They are, aren't they?!

The other day I was sitting outside the building waiting for someone, when my advisor walked by. He waved to me and said “Hi”, but I didn’t recognize him. Why you ask? Because he was wearing a suit! I have never seen him wear a suit in the last five years that I have known him. Normally he wears jeans and a button down shirt and either white tennis shoes or sandals with socks (the traditional physics professor stereotype). Even at graduation he wore jeans and white tennis shoes.

Aside: Actually, Matt was pretty funny at graduation. I was helping at the physics department graduation by handing out programs, and I saw him come running up late with his gown in a giant plastic bag. Anne, the graduate student secretary (and all around awesome person), helped him get his robe on and sent him to where he was supposed to be. But his robe was the wrinkliest thing you have ever seen in your life, his jeans sticking out of the bottom of the robe were incredibly wrinkly, and his tennis shoes were brand new and vibrantly white. Man, physicists have dressing problems sometimes.

Okay, now back to the current story: So Matt was wearing a suit, but even his suit was a little off. He was wearing black dress shoes, grey slacks, a navy blue jacket, and a white and blue checked shirt that was unbuttoned at the top with no tie. I don’t know how to explain it, but it was just a little weird and off. I must have looked at him funny, because it took me too long to recognize him, because he said, “Going to meet donors,” and fast walked off.

Then the rumor that Matt was wearing a suit spread around our lab group. I am the main culprit, because I was so shocked that I told one of my lab mates later on that day, and it must have spread from there. Everyone was just very confused, because he never, never, never dresses that nicely.

Even more bizarrely, he came into the lab that afternoon. I was walking around doing inventory (basically I have to check that we still have everything that the college or the national lab bought for us so they know that grad students aren’t selling the equipment to make money on the side), when Matt walked into the lab to talk to Adam. I happened to be looking at the equipment nearby when Matt and Adam were discussing Matt’s suit choices. It was absolutely hilarious. I will say that Adam is by far the nicest dressed person in our lab (me included), so I guess he was a good choice to discuss fashion with. Here is an approximation of their conversation:

“What do you think of my outfit?” asks Matt.

“It’s nice,” says Adam hesitantly.

“Is it okay? Does it match?”

“There’s something not quite right about it. Maybe you need darker pants.”

“Does the shirt not work with this jacket?”

“Well, a solid color shirt might have been better.”

“I’m just not very good at matching clothes. I’ve just never been good at it. Maybe that’s the part of my brain that I fried in my 20’s.”

At this point in time Adam and I were trying not to laugh, because there was nothing else to say at that point. I left to continue my inventory (and so that I wouldn’t burst out laughing in front of Matt). I don’t know how much longer they talked about Matt’s clothes. He doesn’t come to the lab that often, so I wonder if he came down to actually talk about the research or to ask Adam’s opinion on his clothes. Either way, it was a pretty funny event.


I’ve mentioned before that my roommate Kyle is a little… shall we say startle-able (I am not sure that is a word, but somehow putting a hyphen in magically makes it okay, right?). Anyway, as happens at least once or twice a day I walked into the kitchen and startled him while he was doing something (cooking or eating I presume, but he could be studying the oven again). Instead of jumping or shrieking–or doing nothing–like any normal person, he proceeded to hop up and down across the kitchen excitedly. It was the strangest thing ever. It was like he was suddenly taken over by a kangaroo and couldn’t help hopping across the kitchen. It is up there with one of the strangest things he has ever done (well, next to studying our oven for weeks).

Okay, now for the zombie part. Several Halloween’s ago a bunch of friends and I were trying to watch a scary movie, but we were limited to free movies on Hulu and someone’s Netflix instant account. Somehow we couldn’t find anything very good, so we ended up watching a Chinese horror movie. I know you are thinking that I must be mistaken, that it was Japanese, but no, it was Chinese. And let me tell you that there is a reason that Chinese horror films are not particularly well known.

Somehow in the movie there were both zombies and vampires, and eventually the zombies became vampires somehow. I guess I should also mention that it was possibly very poorly translated, and that might have been part of the problem. The only difference between the vampires and the zombies is that the zombies could hop whereas the vampires just levitated around about fifteen feet off the ground and held their bodies perfectly stiff. I am guessing that they first become zombies, because they lose all the motion in their bodies except for the bare minimum of motion in their lower legs necessary for hopping. And then eventually they become vampires and completely lose the ability to move at all, but somehow they gain the ability to levitate and kill people. But there are a lot more zombies than vampires. That’s probably for the best, because the vampires run around killing lots of people whereas the zombies just hop around under the control of this random guy.

So my housemate is secretly a kangaroo or a Chinese zombie. Or maybe both.

Aside: I found one other part of the movie incredibly hilarious. There is this fairly young man who has already been married five times, but his last five brides have died on their wedding nights and turned into zombies. He is now marrying his sixth bride who is justifiably reticent and absolutely terrified. He is trying to comfort her, and he says, “Don’t worry; I’ve done this many times. It’s not that bad.” If I were her, I don’t think that would have been so comforting. If the guy already lost five wives what makes you think you will be any different? It reminds me a bit of the line from “Importance of Being Earnest” where Gwendolyn’s mother (or grandmother?) says that losing one parent is unfortunate, but losing both smacks of carelessness.

There’s a group for women grad students in physics (and a couple of other related departments) on campus, and one of the frequent events we have are brown bag lunches with female professors in our field. Some are just visiting colloquium speakers, while others are professors on campus. We have the opportunity to ask about their life, how they got into science, what their biggest challenges are and how they overcame them, and how they managed the all-important work-life balance that we all seek.

This week, we had one with a professor on campus in the astronomy department. There were only four grad students there: one of the professor’s students and three of us from physics. Before we started interrogating her a lot, we introduced ourselves and said what year, department, and area we studied. Basically it was me and two string theorists from the physics department.

One of the first things the professor started talking about was how she got interested in astronomy: “I read this book on astronomy and I thought it was really interesting. But as I got into I realized that astronomy is mostly physics. And it’s real physics, not like condensed matter physics or something like that.”

Okay, I didn’t state directly that I studied condensed matter physcics during my introduction, but I thought it was pretty clear from the context of what I said. I caught the eyes of the other girls from physics—they know what I study—and we were all trying not to laugh, because seriously, who blatantly says, “My physics is real, not like yours.”

It is made even more ironic by two things. First, she later mentioned that astronomers tend to look down on planetary scientists. Well, apparently planetary scientists look down on condensed matter physicists. And secondly, there were two string theorists there, and you want to pick on me for not doing real physics! Their physics, while it may or may not eventually be experimentally verified, is nowhere close to it at the moment. And yet you bash my field.

I told my labmates about it later, and they asked me why I didn’t call her out on it. I guess I could have, but what exactly would that have gained? She is an older professor, and I think if she isn’t going to respect other people’s fields by now, I don’t think she will change based on me being offended by it.

Well, I should go back to working on my unimportant field now.

Today in the course of doing my research, I had to climb into the dank, mold pit beneath our lab to search for another spare DC power supply for our new evaporator.  We have tons of old equipment stored in plastic tubs in the pit.  So you kind of walk around with your head ducked down reading the labels on the plastic tubs looking for the item you want.  Unfortunately, I have a hard time getting out by myself, because I am not tall enough and lack the upper body strength to just haul myself out like my labmates.  It’s kind of embarrassing, but one of them has to give me a boost to help me get out.  And then you kind of smell a little moldy for the rest of the day.  Maybe it is just the power of suggestion, but it smells pretty real to me.

Then I spent two hours completely disemboweling our group printer.  One of the boards was either disconnected or dead.  So I took apart piles of printer pieces to get to the piece on the inside, cleaned it out, and put only the necessary parts back together.  I finally got everything reconnected, but despite my valiant effort, it still doesn’t work.  Lame…  I decided to look at it some more tomorrow.

And that was pretty much my day.  Okay, there might have been a little science in there somewhere as well, but not so much as one would hope.

The Scary Undergrad

My undergrad, Charles, has this bad habit of trying to scare people, well, me anyway.  I don’t know that he scares anyone else, but he scares me all the time.  Lots of people do it, and I have been known to scare people as well.  Though now I scare Kyle all the time, and I don’t even mean to.  It sort of takes the fun out of it actually.

But back to the point.  One time I was walking somewhere on campus at night, and all of a sudden I see this giant guy dressed all in black running at me screaming and waving his arms.  And of course I was listening to my ipod, so I just saw this psycho guy running at me out of the corner of my eye. 

Another time I was getting on my bike to leave pretty late at night, and Charles came running out of the building after me yelling.  Not cool.

I tried to explain to him that screaming and running at people late at night, especially at girls, is probably not a good idea.  It’s especially unwise to do it to me, because I have been known to hit people in self-defense when I am really startled.  It’s sort of an instinctual flail, but it is probably not fun to be on the receiving end of it.

The other day I went to the post office to mail a package. (What else do you go to the post office for?) At our post office, you take a number and then wait. While I was waiting, there was another guy there wearing a shirt that said “May the m x a be with you.” Basically the ultimate physics/sci-fi nerd.

Anyway, I was hanging out and this guy gets called up to the front. The guy at the post office tells him that he has put it in the wrong envelope AGAIN and that the one rate envelope is somewhere else. The poor guy is so frustrated and he says something like, “I’m sorry! I’ve never mailed anything before!” Then he got sent to find a different envelope and start again.

My turn was pretty soon after that, so I missed the rest of his ordeal, but it kind of represents physicists to me. We are good at physics and nerdiness, but hopeless at practical matters.

That reminds me of this one time when I parked my car in front of a frat house near campus. When I went out one Saturday morning to drive somewhere, one of the tires was flat. I set about changing it, but I’m not very good at changing tires. I had just started, when these two guys came out of the frat house. Upon seeing a girl in a dress attempting and pretty much failing to change a car tire, they heroically came to my assistance. Pretty much a damsel in distress moment that I am not so proud of, but whatever.

While they were changing my tire, we started talking about what we study and the usual just meeting people kind of stuff. I eventually started talking about photovoltaics and making solar cells out of molecules. (I sort of babble sometimes when talking to strangers.) They gave the typical response: Oh, you are so smart, blah, blah, blah. But they were changing my flat tire!!! Here I am, hopeless at fixing my stupid car, and they think that I am the really smart one. The world is a strange place.

The Humid Squid

Yesterday late at night I was going to pick up my laundry from the laundry room one building over.  And what do I find as I walk out my door but Kyle standing on our front stoop in the dark holding a steaming bowl of squid.  Yeah…

“What are you doing outside?” I ask.

“I don’t want the steam to get into our house,” he replied, as if it was totally normal to stand outside in the dark holding a steaming bowl of squid.

I don’t think there is anything else that needs to be said about this.  It’s just too random for words.