25 February 2003

Off topic

I can't resist the urge to post a link to one of my favourite writers, Peter David, for his comments on Saddam Hussein's suggestion of a televised debate. It's at the top as I right this, but if you come in late, look for the 25 February 2003 entry.

23 February 2003

Happy Birthday to me

Today's journal entry is the only thing I'm doing that's even remotely research related. My present to me is a day off.

Not enough people got me cake. Other than that, it's been a good day.

21 February 2003

Less money

And another thing. We had a meeting of the College of Science & Engineering yesterday (of which the Biology Department is a part). They were explaining how the University and the College are trying to cope with the state of Texas asking for 7% of their unspeant budget back.

There were also warnings of a further 12% reduction from the state next year.

This does not bode well anyone, but I reckon it's a particularly ill wind for any new faculty member trying to get on her or his feet.

Not that I'm talking about myself, mind you. Well, not necessarily.

I should be writing a grant proposal now. Excuse me...

If there's no snow in Texas...

...How can I be snowed under?

When it's work rather than white stuff, I guess. Teaching, trying to get a grant together (which is faring poorly), committee duties are all making it rather difficult to do anything but just keep up.

13 February 2003

Unexpected interruptions

Two fire alarms late this afternoon. Two. Very distracting. Fortunately, I guess, they were late enough that I just went home during the second one. The leading theory was that some student didn't want to take a test, so pulled the switch.

Or maybe this was a particularly inept terrorist attack. And me without my duct tape.

(Duct tape?! Who the blazes is in charge of American "homeland security"? Red Green?)

12 February 2003

Reality science?

People find other people endlessly fascinating. And not any particular sort of people; pretty much anyone will do.

Although I have never watched a single minute of Survivor (I was living without a television in Australia when the first series was making waves), there is no escaping the prevalence of “reality” television. There are the dating shows (Elimidate, The Fifth Wheel, and lots more), the home makeover shows (Changing Rooms and its American successor, Trading Spaces, and all of its third generation imitators, like While You Were Out and Surprise by Design and even, almost unfathomably, the rock celebrity Rock the House), and the “stick strangers together and hope they hop into the hot tub” genre (The Real World, The Surreal Life, Road Rules, High School Reunion).

Now setting aside that most shows place people in profoundly “unreal” situation, the main attraction seems to be the chance to see (initially) unfamiliar personalities in action, making choices, interacting, and in conflict.

Look at entertainment or sports, and again, there is a strong fascination with the personalities involved, and not just the game or the art or the work. Yeah, sure James Lipton says Inside the Actor’s Studio is an exploration of acting craft, but there’s little doubt that it has appeal beyond that because people are interested in the opinions and experiences of creative folks, not just their technical skills.

Then you flip to science programming and you see... plants, animals, the food chain, exploding stars, and lots of computer animation to explain the theoretical bits. Actual scientists are scarcely seen.

Maybe this isn’t a good strategy, considering that there is ample evidence that the level of knowledge about science in the general public could be better (to put it mildly). Maybe a way to get people interested in science is to show off scientists as having interesting people in interesting situations facing problems to which other people can relate. Surely the problems faced by researchers must be as engaging as chefs-in-training.

Yes, that’s right. Here in the U.S., specialty cable channels The Food Network is running a show called Cooking School Stories, which shows the “true life” struggles of students becoming chefs.

Why not Grad School Stories? Follow grad students as they try to balance their supervisors insistence they work at the bench with their other demands in their life?

“Can Carol finish her thesis? Will Jim's paper be accepted in Nature, or will it be scuttled by reviews from a competing lab? What happens to Yang’s research project when research funding runs out before its finished? Stay tuned...”

Or perhaps Iron Scientist. Give two researchers an experiment and see who is able to perform it faster and get better data. “Whose protocol will take it all?”

I think I have an untapped vein here. Maybe I should form my own production company.

11 February 2003


After sundry delays, I finally signed off approving bids for one of my microscopes today. Keep watching to see how soon it'll actually arrive in the lab...

07 February 2003

Meeting with Dean

Several of the assistant professors from my department had a meeting with the new Dean of the College of Science & Engineering here, a fellow named Michael Eastman. Been on campus for about 5 weeks. Was good. Was much more impressed by him in a face-to-face meeting than I was in with his presentation to larger groups. Hopefully, we were able to provide him with some information that he wouldn't have known otherwise.

03 February 2003

Challenger and Columbia

The radio has just reminded me that the Challenger disaster was seventeen years ago. Time flies...

The Challenger disaster was very affecting for me. At the time, I was working on The Meliorist, the University of Lethbridge student newspaper, and I went home at lunch and drew probably the best cartoon I ever did there.

Today, what makes me sad is that I'm not as stunned or sad for the Columbia crew as I was for the Challenger crew. I'm not sure why. Maybe it seems less shocking because "it's happened before." The images of cloud trails in the sky seem so similar to those of seventeen years ago.

It's a sad time. I simply hope that people don't forget that there are still people in orbit at the International Space Station who need to come home.