Total Pageviews

random musings of a crazy cat lady

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Cauliflower Potato Leek Soup

I'm trying to be careful not to eat too many carbs, as I was borderline pre-diabetic at my physical a few months ago.  I've been eating much better since then, but you may've noticed I'm not doing much recipe blogging.
I got Joe hooked on cauliflower.  He was dubious at first, but has become a fan of roast cauliflower, as well as some of the  "cauliflower as pseudo-potato" recipes like cauliflower mash.  Along the same lines, I have started making potato-cauliflower soup.  I haven't tried the pure cauliflower version yet, but a ratio of about 3 parts cauliflower to one part potato yields a soup that is tasty and satisfying, yet fairly low calorie.  You'll be hungry two hours later if it's all you eat, but while you're eating it you think it's pretty rich.  It's nice on a cold day.

Potato Leek Soup
1 large cauliflower, cut into smallish florets
4 red potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 large leek or 2 small ones, washed and sliced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
4 oz bacon, most fat removed
1 cup shredded cheese (I used cheddar)
4 cups broth (vegetable or chicken) or water
water (maybe two cups)
salt and pepper to taste
red pepper flakes

Trim most of the fat off the bacon.  In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, cook bacon and leeks until leeks are softened.  Add garlic and cook about a minute, then add broth, cauliflower, potatoes, and enough water so that veggies are mostly submerged.  Bring to a simmer and cook until veggies are soft.  Puree with immersion blender or in a regular blender.  Return soup to pot, add cheese and salt, pepper and a splash of red pepper flakes (to taste).  Warm soup briefly and serve. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

On word choice, or, witness the power of Twitter

I'm on Twitter now, tweeting mostly chemistry-related stuff with occasional bit of randomness and feminism thrown in for good measure.  Mostly I'm just lurking and using it to find things to read.  You can find me at @CrankyOldBiddy if you're so inclined.
Anyway, today I happened to read a tweet about an article in the MIT Technology Review.  The post was an interesting article about how workers' performance is increasingly quantified.  However, it was titled "The Measured Working Man".  Um, WTF?!?!  Nothing in the article was sexist, but then they had to go and give it an old fogey sexist title that would've been out of date in the 70's  So I tweeted right back that I am an alumna and loyal reader and I thought their title was sexist.  The editor responded that "Working man" is a "historical phrase" and that "working person" would not have the same impact.  I was busy and didn't respond, but someone else chimed in that there was no need to use an outdated sexist phrase for historical reasons when "worker" would get their point across just as well.  Lo and behold, the editor changed it online and in the upcoming print edition and apologized. 
I am a stickler about policing sexist language, partially because I am now extremely sensitized to microaggressions and "othering".  I realize that, in the grand scheme of things, it's pretty low priority.  However, it's also one of the easiest things to change, as this twitter exchange illustrates, and as time goes by the offending phrases become quaint and out of date.  So why not take baby steps whenever possible, so we can all focus on bigger and better things?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A catalyst chemist's viewpoint on the VW #dieselgate scandal

I've been tweeting about #dieselgate, so Chemjobber asked me to write a guest post, which will probably get more views than any of my normal blog posts, with the possible exception of when I test a Cook's Illustrated recipe.  I'm cross posting it here.

I worked on new zeolite catalysts for diesel deNOx for several years.  The revelation that Volkswagen designed the catalytic converters on their TDI diesel automobiles to cheat on smog tests was absolutely shocking and depressing to me. 
To understand what they did, and why they did it, here’s a highly simplified short primer on automotive emissions control.    In the United States, gas-powered cars have what is known as a three-way catalytic converter and use a combination of Rh, Pt, and/or Pd loaded onto a porous ceramic monolith through which the exhaust passes.  Other additives, such as cerium oxide, may also be present to maximize catalytic performance.  Three-way refers to the three things the converter does – oxidize CO to CO2, reduce NOx to nitrogen, and oxidize unburnt fuel and soot to CO2.  Oxygen sensors and fuel injectors cycle the system back and forth between “lean” (excess O2) and “rich” (excess fuel) to make sure that NOx gets reduced and CO, soot and unburnt fuel get oxidized.  In addition to the catalyst chemistry and fuel injector systems, there is a great deal of engineering technology present to maximize the performance under sub par conditions such as cold starts, etc.
 However, the three-way catalytic converter technology is not suitable for application on so-called ‘‘lean-burn’’ engines that operate at high air/fuel ratios, including diesel-powered cars.  The high air-fuel ratio makes it harder to reduce the NOx emissions.  Prompted in part by the shift to cleaner diesel feeds, which are less likely to poison catalysts, and more stringent environmental standards, there’s been lot of research done in the last 15 years on developing better catalysts for diesel deNOx.  So, what are the options for diesel/lean DeNOx?  It would be advantageous to develop a diesel analog of the three-way converter, in which fuel injection strategies and a bit of extra fuel can be used to reduce NOx.  This is called hydrocarbon-selective catalytic reduction (HC-SCR).  We’re not really there yet.  Several workaround technologies are in use. 
1.     NOx storage-reduction (NSR, also called Lean NOxTraps/LNT) uses alkali earth metals such as Ba to bind NOx as nitrates, which then get reduced when the fuel injection switches into a richer mode.  Pt/Ba/Al2O3 is a common formulation. Periodically, the catalyst gets poisoned by sulfur and must be regenerated, just like the catalyst bed in a drybox. 
2.     Ammonia-SCR: In ammonia selective catalytic reduction (NH3-SCR), urea is sprayed into the exhaust stream at high temperature.  It decomposes to ammonia and helps reduce NOx to N2.  A separate tank in needed to store the urea and, of course, it will need to be refilled on a regular basis.
Both NSR and NH3-SCR also require the use of additional catalysts to actually do the DeNOx.  Currently, the state of the art for NH3-SCR is copper on zeolites,* but Pt has also been widely used, particularly in the NSR systems.  In addition to the catalytic converter, diesel engines contain a diesel particulate filter (DPF) to collect soot.  The soot can be burned off at high temperature. 
Volkswagen is sort of vague on exactly what types of deNOx technologies they use, but from what I’ve read, it sounds like the smaller cars had NSR and the larger ones had a combination of NSR and NH3-SCR using Cu-zeolites (Cu-CHA).  It is unclear whether the Cu-zeolites were used in all cars, or just the ones with SCR.  When the cars are being driven, the steering column vibrates and the deNOx parts of the catalytic converter were not turned on.  Urea was not sprayed into the exhaust pathway, and the feedback loop necessary for proper NSR was probably not turned on either.  When the car was being smog tested, the steering column was stationary and the catalytic converter was turned on.  I suspect the DPF technology was still being run properly, because soot is a much easier problem for a layperson to notice. 
I’m still puzzled why they’d take the risk and cheat the system this way.  Fine of $37,500 per car are nothing to scoff at. I’m also sort of dumbfounded that TDI owners didn’t notice that they never needed to fill their SCR tank, but perhaps VW just told them that it would not need to be filled very often. Did the catalytic converter technology not hold up to everyday driving, or did it just decrease the performance and mileage and they thought they’d sell more cars and happier owners if they bypassed it without telling people?  At first, I cynically assumed the latter explanation, especially since only a few states do routine smog testing.  But after thinking about it some more, I’m starting to wonder if the technology itself was not quite ready for prime time.  Some people have speculated that the temperatures required might be higher and cause more engine wear and tear.  I think it may depend on what catalyst is being used.  The Cu-zeolite catalysts work best above 300C, but many NSR Pt catalysts perform quite well at 200-300C.  But it may be that the Cu-zeolite technology just isn’t ready for prime time.  Back when I worked on HC-SCR, the performance of a fresh catalyst was very good, but it would get deactivated over time. The commercialized system and the use of NH3-SCR were supposed to solve a lot of the problems that we observed, but perhaps that is not the case.  If you only turn on the catalytic converted once in a while, this won’t be a problem.  I’ve been working in another area of catalysis since 2010, so I haven’t been keeping up to date on the literature, so it could be that VW is just getting greedy and the catalytic converters work just fine.
Anyway, at the moment there are a lot of questions and not a lot of answers.  Hopefully more details will come to light soon.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Quinoa and Black Bean Veggie Burgers

Joe and I are on a veggie burger kick.  Because of the peculiarities of my diet, most of the store bought ones are off-limits to me, because they get their protein from either gluten or soy, so we've been making our own.  The actually taste a lot better than storebought, and you can't beat the price.
I've adapted the recipe from one I found on-line.  You can adjust the ingredients to suit your taste and what you have at home. 

1 can black beans
1-2 cups cooked quinoa
2 eggs
splash of water or milk
oats, ground flax or bread crumbs (maybe 1 cup)
1 cup grated cheese (optional)
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon hot sauce
1 clove garlic, chopped (optional)
1 small can chopped green chiles (optional)
Drain beans and mush them up a bit with a fork or potato masher.
Beat eggs with a little bit of water or milk.
Mix eggs/beans/seasonings/quinoa/cheese together.  Add enough oats/flax (or breadcrumbs) to get the right consistency.   It should be kind of wet but hold together.  Put mixture in fridge for an hour or more to let it absorb the liquids.  Form into patties and cook like hamburgers.  (If you want them firmer, put them in a 350F oven for 10-15 minutes after pan-frying them.)
Makes about 10 large burgers or 15 medium ones.  They freeze well.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

F*&^ You, ACS 2016 Awards

The 2016 American Chemical Society (ACS) national awards were posted recently. 
Of the 77 people who received awards,* a grand total of of 5 were women.  One of those was an award specifically for a women, and another was for high school teaching.  So a grand total of three women got a research based award that was not gender specific.
I am really livid about this.  As you might guess from the sheer number of awards, it's not just the future Nobel laureates getting them. No.  There are a lot of prizes for a specific subdiscipline, awards for industrial chemists, and awards for grad students and assistant professors.  As a result, many of the awards go to people who are good chemists but not necessarily at the top of their fields.  Even with the abysmal hiring record for women in the 90's-early 2000's, I can still think of a lot of women who are as deserving or even more so than the people who got the awards.  Even the most backwards chemistry departments have more than 5% women faculty, and in industry and in some of the more diverse department the number is much higher. 
Fuck you, #2016ACSawards.

On a better note, here's an epic all-Cornell takedown of the recent Williams/Ceci study that claims women have an advantage in STEM hiring decisions.

*Some awards went to teams, so the total number of recipients is higher than the number of awards.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Molly 2015

Molly's my little badass.  She is going to get herself eaten one day if she is not careful.
The cats are currently under house arrest due to coyotes.   I saw a coyote in the yard two weeks ago and have heard them yip yapping a lot nearby.  I've also seen a few by the road and on the pictures from my wildlife camera.  Lucy was on the deck when the coyote was in the yard and was all nervous and fluffed up.  Molly was about 15 feet closer to the coyote and was just watching it with interest, like a badass.  I brought the cats in and had to deal with non-stop begging from Molly to go back outside.
Somewhere along the line, Molly has turned into Luna's reincarnation.  Sure, she's a fluffy, affectionate goofball like Rugrat, but her core personality is very much like Luna.  She's a one-person cat and mopes when I'm out of town.  She has a great deal of confidence that she is the queen of the yard and gets a lot of enjoyment from sitting outside watching her territory, and wanders the neighborhood and visits the neighbors yards a lot.  One time she got stuck 25 feet up in a tree at midnight in the rain.  She was not nervous at all after seeing the coyote two weeks ago, but I have seen her come in very skittish.  Nonetheless she seems to be a thrill seeker.  This is reminiscent of Luna staring down dogs and then strutting into the house like she just had a most awesome experience, or exploring quite a wide swath of her new neighborhood at age 15.  I do not doubt that Molly has had multiple coyote encounters and may have also seen the neighborhood bobcat.  Knowing Molly, she might've even hung out with it.  It's not aggression, just extreme self-confidence. 
It's been interesting to see Molly's personality develop.  Unlike most cats I've owned, she had a very long adolescence and her personality is still changing at age 3.  My vet said that cats reach emotional maturity at 3, and that Maine Coons develop more slowly than shorthaired cats, but Molly is the first cat I've had where the changes were still noticeable past age 2.  I don't know how she got to be so much like Luna in the last year and a half.  The simplest explanation is that is just how she is, and that's why she and Luna got along so well.  These traits became apparent to me once Molly was not longer a kitten.  But there is a superstituous and anthropomorpic side of me that thinks that there is more to it than that.
Luna was 17 years old when I got Molly.  Rugrat's death had been very hard on Luna and her health was declining rapidly.  Somehow, this quiet little kitten cheered Luna up a lot and she bounced back a bit.  At the time, Luna like to sleep on an armchair, and Molly soon began hanging out on the cat tree next to Luna.  Eventually they started sharing the armchair, which was really unusual since Luna did not like to have her personal space encroached upon.
After Luna died, Molly still sat in the chair and would always leave a space open on Luna's side.  It was like she was saving a spot for Luna, or like Luna was there in spirit.  After a year or so, she stopped leaving a space, and then stopped sitting on the chair.  Around the same time, she started reminding me of Luna.  It's like Luna is in Molly now, and that's why she doesn't need to leave a spot for her.  It is kind of comforting to think that Molly picked up some of Luna's spirit, either by becoming friends and spending Luna's last few months together, or by something more difficult to explain.  I'm not religious anymore, but things like this remind me why people take comfort in religion.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

This post is not about Tim Hunt

I've been slacking off in being a #ladyscientist.  I've been too busy writing proposals, teaching my summer undergrad, going to NERM, and watching the Womens' World Cup to be #distractinglysexy  in at least two weeks.  LOLno.  But those are the reasons I haven't blogged about Tim Hunt's incredibly dumbass comments.  In the meantime, others have done an admirable job blogging and tweeting about it.  So my blog post will actually be about a discussion that was prompted by it.
NERM was in Ithaca this week.  For those of you who aren't chemists, it's the Northeast Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society.  Anyway, I had dinner with two MIT classmates - S, who worked with me when she was an undergrad and I was a grad student, and AV, who is also an inorganic chemist but worked for a different advisor as S and I.  Both AV and S are professors now.  We were discussing the Tim Hunt comments, and our own experiences, and ended up reflecting on our time at MIT. 
I had a very good experience in grad school at MIT, and did not notice any sexism until I started interviewing for faculty positions.  I have since wondered if I was just clueless and didn't notice the more subtle stuff, but I sure as heck started noticing stuff once I left MIT.  I mentioned this to S and AV, and they said they noticed the same thing.  AV thought it was because it was totally normal there for genius to occur in unexpected, nonstereotypical packages.  My theory was similar to AV's - we were all expected to be competitive; getting results in the lab mattered a lot of more than anything else.  No one cared if we were ladylike or not.  I was able to be a total fucking honey badger.  S said she got the impression that inorganic chemists noticed gender less than organic chemists, and encountered more bad experiences when she went off to grad school and postdoc than she had experienced at MIT.  It probably also helped that this was in the early days of the internet, so we were sheltered from hearing about incidents at other schools or idiot comments from dinosaurs.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Fuck You, Disney!

I'm on a roll, and I'm procrastinating on some research proposals, so here's the "Fuck You!" of the day.
Disney took a break from raking in money and selling annoyingly sexist toys to kids and just laid off a bunch of programmers and replaced them with H1B employees from an Indian outsourcing company.  Yeah.  I'm not anti-immigration, or even anti-H1B.  I think it's a great way to hire highly specialized science and tech folks, many of whom are educated here in the states and have PhDs.  It's not supposed to be a way for Disney to get rid of a department and bring in a whole new cadre of programmers who do the same thing but cost slightly less. 
While Disney was doing that, several of my students were unable to get H1B visas since the outsourcing companies had taken most of the slots for the year.  So fuck you, Disney!  If I weren't boycotting you already I'd start now.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Battle Royale

I don't know what got into Molly and Lucy.  They are normally BFF's and are totally inseparable.  In winter they snuggle up together and when it's warmer they just sleep far enough away from each other to keep cool.  But something happened on Sunday night and I have no clue what started it.  Now it's like I have two former BFF junior high school mean girls and lots of drama.
Molly was outside most of Sunday.  I was sort of worried since it was actually cold, rainy and windy, and I had heard coyotes nearby recently. When she did come in she was kind of bedraggled and nervous.  She made her way over to the kitchen and Lucy ran over to greet her.  Molly was sort of nervous and not her usual self.  I looked away and the next thing I knew they were violently fighting.  We got them separated, but I wasn't able to catch Lucy and put her in another room. When Molly came out Lucy chased her upstairs and cornered her under the bed.  Molly was completely freaked out.  I kept them separated that night, and the last two days.
Molly has been less spooked each day, and is starting to seem normal except for her interactions with Lucy.  That is getting better, but more slowly.  Lucy misses Molly, and cries outside the door of Molly's room.  She seems hurt and worried when Molly growls at her, but she chased Molly under the couch tonight.  Fortunately, Molly was calm once Lucy had gone back outside.  The next time I looked over, Lucy was on the outside and Molly was on the inside, and Lucy had brought Molly a dead chipmunk.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Fuck You, Random UNC Trustees

Dear UNC trustees,
You've got a lot of bigger shitstorms on your hands, so I know it may seem like a low priority, but please don't be assholes about renaming the Saunders Building.  It was named after someone who was active in the KKK.  Student activists recently led a successful campaign to rename it (it's now called the Carolina Building) but nontheless three idiot trustees voted against the measure, citing history, blah blah blah.
Look, I've been around universities a lot longer than all three of those trustees, combined.  I've seen them rename things at the drop of a hat.  I also attended a place which gives buildings and majors numbers, not names, and at the end of the day, it does not make a damn bit of difference.  What does make a difference is the message you send to the community.  Heck, I was at UNC for 2 years and did not know the Saunders Building was named the Saunders Building, so it could've easily been the Carolina Building.  So stop acting like the name is a positive bit of history.
While I'm on today's rant, the same goes for names of sports teams and mascots.  Rename them too. 
Old Biddy

PS I'm actually in a decent mood, but I'm enjoying using the microblogging format to rant about random things.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Fuck you, FIFA

Seriously.  It has been an open secret that soccer's governing body, FIFA, is incredibly corrupt.  Now it has leaked out that officials allegedly took more than $100 million in bribes.  Yet for all the money swirling around, they couldn't get off their asses enough to require Canada to install real turf to its fields for the women's world cup.  Fuck that shit.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Postscript on my gluten baby

So I'm at a conference #3 now.  My doppelganger from UMN is here too.  She is actually pregnant, which makes it even funnier.  Anyway, we were commiserating about a certain annoying old guy in her department and I told her how he had asked me if I was pregnant.
We had a good laugh over that one. More amusingly, she is going to text that bit of info back to her boss, because apparently the annoying old man is on the shit list for other things as well.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Dear New San Franciscans, No, It's Not Cold

It's not cold.  It really isn't.  Stop whining loud enough that people from the East Coast can hear you.  It's 60 degrees and there is no wind or fog.  Put on your grown up undies and learn to carry a hoodie or cardigan with you at all times.  You're just revealing how much of a newbie to the city you really are.
Now, if you're walking across the Golden Gate Bridge in June and there's wind/fog/blowing mist, you are allow to complain.  That summer cold is annoying.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Dear Old Men Who I Have to be Polite to, Please STFU...

Twice in the last week, I've been congratulated by an old guy on my pregnancy.  I think it's time I retired this particular shirt until I lose 20 lbs.
All joking aside, no I'm not pleased.  It was a long winter and I did gain 5 lbs and get out of shape, and then I ate gluten and made my stomach distend out even more.  However, all of this is incidental to the primary message of this blog post, which is

Sincerely yours,
Old Biddy.

Going to California

I’m in California now, visiting my parents and friends and attending a conference. I’m not going to lie – I do miss it, although I do also really like Ithaca.   On some visits, the crowding and traffic get to me a lot, but that hasn’t happened yet.  Things seem sort of calm and peaceful, more like I remember it.  It does help that I am visiting during the nicest part of the year.


As some of you may have noticed, I haven’t been posting very much lately.  I have a lot of half-written posts but have been finding it hard to find the bandwidth to finish them while they are still timely.  Part of this is due to me and Joe living together – I get less quiet time than I used to, simply because there is another, extremely extroverted person in the house.  It’s working out very well, but is not condusive to really long, well-written blog posts.
I still like the blog format as sort of a public diary/soapbox, though.  For the time being, I’m going to experiment with using a microblogging format.  I’m not going to use twitter or even stick to 140 characters, but will start posting shorter blogs/commentaries.  Perhaps I should call this semi-microblogging, or milliblogging.  Deciblogging is probably the most accurate description.  As always, I will link to some of them on Facebook.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Gluten Free Macaroni and Cheese (or Regular Mac and Cheese)

It's been a long winter.  Sub-zero days have given way to cold rainy days.  Sometimes it's hard to resist the siren's call of comfort food.  Such was the case tonight - after a week of healthy turkey leftovers from Easter it was time for something different.  I made a batch of gluten-free macaroni and cheese.  It turns out that this is one recipe that adapts very easily.    I just took a standard recipe for a bechamel-based mac and cheese and used gluten free flour and pasta.  Much to my surprise, the bechamel cooked up fine with the gluten-free flour.  It comes out tasting as good as the standard kind.  If you aren't avoiding gluten, just use wheat flour and macaroni.

Macaroni and Cheese

Preheat oven to 375F.  Grease a 9 x 13" casserole dish.   Start a pot of water boiling.

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour (regular or gluten free)
2 cups milk
10-12 oz grated cheese (I've used cheddar or smoked gouda)
salt and pepper to taste
12 oz macaroni (regular or gluten free)
optional - seasonings (paprika, dried mustard, hot sauce, chipotle powder, or whatever sounds good)

Make the bechamel base.  Heat butter in pan until it just starts to brown.  Add flour and whisk it in.  Continue stirring and cook until it is starts to smell slightly toasty. Add milk gradually and whisk it in.  It will become clumpy initially and then smooth out.  Stirring it frequently, bring it to a boil and cook for 4 minutes.  It will thicken up.  Add most of the cheese and stir it in until melted, and season to taste.  Reserve a bit of the cheese to put on top. 

While you are cooking the sauce, boil the macaroni until it is al dente.  Drain and add it to the sauce.  Transfer mixture to the casserole dish and cook for 20 minutes and then put it under the broiler for a few minutes if you want it browned.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Snow musings

When I was in grad school, I loved the snow.  It was the most magical thing and it made me immeasurably happy.
There are several caveats to note.  I was young and healthy and did not have bum knees or wrists.  Also, I lived on campus in a dorm, so I didn't have to shovel it, and I did not have a car, so I did not have to drive in it either.  I could frolic in it as I chose, on my way to and from the lab, restaurant or bar. 
At age 46, I still love the snow.   Unfortunately, now I have a car,* and a steep driveway, and a hilly commute to work, and I am boring and middle aged.   It's easy to get caught up in the negative aspects and grumble.  I got caught in yet another snow squall* tonight.  I looked out of my office and there was nothing.  Then I packed up my bag, locked the lab and left.  By the time I got outside it was dumping and the ground was completely covered.  It was absolutely wonderful.  Unfortunately, practical me was worried about getting home before it got worse, so that's what I did.  I regret that, though.  I wish I had recaptured the magic and just walked around and enjoyed it.

* The Subaru + snow tires does really well in the snow.  I love it.  However, it's still my beautiful new car and I am extra paranoid about other drivers.

**We've had a lot of snow squalls this year, usually when I am driving to and from work.  They're pretty intense and dump a lot of snow in a short amount of time (10-30 minutes), and then it stops. 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Yik Yak Biddy Whack..

..Give the dog a bone
This old biddy came rolling home.

For those of you who are old or have better things to do, Yik Yak is an app which lets you post and read anonymous commentary.  It pings your location and you can see what people are yakking about in your general vicinity or snoop in on what people in other areas are talking about.  It's sort of like an anonymous twitter, with all the good and bad that encompasses.  According to various articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Yik Yak is causing all sorts of problems on some college campus.  Students have been using it to bully/harrass other students.  More recently, it was a huge problem in one class, with many of the students in this class spending more time yakking about how they hated having to be in class on Friday morning or posting hateful stuff about the professsors than they were probably spending actually paying attention to the class.  More than 100 comments were posted during the 3 hour class.
Intrigued, I downloaded Yik Yak to see if this sort of thing was going on here.  I was particularly curious to see if they were yakking about my boss, who is teaching a double lecture of second semester organic chemistry.  I glanced at it periodically to see what I would find out. 
It's not hugely popular here.  I noticed a variety of chemistry related yaks, mostly complimentary stuff about Prof. R., who is a senior lecturer and is hugely popular.  He's like their cool uncle.  Apparently he had read the same article as me, because he was giving them a hard time about yakking in class so they were yakking nice things about him. I didn't see any yaks about other chemistry profs.  The important topics of the day were...

1.  The weather
2.  More complaints about weather
3.  Complaints about hangovers, annoying roommates and tuition
4.  Odes to naps and sleeping in
5.  A heated discussion about the pros and cons of Canada Goose jackets
6.  Boners, especially ones spotted on other people
7.  The dude who accidentally opened up porn on his phone or computer in math class
8.  Making fun of other people or themselves for not wearing proper footwear in the snow
9.  Asking for love/sex advice

So really, the kids are alright.  I can see how it would become a problem in some instances, especially if it reaches critical mass and everyone starts using it, but all this hysteria over it kind of sounds like old people griping about kids these days.  I don't know if its bullying potential is that much worse than that of Twitter or Facebook.  Certainly, the little bit that I saw was a lot less threatening that a lot of the shit that went down on Gamergate or the typical trolls on the feminist websites I read. 
Thinking that maybe Cornell isn't typical, I then spied on my former neighborhood in Sunnyvale, my undergrad school, and a friend's university.  There was a lot of juvenile stuff, but nothing to worry about.  For those of you who teach or have kids, I'd be interested in knowing your take on it.
So you know what comes next, don't you..... I then found I was becoming weirdly addicted to it, so I deleted it.  I don't really need to know about the boner sightings or people slipping on the chem department steps, although now I'm wondering about those Canada Goose coats...

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

F*&k you, anti-vaccination idiots...

I am so sick of the anti-vaccination nutjobs.  This time it's personal.  Missy and her family went to Disneyland over Christmas.  They brought back a bad case of the flu* and passed it along to me, but fortunately they did not come back with measles. Not everyone was so lucky.  Missy's family's "luck" is quite possibly due to the fact that they are

a) vaccinated
b) amoung the 95%-99% of people who've had the vaccination who have immunity
c) maybe they didn't come into contact with someone who had measles

Most of the people who got it had not been immunized, some by choice and some who were too young to get it, plus a few other people who'd had the vaccine but got sick anyway.   It's contagious as heck.  Now it is getting spread around to other people.

I'm getting up on my Old Biddy soapbox here.  When I was 30, I had chickenpox.  Somehow, my brother and I avoided getting it when we were kids and had it as adults.  The chickenpox vaccine was rolled out in 1995, and it took a while for it to get implemented and for people to get herd immunity.  Furthermore, as a 20-something adult, I didn't go to the doctor very much, so from 1995-1998 it slipped under my radar.  In 1999, at age 30, I decided it was time to be a grownup and get a primary care physician and have a physical and get up to date on all my vaccines.**  I made the first appointment I could get, which was about a month after I called in and made the appointment.
While I was waiting for my physical, I went to a meeting which was also attended by an asshole*** whose kids had chickenpox.  I caught it from him.  That's how contagious it is - I was just sitting in the same room from someone who had chickenpox virus on him but was immune.  Two weeks later I started feeling a bit sore and achy on Saturday.  I thought, no big deal, I'd been playing a lot of soccer.  So I went out to a party Saturday night, and then played soccer on Sunday and had dinner with a friend.  I had one or two itchy spots but assumed they were mosquito bites.  On Monday I realized I had chickenpox, and quarantined myself.  I was sick and miserable for two weeks, lost 10 lbs of muscle, got a secondary infection and was covered with hives, and my once-photographic memory has never been the same as it was.  This is what happened to a healthy 30 year old woman.  It could've been much worse if I had been older, had a suppressed immune system, or was just more unlucky.
As far as I know, I passed it along to one other person, at least.  She was the host of the party I attended two days before I realized I had it.  I do not remember having a lot of contact with her, but, like me, she was a Californian who never had it as a kid.  I had no clue that I had it for another 2 days. It is fortunate that I did not go to Disneyland.
That is chickenpox.  Chickenpox outbreaks don't make the news. By all accounts, measles is MORE contagious and is MORE dangerous.  Don't spread that shit around.  You kid is not a precious snowflake with magical immunity due to their special diet, nor are you the only idiot out there who didn't vaccinate, nor will you know when your kid first is contagious.  And even if you keep your kid home once you realize they're sick, you may spread it around.
If you avoiding getting them vaccinated because you were worried about autism, put on your grownup pants and get them vaccinated now.  Separate out the measles vaccine from the rest if it makes you feel better, but please get it done now.  Keep your goddamned magical thinking out of the Magic Kingdom, and everywhere else too.

* This flu that's going around is nasty, and pretty much everyone has come down with it.  I got it after I got back from break, and most of my students were either sick during the break or when they got back.  One reason it's so prevalent is that this year's vaccine is not very effective against the strains going around this year, so a lot more people are spreading around.  Rather than say this means that vaccines don't work, it means they do work and we are seeing what happens when fewer people have immunity than usual.  The flu vaccine is made months in advance, and, unlike other vaccines, the vaccine makers have to guess at which strains are going to be prevalent.

**Anti-vaxxers - don't put primary blame on adults who were vaccinated as kids for not getting booster shots as adults, either.  We're not the first line of defense here - your kids are.  We're riding the herd immunity same as everyone else.  In an ideal world we'd all get booster shots the minute we need them or get new vaccines when they are introduced,  but most people don't know their exact childhood vaccine schedule or remember if the shot they got when they went off to grad school was a MMR booster or a tetanus shot.  Or they may have a one month wait for a physical at Kaiser.  So there may be a lag time, as there was with me and the chickenpox vaccine I tried to get.

*** He was an asshole for a lot of reasons which have nothing to do with him giving me chickenpox.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

On interviewing

For most of my professional career, I have operated under the assumption that I am horrible at interviewing.  This opinion is largely based on my track record for  academic interviews, which was pretty dismal, no two ways about it.* 
Lately, I have realized that I am actually pretty good at talking with scientists whom I have never met before, even those who aren't in my subfield of chemistry.  As an introvert, I'm not very charismatic, but I am good at talking science and one on one conversations. Granted, I was more nervous during those early interviews, but I don't remember too many instances where the conversation lapsed or got awkward.  Likewise, I don't remember any instances where I got grilled horribly during seminar or proposal talks.  It's easier to see that now that I am on the other side.
Just the other day, I decided to track my job search results as a function of whether there were any women influential in the interview process.  By influential, I mean either a peer or boss.  For academic interviews where they have you interview with lots of people, some of whom are not in your subdiscipline and may not have much say in the decision, I have kind of arbitrarily defined it to include both organic and inorganic chemists. The numbers are not surprising, but the outcomes are.
Between 1988 and 2010, I have gone on approximately 30 interviews (including on campus interviews, summer internships, and postdoc interviews.)  The majority of those were in the 90's. There has been at least one woman involved in the hiring process in just 8 of those.  Sadly, in all of those 8 interviews there was just one woman at my level or higher.  For those interviews, I received 3 job offers, one invitation to a full interview which I declined because it was not a good fit, two situations where it was a very close call and I was the second choice but people involved in the search still tell me they wish they could've hired me, and just two jobs where I got neither offer nor anyone telling me that it was a close decision.  (It should also be noted that those two interviews were overall quite pleasant.)  That's a pretty good track record.
In contrast, in the approximately 23 situations where there were no women involved in the hiring process, I received a grand total of 3 job offers, 2 of which I took.  To my knowledge, I was not a "close call" at any of the places who did not make me an offer, either (although I did withdraw my application early for some of them because I had taken another offer).  So instead of a 40% success rate and an 75% "close call or better", I was batting about 0.130.
I've decided to stop thinking of myself as a horrible interviewee and will henceforth work at improving my weaknesses and playing up my strengths, while acknowledging that it really wasn't a level playing field.

* The mid-1990's were not a great time to go looking for work as a synthetic inorganic chemist, either in academics or industry, so this may be one major reason as well.  The few people that did get hired for the academic jobs were mostly very application oriented.  About ten years later, the academic market really turned around, and  there are a whole slew of folks hired between 2005 and now.