On potential failure, and welcome, AAAS MMF judges!

17 Jan

I recently submitted my application for the AAAS Mass Media Fellowship– the deadline was two days ago, so if you’re a graduate student keep this in your mind for future years.  So if you’re coming to my blog from that, here are some of my favorite posts:

On math: Apollonian circle packings, Aaron Fenyes’ research (with GIFs!) and part II, open problem in combinatorics

On news: review of Yale situation, what is a “trigger warning?”, algebra and the NYT

On life: being sexist, being racist, the job search

The rest of this post is for normal readers/not AAAS MMF judges (though you’re welcome to read on as well).

A few weeks ago I posted a wrap-up of 2017 on Facebook and received some kind comments on it, and then a friend who visited me told me that she finds me inspiring.  (Not a humblebrag, a straight up brag-I believe in bragging!)

But I’m concerned that these stories we tell of strings of success and people we admire can be de-motivational and contribute to imposter syndrome.  Here’s the inner monologue I’m imagining:

Oh look at Sandra Dee, she got a fancy fellowship and a great job and has a perfect family; she works so hard and is so smart.  There’s no way I could be like her.  I don’t deserve what I have and I am a lazy pants who played Candy Crush for half an hour today and I can’t do my toddler’s puzzle.  Why should I even try.  Boo me.

When we have idols and heroes, we aspire to be like them, but know that we’ll never actually be like them–they’re too good and have never had anything bad happen.  I don’t believe that every time a door closes, a window opens, because then your house would be really cold, but I do think that opportunities present themselves to those who seek them out.  And that the key to success is lots, and lots, and lots of failures (hello, math research!)

That’s why I’m telling you that I’m applying for this extremely competitive fellowship. If I get it, that’s great, and if I don’t (91% chance!), then you will know that I tried, and I failed, and that door closed.  It’s important to try, it’s important to fail. 

I can already see in our toddler the fear of failure, that he second-guesses himself and won’t enter an answer he’s not 100% sure of into his play laptop even though nothing bad happens- it just prompts him to try again.  I don’t know how to convince him that failure is good and okay- I’ll just keep trying things, and showing him that I fail at things and I’m still okay.  I want you to know that I’ll keep trying things, and I’ll keep failing at them, and I’ll still be okay, and you will be too.  Yay failures!

Here’s a run-on sentence of a failure anecdote that I think about sometimes.  I tried to fight for the editor in chief of my high school newspaper, who was forced to resign after writing an article about kids coming out/being gay in high school.  I wrote a petition with a friend and circulated it.  It got confiscated by our journalism adviser (I had left it in my open backpack) and everything went bad- I got mildly kicked off the paper (immediately reinstated, both in a 1-on-1 conversation with the vice principal), we had to sign a piece of paper saying we wouldn’t ever badmouth our paper or editors or adviser (remember we were idealistic journalism students at the time so this hurt), our adviser left (rumor was she went to Colombia for a while) and we got a new one, we had to get parent permission slips signed for every interview, and we generally had much less leeway.  I was perhaps in the running for editor in chief for the next year, but definitely that did not happen after that fiasco.  If this anecdote was mysterious and didn’t make sense to you, don’t worry, it DEFINITELY didn’t make sense to me as it was happening.  I had many teachers take me aside and try to give me wisdom via metaphors that I didn’t understand then and still don’t.

I’ve had plenty of failures, but I don’t dwell on them- even that high school paper one, which bothers me, doesn’t eat at me.  Probably because I tried, and maybe there were other things I could’ve tried, but I know I did something.  This line of reasoning and blog post are now going nowhere, I am very tired, but I said what I wanted to say – that I’m applying for a fellowship with small chance of winning, but I put a LOT of time and effort into it because I believe in trying.  And failing, and telling the stories of our failures.

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Favorite easy recipes

1 Jan

Personal update: we have moved into our own house!  I’ve been busy watching two kids and setting up the house and holidays, and this blog will be updated only occasionally until further notice (if I do end up getting an academic job I’ll go back to biweekly posting, but for now we’ll go with bimonthly-ish).

That said I have two things I want to share with you: how to do payroll for a nanny yourself so you don’t have to pay a payroll company nor spend 5 hours looking up IRS publications etc. like I did (and *still* mess up and owe the nanny $100 more than expected and the government less than expected), and my favorite memorized recipes.  I’ll do the nanny post separately, here are some recipes off the top of my head that are always hits.

  • French Toast Souffle, blog post here. 425 degrees, 1 stick of butter in pan. Whisk 3 eggs, 1.5 c milk, 1/4 c flour, 6 TB sugar, 1/4 tsp salt, pour on bubbling butter. 30 minutes
  • Biscuits and gravy, blog post here. Make biscuits. 1 lb sausage, cook. 2 TB flour, toss. 3 C milk, stir until gravy.  Lots and lots of black pepper.
  • Banana cinnamon rolls, blog post here. 350-375 degrees, 2 TB butter in pan. Crescent roll dough, butter, banana, cinnamon sugar. Sprinkle brown sugar on bubbling butter. Roll up dough, cut into cinnamon rolls, put on brown sugar butter, bake 10-15 minutes.
  • Bacon clam sauce. Cook bacon (2-6 strips, chopped), add garlic (2-6 cloves), add canned tomatoes (1-2 cans), simmer. Eventually, add can of clams with juice, cook briefly.  Serve on spaghetti, stir in parsley if desired.

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    I’m making this while IRONing out the details of this post.  Tonight’s foreCAST: delicious pasta!

  • Shakshouka. Cook onion, garlic, jalapenos. Add canned tomatoes, lots of cumin, simmer. Make room for eggs, poach in tomato sauce.  Serve with pita and hummus.
  • BLT.  After cooking bacon, toast your thick bread IN THE BACON FAT.  Then the best tomatoes, mayo, lots of lettuce, avocado.
  • Grilled cheese. Spread mayo on both sides of both pieces of bread before grilling.  This will change your grilled cheeses.
  • Pork with mushroom sauce, this is from the Campbell’s soup label.  Salt pork chops, brown in oil.  Take out, cook onions, garlic, mushrooms.  Add can of cream of mushroom soup some milk, and pork chops back, simmer until done.  Serve with rice.
  • Salsa chicken. 1 jar of salsa, pour on chicken pieces (frozen is ok).  Cook in crock pot.  Serve on rice or in tacos, or in quesadillas, etc.
  • Root vegetable soup. Onion, celery/carrot if you have them, garlic/ginger if you want in oil.  Add your root vegetable (butternut squash is great, carrots are also great) and enough stock (chicken, veggie, or water) to just cover.  Simmer.  Puree.  Add: curry, ginger, pepper, cardamom, some kind of spice. Serve with yogurt or sour cream.
  • Kale or collard greens or rau muong, blog post here for rau muong. Garlic, olive oil. Kale, 1/4 c water, cover, 5 minutes. Add balsamic or apple cider vinegar, plenty.
  • Ga kho, blog post here.  Onion, garlic, ginger in oil.  Cut up chicken pieces. Fish sauce, coconut water or soda. Braise.
  • Three-ingredient peanut butter cookies, blog post here.  1 c peanut butter, 1 c sugar, 1 egg.  Make into cookies, bake until done.
  • Strawberries, sour cream, brown sugar. Dip.

Thank you for reading my blog and being part of my e-life for the past several years!  And if this is your first time, thanks for stopping by!  This blog has been a lot of fun and a great source of pride for me.  On days when I burned the cookies and forgot what a determinant was, I could still point to this blog and say look, I did something!

Here’s a treat for you, a picture of my baby.

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School segregation, pt 2: mitigating the effects/what we can do

20 Oct

The hardest post of this series will be part 3, delving into the problems that I ran into when thinking about where to buy a house without perpetuating systemic inequality by focusing on “good” schools, and also the problem of “safe” as a coded word to mean “predominantly white” when describing neighborhoods.  But this is part 2, which are small solutions to the as-yet-undefined problems.

Income disparities and property taxes mean unequal funding for schools.  I can live in a less-desired neighborhood (which I won’t do, because I want my short commute times and walkability and access to grocery stores etc. and I am unwilling to sacrifice those things for my ideals), or I can advocate for mixed-income housing on a local level, and be a YIMBY (yes! In my backyard!)  Especially in Charlotte, where the city has agreed to add 5000 affordable housing units within the next few years- but where?  We were looking at Cherry, a historically black neighborhood (literally where the black servants of the rich white people lived)- the builders there are building some number of subsidized houses along with the expensive fancy houses (as in this program).  What’s nice is that it’s the same builder, so you can’t really tell from outside who has the fancy expensive house and who has the subsidized house across the street (and everyone gets new houses!).  So we can be like the neighbors there and advocate for mixed-income housing, or we can be NIMBYs like in this story and say that affordable houses will “hurt our property values.”  If you find yourself saying “I’m worried that X will hurt my property values,” you may be part of the problem.

PTA “dark money” keeps “good” public schools “good” when state budgets are cut.  Rich people who do opt to send their kids to public school often give lots of money to the PTA- there’s some amazing examples in this Atlantic article (Taylor Swift ticket auction vs. bake sale?!) Of course you aren’t going to stop giving money to your kids’ schools so they can have better playground equipment or science equipment or books etc.  So one thing that we can do is match our PTA donations- for every $1 we spend at our local school, we can send $1 to the PTA of a needier school in the city.  It’s a small, band-aid solution, but when you’re not a policy-maker you do the best you can.

Shouldn’t these problems be addressed at the policy level?  What can I do as an individual?  Nikole Hannah-Jones, whose NYT magazine piece really started my spouse and I on this journey, stated it well in an NPR interview:

“It is important to understand that the inequality we see, school segregation, is both structural, it is systemic, but it’s also upheld by individual choices,” she says. “As long as individual parents continue to make choices that only benefit their own children … we’re not going to see a change.”

If you’re a podcast listener, Hannah-Jones also appears on this episode of This American Life talking about the same issue.  (She also just won the Macarthur so she is no lightweight).  So do the things I list in this post!

School rankings on real estate sites mostly show you how rich and white a school is. They use Greatschools.org info, which relies on standardized test scores.  So if you’re like my spouse and filter your real estate search by school scores, you’re just filtering for the white neighborhoods.  From this Washington Post article:

As research has found, school factors explain only about 20 percent of achievement scores — about a third of what student and family background characteristics explain. Consequently, test scores often tell us much more about demography than about schools.

Instead of relying only on a number, try visiting the schools and talking to the people there about your own kids’ needs.  My kids are very young, but based on the evidence we have we’ll want a school with some gifted and talented programs, and light on homework, and a lot of emphasis on social learning/getting along with others (I have a shy guy toddler).  So a high-power, worksheet and results focused school is probably not for us.

When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.  Corollary: naming a problem can make you feel defensive, like these Seattle white progressive parents .  Try not go be like them.  As I noted in a previous post, people don’t like being called racist- people didn’t even like it when I called myself racist!  Let’s try to quell our knee-jerk reactions to the problem of school segregation and think about what we can do.  To be clear, I am writing from a huge position of privilege.  You know what correlates strongly with kids’ academic achievement?  Their mothers’ education level.  My kids are maxed out on that.  So I can talk about these issues and freely decide what schools to send my kids to, and they’ll be fine pretty much anywhere they go.  Other people don’t have such advantages.  Here’s an anonymous quote that I loved about this topic, to finish off the post:

We have to balance many variables in making our choices. But there are others too–and they concern not only who we want our child to be, but the society we want our child to live in.

If you want to read more about the topic of school segregation, I suggest googling Nikole Hannah-Jones and checking out this great Facebook page (LA-centric), Integrated Schools.

 

 

Personal Update

13 Sep

Hi, blog reader!  Apologies for not writing in months; I wanted to let you know that I’m still around, trying to get my life together- we moved a few weeks ago to Charlotte, NC where I’m living with my in-laws while we’re still trying to sell the house in Austin, TX.  Just fired our realtor and got a new one, so fingers crossed this works (the old one did nothing; the new one has already cleaned our house, brought in a stager, and set up a painter).  The toddler started school recently, so now I have a few hours to “myself” everyday (but those are actually spent with a baby).

I also set up a conference for this next weekend: Carolinas Women in Mathematics Symposium.  I was having difficulties communicating with people I don’t know to make the website look how I wanted, so I ended up hosting it on my own server.  Turned out to be a great decision because I could update it anytime instead of sending the HTML over for each change to some administrator!  This also meant that I sharpened my HTML skillz.

I picked up a side gig as a coach for Testive, just so I could do something besides watch my kids.

I read The Hate U Give in one day and highly recommend it.

I will take your friend leads, job leads, and life advice for Charlotte, NC!

One day I will write a real blog post: I’ve got school segregation pts 2 and 3, the job search, how I became a slacktivist, Bakewell tart, my thesis on the list of things I want to write about.

This is my life lately:

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School segregation, pt 1: grappling with our racism

26 Jul

I’ve been trying to get this post out for a month and finally have decided that I’ll break it up into mini-posts in order to publish anything at all.  Yes, I finished my thesis and packed my house, but my mom was here to help with the kids during that time.  Now that thesis is done, mom is back in California, and it’s just me and kids and house-selling.  Mostly the kids part is what takes up my time and energy.  But they’re so cute!  Here’s a pic of me and baby napping on an air mattress during a trip to my brothers’ house.IMG_3825

We went on a house hunting trip to Charlotte, NC, where we’re moving at the end of the summer.  When my spouse was in high school there, Charlotte public schools were still integrated.  But in 2001, mandatory busing was ruled down, and now Charlotte schools are again segregated neighborhood schools (because housing is segregated/there are segregated neighborhoods): here’s the article summing this up.  As we looked at houses, we also looked at what schools they were zoned into, and the makeup of those schools.  I was amazed looking at greatschools.com how very close to 100% black and 100% white schools there are.  Public schooling is really important to us (we both went to public schools, and ideologically we believe in them), but when we consider school zones when choosing a house, are we being racist?  By which I mean, are we perpetuating structural inequalities based on race?  I think so!

We read the NYT Magazine article a few years ago about choosing a school in a segregated city, and the following quote is from a follow-up NPR interview:

 “It is important to understand that the inequality we see, school segregation, is both structural, it is systemic, but it’s also upheld by individual choices,” she says. “As long as individual parents continue to make choices that only benefit their own children … we’re not going to see a change.”

There’s a new, controversial book out called Dream Hoarders, which has as a thesis that the top 20% of Americans by income “hoard” resources etc. for their children and hence hurt the American Dream of upward mobility for anyone.  They also made a cute little game explaining it, here.  And here’s an excerpt from the book if you want more.

An excerpt from the excerpt:

There is clear danger of a vicious cycle developing here. As inequality between the upper middle class and the rest grows, parents will become more determined to ensure their children stay near the top. We will work hard to put a “glass floor” under them, to prevent them from falling down the chutes. Inequality and immobility thus become self-reinforcing.

Downward mobility is not a wildly popular idea, to say the least. But it is a stubborn mathematical fact that, at any given time, the top fifth of the income distribution can accommodate only 20 percent of the population. Relative intergenerational mobility is necessarily a zero-sum game. For one person to move up the ladder, somebody else must move down. Sometimes that will have to be one of our own children. Otherwise the glass floor protecting affluent kids from falling acts also as a glass ceiling, blocking upward mobility for those born on a lower rung of the ladder. The problem we face is not just class separation, but class perpetuation.

So so far we have two different but very related topics that are affected by my individual choice of where to buy a house and send my kids to school: perpetuating class inequality, and perpetuating racial segregation.  When it comes down to it, of  course we try to choose the “best” fit for our kids, but we need to really explore and come to terms with what we mean by “best.”  Do we mean best test scores?  Because those correlate with family income.  Do we mean best teachers?  How do we put a metric on teachers?  How do we put a metric on schools at all?

In this series I’ll write posts about how we address the two topics (sneak peak: we will do so by trying to mitigate our effects as gentrifiers in the neighborhoods we choose).  And I’ll post pictures of my kids!

Defended! Also, 29 silly Wonder Woman questions

15 Jun

Last week I defended my thesis at UIC!  Here’s a photo that my adviser took directly after the defense:

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This champagne was REALLY GOOD

I’d say aaaah, I get to relax now, but I still have a two month old baby and a house to sell and edits to make on my thesis which I have to submit.  Also I’d like to publish a(nother) paper out of it, just for fun.  Also my toddler got strep the day after defense so our Chicago vacation was mostly hugging a feverish kid and feeding him jello.  And my mom went back home (she’d been living with us since baby was born, which helped me finish up thesis).  But besides all that, aaaaaah, I’m done!

Also I was nervous but the defense was fun!  Committee asked me questions after but didn’t feel like a test, just that they were curious about my work.  We had a big party that night with barbecue I brought from Texas and some of them came!

After my spouse and I watched Wonder Woman (hahaha no movies for us for a while now that my mom is back home), we both couldn’t sleep because we were so riled up and upset.  I’ll say it now: I think it was silly and if you like Zach Snyder films/don’t expect it to be deep or feminist, you’ll enjoy it.  And at least it’s A step in the right direction…I just wish Marvel or Disney had made it and it was feminist and intersectional.  I have some questions (some are serious) and I’d love it if y’all could answer any of them.  SO MANY SPOILERS and also SO MUCH COMPLAINING so feel free to stop reading now.

  1. Why does Hippolyta say “the stronger she gets, the sooner he’ll find her” and “the more she knows, the sooner he’ll find her”?  Like she definitely just finds him when she is not that strong and doesn’t know that much…
  2. Why does Hippolyta snap at Diana “you’re not an Amazon!”
  3. What are the Amazons training for all the time, if they aren’t planning on heading back out into the world?
  4. Maybe I’m not good at reading facial expressions.  What’s going on when Diana unleashes her god power on Antiope?  Antiope is like no go away (why?) and all the Amazons stare at Diana (some kind of message is in this scene but I don’t know what it is).
  5. Does Diana realize anything about her god power when she does that wristlet thing?  What’s going on in her head?
  6. Why does Hippolyta tell Diana that she can never come back?  Steve and those German dudes all seemed to find Themyscira just fine.
  7. Not a question I just loved the dialogue in the boat about sleeping together.  That’s got the O.C./Sex and the City/Grey’s Anatomy written all over it.   Let’s have this person write all the dialogue.
  8. Where does Wonder Woman’s outfit come from (versus the simple leather thing she had on the island, and the suit she buys with Etta)?  [I’m totally okay with this magical outfit appearing I’m just including it for completeness.]
  9. Why would Diana give her sword and shield (2 of 3 most valuable Amazon treasures) to Etta whom she just met?
  10. Why doesn’t Steve let her go hang out with the baby?  Babies!  Why am I asking if a man “lets” Wonder Woman do anything?
  11. Why does Diana follow Steve around London when the baddies are following them?  Her physical obedience to him in general is confusing given how often she verbally questions him.
  12. Clearly Diana is winning the fight with the baddies, so why give the slow motion effect to a wimpy Steve punch?
  13. Another not question: I love the line “there’s a woman in here” and everyone shuts up.  Quite funny.
  14. WHY DOES STEVE RIP THE BOOK OUT OF DIANA’S HAND THAT SHE IS TRANSLATING???? WHY DOESN’T SHE FINISH TRANSLATING IT????? She’s the only person who can, it has vital enemy information, and zero percent does anyone care??????????  This drives me nuts.  Knowledge is powerful too, not just rushing off and fighting.
  15. In the bar Samir makes a joke about an island full of women who look like Diana.  But wouldn’t you be terrified of going to a mysterious island full of one gender which is not yours?  Like 95% sure you would die.
  16. Why doesn’t Diana help the horse?  It would take her 5 seconds but they tell her that she has to keep moving?
  17. Why does Dr. Poison not talk?  She’s supposed to be a big baddie right?  What’s her story?  And what’s up with the mask?  She has a scar on her face, so what?  I was hoping she’d look like Two-Face from Batman but instead she’s just a beautiful person with a scar.
  18. More on Dr. Poison- is the idea that Steve is flirting with her and then she gets real jealous when he looks at Diana?  That seems… dumb.  Women don’t just exist relative to men, but maybe the (all-male) writing team doesn’t know that.
  19. What’s the deal with the strength gas?  It makes a mortal as strong as a god?   Dr. Poison should be selling that!  Or at least giving it to the troops.  Or herself.
  20. Why is Charlie in the party?  I’m confused by his whole character, a sharpshooter who can’t shoot.  I think he’s there to show some aspect of Diana’s character development, but what aspect I cannot say- she already looked at the soldiers coming back from the front with sad eyes.
  21. Speaking of the party, quibble, why no women?  There were definitely women in WWI and also this is a fictional universe…
  22. What are the rules to Diana’s jumping?  Why do the dudes need to hold up a piece of metal for her to jump off of?
  23. What does Diana see in Steve?  I see a guy who interrupts her all the time and refuses to explain anything to her or answer her questions.  Not sexy.  That said, sex is fun so I’m totally down with her being like oh let’s try a fun thing!  Actual dialogue in my house: “Would you like to have sex?” “You could be more subtle, honey” “No, no I cannot.  Subtlety is not some magical thing that women are born with.”  She gives him the “bedroom eyes” but why would she know about those [I’m saying they are cultural rather than innate].
  24. Okay so I’m down with the sex, but why does she “love” this dude?  Enough to realize her god-powers.
  25. Why doesn’t D kill L at High Command?  See 11 and 20.
  26. Also what are the rules for god powers?  Ares killed all the gods, Diana is the god-killer, they have a big old fight but I’m not sure what’s possible and what’s not so the fight is nonsensical.
  27. Why is killing Dr. Poison a test?  Diana has definitely killed dozens of soldiers during this movie.  Are their lives worth less than the mastermind?
  28. What’s the symbolism/message of Dr. Poison’s mask falling off?  Are “ugly” people sad and pathetic or whatever Ares says in that monologue?
  29. Why no women writers?  I like the woman director but the script… I watched this movie two weeks ago and am only now not irked (writing this list-rant  has been very therapeutic thanks blog!)

T-minus 9 Days

30 May

Not for the baby; I had her exactly two months ago.  Here are my kids looking at each other:IMG_20170521_185607481

Sorry to have been gone for a bit longer than I meant, reader.  Baby #2 has been excellent and wonderful, but she is still a baby and so takes a fair amount of work.  But the thing that has been taking a lot of my time is this other thing I’ve been working on/gestating for a few years rather than just nine months:

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I am excited and nervous and mostly exhausted, if you couldn’t tell by my half-assed abstract that I wrote in thirty seconds.  I still have to write the talk, and I’m sending my committee the final draft of my thesis today.  Since it’s been a long time since I’ve given a math talk, I’m doing a practice version next Monday here at UT/clean out my office, then next Wednesday we’re packing up the whole family and flying to Chicago for the big event.  That same day, the photographers are coming to photograph our house, and we’re listing it the next day and having an open house while we’re out of town.  That means that for the past month or so whenever I had a free moment I packed a box of stuff and put it in the attic (or napped).  So… it’s been busy.

 

i’m not too good at doing anything when baby is nursing (as she is now, just started) but i wanted to update y’all and tell you i’m fine, just busy with life things.  after june 8 hopefully house will be sold and they’ll let me graduate so i’ll have more time (but still have a baby).   after spending a week at IAS two weeks ago TAing a class while nursing a baby, i have some more thoughts on self-doubt and ambition.  but that’ll wait.  also a series of posts on my thesis forthcoming!

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