31 March 2004

Ye merry job hunte


Apparently, two of our four positions are about to be filled. The candidates have indicated that they're about to sign on dotted lines, which is refreshing news indeed.

Meanwhile, I'm now in the hardest par of the day: the last three quarters of an hour until my 5:45 p.m. class (groan). It's tough, because I've been here all day, pretty much the last few people hanging around in the department have left (if they didn't leave long ago). You're just left with time to kill, really.

30 March 2004

Project: Searchlight


Okay, so our department is trying to fill five tenure-track positions this year, and I'm chair of the Search Committee. We started four of those searches back in fall, where we did reviewed CVs, did phone interviews, on-site interviews, the whole shebang. So far, we've had two of those positions where we extended the job offers and the candidates said "No." So we're not quite back to square one, but in one case, we're almost back to square two. As Marvin the Martian once said, "Back to the old drawing board."

I'm not sure what's going on with the other two positions. I think offers should have been made, but no word on whether anyone has signed on the dotted line yet.

And because our fifth position was created late in the game (in January), we are just in the middle of trying to get applications finished now.

We could be at this all summer.

28 March 2004

In press / Sense of triumph


I finally fixed my photo problems for my upcoming paper in Arthropod Structure and Development. So I can now tell you the full citation information for my next research work:

Faulkes, Z. (2004) Loss of escape responses and giant neurons in the tailflipping circuits of slipper lobsters. Arthropod Structure and Development 33(2): 113-123.

The digital object identifier (DOI) is 10.1016/j.asd.2003.12.003. Accept no substitutes!

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I feel a fantastic sense of triumph in identifying my very first word in today's Target puzzle as the often elusive nine-letter word. Sometimes, I rock.

26 March 2004

Up there Cazaly


I was never a sports fan until I lived in Melbourne. But enthusiasm really is contagious.

Melbourne is arguably the most sport-mad city on the face of the planet. Put two teams in uniforms, and people will show up for it. And Australia rules football is the Melbourne game. I caught the bug while I was there, and now footy (as it is otherwise known) is the one sport I actively follow. I decided to become a Melbourne Demons supporter, because I thought of myself as living in Melbourne rather than one of the many suburbs with their own team. (Fitzroy, where I was living, had merged with Brisbane some years before I lived there). Now, I may be the only person in the lower Rio Grande Valley to watch the footy games shown on Fox Sportsworld. Even though they show the games almost a week after the fact, not live. Even then, I probably still don't qualify as a real footy fan, since I only watch the weekly hour-long highlight show.

I bring this up because this is a much anticipated weekend in Melbourne: the start of the new home and away season. This article examines how footy takes over the minds of people for half the year. I note with a sense of relief that a neurobiologist is one of them.

For my part? "Go the Dees!"

23 March 2004

A day in miniature


Here was my Monday: Get up. Teach. Teach. Break. Meeting. Meeting. Meeting. Teach. Go home. Excercise. Bed.

21 March 2004

That was the week that was


A very odd week, by all accounts. And since I'm doing the accounting, I get to declare that it was odd.

It was a week where I either got quite a lot done or very little. I'm still not sure. Every time I turned around, it seemed as though some thing or other would leap into my field of view and demand attention.

The best example was on Wednesday, when I got an "urgent" email to revise some figures for a paper I have coming out in Arthropod Structure and Development. Someone at the publisher's emailed me, saying that two of my figures weren't reproducing properly, and that they needed new, revised copies right away if this article was to go into the next issue of the journal, which is scheduled to "go to bed" next week. I spent a good chunk of the afternoon making the changes, and emailed them back. I promptly got an auto-response email saying, "I'm away from my desk, and will be until next week." I love the irony of someone declaring this to be urgent but not being there to deal with it. In fairness, though, someone else at the publisher did check the email and let me know they'd got one of the figures.

I was also a bit nunplussed that after a week's break, I didn't see any of my Honors students until Thursday. And there's one I still haven't seen since the break. Note to myself: light fire under butts of students.

In my capacity as Search Committee chair, we've also started the process of looking for a fifth position. Which means more folders to make, more forms to mail, more phone interviews, more travel arrangements, and so on. Assuming we get any applicants, of course.

And because I don't have enough to do, I'm working with a group on campus that is trying to put together a so-called RIMI grant (short for "Research Infrastructure at Minority Institutions"). I'm going to try to write up a request for a confocal microscope, a very useful (but still very expensive) piece of kit for a biologist to have.

And yesterday was day five away from the office this year. I went and tried to find some new clothes. I got to feel guilty about being away from the office and feel guilty about spending money all at the same time. It was really awful. I had the worst feeling that something bad was going to happen because I was away from the office. Okay, not "Universe about to collapse" bad, but maybe "small section of university turned into piles of rubble" kind of bad. (Yes, my sense of self-importance is that over-inflated.)

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Let me take the opportunity to welcome Christopher Eccleston to the role of Doctor Who. To the best of my knowledge, I've never seen anything he's done, which is great. It'll be wonderful to experience the role afresh, with no pre-conceived notions as to how someone's going to play it.

Good luck, mate. You'll need it.

13 March 2004

"You get what you pay for" and "That aching feeling in my bones"


Last weekend, I went out of town for two days after I'd bought some crayfish from a local grocery store. I only paid $4 for the lot, so I thought this was a bargain. Turned out of the 30 I bought, one lived until today. So, by mid-week, I ordered some more crayfish from a biological supplier. Ordered about 24, and only 1 died. But this time, I spent over $70 dollars.

The sad thing is that on a "cost per crayfish basis...", only a couple more from the grocery store would have had to live for it to be more economical to buy them there than from the biological supplier.

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Meanwhile, by yesterday afternoon, I was wondering why my legs felt stiff. Didn't stop me from going excercising last night. But when I crawled into bed, I thought, "I recognize this feeling. I'm getting sick, aren't I?" Ack! And I was on the money -- I feel fairly woozy, and am alternating between slightly hot and chilly. It's a pity, as I was thinking of going out tonight, but I don't think that's going to happen. I'm just hoping I've recovered before my 7:45 am class in two days time.

09 March 2004

Breaks

You go away for a couple of days, and what happens? 28 crayfish die in their tanks, raising a substantial stink. Buying from the local grocery store was a mistake I shall not make again. I'll buy from scientific suppliers instead. Unfortunately, our secretary's out until tomorrow, so I won't be able to order until then.
Nevertheless, it was very nice to up the days away from my office to three for the year. I went off to Austin and got in touch with my inner geek and played L5R at a tournament there on Saturday. Fared very poorly (ranked 55 out of 71!), but it was a good break even so.

Now that I'm back in the office, I'm working on a short introductory article for the special issue of Journal of Comparative Physiology A I'm working on. Also have many things to be done relating to the Search Committee. Still, the lack of classes has given me enough flexibility in my time that I was able to finish calculating and filing income taxes yesterday, go to the optometrist today and get new contacts and the first new glasses I've had in at least 8 years.

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This news piece is the sort of thing that you expect to see in a comedy routine...

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A few days ago, I mentioned Bernard Pivot's questionnaire with regards to my least favourite word. Here, as I suggested I might do, are the rest.

  1. What is your favorite word? Facetious.
  2. What is your least favorite word? Incentivizing. Thank you, Belinda Stronach for introducing such an unnecessary and unneeded awful word!
  3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? Seeing other people turned on. Seeing other people excited about what they do brings out more energy and excitement from me. (I think this question, and the next, are about the toughest questions in the set.)
  4. What turns you off? Boredom. It's easy to be disinterested in anything, and people do it all the time, because "the world bores you when you're cool."
  5. What is your favorite curse word? Bollocks!
  6. What sound or noise do you love? The sound of ice cubes cracking when you drop them into a freshly made tumbler of iced tea.
  7. What sound or noise do you hate? Ringing mobile phones when I'm giving a lecture.
  8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Science, to some extent, gives you a chance to do many professions at once. I would probably be a non-fiction writer, or be involved in publishing. But of course, being a scientist means that's one of the things I do anyway, so I'm not sure if that's a legitimate answer.
  9. What profession would you not like to do? Police officer. We had a lot of RCMP officers as family friends when I was younger, and while I have great admiration for what they do, I don't envy them the job.
  10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? "I never knew that [insert famous discovery by ZF here]..."

04 March 2004

Wet Mars


One of the big news stories this week is the announcement (long suspected) that there was once free-flowing water on Mars. Of course, coupled to that announcement is the inevitable speculation that Mars could have once held life as we know it. I wrote the following bit in 1996, when the announcement of possible Martian bacteria had just been released. It was published in The UFO Invasion (Prometheus Press). My chapter, "Is intelligence inevitable?", concerned whether, once you had life, evolution would push invariably organisms to become ever more complex and eventually yield smart beings (aliens, in other words).

"There is a more depressing side to the announcement of possible past Martian life, however. Mars may be an entire biosphere that has gone extinct. We find living organisms living and often thriving in our planet's most hostile locations, so terrestrial life appears marvelously tenacious and resiliant. There is no evidence of life on Mars now, suggesting that if life originated on the red plant, it never managed to get a toehold: No macroscopic organisms, no increasing complexity, no smart Martians carved out by the forces of natural selection."

Replace "life" in the first sentence with "water," and it still sums up my attitude. It's also one of my favourite passages from anything I've written to date.

03 March 2004

Crabs rule!

An army of monster crabs is on the march, crushing everything in their path.

I'm serious.

You can read the whole story here. Click here to appreciate just how big these are. (Of course, that silly Neil Gaiman would go and spot it first...)

Crabs rule.

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Meanwhile, things are starting to calm down after the madness that was February. After the last search was over, I topped off the month with a mad karaoke binge on the weekend. (Can one song be counted as a binge when you've never done it before?) But no matter, the recommendation memos are getting written. We still have to see who ends up here, since there's negotiation that could fail, people could accept other job offers, and so on.

01 March 2004

Samba science scores second


Click here for a story of how Brazilian dancers merged art and science.