28 April 2004

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...

23 April 2004

Rhino. Renault. Know the difference!


Hint: The rhino's the white one. The difference may seem obvious, but this article shows that it isn't.

22 April 2004

Cyber meanderings

Don’t ask where I got this from...

Doctor Zen


Battle Rating
Doctor Zen was won on Ebay

Can your fishy beat Doctor Zen ?


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?

More jobs; more Bethesda

I confirmed a day or two back that we have another candidate who has signed on the proverbial dotted line, so I would like to be the first to publicly welcome Dr. Kristine Lowe to UTPA. And I'll say it again: Hope you survive the experience...


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...

Smithsonian Natural History Museum

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.”

The Drummer sculpture

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!”


20 April 2004

Jobs; Bethesda

Here's the latest total for one of the five positions our department has been trying to fill. We had one person turn us down before we could bring them to campus, did two on site interviews that did not result in a hire, had two more people turn us down, and a third on-site interview that did not result in a hire. So we're now talking to candidate number 7. Some people would start believing in curses at this point.


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...

Reagan Reagan National Airport

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.

Washington, D.C. metro

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!

19 April 2004

The next President...

...Of our university will be one of these people. Let's say that there are some individuals out there that I'm relieved to see are not on the list.

17 April 2004

On the way back

A quick note from the crummy complimentary computer in the hotel lobby... I arrived safely, did my short course, which was very useful and informative, and am now getting ready to wind my way back via the scenic route to the airport to head home.

More later!

13 April 2004

Spread your tiny wings and fly away

This could be my last entry for a few days, as I'm flying to Bethesda, Maryland tomorrow to attend a short course. I don't know how much 'Net access I'll have until I get back on Saturday. My laptop is way past due for a replacement, so I will be looking for internet cafes or something to deal with emails, online teaching, and my journal. Hopefully I'll be too busy to worry about 'Net withdrawl symptoms.

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.

10 April 2004

RAHC update

Let’s see how the RAHC is coming along, shall we?

Okay, this is really just an excuse to show off a picture with my new digital camera, a beautiful 4 megapixel number from HP. My parents are upgrading, and while they liked this camera a lot, it didn’t take repeated pictures fast enough for doing the wildlife photography that they enjoy (and are, I might add, extremely good at). You might get a few more pictures in this journal from here on in. This is much better than old pictures of the RAHC I've taken and showed in this journal before (here, e.g. – though the crane adds a certain visual interest that the black tar paper, or whatever it is, doesn’t.)

09 April 2004

New paper (again)

The final version of my "loss of giant neurons in scyllarids" paper is up at Arthropod Structure and Development (requires institutional subscription to Science Direct). Yes, I know I was telling everyone about that this was available as a pre-print less than two weeks ago, but this is the final version, with proper citation information and everything.

And it feels good. :)

Not for the faint of heart

CBC Radio Host Peter Gzowski once did a feature on Morningside about the reluctance of people to discuss just how much they made. This reticence seems to continue even when those salaries are in the public domain -- as they are in this university. That's right, you can find out how much everyone makes at my institution -- including me! -- here. I'm not listed by name, but if you know the department and the job level, you can pretty much narrow down what anyone is making to a very small range.

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?

08 April 2004

More projects completed! Huzzah!

The paperwork has been signed and our Department Chair got copies, so I finally get to welcome Dr. Anita Davelos to our department. Anita was hired in the genetics position we've been advertising for. She'll be bringing some expertise on the genetics of bacteria to the department, although her own research focuses more on ecology than genes.

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."

To paraphrase some classic Uncanny X-Men covers, "Welcome to UTPA, Anita. Hope you survive the experience."


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.

07 April 2004

Hello Internet, I missed you while you were gone...

Something untoward happened to power somewhere on campus, which left me email-less, web-less, and generally bereft of all manner of the 'Net for most of the day. The shaking of my hands is now slowly starting to subside.

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.

05 April 2004

Bring on the dancing... robots

Science fiction isn't what it used to be, because we live in a science fiction world. It seems like pretty much everything that was once the domain of that genre has either been done, or is being done. Compare the communicators on Star Trek to you average mobile phone; the Trek communicators couldn't even take a picture!

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.

02 April 2004

I hate forms!

Arg. I send in a travel application, requesting a trip to go to Bethesda to attend a short course by Cambridge Electronic Design. I ask for the university to take pay for the travel using funds I was awarded from a Faculty Development grant. I get back... nothing. Is it approved? It is not approved? It's a mystery.

Anyway, without an “okay” to remind me, I forgot to check into the travel arrangements. They are, of course, sitting on the travel officer’s desk, and they’re waiting for me to book flights, etc. Of course, now that it’s closer to travel time, the flights are going to be more expensive... Argh. Argh. Argh. Yes, it’s partly my fault for not checking sooner. But still... why does so much information stall on other people’s desks?!


Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles!

We have a new ice machine! And it seems to be working!

Of course, getting the ice machine was not without its trials. They were having some issues about putting in filters for the water, so they wanted to order some new filter holders. Turns out that in the time it took to order the machine and get it here, the holders for one of the filters went out of production. Yes, one last absurdity of the slower than slow process it takes to get anything done on this university.

01 April 2004

No joke

Today was a good day because:
  1. Nobody pulled any significant April Foolery while I was around.
  2. I managed to do an experiment with a student.
  3. The temperature has been rather cooler than this time last year. Fingers crossed that it stays that way for as long as possible.
  4. The preprint of my paper is up, as I mentioned in an earlier post.

Announcing a great advance in science!

April Fool's! It's really just my new paper, which, though I'm pleased with it, is a modest advance in science.

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!