Monday, November 28, 2011

Out of the mists of time...

...comes the symbol for fugacity, staring up at me from the equation sheet of an old qualifying exam. Years have passed since we last saw each other, but it looks just as thin and pinched as ever. It must get terrible headaches with such pointy hat, just like the headaches it's bound to give me shortly...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Roll of Quarters

My grandfather was an amazing man, and I had the privilege of reflecting on his life this past week as my relatives and I celebrated his passage from this world to Christ's heavenly realm. There were so many wonderful memories, so many stories to tell, and so much laughter amidst the tears that I think that I have just experienced my favorite Thanksgiving holiday yet.

My grandfather loved his family immensely. I have always appreciated the special ways that he showed his love for his grandchildren, and last week was no exception. My grandmother came out of the office one afternoon carrying a bright yellow, canvas bag. Since my grandfather was a banker for many years, he always had an affinity towards teaching lessons with money. My mother tells me that he always carried at least one $100 bill with him, just because. I think my youngest brother takes after him in that regard, because he has been known to trot down the street with a pocket full of coins; he likes having that jingling sound, just because.

Therefore, I wasn't entirely surprised when I saw that the canvas bag held rolls of quarters. However, these were not just any quarters, they were exclusively Oklahoma state quarters. When the US Mint released the Oklahoma quarter in 2008, Grandad counted up his grandchildren, walked down to the bank, and bought enough rolls such that each of his grandchildren could have one. I don't know whether the number of rolls was exact or not - he might have budgeted enough for several more additions to the family... Grandma mentioned that one of Grandad's last comments was to make sure that she didn't forget about the quarters. Even after several years, he remembered. As with all of his family, his grandchildren were always close to his heart.

Grandma later admitted that she wasn't clear on what Grandad's intentions had been for the quarters once they had changed hands. "Honestly, I'm not quite sure what he hoping you would do with them!" I answered, "see, that's the beauty of it - we will all do something different!" An FCA director who was a mentor of mine in undergraduate would hand out gold Sacajawea dollar coins to those who had accomplished his most difficult team building activity. Before placing the coin in their hands, he would share how the story of Sacajawea tied in with their achievements. I still have my gold dollar somewhere in my room (I think it was randomly tossed in with my hair ties - the moving process always shuffles things around...). I intend to use my Oklahoma quarters for a similar purpose. I suppose that requires me to learn about Oklahoma history and their state bird first, since the bird is on the quarter! Maybe the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher had to go through some hard times - a guide for the Lewis and Clark of the bird world, perhaps? No? Hmm, maybe not.

What would you do with a roll of quarters?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Lean Back and Open Wide

Last week I made my first visit to the dentist in Austin. As a graduate student on a stipend, I qualify for the medical insurance that UT offers to its employees and staff. "Graduate research assistant" is a tremendously blurry status, since the institution of UT technically views you as an employee, but for all social and daily interactions you are still considered a student. Alternatively, "minion" seems to work just as well during your first year of the Ph.D. program.

But I digress.

The dentist's office.

My particular insurance requires me to troll through a list of local dentists and then notify the insurance company of my preferred dentist. Having recently been introduced to the concept of Yelp, I typed in the first dentist on the list and hit enter.

Low ratings. Hm.

I tried the next dentist on the list.

And the next dentist.

And the next dentist.

Good heavens - maybe I should have gone for the more expensive insurance... At long last, I decided upon a dentist that had good reviews for dental work but poor reviews for getting appointments scheduled over the phone. "I can deal with the latter problem," I reasoned. "If all else fails, I will march into the office itself. " Fortunately, I did not have to resort to such drastic measures, and last Thursday I found myself staring up at the ceiling in an examination chair.

This particular dentist requires that all of his new patients come in for an initial examination before any other work is performed - even a routine cleaning! I have always had strong, healthy teeth, so I didn't much see the point. But whatever, I'll roll with it. Little did I know that the dentist had an entire system set up to take full stock of all of my teeth, complete with individual tooth numbers. His faithful nurse settled down onto a nearby seat as the dentist peered into my mouth. With a flourish of his tools, he began to dictate the exact position and orientation of each of my teeth, along with any other pertinent details.

"Number 1 is rotated outwards by 10 degrees. Number 12 has severe wearing on the inside surface. Number 24 is capped with enamel." And so on. Occasionally an interesting description would pop up, particularly with regard to my wisdom teeth.

"Number 17 is fully erupted."

Erupted?? Like a volcano?

"Number 22 is a bony impaction."

Something got impacted? Visions of football tackles are now running through my head, but no, no, that can't be right.

"The occlusal surface of number 7 is rotated towards the anterior region."

And the hip bone is connected to the thigh bone!! Right???

After my teeth have finished feeling like army recruits under scrutiny, the dentist begins to measure the gum height of each one. (At least, I think it was gum height). Each height is reported as a non-dimensional number, beginning with 1. A classmate later informed me that the scale goes at least as high as 6. As each of the reported heights came in as a "1," I began to relax and feel pretty confident in my oral hygiene. Then:


Wait, wait, wait. 2?!?! What does "2" mean? Do I have some debilitating disease? Are my teeth about to fall out? All of a sudden, I'm wishing I knew the dimensions on those height units... However, the dentist seems pleased with the results, so I mentally calm down and assume that a "2" is not the end of the world.

The final verdict on my visit was that I have excellent oral hygiene, apart from one small thing. The dentist hands me a mirror and indicates three of my teeth. "See that yellow part up near the root?" I nod yes, thinking that some helpful suggestion about cleaning will be forthcoming. "That is your actual root."

Say what?

Apparently, I am brushing my teeth TOO hard. My scrubbing motions have worn away the gums on several teeth such that the roots are beginning to show. The gum tissue does not regenerate at that point, so my teeth will become more sensitive if I continue my current habits. Fortunately, the remedy is simple: softer bristles and gentler cleaning. Well heck, if that's my biggest problem, I can deal with that!

I bounced out of the chair and out the door, leaving just enough time for me to schedule a cleaning for next week. Perhaps I will even throw some engineering terminology at him next time he starts spouting about "occlusal regions," just to see if that puts us on even footing. Have to keep these dentists on their toes, you know!