Thursday, June 30, 2005

Where Are My Gloves?

As a result of some very interesting "politics", well actually cheating, I've fallen behind the team of 45 that I'm competing with. Let's just say, somebody spiked my experiment in an effort to slow me down. Yes, this sort of crap happens in the scientific world. Unfortunately, it seems to happen to me a little too often.

I would have been fine if these guys found a way to beat me without cheating. I hate this sort of crap. It's not right.

Now it's time not only to beat them, but to teach them a lesson. A good spanking is in order. I am going to work virtually non-stop. The gloves are off. Vavoom is pissed.

Here's today's question, and I ask it in an annoyed tone -- What sort of things piss you off beyond belief?

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Achilles Heel.

As a result of being on my feet about 14 hours a day, my Achilles tendon is beginning to feel like it's going to snap. I'm not so sure what's wrong, but now I have an interesting, but painful, "pimp limp."

We all know the mythical story of Achilles. This son of King Peleus was dipped into the river Styx by his sea nymph mother, Thetis. Presumably this would make him immortal. Alas, she forgot to dip his heel into the river, rendering Achilles' heel a vulnerability. Lo and behold, an arrow to the heel killed Achilles and what a lesson we all learned. Or at least that's how the story goes.

This brings me to our topic du jour. I've always believed that it is unrealized weaknesses that do people in. What is your biggest weakness? Do you think you have weaknesses that you have yet to discover?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

High School Life.

Since I've been listening to music from my high school days, I've been thinking about this adolescent milieu. Very cliquey, everything is about popularity, the brightest are typically shunned, the bully is given respect and getting laid is the top priority for most (men at least). Some in high school desperately pine for love, attention, success.

As I look around my work environment and others, I can't help but think that nothing has changed. Cliques abound, popular people tend to do well, the smart guys are the subject of scorn, intimidating people are respected and, yes, sex still is a top priority for most. Many adults also are swimming in despair, hoping for to find Mr. or Mrs. Right, waiting for their fifteen minutes of fame.

Is it just me, or are we all doomed to live in the hell that is known as high school for the rest of our lives? Do our social constructs mirror the lowest common denominator?

Monday, June 27, 2005

Intellectual Discourse and Politics.

Born out of the depression, shaped by WWII and forged by the Cold War, the New York Intellectuals had a profound impact on American public and international policy. They were a band of academics, all hell bent on helping to create social equality in the United States. I've had the fantastic opportunity to watch "Arguing the World," a PBS documentary highlighting the life of four scholars that were a part of the New York Intellectuals.

This documentary highlights the way in which radical thinking can be born on college campuses, evolve into palatable ideas and later be integrated into mainstream thought. Incredibly, these four men began as Trotskyites and some later changed their political philosophy as a result of Stalin's brutal reign.

As these men age and become faculty members, their political views further evolve, causing considerable clashes with the Students for a Democratic Society, the next generation of radical thinkers on college campuses.

This is a fabulous documentary, one that everyone interested in politics, activism or the uprising of socialism in New York's Jewish community during the 1930s should watch. I encourage you to all rent the DVD, which is available now.

This movie got me thinking -- Is intellectual discourse threatened by nationalism? Should intellectual thought be squelched if it is not in keeping with the current political climate? Do you think that university professors are predominantly liberal? Finally, how have your political views evolved as you have aged? Are you of the same political persuasion as you were when you were young? If not, why? What changed?

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Musical Roundtable.

What's cookin' in Vavoom's CD player, you ask? Here goes:

The Specials -- The Singles Collection. I'm not the biggest fan of ska, but this CD is, well, special. I listened to it in high school and it still brings me back to the days of pimples, rejection and social injustice. Ahh, high school!

Jerry Gonzalez -- Y Las Piratas De Flamenco. Gonzalez is absolutely incredible on the trumpet in this album. He has an amazing way of comingling jazz and Spanish influences. It's a laid back CD, one well worth your time.

George Jones -- Cup of Loneliness. If you've never taken the time out to listen to George Jones, this is the way to go. This two CD set comprises Jones' recordings on the Mercury label. If you pick this album up, be sure to listen to "Tall Tall Trees." Yeeeehaww!

Dvorak -- The Symphonies. This 6 CD collection consists of Dvorak symphonies performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Istvan Kertesz. Listen, I'm not an expert in classical music. Still, I love Dvorak and this box set is absolutely amazing.

OK. Now it's your turn. Let me know what you're listening to. I absolutely love to hear about your musical interests. C'mon, this'll be fun... participate damn you!

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Pygmalion in Gitmo.

Are we morally justified to imprison people at Guantanamo Bay without offering them the right to defend themselves in court? Are we morally justified to torture these people to extract information from them?

We all know that I am Muslim. Let's set that aside for now. Like everyone, I was surprised by the rash
statement made by Dick Durbin. His choice of words were nothing short of preposterous. Clearly, we are not operating in the same fashion as did the Soviets in their gulags or the Nazis in concentration camps. Still, there was some wisdom in Durbin's statement:

"I am confident, sadly confident, as I stand here, that decades from now people will look back and say: What were they thinking? America, this great, kind leader of a nation, treated people who were detained and imprisoned, interrogated people in the crudest way? I am afraid this is going to be one of the bitter legacies of the invasion of Iraq."

We know that the US has admitted to torturing inmates at Gitmo. Do the ends really justify the means? George Bernard Shaw in "Pygmalion" so wisely taught us that people are defined by how they are treated, not how they behave. Is a superpower defined by how it is treated or how it responds to crises? Are we treating Guantanamo Bay inmates in a manner that is truly indicative of our superpower status?

Friday, June 24, 2005

A Call For Help.

Below is a letter I will be sending to Senators John Kerry and Ted Kennedy. I'm asking for your help. Please read the letter and provide me with feedback. I need to make sure this letter makes an impact. Yes, I'm dead serious about its content. Yes, I will insert my real name and my university's name in the real letter.

Dear Senator Kerry and Senator Kennedy,

My name is Vavoom. I am an incoming graduate student at Fancypants University. As an incoming constituent, I seek your help. I am an American Muslim. I am appalled at the lack of vocalization by my fellow Muslims about the horrible actions of Islamofacist terrorists. I wish to organize a large scale protest, attended by moderate Muslims and the like to condemn the efforts of Islamofacist terrorists worldwide.

In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. and a group of 250,000 converged in Washington. Protesters filled the Lincoln Memorial and reached the Washington Monument. Their voice echoed the plight of African Americans and was heard worldwide. Through collective action, these brave men and women were able to create lasting change that has left a legacy of tolerance and understanding for this nation. I seek to call upon moderate Muslims to join me in protest against Islamofacism. The message would be clear – as moderate Muslims we would call upon our radical “brethren” to cease their actions immediately. Akin to a muezzin's call to prayer, we will marshal the efforts of Muslims everywhere to reclaim our faith.

This country and Islam are being challenged by a common enemy, one that denigrates the greatness of both. As someone who loves both the United States and Islam, it has been painful to witness the actions of Islamofacist terrorist factions. Moderate Muslims have a unique ability to help this country. We have a deep understanding of Islamic culture and the American way of life. Yet, we simply have no voice. On the television are images of “Muslims” beheading innocent men and women. Strangely enough, Americans may be led to believe that this is the way of Islam. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Moderate Muslims must be given the opportunity to show the world that we stand against Al Qaeda, Hamas and the like. We can demonstrate to the world that we are a peaceful force to be reckoned with. Only through such action can we end the cycle of violence that our nation has entered.

Absent such action, Al Qaeda will continue to believe that Muslims everywhere are behind them. Suddenly, they will realize that we all have family in the very countries that they seek refuge. Similarly, Muslims abroad will be emboldened to take a stand against radical Islamists.

You are in the unique position to help me in this endeavour. I am but one man. I need the help of conscientious political figures such as yourself. This is a wonderful opportunity to mobilize the millions of Muslims in this country and billions more worldwide. I understand the risks associated with organizing something of this magnitude. Most certainly, my life would be at risk. I am willing to risk my life to save my religion and my country, simultaneously. I beg you, please help me make this happen.

I arrive in Boston on August 1, 2005. I seek a meeting to discuss this opportunity with you and further elaborate how you can help me make this happen. I understand that you must receive thousands of e-mails a day. I also know that I am just one of millions that you represent. For a moment, please consider the impact such collective action would have.

Thank you for your time and thoughtful consideration.



Thursday, June 23, 2005

An Army of One.

So here's the situation -- my advisor is off teaching a class at some hoity-toity place. It's a lab based course that draws graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and professors alike. Each class has approximately 45 people, all of them work on the same project for 12-13 hours a day.

Guess what? The other graduate students that were supposed to be planning the project for these attendees to work on failed miserably. As a result, two days before they were scheduled to teach this class, they didn't have a project for these 45 students to work on. As a result, they decided to take my project. Yes, you heard that right.

What does that mean? It means that Vavoom will be competing with 45 people, working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. I'm not joking, my advisor expects me to outperform this monstrous team. I was told before they left.

Normally, I'd freak out about something like this. Lately, I've been in a "bring it on" sort of mood. Yes, they've got 45 people, but I can do this. It's time to roll up my sleeves and whip some ass.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Cha Cha Change.

I hung up the phone this morning with the moving specialist from Fancypants University. The date for our big move is set. July 31st. No more Bay Area.

As I dropped the reciever, I began to feel panicked. It's really happening. Finally, it hit me. We're really moving. Through the years, I've ignorantly prided myself on mobility. I always told my wife, "we should live our life so that we can pick up and move whenever we want." I acted as if I would never grow comfortable.

Holy cow, only now do I realize how much I've become a creature of habit. Remember, I've attended the same undergraduate and graduate institution. Accounting for time off, I've lived in Berkeley a total of 12 years!

Have you grown comfortable, in an unhealthy way, with your life? Do you ever wish you could move away and start over?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Religion and Science.

Are science and religion incompatible? If not, why are advocates of both sides continually at odds? Charles Townes, Nobel Prize winning inventor of the laser, discussed this topic in
a recent interview. It's a fascinating read, well worth your time.

The Ethidium Bromide Caper.

Today was my day. Yes sir, I rolled into work at an obscenely early hour, sleeves rolled up, ready to go. I had to run a gel of some DNA from a PCR reaction. Recall, we run agarose gels of DNA to check to see if the size of our DNA fragments are what we'd expect them to be.

There are lots of stupid things that go into making something like this work. One of them is ethidium bromide. Ethidium bromide intercalates into DNA, making it easy to visualize under ultraviolet light. Yeah, yeah, this all sounds fancy but it's really rather mindless. In any case, I had to make up a huge vat of solution to run my gel and refill the communal reservoir that typically holds this solution.

As I opened the bottle of ethidium bromide, I tipped a graduated cylinder nearby. I can't tell you why my hands moved the way that they did, but I ended up spilling about 50 milliliters of ethidium bromide into my lap. It was as if my zipper had a big bullseye painted on it, because I had this crap all over my crotch. Since ethidium bromide interacts so favorably with DNA, it is a horrible carcinogen. Yes, my crotch was bathed in this stuff.

I sprung back, looking down at my pants thinking "ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod!" Not only did it look like I pissed my pants, I had the cancer causing equivalent of chernobyl surrounding my unborn children. Think Vavoom, think!

I ran over to the bathroom and immediately pulled off my pants and started rinsing it in the sink. At this point I didn't care if anyone saw me. I realized that my underwear was similarly soaked in ethidium bromide. I quickly ran into the stall, got butt naked, put on my now clean pants. I came out of the stall, rinsed my underwear in the sink and stuffed them in my pocket. Yes, I made sure my skin was clean as well. Yes, I cleansed it all in the sink. I'm sorry, but this was an emergency.

I looked up at the mirror. Yup, it looks like I drank 20 bottles of gatorade and decided to forgo the restroom. How the hell am I going to get out of here? I decided that speed was my only option. I ran over to the back set of elevators and quickly exited the building.

When I got home I took the shower of the century. I got dressed and returned to work. Mind you, I had to cross the bridge to get here and back. It was a good thing I showed up at 5:30 in the morning. To top things off, there were two guys from another lab standing by my bench when I returned. One punk said, in a raised voice, "Hey, new guy, you didn't fill the communal reservoir. What's wrong with you? Don't you know that if you're the last guy to use the running buffer you should fill it up? Man, some people just don't care about the rules." In my haste to save my genitals, I left the reservoir wide open and empty at my bench. "Listen," I said, "There's a good reason it's empty and on my bench. I'm filling it now. Next time you think you can talk to me like that, go sit in a corner. I may be the new guy, but that doesn't mean I'm an idiot. Got that?"

It's sad that it took a crotch full of carcinogen to get me ready to stick up for myself like that. Still, the look on the guy's face was classic and my crotch was carcinogen free. This is going to be a good day, after all.

A Simple Question.

Stop. Take a look around you. Take a deep breath. Now, answer this question: Are you being true to yourself? Meaning, are you really doing what, deep down inside, you know you should be doing with your life? If not, why?

Sunday, June 19, 2005

My Dad's Shoes.

When I grew up, we weren't wealthy people. My Dad did his best and earned an honest living. He struggled to make ends meet. He instilled in me the value of education, decency and hard work. He is quite a father.

A day to honor him simply isn't enough.

I never really felt impoverished as a child. I recall one time when my father bought me a pair of shoes. They weren't flashy, but they weren't cheap either. The next day I saw him return from work, tired and hungry. He came to my room and asked, "How are the new shoes holding up?" "Fine, Dad. Thanks." "Are they comfortable?" "Yup," I replied.

As I slowly walked towards his room, I edged around the door jam and saw him taking off his dress shoes. I looked closely and saw him painfully rubbing his feet. As he took his socks off, I saw red callouses, his skin nearly bruised. He never bought nice shoes for himself. Never. He always purchased cheap, heavily discounted shoes. Despite having spent his hard earned dollars on good shoes for me, he never indulged himself in a fancy pair.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch tells his daughter Scout, "You never understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." On that day, I realized my Father's undying willingness to do anything for his children, despite whatever pain it caused him. For the first time, I understood him. A few years later, he purchased another pair of shoes. I remember taking his old shoes and hiding them in a box in the garage. I still have them. I only hope I can explain to my future children how hard their grandfather worked to give his family everything. I pray that I will one day be as courageous and self sacrificing a father as he.

It'll be difficult, they're big shoes to fill.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Dental Damn.

I sat on the vinyl seat recliner, hoping for a reprieve. As the sonicating water pick sounded off against my teeth I had to listen to the worst one way conversation ever.

"So... you're going to move to Boston to go to Fancypants University? I just don't understand people like you. Look at you -- you're a good looking guy, you have everything going for you and still you want to be in school for so long? What are you going to do for money? How is all of this education going to help you at all? Me, I just don't like picking up a book. What's the point in using your mind like that? I really don't understand professional students like you. When are you going to enter the real world and do some real work?"

I'd had enough of my dental hygenist. Everytime I go the dentist's office I've got to hear some tripe about my wife being hot, now I have to hear about how my life's work is worthless. Finally, I raised my hand, since that's the only sensible way to object. She removed the instruments from my mouth and I said, "Listen, can we just focus on my teeth? The last thing I need is this conversation right now." As I spoke, drool slipped down the side of my mouth. Great. Way to to be diplomatic, Vavoom.

As she quietly put the smack down on my gums, I started thinking. This is the thousandth time I've heard someone slam student-scientists. Why are people like me seen as a bad thing? We work 6-7 days a week doing research, with high hopes of helping society. We teach classes and train the next generation of scientists to eventually take our place. Sure, I'm a student. Yes, I've been in school a long time, but why does that matter? I work my ass off trying to scientifically make a difference. Why is that such a bad thing?

We've all heard the hackneyed expression, "It takes all kinds of people to make the world go around." I don't think I'll find the cure for cancer (but let's all hope that I do) or demonstrate cold fusion. Still, I'm doing my part. Isn't that enough?

Do you work in a field that is often criticized? How do you feel that you can best serve society, free from fame and fortune?

Friday, June 17, 2005

Where Have They Gone?

Our country is in sore need of good politicians. As I look around, I struggle to find strong examples of good leadership in this country. Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid, Howard Dean, Bill Frist, Tom Delay, George W. Bush, the list goes on and on. None of these people are very good leaders. In fact, they're all jokers. We all acted shocked and dismayed when we read that Bush and Kerry were both underachieving students. Really, should we be surprised? When was the last time we had an election where the choice was clear?

I'm a bit strange. I actually liked both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. I felt that both were fantastic leaders, despite their personal failings and political choices. I'm often embarrassed by George W. Bush. Sure, I don't believe in many of his policies, but let's put that aside. His "folksy" command over the English vernacular is simply appalling. I live in a state where our current senators are a joke. I'm moving to a place where the situation is no different. Keep in mind, I agree with many of their views, yet I can't help but cringe when I think of them.

The only politician that meets my high standards is Barack Obama. A close friend recently sent me this speech that Obama delivered at Knox College. It's sad that I can only think of one politician that I respect.

Where have all the great leaders gone? Do you agree with my premise? Has the quality of leadership dropped in this country? If so, why? If you disagree, who do you identify as a great leader and why?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

A Risky Move.

Well, we had another group party yesterday. It was a going away party for one of our group members. Once again, everyone was jockeying for position to sit next to our advisor. What the hell is wrong with these people? You'll recall that I complained about this behavior before.

By some stroke of "luck" I ended up sitting next to my research advisor for half of the evening. Still, everyone was trying their best to suck up. My advisor then asked me the following question, "Vavoom, you've been in this group for a little while. What do you think its biggest weakness is?"

I thought about it and looked straight in my advisor's eyes and said, "The biggest weakness this group suffers from is the same weakness every group suffers from. Everybody is more focused on kissing your ass than doing their work. You know, I'm sick of that. If you want me to kiss your ass forget about it. It'll never happen. Instead, I'll do the best work I can and if you like it, good. If you don't like it, good. I just don't give a shit if you're some famous scientist. Your approval is nice, but not necessary. What's the worst you can do, write me a bad letter of recommendation? That won't change anything in my life. I'll still be the same person and I'll still love science."

None of you know my advisor. An intimidating person, with a penchant for hammering students when they're out of line, my advisor is not one to tangle with. Professors are frightening figures, made all powerful by the system in which they work. It was a risky move. For some reason, I had to do it. I simply can't stand for that sort of thing anymore. I've spent years trying curry the favor of my superiors. Everytime I've tried that, it's ended in disaster. This time, I'm going to do things right.

My advisor sat back, slowly nodded, looked up in the air and then stared back at me. "Here it comes," I thought.

"Vavoom, you're my kind of guy," my advisor replied, "You're going to get everything you want with that kind of attitude. Yes, you're right, I am going to judge you based on performance alone. It makes me sick when people kiss my ass. People don't realize it, but I always know when they're doing it and it always is a big strike in my books. It's refreshing to find a student that's willing to be straight with me. I like your style."

Just like that, a gale of fresh air swept through my soul. All of my energies are focused in the right direction. No game playing. No politics. Just science. I think I'm going to like this new group after all.

A Nice Climb.

Interested in climbing Mt. McKinley? Better bring the Imodium. Read here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Get a Jobs.

Steve Jobs gave an amazing graduation speech at Stanford's commencement this year. I highly recommend you all give it a good read through.

A Hairy Situation.

Be forewarned, good reader. This post is a bit on the tasteless side. I wouldn't normally write about something so terrible, so upsetting, but this is a tale of mystery, horror and personal suffering. I simply had to include this vignette in my blog.

It all began yesterday afternoon. I was in the middle of an experiment and really had to use the restroom. For those of you men out there, you know how filthy urinals are. I usually have to keep a minimum of an 8 inch perimeter just to insure that I'm not stepping in urine. Typically, I try not to examine the urinal, since this would only bring chills up my spine.

I can't explain how or why this happened.

As I stepped up to the urinal, I looked down and it was covered with pubic hair. Yes, pubic hair. I immediately stepped back in horror. I then started laughing maniacally. I'm sorry, I have to admit it. It was disgusting and hilarious. I kid you not, there was pubic hair all over it. They were all of the same make. Clearly this hair came from the same person. Listen, I'm not talking about a few stragglers, no, this looked like the floor at a barber's shop.

I tried to rationalize why there were heaps of pubic hair everywhere:

A) Somebody decided this would be a good time and place to shave/give themselves a trim?
B) Male pattern baldness occurring downstairs?
C) Stress. Graduate students are faced with overwhelming stress. Perhaps this was the cause of this pubic hair mystery?

I hadn't realized how badly seeing this pubic hair affected me. As I went through the day, I kept seeing small hairs everywhere. You know, the normal hair that you see every now and then. I kept thinking, "Oh my God, it's everywhere." We have sterile tubes that we use in the lab. I saw two straggly hairs on one of them and nearly dropped it.

Now it's your turn -- what's the strangest thing you've ever seen in a public restroom? Can you add to my list of possible reasons that the hair was there to begin with?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Please, Make it Stop.

As I drove into work today I cruised around the dial for some easy listening. Of course, all I heard about was the following:

1) Michael Jackson apparently doesn't like molesting kids.
2) Katie Holmes is converting to Scientology, thanks to Tom Cruise.
3) Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are a couple? Oh, oh, maybe they're not. Wait, maybe they are but they don't want anyone to know. Gosh, aren't they both so cute?

Honestly, I couldn't find a solid music set on the entire FM band. Everybody was talking about these three lame subjects. Isn't there a group of crazed terrorists out there? Isn't there rampant slavery in Chad and Niger? Aren't people being killed in droves in Sudan? Whatever happened to that nutball that was sending Anthrax in the mail?

Why do we care about these three subjects? I understand that entertainment is important, but really -- these three stories are pathetic. Aren't there other things worth thinking, laughing or debating about? Why has radio degenerated into mindless drivel?

Monday, June 13, 2005

A Nice Night Out.

Having finished my experiment yesterday (no, no good results). I went to dinner with a good friend. We decided to go for an extra fancy dinner at Taco Bell. We had our food and set out to the Marina to eat our meal. As we drove down University Avenue, I saw two people trying to change the tire on their car. My friend said, "Hey, I think there are two girls back there trying to change a tire." I responded, "I thought one of them was a guy. Are you sure it's two girls?"

I turned my car around to get a second look. My friend was right. Two young girls trying to change a tire. I pulled my truck up behind them and thought, "If I were these two girls, I'd be pretty scared of two guys pulling up in a beat up pickup truck."

"Do you guys need a hand?"

"Yeah, we're stuck."

I wish I could say that my friend and I changed the tire in Nascar fashion. No, it took us a few minutes to figure out where to put the jack, etc. We lifted the car and figured it'd be a few quick minutes before the new tire was on. I placed the tire iron on the first lug nut and "Eaaarrrrhhhhhhgghh." It wouldn't come off. No matter how much I tried, I couldn't get that damn lug nut off. This is one of those situations where the word hernia comes to mind. I looked up at the girl and asked, "Say, did your dad put these on?" "Yeah, he's a mechanic," she responded.

While I struggled with the lug nut I started thinking "Man, this girl's dad must have arms like tree trunks. I hope he doesn't show up." You know how protective fathers are of their daughters and, well, my friend and I are the type that are easily beaten up. Not that we were doing anything wrong, but anybody with enough power to crank on a lug nut like this could surely pound us.
Finally, my friend and I both grabbed the tire iron. We pulled with all of our might and got the first lug nut off. "God, I really hope her dad doesn't show up and beat our ass," I kept thinking. We quickly swapped out the tire and were on our way.

Most of you probably hate Taco Bell. Let me tell you, that was the most delicious Chalupa I've ever eaten. Doing good deeds is so gratifying.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Emotional Concerto.

I don't know what my problem is. I've always had a hard time being happy. Here I am. I'm in a new group, filled with great co-workers. My new advisor is fantastic. I'm conducting research that I love. I'm headed to a world class graduate program in a fantastic city. I'm married to a wonderful person. I have a great family. I'm blessed with caring friends. Everything is going my way. Still, the malaise persists.

I have absolutely no reason to be unhappy.

People are like pianos. Once tuned, they fall out of key quickly, only to require another tune up. That being said, I've been out of tune for a while. I've mentioned before how I deal with sadness. That's helped tremendously. I wonder, why is sadness my default setting? Is sadness your default setting? If not, where is your emotional thermostat set?

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Scientific Diva.

"You're the meaning in my life. You're the inspiration. You bring feeling to my life. You're the inspiration..."

I'd heard the song before, but never sung so badly. The lab I work at currently consists of a consortium of scientists from four different research groups. This means that we have a huge number of people working together. This one person, about two benches away, thinks she's the next American Idol. She turns her iPod on and decides to rock out to the worst music on the planet. Her voice is atrocious. It would have been better if there were at least some instrumentals accompanying.

"And IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIeeeeeIIIIIIIIIII will always love yooouuuu."

Look, if you sound like Whitney Houston, by all means -- sing out loud. For God's sake, if you sound like my cat when I step on his tail, whistle, hum, anything. Just don't sing.

Yesterday I was setting up a very detail oriented experiment. Guess what I heard? "You're here, there's nothing I fear, and I know that my heart will go oooooonn..." At this point, I wanted to put her and her bad singing voice on a nice barge and sail it into an iceberg.

"Excuse me. I'm sorry to trouble you, but I'm trying to set up this experiment. Could you keep it down for 30 minutes or so till I finish? I can't concentrate with you singing. Just give me 30 minutes..."

"Huh?" she yelled out, her ears drowning in an ocean of Celine Dion. I repeated my request. She stared at me like I had hit her on the ass with a riding crop. "Nobody else has a problem with my singing. Why should you?"

"Because I'm not tone deaf," I responded, "I've asked nicely." I then gave her the Vavoom stare of death. You know, the "shut your pie hole" look.

About 15 minutes later, guess what? "You've got me feeling emooootions, Deeper than I've ever dreamed of. You've got me feeling emooootions, higher than the heavens above..."

I was thinking, maybe we could round up those crazy terrorists and put them in a room with this girl. After about five minutes of subjecting them to her terrible voice, we could extract whatever information we'd like out of them. Then again, such actions might be in violation the Geneva Conventions. Her voice really is that bad.

Have you ever had to deal with crap like this at work? How'd you handle it?

Friday, June 10, 2005

Working the Party.

Whoever says work related parties are a good idea should be beaten. I'm sorry, but the politics, the bullshit and all of the posturing that happens at work still occurs at such events. The only difference is, everybody is drunk while they do it.

We had such a party the other night. Everyone pretended that they'd loosened up and were "being themselves." It's not true. Everybody was conveniently dropping hints that they're doing great work in front of our advisor, who was also thrashed. This created somewhat of a battle of the drunkards. Who can kiss more drunk ass?

I stood in the middle of this bar, thinking how sad it is that people can't let their hair down for just one night. Instead, they all acted like drunken suck ups, trying to curry my advisor's favor, while simultaneously slobbering over themselves.

Believe me, the only thing worse than an sycophant is an inebriated sycophant.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Cheating in Science.

Nature magazine has an interesting write-up about a recent study. A poll of 3,247 scientists, asking a range of questions relevant to scientific misconduct. The study showed that 1 in 3 scientists has been guilty of fudging their results:

"Of 3,247 early- and mid-career researchers who responded, less than 1.5% admitted to falsification or plagiarism, the most serious types of misconduct listed. But 15.5% said they had changed the design, methodology or results of a study in response to pressure from a funding source; 12.5% admitted overlooking others' use of flawed data; and 7.6% said they had circumvented minor aspects of requirements regarding the use of human subjects.

Overall, about a third admitted to at least one of the ten most serious offences on the list -— a range of misbehaviours described by the authors as 'striking in its breadth and prevalence'".

I'm not surprised. Much how money has affected the world of sports, financial interests have contaminated the scientific arena. Increased pressure for funding has resulted in an overwhelming number of scientists cutting corners.

Moreover, young scientists these days are finding it harder and harder to find academic positions in reputable institutions. The fact that many scientists are willing to tell an intellectual "white lie" seems fitting, given the circumstances. Still, their actions are reprehensible.

In the 1960's, dubbed the alkali age of chemistry, physical chemists strived to achieve quantitative and rigorous results. Today, an increasing number of scientists are allured by flashy results and quick publications that will lead to widespread publicity. Again, given current trends in science I find the results of this study disheartening, disappointing but certainly not surprising.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Deutch: Get 'Em Out.

Former CIA director John Deutch called for a full withdrawal of US troops in Iraq. Deutch made those comments during the Phi Beta Kappa oration at Harvard University:

"I believe that we are not making progress on our key objectives in Iraq," Deutch said. "There may be days when security seems somewhat improved and when the Iraqi government appears to be functioning better, but the underlying destabilizing forces of a robust insurgency and warring factions supported by outside governments is undiminished."

"Our nation embarks on an especially perilous course when it proactively engages in some regions of the world with the intention of achieving a government based on our values," Deutch said. "It is one matter to adopt a foreign policy that encourages democratic values and institutions in other parts of the world. It is quite another matter to believe it just or practical to achieve such results on the ground with U.S. military forces."

Deutch claims that remaining in Iraq may further damage America's international credibility and capability to deter rogue nations such as North Korea. We all know I am firmly against the war in Iraq.

I also believe that we need to establish a clear exit strategy in Iraq. We must create well defined goals and a timetable to achieve such results. I'm not a big fan of the Dennis Kucinich "let's get 'em out right now" approach. Doing so will only lead to a more chaotic milieu in Iraq. What do you guys think? How have we done in Iraq? Should a firm timetable for departure be set?

Crap Bastard.

OK. I don't really rant here very often, but yesterday was a doozy. I had spent the entire day getting everything ready to do my experiment. One problem. Some guy, from another lab, was hoarding the equipment I needed to conduct my experiment. It wasn't until 9 pm, that I could get time on the instrument.

I came in the room. Told him his time was up. Before he left, I asked him, "Did you calibrate the instrument and replace the sheath fluid?" "Yes, don't bother with any of it. I took care of all of it."

So here I was, it's getting late. I'm ready to go. Again, the data starts pouring in and everything's going fine. Just then, everything stops. "Oh, crap" I thought. Guess what? That crap bastard lied. He didn't change the sheath fluid. As a result, my experiment was ruined and reams of air was now pumping into a $250,000 instrument. Not a good thing.

The time: Midnight. The situation: Critical. My temper: Never worse.

It took me three hours to take apart all of the stupid filters in that system (there were a total of 8 and they install them in the wierdest places) and purge all of the air out of the system. By the time I finished everything was back to normal. While I walked back to my car, in the middle of the crappy industrial area I work in, I kept thinking "Man, I'm gonna kill that kid. That stupid crap bastard!"

When I got in this morning, I overheard somebody say, "Hey, it's amazing. That instrument is working better than ever. " They continued to say that it must have been the crap bastard that tuned the system up. It couldn't have been me, the new guy. Next time I see that crap bastard I'm gonna hammer him. Trust me, he deserves it.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


It was my first attempt in a long time. I hadn't done one in a while. I was scared. As I lifted the test tube full of my specimen of study I could only sigh, hoping this run in science would be more successful than my last one. For some reason, I looked at this one simple experiment as a first step in reforging my career and my self confidence.

I had spent the last few days building up to this moment. I planned carefully, playing chess with mother nature.

As I began testing, I watched the computer monitor in quiet anticipation. Actually, almost quiet anticipation -- my foot was nervously tapping on the floor beneath the stool I sat on. "C'mon, c'mon... work. Please work."

Suddenly, I saw my signal appear. The experiment worked on the first try. The data was as I predicted and calculated days ago. As scientists, we almost expect our experiments to fail on our first try. We are trained to believe that our results will come, only after months and years of toil and heartache.

As the results poured in, I felt a warm wave of joy rush through my body. I hadn't felt happy like this in years. At that moment I realized -- did I really need my experiment to work to feel such bliss? Need my sense of self be so strongly associated with external factors? As I drove home, I suddenly recognized that, win, pin or draw, happiness must be an unshakable resident of our inner self.

I have plenty of other experiments to do today. No, I'm not afraid. Regardless of the results, I'll be driving home happy tonight.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Who Are You Kidding?

As I drove into work today I took a glance over at the car next to me. The guy looked pretty well kept. He drove a nice car, seemed to be wearing a dress shirt and tie. Unfortunately, his finger was completely buried in his nose. Man, he was really working it. I'm not sure if I was sending vibes his way, but he turned and looked directly at me. He looked embarrassed as he quickly removed his finger and accelerated ahead.

Really. Who is this guy kidding? You're in your car, not your home. Yes, everyone can see you picking your nose or rocking out to Mariah Carey. If you're going to be ashamed, then don't do it in your car.

Take me, for instance. When in my car, I happily pick my nose, listen to shamelessly bad music, fully knowing that you're watching me. I think I almost like it when you watch me pick my nose. Take notes, if you'd like. I'm pretty good at it. I always seem to mine out the best ones. How about a little car Karaoke? I'll gladly belt out "PYT, Pretty Young Thing..." while driving. I honestly don't care if you see me.

What "shameless" activities do you do while commuting to work?

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Musical Roundtable.

Okay, this is what I've got cookin' in my CD player:

During my college radio days a disc jockey said, "Laura Love is the most amazing musician you've never heard of." How right he was. Hailing from Seattle, Washington, Laura Love combines funky bluegrass with Celtic and African influences to create music that is simply magnificent. The Laura Love Collection is a fantastic way to introduce yourself to this soulful singer. I guarantee -- if you love music, you'll love this CD.

Recorded February 3, 1966, Adam's Apple is one of the finest albums Wayne Shorter ever headlined. Shorter plays tenor sax, along with Herbie Hancock on Piano, Reginald Workman on Bass and Joe Chambers on drums. Yes, this is a very impressive lineup. If you aren't a jazz enthusiast, that's okay. You still should check out this CD. Listen to track 4, Footprints. It's absolutely amazing.

Algerian rock? What? Yup, you read it right. Rachid Taha is an amazing Algerian musician and this CD should not be passed up. In Tekitoi, Taha successfully mixes eastern and western music that will satisfy connoisseurs of both genres. He does an incredible cover of The Clash's Rock El Casbah.

Finally, I've been in a very pensive mood these days. Damien Rice's O is an incredibly powerful CD that I listen to quite frequently. It's hard to put my finger on why I love this CD so much. Perhaps the following lyrics from the song Cannonball can help explain why this CD is so fantastic:

Stones, taught me to fly

Love, taught me to lie
Life, taught me to die

So it's not hard to fall

When you float like a cannonball.

Alright. Now it's your turn. What are you listening to? C'mon, speak up. I love hearing about the tunes you're tapping your foot to.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

What Do We Need?

As I stroll through the bookstore I always inevitability stop by the self help section. It's typically very crowded, with plenty of people pretending that they're not looking for a book of that genre. Books like Awaken The Giant Within, Self Matters, Think And Grow Rich, all promise us a changed life and inner peace.

I turn on the television and am overwhelmed by the deluge of infomercials and other programs aimed at fishing people out of their miserable life. We spend millions of dollars a year on such media. Dr. Laura, Dr. Phil, and the like provide advice to others, operating under the guise of therapy. Gone is the introspective, nondirective techniques established to help people solve their own problems and face their own demons. "What you need to do..." is a phrase I hear from most of these pop psychology gurus. I'd much rather hear, "Why do you think you feel that way?"

Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of great books out there and certainly some fine people working to help others. In addition, I applaud those willing to work to improve their lives, despite the stigma associated with self help practices and therapy. However, I think there are many that snap up self help literature, thinking that "this'll fix everything." Not surprisingly, this leads to a constant search for the next book that will do the trick.

From time to time I run across a homeless person, murmuring or screaming loudly. When I walk down the street I often look at passers by and think that we are all murmuring or screaming loudly in our minds. We torment ourselves in uncanny ways. Imagine having a friend that knows your every secret, your every weakness. Now imagine if that friend used all of that information against you. That friend is ourself, operating within the confines our mind. I believe that such torturing thoughts arise in every human being. Everyone has their issues. We begin to fixate on such thoughts, generating more suffering in our life. Perhaps if we all learn how to silence the screaming sadness from within, we would no longer seek answers from without. Everything we think we need, we already have.

Try something on for size -- the next time you feel sad, recognize the sadness. Don't try to stop it. Don't judge it. Just observe it. Experience it. Take a deep breath, observe how your sadness manifests itself on a physical level. There is a great Buddhist image. Imagine a stream. Sometimes it thrashes about wildly, it's flow governed by turbulent motion. Other times, it flows calmly. Now imagine a foot bridge passing over the stream. It never tries to stop the waters flow, nor does it get carried away by the stream. Buddhists argue that we are both the footbridge and the stream. The stream represents our emotional self. The footbridge represents our mindful ability to stand apart from our emotions. Through non-disruptive, non-judgemental observation of our emotions, we are better able to eliminate suffering.

I know all of this sounds strange. Trust me, it works. Try it out. Did it help? If not, tell me why.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Up In Smoke.

That's it. It's over. I'm going on the patch. No more smoking for me. I'm sick of stinking like smoke. I'm sick waking up each morning, thinking of cigarettes. I can't stand the crappy scratchy feeling I have in my throat. I hate smoking around friends and loved ones, watching smoke get blown their direction on accident.

For those of you that know me, you know that I quit smoking for six months and resumed a couple months after I parted ways with my former A-hole advisor. I'm going to try again. I can only pray that this time I'll finally beat this stupid habit once and for all.

They say that when you quit smoking it's like losing an old friend. Nonsense. For me, it's more like I'm losing a fantastic drug that can calm me down at light of a match. I have plenty to look forward to -- no longer will my clothing stink (well, I'll still have my natural B.O. stink... but it won't be commingled with a cigarette stink), no longer will my friends have to wait around while I smoke in cold weather, no longer will I spend heaps of money on smokes.

I'm gonna beat this stupid habit. I have to.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The New Guy.

I've started work in my new lab. It's a great place, the people are nice, the science is interesting. One issue -- I'm the new guy. God, do I hate being the new guy. It's lunchtime that's always the loneliest. I'm the type of guy that typically takes the new guy for lunch, making sure he/she feels welcome. Being the new guy, I'm dying for somebody to say, "Hey Vavoom, wanna get lunch?" Alas, my silent pleas for camaraderie are going unnoticed.

I've got a solution: I'll create an imaginary friend at work. Here's where you come in -- give me your best imaginary co-worker friend. I want all the details, male or female, smart or dumb, attractive or coyote ugly, talkative or the silent nodding type. My initial thoughts are to name my imaginary friend "Tony." It'll be great, he'll speak to me through my finger, in a deep scratchy voice and make me scrawl "Redrum" on the bathroom wall. If you haven't seen "The Shining," please watch it and report back on my Tony idea.

What do you think? Who's your ideal imaginary co-worker?

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Runs in Riverdale

I woke up this morning with the runs. I spend the vast majority of my time on the toilet reading Archie comics. You know, the Double Digests you find at the checkstand of your local grocery store. It got me thinking -- this comic sets up interesting personality types, which Archie character are you? For those of you that don't read the comic, I offer the following character/personality sketch:

A) Archie: Hopelessly clueless, happy go lucky, constantly searching for love but consistently scorning a good natured partner (Betty) and constantly chasing after a not so good natured partner (Veronica). You don't know why you gravitate towards mean partners, you just do. You've got a good heart, but you have difficulty making decisions.
B) Jughead: A trusted friend with no interest in work, no interest in love, only interested in material acquisition (eating heaps of hamburgers, in this case). Also, you have a love of headgear, particularly beat up crowns.
C) Reggie: You're mean. You can't stand the Forest Gump like nature of an Archie so you'll do whatever it takes to foil his plans. You're also interested in love, but you chase after the bad girl/boy type. Stealing partners from others is one of your favorite pastimes.
D) Betty: You're a good person, hopelessly in love with someone that simply won't pay attention to you. At times, you feel like life is unfair, as if you don't stack up against people like Veronica. If you could just get Archiekins (your all time love) to fall in love with you, life would be perfect.
E) Veronica: You've got a bad temper and you let everyone see it. You've got champagne wishes and caviar dreams. As far as love goes, you'll go for the best opportunity available. You're a player, with people like Archie wrapped around your finger.
F) Moose: You're not the brightest kid, but you're nice. You're athletic, but simply can't get it done in the classroom. You've got a partner, but she/he is constantly flirting with the Reggie-type.
G) Mr. Weatherbee: You love to teach/work with others, but can't help but get frustrated with their stupidity and lack of responsibility. Archie-types are your nemesis. Although they seem to want to do the right thing, you always get screwed in the end.
H) Dilton: You're a hopeless geek. You've always done well in classes, but simply don't make friends easily. You get depressed easily, but a nice math problem will cheer you up. Despite all of this, you try to help others whenever you can.

Alright, there you have it. Riverdale High in a nutshell. Which character do you most closely identify with? Forget about the gender of the character, make your choice based on the qualities listed. Want to know who I am? Go to the comments section and find out!