Category Archives: Engineering Princess

Blog reflection: Fit is a feminist issue

There are a couple of blogs I follow and instead of just listing them and saying boring stuff like “this is a cool blog” I thought it would be a good exercise to explain why I like it and then give a personal take on one of the issue discussed in the said blog.

Fit is a feminist issue is run by two philosophy professors from Toronto. There are a number of contributors, mostly friends and colleagues. Topics range from personal fitness endeavours, health studies reported in media, body image, accessibility, aging etc all seen thought feminist lens. I like it because it touches on many interesting subjects without being tedious. A number of other feminist publications I followed were either not very relevant to me personally or very angry. There is certainly a need for these in the World, but I want to read something I can enjoy or learn from. This blog is pretty good that way. The latest topic was tracking fitness, particularly with fitbits, garmins, and similar gadgets. Shall I wade into it?

I track my weight using The Hacker’s Diet spreadsheet. I use a basic bike computer on my touring bike only. I used to, but no longer, record my rides with Endomondo or Strava. I think that’s about it.

The Hacker’s Diet worked well for me in losing the baby weight and I find that it still gives me a good insight into what is going on with my metabolism. I tend to go for a big bike ride every few weeks in the summer and the spreadsheet allows me to make educated guess about the effects. If I am eating like horse for a week after a challenging ride and losing weight anyway I am probably still recovering. I have learned that on long bike rides the heat will stress me much more than wind or distance (horizontal or vertical). I have also realized that I lose weight on vacation because I only stress snack while working.

While the bike computer does keep track of cumulative distance, I don’t remember when I last reset it or why which makes otherwise rather impressive mileage meaningless. The bike computer readings are only useful to me while on the road. I do make a point of checking the trip stats when I get home but they get erased the next time I set out.

The most obvious reason I no longer record GPS signal of my bike rides is that my cellphone is getting old and can no longer keep charge for long enough. Also, I don’t care as much which makes me forget to turn the tracking off at the end of the ride so I end up with the data about my trip inside Costco or a car ride somewhere (breaking all kinds of speed records! Whee!). Three years ago when my phone was new and my cargo bike was new and I started getting into longer distances I found Endomondo app really useful. For one thing, I wanted to justify buying the cargo bike by proving that I am using it a lot. It also gave me a good idea how long it takes me to get places. I could look at my last three trips to Farm Boy and get a good sense how long the next trip would take. After a year I had as much data as I need. These days I appreciate checking out the trip reports my friends collected but I prefer the untethered feeling of having the phone off. I enjoy the ride in the moment and then confine it to the mercy of my deliciously selective and subjective memory.

It took us well over an hour to get the eggs.

Film: Lunchbox

If you have known me for a while you might remember that I was involved with “Women in Engineering” initiative back in University. Every year we would invite high school girls to check out the ECS faculty and tell them what a great thing it is to be an engineer. It has been fifteen years since and I thought this would be a good time to reflect on how far we have come.

For me, engineering has worked out very well. I don’t think I would want to, or even could, ever do anything else. Yet, looking at statistics of enrollment in engineering programs, it looks like the initiative I was involved had very short lived success. Not only did the women’s enrollment not rise since my halcyon days, but the numbers dropped slightly and then stagnated.

When I was at University, I thought it was only a matter of time until women are about as likely to pursue a career in science or engineering as men. Now, I am not sure if that will ever happen.

Happy early Women’s Day anyway!

Oh the education…

What I told Trevor would happen if he doesn’t do his homework

Did you know that memorizing multiplication tables is not required by Ontario curriculum?

Yes! I say. Good riddance rote multiplication tables and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Alas, not everyone is as relieved about this as me and many parents in my neighbourhood are concerned with the “Discovery Math” approach currently used in Ontario schools. With nothing better to recommend my opinion than having had 12 years of math instruction in the traditional system here is what I think:

Somewhere between grade one and post graduate level, a student with an average brain has to make a shift from “fundamental” (i.e. you have memorized the rules and methods and are applying them to a problem that is obviously calling for these) to “derived” (you have a problem and you have to figure out how to solve this based on what you already know). My understanding of Discovery Math is that instead of having to make this shift in private, as was the case when I was in school, it pre-emptively makes this shift for you by making it difficult to rely on “fundamental” approach to solve problems.

In Discovery math students tend put in much more work and get lower grades. I think this is because in the same period of time they are not only expected to learn mathematical concepts thought through “fundamental” method, but are expected to learn to learn. At our local high school the students are expected to work in teams to figure out solutions rather than have the teacher answer all of their questions immediately. Furthermore, they are given word problems such as “how many balls can you fit in the box of this size” or “here is a picture of a bridge, describe it in mathematical terms”. The parents I talked to are are somewhere between slightly disapproving to outright outraged. The teachers I’ve spoken to are not worried at all. Though I have neither gone though this kind of instruction myself nor had a kid go through it yet, I like the idea – this is pretty much how it was at University. Professors were very rarely available to help and even less rarely of any use therefore groupthink was the most efficient way to learn. Questions on the exams were almost never prepped for in the class and many old exams had to be obtained on the sly (or not at all) with only few of the teachers willing to share them. It is interesting that a high school would create up a mock-University setup. It well might be “too much too early” but the idea of forcing students to deal with situation they are to encounter in a much less supportive environment in a year or two is not unappealing to me.

Though if I had to admit the truth, I think that my inclination towards Discovery Math stems from personal experience. I would say that people use “fundamental” approach for as long as their mental abilities to remember methods and apply them appropriately can measure up to the complexity of the math curriculum. At one point, if you are not streamed away from math and math-like courses, you hit the wall and have to invest more time and effort to do tasks your peers (even those that are not as strong in math as you) are doing with no visible trouble. I would not think it uncommon that “hitting the wall” is usually accompanied by a period of bad grades and severely injured pride along with the hitherto not required mental effort to keep up and get back to begin good at math. For me this happened in grade two and multiplication tables. It took me until grade five to recover.

So let’s say that you had to solve 8×7 and you were not allowed to use a piece of paper or your fingers. A kid that has multiplication tables memorized would simply say 56. I would have to (and still do) calculate the following

– add a 0 behind 7 to get to 10×7
– subtract 7 to get to 9×7
– now I have to subtract another 7 but we only have 3 until the next 0 so actuality subtract 3 and then 4 to get to 8×7

7×10 – 7 – 3 – 4

Also, you have to do this quickly to keep up with the jerks who simply memorized this. To my credit, by the time we got to grade 9, I was able to do calculations in my head using my technique while most other students had to use the calculator because memorization only got them so far. I am not saying that you should not memorize things if you can, but I don’t believe the benefit of memorization is particularly long lasting. For me the “wall” period lasted a few years and was not pleasant. It also happened unusually early – I would guess that most people going into University programs requiring math credits would hit the wall in late high school or at University.

If you go along with the wall analogy, the Discovery Math is essentially artificially creating this wall, perhaps earlier than the student would encounter it in the wild, and teaching them to get over it explicitly as part of the curriculum. I wonder how successful this is, particularly as many people get streamed out of math before they get to make the switch or perhaps choose to stream out of sciences because they are not able to make it.

In any case, I don’t think my kids in particular are in danger from Discovery Math though I can’t vouch for anyone else’s. I think I would have done well in a Discovery Math setting if it was available when I was a kid, but at the end of the day I did fine anyway.

Early March the 8th rant

Eight feet marching, get it? haha

After Markus was born people would ask me if we are going to try for a girl or if I am disappointment that I only have boys. I would truthfully reply that I was hoping for three boys and I feel very fortunate that it has come to pass in such a way. After a while the vehemence of this feeling started to startle me. Surely, had I had a daughter I would have loved her as much as I love my boys. So why do I feel such a relief at not having one?

A possible explanation occurred to me recently while I was reading Sheryl Sandbergs’ “Lean In” (Book review: Well written book with interesting examples and well though out advice though essentially, yawn, noting you haven’t heard before.). While Croatia in the 80’s was, on paper, a place of equal genders, the radio hostesses would sardonically remind us on March the 8th that we are by miles better off than women in more backward and violent countries. The systematic and socially ingrained misogyny grated me more than any other real or perceived injustice.

Canada today is possibly as far removed from my childhood as those violent and barbaric countries we consoled ourselves with were removed from the 1980’s Zagreb, but the fact that Sandberg’s book was written, published, bought and presumably read causes me to think that I was perhaps justified in not wishing to put a daughter through all that crap.

And yet, really, life is not fair, whatevs. I still managed to grow up, get a job and live well. I can’t really come up with any example of how backwardness of my environment set me back. If anything I developed thicker skin and “I’ll show them” attitude. Though I am not aware of any of my elementary school classmates becoming engineers, they are OK doing girly jobs like being doctors, judges and accountants, according to Facebook anyway. Oh, one girl is in theatre though, perhaps, that is irrelevant.

So if I had had a daughter, despite the messages my childhood self graffitied and hid in the back of my mind, she would have been fine. You cannot change the laws of physics, but there are laws you can change and gravity sucks but only on sufficiently large planets.

Anyhoot, happy early Women’s Day. Yes, it is a month away but I am pretty much guaranteed to forget it.

Film: Les Miserables

Wizard Markus

It’s been well over a year since Markus was born and I feel that I have finally managed to get back on track. I have caught up with workload at the office and am back on a normal sustainable schedule. We manage to spend a few nice hours with the kids in the evening and for the most part we have been able to make and eat good meals.

The house is still full of clutter and though it annoys me it is probably going to stay this way for a while since I have to ration my vacation days for the fun stuff like actual vacations. On the positive note, we have implemented a strict kids clean up their toys or else policy and it is working so far (a full week!). Now we just have to get them to clean up our junk and we’re set.

Speaking of vacations we’re planning a few new things for this year. PEI is our big destination but hopefully we’ll get a few more short trips. Some camping and biking I hope, with obligatory leaf peeping for my b-day. We’re starting to look at summer camps for Trev, crazy!

As far as fitness goes I have shifted into a new gear. Last six years were all about pregnancies and caring for babies and my “wellness” (what a stupid word, even apostrophes are not making it any cooler but it is too close to my bedtime to pull out a thesaurus) routine was aligned with this. The challenge now is to find a way to stay in nice shape given limited time and decreased tolerance of fitness classes and fads that comes with age. Though I was perfectly happy to take aerobics classes, lift weights at the gym and not eat for half a day just so I can enjoy an evening yoga class in my twenties I am highly unlikely to do any of that now. I am putting my money on different variations of biking by spinning in winter and doing at least one longer ride per week in the summer. That is the plan anyhow.

I was considering taking a sewing class but am leaning towards getting some sort of self guided lesson instead. That is, I was planning that until my sewing machine cracked for the third time since October. That $200 to repair the thirty year old clunker that I though was a great idea turned out to be a complete waste. Oh well, that’ll learn me. I am going to start looking at new machines though I am not planning on actually purchasing anything until the fall. At least I have knitting.

And yes, I am going to find new theme for the blog background. I guess I am not a fan of the clean and uncluttered web page look. To counteract the boringness of the page, here is the picture of my little wizard: (edited, the picture is now on the top of the post)

It is not shown here, but while I was not looking Trevor brought in a huge stick into the house. It did not take long for the redheaded Merlin to find it and turn it into a staff. Fortunately for most domestic applications he prefers cutlery.

Film – The King’s Speech

Huh boy! I am done with grad school. The defense was fun, I talked for about 20 minutes and then we’ve had an hour and a half of discussion. My mom and Chris say that I did well. Anyhow, I’ve made the updates, printed and handed in the thesis and now I am done.

First thing I did was revel in euphoria, then I hit an existential crisis. For eight years I described myself as a grad student, but now, what am I? Then I was Ok because I am still a relation to a whole stack of people some of which rely on my quite heavily and I am still a full time engineer which is plenty. Then I went to get my graduation gifts. I got a nice serving set and a mighty good stack of fabric:




Anyhow, living without the nagging feeling that I should drop everything that I am doing to finish my thesis is strange, but I can get used to it. I am getting into the projects that I have been planning for a while, but did not want to start before I was finished with school. So, you know what my next foray into learning is? Spinning! As in learn to spin and ply wool fibre on a handspindle. Useful? No, but it does not have to be! I have finished my serious education and I can do whatever I want (within reason).