Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Apartment update

Good news...and bad news. First of all, I love my roommate...spicy Sichuan food and other forms of deliciousness always seem to be cooked just when I need a snack.

And I love doing dishes, which she hates, so it's a pretty good match. Also, I "keep her young." Granted, she's only 28, but it's a large enough gap that it does make a difference.

Bad news...Elaine is moving out October 31st. She is moving in to an apartment closer to her classes. Since she is in Sloan (business), her classes are almost a mile and a half away. In her new place, she'll be able to leave five minutes before class starts and still be early. Her boyfriend is also coming back from China, and they'll be living together. There was a whole mess last spring when they were trying to set up housing, and it ended up that things didn't work out as planned. So, this sadly means that I'll be roommate-less until MIT housing decides what to do with me. This also means that I need to find silverware. And dishes. And pots. And all sorts of other things that I haven't bought since Elaine has them. Hopefully the three of us will go to Ikea sometime soon - they can buy things for their unfurnished apartment, and I can buy things to catch up.

Since some of you are curious, here is what my room looks like now:

Sorry about the odd angles, but it's not an easy room to take a great picture of...I'll try to do a better job next time. I'm not necessarily thrilled about the layout, but I decided to leave it the way that it arrived just so I could get a feel for what I liked and didn't like. The only light in my room is on the side of the wall above my desk and wardrobe, so it is kind of obscured. That definitely needs to change. I'll post more pictures when I'm finally satisfied with the end result.

Also, I'm looking to spruce up my room with some decals...any recommendations?


Friday, September 26, 2008

MIT Symphony Orchestra

For those of you that didn't know, I actually began my time at Illinois Wesleyan as a music major. Long story short, as time went on, I found out that it just isn't the right place for me. At all. I switched to a music minor, and now I have continued this loving music thing in grad school. I'm really thankful and happy to be playing still. It makes my Tuesday and Thursday nights (we rehearse from 7:30-10:00 pm).

Even so, it's really interesting to see the differences between the orchestra at IWU and the orchestra here. First, there are an absolute PLETHORA of string players. They just go on, and on, and on....it's amazing. I think we're at around thirty violinists. At least. And the brass section is decent, but sometimes we're down a trombone. Apparently, it's a lot harder to keep the winds/brass section to the normal grouping that is in an orchestra due to player turnover. Most of the instrumentalists are in undergrad, but there are a few grad students (including my favorite, a five foot tall girl tuba player who is in nuclear engineering).

Our first concert is October 10th, and one of the odder things was that we didn't read one of the movements to a piece until last Tuesday...quite the change from the typical day 1-sightread, day 2-perfect notes expected by Mr. Eggleston. We also call our director by his first name, Adam, and he makes it a point to be very approachable. I think part of the reason for this is that over time, MIT faculty/staff/administrators have recognized that it is crucial to have extracurriculars that help students keep their sanity, as well as have other adults in their lives that aren't giving out terrible problem sets.

Anyway, our first concert is:

"Punkie Night" by Peter Child (an MIT composer)
"Troisieme Piano Concerto" by Prokofiev
"Carnival" by Dvorák
"Sinfonia Sevillana" by Turina

It is definitely not my favorite concert ever, buuuuut next concert is Eroica, which should be really great. And let's be honest...I'm just glad to be playing.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Revisiting the lists...

After living here nearly a month, I thought I'd revisit my lists for my life here in Boston and give an update on what I have, what I need, and other things I have decided to axe or that are more important. I got the idea from blogs I have been reading from friends in the Peace Corps, as well as blogs of their fellow PCVs. Here goes!


Yes it is in our apartment
Need to buy/bring it!
Additional items I forgot
Things I don't need

The kitchen:

-rice cooker (Elaine has one - all the instructions are in Chinese, so I really don't understand it, but it makes great rice!)
-toaster (Elaine has one)
-microwave (provided in the apartment)
-George Foreman grill (meh, would be nice, but we have so little counter space already)
-silverware - spoons, butter knives, forks, Asian ceramic soup spoons (Elaine has some, but mostly chopsticks...I'm borrowing some from a friend right now, but I'm going to look and
-silverware storage
-wine glasses (Elaine has four stemmed and four stemless)
-wine rack
-brita filter pitcher - plus extra filters (I continue to debate this one...the tap water here is pretty good, both on the taste and safety side...)
-regular glasses
-large ceramic mugs (for tea) - Elaine has two
-small nalgene (I ended up ordering Siggs online - they are stainless steel bottles that don't leech)
-stainless steel mug (see above)
-plates - (I'm kind of using all of Elaine's - eventually I will have to get my own)
-kitchen knives (Elaine has a cleaver and a fantastically sharp knife from China)
-bowls -(I'm kind of using all of Elaine's - eventually I will have to get my own)
-vegetable peeler
-cheese grater (wow...this is one thing that is actually mine!)
-small potato masher
-wooden spoons
-spatula (plastic and metal)
-pizza stone
-mixing bowl (I ordered a full set from Pyrex, but the wrong order came! It should arrive soon, though)
-cookie sheets
-drying rack for cookies
-casserole pan
-spice rack
-cheesecake pan
-muffin pan (and paper muffin cups)
-standing mixer
-measuring cups and spoons
-slotted spoon
-can opener
-ice cube trays
-covered glass and plastic dishes (for leftovers, cooking in the oven, and lunches)
-pyrex measuring bowl
-frying pan - one large with a cover, one small (Elaine has a large one, and I have a small one, but I'm trying to save up for a non-bad chemicals large one)
-cast iron skillet (it's still at home...I couldn't lug it here.)
-pots (from small to large)
-cake pans (circular, 9x13 (with metal covers), 9x9; both glass and metal)
-cutting board
-hot pads
-rolling pin
-chip clips
-serving platter
-pie plate
-colander (still at home)
-vase (Elaine has one)
-hand towels
-dish soap
-swiffer wet jet (maybe in the future? Right now our non-carpet space is very low, so this isn't very practical)
-aluminum foil
-parchment paper
-saran wrap
-plastic Ziploc bags
-paper towels
-dish towels
-napkins, placemats, and tablecloths (I use fabric, so I picked up a bunch cheap at goodwill)
-drying rack for dishes (plus a drain board)
-garbage bags (plus garbage container)
-magnets (for the refrigerator)
-nifty cake carryer/chips and dip tray (got it for $5 from Pyrex)

The bathroom:

-toilet paper
-cough syrup
-toothpaste (Tom’s of Maine is natural and odd-tasting at first, but after going back to a regular toothpaste because I couldn’t find it in Illinois, I much prefer the non-chemically taste)
-antibiotic cream (bacitracin, Neosporin)
-aloe gel (nope - aloe plant instead!)
-gauze and tape
-sunscreen (Aveeno SPF 55)
-soap (in the pump; try to get non-antibacterial and not too obnoxious smelling...Trader Joe's is pretty cheap)
-razor (Preserve Recylcine razors are recyclable! Excellent! http://www.recycline.com/personalcare.html
-shave gel
-barrettes, clips, hair ties
-facial cleanser (day and night)
-face moisturizer (with SPF!)
-lotion (go cheap and as large as you can)
-contact lens supplies
-travel caddy (plus the ability to take all of your necessary toiletries on a plane, so under 3 ounces)
-windex (Seventh Generation version)
-some sort of all-purpose bathroom cleaner (Seventh Generation version)
-paper towels/sponge for cleaning
-toilet brush
-toilet plunger
-hand towels
-bath towels
-mat in front of the tub (we still don't have one. I guess we're lazy?)
-shower curtain (already in the apartment when we arrived)


-blankets/comforter (I’m going to splurge and get a down comforter – I get really cold, and these are really good for keeping you warm)
-sheet set (I’m moving into a place with an extra-long twin, so I’m going to use the sheets that I bought for my dorm room freshman year)
-mattress pad (since I’m going to be the first person sleeping in this bed, I am not going to bother buying one)
-curtains (there is a full-out shade, but I'd love to have an inbetween gauzy curtain where I could have light and privacy at the same time)
-bed risers - and underbed storage units are a maybe (beds are already raised and have drawers inside)
-full length mirror (already on the inside of the wardrobe that they provided)
-carpet cleaner (like Resolve)
-light bulbs (I'll need these as soon as I get a lamp)
-bath towels
-laundry detergent
-stain remover
-bleach (Elaine has some - I'll buy it if I need it)
-heavy duty drying rack
-dusting rag
-trash can (provided)
-3M hooks (remove easily with no residue)
-hangers - thicker wooden ones for blazers, skirt hangers, and either plastic or a thicker wire (I only have a few - I need to grab more from home)
-batteries (AAA and AA, plus any other specialty ones)
-phone charger
-computer cords/mouse/external harddrive
-iron and ironing board (have the former, but not the latter...I rarely use my iron anyway, so it'll be a special occasions kind of thing)
-surge protectors
-furniture (tbd depending on what I need; probably will be purchased at IKEA or at the nifty exchange program http://web.mit.edu/womensleague/fx/)
-beginner’s tool kit (the basics: screwdriver, hammer, pliers)
-carbon monoxide and smoke detectors (provided)
-duct tape (plus clear tape and brown tape)
-paper clips, rubber bands, other clips etc...
-three-ring binders (I feel like I need about 87 more...I have so much paper in my classes here!)
-post it notes (3M now makes a version from recycled paper – pretty cool!)
-biking bag (mine is from Chrome, and it was expensive, but worth it)
-school bag (mine is a “teacher bag” with a laptop sleeve)
-file folders (I am getting old - for insurance, bank stuff, etc...)

Also, I have plants! Aloe, ivy, pothos, two kalencoe, and a bromeliad. Life is good!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Week one!

After two weeks of classes, I can finally say that I'm starting to feel settled...pictures of the apartment and where I live will be my next post, since my roommate is still clearing boxes and such and things are a slight mess.

Registration Day was this past Tuesday after labor day, and it was kind of a rather shot-gun meeting with my advisor where she had me sign up for four classes and didn't tell me that most people take three...more on that later.

My first day of classes was Wednesday, and I started out with 7.51 (7 meaning biology, 51 being the class number). Termed "Principles of Biochemical Analysis," this course was biochemistry on steroids with thermodynamics and equilibrium thrown in just for fun. The professors were both engaging, full of metaphors for binding Bob into his chair and thousands of Bobs competing for the same chair, and Bob standing on his head and only sort-of fitting on the chair...you get the idea. It's very interesting to me to see the binding of a ligand (for example, a hormone) to a protein (a receptor that receives the hormone on the cell surface) taught from the angles of biochemistry, cell biology, and biomolecular engineering and modeling. I feel like I know the subject, but really, I know it in four very distinct ways...it makes you wonder what you would be missing from the big picture if you were only attending one of those classes.

My second class was a "Eukaryotic Cell Biology." This one is going to be really interesting, for they hold you responsible for GOBS of material - think 200 pages in a textbook per lecture. Lecture is two hours long, and it's really cool to see the concepts taken above and beyond what I know (although two hours is looooooooong...eesh). The other portion of the course is a discussion day, and on those days, we spend the two hours all thoroughly analyzing two or three academic papers (about twenty students total). Now, you'd think, "Oh...two or three papers...piece of cake! I could do that in my sleep." Oh how wrong you would be. They call on us randomly to explain figure legends, ask us "why the writers didn't include a negative control?" or "can you expand on the results? what else can be inferred from this figure?" It is intense. Even after spending about eight hours with these papers prior to lecture, I still feel as if I missed so much. But, that's the idea...they are giving us a crash course in how to read papers effectively, efficiently, see through the crappy data, and come to scientifically meaning conclusions. I am truly a fan of this class. It's with almost all biology students, but I do have a pal in Fernando, a second year BE student from Portugal.

My next "class" is actually a seminar period, and during this time, two bioengineering professors present their work and talk a little bit about what it means to be in their lab and pretty much convince us that we should work for them. It's really a great process, because not only do they feed you, but you also get a feel for the breadth of research and exposure to quite a lot of different lab settings and projects. This goes on all first semester, and I will be meeting professors individually, seeing their labs, and talking to their graduate students before finally choosing a lab to work in this December...it's in effect a five year marriage, so you want to choose carefully. I have no idea who I want to work for, so this is a really crucial time-consuming process that needs to happen.

Class number three is called "Analysis of Biological Networks" and it's all about -omes. Most people have heard of the genome, which is basically a catalogue of DNA - the stuff that stores what you look like, how many liver cells are in each node of your liver, etc...However, there are many other -omes that catalogue other parts of the process that connect DNA to a physiological product in your body. For example, DNA has to be changed into a protein to be useful, but this is a complicated process with lots of players. It's kind of like an assembly line putting together a car - there are lots of different physical parts to the car, so if they're not working, the car won't work right. But, you also have to keep in mind that the machinery putting together the car has to be working correctly, or otherwise you will still have a broken car. So, studying the -omes is kind of like studying car doors, or the mechanism of the arms that attach the car doors, and so on. It's complex, and really quite fascinating. We also have to write a grant proposal for this class. Just what I wanted to do...seriously.

My final class is called "Biomolecular Kinetics and Cellular Dynamics," and this one is my engineering class. I get to do lots of math and programming, of which is kind of daunting, but I think with a lot of work I'll be able to handle it. I have to sit in the very front of the room to be able to see and hear and make sure I'm taking things in, but that's ok. The front row is for cool kids.

As expected, by that first Friday, I was sufficiently fire-hosed.


Former MIT President ['71-'80] Jerome Weisner coined a colorful and often quoted description of the MIT educational experience:

"Getting an education from MIT is like taking a drink from a fire hose.''

So, some students decided to take an actual fire hose and hack it to a drinking fountain in front of the biggest lecture hall on campus during finals week...and the phrase has reached verb-dom, and it's something you do hear around campus.

After such a week, and talking more with other graduate students about classes and such, I decided that four classes plus choosing a lab is a terrible idea. Absolutely awful. So - I ended up dropping the biochem class, mostly because I have had biochemistry, and I have not yet taken an official cell class, and the rigorous manner in which they break you into reading academic papers I think is really the way to go. So, with three classes, and lots of seminars, plus orchestra, I think I'll still have a pretty full schedule this semester. It should be fun!