Thursday, July 31, 2008

Warning--economics being used for a purpose other than originally intended...

Ross and I are going to the Czech republic next week to attend the wedding of one of my best friends in the whole wide world (hi Bro!). While we can't technically afford this trip, we've decided to go anyway. There is a short list of people whose weddings I am NOT allowed to miss, and this is one of them. So off we go--and we'll have a fantastic time, I'm sure.

But this brings up an interesting point--namely, being a graduate student is strange (note that this is different than saying that graduate students are strange...though that is also usually true). It is strange because of the kind of social limbo it leaves you in. Though we are students, we are clearly not kids. I own a house, have two cats and a husband. Most of the day, I sit in an office in front of a computer, just like the average late-20s office monkey. Undergraduates, on the other hand, drink peppermint schnapps straight from the bottle, yell obscenities at 2am, and play drunken slip-and-slide on the front lawn. (Although, now that I think about it, drunken slip-and-slide doesn't sound half bad-- aside from the whole throwing-yourself-at-the-ground thing). On the other hand, we are not quite adults either. Between us, we make an amount of money that nearly qualifies us for food stamps. Neither of us owns what you would call a "professional wardrobe" and my usual summer work uniform includes shorts and a beer t-shirt. I often wonder why anyone would pay me for what I do.

But that's not the strange part--I mean, plenty of people make less money than we do, live a more student lifestyle, have jobs with an even more lax dress code etc etc. The strange part is that all of that will change in a blindingly short span of time. In a little over a year, I will be making something on the order of 3-4 times my current yearly salary. My department will pay for me to travel. I will occupy and office with fewer than 4 other people. I will easily be able to afford all of the Things ( much as I hate it, four years of graduate school has taught me that I do want Things, even if they aren't the traditional huge car, McMansion kind) that I've put off buying. And I will probably have to stop wearing beer t-shirts to work.

On the financial side, this anticipated bump (if you can call a 300% increase a "bump") in my income makes it difficult to be too concerned about debt today. In economics, we have an idea called "consumption smoothing." Basically, if you expect your income to increase, you should borrow and spend some of that future money now. The reality is obviously a little more complicated (credit card companies are evil, after all), but I'm trying out a new mantra: consumption smoooooooothing...consumption smoooooooothing.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Things Kate hates #432: "Red Noise"

"Red Noise" is what I call the high-pitched whine emitted by some electronic devices.

Red noise is amazingly common, and becoming more so as electronic devices invade every conceivable nook and cranny of the world. I often leave a restaurant and discover that I was feeling cranky at dinner because one of the 700 billion electronic devices was buzzing its way slowly and inexorably into my skull. The library uses red noise to scare birds away from its gigantic windows. Even the brick for my laptop produces a whine when it heats up.

I once spent a week searching for the source of an extremely loud, high-pitched noise in my living room. No one else can hear it, which lent a certain tinge of insanity to the whole thing (I have unusually good hearing for someone my age--I had to get a hearing test because I have terrible tinnitus and my hearing is "extraordinary"). After unplugging nearly everything in our (tech-heavy) house, I tracked the noise to the mini touch screen monitor connected to our server, which we now leave turned off unless we're using the computer.

The latest whine in my life is particularly unusual, because there isn't even a physical device involved. It accompanies the financial report on CNBC (I don't actually watch said financial report, but it plays on the tv at the coffee shop I frequent)--they have a neon (slime) green slider graphic, which creates a whine every time it slides back and forth. I know--a digital graphic of a slider doesn't actually slide and thus the slider itself doesn actually make noise. But that's kind of the point--there is absolutely no physical reason for this graphic to make a noise, and yet it does.

So my question is, why don't businesses work harder to eliminate these noises? Is it just that they don't know about it (though surely the 19 year old restaurant wait staff can hear it?) or do they not care? Are young people just less likely to complain than old people? Do they figure that enough Red Noise will eventually yield White Noise?

Anyway, I'm starting a revolution. I just wrote an email to CNBC about their stupid graphic. Die red noise! Die!

Friday, July 18, 2008

...and pretty girls all in a row

Our garden has been progressing by leaps and bounds since my last report. We lost a few plants to a late frost in May, but the rest are thriving--and we've almost doubled our cultivated area since then.

The biggest part of that area was freed up when I dug the last half path (you can see our general scheme in the picture above--three long beds, divided with two paths and capped with a shorter horizontal bed, which is behind the camera in this shot). This gave us two more half beds to work with. Ross used the first to try out a new planting system of his own devising--he dug a series of shallow sub-beds, separated by long thin mounds. He filled the sub-beds with more hot pepper seedlings, and cauliflower and broccoli seedlings and on the mounds, he sowed lettuce and kale seeds. This system seems to have worked really really well! Elevating the fast growing seeds let him mulch around the slow-growing seedlings right away, and the plants won't shade out the lettuce as quickly this way. I wish we'd done all of our beds this way. It would have saved a lot of weeding.

Those seedlings all came from the batch that I grew inside this spring. We don't get much indoor light at my house, so the first seeds to germinate reached sun-ward somewhat pathetically, and eventually sprawled all over each other in a big tangled mess. I needed a way to get them more light, so I rigged up a makeshift indoor lighting system out of three lamps (shades removed), a bench, two overturned garbage cans, the lid from a large rubbermaid box, several cardboard boxes, and a buckets of homeowners insurance. I think that the combination of bare light bulbs and combustibles made Ross nervous (he didn't go so far as to disassemble it, but he did start keeping a glass of water within reach on his nightstand) but it did keep the seedlings from doing the too-little-sun limbo. Unfortunately, the lights were so hot that I couldn't put them close enough to the plants--the heat of the bulbs sucked the moisture out of those little plants quicker than Daniel Day Lewis with a milkshake straw. Next year, I'll just give in a buy a real, honest-to-god set of grow lights. Or maybe a local pot head will have a garage sale...

Anyway, we have more seedlings than we know what to do with, including a whole passel (herd? pod?) of hot peppers, which served as a nice replacement for the plants we lost to frost. If all goes well, we should have a bumper crop of colorful peppers later this summer. It will almost (almost!) make up for the fact that I couldn't find seeds for my beloved hatch chilies.

On both sides of the garden we planted potatoes next to the fence. Our fence is only 3 feet tall, and the deer view it more or less the same way I view a sneeze-guard. But I figured that since the leaves of the potato plant are poisonous, the deer will at least have to work a bit to graze on our garden. They've really taken off these past few weeks (the potatoes, not the deer), and pretty soon we'll be able to cover them in straw (again, the potatoes, not the deer). I read somewhere that if you cover your potato plants with straw after they flower, they'll produce potatoes in the straw as well as underground. Since you only have to dig through the straw to find them, they are really easy to harvest that way.

Next to the potatoes we planted two rows of onions, and next to the onions some little bitty purple basil seedlings. (they deserved a chance after they fought their way back from the grave inside).

My mom clued me in to planting legumes (tall and thin with lots of small leaves) with melons (ground hugging and sprawling with big sun-sucking leaves) so I planted a double row of snap peas among our ambrosia and water melons. They are currently sprouting and remind me of an orderly line of school children. Pretty soon, we'll have to put up a trellis for them.

We were skeptical of our special "cold climate" artichokes, but they seem to be enjoying the Michigan summer. They are already looming over the lettuce we planted between the rows. I'm still doubtful that we'll get artichokes before they plants are killed by frost, but it would be really cool if we did. A farmer visiting Ann Arbor from upstate told us that artichokes are largely a weed in this climate. The normal varieties don't grow fast enough to produce artichokes in our short growing season--and since they're a relative of the thistle, they can be extremely difficult to get rid of. Ours are supposed to be annuals. I guess if we see artichokes in this plot next year, we'll know that we were wrong.

The eggplant are not doing as well as we'd hoped--we lost two to frost, and the remaining two are growing really slowly. These are called "black beauty, which seems a bit arrogant for a vegetable.

Most excitingly, we've gotten our first harvests! The first to come out were the mustard greens and radishes, followed by the curly green lettuce you see around the artichokes in the picture up above.

We ate the radishes on salad--they're spicier than the ones you get in the grocery store, and beautiful with their bright white centers and deep red skins. I'm sad that some of them got away--we let them sit in the garden for too long, and they became caustically bitter. We'll be more on top of it next time.

I fried the first batch of greens (mustard and radish) in bacon fat and studded them with bits of Polish bacon. The second set I cooked with some onion, garlic, and balsamic vinegar and served to folks at a barbecue. The last of them I blanched and froze for another day.

We've also started to get peppers (two long deep green ones, which we picked before I left for chicago but I didn't get a chance to take a picture of). Soon we'll have more tomatoes than we know what to do with. It's amazing what FULL sun will do for tomatoes--last year our plants reached 7 feet tall and we got less than 10 tomatoes. This year we have ten times that many so far--on plants less than 3 feet tall.

I love our garden. If it wouldn't make me a terrible wife/catowner/graduate student, I think that I would spend every day there. I've always loved growing flowers, but vegetables are even more wonderful. Close up, they're even more beautiful than flowers (witness the number of pictures in this post) and...well...they make me feel maternal.

As much as you can feel maternal towards something you will eventually eat.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Pantry Raid

The backstory: I've always hated the pantry in our kitchen. The shelving inside was poorly laid out, and we really couldn't fit all that much inside. Here is the photo I took at our housing inspection 3 years ago

This photo is also a nice illustration of the overall look of the kitchen before we moved in. The woman in the picture is the last owner--she tried that wall color on two walls before deciding it was a terrible idea and giving up. We painted over it before we even moved in. The light fixture was also terrible. It was ugly as sin (strike one, brass...strike two, random curlicues...strike three, frosted glass globes) and Ross was always hitting his head on it (no small thing when the attachment between the fixture and the ceiling is a solid brass rod). We replaced it with a more attractive, lighter (read: more head-friendly) fixture from IKEA. It now looks like this (although we have a different picture hanging on the wall):

Anyway...since the pantry was near useless, we were using a set of wire shelves, which made the already-cramped kitchen even harder to use (I don't have a picture of the shelves, but there were three of them, and they took up one entire wall of the kitchen).

The objective was to redesign the pantry to make a useful space and get the wire shelves out of the kitchen. Ross tore out two little bookcase-style shelves in the pantry. We planned on 4 new shelves, about 12" deep and spanning the entire width of the pantry. The nice man at Lowes cut two pieces of birch plywood into four shelves. Ross cut some narrow wood into rails for the shelves to rest on, leveled them, and screwed them into the walls. Meanwhile, I painted all of the shelves. We had one slight hitch with the painting--when we went to buy a second can of paint, they sold us "base 5" instead of white. It took us a while to figure out what was going on, because while it looks white in the can, it goes on basically clear. Anyway...after approximately 42 coats of paint and a truly heroic amount of cleanup on Ross's part, we have our new pantry:

The bluish glow you see near the top of the picture is the battery-powered led light Ross installed (read: stuck to the door frame) to illuminate the top shelf. We installed the rack on the door almost as an afterthought--there was plenty of room for it, and it adds an appreciable amount of storage. The bottom of the pantry houses the recycle bins. The cat in the foreground is looking for stray bits of kibble that Ross might have missed when cleaning the floor.

If you are really interested in pictures of our pantry, Ross has posted more here.

Triangle of Desire

Triangle of Desire, originally uploaded by rcoconnell02.

The wireless network at the Kellogg school of business won't let me upload anything to any server (or download my mail to Thunderbird...grrrr) so I still can't get the pictures into the garden post.

However, I can give you this great picture that Ross took of Maggie and Roxy Anne. Note the relative positions of cat, kitten, and tail.

Bad decision in 3...2...1...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

GAMES 2008: the Revenge of Nash

Just a note to say that I'm on the road again--I'm attending a really great conference in my field, which has an almost comically megalomaniacal title--The Third World Conference of the Game Theory Society: GAMES 2008. Last week I was explaining to people why I was going out of town YET AGAIN, and had considerable trouble making myself understood. Is GAMES 2008 a variation on comic-con? Do you have to wear a wizard hat? It does sound a bit dramatic, given that we're mostly doing math..and is that the Third World-congress, or the Third-world Congress?

Anyway, the talks have been great and I've been getting some great research ideas. But there aren't many graduate students here, and try as I might I couldn't find anyone who wanted to go to a I'm kind of stuck in my room tonight.

I'm staying in one of the dorms on campus, which was apparently designed by evil trolls. The buildings are squares with a courtyard in the middle--basically one long, square hallway stacked on top of another. This would be ok (every room gets a window...albeit at the expense of a whole lot of wasted space) but the architect/troll made no effort to distinguish one side of the square from another. Every hallway is the same as every other hallway, which makes it very difficult to keep track of where exactly you are. Moreover, every door is identical to every other door--it took me 10 minutes of wandering around, trying random doors before I finally found the bathroom.

More irritating is the fact that only two of the four corners on this floor have a stairwell, and of those two corners, exactly ONE takes you to an exit. And since all four corners are FUCKING IDENTICAL...well, let's just say that Lewis Carrol couldn't have designed a better rabbit hole. This morning, I set out looking for the exit, tried a few doors, and suddenly found myself back outside my room. Creepy.

So here I am, a bit bored, but afraid that if I leave the room I'll never find my way out. So I guess I'm warning you that you might be getting more than one blog post tonight (if I can manage to make the wireless work--otherwise you might not even get this one). I'll start with the garden post that I've had completed for a week except for the pictures stuck on my camera. Then...well...we'll see how bored I am. You may get that wedding post after all.

(By the way, this is one of only two events I've been to where the line for the lady's bathroom is SHORTER than the line for the men's (the other was RAGBRAI...most cyclists are men). I had kind of gotten used to the fairly mild gender gap in economics as a whole, but economic theory is a whole different can of trout. I'm used to being in the minority, but damn...)

UPDATE Getting a connection was harder than it should have been. I braved the magical stairwells to use the wireless at the business school, but the wireless access pass they gave me at registration doesn't seem to work. I don't have an ethernet cord with me, so I'm using the cord in the lectern of one of the classrooms. But I'm pretty sure they don't want me doing this, so I probably won't get the garden post up until tomorrow. Ah well.

Friday, July 4, 2008

More cute kitten pictures than you probably needed...

Ross showed me a way to make a slideshow. So bring on the cute!

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

We interrupt our regularly scheduled broadcast to bring you a scene of unbridled cuteness...

We have our kitten! If you can bear turning the cuteness level up to 11, there are more pictures over on flickr.

And yes, we do have pink bedroom walls.