31 August 2004

In which the author is reminded of his numerous limitations

Late last night I get an email from the National Science Foundation advising me that my latest grant proposal was missing a section and I had one day to fix it. It was easy to fix; I had written the section, but for some strange reason, I hadn't uploaded it.

At today's faculty meeting, I'm afraid the entire faculty got lectured because I forgot to turn in paperwork. Consequently, the Dean's secretary spent a couple of minutes, in a huff, telling everyone that it's not her job to remind us when we need to submit paperwork for travel. Which was pretty much aimed squarely at me.

And I'm up to six independent study students this semester. I must surely be mad.

On a more positive note, interesting thing that happened today was meeting with some folks from the graduate school of the University of Texas Medical Branch, who have some support money for Masters students from our university who want to continue on into a doctoral program at their university.

27 August 2004

Ripe for the picking

Our building has had an amazing rash of thefts the last few weeks. We've lost about five or six computers and other equipment, including two last night. So far, I have been fortunate, but I've backed up the most recent stuff on my desktop computer just in case. I'm really worried. It's not the computer that concerns me, but losing data is a huge issue.

In other news, classes have started yesterday. I've tried to lighten my teaching load this semester (two classes) so I could get some more research done, but it's going to be an uphill battle. I will be supervising five students in research projects, and have many manuscripts and grant applications that need to be completed. My major concern is a repeat of the summertime issues with ordering supplies (as in, having only half of them actually show up).

21 August 2004


When I walk to work every morning and when I walk home every night, I pass right by the baseball stadium that is home to the Edinburg Roadrunners. Have done so for the past three years. Heck, we live so close that we get the fireworks displays on Saturday for free. I rather like baseball compared to most other sports, and I've sort of meant to go for three years. Of all things, Sarah got given a pair of tickets, so we went to the ball game last night. The Roadrunners were playing the Jackson Senators.

And a good game it was, too. The lead went back and forth, and at the top of the ninth inning, it was a 9-9 tie game! The Roadrunners managed to strike out the batting Senators in the top of the ninth, and I was sitting thinking, "This could go extra innings, but there's only one hit in it."

Edinburg player Ryan Webb gets up to the plate. First pitch...


Over the fence! Home run!

I just had to laugh. Great, great way to end the game. They have a thing here where they pass out a tip bucket for the pitcher for striking out a player, or a player for hitting a home run. I put in a contribution for the batter for the one pitch, one hit end to a tie game.

17 August 2004

The proposal has left the building

Despite a form getting stuck in the Dean's office, my latest National Science Foundation proposal has been submitted this afternoon on time. Huzzah! Now comes the waiting – I should find out the results around January or February. This is my third kick at the can with a major proposal for the NSF, so here's hoping this one actually hits.

Intellectual environments

You know, it occurred to me that I haven't been talking a lot about what my job ostensibly is: being an academic. I am anticipating making some progress on that front. At the end of last week, the majority of the tenure-track faculty got together at my urging. We decided to form a Biology Journal Club. The idea is that each week, we'll gather with our advanced students, some munchies and a recent scientific paper in hand -- probably something from Science or Nature, and see what we make of it. I'm really looking forward to it. I did a little bit of this with my colleague Fred Zaidan last semester, and discovered how much I missed it.

Of course, the main reason I don't talk about my tasks as a public intellectual is that I am spending so much of my time trying to get other people to do their jobs. Today is the deadline for a National Science Foundation grant that I've been working quite hard on this summer. To have the grant submitted, there's supposed to be a "transmittal form" signed by the department chair, the college dean, and probably a couple of vice-presidents. I sent that form on its way last Thursday or so – and it hasn't showed up in the Office for Sponsored Projects. The grant can't be submitted without it. So now we have to spend (waste) time tracking down this wretched piece of paper.

I would so much like to be spending more time on the former and a lot less on the latter.

16 August 2004


I got reimbursed for attending Western Nerve Net today. It's "only" a month after the meeting. Yet again, anything involving money at this university is an instant headache. I currently have about four things I have to be reimbursed for, each worth several hundred dollars. But I don't get reimbursed if I have to pay interest charges on my credit card.

In fairness, I should say that I haven't been reimbursed by Louisiana State University either for my trip there. But that was only a couple of weeks ago.

10 August 2004

The Lamberts have left the Island

The Lamberts

Charlie (standing) and Gretchen Lambert (seated, perhaps obviously). Merci beaucoup to both of you!

Yesterday was another good day for my attempts to push forward with ascidian research. Gretchen Lambert was able to identify some more species. I think our final total is something like 15 species from a large number of genera, maybe 10 or 12. Interestingly, all of them seem to be invasive species that have been brought in on the bottoms of boats. This is a worldwide problem: many ports and harbours have lots of invaders.

Also, my colleague Virginia was finally able to locate some little baby tadpoles of her tunicates. She had been frustrated for some time because she couldn't find reproductive animals, but it turned out she was looking for baby tunicates in the wrong place. The species she had worked on previously turns out to have a reproductive system that is unique to that species, not common to all the species as Virginia had assumed. Now we can rear "clones" of ascidians from a known individual. This gives us the advantage of being able to work with a bunch of animals that all have the same genetics.

All of this slightly offset the crummy collecting I had for sand crabs. I turned over a lot of sand to find very few animals! I did find a mud shrimp (Callianassa, I thought, but apparently has been renamed as Lepidophthalmus louisianensis), though. This was the first time I'd ever pulled up one of them in one of my shovels. Also found two sand crabs with egss, which I'd not seen before in my collections.

08 August 2004

More identifications

Day two of the Lamberts' visit went quite well, up until the very end when I got a speeding ticket coming back from the Coastal Studies Lab. We reckon we're up to about 15 species that we've found so far.

Visiting scholars

Day one of the visit by Gretchen and Charlie Lambert went well. So far, we've found 11 tunicate species in the waters around the Coastal Studies Lab, with positive IDs for six of them. And we've got two days left to collect and identify mroe critters.

06 August 2004

Ringing phones

I have been getting a series of weird phone calls today. People phoning up with totally random question. The weirdest was some fisherman phoning up asking what I know about flesh-eating bacteria. Which, being a neurobiologist, is next to nothing.

A little while ago, I had some physician asking if there’s anyone doing cancer research here, because he’s going to have access to various kinds of tumors in his research. Considering that this is a basic biology department with strengths in ecology and plant science, that was also a big no.

And then there’s been the series of calls from students who seem to be unable to read the university catalogue and are asking for “advisement.” Most of the time, advisement is about as much fun as reading the rules on Oscar night. (I may be dating myself, since reading the rules got dropped from pretty much every awards show years ago because it was so tedious. But all those awards shows used to do it.)

And people wonder why I don't like phones.

Drowning in molasses

Three weeks and two days ago, I handed off a small purchase order for some supplies for one of my students, who is doing an independent study class with me. Because this is a summer class, the entire course only lasts five weeks. Today I learned that the company I wanted supplies from won't sell to this university, because they won't accept the terms of our small purchase order (payment in 30 days). In short, I spent 60% of course waiting to be told "We can't buy that."

The two major components of my job are teaching and research.

I can't teach if I can't get supplies.

I can't do research if I can't get supplies.

So just what am I doing here?

05 August 2004

Dye killer; early weekend

In the lab, I am getting irritated. I've been trying to get various flourescent dyes and labels to work. These are new techniques to me, but are pretty routine stuff everywhere else. But I seem to be the jinx of dyes. I've tried four or five of them now, and none of them seem to want to work for me. I do not understand it at all.

Meanwhile, with the visit of Gretchen and Charlie Lambert, two of North America's foremost ascidian experts, to the Coastal Studies Lab coming up this weekend, I reckoned I would take the day off today to ruins some errands that kept getting put off, and to do a little relaxation, too. Because tomorrow I'll spend getting ready for their visit, and I know I'm going to be working like a dog for the three and a half days that they'll be here. I'm betting that by this time next Tuesday, I'll be very tired. I just hope I'm also very happy and that we'll have made good progress on identifying what we have to work with here.

04 August 2004


It's official, according to the Finnish army: the internet can be addicting.

My other favourite recent news piece was on the library of unwritten books.