Sunday, 8 September 2019

Monthly Recap: July 2019

I returned from my 11-week J1 in America on the 28th/29th of July, so most of it was in America. 

This was quite stressful to the end because I was putting pressure on myself to finish the project. That
didn’t happen but I’m still working on it here and I got to keep the laptop until I finish it so not too bad.
Funnily enough, stuff I thought would take forever and be really hard actually ended up being fun
(running a grid search that would’ve taken about 80 days to run - I learned to write bash scripts and
parallelised it, splitting it into 208 files and running it with my god-like 208 cores on the cluster). Then
again, one of the things I avoided because it would be hard indeed was hard - getting a set of genes
controlled for gene length and recombination rate and spaced out so that none were closer than 50 kb
to each other. I got it eventually though. 

America outside of work
I was in America for the fourth of July - my aunt finally had a working pool (the riches! the glamour!) so
we celebrated there. I think that week we went down to Cape Cod to visit my cousins, which was really
nice, and they had a pool too so I got to hang out and catch up with my brother in it. Mad how I got my
biggest sense of having family while so far from home. I got back from Cape Cod (on a Peter Pan bus
that took four hours instead of two) and turned up late to a cookout held at Nathaniel, the lab manager's,
house, which was a fun time. The two weekends after that I went to NYC and DC. The week before I left
we had a small goodbye gathering for me at Emilia's house, and then on my last day Alyssa, Fernando and
Kate took me out for lunch at a Thai place and later Madza and I went for ice cream. It was really nice and
I hope to stay in contact with them.

New York City: 12-15 July
I went to NYC and stayed with Carla, which was awesome. We went to lots of places including the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, Brooklyn Bridge, the financial district, the ferry to Staten Island, the Met museum of art and Central Park. Read all about it here.

DC: 20-21 July
The next weekend I went to DC and stayed in a hostel for one night. I visited the Capitol, the NASA festival for the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing, the Smithsonian Air and Space museum and the Natural history museum. Read about that here

I finished the first draft of my novel on the 18th/19th of July, at about 87000 words. I wrote about half a draft five years ago, but the only coherent chunk I found was the first 10000 words so I wrote the remaining 76500 words in the two months between 20 May and 19 July, with help from two writing challenges: 100-for-100 (write 100+ words a day for 100 days, from the Go Teen Writers site) and Camp NaNoWriMo (for which I challenged myself to write 40,000 words in July). I really enjoyed it and am itching to get back into it but know it's wise to leave a draft to sit for a while. In the meantime I'm thinking about other books. It's funny - I had pretty much zero book ideas in five years, but as soon as I started working on this book in earnest I've had four of them.

I finished 7 books in July, which were as follows:

  • How to Lead When You're Not in Charge - * - library Borrowbox app
  • The Quiet at the End of the World - **** - library Borrowbox app
  • The Martian - ***** - library Borrowbox app
  • Communicate Like a Leader - ** - library Borrowbox app
  • Alanna: The First Adventure - **** - bought for Kindle app
  • Creating Extraordinary Characters - * - found on Kindle app
  • Because Internet - *** - bought for Kindle app
You can find mini-reviews of all of them here.

My siblings came over to visit America for 2 weeks, and it was great to see them. I had to sadly say goodbye to my aunt and uncle on July 28, but got to see Leon again which was a plus.

America was such an amazing experience, really. I'm so glad I went even though I was apprehensive the day before. I'm also glad I had things to come back to like my friends here and work in Aoife's lab, so that I haven't had time to mope over leaving. I loved it there but I did get myself fully used to the idea of leaving by the time I had to leave. I wonder why I liked it so much - it was great to get close to my family abroad, and I loved the sunshine and trees, and my coworkers in the lab as well as the space itself (have I mentioned the walls were white/blackboards) were nice.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Book Reviews: June 16 to July 30

I finished 9 books in this period, so a bit over a book a week. These were the last books I read on my America trip, which did wonders for my reading rate.

Two Like Me and You - Chad Gibbs

Finished 16 June, ARC from Netgalley, review here. 3/5.

Ricochet - Kathryn Berla

Finished 27 June, ARC from Netgalley, review here. 2/5.

How to Lead When You're Not In Charge - Clay Scroggins

40881894. sy475 Rating: 1/5
Source: Library Borrowbox app
Date finished: July 1
Pages: 214

This is the second of three leadership ebooks I checked out of the library because Laidlaw has apparently got into my head, but unfortunately it was not good and I just rushed through it to tick it off the list. I know I'm not naturally authoritative so I was hoping to get help with that, but this was about leading when you haven't been designated the leader. In my defence, it did say it would help when you lack authority.

Unfortunately, it turns out the author is a pastor so it was full of Bible quotes and anecdotes scattered with the very occasional good point.

The Quiet at the End of the World - Lauren James

32716442. sy475 Rating: 4/5
Source: Library Borrowbox app
Date finished: July 7
Pages: 352

Teenagers Lowrie and Shen are the youngest people left in the world, born from IVF and living in a world where everyone else is 80+. Over a hundred years ago, a virus made humans infertile, and gradually everyone else died out. Now Lowrie and Shen have London to themselves and 300 other people.

The story is mostly told through the experiences of Lowrie and Shen, but there's also a lot of Lowrie reading through old Facebook posts by people living at the time the virus struck. These were very poignant and realistic, especially the posts urging people to sign a petition to make the government fund fertility research at higher and higher levels.

I really liked this book - I had loved Lauren James' The Loneliest Girl in The Universe - and it keeps making me think long after I finished it. I'm not sure what I think of how it ended but it's definitely worth a read.

The Martian - Andy Weir

18007564Rating: 5/5
Source: Library Borrowbox app
Date finished: July 11
Pages: 369

I LOVED this. It's about a guy who gets stuck on Mars after his fellow astronauts leave, thinking him dead, and has to figure out a way to survive there longterm until he can be rescued.

I loved this because it’s the only novel I’ve come across that felt like it was written for scientists. It wasn’t filled with equations but just little things like ‘I need to get twice as much hydrogen for water’. Weir could easily have made it a melodramatic survival story but he didn’t: every so often Andy would hit an obstacle and just methodically come up with a plan to fix it, which was fantastic. I loved how the book laid out the thought processes. Some of the book is told from the perspective of NASA as they try to get in touch with each other, and the book did that remarkable thing where I resented switching away from Andy’s perspective but then resented switching back! Brandon Sanderson is great at that. 

Funnily enough, when I went to the NASA festival in DC I asked a few of the NASA employees how they felt about it and apparently they all love the author and he spent loads of time there while writing it.

Communicate Like a Leader - Dianna Booher

 Rating: 2/5
Source: Library Borrowbox app
Date finished: July 19
Pages: 208

I didn’t love this book, as it was very corporate-focused, but it did give specific instructions throughout rather than waffling on, which I appreciated it. I did not appreciate the fact that a lot of the instructions were unfriendly to autistic people, being phrased as something like ‘Successful leaders can read body language’. I mean, quite possibly true, but phrasing it as something you do rather than something you are or currently have the ability to do would have been nicer.  

Alanna: The First Adventure - Tamora Pierce

Rating: 4/5
Source: Bought for Kindle
Date finished: July 24
Pages: 274

This was a fun MG read, and I'm glad I picked it up after seeing it recommended on Reddit. It's about a girl who disguises herself as her twin brother so she can train as a knight.

I'm not sure what to say about it, really, except that it was an enjoyable, comfy read, with nice friendships and a fun school environment. I also found it very refreshing that it's very 'tell-y' - writers are always being told to show and not tell, but this story takes place over years so it frequently says things like 'Spring passed and Alanna learned how to do X' - it felt like an oral story and I actually really liked it.

It's weird how so many of the people whose struggles welike to read about are people who are already born into nobility, like Alanna, or who are born with magic instead of getting it through hard work.

(Also, something interesting - I've just started a Holly Bourne book. Holly Bourne has been raved about as an amazing YA writer but so far I'm super frustrated by the teenage girl voice, all oh my god he's so cute, like a sexy ferret - same reason I never read Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, I don't want that overexcitable caling everything supercalifragilistic thing. The book reads incredibly young. Yet this book, which is for a younger audience since it's MG, wasn't like that at all. The characters behaved relatively young but weren't annoying. What gives?)

Creating Extraordinary Characters - Angela Hunt

18149115. sy475 Rating: 1/5
Source: Found on my Kindle app - might have been a free download at some point years ago?
Date finished: 28 July
Pages: 44

This is extremely short, so I'm embarrassed calling it a book but it was listed on Goodreads as one. This had the odd interesting point, but oh my god. The method for developing characters was .... *drumroll please* MBTI!

And look, MBTI is fun, and it doesn't matter that it's not scientifically accurate for a character. But this author put an incredible amount of faith in them, saying things like you know who to pair romantically by them having the opposite MBTI letters, and generally treating them as true. Like just so much, this was her main point. Also, she threw in a bit in the middle about villains thinking they're doing the right thing like ~'Millions of women think unborn babies can't feel pain'. Damn, is this a writing book or pro-life propaganda?

Because Internet - Gretchen McCulloch
36739320. sy475 Rating: 3/5
Source: Bought for Kindle (and expensive it was too)
Date finished: 30 July (the day I had a timezone shift having arrived in Ireland from America the afternoon of the 29th and finished the book in the early hours of the 30th Irish time)
Pages: 336

This was interesting but a bit of a disappointment unfortunately, having followed the author on Twitter for ages. I was expecting it to be more example-based or at least about specific internet language, but the first few chapters were about dialects and the usefulness of the internet for linguistics in general. She's enthusiastic about internet linguistics because it's the first time we've had an easy source of informal writing (formal writing: books etc, formal oral: speeches, informal oral: chatting) to analyse. 

I did like the later chapters, which went into specific internet things like expressing tone of voice with punctuation, emoji, and memes. For example, she looks into why young people send a message for each thought or 'utterance' (rather than using periods like with sentences) and old people use ellipses or dashes, and concludes that it's from postcards, and that people have always written with these pauses. Her history of the internet was also interesting, charting movement between Usenet, MSN, Myspace, Facebook and Instagram.

 I didn't feel like I got particularly deep insight into memes and it was a bit repetitive talking about how they're about ingroup/outgroup dynamics). I also am not sure how supported some of her conclusions were. I know she is a trained linguist so she knows a lot more than me about that, but she'd say some things like 'so this must be because X' without really having done a causal experiment. However, she did have a long list of sources at the end that weren't mentioned in the text so I couldn't see them at the time and that judgement may be unfair.

Visit to DC

(I wrote this over a long time, largely on the bus to the airport to leave DC. It's just a chronological recap of the weekend. Be warned: I complain in it and don’t make an effort to be interesting. Let’s say it’s the heat exhaustion talking.)

Saturday morning
Awake dark and very early at 4.08 am to get a 4.30 taxi to the airport for my 6.10 flight.

I can’t generalise because this is the only internal-American flight I’ve taken, but wow United Airlines are utter crap – I wasn’t allowed to check in online because I had a ‘Basic Economy’ fare and wasn’t checking bags. Apparently this marked me as a threat, but I mean, I was only staying one night – why would I need more than my schoolbag?

I tried to check in on a machine in the airport but the Poors Klaxon (well, the Basic Economy flashing lights) went off so an employee had to come confirm I was ok. Never mind that Basic Economy is a category they’ve invented to reduce service on a flight that cost nearly $200 – Ryanair treats you better than that for a tenner.

Aaanyway, after I got through the long security line I didn’t have a long wait for the flight. I went to the shop to get an iPad charger because I cleverly forgot the charger for my navigation, communication and photo-taking device, and the cashier asked me if I’d like to ‘support the troops’ with my purchase. I was just like ... no thanks. They did pre-boarding first, which I didn’t go up for because of the aforementioned Basic Economy fare, then suddenly it was the Final Call.

The plane was fine although tiny – only 12 rows with four seats in each. Not really any more cramped than the flight from Dublin, and a lot shorter (1 h 25 mins).

I got off the plane and stepped into a wall of heat. I’d been warned about it, but it was actually quite nice to get off the frigid plane into. Then I got the 5A for ~45 minutes to DC proper, which, thankfully, is apparently only a few square miles in area.

NASA Festival
I actually got really lucky – I walked towards the National Mall and walked right into the last day of a big NASA festival celebrating 20 July 50 years ago when the Moon landing happened. It was really cool, NASA are very good at science communication (apart from when they asked me if I know what exoplanets are and I was like ... I do have most of a science degree) and PR, and I was pleased to discover while talking to the stall staff (all actual NASA employees) that THE MARTIAN, the book that got me interested in space exploration again, is considered very accurate apart from the storm at the start and people at NASA love it. So I’m impressed I enjoyed the NASA event so much despite my concern about climate change and feeling that NASA should be joining forces with NOAA and devoting as many of their people as possible to dealing with that instead of building expensive spacefaring devices.

When I said I was a geneticist, the guy I was talking to said to please figure out a solution to radiation in space, like splice cockroach DNA into humans or something - it’s fine on the ISS apparently because of the magnetic field but not in deep space. Talking to him was really cool – talking in a problem-solving way.

National Art Gallery – the Classical part
I won’t lie, I really appreciated that this building has A/C, especially after climbing the many steps to get in. They also let you sit down on sofas in a room near the entrance, which was handy. They made me wear my schoolbag on one shoulder, which apparently protects the art, though I can’t see how, and it’s certainly not good for my back.

For some reason, the only art I could find was Dutch and Flemish. I swear these places are like mazes.

The Capitol
Next stop: Congress. It’s a really nice building, with sprinklers around the place that I walked right into so as not to die from the ~37 C heat. I did kinda hope I might bump into AOC but alas, no luck. Rudely, Congresspeople don’t seem to hang around for my Saturday tourism.

With how hot it was, I definitely wanted to get into this lake. I satisfied myself with walking through the sprinklers.

I lay under this tree and thought about that Washington bit in Hamilton where he talks about giving up power and lying under the shade of your own tree

Have I mentioned yet that I love how flower-filled America is?

I attempted to go to the National Botanic Gardens but when I got to the entrance and it said go around the other side ... look, it was hot out. Also skipped the Library of Congress and White House but I shall survive.

The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
There was a very long line to get in, probably because of the NASA event and the 50-year anniversary (the Smithsonian was holding a party for it that night), and I was dying standing there (have I mentioned it was hot yet?).
I swear my face is like a weather warning in itself.

So I was glad when a conversation started between me and the girl behind me, who’s from North Carolina and doing an internship in DC. Amazingly, our conversation continued the whole way and we ended up spending my whole time in the museum together! We met up with her friend at the restaurant and had a fascinating conversation about Native Americans, Irishness, and autistic and deaf culture. Her friend uses sign language (simcomming) while she speaks, which was awesome! And she’s Cherokee-Irish, which I didn’t even know was a thing and was fascinating to talk about. She talked about extra school they go to learn their heritage and culture and I realised summers in the Gaeltacht are that for us!

Sadly, most of the museum was locked away because of construction.
I also noticed for the first time the International in the ISS’s name. I think the idea was in my head that the US and Russians are still fighting over space, so that was nice.

The Air and Space museum held an event that night to celebrate the 50-year anniversary and I feel bad for not going to it, but I did not want to be out in an unknown city at 2 am so I just went to the hostel around 6 pm.

The Hostel
It was my first time in a hostel alone (so not on a school trip) and I wasn't expecting luxury but damn it was very minimal for something that cost $73. Maybe my hostel-cost meter just isn't calibrated. They also opened my door in the morning telling me to check out when it was more than an hour before check-out time, which made me uncomfortable. There was one very nice thing about it: they have two locations and when I accidentally went to the wrong one, the guy working there walked me over the 10 minutes to the other one! He's my age and studying computer science. Also, it was very close to the city centre - maybe 7 minutes on the metro with 20 or so minutes of walking. Not that walking was particularly easy considering it was 37 C and DC was the hottest place in the country when I visited!

I had a frustrating experience trying to order food. I'd barely eaten all day so I was bloody starving. I tried to order from DoorDash or something but I couldn't because my debit card didn't have a zip code(????????), then I tried somewhere else and the system wouldn't let me order a sandwich plus fries so I just got large fries eventually which tided me over. My rumbling belly and I watched that delivery tracker like a hawk.

My goal for Sunday was just to go to the Natural History Museum and maybe the Native American museum. I couldn't find the NHM for a while and it was too damn hot to not be somewhere with AC so I went to the National Gallery's modern art section. It had some nice pieces but some that really just made me think ... how the hell did this get in here? Truly some utter crap, overly proud of itself for ~redefining the rules of the genre~ by putting in zero effort and delegating the job to their three-year-old. Also, just one of the paintings I came across wasn't allowed to be photographed, and I have no idea why that one. Is that inconsistency meant to be art in itself? Who bloody knows.

Who knew you could just delegate art to your toddler and get it put in the National Gallery?

It's a bedsheet. But because it's not rectangular it is apparently daring and exciting. If they were going to make me banjax my back by carrying my bag on one shoulder they could have at least had better art (okay okay I put my bag in the cloakroom to avoid that shh).

Have some nicer art as a palate cleanser - I found out I really liked Georgia O Keeffe:

And this was okay I guess, so I'm not shitting on all abstract art:

After a while of that I found the NHM and after queuing and going through the security scanners (every museum had these, sigh) I was in. Unfortunately, I forgot it closed at 5.30 pm so I didn't go around fast enough, but I did see some nice things.

This elephant is actual size and I couldn't get over how big that is.

This thing about being on an ocean planet made me feel reverent:

This statue:

The mammal hall:

The gems:

Leaving DC

I appreciated that the building for the Housing department (or something like that) was interestingly designed:

This really stupid airport ad (this alone should be reason enough to abolish capitalism):

And finally, the view out of the plane:

Overall I'm glad I went, and proud I managed the heat!

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Review: Ricochet by Kathryn Berla

RicochetRating: 2/5
Source: ARC from Netgalley for review
Date finished: 27 June
Pages: 328
Publication Date: October 8 2019

When seventeen-year-old Tati sends a saliva sample to a DNA ancestry testing site her results come back inconclusive. What’s wrong with her DNA? And what does it have to do with her unexplained seizures and the beckoning tunnel she sees during them? 

What Tati discovers is more than she could have ever imagined possible. Parallel universes exist and her abnormal DNA compels and condemns Tati and her other selves—shy Ana—privileged Tatyana—and on-the-run Tanya, to a lifetime of ricocheting between their parallel lives in the multiverse.

With knowledge of their existence a deadly threat in every universe, the only chance all four have to survive is to work together to take down the scientist responsible: their father. (Blurb from Goodreads)

I liked the premise, which is why I requested it on Netgalley. But my god the science. The science. My EYES. The reason she has these mysterious seizures and strange DNA is that her DNA was edited so that it's now got unstable vibrations or something that means she can travel between 4 parallel universes and meet the other versions of herself. After that it was a struggle to finish the book. I do not recommend it for the geneticist in your life. Either use something more related to universes, like some physical particle, or don't try to justify it scientifically at all! DNA editing changes a base from, say, A to C, not to plutonium!

Other issues:

The real action only got started around 90% and then it was all wrapped up stupidly. I usually hate it when books become series and I want to award it a star for not being a series, but it just was not wrapped up right at all. So it was a slog and then a weird rush.

I was also confused about some of the facts, like the identity of her birth mother. It took me a while to twig that Tati, Ana, Tatyana and Tanya are all different people but that could be my problem and it was a fairly cool realisation. In general it was difficult to get into, probably as a natural conclusion of the premise.

While I don't like how anxious I get for the characters in books, this lacked tension because you know Tati or Ana are going to be fine in their own realities - maybe if her dad had been able to chase her through them? And the ending! Awful.

In summary: 1-2 stars. I don't want to give it 1 because it had some positive qualities (such as how the genetic testing went), but there was just so much that annoyed me.

Friday, 26 July 2019

Visit to New York City

From 12th to 15th July I went to New York City from Friday evening to Monday morning and stayed with Carla, my post-doc friend from Brown! Here’s a quick rundown of what we got up to.

Friday evening
I got in around 9 pm, so we just walked through Times Square to the subway. Times Square at night is intense, exactly what I imagined from a Big American City but with more neon and so much advertising. The news ticker going along the side of a building made me feel like I was in a movie myself and about to find out about Patient Zero of a new pandemic. It’s funny that before I came I thought American cities were usually like this, when actually most of them are small and quaint, more like towns.


Brooklyn Botanic Gardens
These were gorgeous. I liked that they had the plants arranged into a room for each biome, e.g. desert, tropical. Apparently Australia is temperate? I particularly liked the water plants – something about water makes looking at it very peaceful for me. I did have to keep taking breaks to sit in the shade, though – it was very hot.

I like this picture.

Brooklyn Library
Has hieroglyphic-looking pictures referencing famous books covering the front wall. Also saw an ad for a party for Harry Potter’s birthday.

Brooklyn Bridge
We walked across Brooklyn bridge, which took a very long time but gave us pretty views when we weren’t dodging cyclists barreling towards us.

Financial District

We didn’t go up the World Trade Center building, but we did walk around the area and get gelato, which is just as good and considerably cheaper. We also saw a monument to Alexander Hamilton, which I had to get a photo of in memory of my Hamilton fangirl days. We saw the Wall Street bull too.

Staten Island & Statue of Liberty
We then got the ferry to Staten Island, which is the most distant of NYC’s five boroughs and is basically beside New Jersey. That’s something I’ve noticed about the East Coast of America while I’ve been here – there are so many islands! They really do not shy away from building beside the sea or over or under rivers.

The ferry is free, which is nice, although it was less nice that while queuing the big neon sign in front of us boasted to potential advertisers of the captive audience they have for 25 minutes each way 24 hours a day.

Anyway, we got somewhat close to the Statue of Liberty and it’s actually quite a beautiful statue. It was interesting seeing Ellis Island – I keep thinking ‘see where my ancestors landed’, but considering I’m 100% Irish, not Irish-American, clearly those weren’t my ancestors, but my compatriots I suppose. A place of significance anyway, important in producing an Irish ethnic group of 80 million people despite there being only 5 million people in Ireland.

As is apparently common, we saw nothing of Staten Island itself apart from buying drinks in the shop/port and seeing a display about oyster conservation, because we turned right back around and got on the ferry back.

We then got the ferry home and by that time there was only an hour or so to wait before a free concert in a park right beside Carla’s apartment! (highlighting this because it's an event and I don't have photos for it, not for emphasis). 


I had my first in-person meeting with Nan, who runs the America’s Amazing Teens project I’m part of. It was good to meet her and Ann Makosinski in person for the first time, talk about the book I’m working on and find out what they’re up to.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

This is a big place, so I didn't see all of it in the few hours we were there. I ran around the various European paintings (where they make you wear your bag on the front or on one shoulder, grr), saw the classical sculptures, and looked at art from different places like Polynesia (liked this one apart from the animal killing it glorifies - saw this in the Smithsonian as well amid statements I consider oxymoronic like 'they respected them' alongside 'they killed them'), Africa (why were so many of these sculptures terrifying-looking?!), and the Islamic world (some nice tiling and rugs like in my old house).

Carla, Clive and I got a nice photo on the roof of the building:

The real work of art in the Met museum (I KID).

Central Park
Just briefly dipped in here because it was apparently not to be missed. Going by the map it's huge - I've actually noticed America seems to have tons of greenspace. Have a photo.

Monday morning
Got up at 7.15 am, horror of horrors (it gets worse in July - the morning of the day I'm writing this I got up at 4.08 am) to get the 9 am bus back to Providence and got to work around 1 or 1.30 pm. Obviously this was not the plan but anyway. Carla came with me to the bus station because she's great. It was a fun weekend.