More signs of spring

Happy Opening Day!

It has been two months already

The pot is on the stove, tomatoes and beans and spices and vegetables and wine all bubbling together for an early dinner. And mom's pantry shelves are bare now, the last of her stores providing for us still.

Around every corner, I am reminded. In a spray of White Linen each morning, in the lemon oil for polishing dark wood, in the stacks of books and piles of paperwork. In the work, in the beautiful things, in a meal provided at the end of a lean month.

Her love calls to me still.

Thanks, Mama.

Sunshine and resurrection

Signs of spring....

After twenty one days of rain in March, yesterday's sun was like a heavenly spa treatment.

Every ray sings to me of resurrection.

In anticipation of Easter:

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God's throne!
Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!

Sound the trumpet of salvation!
Rejoice O earth in shining splendour,
radiant in the brightness of your King!

How much time does a conference take?

I'm getting ready for this spring's round of conferences (only two, I still need time for research of course) and I was thinking about the time a conference "really" takes. So, while I was in the gym today, I listed all the steps through which you need to go when attending a conference.

Step 1: Preparation - 33 hours

1.1. Finding a suitable conference - 1 hour
For a new PhD student, it's important to identify which conferences are important in your field, and have an idea how often these conferences take place as well as how long before the conference abstracts are due. I've submitted in late 2010 an abstract for a conference in 2012 to which I would love to go.
Your advisor might point you towards interesting conferences, or you might (as in my case) mainly feel like looking for them yourself and then propose going there to your supervisors. Keep an eye on the websites of technical committees in your field - they might organize a workshop on your topic during a certain conference.

1.2. Writing and submitting an abstract - 2 hours
Bring your abstract down to these four (six)pillars: (background), problem statement, (scope), methods, results and conclusions. I like to copy the questions from this website in a word document and simply answer the questions:
Why do we care about the problem and the results?
What problem are you trying to solve?
How did you go about solving or making progress on the problem?
What's the answer?
What are the implications of your answer?
Then I merge them into an abstract and call it a day. Submitting the abstract itself can be a separate task too - typically you'll be working your way through some online system and if you're a perfectionist like me, you'll feel the need to check, double-check and triple-check every step and waste a lot of time on the entire process.

1.3. Writing a paper - 20 hours
I've been tracking my time for the past 9 months now, and I've discovered that a conference paper takes me about 20 hours to write, while a journal paper or a paper for a special publication takes me 40 hours. I don't work in a straight 20 hours (that would mean I could finish a paper in half a week), instead of this I typically work in different stages: making the outline, making additional calculations and figures, throwing words to the screen, edit, re-edit, discuss with supervisor 1, edit, discuss with supervisor 2, edit, re-edit. The bulk of my time does go to the steps after making the outline and before showing it to someone else, in which I preferable work in isolation, but typically get disturbed by whatever is going on in the lab, educational tasks and other activities which at that moment distract me from my writing - which I don't like then. I should consider trying out this bulk phase in the library or at home.

1.4. Preparing a presentation - 6 hours
I tend to spend a fair amount of time on making carefully designed slides and then try out my presentation enough times to be sure I'm meeting the time restrictions. Over time, I might become more confident with this step and spend less time on it, but currently I prefer to have carefully prepared material and a well-rehearsed talk to kill my nerves.

1.5. Dreadful administration - 4 hours
I spent my entire morning and some part of my afternoon today on this work, and even though the forms are now digital and the workflow process is much better organized, I still dread this part. It's not science, it's administration and I tend to put it off because I don't consider it important. Requesting permission, registering, arranging the payment, booking the flight and booking the hotel all take some time.

Step 2: The conference - 3 days

2.1. Searching for interesting talks - 1 day before the start
Take some time to skim through the abstracts and set your itinerary for the conferences so you get the most of it. Allow some time to discover presentations on topics which at first you would not attend, and allow some time to simply rest during the day as well.

2.2. Networking - 3 days
Before even writing the abstract, you have probably looked at the organizing and scientific committees of the conference. Identify who you would like to talk to, but also allow plenty of time to meet new people: fellow PhD candidates, professors with years of experience, engineers from the industry - try to get a good sample of the population of the conference and resist the temptation to stick around with your peers.

2.3. The exhibition
The ideal chance to have a look at what is happening outside the walls of academia! I've not been paying enough attention to the exhibition on my conferences last year, but this time I'm planning to pay more attention to the input from the industry.

Step 3: The aftermath

3.1. Getting in touch - 2 hours
Classify the business cars you've collected, connect on LinkedIn or send an e-mail to your new acquaintances and write a message. I didn't get much further last year than just thanking a few people for the interesting discussion we had. I probably should do a little more effort to keep in touch, but I still am in doubt how to exactly do this.

3.2. Reconnect to the lab - 1 day
So what has happened while you were away? Talk briefly to all people involved in your project to feel "the temperature of the water". If the lab is boiling, solve a few problems, and get ready to dive back into your research work of every day. Don't forget to show your colleagues your trophies: announcements for conferences/workshops, the proceedings, and any interesting story you heard.

3.3. Tired? - 1 week
I noticed last year (when I went to 2 conferences in a row) how tiring conferences can be. I had been continuously in sponge-mode (trying to soak all information around me from presentations, the exhibition, talking to people) that I had an overly full head when I came back home. Just allow yourself some rest, and time to let all the new information and impressions sink to the bottom.

How much time do you devote to the preparation of a conference?

Debate lessons

March Madness is not just NCAA basketball for us; there have been three debate tournaments in March.  Crazy.  I haven't had a chance to comment on debate tournament number two yet, and it needs a comment:

Ninety teams.

Rex and Lucy came in first.


One hundred and eighty debaters.

Rex was the third place speaker.


We had sent Rex to San Diego with friends, so we were not there in person to celebrate.  But I do believe that if our windows had been open, and Rex had been listening carefully, he could have heard us screaming with excitement.

Congratulations, son!

And this last week we all went to Santa Rosa for the last part of Debate March Madness.

It was a different experience.

We laughed hard as Rex and Lucy had to debate three times in the men's locker room at the school where the debate was held.  There were no showers going while they debated, but once or twice there was a distant flush heard from across the way.  These are memories we will never forget. 

And when breaks were announced (breaks being those teams who had winning records and go on to debate in octofinals and quarterfinals), Rex and Lucy did not break.  Win the whole tournament a week before, no breaks this week.

I would say I am disappointed except that, when I got on the computer last night, I read these words on my son's facebook page:

That's called competition. You win, thank God for His blessing, and celebrate. You lose, thank God for His blessing...and celebrate with the people that won.

And I am thinking that I have a lot to learn from this wise young man whom I am honored to call my son.

Well done, son!!

Decisions and priorities

In roughly two weeks I'm leaving for a conference, and then a holiday, and suddenly it seems as if I'm overloaded with work with so many tasks waiting to be finished before I can leave with a peaceful mind.

At a certain point, one week ago, I felt like starting to yell at the top of my lungs and run away from my office. Instead, I took a deep breath, a nice cup of tea, and I made a list of what precisely I had to do before leaving.

Then, I looked at these tasks and started to make an order of importance. Which tasks do I really need to do? Which ones are important and which ones are urgent? I remembered the important-urgent matrix about which I learned previously.

picture taken from this article

However, I found it quite difficult to categorize my work. All tasks seemed to be urgent, but for various reasons. I can't postpone registering for my next conference, booking the flight and arranging my administration because that would mean I can't go to the conference. However, I tend to classify "writing the paper which is due mid May" as more important, and I've been giving priority to this over the past week to allow for time to discuss it with my supervisors.
Likewise, I would be tempted to postpone my experimental work so I can finish all the other tasks at hand and not get too physically tired (my new setup seems to break my back when I'm using it - I still need to solve this too).

This rambling of thoughts made me feel quite stressed out. I needed another deep breath and another nice cup of tea to shift the tasks into categories of this matrix.
And indeed, more thinking did result in the following tasks per category:

Category 1: Important and urgent
- Paper deadlines
- Registration deadlines
- Experiments when I'm in a series of experiments

Category 2: Important and not urgent
- the core of my research
- planning experiments
- calculations with my results
- keeping up with the literature (which sadly always ends up way down in my list of things to do or in my weekend)

Category 3: Not important and urgent
- educational tasks
- phone calls, e-mail
- someone showing up in my office

Category 4: Not important and not urgent
- lunch and coffee breaks
- sticking around
- blogging

Realizing this, I decided to focus on finishing the paper, arranging my next conference, trying to discuss some things with my supervisor and just carrying out my experiments. I've been classifying my basic test results, but I will program my Matlab code for the plots of my experimental data after my conference and holiday. I'm skipping coffee breaks, but not lunch breaks, and I'm not skipping the gym nor choir practice. And, if everything works out alright, I'll finish my most urgent tasks this week and will have some time to think and move forward next week (I like the idea of having buffer time).

How do you handle extremely busy periods of time? Do you skip tasks or do you work more hours?

Orienteering choking

After having read this New Yorker's article I got interested about choking.
Orienteering is a sport where every step that we make should be towards the next control. In high level races I have this tendency to alter my navigation routines ending in worse-than-expected performances. Understanding it, may help me avoiding it.

Choking in sport is considered to be a sub-optimal performance under stressful conditions (Lewis & Linder, 1997) and has been defined as ‘‘the occurrence of inferior performance despite striving and incentives for superior performance’’ (Baumeister & Showers, 1986, p. 361). Many examples may be found here. Further information here.

There are 2 theories for it:
- distraction theories (Carver & Scheier, 1981), which maintain that under stressful conditions, the athlete’s attentional capacity will be overloaded by task-irrelevant stimuli such as worry and self-doubt, resulting in performance decrements (I'm one of the victims...).

- self-focus theories (Baumeister, 1984), which include the conscious processing hypothesis (Masters, 1992), and are collectively termed ‘‘explicit monitoring’’(Beilock & Carr, 2001). They state that performance deteriorates as a consequence of the athlete reinvesting explicit technical information and consciously monitoring and/or controlling a skill that normally would be performed automatically.

I found it curious that:
- Jones et al. (2007)- found that those who excel under pressure are able to maintain a balanced sport/life perspective, despite being intensely committed to their sport;

- Fletcher et al. (2006)- established that a lack of mental toughness will encourage an athlete to perceive the situational demands as beyond their capability a process reflected within choking.

- mental toughness consists of several attributes, including an unshakeable belief, an ability to remain fully focused, and a capacity to switch sport focus on and off (Jones et al.,2002, 2007)

- ‘‘these people who have perspective and say... I don’t really care, [can] shrug off things really well. I think this is a characteristic of mental toughness... and I think it’s a big thing [missing] in choking’’.

- [the choke] is extremely difficult to deal with and hence, nine times out of ten, performance will stay bad and they will be annihilated... they won’t regain performance... however, I think there are some individual differences and mental toughness issues going on, when some people can regain their performance.

- (in the photo, the greatest all-the-time choke by Novotna's wimbledon final loss after a 4-1 40-30, described here).

Apart from choking, even if I've been only training once a day this season, today I did one of the best long intervals of my life at 6x1000+600+600. Good times without suffering is a great feeling. Can't wait for competing again after this training period.

The Friday Clive

The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you "love" your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.

Someone's gonna get hurt

I am the reigning champ of the family March Madness brackets.


At the moment I have potential for a repeat.


Except for the son who took some risks; if he wins the next round, I am toast.

If I win the next round, he is toast.

It all comes down to today's games.

Go Wisconsin!  Go Duke!  Go BYU!  Go UConn!
March Madness is serious business around here.

Pre-order? Yes.


8ªs Séries

7ªs Séries

6ªs Séries

6ºs Anos

5ºs Anos


4ºs Anos

3ºs Anos


2ºs Anos

1ºs Anos

Educação Infantil

Henri Nouwen (1932-1996)

From Henry Nouwen via the wisdom that resides in the beloved Quiet Life Comment Section (often referred to as the QLCS):

I keep projecting my present condition onto the future. If I feel dark, the future looks dark; if I feel bright, the future looks bright. But who am I to know what life will be like for me tomorrow, next week, next year, or ten years from now? Even more, who and I to know who You will be for me in the year ahead? O Lord, I will not bind You with my own limited and limiting ideas and feelings. You can do so many things with me, things that might seem totally impossible to me. I want at least to remain open to the free movement of your Spirit in my life...O Lord, let me remain free to let you come whenever and however you desire.          Amen.

Bright sadness

Lent is called the season of Bright Sadness, because it is a time of both celebration and mourning.

That about sums up life right now. 

We have had so many things to celebrate lately.  Band gigs, debate victories, a piano recital, another Eagle Scout very close to his wings, more speech and debate excitement this weekend, daffodils blooming, sun occasionally shining, friends visiting, and everyone home and around the table.  Many, many reasons to celebrate.

But woven between all the celebration is a season of struggling.  The kind of struggle that has me flying awake at one in the morning, heart racing and mind frantic.  It takes me a long time to settle back down to sleep,  and it has me praying and breathing, breathing and praying, holding tightly to the ancient prayers that do not depend on my eloquence or my ability to know what I need.  I am incapable of eloquence and knowing right now.

This morning I woke feeling not quite so done in, and I headed out to drop my son off for his college classes.  As an aside:  car problems have ALWAYS figured into the despairing times of our life.  They themselves don't cause despair; they are just the waves erroding the cliffs, the bleach ridding the world of color.  And so when the drive shaft of our son's rather wonky truck was found to be falling out on the road on Sunday morning?  No surprise.  It was more of a, "Of course the drive shaft is there.  That makes sense" moment.

But back to my morning drive.  The car had no gas, and gas costs $3.84 a gallon, and we were pretty far from the gas station, and we were running late.  My response to these facts showed that I was fraying at the edges.  It was not just a need for gas, or even a fear of running out of gas; my response had that decidedly falling off the cliffs of insanity feel to it, a revved up, you never! you always! ring to it.  It showed the infrastructure of my mind for the shaking, weak and weary place that it is.  Fortunately my passenger was merciful; he even pumped the gas, and I could breathe again. 

But I do not like feeling so frail, so vulnerable, so easily rattled.

A few months ago, I visited the local Russian Orthodox Church.  At one point, the congregation lined up and each person had their forehead anointed with oil.  When I got to the front of the line, Fr. James asked me, "Do you know why we anoint your head with oil?  Well, in the scriptures we are called to anoint the sick with oil...and we are all sick, aren't we, Diane?"

And I wept. 

To have someone acknowledge that he knows I am "sick", that it is not a surprise or a disappointment or an inconvenience to him, overwhelmed me. 

The next time I visited, he asked me again if I knew why...and I said, "Yes, but would you please tell me again?"  Like a toddler with their favorite story, I needed to hear that good news one more time.  Pretty please.

So for now, as we are struggling with things that don't come down to circumstances or other people, but sadly come down to our own selves and our lifetime of choices, it is a deep comfort to remember grace.  God's grace, to be given as well as received, not deserved and yet freely given, the grace that slows my heart rate, steadies my breathing, and wills me back to sleep until the morning light. 


I am sick.  Anoint me with oil.

Entrega dos Laptops UCA - Um Computador por Aluno

Nos dia 15 a 17 de março aconteceu na Escola a entrega dos Laptops UCA - Um Computador por Aluno.