Thursday, February 16, 2012

Back Friday

Taking a little break today. Back on Friday.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Happy deskware: Scout Creative's free pop up calendars

Scout Creative makes my desk a happier place to work

I have completely fallen in love with these papercraft monthly desktop calendars designed by Scout Creative. They are super fun, very cute and, best of all, utterly free :) You can collect your free calendar on their site on the first of every month, or you can subscribe to their email service and they will deliver it right to your inbox. Either way, you are supporting a nifty company and making your desk a more liveable place to work :) This month's calendar is a chicken coop :)

Scout Creative is a content marketing firm that specifically designs papercraft promotional items. They make all sorts of cut out and papercraft toy designs that are designed to promote, say, movies, printers, company entities..etc. They have even made little stand alone paper toy patterns for Disney. Very, very cool.

For the last year-ish, the company has designed a free paper craft monthly desktop calendar. My favorite in their archives is the July campfire scene, but the April record collection is pretty cool too. Browse their archive. The designs are clever, little color bursts that are a little tongue and cheek. They've already made my month...and I finished a PhD in the last 30 days.

Silly thing - it never occurred to me before finding these calendars that there are companies out there that produce papercraft promotional items. When I was a kid I loved, loved, loved cutting these sorts of patterns out of cereal boxes, folding and pasting. When I was doing my Masters, I even went so far as to buy a really complicated cuckoo clock pattern from a store, and assemble it. It took months, but it supposedly worked when assembled. I wouldn't know. I got the whole thing assembled, but couldn't afford the $20 of pennies that I would have had to put into the weights to get the clock started. The paper clock hung on the wall, and the weights sort of hung around my apartment. Still, that experience did not take away from my love of these little patterns. Can you imagine how much fun designing these crafts? If this science thing does not work out, maybe I'll do this for living :)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day: gifts for your sweetie when you are completely broke

PC hearts H
Photo credit: hard to tell. Found on

Did I mention that H and I are on a $10 a day food budget right now? Just the luck of the draw, really. While I'm in forced unemployment, the running of the household is highly dependent on H's ability to snag overtime hours at the office. Due to how his office bills clients, he has to work additional hours to be eligible for overtime pay if he takes a paid vacation day. The the poor guy has to work like a demon all the time while my income has been reduced to very little.

We are very broke. While I'm not one for Valentine's day romance (blech...I really dislike canned romance of heart shaped boxes, red roses and prix fixe), we do like to spend a little extra time with one another the day before (NYC is a hot mess on Feb 14th) and we did get married this year. I'm still filled with fond, goofy, post-wedding feelings for H and I would like to give him a little gift, despite our very limited means.

So, I've decided to take a note from Jenny Steffens Hobick's Everyday Occasions and make him a little bag of sugar cookies, with royal icing designs. I'm going to print her adorable and happily free "Be Mine" tags, and affix them to a little bag of personalized cookies. I think I will make my cookies a little bit more psychedelic and little less rosebud-oriented. Her site has lots of other really cute V-day ideas worth checking out, if you want to do something a little extra special for your sweetie.

PC hearts H and H hearts cookies

Just in case you are interested in doing the same, here is the recipe I use for iced sugar cookies below.

Sugar cookies (for shaped cookies)
2 cups sifted flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup of butter (1 stick), room temperature
1 cup of granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

Sift together flour, salt, baking powder. In a separate bowl cream sugar and butter until fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Add the the flour mixture to the creamed mixture. Stir until combined (do not over stir). Chill the dough until firm (about an hour). Roll, cut out shapes and rechill. Bake cold cookies at 325, for about 10 minutes or until the edges start to brown.

When the cookies have cooled completely, you can then ice them with royal icing. Royal icing will start to harden quickly, and should be completely hard in 20 to 30 minutes.

Royal icing
2 large egg whites (or 4 Tbsp of meringue powder and 3 Tbsp of water)
1 pound icing/confectioner's sugar
juice of 1/2 a lemon
food coloring.

Pretty straightforward - combine until smooth. I usually split it into a few batches to add coloring.

If you want the effect of a full, smooth coat of icing, like in the pictures above, outline the cookie in a slightly thicker icing using an icing bag or a little plastic bag with the tip cut off. Then take the same icing and thin it slightly with water - so that it is just a little, tiny bit runnier than the outline icing and gently pipe it into the space left by the outline. It should smooth itself out, and harden in 20 minutes. Before then, though, you can throw in thinned icing in other colours and make little designs.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Long for the gritty New York of old days? Volunteer

"New York used to be real, man...."
Photo credit: me

Occasionally, I let the bitter rantings of 45+ year old aging hipsters that spent their 20s getting mugged on the Lower East Side and reading White Noise like it was the Tamud convince me that I have led a fluffy, simple life in NYC and haven't the slightest idea what it's like to live in the "real" New York.

..and then, always, something like this happens to remind me that they can f#$( themselves.

Most recently, an NYPD officer kicked open a door in Bronx apartment, entered without a warrant and shot an unarmed 18 year old, who was flushing marijanua down the drain, in the chest.

When these flashes of serious violence and corruption happen, I inevitably get angry. I'm not just angry about the circumstances that lead to these events. I get angry at the aforementioned 45+ crowd who lament that New York is no longer "real" or "gritty".

To those people I always want to scream that I actually commute through and work in these neighbourhoods. I pay 4 times the rent that they did when they were my age - controlling for inflation. I've spent my prime earning years earning a low wage in the most expensive city in the Western world during a decade that has not seen an increase in the mean income of people in my tax bracket. I'm experiencing the down sides of NYC full frontal, without the benefit of dancing in underground clubs in junkie neighbourhoods until dawn and capitalizing on vague connections to Keith Haring. I live as a pi$$ poor scientist in a city that has a Alicia Silverstone-sized crush on artists. I have shared zip codes with some of the wealthiest people in the U.S., yet I can't count the number of times I've had to negotiate late rent with my landlord or argue for lower fees with doctors because I was starting out with an employer that commonly has 13 week delays in payment. I traverse some pretty low down neighbourhoods. I've had hard financial times here.

I've seen some real desperation and not one bad thing has happened to me because despite my tough time starting out, I always had the opportunity to live happy and most middle-class people do. I suspect that some of the longing for "gritty New York" is actually a longing for past youth on the part of my aging hipster friends. There is nothing romantic about a Time Square filled with prostitutes, or living here during City's peak murder rate years. Nothing. I can't imagine why anyone would wistfully long for those tough times.

To my aging friends, longing for the "real" New York. Don't worry, you are here. Unfortunately, the terrible things that happen to others point us to where the gritty still lives. If you really long for the gritty old days, you don't have to travel far. I suggest that you take that energy and volunteer to help out neighbourhoods like QueensBridge and the South Bronx.

New York Cares is a volunteer organization that runs projects in such neighbourhoods every week. Put your cynicism to use and head out to Bed-Stuy to assist in an arts program, or volunteer to tutor in Manhattan. Paint a school. Do one is interested in hearing you wax poetic about the former filthiness of East 10th street, but someone out there is interested in what you might be able to bring to an after school sports program.

Saturday, February 11, 2012



It has been a long time coming, but the day arrived. I am a Ph.D.

It's a strange feeling, knowing that my graduate school days are over. I've done all the graduate school I can do. I don't think I've ever really gotten to the end of anything before. Certainly nothing that, I hate to say it, feels this profound. It's a stage of my life that is simply done and I'm so happy that it is.

I've spend the last 8 years chipping away at a degree that should have been much easier than it was. I had three completely different sets of dissertation advisors while here. There have been lab shut downs and abuse and mess. There have been fantastic times too - new loves, friends and interests and games. I do wish that the science side had been more fulfilling, but I do have a career ahead of me. There will be plenty of time for good science from here on.

I've spent years away from the people that mattered - missed birthdays, Christmases, weddings and funerals. I racked up debt, and lived miserly to pay it off. I tried my best to take advantage of New York City, and spent months at a time locked up writing and struggling to complete a dissertation I'm not really satisfied with. Still, the best dissertation is a completed dissertation. I am happy to have finished it.

I had a chance meeting in a Far Eastern country last year. A very powerful researcher noticed a question I asked at conference. He followed me out of the room and offered me an interview. Around this time last year, I flew to his lab, here in the U.S., and met a really fantastic group of people. I was offered a great job - a career making job...cover of Nature and Science job. A few months later, it fell apart.

Since that time, I have been completing my dissertation, papers/publications, giving talks at conferences and labs, submitting grants and fellowships, and interviewing left and right. No offer has really matched this offer, except one. While it may work out, my completion of this degree is tempered, somewhat, by the uncertainty of what is next. I am unemployed, a PhD, 15 pounds heavier (dissertation weight), publishing off my work and desperate to work on something new and exciting. I'm trying to celebrate every day with little breaks I cut myself. For example, I no longer sit in front of this computer until the wee hours. I close it down and give myself an hour of no work before steps back to normalcy :)

So, while I am no longer in grad school, I am still here, on a budget and making the best of it. I just have to think up a new tag line "graduate student" no longer applies.

Little things :)