My recent days
Get up. Work. Eat dinner. Excercise. Sleep.
Add matinee movie if Saturday or Sunday, but not both.
Man, I'm so ready for something different...
Small advantage of keeping this blog? I got a chance to test the much ballyhooed new web email service that Google is launching soon. I'm such a 'Net junkie, the last thing I really need is another email account. I have, like, 4 or 5 already: home, work, Hotmail, and I think I have a Netscape one that might still be active. No, I got this to conduct an informal study: how long will it take from when this new service starts testing (which was around 19 April 2004) until I get my first email advising me that gains of even a big six inches is possible? Or that I can have low cost prescription drugs or refinance my home?
Promised that I would describe more of my visit to Washington, but realized there wasn't a whole lot to say. Let's see... in addition to all the useful stuff I learned about my electrophsyiology software, Spike2, I learned you can get a vanilla creme at Starbuck's in hot as well as a cold iced drink. I found a great French resto and boulangerie that reminded me of how much I miss good croissants. (French bakeries are another thing in short supply in south Texas.) I had a raspberry with cream cheese crossiant. Yum.
I found an excellent comic store called Big Planet Comics where I spent far too much time looking for something to read in my hotel room that night. I was reminded while I was in there about what "cosmopolitan" really means when a French woman came in with her kids asking what French comics they had. The staffer behind the counter didn't blink an eye and pulled out a bunch of European imports. They had Asterix, but alas, no Blake & Mortimer.
For dinner my last night in Washington, I went to a Rock Bottom restaurant. Arguably a strange choice as I don't drink beer. But I got lucky. My waitress came, and I happened to say, "How ya goin'?" and she smiled and said, "Nobody ever asks me that." She introduced herself, and I said, "Excuse me, did I hear you right?" I thought I heard her say, "I'm surly," but I thought, "That can't be right." Turned out it was right -- or almost. She had an Armenian name, Serli (which means something about love), and the "r" is supposed to be barely pronounced. But nobody could get the subtlety of how it was supposed to be said, which is more like "Say-lee", so she became "Surly," as in mad. So when she said, "I'm surly," I missed the chance to utter Sean Connery's famous Bond quip, "But of course you are." Fortunately, she was anything but. She was a lot of fun, recommended a great desert, and earned a generous tip.
In retrospect, I wish I'd arranged things to have a little more time on Saturday. I got up early, hopped on the metro, and went down to the mall -- which I love. I was again reminded of just how far away I am from anything down in south Texas, when within the hour I had to walk around, I passed I don't know how many museums, including the Smithsonian Natural History museum. I've got more pictures, but being a biologist, this one takes pride of place...
I wanted to get down to the west end, which has the reflecting pool -- it's my fave, and I really wanted to get a picture of it. But I didn't have enough time. I might have been able to make it, except there was construction going on around the World War II memorial (which is being dedicated next month), which would have required a long detour to the reflecting pool. I was kind of in a hurry, but even then I was able to experience art and culture just casually just by walking around the outside of the Hirshhorn Museum of Modern Art and seeing some of their sculpture garden. The piece below is "The Drummer."
Arguably you could experience more culture and science in Washington D.C., in a few months than you might get in many years in the Rio Grande Valley. But I'm not bitter.
As I walked out past the modern art museum, I walked through a marathon or some sort of extended run, for which they had closed off the street. Then I was on the L'Enfant Plaza metro station, going on my way back to the airport. Even though I was an hour before the plane was scheduled to depart, they were already warning people to use the washrooms before taking off. There's a relatively new rule that 30 minutes after taking of or landing in Washington D.C., nobody -- and I mean nobody -- is allowed to get out of their seat for any reason. Certainly not for something as trivial as relieving your bladder. Not when Homeland Security is at stake.
And that was the extent of my trip last week. Very successful intellectually and in advancing the things I'll be able to do in my lab, and I even managed to sneak in a little fun, as you can probably tell.
Signs you've been away from home too long: A student asked me if I was Canadian. When I replied that I was, she said, "I'm from Canadia too!"
Anyway, I wanted to provide a little more detail about the trip I took last week to Washington, D.C. I've been to the city before, and enjoy a lot about it, particularly the mall. One of the surprises was that the last time I flew in, I remembered the airport being rather dingy. Maybe it was Dulles, but the Ronald Reagan National Airport was rather pleasant, as you can see. Oddly, I flew from the George Bush Airport in Houston to the Reagan airport in D.C., making it feel like some weird Republican presidents' travel line...
Another thing I like about Washington is they have a good metro system. I was able to take the metro all the way from the airport to the hotel for $2.30. Much cheaper than the $30-$40 one person in the class spent on cab fare! The D.C. metro's not as good as Montreal, but not bad. It has two things that I'm not wild about: first, though you can't easily tell in the picture below, it's all dimly lit. Second, a lot of the entrance ways are quaite far down, and have long, steep escalators that are almost vertigo inducing.
And while I was riding the mtero, I was reminded of something I'd thought about before. Whenever I take a metro, I always half-expect someone to run through, being chased. In movies, metro are used big action scene; nobody ever just rides them. (Hellboy was the most recent example of this.) Even Speed, which was famously set on a bus, saved the metro as the scene for its climax. I wonder why no other public transport attracts moviemakers attention...?
In any case, I got to the hotel without too many mishaps, although I did have a bad moment when I realised the address for the hotel was 8400 Wisconsin, not 4800 Wisconsin. Whoops. But I got to the hotel (Four Points Sheraton), had a pretty good dinner at the on site resto, Chatters, and had a bath before packing it in for the night.
The classes were not exactly early the next morning, so I had time to explore a little. Although I've been referring to Washington, the actual course was held in Bethesda, in the neighbouring state of Maryland. The piece of Bethesda I was in was rather nice, and reminded me of how much I miss civilization in souther Texas.
The courses ran their course. I had to feel for the Cambridge guys, as they were down one man: one of their staffers had come back from South America, and when they went to pick him up to take him to the airport, he met them at the door extremely ill and didn't go. Lucky for me, it didn't make difference to the material I was there to learn.
More on this trip later!
I'm nervous about all the stuff I'll be missing while I'm gone. We have a job candidate coming in (#9 for this year!), who I won't get to meet. Ugh. I have animals in the lab that need occasional inspection. And students want attention, too. They need advisement, they need questions answered, and so on.
I'm pleased to be leaving on a positive note, though. I was actually able to sit down and run an experiment with one of my students today. And that always rocks.
And it feels good. :)
For an assistant professor in biology, it is somewhat depressing reading.
In a fit of masochism, my colleague Mike and I were trolling through the figures, looking for highs and lows, and it doesn't take long to realize that we're in the wrong business. (The wrong business if your main goal is to make money, anyway.) There are assistant professors (my job level) in the College of Business Administration who are making more than many full professors in their own department. Needless to say, they're also making more money than full professors in other colleges (including, needless to say, my own department). That just strikes me as wrong. Why are people in business worth so much more than other faculty? I mean, are they responsible for educating that many more students? Are they creating new knowledge? Are they really in that much demand elsewhere?
Just so you can prevent personal embarassment if you should ever happen to meet her, her last name is pronounced with three syllables, not two. It's "Da-vel-los," not "Dave-los."
In other good news, I finally packed up the last manuscripts for "my" special issue of Journal of Comparative Physiology A today. This will be an issue containing papers based on the "Mechanisms of behavioral switching" symposium I organized last year for the Animal Behavior Society meeting. One reason this pleases me is that at the end of the symposium, the participants did a bit of "soul searching" on whether it was worth talking about neural mechanisms at an behavioural meeting, because attendance ran low near the end of the day. If it was kind of a misguided place to hold the symposium (and I'm not convinced it was), having all of the papers together in one place will make bring it to the audience that maybe wouldn't normally attend a meeting like ABS.
But just to give you an idea of scientific efficiency... I had 8 speakers at the original symposium. Two declined to present manuscripts, saying they were too busy to write them. The symposium was August, and the original deadline was January for receiving the manuscripts. I won't mention how many of the six authors made it, but let's say it was nowhere near all of them. Sigh. However, many harrassing emails and extensions have gotten three-quarters of the authors to get their papers in. I'm looking forward to seeing the final thing in print, as always.
It seems like such a cliche, doesn't it? Professors being bright, but disorganized and not really good with deadlines.
Meanwhile, I managed to get a "letter of intent" for a grant off yesterday. This will be the third for this particular foundation I've submitted. So far, I haven't even been asked to fill in a full application form. Will the third time be the charm? We shall see. Stay tuned.
This morning, reading this story in New Scientist reinforced that view. Sons has an experimental robot called QRIO, and is making the rounds, and I must say that those demos are danged impressive. In particular, this movie (you'll probably have to save it to your hard disk; right click your mouse and choose "Save as...") is a sight to behold. Four robots dancing.
Robots, and how humans will relate with them, is one of the classic themes of science fiction. One need only look at this summer's release of I, Robot (based on Isaac Asimov's classic book). The ad campaign for the movie is a very clever imitation of the sort of real ad that Sony might have for its QRIO robot.
Just like cloning mammals arrived sooner than most people expected and left people scrambling for how to deal with the situation, I'm starting to think that we'd better start doing some serious thought about the legal ramifications of robotics.
If your institution has a subscription to Science Direct, you can now read a preprint of my newest paper on-line, here. Click on "Articles in Press, and you'll see an entry by "Faulkes, Z." I encourage downloading the PDF for purely selfish reasons: on the journal's main page, they keep track of the most downloaded papers for the year. And yes, I'm vain and enough of a shameless self-promotor to want to try to create a "NeuroDojo effect" to push my paper way up there in those ratings!