This is Why Physicists Are So Chill

If you are like me, and have a BS in Zoology you don’t use but cherish because for two years you got to cram your head with facts that come up in truly inappropriate moments at cocktail parties, you’ll know about monkeys.

Specifically, about monkey studies. Psychologists and animal behavioralists LOVE to do studies on monkeys, specifically chimps but also other species, because it’s a close enough derivative to humans that we feel we can draw conclusions but not so close that it will put people in uproar. (The fact that it isn’t technically humans gives some people the license to treat these studies like their horoscope: fully acknowledging those that conform to their ideas of appropriate and discarding the rest like a Tootsie Roll out of one’s Halloween stash).

I accidentally enrolled in an animal behavior class once and had such a good time I enrolled in a few more, this is why despite a declared major in Zoology with what was supposed to be an emphasis in Marine Biology I actually took things like Cellular Mollecular Botany and Evolutionary Genetics: the last two years of college are a smorgasbord and I was an ideal candidate for Overeaters Anonymous. I digress…

One study I’m reminded of constantly was done with (surprise!) monkeys: the effect of a routine, a schedule, on their daily lives. That is to say, your Control group (the group you aren’t fucking with, as it were) gets awoke at a certain time. They get to play at a certain time. They get fed at a certain time. They go to sleep at a certain time. Day in and day out, this schedule does not vary. The Test group (that would be the group you’re fucking with) has a supremely erratic schedule: they never awake at the same time, the time and distance from one activity to another (and, indeed, the order) changes around a lot, etc. Both groups get adequate sleep time and proper diet…. the only thing different is the time at which these things are allowed to happen.

The Test Group will go insane (in a self-or-others injuring way). Every. Time.

One of my mottos is to Encourage Entropy. This is with tongue placed firmly in cheek to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that Entropy Always Increases. (The first is the Law of the Conservation of Energy: Energy can neither be created nor destroyed). But basically the second law states that disorder/chaos, or Entropy, in a system will always increase. Chaoticians love this because that is the sort of butterfly flapping its wings in China that brings the stock market down theory they love to tout (see Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park). I like it on the ‘If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them’ method: left to my own devices I will create an environment so rigid for myself that any disruption therein will send me into a fit of OCD cleaning or some other expression of discomfiture. If I remind myself that there’s a LAW that says it’s supposed to happen, well, then, I’m just obeying the law. And as the Male Person says, I’m a total goody two shoes and will obey the law. In this case, I’ll encourage it along. While cleaning.

Lately the entropy in my life has been increasing at a rate I’m a little less comfortable with. The schedule was set, was changed, was messed with, was righted, was slightly shifted, was slightly shifted back, and is now in some form of stasis for a couple of months until the next round of shift negotiations occurs. The good news is any potential upcoming shifts are likely to be suitably telegraphed, the bad news is I have no idea what they are as of yet (there are, of course, reasonable assumptions and contingency plans).

The Entropy Erratic is furthered by an upcoming change in profession, for which I am very excited, proud, and honored, and totally will talk about it once it’s final. Trust me when I say it’s a move up, and over, and I’m full of technical squee, but we’re not there yet. I think, however, we can all agree that shifting jobs within a company means for a very weird transition period, one I am in currently, where I am leaving job A (and having to download all of my stuff to someone(s) else(s)), and arriving at job B (where I am no longer hot shit, I am not even a lukewarm fart, and I need to learn everything anew). Entropy, in effect, is getting a dopamine rush.

While I do have a reasonable confidence level (about 95%, plus minus 3%) that this will all calm down around mid-December, I am in turn reminded of the Third Law of Thermodynamics: basically, you can’t freeze anything to a total stop. You can slow it down a lot (a total lot!) but the Entropy will always be there, even if you get all Kelvin on its ass. There’s a certain peace in that.

For those of you wondering: there are actually FOUR laws of Thermodynamics. The Zeroth one — yes, it goes 0,1,2,3; like I said, physicists — basically states if you have 2 systems in thermal equilibrium with a third, they are in equilibrium with one another. The practical application of this in terms of my life is that if things are cool at work and things are cool at home then things are cool with me; I continue reminding myself that this law comes *before* the one about entropy increasing.

Show Your Work

I’m sitting at the dining room table with my son, answering work emails and working on a power point, while he does the 3rd grade equivalent: Math homework. Right now they’re making change (e.g.,” Jose walks into a store with $5 and buys a yo-yo for $2.58, how much change should he get? What’s the fewest coins he could receive?”) (My personal take is Jose shouldn’t be ripped off $2.58 for a yo-yo, that he could probably get a tall latte for that, but that’s another matter).

The problem we are currently facing is the predisposition to guess and/or intuit the answer. Whilst this works about 75% of the time — well, more like 83% of the time — the remaining 25-or-17% of the time it doesn’t. And he marks a wrong answer, and it gets caught in the check (read, Mom review).

Then begins the inexplicable cascade of numbers, Rainman-style, that come from my son: “42! 13! 79! No mom it’s really 12!”. And then I utter the dreaded phrase: “Show your work.”

My brother and I were raised by engineers — Gandalf help us — and thusly hated this phrase ourselves. We *knew* the answers, to sully the page with scribblings that were really academic — literally — to the proceedings seemed poorly required. Oftentimes we’d get grades come back with a B — A for accuracy, but alas we hadn’t shown our work. A deep and abiding distaste for the phrase “Show your work” started. To us, the ANSWER was the beautiful thing. Why show the bones of your effort?

As I progressed up the math chain — I can’t speak for my brother, as I wasn’t around much in his advanced schooling and he would have found me unbearable had I been — I discovered the grade value of “Show your work”. In calculus, and especially differential equations, showing your work can show how you were totally on the right track until step 34, when you saw a deer. Or something. All of a sudden your “C” becomes a “B” and when your GPA is riding on it, this becomes a Big Thing.

When you’re in grad school and you’re funding your GPA it becomes a Really Big Thing. The only class where “Show your work” was a detractant was the Legal Environment of Business, in which I kept confusing what was Right with what was Legal, and I got ding’d for “irrelevant ancillary notes” (true story). On the flip side, I’ve noted that the mark of a really, truly excellent lawyer is one who has the “Brief”, briefly, but with a million annotated facts and appendices, clearly marked, at the ready.

I sit here with my son, nagging him to show his work. He will totally thank me some day when he’s a lawyer.

I Just Run Here

I went for a run this morning which, due to a missing mile marker, ended up with me running an extra mile (this is a good thing, as I was singing and having fun). The lake is gorgeous on a crisp morning like today, and the trail is full of joggers, runners (there’s a difference), walkers, dog-runners, dog-walkers, cyclists, etc.

For the Cyclist: I know what it’s like. Yes, I do. Not just in general — I’ve done some biking in my time — but specifically on the Lake Sammamish Trail, because I went biking on it with my friend Kevin when we decided that biking on the East Lake Sammamish road was a bit like playing frogger with two wheels. I know riding on gravel requires a little more concentration (just a little). This does not, however, excuse you from omitting “On Your Left”, “Left”, or a simple bell warning. I *am* rocking out to the Foo Fighters, but not so loudly that I couldn’t hear you if you said or did these things, so when you whipped up past me you scared the [deleted expletive] out of me.

[Editor’s note: rant aside, this particular cyclist pulled over to take a pic of the lake — which is gorgeous, by the way — and when he did, and I ran past, I said, “On Your Left”.  When he eventually got back on his bike and passed me again, he did say “Left”. And so that lesson went well, I think.]

Lining the trail, sometimes on one side only, sometimes on both sides, are very large houses. Living on the lake is as much a status symbol as living in Medina or Clyde Hill or Mercer Island; the real estate prices reflect this status symbol (I do not live on the lake). And, as with any area you are likely to have a lot of people wanting in on the exclusivity, the houses are jammed together. You will actually see a 4- or 5-thousand square foot mansion with a four car garage about five feet from the neighboring mansion. To preserve individuality, however, these fine folks all differ wildly in their home construction and style. You thusly see the Craftsman, the Spanish-style, the Modern, and the Traditional all a-jumbled… and then maybe someone’s plot of land where they’re in fresh construction, and no discernible style is evident yet.

The original trail was actually a railroad, and when the railroad was decommissioned it became a trail, much to the angst of a lot of the homeowners. They didn’t WANT a bunch of strangers trolling through their front or back yards, so many put up fences. In many cases, they had to put up two: because of the lay of the land, you often see large mansion on the lake side, and then the garage for said mansion on the street side (across the trail), and fences “protecting” each. Ergo, you’ve just arrived home with a large grocery haul, you must park your car, open a fence, close it, cross the trail, open that fence, close it, all to get to your mansion.

And if a runner stops and asks you if you want help with said groceries, apparently the proper mode is to look at them in askance, reply with a puzzled “no”, and continue trudging along to your mansion. Clearly, the runner is part of the problem.

For any runners coming up my hill when I’m navigating from car to kitchen with loads of groceries — if you volunteer to help, I’ll totally take you up on it. Even though I don’t have a mansion.


As part of that non-work, non-home, non-PTA poo I previously referenced, I’m knee-deep in documents: big documents, little documents, documents that climb on rocks. Documents that must be scanned, annotated, pdf’d, and emailed. As a result of this — which, I must note, has lasted four weeks now and shows zero signs of letting up — I have learned many things:

1. People who have presumably gone through enough college to acquire a JD are still susceptible to amazingly huge gaffes in grammar, logic, and facts. This is not my person, but someone else’s person, and the fact that this person makes as much as he does makes me weep for the MFA’s of the world. Those sorts of leaps of logic/creative spellings should reside firmly with unicorns, fairies, and unpronounceable pseudo-worlds.

2. My boyfriend’s bulimic cat can immediately sense these, and will puke in disgust (I’d totally join her, but the carpet cleaner couldn’t handle it).

3. The household HP Scanner will lovingly scan each document as an INDIVIDUAL jpeg, to be hand-converted to pdf, and oh you have to rotate them 180 degrees (sure, you could try to feed your documents 180 degrees differently — and discover the HP Scanner then becomes bulimic of its own accord).

4. There is no easy (read: free) software for annotation, so I must send my [descriptive noun redacted] a detailed, bulleted email about the scanned documents. She loves this (at slightly under $300 an hour), but it goes against my norm of power-point “SmartArt”, and I end up involuntarily twitching.

5. The household Scanner is not on the network (still), and so I must do the weird braille method of re-attaching its USB connection to the male person’s machine.

6. Waiting for the aforementioned household scanner will cause you to read your Facebook feed with more interest than you have had in a few weeks, and you will therefore discover Wil Wheaton Collating, making your mind both euphoric and in danger of its own personal Warp Core Breach.

7. All of those people? Who you kinda told but didn’t really about the poo, and the stress, and the non-eating-sleeping-and-general-bowel-dysfunction (oh, wait, TMI)? They totally meant it when they said they were pulling for you, as evidenced by the forty-two customized email messages through various media inquiring as to status of poo and whether poo was in fact, gone.

For the record:

The poo is kinda gone…the stench lingers… and after October 19th I’ll officially hope the fan has kicked in. Really could’ve used a courtesy flush, but it didn’t happen.

In other news, it’s 16 days to my birthday, can I get a pony?


For an athiest (or really really militant agnostic), it’s hard not to be pleased with the universe when things go your way. Today was one of those days, and I took ridiculous delight in simple things: parking spot dead center in front of the grocery store, everything I bought managed to be on sale, someone came to retreive my cart just as I unloaded the last bag into the car, I had exactly the $7.10 cash in my purse that I needed to grab lunch. (I had to deal with some things today that meant I didn’t sleep much and couldn’t eat, so naturally once they were put to rest I was starving).

Naturally, I’m hoping the good luck will extend to just one more thing.

During the course of the day I was given 3 raffle tickets to win an iPod2. I think that would be pushing my luck, though 🙂