September 1, 2006


I think I've got all the analysis worked out for my thesis - yay! I've still got a lot of writing to do, but I really feel like I'm almost there.

On the employment front, I'm still waiting to hear if the job offer is a go. It's a new position that's being created, so it's taking longer for approval. We'll see...

In the middle of all this, I'm also thinking about life post-student and apart from the University. Pretty weird for someone who has listed "student' as her profession for soooo, soooo long.

A tiny part of that is moving my blog from the U to another host. I've set up shop over at under the title of Uncertainty Analysis. Some of the stuff I'm posting is old stuff (primarily travel pix), but I'll be posting new stuff over there from now on.

Thanks to everyone for all of your comments here and, of course, for the amazing support you've given me. Catch you on the flip side...

Posted by rigd0003 at 1:29 PM | General

August 29, 2006

Sights of summer

Lots of things happening here. I think my adviser and I have cracked this last bit of analysis. I've got a bit more of set up to do and will run it tomorrow and find out. Also, I had a very promising job interview last week. It came completely out of the blue from someone I interned for a few years ago. I'm really excited about it, but I won't say more until I know for sure.

In the meantime, I thought I'd post a few pictures of goings-on in our back yard this summer.

Gardenia bloom

This a beautiful bloom on our gardenia plant. We received it two years ago as part of a wedding gift. It's been a trooper to survive the Minnesota winters -- we bring it inside, but it isn't exactly tropical in our house in January. It had buds on it fairly early this summer, but they just sat there closed for the longest time.

Then, during the hottest, most humid, most miserable stretch of weather when everything (and everyone) was withering, the gardenia was in its element and unfurled its blooms to celebrate.

Among the regular back yard visitors this year was a newcomer. A baby bunny found a home among the flowers and plants. It has been fun to watch the little fellow grow up.

Baby Rabbit

We didn't have a lot of free time to spend in the yard this summer, but there was one area that we gave attention to. There was an overgrown patch in the back along the alley, between our garage and the neighbor's. It was something we saw every time we left the garage and when we came home again. This was the year to do something about it.

We dedicated a weekend to weeding, soil preparation, and planting, then another weekend to put in a border. I decided to go with annuals, since if we didn't like it, we could start over again next year.

I think it turned out very well!

alley garden

Apparently, others did, too.

Alley Garden Award

Our neighborhood council encourages alley beautification projects in the form of an annual alley garden award. It isn't a real competition, just recognition for a nicely planted and well-maintained plot of alley real estate.

A few weeks after planting, we were notified that we won an Alley Garden Award. And a few weeks after that, we found a little blue award flag planted among our flowers. Even though it's a little thing, it was very nice to receive an award. And in our 'rookie' year, no less!

Posted by rigd0003 at 10:50 AM | Pix

August 10, 2006

Birthday Serendipity


I had two serendipitous moments today, both relating to my thesis.

First, I'd been feeling stuck for the past couple of days. I am working on a way to translate this new model approach I've designed into a computational model. This is the last part of the last revision of my thesis, and the phrase "always darkest before the dawn" comes to mind. I've got the logical steps of the model down and now I need to figure out how to represent that in the analytical program I'm using. It's not really a huge deal, since I'm using a very simple add-in to Excel -- not like I'm writing my own code or anything -- but it's proving to have its own challenges.

I'm working on trying to attribute human cases of Salmonella illness among the various food commodities to identify where most of the Salmonella is coming from. Now, there is a lot we don't know about where Salmonella is and how it works its way through the food production systems. It's a bit like a black hole, really. What I'm trying to do is identify ways we can nibble away at the edges of this black hole now, with the data we have, and how we could get even further with more information and better data.

Cutting to the chase, I had come to a point yesterday when I realized I needed to account for all the different combinations of foods the cases had been exposed to just prior to getting ill. I was pretty sure I new how to puzzle this out using simple probability rules, but I went to my book to make sure.

I learned that what I wanted to know was the number of subsets that exist for the nine food categories in my model. It turns out there is a shortcut to calculating this: it is simply 2^n (2 to the nth power). So I learned I would be working with 2^9 = 512 possible combinations. As I continued reading, I also rediscovered how all of these combination ideas fit into Pascal's triangle. I say "rediscovered" because I had learned about Pascal's triangle in math class, but I don't think I really appreciated its beauty until now.

But I haven't even come to the real serendipity yet. There were also a couple of lines in the combinations section that I skimmed over and then re-read, concentrating on their meaning: "A subset may be chosen by deciding for each of the n elements whether that element should belong to the subset, or not. There are n successive choices to be made, with two possible choices at each stage." Those two sentences have given me an idea for a whole new way of setting up this analytical structure -- one that may save me the step of having to create all 512 possible combinations.

The funny thing is that when Ben and I were carpooling into work this morning, and I was complaining about being at a complete mental logjam, Ben said that I would come up with a great idea today to get me unstuck.

Maybe it's all due to birthday karma. Which brings me to serendipitous moment number two.

I don't make a habit of reading my horoscope. But today I decided to see what my birthday horoscope said. Here it is from The Washington Post. (I didn't know the Washington Post had horoscopes, but they do, filed under "Arts & Living".)

Leo July 23 - August 22

For Thursday, August 10 -You have been moving forward on a new goal for quite a while, and should start seeing real progress today. If you don't feel like you are far enough along then backing out of this situation is not an option. You are in the thick of things, and you might as well keep on going -- things will start looking more promising soon. Right now you can try to get more comfortable with your surroundings if you understand the processes going on. Ask a few questions and get informed.

© 1996-2006.

Yes, of course, horoscopes are all about writing something vague that appears to be personal, like the horoscope is directly speaking to you. But even though I'm not a believer, reading it today did give me a nice boost. I especially like that first bit about moving toward a goal for while and starting to see progress. Keep the good mojo working, baby!

Posted by rigd0003 at 5:31 PM | PhD Process

August 7, 2006

Still here, still writing!

Typing at the laptop

Still here and writing like crazy trying to finish the dissertation. I've discovered that finishing up a thesis is very deceptive. You start with a finishing marker -- you can see that marker and you know where to go. Or at least you think you do. As you make your way to that marker, what looked like a straight path is actually a very winding one. It's like being one peak over from the last peak. You've only a valley and one last climb to do, but you didn't notice all of those darn switchbacks!

I've been working closely with my advisor on tying up some loose ends in this Salmonella attribution model I'm creating. I've finished the final refinements to the logical construct, now I'm working on the final tweaks to the analytical construct.

My goal was to be graduated this summer. But certain problems arose in some of those 'loose ends' that didn't tie up how I thought they would. My new goal is to finish all of my responsibilities -- a complete draft of the thesis -- by the end of summer and send it off to my committee. I'm sure there will be revision work to do before I can defend, but I feel like I really have that final marker is sight!

Posted by rigd0003 at 11:05 AM | PhD Process

June 27, 2006

Consolidation Countdown

I posted an article back in April about consolidating your student loans to lock in the interest rate before it goes up on July 1. Haven't done it yet? Neither did I, until two minutes ago! Yes, I'm a horrible procrastinator, but thankfully the process was smooth and easy after I cleared up a problem with my PIN.

The whole consolidation thing had been looming over me for the past couple of weeks, but I kept putting it off. Yesterday, I decided it was finally time to get it done, since I only had until Friday to get it in under the deadline. I have some old loans through Sallie Mae, so I needed to go to the National Student Loan Data System web site to get the necessary information to plug into the consolidation form. To retrieve the information, they ask for your information and your PIN. But when I entered my PIN, I kept getting an error. I even went to the Federal Student Aid PIN site and requested a PIN look-up.

I got a little worried when they confirmed that the PIN I was using was the one they had on file. Why won't it work? Is the site broken or overloaded? What if I couldn't fix it before Friday? And then, of course, I couldn't help but feel immense guilt at not having done this months ago...

But then the extraordinary procrastinator's luck I've had most of my life kicked in. I called the student aid 800 number and got right through to someone after pressing "2" for PIN help. I explained my problem.

She asked "and you got the error message after putting in your 4 digit PIN?"

I replied, "No, I got the error message after I put in my 6 letter PIN."

Apparently, the PIN I'd been using for years -- the PIN I was issued by the FSA -- is no longer accepted on the NSLDS web site... they only accept PINs that have four numbers. Fortunately, that was easy enough to fix. You can change your PIN right on the web and can even set it to a number of your choosing. It was odd -- and frustrating -- that there wasn't a note about the incompatibility on the log-in page.

But now I'm all consolidated and happy and ready to procrastinate the next big thing...

Posted by rigd0003 at 1:11 PM | Frustrations | PhD Process