee shop or library where I can set about studying my ass off for quals (I must relearn of undergrad physics in 7 days... if anyone wants to make bets I'll say there are 5:1 odds that I fail miserably). So the following is more or less what I've been up to lately, but in no logical or chronological order.

This week, the powers that be deemed it necessary for me to attend grad student orientation/TA training. This has convinced me of two things: 1) I might be a decent TA but 2) I'm very glad I won't have the opportunity to prove that in the near future. I'm going to be taking three classes, doing research, and trying to learn undergrad physics so I can pass the qualifier this year.

I have keys to a bunch of labs and classrooms and offices in the physics building. I also heard a rumor that grad students are allowed to get keys to the library for use after normal library hours, which I hope is true because that would be awesome.

The physics librarian is cool. She made us brownies and let us eat them in the library.

I have an office with cool officemates and a coffee maker. I also have an $800 ergonomic desk chair (my experiment has tons of money). There is also talk of replacing two of the desks in my office because they are old and/or not the correct height.

In celebration of half-price margarita day at Frida's I opted to walk home yesterday afternoon and leave my bike at the downtown office... but I'm not at the downtown office now and getting there is vastly more time consuming on foot.

Yesterday, I filled out a travel expense report. I learned that I will be reimbursed ~$20 for each breakfast I ate in Germany, ~$40 for every lunch and ~$50 for every dinner. Meanwhile, I probably spent less than $80 total on food.

Also, while I'm aware that if I had a real job I'd be earning at least a factor of two more than I'm getting now, I still don't know what to do with everything they pay me... I should probably set up an IRA.

I need to buy a stamp and mail my electricity bill.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

And now, for a real post

I wrote this the other day, before I sorted out the proxy server here and got myself completely connected to the Intertron.

Flying to Germany was remarkably painless. I've decided that longer flights are less objectionable than shorter ones, mostly because they use larger planes and sedate me with movies. However, I'm sure there's an upper time limit beyond which all the movies in the world will not make me happy. It's probably about 10 hours.

While I was allowing for several possible travel disasters, there were only three minor issues: 1) I forgot that I had my cellphone on me and set of the metal detector in Madison, 2) they didn't post a gate number for my flight out of Detroit, so I had to track down a gate agent an hour before my flight and ask where to go, and 3) for the short flight between Madison and Detroit I was stuck next to some middle-aged suit who used the entire armrest, in blatant violation of airplane-personal-space-etiquette (does anyone have any thoughts on why it's always male, middle-aged, business types who do this? If they want more space, they can certainly afford to fly first class and save me the aggravation of having to surrender two inches of my own barely adequate space to avoid touching them).

Anyway, I killed a bunch of time in Detroit by walking the full length of the terminal twice (it's quite long), eating lunch, and browsing the Borders where I ultimately bought a new book to read for the last two hours of my stop-over. Once on the plane, which left on time, we were served drinks and a normal airline snack. Then, they had to roboot the entertainment system which, as it was coming back up, displayed a penguin with all the boot messages (Northwest runs linux on airplanes! Awesome.). Then, I started watching Shrek 3 and they brought us dinner, which was reasonably sized and palatable and came with a choice of red or white wine (I decided it would probably be crappy wine and I was dehydrated by then anyway, so I got water). Then, I finished watching Shrek 3 and took a nap (or, more accurately, four), which was hard because the stupid headrest stuck out enough even with the seat all the way back that every time I dozed off my head would fall forward and wake me up (I solved this problem by leaning against the bulkhead, which was better but I woke up anyway because my neck started to hurt). Then, after my last attempt at sleep failed they served us breakfast, which was not as good as dinner but still not too bad. And, since it was my fourth meal in 18 hours, I wasn't too worried about skipping the less appetizing parts of it.

The disappointing thing was that the A330 I was on had a selection of a few dozen movies, but I only watched one because I needed to sleep to avoid being totally delirious once I was on the ground. On the flight back, when I will not want to sleep too much, I'll be on a 757 that has a different entertainment system and I'm not sure I'll get as many (if any) choices. Although, I checked my seat reservation and as of now there isn't anyone immediately next to me, so I might at least have two armrests.

Aaa! Blogger ist auf Deutsch

I had this problem with normal Google too... it took fully ten minutes for me to figure out how to get it to go to the English version instead of forwarding to But I guess with Blogger it's ok - I know where all the buttons are and it's not like it gets any opportunities to return search results in German...

Monday, August 13, 2007

Bagel traffiking

A friend of mine, who shall remain anonymous, returned from New York late last night. At my request, he brought back half a dozen plain and cinnamon raisin bagels and left a message on my voicemail at roughly 1:00a.m. to tell me that I could pick them up at my convenience. But, before I could collect them this evening, I had to temporarily abandon my travel preparations, change my license plates, and drive a roomie's car across the lawn. All of this, combined with my observation that the day-old New York bagel was vastly better than the fresh Madison bagel I had for lunch today, makes me feel like I've engaged in something illicit. It was fun though. And I have five bagels left, which should keep my blood sugar up as I deal with all of the chaotic goings on of this week. Hahaha.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Furniture: Part the 2nd

My new bed came this morning. I'm now impatiently awaiting a reasonable going-to-sleep-hour so that I can verify that the mattress is more comfortable to sleep on than the floor. Coincidentally, when the people in charge of delivering the bed called to set up a time, they said Wednesday, between 9 and 11. So I was thinking it would be around noon, but actually, they showed up at 9:15 and had everything set up by 9:30, so I was only an hour late for work.

Now, all I need is a desk chair, and maybe a comfy chair like Kai's and I'll be set as far as furniture goes. Then I'll have to figure out what to do with all my extra floor space because my room is pretty damn big. I'll post picutres after I've gotten all the boxes unpacked and stuff put away neatly.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The anal-retentive travel overplanning begins

So, I spent some time today trying to decide how to deal with my trip to Germany. For example, I'm in the process of memorizing all the train routes and schedules between Frankfurt and Heidelberg. I believe that I will need to make a seat reservation, but I'm also not ready to commit to such a thing until I'm on the ground, because I can't predict flight delays and getting lost in the airport and so forth. I'm also trying to figure out the best way of getting myself some Euros before I leave. If anyone has advice on that, by all means, let me know.

What I think is going to be the larger problem is what I will do in Detroit, where I have a 5-hour stopover. WTF does one do with a 5-hour stopover? I'm thinking that's almost enough time to actually leave the airport to do something interesting... but in this case, as we're talking about Detroit, I'm not really sure of the options.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Furniture: Part the 1st

In my post-adolescent confusion I decided that being an adult meant things like paying one's rent and utility bills on time and without getting horribly stressed out. And, after paying rent and utilities for two months, I was comfortable with that. Now, unfortunately, I see that I was wrong. Being an adult *really* means accumulating things that are too large to fit in a car and too expensive to throw away and replace without a second thought. In short, buying furniture. Having done it, I am now shackled to this place because leaving will entail considerable expense and/or headache and worse - advance planning for the expense and headache. Gah! Not good.

I'm also beginning to think I should buy renters insurance... it's lucky that I got over the trauma of paying bills *last* month.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The new digs

I moved into my semi-permanent abode yesterday and am in the process of settling in. The house is nice, the rent cheap, the roomies reasonable, and, while I'm still struggling with the wireless, I succeeded in making the wired internet work on the very first try. Sweet. Although, when I think about it, this probably means that it isn't very secure... so I'll need to make sure I don't ever boot Windows. Or I'll need my own firewall.

So far, the most significant drawback is that I realize I cannot sleep properly at night when the bugs are louder than the traffic... damn the New York metropolitan area and its pervasive highway noise.

Next on the agenda: securing furniture... then I can work in my room instead of on the dining room table where the late afternoon sun glare reminds me that there are fingerprints all over my laptop monitor. Grr.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Foreign travel on short notice

or how to get an expedited passport for the cost of a normal one plus your sanity.

On my way home one day last week, I was ambushed my advisor who decided to send me to Germany in the middle of August. Uh... ok. Small problem #1: being as fond of traveling as I am, I have no passport and apparently, it takes 10-12 weeks or some similarly outrageous amount of time to get one in the normal way. Now, I sometimes struggle with math, but I do get that the middle of August is not 10-12 weeks from now. Explaining this to my advisor and then consulting the secretary it turns out that I can get reimbursed for the cost of an expedited passport - which only takes 3 weeks. That's still cutting it close, but it might work. Small problem #2: I had neglected to bring a copy of my birth certificate with me when I moved. So, the dear rental units sent one overnight and I was able to complete my application and take the needed documents to the post office yesterday morning. But before I left, small problem #3: Credit cards aren't an acceptable form of payment for passports and, oops, I left my checkbook at my apartment. Luckily, my new bank is conveniently located between my office and the post office so I simply went and withdrew the majority of funds available. I then went to the post office, stood in line for twenty minutes, signed some stuff, and returned to my office where I realized - small problem #4: I *did* have my checkbook (it was at the bottom of my backpack), but I now had no cash and basically no money left in the account connected to said checkbook... Then, small problems #5: it was time for lunch and I hadn't even started doing work yet.

Then the afternoon was spent figuring out which cities I need to be in on which days (taking into account that I *have* to be in Madison for various events immediately preceding and immediately following my trip) and which airports are closest to and easiest to get to from those cities and what times the trains run so I know how early or late a flight I can be on and instructing the travel agent accordingly. Gah!

Sunday, July 8, 2007


Trying to find housing given an entire (albeit, small) city of possibilities, each having its own unique drawbacks, sucks. Wandering around downtown, I saw a lovely building across the street from the Capitol. I'm sure I'd be quite comfortable there: it has balconies overlooking Capitol Square, huge windows, access to the main restaurant/shopping area of downtown, is within easy walking distance of my office, etc. But alas, it's also out of my price range. So, exactly *how* far out of my price range is it? I did some research and found that its one unoccupied unit is in the $650k ballpark and when you include that I'd want a parking space it comes out closer to $700k. That's surprisingly reasonable... I should be able to afford the down-payment if I save all my earnings for the next three or four years and don't pay any rent or taxes or buy food in the meantime. And then to make mortgage payments, I'd only need a 200% raise.

In which the protagonist...

moves to Wisconsin and learns not to be terrified by the locals.

[Note: the following was written weeks ago, but I only just got around to posting]

I've been on the ground now for a month (less two days, but whatever) and have been busily acclimating myself to life outside the NY metropolitan area. So far, I've successfully cultivated the habit of saying "Hi!" to the bus driver when I get on the bus and "Thanks!" when I get off. But I'm still working on the less hurried social exchanges - say, ordering coffee at the Starbucks down the street from my apartment:

One recent Sunday, I went to Starbucks for a NY Times and breakfast. They were out of newspapers, which annoyed me, but being hungry and caffeine-deprived, I set about deciding what to get anyway. While I was staring blankly at the pastry case trying to make up my mind the barista quizzed me about my plans for the day, juggling (I was wearing a festival t-shirt), and my research (having somehow determined that I was a grad student in physics). During this five minute chat I was too distracted and freaked out to decide what I wanted, so I ended up ordering the first thing I could think of just to be able to get my caffeine and leave. Then, as if that wasn't disconcerting enough, the following week I went back one afternoon to find the same barista... and she remembered me! WTF?