Archive for: November, 2008

Grumpy old man with email

Nov 13 2008 Published by under Uncategorized

Sometimes I come off like a grumpy old man. I realize this and occasionally even aspire to it, but not on a regular basis. There are times, however, that people just do things that are so odd that I can't help it. Last night I was checking my email and I got the big red "OVER QUOTA" banner as I opened up my account. I try pretty hard to keep my inbox at around 75%, which is difficult here because of the absurdly small mailboxes they give faculty. I quickly remove all large attachments and can only keep the last 6 weeks-worth of emails in my IMAP account and have to save the earlier ones on my work computer, which is useless to me when I am at home or on the road. I know this is a relatively minor inconvenience, but it is still a pain i the ass and when I asked about having my mailbox size increased the response I got was that it could be done on a temporary basis but I should probably just have my mail forwarded to a gmail account. Really? That looks professional. Oh, and it's nice that the university decides to let google make up for it's storage shortage.
Anyway, what got me started on this was that I needed to figure out why my mailbox had blown up and it turned out to be because the IT guy for our college had forwarded an event announcement that was 10 fuckin megs in size! First of all, for a university that like to try and regulate EVERYTHING it seems ludicrous to me that there is not some internal policy on the size of attachments that get sent to everyone in the college. Second of all, one would expect that the IT guy would be sensitive to this and require that people send him reasonable files to forward. But the kicker was that it was the IT guy who had but the flier together and sent it out! I feel like Weekend Update on SNL: Seriously, you're an IT guy and don't know about file size, seriously? And you can't hit the optimize PDF button in Acrobat? Seriously? Dude. Fuck. Sigh.

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Alright, I get it

Nov 12 2008 Published by under Uncategorized

Apparently grant rejection doesn't take a holiday because I checked my email over coffee yesterday morning only to find a note from NSF declining my grant proposal. Nothing worse than reading something depressing first thing in the morning. Not a big deal though, I didn't think it would get funded in the first go, but what I didn't expect was the reviews. To start off, there was a complete range of ratings; poor, good, very good and excellent across the four reviews. Basically, four different people read the same document and decided that I ether poop roses or am the poop. The one very positive review took it for granted that I could handle the basic techniques I proposed because I have ten years of experience in the field and have published using many of these skills in the past. The remaining reviews wanted more preliminary data, which is one of the more frustrating things you can get back when you submitted the grant before you even moved into your new position. So, now the push for the next submission date in January. I finally have the lab set up and people working, but we weren't focusing on getting the types of data they want, just yet. Suddenly what looked like a reasonable end to the year that would allow me to pack up the lab for moving and get my class set up for the spring has been turned upside-down and I'll be making frenzied trips to Bermuda, North Carolina and California all in the next month. I'll probably want to just wander into the woods and not come back by the time the two grants I am submitting are done in January, but this is what I signed up for and it's what I love. In retrospect, I probably should have seen it coming and planned accordingly, but there is only so much one can do in the first semester when you don't have everything figured out yet. That's what I get for not taking a ready-made project with me from my post-doc and instead, forging my own path combining my PhD and post-doc training.
Ironically, I had been a bit motivationally frozen while waiting for the grant decisions (still one more out there), but this provides some serious focus and push to get some shit done and that is often when I am most effective. I mean, already I have managed to work first, second and third person narrative into this short note. If only I didn't have this talk to give this afternoon I might be able to get things planned a bit today, but I still have a couple of slides left to put together. If I could just will things away my neighbor's dog would have chocked on that high-pitched bark months ago.

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Science crush

Nov 07 2008 Published by under Uncategorized

I think I have a new science crush. The warning signs that tipped me off: 1) Checking the same lab's publication page on a monthly basis to see what else they have come out with; check. 2) Looking to figure out if I can find a way to bring this person in for a seminar; check. 3) Being overly excited when it turned out that this person had listed me as a reviewer for a paper they sent to Science, double check. And finally, revising the topic of the seminar course I plan to teach next semester based on ideas I got from reading this persons work, check. Yup, it's official.

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I am not the discovery channel

Nov 06 2008 Published by under Uncategorized

Next week I am giving a seminar at a primarily undergraduate institution. After accepting the invitation I was told that I should plan on giving a "data light" talk that should be geared toward a sophomore-level understanding. At the time, I thought no problem. Now that I am putting the thing together I realize that it's a complete pain in the ass. Rather than be able to borrow heavily from a talk I had already put together, I have to build one almost from scratch. Added to that is the problem of giving a general talk on a single concept that is 50 minutes long without it feeling like a class. That isn't a problem when you can go into depth on a particular question and present data, but without that you are left having to broaden out the topic and present lots of examples of a concept without delving in to the nitty gritty. Maybe this will be good for me, but that isn't exactly a motivating factor right now. I know things are bad when I procrastinate putting a talk together by doing a review on a paper with all foreign authors who decided that they didn't need a native english speaker to deal with their grammar before they sent the paper in.

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I love The Onion

Nov 05 2008 Published by under Uncategorized

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Economics and politics

Nov 05 2008 Published by under Uncategorized

I was talking to my brother yesterday as the election results were coming in and it was pretty clear that Obama was going to win, which was about an hour into the coverage. We got talking about the economy and the surprising public de-panting of Alan Greenspan as an economic mastermind and we both came to the same selfish conclusion - the economic slow-down has been good for us. As a new prof without much in the way of retirement savings, very modest stock holdings and someone who is about to be looking to buy a house, the timing of a massive reduction in the cost of investments (be they house or stock) could not have come at a better time. My brother just graduated law school and is finally getting paid a real salary and felt the same way. And so it made me think a bit about how if you are in the right place at the right time, a down economy can be good. Just ask Warren Buffet, who now owns half of the fortune 500 because he had liquid assets when no one else did.
But then of course, I realized that everything about my job (at least from a research perspective) depends on federal money. The budgets of NIH and NSF have been only slightly increased under the Bush regime and there was a decent amount of political talk about significantly increasing money to both agencies in the next fiscal, particularly by the democrats. We'll have to see how that goes, but I should be hearing about two grants in the next month or so. Given the state of things, I am fully expecting to have to re-submit the NSF grant in January, but at least I will have comments back and be able to make improvements for a round of funding that might coincide with a loosening of purse-strings. A new president and a congressional majority should motivate the democrats to push through some of the campaign promises in short order.

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more trick than treat

Nov 03 2008 Published by under Uncategorized

Part of taking a new faculty job is, of course, moving to a new place. The fact that we moved to a place close to the area we had grown up certainly made the adjustment easier, but we had still lived in a different place with a different culture for almost a decade. Because of this, there have been some surprises along the way. For instance, the people where we live now are happy to wave to you from a passing car or from across the street, but we have had to actively approach people to get to know those that live around us or else we would be stuck with a high-speed waving relationship with our neighbors. In talking with others who have moved here it turns out that it is not just us, but that isn't exactly good consolation. 
In any case, this weekend we were prepared for Halloween in the same way that we had experienced it in our former home, where we averaged about 150 costumed children a year. We carved our pumpkins, bought our candy, turned out lights on, made pizza and opened a bottle of wine... and waited. Six o'clock came and went, and 7 o'clock followed quickly on it's heels, with nary a knock. At that point we were like someone being stood up on a blind date - checking the time, looking out the window, do we have the time and place right? What if all the trick-or-treaters are waiting at another house because there was a miscommunication? 
A bit past 7:00, we finally heard a knock. I jumped up like a kid who might have heard Santa in the chimney on Christmas Eve, to find a ten-year-old in a black costume of some sort, that may or may not have been a poorly executed skunk. After encouraging her to take more candy than she thought was polite, I stared out onto the deserted street and noticed that we were the only ones with pumpkins out or even lights on at the door. Is our street just generally unfriendly or do others just not bother because there aren't many kids that come by? A true chicken and egg question to ponder for another time, but the single pseudoskunk was our lone visitor for the entire night. Two giant bowls of candy now sit, defeated, in the main office. 

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