A little perspective

It has been a stressful week, and as I went down to the hospital cafeteria for lunch today, I was feeling sorry and frustrated with how things in my life have been going lately. How there’s too much stuff to do in too little time. You know the feeling.

Then I walked past a woman pushing one of those wheeled stands full of electronic monitoring devices, bags of IV fluids, tubes with dripping liquids, etc. She was looking down at the base of the stand and there was a tiny little girl in pajamas, no more than 3 years old, wrapped around the pole at the base of the stand, sitting on a colorful pillow and looking up at her mom. I didn’t need to follow the tubes and wires from the monitors to realize she was the one connected to them, because she was completely, unnaturally bald.

And she wanted pancakes.

God, it’s so easy to get trapped in the echo chamber of our own lives, isn’t it? Sometimes it feels like we’re the only ones suffering, when in reality there are people in this world putting up with challenges that are literally unimaginable. How about a little bit of perspective?

Little girl, I don’t know you, but I hope and pray that you and your family find the strength to get through this, and that you live a long and happy life.

And even though it was lunchtime, I hope that you got all the pancakes your little tummy could hold. With whipped cream and strawberries!


My dad on gambling

My dad wrote a guest opinion column for the local paper in Johnstown. Apparently Pennsylvania is considering legalizing video poker as a revenue-raising measure, and as the good Methodist minister he is, Dad is speaking out against it:

The legalization of video poker is a quick fix that preys on the citizens of Pennsylvania. Like any addictive behavior, it would trade a false and momentary sense that all is well for long-term heartache. We should insist on more socially responsible public policies.

See the article here.

I (heart) Jonathan Coulton

Jonathan Coulton is one of those people that exemplifies the best of the Internet can be about. He’s a folky, slightly nerdy, and exceptionally talented musician who did the “Thing a Week” project a year or two, where he produced one song a week for one year and released all of them for free (under a Creative Commons license) on his website. Many of these tracks have subsequently battered geek culture like a series of class 5 hurricanes of humor, including an ode to lovelorn IT workers everywhere, the finest song about zombies ever written, and a cover of an 80’s classic.

So I downloaded the whole series of “Thing a Week” sometime shortly after the new year, and I like many of them a lot. But two songs in particular have stuck with me, not because they’re funny (they’re not), but in how they’ve really captured the tone of my life over the past three or four months: “So Far So Good“, and the ridiculously beautiful “When You Go“. It’s probably not a secret to the people likely to be reading this that a few months ago I was involved in a pretty bad breakup, which has been hurtful, painful, and messy. (I in particular said and did things of which I am not proud.) These two songs ring so true, one about what I’ve finally gotten over (“When You Go”) and one about where I am now (“So Far So Good”), that they’ve really gotten a lot of play time in my MP3 player. So thank you very much, Mr. Coulton; you’ve gotten me through a lot.

Matthew D. Zimmerman, Ph.D.

On Tuesday I successfully defended my Ph.D. dissertation, and am now a doctor (of philosophy in biophysics, so I’m afraid I can’t write you prescriptions). Those of you who feel that me finally finishing my degree after nearly a decade is a sign of the apocalypse (and at points I counted myself among your number) should make your way to the bomb shelters. My public seminar and defense went well, and I only have a few revisions I need to make.

Later that night, I found that my girlfriend Bonnie had thrown together a surprise graduation party for me in the church basement, helped by many other people. I was completely surprised. I kept saying I’ve never felt so smart and so dumb in the same day. Many of my friends, coworkers, and family were there, and some traveled a long way to be there. Leslie, a friend of Bonnie’s and mine, put up some pictures on her blog.

Thank you to everyone who came, and thanks to those who couldn’t make it but passed along good wishes. Extra thanks to my sister Suzanne, who put together a very nice (albeit mildly embarrassing) slide show and a wonderful scrapbook for me, my family for driving such a long way in a such a short time to be there the whole day, and to Leslie and Renita for helping to prepare the party and taking wonderful pictures. And of course, enormous thanks to my lovely Bonnie, who deviously masterminded the whole thing. I love all of you.

This has been a very long journey, and I’m so happy and relieved (and in some ways, a little sad) that it is over. I am so grateful for all of you who have walked with me at various phases of the trip. I couldn’t have done it without you.


In case you may be concerned that I have fallen off the face of the earth, I’ve been working on my Ph.D. dissertation. But I am emerging from my cocoon now, as yesterday I turned in my dissertation to my committee. (Yes, this has been a long time in coming– cough, cough, nine years, cough…)

My defense is scheduled for Tuesday, September 18, 2007 at 1:00 PM. I will give an hour-long public presentation of my research, then my advisor and the four other faculty on my committee will shepherd everyone else out of the room for a closed-door oral examination. If all goes well, they will sign my cover page and I will be a doctor. (No, not that kind of doctor.)

The presentation is open to the public (if you are in Charlottesville, it will be held in the large conference room on the fourth floor of Jordan Hall) but I suspect that unless you’re a structural biologist, you would find it pretty dull. There will be some sort of celebration to take place that week, so stay tuned.

A year in the life

I wrote my last “A Year In The Life” column for the Wesley Word, the Alumni newsletter for the Wesley Foundation, and I must say I think it’s a good one. As not to steal their thunder, I’m not going to reprint it here until the newsletter comes out.

Incidentally, it’s much, much easier to write about a trip to Beijing, which is what the last one was about, then about writing my dissertation, which is what this one (and my entire life at the moment!) is about. Just sayin’.

Micah Smedberg

Today has been a wonderful day, chiefly because my nephew Micah Smedberg was born at 1:33 PM this afternoon. He’s 8 lb., 3 oz. and 21 inches tall, and I’m told that both he and my sister Suzanne are doing well. I have not seen him yet, as they’re several hours away from here, but I’m going to get up to Pennsylvania this weekend and take lots of pictures.

Little Micah has three older sisters, and accordingly I’ve been having pronoun troubles (I’m so used to using “she” for the babies). I’m going to have to get used to the the phrase “my baby nieces and nephew” instead of “my baby nieces”. It will be hard, I know. Congratulations to Suzanne and Ben and the rest of the family!

A quick update (and a plea for local help)

Okay, so I’m good at planning, not so good at followthrough. I’ve actually been more productive in terms of writing than I have been in a long time, but it’s papers for work. Writing long technical treatises on the molecular mechanisms of nucleotidases is a very different kind of writing than the kind of introduction to my work I hoped to do here, so that project lost steam. I did drink most of the beers of the world, and write essays about them, but I hoped to put non-beer-related posts in between them lest you think I devoted my summer to alcoholism. (I did not.)

Anyway, the update is that next Saturday, 19 August, I will be moving across town to what we informally call the Hinton House, next door to Hinton Ave. UMC. I’ll be living with Andrew Marshall, Jimbo Hughes, and Brian Vaughan. The address is:

513 Rialto St. Charlottesville, VA 22902

We also have a land line, but in the interests of some privacy I’d rather not put the number here. I’ll probably be sending out an email to everyone I’ve ever met with complete contact information pretty soon. I will have the same cell number, which I’d like to use as my primary phone.

The plea for help: If you live in Charlottesville, or can be in town next weekend, I would greatly appreciate your help loading and unloading the truck at 2:00 PM on Saturday, 19 August. (Yes, I do know that that is student move-in day, but both the old place and the new place are a few miles away from the University, so I think we can avoid the traffic.) Depending on how many folks show up, I hope we can get everything loaded and unloaded in a few hours, and then we’ll either fire up the grill and have a little picnic or order some pizza, whatever people prefer. If I were mean, I’d also remind you that I’ve helped move many of you over the years, and you owe me. But I’m not mean, so I’m not going to say that. 🙂 If you can help, please send me an email or give me a call on the cell, so that I know you’re coming.

Update at 10:00 AM, 16 Aug: The address is Rialto St., not Rialto Rd. Corrected.


While we’re talking about March birthdays, there is another I
must reluctantly mention. It so happens that today is my
birthday, and even worse, my age is one evenly divisible by 10.
If you’re thinking 20, you’re very sweet, but wrong.

Thanks so much for your kind wishes, especially to my
friends in northern VA who threw me a party last weekend. It makes
the feeling of mild depression I’m sure to have all day just a
little better.


My sister Suzanne finally had her baby yesterday afternoon. Abigail
Porter Smedberg was born March 7th at 3:38 PM, and weighed 8 lbs., 1
oz. (Kids in our family come big.) This is her third daughter (and my
third niece), after Ellie, who’s now 21 months old, and Claire, who’s
about 11 months. Here’s a picture I shamelessly stole from Abby’s webpage:

My brother-in-law
the whole story here
, with some more pictures.

Oh, and by the way, there may be a few of you out there whom I
forgot to tell that Suzanne was going to have another baby, so, um,
sorry. Suzanne was about to have a baby. In my defense, she’s been
having them slightly more frequently than I’ve been speaking with some
of you.