31 July 2004

Piccies from LSU

They like their football at Louisiana State University. Their football stadium is huge, seating about 90,000 people. And it's only going to get worse at LSU, because...

...They were national champions last year. You might be able to see that the name of their stadium is "Tiger Stadium," so called after their mascot, Mike the tiger.

This is the fifth tiger named "Mike" to serve as LSU's mascot. I have severe reservations about keeping an animal like this on campus, but I was pleased to note that they are collecting money for a new home.

Yes, they make and sell their own water at LSU: "Tiger Water." As I said: they like their football at LSU.

I will never cease to be baffled by the emphasis Americans place on university sports. It is insane.

One of the beautiful things about the campus is that they have many, many live oaks planted around the grounds. They are huge, beautful shade trees, perfect for studying underneath them. Many are "endowed" oaks, with plaques next to them paid for by someone or other, often in memory of a dead relative.

Another favourite thing I came across was that they have an open-air Greek theatre. Would be very cool to see something staged there.

Of course, the real reason I was there was to interact with research students. Thursday was presentation day for a lot of undergraduate researchers. I think there were 90 some posters, all told. It's very fun and interesting talking to the students, who are pretty sharp and knowledgeable about their work.

And I have to show off the one UTPA student who part of the LSU Undergraduate research program, Amanda Aguilar. She was litterally the first in the program for the 90 or so students.

29 July 2004

Louisiana update

I spent a good chunk of yesterday with fellow neuroethologist Jim Belanger, commiserating over Provost woes, etc. I also stuck my nose into other people's neurobiology labs and talking to students about their research projects. And envying how LSU labs are about three times the size of UTPA labs.

Before I head back tonight, I'll be spending most of the day at the final poster presentation for the LSU undergraduate researchers, which should be a lot of fun.

Which reminds me: I have to think of a project for one of my own undergraduate students, who I put off a little until I got back on Friday. Which is tomorrow. A lot will depend on whether any supplies came in for me while I was away. We'll see.

28 July 2004

Time, time, time, look what you've done to me

Yup, it was all about time yesterday. Like looking at my watch when the pilot of my plane to Houston announced that there was a light on in the cockpit that wouldn't go off, so they had to bring in a mechanic, turn off the electricity, deplane the aircraft, fill out some paperwork, and bring us all back on board, all of which had us taking off over an hour later than planned. I was sweating bullets as to whether I would make my connecting flight. It was supposed to board at 9:05 am. I got off the plan at about 9:15 am. I ran across the airport, caught the monorail, and made it. Barely. But I did get there on time.

But time wasn't done playing tricks with me yet. On the way in from the airport to Louisiana State University, I asked my host Sheri Wischusen how long I had for my talk. She said, "About 20 minutes." Ulp. I had reckoned on about three times that much. Fortunately, I'd given a 20 minute version of the talk a couple of weeks back at Western Nerve Net, so I was able to improvise, adapt, and overcome.

It was an interesting talk to give. Very multimedia. They had one student who was watching by remote, but I could see her on the screen behind me. She could see me and my slide, which were also projected up on the screen.

In any case, the students laughed in the right bits, and were good sports about me giving a 50 minute talk in 20. I finished about on time.

Them went to lunch at a place called The Chimes, which is a very good pub with various flags in its window, including Canada's (so I approve heartily). Then spent the afternoon walking around campus and doing some research at the library before going to dinner with fellow invert neuroethologist Jim Belanger at a great Cajun restaurant called... um... Boutin's (I think). Good food, live Cajun music, and a small swamp in the back with lots of turtles.

As for today, I'm planning on doing lots of networking and visiting with LSU faculty.

27 July 2004

Can't sleep

My inability to sleep before a trip came in handy again today. I had changed the alarm to the right time, but forgot to set it. But I woke up well before the alarm was supposed to go off, so should have no problems making my flight.

Next post: from Baton Rouge, Louisiana (I hope!).

24 July 2004

Did I mention the gods hate me?

Yesterday, I was just about done everything I could do that day, and was thinking of going home a little early, around 5:00 p.m. (6:00 p.m. is a more typical end of day for me). My wish to go home obviously displeased some deity or another.

I was working on my talk for Louisiana State University next week. This PowerPoint show is getting to be a big file, so I decided to move it into a directory of its own.

And for some mysterious unknown reason, a whole bunch of pictures suddenly swapped positions with each other in my presentation. Where there was supposed to be a neuron, there was s distored picture of a hermit crab. And on. And on. Scattered throughout the talk. A few places just had white boxes with a big red "X" in the middle, indicating the program couldn't find the picture at all. Cussing ensued, followed by a determined effort to fix this before I went home. Fortunately, enough of the slides were still intact that it wasn't like I was starting from scratch. A couple of pictures were very insistent about not being fixed, leaving me to stare angrily at big red Xs over and over. I think I've finally got them beat down, but making all the repairs took me until -- you guessed it -- sometime after 6:00 p.m.

All those trials aside, I think it's going to be worth it. This talk has grown into something rather different and more comprehensive than what I planned, and I'm real excited about it. In fact, I think I may be able to squeeze a good review paper based on the preparation for this talk.

22 July 2004

Staying in business

A few weeks back, I went to see a movie, which is something I try to do every week if there’s anything remotely interesting. This particular week, right around the long weekend, most of the munchies were sold out. (Spider-Man 2 had just opened and was doing boffo boxoffice.) There were no Reese's peanut butter cups, no Twizzlers, no chocolate, no lemon drops... just row after row after row of Hot Tamales.

Why raises the question: why does the theatre stock the things at all, if people won't buy them even when there's nothing else to eat? Heck, how does the company that makes Hot Tamales stay in business?

Mysteries of our time. Clearly, more research is needed.

20 July 2004


My student Sandra and I made a run out to the Coastal Studies Lab today to pick up some animals, examine a few plots I set in motion, and got at least one new experiment set up. Because, hey, I needed a few more plates that I have to keep spinning...

19 July 2004

More comics

Link of the day: Ph.D. Comics. I love it. It was one of the best things I learned about at Western Nerve Net. One of the best non-scientific things, that is.

Note that "Ph.D." is not short for "Doctor of Philosophy," but "Piled Higher and Deeper." This is an old joke that a "B.S." (usually Bachelor of Science) degree is short for... um... male bovine excrement. The joke continues that "M.S." didn't stand for "Masters of Science," but for "More S***".

The overall message of the comic: grad school is a weird thing to do. I've got news for grad students: so is a post-doc. And so is being an Assistant Professor.

18 July 2004

Texas Weather Report

Today's weather: Heat that, when you walk out of an air-conditioned building, sucker punches you behind the head with a sock full of pennies than rolls you for your wallet and leaves you for dead.

The Twilight Zen

Cell phone.

14 July 2004

Number 18

My eighteenth scientific paper got accepted at the end of last week. I finally had a chance to sit down today and make the few small required changes, so it will be off to the editor this afternoon. This one is significant because it’s the first one exclusively from UTPA, so its counts towards my tenure requirements. Sure, it’ll probably be only a page or two when it finally sees print, but a publication is a publication is a publication, as far as the tenure guidelines go. That is to say, a comprehensive 400 page monograph counts the same as a 2 page short communication in this tenure game.

I have mixed feelings about that, personally. There really isn’t much incentive to do quality work, but on the other hand, it’s not always possible to do work that’ll make the cover of Nature.

In other news, after agonizing about my species name error, I was pleased – no, relieved is a better word – to see the Society for Neuroscience had to send out a correction. I got an email saying that the time they scheduled for my poster was probably wrong, please disregard it, and they'll be sending another email soon. Heh. It's always good to know that everyone makes mistakes. My poster ended up being Saturday afternoon after all, which I'm happy about.

I was less pleased about getting a hotel for the Neuroscience meeting. The State of Texas – of which UTPA is a part – only pays $110 per night for a hotel room in San Diego. But that's actually pretty low for the hotel rates for this meeting. $150 a night seems to be more common, particularly if you're anywhere within walking distance of the conference center. So guess where the difference has to come from? That's right: my wallet. Most of those low-cost hotel rooms are already snapped up. (One colleague commented that getting a Neuroscience hotel was a “Darwinian” process.) I reserved a room that cost $115 a night, which means I'll only be out of pocket about $30, luckily.

12 July 2004

Freakin’ taxonomists

I just got confirmation of when I’m supposed to give my poster at this year’s Neuroscience poster. I’m pleased that this year, I’m giving my poster on Saturday! First day of the conference before people are burned out! Yay!

But I’m red-faced now. I just realized there’s a mistake in my title: I have the species name wrong. I put the name of my lobster as Palinurus argus, when it is, in fact, Panulirus argus.

Now, in my defense, I am not the first person to make this mistake, nor will I be the last. You see, both names are scientifically vaid and describe genera of spiny lobsters. Apparently, back in 1847, a taxonomist named White decided to split the spiny lobster genus Palinurus into three genera. For his new genera, he chose anagrams of the original name: Linuparus, which is fairly distinct from Palinurus, and Panulirus – which darn well isn’t. And thus is was that Dr. White ensured my confusion, not to mention the puzzlement of many others, for years to come.

I would submit a revised abstract to correct the title and add an author (my student Alana contributed work to this project after I submitted the abstract), but the deadline for that was back in May. Fortunately, this is just an abstract, but it is pretty embarrassing to have to put in “sic” next to the poster title in my curriculum vita.

Western Nerve Net

Santa Clara sign

As I mentioned before, Santa Clara is a very pretty university, with a long history and Jesuit tradition. The mission (below) is very attractive, and has a wonderful rose garden next to it.

Santa Clara mission

We had our Friday dinner in a faculty club slighty in back of the mission, and our first speaker on Friday night was the magesterial Ted Bullock, delivering a talk called "In praise of natural history."

Ted Bullock

Ted Bullock had to leave on Friday night, which I was disappointed with on the one hand, because he's got so much experience and insight. But on the other hand, it meant that my nightmare of Ted dissing my talk couldn't come true. Whew.

The meeting itself was small. There were only about 30 people all told. But apparently the organizers broke even, and all went well. I'm pretty sure I was able to have a conversation with just about everyone at the meeting. I was pleased that my own talk was fairly well-received. At the end of the day, we had dinner out in the residence courtyard.

Beer crowd Food crowd

Note the large number of people around the the beer, and the small number of people around the trays containing the barbeque...

Thanks to John Birmingham for reviving a great little meeting. And I look forward to doing it again next year! (Right, Megumi?)

10 July 2004

Feel the chill

There is no hot water in the showers where I’m staying. This makes for a rather rude awakening, especially after a night of poor sleeping. I never sleep well in a new bed the first night, and this bed is not particularly comfortable. It has a very spongy pillow. I also dreamed about giving my talk, and getting patronized at the end by Ted Bullock, who (in my dream) said something like, “It was a good effort.” I’m hoping the reception for my talk will be a little warmer. Warmer than the showers, at any rate.

In the waking world, Professor Bullock gave the opening talk last night, which was very good. I'll describe him in a little more detail later, but for now I'll just mention that he is in his seventh decade (!) as a practicing scientist, but still active and still sharp as a knife.

Unfortunately, I’m unlikely to be able to post any pictures until Monday. I realized that I don't have the right USB cable to hook up my camera to a computer, alas.

Feel the burn

Ah, the mild California weather has played its evil trick on me. Because it’s nowhere near as hot as Texas, I spent most of the afternoon wandering around campus and nearby environs, taking pictures, checking things out. Looked in the mirror tonight, about ready to go to bed, and realized that my skin is pinker than usual. And it’s been a few hours since I got out of the Santa Clara fitness center. Argh. I’m just hoping that this is a mild sunburn, and that the only consequence will be that I look slightly goofy when I give my talk tomorrow morning. I could rather do without any pain or peeling skin tonight, thanks.

Been up since 4:20 a.m., and it's now past 11 p.m. Texas time. Well past time to go to bed.

09 July 2004

California dreamin’

I’m typing to you today from Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California. The first university in the state, apparently – and it sure smells nice. There are plenty of plants and flowers, and you can really smell them as you’re walking around. What particularly surprised me was catching the scent of pine – something I probably haven’t smelled in three years since leaving Canada.

It also about 7°C cooler here than southern Texas. This, and some very interesting southern California architecture and Jesuit sculptures make walking outside pleasant rather than an occasion to be avoided (if possible) or dreaded (if not avoided).

I hope to have some pictures up later. But in the meantime... food. I've been up since 4:30 a.m. (!), and it's now 3:20 p.m. back where I normally live, and I need sustenance.

08 July 2004

Well, that was unexpected...

Life is full of little surprises. Like car repairs. More examples are rolling in today.

First surprise. I am leaving to go to a meeting tomorrow. I thought I had finished my talk, and was preparing to do other things this afternoon. But while doing a little research, I stumble upon a paper that is directly related to what my talk is about. One the one hand, it’s great, because it basically answers a question which I had, and the results reported in this paper are totally in line with my own. On the other hand, it’s annoying, because I can no longer write a grant proposal asking for money to do this experiment that I had planned, because it’s already been done. On the third hand (I study crustaceans, many hands are allowed), it’s good because it adds more depth to my talk. On the fourth hand, it means I have to make a new slide quickly and revise my PowerPoint presentation again.

Second surprise. Our Dean calling a meeting on about 24 hours notice yesterday, and there was a little speculation on what it would be about. Nobody predicted that he would announce he was leaving our university in less than two months (end of August), citing personal reasons. He’d only been here for about a year and a half. He’d been the driving force behind UTPA getting a $1.3 million Howard Hughes Medical Institue grant.

I’m rather hoping that the rest of the day is sedate and uninteresting.

07 July 2004

Has it been a week?

Whoops. Guess it has been that long since I posted. I spend most of today getting ready for Western Nerve Net (my abstract is up on line now). I gave a practice talk this morning. It clocked in at slightly too long, which I expect I can fix by Saturday. The rest of the day was spent tinkering with the talk, implementing a few ideas that my colleagues gave me for improvement.

Tomorrow, I plan to make a quick (probably very quick) trip out to the Coastal Studies Lab. I just learned today that we're going to have a faculty meeting for the College tomorrow, which our Vice President of Academic Affairs will be attending. I hope to get back in time for that, since that particular VP is very rarely seen at these sorts of things, so I suspect something important might be up.

The next day, I get on a 6 a.m. plane bound for California. Ugh... I don't even want to think about what time I have to drag my sorry butt out of bed.

Speaking of talks, I've also wrangled myself a second trip this month. I'll be heading to Baton Rouge for a couple of days, and will be giving a talk to the Biology Sciences Department at Louisiana State University. This happened because LSU has a summer research program, and they have a couple of slots reserved for UTPA students. So I decided to try to take advantage of some of those existing ties and ask for an invitation. I'll be there in a couple of weeks to spread good will and cheer. Or something.

Edit: No trip to the Coastal Studies Lab for me tomorrow. Our car needs fixing. Expensive fixing. Splud!

01 July 2004

Double failure

Failure number one: I have to meet a student today. Which means I'm going to campus instead of getting a day off.

Failure number two: My most recent effort to get asked to write a full proposal for a Whitehall Foundation grant failed. Over 100 letters, of which they asked 22 people to write full proposals. And I – I was not one.

Happy Dominion Day!

Dating myself with that entry title. Call it Canada Day, if you prefer. I'm celebrating by trying to take the day off. We'll see if I can avoid going to uni today. If all goes well, a little matinee, a little shopping, and the like. With the amount of work I have to do, I know I’ll regret this decision tomorrow. But I’ll cry tomorrow. For now, I goof off.