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random musings of a crazy cat lady

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Most annoying paper, continued

I’ve gotten the most annoying paper to the point at which it’s ready to be submitted. This entailed pretty much a complete rewrite. I should’ve just rewritten it at the outset. Instead I kept finding new things to change every time I went back to it. It took me a lot longer than writing a paper of similar length on my own research. Note to self – always start from scratch.
In return for my efforts, my name is now on the paper. I did not ask to be it, but given that it would never make it out the door without me, I didn’t say no. I am sure this is going to set off a shitstorm with the Annoying Postdoc (AP). He likes to stir up trouble. In the past this was manifested as subtle sniping about my boss. Now he’s turned his malice on his labmates, disguised as concern. Some of what he says is valid, but he is the cause of much of the problem. I suspect he knows that he is on the shitlist and is trying to deflect attention from himself, or perhaps he’s just in a pissier mood than usual. I am glad that I will be out of town if and when the shit hits the fan.

Big Red

I got the lowdown on the neighborhood bear. People think there’s just one, and it makes the rounds every fall. I have heard more noise on the patio/in the yard recently, but it could be coincidental. He’ll be hibernating in about a month, hopefully not in my yard. Someone took a picture and took it to a taxidermist, who estimated the bear is about 400 lbs. He is partial to taking out bird feeders and barbeques. The neighbors were surprised he didn’t go after my smoker. I think he was too busy messing with my sewer vent cap* to pay attention to my smoker and grill, but hopefully he won’t mess with anything when I am gone.
I am calling the bear ‘Big Red’, in honor of Cornell’s mascot. I’m bringing a Cornell T-shirt for Missy’s son Kadin. It has a bear on it, of course. I am going to tell Kadin that it’s the bear that lives in my neighborhood.
I haven’t actually seen Big Red. I am kind of disappointed about this.

* Bears are interested in stinky and chemical smells. They would frequently overturn the pit toilets at T’s gold panning claim, and one time a bear chewed a hole in a gasoline can. So popping the cap off my sewer cap and going after a Weber grill are pretty much par for the course for a bear.

Going to California

I’m on my way from Ithaca to California. I’ve finished my book but am not in the mood to start the second one or read chemistry stuff yet. I may start once I am done here. If I weren’t so miserly, I could even post this from the plane, but I’ll wait.
It’s kind of weird to be going back. I’m sure it will make me homesick for the place, as well as for my friends and family. I’ve felt the latter, but not the former. When it does come, it comes in unexpected hints, like a sadness when I see images of the ocean in a movie or on TV. I’m sure I’ll feel it more during the winter.
We passed peak foliage color about a week ago. Like a full moon when it’s overcast, the peak was hidden due to rain. I suspect that all the leaves will be down when I return in a week. It was kind of weird to realize this when I was driving to the airport today. When I arrived in early June, we hadn’t even hit summer. There was a prediction of snow yesterday, although it didn’t come to pass in Ithaca. The wheel turns differently in California, but it still turns, and it is windy and rainy there. I wonder if it will feel like a California fall to me now, or if my perspective has changed and it will feel like Ithaca did a month or two ago.
I will have dinner with T when I am in California, later in the week. I’m sure that will be weird, but I don’t know how much. Perhaps I am so used to change and weirdness now that it will seem weirder for him than me. Cowdude has been keeping me very entertained. The move to Ithaca really helped me get over T, and my ongoing flirtation with cowdude has helped get rid of most of the last vestiges of T-moping. I don’t know if it will lead anywhere but I am enjoying it. (And, in the interest of not jinxing things, that’s all I’m going to write about it for now.)
I’ll also be out at the spinoff of my former employer for a few days. I’m sure that will be weird too.
It’s so funny how songs have the power to pick up on a mood and amplify it, but when the mood passes they lose their power over you, and other ones step in to take their place. There is a whole new set of songs in my consciousness now. I’m listening to my iPod on the plane, and pulled up some of my older playlists from the last year. I still enjoy them, but they no longer evoke the mood that they used to, and that is a good thing, given that they’re from the breakup/layoff/job search phase.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Women Swimming

I've been kind of really lazy about swimming since I moved to Ithaca.  This is partly due to lack of convenient pool times.  I want the pool to be open from 7-9 pm, dammit, but alas, it is not.  So my options are to wait until very late, or go very early, or swim at lunch.
It is open on Saturday afternoon, and the first hour and a half are women only.  It was a convenient time and I thought it might be less crowded.  Wrong. Each lane had 3-4 women.  I got into one of the intermediate lanes and began swimming.  The first thing I noticed was that it was extremely calm and organized compared to coed swimming under much less crowded conditions.  There's less of a speed differential, and apparently women are better at sharing lanes. I should not be surprised by this. The second thing I noticed was that it was very peaceful not to have men around.  There were students, middle aged biddies, and old biddies.  Some of the people in the exercise lanes were chatting occasionally, but it was mostly just an amicable silence. 
It felt good to swim.  I'm going to have to get up earlier or try the late night swim.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Care and Feeding of Grad Students

I'm starting a new experiment tomorrow.  I'm pretty sure it's going to work, at least for a while.  I bought some Halloween candy. It will be put in a bowl on the table in my office.  I will not say anything about it to the students, but they will figure it out as soon as one of them comes down to talk to me.  Not a bad deal - a piece of candy in return for me asking them how chemistry is going.  I would've totally gone for that when I was a grad student.  There are lot of them who stop by a lot, or catch me in the lab or conference room, but some who don't.  I am betting a few of them will stop by.
It's not exactly a secret that free food is a huge motivator for scientists.  We know it, and we still get suckered in.  It doesn't end when you graduate, either.  Silicon Valley companies use the free lunch as a perk and a way to get people to work more.  Cookies and coffee are the standard lure for seminars everywhere.  In an ironic twist of fate, the grad students here are expected to provide coffee and refreshments when they do their oral exam and thesis defense, but perhaps that's more of an acknowledgement that profs like free food too, rather than a shakedown.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Reunited and it feels so good....

I'm going to go back to having just one blog.  I'll leave Recipe Geek up for a while (and possibly cross-post) in case I change my mind, but the cooking blog posts will all be posted here now.  I don't think there are very many people who read Recipe Geek but not Old Biddy.
When I first started blogging, I only had this blog.  Although it's anonymous, I was still cautious about the world of blogging, and I stayed away from sensitive subjects.  When T broke up with me I started posting much more personal posts.  Some are still up there, but others were removed after a while.  I didn't save them.  It's best to move on.
Around this time, people at work found out that I blogged about cooking and wanted to read the blog, so I split the blog into two and directed them to Recipe Geek.  I did a lot of cooking and blogging during those post-breakup pre- and post-layoff days.
Now, however, I'm working more and cooking less, so it makes sense to recombine the two blogs. 

Smoked Turkey Breast

In honor of Canadian Thanksgiving, I smoked a turkey breast yesterday.  It was not one of my neighborhood turkeys, just an unfortunate one from the grocery store.
My brother is a big foodie and BBQ snob.   He's got a few dishes that he's perfected.  Smoked turkey is one of them.  The best turkey I ever ate was cooked by him on a beat up old Weber grill using wood from a dead cherry tree in my mom's yard.  He's also cheap, so does not rely on expensive ingredients or equipment.  I did not presume to think that I could match his results on my first try.  I was right.
Anyway, I brined my turkey breast in a mix of water, salt, apple juice, and brown sugar. (Here's a link, but I left out the maple syrup and cut the recipe in half.)  It took about a day longer than anticipated to thaw, so I only brined it for 5 hours.  This is fine for whole turkeys that have been injected with salt solution, but wasn't enough for this one.  Next time I will let it sit overnight. 
I fired up the coals and set up the smoker.  I used a mix of hickory chips with some of the wood chips from my dead tree.  I think it was a birch or ash. It certainly was ash by the time I was done.  I'm still getting used to the smoker.  It was too hot at the beginning and too cool at the end.  I wanted 250F but ended up with a range of 350-200.  I was planting bulbs as it cooked, so I didn't fiddle with it as much as I should've.
About half way through, Rugrat came by with a dead mouse for the BBQ.  I thanked her and called her the most badass cat ever, but I didn't cook it for her.  Next time she needs to bring me a wild turkey.
Anyway, it was tasty but a bit dry.  It had a nice smoky flavor but it was not so overwhelmingly smoky that it needed something bland to go with it.  The pink, 'smoked' layer didn't extend all the way through, which is consistent with the fact that it was roasted more than it was smoked.  It was not as good as what my brother makes.
The cats liked it too.  Cats go into turkey comas even worse than people do, and they both left me alone for the rest of the evening. 
Afterwards, my brother told me his other secret, which is that whole turkeys come out a lot better on the smoker.  I'll have to give that a try when Rugrat brings me one of those wild turkeys.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Multi-headed hydra of bad scientific writing

(I'm still a little bit paranoid/cautious about what to post on this blog.  So things that are borderline may get posted for a few days and then taken down, sort of like I did after T and I broke up)

I've been editing the most annoying paper ever.  It's not the worst paper ever; if it were I wouldn't have to edit it.  The science is ok, but the postdoc who wrote it is a huge pain in the ass.  He wrote it and gave it out to other people in the group to critique  So far, so good.  However, he never incorporated any of their suggestions or corrections.  He's not a native English speaker and that paper really needed help.  I realized what was going on and arm-twisted him into going through it with the sub-group.  When this happens, the manuscript is projected up on the screen and everyone who is working on related stuff will critique it, sentence by sentence. Before we started, some of the grad students took me aside and thanked me for making him do it, and asked me to be the 'bad cop' if necessary.   It took 5 hours and didn't even get to cover a lot of stuff.
Eventually, the paper made its way to my boss.  He took a stab at it but eventually got completely exasperated.  A lot of random mistakes and bad English had crept back in, which made my boss worry that even if he asked the postdoc to make corrections, it might not get done, or other stuff would creep in and necessitate additional rounds of editing. It was also full of vague claims and hype which needed fact-checking.  It was mushrooming into a huge job, so I got called in to do it. 
Like the multi-headed hydra in the monster movies, just when I chopped off one arm another one whipped up and smacked me in the face.  There were just so many mistakes that it was impossible to systematically correct them in just a few passes.  I couldn't see the forest for the trees. It's hard to pinpoint exactly why it took so long, but I think it ultimately comes down to the fact that this postdoc is an arrogant pain in the ass. I almost think that if I had been presented with a stack of data and asked to write a paper, it would've taken me less time than I ultimately spent on it.
It's really good I colored my hair recently, because I'm sure I have a lot of new grey hairs from this. 

A little bit of entertainment at seminar

A few weeks ago one of my 'daily matches' on was a guy who posted a picture of himself with molecular models.  (For those of you who aren't chemists, those are just plastic structural models of molecules)  I was curious because he wasn't in the chem department but I figured he couldn't be that hard to find.  Sure enough, he was in another department.  He didn't sound like my type but I sent him a wink anyway since I liked the molecular models.
He was at the seminar last week.  I am so glad I never heard back from him.  He was pretty annoying and way too well dressed, which somehow is a turnoff for me.