Archive for March, 2010

Writing Papers

I understand the majority of assignments in college. I do physics assignments to practice the equations/manipulations and learn to apply them to situations that don’t look precisely like the given examples or I’m missing variables. I do research papers to learn to do research, connect the ideas, and to find the use of the subject outside of lecture. Typically those assignments also have the added challenge of choosing a topic and finding pertinent, reliable resources. Plus, the professor gets to read a huge variety of papers from students.

Here are the ones I don’t always understand. In one of my classes we have weekly essays due. The prompt is incredibly specific, usually just one or two questions, and the resources are required reading[s] for the week. Not only does this block in the students, get us off the hook of finding references, or even really making connections. These assignments essentially require us to summarize a 15-20 page reading assignment. Occasionally we summarize 2-3 reading assignments about slightly different facets of the same topic. Here is this week’s prompt:

What does Helena Pycior mean by Marie Curie’s “’anti-natural’ path”? Does the case of Marie Curie illustrate any important lessons about the broader history of women in science in the early twentieth-century, or was her case simply too unusual to mean anything for other women?

Does she even find these at all interesting to read? Surely having thirty students writing some sort of summary of an article means that at most you will find 5-6 recurring themes. What’s the point? Why do I waste every Wednesday night skimming these readings and making a summary that fits on one page, single spaced, twelve-point font?

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You get the idea. I wish I could credit the original author, but it seems to have been long lost.

Thank you someone for having a brain to realize how much “socialism” (I said it…that terrible word!) has changed our country. Mostly for the better.

This morning I was awoken by my alarm clock powered by electricity generated by the public power monopoly regulated by the US Department of Energy. I then took a shower in the clean water provided by the municipal water utility. After that, I turned on the TV to one of the FCC regulated channels to see what the National Weather Service of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration determined the weather was going to be like using satellites designed, built, and launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. I watched this while eating breakfast of US Department of Agriculture inspected food and taking the drugs which have been determined as safe by the Food and Drug Administration.

At the appropriate time as regulated by the US Congress and kept accurate by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the US Naval Observatory. I get into my National Highway Traffic Safety Administration approved automobile and set out to work on the roads built by the local, state, and federal departments of transportation, possibly stopping to purchase additional fuel of a quality level determined by the Environmental Protection Agency, using legal tender issued by the Federal Reserve bank. On the way out the door I deposit any mail I have to send via the US Postal Service and drop the kids off at the public school.

After work, I drive my NHTSA car back home on the DOT roads, to a house which has not burned down in my absence because of the state and local building codes and fire marshal’s inspection, and which has not been plundered of all it’s valuables thanks to the local police department.

I then log on to the internet which was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration and post on freerepublic.com and Fox News forums about how SOCIALISM in medicine is BAD because the government can’t do anything right.

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I was flipping through the channels on TV tonight and came across “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.”

This is a new show so here is an excerpt from the site describing what it’s all about:

Yes, Jamie Oliver is here to start a revolution. The impassioned chef is taking on obesity, heart disease and diabetes in the USA, where our nation’s children are the first generation NOT expected to live as long as their parents. Jamie is inviting viewers to take a stand and change the way America eats, in our home kitchens, schools and workplaces with the thought-provoking new series. In the six-part series, Jamie heads to Huntington, West Virginia. Why? Well, Huntington has been called the unhealthiest city in America. Jamie wants to do something about that. Through his efforts in this one town, he hopes to start a chain reaction of positive change across the country.

Of course, because it involved food, I couldn’t stop watching. It was incredibly disturbing and triggering and fascinating–all at once. [For clarification some of my biggest triggers are unhealthy food, healthy food guidelines, overweight people, people talking about how terrible the obesity “crisis” is in the US]

It was so sad. He quizzed some elementary kids on vegetables and the majority of them didn’t even recognize common ones like tomatoes and potatoes. That makes me really sad.

He went into a school kitchen and was completely shocked at what American school children eat. It was such a familiar scene to me. The trays looked precisely like so many meals I myself have been served, and I might add, never liked.

Jamie showed kids a freshly butchered chicken. He cut all the expensive cuts off and with the remaining bones, skin, and tendons he blended them, added lots of random things, and then actually made chicken nuggets. Honestly I was impressed that that could be done by hand. But the kids, even though they were completely grossed out by the process and the raw materials that went into them, eagerly ate these freshly fried, disgusting nuggets.

I do think this is something that needs to be done in America. I have always vowed that my kids will know what real food is, how to make it, how to grow it, and realize how much better it tastes than fake processed stuff. Seeing this reminded me of all the processed stuff I ate growing up and how much I hated it. Even though I thought sometimes that the kids who always brought lunch were a little strange, every day I think it is more likely that my own children will be them. But they will like their food, they will be healthy.

This show makes me not want to touch any food. Will I continue to watch? Yes. I find it fascinating. And it includes a sexy Englishman with a slight lisp…I’m in love.

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Here are just a few things I have read today and found quite interesting.

A study on where sharing appears the most. And thoughts about why these appear more often in places that we may not expect them.

Moral Lessons, Down Aisle 9

An op-ed on some of the greatest high-school students in the US. Sometimes I read about things like this and I am saddened by all the opportunities I never had growing up. Then of course I feel terrible because I didn’t grow up in one of the well-known “under-served, inner city” school districts. Instead I grew up in a [slightly poor], small, rural district. Yes, we didn’t deal with drugs or gangs or violent crimes, but we were forgotten in many of the same ways. Teachers didn’t want to come teach there, salaries were low, we didn’t have money for supplies, we had to cut sports teams and teachers. Though a decent number of students technically “pursue” higher education, nearly 80% of those attend a 2-year community college and very few go further than that. In summary, I am jealous of these kids. And Thomas Friedman makes a great point about how immigration and inter-connected-ness can create amazing ideas for this world.

America’s Real Dream Team

I think I see the point here, but I’m not sure if I like how they word it. I don’t know that we need to be concerned about weight or diet restrictions. But I have read previous research studies that have shown a child’s food preferences are set before they attend school so I believe that the focus should be shifted toward teaching parents to eat a healthy diet so they in turn can influence a child’s food choices toward healthful, nutritious foods.

Baby Fat May Not Be So Cute After All

And this just cracks me up:

The Sound of Jello Wobbling Is Recorded for the First Time


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I’ve always known that I really enjoy having “substantive” conversations with people. Now a study is showing that I may be better off for it!

Eavesdropping on Happiness

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When one is little, everything makes sense one knows who they are and one knows who they want to be. At twenty, one does not know, and one does not know how to know. Worse, sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between who one wants to be, and who others want us to be. And, when one thinks they do know, something is always standing in the way!
—-Spela Grasic

This has taken me a long time to write. The hardest thing for me to do is to say that I have failed, and this time it isn’t a subjective failure. It’s there, no one can argue the fact. I didn’t get into medical school. I didn’t get into any medical school.

When I’m talking to others I can put a positive spin on it all–I’m a [very] young applicant (and medical schools are trending toward older applicants), it will be good to have a year of full-time work/part-time school, I’m looking at buying a house. But when darkness comes and I am alone, I can’t hide from myself.

The first thought that comes to mind is how permanent this all is. I will never be a person who got into medical school on my first try. I will always be marred by at least one full-out rejection. I’m embarrassed, I just want to hide and not have anyone ask me about medical school.

Then it turns to why I didn’t get in. Were my grades bad? (only if a 3.96 gpa is ‘bad’) Was my MCAT score low? (that one varies a bit depending upon the school) Did I not have enough ‘experience’ (dunno, what is working in a psych unit, working in a nursing home, volunteering at a hospital, a research assistant with patient contact?) Was my essay terrible? (who knows, either way, I’m rewriting it) Did I represent myself poorly in my interview? Am I just lacking as a person?

And what to do next? Have I improved my application at all this year? Should I retake the MCAT? I gave the application my all this year, why should I think it would be any different next year? I know I need to believe in myself to even have a chance of getting in again, but it is so very hard right now.

My plan? Starting my essay in the next month and having as many people as possible look over it. Getting my application in on the earliest day possible. Calling the medical schools I applied to this year and asking why I was rejected/how to improve. Consider retaking the MCAT.


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Recently there has been much debate over the rewriting of social studies textbooks in Texas. I have an opinion on this matter: I believe there are two sides to every story and to truly give an unbiased, honest account of history both must be presented. And both must be given fair consideration.

But onto what I was really thinking about when I sat down to write this…I was listening to Talk of the Nation on NPR today and a teacher called in complaining how his students in high school and previous students he’d had while teaching at the college level never read the textbooks. It got me to thinking, what is the purpose of a textbook?

There are several different ways teachers utilize textbooks. There are teachers who give a shallow overview of the subject matter and then expect students to read the textbook to actually learn the details or to memorize the dates, researchers, and outcomes of a hundred different research studies. There are teachers who think that textbooks are the spawn of Satan and find or create all their own assignments. This can leave students in a bind, particularly if the teacher does not bother to teach all the minutiae of the subject and students are left to spend long hours on the internet, in the library, or finding classmates to fill in the missing links.

And the teachers who are my personal favorite: those who teach in-depth every process needed to learn the desired skill. This doesn’t mean that they eschew textbooks; in fact it is quite the opposite. These teachers rely on the text to give a framework for teaching a class with a logical progression, students are told that the text is not required reading, but if they are confused by any topic that should be their first source for help; and the text gives regular homework assignments with an easy-to-find explanation of the underlying knowledge required to complete the problems.

Am I asking too much for the teachers to teach the subject in the full depth and breadth required for the class? Am I giving students an easy way out of the boring textbook reading we all despise [or just avoid]?

I don’t know the answer to the latter question, but in regards to the former, I don’t think that I am asking too much. If a teacher were hired simply to rate our academic progress based on performance on assignments, papers, or exams, then the first style of teacher (the one who gives a brief overview of the topic) would be perfect. If a teacher were paid to rate our ability to find references and teach ourselves, then the second style of teach would be sufficient. But as students we both need to learn the subject and to learn problem solving. The third style of teacher is the only one in a position to achieve both these goals. By actually teaching the student the teacher is able to direct him/her away from mistakes, common pitfalls, or other possible traps in the given subject matter. By creating/choosing assignments that are based on the underlying principals of the topic the teacher can test the students ability to problem solve and apply those principals to a problem that, on the surface, is seemingly unrelated.

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Personification: A figure of speech in which inanimate objects or abstractions are endowed with human qualities or are represented as possessing human form

I find myself doing this a lot with Zefir. I see human actions and motives in many things that he does. And while describing what he does as I might describe a human doing something similar makes talking with others easier, I do sometimes find it ridiculous. Personifying Zefir’s actions seems to me only a few small steps away from dressing him in clothes and cooking him food every night. So I find myself questioning the reasons I personify Zef.

One explanation is simply that I see things he does and because I am a human I relate to it in a human manner and assume his motives for a particular behavior are the same as my [human] motives would be.

Another explanation would be that I am somehow encouraging and rewarding times when his behavior is particularly human-like. I do laugh at him when he mimics something I do, that could be rewarding. Perhaps it’s something even more subtle–do I perhaps pet him more, or directly talk to him more when he is acting in a way that I find particularly human-esque?

I am going to observe both Zefir’s behaviors and my responses to them over the next few weeks in an attempt to tease apart this complex web of behaviors, responses, and motives.

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Poor Olivia passed on today. Olivia was my red ear slider turtle.

She hadn’t eaten a single bite since 23rd December, 2008. That was 443 days ago. 1 year, 2 months, and 26 days ago.

Olivia was given to me as a Christmas gift from a friend, back when I lived in the dorms and a dog was out of the question. The Earl May attendant said she was a healthy eater and sent her with a whole bottle of the food she had been eating. The first few weeks I wasn’t terribly concerned. It was winter, my dorm room was warm, but not balmy. I assumed that she my have been in a sort of hibernation. I gave her a tank with an island of rocks and a little ‘pond’ and put out food on a regular basis. Food that wound up as either stale little rocks or disgusting water floaters.  I tried everything, making her a warm pool to swim in in the bathtub, force feeding her (she bit my finger and spit the food out), offering vegetables, hard-boiled eggs (suggested by a friend with a turtle). She went through a spell where she was wheezing and had a snotty nose; my veterinarian mother sent up antibiotics and I injected Olivia for several days. Summer came and went and still Olivia didn’t eat.

I have always felt terrible, thinking she was suffering in some way. This winter I briefly considered putting her out in the snow simply to put her out of the misery I assumed she must have experienced. Now it is no longer an issue. Olivia was the perfect anorectic and she ended up in the same way that all the perfect anorectics end.

What to do with her body though? Should I bury her in my little garden in the apartment here where she lived a good half of her life? Should I take her home to my parents farm and bury her there? I’ve also pondered cleaning out her shell and painting it as a sort of memorial.

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Things that make me happy…

This morning it was running with Zefir and having coffee.

In general…

Running. Coffee. Reading the NY Times. Finishing a crossword puzzle. Finishing the NYT crossword (achieved today in 50 min…I’m improving). Sun. NPR. Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me! This American Life. A Prairie Home Companion. Beautiful photography. The amazing feeling when I am completely one with my flute. Cleaning. Laundry fresh and warm from the dryer. New snowfall. Newborn lambs. Watching a lamb struggle to stand and walk for the first time. Teaching a newborn bottle lamb to suck. The face of a dairy cow. Unpasteurized, fresh milk from the bulk tank. Freshly picked fruits and vegetables still warm from the summer sun. The chill in the air on early summer mornings as the sun is rising. My favorite ewe, “Dawn”. Leading a dairy cow who is hundreds of times stronger than I am but still goes where I want her to go. Sleeping on central campus and hearing the campanile in that void between sleep and wakefulness. Napping outside under the sun with a light breeze. Non-fiction books. The sheer strength of large livestock. Sleeping on the living room floor in the sun. My sweet girl, Ziggy.

The tiny-ness of me in this immense world.

When he calls me “pretty lady” every time I answer his phone calls. His no-nonsense responses to my nonsensical complaints. His warm feet against my so very cold ones. Having long theoretical and intellectual conversations. The fact that we [creepily] have the same birthday, the same major, and for some reason keep ending up with the same lesson time. How he is the one who always calls me. Having conversations about kids or other things that could potentially be very awkward with a significant other. When he just holds me.

Playing in the snow with Zef. Zefir’s adorable snores. Waking up with Zef sleeping sprawled across me (until the pain sets in). Zefir’s fuzzy ears. Watching Zef get angry at the hair dryer. His complete obsession with water. Zef’s happy dances when he gets a new rawhide. His funny way of inviting me to play with his toys. His love of yogurt and yogurt containers. (I think he likes yogurt more than I do…and I LOVE yogurt). The way he sits so perfectly straight up in the passenger seat of the car. When he falls asleep on long car rides and lies in awkward positions so he can touch me. On long drives when we slow down through a town and he drowsily opens his eyes and looks to me to see if he should completely wake up–it’s the same thing I did when I was a young child.

His infinite joy in life.

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