November 2006

Went to a thesis defense last Friday. The herd is thinning. One of the committee members (who also happens to be on mine and fell asleep at my advancement to candidacy) spent the whole time reading a paper, while the committee chair colored his copy of the thesis with a sharpie.

These things are useless. Everyone has the opportunity, and is instructed, to raise any issues with the candidate a week before the defense anyway. They all have a copy of the thesis, and should be at least somewhat acquainted with the student. To deny the degree during this last hoop almost never happens. It’s a waste. Berkeley doesn’t even bother anymore.

While watching the AKC dog parade today, I had gruesome flashbacks. It wasn’t such a dissimilar experience for the student. Especially when they lifted his tail and inspected his rump. But hey, I got some chocolate cake and sparkling cider out of it.

It’s great that Nancy Pelosi has been unanimously elected as speaker of the house, but I find it somewhat dismaying that there is so much fanfare because she’s a woman.  Seriously, it’s 2006 and we are only now electing the first woman speaker?  This should have been done long ago.  And while women are making leaps and bounds in being recognized as the full citizens they are, the fact that such attention is paid to the speaker’s gender is proof that there is still much to do.  I’d like to see the last “first” in my lifetime.  This shouldn’t even be an issue.  The fact that she’s a woman shouldn’t even be a blip on the radar.  But unfortunately it is, so it must be addressed.

The local police shot and killed a 19 year old mentally handicapped man yesterday. There will be two investigations. One to determine if the police acted according to the law, and the other is to determine whether the police acted within policy. Shouldn’t policy be to enforce laws while operating within them?  Or even if they are bent a little, fine.  But when murder can be viewed as according to policy then we, as citizens, must really begin to question our local law enforcement.

Let’s not even discuss the things that are acceptable within US policy (torture, extreme rendition, indefinite detentions, warrantless surveilance).  Scratch that.  Let’s do talk about it.

If my advisor changes my project one more time, just once more I’ll, I’ll, I’ll…    I’ll probably just do what he says.  It seems the equations that I’ve been moaning about for the last year, saying they’re too long are, wait for it, TOO LONG.  Imagine that.

Had lunch with our annual special physical chemistry seminar speaker today, a big-wig in US science policy and a professor from UT Austin. Lunch was great (Laad Naa), and the conversation was fairly encouraging regarding the future of science in America, and for me in particular. He said that more and more universities are starting medical schools based in large part on the fact that a growing number of young faculty members are married to medical professionals, and hey we may have fancy degrees but we still need jobs. I brought up the topic of women as an untapped resource in scientific research with somewhat antagonistic motivations. He is from texas after all. But it seems that he fully recognizes the challenges facing women scientists today, and is committed to addressing them in the proper forums. He actually raised several issues that I had not been aware of. I asked him if he sees any changes happening currently and he said that, yes, there are changes, but it will take about 10 years or so before they manifest themselves.

On another note. This is sub-titled: why I don’t use proprietary software willingly. This is not a diatribe against microsoft. Too often people mistake poorly written non-ms software that is designed to run on windows with the real thing.

Windows based software sucks for research. It is over engineered. While casual PC users make up the lion’s share of consumers, there are still a few of us who do not so casual things like writing manuscripts with 3 page long equations in them. By trying to make the use of their products easier for the general public, they have made them a royal pain the the a$$ for me.

The great thing about open source software is that it is so rudimentary to the point of having to tell it exactly what to do, that when you have an exact idea of what you want it to do it is very easily implemented with a few lines of code. No auto-complete, no spell-check, grammar-check, or cryptic tab settings. If you want an equation with the third line indented 1/16 of an inch more than the rest it is easily done with about 10 keystrokes, rather than 10 hours of clicking, highlighting, dragging and searching through the most non-intuitive labyrinth that is windows help features.

I realize that windows is not designed for this type of use in mind. That’s why I use Linux. But my boss wants word documents. So word documents he shall get.
But for anyone with a choice, take 30 minutes to learn Tex and Bibtex, and save the lifetime of self-inflicted punishment that is trying to get word, mathtype and endnote to jive.

My weekend sounds like the start of a bad joke: A doctor, a lawyer, a musician, and a scientist all walk into a bar… Maybe I’ll make up the rest if inspiration strikes. But really, had a fun weekend tooling around Seattle. Usually my weekends there are spent working with M. in her apartment, interspersed with walks around the U-district and trips to K-town. So this was a change of pace. I did happen to notice that the adage about there being a starbucks on every corner is actually quite an understatement.
I like to practice tai chi on the lawn at school when working late, it’s a nice break. But this being a university campus, and students being nocturnal, I am usually not the only one out there. In fact, for a while there I was on the same schedule as a nightly game of inebriated disc golf. For those not familiar with west coast disc-themed games, disc golf is played by participants roaming around a large open area hitting preselected things with frisbees from large distances. It’s ridiculous. But not as ridiculous as ultimate frisbee, which is the biggest joke I’ve ever seen. Disc golfers typically tend to not worry themselves about others in their public playing area, such as pedestrians, children, or pregnant women. They play on busy sidewalks and campuses at rush hour. You may even become a target.
Listen: just as I reached my zen-like state of harmonious balance a frisbee would, without fail, sail across the lawn and hit either me or the tree under which I had been practicing. Sometimes I’d get a, “Sorry, dude.” Other times nothing at all. Fine.
Well this past weekend I got to looking from one ‘bucks to another and thought it would make for an interesting, if not useless, game of disc-golf.

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