Thursday, January 29, 2009


On my little gmail webclips, I saw this link.

I thought - what...a...JOKE.

Naturally, I went to the website and it's all flash, no substance. It's a pretty website, but basically there is NO CONTENT. All it basically says is "give us money and Sarah can continue to find creative ways to fuck things up." There are basically two pages. One page is a "about us page" which is a bunch of rhetoric garbage.

Another page of FAQs has only 4 questions, and consists of Sarah Worship and rhetoric.

It's a joke. There is a "contact us" page and I almost want to email and say, "You're kidding right?"

Bah. I wish she would GO THE FUCK AWAY.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

America's 25 Top Most Visited Places Meme

Silver Fox did this meme and tagged anyone who felt like doing it. I have traveled quite a lot within the US, not as much outside (though still non-trivial), and so I thought I'd give it a whirl. I like to travel :).

Bold the places you have been to. The numbers are probably the average amount of people per year.

1. Times Square, New York City, NY - 35 million

2. The Las Vegas Strip, Las Vegas, NV - 31 million

3. National Mall and Memorial Parks, Washington DC - 24 million

4. Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston, MA

5. Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Lake Buena Vista, FL - 17.1 million

6. Disneyland Park, Anaheim, CA - 14.9 million

7. Fisherman's Wharf/Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco, CA - 14 million

8. Niagara Falls, NY - 12 million

9. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN/NC - 9.4 million -

10 Navy Pier, Chicago, IL - 8.6 million - don't think so, but not sure. def. been to chicago though.

11. Lake Mead National Recreation Area, AZ/NV - 7.6 million - don't think so but not sure

12. Universal Studios/ Islands of Adventure, Orlando, FL - 6.2 million

13. SeaWorld Florida, Orlando, FL - 6 million

14. San Antonio River Walk, TX - 5.1 million

15. Temple Square, Salt Lake City, UT - 5 million

16. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, PA/NJ - 4.8 million

17. Universal Studios Hollywood, CA - 4.7 million

18. Metropolitan Museum, New York City, NY - 4.5 million

18. Waikiki Beach, Oahu, HI - 4.5 million

20. Grand Canyon, AZ - 4.41 million

21. Busch Gardens Africa, Tampa Bay, FL - 4.4 million

22. Cape Cod National Seashore, MA - 4.35 million

23. Sea World San Diego, CA - 4.26 million

24. American Museum of Natural History, New York City, NY - 4 million

25. Atlantic City Boardwalk, NJ - 4 million

20/25 - not too shabby!!! There are lots of interesting and cool places within the US, lots of family road trips in my past.....:)

Where have YOU been? Go for it, anyone :).

Year of the Ox Progress Items

I was inspired by Psych Post Doc to have a list of things I want to keep regular progress on for this year, and I put them in a widget to the right. I need to hold myself accountable!

1) Thesis: 1896 words for chapter 1!!!
2) Running 10 miles/week: haven't run this week :(.
3) Doing a pullup: Just made this goal, done nothing yet.
4) 30 pushups continuously: I could do this in 8th grade without breaking a sweat - like to do it again, and so I just made this again. Haven't done anything yet.
5) Upgrading wardrobe: Got my hawt new Naughty Monkeys

Monday, January 26, 2009

All About Eve

I just finished watching All About Eve, which I TiVOed recently. I have heard so much about this movie and so I decided to just watch it already, even though usually old movies are not my thing.

Let me just say - this was a really really good movie.

It always surprises me how much I enjoy character-driven movies, movies that about about people and what happens to them, not about events and what people do to react to it. Character-driven pieces are really nearly extinct today, ones that really captivate you on account of the *people*, not on account of the "omg what's gonna happen next????"

I can't explain what it was about this movie, but the acting was really just...I just kept watching it. At one point Mr. PhizzleDizzle turned on some music in another room and it drove me crazy! Most movies I watch these days, I can half pay attention, have my laptop on my lap surfing the internet, and maybe even have music in the other room and I still can follow along.

Not so with All About Eve. I wanted to hear every word. It was black and white, without an excessively imposing score, so it was really all about the acting and the words.

Really, I recommend it. Check it out, if you've never seen it. Really captivating.


Lately I find myself occasionally consumed with panic that I will not find a job.

On the one hand, not being able to find a job is bad enough, but on the other, I know that me being unable to find a job would be indicative of SERIOUS problems with the economy. In other words, it's like, "who cares if I can't find a job that I want when we are in the midst of the Great Depression Part II?" My whole worldview will be skewed and all the rules of life which I have carefully learned may not apply. We have plenty of savings, but they've largely been cut in half and if things continue the way they are, who cares how much cushion of savings you have? One time I said to a friend that I like to make sure that I'll be ok even in the worst of times, like apocalyptic times, and he said, "If it's the apocalypse, who cares? It's the apocalypse." That's sort of how I'm feeling now. I'm supposed to be seriously in demand, and I think I'm not.

On the other, I tell myself to stop being such a boob.

I talk to so few people in the world, my bubble is so small, and all the people I have talked have said that things are rough and they'll let me know if the purse strings loosen up....I cannot get a real idea of how it's going to be.

It's driving me crazy. I just know, already. What am I going to be doing in a few months? I don't have a fucking clue.

Friday, January 23, 2009

And the winner is.....

These babies in a 6.5!!!

The other pair's pink buckles turned out to be a REALLY nasty shade of pink, not my style at all. Looked different on my screen.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

The WTF do you do? Meme

Ok, so I've gotten some feedback from people in other fields about my post earlier today on CS 101, and I realized that I really would like to know what everyone else does too.

So, I'm tagging all of the science blogosphere with, "ok, wtf do you do?" Maybe not even that specific. More like, "wtf does your field REALLY mean? what problems are you trying to solve?"

Please edify me :). I like to be edified. Don't leave me hangin' peeps! Link to your posts in the comments. I realize that it is a lot to ask - it took me quite a while to write my post, but let's share!

Computer Science 101 - For the Edification of My Dear Readers

Yesterday, one of things I discussed with JLK was how to the general population "Computer Science" really doesn't mean anything. She said she had wondered what a thesis in computer science would really entail, and she didn't know. The number of times someone has asked me what I do, and I say, "I'm a grad student in computer science," I usually get a really blank, "oh, ok." So, I thought I'd do a series of posts on what computer science is and talk about what some of the really exciting problems in it are.

I'll start with just a basic CS 101.

CAVEAT: There are a lot of simplifications in here, so if you're an actual computer scientist and take issue with something, please don't complain about it - this is not intended for the edification of computer scientists, but rather non-computer scientists.

What is computer science?

To start off, I went to wikipedia. My concept of computer science is so large that I had a hard time coming up with a reasonably concise descriptor. I have to say, I was pretty impressed with the shakedown in their entry.

The first sentence:
Computer science (or computing science) is the study of the theoretical foundations of information and computation, and of practical techniques for their implementation and application in computer systems.

I like this definition. It's a good one, and it has a lot to say about the many layers of computer science. Basically, you want computers to do stuff for you. In order for this to happen, you need to express to the computer how to do what you want it to do. Since computers are, well, computers, you can't say to it, "well, you see, when this happens do this, but when that happens, do that, but sometimes you might still want to do the first thing even in the 2nd circumstance...." You also cannot say, "I want X to happen. You figure it out." You need to express to the computer in very very rigorous ways what you want it to do, because, after all, it's kind of like a robot. You need to be clear, cover all the cases, and tell it exactly what you want it to do in every circumstance.

There are many many levels for how this occurs. There's the design of the computer itself. There is the precise and concise way to approach a problem you want the computer to solve. There is the efficient expression of that approach which you must express to the computer in a programming language, which brings into the mix both the art of programming it as well as the effective design of the computer language itself. So there are a LOT of things going on in computer science.

Now, I want to make sure I get through also what computer science is NOT. Again, I'll defer to wikipedia:

The general public sometimes confuses computer science with other vocational areas that deal with computers, such as information technology (IT), or think that it relates to their own experience of computers, which typically involves activities such as gaming, web-browsing, and word-processing. However, the focus of computer science is more on understanding the properties of the programs used to implement software such as games and web-browsers, and using that understanding to create new programs or improve existing ones.[5]

Anyway. So, I'll go through a little example that goes through many of the layers of computer science in the context of one problem. Let's talk about a simple idea of search.

Whole Shebang Example - Search

Algorithms, Computability, Complexity

Let's say you are playing "Go Fish". Your opponent asks you, "do you have a 7 of spades?" You look at your deck, and look for the 7 of spades. What's the easiest and most straightforward way to do this? Start from the beginning, and look at each card in sequence, right? That kind of approach is actually really easy to express to a computer.

However, this is not what we'd call a scalable solution. It's fine for Go Fish, but what if you are trying to find X amongst N items? And N is, say, 1 trillion? Is searching from the beginning to end really the best way? And what if you are playing Mega Go Fish, and you have to search for X this turn, and then Y next turn, and then Z? Is searching through (up to) 1 trillion things EACH TIME the best way to go? No way Jose!!! So, this type of approach (algorithm, in CS-speak), is not scalable and described as O(N). In other words, the length of time to solve the problem in the general case scaled linearly with N.

Now let's say you are a smart Mega Go Fish player, and you keep your deck of cards sorted in order all the time. In this case, you can use the fact that your cards are sorted to use another sort of search - called Binary Search. Basically, you cut your deck in half. If X is greater than the value of the middle card, you focus only on the upper half. If X is smaller than the middle card, you focus on the lower half. Then you repeat this process, until you've found your X (or determined that you don't have it). This is a MUCH more efficient way to search, but depends on your deck being sorted at all times. This has a cost of O(logN), i.e. the time it takes to find your card scales with logN, which is significantly better than N.

So, one aspect of computer science is taking basic problems like this and finding more efficient ways to solve them in the general case. Google, for example, keeps track of basically ALL the webpages on the internet. When you type, "PhizzleDizzle" into your search box, do you think Google is iterating through all those pages one after another looking for a match to PhizzleDizzle? I should think not! So that's one aspect of CS - efficient ways to solve certain general classes of problems.

Programming Languages

Now that people are working on this kind of stuff, let's say I want to actually write a program to do it. So, someone needs to have written a language that *I* the human being can understand without wanting to rip my eyes out, and program this search algorithm concisely. Natural human language won't do. So let's say I pick the language Python (and code the basic search algorithm):

found = False
for i in mega_go_fish_deck:
if i == search_value:
found = True

if found:
print "success!"
print "failed - not in deck"

I'm sure even if you're not a computer scientist this largely made sense to you, right?

Now, there are other languages, like C, where the program would look similar but not the same. I'm no HTML master, and I'm too lazy to get this to actually formate correctly, so I'm not going to write out the code. But suffice it to say that one aspect of language design is anticipating the types of things a programmer will want to do quickly and easily. For example, the print function I have in the Python code is actually decomposable into lots of little parts, but the designers of the language know that it's useful and people would want to do it all the time. So they built print into the language so that the human doing the coding doesn't need to reinvent the wheel every time. As computational needs change, so can languages (though that changes kind of slowly), and so that's why there are tons of different languages out there, many targeted specifically for a certain purpose, with various tradeoffs. For example, there are certain things that are hard to express in the C language that are easy to express in Python. At the same time, Python can be a lot slower than C for reasons I won't go into. Depending on what you're trying to do, one might be more appropriate than another.


Now, you've also go to be able to translate this human-y language down to the computer level. Remember, these languages have been made for humans to work with, but you've still got to boil it down to 1's and 0's for the actual computer itself. There is also a lot of work in this whole "translation" area (called compilation in CS-speak). In fact, the first female winner of the Turing Award, Dr. Frances Allen, did a lot of work in compilers. In the old days, people just had to write in machine language, and man, that's a bitch.


Then there's the design of the computer itself. In the end, this lovely algorithm you've figured out, then written, then perhaps the end it's got to execute on a real-live computer, and there are lots of different ways to make a computer too. So, there's a whole field of people trying to make computers faster, better, more suited to our needs, etc. This is the type of stuff Intel and AMD work on.

Detailed Design of Basic Building Blocks for Making a Computer

This is starting to get into Electrical Engineering, and in some ways Material Science. EE really is quite adjacent to CS.


As you can see, there are a lot of different things that count as computer science. I've sort of taken a whole shebang example and talked it from top to bottom, but you can also move laterally and make the same top-to-bottom approach. At the top, here I talked about search algorithms. There are also domains like Artificial Intelligence and Graphics, where you do similar high-level theoretical approaches from the top, lots of math, and then in the end it also has to boil down to the bottom, actual hardware. One tough thing about computer science is because it scales from the theoretical down to actually physical transistors, that's a lot of levels of work that are striated and largely remain independent for comparative advantage purposes, but in the end the whole system has to work all the way up and down. It's a lot to wrap your head around.

Anyway, I hope this was helpful to my dear readers, and let me know if you have any questions.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

JLK and the Phizzle

Through fortuitous circumstances, JLK and I met up for margaritas and Mexican food this evening.

In some ways, I approached the evening almost like a first date from an online dating service. You have a sense of a person that is entirely electronic, and you know they have a sense of you, and you're unsure of how you'll come across IRL, even if you're sure it will turn out fine.

As I got ready to leave the house, I had ridiculous thoughts like, "I've blogged so much about my hair. Does my hair look bad? I hope it doesn't look bad." Or, "I've blogged about how smokin' hot I think I am. What if she thinks I'm on crack?" It was actually quite funny, in hindsight. I think this results from the fact that I have never actually dated anyone from an online dating service, and I've been with Mr. PhizzleDizzle so long that the anticipation of meeting someone new (even under totally platonic terms) has a really foreign feel for me.

Anyway, so I'm about 5 min. late, which I feel bad about. I hate being late. But sometimes I am, and I should stop doing that, especially when I'm meeting someone for the first time. At any rate, Miss JLK was lovely and hawtt. We had a most excellent meal in which we discussed many interesting topics at length, and I find her just as flippin' awesome IRL as online. Smokin' hot, articulate, and fun, with a nice laugh :). We had a great time. You know you're jealous. :)

Thanks JLK!!

Ok, Ok, Ok

So, I took this test yesterday. And despite declaring that I would get shittons done today, I guess I will jump on the bandwagon since my blog BFFs AA and JLK have posted their results. I'll even give you my thoughts about each of my scores! (whoop-di-do).

Neuroticism (sometimes also called Emotional Instability) is the tendency to experience negative emotions such as sadness or anxiety. People who score high on neuroticism are vulnerable to stress and tend to experience negative feelings more often. People who score low in neuroticism tend to be less susceptible to stress, and experience negative feelings relatively infrequently.

You scored 14 out of 50. This score is higher than 4.3% of people who have taken this test.

Ok, so I totally agree with this one. I've always know that I'm very....un-neurotic. This is probably why most of my girlfriends come to me for the most logical, rational advice they can get. I am generally easygoing and hard to really stress out. When I am stressed, I rarely get OVERWHELMED by stress. Something in me, which I think stems from childhood and a long-reaching personal time horizon, always is able to get over the "now" in favor of "the future" and know that, well geez, everything is going to be all right. I suppose this means I am the anti-drama queen, which can be good or bad, depending on whether you like drama or not.

Extraversion (or Extroversion) is the tendency to experience positive emotions and seek out stimulating situations. People who score high on extraversion tend to be active, energetic, and enjoy being around other people. In contrast, people who score low on extraversion, known as introverts, tend to be quiet, low-key, and are typically less involved in the social world.

You scored 33 out of 50. This score is higher than 43.4% of people who have taken this test.

This one is also pretty spot on. I'm not especially shy, nor especially outgoing. I don't feed off the energy of other people to juice myself, nor can I stand to be totally alone for long periods of time and I do require social interaction. So, pretty boring and in the middle.

Openness to experience
Openness to experience is a general tendency to appreciate emotion, adventure, and unusual ideas or experiences. People who are open to experience are intellectually curious, appreciative of art, and sensitive to beauty. People with low scores on openness tend to have more conventional, traditional interests.

You scored 37 out of 50. This score is higher than 28.4% of people who have taken this test.

This is also pretty accurate, I think. I'm not totally risk averse (i.e. I have no problem picking up and moving to another part of the country, by myself), but I like to establish routines and patterns in my life. But I'm not a slave to them. However, I am definitely not as spontaneous as very spontaneous people, and I think they caught on that I don't really like art that much. Modern art especially. I appreciate beauty, but in my mind....real beauty, not deep non-sensical beauty like splashing paint on a canvas randomly. I think the flaw in this part of the study is the correlation between appreciating art and appreciating beauty. I remember thinking to myself, well, I'm really not all that into visual art, but sometimes a piano piece, well played, can reduce me to tears, as can the violin. So...anyway, my perception is that this part of the study was a bit too blunt.

Conscientiousness is the tendency to show self-discipline and persistence. People who score high on conscientiousness tend to be persistent, responsible, and duty-driven, but are sometimes perceived as being overly perfectionistic and concerned with order. Individuals low on conscientiousness tend to show less persistence and may have trouble seeing things through.

You scored 33 out of 50. This score is higher than 40.9% of people who have taken this test.

This is interesting to me. I am average here, really in the middle. And it makes sense, because I am not the most disciplined person, I don't think. But, this is really self-reported, and not observed. Part of me is aware that, by virtue of the fact that I have slogged my way through most of a PhD, I cannot possibly be a very undisciplined and unpersistent person. And yet, I really think that I am. Actually, that's not exactly true. I don't think of myself as UNdisciplined, I just do not think of myself as disciplined. This part of the study is difficult because of the self-reporting nature, for me. I find it hard to assess myself along this axis.

Agreeableness is the tendency to be sympathetic and cooperative towards others. People who score high on agreeableness strive for social harmony and value getting along with others. Disagreeable people tend to be more suspicious and hostile towards others.

You scored 41 out of 50. This score is higher than 76.7% of people who have taken this test.

I definitely do consider myself quite agreeable here - part of me sometimes thinks that I am part Empath (e.g. Deanna Troi) because I generally can sense when other people are uncomfortable, and if I know them well enough (or care), figure out how to alleviate that discomfort. So it's not so much that I am agreeable, but I do think I have a tendency to be sympathetic and strive for social harmony. One of my best friends thanked me after her wedding because of a few specific little things I did to alleviate tension in a situation that were fairly subtle, and that's the sort of thing I think I am good at. So yeah. Now I feel like I have been bragging about myself, that's not my intent at all. Anyway, my point is that I feel like this study captured my tendencies along this axis reasonably well.

Ok, so even though this isn't actually a meme, I tagged it as a meme because it's so meme-like. Someone else do it now! :)


Today I'm going to get so much shit done the world isn't going to know what hit it and spin around 2x in 24 hours.

That's right, suck it world! Phizzle is going to kick some serious ass today.

That is all.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I am crying

I am so, so, so, so happy. This is so amazing. I am crying.

Good-bye W. You will not be missed.

Monday, January 19, 2009


So, I have just as much of a shoe fetish as the next girl. Well, maybe more.

For goodness sakes, I got married in these:

If that doesn't up my AWESOME factor, I don't know what does. And yes, everything else was very traditional, I did the white dress and the bouquet and all that jazz. But I had to have these shoes for my wedding.

So anyway, today I took the plunge. I tried, which was suggested by the venerable Dr. Isis and looked for Naughty Monkeys, which I'd never tried before and she loves.

I bought two of each of these (for sizing) to try, and I am like a kid on Christmas Eve. I can't wait to try them!!!!

Recent Forays into the Potential Job Market

Despite some misgivings, I want to blog (vaguely) about my recent invited seminar.

I went to this other department to give a talk and see if it was the kind of place I'd want to be in the future. I was REALLY excited about it. I was REALLY stressed about it. And as a result, I think I did a pretty kickass job.

I get there, and while I give a good talk, and I enjoy speaking to everyone I spoke the end of the day, I was totally exhausted and just stripped of my desire to go into academia. I can't explain it. No one said a single thing that explicitly made it a less than desirable career path. In fact, everyone seemed happy and seemed to love their job. But....somehow I was just like, "I am too tired for this." It makes no sense, but even now, the feeling remains.

I really can't figure out why this happened. I am presuming that in a while this desire might come back, but for the time being, I just don't wanna. Is this strange? Did this happen to anyone else? It just suddenly felt like too much to bear....too much bullshit.

Now that I think back, part of me thinks that it has to do with some praise I got from one of the faculty members I spoke with. He said that because my work was so rigorously done, it seemed totally unsexy, which is unfortunate in his mind because he found the rigor with which I did my work refreshing. And then it just dawned on my how much bullshit goes on in the world of academia and the art of getting published, getting grants, etc. I had been really happy about my work and what I accomplished in my own bubble of working on it, but upon getting out there and sharing it, I realized anew that not everyone will appreciate what I've done, and that in all likelihood, people who do not share my penchant for rigor and strict methodology will succeed wildly in both publishing, grant-getting, and overall career success. I'm not saying anyone at this institution was like that, but I'm just saying I'd forgotten kind of how things go when I spent so long working in a bubble on my work, which satisfies my personal standards. My personal standards are not everyone else's personal standards, and fighting against that can be a rough life, particularly when funding is a bitch and it's going to be crazy competitive. Anyway, that's as far as I got to diagnosing my own loss of interest, I will probably spend a bit more time getting introspective about it, and will blog if I have any more breakthroughs.

So now that I don't feel like academia, I do know I would still like to do some amount of research. Without getting into specifics, basically I now have two choices of industrial labs - far-reaching/out-there work, that is a radical departure from current technology, and a lab that would be much more near-term in focus but also would probably provide me with a lot more tangible knowledge of how things really work. The focus of these two labs is very different. The pay and benefits is likely to be very different. And my coworkers are likely to be very different. I want to position myself well during this nascent part of my post-graduate career, and I'm not sure what the best way to do this. It sounds reminiscent of recent discussions of how to choose a post-doc, but different in that it doesn't have anything to do with a PI, but rather the focus of an industrial lab.

And of course, it's not so simple as just the focus - it's the coworkers. The compensation. The ability to learn lots of new things. The ability to publish. To get known. It's not like there's a sweet spot of how much risk/reward I want to take with my career and voila, that will have chosen for me. There are a lot of other factors....

What to do, what to do.....

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pseudonymity and Paranoia

I am terrified of blogging too much sometimes. Because of this, I end up having to hold back a lot of information. Because honestly, in my field, it just might be that there is only one of me. I don't really know.

I was freaked out when I read this post over at Sciencewomen about getting "discovered" when blogging about the job search. I have a lot of stuff to kind of say, but I'm really not sure if I should say it, not because it would be bad about any institution necessarily, but because if I blog about the industrial labs I am considering, then my field my become obvious (or maybe I'm just paranoid), and then all my posts would be open to scrutiny.

I even wonder whether my icon/photo is too obvious - I look at it and it's clearly me (to me), but I realize that someone who knows my face less might not know it was me just from looking at it. After all, the logical side of my brain tells me it's really not that obvious.

Am I being too careful? Or does it not even matter? It's just that, with the Internetz, it's often one of those places where you really can't do "backsies" in any way....

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Hair Update

Yesterday, in an elevator in nearby Big Big City, a random girl told me she loved my haircut.

That's good news :).

So, the $75 cut is holding up well, I like how it doesn't crowd my ears, and how easy it is to wash/dry. The only thing is, I'm supposed to go buy some hair product for it, and I went all googly eyed at the hair product area of the grocery store yesterday. I never buy hair products, and I walked past that aisle so I thought I'd just go grab some, but I was totally confused by all the catch phrases, buzz words, brands, and target audiences. Pomade, Wax, Cream, Gel. Bed Head, Paul Mitchell, Redken, Biosilk. Curly hair, Straight hair, Hold, Straightener, Spritzer, oh my GOD what the hell is all this? I got confused and left. Normally, I use whatever is cheapest (currently Suave) and brush my hair once a month or so. So yeah.

Oh well.

In short, the short hair is cute, fun, and sassy, and a little bit more work.

Victoria's Secret Semi-Annual Sale

This is one of my favorite times of the year. I just blew $100 bucks. But I don't think Mr. PhizzleDizzle will be unhappy about it :).

Here's to stimulating the economy!!!!

Seriously - I've been wanting to try the 100-way bra for a while, my friend said it was the best $50 she ever spent. Well, I got it for $15.99. In lavender. Yes, I suppose black or nude would have made more sense, but then it would have been $37.50, so the bargain hunter in me could not justify that. So, a lavender 100-way bra it is - for $15.99. I can't believe how cheap that is.

Anyhoo, if you haven't ever worn Body by Victoria's Ultrasmooth underwear, go get some, if you apply the offer code for clearance stuff it's like $3.99 a pair - and I GUARANTEE you this underwear will change your life. I LOVE this underwear, it is the most comfortable underwear you will ever....well, wear. Seriously. DOUBLE seriously.

So go help me stimulate the economy. As long as it doesn't take you into debt of course.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


I was inspired by this post by AA to briefly write about google searches that have led to my page. I've been wanting to do this but I just never did, so here goes.

My biggest hit has been a search on:

"my advisor"

Now....what in the hell would any searcher learn about "their advisor" on any page that comes up? This perplexes me greatly.

Anyhoo, back to your regularly scheduled programming. I'm out of town so not a lot of posting going on.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Can I get a haircut??? PLEASE?

So today I got a haircut, because I am giving an invited talk soon and I wanted to look presentable.

Only it's a bad haircut.

And I don't have time to demand to get it fixed because I am leaving tomorrow for a weekend of fun with my friend before I get to work next week.

So I might have to get my hair fixed in Visit Town.

Goddamn, how can it be so hard to cut someone's hair when it is TOTALLY STRAIGHT? Granted, I don't have a blunt cut, but still. Some layers shouldn't be this hard. Holy CRAP.

Ladies - please tell me how you develop a relationship with a stylist. I have no idea how to do it, so I usually go to random places like Trade Secret or something like that, a low-ish end chain. How else do you pick a person to cut your hair, if you don't live in a Big City and have the help of Yelp, Citysearch, or lots of beautiful women whom you can ask where they get their hair done?????


Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Rise of the Meritocracy and Lani Guinier

I was inspired to make this post by some interesting stuff going on Blue Lab Coats as a response to some postings over at Young Female Scientist. The basic gist of the discussion is about whether the hiring practices of academic departments is subjective/objective, systematic/arbitrary, and whether that is good/bad.

Several years ago at my Grad Institution I went to a talk by Lani Guinier. If you don't know who she is, you might remember that she was nominated by Bill Clinton to be the civil rights chief for the Justice Department (and the first African American one at that). There was a media firestorm over some of her stances on affirmative action and he withdrew her nomination not long afterwards. Either way, she is a professor of law at Harvard Law School and has some controversial but provocatively interesting views on power, equality, and "the majority."

Anyway, so I went to her talk, and she talked about how her son had his 7th birthday party and there were both boys and girls at the party. At some point all the children played some sort of game, boys against girls, and the girls won, hands down. She then wondered, "who made up this game?" And the answer was....the girls. I forget exactly the rules of the game but it required both patience and coordination - something 7-year old boys just generally don't have as much of as 7-year old girls. And so the girls won.

She used this as the basis of her talk - that we as a society have all these metrics to measure the "quality" of people, but that honestly, you have to look at what the metrics are actually measuring, who designed the metrics, and whether they actually line up with desired characteristics to see if the metrics are remotely worthwhile. For example, she says in law school, the superstar students are the ones who raise their hands early and often and wax ad nauseum about whatever. The measurement for being a standout law student is basically to be a pompous ass who likes to hear themselves speak. She said that she's noticed, though, that what tends to happen is many competent and thoughtful future lawyers are sitting and composing their thoughts into a response before they raise their hands to speak, but by the time they are done, Loquacious Ass has gone on so many tangents that the subject has changed and the moment has passed, and they put their hands down. She asked, is this really what we want? We can measure this way but does this line up with what we hope to get out of our lawyers? If not, we better line up the rewards/merit system more with what we desire out of future lawyers.

She then brought up The Rise of the Meritocracy, a book written by Michael Young in 1958. The book is a dystopian satire about a future society based solely on "merit", a function of IQ and effort. The fundamental point of the book is that a society based on merit is kidding themselves - the people in charge tend to make things that only the elite can access keys to obtaining merit. The word "meritocracy" is meant to be a pejorative joke, like saying, "I'm not racist, but I only like white people," or "I'm an equal opportunity employer, but I only hire exceptional talent...people who speak Latin, can quote Shakespeare, and know how to properly eat an artichoke." I mean seriously, meritocracies make us feel better but let's be honest, there is no such thing as a totally unbiased evaluative metric because the metric is always in the eye of of the evaluator, which obviously is not totally objective.

So this gets to what brought on this post, a discussion of academic hiring practices. There are people out there who argue against hiring preferences for women because then "more qualified" people are left in the dust. But what does more qualified REALLY mean? I mean, obviously, plucking someone off the street - they would be unqualified. But do you really know if a guy has one more High Impact Paper then he is definitely "more qualified"? Qualified to do what? Contribute to the diversity of the department? Get funding? Teach undergrads? Mentor graduate students? If a department is committed to diversifying its faculty perhaps in approach, thought process, gender, whatever, then ABSOLUTELY hiring a someone whose cardinal publication number is less than someone else's is NOT a sacrifice in quality because you are hiring someone to do exactly what your objective is.

What is a department's objective? Think of it this way, let's say this year the department would like to hire someone in Subfield A, though applicants from other subfields may apply. Let's say Applicant X has N publications in Subfield A and is a good candidate, while applicant Y has N+2 publications in Subfield B and is also a good candidate, maybe even a little bit better. But the department really wants to expand Subfield A, and so they go with Candidate X. Does that mean they have "sacrificed quality", by not hiring the guy with more papers? I don't think so - they have merely gone with the decision that better satisfies their stated objectives.

So if a department values diversity and wants to diversify, and actively seeks out a qualified woman, I don't think that's in any way bad. It's not like they're going to hire a dumbass off the street just because she possesses two X chromosomes.

On the other hand, there are also women (like YFS) who complain about the lack of systematic evaluations because it goes against women (as opposed to people described above who complain about the lack of systematic evaluations so that a hiring decision can favor a woman). How can a woman prove she's qualified and/or better than a man if there's not objective measuring stick? I'm not sure about this one - my gut tells me that if there is an Old Boys Network in place at an institution, there's no getting around it - Grumpy Old Professor is going to hire Future Grumpy Old Professor.

At the same time, I believe in a bit of wiggle room in order to hire people who "fit" and/or that you like. There is the innocuous version of this wiggle room, wherein you keep out the scary, socially inept, crazy incommunicado types. There is also the more sinister type, wherein you keep out the women/minorities because they "just don't fit." There are always two sides to the same coin.

As of now, I think I fall into the "I like wiggle room" camp because I believe, particularly at institutions that value both quality and diversity, I can ALSO win in the likeability/fit category. And I would hate to be at a place where everyone was just an automaton and there was no departmental community.

Maybe this will come back to bite me in the ass someday when I actually try to find a job, but for now, that's how I feel. Meritocracies are often a joke and wiggle room is good.

I can't count and brief thoughts on 2009

I just realized, my last post was actually only post #100. Heh. Turns out I had a draft somewhere that was unpublished and counted as one, which I just deleted and so...whoops. Anyway, I guess this is my *real* 101st post.

I don't have a whole bunch of time, but here's what I want to say:

2009 will be the year I graduate. I know it.