Thursday, September 24, 2009

My White Paper

For the past year or so, I've been working on a white paper at work, and it was just released the other day. Yay!

Here's the press release.

And here's where to find the full paper!

Canoeing on the Potomac

I feel like most of every day lately has been spent reading or thinking I should be reading - I get assigned about 600 pages per week among my three classes.

However, on Sunday afternoon Emma and Kris were able to pull Jeff and I away from our work to enjoy a bit of the amazing weekend weather.

We decided to go canoeing on the Potomoc and then grab dinner at Leopold's Cafe (German food!) in Georgetown. We got some amazing views from the river.

The Informant!

Jeff and I went and saw the movie 'The Informant!' last Friday. We both enjoyed it - the acting is pretty good, it's funny without being too silly, and it's based on a true story, which is always interesting. In fact, this week's episode of 'This American Life' on NPR was a re-broadcast interview with Mark Whitacre (the real-life informant that was the basis for the movie). Actually, a screen-writer heard the interview when it originally aired, and that was what encouraged him to write the screenplay for the movie Jeff and I saw.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I saw the president today!

President Obama did a health care speech at the University of Maryland today, and Jeff and I went to see it. Very cool!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My Brother is Married!

Last weekend Jeff and I flew to Minnesota for my brother's wedding. In addition to being my brother's wedding, and basically the first of our generation (siblings and cousins), it was also the first wedding I had ever been in, so it marked a number of milestones for me. [There aren't pictures yet, and Jeff reminded me before-hand that since I was in the wedding, I couldn't be toting around a camera all day focusing on taking pictures, so I'll just post some of the official ones when they're available.]

Being in the wedding was very cool - it's fun to be part of the cool group with the matching clothes (though for this wedding Emily had us each pick our own dress meeting the basic criteria of brown, knee-length, and V-neck), and to be a part of the hair and make-up prep, the rehearsal and the picture-taking activities. It also poses challenges - standing up front you feel the chance of you somehow messing things up is much larger than when you're in the audience. Also, for someone like me, who is a serious cry-er, there's no incospicuous blinking, looking away, or other trick - you just have to try to keep it together. Luckily this all seemed to go pretty well - so I guess I accomplished my job. :)

This being the first of the immediate family weddings was also really cool - It was really nice to have my aunts, uncles, and cousins there, as well as my grandparents and other, more distant, relatives. I don't see all of them other than on holidays and things, so it's fun to have a whole evening in one place to catch up. At the family wedding I was less focused on the dance/party aspect than the friend-weddings I've gone to in the past - though I did get my cousin Drew to dance for one song.

The fact that it was actually my own brother getting married was really surreal. Though they've been dating for many years and engaged over a year, it still seems like it went by so quickly - I flew in on Wednesday and they were single, and when I flew out on Monday, my brother was married! It was such a busy weekend and visit home that I think it's still sinking in now that I'm back in DC. My brother has a wife. I have a sister-in-law. Wow.

So a bit more about the order of things... The wedding was unique in a number of ways - Emily and Brian decided to do a lot of the work themselves with the help of family and friends and to change a number of the traditions. The location that they had the wedding, a nature center near their house (which was beautiful and secluded - right on a lake) doesn't usually do weddings, so they weren't playing any role in set-up, organization, etc. Emily had made all the decorations herself, and on Friday before the wedding we all went to help set things up. It was amazing to see the room go from a bare all-purpose room to an amazing wedding reception area. Emily is very artistically talented, so it was no surprise that the decorations and color scheme looked great. Since lots of family and friends had come to help set-up, this gave us another opportunity to hang out and get to know people.

Her brother made a ton (really - over a hundred pieces) of pottery in the wedding colors with EB on the side that was used to decorate the tables and to give to wedding guests as a gift. It was really special and really beautiful. Also, Emily and Brian asked a number of people (10?) to make cakes, and then had a diffent cake on each table. This was a particularly tasty idea. ;) Though, in one of the minor mis-haps, an icecream cake was put out on the tables like the regular cakes, so it was pretty melted by the time people came back from the ceremony. Jeff still tried it, though, and said it was pretty good.

The rehearsal dinner was on Friday night at the same location as the wedding. The main event (for me) was that I got to give a quick speech. I had been really nervous about it - in fact, I had never been able to practice it in front of another person without crying, stopping, or both. It mostly consisted of short anecdotes about what a good brother Brian had been and also saying some things about how great Emily is - and I ended up being ok when it was time to actually speak. Friday night the wedding party all stayed out in the cabins on-site, which was nice since nobody had to drive or go far.

The wedding ceremony was the next day, and started with some last minute set-up at the site, followed by a couple hours of hair and make-up prep at Bri & Emily's house, and then we were off to pictures. We went around Excelsior for photos, and there happened to be a festival going on, so we got lots of comments from people. They were impressed with Emily's brown (girls) and beige (guys) color scheme, her hand-made bouquets and jewelry (for all the bridesmaids), and her grandma's additions to her dress. We haven't seen these pictures yet, but I'm sure they turned out amazing.

After pictures, we headed back to the wedding site. We were there about 30 minutes before the ceremony was supposed to start, and it definitely felt like a 'hurry up and wait' situation - after spending all morning running around doing things, sitting still for 30 minutes seemed like an eternity. But pretty soon it was time to go, the music started, and everyone made their way down the aisle according to the plan (though I was already fighting back serious tears).

Emily's grandma is a Lutheran pastor, so she was the one that married Brian and Emily. It was really cool to have the pastor be someone that knows the bride and groom so well. The ceremony was about 45 minutes long, and probably is among the most traditional and religious I've been to, with a number of prayers and bible readings. My dad also did a reading during the ceremony - giving a short explanation and story about a saying he and my mom use when mentoring engaged couples through our church. I believe the saying was 'Before you're married keep your eyes wide open, and after you're married keep them half shut.' Essentially saying that you should be very serious about entering into marriage, but you should also be forgiving of your partners' faults. It was a really good reading - I was pretty impressed with his speech.

After the ceremony, there was a cocktail hour followed by the reception. That was when I first got to hang out with my extended family, which was really nice. Since Jeff knows my family and extended family pretty well, he was also having a good time. Dinner followed - Italian food - it tasted great!

The toasts were also cute - The maid of honor was the first to go - she is Emily's cousin and told a couple cute and embarrassing stories about her. She also talked about how Brian was there for Emily when her mom passed away a few years ago, and how she knows Emily's mom would be really happy with her daughter. (Already prone to tears, this part of the speech - though important and touching - really took away any chance of me staying dry-eyed.) Brian's best man spoke next, starting out by saying, "I knew I should have gone first," and noting that he got the job of speaker just because the other best man 'chickened out', and then basically just said congratulations and good luck. Also a very cute speech.

My dad spoke next - his speech was really sweet, about how you want a lot of things for your kids - health, financial security, etc., but the main thing he wanted for his kids was for people to be able to look at them and say, "Brian's a really good kid." He said that he thought this was really true of both Emily and Brian. He talked about how Brian and Emily had been together through hard times and easy times - sticking together even when living in different states, and through life changes.

Emily's dad's speech was a bit more serious, but personal and touching. He talked about how Brian and Emily had met because our moms (who were friends since they were about 10 years old) set them up, and how after Emily's mom had passed away, he had worried that Brian and Emily would continue to date out of obligation to Em's mom, rather than for their own reasons. Brian and Emily had briefly separated a while ago, and Emily's dad said that Brian 'took on the Rock family' and insisted that they tell him what the problem was or what he could do better, and that's when he realized that Brian really loved Emily and that they were together for the right reasons.

After the toasts, it was time for dancing - Brian and Emily had their first dance, the floor was opened, and a little later they had the father-daughter dance. They had a live singer-guitar/keyboard player, who was really talented. I hung out with my cousin, who had never been to a wedding before, and danced a bit.

Eventually things wound down around midnight, and the wedding party and other friends headed back to the cabins. The whole wedding went really well and was really beautiful!

On Sunday we helped take things down and clean up a bit. Then Brian, Emily, my parents, Emily's parents, Emily's siblings, Jeff, Tom, Katie, and I headed to Bri & Emily's house to hang out a bit, and see the opening of gifts. Most people left and then Jeff, Tom, Katie, and I just stayed and chatted with Brian and Emily about the wedding and the weekend.

On Monday, Jeff and I flew back to DC, and Brian and Emily took off for their three-week honeymoon in Australia!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

First week of classes

This past week was my first week of school... for the 22nd time in my life. I'm starting my PhD, and I'll probably have about one year of taking classes; then I'll take my qualifying exams, and then I'll spend the next two years writing a paper. Exciting to be at the very beginning of something new!

My classes this semester are some of the core classes for the Public Policy program - things I really haven't studied since high school, if ever. That actually makes it fun, though, because I feel like I'm learning a lot and it's all new and interesting. Here's a quick recap on each class I'm taking this first week:

Quantitative Analysis
This is the advanced statistics course - mostly focused on econometrics. The main focus of the class, other than a few exams, is on a research paper where we carry out an analysis using regression. (Regression is a method to help you understand how much your item of interest - GPD, Salary, etc. depends on other variables, like the amount of education people have, where they live etc.) I'm still deciding what topic I want to write about; I'd like to do something with space, but there isn't much that lends itself well to this type of analysis. The lectures are primarily on how to use this method, I believe.

International Security Policy
This class is actually taught by one of my advisors. It's a completely new topic for me. I've studied space security before, but this class looks historically at the development of security policy beginning with the build up to WWII and the development of nuclear weapons. Just learning the history is interesting for me, because I've never studied or learned in depth about WWII or the Cold War. We also look at the strategic decisions that were made - and try to understand why things happened the way they did. In the first class we discussed a bunch of interesting questions like, "Why was the U.S. the country in which nuclear weapons were first developed?", "Was it inevitable that nuclear weapons would be the first use of nuclear technology, or was it a product of the political atmosphere?", and "Was the United States' use of nuclear weapons in WWII strategically justified? Was it morally justified?" I'm really excited to do the readings for this class and understand more about all of these issues and how they affect security policy today.

Political Institutions and Leadership
This is kind of like a graduate level version of the civics class you had in high school. It looks at the parts of government, what they do, and how they interact. It's much more in depth, of course, and assigns about 300 pages of reading a week. It also takes a somewhat practical view of how a policy person can attempt to get things done in D.C. - how to navigate all the different political institutions. This stuff is all very new to me - I've never looked in detail about how the U.S. system is different than in the U.K., or how the bureaucracy is affected by the courts, etc. Despite the intense amount of reading assigned, I've somehow managed to get ahead - some of the books assigned are really interesting. I think I'll write about them in another post.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Hedwig and the Angry Inch & 21

Hedwig and the Angry Inch - This movie is about an East German boy who has a botched sex operation (hense the 'angry inch'), moves to the U.S., and becomes a struggling rock star. I really enjoyed the movie - given the subject, it was much more upbeat than I had expected, and I loved the music. It's a creative story, funny, interesting, and sad at various points. If for no other reason, it's worth watching because it's so different and fun.

21 - This is the movie based on the book "Bringing Down the House" which was a true story about some MIT kids that formed a group and came up with a strategy to win at blackjack by counting cards and using signals with each other. They flew out to Vegas on the weekends and made many thousands of dollars before eventually getting caught. Rather than focusing on the two asian guys at the center of the plan in reality, the movie features an attractive white guy and girl... and the rest of the movie includes similar departures from the reality of the MIT story. They definitely take away from the logic of the story to add to the drama, but that said, it was still a cool movie.

The Time Traveler's Wife

I read this book a couple years ago, and then our book club decided to read it, so I just finished reading it again. It really is a great book - the mechanics of the time-traveling aspect are done well enough that scifi fans will be kept interested and happy and the love-story aspect of the book is extremely well thought out and interesting. It's the only example of a book I know that puts these two genres together so well. I highly recommend the book!

The alternative, you may know, is to try to save time by just seeing the movie. You could do this, you might even like the movie, but be warned that it is considerably less interesting and dynamic than the book. Watching the movie (which I did within 12 hours of finishing re-reading the book - that may have made me hyper-sensitive to changes) I felt like they had taken this complicated and adult-themed book and made it into a movie a 13-year-old girl might enjoy. My main problem was that Clare, who in the book is smart, logical, and self-possessed, becomes the stereotypical whiny, illogical girl in the movie. In general, anything in the book that required thought or complex emotion - things about the characters that might not be entirely wholesome or comfortable/cute get left out. So, see the movie if you like (especially if you've already read the book - just to jog your memory) but also read the book so you can appreciate how good the story really is.

It's September!

Wow, time flies! Somehow I've been meaning to write over the last couple weeks but never find a spare moment. Among the list of notable events...

Live Music by Local Bands - Jeff and I went with some friends to the Black Cat, which is a club/music venue near our house. I think it's the first time we've went to live music (other than jazz) in DC. I had a really good time - I'd like to do a bit more research on what bands play there in the future and then go again!

Visiting Tim & Rachel - Our friends Tim and Rachel have moved from College Park to Baltimore, so we see them less than we used to - so it was really fun to have a Buffalo Wild Wings and Ikea adventure with a week or so ago. They're buying a house, too - more seems to be more evidence that everyone but Jeff and I is starting to settle down with their 'full-time jobs', 'houses', and 'weddings'. It's still graduate school and a studio apartment for Jeff and me... at least for now!

Restaurant Week - Last week was restaurant week, and Jeff and I may have gone a bit overboard - we went to three meals together, and Jeff went to another one without me. My favorite was Urbana, which is a restaurant just west of Dupont Circle. The food was amazing - and they had one dollar oysters! Definitely a place I'd like to try out again. Our lunch at DC coast was also very good - I had a mushroom and tomato soup that was great!

Stephanie's Bday - It was Stephanie Bednarek's birthday last week, also. Unfortunately I missed dinner because I had orientation for school, so I got there just as they were leaving the restuarant. Despite my clever idea that we just all eat dinner one more time, we ended up just chatting for a bit outside the restaurant before heading home. Ah, well.

UMD Orientation - The other main event of last week was the University of Maryland orientation events - the main thing was a short meeting for the PhD students (there are eight of us starting this year) to meet each other, followed by a dinner with all (PhD and Masters) incoming Public Policy students. The speaker during dinner was interesting and funny, and I was really excited to start the program.