Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Leaves of Grass.

"This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body..."

--Walt Whitman

One Last Walk.

I made my final trip to the Berkeley campus yesterday. Returned my keys, cleaned out my desk.

I walked across the beautiful campus, soaking in every last minute. I've been at my alma matter for so long. It made the trip a difficult one. Suddenly, things changed.

I don't know where it came from. The excitement.

As I walked, the anticipation built. I made every effort to deadpan, but I couldn't fight the ear to ear grin that painted itself across my face. I'm leaving, but strangely I'm happy. I've spent enough time lounging about this campus. Now it's time to go and whip some Fancypants butt. Boston is a phenomenal town and we're going to be a part of it. As readers and friends, you'll be right there with me. Vicariously speaking, you'll live the Boston experience and show Fancypants University what you're made of. I hope you'll all stick around for the ride.

Thank goodness, I thought this feeling would never come.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Movers.

I've mentioned before that Fancypants University is paying for all of our moving expenses. They've hired a pricey moving company. Let's call them Shady United. This company refuses to give me anything in writing. Most conversations go something like this:

"Hi, this is Vavoom. I'd like to confirm my pick up date."

"Yes, Vavoom, hi. We're coming the 28th."
"Okay, could you send me an e-mail confirming that date? I'd like something in writing."

"Well, just remember it's the 28th. We're very busy here. Besides, when the movers come and when your things arrive, think to yourself, 'It is what it is.'"

"I'm not one to live by 'it is what it is.' I need written confirmation."

"Oops, I've gotta go. Remember, the 28th." Click.


I've had this conversation four times with the same person. The first time, he said they're coming on the 28th. The second time, the 29th. Third time, 28th. This morning, he told me that they're coming on the 29th. I've sent him stern e-mails asking for a firm date in writing. I've asked to speak to his supervisor both by phone and in writing. No response. Given that plans are being made around the date he specifies, this has become a royal pain in the arse.


I have a friend that has used this company in the past. "Whoa, you're being moved by Shady United? Man, they lost my couch, my tools and they put a huge gash in my bed. My stuff arrived two weeks late. What a nightmare."


I've never moved across country and I'm asking you, my blogmates, for whatever advice you might have in dealing with moving companies. What safeguards would you put in place? Have you had experience with moving companies? How'd it go?

Monday, July 25, 2005

Cold Cream.

I'm gargling every night with a full cup of Listerine. Why? Well, I'm not one to waste and we can't bring items like that across the country. This has caused a very interesting evening routine for me. Here goes:

1) Shower. We purchased an enormous vat of shampoo and conditioner from Costco. The conditioner bottle is busted and can't be re-closed. Despite my balding disposition, I'm now using a palm full of this waxy crap on my hair. Never before has by bald spot shined so brightly.

2) After-shower prep. I was received 10 small bottles of shaving cream (one of the perks of hanging around college campuses is the "trial" size give away). Now I'm shaving with about 3 times the amount of shaving cream that I normally would. This new brand sucks, making this all the more difficult.

3) Yet another "give away" was a bunch of cold cream packets. Look away, dear reader, if you are easily frightened. Yes, I tried it. Not bad. Not bad at all. My skin was clean, moisturized, but not greasy in the least. Who'd have thought cold cream would go so well with my skin?

4) Teeth. My choppers have been given the royal treatment with some crazy whitening toothpaste I got for free on campus. I've got 15 tubes of this crap. I'm not sure if it actually whitens, but remember -- waste not want not. All the tiny "free sample" floss containers are also being consumed. I don't care how much my gums bleed. That floss is going to be used, darn it!

5) Breath. I can't tell you why they made Listerine such a painful elixir. I wish I could bear down on a leather strap while using it. Remember, I'm gargling here. Leather straps just won't work. Still, none of it's going down the sink without being used.

How are you guys about this sort of thing? I can't stand throwing something out without knowing that I've used it. Are you as nuts as I am? Please tell me I have some company in insanityville.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Pack It In.

Okay, time is ticking and there is so much to pack. As I start packing I tend to hear a countdown in my head. We have 4 days till the movers come. As such, the countdown goes something like: 345,600... 345,559... Yes, I'm going nuts.

I've never been very good at packing. I often find myself stumbling across old pictures, homework assignments and letters that make me say, "Oh, I remember that..." Suddenly the room gets blurry and, wham, I'm reminiscing.

Yesterday it took me one hour to pack one box. I'm that bad at it. Also, I can never organize things properly into a box. My wife is able to pack a million things into one box in a split second. Each item is perfectly placed, like a jigsaw puzzle.

I'm started to get excited. Yes, I can't wait to get there.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

A Letter From My Dad.

Dear Vavoom,

When last we spoke, I heard the uncertainty in your voice. It seems that this move has you concerned about your future. All of that is normal. You have lived in Berkeley for some time and naturally grown comfortable. For a moment, I'd like you to relax and think about the limitless possibilities that exist for you on the East Coast. Imagine all the new friends you will make and new things you will learn.

Your mother and I moved to this country in 1971. We had three children and fifty dollars in our pocket. Needless to say, I had my fair share of concerns. It was a big move to a new country, holding the promise of a better life. Would we make it? We had just fifty dollars and three mouths to feed. Indeed, the thought was frightening. Looking back, I can't say that any of that fear was misplaced. Again, it was normal.

Look at our family now. We made it.

Enclosed is a check for fifty dollars. With this fifty dollars, your mother and I made a life in this country. Every time you feel fear, remind yourself of these fifty dollars. Remind yourself that hard work and a positive outlook can turn a pittance into a fortune in this country. These fifty dollars represent our family's legacy of diligence, sacrifice and strength. They will be with you always.

This move is just one of many adventures ahead. I know you'll make it. We are all behind you. We are all proud of you.

Love,
Dad

Friday, July 22, 2005

Potty Mouth.

I had dinner with my advisor and one of my former advisors last night. It was fun, we hung out, talked, what have you. Then came the big question:

"So, Professor Superstar, now that you have Vavoom working for you what would you say is his biggest weakness?"

Professor Superstar sat back, thought for a while and said, "It's his potty mouth. He's a bright guy, but man, I can't stand his overwhelming use of profanity. I mean, we had a very important visitor come by the lab, a real mover and shaker from D.C. As we walked by Vavoom's bench I started hearing, 'Yeah, yeah, that's right, I felt ass raped by the whole situation. What the fuck, right?'"

Sadly, my only response was, "You've got to be fucking kidding me. I don't swear that much."

They both started laughing. I'm really starting to realize how often I use the term "ass raped" and the F word. In fact, when I was teaching at Berkeley, I received rave reviews from my students, "Vavoom is the best teaching assistant I've ever had, he really seems to care, etc..." The only criticism I received was "Vavoom swears during lecture and discussion sections. It is sometimes distracting."

Profanity is a large part of my vernacular. I'm not sure how to change that. Any helpful suggestions?

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Gastrointestinal Gymnastics.

Listen, I'd like to pretend that I'm handling this move in Olympian fashion. Nothing could be further from the truth. In approximately a week and a half, we'll be on a plane to Boston.

Yesterday I had a nice, long panic attack. As a result, I've decided to rename my stomach Natalie Comaneci. Everytime I think about moving to Boston, I can feel my gut running towards the vault. Strangely enough, my stomach manages to reach the vault, spring through the air and then completely mangle the landing.

As I pack, my stomach seems to prefer the floor routine. I can feel my upper intestines being dangled around like that strange ribbon they use during those events. Somersaults and flips are a must in any good floor routine. My stomach is a true champion, in that sense.

Honestly, I've lived in California my entire life. I can't tell you why I'm being such a pansy. I typically handle stress quite well. This move really has me over a barrel.

If you'll excuse me, I think I'll go throw up now.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

In Your Face.

I currently work with three gay people. As most of you know, I am very supportive of gay rights. I support full recognition of gay marriages, long prison stays for hate criminals and so on.

Here's where Vavoom draws the line. Look, I know that being gay or lesbian is important to you. Pretty please, with sugar on top -- stop throwing your sexual preference in my face. I'm heterosexual, but you don't see me reminding you of that fact every hour, on the hour while at work. Sexual preference, skin color, religion and the like, shouldn't matter. Translation: We shouldn't have to continually remind one another that we're all different. I mean, I don't walk around work reminding everyone that I'm not white. "Hey there, remember me, Vavoom? Yeah, I'm not white. Look, look, pay attention to the tan hues of my skin. Doesn't my tan skin color go well with my heterosexuality?"

There has to be more to you than your sexual identity.

There's nothing wrong with having a strong sense of identity and heritage. Please don't confuse that with your compulsion to tell me about your newly purchased dildo.

I'm perfectly comfortable hearing such discussions and witnessing unprofessional behavior, when it's infrequent. When it happens routinely, it does get tiring.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Butt Pat.

My advisor made a triumphant return to lab. The big news -- our group was renewed for a monster grant. The funding will ensure that our research will remain vibrant for years to come. Of course, with this good news comes the bad news that the boss is back in town. Everyone came to work bright and early, something that hadn't happened in a long, long time.

Strangely enough, Professor Superstar already knew my exact progress on my project. It was all rather spooky. "You found a way to do X, Y and Z! You've done an amazing job, Vavoom. I guess what they say about you is true." Suddenly, a warm glow emanated from my body. I was overjoyed. It was such a strong butt pat, I think I still have my advisor's handprint on my ass.

Now's the time in this entry where you could interject the sound of a record screeching.

Wait a minute. I thought I wasn't going to let my advisor affect my opinion of myself or my work. I couldn't help it. It was like a knee jerk reaction. Why do I need Professor Superstar to validate me or my progress?

Are you folks affected by praise or criticism from your supervisor? Why are some of us so heavily invested in receiving validation from others?

Monday, July 18, 2005

This Is Our Room.

I had a fever yesterday. 101 degrees. I ended up going to lab to try and get some last minute data before my advisor's return. I hate to mention this, but it's germane to the topic at hand. I also had explosive diarrhea. After 7 hours of running between the bathroom and the lab, I was weary and tired. It was 1:30 AM.

I finished my experiment and was dizzy. Running to the bathroom when dizzy is surely a recipe for disaster. Herein lies my latest tale of suffering.

I felt the rush of poop coming to my pants and quickly retreated to the bathroom. As I ran in and levitated over the toilet, I noticed something strange. "Why is there a tampon disposal in this stall?" For reasons I can't quite explain, I accidentally ran into the women's restroom. Suddenly a voice pierced through the air.

"Sir, could you please tell me what you're doing in here?"

"Using the restroom. I'm sick. It was an accident. A huge accident. I'll be out of here soon. Sorry."

When I came out of the stall, there was a female security guard waiting. Mind you, coming out of any stall is embarrassing after you've created the noisy mess that is diarrhea. Coming out of a stall in the ladies room after all of that is much more embarrassing. The woman walked over to the stall, looked at the toilet and then looked back at me.

"I need your name and your supervisor's name."

"I'm really sick. I'm running a high fever and I accidentally came in here."

"I'm not sure what you're doing in here, sir, but I need to speak to your supervisor."

"Listen, I'm new here. I'm sick," I pleaded.

"I'm not even sure you're sick," she responded.

My skin was turning green, my clothes were going to tear away from my body. Vavoom was getting upset. "Look, lady, you wanna stick a thermometer up my butt and check my temperature? If not, you'll have to take my word for it."

"Sir, did you just ask me to place something up your butt in the ladies room?"

At this point, I was scared. Yes, I misspoke. Suddenly I looked at her. She glanced back. We both started laughing hysterically.

The laughter caused another rush of poop to my pants. I ran back into the stall, "It's diarrhea. I can't help it."

"Lord, please help this strange boy," the woman said in a syrup-like tone.

When I came out the second time she said, "If I ever see you in here again..." I shot back, "You'll check my temperature in a major way?" We laughed again. She allowed me to leave peacefully.


What's your best/worst "I need to talk my way out of this" incident?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Ringing.



I blog for simple reasons. I love to write (although I'm not very good at it). I love to share my stories with other and hear about theirs.

When I worked in college radio, I loved finding random people to interview. Often, I found their stories to be far more compelling than that of a celebrity, for example. I went to the top of the campanile and interviewed the carillonist. The question was, what compels a person to play songs in a bell tower all day?

His answer was amazing.

When he was young, the carillonist's mother played the bells in church every Sunday. When she was murdered, he decided to learn about her strange passion for bell ringing. He fell in love with it, attended world class musical institutions and landed in Berkeley atop the bell tower. Everytime he plays, he feels like his mother is sitting next to him.


When I read people's blogs, I feel like I'm back in radio. With a simple click on "Next Blog" I can hear someone's story, the chutes and ladders of their personal growth and development. Some of the best out there explain why they are compelled to do what they do with their lives.


Do the bells toll for you? What are you most passionate about? What compels you to wake up in the morning and do what you do?

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Bloggledygook.

I don't often agree with Daniel. We've had our disagreements about the war in Iraq, general approaches towards Islam and terrorism, among other things. Still, I find his blog, Bloggledygook, to be one of the best out there. It's well written and well thought out (unlike the fish wrap blog known as Tedrow Drive). It is in times like these that we must remain open minded about all ideas and strategies to defeat terrorism. It's for that reason that I recommend you all visit his site and see what he has to offer.

Incidentally, I'm going to put up a blogroll soon. I'm a lazy bastard and simply haven't made time to do so. Here's my question of the day -- Given your political leanings, do you find it useful to visit sites comprising opposing viewpoints on a given topic?

Friday, July 15, 2005

Joe McCarthy and Biochemistry.

The authorities in Cairo have arrested Magdy el Nashar for his involvement in the recent terror attacks in London. El Nashar, a talented biochemist, held a position at Leeds. Another under investigation was a biochemist as well.

Biochemistry must really promote terrorist activities. Let's ignore the millions of peaceful biochemists that are productive members of society. Instead, we should begin focusing on biochemists around the world. We should heavily scrutinize the field of biochemistry. You know, place it under a microscope.

In fact, I'm not hearing enough outrage from the world of biochemistry. Why aren't biochemistry professors at every major institution publicly denouncing these attacks? If these people claim that the field of biochemistry is about discovery and truth, why aren't they standing up for these principles now? I mean, could it be that the biochemists involved in these attacks are simply crazy? Nah. I say we begin a vast witch hunt on all biochemists. C'mon, it'll be fun. "You there, you ever heard of Michaelis and or Menten? Yes? Arrest him!"

Clearly, this line of reasoning is pure foolishness. Even if someone were to kill others in the name of biochemistry, that wouldn't mean that the field is flawed. The same thing goes with Islam. We can denigrate the religion all we'd like as a result of terrorist activity. Please keep in mind, in doing so, we are using the same flawed logic demonstrated above.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Shakedown.

I'm not sure why, but I love to bargain. Today I haggled with a company and got them to agree to give me a $30,000 detector for free. Nothing could be more satisfying.

I think I like it because I'm damn good at it. My Father, ever the bean counter, always taught me to get the best price I could no matter what the situation. I've always viewed such negotiations like a great game of chess.

I know that some people hate haggling. I'm curious, what's wrong with a little penny pinching pugilism?

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Enigma.

I walked down the hallway, trying to be mindful of my sadness. The industrial carpeting brushed at my feet more heavily today. I simply couldn't lift them much more. In the distance I heard a familiar sound. I've heard it before, but didn't have the will to recognize it.

As I approached the large, cavernous foyer of the building, the sound came loud and clear. As if in a procession, I marched towards the elevators, trying to believe today wasn't as bad as it felt. I stopped. I held the banister standing between me and falling four stories onto the hard granite floor. I looked out and observed four students playing the trombone, French horn, trumpet and clarinet.

It was one of the of the Enigma Variations, Nimrod, by Elgar that was echoing through the large chamber. I lifted my head, tears in my eyes and saw the massive window, stained with the cityscape of San Francisco at night. As I looked out I hoped, prayed, that someone was in one of the monolithic towers I observed. I hoped they were looking back at me, witnessing my sadness, seeing me for who I am. As the stained window blurred, I wanted to yell out to the lonely stranger, "I'm miserable! Now you know! I won't hide it anymore! No more pretending to be happy!"

The song ended. The chamber silenced. I looked down, tears in my eyes, asking myself why have I been cursed with a life marked by severe and persistent depression.

Now you know, dear stranger.

A Failure.

Here's a nice reminder that scientists should always challenge accepted dogma.

The Carnival of Safety.


I absolutely love roller coasters. In fact I've always loved carnival rides of any type. As a kid, the Oak Tree Festival occurred once a year in my hometown. Every child in town wanted to ride "The Zipper," but few did out of fear that they'd overfill their colostemy bag. lil' Vavoom, however, rode "The Zipper" at least 20 times a year at the Oak Tree Festival, undeterred by apparent death.

Today, the Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates migratory carnival rides, ensuring the safety of all those seeking thrills aboard rides such as "The Zipper." Fixed rides, such as those found at Disneyland and Disneyworld are exempt from such regulatory oversight. Rep. Edward J. Markey (D - Mass.) has introduced legislation seeking federal oversight of theme park rides. There have been plenty of accidents as a result of rides at Disneyland over the years.

Disney, along with other theme park owners have opposed the legislation, seeking to set their own safety standards. They would rather not have federal regulation overwhelm their business model. Where do you stand on this issue? Should federal oversight be introduced to ensure the safety of theme park rides? On a more whimsical note, what is your favorite thrill ride?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Save Me, David Hasslehoff!


I grew up in the eighties, which meant I watched high quality programming like "Knight Rider," "Three's Company," and "The A-Team." These days, I turn on the television and there's few things of interest to watch. (The Family Guy is the only show I absolutely love.) Yes, I'll catch a reality show here and there and, yes, sometimes they're entertaining. Whenever I am watching a reality show, I'll usually find myself yelling at the TV, "Pick the ugly one, pick the ugly one!"

What happened to television? Is it just me or does it suck worse than ever?

I want to see four guys get in a van, screech their tires and run from the military police. I mean, think about it -- in every episode these guys were trapped in a warehouse and somehow they built a fire eating behemoth capable of destroying whatever forces of evil they were up against.

How about a talking car that can fly through the air at the touch of a "turbo boost" button?

What about a guy living with two girls, with an intrusive landlord that's convinced his tenant is gay even though he isn't?

Where are you Magnum PI?

Perhaps I was less discriminating. I was a child, after all. Still, television just doesn't seem to have the same innovation or allure as it did back then. What do you think? Has television gone downhill? What do you usually watch?

Monday, July 11, 2005

Muslims Step Up.

I doubt any of you really believe all Muslims are bad people. As for people asking moderate Muslims to step up, here's a real feel good story.

Pamphlets.


If you walk across Sproul Plaza on the Berkeley campus around noontime you'll see a wonderful array of students and their respective activity clubs recruiting. Upon closer examination, however, you can observe a microcosm of the world. The Palestinian and Israeli student groups usually stage a protest. Yes, they'll yell at one another. The Asian student groups will pass out fliers, but only to other Asians -- they'll ignore you if you're of another creed.

I've never quite understood why these groups recruit only people of their own cultural background. If you'd really like to teach others about your culture, why not recruit those that don't know anything about it? Isn't the formulation of a group based on cultural heritage and skin color tantamount to prejudice?

Has a backlash against white Americans for past grievances created a counterculture of prejudice against them? I, for one, support affirmative action, but not in the way that it is currently implemented. Here's my argument. There was a guy that grew up in my neighborhood when I was young. His father was a famous basketball player. They were loaded. He was African American and often joked about how he'd get into a great school because of the color of his skin. Mind you, we grew up in a nice neighborhood -- good schools, low crime.

Juxtapose his situation to an impoverished white child growing up in Compton. Shouldn't a white child growing up in Compton be given some affirmation that he/she grew up poor and a "minority?" Here's what I'm getting at. Shouldn't affirmative action incorporate socioeconomic factors rather than the color of someone's skin? Hear me. I am all for leveling the playing field. I want to see equal representation in our society. However, I just don't think our current affirmative action system does that well.

Until we fix this system, aren't we all passing out pamphlets to some people, merely because of the color of their skin?

Sunday, July 10, 2005

U-Hell.


Yesterday was a banner day. Yes, sir. I spent the first half of my day getting drilled by my dentist. No major issues except that I was kept waiting with a dental dam jammed into my mouth for an hour before any work was done. Also, the dentist accidentally numbed up the wrong side of my mouth. That's fine. I'm over it.

Afterwards, I went to U-Haul to get boxes, Styrofoam peanuts and the like for the move. Fancypants University is paying for all of this, so I figured I'd splurge. I even bought two wardrobe boxes. You know somebody's paying for all of this if I actually purchased wardrobe boxes. Honestly, are wardrobe boxes really necessary? Usually I'd prowl around the back rooms of grocery stores to get moving boxes. Incidentally, why are the back rooms of grocery stores so spooky?


I digress. While at the U-Haul center, I saw humanity at its worst. People were cutting in front of one another in line, yelling at the lazy store clerks, yelling at each other, honking their horns at one other in the parking lot. I thought to myself, "What the hell is wrong with these people?" Since when did U-Haul become such a hostile place?

As I looked down at my "Moving: To Do" manifesto, I went to the section entitled "boxes." I looked at the amount of crap we'll have to pack up. Then I realized that, yes, T minus 3 weeks until we're out of here. The panic began to set in. "Move fast, Vavoom... Oh, Lord, there's so much to do, we've got to get out of here." My heart started racing, having realized all the work that's going to go into this move.

I started collecting all the accoutrement needed for this move. Yes, I was hustling. Suddenly, a customer began banging a tape gun on the counter, "I have been fucking waiting for you people to do your job for 1 hour!" I took a deep breath, looked around me and realized -- This center is the hell all of us are condemned to until our move is over. Everyone here is acting like a crazy nut simply because they're moving. It's stressful. There's lots to do.


I got in line and hell suddenly got worse. That crazy old man outside, the one that's been honking his horn every five minutes? Apparently he was doing that to remind his wife that he's waiting for her. Lucky me. She was in front of me in line. Every time he honked, she turned and screamed at the top of her lungs, "I'm coming God-damn you!" I kid you not, the line was 15 people long and took well over an hour.


One U-Hell employee walked into the store, joking around with a couple of guys, opened his register and helped his buddies, bypassing the rest of us. "This is gonna be trouble," I kept thinking. Some guy yelled out, "Hey, asshole, the rest of us have been waiting in line!" "Yeah, and you'll keep waiting," the U-Hell guy snapped back. They went back and forth for a good 10 minutes. Suddenly a cell phone rang to the beat of Kool and the Gang's "Jungle Boogie." The woman in front of me decided now would be a good time to have a twenty minute conversation. Normally, this is no problem. Except she was at a register.
The transaction went something like this:

"Yeah, yeah, I hear you. She's pregnant, what can she do? I know, I know. He doesn't even have a job... yeah and they're blaming me for that?"


"Maam, maam, would you like a Super Mover Truck or smaller?"


"Yeah, I feel you. I feel you, I'd have done the same thing. She doesn't even know he's got another girl..." HONK HONK "I said I'm coming God-dammit!"


I looked down at my watch. It was 7:00. Closing time. I was the last in line. By the time they rung me up, it was 7:30. "Sir, could you come back tomorrow to pick up your boxes?" "No," I responded, "I don't want to ever come back here." "Well, I'm off work so you'll have to gather some 50 different sized boxes from our stock yourself if you want them now." "If you help me, we'll both be out of here quicker, " I reasoned. "I'm sorry sir, I'm off work." I gathered the boxes by myself. She simply refused to lift a finger. So much for customer service.


Are you a glutton for punishment? If so, let me know, I left two rolls of tape back at the U-Hell center. I'll send you over to pick them up.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

The Carnival Of The Trivial.

OK. Here's your chance to help Vavoom big time. All this talk of terrorism is driving me nuts. I want to be reminded that there are good, normal people out there that have interesting problems that are fun to talk about. You have hemmorhoids? I say let's hear all about it. You're worried about a hang nail? Now is your chance to pine for physiologically correct toenails. Bad gas at work? I'm all over it.

Seriously, one of the best things about having a blog is the fantastic people that contribute to it. On all of our blogs, we neglect the trivial. Consider this Vavoom's Carnival of the Trivial. Help me out. Tell me that you need some speaker cable. Anything. Let me bathe in the everyday lives of good people.

I'll start. As a result of my injured achilles tendon, I'm having trouble at work. Well, I'm having trouble in the restroom at work. I can't allow my buttcheeks to touch the toilet seat -- that is a strict Vavoom policy. As a result, I pull my best Windsor Pilates levitation stance over the toilet when doing my business (#2). I'm injured. That's affecting my ability to levitate. I've considered using those butt gaskets that you put on the toilet seat, but they've never been very reliable. I mean, they're always slipping into the water before I can even sit down. Besides, how's wax paper going to prevent an onslaught of cooties? What's a guy with an injured achilles tendon to do?

Now it's your turn. It doesn't have to be anything embarrassing or bizarre like the problem I shared above. Do you need a new phone? Is your neighbor stealing your newspaper? Are you in love with the milkman? Is your thieving neighbor the milkman you love? Anything to restore my sanity. Anything.

Friday, July 08, 2005

The Fabulous Five.

Today's post will be a simple look at Islam, bare-bones and stripped away from the sociopolitical culture that threatens its very existence. I'll continue to post further about Islam, but wanted to start with the basics. Note -- I am not preaching here. The intention is to help bring about a better understanding of the religion, as it is, not the brand Islamofacists peddle.

First and foremost, the word "Islam" literally means "submission."

Misconception: I often hear criticism and misuse of this notion of "submission." It has nothing to do with forcing anyone else to submit to anything.

Truth: Submission refers to an acceptance of that which is. As Muslims, we submit ourselves to God.

All Muslims are taught to uphold five simple tenets. Sunni Muslims refer to these as the Five Pillars of Islam. Shia Muslims follow the similar guidelines, I'll elaborate on those in another post. Today we'll focus on these five pillars of faith. These five tenets are:

1) Shahadah -- Profession of faith in God. Muslims profess their faith in God, Allah in Arabic. We believe that Muhammad is the last of the prophets.

Misconception: Many believe that Muslims exclude other faiths through the Shahadah. As such, there is no room for Christianity or Judaism.

Truth: Christianity and Judaism are, in a sense, critical components of Islam. We hold the Old and New Testaments, the Torah and the Koran as holy texts. Members of both Christianity and Judaism are consider ali Qitab, people of the book, meaning that they are to be respected. True, we have different interpretations of Jesus' teachings and divine role. Still, he is respected as the "purest of all prophets."

2) Salat -- Prayer. Muslims pray five times daily. These prayers are Fajr (morning), Dhuhr (midday), Asr (before sunset), Maghrib (after sunset), Isha'a (night). These prayers are very similar to meditation. They are recited in Arabic.

Misconception: Many belive Muslims spend their entire day praying, and they must be done at a specific time and in a mosque. Strange cleansing rituals occur before Muslim prayers.

Truth: These prayers take less than 5 minutes to perform. There are some Muslims that believe that performing these prayers at a specific time is necessary. The vast majority pray when they can, just like every other religious person on the planet. Muslims perform wazu before praying. It is a tradition that is not strange or weird. It's not much more than washing your face and hands, really.

3) Siyam -- Fasting. During the lunar month of Ramadan, Muslims forgo sex, eating, smoking while the sun is up. When Muslims wake in the morning, they pray, eat and go about their day. At night, we pray, eat and sleep. Siyam is a means of learning self control and discipline.

Misconception: Fasting is required even of the sick, poor and small children.

Truth: Physically ill, impoverished, pregnant women and travelers are not required to fast at all.

4) Zakat -- Charity. Muslims are taught that their material wealth must be shared with the poor and ailing of this world.

Misconception: Muslims are forced to give more than they can for Zakat.

Truth: Muslims must only give what they can afford. Nothing more.

5) Hajj -- Pilgrimage. Muslims travel once in their lifetime to Mecca, during the lunar month of Zul Hijjah. During this pilgrimage, all stand as equals before God and recognize the sanctity of the great pilgrimage we are all a part of, life.

Misconception: The Hajj is part of increasing ones social status within the Muslim community.

Truth: Sadly, there are some Muslims that believe becoming a Haji, one who has done this pilgrimage, will lift their social status. Such beliefs are socially driven. The religion has nothing to do with it.

There is nothing within these five pillars that condones terrorism or violence towards another human being. These are the tenets that a Muslim lives his or her life by. Indeed, this is a peaceful religion, one often misunderstood. If you have any questions, ask away. I'll do my best to answer.

Take A Look.

Read Kenneth Katzman's al Qaeda threat assessment and Christopher Blanchard's assessment of al Qaeda's political ideologies. These reports provide outstanding background reading.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Outrage.

You all know I am a moderate Muslim. I've had a chance to read many blogs today. All of them call for outrage in the moderate Muslim community. Clearly, I'm outraged. As far as the moderate Muslim community goes, how would you like to see our collective outrage expressed?

The Mind of a Terrorist.

Today's news is saddening, not shocking. Islamofacist terrorists strapping bombs on their bodies and venturing into public spaces are insane. As a Muslim, I offer the following window into their madness:

Often, these people are born into extreme poverty. Their families are often poorly educated. Years of violence have left their families feeling bitter and hopeless. They are taught at an early age that the United States is the direct cause of their suffering.

These children read the Koran for hours a day, neglecting their studies in history, literature, mathematics and science. On a personal level, the men that teach them are strangely compassionate towards them. Ironically, they teach these children that their ultimate goal in life is to die for Islam. Doing so will grant them immediate entrance into heaven. They focus on short passages in the Koran, taken out of context, that justify their actions.

Indeed, they are brainwashed. They are given no direct justification for why the US is responsible for generational suffering. They are simply told and they accept. Caught, are they, in a vise-like grip of conformity.


Within their lands, these children have few educated role models. Influential, moderate and educated Muslims are often placed on hit lists and murdered by those that propagate Islamofacist doctrine. That's not to say that there are no educated terrorists. To the contrary, the leaders of such factions are highly educated people. They plan and recruit. They never don plastic explosives. They'll leave that task to their cannon fodder students.


As this generation ages, these children experience further indignities at the hands of the governments they live in. Again, they will claim that the United States is to blame for their government's corrupt and heartless actions.
As men, they have been thoroughly "cleansed" of any notion of sympathy for innocent life. If they kill an innocent person, they're doing them a "favor." Clearly, the gates of heaven will be opened for an innocent person killed during a jihad, they reason.

Terrorists believe that once they have committed suicide, their families will become respected members of their communities. They will become heroes and live in paradise.


It is all rather mindless. They have lost all concept of what it is to be a Muslim. As they detonate their explosives, they are murdering not only men, women and children. They are murdering their own faith. How sad.

Betty.

I've been following Betty's News. It's a blog that chronicles a courageous woman's battle with breast cancer. Please visit her site and send some love her way.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Showdown.

I woke up this morning, the birds were singing, the sun was shining. It was if I was trapped in a pleasant Disney movie. "Good Morning, Mr. Vavoom" my neighbor said.

Yes sir, I was already having a great day. The BART strike was averted. Everything was looking up.

I hopped in my truck and got ready to hit the road. As I turned the key I heard, "Wa zhu zhu zhu zhu... wa zhu zhu zhu zhu." Perfect. My car won't start. The BART strike was averted and my car won't start. Great. I hopped out, opened the hood, pretending I knew how to fix a car. I fiddled around with the car for 30 minutes, tried the ignition again. Voila -- it started. Keep in mind, at this point I was annoyed.

As I walked into the lab, I saw my coworkers huddled around talking. "What's up guys," I said. "So. We saw that you that you got a lot done over the 3 day weekend." Trying to be modest, I replied, "Oh, you know, I just got a little bit done... no big deal." I tried to be friendly, but nobody was smiling.

"Well, it looks like you actually are competent. I've always thought you'd end up being an idiot," said one postdoc. Normally, people might say such things in jest. Nobody was joking. What the hell is going on? Another postdoc said, somewhat angrily, "You should have consulted me before you tried that experiment. Those results are my results." I asked why. The response was, and make sure you're sitting down for this, "Technically, you work under me. You're a new grad student. Whatever work you do is my work."

I see. So when things aren't working, when there are 45 people breathing down my neck I'm on my own. Suddenly, when I make things work, this postdoc wants credit for my work. When I get angry I can feel my pulse right at my temple. Yes sir, it was there and pounding.

"Hey. Listen," I said to the postdoc, "If you think you can claim credit for my work, to which you made no contribution, you're sadly mistaken. I may be modest, but I'm not stupid. If you think you can condescend to me like that forget it." I stopped to take a deep breath, doing my best to avoid blowing up. "I am new in this lab, but I've been doing science for a very very long time. I've seen people like you before. You jump on the successes of others and claim it as yours. You won't be able to do that when dealing with me. I promise you that."

The postdoc replied, "I bet no one has ever put you in your proper place, have they? We all know your story. You're a retread. A complete loser."

Now I was pissed. Not angry, pissed. "You know what? I think putting me in 'my place' is a fantastic idea," I responded, "Let's get some paper and pencils. What subject would you like to discuss? Physics? Math? Biology? Chemistry?" Yes sir, this had all the makings of an intellectual shoot out. Please believe me, I never have done anything like this before. Never. I was angry.

The postdoc suddenly looked sheepish. I needed to finish this. I continued, "I am so confident I'll embarrass you in front of all our group members. C'mon big shot, put me in my place. Let's see you do it. You've got a PhD. You think that gives you the right to beat up on a new graduate student? Think of all the people you've pulled this bullshit on. All the ideas, projects and results you've taken from others. Today is the day karma catches up to you. Pick the subject and I'll show you who the retread is."

He looked around the room. Everyone was silent. Suddenly, I saw his eyes tear up. He simply turned and walked away slowly.

I feel badly for having to hammer on this poor guy so badly. I feel outright guilty. I was always raised to be modest and never do this sort of thing to another person. Yet somehow, deep down inside, I think he needed it.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Lucky You.

The Bay Area is a fantastic place to live. It really is. With plenty of things to do, a well cultured environment and an overall laid back atmosphere, the Bay Area is truly phenomenal.

There's one potential problem. All hell might break loose over here tomorrow. BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transit, is our local subway system. A
looming strike now threatens to shut down BART. Negotiations will end tonight. If no settlement is reached, this heaven on earth is about to become a giant parking lot.

Guess how Vavoom has to get to the lab everyday? Yup, that's right. By car.

One thing they've got going here are communal carpool pick up spots. If you pick up a couple people, you can enter the carpool lane on the approach to the bridge, pay no toll and off you go. I think this and leaving at an insanely early time will get me to work, sans headache.


So you've decided to high tail it to San Francisco with Vavoom? Lucky You! Here's a quick guide to making this a happy trip:


1) If you happen to be an axe murderer, child molester or rapist, please keep your hands off the driver. The driver does not appreciate being axed, groped or molested in any way. No, that "this'll be our little secret" thing will not work on the driver.


2) You've got a double mochaccino latte with extra whipped cream and no lid along with a bagel dripping with cream cheese? You insist on eating it in the car? No problem! Please stay on the sidewalk while the driver selects another passenger.


3) Please do not ask the driver to insert your Mariah Carey or Celine Dion CD. Please do not ask the driver to put the Howard Stern Show on. The driver will be listening to NPR for the duration of the trip. Divas and shock jocks are not permitted in the cabin at any time.


4) If you must speak to the driver, please be pleasant. Refrain from complaining about your boss, spouse, kids or any medical conditions you may have. The driver prefers his morning commutes to be pleasant.


5) Please do not hang your head out the window and let your tongue flap in the wind. All body parts must remain in the vehicle at all times. If you are hot or cold, ask the driver (politely) if you can open the window or turn on the heat. The driver reserves the right to veto any climate changes in the vehicle.


6) You ate a full can of beans last night. You feel the pressure in your lower intestines. The driver strongly prefers that you demonstrate your willpower. No gaseous emission in the passenger cabin are allowed at any time. If you happen to smell something, do not blame the driver. He has never farted in his entire lifetime.


7) Wear your seatbelt. The driver does not want to get a ticket simply because your monkey ass can't put on a life saving device.


8) Absolutely, positively, no backseat driving. The driver would only like you to warn him of impending danger if you are convinced that you are going to die.


9) Since this trip entails going over a bridge, in the event of a water landing, please do not try and re-enact any scenes from Titanic. The driver is a married man. Moreover, the driver is cute, but he's no Leonardo DiCaprio. No, he will not put you afloat on part of the wreckage while he foolishly freezes to death. Please don't ask. Also, if you are late to work, do not ask the driver to speed up. That will increase the chances of a water landing.


10) Finally, the driver would appreciate a "thank you" at the end of the trip. You have just received a free ride. Being gracious is a good idea.


What would you add to this list? That is, what are your driving pet peeves? Would you be willing to carpool with Vavoom?

Monday, July 04, 2005

Happy 4th of July!

My family came to this country with exactly 50 dollars. This is such a fantastic country that 50 dollars and a good work ethic is really all you need to succeed. My parents came to live the American dream. They've done that. My Father often says that we owe this country everything we have. Indeed, this is the land of opportunity.

For those of you that are first generation Americans, you've witnessed the tranformative power of freedom and opportunity. It really is remarkable.

Happy 4th of July!

Happy Birthday, Mom.


Today is indeed the greatest day of the year. When I was young, I didn't realize the implications of Independence Day since my mother's birthday occurs on the same day. My earliest memory is of spending the 4th of July, eating cake in my mother's lap and watching the fireworks in the nighttime sky.

"Wow, Momma, they do all of these fireworks for you on your birthday?" She would chuckle and say, "No, they're all for you and the rest of the little boys and girls in this country."

My Mother is a remarkable person. She was born in extreme poverty, she worked hard and was the top of her class. She was the most beautiful woman in her village and, given her smarts and good looks, she married a professional cricket player -- my Father.

My Mother is the paragon of industry. Her willpower and determination are unlike anything I've ever seen. Whenever the chips were down, that's when she'd decide to roll up her sleeves and make things happen. We used to joke around and say she was a "fist with eyes." When she was pregnant with me, we were poor. She worked as a nurse, on her feet for 18 hour shifts, for the entire nine months. Indeed, she is the strongest person I have ever met.

Her tenacious spirit never got in the way of her compassion and love for her family. No one can hug me like my mother. No one is more supportive of me when times are tough. I was in the depths of depression and my mother told me the following story:

When my Mother was young, her family had nothing. They were peasants in a third world country. My Mother was involved in an terrible accident and, seeing that she had no money, she couldn't get medical help. She was bleeding to death and looked up at my Grandmother and said, "Mother, I'm dying. It hurts so much, I'm not going to make it." The situation was grave. My Grandmother looked at my Mother and said, "No you're not. Not today. God never gives people more pain than they can handle." My Mother walked for miles, bleeding to death, to find a doctor that would finally help them for the small amount of money they had.

My Mother always finishes that story by reminding me that, "Anything is possible, Vavoom. As long as you are determined enough, anything is possible."

Even now, my Mother's enduring spirit remains. Her health is faltering, yet you would never notice. Her knee is giving out and she has difficulty walking. "Mom, why don't you get disabled placards for the car and go on disability at work?" Her only response is, "Those placards and that program are for people that have severe health problems. As long as I can stand, I can work."

Tonight, when I look into the night sky, I will see fireworks. In my mind, all of them are for her.

Happy Birthday, Momma.

The Fat Lady's Singing.

Dear 45 people,

It is 1 AM. I've been working virtually non-stop since 10 AM. I wanted to inform you that it is over.


You have lost.


One of you decided to try and screw me over by sabotaging my work. You made me angry. I spent nights trying to figure out how I was going to teach you a lesson, defeating you and a cache of 44 others.

Tonight I confirmed it. I found the way. I decided to be aggressive with my game plan. I chose a risky, yet elegant way to accomplish what seemed to be impossible. I found a more efficient and reliable way to do what 45 of you have struggled with. I am looking at the data now. Yup, it's over.


I'm not normally one to gloat, but this is one of my finest moments in science. I was outnumbered, given a slow start and I still did it.


It's unfortunate that I have to deliver this news to you on the 4th of July. I do hope it doesn't spoil your holiday. If it's any consolation, I'll thoroughly enjoy my 4th of July, fully aware that my hard work paid off.


Sincerely Yours,

Vavoom

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The Egotistical Pyramid.

You'll recall that I discussed labels yesterday. In the academic world, there exists a bizarre pecking order, based on labels. The saying goes something like this:

Mathematicians laugh at physicists.
Physicists laugh at chemists.
Chemists laugh at biologists.
Everyone laughs at those in the humanities.

I've never really understood why there exist such a strange judgment system in academia. Is a mathematician really that far removed from a philosopher? Of course not. Leibniz, the father of integral and differential calculus, was also a renowned philosopher.

Moreover, I'm so tired of hearing people with PhDs refer to themselves and insist that others call them "doctor." Listen, we don't normally refer to people by their working titles. "Oh, there goes Mailman Bob" or "Hi, I'm Lawyer Sue. " It's as if some people with higher degrees think they've had the queen's sword tapped on their shoulders.

In academia, such egotistical thought runs rampant. I often hear people talk down to the janitors and mistreat administrative assistants, all because they think their education entitles them to that. They believe that they sit atop the pyramid of knowledge and success. How wrong they are.

The best lesson my father ever taught me was respect. Respect everyone equally, regardless of their job title, wealth, power or lack thereof. When I was young we had dropped off our family car to the mechanic. As my father and I left the shop, I referred to all mechanics as "morons." I was 7 years old and I still can feel the slap I got on the back of my head. "Don't ever call someone that," he said, "I worked as a janitor all through graduate school to keep our family fed. We give our car to these people because they have skills and abilities we don't. Son, you can learn something from everyone. Never judge a person like that ever again."

These days I wish I could dole out a collective slap on the back of the head to every person out there that thinks they're better than someone else, just because of money, power or education.

Do you have to deal with this sort of thing in your workplace or personal life?

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Strange Brew.

I've been disturbed recently over the type of rhetoric I've seen in the blogosphere relating to the war on terror. If you criticize the war effort, the immediate response is, "You're emboldening the enemy." I've always hated that response. If you love your country and you think something is wrong, shouldn't you be encouraged to speak up?

Also, I'm getting tired of labels. We love to label people as "conservative" or "liberal." None of us really are completely liberal or conservative. The vast majority of us are a strange brew of both. Politicians are also rather strange with labels. Republicans love to call Democrats liberal, Democrats love to categorize Republicans as Jesus freaks. Really, politicians tend to pick up on ideas from both sides, when politically convenient. Take the filibuster, for example. Both parties support it when in the minority. Both parties oppose it when they're in the majority. Look at Clinton with welfare reform. Aren't Republicans ardent believers in federalism? If that's the case, why is there a sudden call to arms in the GOP over medicinal marijuana use in states that have allowed it?


Given that most people really are somewhere in the middle of the road, politically, why do you think we've limited ourselves (practically) to a bipartisan system?

Friday, July 01, 2005

Scarecrows.


Alright. I'm hitting that time when I've got to say goodbye to my friends here in the Bay Area. As a result of my work schedule, I have to spread the sad so longs out over the next month.

It's difficult. I lived in Berkeley for a long time and, as a consequence, have always taken advantage of the fact that my closest friends are within an hour away. In the past, I've typically been rather stoic about goodbyes. Coming from the position that people are apparitions that pass in and out of your life made leaving people behind rather easy.

This time, saying goodbye is not so simple. These are people that have supported me when I hit rock bottom. Like a scarecrow in a cornfield, they ward off the crows of life, keeping me safe from harm. Suddenly, I've realized that these are not merely apparitions that will pass through me. Rather, they have left an indelible mark that will stay with me forever.

The statement, "I'll miss you most of all, scarecrow" has taken on an entirely new meaning for me.


What's the saddest goodbye you've ever experienced?