Wednesday, December 20, 2006

'Tis the season

'Tis the season when the local newspaper receives multiple letters complaining about the "War on Christmas".
There isn't one.
'Tis the season when saying "Happy Holidays!" is construed to be a slight against Christianity.
It isn't.
'Tis the season when politicians preach good will towards all men.
They don't mean it.
'Tis the season when rampant consumerism goes way beyond "rampant".
Not what it should be about.
'Tis the season when homeless people freeze to death unnoticed.
Remember them?
'Tis the season when genocide goes unchecked while the first world turns the other way.
'Tis the season when many of us eat more in a day than many others have for a week.
Do you really need a third helping? Do I?

But despite all this,
'Tis the season where I wish one and all


And that is the word of the day. No definition required.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Thoughts on thinking

Ever think about the form in which you think? I have been lately. As I type this I'm thinking in words, more or less. But I also sometimes think in pictures, both static and moving. Or mixtures of words and pictures. Although I haven't talked to people about this, I suspect this is true for many people. But those aren't the only forms in which I think...

When I think about my science, my research, I think in molecules. Spinning, writhing, twisting, tumbling molecules. Amino acids, peptides and proteins. Water and ions. Atoms bonded to one another, interacting with bangs, thumps and bright colorful sparks. Molecules dancing around one another, twisting in knots. Crashing into one another. Sticking to each other like tiny fragments of velcro, or being flung apart by rainbow sheets of repulsive energy.

I see a weird and wonderful world in my head that cannot be seen using existing technology. This of course can be a bit of a problem for me. I can "see" in my head how some of the systems I work on behave, but I don't have the tools in the laboratory required to measure what I see. This can be frustrating. Of course what I see in my head could be wrong. But I don't think it can be completely wrong. My molecule thoughts have their basis in what I've found during my research, what I've read, and from talking to fellow scientists. I think my molecule thoughts are more right than wrong. But I can't prove it.

There are many scientists who would respond to my admission by deriding it as pure fantasy, nonsense, or the product of a disturbed mind (which it may well be). Not, I'd wager, those whom I admire, whose work has, and continues to have, profound influence upon mine. They might think in molecules. Or they might not. It doesn't matter. They would understand.

So there you have it. I'm weirder than you thought, if that's possible. Accept it, move on, and tell me, in what forms do you think?

Word of the post:


A sense that something is about to occur; a premonition.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Unsolicited advice

Don't eat beans before a plane ride.

Word of the post:

im·prov·i·dent [im-prov-i-duhnt]

1. not provident; lacking foresight; incautious; unwary.
2. neglecting to provide for future needs.

Example: See story linked above.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Yes, yes, I know...'s been a long time between posts. It's not that I have nothing to say. There's just so much to choose from; Darfur, Microsoft's Zune, Iraq, the Ashes series in Australia, the perennial blather topic of Bush, Docstymie's discovery that he is one degree of separation from J. Robert Oppenheimer, Father of the Atomic Bomb (which means I'm also one degree of separation from him, and we're both two degrees of separation from Edward Teller, and probably no more than three from Albert Einstein)... No, it's not a lack of subjects. It's a lack of time. So, dear readers, I present you with this gem from Norway, land of smoked salmon and tax-free strippers.

Word of the post:

ineluctable \in-ih-LUCK-tuh-buhl-adjective

Impossible to avoid or evade; inevitable.

Example: “Those war plans rested on a belief in the ineluctable superiority of the offense over the defense” (Jack Beatty).

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The evils of the iPod

Bill O'Reilly (extreme right-wing demagogue) has decided iPods are evil.

Says O'Reilly: "I don’t own an iPod. I would never wear an iPod...If this is your primary focus in life - the’s going to have a staggeringly negative effect, all of this, for America...did you ever talk to these computer geeks? I mean, can you carry on a conversation with them?" (Quote taken from the DailyTech article linked above.)

FYI, you can hear all this in O'Reilly's Talking Points podcast...

Bonus word of the post:

n. pl. i·ro·nies

1. The use of words to express something different from and often opposite to their literal meaning.
2. An expression or utterance marked by a deliberate contrast between apparent and intended meaning.
3. A literary style employing such contrasts for humorous or rhetorical effect.
4. Incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs: “Hyde noted the irony of Ireland's copying the nation she most hated” (Richard Kain).
5. An occurrence, result, or circumstance notable for such incongruity.

Example: See above.

Friday, November 10, 2006

As a parent...

There are few things as beautiful
as a sleeping child.

Word of the post:


It's means exactly what it says. Popularized in Australia by a series of television ads for Mortein, an insecticide.

You don't need an example, you need to go and have one.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

More celebration

It looks like the Democrats have taken control of both the House and Senate. Even the Republicans have begun to concede that. The Republicans are also turning on their leadership. Could be quite a bloodbath.

It's about now that various quirks and oddities from the elections become known. this one comes courtesy of my younger brother.

Word of the post:

brob‧ding‧nag‧i‧an  [brob-ding-nag-ee-uhn]
1. of huge size; gigantic; tremendous.
2. an inhabitant of Brobdingnag.
3. a being of tremendous size; giant.

Example: The Republicans have taken a beating of brobdingnagian proportions.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


My faith in the American public has been restored now that they've sent a clear message to King George and his toadies that "staying the course" is unacceptable. And you know the most amazing thing about the whole election? The Democrats have no plans. No plan for dealing wth Iraq. No plan for dealing with the deficit. No plans. Apparently the American public believe that's better than the Republican's plans.


I'll post a word of the post tomorrow. It might be colonoscopy. That's what Bush will need to find his "mandate".

Monday, November 06, 2006

River Runs Red

Recently I've been struck by some quite old CD's seem more apropos now than even when they were first released. Have a listen to U2's War or Midnight Oil's Blue Sky Mining.

As an example, here are the lyrics to "River Runs Red" from Blue Sky Mining:

"So you cut all the tall trees down, you poisoned the sky and the sea
You've taken what's good from the ground
But you've left precious little for me
You remember the flood and the fall, we remember the light on the hill
There should be enough for us all, but the dollar is driving us still

River runs red, black rain falls, dust in my hand
River runs red, black rain falls, on my bleeding land

So we came and we conquered and found
Riches of commons and kings
Who strangled and wrestled the ground
But they never put back anything
Now I'm trapped like a dog in a cage
Wherever the truth is pursued
It must be the curse of the age
What's taken is never renewed."

So tomorrow, if you're a US citizen, vote.
Just vote.
It's not a right, it's a duty.
Your failure to vote is your failure to your country.

Word of the post:

de‧moc‧ra‧cy  [di-mok-ruh-see]
–noun, plural -cies.

1. government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.
2. a state having such a form of government: The United States and Canada are democracies.
3. a state of society characterized by formal equality of rights and privileges.
4. political or social equality; democratic spirit.
5. the common people of a community as distinguished from any privileged class; the common people with respect to their political power.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Why do they have to make it so difficult?

Bush's popularity is low, low, low and dropping. People have had it with the Republicans and "staying the course". The Democrats look like they have the best chance in years of obtaining a majority in the House, and maybe even the Senate. Things are looking hopeful.

And then, John Kerry opens his mouth....

This is so typical of today's Democrats. Everything is handed to them on a plate and they just have to try to spoil it. I'm as liberal as they come, but frankly there's no way Kerry should be forgiven for his "botched joke" until he apologises. Sincerely. Idiot.

Word of the post:


n. [L. incogitantia.]

Want of thought, or of the power of thinking; thoughtlessness; unreasonableness.

Example: 'Tis folly and incogitancy to argue anything, one way or the other, from the designs of a sort of beings with whom we so little communicate. --Glanvill.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The power of fear

Bush is promoting fear again.

Two weeks to the mid-term elections.


Word of the post:

The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.

Definition from the American Heritage Dictionary. Emphases mine.

No example. Just think about the above definition when considering the Republican's, and especially Bush's, tactics leading into the mid-term elections. Terrorism can adopt many, many forms.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Arrrrggghhh! I can't live without...

...vegemite! Well, actually I can, and have for some time now. Still, this seems on the sublime side of ridiculous...

Another bonus word of the post:

ster‧nu‧ta‧tor  [stur-nyuh-tey-ter]
a chemical agent causing nose irritation, coughing, etc.

Example: The plastic-smelling odor given off by the new blinds in my office is a sternutator.*

* True. New blinds were installed today and they stink!

Mid-term elections

The Republicans must really be worried about the up-coming mid-term elections. They've rolled out that proven old strategy of scare-mongering. The US public might fall for that approach once, or even twice, but come on, who do they think they're kidding? Terrorism is clearly on the rise, bin Laden is still on the loose, the Taleban are once again a force in Afghanistan, and Americans are dying daily in Iraq. How can the Republicans claim their approach is the better one?

Word of the post:

blath‧er‧skite  [blath-er-skahyt]
1. a person given to voluble, empty talk.
2. nonsense; blather.

Example: Actually, this one is just too easy. You don't need an example.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


I do have something to say. We're embroiled in a seemingly endless war, terrorism is on the rise, we have a mind-boggling deficit, millions are without health insurance, and we have corrupt and pedophilic politicians... Congress however has identified something really important to look into...

BONUS Word of the post:

tur‧pi‧tude  [tur-pi-tood, -tyood]
1. vile, shameful, or base character; depravity.
2. a vile or depraved act.

Example: The current US Congress has participated in an unprecedented amount of turpitude.

Word of the day...

Not much to say lately. Life has a way of getting in the way of everything else.

Word of the post:

tor‧pid  [tawr-pid]
1. inactive or sluggish.
2. slow; dull; apathetic; lethargic.
3. dormant, as a hibernating or estivating animal.

Example: Without sufficient coffee, Odyssey becomes torpid.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Imagine that!

A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics has found that good, old-fashioned playtime is good for kids!

Well, duh!

Of course it is. You don't need a study done by a bunch of MD's to know that. All you need is a little common sense. Think about it. Free play allows children to develop in a number of vitally important ways. One is socially. When a kid has unstructured playtime with other kids, he/she needs to learn to interact without an adult telling them how to. Very useful skill that. Now that I'm an adult, I find I don't having some older, wiser person following me around telling me how to act. Good thing I learned how to do that myself.

And then there's imagination. Never, ever underestimate the importance (or power) of a good imagination. I could not do what I do without a strong, active imagination. You can't be a research scientist without one. Well, you could, but you'd suck at it. Look around at people you consider really successful at what they do. I bet they all have strong imaginations. Over-scheduled kids don't get a chance to develop and exercise their imaginations. You can't do that if everything is planned out and structured for you.

Perhaps the people who did the study should participate in some good, old-fashioned playtime...

And now a new feature for the blather...

Word of the post!

I will be attempting to introduce a new word each time I post. Your challenge is to use the word in everyday conversation. Today's word is:

tr.v. de·fen·es·trat·ed, de·fen·es·trat·ing, de·fen·es·trates
To throw out of a window.

For example: George W. Bush and his cronies have defenestrated the Constitution.

Have fun with it!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Return of the blather

I'm baaaaaccckkkk! Didya miss me?

My father was visiting over the last week and a half, hence no blatherings. It was a great visit. I hadn't seen him for five years, so it was good to catch up. He also got to know his grandchildren, which was good for both him and the kids.

Anyway, while gadding about with my Dad I saw a bumper sticker that struck me as funny/sad/appropriate. It had a picture of George W. Bush with the words "American Errorist" next to it. I, like many people, subscribe to the view that W is a dangerous idiot. But...

I'm really not a conspiracy theory kind of guy, but I've been thinking about W and his minions and all that they've done recently. It occurred to me that W has set himself up perfectly for an almost seamless transition to dictator. Think about it. He, and only he, has the power to declare anyone an "enemy combatant". Anyone. Even US citizens. And thanks to the power-mad Republicans and spineless Democrats in Congress, such enemy combatants have no legal recourse. No right of appeal. No hope of a trial. At least not a fair one. And thanks also to Congress, W can wiretap anyone's phone without a warrant. And he and his minions have demonstrated time and again that they are more than happy to trample all over the Constitution and people's rights... So, in principle, W could have anyone who opposes him rounded up, declared an enemy combatant, and shipped off to some secret detention camp for a little "torture lite" (also okayed by Congress). Anyone. Including anyone who might point out that he's supposed to step down at the end of his term. Scary isn't it?

Not that I buy into such a theory.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Of laptops and bricks

Well, I did it. I finally bought a bright shiny new MacBook Pro. It's very, very nice. And fast. I'd say it's cool, but the Intel Core Duo cpu actually runs rather hot. Apple really calls this a portable, not a laptop. Feeling the bottom of it I know why - it would be rather uncomfortable on your lap. Anyway, me like.

Setting up the laptop portable led me to crawl under my desk at work in order to connect/disconnect various power cords etc. As I tangled with the maze of wires under there it occurred to me that every device has a power brick nowadays. Here's what is currently residing under my desk - power bricks for:

  • USB hub
  • External hard drive used for backups (I'm such a good little nerd)
  • Inkjet printer
  • Powered computer speaker system (I like my iTunes)
  • Cordless phone
  • Voice over internet phone converter*
  • Answering machine
  • Charger for my PDA (nerd, nerd, nerdy, nerdy, nerd)

Just imagine the heat these put out! I guess my feet won't be getting cold in the winter... And it was worse - I disconnected an external CD burner, with associated power brick, this morning because I don't use it much now.

I think there's a fortune to be made here. If someone could invent a universal power brick that you could plug several devices into simultaneously, I would buy it.

* This sounds cooler than it really is. Voice over internet phone (VOIP) service is okay, but not wonderful. We didn't have a choice. The University, in it's wisdom, decided that the new building we're in had to be all VOIP. Of course that causes a few issues with things like fax machines (which don't work with VOIP) and emergencies with power outages (how do we call for help?). Minor issues according to the University hierarchy...

Monday, September 11, 2006

Irony defined


Image Hosted by


Image Hosted by

Enough said.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Pondering an Imponderable

How did I get here?

Not how did I get here. After three children, and having witnessed all three births, I think I have a handle on that one.

Rather, how did I get here? Here, in this place, typing this.

Ever wonder about that? How you ended up where you are, doing what you are?

So, how did I end up in this country with a beautiful, wonderful wife and three incredible children? How did I end up at this university working as a professor studying protein folding? How did all this happen?

Buggered if I know.

Every now and then I find myself asking this. Out of the blue.

I distinctly remember when I was postdoc in Pennsylvania. One winter night, sometime after midnight, I was walking back to my apartment after a party or something. I was stopped in the middle of the road by this overwhelming thought. "How the hell did I get here? Right here. Right now. How?"

I didn't know then.

Still don't.

I don't suppose it really matters.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Sounded like fun... I stole it from thatgirlygirl.

Open iTunes/iPod or Windows Media Player to answer the following. Go to your library. Answer, no matter how embarrassing it is.

How many songs? 1400 (exactly!)

Sort by artist:
First artist: Aaron Neville
Last artist: Zero 7

Sort by song title:
First: (Do The) Instant Mash - Joe Jackson (Look Sharp!) - apparently parentheses come first in iTunes...
Last: Zoo Station - U2 (Achtung Baby)

Sort by time:
Shortest Song: Nr. 3 G Dur Adagio - J.S. Bach (Brandenburgische Konzerte 1-6) - yeah, I'm a dweeb (it gets worse) (0:13)
Longest Song: Symphony No. 9 I. Andante - Mahler (Symphony No. 9) - told you it got worse... (29.27)

Sort by album:
First: 1978-1990 (The Go-Betweens)
Last: World Reggae (various artists)

First song that comes up on Shuffle: Dominos - Office (Q&A)

How many songs come up when you search for "sex?" 0
How many songs come up when you search for "death?" 15 (is that healthy?)
How many songs come up when you search for "love?" 81
How many songs come up when you search for "you?" 83
How many songs come up when you search for "why?" 15
How many songs come up when you search for "God?" 4
How many songs come up when you search for "crazy?" 13
How many songs come up when you search for "f**k?" 0

Your turn.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Wide open Vista...

Remember this? I mentioned it back in June. Not surprisingly MicroSoft were just a little too cocky...

Monday, August 21, 2006

Video games "failing" women?

I find this interesting. The videogames industry believes it has failed women because far fewer of them play videogames. Those that do play tend to play games like The Sims.

My take on it is that it's a good thing that women don't waste enormous amounts of time playing uber violent games. And that when they do opt to play, they play what could be considered far more intelligent games. More men should be that way.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

One of the smartest things ever said...

"The public has an insufficient understanding of our ignorance."
Susan Hockfield, president, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

'Tis true. I just came across this quote today, but have been thinking along these lines for the last couple of weeks. Not coincidentally, I started this semester's teaching about two weeks ago. Here's the thing, we often teach out of textbooks, giving the impression (albeit not purposely) that this is gospel. It's not. My postdoc mentor, a very smart man, is fond of telling students that if they want to find a really good research project, just open up a textbook and find somewhere with a sentence that starts "It is well known that..." There's a research project. We really know so very little. I spend much of research time learning just how little. In fact, I've spent the last nine or so years working on an area of proteins where "It is well known that..." I get funded to do this, publish papers on the subject, and have begun to gain a (hopefully positive) reputation for my work. If it's really "well known", really all worked out, then how could that be so? Perhaps "It is well known that..." should be replaced with "We currently believe that...but we could be wrong. Again." At the very least we should be honest about what we do know and what we don't.

Ultimately the people we think are smart and wise aren't that way because they know so much more than we do. The difference between them and everyone else is that they recognize just how little we know.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Making the world a better place, one smile at a time

Baby J has learned to smile. The real thing, not those gas-induced half smiles we parents delude ourselves into thinking are the real thing. There's nothing like a baby smiling at you. They are innocent. They know nothing of the larger world. They don't know about dangerously dim-witted presidents, suicidal terrorists, mid-East strife, global warming, rising gas prices, or any of the thousands of things that stress out adults. The smile of a baby is given without strings attached. It's pure. It lifts the heart and makes you forget, at least for the moment, that some aspects of life can really suck. They cause you to remember that life, for the most part, is actually pretty damn good (at least for me). A baby's smile brings pure, unadulterated joy.

Daughter J: "Mommy, baby J just smiled at me! Fifteen times! And twice with dimples! Okay, maybe just eleven times. But twice with dimples!"

It's contagious. Try it - you actually don't need to be a baby.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

From the "Only in the US" file...

He must have had a HUGE litter box somewhere... Probably has a few rabbit bones in it.

Honestly, how far out of whack can this society get?
(I'll probably regret asking that.)

Friday, August 04, 2006

Mild cheddar cheese


What's the point? If I'm going to eat something so laden in fat, I want it to at least have some flavor.

Spot the sleep deprived...

Friday, July 21, 2006

Setting sail on another journey into the unknown

There's an old cliche about life being a journey. It isn't really. It's multiple journeys undertaken simultaneously. This week I started a new journey into unknown territory. My son, baby J, was born. I have two daughters, so I have no experience with sons. In fact I had grown comfortable with having daughters. And I was convinced this one would be another girl.* That was going to be my fate - me in a house full of women.** Don't get me wrong - it's not something I was unhappy about. I have never had this pressing need for a son. So I was surprised when out came this perfect little boy. And he is perfect. It was an amazing moment. I cried. With joy. Joy from having witnessed this miracle. Joy from having another wonderful child. Joy from having the most incredible, beautiful woman as my wife and mother of my children.

So now I have a son. This poses a few issues, some of which are dealt with by our wonderful friend ThatGirlyGirl. Another is circumcision (WINCE). And then there's sports. I grew up in Australia. I know cricket, Australian Rules football and soccer. I guess baby J is going to learn soccer - the former two sports aren't much use here. I'm sure DocStymie, a great friend and husband of ThatGirlyGirl, will be able to give me some advice on all things sport.

I'm not how I'm going to explain my older brother JollyRgr, the pirate policeman, but I'm sure baby J will be delighted to have a piratical uncle. And a musical aunt who tends to speak with her Mouthfulofpancake. And a scientific geek uncle (my younger brother who does not have a blog as yet so I can't link to any pithy posts by him). And those are just my siblings. He has wonderful aunts and uncles (from both my side and my wifes) and cousins who can't wait to meet him. And two older sisters who fight over who gets to hold him. And doting grandparents. And good friends. And the world's greatest Mom. So you're going to be alright, baby J, despite a clueless Dad.

Welcome to this journey baby J. This one we take together. With lots of good company. L'chaim.

* We had decided not to find out the gender prior to the birth.
** My wonderful wife knew better. She believed it was going to be a boy.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Note that these are just for the 2nd quarter of 2006...

Ya gotta laugh. Unless you have money invested in the offending companies. In which case, might I suggest having a box of tissues handy?

Killer kangaroo and the demon ducks of doom

Sounds like a good name for a bad band... Instead, they're a part of Australia's distant past. What a weird world we live in.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Weekend blatherings

1) World Cup:

I didn't watch it - as I said in my last post, it held no interest for me. I must say though, Italy deserved the win after the French captain's head butt...

2) Library:

My wife and I went to the public library this weekend. They have a second-hand book store in the basement that sells used CD's for $3 each. I was browsing through the offerings and noticed rather a large number of Spice Girls CD's... I guess some teeny-bopper has grown up. Then I found something that almost made me lose my lunch - the CD that goes with THIS!

I did escape with Midnight Oil's "Blue Sky Mining."

3) Bookstore:

We went to a great bookstore here called Joseph Beth Booksellers. While hanging out with the kids in the children's department I spotted "The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen." All I could think of was the sweating and chafing.... Ugh!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

World Cup Final

I'm having a hard time getting excited about the upcoming Italy-France game. I suspect it's going to be one big flopfest. Both teams boast world class actors. Every time an Italian player gets close to a French one they're going to fall over clutching their ankles and writhing in (pretend) agony... Even if there's been no contact.

My bet is the game will be decided by one or more penalties rewarded to the "best" floppers by an exasperated referee...

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Bracing myself

I got the ceiling fan installed without electrocuting myself, or anyone else for that matter. It was a bugger though. You need to install a ceiling fan brace to hold up the fan. It's basically a metal bar that spans two joists in the ceiling. They are expandable, generally from 16 inches to 24 inches. Old houses in the US tend to have joists 16 inches apart and new houses 24 inches (I'm guessing to save money). We have an old house, so the joists are 16 inches apart. With one exception. The two joists either side of the ceiling fan site? 13.5 inches apart... Fortunately, I found a brace that started at 13 inches and could be expanded to 24. Of course it took a trip to two large home improvement stores, opening the boxes to about six different braces and measuring them. And I forgot to take a tape measure, so I had to wander the aisles looking for one, or a ruler, carrying boxes of various braces... Still, I got it done. And it works. Doesn't even wobble when on high speed. Much.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Squirrels can't swim...

...and other random observations.

Well, the birth of my third child will be occuring sometime soon. Two weeks until my lovely wife's due date. That means it could happen pretty much anytime in the next three or so weeks. I'm not entirely ready, but I'm not sure I ever will be. Too many things at work need to be put in order - I don't suppose it would be fair to ask my wife to keep her legs crossed for another month or two, would it?

At least I'm on track for getting the painting etc. of our spare bedroom done within the next few days. It's actually going to be my (current) youngest, J's new room, with her old room becoming the nursery. We'd better have a girl - the nursery-to-be is currently pink...

One thing I need to do this weekend is install a ceiling fan in J's new room. I've done this before. Three times in fact. Most important thing is to remember to turn off the electricity. That's not a mistake you'll make twice. I hope.*

I'll bet at this point you're wondering about the squirrel. We found one yesterday in the kids' inflatable pool in the back yard. This one clearly couldn't swim. I guess the more correct description is that he is an ex-squirrel. He has ceased to be. I'm not sure how he got in there in the first place. I suspect he was teenager, egged on by other teenage squirrels.

Squirrel 1: "Go on. Jump in! It's not that deep."
Squirrel 2: "Yeah, Bob. Do it! Bet ya can't make it to the other side!"
Bob the Squirrel: "Well, I don't know..."
Squirrel 1: "What are ya, some kind of wussy chipmunk?"
Squirrel 2: "Yeah Bob, I double dog dare you. Jump!"
Squirrels 1 & 2: "Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump!"


Squirrel 2: "You go, Bob! You the squirrel!"

Long pause...

Squirrel 1: "Well whaddya know. I guess it's deeper than it looked."

Short pause...

Squirrel 2: "I know where Bob has his stash of nuts. I don't guess he needs them now..."
Squirrel 1: "Right... Off we go then."

* Only joking. I've remembered to turn off the power every time. So far. That I can remember.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Use a laptop on your lap?

Or on a plane? Is it a Dell? Hmmmmmm....

Sorry Doc Stymie. I just couldn't resist.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Big Brother Governer

Our state governer, Ernie Fletcher, has got himself into a lot of hot water recently. This has led to a lot of criticism in the press, particularly in blogs. His response? Today he's had the most vocal blog-critics blocked on state computers... To make matters worse, the agency responsible is claiming ignorance of the blocks. Fletcher has lost his mind if he thinks he can get away with this!

A big thanks to Doc Stymie for alerting me to this.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Ponder this...

Now if I were a hacker, which I'm not and I certainly don't condone that sort of behavior*, I might view this as a sort of challenge...

* I once had a Unix workstation hacked. Took me a long time to clean up the damage and get things back to normal. Bad people, those hackers.

2500 and counting...

There have now been 2500 US military deaths in Iraq. The Pentagon's response? The death rate is much lower than it was in Vietnam or Korea... Oh. I guess that makes it alright then.

And the White House's response? I'll let you look at my good friend Doc Stymie's comments on that.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Republicans are hunting Big Bird...again

Unbelievably the Republicans in Congress have decided to impose massive cuts in funding for PBS and NPR, this country's public television and radio services respectively. PBS produces children's shows such as Sesame Street and Clifford the Big Red Dog. When we let our children watch television we prefer them to watch the PBS children's shows rather than the dross put out by the commercial networks. Furthermore, PBS has some of the best, most educational, computer games around on their web site. The cuts the Republicans are proposing would directly effect such educational efforts.

Congress tried something like this last year and failed because of a massive public outcry. This all comes about because of a perceived liberal slant in the public media. Basically the Republicans don't like being made to look bad. What they don't seem to understand is that they look bad in ALL media outlets, including on the right-wing Fox network... And to say funding public broadcasting costs funding for health and welfare programs is nonsense. The public broadcasting budget is a miniscule part of the Federal budget. How about they go after the massive amounts of pork they introduce into the budget every year?

If you're in the US and want to tell Congress to keep their hands off PBS and NPR, you can sign an electronic petition at

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Odds and ends

The country is embroiled in a war, we have a record deficit, gas prices are high* and going higher, global warming is accelerating, a new hurricane season is about to start and New Orleans is still a mess... And Bush? He's worried about gays getting married. Obviously the most important thing to worry about right now, right? Thank goodness some people in the senate still possess some sense...

On a completely unrelated note, we had an interesting evening a few nights ago. We've been having some nice Spring weather recently, so we've been keeping the windows and doors open. We have a screened-in back porch. The screen door on the porch has a hole or two in it (we've been meaning to replace the door - it's old and warped). Anyway, my beautiful wife and I were sitting in the living room that evening. From the couch you can see through the dining room into part of the kitchen. I noticed something out of the corner of my eye, looked up and there was a raccoon in the kitchen staring back at me... Thankfully he didn't like what he saw and took off out the back and through a hole in the screen door. Needless to say the holes are now patched. Boarded up, in fact.

And finally, John Howard, Australia's Prime Minister, has clearly been spending too much time in the sun... How else can you explain such a ridiculous idea? If there was ever a country ideal for renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, Australia is it.

* "High" by US standards. Not so high compared to everyone else of course...

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Book - Initial Invitations

A double posting! You're so lucky...

So I've sent out a bunch of invitations to people to contribute chapters to The Book. I've received eleven replies so far; six yes, two gracious no's, two "no but ask again after summer just in case because I would like to, but am too busy", and one "not sure, I'm very busy, ask again after summer because I'd like to". I have seven I haven't heard from. Interestingly a couple of the more negative responses have come from people I thought would be definite yes's. Still, not a bad strike rate so far. I figure ten people, including myself, are sufficient, so I'm most the way there. More would be even better.

It's been a bit nerve-wracking. What if no one said yes? Or worse, no one even replied? That would be a blow to the ego. I'm by no means a titan in my field, but I do like to think what I do has earned me a somewhat positive reputation. That sounds a little boastful, but it's not really - much of science is reputation. Good science = a good reputation. We're all striving for that. So it is with some relief that I now have the six positive replies.

Is genius contagious?

Can associating with geniuses make you smarter? Perhaps a genius by association? I certainly hope so. I talked to a collaborator (and friend) of mine by phone this morning (he's in St. Louis). He's a very, very smart guy. It appears he has figured out some stuff that will completely transform our field. It's the kind of thing that when you hear it you go "Doh! That's so obvious! Why didn't I think of that?" For that very reason - it's simple, obvious and just makes sense - my collaborator will be taking a beating from some of the close-minded, powerful senior people in the field. Scientists are (usually) smart, but they're also people, and when you tell someone that something they've built much of their career around is probably wrong, the reaction often isn't pleasant. It will be an interesting couple of years for my friend.

Monday, May 22, 2006


Now why didn't someone think of this before? Have the leader of some nation visit Iraq and call for an end to the violence. Clearly this will work! Even as I type this, I imagine people all over Iraq are thinking "Mr. Blair wants us to stop fighting each other, so I'm going to take all my weapons and hand them over at the local police station. Then I'm going over to my neighbor's house, the one I lobbed a bomb at yesterday, and I'm going to give him a bunch of fresh flowers. Then all will be well in Iraq! Gosh, I hope my neighbor doesn't have allergies..." It's just so obvious!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Be careful who you call...

...because they might be listening. Bush's line that "Our intelligence activities strictly target al-Qaeda and their known affiliates" doesn't quite jive with the collection of data on the phone calls of "tens of millions of Americans". That's enough al-Quaeda and known affiliates to have destroyed this country long ago. Note that he said "known affiliates".

Is it just me or is this country becoming more and more like the various "evil regimes" Bush rails against?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Gotta run!

Hmmmm, this sounds funny, but isn't really. I'm really beginning to wonder whether people should be given some sort of test before being allowed to have children...

Thursday, May 04, 2006


As a parent I wanted to write something about this, but words fail me. What she did was wrong, what her parents did to her was wrong, and what the Johnson County District Attorney has done is also wrong. How very, very sad.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

And hit number 1000...

...came from Iraq!

Sorry little bro, you missed by one...

Monday, May 01, 2006

Curioser and curioser

See that Site Meter counter on the left? Not only does it count how many hits I get (my own are not counted), it also lets me track who visits (in the form of IP addresses and ISP's) and from where (city and country). More interestingly I can look at the page the visitor came to me from (careful guys - go somewhere innocuous after the porn site before visiting here). This can be interesting. Last week someone from the University of Oregon dropped by (hi!). He/she got to me after a Google search using the search words "dell d410 laptop problem sucks". Sadly when I tried the same search I couldn't find me...

I'm almost up to 1000 hits! Woohoo!

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Book - Prelude

I was recently asked to be editor of a book on my specific area of research by a small science publisher (Nova Science). This would involve planning the scope of the book, finding authors for the chapters, getting those authors to actually write and submit their chapters, editing the chapters where necessary, and finally compiling them and sending them to the publisher. In a fit of insanity I agreed... In my defense, I had just finished a project where I co-edited a journal issue dedicated to my postdoc advisor. That project went fairly smoothly and really wasn't that hard. Of course when I agreed to do the book I completely forgot that for the journal issue I had an energetic co-editor plus the help and backing of the journal's editor-in-chief and the journal staff. The book? Well, the publisher will handle everything once it's written, but the rest is up to me... Oh, and the monetary benefits for this kind of thing range from pitiful to non-existent. Then again, I'm not doing it for the money.

So anyway, I thought I would chronicle the progress of this project here. Each post will be under the heading The Book. I will keep you abreast of things ranging from obtaining authors, to wrangling with authors, to wrangling with the publisher, all the way up to the book appearing on This may take a while...

Thursday, April 27, 2006

My new hero!

First some background:
Here in good ol' Kentucky the state legislature passes a budget every two years. This was a budget year. After much wrangling the Republicans and Democrats managed to cobble together something they could agree to vote on (in this state that qualifies as a minor miracle...). Anyway, before they voted, the Democrats, who hold a sufficient majority in the House to override any vetoes the Republican governor might make, decided they needed a break. Of course the break lasted long enough that when they got back and rewrangled over the budget (without really changing anything), they had just enough time left in the legislative session to vote on the budget before it ended. Of course once the session ended they couldn't do anything about any vetoes...

Early this week:
The governor, concerned about the level of State debt in the budget, decides he's going to veto some projects. So he gets out his big red pen and crosses out a few things. About $370 million worth of a few things. He wanted to veto more, but, gosh darn it, everything left was just so worthwhile (he actually used words to that effect). So, what did he veto? Well, about 75% of the $370 million that he vetoed was for construction projects at various State universities (including this one). You know, for stuff like classrooms, science buildings, a nursing building* etc. Of course most of that money wasn't coming from the State - it was going to be raised by selling bonds that would be paid off by the universities using funds they raised through things like tuition etc., so it wasn't really State debt... He also vetoed money for a "community center" kind of project for orphans who are wards of the State. Now one may wonder what kinds of projects he considered more worthwhile than higher education and the well-being of orphans. Clearly the $75 million slated for a new basketball arena for the University of Louisville was considered more worthwhile... Also $10 million for a new pharmacy school at the University of the Cumberlands (a private Baptist college).**

My new hero:
University of Louisville President, Jim Ramsey! He has come out and said he would prefer the money for the various vetoed projects to the new basketball arena. Good lord, a Kentucky university President who puts academics ahead of athletics!?!?!?!?! This is very much a major miracle folks. Alas, Ramsey has probably signed his death warrant. Kentucky has some of the world's most rabid basketball fans. I suspect that, even as I type this, groups of fans are gathering their pitchforks and burning torches and are marching on Ramsey's house for a good ol' fashioned lynching... If he manages to survive that, I'm sure the University of Louisville Board of Trustees will find some way to fire Ramsey within the year, especially given they are no doubt all rabid basketball fans since that seems to be the only qualification required to be on a university Board of Trustees in Kentucky...

* Did I mention that this country has such a critical shortage of nurses that some hospitals and health organizations are poaching nurses from other western countries (which have their own nurse shortages)?

** You may wonder why the State is giving $10 million to a private, church-run college. It's simple really. The Kentucky Senate Republican leader comes from the area where the University of the Cumberlands is located. He inserted this appropriation into the budget because it will buy him a bunch of votes. The governor, wanting to stay on the good side of this guy, left the money in the budget despite the majority of the Kentucky public being against it. But, you ask, given the supposed separation of church and state, surely this is an unconstitutional use of State funds? The Senate Leader says it isn't. Most law scholars say it is. The governor? In a remarkable display of his weasely nature, has said the funds are contingent upon the courts upholding their constitutionality. That way, the Senate Leader can't get mad at him when the courts say no...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Addiction alert!

I made my first purchase on eBay yesterday.* It was on behalf on my mother-in-law. It's a very simple process to sign up and start bidding on things. Too simple. Dangerous in fact. One could very easily become addicted to buying and selling on eBay. It's amazing the stuff available there. As someone once said to me, you could put a pile of dog poop on auction and someone will buy it. Don't believe it? Check out this or this. Or see what this genius has managed to do on eBay. Hmmmm, perhaps I should aim for a small island in the Caribbean...

* Alas, not an exciting bidding war. My bid was the only one on the object, so I got it for the reserved price. My mother-in-law was prepared to go significantly higher, so it could have been interesting.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Diversity 101

Last week the governer of this fine state declared April 11 as Diversity Day. As part of his announcement, he went on to say that gay and lesbian state workers would no longer be protected under State hiring anti-discrimination policies...

Oh yeah, this guy also supports the teaching of "intelligent design". I'd say he's living evidence of a lack of intelligent design.

Monday, April 17, 2006


I'm back from vacation. We managed to drive a little over 1000 miles over the last week and a half which gave me plenty of opportunity to observe the various types of drivers we get on the interstate highways. Here's a sampling:

1. Mr. I-Have-To-Be-In-Front:
This is the guy who will go screaming past you, pull in less than half a car length in front of you, and then slow down so he's going slower than you were. God forbid you pass him - he'll just do it again...

2. Mr. But-I-Might-Get-Stuck-Behind-Someone-Slower-Than-Me:
This one likes to drive in the left hand lane going 5mph under the speed limit (remember we drive on the right here).

3. Mr. I-Have-Too-Much-Testosterone-Truckdriver:
He tries to pass another truck... while going up a mountain. Consequently both he and the truck he's trying to pass are doing about 10mph in a 65mph zone.

4. Mr. But-I'm-Going-Faster!:
This is the guy who passes people because he's going 0.001mph faster than they are. And he doesn't speed up to pass. On average it takes him about 10 miles to pass a small sedan. You're really unlucky if you're behind him when he tries to pass an eighteen wheeler...

And finally,
5. Mr. God-Is-My-Co-Pilot:
I swear, people with "God is my co-pilot" bumper stickers are some of the worst drivers in the world. I think there are two reasons for this. First, I don't believe there are any cars in heaven. Therefore God doesn't have a license! Secondly, pilot is the term used for the person flying a plane or guiding a ship into harbor. Not for someone driving a car. So people with these bumper stickers are leaving the driving to a being with no license who thinks the car is a plane or a boat...

We survived anyway.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

See ya!

See ya! Part 1:

See ya Tommy boy! Mr. DeLay has finally realized he's not going to get away with his illegal, manipulative ways and is making a run for it. Good riddance.

See ya! Part 2:
I'm heading off on vacation tomorrow and will be gone for about a week and a half. That means no sparkling repartee from me for a while. If the withdrawal becomes too much, amuse yourselves by reading my archived posts. Of course I can't imagine anyone actually missing my blather that much...

Ponder this: The House of Representatives is neither a house nor representative. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Nominations for the Darwin Award

1) Several of the Local Police:
Apparently one local policeman has a blog on mySpace. He and his buddies posted discussions of arrests they'd made (including names and photos of those arrested in a couple of cases), derogatory remarks about gays and the disabled, and comments about the city government (their employers) that were less than complimentary. They also posted pictures of their badges and cruisers. It was only a matter of time until someone in power found out about the web site...

2) The State Legislature:
For two bills they voted on this session. The first, which was passed, allows for the sale of anti-abortion tags (car license plates). Rationale for passing this: it will save lives. The second, which they overwhelmingly voted against, was for a primary seat belt law. That would have allowed the police to pull you over and ticket you for not wearing a seat belt (right now they can only ticket you for that if you're pulled over for another reason). Rationale for not passing this: erosion of civil liberties...


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

To laptop or not to laptop...

That is the question. My current PowerBook is getting old. It still runs fine, but is a little slow and it is only a matter of time before the hardware begins to break down. And I have money in a grant to buy a new computer for work that I should spend this year...

It will be a Mac. I've always been a Mac person and that isn't about to change. Besides, based on what I've read about Microsoft's to-be-released-sometime-in-the-distant-future Vista OS, I can't imagine why anyone would want to stay with them. I don't want to buy into a very-soon-to-be obsolete technology, so the G4-based iBooks are out. That leaves the dual-core Intel-based MacBook Pro. Adopting Intel CPU's was perhaps the smartest thing Apple has ever done. Well, second smartest after the iPod. Okay, third - Mac OS X has to be the second. But there are two issues with the MacBook Pro.

1) It's a brand new architecture (at least for Apple).
They've only been shipping for a couple of months. I'm always loath to be an early adopter of new computer stuff. Hardware or software. I prefer to let others debug the system first. Although the very few issues I've heard about with the MacBook Pro appear to be minor, and Apple has fixed them rapidly, it's really too early to tell if there will be more major issues... And most software isn't as yet native. Sure, they will run using Apple's Rosetta emulator, but native is better and who knows what kinds of issues will arise as software is converted...

2) The name MacBook Pro really, really sucks.
I mean, really sucks. What were they thinking? They had this nice little two-line thing going. The iBooks and the PowerBooks. The iBooks for your iWorld. The PowerBooks for the "power users" (not that I consider myself one of those). The whole iThing has worked well for Apple. iBooks. iMacs. iPods. And the PowerThing too. You had PowerBooks and PowerMacs (the desktops). And you could imagine at some point Apple developing a new version of the iPod with a fancy 12" fold-out color LCD screen for watching movies. They would call it the PowerPod...

Who in their right mind is going to buy a MacPod Pro? Sounds like some kind of invasive medical device. Especially if you mispronounce it MacProd Po...

Monday, March 27, 2006

And now for something completely different...

Well, different to the post I just submitted...

I had Baked Alaska for the first time last week. Made me wonder who first thought of putting ice cream inside meringue and baking it. I mean, this is not something that is likely to have happened by accident...

"Chef Bigponce! I accidentally tripped and dropped the meringue batter on your ice cream sculpture! The one built on top of the sponge cake!"

"You dolt! And the French ambassador is waiting for that meringue! What should I do?????..... I've got it! I'll bake the meringue on top of the ice-cream!"

"But Chef Bigponce, won't that result in a melted, soggy, inedible mess?"

"Of course it will! Remember, this is for the French ambassador. Those garlic-smelling, frog-eating cowards don't support the War on Terror! They deserve nothing more than a melted, soggy, inedible mess for dessert!"

Brief pause while baking

"Good grief Chef Bigponce, it's not a melted, soggy, inedible mess!"

"Drat those French!"

Okay, it's the end of the day. Obviously I'm losing it. Time to go home...

Fighting Terrorism 101

Apparently this is how you do it...

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing but the greatest admiration for the men and women of the US military. I just have my doubts about their leaders...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Shuffle blather

I've been listening to my iPod on the shuffle setting the last couple of days. Here's the artists from the first 10 songs I heard on shuffle:

The Cranberries, The Cranberries, Natalie Cole, The Cranberries, Hunters and Collectors, Eric Clapton, BB King, Elvis Costello, Eric Clapton, Eric Clapton

Doesn't seem so random. I really don't have that many Cranberries and Eric Clapton songs on the iPod. In fact, the odds of getting three Cranberries and three Eric Clapton songs in the first ten work out to be about one chance in 115,000,000... Given the number of U2 songs currently on my iPod, it's actually more likely that I would get ten U2 songs in a row.

Am I a geek or what?

By the way, the Eric Clapton/BB King/Elvis Costello set (songs six through eight) were Cocaine/Let The Good Times Roll/Clubland. "Intelligent shuffle" perhaps?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Solution to the energy problem!

I think I have a way to cure this country's gas-guzzling addition. Just find a way to harness the energy expended as a result of this guy's bigoted, ignorant big fat mouth.

And to think people actually listen to him...

Monday, March 13, 2006

Not so random ponderings

No, I haven't dropped off the face of the earth. Just not too much to say recently... Here's some not so random thoughts to tide you over until my next epiphany.

It's Spring Break here at Big State U. That means no students for a week. As I walked onto campus this morning a crushed empty beer carton tumbled by blown by the wind. Seemed somehow apropos.

I read a little article on the BBC News web site last week about a woman in Ireland who was in court because she had been caught by a camera used to detect speeders. She wasn't speeding. In fact she was driving well under the speed limit. The problem? She was putting on makeup. One hand was holding a mirror and the other was applying eyeliner or something. Pop quiz: how many hands were on the steering wheel? Her lawyer was arguing that the case should be dismissed on the grounds that a few days after she had been photographed driving sans hands she had been caught driving drunk and had lost her license anyway...

The above reminded me of a couple of things. Last year the state legislature here failed to pass a bill making driving while using a cell phone illegal (using a "hands-free" headset would have been okay under the proposed law). One of the most outspoken opponents of the bill argued that she put on her makeup every morning while driving down the highway to the State Capitol and that if she could manage that, people should be quite capable of using a cell phone while driving... Remind me to stay off that highway in the morning.

It's illegal in this state to drive while not wearing a seat belt. However, you can't be pulled over for not wearing a seat belt. You can only be charged if you're pulled over for some other reason like speeding. The state legislature recently turned down a bill that would let the police pull you over for not wearing a seat belt (ie for breaking the law). The reason they turned it down? It infringes on people's civil liberties...

The mayor here recently proposed installing cameras at intersections with traffic lights. You know, those cameras that take pictures of people going through red lights. The council turned down the proposal on the grounds it was too "Big Brother is watching you"...

So here we are in a country where the President and his cronies can listen in on your phone conversations and read your private emails, but God forbid we use cameras to catch people who are breaking the law and putting other people's lives in danger. Or we enforce seat belt laws that not only save lives, but also vast amounts of money (think about how much it costs society to deal with an accident with injuries or fatalities). Those would be invasions of privacy. Erosion of civil liberties.

Is it 2008 yet?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Ponderings with a sore back

Somehow I managed to put out my back yesterday while putting together furniture at work. Yes, faculty get to do that. I could have got the Big State U physical plant people to put the stuff together, but they would charge me more than the furniture itself cost, would take six months and would get it wrong. Anyway, here I am at home today resting my sore back. This all leads to the following ponderings:

My wife and children, while laughing heartily at my predicament, told me I'm walking around like an old man (a result of my sore back). So now I know what it's like to walk around like an old man. You look down a lot. I guess that means you have a much higher chance of finding money or other small valuable items dropped by others. Not that it does you any good. Apparently old men can't bend down to pick that stuff up. Interestingly going up stairs is easier than going down. I would have thought it would be the other way around. So old men dislike stairs not because they can't climb them, but more because they're afraid they'll get upstairs and not be able to come down. It would be rather embarrassing to have to call the fire department to rescue an old man stuck on the second floor. And old men can't sit for too long for fear their backs will lock up. They also can't stand for too long because it hurts. No wonder so many of the poor buggers are grumpy.

On a completely unrelated note... I read in the newspaper yesterday that President Bush's approval rating is at it's lowest point ever - 34%. Which leads me to ask, what are those 34% thinking?

I fear I have sat too long. I'd better go stand and ponder how I'm going to pick up that quarter I spotted last night on the floor in our bedroom upstairs. And then I'll devote my efforts to figuring out how to get back down stairs again.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


...are really cool. We saw the baby this morning. The quality of the images has improved tremendously from the fuzzy pictures we got with our first child. We even saw a little hand with fingers and thumb. Saw the heart beating. You could count the vertebrae in the spine if you wanted to.

Very cool. I fell in love with the baby. Not that I didn't already love it at some level already. Life is wonderful.

No, we didn't find out the gender. Didn't want to. It's going to be a surprise for everyone.

I'm baaaaaccckkk!

I'm sure my loyal fan base (both of them) are wondering why the silence here for the last week or so. Well, I spent a few days in scenic Salt Lake City at the 50th Annual Biophysical Society Meeting. Five thousand or so of the geekiest science geeks descended like flies upon the city of Mormons. Just think of the possibilities for clashes between these two exceedingly different cultures!

There weren't any. Interculture clashes that is. At least not that I saw. Interesting place though. It's a(n unnaturally) clean, very modern city with wide streets and rather striking architecture. Although the city itself is quite flat, it is surrounded by very beautiful mountains. The people are friendly, in a somewhat plastic way. Despite the common perception, alcohol is readily available (trust me, if it weren't the meeting wouldn't have been held there). Oh, and my room-mate determined that there was plenty of porn available on the hotel TV. No, we didn't watch any - he had a bet with his wife over whether or not Mormons allowed porn. She lost. And they have homeless people just like any other US city. How the homeless survive the cold is beyond me - I'm not sure it really got above freezing while I was there.

The meeting itself? I enjoyed it. The talks were almost uniformly abysmal, with just a couple of exceptions. However, the schmoozing went well. And that, after all, is why we go to these things. I may even have picked up a new collaboration (a good thing). All in all a successful trip.

And now I'm back.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Oh worms!

I guess it was inevitable. So now the Mac OS has a worm of it's very own. Still, you'd have to be pretty stooooopid to fall for this one and, of course, we Mac users generally don't fall into that category. :-)

Now it's time to get my smug self a coffee.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Shadow dance

You know those Apple iPod ads where someone is walking along the street listening to their iPod and their shadow is dancing wildly?

Now my shadow can dance too.

Okay, so not earthshattering news, but I'm a happy fellow.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The really not quite so super Super Bowl

For the first time in quite a while I managed to sit and watch the Super Bowl. It was not impressive...

The Game:
Neither team played all that well really, and the officiating was at times unbelievably bad. The two calls in the second half that moved the SeaHawks from the Steelers 1yd line to almost mid-field were well beyond appalling.

The Commercials:
There's this hype about the commercials every year. Maybe the fact that there wasn't nearly so much hype this year should have been a big hint... This years commercials were at best ho-hum. IMHO the Bud baby horse pulling the Bud cart was the best, and only because of a high cute factor. The "life comes at you fast" series was not only predictable, but also just plain bad. The "Stunt City" ad for whatever deodorant it was was a waste of what was probably a very, very large amount of money. And so on.

The Half-Time Show:
Okay, so I'm probably going to annoy some hard core Stones fans here, but guys, it's time they hung it up. They should get out while people still think they're good.... The Stones just couldn't hold it together last night. Yes, I know it's probably really hard to play in that kind of venue and that they probably couldn't hear what they were playing all that clearly, but frankly, the Stones were not that good. All I could think while they were playing was I really, really hope Keith Richards doesn't have a wardrobe malfunction...

Friday, February 03, 2006

Woo hoo!

After three desolate days, my email is back!

Alas, all that extra nonsense Big State U puts us through to keep the administrative types looking busy and important came back with the email...

Sigh, I guess you can't have it all.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Isn't it ironic...

...that the President who has done his best to isolate this country from the rest of the world, indeed has alienated many our traditional allies, can stand up in front of the country and make statements like:

"In a complex and challenging time, the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting, yet it ends in danger and decline."

"America rejects the false comfort of isolationism."

"Isolationism would not only tie our hands in fighting enemies; it would keep us from helping our friends in desperate need."

Where's a sick bag when you really need one?

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Alas dear email, I knew ye well

The email system here at Big State U has now been down for 24 hours. I've developed a twitch in my right eye, my hands are shaking and I'm sweating uncontrollably... I think I'm going into withdrawal...

Oh where, oh where has my email gone?
Oh where, oh where can it be?
With its spam and junk,
And its mail for me,
Oh where, oh where can it beeeeeeeeeeeee?

This (hopefully) temporary insanity is brought to you courtesy of the Big State U IT department.

Friday, January 27, 2006

To Nobel or not to Nobel...

In the comments to my previous post, my good friend Milo pointed out that I seem to be lusting for the Nobel prize. As he is no doubt well aware, my previous posts on winning a Nobel (here and here) were written with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. I honestly cannot imagine ever being in the running for a Nobel. In my post on how you win a Nobel I left out one essential criterion - knowing the right people. Many (not all) Nobels are won with not just great science, but also a large amount of schmoozing... Unfortunately for any Nobel aspirations I might have, I am not much of a schmoozer. C'est la vie.

However, I am just like any other scientist in that there is some small part of me that enjoys, even craves, recognition for the work I do. Scientists are people, and just like everyone else, have egos that like to be stroked. I'm certainly no exception. It is gratifying when your work is acknowledged in a positive manner. It can even be gratifying when some well-known individual in the field, who possesses a significant god-complex*, is publically negative about something you've done (at least when you know you're right and they're wrong).** Everyone likes to be told they're doing a good job. For scientists this generally comes in the form of citations in published papers (the authors refer to your work) and sometimes in talks where the speaker points out something you've done. I'll readily admit to being delighted when hearing someone mention my work in a talk. And I'm something of a ISI Web of Knowledge junkie (this is a web site that let's you look up how many times your papers have been cited - only available to people at institutions who pay the hefty subscription fees). I like to see who is citing my work and in what context. And I honestly don't believe I'm any different from my peers in that regard. All scientists care at some level about how they are perceived.

So, do I want a Nobel? I certainly wouldn't turn one down if it were offered. But I'm also not making that a life goal. Or a goal of any sort. My only real goal with my work is to keep doing the stuff that fascinates me, and hopefully manage to keep others fascinated too.

* Someone with a god-complex thinks they are one.

** That sounded rather arrogant, but I WAS right. Really I was.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Who are those people?

This weekend my wife and I had an hour or so to ourselves (ie no kids!) and we found ourselves sitting in a coffee shop watching the world go by. While there I overheard the barista telling a customer all about some friend of a friend who got this job with a web site design company and how he was sent off to live in Aspen, Colorado, and how he got to go skiing every weekend and how his life was one big party... I got to pondering, isn't it funny how it's always someone else who gets to live the dream life? I don't mean someone other than me*, but rather how it's always a friend of a friend, or a cousin's second cousin, or an aunt's step-father's daughter's son... Does anyone really know one of these people? Do they really exist, or are they some kind of collective urban myth created subconsciously to assuage feelings of shortcomings in our own lives?

More importantly, why wasn't the barista making my latte rather than carrying on about some mythical skiing party dude?

* I actually think I am living the dream life - a wonderful wife, two great kids (and a third on the way!), good friends, a job I love. What more could I want?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Stockholm? Not yet apparently...

I've finished reading Peter Doherty's "The Beginners Guide to Winning the Nobel Prize." (Okay, so it's taken a while...) It was an interesting read. Covered Doherty's career, his ideas on religion and science, science funding etc. I would recommend it to anyone in science or interested in science. As I noted before, he rambles, and writing a book like this is clearly not his forte. Still, a good read.

He saved the "how to win a Nobel" bit until the last chapter. Bugger me if I'm not already doing (or have done) pretty much everything he recommends!

1) Get good training at good institutions.

Okay so my undergraduate and graduate degrees aren't from a world-reknowned institution. They are however from an institution with a good reputation for solid training. And the place can (now) claim two resident Nobelists. I did do my postdoctoral training at high profile institutions that have spawned, and have resident, multiple Nobel prize winners. So I think I've got this criteria covered, more or less.

2) Work at a high profile institution.

This is the one where I'm somewhat deficient. Big State U is known for stellar athletics, not academics... However, the department I'm in is ranked in the top 20 for a public university in the US, so it's not all bad.

3) Work on something really important.

I've got this one down. My area of study, protein folding, is widely considered to be one of the more important areas in modern biology. If you're interested, you can get brief introductions to protein folding here and here (the latter focuses too much on "misfolding" diseases in my opinion).

4) Work on something the Nobel committees care about.

Again, got it covered. The study of protein folding has lead to Nobel prizes in the past.

5) Be open to explanations/discoveries outside the accepted "norm".

I try to be. In fact I think I'm somewhat successful at that, even if I do say so myself.

6) Don't piss off your peers.

Obvious really. The Nobel committees ask distinguished scientists and past winners to nominate people for Nobels. And this is all done in a very secretive manner, so you have no idea who's been asked to nominate and who's been nominated. If you piss people off, you probably won't be nominated. I'll try to be nice...

I have it covered then. But still no trip to Stockholm...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Fraud in science

Fraud in science, at least "major" fraud, is very rare. Any kind of falsification of results is very, very wrong, but I can imagine it's possible to get away with a tweak or two to data to make it look better. Outright falsification though is virtually impossible to get away with. The reason for that is that science is built around an extensive system of checks and balances. Important experiments will be repeated by scientists other than the one who did the original work. Although we scientists are a trusting bunch, we do like to make sure we can get relevant experiments to work in our own labs. If you can't get an experiment to work, you contact the original scientist and try to work out why. If no one can repeat the work, then falsification begins to look like a real possibility... If you do important science, someone will check up on your work. The more important/high profile your science, the more people will attempt to replicate it. Sir Peter Medawar, in his classic book "Advice to a Young Scientist" advocates that all scientists should work on something important. Some important science may seem esoteric to the public, such as perhaps my work on protein structure. Other science has spent some time in the spotlight, such as stem cell research, and is generally considered important in one way or another. I suspect most scientists believe what they're doing is important in some sense.

So one wonders, WHAT WAS HE THINKING????

Monday, January 09, 2006

Letterman 1 Big Fat Liar 0

The other night Dave Letterman really let Bill O'Reilly (obnoxious right-wing demagogue) know what he thought. I think 60% was something of an underestimate though...

Want to see something really, really scary? I mean REALLY scary? Click here. Don't say I didn't warn you...

Friday, January 06, 2006

Emulate the innocence

This morning at breakfast my five-and-a-half year old told me that she loves everyone in the whole wide world.
There should be more five-and-a-half year olds in this world.
Five-and-a-half year olds don't preach hatred and intolerance.
Five-and-a-half year olds don't shoot you because you don't look like they do.
Five-and-a-half year olds don't drop bombs on you because you practise a different religion.
Five-and-a-half year olds don't invade your country because they don't like your system of government.
Five-and-a-half year olds just are.
We should all listen to the wisdom of five-and-a-half year olds.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

I'm going to be rich!

I'm back from spending Hannukah with the in-laws (who are truly wonderful). My daughters were given Bella Dancerella Pop Star Home Studio as a present to share (along with many other presents...). This consists of a plastic mat with a central star surrounded by numbers, a plastic head set and a video or DVD. The video features an overly enthusiastic teenager, Bella, who teaches the watcher how to dance "like a pop star". Basically you stand on the mat and follow instructions ("kick, step, touch number five!"). My daughters love it. While watching them I had this idea - I could repackage this thing and sell it to male college students! How many male college students have you met who could dance? Not many I bet. And yet female college students seem to be all about dancing (well, at least some of the time). So here's the marketing strategy - "Learn how to dance and get lucky!" It's sure to be a big seller. I could have infomercials timed to come on after bars/nightclubs have closed so they catch the hapless, lonely (and drunk!) students surfing the channels while bitching about how that hottie at the bar who went home with that guy who could dance and not them! Soon I could have entire frat houses prancing about on their little plastic mats!

It gets better! Obviously selling Bella Dancerella kits themselves could make me wealthy. What would make me fabulously rich though would be the new reality TV show I would produce shortly after they came on the market. A tentative title is "College Boys Dancing Like Preteen Girls: The Lonely Get Lonelier, Ridiculed And Beaten Up."

It's going to be a great year.