Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Movies

The longer I go without posting, the more pressure there is to write a post worth reading, when I do. And yet. My ideas for posts are pretty much limited to 1) a review of the quality of various web-based job search engines 2) fretful soul searching about what kind of job I really want, and how much I'm willing to compromise, and whether it's inevitable that women will always compromise more than men 3) that really weird dream I had last night. Y'know, I'm an anxious person. I could fill three blogs with my anxiety. But who wants to read that? Although Woody Allen's made a pretty good career out of it, come to think of it...

Anyway, that leaves me with little to write about besides the Christmas movies we've watched so far this year: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, We're No Angels (1955), While You Were Sleeping. Three movies that manage to be sweet without being saccharine (okay, maybe While You Were Sleeping counts as saccharine.)

Christmas Vacation
and While You Were Sleeping actually go pretty well together. The latter is about a lonely woman who wants a family so badly that she's willing to resort to fraud to join one. "Lucy, you're born into a family. You do not join them like you do the Marines."

But the family she's trying to join is almost as ridiculous as the Griswolds of National Lampoon fame. Watching them together makes one really appreciate one's ridiculous relatives and in-laws. (Eddie: "Yeah, I got the daughter in the clinic, getting cured off the Wild Turkey. And, the older boy, bless his soul, is preparing for his career." Clark: "College?" Eddie: "Carnival." Clark: "You got to be proud.")

We're No Angles has a similar theme. Three escaped convicts find themselves caring about a family they'd meant to rob. "We came here to rob them and that's what we're gonna do - beat their heads in, gouge their eyes out, slash their throats. Soon as we wash the dishes." The convicts are lonely.

One thing I see, watching these movies and others like them, is how much harder it is to be "normal" than I thought as a kid. I used to think that getting married, having a house and a family and a decent job was the easy road. Every family I knew had that. Now I see that's because of selection bias. Partly it's that people who've won themselves stable relationships and jobs are more likely to have kids. And then my sample was skewed even further by the neighborhoods I grew up in and the people we knew. Now I know more people, and now I've had a taste of how much work and luck are actually involved in achieving the kind of by turns tedious and ridiculous life. It's sort of the opposite of the message you get from a movie like American Beauty. I sort of want to see Chevy Chase's character and Kevin Spacey's character have a beer and talk about it. They're similar guys, and they both have... fantasies, but ultimately Clark Griswold is happy, despite everything.

A recent New York Times article points out that some of that same tension -- family vs freedom -- is at the core of that other classic Christmas movie, It's a Wonderful Life.

And I've got one more movie to throw into the mix, with, I think, a related theme: Trainspotting. Just read the opening monologue. So much disdain for the kind of family life that Christmas movies celebrate. But the alternative he gives is heroin addiction, and whatever else the movie does, it doesn't make heroin addiction seem like an attractive lifestyle.

When you're a kid, you can't help but take for granted the kind of life you're born into. If that life is relatively secure, and everyone you know lives the same way, and if you haven't lived long enough to see institutions crumble and to experience failure, then you're not going to understand how small the kind of island of stability that you grew up in probably is. Though it may seem boring, stability is in fact a difficult achievement in a chaotic world. Just ask Zuzu.

Christmas movies seem to be the designated genre for reminding us of this, and I really appreciate them more, as an adult.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Progress of Science

Science is hard and in general, get two scientists together and you'll have three opinions. But slowly and unsteadily, a consensus emerges, and the human race gets a little wiser.

None of this is news anymore, but I wanted to recognize some really cool results that have come out recently.

One is "just" a simulation -- but a good simulation is a lot of work. This one shows that the ever-victorious Standard Model correctly predicts the mass of atoms within 5% of their measured values. The other 5% is a mystery that those expensive particle collider experiments are designed to solve. The 95% is a pretty impressive triumph for an increasingly awesome theory.

From a theoretical result about very small scales we move to an observational result about very large scales. For the first time, astronomers have succeeded in takingpictures of planets in other solar systems. They're not the greatest looking pictures, but considering that any picture like this was considered impossible a few years ago, I think they're beautiful. We know now, in a visual, almost visceral way, that our solar system is one of many.

I also think it's worth talking about the fact that India's first unmanned lunar spacecraft has successfully entered orbit around the moon. The more active space programs, the better, as far as I'm concerned. NASA desperately needs some competition. And it is a hopeful sign of progress for the human race as a whole when the so-called Western and Non-Western worlds are each capable of and committed to science on this scale. Space exploration should be a human activity, not limited to a specific culture. Practically all science fiction fans agree.

A couple of more links I want to throw in while I'm linking:

Memoirs of a Space Engineer gives a couple of very real, very entertaining anecdotes about the essence of engineering: problem solving.

And The Necessity of Mathematics is an essay by Science Blogger Blake Stacey about the role mathematics plays in science, with some insightful examples that feel like little revelations in themselves.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Mathematical Grammar

I'm strongly of the opinion that math is nothing more or less than a language. All languages are different, and it's harder to say certain things in some languages than in others. Math is particularly well suited toward making quantitative statements, and it's unusually difficult to contradict yourself in the language of Math... Or rather, it's more obvious when you've contradicted yourself, when you express something in the language of Math, than it is in English.

It takes some work to express qualitative statements like "That leaf is yellow" in Math, but if we resort to less than or greater than signs, or even "approximately equal" signs, we can usually do it:

That may need a little context, but the basic meaning is clear if you speak Math. (I could also have given RGB color values or even hex color codes, but I don't know those off the top of my head. In any case, there are usually lots of ways to quantify a quality like "color.")

Of course, it's usually much easier to understand Math if you provide the necessary context in English or another natural language... Rather like programming languages, which are just a dialect of Math really -- commenting your code makes it a lot easier to read.

But you know, some of the need for context is reduced by certain conventions which are a part of the grammar of Math, but which are rarely if ever formally stated. When students screw these up, it makes their work a lot harder to read or grade. I find it interesting that everyone eventually picks up on these conventions, all over the world, but no one ever really talks about them. For instance, above I used the greek letter "lamda" without saying what it meant. But to anyone who has had any contact with the physics community, "lamda" means wavelength. The fact that I talked about color and gave a number on the scale of the wavelength of light makes the interpretation certain. If you're a physics person, I don't need to tell you that I'm talking about wavelength there, and not some kind of computer color code. I should probably specify that the wavelength I'm talking about is that of the light reflected from the leaf, but the subscript "Leaf" and the context are again probably enough for you to guess that too.

Here are some of the unwritten rules that come immediately to mind:

Letters from the beginning of the Roman alphabet -- these are usually constants, especially if they are upper case.

Upper Case Roman Letters - these also frequently indicate a constant quantity, especially if the letter is from the beginning of the alphabet. Capital "C" and capital "K" are very popular choices to represent a constant because "constant" starts with a "C" in English and a "K" in German. Upper case Roman letters may also stand for matrices or tensors -- Usually you can tell which is which, because if it's a matrix or a tensor, all of the other terms in the equation will also be a matrices or tensors, so that knowing one symbol gives you hints about the others. (Also, I like to put little upside-down caret hats on my matrices. Most people use right-side-up carets, but I like to reserve those for unit vectors.) If you see a capital X, Y, or Z, however, you know it's likely to be a matrix, because those are almost never used for constants. Which brings me to my next rule.

The symbols x, y, z, and t are reserved for position and time - These are pretty much always variables, and nearly always stand for quantities with units of length, or in the case of t, of time. Sometimes students use "x" to stand for other quantities, because it's a popular choice to stand for any unknown quantity in high school algebra classes, but in the world of math-using professionals, this is a bad idea. Using "x" for a quantity that does not have units of length will confuse people unless you make it very clear what it does stand for. And even then, there are usually better, more conventional choices. If, for instance, the quantity is a pressure, use a "p"(preferably lower-case). If it's a temperature, go for the upper case "T," because the upper-case-letter-means-constant rule is not as firm as the lower-case-t-means-time rule. If it's a frequency, use "f" or "nu"... Most things have their own conventional symbols, in other words, specifically to avoid the problem of using "x" for everything. Save that for position. If there really is no conventional symbol for your quantity, use the lower case Greek letter xi. That's one of few letters that doesn't, by convention, already stand for something else (at least not in physics)

If it's a constant with units of length or time, use subscripts -- the unadorned x, y, z, and t are read as variables, but if you stick a subscripted number (not a letter) on them, they will be read as constants. A good choice is x-subscript-0 or t-subscript-1. In fact, almost anything with a suscripted number will be read as a constant, regardless of the other rules in this list.

Letters from the middle of the alphabet are integers -- In particular, do not use upper or lower case "N" to mean something that is not an integer, because it will confuse people. The letter "m", especially in lower case, is almost always an integer too. In computer science, so are "i", "j", and "k". In physics, however, it is not wise to use these symbols for integers unless they are appearing as an index or subscript. That's because these symbols have other meanings already. ("o" is never used because it looks just like zero.)

Lower case i means square root of negative one -- you can't use lower case "i" for any variable, because its meaning is already assigned. (Likewise that of "e" and lower case "pi" which stand for the natural base of logarithms, and the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, respectively.) The exception to the "i" rule is if you are an electrical engineer, in which case you may use lower case "i" for current if you must. (I have no idea why "I" is the conventional symbol for current -- physicists use it too, but in upper case). Electrical engineers use "j" for the square root of negative one. As for "k" -- that is a seriously overused letter. It has seemingly dozens of conventional uses. It is often used for Boltzmann's constant, though I prefer to give it a subscript for that. In my world it is the wavenumber of light. But it may also be the so-called "lattice constant" for a crystal, a related but different concept. People use it for constants because the German "konstant" is spelled with a "k" even though it does not conform to the other rules about constant names. Plus, as I said, it's a popular index name, and used as a subscript usually represents an integer. In short, don't call anything else "k" unless you have to.

Lower case Greek letters are variables -- frequently, but not always. If you're going to use one to stand for a constant, though, I think you should stick a subscript on it, same as with x, y, z, and t. If you're in need of a good name for your variable, pick a lower case Greek letter. Of course, many of them already have conventional interpretations within a given field. As I said, "lamda" is wavlength, "nu" is frequency, "omega" is angular frequency, to me. "Iota" isn't used because it looks too much like "i". Lower case "mu" is a magnetic or electric dipole moment (as well as being the symbol for the prefix "micro"). Both lower and upper case "gamma" stand for decay rates, in my field. Lower and upper case "Psi" stand for quantum wavefunctions. Lowercase "alpha" is an absorption or loss coefficient... Those conventions are specific to my subfield. But there are also some broader rules: "theta" and "phi" are angles or phases to almost everyone. Lower case "delta" stuck in front of another variable means "a small change" in that variable, and upper case delta stuck in front a variable means the same thing, or by itself means "the difference between two quantities" (lower case "d" used in calculus to indicate a derivative.) Epsilon means "a small quantity" usually, as can lower case delta when used by itself. That still leaves a lot of letters, though, and I think most math people in all fields do read lower case Greek letters as variables. Again, I especially like "xi" and "zeta" for new variables I'm introducing because they don't already have conventional interpretations.

Use tildes primes, and subscripts to indicate related quantities -- If you start out with some variable "p" and then you introduce a new variable which is p*e^i*omega*t, a good name for the new variable is "p-tilde" or p with a tilde on top. You can also use "p-prime," which is p with an aprostrophe thing after it, though I prefer to reserve this notation for the derivative of p. A third alternative is to stick a subscript on it. For this example I might use "p-subscript-rot" because I think of this as p-rotating-with-the-field. For some letters you can also get away with switching between a Roman letter and a related Greek letter -- go from "r" to "rho" for instance, or from "b" to "beta."

Capital Greek Letters aren't good variable names -- Okay, you can get away with capital Psi, Theta, Gamma, and a few others, but capital "Sigma" is the summation symbol, and does not stand for a quantity at all. Likewise capital "Pi" (which must be written carefully to distinguish it from lower case "pi") means "multiply all of the terms in this sequence." Capital Delta, as mentioned before can be a variable indicating the different between two quantities, but it is usually a label used before a quantity to indicate a change in that quantity. Many of the other capital Greek letters look too much like their Roman counterparts to be useful.

Then there are all the different "hats" -- vector hats, unit vector carets, dots and double dots to indicate derivatives, bars to indicate averages... And specialized notations like Einstein summation indices, the use of parentheses, square brackets, and curly brackets... I would say these all serve a more or less "grammatical" function. (Then there are things like "bra-ket" notation and quantum field theory's "contraction" notation. Those aren't exactly grammatical, they're just a sort of shorthand.)

I'm sure if I surveyed some friends we could come up with a lot more rules like this, but I don't think anyone ever taught them too us formally. We just learned them, the same way you learn the grammar for any language that every one around you is speaking and writing. The rules are as weird and full of exceptions as the rules of English grammar, which is why mathematicians may not like to talk about them -- they like to pretend math is completely logical. But they serve a real purpose, just like English grammar. You try grading the work of a student who doesn't follow them. It's unreadable.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Post Copyright World

So I've thought for a little while that copyright is more or less going away whether we like it or not. How, then, do creative people make money by entertaining us? The same way they did before audio recording or the printing press were invented -- live performances and generous patrons.

But the patrons don't just have to be wealthy aristocrats these days. I think what happens is, you release a couple of titles -- books, albums, whatever, for free. Build up a fanbase. Then you hold the next work hostage. You set a fundraising target, and you release the work once that target has been met. If you have millions of fans, your target can be millions of dollars. All of them will contribute five or ten. If you have a couple hundred fans, your target can be a couple hundred dollars. Someone who's really eager will contribute extra, or talk their friends into joining in, to get the next work out that much faster.

These schemes are starting to show up, and I'm interested to see whether they take off.

Here's a site where you fund investigative journalism. Once a story gets enough funding, the investigation gets done. I might actually try this.

One of my favorite essayists, the Real Live Preacher Gordon Atkinson, has proposed to publish his next book this way.

Maybe I can get research funding this way. Want me to work on this idea for a fiber optic vibration sensor I've got? Send me five bucks. I'll start when I get to $10,000...

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


I've been reading comment threads, and at least one person on Metafilter said just how I feel...

posted by middleclasstool at 8:15 PM on November 4

Also from MetaFilter:

"John McCain should concede more often, he's really good at it!"
posted by finite at 8:25 PM on November 4

"Wisconsin is declared in our hearts."
posted by drezdn at 8:51 PM on November 4

"Gun Owner For Obama!! I'm so happy, I won't even go out and shoot randomly into the air in celebration!"
posted by Balisong at 8:53 PM on November 4

"Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Rest of the World."
posted by hoskala at 8:56 PM on November 4

"Truly the end of an error."
posted by punkfloyd at 5:03 AM on November 5

But I'm still thrilled that he won. We now have a president who said "The Wire" is his favorite show and, for some insane reason, this gives me great hope for the future. Absurd really, the things we pin our hopes on.

Just dear god/cthulhu/fsm, please don't let Obama turn into a Carcetti."
posted by pandaharma at 1:04 AM on November 5

I love The Wire. But I've only seen the first four seasons. So far Carcetti's not so bad. What I can't help thinking of what one of the former Baltimore mayors told him being mayor was like. Something like "Every day you go into your office and eat one bowl of shit after another -- it just keeps coming, in beautiful golden bowls". I'm afraid that's what Obama's got in front him him now...

A comment I left here but want to repeat on my own blog:

I had a cool experience Friday night. I was on an overnight bus out of Chicago, and most of the other people on the bus were black. The driver on the PA system should've been a DJ. He was making jokes, telling stories, and wishing us all a smooth ride... And somewhere in there he said "It's gonna be a whole new world out there after Tuesday, you just watch," and the whole (double decker) bus spontaneously cheered, and the little eleven year old girl sitting next to me was grinning so hard I thought she was going to break her face. And the driver went on about how the city of Chicago was just going to go nuts, and what a great thing it was for the city... But he personally was gonna stay as far away as he could get, because the traffic was gonna be a nightmare.

Late night, bus full of strangers, all so excited, all feeling like the world is about to change, and for once, like they're the ones changing it... Pretty unforgettable.

And Obama himself, as usual, captures the mood:

A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, [a black woman who remembers when black people and women weren't allow to vote] touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change. Yes we can.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Why I like Barack Obama, Part II

Everything from Part I, which I posted here four years ago(!) still applies. But there's something I wanted to add.

I'm happy that both candidates this year represent a significant improvement over the incumbent. But I'm even happier that one of them is a deeply thoughtful, introspective man. I think it's amazing that this such a man is also the most charismatic candidate in a generation.

I don't agree with Obama on everything. For instance, he favors removing restrictions on abortion. I do not. He favors policies which flirt with protectionism. I think that's a losing battle and hard on the very poor in other nations. I believe the death penalty should be abolished. He believes the system can be fixed. He believes we're going to need to rely more on nuclear power. I'm divided on the issue. I believe it is safe, but we don't really have a solution for disposing of the waste. There's not much of it now, but it's not going away either, and if we rely on it too heavily, it will continue accumulating until it's a problem for our great-grandchildren the way global warming is a problem for us.

But here's the thing. I believe Obama has thought very hard about every one of these issues, and is aware of the other side of the argument in each case. I believe he sees these as complex problems. I believe this because I have seen him reason his way to a conclusion in a debate or a speech (with numbered arguments, no less), and because I have read his first book, which is full of searching and self doubt.

More than I want someone who agrees with me, I want someone who thinks about problems and struggles with them and sees them from all sides.

And that is what I see in Obama. Someone who is not afraid to consider the possibility that he might be wrong. Someone who who would govern with his head, not his gut. I am content to let others make my policy decisions for me, as I must be under a representative government, but I want to know that those people have thought about the decisions they are making more than I have, not less.

And that's what I see in Barack Obama.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

More Marathon Thoughts

Just off the plane from Minnesota. The last two weeks have been totally crazy. But I've already booked a ticket to go back there next weekend by bus.

A short post since I'm just back... I see via shimgray that the marathon I just ran didn't actually work the way I thought it did.

I thought I ran the same marathon as Constantina Tomescu-Dita, the Olympic gold-medalist, and Lidiya Grigoryeva, the winner on the day I ran, but I guess I was wrong...

Apparently the "elite start" group is in a different race. According to a more recent Chicago Tribune Article the non-elite woman (from Chicago) who actually got the shortest time in that San Francisco race was eventually declared a sort of co-winner, with the same prize, but the man who finished with the fourth fastest time here in Chicago will not get the fourth-place prize money. I disapprove.

As for me, my time put me 12,800th or so out of 33,000 or so starters, and 31,000 or so finishers. Not bad, I'd say. Top half - almost top third.

Here's a blog by a person who was out there cheering. I probably saw her. The people cheering us on were awesome. That's a different kind of sports fan, not just motivated by seeing their team win, but by athletic excellence in general. Those people make human being look good, selflessly cheering others on out of pure respect for the sport.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

26.2 Miles!

Apparently my final time was four hours and thirty one minutes. I'm pretty happy with that. It's about the pace that I train at -- just barely under 10 minutes per mile -- but I seriously doubted I was going to be able to maintain that the whole way.

The beginning was so exciting... with the cheering crowds... I felt like a professional athlete. Well, better, because they're used to it. All that enthusiasm directed at me actually choked me up a little.

The first half was a breeze. I flew through it, powered by adrenaline. The next seven miles took us further from the city center, and the sun really started to beat down, so that kinda sucked. But the crowds got bigger and louder again for the final six or seven, which really helped. I was following a guy with the time "4:15" pinned to his back -- a pace runner. He really got me through, especially at the end, and I owe him a big thanks.

But the biggest thanks is to Ken, who was there at mile two, mile thirteen, and mile twenty-six point two. Looking forward to seeing him is what kept me going.

We stayed in a hotel downtown last night, to bypass the traffic problems and to give me a place to shower and crash afterward (they let us check out late.) Walking around taking pictures and getting a drink downtown was a great way to say goodbye to Chicago.

Now... On to Minneapolis!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Race Day Tomorrow!

We are going to stay tonight in downtown Chicago, because getting into or out of the city is going to be impossible, with 45,000 runners, 10,000 staff and volunteers, plus spectators... And half the roads in the city closed for the race. I'm supposed to be at the start line for a team photo with my fellow Boys and Girls Club team members at 7:15 AM.

After the marathon, we are driving seven hours to look at apartments for Ken -- he's starting his new job next week. Back to Chicago on Thursday so I can meet with this guy who's flying into talk to us about his research on Friday, then visits to friends and family on Saturday and Sunday. Then I have to go give a talk at a conference, so I'll be flying to Rochester, New York on Monday, talking Tuesday, and flying out Thursday to join Ken as he gets moved in...

So the real marathon is only the beginning of the metaphorical marathon. I never imagined it would be like this when I signed up.

Monday, October 06, 2008

One More Week

Well, I've done my last Long Run.

The longest was twenty-one miles. It was only meant to be twenty, but I missed my turn. I wanted to run to Wrigley Field and back, but that was a little too far. So I gave myself a head start, took the train a couple of miles and then started running. I made my way to Chicago's lakefront park, which runs almost all the way through the city. You can run a long way in the park, with no traffic lights or even stop signs, and a lot of beautiful views. I was so caught up in the beautiful views (well, and in wondering how far the next drinking fountain was) that I didn't notice I'd already passed Irving Park Road.

That lakefront park is bordered by Lakeshore Drive, a busy highway which is difficult to cross for a person on foot. Since it is the easternmost street in Chicago, there's really no need for other streets to cross it. They all dead end there. But every few miles theres an on-ramp / off ramp arrangement, at which points pedestrians can pass underneath The Drive and onto city streets. It was one of these points that I missed, and I was debating whether to turn back when I noticed a small tunnel leading under the street, maybe a half mile past my original turn off. So that's what I took.

I actually know Chicago's streets well enough these days that I recognize the name of the one I ended up on, and took it west until I recognized a major north-south street, which I too back to Wrigley. At that point, slightly less than halfway through my run, I stopped to watch the game through the opening in the outfield wall, for a couple of minutes. It's strange seeing it from field-level. I'd intended to stay for an out or two (and eat the jelly-beans I'd brought to bring my blood sugar back up) but the Cubs scored two runs and got no outs, so I cheered a little with everyone else, and moved on. I was listening to the game on my radio anyway.

I was sore and tired and moving slowly by the time I got back, but I wasn't dying, the way I sometimes have. A good sign.

The last couple of weeks, following the plan, I tapered off my distances. Fifteen miles, then twelve, then, yesterday, only eight. Next weekend -- twenty six point two!

The marathon route goes by Wrigley Field too, but it won't be nearly as much fun this time. The Cubs are out of it. I was going to say I can't believe it, not after they won 97 games, not after they had the best record in the National League, not after they clinched their division a week before the end of the season... But I can. It's the Cubs.

I don't want to talk about it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The truth about particle accelerators

Jorge Cham, the genius behind Piled Higher and Deeper recently visited CERN. Because he's Jorge Cham, you know his take isn't going to be another reverent paean to the progress of mankind or more confused mysticism about God particles and accidental apocalypses. Instead, he gets down to the nitty gritty with the scientists who work there, and comes back with insights about what working on a project of this nature is actually like... Less fun than you might think. (Especially when things like this happen.)

The five part comic strip series starts here, and parts 3, 4, and 5 happen to feature a friend of mine who is now a post-doc at CERN. I don't know that I would've recognized her from the drawings alone, but her personality comes through clearly enough for me to easily recognize her from that.

If you're fascinated by particle accelerators, you ought to read those comics for an inside look.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Defending the Thesis

Well, Ken and I are now "Dr. and Mrs."

Okay, not totally official yet -- he still has to submit the thesis to the grad school, and the university awards degrees only in December and June. But traditionally, defending your dissertation marks the end of a very long process, a last great hurdle. And that is what Ken did on Friday.

It was a two hour long talk of 170 or so Power Point slides, every one soaked in blood, sweat, and tears. (And don't think I'm being figurative about the blood, either. Lab injuries happen all the time.) It was a strangely bittersweet two hours. Even though I'd seen him rehearse the talk a half dozen times, seeing all of those figures and pictures, reliving the past few years in front of an audience, was moving in a way that I didn't expect. A lot of what he, and our lab, had done seems much more successful in retrospect than it did at the time. This stuff is hard -- our advisor even gave a little speech about how hard, by way of tribute. And it looks pretty damn impressive, all piled up together like that.

I can't announce anything yet about the "what next" part, except that it won't be the unemployment line. There are a couple of possibilities, and we should know within the next week or two which one it is.

To celebrate, we bought some fancy beer for the weekend:

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

An interesting mathematical model...

I'm of the age now where I have to start actually thinking about how to balance career and family and all that, so I found this mathmatical model of the benefits of having kids as a function of age kinda fascinating. From that link you can download an excel file and instructions on how to fill it out. It has a bunch of curves, representing your professional productivity and social life and "ability to enjoy a child" as a function of age, and takes into the relative importance of family, career, and social life, and the different options -- taking varying amounts of time off or working part time while the child is young. I find it funny that it seems to imply that the "utility" of having a teenager is relatively low. It's supposed to automatically incorporate fertility and medical issues as well. It's aimed at women, but really it seems like the best idea would be for a couple to use it together.

It's a pretty impressive model, I'd have to say, although it can't quite incorporate every factor that comes into play in a real decision -- relationships with your boss and co-workers, how close you live to family, how many kids you eventually want to have, financial considerations... Trying to include everything might make the model unworkably complicated, of course. It is nice that it doesn't just tell you an "optimal age" -- it gives you a graph of "utility" as a function of age.

There's a press release about it that anyone can access, although it doesn't tell you much, and a journal article about the model that you can read here if you have access to academic journals.

I know some people would think this is a ridiculously inappropriate problem to try to solve mathematically, and part of me agrees and finds it a little bit hilarious. But really it's just a more sophisticated version of the old "pros" and "cons" list. If you're comfortable with mathematical modeling at all, it's pretty easy to use. The questions it asks are basically "If you think your professional output will drop when you have kids, how much do you think it will drop? How long will it take to go back up? Will it go all the way back up, or if not, to what fraction?" and likewise for social life, and a few other factors. It's still oversimplified, but it's a nice tool to have, to help you keep all of the effects, over at least a couple of decades, of this kind of big decision in mind all at once.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Old News

The Chicago Tribune is getting a redesign and it sounds like bad news.

I buy a Sunday Tribune every week from the little grocery store across the street. I read it slowly over the course of the week. First the opinion section. Then the comics. Then the front section. Then the local news and opinion. And then the rest - arts, business, weather, even the featured obituaries sometimes, even the real estate and auto sections.

I'm not the best customer in the world, buying only one a week, and I don't read it so much for the hard hitting news coverage. But I buy the Tribune instead of the Sun Times because I like the old fashioned broad sheet format. I eat oatmeal, watch baseball, and read the Chicago Tribune. I'm boringly traditional, and that's how I like my newspapers.

Sam Zell, the Tribune's new owner, also wants to sell the Cubs, and sell Wrigley Field separately. He was even talking about selling the naming rights, as if anyone would every call it anything but Wrigley.

I don't know. I understand the paper isn't making much of a profit. Is it that Sam Zell is a villain or is it that the world has moved on? Why can't the Trib make money as it is? Is it the internet's fault? But how does anyone make money providing news on the internet -- I don't pay for any of it? Are newspapers doomed? Will there be such a thing as reporters, twenty years from now... Or only bloggers?

I know a lot of journalists have a lot more angst over these questions than I do, but all of the sudden it's striking close to home. No more Metro section to read over my oatmeal. It makes me sad, sadder than I'd expect.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Running Update

So far my farthest run has been sixteen miles, which I did in New Jersey, along the Ocean City boardwalk. That boardwalk is 2.5 miles long (conveniently labeled with mileposts at quarter mile intervals), so I ran the length of it and back three times, with an extra half mile tacked on getting to and from the boardwalk from the place we were staying.

That was a different kind of feeling. I generally don't like to run past the same point too many times, because it's too tempting to give up early. But the boardwalk had the advantage of giving me lots to look at, and lots to dodge. Other runners, for starters -- we had a whole lane to ourselves down the center of the boardwalk, divided from the bicycle and "surrey" (a kind of pedal car contraption for tourists) lanes by painted white lines, with pedestrians on the outside... At least until the shops opened, at which point all lanes became pedestrian lanes. Bicycles veering into the running lane to pass added a level of interest and difficulty.

I checked out the animatronic gorilla at the the jungle themed putt-putt place, the carnival games, the water slides, the T-shirt slogans at the endless souvenir shops, and still there would be different things to look at on the next pass, the arcades, the ice cream cones, the amusement park rides. (It's a very kid-friendly boardwalk.) And, of course, the beach and the ocean.

Sixteen miles was no problem, but a later, shorter boardwalk run through a raging storm with wind driven sheets of rain left me cold, dripping, tired, and with a damaged iPod.

After that I had to miss a couple of days because there was no place to go from our next hotel, and since we went back to work as soon as we got back home, I had to miss my next long run. So for the one after that, I went only fifteen miles, along Chicago's lakefront.

Hardest. Run. Ever. Two miles into it, I was dying. Miserable, punishing, torture. Left me feeling sick afterwards, and sore for the next couple of days. Why? I have no idea. Maybe I didn't eat enough carbs.

Maybe it was the fact that I was listening to the Cubs take a pounding from the Cardinals the whole time. (But it's okay, we're still 27 games above .500 and leading the division by 4.5 games. Whoo! Go Cubbies!)

In any case, my next long run, this weekend, will be 17 miles. I'll probably build up to about 20 before starting to step them down again to save strength for the real marathon.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

What a week

Whew. That was quite a trip. Ken's dad invited us to share the condo they were renting on the New Jersey shore. We planned to visit other family for a few days in Philadelphia afterward. But this vacation ended up being a lot of work when it turned out he was going to have a job interview on Friday in Philly.

There was a lot of driving involved, none of it by me. There were storms and flooding our first day in Jersey, a day at the beach and boardwalk, and then a lot of frantic studying and trips to the local library to print things out. A night in Atlantic city, losing money as slowly as possible. A long day at the mall for me while I waited for him to finish up his six hour interview. A visit to his grandpa at the nursing home, where we watched a comedy act, and then went on to the off track to bet a little more, and eat hot Philadelphia pretzels. And just as we were getting back into Chicago, listening to the Cubs game on the radio come in better and better, we started hearing tornado warnings. We decided to wait it out in a travel plaza and were very glad we had when we started hearing "abandon your vehicles! lie down in a ditch!" messages. Who wants to be wet, in a ditch? Instead we were gathered with a bunch of other highway refugees and even state troopers at this little rest stop as the sky broke open, and, just for a minute, all the lights went out...

And we went into work the next day. What a week.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Out of Town

No posting for the next week. We're going to be Back East visiting family and vacationing on the beach.

In the mean time, if you want to know what I do, read this great post about "Electromagnetically Induced Transparency" and slow light. Much more readable than anything I found on the subject when I was a new grad student, but still accurate! Understandable without being dumbed down! A much better post than I think I'd be able to write.

EIT is the basis for most of the experiments going on in our lab...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

As Freedom is a Breakfast Food...

I had another conversation the other day very similar to conversations I've had before. I asked someone who had come to the US from India what his favorite and least favorite parts of this country were. He said his favorite part was the "freedom." I've heard this answer before, from other immigrants. It sounds like what every flag waving patriot would want to hear, doesn't it? I asked, as I have before, what exactly that meant. The right to bear arms? Freedom of speech? The right to peaceful assembly?

No, he said, they have all of those rights under the Indian constitution too.

He meant the right to wait until you're forty to get married, or not get married at all. The right to major in something besides medicine or engineering in college. The right to get a low paying job that makes you happy without losing your place in your family or society. The lack of pressure to conform, he said, culturally, religiously, socially.

I've heard the same answer, in almost the same words, before. It strikes me that this isn't the kind of freedom that Republicans think they're defending. It sounds a lot like immigrants like all of the "alternative lifestyles" available in the US. The right to be gay, maybe, should go on that list. (I asked if my Indian friend thought so, and he agreed that it was more or less part of the same thing, though it made him somewhat uncomfortable when he first came.)

If this really is the freedom that other countries admire the US for, I think we need a different kind of patriotism to reflect that. And I think some flag-pin worshippers ' heads may explode, if they ever talk to any actual immigrants.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Happy Bucky Day

I have written about Buckminster Fuller before, a list of quotes and an allusion in a little essay I wrote here about faith.

The fact is, a book I read about him when I was in high school made a big impression on me. I wrote up a similar statement about faith, which I was thinking a lot about at the time, just out of Catholic school, to give to a teacher who had, in so many words, told me I was going to hell. In several conversations. Of course, I admired Buckminster Fuller as an engineer and an architect, and I liked his "ventilated prose" (he didn't believe that anything not written in verse should be called poetry.) But what stuck with me was his way of looking at the world as a bunch of patterns. So, in honor of his 113th birthday, I'm going to quote a long section from the book by Hugh Kenner that I read in high school.

"Suppose I have a rope here between my hands..." (Santa Barbara, December 1967, in a TV studio, under the lights, before twenty privileged people. A videotape is in progress for the University archives. He is supposing he has that rope.)

"...between my hands, and I have tied it in an ordinary overhand knot; one rotation of 360 degrees; a second rotation of 360 degrees, one of them passed through the other..."

(The hands whirl, shaping space. Through the new terminology we can see that knot. Tomorrow work with pencil, paper, and string will assure us that the terminology is accurate. One circle, 360 degrees; another circle, 360 degrees; the knot does consist of two circles and they do interlock. And twice 360 degrees is 720 degrees, a figure we shall meet again.)

"And when I pull the ends of the rope, the knot does not disappear. The knot gets tighter. Each loop prevents the other loop from disappearing. So the knot is a pattern in the rope, and it's a self-interfering pattern. The harder I pull, the more the knot stays there..."

It does indeed. Gesturing across his chest, he pulls that phantom knot till in empathy we seem to be pulling on it ourselves. He interrupts himself to remark that he has used this example before audiences many times, and no one has ever objected that there is no knot because there is not even a rope. Something important has already happened, what he calls a first-degree generalization, one step away from every special case. We have each of us, as we watch, a clear and distinct knot in the mind, understood as we may never have understood a knot before. As if by X-ray, we can see through it, think its structure. A knot in a rope would be a model of that mental knot, and a less than perfect model since we should not be able to see into it when it is pulled into a tight lump.

Now, he goes on, we might loosen the knot, and slip it along the rope. We are then slipping the rope through the knot: feeding the rope through a pattern. And if we have a nylon rope, a cotton rope, a Manila rope, all spliced together, these materials will pass indifferently through the knot, so we cannot say that the knot is Manila or nylon or cotton. The knot is a pattern, a "patterned integrity." And the knot isn't the rope. [...]

"... a self-interfering patterned integrity": and we are somewhere in the terrain commanded by Fuller's special jargon. This has gained him something of a reputation for being incomprehensible, as indeed he is if our habit with printed pages is to skim and dip.

Next we are told to imagine the great winds, molecules of air being sucked across the Pacific, and across the California coastline, and into this room, and into our lungs. And out again, after the oxygen exchange. (We have possibly just expelled some molecule that once passed through Julius Caesar.)

Sixty pounds of air each day cycles through each of us, and food passes through us, too, and water likewise. In a lifetime some hundred tons of solids, liquids, and gases will cycle through a man like rope passed through that knot. The man is not yesterday's steak or this moment's lungful or his most recent martini. The man is a self-interfering patterned integrity, like a knot.


The rope makes the knot visible. The food, the water, the air, make each of us visible, and audible, and heavy. They are not us. They are elements in a flow of patterned transactions, of service to the "phantom captain."

(And what is that steak, incidentally? A knot likewise, tied out of solar energy. Onto Spaceship Earth the light pours, and with it the invisible radiation which we do not perceive as light. Much of it is reflected back into space, for instance by the white clouds. But some is impounded by the green leaves of plants. They are green because we see them by the radiation they reject; they are impounding the red, the hot, and in such quantities that they require to be water-cooled -- if you deprive a plant of water, the leaves burn. They tie the solar energy into self-interfering patterns which cattle -- knots likewise -- transmute into protein we can transmute. We say that we eat steak. Really, we are acquiring knotted sun. We cannot deal with it directly -- except on a limited scale, by taking a sunbath -- but the plants can, and we eat plants, and eat animals that eat plants.)

A while ago he was halting, sentence by sentence. By now the cosmos of recycling patterns has taken possession of him. The voice is rapid, as though seeking means to utter many sentences at once, so doing the cosmos fit homage. The right hand, spread although gripping crystal sphere, is pulling in quanta of sunlight; before his chest, in tense, rapid movement, his fingers fashion intricate knots.

This passage in particular was among a few things I read at that time that led to me majoring in physics (to see how far I could get before I failed.) It also played an important role in forming what passes for my personal spirituality. No doubt it's because I was just the right age when I read it, but it's saying something about Bucky Fuller that he had the ability to inspire young people like that, even decades after his death.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


We had a great long weekend. Fireworks and festival food on Thursday night. Parade and more fireworks on Friday. Saturday I went for a long run, and we spent the evening picnicking and playing catch at the incredibly crowded drive in before watching the double feature of Hancock (funny) and Get Smart (not as funny as it should have been.) Sunday we did laundry, yay! And then rewarded ourselves with a trip to the last day of Taste of Chicago. Had ice cream (me) and bratwurst (Ken) and walked all over the city and came home with blisters, exhausted but happy. Couldn't have asked for nicer weather for the fourth, and the Cubs took two out of three from the Cardinals in St. Louis.

Hope everyone else's weekend was just as nice.

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Horror!

Well, we had fun this weekend. We went to the annual Flashback Weekend horror convention with Ken's friend Brian and his little boy. I decided to goth it up for the occasion, digging out a black and white dress that I bought for a wedding, originally, a necklace from a renaissance fair, some crazy looking fishnets and some long black boots. All things I own but had never before worn together. I topped it off with green eyeshadow and pink spray-on hair color, and you know, I was the belle of the ball. Got compliments all day, even from the contestants in the zombie pin-up girl contest.

We met local Chicago celebrity Svengoolie, and got him to autograph a rubber chicken for us. Brian's son got a glow-in-the-dark zombie action figure playset. We got to meet zombie movie legend George Romero. We saw (but didn't meet) Elvira. Brian got the autograph of the "Tall Man" from Phantasm, and I bought a CD from our local-access channel horror hosts Undead Johnny and Dementia of the World of the Weird Monster Show. They were great, my favorite part of the day.

Then we watched the costume contest, hosted by Svengoolie, and the zombie pin-up contest (won by the "Saint Pauli Ghoul") and called it a day.

I liked the pink hair look so much that I stopped by the drugstore the next day to get the kind you don't spray in...

What the heck, eh? Might as well enjoy being a student while I still can.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


So this weekend had two important milestones for the marathon. The big one was I passed my minimum fundraising goal, thanks to a generous contribution from my parents. Note the keyword "minimum" though... The Boys and Girls Club is an incredibly good cause, and I'd like to raise more than the minimum if I can.

The second involved running my longest distance so far, twelve miles or so, to Wrigley field. I listened to the Chicago Cubs play the Chicago White Sox on my headphone the whole way there, and arrived in the 8th inning, in time to see Carlos Marmol get the second out, though the doorway that was recently cut in the outfield wall. Then I hopped on the train to beat the rush home, because you'd better believe that when the Cubs play the White Sox, the trains get crowded.

Never mind that Marmol had some trouble getting that third out -- the Cubs swept the Sox in three games at Wrigley. And I made it there to see a tiny part of it, to be a tiny part of what most of Chicago was watching. View from the corner, literally. (Also, milestones... Literally.)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Alternative Cinema

We really like unconventional movie-going experiences, Like, recently we've seen 21 (great), Iron Man (rocked), Indiana Jones, (awesome), The Incredible Hulk (great until the big climax, which was lame), the new Adam Sandler movie (sucked)...

What's so unconventional about those? Well, we saw them all either at drive-in theaters or the local "Brew and View."

At the drive-in, we bring a picnic and a couple of baseball gloves for playing catch.

We take the train to the Brew and View, because driving back would be an issue.

Both let you see two movies for less than the price of one at the local multiplex. Both let you actually connect with the rest of the audience. (A stranger joined in our last game of catch.)

And the Brew and View is actually held at a Victorian opera-house turned concert-venue, where, it so happens, we had seen a concert the night before. The incomparable "Ladytron."

Really stadium seating is nothing compared to having your own table or car. We may never see a movie at a real theater again...

Of course, this might also having something to do with why, in spite of seeing dozens of movies last year, we hadn't seen a single one of the main Oscar contenders...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Thing About Having a Blog...

The thing about blogging again is that I sort of feel compelled to comment on stories about forced labor in the US, (although I did read they've now ended their hunger strike) or Supreme court threats to habeas corpus (although they were the minority opinion...) Like -- these stories need more attention.

But I'm not really very knowledgeable, so I think I will simply link to those links and comment on something I really do know a lot about -- kitschy television.

With the new Incredible Hulk movie and the Get Smart movie coming out this summer, two of my favorite childhood TV shows are getting tributes (yes, they were both in re-runs, but that didn't stop me loving them). Add into that the new Indiana Jones movie (which incidentally, I loved), the Bionic Woman revival (which I watched all of before it was cancelled, but couldn't stand) and the new American Gladiators series, and I'm practically reliving my preteen years. I even watched an episode of the new Knight Rider -- I assume that's already cancelled?

Anyway, I think this means two things. One, I am now a part of a demographic that has money and indulges in nostalgia. And two, someone really needs to make movies of MacGuyver and Quantum Leap.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Geeky Thought

Something I think about while waiting at intersections -- if two people try to go through an intersection (one going north and one going west, perhaps) then they are both going to have to go through the same point, the center of the intersection. They are both going to have the same "x" and "y" coordinates there.

Now if you don't want them to collide, there are a couple of things you could do. One option is to build an overpass, as people do on highways. Then the two cars can have the same "x" and "y" coordinates, but different "z" coordinates, different heights, and there is no collision. The bridge artificially increases one car's "z" coordinate.

Or, you can put in a traffic light. What does that do? It means that they will both arrive at the center of the intersection, with both have the same "x" and "y," but at different times. I picture their paths plotted on my old graphing calculator from high school -- the paths cross, but in "parametric" mode, you could run a little cursor along the two paths, and show that the "t" value at the center the intersection is different for the two different paths. Same "x" and "y," but by making one car wait, you are artificially increasing the "t" coordinate it has when it reaches the center of the intersection.

Sort of like how the bridge increases one car's "z" coordinate.

Bridge: same "x" and "y," but one car has been raised to a higher "z." Traffic light, same "x" and "y," but one car has been raised to a higher "t".

A traffic light is sort of like a bridge though time!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Training Runs

It turns out, if you're running a marathon, you're supposed to train.

I'm trying to follow this program, from a guy named Hal Higdon, who, the internet tells me, is not a crank.

It's an eighteen week program, which has you running 3-5 miles most days (this is in line with my normal runs, which are four miles) and then bumping it up for a "long run" once a week, and a medium-length run in between. The long run gradually increases as weeks go on from eight to twenty miles, and the medium run from five to eight.

Anyway, that's all fine with me, and I've been keeping up with the program, more or less. I have so far followed his advice that: "You can skip an occasional workout, or juggle the schedule depending on other commitments, but do not cheat on the long runs.

I have no problem with the runs. The hardest thing for me are the "rest" days.

Now, Mondays I'm usually out at Twilight Tales during my evening run time, so I don't have a problem missing workouts those days. But other days...

I finally made myself exercise consistently only by making it a mindless habit. I discovered, when I started running, that if I ever gave myself permission to sit at home, then I would end up doing it more an more often until my good intentions petered out to nothing. So it had to be an every day thing. No excuses. Automatic. If the weather is really too bad to go out in, or I get home too late at night, then I can substitute the excercise machines in our living room, but not slack off.

Okay, sometimes I'm genuinely sick, but I'm honest enough with myself to know the difference between that, and just normal workday cruddiness, and the latter does not cut it as a reason for missing a workout.

So the whole idea of just sitting at home, resting, scares me. What if I get lazy? What if I get out of the good habits I've formed? Rest? I can't do that! It's against the rules.

So far, with the long runs still relatively short, I haven't really been following that rule. I think it's okay, since the intermediate schedule has only one day of rest built in, and I'm already taking that. (Albeit on Mondays, not Fridays.) But we'll see what happens when I get up to the 18-20 mile long runs...

Sunday, June 01, 2008


Well, I'm rebooting the blog for shameless fundraising reasons: I'm going to be running in the Chicago Marathon in October, and I've got to raise money for the charity I'm sponsoring.

So why run a marathon? Well, because right now my life is still in a sort of holding pattern (which was the reason I stopped blogging to begin with) and while I'm waiting to find out where I'll be living and what I'll be doing next, one thing I've got a lot of is time. I probably won't have it, later. I've got my health, too, and I know well enough that it might not last. I've already been running for five years, first to lose weight (it works), and then just because it made me feel better. So, one reason is "Because I can."

And, y'know, to impress myself, and people I know. 'Cause it's a freakin' marathon, so they'd better be impressed.

But I like to think there's a little more to it too.

I say on my fundraising page that living in Chicago has made me a different person. Maybe this is a good place to explain what I meant by that. Living here during the 2003 Cubs almost trip to the World Series made me like sports for the first time, and better yet, like sports fans. It was the sense of community that got me, if I can say that without being a cliche. All of the sudden I had something to bond with strangers on the train over. Riding the "L" here taught me the joys of people-watching and gave me a huge variety of people to watch, not to mention windows to spy into. Running in the lakefront parks let me see people at their happiest and most likable. And then there are the festivals -- Taste of Chicago, free concerts all summer long, the lights and the giant tree and ice skaters in Millenium Park and the Marshall Fields/Macy's shop windows at Christmas time, the giant parties where everyone in the city is your friend.

I joined Twilight Tales and started hanging out in the coolest bar in the city (the closed-for-remodelling Red Lion, in case you're wondering.) And I met my husband here in Illinois. He's taken me to the Air and Water Show and the movies in Grant Park, not to mention all three local drive-in theaters, a whole bunch of sports games, to the Arlington Park horse races this weekend, to the Blue Man Group, and all the best deep dish pizza places, and whole host of other attractions downtown and in the suburbs. Mostly he's made me take myself less seriously, and learn to have fun for fun's sake.

Since I've lived in Chicago, I've become more athletic, less snobbish, more outgoing, less insecure. I'm still socially awkward, but I like other people more, and that makes a huge difference. Chicago unpinched a nerve somewhere in my psyche, and now I'm a much happier person.

But it just doesn't look like we're going to find jobs in Chicago, and so I have to accept that we're going to have to move, probably within the next year or so. And then the life I've been waiting for begins in earnest... My feelings are little more mixed these days. I'm not so eager to get on with "real jobs" making "real money" (although I would really, really like dental insurance) and a nicer place to live and maybe start a family. I still want all of that, but I don't really want this life in Chicago to end. I'm pretty ambivalent about the idea of moving on, right now.

Anyway, the Chicago Marathon struck me as a way to say goodbye to this city. It's an awesome course. They close off streets downtown and you get to start along the lakefront and then run through all the distinctive neighborhoods that give Chicago its personality (sometimes practical, sometimes whimsical.) There will be forty-five thousand runners. That's more people than Wrigley Field holds, even after the renovations.

What a way to make memories, eh? I mean, I never feel I know my way around a place until I've navigated it on foot, so this should help me know Chicago better than ever. I generally am on foot when I'm downtown anyway, but I don't usually go 26 miles.

I got obsessed with this idea all in an instant, and I can't even remember what made me think of it, now. But once I had, I couldn't let go. I waited a few days, to see if I would come to my senses, but I didn't.

The only problem was, it was already too late to register. Who'd've thought an event in October would be booked up by the middle of April. But there was still a way. I could do it in support of a charity.

I researched all the charities they listed, not sure if I was willing to bet $500-$1000 (the range of the required fundraising minimums) that I could do this, and get other people to support me in it. I decided I would only do it if I could find a charity that would use the money to help people in the city who are poorer than me. (No "research" charities for me right now -- not that I oppose supporting my fellow grad students, but this is about saying thank you to the city, where there are people who need help on a much shorter timescale than research requires.)

It did a lot of reading and some e-mailing, looking for a cause that would be worth the risk, worth the effort, and finally found the Union League Boys and Girls Club.

Membership fee:
$5.00. No child is ever turned away for inability to pay—there are several ways for children to earn their membership by helping out around the Club.

That's $5 for the year. And what do they get for their money?

Core program areas:

* Character & Leadership Development
* Outdoor & Environmental Education
* Education & Career Development
* Sports, Fitness & Recreation
* Arts & Cultural Education
* Health & Life Skills

Well, that's pretty vague. It sounds good, but what does it mean?

Well, "Character and Leadership" means teens run a working credit union for other Club members, gaining work experience while their customers learn to save and manage money. At least, that's one of their programs; there are more.

"Outdoor & Environmental Education" means they run a summer camp in Wisconsin, which is the first chance a lot of these city kids have to get out of the city.

"Education & Career Development" means homework help, tutoring, computer training, and job skills.

"Sports, Fitness & Recreation" means:
Kickball, soccer, flag football, hockey, games room and tournaments, penny carnival, back-to-school block party, Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas Party, swimming, sports skill clinics, movie time, summer picnics and trips, daily gym, Nike Go Program, urban fishing, three-on-three basketball, intramural sports, varsity teams in football and volleyball, basketball games and tournaments, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities, Teen Center, and much, much more.

"Arts & Cultural Education" means dance, theater, music, talent shows, and painting, sculpture, murals, and print.

And "Health & Life Skills" means they give the kids healthy dinners and snacks at the clubs, which guarentees they're getting healthy food somewhere, at least. And they have basic health training too.

I can't imagine a better way to help make Chicago and the world a better place, than by helping out these guys. Seems to me they do everything you could possibly ask for. And they do it for 10,000 kids, for $5 a year.

So I'm supporting them. And I hope you'll support me. Donate here, and help motivate me through mile 26.

I'll be posting updates on my training (and probably links I find cool and neat things I do on the weekends, because this is still a blog) as October approaches.