Thursday, March 8, 2018

La multi ani!

I am thankful for the wonderful women in my life. I primarily thank my mother. She has always been there for me -- helping and supporting me in everything I have done or tried to do until now. It's been a hard year for her, and I am so grateful she is still able to handle it all. I've always thought that if there were angels on this Earth they'd be like her, and like my grandma had once been.  On the left is a picture of Edward with the paper roses he built for me for mother's day under the guidance of his teacher -- another strong woman who works very hard to teach them all she knows. The roses are amazingly beautiful. On the right is Silkie, our hen. One of the chickens she raised this summer is lame. This evening she seemed to help her and keep her company even though the chicken is now a grown hen. 

My children are growing up so quickly, it's hard to keep up. Edward is first to wake up when the alarm rings. He actually gets up and gets dressed instead of turning it off and going back to bed. He gets to school on time and wants to be there every day to not miss out. They even have fancy shirts now that they wear  for end of year plays in school and when they go to the theatre, and look so grown-up in them. As much as I complain and try to get them to do more around the house and to do they homework on time, I hope they'll manage to stay happy and care-free for a little longer. That's partly why I've hanged on to our little zoo and refused to move out to yet another country.

Below are some pictures of my mother, Edward and David from before the winter. We are all eagerly waiting for more sun.


David's letter

On mother day, all children in David's class were asked to write a letter to their mother. This is David's. I translated it from Romanian.

Dear mother,

I would like to see you as soon as possible. How are you and Danny and the rest? what's new there?

We have 2 goats, I don't know how-many chicken, 2 ducks and a quail.

Last summer there was a great storm. We had to change the tiles on the roof. I believe it's because of global warming. I heard there were fires in California. Did you have any storms?

I heard the ice is melting. This means the ground could go up or down by as much as 50 m, which is not a problem other that California and other parts of Earth will go under the sea level and sink.


He genuinely shows the approach we all take. Yeah, the ice is melting, no big deal, CA and other places might sink. Move on to doing whatever we do every day.  Note his mother lives in CA.

So many forests are cut, our politicians deny global warming AND promote work that increases carbon emissions. Somehow there is nothing we do to stop this cycle. Like with the war in Syria, we read the news, ignore and move on. Since the water is warm, there are bound to be more storms this summer. I wonder how bad it will get.  We are trapped in virtual reality (the internet, money, random stupid paperwork) and as we become more and more disconnected from the world we live in, it's becoming extremely hard to make changes that have impact in the real world.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

A new epoch?

I wanted to write something more meaningful today, but I don't seem to find the energy. My father had a stroke a month ago. His right side is paralysed and he is bed-rid now. I am not sure if this is the beginning of another epoch or an end. He spent some weeks in the hospital, which were particularly hard for my mother. He is slightly better now that he is home. He started talking again today and immediately asked for his phone.  The person who helps lift him said he could live for many years like this without much recovery.  He is a bit like a child now. When my mom took the cats to be spayed, he commented it was time away from him and that she probably cared more for the cats. He also gets bored, but refuses to get help in moving various body parts to become more mobile. He still enjoys his food. He stopped drinking now that he cannot get out of bed. 

Mihai came when the stroke happened and again to help take him out of the hospital. It helped. My father is the kind of person who did not take care of himself, but somehow grips onto life. We hope he'll recover or at least live a little longer to be with us even if he is ill. We met one of his former employees from the hospital. She said "Oh, doctore, cel mai frumos si destept doctor din spitalul militar! Ce-ai ajuns!" (Oh, is that really you? The handsomest and brightest doctor in the military hospital?). He used to head an office once upon a time. He reached the highest rank-- that of colonel -- while being fair to the people employed. 

 My mother helped him fight death a number of times. This time the recovery is slower -- it's a stroke that went fairly deep. The fact that the hospital sedated him a lot did not help and neither did it help that he was not fit to being with. He used to be fit once upon a time. When I was Edward's age, he could lift all three of us at once (Mihai, my mom, and I). After we moved to Timisoara, for the next 20 years, he worked in the hospital during the day and built a house in the afternoon & weekends. The ultimate goal now is to be able to stay in a chair again, and then to re-learn to use the bathroom and eventually a wheel-chair. However, it hurts to move after being in bed for weeks and he is like a child and finds it difficult to bear pain and exercise. I do not know if this epoch will last years or months. 

To add to the misfortune, Devina, our beautiful white goat, died. We were all heartbroken, and unfortunately, figured out that being a veterinary is harder than it seems. The chickens and the other two goats have survived the winter to date. The former create a surprisingly large number of eggs. We had eleven on David's birthday, and joked that the chicken knew how old he is.

Edward and David are sick this week. It could be the "Slapped Chick syndrome"  It started this weekend when David complained of being cold and a bit dizzy. On Friday he had fever and it kept going up and down all weekend. On Sunday, Edward was showing the same symptoms -- only he had a rash on his cheeks that went away after that day. The fever is still on. So, they were all home from school and there was snow, which is no fun when they are sick! But there is always an up side: my yard finally looks clean because it's all white! It won't last, though.

James had his fever when we returned from England. I mumbled a seminar on atomic clocks and volcanoes on Valentine's Day in Portsmouth while dressed in red. James was sick in our last day there and on the way back. I am hoping it's the same virus. 

Last week was better. Edward and David saw their first play at the Opera House in Timisoara.  They came home very excited -- roaring a lot. Their favourite person in the play was The Beast -- they watched "the Beauty and the Beast" for the first time. They kept roaring daily until the fever appeared. When they got sick, they became very disappointed their throat hurts when they roar. The neighbours might be temporarily relieved.  To cheer them up, I showed them the disney movie. They then became disenchanted with the play because the movie seemed more real to them (and a bit better). We discussed the history of the story. It's apparently 4000+ years old (a tale almost as old as time). 

I am going to sleep now, but perhaps I can get up in the morning and work.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Happy New Year!

It's 2018! This summer it will be ten years since I received my PhD from Cornell University.  I used to think of 2018 as being in the very far future. Growing up, movies portrayed the far future by involving flying cars and robots. David is talking to his phone in the other room asking "what will the weather be". So, while car-flying is still unsafe, we search the web constantly for advice. We consult the world wide web instead of simply looking at the sky or asking the neighbor next door for an opinion. The future from old movies is not very far off. As cars become self-driving they will be tracked precisely and perhaps made to fly. Machine learning is teaching robots to be human, and will progress in time.

My future so far is with my children. James is one, Edward is seven and David is ten. This month marks the first year when I have not been working since I started to work at 18. Yet with three children, I have had less time than ever before. I have often felt like a failure. My house is never clean. The children don't have very good grades. My yard and garden are a big mess, and I have been screaming and complaining to and of the aforementioned children way more often than I should. I have two shirts and two pairs of pants that I have been wearing day after day and a dress for when it's really warm in the summer. Most of my clothes are impractical for home-life and stay in my closet or in various bags. Nobody really cares how I look. It does not make an impression on the children or on the animals. Although, one of the roosters attacks me more when I wear my red pants. Most houses in the neighborhood are empty or populated by older people without children or with grown children elsewhere. Oh, and in the first week of the year I managed to lose my mother's purse with her driver's license, ID and car documents in the short distance of taking it from the car to the house. However, everyone is healthy and plenty of things happened this year.
    David and Edward on Mars

  • Some of the men in my life and Marcel
    The year started and ended in Lugoj because it's where the children go to school. Both Edward and David passed their examinations and are now firmly in third and sixth grade. They have learned a lot, and will continue to do so. Many of the subjects they study in school are not interesting enough for them. So, their grades are far from perfect, but then perfection is for heaven if there is such a place. If I ever I get there,  I want the saints to remember that I spend most of my time this year when I was not putting James on his potty doing homework with either Edward and David. Even though most of it is in German (they attend school in German for continuity's sake after coming from Switzerland), I still don't speak German well, which gets me back to being a failure. 
  • I submitted the paper on measuring planetary spin from space-craft tracking After constructive interaction with referees, it was published in the Frontiers journal.
  • We spent February in Tenerife and celebrated one year after the first gravitational wave detection and David's tenth birthday. I wanted the children to see the ocean again, and get a bit of sunlight in midwinter. Edward, David and Andy climbed their third volcano. Mount Teide is the third highest volcano on Earth with a summit at over 3700 meters.  Its caldera was formed some 180 000 years ago through movement of the tectonic plates that caused a gap. Mount
    Teide grew in response.   The children loved the Mars-like territory and the pumice rocks that still had air trapped in them. They float and were warm to the touch. I mostly stayed 'home' with James and my parents in our rental from Icod de los Vinos. We saw what they claimed is the oldest tree in the world,  some plants from the same family as the dandelion that grow into trees, and lots of chicken living by the road-site and in a Cactus garden near the house. In Galapagos, similar trees grow to be hundreds of meters tall, and bring moisture from the clouds to the islands.
  • Sometimes you can buy love -- animals are quite easy to purchase and they love us almost unconditionally. In June we bought Lady Edward (or Edwina Cleverbrain), Lady David (Davina Cleverbrain) and Lady James (Jamesina Cleverbrain) from the village of Tormac. They can open doors, untie knots and even eat with a fork. They avoid mud puddles, which makes them cleaner than my children, and unlike James, they do not eat food after it falls on the ground. Our guest for the holidays is Marcel -- a male goat. He stinks (most male goats do), but is very friendly. He is, however, not as smart as our ladies. He belongs to the director of the hospital here. He even has eagles and vietnamese pigs and more goats than us, which shows that I am not the only educated person in the area with animals. Today Andy went to the veterinary Farmacy and asked for preventive worm medicine for farm animals. They gave him some for cows because as an American they thought he must be a cowboy. It made no sense to explain he was a professor somewhere and so instead he said "no, I only care about goats. Does it work for goats?" (note that Andy is almost always very serious when he speaks and this was no exception). So, the person at the counter wrote in black the goat dosage: 10 ml/goat.
  • I am the editor of a new topic in Frontiers that is trying to attract more women to publish in its pages. 
  • We went hiking with Ed, Gab and Werner

  • Mihai and I gave invited seminars in Majorca at the Einstein Toolkit Meeting & Ed fest. Edward Seidel was my first advisor. He turned 60 this year and he and Gab remain persons I deeply admire. Ed still climbs mountains better than me and is responsible for connecting science and industry for universities in Illinois. It was fun to see physicists again. James took his first steps there, and has had his picture taken with Bernard Schutz, Gabrielle Allen, and other world-famous scientists who shaped my understanding of the world once-upon-a-time. 
  • I gave a seminar in Southampton in November. James and I also attempted to help Andy settle in his new reader position at Portsmouth. Andy's new apartment has lots of steps, and before he turned one, James learned to go up and down steps there. The departments at Southampton and Portsmouth are still largely intact after our visit. We are planing a second visit to Portsmouth in February.
  • I submitted a fellowship applications to be able to join Andy in England. If I pass the first phase, I will have to go for an interview. It will break my heart to leave Lugoj again, and tear all the little roots the children have built here. This year is marks the first time when Edward wants to go to school because he has friends there. On the other hand, we will have to spend some of the year there, and we cannot do so without health insurance. It's easiest to get if I work. 
  • the 3D boson star code from 2006 works on modern computers. While Gregory Daues, Jayashree Balakrishna and Christine Corbett-Moran and I are still debugging, we are aiming to produce a paper by the end of February and release the code so that other people can build on it by the end of April. My first physics project involved boson stars. Much of what I have done recently is to go back and try to revive old houses. I am now trying the same with technology/code. The equations have not changed and so it should not be too difficult if I can find the time to work, which is very challenging for me.
  • In December, Edward, David and I published our third book for children: You, me and the dinosaurs. This book is more theirs than mine. Mihai criticizes it for not being deep enough, but depth comes with age and the children and I like it the way it is -- for now.
Somehow I still feel the need to motivate my choices so that if I am not around to tell them or if I forget, my children understand why I made them. Also, plenty of people ask these questions and it's only fair to provide answers now and then.

Have I always lived like this when in Romania?
No, my parents are doctors. We've had cats and dogs when I was growing up, but but no farm animals. My grandparents had a few chicken. My grandmother and great aunt were mathematicians. My grandfather was a silvic engineer. They lived in this house before me. In fact, I've never had a goat myself before finishing my second postdoctoral position.

Ok, so are all Cornell graduates crazy? Cornell is in the US and after all and that country has a "very stable genius" for president. No, while I do not guarantee everyone's mental faculties, my former classmates from Cornell are goat-free and chicken-free. I know this from Facebook. Some have faculty positions, some have positions in industry and some teach at other levels. 

So, what's wrong with me?
I am using these animals to connect my children to the real world. When I go to school for updates on their behavior, we are told that children today are three years ahead of us. Teeth grow faster, puberty happens faster, and I backed up a bit in an attempt to slow down this time I have with them. Once we moved to Lugoj, Edward's teeth stopped falling. In Zurich, before he turned six he had changed both upper and lower teeth. We still eat food from the store, but some comes from the market (at least in spring and summer) and some from the trees in our back yard. The eggs are from our chicken and the milk from our goats. I hope that they will grow up to be healthy and have the courage to change the world. To prepare for this we travel, do math, read, and take care of things-- animals, plants, etc. They are children, and so my mother and I do close to all the work (David does milk Devina and Edwina twice a day), and I always worry we strive for too much, but somehow I am not able to stop. I also worry about their future in world where our leaders are too old to lead and cannot adapt and understand or support new technology. They destroy to stay in charge, plunge countries into pointless wars and take decisions that affect us all.