Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Making a forest

I'm putting together this book. You may recall I've blogged about this enterprise in the past. It's nearing completion (and none too soon!). There are now four outstanding chapters. One of the authors hasn't answered a single email from me this year, so I've written him off. Two others promise their chapters are on the way. One of them told me today that I would have his by Wednesday (tomorrow). We'll see.

The fourth chapter? That would be mine. Hey, I'm the editor of the book, I can set my own rules, right? Just because everyone else was supposed to get their chapters done by mid-February doesn't mean I had to. As it was, almost none of them got their's to me on time.

So I've been busy writing my chapter. It's supposed to be a review of my research on unfolded protein states. Basically a summary of my current body of work, linking it all together and placing it into perspective with respect to everyone else's work. I'll be damned if it doesn't all make a lot of sense and hang together. My work that is. It's almost as if I had carefully plotted out the direction of my work over the past decade. I didn't. Research doesn't work that way. Research evolves. It goes where it goes, not where you try to make it go. I've been so busy planting trees (working on various research problems) that I hadn't noticed that I've managed to make a forest. It's pretty cool. At least I think so.

Once I've finished this chapter I think I'll add a stream to my forest. And maybe a lake.

Word of the post:

foofaraw \FOO-fuh-raw\

1. Excessive or flashy ornamentation or decoration.
2. A fuss over a matter of little importance.

Today's trivia question:

In our initial trivia frenzy we established the Beatles made five movies, each of which had an album associated with it. Which of those albums was the last to be released in England? Bonus points if you can tell me which year.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Creativity, genius and toilet repair

Interesting juxtaposition in yesterday's newspaper here. On the front page was a big article about the deplorable state of the studio art teaching building here at Big State U. Apparently the building itself is considered ideal for studio art in that it has loads of space and abundant natural light. Problem is, the building is in such bad shape it's close to condemnation. There is not ventilation system (studio arts often require use of noxious chemicals and/or produces significant amounts of dust), no air-conditioning (the temperature inside can exceed 100F in the Summer), most windows won't open, the electrical wiring is out of code and insufficient to power all the equipment in the building, the internal stairs are in danger of collapse and the plumbing bursts on a regular basis leading to flooding. Renovation estimates run from $30 million upwards. The administration here at Big State U. are in hot pursuit of the state government-mandated Top 20 status and have decided that science and technology should be the focus. So there are no plans to properly fix the studio art building.

In the same newspaper there was a very cool column (also featured here in the LA Times) written by Walter Isaacson, author of the Einstein biography "Einstein: His Life and Universe". In this column Isaacson makes the point that genius is a combination of smarts, rebelliousness and creativity. Creativity. That makes a lot of sense to me. Many of the best scientists I know have a very creative side. My good friend DocStymie springs to mind. A great scientist who happens to also be a musician with the great American novel inside of him (have you started writing it yet Doc?). Other scientists I know paint, sing, play muscial instruments, write and/or lose themselves in fantasy-based computer games. Creativity is key to good science.

So, Big State U., you want to be Top 20? I think perhaps you should fix the studio art building. Pronto.

Now, dear readers, on to toilet repair. Go on, admit it, that's the real reason you're bothering to read this, isn't it. You just want to hear all about my exploits with the poo pipeage. So, in our kids playroom downstairs there's this water stain on the ceiling. It's more or less below the upstairs porcelain throne. It's been there for a while and is slowly getting worse. I recently (Friday night) read an article in a home improvement magazine that pointed out that slow leaks like this one can cause extensive damage to the flooring and joists if left unrepaired. I decided maybe it was time to do something. My first step was to do some internet research. This confirmed what I thought might be the case - the most likely cause of the leak was the wax ring that seals the bottom of the toilet to the waste pipe. This seal is compressed by the weight of the toilet, plus user, forming a tight waterproof ring around the pipe. If however, it wasn't installed correctly, the bolts holding the toilet to the flange that connects to the waste pipe were tightened too much or were too loose, and/or the toilet could rock, this wax seal could develop a leak. Replacing the wax ring is, in principle, very straightforward. Most difficult step appeared to be putting the toilet back with a new ring attached. This has to be done by lining up the two small bolt holes over the bolts in the floor while keeping the toilet fairly level. Step two was to talk to a friend who is something of a home handyman. My main question was could I do this by myself. His answer was maybe, but you're better off with help. So he ended up spending much of the afternoon helping me. Pulling out the toilet was very easy (I remembered to empty all the water first!). That revealed that the old wax ring was in pretty bad shape. That wasn't the worst of it though. Whoever had installed the wax ring had overtightened the bolts holding the toilet down. This had caused the flange to bend and separate from the waste pipe, bending and putting a small hole in the pipe in the process (the likely cause of the leak). The subfloor looked fine though, which is good because that would be a very major repair job (although my friend claims we could handle it over a couple of weekends).

By the way, this isn't as yucky as it might sound. You flush a lot of clean water down that waste pipe, so it's actually pretty clean looking. Thomas Crapper was a clever man. I bet he had a creative side.

Anyway, we ended up having to cut and file the top of the waste pipe to get it level again. We then installed a replacement flange (thank goodness I had help from someone with a clue), and a new wax ring. All in all a very satisfying three hours work. Now we just have to wait a couple of weeks for the ceiling below to properly dry out before I dig out the damaged plaster, patch and seal it. Then we'll have to wait a few more weeks to be absolutely sure there isn't still a slow leak. My friend and I are pretty confident we fixed it though.

Yes, I did wash up. Thoroughly. Several times.

Word of the post:

jux·ta·po·si·tion [juhk-stuh-puh-zish-uhn]

1. an act or instance of placing close together or side by side, esp. for comparison or contrast.
2. the state of being close together or side by side.
[Origin: 1655–65; < F < L juxtā side by side + F position position]

—Related forms
jux·ta·po·si·tion·al, adjective

For an example, read the above post again.

And now for a music trivia question:

What was Nancy's real name in Rocky Racoon by the Beatles?
(Yes, I'm still on my Beatles kick.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Sweet Loretta Fat, she thought she was a cleaner, but she was a frying pan.

I'm currently suffering from blog block. It's not that I can't think of things to write. It's that I can't think of things to write when I have the time to sit and write. Bit of a bummer really. Especially when my blog is approaching 3000 hits.

So here's some randomness...

Thanks to my little brother, I now have all of the Beatles' albums. They all fit on my 2G iPod nano. With lots of room to spare.

I was listening to Beatles tunes while following the Australia-England one day cricket match on Sunday. Fittingly, the song "Help!" came on half way through England's innings. It didn't help them.

"'I dig a pygmie' by Charles Hortree and the Deaf Aids" is the opening line to which album? (Little brother you're not eligible to answer.)

Who played lead guitar on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"? I know the answer. Do you?

Twenty years ago I was a graduate (postgraduate) student. My research involved long computer simulations. I used the university mainframe. It filled a large room and had disk drives that looked like oversized washing machines. My current PDA fits in my pocket. It is faster and has more memory than that mainframe.

And finally, do any of you know someone who owns a Zune? I've seen them in stores, but never one out in the wild.

Word of the post:

magniloquent \mag-NIL-uh-kwent\

Lofty or grandiose in speech or expression; using a high-flown style of discourse; bombastic.