Monday, July 31, 2006

Benefits I was previously unaware of

For the last few weeks, I've been trying to make sense of a new ad in the subway here. It's an ad for the Telephone Workers Credit Union and its tag line is "Now you don't have to be a telephone worker to benefit like one".

I don't understand the slogan. Are telephone worker benefits that great ? You'd think that if they were, it would have been reflected in popular lingo by now, as in:

"Man, that guy is benefitting like a telephone worker !"
"Dawg, I'm just tryin' to get some of them telephone worker benefits, na mean ?"

A visit to the website of the Telephone Workers Credit Union doesn't shed any light on the issue, beyond promising once more that you too, despite not actually being a member of this [apparently] blessed category, can benefit like one. No mention of what actual goodies await you, though.

Shame on those telephone workers for holding out on us about how great their benefits are !

Sunday, July 30, 2006

"Got quals ?"

Yes, I do -- I passed.

Or, rather, my thesis committee is recommending that I pass, but I won't have "officially" passed until their recommendation has been approved by the overall graduate committee for my PhD program.

As is often the case, the actual event was a lot less painful than I feared it would be. I think the main reason for this was that I managed to establish a reasonable amount of credibility early on by being able to answer most of the questions they asked about the biology of T7. After that, the questions were less of the explicitly probing "Do you have enough background knowledge ?" sort and tended more towards discussion of why I'd chosen the research plan I outlined in my proposal, and whether it was the best approach. Classwork didn't really come up, even after the chair of my committee explicitly proposed redirecting questions from my proposal to more general issues. So, the overall recommendation was that I pass.

My favorite bit of the whole thing was when TK, bless his heart, started to answer a question that was meant for me and had to be dissuaded from doing so by the other members of my committee frantically waving at him to stop talking.]

The only [minor] fly in the ointment is that my committee wants another meeting in 6 months, rather than the usual 12 months. That's because, basically, after only 2 months on my project I don't totally have it under control, so they figured having a follow-up meeting sooner rather than later was a good idea. While it's kind of annoying to have another deadline of that sort [I was anticipating a year of being left alone], I suppose it's a good forcing function and will probably result in me making more progress in the next 6 months than I normally would have.

In any case, now I get to mentally prepare for a much bigger milestone: having our first child. Two weeks till estimated first contact, sooner if Christina's wishes are fulfilled.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

'Tis the night before quals ..

... and I am ... not relaxed, shall we say. And the bit I'm the most not relaxed about is the prospect of being asked a bunch of probing questions about the classes I've taken. I'd originally planned to start reviewing class material a couple of months ago, which theoretically would have given me plenty of time to clear up the bits that I never got too firm a handle on [EM, anyone ?], make the connections that I missed, re-read certain papers etc -- basically, really get my head around all the totally-new-to-me stuff that I've been exposed to over the last couple of years.

Needless to say, that didn't happen. After my thesis project switch, it took me the last month and a half to learn enough about T7 to put together a coherent proposal and do enough preliminary work to justify even having a thesis proposal meeting. [Of course, all that preliminary work was computational -- I haven't done any experimental work with T7 yet, so if the subject of experimental technique comes up, it's likely to be followed by a strained silence.]

So, I've basically spent maybe 3-4 days reviewing the 8 classes I've taken and feel like the best I can say about the vast majority of stuff covered in those classes is "Yes, I've heard of that and can, in a hand-waving sort of way, tell you about it. However, should you have questions about specifics, I will be forced to resort to the Chewbacca Defense."

In short, I feel like a dilettante. Not a good position to be in when you're about to be asked to demonstrate a "sufficient depth of knowledge across a broad set of areas", and that you're ready to start doing some [mostly] self-guided research.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Time to start collecting stamps

... because apparently the new stamps are super. I have to say, though, the descriptions of each character seem rather anachronistic, as if they'd just been recycled from when the characters were first introduced. And it's weird that the female character descriptions say nothing whatsoever about their powers.

Anyway, now I finally have a legitimate reason to plaster Batman all over stuff without being accused of being juvenile.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Neverending Proposal

... has finally ended: I've been heads-down the last few weeks writing my thesis proposal and, after about 2 million drafts, I finally submitted it to my thesis committee members. And none too soon -- I don't think I could have taken another day of staring at the damn thing without going totally insane.

Now I have a week and a half to prepare for my actual qualifying exam, scheduled for July 28th, where I'll have to walk my thesis committee through a presentation of my proposal. This is when I can expect to be asked questions designed to make me squirm, not just about the proposal but also about "... more general topics in the field of computational and systems biology related to the research or course-work preparation of the student" [per the official description of the qualifying exam]. In other words, pretty much anything is fair game, so there's no point in going insane about it -- que será, será. My plan is to read through the notes from my classes, hope for the best and be prepared to deploy the phrase "That is known, but not by me" at the appropriate times.

Should anybody have time to kill and/or want to bore themselves by reading a copy of my proposal [with the ever-so-tantalizing title "Whole-genome re-engineering in service of systems biology"], consisting of 20 pages of fevered dreams, tarted up with learned references to papers I probably didn't read as thoroughly as I should have, and lightly sprinkled with dollops of "It's so crazy, it just might work !", let me know and I'll be happy to send you a copy.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


That's what you call something like this: holding it together for 120 minutes and then giving up 2 goals in the last 2 minutes. That said, Italy was definitely the better team. Ah well, no more chuckling at the announcers on Univision yelling " .... el alemán Lehmann !"

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Au revoir, Brazil ...

Lots of unhappiness in Brazil right now, after being outplayed by France. It was a deserved loss -- the Brazilian passes were sloppy, they didn't hustle for the ball, Ronaldo kept taking dive after dive ... and Zidane looped the ball over the head of many a Brazilian and made him look silly.

As a meta-comment, take a look at the French squad as compared to, say, the German squad, and see whether anything strikes you as odd about the demographics of the French team. Christina's mot juste: "Yeah, the French are good at getting other people to do their work for them."