Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A life lesson in the making

We went to the horse races last weekend. It's not the nasty, filthy, smoky, full-of-drunks place you might imagine. The local track (which is quite famous) is a clean, well-run establishment that seems to encourage families to attend. It's fun. And my daughters had a blast picking out horses and watching them run. I picked out a horse in one race and placed a little bet ($2). My eldest daughter also happened to pick that horse (but didn't bet of course). So we cheered him on together. A nice father-daughter bonding moment. He came in third. At about 15:1. I had bet for him to show so I won a little money. My daughter announced that we were going to split the winnings since she had also picked that horse... Hang on. Who placed the bet? Who risked his money? There's a lesson in there for my daughter. Right?

Sigh. She's getting half the money... And my youngest daughter is also getting some since it wouldn't be fair otherwise...

Lesson for the day: Don't bet. Even when you win, you lose.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Vending machine hell...

Went to the cafeteria for milk for my coffee.
I love coffee.
Walked past vending machines. Decided to get spearmint Lifesavers.
(Good for breath after drinking coffee all day...)
Family of four is filling vending machine area so I wait.
Father feeds dollar after dollar into machine.
Dollar after dollar after dollar.
Son pushes buttons.
Dollar after dollar after dollar.
Is he buying food for a month?
Packet after packet of sugar-coated, salt-laden, artificially-flavored, partially-hydrogenated, trans-fatty, artificially-colored (blue 7 and red 6), deep-fried, over-processed saturated fat drop...

Nausea. I leave.
No mints.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Geekfest 2005

I'm back from the conference. The food was predictably bad, the beer was good, as was the coffee and the weather, and we geeks were in our element. Science, science funding and scientists was/were dissected, hung, drawn and quartered, chopped, diced and julienned, put under a microscope, stitched back together, given pats on the head and sent on their respective ways. The consensus was that great science is being done, the current government doesn't give a rats behind about funding science, the world will likely end as a result, and that the beer was good. Particularly the ale from the local microbrewery. Thus is science.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Meeting of minds... or just geeks?

I'm off to a science conference/convention/meeting tomorrow. There'll be about 180 scientists packed into a room for two and a half days of talks on various subjects. Well, not all day. We do have places to sleep and there will be (bad) meals. And alcohol (and good coffee). I think my wife thinks that's why we all go. For the alcohol. Not so. We go to meet and talk to one another. The talks are often a side show. It's the connections you make and stuff you talk about one on one that really makes for a good meeting. Of course liquid refreshments help with that aspect. So it is kind of vital. Much effort is put into making sure there is decent beer, wine and coffee. And plenty of it.

Conferences are an interesting anthropological phenomena. Especially the scientific ones. Imagine, if you will, a large group of scientists all in one place. Some of these people (fortunately a minority, despite the stereotypes) are socially clueless. Others are so immersed in in their work they may as well be socially clueless. Oh yeah, everyone wears name badges. Got that picture in your mind? Everyone is looking for Dr. Bigshot so they can ingratiate themselves to him/her. Dr. Bigshot is important in some regard. They may be a well known scientist, in which case knowing them may, in some magical way, translate into more exposure (yes, we can be a somewhat vain bunch). And/or Dr. Bigshot may sit on a grant review panel, in which case you really, really, really want them to think you're a good guy/gal who is doing something worthwhile. Just in case they should get one of your grants to review. Of course Dr. Bigshot is in all likelihood there to drink beer and talk science, and may not welcome the fawning overtures of the lesser known. Or they may bask in it. Both types of Dr. Bigshot exist.

This weekends meeting is a relatively small and intimate affair. It's being held at a rustic (translation: poor accommodations and bad food) conference center outside one of this country's most uninspiring towns. And you wonder why we need good beer. At least we won't be inflicting ourselves on the general public. Large meetings are something else. These involve scientists in the thousands. They descend upon a city like flies with dandruff. It amusing really. Often you get not only a name badge, but also some kind of cheap bag/tote emblazoned with the name of the conference and it's sponsors. The attendees will wander the city between talks looking for coffee, food and/or beer. Many forget to take off their name badges and will be carrying their bags with "Annual Meeting of the International Society of Science Geeks" in large bold letters on the side. If you should live in a city hosting such a meeting and you run into a pack of such geeks looking lost and bewildered, take pity. We're harmless. Just point us at the nearest bar/restaurant/coffee shop.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Thanks Apple!

My good friend Milo "dislikes" Apple. I don't. I've always been a big fan of their computers. That's despite my habit of buying the "lemon" model of each product family (anyone remember the PowerPC 7200? I had not one, but two in my lab...). I'm typing this on my old Titanium PowerBook G4 (not a lemon) - it's a little slow, but I love it. Anyway, none of the preceding really has anything to do with this post. I like Apple for another reason. Apple has really ramped up the music content in my life (and no, I don't own an iPod - wish I did). I've loaded my entire CD collection into iTunes and listen all day every day at work. Right now it's the Rolling Stones "Let It Bleed." But it's more than that...

Our local public library (something else I'm a big fan of) has a volunteer-run used book store. Proceeds go to the library. They have a section of the store devoted to CD's. I've noticed an increase in the number of CD's being donated, and hence going on sale there. This weekend I picked up an Eric Clapton, a REM and two Stones albums. $3 a piece. The CD's are in great condition. The jewel cases are a bit banged up, but who cares about that? So, what's my point? I think people are loading their music onto their computers and then dumping the CD's. In large part because of Apple and iTunes. Okay, there are other "jukebox" programs out their, but come on, who really uses those? So, because of iTunes, I get to buy great music really cheaply. And I get to listen to more.

I love Apple.

Just wish I had an iPod. iPod nano. White. The 2GB model would be fine, but 4GB would be better.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Holy smoke, Batman!

Pass my asbestos underwear, Boy Wonder.

Not so noble

A friend just asked me why the winners of Nobel prizes are "always guys". We were discussing the fact that two guys at our alma mater won Nobels this week (woo hoo!). Of course the winners are not always guys. Mostly guys. Why is that? Don't women do good science? Actually, women do great science. The most dynamic scientist in my department at Big State U happens to be a woman.

So what is it? I posit that it's because science is still a haven for white males. At least in Western nations. The "old boy network"? Alive and kicking. Life is hard for women faculty. There's the maternity and family thing. On top of that, they're asked to be on a disproportionate number of committees etc. Every committee wants diversity, but there's not much to pick from, so the women and minorities get asked a lot. And it's hard to say no when you don't have tenure. Of course saying yes too much can hurt your research and teaching, thereby reducing your tenure chances. That sucks. And then there are (thankfully fewer each year) older faculty members who are male chauvinist pigs of the first degree (also charter members of the old boy network). But I digress. I'm not trying to say there aren't many female Nobelists because they're too busy attending committee meetings, having babies and fending off dirty old men. It's more a matter of the current state of the system. There are fewer female science faculty (and scientists in general). Simple statistics tells you that most winners of Nobels will be male.

Thankfully the system is changing. In the life sciences there are now as many female graduate students as male. In our department more. The mid- and junior-level faculty, plus many of the senior faculty, recognize the need to increase diversity among the ranks. It will get better. It will take time. And vigilance. But it will get better.