January 2007


I know that the public perception of scientists is the pocket protector wearing, taped glasses sporting, unkempt sociopath. But as an insider, I can break it down even further. There is an inversely proportional relationship between the fundamental nature of one’s research and social graces. For instance doctors are the people we all aspire to be: smart, well-balanced, principled, involved in society and beautiful to boot (you know what I’m talking about). But as we get more involved in research we have biologists. These guys and gals are nerdy to the core, but can be seen at various social gatherings intermingling and having what could generally be called “a good time.” I mean, they play with fruit flies and zebrafish all day. If they’re not dying for human interaction, I don’t know who is.

Next we have chemists. Think white lab coats, round glassware, multi-colored liquids boiling wretched fumes, and questionable personal hygeine. As chemists we are in an age of decision. We are, just as the middle class, being split into first and second class citizens. The biochemists and molecular biologists get promoted, while the physical chemists get repressed. The organic and inorganic chemists are sitting on a fine line, and need to polish themselves up if they want any funding. But overall we have a hard time fitting in anywhere and have an accordingly large chip on our collective shoulder.

Moving on we see the physicist. Wow. I should go to more optics seminars. I’ve never felt better about myself. I used to think I was marginal in my social abilities, but after attending today’s talk I feel great. I could be GQ’s man of the year compared to these people. They can build a laser capable of trapping and cooling thousands of atoms to within a tiny fraction of a degree above absolute zero, but faced with soap and a comb, they’d folder under the pressure. Smart, yes. Smelly, yes. Capable of normal human interaction, absolutely not.

And finally we have the mathematician. I challenge anyone to show me the difference between a professional mathematician and the guy that eats my garbage every tuesday night.

Well folks that concludes our tour of the annals of scientific endeavors. Please exit to your left, and don’t feed the mathematician.

Not only do I get to shun family and friends as I sink deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of my monitor, but I get to sit inside all day, missing all of those harmful UV rays. I haven’t left the house in two days, and as viewers of The Iron Chef would say without exactly knowing why, “I’m lovin’ it.” I mean who needs to go out into the world with all of its culture, and food, and weather when you can stay in and work all weekend? But what I can’t understand is why the only part of my body that has actually moved in the last 48 hours (my mouse clickey finger) is the only part that is freezing??

I just looked out my window to the parking lot entrance from an intersection just below my office to see a man lying in the middle of the entrance in a pool of blood and a mangled bike next to him. No car in sight, though. One man ran over from an adjacent office to help hold the man down until EMTs arrived. Whatever happened, this guy was drenched.

They need a pedestrian overpass at this intersection. The bike path system runs right through it. It is seven lanes wide and has the highest speed limit in town. Last year I saw the carnage after a woman on a bike was run over and killed there. My best friend was hit by a car not 10 feet from where this guy was just maimed. I routinely see people blast the red light at full speed, at least twice a week, to potentially run over any pedestrians crossing with the light in their favor. It’s a mess.

I used to be impressed with how bike-friendly this town appeared to be, as city officials loudly touted. But after commuting on bicycle over the last few years I’ve become disenchanted. I almost get hit by careless drivers not checking the bike lanes before turning or pulling out into the road almost weekly. The above incidences add to it, and I can rattle off a list of people I know who’ve been hit on bikes here. Yes this town has a high volume of bicycle traffic and lanes, but is it truly biker-friendly? I’m starting to think not. You can put in all the infrastructure you want, but until motorists are willing to use it and are consious of it at all times, it is useless. So get with it drivers, I’m a biker, not a speedbump. Don’t hit me.

But the mayor of DC snubbed the first lady’s invitation to sit with her at the state of the union address last night. And then showed up with Nancy Pelosi. He just wasn’t that into her.  The scandal.

Haven’t posted in a while, which only means one thing: another great weekend with M. We both got a lot of work done and I got to tinker with some electronics. We didn’t do much but study, work and watch online episodes of Ugly Betty, but evidently it paid off since M. ACED two of her four exams she took yesterday. There are people who get excited about having a GPA above 3.0 as an undergraduate, and she is getting 100%’s on medical school exams. Med school, people.

In other news, I may have screwed up royally. Whenever I go to a conference or have to be reimbursed for something I go through one of the interdisciplinary research centers that we are a part of. It’s nice. They make travel arrangements, get the tickets and everything. All they need is an index number for the grant the money comes out of. So every time I need to go somewhere I email the director of the center the travel information and the index number.

Well as it turns out I’ve been sending our index and travel requests to some random graduate student in the english department, whose email address is one letter off of the director’s. So now this guy knows the index, the grant name, and the research lab that goes along with it. Oops. This only worries me because of how easy it is to buy expensive things with only an index. Oh well, I hope he uses it wisely.

This may explain my having to teach this year. Hmmm…

From the NYT:
Maine Bans Smoking in Cars With Children.

I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that it has taken lawmakers this long to ban smoking to the degree that it has been, or that people need to be told that baking a child in a smoke filled, hermetically sealed car is not a good thing. At this point I would think that everyone knows smoking is just a nasty undertaking, with no apparent benefits outweighing the cancer factor. But maybe not; M. and I saw a woman blow smoke into a child’s face as it was being carried by the woman walking next to her, just a few days ago.

I encourage everyone to write his or her state and federal congress-people to support such a legislation.

Well the grading starts on the train tomorrow. (Cue music: I’m so excited) So stay tuned for reports on the shear inanity of tomorrow’s leaders. But in my students’ defense I do only write about the few who are seemingly beyond help, that I try my hardest to communicate with and teach, but ultimately fail. So I guess the students’ cluelessness is my shortcoming. Or not.

I just got back from a depressing lunch with a prospective faculty candidate. This guy is pretty sharp with some very interesting research ideas. One would think he’d have no problem finding an academic position. So just to get an idea of what I have to look forward to, I asked how many interviews he’s been on and how many he’s applied for. This is his fifth and final interview, and he’s applied to 115 universities. And I thought medical schools had low acceptance rates.

Last week was the first week of lab. How fun. As a welcome back treat to the students there is no formal lab report for this experiment, but they do have to turn in a few graphs. This is the easiest assignment they’ve had all year. I’ve already gotten a dozen emails from students with subjects ranging from “I have no idea what to do,” to “I’m not going to be able to make it to lab,” to “Here’s my lab report, can you proofread it for me?” Has no one told these people how to interact with their academic supervisors? The response of “read your manual” pretty much covered most of the situations. Other responses such as “No.” and “I couldn’t care less,” covered the remaining few.

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