Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Future of Nuclear Energy in the World


Recently there have been some intriguing articles in a variety of publications about renewable and alternative energy sources. I subscribe to both The Economist and The Wall Street Journal and took note of articles in both focused on the future of nuclear energy. This topic is particularly relevant to me as a science educator as I have seen it as a topic of study in my classes.

By now it's no news to anybody that finding alternative energy sources is essential to our health as a planet. Not only do we have carbon dioxide levels rising to dangerous levels but we have political problems gaining access to the world's supply of fossil fuels so desperately needed to maintain our energy demands in the United States. (Believe it or not when I was a child the concept of global climate change was a liberal notion of crazy, out-of-touch people.)

One thing I have only become familiar with in recent years is the theoretical amount of energy that can be harvested from nuclear sources. I had no idea that, theoretically, nuclear energy should be able to provide for all of our energy needs, and them some more after that. This is probably why people like Bill Gates bring up nuclear power as the key to energy demands of the future. Bill Gates, the entrepreneur turned business man who achieved the impossible with his power-buster software company of the 1980's that came to dominate the marketplace in the decades that followed. Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world. Bill Gates who can afford to take risks, dream big and think in theory. It's just that theory, in this case, could also mean the end of the planet.

In theory nuclear energy is very appealing. If properly developed, a nuclear plant could solve all of our energy problems. But the realities are discussed very nicely in a recent focus-section of The Economist on nuclear energy. In reality, nuclear energy is too expensive, takes too long to develop and is too risky to really be a viable solution to our energy problems. While it looks viable on paper, nobody has been able to develop a really safe, inexpensive nuclear facility that unleashes this theoretical energy is a usable form. The risks are too high and the payoff, so far, has been too low.

There are political concerns as well. The proliferation of nuclear energy has caused international dissent about how and where nuclear energy is developed and used. Iran, for example, is developing its nuclear capabilities, and for all we know, those capabilities are to make a dangerous bomb. From reading The Economist I gather the majority of the dispute is over exactly how much of Iran's nuclear capability is energy related and how much is in the actual development of a bomb. The difference is subtle. It doesn't say this in the article(s) but I'm figuring that the only way to really tell would be to inspect the nuclear plants very, very carefully. And I suspect Iran does not allow us to do this. So we really don't know exactly how far along they are in unleashing a bomb. For all we know they are creating nuclear power to power the electricity of their citizens. We can't tell the difference from afar.

So as we march forward in our quest to develop renewable energy sources and other ways to replace fossil fuels, we know that we are not meeting our goals fast enough. The Economist outlined the rate that we are currently replacing fossil fuels as compared to what we would need to do to keep carbon emissions under check. With current progress we are falling short. This is disturbing considering the consequences to continued fossil fuel use and carbon dioxide production. But- nuclear energy, according to them, is not the answer.

Maybe they should talk to Bill Gates for some inspiration.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Children's Book on the Elements



I was envisioning what a children's book on the elements might look like:

-   A cross between the Sesame Street version of Law and Order and something like Dr. Seuss with a bunch of funny word combinations. (In SS Law and Order the detectives go on a quest to find a delinquent letter of the alphabet on the run)
-  A narrative in which carbon walks around in chains a bit like Marley when he haunts Scrooge in A Christmas Carol (Carbon has a tendency to form chains and this illustrates this basic characteristic)
-  A narrative in which an oxygen-hydrogen structure sucks everything else to stick to it (like hydrogen bonding)
-  A narrative with a nosy and busybody fluorine molecule that buries itself deep in everybody's business/lives. It buries itself in people's lives and then creates deep damage.


There are so many other character traits that could be developed from the elements chemical behaviors. It would be fun (and challenging) to create such a story with all of this information. And- hopefully it would make the element characteristics more fun to learn and remember for children.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

High School and College Textbooks in the Sciences


I was just reading  a book review on a new e-book for biology students and it reminded me of some of the challenges I've had referring my students to a helpful textbook for introductory chemistry.

The problem is very nicely explained by this writer (a professor) who basically likes the electronic videos and other gimmicks of the e-book and agrees that these tools add dimensionality to the learning environment. However, the particular ones included in this book don't strike him as resonating with sixteen-year-olds.

So, basically there are a bunch of videos that show cool stuff to people who already know what it is. 

This same problem applies to old fashioned textbooks.  Either the textbook is very clear and straightforward (appealing to a typical introductory student), but lacks depth and completeness or is very thorough and complete (appealing to the professor)  but lacks clarity and a sense of logic. How do you effectively teach a class with this problem?

Often many students in an introductory class just want the bare information needed to get whatever grade they need on the test. Chemistry is usually required for whatever career path they have chosen and they know they need the coveted A to get to their next step. For this reason,although introducing extra videos and illustrations from multi-media often seems appealing to the instructor for better understanding from the students, often the students' themselves are frustrated by it. It broadens the number of materials they are required to study for their exam and they usually can't see how it fits into the material presented by the textbook. So while it is possible these extra tools help their long-term understanding of the material, they don't help them perform on the exam.  Many students find this very, very frustrating.

A real-life example of this would be use of the Tro texts for introductory chemistry versus use of the Zumdahl texts. I've used both. The Tro text is wonderful for a step-by-step, logical explanation of each topic in chemistry. Of the three textbooks I've taught introductory chemistry from, it is the only one that explains the topic of Lewis dot structures, VSEPR shapes and bond angles from start to finish and concludes with a very helpful discussion of polarity based on shape. I had never seen such an amazingly clear discussion of the topic before in my education. For this reason, I take diagrams and other tools from this chapter when I'm explaining this to other classes at other junior colleges. Yes, the approved textbook is one by a different author but the chapter on this topic is so good I tack it onto their required reading.  (If someone knows the proper publishing procedure I need to take then please leave a comment after this post. I've tried to contact the publisher without success on this issue.)

As useful as the Tro text is for preparing my students to perform on tests, it does not provide some of the excellent examples of complex items from nature that my Bauer text provides. For example, the post that I wrote about carbon monoxide poisoning was adapted from a diagram/excerpt from my Bauer textbook about the importance of understanding shape/function of molecules. This kind of discussion cannot be found in Tro. It's a bit of a tangent really- only peripherally related to the main topic of the chapter. While I found it fascinating, I doubt most of my students know enough about science to appreciate its relevance to what they are learning.

I keep a very detailed blackboard site of all of the resources I provide for my students. I'm always hesitant to add extra items to it for fear the students will get bogged down in a swamp of information. I'm just fearful that the meandering explanations of Zumdahl and the unclear examples in the text actually confuse them more than educate them. However, their required homework is from Zumdahl (a very educated and accomplished chemist- just not all that clear for beginners.) Therefore, I must teach from Zumdahl and any additional materials I feel explain thoroughly and clearly the material on which I want to test.

It's really hard. Sometimes I think the students don't really know what they are supposed to study because I present so many different ideas from different resources.

Monday, March 19, 2012

More on Happiness.....

Gretchen Rubin would be someone I would have a really good time with as a friend. Our most obvious common interest is LM Montgomery. Apparently, when she identified children's literature as an interest of hers, she read everything written by LM Montgomery (among numerous other children's books). This caused me to think about my own interests: am I also interested in children's literature or just LM Montgomery's writing? I think the answer is that I am interested in children's literature but probably not enough to join a weekly club. I am also not a Harry Potter fanatic. For example, I own the first four books and have never touched the fourth one. All of the movies after the fourth or fifth one are films I will have to watch in their TV versions. But- I have read five out of the seven Narnia books and A Wrinkle in Time.  Gretchen obviously seems to have more time (or interest) in reading than I do. My adult nonfiction stack seems to grow larger and larger with books I want to read but haven't found the time for yet. I can't also add a bunch of children's books I read long ago and admired but would need to reread for a book group. I'll let her have that one for herself.

However, Gretchen's children's literature group reminded me of something about myself. It actually made me pat myself on the back somewhat. Some of the changes she describes are changes I made consciously after college without thinking exactly of my happiness, per say, but my sanity. I really needed a break and some outlets of lowering my stress after college. To this end I made an effort to get involved in some activities I had enjoyed as a child. This is the exact advice she gives herself- and one of the reason's she starts the children's literature club. My outlet of happiness was to join a music club. During my senior year in college I joined the Sigma Alpha Iota women's music fraternity. My hope was to have performance opportunities as an alumnus. Here we are fifteen/sixteen years later and that is exactly what that organization did for me. But- it also did much more than that (without my knowledge). Through my involvement in SAI here in San Diego I've formed a group of lasting friendships that are priceless. In some cases I have nothing else in common with my fellow club members other than our  interest in music. However, in some cases, the friendships have expanded beyond the group into outside friendships. Joining a group with people who have a common interest really is a way to create more happiness- whether it's the enjoyed activity itself or the contact with others, I have experienced first-hand Gretchen's notion that happiness can be found in a club.

All of this fit into her chapter on learning how to play. Another fun idea she had was to start a collection. Hers was a bluebird collection. I wondered if I should take up my old collection of stamps or if I should start something new. The more I thought about it the more I thought renewing my interest in stamps would bring me the most happiness.  Part of happiness is recalling happy times. And working on my stamp collection as a child was a very happy experience for me.  It wasn't really me that started the collection. Sure- I took the stamps off their backs and arranged them in books but I didn't actually obtain them myself. My father brought them home from work. He and his colleagues received correspondence from people all over the world - remember this is during the 1980's before email and the Internet. All communication was via snail mail. This was a good thing for me- once word spread that my father's young daughter collected stamps I received all kinds of stamps for my collection. More important than the actual collection, however, were the connections made with people through the exchange of the stamps. Just by tearing a small square off of an envelope and handing it to my dad at work I grew to recognize people's names and job titles. Unfortunately, much of this was also possible because of the use of secretarial staff in hospitals back in the 1980's. This was back when a real person actually answered the phone and they had people to dictate and type manuscripts and other correspondence. With the changes in health care, I doubt such a collection would be possible for a young daughter of a doctor today.

The collection was so much more than a collection. It was a conversation piece, reason to connect with others in my father's office and a community building activity. It brought happiness.

I'm eager to explore more of Gretchen's ideas about happiness.

Friday, March 16, 2012

My Search for a Nanny.....

So the latest news on this is the amount of money that it costs to hire a separate company to hire/fire and pay my nanny.

And the conclusion is that this is way too expensive. It is twenty-one dollars an hour to hire a temporary nanny who is covered by social security and unemployment through an agency. That is absolutely ridiculous. I could end up paying more for childcare than I make as a salary. Add gas for the commute on top of that (I drive up to Irvine) and the costs associated with working could easily surpass my income.

It's too bad the law doesn't allow honest people to hire a nanny without making them reach so far into their pocketbook that they decide it is more cost-effective to stay home.

I'm thinking I hope one of John's relatives volunteers to do childcare for my daughter. This seems so much easier than formal nanny/childcare. How do people do it? I honestly don't know.

looking for a nanny


I saw an article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday comparing Mitt Romney and Obama in terms of their corporate tax reform policy. I thought to myself, "Could we make those corporate tax reforms apply to moms please?" Here is the reason I wondered such a thing:

I will need to hire a part-time nanny if I am going to go back to teaching in the fall. My husband feels much more comfortable with this option than any kind of group daycare or home daycare. However, it also is more expensive, if done according to the law. Most people actually break the law on this one and there is a good reason why (although I do not agree with breaking the law). A nanny is considered a domestic employee in your home and, therefore, regardless of whether the person is part-time or full-time, they are considered a W2 employee. It is illegal to 1099 your nanny. Apparently the IRS has a specific section of the code related to this regulation. Therefore, if you hire a nanny and  for some reason the arrangement doesn't work out, you are responsible for unemployment, medical and social security. My sister had this experience when she hired a nanny for her infant daughter about five years ago. The nanny was a great caregiver but insisted on creating her own schedule and dictating policy in the home. For this reason, my sister had to fire her. And- because she is a W2 employee my sister was obligated to pay her unemployment insurance. On top of that, if my sister wanted to rehire a different person to fill her shoes, her unemployment tax would increase about four times the previous rate. My sister was treated as a business and every business has a hire/fire ratio. Since she only employed one person, her hire/fire ratio was 100% and, therefore, she was obligated to pay more into unemployment insurance.

Now- how many people can afford to hire a nanny under these conditions? It doesn't make sense. Especially if you only need someone ten to fifteen hours a week as I will need in the fall. The majority of people simply break the law and either pay cash under the table or create a 1099 situation where they are not responsible for the extra government fees. I would like to be a good citizen and follow the law and so I intend to find a company that will create the W2 for me so the nanny is their employee instead of mine. Apparently, there is only one such company in the entire city of San Diego.  (There is only one such company in Bellingham, Washington where my sister lives but that is a much, much smaller city.)

Only one such company? This is an immigration issue. The reason that only one company like this exists is because of illegal immigrants who come from Mexico. Today I spoke with the owner of a nanny company in San Diego and she explained the situation to me. Nobody can afford to W2 their employees for temporary work because there is not enough demand for them. It is too expensive and not enough people use the service. Everybody employs undereducated, illegal immigrants from Mexico and pays them under the table.

How is that for a law that doesn't make sense? (Read my previous entries about regulations and the importance of relevance and enforecability) In this case, people who follow the law (like me) pay huge fees that cut into their profits while those who break the law and employ illegals pay less money and are not responsible for social security and unemployment insurance. Why can't we modify the law to benefit American nannies and create a more level playing field in this industry?

What a nonsensical system. And, once again, we are back to the concept that you can't get away from regulatory.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Joseph James Kinyoun- Founder of National Institutes of Health


Every family needs a genealogist. For the good of the family and for the good of the public it is critical to keep careful family records of all birth/death dates as well as complete family names of parents and children in each generation. Here is why:

Especially since the advent of the Internet my father has received numerous inquiries about his family connection to Joseph James Kinyoun, the man often credited for founding the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  It is an easy association to assume my father is related to him- his name is James Kinyoun (spelled the same way) and he is also a doctor. People type in "Joseph James Kinyoun"and come up with my father's profile as their top google hit, "James Kinyoun."

For this reason I had been looking for a number of years for a family connection between Joseph James Kinyoun and our family. It took me nearly ten years to find the connection. It is so distant that one mistake on a document or misinformation entered on a web site could have deterred me forever from knowing the real truth.

In my possession I have a recount of the family history of my father's family. It came from dear Aunt Dorothy Kinyoun, late aunt of my grandfather. She used to show up at family events when I was a kid. I could never figure out exactly who she was and why she always sent me homemade scarves and hats for Christmas. She and Claude (Mike) Kinyoun had never had any children and she had apparently adopted her nephew's (my grandfather Robert Kinyoun) children as her own. I always thought it was a bit strange she had no other family other than her in-laws children and grandchildren but I never said anything about it. We had no idea how blessed we were.

Dorothy took meticulous records of her knowledge of the Kinyouns. It is because of her that I have birth/death dates for James Edward Kinyoun and a bit of information about his children. Here is what I know:

James Edward Kinyoun came to Nebraska to raise his family. He had a daughter Jessie and a son Lem who both died. He had two sons who both lived to have children: Robert Edward Kinyoun I and John Wesley Kinyoun. (The Wesley Kinyoun family lives in Superior Nebraska today.)

This information (along with some other narrative about his life) matches the information about James Edward Kinyoun that I found on ancestry.com during a family Christmas celebration in Nebraska in 2007. My husband was playing pool with my uncle and cousins and it gave me a good excuse to duck into the study for some research.

James Edward Kinyoun (born and died on ancestry.com the same years as my Aunt Dorothy's records indicate) is the son of James Lemuel Kinyoun. James Lemuel Kinyoun was the son of Joel Kinyoun, assistant paymaster in George Washington's colonial army. Joel Kinyoun came from England to settle in America, according to text in a book written by Joseph Kinyoun Houts about John Hendricks Kinyoun (father of Joseph James).

Here is the complicated part of the story that is confusing because the records are not clear: Joel Kinyoun must have had two wives that both had a son named "James Kinyoun" within about two years of each other. So "James Kinyoun"and "James Lemuel Kinyoun" were half brothers, I think. James Lemuel (known as Lemuel) was the father of James Edward Kinyoun (my relative) while James Kinyoun (his half brother) was the father of John Hendricks Kinyoun, surgeon in the civil war for the south. John Hendricks Kinyoun is the father of Joseph James Kinyoun, founder of NIH.

Whewwww..... you say. Yes, that is complicated. So- to summarize: Joseph James Kinyoun is the second cousin of my great-great grandfather Robert Edward Kinyoun I. Their fathers (John Hendricks and James Edward) were first cousins. And their fathers were brothers. Except- it is not a full brotherhood- they were half brothers (I think). So- we are only half related to that side of the family.

Always, always, always keep meticulous records. You never know when you might want to trace the history of your family.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Carl Zimmer's Book Review in Wall Street Journal

I have not yet reached mature heights of professionalism because I am able to revel in someone else's mistake. And- that mistake is Carl Zimmer's mistake. I do not know Carl other than a few brief emails we have exchanged back and forth but I have heard of him as an acclaimed science communicator. And apparently even those make a few errors along the way.

The book review (found here) is a nice discussion of two books about gene therapy. The review is quite informative- I learned a lot about a topic that I do not follow very closely.  However, he mentions some chemistry and actually does not quite get it right. Here is the problem:

"The metaphor only goes so far, though. DNA does not float in isolation. It is intricately wound around spool-like proteins called histones. It is studded with caps made of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms, known as methyl groups. This coiling and capping of DNA allows individual genes to be turned on and off during our lifetimes. "

If he had paid attention in general and organic chemistry he would know that methyl groups are strictly defined as carbon/hydrogen functional groups. Once you introduce oxygen you have a ketone, carboxyl group, alcohol, carboxylic acid, aldehyde or a few others that I won't mention.

Never thought teaching these intro chemistry classes would allow me to smugly make a correction in the Wall Street Journal!

Now- let's give Carl a break here. He is not discussing chemistry. He is merely making note of it within a discussion of a completely different topic. But- as scientists we are precise. Part of this precision is knowing our functional groups.

Perhaps Carl would benefit from my class. Somehow I can't see him enrolling in a JC to brush up on his chemistry. I'll have to settle for this short blog entry which he will probably never read.

I'm not smug- not really. I just know that I have found something in WSJ that I can correct! I have contributed to the body of literature. Gold star for me (See previous post about gold stars as part of my happiness project)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

About Maria Shriver's blog

There is the most wonderful post on Maria Shriver's blog written by a woman who was an executive in publishing. It basically outlines her life from rising star to mother of two with a consuming career and then back to stay-at-home mom after she quit her job.

Typical scenario really- executive female realizes she is missing out on the best part of her life by not staying home. This time I thought of something new while I was reading about what was otherwise not a unique situation.

Some of the most precious achievements and moments in life come without any effort, planning or money. The moment your babies are born every minute seems like a treasure. The feedings, diapers, late-nights and accidents.....all of this is so mundane but irreplaceable with any other experience in life.

I say this with a twinge of regret because I too want it all in life. I want the career, the power, the money, AND I want to have my husband and children as well. I know, however, that if I had all of those things I would go  nuts. Believe me, it has happened before. I end up hating every part of my life that I am supposed to enjoy. Hobbies and other enjoyments become chores when I am so stressed out I cannot function.

I cannot do it all and so I say I do not want to do it all. But I do. I really do want it all. I just cannot have it all and maintain my sanity.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

A Gold Star

I'm really enjoying Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project. It is making me want to start one of my own.
One of her comments struck me as especially profound yesterday. She said something like, "One of my worst faults is my need for recognition. I always want the gold star, the award, or the acknowledgment for something I have achieved."

She hit the nail on the head. I too suffer from this fault. I think it comes from my upbringing in which I would watch my older sister participate in some activity and then study it carefully for how to garner maximum attention and credit for doing the same activity. I got pretty good at it. I'm ashamed to admit that I was this scheming at age fourteen or so.

Anyway, it really is a terrible fault and here is why. Ultimately, the most progress is made when nobody is looking or noticing. Is that motivating? The answer for a very mature and advanced person should be yes. Unfortunately for me (and I'm sure for a lot of other people) the answer is no. I don't find it motivating that I make more progress when nobody is looking.  This might be because whatever I was trying to do was not successful!  It could also be an outcome that was covered up (even if successful) or for some other reason not noticeable to other people. 

I'm so glad Gretchen reminded me about this fault that I have because I can reflect on it again and remember why it is such a destructive way to live life. Here are a few examples of where I know this to be true in my own experience.

When I was a child my mother forced me to take piano lessons. I hated it. I would devise reasons I couldn't practice. I was an expert at practice avoidance as a child. I'm not sure how I got through that stage because as an adult I love music and my appreciation of it. Most of this appreciation was gained when nobody (except my mother) was really noticing. As an adult I can download different classical songs on my ipod and enjoy a Brahms, Chopin, Liszt, or Beethoven (to name a few). My favorites, by far, are Chopin and Liszt. It is the romanticism of their music that really gets my emotions and feelings moving.

Interestingly, when I was a young adult at age eighteen I turned this hidden appreciation into a public display of recognition. I realized this hobby that had been largely secret up to that point, could really bring me public recognition and credit in my community. I performed at my high school graduation in front of five thousand people and it changed my life for better and for worse. The "worse" part was that I was now hooked on public recognition. I loved it. I thrived on pleasing the audience- having people ask me for more. The better part was that I really loved public performance and it felt really rewarding that they loved me too.  Unfortunately, although this taught me a very valuable life lesson it did not teach me the reality of life: Most unnoticed contributions do not turn into public recognition. Some of the most valuable contributions we make are never noticed and shouldn't be noticed.

There are many scientists and writers who have not been appreciated in their lifetimes. Does this mean they wasted their efforts during their lives? I'll have to say yes and no here. I hope they were able to find something that gave them enough recognition to pay their bills. However, they truly followed their passions, talents and interests and did make a recognizable contribution to the world.

Does a contribution have to be recognizable to be real? Its a fascinating question that does not have an answer. If it isn't recognizable then is it really a contribution? This could be the title of a book to be researched about all of the contributions that were never recognized during people's lifetimes. I may have just stumbled on my next book topic.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Remembering situations that make me happy

I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from an old friend the other day. Back in 1998-1999 I joined a musical group at a church as one of two flute players. At the time it was a way to fill time after college in the interim of trying to decide what steps to take next in life.

Catherine was the lead vocalist on the team and the general organizer of the group. She emailed me to invite me to like her facebook page. She and her husband just moved to Burbank California and were working in film and music projects.

The email reminded me of what an incredible experience that music team was for me. At the time I didn't realize it nor did I set out to have such an incredible experience. I just opened up my schedule for 1-2 hours per week and saw an amazing experience unfold.

The director was a woman in her mid-late thirties who had previously had a job writing/scoring music for Nova specials on TV. She had been nominated for at least one Emmy and it wasn't clear to me whether or not she had won the award. (The pastor seemed convinced that she had won although I received different information from other people.)

She wrote parts for each musician on the team to familiar songs we always sang at church. The style of the music was really original- she seemed to add a flavor to familiar tunes that I hadn't heard before.

The weekly practices were a team building experience and the weekly services a chance to lead in front of the church.

The most special part of the experience were the special services like Christmas and Easter. Now that I attend a church without an established music program I really appreciate the training and effort it took to put together those programs. There was narrative to go along with music and a bit of drama as well. It was the perfect combination of speaking and music to make the holiday seem extra special.

Looking back, it would have been neat to learn some of the composing that Kari did for the group. I have done a bit of composing in the past- I composed my senior year of high school for my senior project. However, I don't have any formal training in composition which is what Kari brought to the table.

I've never seen a group like that in my twelve years of living in southern California. It was a unique experience that I didn't fully appreciate at the time. Sometimes these boosts come our way- we fall into something marvelous and don't even realize it until its long past. Its these types of experiences that truly make me happy.

Friday, March 02, 2012

The Happiness Project

There is a New York Times bestselling book titled The Happiness Project. My mother sent it to me and I am really, really hooked on what this lady had to say.

I haven't read very much of it yet but what I have read intrigues me. Her most important piece of advice is "Be Gretchen." (Her name is Gretchen.) Her need for legitimacy led her to attend law school and clerk for Sandra Day O'Connor. During this clerkship she realized that her fellow classmates read law articles in their spare time and loved it. She spent the required time needed to finish the clerkship but found herself doing other things in her spare time. She took one other law position after that but realized what she really wanted to do was be a writer. She is fulfilling the goal of "Be Gretchen" by being a writer- and this is part of happiness. But- part of happiness is also having enough money to pay the bills and support a family.

This lady speaks to me on a very deep level. I can relate with the need to feel legitimate. Its a bit like JK Rowling (Harry Potter) being told by her father to pick a practical major in college- not writing. She needed that practical major after college too. Her deadbeat, drunken husband was not able to support her and her baby before the Harry Potter books were sold. She was forced to take a teaching position at a high school to pay the bills. I think all writers can relate to the advice that some other educational background/experience is necessary for that person to have something to fall back on. Writers, musicians, all entertainers need to have day jobs. If JK Rowling had solely lived by the philosophy to "Be Joanna" she would have been starving in the streets with her infant and Harry Potter might never have been sold to a publisher. The "Be Myself" rule can only be taken so far in life for true happiness to be achieved.

It's like walking a balance beams or tight rope. You walk the tight rope that feeds your inner desires and passions only to realize your basic need for food and shelter may not be met. So you hop over to the tight rope of the practical to select a very marketable, practical line of work that pays the bills. This tight rope presents its own challenges which often lead to the same feeling of a satiation of passion and fulfillment. I think it just takes longer to find fulfillment in a job that is practical- you need to practice it long enough to appreciate the mastery of something that is really useful in the world.

It is incredibly satisfying to help chemistry students master the trade. I've received emails from students profusely thanking me for my services. Apparently I helped them learn the material and motivated them to continue in their careers. This is incredibly rewarding. Do I get the passion rush of mastering a classical piano piece and performing it with all the emotion my soul can muster? No, but it is a different kind of reward.

What can I say? We can't all be the Meryl Streep of our trade. I knew a star student of the musical/drama/theater department at Northwestern University my freshman year. From recent surfing on the web it seems her show was cancelled in Chicago and I can't find much on the Internet about her recent performances. Even someone as talented as she was is struggling right now in this difficult economy.

I've digressed from the original topic of the Happiness Project. The author spends a year of her life focusing on improving her life to become happier. She works on all aspects of her life: relationships (marriage), career, friendships, health and hobbies (to name a few). Her main question to herself is this: What is it in life that makes me happy and how do I bring more of it into my daily life?

I want to ask myself this question over the coming year. What is it that makes me happy? How can I find more of that in my day to day life. Interestingly, one of Gretchen's pieces of advice is to start a blog- which I have done here. A blog is a way to measure progress on small goals and mark that progress in writing.

One of the parts of an online blog that is really positive is the accountability I get from readers. I know there are people out there who will measure my progress by reading this blog. One of the drawbacks in the lack of privacy in a public blog.

I know writing makes me happy. I plan to add many entries to this blog over the coming months and comment on my happiness. Could I take steps to be happier?