Monday, March 27, 2006

Project Jerusalem

Opportunities are there if you look for them....
I signed up for a bunch of uni newsletters: events, talks, grants, stuff like that. Usually I skim and toss them. But a few weeks ago an item caught my eye -- an exchange program between my uni and the Hebrew U in Jerusalem. It's open for students and staff. At first I ignored it. But then I saw it again; the deadline had been extended. I assumed there weren't too many people lining up to go to Jerusalem.
So I applied.
I made contact with some people there and we thought of some interesting, short-term projects we could work on together.
The grant pays for airfare, which is much more expensive than I thought, and accommodation there.
It will be a few weeks yet before I find out if I got it or not.
It would be great if I get it. We haven't been back home in over 2 years, and if someone can pay for my ticket, and I can get a paper published as well, it would be awesome.
And if I don't get it, that's fine too. It would cost quite a lot for the three of us to fly there, and the thought of a 24-hour flight each way with a toddler, who will then be jet-lagged in freezing Jerusalem, is enough to make me want to stay home and enjoy the summer break here.
I'm also really excited about the opportunity to see what it's like to work at an Israel university.
Hubby and I left Israel before we really had a chance to work much and be "grown ups" there, so we don't really have a clue what it's like. And while we're perfectly happy here in Oz at the moment, there is always that nagging thought: are we going to move back?
This would be a research project on more than one level!

My Dream Votes

Tzipi Livni for PM.
Condi Rice for Prez.

I'm pretty happy with Howard (and I actually voted for him!) I would say Australia is doing just fine. But Israel and the USA deserve better.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Over the last few months I've been making a conscious effort to change my life; to be more relaxed, to expect less of myself. I've seen a huge improvement already. I feel better physically: I have less headaches, less muscle pain, I eat less chocolate and take fewer pain killers. I also feel better emotionally: I smile and laugh more, and most importantly I'm having a lot more fun with my son. I don't yell at him as much, and I'm letting myself relax and enjoy being with him without having to worry about things that really don't matter that much. So he wet his pants? That's fine. He wants to go to the park after day care and all I want to do is go home and have a cup of tea? No worries, we'll go to the park and I'll enjoy it... I'll even swing and run around and sing "nad ned" and won't give a damn if people are listening.
This is a fairly huge step for me but it's been great.
I'm also doing other things to help myself. I've agreed to hire a cleaner. I'm taking evening classes to promote my artistic, creative side. I starting seeing a chiropractor to get rid of the tension headaches.
I've been trying (not 100% successfully) to come to terms with the fact that I can't be at work 8 hours a day but I can still get all the work done. Work is one of the toughest things I had to change my attitude about. For the first time in my life I have a job that I really love, but I can't give 100% to it because I'm a mother, and I have a child to take care of. I have enough guilt feeling with putting him in day care for 40 hours a week, and I wouldn't want him there for longer even if I could. But this of course means that I can't be at work 40 hours a week because I have to take him there in the morning and pick him up in the afternoon. So I try to make up for it by taking less breaks, chatting less and working more efficiently.
Mostly, I am trying to teach myself that it's ok not to be perfect at work, and have a perfect home, and be a perfect mother and a perfect wife.
Today I noticed this article and which really sounds familiar. At least I'm not alone! Apparently, lots of perfectionists suffer from problems like depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. I went to a therapist exactly once in my life, and in one session she told me that I have a mild case of OCD. I was shocked. I thought people with OCD wash their hands 40 times a day and do stuff like that. But then I started thinking about it and it was very clear. And just being aware of it helped me so much. But I needed to take that very real step of actively trying to change, in order to see improvement.
I guess writing this blog is also a form of therapy. And oddly enough, knowing that nobody is reading it is rather liberating: I don't feel like I have an audience to write to. But on the other hand every blogger wants an audience, so if anyone actually does read it, that's great too. It's a win-win situation!


The new school year has started and the uni is swarming with students. The halls are awash in bewildered first-years, clutching campus maps and asking for directions.
So when I was fed up with work yesterday (programming! I hate programming! Dammit Jim, I'm a mechanical engineer, not a programmer!) I took so time off and went wandering around campus.
I had to walk on the roads because there was no room on the sidewalks, what with all the students. I finally found a place of peace and quiet: one of the university's museums (there are several). I had a wonderfully relaxing time browsing the exhibit; all sorts of Australian animals and birds, some extinct. Old scientific instruments like microscopes, and even part of the first Australian computer, Silliac, that was built here. Photos and artifacts of the local people on the mainland and in the Torres Straits. In the gallery there was an exhibition of jewelry made by Sydney artists, inspired by the items in the museum. It was all very civilized and relaxing.
I love working at uni. Even when the work itself gets boring, there's always something to see and learn, and the atmosphere is buzzing with learning.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Cholent Woes

For the first time in my life, I agreed to hire a cleaner. I've always been against it but since I decided to try and relax more, the house started to get really dirty. I just don't have the time or energy to clean the house. So we hired cleaners to come in every other week. It's expensive but worth every penny. Except....
The cleaner got a bit too enthusiastic with the outside of the oven and erased all the marks on the controls! So now I have no idea how hot the oven is. I suspect this will make baking a problem. It's already caused me to mess up a cholent.
Now, cholent is hard to mess up. Even a vegetarian one. You put everything in a big pot (potatoes, beans, pearl barley, yams, eggs, spice), cover it with boiling water, and stick it in the oven on low temperature for 8-14 hours. How many hours? It doesn't really matter. It's done whenever it's done.
But this time, I suppose I set the oven temperature to way too low, because when I opened the lid after about 12 hours it was still full of water and not really cooked well. I was flabbergasted. I actually had to finish cooking it on stove because that was dinner and I couldn't bother to cook anything else.
It just doesn't taste the same now. The eggs are cooked, but not brown. It's just not the same. Oh the shame...

Friday, March 03, 2006

Ashes and Snow

Gorgeous photographs.


After several months of internal debate, I finally did it.
I got my ears pierced. Again.
I had them pierced many years ago, and got terrible infections in both ears. After that I didn't want to hear about any piercings. But lately, I've been noticing all those pretty earrings... and the more I noticed the more I wanted, and I kept thinking about it.
Yesterday I finally did it. This time I went to a doctor who specializes in body piercing. So far so good... I was surprised that he told me to clean the lobes with salt water once a day. And also that it will take 4 months (!!) to heal properly.
As he was creating unnecessary holes in me, he told me that people often ask him what it's like to work with beautiful women who want to get pierced in various body parts. He replies that inevitably, they all end up saying the same two things to him: it was really quick, and I didn't feel a thing.
And these are the two things no man ever wants to hear from any woman.

Partly Cloudy

A few days ago I had the opportunity to meet an interesting character at the uni. He was supposed to have retired about a decade ago, but he's not the type to retire. He's an engineer and has many decades of experience in academia.
He brought a photocopied graph that he found in an article in Scientific American from a couple of years ago. It shows levels of CO2 and methane in the atmosphere, as well as the change in temperature from the previous millennium, on a scale of about half a million years. Every 100,000 years or so, the earth goes through a period of warming that lasts about 7200 years. We're now smack in the middle of one of these periods.
Now, he wasn't arguing for or against man-induced global warming. He just thought that this was an interesting graph, based on precise measurements, that raises some questions that he thinks should lead to good scientific debate. Are we putting off the next ice age? How can we rely on recent measurements and predictions of small changes in temperature and sea level, when the sea level at the same point in this climate cycle has varied by nearly 200 meters, without any human intervention?
He told of a recent presentation that he gave, in which he showed this graph and asked some of these questions. He asked why we don't hear more debate on this. What was the response? The session chair told him that his time was up (it wasn't) and that he should step down and end his talk. He was stunned. Afterwards he asked why he was silenced like that, and was told that there are so many applications for government grants that nobody wants to say something that "they" don't want to hear.
The graph is from this article, written by James Hansen, who is by no means a global warming skeptic. On the contrary.
So what do I think of global warming? Well, I'm no climatologist, and there are plenty of people who know more than me on the subject. Unlike many journalists and pundits, I have no problem saying this. But I am a scientist and an engineer, and I know about modeling. I know how hard it is to get a good model of, say, a biological system. The model is only as good as what you put in it.
Planetary climate on a long-term time scale is just so immensely, utterly complicated, that I doubt that any of the current climate models are worth much, and especially not predicting global temperatures 100 years from now. There are so many variables, we have no idea how many there are and how they interact. We're learning new things about what affects climate on this earth every day. Each of these things factors in. We can't even explain past climate changes adequately; how can we claim to predict the future?
The big question is not whether climate change is happening or not (it is and always has) or if humans affect it (we do and always have). The question is what are we going to do about it. And that's where politics, biases, money and a host of other things unrelated to science, come into the equation. Academics wanting grant money. Journalists wanting a headline. Hollywood producers wanting to sell movies. Bush-haters will blame Bush, Howard-haters will blame Howard. The Greens will blame everyone.
I personally don't give much of a damn about it all, but I do care when scientists and academics are silenced.