Various Lies

Monday, December 27, 2010

Sisyphus probably had it worse

I hope you had a nice Christmas Dear Reader. I hope, as everyone should at this time of year, when family are at the forefront of our minds, that it was filled with the Peace and Joy of the season. A Cool Yule works too. Or a even Celebratory Solstice. How about a Happy Chanukah, or even a (very belated) Elated Eid ul Fitr.

I classify myself as a "spiritual atheist", perhaps humanist, but to be honest I'm still not sure what a humanist is. I was deeply invested in my Catholic faith as a child. I was baptised Anglican (the 'high' Church of England), but my mother converted to Catholicism when I was very young, and I attended a private Catholic boys school from the age of 7. I loved the mythology of the faith, the personal relationship with Jesus that it offered and the loving Father God you could reach out to. I loved the solemnity of the mass, the mystery of the priesthood, the 'bells and smells' - the reek of incense from the thurible, the call to fall to your knees.

As a Dungeons & Dragons(TM) addicted teen I always played a Cleric. It was the closest I could get to being a Priest. We were taught by The Brothers of the Sacred Heart. Black cassocks, brass crucifixes around the neck, a full Rosary worn as a belt. I loved it. The strict and often vigorously applied corporal punishment didn't perturb me, raised as I was a Royal Navy brat steeped in tales of Horatio Hornblower and such like. I loved the selfless, militaristic splendor. I didn't want to be a teacher though, as the Brothers of the Sacred Heart were. I wanted to be a doctor, and heard about the Brothers of St. John of God, who fulfilled the same spiritual role as the Brothers that taught me, but you could be a medical doctor instead.

I knew by the age of 13 I wanted to join their ranks.

As an Anglican I was forbidden from taking the Eucharist and I was jealous of my Catholic friends taking their catechism classes as we became teenagers. I longed to taste the holy Eucharist, and to be a part of the mystery of faith. Why didn't I convert? Express my faith?

I don't know. There was just something I didn't understand at the time, it was a nagging feeling about...something. I wasn't worthy, because...of something.

I finally converted at 17, in a typical teenager's act of rebellion against my Grandfather ("You'll be written out of my will", and I was) and my own self doubt, and underwent my catechism and confirmation. It was all rather disappointing. I don't know why. I had been Catholic in my heart all my life, I even had a blind nun as a Catechist for crying out loud! That winter, three times a week, I would sit in Sister Mary's office, a roaring fire in the hearth and she would talk with me for hours, week after week, explaining the Faith and helping me question and understand my own. But it started to feel silly. Stories and myths. I had trouble staying awake and was guiltily frequently glad that Sister Mary was blind for that same reason. The Bleeding Heart Jesus who had stood in the main atrium at school was increasingly horrific and frightening. (The image below does not do justice to the statue whose chest was flayed open. Needless-to-say, when I visited last He had been moved to storeroom somewhere.) In addition it was, by simple logic, becoming increasingly blasphemous given the first couple of Commandments I was re-memorising.


"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image"

The Bishop of our diocese presided over the Confirmation mass. He didn't know me...where was Father Robert who had been my pastor these ten years? They got the name of my Catechist wrong. I saw Sister Mary try not to cry. They said that when we died we lose our sense of self and become one with God. I was horrified. I hadn't been taught this! The whole point was life after death was supposed to be a perfect and sin free continuation of my life in the service of God. Doing nothing but singing his praises.

Not that I could sing, or even really enjoyed doing so.

Like the devil writes in Twain's "Letters From Earth" (which I read many years later), how could a group of typical Christian men look forward to the one thing they dread most every week.

Something was horribly wrong.

That Christmas I went to midnight mass and instead of sharing the fellowship of Christ I listened to two mothers in the pew in front do nothing but complain about how Mrs. Soandso's son had gotten to be alter boy and their's hadn't and how he was really a little sod and he shouldn't even be allowed to wear the white.

And that was the moment my faith died.

It wasn't about God at all. You stupid selfish bitches killed God. And I hated them. Right there in the church, in front of God, I hated them with all my heart. Because they made Him a sham in front of me. In front of us all. He didn't matter at all. Smoke & Mirrors.


Yet, there was lingering Need in my heart. I met and married a devout Christian woman after I graduated college. I went to church with her when I had to and I went through the motions, hoping it was making a difference, and yet knowing I was damned. God had seen my lack of faith and I was damned for all eternity, no matter what I did. Because He knew I didn't believe, really didn't believe in my heart anymore.

Odd isn't it? We moved to the US together and started attending a Presbyterian church. I tried to find my faith again. I thought perhaps Martin Luther had been right and the fault lie in the Catholic church, not in God Himself. His Godhood could stand intact against the weak faith and sin of billions, because the Church of Christ, our Mother, was safe in the protestant faith...faiths.

But you soon learn that each branch of protestantism is at war with every other, each is convinced that they alone have the right path to salvation. In the eyes of their Loving God, everyone else ever in the entire world is going to hell.

Wait. What? Seriously? What the fuck kind of messed up "loving faith" is this? The same people that disrespect and despise the Muslim faith for their damned Jihadist faith, to Convert or KILL, is pretending to mourn the loss of the world, while waiting for death and smugly enjoying the view they'll have from the gates of heaven as they watch the sinners burn. Oh, and of course only the Muslims are guilty of that, right? All of them, apparently.

When there's only one straw man to burn it's surprising how many tar brushes come out.

Arrogant, self-righteous bastards. And we're not even getting into the obvious hypocrisy that lurks beneath the surface of any large group like a church group. Who's fucking who? Who's trying to one-up who to curry favor?

That final desperate grasp at salvation was actually the death knell of my faith. I couldn't NOT question. I decided God, if He existed, had given me a questioning brain. A questioning reason and intellect. After all I was a scientist. I HAD to question things. Becoming a scientist didn't finally kill my faith, or fix liberal political views in me, despite the propaganda to the contrary. The two go hand in hand and there's no easy separation of the two. One drives the other. And who lives willingly in ignorance?

I can't deny that the Catholic indoctrination to Hellfire, Brimstone and Eternal Agony doesn't still run deep. But that's a symptom of the disease within that church. First thing any propagandist knows is get to the children. And they've had millennia to perfect it. The protestants are no better. And neither are the Muslims.

There's been a long and slow reaffirmation of selfhood in recent years. It's not been easy, and it certainly hasn't been quick. There's a British ex-vicar, Mark Vernon, now an atheist, who had a series of podcasts I listened to. PZ Myers, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, and the "New-Atheist movement" have been often painfully strident supporters of atheism that forced me ignore or re-evaluate certain issues I still struggle with. I chose to re-eavaluate.

I think, as long as the journey took me to get this far, it will be a long road ahead still. I still stand closer to Agnosticism (lack of knowledge) than Atheism (lack of belief). Agnosticism seems like a weak way out though. A compromise. I don't know what to think so I cling to this as a label. I don't want a label, I want to understand, at least understand my own mind and faith. Even an atheist can have faith and hope, but faith and hope in something real, not a myth, or legend.


It's been a wonderful Christmas, filled with Peace and Joy. With family, with fellowship with good friends, with good food, with good beer and with silly gifts. Not everything was, or will be perfect. But it's going to be a great New Year too and the best part of that is that it's really just down to me to try and make it that way.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Standing in the Foothills

I wondered how I'd feel coming back here. I'm still parsing the information I think. For some reason, and it's as likely to do with the unseasonably cold weather as it is anything else, I'm feeling oddly introspective.

However, introspection is best done in private, at least until the process has finished. At that point one can decide to share as much as one wishes of the journey. But to interrupt preemptively with extrospection and declamation is likely to force a early termination of the initial event itself.

I wondered what I would write about now that I once again had the freedom to write about anything I so chose. And of course, I can now think of nothing to write. I thought creative writing might again be fun. I used to do a lot of that for LabLit and I really enojoyed it. Some time peices were more free and creative than others, but I tried to put my style on everything I wrote, even book reviews.

"I can clearly remember the first time I saw the Milky Way. I mean, really saw it. I’d noticed it before while vacationing with my parents in rural Yorkshire, a wisp of starlight like a cloud trapped in moonlight. I remember being impressed, or at least as impressed as a surly teenager stuck in the Dales with his parents for a week can be. But the first time I saw our galaxy in its full glory was driving across the Texas panhandle a few years ago. I had reached a crossroads in my life and decided that the best way to determine which direction to head in was to take some time off work and embark on the kind of road trip my heroes had taken before me. Sometimes it was more Kerouac than Steinbeck, but it was nevertheless the quintessential American road trip.

I was somewhere between Amarillo and Oklahoma City on I40, a thick brown scar cutting across the belly of the nation. The sun had set and the landscape around me, an unending sea of featureless desert and scrub, had disappeared, swallowed by a thick darkness that pressed in on the windows of the car. I stopped, switched off the headlamps and walked off the road. Above me an infinity of stars receded to the limits of imagination. The foreground of familiar constellations was blazing atop a shimmering highway of starlight. Only once before have I been rendered breathless at the realization of my own infinitesimal place within the majesty of the universe. In April 1997, my band and I had traveled to the Scots border to watch comet Hale-Bopp glide overhead. As we entered a forest clearing and looked up we suddenly seemed very small and foolish, and our bottle of vodka for the toast, oddly sacrilegious."

(from What It All Means A review of 'Origins of the Universe for Dummies')

I tried to do it sometimes when I wrote for Nature Network, but felt the exhortation to stick within the unwritten guidelines of 'being scientific' stifled my creativity. It also effectively put an end to my writing for LabLit because every idea I got for something science-based to say was written for Nature Network instead. I deeply regret that.

I moved recently to LabSpaces and enjoyed the re-creation of 'A Meandering Scholar' with more freedom to wax lyrical. But as you know that little experiment didn't pan out for me. This is self-imposed, I think, but I still didn't feel free to write about anything I chose.

Oddly, part of my rapid and sudden departure from LabSpaces was the gnawing urge to write freely again. Silly, I know. There was literally nothing to stop me doing that either there or here. We were told we had freedom to whatever we liked, but I think having the banner of a network let me construct a mental barrier. I know at least one of my fellow exiles felt/feels the same way.

I think this is why Occam's Typewriter is going to be enormously successful. Not just because of the very talented crew of writers they have, but also because they are very open about being a blog network by scientists, not for scientists, or even always about science.

The best advice a writer gets is "write everyday", or my personal variant, "Just fucking write it". Grad students working on their first proposal or manuscript often feel like an asthmatic staring up from the foothills to the cloud smothered peak of Everest. "How am I going to do this?"

I was taught, and still rely on the same technique, to write, starting in the middle if need be, and rely on editing to whip the beast into shape. I feel the same when facing enormous projects involving any level of creativity. The most recent (and on going) is the annual overhaul of our Institute website. This year I decided to take the initiative and just do it my way. Partly this is borne by the confidence that I finally know what I'm doing, and partly by the fact most of the senior investigators involved don't believe we have a hope in hell of getting funded so the whole exercise is futile. Well, not to me. Right now, at my career stage, every experience is potentially valuable, and almost everything can be used to pad my resume in one direction or another.

It has been a protracted event this year because my time has been split between this and another major institutional project, but I think I'm nearly there. One of the investigators gave me 21 pages from the grant and said, "Use this to make the website". Well, shit. Talk about standing in the foothills of Everest with my Salbutamol inhaler uselessly back in Memphis. But, following my own advice, I have finally figured out to do it (it involves liberal use of internal redirects, pop-ups and understanding how to effectively use ahref anchors inside pages).

But what about the blog. What do I write here. I guess, sometimes you need to just write. Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Mole Returns Home

*cough cough*

*sneeze sneeze*

Gosh it's dusty in here... 4 months with no house cleaning, time to get the feather duster out.

yes, dear reader, my adventure at LabSpaces has come to grinding halt. You can see the final post down below. I feel a bit like Mole, from Wind in the Willows right now. If you haven't read it, shame on you and I demand that you buy a copy immediately. And then read it.

Mole is befriended by Ratty and drug off on adventure (along with Toad (of Toad Hall) and Badger, and a nasty band of stoats and weasels). Somewhat like Bilbo Baggins, Mole isn't sure he likes the adventure, but goes along with the charismatic Ratty anyway. One of the most poignant moments in the book is when he finally gets home again, to his hole by the riverbank, to find it in disarray due to his absence. Of course, his friends help him spring clean and all is well with the world and they live happily ever after, perhaps some inter-species bestial love-up. Who knows. Milne never finished the sequel.

Anyway, I shall miss the traffic at LabSpaces, but I shall really miss my fellow bloggers. There is a surprising amount of camraderie, and I shall miss that.


To My Fellow LabSpaces Bloggers,

I assume it's obvious from the twitter discussion and general tension that it was me who emailed Brian regarding some of my concerns with LabSpaces. I assumed the email would be in confidence and would be the start of a dialogue, but in a sublimely, and typically, passive-aggressive manner he chose to actually post near verbatim sections of the letter for you all to see.

I wrote, "There are two main issues we face right now. Firstly, temporally at least, is the constantly increasing stable of bloggers. You stated clearly that you wanted the current bloggers to have some say in the recruitment of new "talent", and went so far as to share a spreadsheet with us. However, there have been more and more additions to the site and we haven't been consulted at all. I hope to keep this in confidence between us, but I don't think you're selecting the right people. Some of the bloggers really aren't very good writers and this is diluting the "talent" on the site. Moreover some of the blogs at LabSpaces are barely used anymore. We believe this isn't necessarily good for the LabSpaces reputation. We're also aware that you're still sending out invitations to bloggers, some of whom have declined your offer before. This too damages the reputation of LabSpaces, because people talk, and importantly for us, the bloggers are thus damaged vicariously."

Brian posted:
"Said bloggers have also complained that they think the stables are too full and include some lame horses. I'm not going take any of you out to pasture, because that's not right, but I do think that it looks bad on the community to have people in our "Active" Writer's List that haven't blogged in over a month. I'll code in some new changes to remove blogger names from the lists after 6 weeks of inactivity. I think this is fair. Once a new post is made, the writer list will be re-compiled to include the inactive accounts."

I have added emphasis to mine to highlight my wish.

I can understand that some of you are disappointed and hurt by my saying this, and I can only apologize to your feelings. Science communication, indeed, effective written communication in general, is surprisingly difficult to get right and takes a lot of practice. It is certainly not an art in which we are trained. It is also important to bear in mind the tone one might employ when writing a private communique versus something to be considered and discussed in public. I meant to offend no one by my statement, and surely I am not commenting on anyone as a person, but merely pointing out that, as I said above, effective written communication is hard.

Brian made it clear that this site is his creation and I respect that, but it was also implied that the current bloggers would have a say in site additions, and we clearly don't. Please believe me; I'm not singling anyone out here. It's the process, not the people that I'm pissed at.

In addition there are some other issues and concerns, but I have (surprisingly for me) calmed down enough to not stomp my feet, throw my toys out of the sandbox and start pointing fingers and calling names.

To Brian, best of luck with the site. It's certainly a major investment and I hope it pays off.

To my friends, the bloggers, I am sorry to jump ship in bad weather like this. I consider all of you to be my friends and I'll miss your companionship.

To my readers, I hope you'll continue to follow the adventures, tales and mishaps of The Tideliar at Some Lies on Blogger.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Winds of change, or just verbal flatulence?

The times they are a'changing sang that dude, in that one song back in the day. I guess anyone who regularly follows us science bloggers (Wait, *this* is a science blog? ~Editor.) knows that a lot of changes have happened since the infamous dark days of Pepsigate. And if you have been following along, you know exactly what's coming next....

I've been asked to join Science blogging collective! I am stupefied and very, very flattered. Several bloggers of my acquaintance moved to a platform and were asked by the OverLord for blogs they recommend, and my 'name' came up along with some very sweet endorsements. The poor fools don't know what they've let themselves in for, but that's for them to find out...

I watched with interest the loss of talent, albeit only a small percentage of the total number, leave ScienceBlogs, and I watched with curiosity the rumblings of discontent over at Nature Network as the idiots discussed trying to take over the asylum.

I saw recently some of my blogmates get invited over to LabSpaces, and I thought, "Fuck yeah! You go guys!" Especially because some of them are fairly new to the game. Although their blogs may be old in internet years (like, a year old, anyway), there are skills and styles that comes with time. So, I was totally stoked to see these guys join a collective.

I watched with delight other blogmates get recruited to Scientopia when that opened its doors officially this week. I even left a comment on Professor in Training's blog that I was jealous that no one had invited me to join a gang. I felt a bit like the fat kid who gets picked last for football at lunch break. Then it occurred to me, that not only was I the idiot who volunteered to go in goal (and thus never picked last), and that by no stretch of the imagination could I ever be called fat, I already belong to a Science blog network!

And I don't mean in some wishy-washy, meta- kind of way...

like we're all communing our love of science ma-a-a-an. Dig it right? Like the internet is like, this, huge network of computers and

Shut the fuck up hippy, and get the fuck off my blog. And take your fucking patchouli incense with you.

No, I mean my "real" blog is on a major science network already. I reopened Some Lies a year or so ago to give me somewhere to vent my spleen, and due to certain information-highway related issues it has turned, gradually, back into my major writing platform.

Which leaves me with a dilemma. Do I now try and keep up two networked blogs? Or do i consolidate content? Or do i just adopt one identity and finally leave this hellish, Matrix-like nightmare of dopplegangers and avatars behind me once and for all?

I know not, dear reader, I know not. All I do know is that Some Lies is moving house, and I am embracing my new blogmates over at LabSpaces. The bloggers are expected to post at regular intervals, keep it science-based where possible and be active communicators on the Forums. I like that idea. No manifesto, no fucking page of Bylaws explaining how the General Voting Body of the Committee to Vote on Committees needs to populated on a thrice annual basis with all votes being corroborated by a quorum (or majority there of in times of war and under threat of death), unless a majority of non-voting members vote to have a general election, discounts at weekends for the elderly, meet in the hall if wet. I spoke with the OverLord, and he basically said, "I'm a dictator. I don't give a fuck what you do, just keep it on topic and post regular. Do well by me son, and I'll do well by you, alright?"

And I though, bloody hell, you sound like a character from Lock, Stock & two Smoking Barrels. How odd.

So, if anyone is RSSing me (perverts) you'll need to update your feed, and your blog roll too. I think I can re-direct the URL from this page. Come check out the new digs. Tomorrow. I need to go run the vacuum cleaner over first, and hide the bong. Y'know, like you do before welcome guests for the first time...

Friday, July 30, 2010

Can we agree to disagree

I just received a tweet from a friend that really caught me by surprise. I had re-tweeted something by Andy Lewis, AKA Le Canard Noir, of Quackometer. I don't know the back story behind Andy's tweet, but I gather it was in response to a pro-homeopath. He linked to this article which shows the lengths some homeopaths have gone to to hide their work in Kenya. People are dying because they are being encouraged to take homeopathic "remedies" and prophylactics for malaria. And needless-to-say, people are dying because they are eschewing medical interventions that work, for water, which doesn't.

My friend tweeted, "@Tideliar Tidy, would you stop liking me if I told you I use supplements, homeopathy, and energy work?"

And this really took me by surprise. I know my friend is a practitioner of some form of "energy healing", but I'll admit I don't know the ins and outs of her work. However, she is has a wonderful relationship with her clients, and has performed a lot of her services for free when she felt people needed her and couldn't pay. And I know her and her family have gone through hard financial times. She is not a gold-digger by any stretch of the imagination. She truly believes in what she practices and because I have no evidence to suggest that she has hurt anyone, or encouraged anyone to use her services when they desperately need to go to a medical doctor I haven't really considered her beliefs to have an impact on our friendship.

I replied, "@[redacted] of course not! I'd (I will?) talk to you about them but I see no reason to let different beliefs harm friendship!" and then, "GF is a spiritualist who believes in energy. Id be worried if anyone eschewed modern medicine in a crisis though."

I think this gets to the heart of the matter for me. I am not a strident enforcer of my worldview, unless suitably provoked. I have had some long and deep conversations with my girlfriend about her beliefs and I'll admit they sometimes degenerate into "tiffs", because we disagree on some fundamental issues. It doesn't help her that I have a strict and long standing scientific background. I might only be a biologist, but I read books on Quantum Mechanics for fun, so debating me on the nature of energy and matter is not going to be easy. But, GF believes in her karma, and likes to burn smudges of white oak (or something pungent) to clear her aura, and I have no problem with that. I'm an agnostic who still prays like a Catholic because it works for me as a form of ritualised meditation.

I know for fact, that with homeopathy, There's Nothing In it. It relies on water having some kind of magical memory, and I stopped believing in magical things a long time ago. To make a homeopathic solution you serially dilute (succuss is the homeopathic term) something until there is literally not even one molecule of active ingredient left there (and I disagree with the nature of homeopathic on like-treats-like like, too, but that's a different matter right now). Homeopaths say that the water somehow retains a memory of what was once there and this is so powerful that it works as a medical intervention. But water can't have a memory of the substance that was once dissolved in it.

The only way water could store something would be as a pattern of the hydrogen bonds that form between molecules of H2O. However, these bonds are not only very weak, they are very transient - if they weren't water wouldn't be the wet and runny stuff we need it to be. I think it was the eminent pharmacologist and scientific hero of mine David Colquhoun who measured the break-and-reformation rate of hydrogen bonds between molecules in room temperature liquid water to be on the order of 9 ns. That's 9 nanoseconds. That's 0.000000009 seconds. You break and reform new hydrogen bonds in the blink of eye. In fact, in the time takes you to blink your eye a water molecule has made and broken and remade 33,333,333 new bonds. If water has a memory, it has a very short memory.

I know these things because I am a scientist and a critical thinker (and a terrible mathematician...if there are mistakes above please let me know in the comments and I'll fix the math). Homeopathy never made sense to me, so i looked into it and found it lacking in critical honesty. That's why I don't "believe" in it; because it is scientifically unsound. But I guarantee you, if someone could do a fair and balanced clinical trial and show me a significantly positive effect over a drug intervention i'd be all over that shit like...insert metaphor of choice. As a clinical scientist I'd be virtually honor bound to go investigate further.

I say all that to try and stop the "well you have an agenda" arguments. The only agenda I have is to find the truth in how things work. And then to use the best practices to help fix people who are broken. Now, one of the things we know helps people is the placebo effect. And I know it works on me too. If my allergies are playing up, I'll pop an anti-histamine. I stop sneezing immediately even though I know there is no feasible way for the medicine to have had an immediate effect!

So, if you have a cold, or are feeling run down and you find a homeopathic remedy works for you. Well, it's your dollar to burn. I'd suggest a glass of Florida Orange Juice and a good night's sleep. If you find your thoughts are confused and you're having trouble sleeping, feel free to align your shakras, and cleanse your aura. Personally, I go to the gym and spar. Hard.

As long as you promise me that if you get sick...really sick, you'll use the accumulated knowledge and experience of hundreds of years of modern and clinical medicine. You're my friend and I don't want to see you hurt or dead. And you promise me that you'll vaccinate your child and keep your own boosters up to date. We all have to share this place, and we might not all get on, but we can do our best to find some common ground.

And as long as you don't mind me pestering you with science from time to time I reckon we can still be friends.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Your rush isn't the same as my rush

I'm presenting a poster at The Society for Neuroscience annual meeting this fall. This year it's in San Diego, which is fucking awesome - I get to spend a week in California on the company cheque. What could be wrong with that?

Anyway, this topic will evolve over time, and if any fellow Sci-bloggers are attending and want to de-anonymise over a pint or two, let me know.

Today's irate posting is to do with Getting Shit Done in the office. Around 33,000 delegates register for the SfN meeting. It's fucking huge...and because it's huge and powerful, the Society prevents you from booking a hotel at Conference rates until you've registered for the conference. The problem here is that I can't afford to pay the $260 registration fee myself and need it to get processed by our business manager. Advance registration for Society members closed on Tuesday, which means that every motherfucker and hir fucking dog can book their hotel in downtown San Diego.

And I just checked and the BM hasn't processed my godamned registration yet. Quoth she, "This is in my stack to do. I’m hopeful to get it started this week. Registration deadline is September 8th. Is there something I’m not aware of that you need to take care of on your end, but cannot do until your registered? If so, just let me know."

Fucking hell, yes, dude, I told you repeatedly this was urgent and that I can't book my motherfucking hotel room until I get registered. Now one of two things is going to happen, both of which have happened before:

  1. There will be no goddamned hotel rooms left downtown and I'll be stuck miles out of town. This happened in 2004 and I had to rent a motherfucking car to get to the conference every day.
  2. There will only be the incredibly expensive hotels that company CEOs and Famous Profs with fat consulting fees can afford. This happened in 2006 and I got fucked for almost $2000 in hotel fees when my roommate backed out at the last minute.

On top of this I found out that I can't attend a mini-conference next week I was looking forward to either. I just wish, for once, people would get their shit together. Tell me, Dear Reader, does this happen to you too, or do i just have the worst luck?

**Note added in proof: it's not all staff know I am addicted to spring rolls; one of my programmers just came into my office with a gift from their lunch at the local Vietnamese place...***

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A New Kid on the Blog

Many moons ago when The Tideliar was but a small hatchling, the Birth-Dragon decided He needed a sibling. And Lo it came to pass, via some nefarious mechanism involving storks, pints of beer and a cabbage patch, The Beasel was introduced to this World. The Tideliar and The Beasel, although at first unsure of each other have become firm friends, and Tideliar was fortunate enough to act as Best Man at "The Wedding of The Beasel", a great event held with much fanfare some years ago. Which event also provided The Tideliar with his last trip back to The Land Far Away.

The Beasel is currently off work with a bad back, in fact has been off work for several months due to the shocking ineptness of the Heath 'Care' System. Quoth The Beasel unto The Tideliar a few days ago, "Oi, fuckface, tell me more about this 'blogging' of which you do." So instructions were sent, and suddenly there is a fresh and shiny new blogger on the block.

Go and enjoy A Pondering Beasel, and perhaps, if you feel his musings and ponderings warrant such, leave him a message of support. For although he is but a n00b in the interchoobs, he already knows the bug of blogging and recognition. Also, he is fucking funnier than a crippled child sliding down a banister rail into a poorly placed newlpost. I think he's shaping up to be a fairly prolific writer and he already has a good voice for a yarn.

Friday, July 9, 2010

TV Hater Redux/Revisit

Written on Monday and only just noticed I went into MarsEdit's Draft folder...DOH!)

After bitching about having nothing to watch about a week I am deluged with several new shows. Nice to know that high ranking television executives read my blog.

As soon as I got home I turned on the TV, which is rare for me. It normally goes on a couple of hours later, after food is prepped, cats are fed, blog posts are drafted etc. Anyway, today for some reason I broke tradition and saw an advert for the premiere of the second season of the SciFi (SyFy?) show "Warehouse 13" and conveniently they had the decency to run episodes from last season right before it aired. This means that while I don't know all the details, I still saw enough to get a feel for both the show and the main characters. To be honest, it isn't that plot heavy, but it's silly fun and the kind of pap I love to tune out to. It's also the kind of show I would have adored as kid so it feels homey. I used to invent shows like this in my head, and write short stories about them.'s...ah...nice to know high ranking television executives can read my thoughts too.


Anyway, at 2000 CST just as the new season started, both "HawthoRNe" and "Deadliest Catch" popped up. I'm not a huge fan of medical dramas; I was spoiled by early seasons of ER, but Jada Pinket Smith is a great actress and the first season was pretty good so I thought I'd give it go. Unfortunately, I also wanted to watch Deadliest Catch and my DVR only tapes two channels at the same time (yeah, I know, that was deliberate) so I had to cancel "HawthoRNe". I hope I don't regret that, although I kind of already do... be honest, Catch got a bit samey after the first couple of seasons and right now it's the drama around Captain Phil's recent stroke that has me watching. As far as I know he dies, given the RIP notes posted on Discovery TV earlier this year/end of last, as well as the empty seat and constant eulogies on "After the Catch", the 'live' interview show after each new episode.

Anyway, no sense in crying over spilt cow-juice. Right now I'm enjoying "Memphis Beat" on TNT. Another genre of show I'm not keen on are police procedurals, having been spoiled by Hill Street Blues as kid, and NYPD Blue as a young(er) man. And also this kind of light-hearted show turns me off most of the time. I don't want Bruckheimeresque drama at every scene change, but at the same time, if I wanted slapstick, I'd watch "Scrubs" (which I don't because I don't like slapstick either...fuck I'm hard to please!).

So far it's pretty good, I'll likely give it a few weeks (assuming it stays on the air that long...fuckers). And it's interesting watching a show filmed in a town I know well. "West Wing" was filmed in and around DC when I lived there, but I've lived in Memphis much longer than I did in DC and know the city commensurably better. Seeing them piece together several locations rapidly for a single scene gives me a new understanding of the hard work editors do. Once brief scene as the cops walked towards an arena where a pageant is being held (in real life, a council building downtown), then through the interior (a building on the University of Memphis campus about 5 miles away) to grab a suspect, and then into a dressing room to "interrogate" him (a staged interior in a TV sound stage somewhere I expect).

One thing very odd is their accents though, the squad Captain sounds more Big Easy, than Bluff City. And the end of the episode right now has the cops busting in to "rescue" a white beauty queen "kidnapped" by her black lover. The cops draw down on him as she screams "no!". But they didn't shoot him, which is very odd for Memphis.

Note added in proof, once again...of course now SciFi, or whatever the fuck they re-branded as are reshowing the "Warehouse 13" episode I DVR'd earlier at the expense of "HawthoRNe". Bugger. It's great having a TV will a gazillion channels and DVR and shit, but unless you don't work, are a stay at home parent or plan ahead, there isn't enough time to find out what's on and when and plan the evening. Or...maybe this is what "normal" people do and I'm only just figuring out that I need to plan ahead. Fuck it. I'll work on it...

An as a random aside because it's Friday and I'm stoned on anti-histamines, "Gish" is a fucking brilliant album. Jimmy Chamberlain is a fucking genius drummer and an inspiration to get back behind my kit...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Seriously, even my TV hates me!

Trying to stay sober during the summer in the US is nigh on impossible. I can't go to the gym every night because I have other things to attend to, and I'm not into the super hardcore body building that would necessitate a 7 day/week gym schedule. I have work to do in the evening, I have pets, I need to eat...usual homely and simple needs. All I ask is that every now and then there is something on the television for me to be entertained by.

In the summer there is a massive drought of anything except shitty sports like baseball. Baseball is fun live and the play-offs and World Series are OK, but during the season there are over 150 games and I can't fucking keep up with that! Also, even after 12 years the sports pages in the newspaper are still completely impenetrable to me so I can't catch up that way either.

All I ask is that a couple of times a week there is something on the fucking television for me to watch. After all, I pay enough fucking money for this. To have DVR, above average cable and internet I pay around $120/month. This is fucking daylight robbery.

Now the malodorous fuckstains that run Comcast have denied me access to a couple of networks, including The Science Channel, so the new Science TV show, Through The Wormhole, on Wednesday is denied me unless I pay even more money. And to make matters worse the money grubbing goatfuckers that run the cable networks are up to their usual hijinks and have managed to cancel/move one of the shows I was hoping to keep up over the summer. This happens all the time and I wonder why I fucking bother owning a television. At least once or twice every season something I'm watching either gets cancelled without warning, or as bad, moved to a different night or time so that I end up missing it if I rely on my DVR. Admittedly the show I was watching, Persons Unknown was a bit of a shitty throw-up of Lost + The Prisoner, but fucking hell, after a month we're almost halfway through and there is nothing else on, so why not let us finish it?

I am trying really hard to do the right thing here, but it's as if life itself is fucking with me right now. I could be in a poker tournament catching up with friends denied me by recent events. So I am left with cooking dinner, and watching movies edited for TV (i.e. 3 hours to show a 90 minute edited version of an average movie), paying money to subscribe to more channels or ordering a PPV movie.

Another early night with a book I guess.

note added in proof
Thanks to IMDB, which I usually hate, I found out the show in question isn't cancelled, yet, but moved to an earlier time. To catch the Kidz I suppose. At least I get to watch this pap and try and not think for an hour or so...The rest still stands.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Turned my world to black


image from dvidal's awesome photostream

Oftentimes, in moments of personal crisis and stress, I find that my life resembles a cross between a soap opera, and a musical. Kind of like an episode of Glee. The soap opera part is obvious I expect; you feel like you're moving from one contrived situation to another with no control over yourself. Events seem to spiral towards inevitable disaster. A disaster that you're aware of because it seems like you're watching everything happen to a simulacrum. You know what's going to happen, but the other 'actors' don't and seem just seem to a follow a script. And with this comes an overwhelming, breath taking feeling of hopelessness because you know the future and the worst thing about knowing the future, as any real psychic will tell you, is that you can't change a damn thing.

The part that really makes my inner-life seem more like an episode of Glee, than say, The Bold & The Beautiful (although Eastenders would be a more geographically and socioeconomically accurate example) is the pop/rock soundtrack. I've been a jobbing pro-am musician for around 20 years and it's an understatement to say that music is incredibly important to me. It can literally make or break my mood, if not my day. Most people get "earworms", that annoying repetition of a jingle in your head for hours at a time. I get entire albums stuck for weeks at a time. I have pretty shitty sporadic insomnia at the best of times, and if I get an earworm I can literally lose days of sleep. I fear I might eventually go insane sometimes. It's horrible.

Anyway, I remember being deeply, deeply in love once. In hindsight I know it was infatuation, but holy fucking shit, I was smitten. And what made it the most awesome and most amazing thing ever was that, for while at least, she was also smitten with me. I had just left my wife and was living in Washington DC and had started a new postdoc position. At the compulsory staff orientation the HR person made everyone take turns standing up and saying their name, where they were from and what they were doing. Lo and behold, two seats down from me was one of the most beautiful 20-something young women I had ever seen (and this says a lot because I had just moved from a small College Town with literally thousands and thousands of beautiful young 20-somethings). Coincidentally she had just moved down from the same College Town and was working in the Neurology Dept. just one building over from me, in Pharmacology. We bumped into each other a couple of times that week, on cigarette breaks, and then started timing our cigarette breaks to coincide with each other. I felt myself falling for her; her huge smile, her always perfect blonde hair, the way she covered her mouth with her hand when she laughed, her big blue eyes that would return my gaze directly.

I still remember our first kiss, standing outside as the sun set, light was hazy red and gold through the rain. It felt like my first kiss, the way my heart leapt as my stomach dropped in the other direction.

Unfortunately, I was (am?) a selfish, narcissistic alcoholic who thought, at the time, that walking away from his wife was enough to make all the pain go away. And it didn't help that she was as bipolar as she was beautiful. God sure does have a sick fucking sense of humour.

Back then it was, amongst other songs, "Should I stay or should I go?" Trying to figure out what the fuck was going on with her life and my life and our relationship.

That was many years ago.

Nine days ago, for pretty much the same reasons as before, I lost the only person I give a fuck about in this whole fucking world. And I can't stop the fucking tunes in my head.

I can't remember when I last slept. I want to sleep.

I need a fucking drink so badly my hands are shaking. I do not want to drink. I will not drink. I have not had a drink in 8 days.

The blog might be darker than normal for a while. Some of my comments on blogs might be more acidic for a while. So, if you meet me, have some courtesy, have some sympathy, and some taste; use all your well-learned politesse, or I'll lay your soul to waste. I am not a happy fucking camper right now.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


This is what comes of being an inherent blagger...

Email string between me and rep from Prestigious Local Institute:


On 05/28/10 7:30 AM, Organizer Dood, Ph.D
To: Dr. Tideliar

Hey [Dr. Tideliar]~
I heard you were selected as an editor for a journal...I was wondering if you could come and give a Career Development talk on editorial review at [Prestigious Institute] sometime in the second half of the year. Let me know if/when works for you. We usually do our seminars on Thursday afternoons from 4-5, but if that time/date doesn't work, we can work it out. Thanks, and I will buy you a beer afterward!

Organizer Dood.


On 06/01/10 9:13 AM, Tideliar
To:Organizer Dood

Hi Organizer Dood,

I'm not sure who said that I was editing for a journal; it's maybe half right. I am a copy editor for one of [Big Science redacted] databases, and that's freelance work I picked up by emailing the editors of the database. I also do freelance editing for scientific and technical articles (manuscripts, theses etc.), and I've worked as sub-contractor for the [Major US Science Institution Redacted] writing text books. All of this is freelance work though (tenacity, plus networking).

I interviewed at [Major Science Journal] a couple of years ago when I was job hunting, but soon realized that the combative nature of the job would be bad match for me, so I declined any offer and stayed put and then found my current position.

I'm happy to give a Career Development talk, but it would be something like "How to network and blag your way to a new position by the seat of your pants" kind of talk, not a "here's how to do it for job X" kind of talk :)



On 06/01/10 1:45 PM, Organizer Dood

Hi Tideliar,
We might have to work on the title, but that sounds awesome! We usually do our seminars at 4-5 on thursday afternoons, and we've got nothing scheduled following June 17th. so, we're free up for whenever you want to come and talk! Thanks a ton!

Organizer Dood


On 06/01/10 1:54 PM, Tideliar
To Organizer Dood

Oh shit. Really? I thought you'd say, "Thanks, but no thanks". Can I title it "Bullshitting your way through life: do's and don'ts"?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

out of my sight, out of your mind?

Picture 6.png

Call me a conspiracy theorist who distrusts the wankers that ran the rig, the wankers in charge of all this and the wankers in government who are rubbing their hands with glee at scandals and soundbites, but did those fucking wankers kill the video feed too?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

..we are told that this is the end...

...A design for life.

Damn. Homesick. Long day. Need beer. And a fight. Maybe I can combine...

We don't talk about love
We only want to get drunk
And we not allowed to spend
As we are told that this is the end
A design for life.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Where did all the nice idiots go?


Sometimes you can amaze yourself at how bad you can totes haz teh FAIL

Back when the earth was young and I still had a ponytail and hope in the future I moved the US. I had to go through a veritable fucking suite (pronounced 'sweet', dear friends, not 'suit') of bullshit in order to successfully integrate. Finding a place in grad school was, in retrospect, the easy part. I had to take a battery of (very expensive) standardized tests called a GRE because apparently my degree in biology wasn't enough...I needed to somehow prove I could also read AND write AND do simple sums. Crazy...cos in the The Motherland one usually doesn't progress to university without first proving oneself in high school... Anyway, I studied for this asinine hurdle and got scores that were above average. Nothing grand, but I really didn't a fuck if the Dean of the College was worried about my ability to guestimate the square root of 6, or determine that colour is to tone as spectrum is to [fill in the blank]. Having been raised in a military family I have an innate terror and hatred of authority, so I was actually prepared to fail and throw it in their face, but I digress.

Once I got here I was thrown headlong into a turmoil I couldn't have prepared for. Ordering even a sandwich was a challenge..."two countries divided by a common language" is a cliche because it's true (which is also a cliche, but let's move on). I couldn't find a sandwich shop, but did stumble across a place called "Subway" that instead of being a gateway to a subterranean transport system was a sandwich shop. The gormless fuckwit behind the counter looked at me, I girded my loins and made my first purchase, my heart hammering in my chest.

"Hi Sir, welcome to Subway! What can I help you with today?" He asked, so cheerfully I used to think they must be medicated.

"I'd like a cheese sandwich please," I replied and experienced for the first time the look of utter incomprehension I would come to know and love over the next decade. Because once you go off script, They can't improvise.

"Hi Sir, welcome to Subway! What can I help you with today?" This time spoken through clenched teeth, sweat beginning to appear on the poor imbecile's forehead.

I spoke as if to a small, slow witted child, "I'd like, a cheese, sandwich. Please." And when this didn't elicit any response I too began to panic, because fear of social awkwardness is endemic to my people. Thankfully the poor boy figured out that it was I who was the fuckwit in this conversation, and he tried to take control.

"Well, sir, I can do you a sub with just cheese and veggies, would that be OK?"

It was my turn to start sweating...veggies? Are you fucking with me? Veggies are potatoes and carrots and so forth. Why the everliving fuck would I want a potato on my cheese sandwich? Thankfully he gestured at the salad bar in front of him and I just yelled "LETTUCE" at the top my lungs hoping he'd go away and I could flee.

"OK sir, cheese and lettuce. What kind of cheese? We have Jack, Provolone, Swiss, Cheddar, American..." like something out of Monty Python, the scene just kept unfolding. I finally got my cheese sandwich, the last hurdle being the pair of us working out he meant Alfalfa sprouts (which I know as "cress"), and not Brussels Sprouts.


Tideliar fixed the moron with his best "YOU FAIL" look during the "Great Sprouts Incident" of '98"

I discovered after a while that the blank look I got when I spoke was natural for a central Pennsylvanian when confronted by a white person with a non-American accent. I took to speaking, pausing and just repeating myself, giving my 'server' time to parse the information that I must be 'not American.

Things were no easier when I went to get my Social Security Card. This little piece of paper and the 9 digit number on it rule your entire life in the US. You almost literally cannot do anything without this number and must memorize it and be prepared to divulge it constantly. Curiously, its importance underlies a massive flaw in the "system" over here, because knowing someone's SSN (and maybe just a little trivial information, like their birth date) allows you clone that person's life. And yet one is forced to give it out over the phone when calling banks or credit card companies, universities use it as a form of student ID. It is the least secure and most important number in the life of any American, and needless-to-say identity theft is a major problem.

After I got my SSN I was able to get my driver's license (or indeed, licence), and that set another row of hurdles which I had to o'er leap, or else fall down. Americans find driving to be a fundamental right, much like owning guns or yelling at people (if you're a Republican) in the name of so called "free speech". I assume these things to be privileges which one earns, but Hey Ho, and indeed Nonny Nonny, I'm just old fashioned that way. Thankfully this assumed privilege of driving and the fact that one gets one's learner's permit while barely weaned from nanna's teet mean that the driving test is ludicrously fucking easy. It's designed that even a 14 year old can pass it and head out to cause mayhem and untold misery on the innocents around him. I had to parallel park in a space you could, to quote my dad, fit a fucking double-decker bus in. Then, having proven my chops, I was told to turn right out of the driver's license center, after 100 yards, turn right again, then again, and then again. Having successfully negotiated one small block of houses, I was told I had passed and presented with my new license.

This was many years ago and I still enjoy the semi-regular ritual of renewing my license. Because, as a foreigner, I am obviously not to be trusted with something so important without being forced to undergo a pointless rigmarole on a too-often basis. I can't remember how often I had to renew my license in Pennsylvania, but it was regular. When I moved to Tennessee I was surprised by a whole new suite of bureaucratic bullshit.

Tennesseans' get a regular looking license, one views it horizontally, the picture is on the top left, and again on the bottom right and there are all kinds of watermarks and hologram thingamajigs on there. But when I moved here us Dirty and untrustworthy foreign types were given, after much procrastination, a bright pink, vertically viewed "Permit to Drive" that said in bright red writing "NOT VALID FOR IDENTIFICATION", along the top. This, of course, meant that one had to carry one's passport with one to serve as ID. The bullshit inherent in this system is that I needed my passport and visa to get the fucking thing in the first place. So I was forced to carry two forms of ID on me, especially if i travelled. Although times have changed and I now have a regular looking licence, I am minded to relate that even after the 9/11 attacks I flew domestically (including through D.C., our mighty Capitol) without once showing my passport. Indeed, the only time a so called "official" of any rank refused to accept as ID a card saying in bright red letters "NOT VALID FOR IDENTIFICATION" was a kid selling beer at a festival a few years ago. My buddies wanted to kick his ass, I gave a $5 tip and had them buy my beer instead.

Anyway, the entire point of this TL;DR rant is that today I returned to the DMV to renew my license again. Now bare in mind in Tennessee things move slowly.

Very. Fucking. Slowly.

In my home town your average staffer or petty bureaucrat is a self-entitled douchemonkey of the first order. Everything is difficult and time consuming. The DVM takes this to the nth degree. Thankfully they are also usually badly trained and ignorant, because the people above them are lazy, self-entitled douchemonkeys too. Last time I needed to renew my license I was missing a vital piece of paperwork: the visa stamp in my passport had expired (it's only a travel permit, the actual visa approval or visa notice is another piece of paperwork). I was able to bullshit my way through this mishap with little trouble,

"This here visa has expired," He said, fixing me with a myopic squint I took to be his best effort at a steely glare.

"No, that's the travel permit. It means I can't re-enter the country if I travel abroad, but obviously I can be here legally to work. Look here's my work ID badge." I showed the badge, which does indeed have a picture of me on it and magnetic swipe on the back. I assume this was OK because only a couple of hours later I was in possession of newly re-issued drivers license. This time, however, I was not so fortunate. It turns out some complete fucker has taken it upon themselves to educate our pubic serpents public servants in how to do their job properly.

"This visa stamp has expired," She said. I noted the use of the word 'stamp' and began to get nervous. After all, I was 20th in line when I got to the DMV and it had taken me over an hour just to get this far.
"No, that's just the travel permit. My visa is fine, look here's my work ID."

"No. This is the visa stamp and your I-94 is here, so if you're legally working you should have an I-blah blah blah."


Tideliar protests at the DMV. But to avail. He doesn't have the right documents. Game Over dude.

She listed the immigration documents I should own, and probably do, somewhere, but my mind shut down at this point. I tried to argue my case, but she was unmoved. The utterly efficient and well trained harridan would not be swayed. So 78 minutes after arriving at the DMV I left, red-faced (see above for note about social awkwardness), and the victim of several dozen schadenfreude laden-smirks.

If looks could kill I would be the subject of a statewide mass murder manhunt right now.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sometimes you got it...and sometimes you really, really don't

I pride myself on being somewhat of a wordsmith. I do a lot of editing and writing, both scientific and technical and non-sci/tech (2pts). Sometimes, when blogging, it's easy to get lazy and just spew out a train of thought (2pts), and I often regret those posts. I rarely re-edit once I've posted something though; I prefer to get my thoughts out when I can in a medium such as this.

I used to write a lot for an e-Zine,and although still nominally on their staff I haven't submitted anything for over a year. I did a bit of editing, but finishing my postdoc and changing jobs removed a lot of the ire that fueled my creative juices (2pts). And now a lot of my job is writing and editing so I get a little less joy from just writing for the hell of it (proper, crafted pieces, as opposed to a 500 word blog post).

Over at The Hermitage recently, our heroine, The D-List Monktress was bemoaning having to write, and at VWXYNot, Cath posted something about the writing process that was apposite to your hermitage's woes (although I can't find it now). Cath's post was of something her PhD advisor gave her to help her with the writing process, with the block that can from having too many ideas in your head to get them out, that your perfectionist nature makes you want to get it write (boom boom!) first time. The gist of the piece was the best advice a writer ever gets:


It will never come out perfect first time, so just get the ideas out and edit, edit, edit, edit. And it is this self-editing that I think is a key to the process of becoming a better writer.

However, one must first get the thoughts out, so here in its unabridged glory, is the abstract I wrote yesterday when I was braindead after a 2 hour meeting planning a clinical trial grant resubmission I'll be working on. Time to edit methinks...

"Most experimental science generates vast amounts of data, and analysis needs are often unmet. Behavioral neuroscience is no exception to this, and we find ourselves at the brink of a precipice, to fall into which will be to admit the loss of serendipitous discovery because we are overwhelmed by the mountain of data on the other side of this awful mixed metaphor. blah blah science and shit This is clearly totally awesome and will help overworked scientists to find some really cool and likely groundbreaking new shit. Fuck yeah."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Unfortunately the embedding is disabled, so you have to go to YooChoob to watch it. Assholes.

Anyone who knows me knows I am a huge Star Wars geek. So, this is about the coolest most awesomesauce thing in the whole fucking Empire. Plus, I utterly HEART Alica Keys (ad Jay-Z is pretty cool too)


No longer Anakin
Formerly a Skywalker
Son's next rebel hero
But I'll be Sith forever
I'm the newest Dark lord And since my training years
I can choke from anywhere
Yeah my force is everywhere Used to run with Obi Wan We were both best buds foreva
But after three movies Now I've got a blood vendetta Grew up on Tatooine
No vegetation Catch me rolling through the cosmos in a moon-like station to Leia's home nation Death Star wrecks it Now princess knows, Vader ain't one to mess with
Flying through the trenches
Blasting rebel noobies
What happened to the fat one
Think he died of heart disease All that's left is this guy
Chasing him in my TIE I won't deny That his force is pretty damn high
Damn i just got wiped out
Falcon shot the back of me
Spinning into outerspace
But I'll be back definitely

In Star Wars Empire is out to find Leia Death star plans in R2 Shoot the exhaust port Kenobi may now be see-through But the force is within Luke
Let's hear it for new hope, new hope, new hope
[Vader: You're welcome Obi Wan... I made you a ghost!]

Catch me rockin boots and a cape like superman
Hell, I made wearing black more famous than that Jay-Z can
You should know I'd find you, hiding out at Echo
Now I got a Blizzard Force eliminate you quick yo
Welcome to the planet Hoth AT-ATs hit the spot Walking tanks are too legit
But they fall down a lot Check the front, check the back, cant find the Falcon yet
We need them all alive, so no disintegrations Boba Fett 8 million asteroids, where'd your little ship go?
Get me to Cloud City, I got Lando on my payroll
Me I gotta double check if carbonite's ok If freezin's safe for Han
Doing Luke the same way
New deal Lando
Ain't no pardon
Kid blew up my boys
Rest in peace Moff Tarkin
Turns out we are family
Embrace your dark fate
Dad and son together, yo No way the emperor's safe, cause...

Now Han Solo's a coffee table
There's nothing Luke can do [Vader: Should've joined me, bro!]
He's on Dagobah
With some dyslexic Jedi dude
Right hand still got sliced through Looks like they struck back, struck back, struck back

Lightsabers grinding
Palpatine's smiling
Cause he knew it would come to this The light side is blind with casualties
Who do evil casually, then gradually become worse
Don't fight your destiny
Wasn't a great dad, true
Absent all the while
No happy times behind us, and plus, now I'm killin' you
Keep fencing mister, 'cause now I sense a sister
You don't go bad, maybe I'll enlist her
Now Emperor wants you, only wants me rubbed out You controlled your anger, stayed light side devout Watch out kid, he's got lightning bolts to immolate Uh-uh, hell no, daddy powers activate
End this prune with a badass murder suicide
Bald headed, mask off, heart melted kid you were right Burn all my gear so those Ewoks can't wear it again
Do it, I'll be watching you, a ghost, name of Anakin

Destroy new Death Star's generator
Ewoks to the rescue
Blast through to the core
This Regime's gonna be brand new
Galactic Empire's through
The Jedi have returned, returned, returned

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

How about a shock collar?


Yes...and that really is the point isn't it, you moron?

Once again in the Department of Slightly Hysterical Information Technology the crazy has risen its Medusan head and fixed me with a steely, petrifying glare. Not 24 hours after telling the world I'd thrown in the towel we're pretty much back to normal. This morning I received word that we are, after all, submitting an abstract to Massive Research Conference this fall.

And the deadline for submission is in under 48 hours.

And the main lab has used its allotment of submissions and seeing as I am member of the Professional Society running this Massive Research Conference I need to submit the abstract.

Oh Reader, Reader, Reader, I hear your thoughts through the interwebs, I really do...

"Dude, seriously, Tideliar you're being a fucking lightweight. Just submit the fucker already and go back to your manicure."

Alas, not so fast, dear Reader. Apparently I need to write the motherfucker too. This is because one of my programmers (Programmer1) has been working 50% FTE on a project with this group and we're gonna submit an IT-database style abstract. The only real problem with this is that Programmer1 can't write the abstract because knows neither how to write one and what to put in it anyway. He doesn't know the Science behind the work he's doing.

So, the conversation went something like this:

PI: "Tideliar. I need to submit an abstract for Massive Research Conference"

Me: "Cool. So?"

PI:" "Well, you're a Member of Professional Society and we need you to submit it."

Me: "And...let me guess, I have to write it too?"

PI: "Yes."

Me: "not unless I get first author."

PI: "OK"

Me: "shit. Ho hum. Fuck. Alright. What project?"

PI: You know that one that Programmer1 has been working on?"

Me: "Nope,"

PI: "The one with the mobile camera tracking device thing that goes into a report generating function thing?"

Me: "SRSLY? WTF? Dude? Which letter in N.O. left you confused?"

PI: "That one. Oh yeah, LOLz @ U, it's due in less than 48 hours. Ciao."

And now, with the clock a tick-tick-tocking away Programmer1 has yet to present me with anything, let alone a finely crafted 500 word synopsis of what he's been working on and why it is Super Fucking Awesome. I can't even find him. Apparently SysAdmin thought he was with Faculty, and Faculty thought he was with SysAdmin and Programmer2 and Programmer4 think he might be in the bathroom. So, to preempt any further meanderings I asked the Head of Clinical Research to catheterize him.

Unfortunately, as she stared in shock, agog at the thought that I was serious, the rest of today's 15 cups of JetFuel(TM) coffee kicked in....

"yeah. I'm serious. I want Programmer1 catheterized. Then he won't need bathroom breaks so often. Hmm? What's that... no I don't suppose I am serious, after all, I'd need a fucking microchip tag to locate him if he went AWOL anyway. Wait a fucking minute! Can you do that too? I bet you can! Then I'll know which building he's in at least...but how will I find him within said building...I know, don't interrupt this is fucking genius! A shock collar. A shock collar...we can do it all at once! Put a shock device in the neck of the catheter! That's make the little bugger squeal! Wait! Where are you going?"

Is it just me, or does this happen to you too? Does everyone leave everything to the last minute all the time?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Marching to the beat of different drums


Last week I had an epiphany. And a mild nervous breakdown. OK, that's a vast and unseemly exaggeration, yet more poetic than the truth (I left half a day early because I was fucking knackered from nervous exhaustion). I had scheduled Thursday and Friday off work because old friends were in town, but by Wednesday mid-morning I felt so shitty I just left. I went to bed at noon, woke up at 4pm, ate, went back to sleep, woke up at 8pm, ate and went back to bed and finally woke up again at noon on Thursday.

In two days I got 28 hours sleep.

Guess I was a bit burned out, huh? Last night, as I lay in bed trying to sleep, my stomach was in knots and for the first time in the 18 months since I left the lab bench I dreaded work on Monday morning. There is so much tension and bickering and ill communication that it is becoming almost unbearable at times. I dreaded the thought of having to meet with my boss and senior staff and hear the endless litany of how shit things were. I fight hard to get things done right and done on time, but I am bench scientist by training, not a project manager by training. I don't know how much is me fucking up, and how much is the inherently dysfunctional nature of academic administration. Shifting goalposts on shifting sands.

One of the last things I did last week was get us (me, by boss and a faculty member) registered for a Big Important Conference at a Big Important Government Lab we need to collaborate with. I managed to get them to bend the rules so we could register late (they had to do extra work because we're all on non-imigrant visas). I looked at how we might submit a 4 page proposal and I began to prepare a presentation in case one was needed, knowing that I would be the one to give it. I knew how important this conference was because the Big Important People of Science from the Government Lab had recently come to visit and I was impressed by The Powers that Be that we had to collaborate. I knew if I did well at this I could ingratiate myself with the Important People and that would be a good career move, possibly a job in the future.

Well, just now I was told to cancel the meeting registration and withdraw from the conference, because it's too close to our graduation here at work. Oh yeah, and we're not looking to collaborate with them now, but with Prestigious Private University. And I need to arrange a meeting for that instead, but I can't go because someone has to stay behind and watch the 'kids".

And you know what? I'm glad. I don't fucking care anymore.

I'm not faculty, I don't have metrics to meet. I write grants, but I get no recognition because I can't be a PI or co-PI. I am just a staff member. And that's fine. For now, my health and sanity are a priority, and I am going to enjoy being just a Program Manager and staff member. My day finishes at 5PM, my weekends are my own and I have plenty of annual leaved saved up.

Y'all fret about the big shit. I'm gonna write my blogs and book reviews again, and go to the gym and maybe enroll in a master's program to keep my mind busy. I feel better already.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Idiotometer hits top of scale...

I swear I am running out of fucking patience in a big way. People's utter fucking inability to get their shit together and think before acting is sucking the fucking soul from my body.

I am a gnat's fart away from seriously losing my fucking shit.

I am not your father
I am not your babysitter
I am not your fucking nanny

I pay you to do a job. Occasionally you will need to think instead of blindly pottering along like a fucking bug on a wall. This should be self-evident in that the minimum education to work for me is a Master's degree.

If I have to send one more motherfucking "reminder" or "warning" over trivial shit it will end very badly for someone. Probably the person who gets the fucking email/phone call from me telling them to clear their motherfucking desk out.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A week of epic fail and it's only day 4

Article the First:
A couple of weeks ago I swerved to avoid some arsehat in a parking lot and managed to run the side of my car down a bright yellow concrete traffic bollard. I now have a shitty, ugly, old green VW bug with a go faster/go shitter yellow stripe down one side. I called my insurance agent to find out IF I was to claim for the paint job (pah, car is 10 years old and only worth $2000), what the excess on my monthly insurance premium would be. IF I was to put in a claim for something I wouldn't get fixed. I was told to go so-and-so's body shop, meet the appraiser who would give me a quote on the theoretical repairs and from that they could determine the damage to my monthly premium.

$1800 to remove the scratches, with a $500 deductible. Easy out: No Fucking Way. As mentioned, my car is only worth about $2000 and besides, my A/C and starter have just died, necessitating another $1000+ of fixes just to keep me moving through the summer. I spoke with my insurance dude again,

Me: "So, IF I was to get this fixed, how much would it put my monthly premium up by?"

ID: "Hang on, let's pull up your policy. Wait, hang on, there's already a claim on here."

Me:"No, there can't be. I haven't filed a claim since I joined you five years ago."

ID:"No, here on April 7th. It says you lodged a claim for an "at fault" collision in a parking lot"

Me:"random high pitched squeaking sounds"

ID:"So, now this is already on file, we can't remove it. So... hang on. No, not to worry,"

Me:"squeaking sounds decrease in pitch, slightly"

ID:"No, you're OK. Your premium is only going up by $25/month."

Me:"squeaking sounds reach new, ultrasonic levels"

ID:"$25/month isn't that bad is it?"

Me:"That's 300 fucking bucks a year. D00d."

ID:"Oh, yes, I suppose if you look at it like that, it is. Well, we're sending you a cheque for $1300 to cover the repairs. You can use that to pay off the excess on your premium if you want."



Article the Second:
Recently Grand Moff Brown, unelected Prime Minister of England and compete fucking worthless dog's fart, finally announced he had asked Her majesty the Queen (happy birthday for yesterday, Your Majesty, FWIW) to dissolve parliament so he could call a General Election. I haven't voted since 1997 because not long after that election I moved to the US. So in the almost 6000 days since i could legally vote, I have excised that constitutionally enshrined right just once. This time, I raced to the nearest internets and looked into registering as an overseas voter. I soon discovered, via the power of an internests "search engine" a site called About My Vote, which purports to be run by the The Electoral Commission themselves. I spent a couple of hours working my way through everything because it is really not that well put together, and found the following nuggets of information:

  • You can register to vote as long it isn't more than 15 years since you last registered

  • You can register by mail to vote in the district you were last a registered voter in

  • You can grant a trusted family member your 'proxy', to vote on your behalf

  • Your proxy voter can vote by mail for you

  • The General Election is on may 6th

  • They need to have the mail in ballot 11 days before the General Election

Fucking Awesome right"?

  1. It is only 13 years since I last voted

  2. I remember my old address in the UK, although it is 100+ miles from my actual "home" address

  3. My brother, Weaselcatcher, is a sergeant in the police, and a decent guy. My best friend I might say (and we share the same political proclivities)

  4. He knows how to use a mailbox

  5. It was early April at this point

  6. That would give us until April 25th/26th to get the mail in vote sent in

imagine my dismay when I got a text message from Sergeant Weaselcatcher this morning saying "Call me when you can, but please have drunk some coffee first". It turns out the fucking morons who put the site together neglected one key piece of information: the mail in vote is held before the regular ballot and the cut off was FORTY-MOTHERFUCKING-EIGHT GODAMNED HOURS AGO.

Due to the utter inability of some fuckwitted middel-manager not proofreading the website he had built I have had my constitutionally enshrined rights, enshrined for almost a thousand years, stolen from me. I am have no doubt that if I had financial and legal recourse I could get this fucking mornon Hng, Drawn and motherfucking quartered or some such. Or put in the motherfucking pillory on the steps of the Palace of Westminster. I would be first in line to nail his fucking ears to his fucking forehead. How dare you inefficiency, laziness and general moronic inability to perform basic tasks interfere with my rights. Fuck you. Fuck you to hell.

Article the Third:
I have started training in Muay Thai again. It's my third anniversary of being a mean, kickboxing motherfucker. I go to a new gym now, and I'm able to park for free a mile away and walk downtown looking like a stone cold motherfucker listening to my fight song. But my box/cup/dick protector was rubbing my crotch raw. So I took the extreme step of shaving my junk. Not the best plan I have had. Now I have itches where it is unseemly to scratch those itches.

Article the Fourth:
it's only fucking Thursday. Doubtless this will be updated before my birthday on Sunday.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Goddess of Destruction?

Kali, Goddess of Death, Destruction & Rebirth, and Pain...

...And there she is folks, finally. Two hours under the tender care of Joe, at No Regrets Tattoo Emporium. Two hours. Two long, and surprisingly painful hours.

I'm booked back in early May for the colouring to begin, but noticed that the date coincides with some friends visiting from out of town for the Blues Awards, so I think I'll have to bump it to June. I can wait though. Did I mention that this one was painful...

Monday, April 5, 2010

For the father? Nothing.

Usually, a new Faculty member has a percentage of her salary guaranteed. This is known as hard money. The university is promising you, for example, 9 months salary support for the first 5 years of your career (that's the tenure track). The rest is made up by our new TT prof securing grants and picking up courses to teach etc. and that's the soft money. That's the bit that sucks because if you can't get a grant funded your salary is only 75% of what it should be. And if you're a postdoc, for example, on someone's R01, and it isn't renewed, you're fucked because 100% of your salary is soft money.


a young professor joins the tenure track and tries to negotiate his start-up with the dean...

There are as many variations on this funding structure as there are academic institutions. I have a friend who is a non-tenure track assistant professor who has 9 months of support, and is primarily in a teaching position. He can't write large grants to pick up the other 25% of his salary because he doesn't run a research program. So he picks up as much extra teaching as he can during semester to add to his pay check, because summer is hard to get through when the money dries up. What he wasn't told until after he joined his institute was that he isn't allowed 'unexcused' absences for longer than a few days, and even though he isn't getting paid for the summer, he still has to be there. So his dreams of traveling or working on his book during this time are scuppered by having to be present on campus.

My position, indeed my entire Unit is funded by a budget that is neither hard, nor soft. We could call it flaccid money. We're funded by State dollars while we vie for a large institutional award from the National Institutes of Health. (The NIH are the paymaster general to which most of us beholden, in case there are any non-scientists out there.) being funded by State dollars was great while we were the golden child of the program. Money was always there, we generally got what we wanted, when we wanted it, and we've used the beneficence of our administrators to grow in new areas. However, we just got our grant review results back from the Great Paymaster General in Washington, DC and things are not looking so good suddenly. Our latest application was, to all intents and purposes, shit all over by the review panel. In my opinion (worth less than one whole internets dollar) they missed a lot of the great stuff we're proposing and can deliver, and instead focused on the few tiny, insignificant negative aspects of the application. Like not having enough experienced leadership, or a good enough marketing plan for some of our 'products' and 'deliverables'. Like I say, mere details! Look at teh awesome science bitchezz111!!!q1

Anyway, suddenly working here has become less secure. Our studly and tumescent budget is beginning to wilt, friends are not returning phone calls and I kind of feel like the guy who gets caught punking the principle's office. Everyone is laughing and joking and offering encouragement until he walks in the room and suddenly you are very, very alone and friendless...

The work my unit does covers areas outside our direct scientific remit and we offer a lot of support to our administration, forming a kind of 'academic computing' division. I'm told we're probably OK for year, and the administration will support us for at least one more budget cycle while they try and figure out what to do with us all. This is great, if true, because I am nominally in charge of a team of 8-12 people and now trying to cover my ass while looking out for them too is already starting to tear at my nerves.

Right now we're waiting to hear from the Grand Poobahs at the Top of the Stairs about our budget. I think this part is the hardest because I don't know if anyone will get cut in the next month or two (myself included). I am working on the assumption that we're going to be OK for one more year (budget year, not calendar year). Once I have a budget I can develop a timeline and come up with some ideas on how to save my staff. I'm hoping that some can be saved as a whole and move to another institute in town that is looking to pick up the pieces of the pie we dropped. Some I can likely get into our IT division as we try and combine all of the IT services on campus.

As for me. I'm exploring a few different options, but I think my time here is drawing to a close. I can visualise several options and outcomes for my team over the coming months, but I am reminded of Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam warning to the Lady Jessica, at the beginning of "Dune".

"The boy may be worth saving, but for the father, nothing!"

Thursday, April 1, 2010

I knew they'd come round, eventually.

As many of our academic Blog community know, Prof-like Substance and Professor in Training have both resigned their Tenure-Track assistant professor positions and are returning to academic postdocs, because, basically, being a PI sucks ass and being a postdoc is awesome. You just don't know it at the time.

Unfortunately a cadre of hit-diosgruntledocs has been dispatched from the freshly Unionized UC-system to 'terminate with extreme prejudice" these "traitors to the glorious cause".

Obviously both PlS and PiT were a bit upset, as were their respective families, at their impending being KILLED to DEATH by disgruntledocs. So, in the interests of preserving life, and getting more of my own shit done, I have agreed to welcome them both into the wonderful embrace of Academic Administration. It's kind of like being PI, in that you spend all your time in meetings, dying slowly on the inside whilst not getting any real work done, but there's no stinky lab work which we know everyone hates anyway.

So, welcome my new bitches slaves employees: Administrator-like Substance and Administrator in Training!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Random Mid-afternoon Blubfest

For the first time in ages I sat at my computer and relaxed during my lunch break. And for the first time in ages I just cried.

I pottered over the BBC News website and saw this audio slide show about the restoration of Worcester Cathedral (pronounced Wooster, for my American reader...yes it's where the sauce comes from).

It is remarkably similar in superficial appearance to the Cathedral in my home town, and I found the views of Worcester and its surrounding countryside really moving.

I left home 18 years ago, and I emigrated 12 years ago. And I've gone back less and less frequently, and I am so fucking homesick it's unreal.

I don't think I could live there easily anymore, accustomed as I am to the freedoms I now enjoy, and I really consider myself an Anglo-American as opposed to a true Anglo-Saxon (I know that's a silly semantic difference).

but the weight of history is breathtaking. My home city now has plenty of history as long as you count recent history...birthplace of Elvis Presley and rock and roll, death of Martin Luther King and so on. But it's so recent. My country is only 234 years old for crying out loud! And that youth undergirds many American idioms.

The church in my home town, not the Cathedral, but the local church was founded in 98 AD for crying out loud! My local pub is at least twice as old than the country I now live in.

"Ye Olde Fighting Cocks", the oldest pub in England

So I watched the slide show and looked at those views, across a green & pleasant land, and I cried my eyes out. It's been 534 days since I was last back, and it's been too long.

Monday, March 22, 2010

I just had the perfect meeting!

I'm Program Manager. That's like being a Project Manager really. I guess they gave me the "Program" part because I got on the executive pay scale finally and they needed to invent something for me. I basically look after a couple of academic units and a research unit. It's a lot of hats and it is getting complicated...

Because the main research Unit I administer is fairly modest, and they cover the majority of my base salary, I have been surviving on Excel spreadsheets and hand written notes. But we're finally reaching the point at which I need some decent P-M software to help me keep abreast of all the pies I have my fingers stuffed into....and as mixed metaphors go I think that may be the dumbest thing I have written for a while.

Image search for 'Bad Metaphor' lead me to this site.
I'd say my metaphor was as poor as this young man's thinking that a half grill was a good idea

Anyway, I found some really nice P-M software I want (can't find the link now...), but it's going to cost a couple of grand per year to use it, and I can't afford that. There are some other sources, like BaseCampHQ and Zoho Project but there but nothing that did exactly what I wanted, and if I have to pay I want it to exactly what I want, not mostly or nearly what I want.

Then I found out that one of my colleagues has built some software to help her with task/project management so we spoke and I asked if I could use it. She agreed and gave us a demo at a Team Meeting a few weeks back. It does pretty much what I want and because it's free and it's her toy she said she'd let me in the back-end and I could customize our section. It's PHP & HTML on top of a Drupal template, and I can do some tweaks with that (not much, yet, but some).

I've downloaded Drupal, and to help me learn how to run things from the back-end I grabbed MAMP too. MAMP is a bundled package giving you the MySQL and Apache servers you need to build websites. Don't actually run a website one off your hard drive though or you're in trouble. As all this was going on I then found out that Drupal has a low approval rating in some pipes of the interchoobes and the naysayers scream for Joomla or other pre-packaged bundles.

At this point I threw up my hands and haven't been back since... up my hands. What a nice visual image. Epic metaphor FAIL is FAIL indeed. I am NOT searching for an image based on that search term while attached to work's interchoob connection!

Thus, I was stuck with a customizable P-M system I couldn't customize, which I had loaded all my main research Unit's projects into and there it sat. My boss was yelling at me to get it sorted, so I was yelling at my colleague to get me sorted and it was all very Keystone Cops.

Until this morning when my Wonderful Assistant and I sat down at an Executive Meeting she called...She is a wonder and I love her for helping my sorry ass out like this.

See, I'm used to running my own shit and taking care of my own shit and other gung-ho aphorisms that can't and don't apply when you're looking after a team of around a dozen people and 20+ ongoing projects. It works fine when you're a lab rat with limited horizons, but not in the wider world. I think this is the hurdle most of us face when we leave the world of postdoc science and venture out. We 'train' for the tenure-track, but we have no idea what it's like, TT or not, to handle the massive demands on your time and attention.

So, Wonderful Assistant told me she is getting pissed off sitting round playing sudoku and watching me run round in circles going bright red and screaming and not asking for help. She essentially told me if I didn't use her to the fullest of her capabilities she was going to quit. We talked for a long time about what my Unit needs to do and I explained the nature of my job to her: I spend 75% of my time putting out fires and building bridges; and she can't help much with that except with scheduling my insane fucking calendar. I spend 24% of my time doing "science-type stuff", and she can't help much with that because she doesn't have the requisite background and training. I spend 1% of my time, and 95% of my energy doing all the other shit that needs to be done, like screaming at my colleague because my boss is screaming at me to get the fucking P-M software working.

"Let me help," She said. "I can talk to your colleague for you and sort it out."

"But if I can't talk to her and get it done, how can you help?"

"At least me try!" She pleaded.

And at 2PM this afternoon there was a knock on my office door. Wonder Assistant and Colleague stood there and asked if I had time to chat...

...and fifteen minutes later I am sitting here typing this blog post; my list of corrections, additions and tweaks has been noted and already begun. Colleague was laughing, smiling, and 'no problem'ing the entire time, Wonder Assistant was taking notes on what I needed and generally looked rather pleased with herself, as well she should. And in 24hrs time I will have the customized P-M software I need, by Wednesday Wonder Assistant will have re-modified my previous entries & added the mountain of Academic tasks we look after, and on Friday I will sing her praises from the highest peak in this Ivory tower during Group meeting!