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random musings of a crazy cat lady

Saturday, May 5, 2018

RIP Ghost Cat, 2004 (?) - 2018

I was the angel of death for Emma, aka Ghost Cat, today.  I caught her and put her in the cat carrier, and then drove my parents when they took her to the vet to be out to sleep.  I held her as the vet injected her with the medications.  Prior to that, I was the one who gently told my dad that she seemed to be in more pain and in worse shape than Luna or Rugrat ever were, and tried to nudge him towards the decision to put her to sleep. I feel kind of guilty, although I think I did the right thing.
I first met Emma sometime between 2004-2008.  I don't really remember when.  She was a ghostly presence on the fence.  At first I'd just catch glimpses of her, so I started to call her Ghost Cat.  She was off-white with a lot of grey in her coat, and was an odd combination of torbie, siamese, and possibly a trace of ragdoll.  She was somewhere in between a long and short haired cat.  Emma was beautiful and funny looking at the same time, but I didn't get a close look at her for many years.  Once she became slightly less shy, she became Luna's bete noir and Luna kept her out of the yard. 
After I moved to Ithaca and my dad moved into my Sunnyvale house, Emma had the yard to herself.  Free of her nemesis Luna, Emma (short for nemesis) became my dad's outside cat and eventually his inside cat.
Rather than being a ghostly presence, Emma was a strange, quirky, talkative cat who was a complete flea-magnet.  She hated other cats and loved my dad, who spoiled her.  Once she warmed up to us, she also became fond of me and my brother and liked to sleep on my bed and keep me awake with her scratching.
Emma was old and her kidneys were failing.  In the last two months she developed a large growth on her neck which interfered with her breathing and eating, and this week she seemed to be a few days away from complete kidney failure.  I won't go into the details, but even in the few days I was here in CA she went downhill a lot.  I recognized the behaviors and symptoms I had seen in Luna and Rugrat in the last few weeks of their lives.  I did not think she had long to live, but Emma was a tough little honey badger and might've lived another day or week.  It was hard to see her suffer like that.
RIP Ghost Cat, forever haunting my yard.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Me, Too

The #MeToo hastag/post is circulating on the interwebs now to show how common sexual assault and harrassment is.  I haven't posted yet, mostly due to my own baggage, and also because I've been very lucky and have not experienced anything serious or particularly traumatic, and don't want clueless people to ask me about it and say "Oh, that's not so bad" and then use that to minimize others' experiences.
However, the fact remains that many men do not experience the same incidents, however minor, or they think they're harmless.  So, without further ado, here is my list, or at least the parts that were noteworthy enough that I remember them.
#MeToo because of two flashers, one funny (age 13) and one scary (age 24 or so)
#MeToo because of random gropers, frotteurs, and wolfwhistlers
#MeToo  because a random guy in a car grabbed my ass when I was riding my bike in a lot of traffic, age 13 or 14
#MeToo because one of the older neighbor kids used to tickle torture me at age 3 or 4 and his dad laughed about it and never intervened (Serious question - do people tickle torture little boys, or is it mostly little girls because we're socialized not to attack and bite someone if they do something like that?)
#MeToo because in my freshman dorm one of the guys entered the womens' bathroom to borrow soap one time when I was showering and then looked into the shower to see who was in there
#MeToo because I had to share an office with a creeper for a few months until I asked my boss for an office transfer.  (Side note - I did not tell my boss he was a creeper, and instead emphasized that he was impacting my productivity by talking on the phone all the time.  Bonus points for my boss for realizing the guy was a creeper and pulling some strings to let me move ASAP, and negative points for the creeper's boss for knowing he was a creeper and putting him in my office anyway, despite the fact that there were only a few women at the company at the time.)
#MeToo because a few creepy guys tried to get my to get in their cars and go for a ride with them when I was out running in high school.  I was 14 at the time.
#MeToo because the lab asshole during my postdoc kept putting bikini babe screensavers up on the lab's computers and then threw a hissy fit when we finally got fed up and replaced it with some good old fashioned beefcake pictures

See - as I said it's pretty minor compared to what a lot of people have been though.  THIS IS BECAUSE I AM FORTUNATE* and not because of anything else.  Not because of what I was wearing, not because of how I looked*, not because of what I did, not because of my perma resting bitch face and not because of how I was raised. 

As an extra aside, a quadruple kick in the nuts to all the guys who harassed 13-14 year old me, since that was the majority of my "stranger danger" harassment.  Kudos to my mom for telling me that creepers are out there and that many of them target young teens since young teens are less experienced in avoiding them or shutting them down.  Double kudos to her for never saying anything about what I wore or doing any victim blaming.  (Sadly, she has since become judgemental in her old age)

* Seriously, fuck you, Mayim Bialek, for your editorial in the New York Times and for starring in the Big Bang Theory, which trivializes/humorizes a lot of creepy nerd behavior.  You didn't have to deal with the "casting couch" because you were fortunate and also because you took a hiatus from the film industry while you were in your late teens and 20's.  It has nothing to do with how you look.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Cook's Illustrated Boston Baked Beans (and Old Biddy's Maple Syrup Beans)

I was very excited when Cook's Illustrated, the Boston based purveyors of cooking geekery, published a recipe for a faster cooking version of the beans with no hipster ingredients, as well as a recipe for brown bread.  I'm gluten free again since my knee has been bothering me, so I did not make the bread.
As with most Cook's Illustrated recipes, there are a few tricks and secret ingredients.  The trick here is to soak the beans in salt water for at least 8 hrs, and then do a combination of cooking it in the oven and on the stove.  This reduces the cooking time to appx. 3.5 hours instead of all day.  You're still fighting with acidic ingredients (brown sugar and molasses) but the salted soak brings a lot of bean softening firepower.  The secret ingredient is a little bit of soy sauce for umani notes and depth.  Other than that, there are no hard to find ingredients, no wasted beer, minimal active time and no time consuming hacks.  There is even a discussion of bean blowout, which isn't nearly as funny as it should be. When I take over Cook's Illustrated I will be sure to include a lot more fart jokes.

Cook's Illustrated Boston Baked Beans, now with more fart jokes

1 lb navy beans, picked over and rinsed
1 1/2 tbsp salt

6 oz salt pork, sliced into 3 pieces
1 onion, halved
1/2 cup molasses*
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp dried mustard
1/2 tsp pepper
1 bay leaf

*use maple syrup instead of molasses for a different flavor

Combined dried beans with 2 qt water and 1.5 tbsp salt.  Let it sit at least 8 hours or overnight

Preheat oven to 300F.  Rinse and drain beans and transfer to large dutch oven (because of course you need a dutch oven for this...).  Add salt pork, molasses, brown sugar, soy sauce, dried mustard, pepper, and bay leaf.  Add 1 quart water.  It should cover the beans by appx 1/2 inch.  Add more if needed.  Bring mix to a boil.  Cover and put it in the oven for 2 hours.  After 1 hour, stir it around and add enough water to cover beans, if necessary.  After 2 hours, remove cover and cook for another hour.  Scrape down sides and remove onion, bay leaf, and salt pork.  Give them to the person in your household who wants to eat them.

The beans came out pretty well, and I really liked how hands off the recipe is. They reminded me of the baked beans they served at brunch at an Irish pub in Boston, so I even ate some for breakfast. They were sweet and had good flavor.  They retained their shape almost too well - no bean blowout. Due to the lack of bean blowout, the Dutch oven was easy to clean.... All fart jokes aside, I miss the slight thickening effect from some blowout. 

We really liked them, so in the interest of science I made another batch two days later.  This time I substituted dark maple syrup for the molassses.  They were much mellower and less Beano was needed.  I will probably use bacon for the maple syrup ones next time.

Dutch Oven Bean Blowout Report: low in the recipe, high in the Old Biddy household. Get your Beano for these bad boys!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Easy Quinoa Salad

I haven't stopped cooking, but I have been slacking on my blogging for the last couple of years.  Anyway, during that time I've discovered a lot of recipes that have become standbys. Here is one

Quinoa Salad with Feta, Cucumbers and Tomatoes

1 1/2 cups quinoa, washed well
2 1/2 cups water
1/2 tsp salt

1 cucumber, chopped
8 oz cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp dried oregano
1/2 cup vinaigrette (make you own or use store-bought)*

6-8 oz feta cheese, cubed or crumbled

Combine vegetables, garlic, and vinaigrette.  Allow mix to sit in fridge overnight.  (If you're pressed for time you can skip this step) 

Cook quinoa until all liquid has been absorbed.  It will be soft but not mushy.  Transfer to large bowl and let it cool to lukewarm.  Add vegetable/vinaigrette mixture and stir gently to combine.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Chill in fridge.  Before serving,  add feta cheese.  It tastes better if you let it sit in the fridge for a few hours before serving.

* When I make my own vinaigrette I use a combination of lemon juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper and sometimes green onions or chives.  It's a forgiving recipe so it is fine with store bought Italian dressing too.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Adulting and Emotional Labor

This is an old post which sat in my 'drafts' box for a long time, but I'm killing time and blogging now that my writer's block has been beaten in to submission.

If you haven't done so already I highly recommend checking out the Metafilter megadocument on emotional labor.  Once you're done reading it, let me know, and we can start making plans to go live on Crone Island.  Well, not really, but it got me thinking a lot about it, because up until fairly recently I did not know what emotional labor was, and it's actually a huge portion of how I spend my day, if you include what I do at work.

For the TL:DR version of things, emotional labor, as colloquially defined by feminists in terms of people's daily lives, covers a lot of ground but gets lumped into the "second shift" of stuff people do.  The "I want a wife" post summarizes it in a nutshell.  Some examples include buying groceries, cleaning, cooking dinner, making doctor appointments, sending birthday cards to grandma, going to parent teacher conferences, helping the kids with homework, etc, etc.  I'm going to lump all of this boring stuff into what I call "adulting."  The rest is more subjective, but includes offering emotional support for spouses/lovers/friends, subjecting one's own needs for others, remembering everyone else's preferences and schedules, etc.    I'll call this emotional labor.

So the core discussion is that adulting and emotional labor are work, take time, use up mental bandwidth and are tiring.  On average, women have been socialized from birth to do these things more than men have.  This often leads to situations where the person doing more of the adulting and emotional labor is frazzled, stressed, etc, and the person who's not doing it has more free time and doesn't get what all the fuss is about.

I'm really good at adulting.  That doesn't mean I always like it, even though the perks are good.  I was really happy in grad school when I could just work in the lab and hang out with my friends.  I lived in a dorm and never cooked.  I did not have a car.  I did not own any furniture and packed all my stuff into a friend's truck when I moved to NC.  I called myself a minimalist, but in reality I just didn't have to do a lot of adulting.  As I've gotten older, I've spent an increasing amount of time adulting.  Gotta go refinance that mortgage.  Gotta talk to my financial advisor.  Gotta go to the dentist twice a year and the doctor once a year for a checkup.  Gotta clean the house, gotta take my car in for an oil change, gotta take the cat to the vet, gotta send that form in to HR, etc etc.  One of my students graduated and then stayed in town for a few weeks before starting her real job.  During this time, she got her driver's license, dealt with the movers, set up a new bank account, located and rented an apartment from 750 miles away, etc.  She came in and told my boss and I that she didn't know how we dealt with that stuff - it was exhausting!  We laughed and told her it only got worse, but there were some advantages too.  In my current job, I do a lot of what I will call research adulting.  I like fixing instruments and making sure the big fancy robot works well, but hate ordering stuff, so I outsource as much as possible to the senior students and departmental folks, but nonetheless the buck stops here.  This is different from my previous job, where we had lots of technicians/facilities people/IT support and they kept things humming really smoothly.  I'm not going to lie - I really miss that aspect of my old job.

I'm ok at emotional labor.  I consciously try to be a good friend, but know that I have my faults.  I'm introverted and although I love to talk to y'all on the phone, I have this weird introvert phobia of picking up the phone and making a call, and I rely too heavily on text/email/Facebook.  Joe is an extrovert and is much better at emotional labor than I am, although I am better at adulting. 

In my mid-forties, I suddenly was doing a lot more adulting and emotional labor than I'd ever done before, due to the combination of job stuff and Joe 'guesting' at my house 95% of the time but not officially living there.  I was surprised by how scatterbrained it made me feel.  Things got better once I started delegating more at work and Joe officially moved in so I got out of host mode and he got out of guest mode.   We're continuing to get better at playing to our strengths and dividing up the adulting.  He reminds me to call my mother.  I remind him to get his oil changed.  Anyway,  I'm over the hump now, but for about a year it was challenging.  When I discovered the metafilter document it was my own 'Eureka' moment. I realized that it wasn't just my imagination or a failure on my part - this stuff is draining and bandwidth consuming for everyone. 

I had a very busy month at work. I had a student visiting to run experiments on the robot, and we had a jam-packed schedule.  Soon after that ended, it was research proposal time with a big dose of election distraction mixed in.  At the outset, I decided I was going to minimize the amount of adulting I did.  Joe helped a lot with household stuff, and for the rest of it I just gave myself permission to put it on hold unless I wanted to procrastinate.  I'm still fried from the proposal, but it was a huge help to put most of the adulting on hold.

Election 2016: I Can't Even...

My family is like a microcosm of what went wrong in this election.
My mother raised me to be like Hillary Clinton, but she voted for Donald Trump.  Words cannot fully describe how pissed off I am about this. She has voted Democrat since the 80's.  She waited for several hours to see Bill Clinton's motorcade when he came to town for something back in the 90's.
My dad, who also raised me to be like Hillary, voted for Gary Johnson, but this was somewhat less surprising since he's usually just to the right of my mom politically and mostly votes Republican. They're live in CA so it really didn't make a difference, but it doesn't make it any better.
My brother didn't vote.  He never does.  He lives in Arizona.  It's not a swing state now but probably will be soon.
I voted for Hillary, of course.  It would be easy to say that the results are not my fault, that it's random uneducated white people in towns in middle of the country, but my own family, particularly my mother, suggests otherwise. Collectively, the four of us are part of the problem.
I didn't ask my mom who she was going to vote for, since I assumed it would be Hillary and it's usually kind of hard to get a word in edgewise, anyway.  Normally I call her out on some of the more sexist things she says (which seem to be increasing lately).  My dad told me, after the election, that my mom "just doesn't like Hillary." I am kicking myself for not discussing the election with her.  She's a smart woman, and went to college at a time when that was still sort of uncommon for women to do so.  But she also has a lifelong fondness for talk radio (which mostly veers right these days), and a new-found fondness for clickbait and its young cousin fake news.  I also know she has absorbed a lot of internalized misogyny, and it's rearing its ugly head now, perhaps due to all the talk radio.
I can't even...

Friday, April 29, 2016

I can't even...:my take on the Caltech astrophysics sexual harrassment case

As promised, here's my take on the Caltech astrophysics sexual harassment case, aka textgate.  In the months that this post has sat in my to-be-edited box, more has happened.
Read the Buzzfeed article for background.  For the TL:DR version, a Caltech astrophysics professor, Christian Ott, texted/IM'ed one of his first year grad students ("A") a lot, mostly about random things or trying to guilt-trip her into working more, then fired her without giving a reason.  He also wrote a whole bunch of bad poetry about her on his Tumblr page, which has since been removed from the web.  He then started texting/IM'ing another one of his students ("B"), partly about random things, partly guilt-tripping her about needing to work more,  but also discussing how he had fallen in love with A.  B eventually couldn't take it anymore and switched groups and filed a complaint with Caltech's Title IX office.  Caltech contacted A, who had no clue that the fact that Ott had fired her because he was obsessed with her.  A and B both joined the suit, and Prof. Ott got put on a leave of absence for 9 months.
Meanwhile, it sounded like Ott was a horrendous advisor to everyone, and a total of nine people had left his group since 2012.  Only two had graduated.  One was fired for keeping his bike in the office.  For comparison, in the group of 15 or so people that I am a member of, since 2010: 16 students have graduated with PhD's, one left with a master's since his fiance got a job in Delaware, seven postdocs have finished and gotten jobs, and two sabbatical visitors and more than 10 undergrads have spent time in the lab.  One first year student was asked to leave, and one visiting grad student had personal issues and left after a few weeks.  In the group where I was a graduate student, three graduate students decided to leave grad school in the 4 years I was there (out of maybe 30 people that I overlapped with in 4 years).  In my postdoc group, no one left prematurely in the 2 1/2 years I was there.  So people do leave for various reasons, but it is usually a small percentage of the total people who spend time in the research group.  But apparently, this is not weird to the Caltech physics department and they gave Ott tenure two years ago.
Student A left Caltech and is finishing up her PhD elsewhere. Student B is in the process of finishing up at Caltech.  Yesterday she happened to tweet some anecdotes about what has been going on since the buzzfeed article. The tweets have been deleted, but I read them at the time and B has been facing subtle and not so subtle ostracization, with several leadership roles taken from her and given to other, less senior students.  It was disappointing to read, but she did not say actually say anything about Prof. Ott (who is on leave), just about her experiences since January.  This elicited sympathetic responses and retweets from most people but Prof. Ott decided to weigh in with some threatening tweets to her (also now deleted, but saved as screenshots)  WTF?  You'd think that common sense, plus the probation order not to have any contact with graduate students, would be enough to make him keep quiet on Twitter, not get in a Twitter war with B and her supporters, many of whom are senior female scientists who have rallied around her.
This is one of the oddest stories of gender harassment that I have heard, which is why I'm writing about it.  In fact, it's probably the oddest grad school related story I've heard, and that's saying a lot.  It's not a 'he said, she said' type of grey area situation.  The students had produced loads of text messages, poems, etc, and the former group members had been interviewed.  I can't even imagine how someone in their mid-30's, who'd been doing research for 15+ years and had been advising grad students for several years at that point, could think it even remotely ok to text first years about personal stuff.  This is not rocket science, people, or even astrophysics.  It's common sense.   Did he not even look around over all that time and see how other faculty members interact with graduate students?  Even though I was in industry for many years, I was only a few years older than Prof. Ott when I started mentoring students, and it would not have crossed my mind to text them about anything not lab-related.  Yes, I do consider some of them to be friends, and all of them to be valued coworkers.  From time to time some of them confide in me or get my advice about personal matters, and I do keep in touch with them after they leave.  But it has never seemed difficult to figure out where the line of professionalism is drawn.  Likewise, did the other faculty in the physics department not think it was the least bit weird that most people switched out of Ott's group?  (I'm assuming that the students began to warn each other once the mass exodus started to occur)  It's rarely a secret which faculty are assholes to their students.  To quote all my millennial students, I can't even...