Sunday, October 30, 2011

Stupid Quote of the Year

I was at a baby shower recently and I ended up sitting next to the aunt of the mother-to-be. She works in public relations, and she seemed convinced that her role as a public relations person made her an expert in every single policy issue and social issue to ever be publicly discussed. Rarely have I been near someone who spouted such a continuous string of stupid comments. Stupid and insulting and false and annoying. But she was the aunt of the pregnant woman, and everyone other than me seemed to be totally enthralled with her, so I was reluctant to make too much of a scene by telling her she was full of it. And holy cow, this woman just went on and on and on.

Spout off about the horrors of bottle feeding, then roll your eyes and nod your head towards the woman sitting right next to you who was actually bottle-feeding her child during the entire conversation? Yeah, that's nice. Explain that obesity is entirely a result of the fact that fat people are also ignorant? Interesting. Complain that all (yes all) working mothers like to pawn their kids off on other people so that they can spend more time drinking lattes at the gym? I didn't know that people drank lattes at gyms, but that one is especially great to say in front of a pregnant woman who plans on going back to work after her baby is born.

But my very favorite opinion of hers is one that I remember verbatim. Mostly because dead children so rarely comes up in conversation at baby showers:

"The worst thing in the world is losing a child. Losing a child is really awful. But there is something that is just as bad as a child dying: a child who disowns his parents. This happens all the time to the parents who put too much pressure on their kids. Harvard and Yale are full of kids who hate their parents. Those parents suffer just as much as parents of children who died."

There you have it. If your kid goes to Harvard, it's exactly the same as if your child died. You heard it here first.

Friday, October 28, 2011


I have not been posting enough lately. Mostly because I have a bunch of looooong posts that I want to write, but not enough time to write them. But the longer I wait, the longer the (potential) post becomes, because it has to cover everything. Vicious cycle. So, in an effort to actually record everything that I want to record, I am going to try to convince myself to do more frequent, shorter posts. Starting with this little anecdote about LL, which I want to remember forever and ever so that I can make fun of him about it someday, and also because it is cute.

When LL was learning colors, he had an awful time pronouncing the word "yellow." I don't know why -- he could do all of the sounds and combinations in other words, but this one word was really hard for him. At first, I thought that he just didn't know the color yellow, but no, it was all about the word. The fun part was watching him COPE with not being able to say it.

At first, he would try to say it, and stumble and stumble over the sounds until finally giving up. Very frustrating for him.

Then he would just cry whenever I pointed to something yellow. This phase was very depressing, but thankfully didn't last long.

Next, he learned an important life skill that will someday serve him well in college: if you don't know the answer to a question, just answer the question that you wish had been asked!

Me: What color is the car?
LL: Blue!
Me: What color is the truck?
LL: Red!
Me: What color is the bus?
LL: School bus!
Me: Um, yes, it is a school bus. What color is it?
LL: School bus fast!
Me: Okay. What color is it?
LL: Say "vrooooom!" Has 4 wheels! Look -- door open here!
Me: What color is the bike?
LL: Purple!

That phase cracked me up, and lasted a long time. Eventually, he realized that he couldn't avoid the color yellow forever, so he made up a new word for it. Out of thin air. He just picked a sound that he could pronounce, and that was his word for yellow. He called it "arr." At first, we thought that he was abbreviating "amarillo," but he informed us that we were wrong.

The "arr" phase lasted quite some time. Long enough that I stopped noticing it, automatically translating "arr" to "yellow" in my head.

And then one day, he said yellow. And then immediately giggled and buried his head on my shoulder. (Adorable!) After that, I would actually hear him looking at books by himself and repeating the word yellow over and over again.

The part that kind of shocks me is that he was actually aware that he wasn't pronouncing it right, enough to be embarrassed about it. Which was weird for a two-year-old. Especially since there are a ton of words that he mispronounces, but this word was the only one that bothered him. (For example, he mispronounces the word milk. It sounds more like "meat." He's been saying it that way for almost a year now. Every so often, S calls it "meat" when talking to LL, and LL gets really mad at him and says, "No, Daddy! No call it that!" He thinks that S is mocking him by pronouncing it in the LL way. But it doesn't stop LL from saying it, and he doesn't seem embarrassed to say the word.)

LL has been saying "yellow" for a few months now, but he still pauses every so slightly before saying it, like he has to concentrate more than with other words. On the one hand, it's very cute. On the other hand, I cringe a little when I see him acting like he's scared to make a mistake. We are generally very careful not to correct things like pronunciation and grammar for him at this age, preferring to just speak properly in front of him and let him naturally absorb language. Not sure why he suddenly decided that it would be bad to make a mistake. In the mean time, every time I hear him say the word "yellow," I feel like a little bit of his babyhood is gone forever.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tough Month for Computer People

I assume you all know about the passing of Steve Jobs. Since his death earlier this month, his face has appeared on every magazine in the country, it seems. In the tech world, he has long had a very nuanced and mixed reputation -- smart, impulsive, controlling, brilliant, obnoxious, insufferable. The news reports this month seem to be focusing exclusively on the positive, heralding him as the Thomas Edison of our time. Like him or hate him, he had an undeniably huge impact on the technological world. It was a sad loss for my field.

Within days of Jobs' passing, the tech world lost another icon, a man named Dennis Ritchie. If you don't work in technology, you likely don't know Ritchie. He wasn't flashy like Jobs was. He didn't lead a company or have much of a reputation outside of technology circles, but he had an enormous impact on the technology that allowed someone like Jobs to create the products that we all take for granted today. Ritchie was instrumental in creating the C programming language, which provides the basis for much of the software in use today, including much of the work done at Apple. Ritchie also helped to create the Unix operating system, the concepts for which provide the underpinnings of both Linux and MacOSX. If you study computer systems, you start with the work of Dennis Ritchie.

Me, I'm not a computer systems person. My field is artificial intelligence. And I just got news that the father of artificial intelligence, John McCarthy, passed away this morning. (As of me writing this, it doesn't even seem to have hit major news organizations yet, but it will.) You're even less likely to know John McCarthy's name than Dennis Ritchie, yet he is a giant in the field. McCarthy literally created the field of artificial intelligence, even coining the name at a conference he helped to organize to bring together people who had started to think about the field, some 50 years ago. And he created the Lisp programming language, a language that many people in computer science still view as the purest, most beautiful programming language ever created. I learned C before learning Lisp, but Lisp was the first language that really spoke to me and made me realize the potential of computer science. Have you been hearing about how Jobs was a genius for adding Siri to the iPhone? Siri is only possible because of McCarthy. I have probably read more work by McCarthy than any other computer scientist. I heard him speak numerous times. I had lunch with him a few times. I consulted with him about my dissertation. He was huge in the field, and huge for me personally.

A very sad day, capping a very sad month. RIP John.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Career Love

My job hunt is officially over. Yay! Those two final round interviews that I had back in August both worked out, and I received job offers from both of them on the same day (a month later...). I negotiated a bit with both places (it really really helps to have more than one offer, so the timing actually worked out well) and ended up with two very good options. Then, of course, I had a hard time deciding between them. (Horrible problem, I know.)

Normally, an advisor is instrumental in helping a brand new PhD get a first job after graduation. I have sent emails to AdvisorA throughout my job hunt and she has never so much as replied to any of them, much less helped me to network or suggested other places to apply. But, because I am an idiot who never learns, I wrote to AdvisorA and asked her for an opinion on the two offers: Company1 or Company2? And she eventually wrote back with gee, I don't know, you should probably work for Company3. To which I had to reply with, thank you so much for your input, but, as you know, I was already rejected by Company3, so that is not really an option. (Why don't you also give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice in it.) And she replied that I should really consider Company4, where she happens to be visiting at the moment, so she went ahead and gave them my CV. To which I had to reply with, thank you for (finally) taking an interest in my job hunt after ignoring me for six months, but waiting until I have two good offers in hand that I need to respond to ASAP really isn't helpful, and besides, Company4 is located 800 miles from where I live and you know that I am not going to relocate so what the hell is wrong with you?!?

So, instead I turned to an old mentor of mine from a job that I had straight out of undergrad. He was several levels above me in the management chain but we got along really well and became close. (Bizarrely, we mostly bonded over college basketball and matzo ball soup recipes.) He has since retired, but we have kept in touch over the years. He has introduced me to a lot of the people that I know in my industry, and he had recommended a few places to apply for jobs, had personally contacted people at a few companies for me, and was generally helpful at keeping my spirits up during this job search. He's a little short on personal boundaries, but I find that endearing. (As an example: when I was working for him, he shamelessly and repeatedly tried to get me to date his son. It didn't bother him at all that I had been dating S for several years already, since he thought that his son was better for me than S. Also, it didn't bother him at all that pressuring a 23-year-old college hire to date your son is wildly inappropriate behavior for a corporate Vice President.) He has been around forever, so I knew that he would have opinions on both Company1 and Company2, and would help me to evaluate the career prospects at both. He totally helped me to clarify how to evaluate the offers, which was exactly what I needed.

So, I finally made a decision, and I'm feeling good about it. The offer brings me into the company at a slightly senior level instead of at the usual new-PhD-entry-level, so it is nice to feel like my work experience pre-grad-school is being taken into account. My future manager jumped through a lot of hoops to make me a good offer, mostly because he is excited about a few of the previous projects that I've done, and he is giving me a ton of freedom to set my own research agenda. And the job has a bunch of life-in-general points in its favor -- great work environment, lots of good coworkers, relatively low stress, no required travel, flexible work hours, short commute.

One of the guys who interviewed me for this job is in charge of the entire research division (a good 3-4 levels above me, and working on the opposite coast from me). I'll call him R. Given the size of this place, there's no way R interviews every new PhD. Also, this is one of those guys who has worked in my field forever and is very very well known. He wrote a textbook for one of my classes in grad school. At the interview, the first thing he said to me is that he is close personal friends with three of the four people who wrote letters of recommendation for me. Somebody noticed the connections I had to people he knew, and showed him my resume, and he knew that he had to talk to me. AdvisorA used to work for him at a different company. AdvisorB went to grad school with him back in the 70s. (He had this to say about AdvisorB, who is the more supportive of my two advisors: "I've known AdvisorB since before you were born. I love him like a brother. He wrote a very positive letter on your behalf, which surprised me, because in 30 years, I've never known him to write a positive letter about anybody!" I am apparently awesome at picking advisors.) And BossLady from my last job co-edited a journal with him for many years. He spent most of the interview complaining about what an embarrassment it is for their company that I had to apply for a job through their website -- why in the world didn't AdvisorA personally hand him my resume, since it is so obvious they should hire me? (Incidentally, I had the same question. When I asked her to make a connection for me, she ignored me.) It's nice to feel loved.

I told this story to my other mentor, and he immediately said, "Oh, it is awesome that you have already met R! As soon as you start the job, you need to send an email to R, tell him that you're excited to be at the research lab, and suggest that you have coffee together next time he's in town. Make him into your next mentor!" Which sounds like a great idea, and I was working up the nerve to do it, when R emailed me himself and suggested we meet for coffee when he's next in town. All good signs, no?

And, as if all of this positive job stuff wasn't enough, I've fielded no less than four phone calls from people at the company whose offer I rejected, including two from the CEO, trying to change my mind. The first one was flattering, the second one as well, but by the end it just felt a little awkward. (I gave them the job equivalent of the "It's not you it's me" speech, and they kept responding with the job equivalent of "Oh come on baby, I can change, just tell me what you need!") Ultimately, the CEO told me that if I change my mind any time in the next year, I should give him a call and he'd extend another offer. Which is awesome, but where was all this love when I started interviewing for jobs months ago?

I start working in December, to give me time to set up childcare for Kermit and finish up all the home stuff still on my plate. I'm excited to start, but also feeling very hormonal about the whole thing, because Kermit is 9 months old and in that super cute phase where I just want to play with him all the time. Haven't even started the job, and already feeling torn.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

9 Months In, 9 Months Out

Yep, Kermit turns 9 months old tomorrow. I'm not feeling very eloquent these days, but I can manage bullet points:

- S and I usually bet on an over-under line for baby weights at well-baby checkups. S picked the line today at 21 pounds, and I took the under, because I thought that Kermit would be closer to 20 pounds. Also, at this age, LL weighed in at a svelt 19 pounds and change. But our tiny little Kermit, who still barely eats, tipped the scales at 21 pounds 13 ounces, putting him at the 83rd percentile. The only time either of my kids has ever been above 80th percentile, it has been for head size.

- Kermit also has a big head.

- After getting two teeth at four months of age, Kermit drooled and chewed for five months but made no further progress. On Monday, I discovered four new teeth. At his doctor's appointment today, Dr. K discovered two more. So Kermit sprouted six new teeth this week, and now has his full set of eight front teeth. That would explain the lack of sleep this week....

- Kermit is crawling. Big time. Nothing is safe.

- Kermit pulls himself up on everything, including things that are seriously not stable. (Ever seen a 22 pound baby pull himself up on an empty laundry basket?) And he's starting to cruise. Dr. K predicts that he will be an early walker. I predict that we are in trouble, because our house is not babyproof anymore.

- Last week, Kermit got his first pair of shoes. They're adorable.

- Any suggestions for how to keep an extremely mobile and extremely oral nine-month-old from killing himself by choking on the toys that your three-year-old leaves scattered all over the house? LL is pretty good about cleaning up his toys, but he is still barely three, so legos and other small parts still end up abandoned on the floor sometimes, and I'm constantly grabbing them moments before Kermit jams them down his throat.

- In the food department, Kermit is lukewarm about being spoon fed, but loves loves loves finger food. Peaches, avocado, applesauce, mango, shredded chicken, and cheerios are the current favorites. Last night, he enjoyed his first artichoke. (Side note: feeding artichoke to a baby is a pain in the butt.) He has also discovered that straw cups are the greatest invention of all time. No matter what he is doing, he gets very serious and concentrates when offered a straw cup of water.

- Kermit responds to his name. It's very sweet. We can't tell how much more he understands, but he definitely knows when we're talking to him.

- He's starting to figure out clapping. Especially after knocking down a tower of blocks, which is the current favorite game.

- Over the last month, we have gradually been weaning Kermit off of swaddling. At first, we were occasionally leaving one arm free. This week, we switched him from swaddling to a sleepsack. He now insists on sleeping clutching his security blanket, which is very cute. But it is taking him forever to fall asleep, because he keeps stroking my face and giggling instead of going to sleep.

- I would say that he isn't sleeping as well since we stopped swaddling, but he wasn't sleeping well before, either. He's still waking up once or twice a night to eat. He no longer goes back to sleep easily, and is often up for an hour or more in the middle of the night. The combination of teething, learning to crawl, separation anxiety, swaddling cessation, and yet another mild head cold have made the sleep problems inevitable, so I'm just hoping that everything happening all at once means that we can move on from it all, too.

- Good lord, I need more sleep. Soon.

- S's parents are visiting this weekend, and they are so excited to see Kermit crawling and playing and being all interactive. Yay!

- In addition to all of Kermit's recent advances, this has been a monumentally bizarre week for me, but I should leave the rest of it for a separate post. Discussions of SWAT team manhunts for crazed gunmen in my neighborhood probably do not belong in the same post as my baby boy's 9 month birthday.

- I love teasers, don't you?