Category Archives: Science

Five Links for a Friday

OK, maybe it’s not quite Friday for everyone yet, but here’s a random collection of Cool Things I’ve Seen on the Internet This Week, in no particular order and for your viewing pleasure.  If you are Facebook friends with me, some of these might be repeats.  Apologies.

1. A North Carolina State Ph.D. student turned linguistic data from around the United States into a pretty cool series of visuals.  I just can’t get them to embed (which is OK, because 22 is too many anyway, and you should really just click on the link).  Beyond the “soda” vs. “pop” debate, the graphics explore the many pronunciations of “syrup”, where people are wearing tennis shoes vs. sneakers, and what names are given to that big crowded road without stoplights.  If you’ve lived in the US for any length of time, go have a look. It’s fascinating!

2. I often struggle to find the right balance between being confident, humble, and modest.  I (and many people, especially women <— broad generalization, please don’t hurt me) tend to err on the side of “I’m sorry”.  All of which is to say, you should listen to this TEDx talk by Dyana Valentine about why she’s NOT sorry.  [Also, it involves chocolate covered potato chips.]

3. A former classmate of mine from Drew University is a mover and shaker in the Cambodian-based accessories company basik 855.  She and her team work with local artisans to produce traditional ikat (an intricate, locally-woven fabric) and turn it into trendy accessories.  The company is built on the basic tenant of respect for their artisans, and the belief that their labors should help them build a better life (ie, basik 855 pays fair wages and benefits to their employees).  Essentially, its an awesome mixture of socially-responsible entrepreneurship and chic accessories.  If you’re inclined, check out some of their products.  Pretty neat!

Mostly, I wanted to share the awesome work they do with you.  Optionally, you can also check out their Kickstarter campaign, which they are using to raise funds for their 2013 Fall line.  The link also includes a video where you can see the team, and learn a bit about their products.  [PS I’m not sorry for using my blog to help spread the word about their work!]

4. Sierra Trading Post.  It’s hit-or-miss (their inventory changes), but if they’re carrying something you already love, you can often get it for a pretty sweet price.  During their National Running Day sale on Wednesday, I managed to snag two Moving Comfort Alexis full-length tops, usually about $35-40, for just $20.  Keep your eye out for their free or 99¢ shipping offers, too.

5. Heck, I was gonna add a fifth, but it’s an almost-summer Friday (or almost-Friday).  So go out an enjoy yourself!!

What are you NOT SORRY about today?

Seen anything noteworthy on the internet lately?

Why Getting Started Is The Hardest Part (and what the dishwasher has to do with it)

A few mornings ago, I found myself avoiding a dishwasher full of clean dishes. The “Clean!” light was on, flashing for attention, but I ignored it (if I don’t look at it, it’s not on, right?).  I ignored it while making breakfast, while emptying the dish drainer, and while tidying up the rest of the kitchen.  I ignored it while having breakfast, and when I dumped my rinsed but dirty breakfast dishes into the sink, and as I sat down to start my work.

An hour or so later, I stepped into the kitchen to reheat my coffee. Ah yes…still blinking!  My standard coffee re-heat time is either 1:11 or 1:23, depending on my mood.  [I run many miles at a time, but please don’t ask my fingers to move an inch more than necessary over that microwave keypad…]  I briefly considered how to spend the next 71 seconds.  I could…

…stare at the microwave. [Boring.]

…eat pineapple tarts.  [Tasty, but I have a 2-tarts-per-day limit, and I didn’t want to eat my whole allotment before 10 AM.]

…clean up the…nope, the kitchen was already tidy, see above.

…well, since by that time there were only sixty seconds left, I figured that it wouldn’t kill me to empty a few items out of the dishwasher.

So, I pulled open the door (take that, flashing light!) and got started.  In fact, I got the whole bottom rack emptied, dishes put away, before the microwave finished.  And guess what? It wasn’t so bad.  [Shocking, right?]  In fact, it was so “not bad” that I decided I would just go crazy and empty the whole thing.  Not doing so just seemed…stupid, really.  And about 2 minutes later, I was finished: Order was restored to the kitchen, and I had a hot cup of coffee.

So what’s the point?  [Because I know that you didn’t come all this way just to read about my dishwasher.]

The point is that, sometimes, you just have to start. Whether your goal is to empty the dishwasher, tackle a work project, do some home organization, or get out for a run  – just start.  Set a timer for 2 or 4 or 10 minutes, and dig in.  Make the first part seem as easy and accessible as possible, to help conquer your initial reluctance.  Once you get started, you’ll probably find that whatever you’re doing isn’t so bad, and you won’t really feel so inclined to stop.

My muse.  And we're actually quite spoiled - very, very few people in Singapore have one.

My muse. And quite the luxury here – very few people in Singapore have one.

I’m a science-nerd at heart, so when I think about this phenomenon, I think of two science concepts.  Let’s take a quick look (don’t worry, this will be painless!):

Concept #1: Energy of Activation (of a Reaction)

The starting materials (reactants) are on the left.  Some initial input of energy (upslope) is required to get the reaction started.  Then, the reaction begins (peak), and as it progress (left to right), it releases energy.  The products are at a lower energy than the reactants, so this is a spontaneous reaction.

The starting materials (Reactants) are on the left. Some initial input of energy (upslope) is required to get the reaction started. Then, the reaction begins (peak), and as it progresses (left to right), it releases energy. The Products are at a lower energy than the Reactants, so this is a spontaneous reaction.

Concept #2: Static Friction > Kinetic Friction.

Friction is the force that resists two object moving against each other.

Static friction is friction between two object that aren’t moving (a heavy box sitting on the floor).  Kinetic friction is friction between two objects that are moving in relation to each other (that same box sliding along the floor).

Static friction is generally greater than kinetic friction – In other words, a greater initial force will be required to start the box moving, but once you’re sliding it along the floor, less force will be required.

Both of the above examples involve situations where a higher input of energy is required to get started, then a lower level of energy is needed to maintain the activity.  It works in chemistry, it works in physics, and it will work in your life.  So what are you waiting for?  Just get started!

Is there anything hanging out on your To-Do List today that needs a “just get started” jumpstart??

More Than Just a Pretty Picture…

We’ve all heard the complaint: “Social Media *Insert Name* is so fake.  People only put up photos of scrumptious-looking food, cute babies, and vacations.  They never write about the hard stuff (or ugly babies), and they just try to make their life look perfect.”


See? Stonehenge. I can post vacation photos with the best of ’em.

For the record, as long as your content is legal and respectful, I support your right to post it.  And I have no problem if you carefully cultivate what you post.  After all, social media is a public realm, and you don’t “owe” me any information you don’t want to give out.

That being said, I want this particular forum to be open and honest.  I’m writing this blog for a few reasons, including:

  1. To share some of Singapore, and my life here, with friends, family…and anyone else who cares to read my ramblings;
  2. To help those that I e-coach get to know me a bit better; and
  3. To provide some information, motivations, and inspiration (mostly with respect to athletic endeavors) to anyone who happens to stop by.

I don’t further any of these goals by only sharing the good, hilarious, and delicious bits.  So sometimes, you may just get some tough, sad, and bitter bits, too.   If you don’t like them, just politely spit them into your napkin, or leave them on the side of your plate.  I won’t know the difference.

Shrimp & veggie tempura

Date night wasn’t all crispy, light, delicious tempura. (Ichiban Sushi)

What will they look like?  Well, it depends.  But mostly that I’m a real person, living a real life, and sometimes I face real (albeit “first world”) challenges.  Let’s take date night with KMN as an example.  From the snippets I posted yesterday, our evening looked all fun and happy and delicious.  Indeed, it was – but toward the end, it digressed into a Holly Therapy Session, when I had a small breakdown over my relationship with science.

You see, for those who are new(ish) here, I have a PhD in Biochemistry. I actually sort of adore science, and teaching/sharing/exploring/learning about science.  Experimental science can be a cruel master, but seeing proof of a never-before-known/considered/demonstrated phenomenon for the very first time affords its own kind of high.  So does wracking your brain to figure out why something isn’t working, then coming up with an elegant/clever/MacGyver-esque solution.  I love shooting the s–…errr, science, with other scientists, tossing around ideas, hypotheses, theories, and questions. I advocate for science and research whenever possible, and am thrilled when a “non-scientist” nods and asks a relevant questions after I explain what I study.  I am the child of two educators, and science is in my blood.

Unfortunately, my graduate school experience was less than stellar, in oh-so-many ways that we won’t belabor here. Let’s just say that science – and especially graduate school – can be a very humbling experience.  And for someone who’s placed a fair bit of her self-worth in her academic success, it can also be a degrading experience.  When all was said and done, and I finally defended my thesis, I felt three things: relieved, cynical, and just plain beaten-down.

That was when KMN and I took a bit of a sabbatical to do some traveling.  Then came a summer in LA before we moved out to Singapore in October.  For the last 2-3 months, I’ve been settling us in to Singapore (I’m seriously awesome at assembling IKEA furniture), preparing for the holidays (cookie making champ), prepping and launching a coaching business (lovin’ it), and “looking at but not touching” too many job postings for scientists.  [Don’t worry – no plans to leave the coaching realm any time soon.  I just don’t know if it’s a full-time job for me.]

I fully admit that I’m privileged to be able to take this time without a strong, steady income – all thanks to my incredibly hard-working husband.  This is time that most newly-minted PhDs don’t get, as grad school doesn’t allow one to amass much extra savings.  So, they run directly from PhD into the arms of a post-doc-dom.  For better – or worse – I’ve had some time to consider this at greater length and with some extra perspective.

But now, the time has come: I want back in to science.  Where?  Well, that’s much harder to answer.  Research still calls to me, but the academic system is broken, and I’m not sure that I have a long-term future there.  Teaching is a second option, but better in Singapore than the US, if you aren’t running a research program too.  There are other kinds of opportunities, to varying degrees, in industry and business.  What will be exciting, fulfilling, and provide long-term opportunities, in Singapore – and in the US, if/when we return?  And that’s about where I lose it – every single time.

I’m overwhelmed by possibilities, and afraid of making the wrong decision –  or maybe even the right one.  I’m afraid I won’t get hired, and I’m afraid that I will.   I’m afraid it will be the wrong job, that it won’t be a good fit, that it will be awesome but only on a 2 year grant, that it will cause me to resent science more, that I’ll love it but then we’ll move, that in 3 years I’ll be right back where I am now.  Sometimes, the possibilities, fears, and uncertainty of it all gets so overwhelming that I close the 16 zillion search windows on my computer and put my head down on my desk.  I suspect that this just means I’m normal.  But it doesn’t mean that I won’t sometimes lose it at the end of an otherwise lovely dinner date and end up with morning-after puffy eyes:

Holly with puffy eyes


Thankfully, my husband is a man of great patience.  In an attempt to inspire and refocus me, he turned to running analogies.  I don’t remember the examples that he used, but I hopped on his train of thought.  I thought back to the times when I was in Serious Training Mode, facing a really hard workout. Starting a few days before, I used to worry and stress and grow increasingly anxious about how – and if – I’d be able to finish the workout.  Finally, I’d had enough, so I made a deal with myself: I refused to give the workout any more power over me.  I refused to worry about it for days (or even hours) in advance.  I’d do my part – rest, eat, hydrate, pull on my sneakers – then, I’d give that workout all I had.  I wouldn’t let the worry rule my life – I’d bide my time, then look it in the eye, and kick its butt.

So that’s the plan, folks.  I’m making the decision to hold the doubts, fears, and uncertainties at bay as best I can.  I’m going to put my best foot forward (ha, ha), believe in myself, and explore where this path leads.  It might be hard or painful sometimes, but I know that handling those parts will make me stronger.  I will keep moving forward, one step at a time, with as much faith, confidence, and grace as I can muster.  Because really, the journey is what will prepare me for the destination.  

Running is the teacher.  I am the student.  Lessons abound.

Any tips for avoiding those puffy, morning-after eyes?

How about lessons learned in unexpected places?