My Week 202: I Excel at STEM, An Update

STEM, if you didn’t know this, stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. There’s a lot of concern about getting more girls into STEM fields and rightly so. But recently, I realized that I’ve become very STEM-y as I’ve aged:


Up until a little while ago, I really struggled with directions. Not directions like “Twist off cap and pour”, but the actual compass directions. If somebody told me to go North, I would just look at them blankly and be like, “Which way am I NOW? Is North left, right, up or down from here?” But then I realized that I shouldn’t take pride in being perpetually one step away from being lost in the woods, so I decided to become better at navigation. It’s easy in Toronto, where Yonge Street acts as a permanent point of reference: towards the lake is South and the other way is North. Then I can just mentally orient myself from there. I’ve been practicing in my head, and the other day, a tourist approached me when I was out at lunch for directions to Bay Street. I very confidently told him to go west one block. Then I went back to the office and looked it up just to make sure. Luckily, I was right or that poor guy would have ended up in a very sketchy neighbourhood. I’ve also been working on this at home based on which way our house faces. It’s West, by the way. We’ve lived here for thirteen years, and I just found that out yesterday. I’m a work in progress.

I’m also very good at telling the difference between real science and pseudo-science. Many years ago, Ken and I lived in a different house with a well that kept going dry. A neighbour suggested that we get a water witch to come out. Apparently, this witch—well, warlock really—had a great reputation at locating the ideal spot for a new well. So he came to the house with his dousing rods, wandered about for a bit waving them around, and then said, “There’s so much water on this land!” He said this while standing next to a 12 foot deep pond, and 100 yards away from the Otter Creek. Thanks, Merlin.


The kitchen faucet in my condo in Toronto won’t work. I called a plumber who told me that a service call is $160 just to look at it, then $160 for every hour after that to fix it. I was appalled, and also a little disappointed that I hadn’t gone into the skilled trades. My roommate was like, “What are you going to do?” And I said, “Imma fix it my damned self.” That’s a direct quote. I don’t know why I phrased it like that, but in retrospect, it was a tad overconfident.

I watched a couple of Youtube videos, in which I learned that the first thing you have to do is turn off the water. So I got back from work, and pulled out the pot drawer (actual pots, not marijuana, just so we’re clear), and I looked for the shut-off. Then I did what any normal person would do. I called Ken.

Me: I just sent you a picture of the underneath of my sink. Which way do I turn the knob?
Ken: Are you sure that’s the right one? It looks like it goes to the dishwasher.
Me (crawling inside the cupboard): Oh yeah. The pipes come in from the bathroom. Hang on a minute.

5 minutes later…

Me: I took the drawer out of the vanity and I see the taps. I sent you a picture.
Ken: The valves are right there. Turn them to the right.
Me (crawling inside vanity): They won’t move. They’re stuck.
Ken: Do you have any WD-40?
Me (pleasantly surprised): Why yes. Yes I do.

To make a long story short, after about half an hour and half a can of WD-40, the shut off valves moved and I turned off the water. I used an Allen key to remove the faucet handle, and I could see the set screw. I was almost at the cartridge thing-y that the guy on Youtube said was the problem. But then, the stupid set screw stripped as I was trying to take it out with my rather suspect “universal screwdriver”. I ended up having to put the whole thing back together, all angry and sweaty from being inside very small cabinets; otherwise we would have had no water in the condo at all. So I called my landlord and he said to call a plumber, but if the plumber says, “Huh—the set screw is stripped—this is going to cost a LOT more money”, my response will be “Do I look like the kind of lady who could take apart a tap?!” But at least I tried.


No one knows what Engineers do. I probably do a lot of Engineering type things without even realizing it, and I’m most likely VERY good at them.


Right now, Ken is building a new porch for the front of our house. It’s an exciting project, and every day he gets a little bit more accomplished. I’ve been helping out where I can, passing screws, holding a piece of wood straight or whatnot, but it’s getting harder because now he’s asking me math questions.

Ken: I need to build three more steps. They’re five feet wide with a run of 17 inches between them. How many linear feet do you think I need?
Me: How fast are the trains going and what time did they leave the station…?
Ken: I need to buy wood for the steps. I’m thinking of 2x8s.
Me: But if the steps are 17 inches deep, then that’s only 16. Don’t you want them to hang over a little? What about getting 2x6s and using three per step?
Ken: Ooh, you’re doing grown-up math!
Me: F*ck off.

People tease me about not being proficient with math, and I make fun of myself all the time too, but the fact is that I’m actually very mathematical when I put my mind to it. For example, I know based on scientific calculations that my favourite wine glass will hold five ounces of wine if I fill it to a certain level and thanks to careful research (Google) with white wine at 120 calories per five-ounce serving size, I know exactly how much I can drink every day. I hope you’re impressed because I’m just f*cking dazzling myself with my math/wine prowess. Also, earlier, I had to write my mom a cheque for the deposit on a cruise I’m taking with her and my dad this fall, as well as the money for my brother’s birthday present. And as a math prodigy, I used the tools at hand to make the calculations. And I mean LITERALLY at hand, because I wrote the numbers ON MY HAND and added them up.

Palm Pilot


See how I even carried the one? I write things on my hand all the time, and I used to tell people that it was my “palm pilot”, which I thought was quite witty and clever, but no one ever laughs at that anymore.

But I MUST be getting better at math, because on the way to the lumber store, Ken handed me a piece of paper and asked me to “check his calculations”. I said that it was very nice how much confidence he had in my math skills. Then I added everything up on my hand and said, “Looks right to me.”

A Quick Update

So I still haven’t gotten up the nerve to ask my colleague “Jim” how exactly I’m like Jeffrey, but I’ve been doing a little ‘detective slash stalker’ work. I sent a LinkedIn invite to Jim and when he accepted it, I looked up all his other contacts until I found the one guy named Jeffrey, who also has a ton of mutual contacts with me and Jim, so it must be him. His profile said that he was “creative and agile”. I agree with ‘agile’ considering how much time I spent crawling in and out of cupboards this week. ‘Creative’ on some days, OK. I am, however, not bald in the slightest. The quest for truth continues.

Black and White Challenge Week Five


44 thoughts on “My Week 202: I Excel at STEM, An Update

  1. I think the difference between technology and engineering is the difference between using a sink and building a sink. What’s too often overlooked is design which is why I really think it should be STEMD. There’s too much badly designed crap out there, like sinks that are so difficult to fix. This might be the subject of my TED talk.
    And don’t forget to give yourself credit for having a firm grasp of the STEM of your wine glass, although I think a wine glass that only holds five ounces is another example of bad design.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Quantum physics. Do quantum physics. It helps with cats.

    I sort of wish I were good at math because that always really impresses people, but I have a smart phone now, so it would only be for bragging rights anyway.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I love it when STEM stuff wanders into the realm of The Arts. There’s a general link to creativity that encompasses all of this – just look at Leonardo Da Vinci. I used to be terrible at maths (we put an S on the end in the UK cos it’s short for MathematicS) but somehow got my act together and am now an analyst playing with data in Excel.
    However, it’s your use of English I just want to address right now. There is a character on your keyboard commonly referred to as ‘slash’ and when people say it out loud they usually mean ‘insert diagonal line here’. And because you actually typed out the word ‘slash’ you changed the meaning of the following phrase:
    “…doing a little ‘detective slash stalker’ work…”
    I now imagine you being someone who investigates crimes by stalking them and then slashing them with a big knife, because that’s what a slash stalker would do, innit?
    Unless you live in the UK in which case it could also mean ‘urinate over them’, cos ‘going for a slash’ is a rather coarse euphemism for having a piss.
    Either way, it’s a rather alarming mental image.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Corinne says:

    Do you really want to know what 5 oz of wine looks like???
    As another Ms Home Depot, congrats on the sink accomplishment and just enjoy the “5” oz wine 😊😊


  5. I genuinely kept plasticine (very like play-doh, but can be softened again when it gets hard) in my drawer in my previous career as an engineer – and lots of coloured pencils! Engineering is great fun, until it (like everything else) is turned into project management!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I gotta catch up before Sunday!

    You’ve given me a bit of a complex today, I must admit. First, your miles ahead of me on the directions thing (it’s okay to see what I did there). North, south, east, west … they mean nothing to me. Am I turning right or left? If you can’t answer that, I’m going home. That place I was going to wasn’t worth all this. Needless to say, GPS changed my damn life.

    And projects around the house? I’m famous for saying I’m a do-it-yourselfer … if plumbing needs doing, I will call the plumber myself and get it fixed. 😉

    Say, can I call Ken sometimes, when stuff breaks? Seems a handy resource…

    Mathematics I excel at. I really do. I was good in school at the thinking stuff, just not the doing stuff. I jumped two grades in math after taking the proficiencies as a freshman but took an entire school year to not-quite-complete my first September wood-working project in shop. My hands are useless tools outside of typing. My co-worker says that wrenches are wasted on me.

    But I did figure out that if I wanted to limit myself to 10 units of alcohol at church, and a unit is 12 ounces of beer and each mug of beer is 22 ounces then if I drink 6 mugs I better call a cab.

    And I did that in my head. 😎

    Now, I’m pretty sure I missed Week 201, as well. Which way is that from here?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. If Star Trek: The Next Generation is to be believed, engineers mostly alert the bridge (over the droning wail of a klaxon) about a “warp-core rupture” and then roll under a closing blast door in the nick of time. FYI.

    Liked by 1 person

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