27 September 2008

One of my mottos

Science is what you can get away with.

Wrong again

Geelong didn't have a date with destiny after all.

Hawthorn 18.7 (115) d Geelong 11.23 (89)

26 September 2008

The GF tip for 2008

I think Geelong will duplicate Essendon's fairytale season. Geelong over Hawthorn by 40 points.

Go the Cats!

How I'd love to be shown up

VeneerSometimes I get tired of being the alpha geek.

I keep hearing about how my people the age of my students are all so wired and comfortable with technology. Then I ask my students to do a couple of simple "push button" tasks on the web like creating an RSS feed, and it completely flummoxes them.

I feel validated by this article, which says:
(A)lthough young people demonstrate an ease and familiarity with computers, they rely on the most basic search tools and do not possess the critical and analytical skills to assess the information that they find on the web(.)

So instead of expertise, students have only a thin veneer of technical skills. I would so much like to learn things from my students -- at least occasionally -- about technical things.

Hide the poker chips, the boss is coming

NSF logoThis has been a frantic week, mainly due to HESTEC. I've blogged a bit about one of my major commitments, working with our visiting REU mentor and HESTEC speaker Fran├žois Therrien. (Who, it must be said, rocks.)

And it's not over yet. In some ways, the most frantic and stressful part of the week is tomorrow, when we get a visit from Dr. Arden Bement, who is the director -- that is to say, the big boss man -- of the National Science Foundation. That is, the organization paying for my REU program and some of my Marmorkrebs research.

Gonna have to find a clean shirt to wear tomorrow.

23 September 2008

Get ready for the Texas science standards tussle...

Drafts of the proposed new science standards for Texas are up. I picked this up from the Evo.Sphere blog, which has a more detailed analysis. I had a quick look over the high school biology standards. At first glance, I saw nothing that gave me pause.

So the question is whether we'll see the hardball power plays that characterized the English standards.

19 September 2008

A note to aspiring researchers

AccountingTake an accounting class.

If you're lucky, you'll one day have a budget to manage, and accounts to reconcile. And you'll wonder why they didn't warn you of this stuff in grad school.

(Why yes, I just had to finish annual project certification today for my NSF grants, now that you mention it.)

18 September 2008

Texas scientists in Texas try to get traction with State Board of Education

I've blogged a lot about several issues concerning the teaching of evolution in Texas: Chris Comer's forced resignation, the application of the Institute for Creation Research to teach Master's degrees in higher education, and the review of Texas's science standards for K-12 education.

A new organization is trying to get provide some input on the science standards process. It's called the 21st Century Science Coalition, which, alas, is not a very descriptive name. The URL of the website -- TexasScientists.org -- does a better job.

I applaud the effort. Even though the whole reason such efforts are needed is that several on the State Board of Education seem utterly disinterested in any opinions but their own.

And they wonder why there aren't women in the pipeline

Why are there enough women going into science? Do you reckon problems like this might have something to do with it?


16 September 2008


I got tenure two weeks ago. Most people would think that provides security, particularly financial security. "You've got a job for life," is how people often put it.

Two weeks in, and I feel less secure than ever. Hurricane Ike looks like it will put Houston and Galveston out of action for a month. It reminded me that tenure didn't mean all that much at New Orleans universities after Katrina devastated the city. If we'd been evacuated for a month... seriously not sure what we'd be able to do.

And today I find out that the U.S. government is bailing out AIG with an $85 billion loan. (Remember that figure when people talk about about the $6 billion for the large hadron collider.) And you know one of the things AIG does? They are one of the approved suppliers of optional retirement plans for the state of Texas. Carefully screened by the state because they are a stable and reputable firm.

And yeah. There's my retirement monies right there.

I guess you could say that my personal consumer confidence index is on a downward trend.

15 September 2008

Just a quick one before going home to eat

But I do have to mention that my latest paper just came out, and the abstract is here.

Aftermath, and science impact

There's a story in New Scientist about the clean up following hurricane Ike. Oddly, for a science magazine, it doesn't touch on whether there's been any major damage to the region's major science centers. In particular, the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) -- a huge scientific and medical research facility -- is located on hard hit Galveston.

Our university has a long, long relationship with UTMB. A lot of our pre-med students do their medical work there, and we have programs to send our students there for graduate school.

Ah, here's some details... oh, dear.
Although city officials have said that UTMB will be among the first to receive power, we don’t expect that to happen for two to four weeks.

Additional: Cartoon from Raeside

13 September 2008

Another one in press

The revision took way, way, waaaaaaay too long, but I finally got another manuscript accepted and in press in the second half of this week.

Now to get some more manuscripts into the hand of editors...

12 September 2008

Certain death

It's not often you hear the words "certain death" in a weather forecast.

Good luck, Houstonians. You'll need it.

Update: Greg Laden's blog has a very scary summary of hurricane damage and Ike.

11 September 2008

Creature of the night

You are a nocturnal superhero! You're a wealthy industrialist, playboy, and philanthropist by day, and a superhero by night. You do not possess any superpowers but make use of intellect, detective skills, science and technology, wealth, physical prowess, and intimidation in your war on crime.

Superhero Quiz
Superhero Quiz by QuizRocket.com fun tests!
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Storm surges

Seen on Los Fresnos Elementary School sign today: "GO AWAY IKE"

Despite having a ton of marking for classes and service things for HESTEC, I went out to the beach today to collect Lepidopa. I had a bit of a bad moment when I got there, and one of the staff said, "You're not going out onto the beach, are you?"

"Yeah," I said.

"The surf's up to the wall!"

Which it was. The surf and swash was higher than I'd ever seen it, thanks to the disturbrances from hurricane Ike. But I was right: it didn't matter. The animals had moved up the beach with the swash. In fact, it was one of the better collection days I'd had. The sand was so saturated with water than it was very easy to shovel in quickly, and the sand fell apart quickly to reveal any sand crabs.

Unfortunately, I make one mistake. Last time I went out, I forgot sunscreen. This time, I remembered the sunscreen... but forgot a hat. I was dripping sweat like the proverbial pig, and it was one of the main reasons I had to stop when I did -- it was literally getting hard to see.

10 September 2008

08 September 2008

Biggest machine

Large hadron colliderI was listening to Quirks and Quarks season opener, and hot Bob McDonald referred to the large hadron collider as the biggest machine ever built. And I thought, "It's pretty cool the biggest machine in human history is devoted to science instead of war or something."

07 September 2008

New classes

Blogging may go quite a bit down in frequency, because I'm teaching a new class for the first time this semester. I'm currently about one day ahead of the students. I hope I can maintain that lead for Wednesday...

03 September 2008

Lunchtime chatter

Yesterday, over birthday cake, I mentioned to one of my colleagues that I got tenure. She said, "When did this happen?!"

She said it in the sort of shocked tone that is usually reserved for when you find out someone has a serious illness.

"Oh my God! You got tenure? Is it contagious?"

01 September 2008

Now part of the problem

I got tenure.

As of 1 September 2008, I am a tenured associate professor, not a lowly assistant professor.

I haven't been blogging about my tenure process because it was, to put it charitably, not smooth. Normally, people here get tenure after six years. I've been here seven.

So, what happened? In some senses, I'm still not sure. The facts are these.

Every fall from 2002 onward, I submitted my tenure folders. The responses gave no hint of any problem. There were occasional notes about being encouraged to seek external funding, which I'd been doing anyway.

In fall 2006, I went up for tenure... and things went odd. My evaluations gave me excellent rating in teaching, very good in service, and good in research. Now, if you were told your ratings in your three major job areas were excellent, very good, and good, would you think that there was a problem? If any of those had been ranked "poor," I could see the point. Heck, even if any of those had been ranked "fair," I could see the point.

From one level of review, I got a recommendation to stay on tenure track for one more year.

Another level of the review process initially recommended I get fired outright. That was a bit of a surprise.

Worse than the recommendation itself was the actual justification for the recommendation. It basically said, "He's done a lot. But it's not enough." That's not a direct quote, but that's closer to it than you might think.

Imagine if you, as a student, were in a class, and you were told, "Okay, if you get a score of 50% or less, you will definitely fail."

You ask, "What if I get a score of 60%? Will I pass?" And you get told, "Maybe."

"How about 70%? 80%? 98.6%? Will I pass the class with those scores?"

"We want you to get as high a score as you can."

"But will I pass the class?"

"You might do."

Do you think a student would stand for that kind of evaluation scheme? Never. Any instructor who tried that would be in hot water real fast. But that's the evaluation scheme I was placed under for tenure. A situation where someone can just say, "Not enough." To mix metaphors, this isn't moving the goalposts, it's making the goalposts invisible.

At the time, I was serving in the faculty senate, and apparently there were other recommendations like this in the university. Which surprised me more, but in some sense, made me feel better because I wasn't the only one getting this kind of treatment.

Fortunately, that review came in around the time I got my first external grant. With new information that I was bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars to the university, I was able to successfully appeal that recommendation.

I met with a lot of people and had a lot of discussions with people, and those outside the situation looking in had a similar reaction to me, which might be characterized as, "Wha...?" I was seriously thinking I might have to lawyer up.

Anyway, the end result is that I stay on tenure track one more year. In fall 2007, I go up again. This time, things go without a problem. I get various recommendations in my favour, but after last year, I counted on nothing until it was a done deal.

Now it finally is a done deal. While many people have been congratulating me, I feel no sense of accomplishment. The evaluation process drained me of any sense of achievement.

I'm never going to stop being mad about this.