Monday, April 29, 2013

Avoiding problems

When dealing with other people, you have two choices: 1- attempt to solve their problem or 2- avoid directly confronting the problem.

Sometimes this results in amusing situations. For example, last summer I was told that my office had a book lice infestation, which was "dealt with" through spraying some awful smelling chemicals which the lice happily frolicked in (at the end of the post, you can see the ACTUAL video I took of them with my phone... if you want to barf). Long story short, I finally got the "Director Environmental Health, Safety and Sustainability" to listen when I told him I was concerned for my health and safety (cough cough LAWSUIT), who got us a de-humidifier (and promised us a UV light, which I have yet to see...). I also got a de-humidifier since I didn't trust him to follow through, so we now have TWO dehumidifiers in the lab. Neither of which, apparently, the tech support guy saw when he came in... leading to his diagnosis that my computer problems are being caused by high temps and humidity.

It's all the more frustrating considering he told me the SAME problem was the cause of my problems with ANOTHER one of the lab computers... which was, of course, not true. I work in a lab that heavily relies on bioinformatics, so we all know a thing or two about computers. A few years ago, we had a wonderful tech support guy who knew this and talked to us as equals, and assumed that if we couldn't figure out the problem with the computer, it had to be something more than "running too many programs" or "not running Windows Update". He never hesitated to bring the computers to the shop when needed, even if it was because the computer was running normally now and he wanted to "replicate the problem" so he could figure out what was really going one. Never once did he try to make us feel guilty for calling him or waste my time by doing things that I already tried or giving the excuse that he "does have a magic wand" that can tell what the problem is (THIS IS AN ACTUAL QUOTE from my discussion with the tech guy ten minutes ago. I'd like to tell him exactly where he can put his magic wand.)

I know that these problems are widespread. But to bring the whole thing back around to a theme that's more central to my writings (although, let's be honest, bitching rampages are pretty common on here), one of the differences between Helpful Tech Support Guy and Not So Helpful Tech Support Guy is that HTSG liked his job. He also got to know the people he helped and kept himself on his toes by trying to learn about what each lab does and how they use their computer resources. Whereas NSHTSG has been here at least twice before and still didn't remember where our lab is (there are only 10 labs in the department... come on now) and seems totally bored by the idea of fixing our computer. Which probably would  be boring, but sorry, we kind of need it for research.

I know this post is basically 100% whining. But it's SO frustrating when I take the time to shut down the computer that crashed when someone else had been using it, restart it, watch it crash again, restart, see that it's fine, come back in three days and repeat the whole thing, email the problem to the tech guy, then find a time that he can come in, then wait in the office for him, and then have him tell me, "Hmm, although your computer crashed twice in the last month, nothing seems to be wrong."

Gah. Defeat.

The following is proof that our lab did indeed have a rampant infestation of book lice, even though the "Director Environmental Health, Safety and Sustainability" insisted that he "didn't see anything". Remember, the crazy/bitter grad student will always have the last laugh.
Because she knows how to record data.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Second update..

I found an alternate route home, involving the subway, a shuttle, two trains and a lot of running.

My shirt is covered with sweat and chocolate ice cream.

posted from Bloggeroid


Officially getting dumped at Penn station. Boston bomber, I f*+*ING hate you. I hope when they arrest you, its in a dirty bathroom and you get kicked in the balls.


posted from Bloggeroid

The "information" age

With all the technology we have, and methods of communication, people are sharing more information than ever, benefiting science, industry, and raising the quality of life.


Ahem. Excuse me. By now we all know that sometimes I can't help but be a bit cynical. At present, here in the "future", we do have more methods of communication than we once did. But have we actually overshot the balance between enough and too MUCH information?

As a young scientist, I would have told you in any situation that more data is better. How could it not be? As I get older and become more experienced, though, I'm less sold on this debate. During my first sampling trip, I didn't take down enough data about the sample sites. At one point I made a typo and all of the sample names were shifted. It took hours to fix this. What a pain!

On my second sampling trip, this one to Death Valley during the hottest week of the year, I sweltered and sweated in the sun, recording plants and soil type, location and the corresponding picture number on my camera for each soil sample. A lot of this data was never used, and I suspect that if I had been less concentrated on recording every detail and more focused on the big picture I would have laid out my sample transects a little more efficiently.

There are worse things. For example, Twitter.

Ok ok stop glaring at me! I know some people love Twitter. It's not necessarily Twitter. Or Facebook. Or YouTube or whatever. The bad part is that all of these tell parallel stories but not all are primary sources. To pull out a nerd word, it's pseudoreplication. The fact that two of these information channels say the same thing isn't confirmation that it's true; it only means that one got the information from the other, or they both obtained the information from a secondary source. It's like gossip; one crazy person starts a rumor and it spread exponentially. In 1969, Paul wasn't dead. But one crazy person said he was and then convinced a lot of other people to spread the rumor, which accumulated endless zany proof to support it.

A related problem is that the plethora of information sources have lessened the credibility of all sources. I'm currently on a train going into CT. Amtrak's Twitter and website say that service between New York and Boston (ie, CT and RI) is suspended. But my conductor says that our train is still officially destined for Providence. So, who do I believe? My answer is, none of them. I've made backup plans to stay in NY if needed and a friend willing to pick me up at the station in CT.

Maybe it's always been this way. Rumors have existed from the beginning of time, according to the Bible, with the devil as a snake giving the first piece of misinformation. In some ways, as in that case, we're all called to determine the truth from our experiences and good sense. But on the other hand, if Adam and Eve had seen a Tweet and a post on Facebook about how great the apples are, maybe we'd cut them a little more slack....?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Dear friend

There are certain times when things seem bleakly hopeless. Not even completely doomed, which would at least be interesting. These are times when every single god-damned thing works against you; times when the gas light goes on as you drive home from work late at night after going in to fix someone else's mistake even though no one else will notice, and a friend's death haunts your thoughts as you try to fall asleep. Time when you try and try your hardest but your achievements rest on quicksand and only sink out of sight faster as they mount. People call you a pessimist as you watch your own back, and you can't think of a single soul to turn to, and can't believe that you can save anyone who tries to turn to you.

Sometimes I have those times.

Everyone has those times sometimes, but "I know there are people who say all these things don't happen. And there are people who forget what it's like to be sixteen when they turn seventeen."

And then sometimes, somehow, the world comes to your rescue. Not in a party-fun kind of way, but a quiet serious, sturdy kind of way. Like when a magic, perfect song comes on the radio and makes you feel ...infinite. Or a memory of dancing barefoot with your friends that has no context, because sometimes things really are so good that magic happens every day, and you don't even notice. Or a movie or a book that reminds you that someone, somewhere out there, understands.

It's almost impossible to explain how a book and its imaginary characters can make you believe, more than anything, that the world has hope. And I'm not sure that it makes sense either, to remember a time in your life when you knew you were loved from all different sides, even if you didn't think about it, and know that since that place existed at some point, you're going to be all right. But that's how it is for me.

Moving into the last year of my higher education, a million things seem without solution. My project. My career. My finances, my baggage, my love life. Countless people stand at the sidelines, staring, watching to see if I can stand under the weight or if I will collapse. It sounds callous, and it is. Maybe all or many careers are like this; sink or swim, move up or out. It doesn't matter. The things that matter are the things that are real. And these things are the ones that some consider the least real. But the one thing today that made know that I can do this was listening to the song "You can call me Al." Why?? Because my friends and I, and my college boyfriend, danced to it and we were happy. And they loved me. I don't even know why they liked the song- it was special to them before they knew me- but that didn't matter. The physical and emotional joy we found is a concrete place of comfort.

I felt the same way when I finally saw the film version of one of my favorite books, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The film is perfectly loyal to the book, a simple telling of complex feelings and experiences. The author, and director, Stephen Chbosky, says exactly at the end what people are too afraid to believe; "we are who we are for alot of reasons. And maybe we'll never know most of them. But even if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them." And that seems so important to me. To me, sometimes failure seems like a possibility when I compare myself with others. I can't change where I am, the fact that I'm alone or all the disappointments and hurts beyond my control. Sometimes I feel wrecked. I feel wobbly... heartbroken... hopeless. It makes me feel behind, like everyone else is piling up good times and happiness. But in his commentary, Stephen Chbosky says, "...Because to me, no matter what you've been through, you can heal it." And when I listen to his story, I know that he's been through hardship and despair, and he's made it through.
The oscillations of sadness can end on a high note instead of in pain. And I'll continue to believe that, for both our sake, Mike.

sending you love and memories of kent xxo Mike Barry

Monday, April 1, 2013

Online dating tips: choosing a profile photo

If your goal is to be as sketchy as possible.

*Don't smile. Smiling indicates that you are flippant, whereas you want to project to any potential dates out there that you are SERIOUS about dating.

*Blank out your eyes. Everyone knows that the eyes are the window to the soul.  If you're a total jerk, cheater, or just shy, you're going to want to prevent your suitor from seeing your soul for as long as possible. On the actual date, consider going somewhere appropriate for sunglasses or a Geordie (Star Trek Next Gen)-style visor.

*If a former partner is in the picture, edit them out. Using the Eraser in Paint to scribble over his/her face, using a large black square to cover him or her, and cropping out up to 70% of the picture are all popular methods of removing a former loved one. Because heaven forbid your future date might see you have a romantic past!!

*Stand next to a sportscar. This will not make you look like a tool at ALL. Especially if the car isn't yours. Nothing that attracts people looking for a relationship more than saying "I already have something I consider more important than you."

*Hold a baby. This won't make you look like a pedophile at ALL. Especially if the baby isn't yours.

*Show off as much muscle as possible. Don't forget that dating is a contest and you want to WIN. Showing weakness isn't going to get you anywhere, and the best way to avoid appearing to be weak is to make it amply clear that you are STRONG. Forget the fact the women at your gym seem to be more repelled than attracted by your grunting reps and giant, sweaty neck and fingers thick as sausages. This is an ACHIEVEMENT, dammit!

*Be a hyperbole. A picture is worth a thousand words, so why bother filling out your profile if you can just pictures that express everything about you that you would write out if you weren't too lazy to type? If you're into hip hop, wear your newest baseball hat and your shiniest bling. Sports people, make sure that you're wearing some sort of "gear" in every picture, including the appropriate obnoxiously huge, polarized goggles (bonus- also fulfills rule #1!). For those who like to travel, each picture should be taken on a different continent, giving the impression that you're jetting off to a new exotic place approximately every six minutes.

And finally, if all else fails, Instill a sense of mystery. Whether you're shy about your looks or a married individual avoiding identification, your ace in the hole is the cryptic art shot. Out of focus, seeped in shadow, or hidden by a motorcycle helmet, this look works for just about everybody. Another popular style is the half-face shot (vertical OR horizontal cut), which hides anything from double chins to an abnormally runny nostril until it's too late. Even those seasoned in picking dates online can forget the dangers of this little trick, because in the minority of cases that artistic choice might not be hiding anything at all.