Sunday, November 10, 2019

The maw of the semester

I got a letter at work earlier this semester addressed to me at Bryn Maw. I'm finding the word "maw" quite apt at the moment.

I feel as if the semester, or my email, or both are like huge mouths rising up from the deep ready to engulf me. I'm being swallowed whole, like that poor sea lion in Monterey Bay this summer that just happened to be underneath a lunging humpback. There's no animus involved, no hunger being sated. Like the sea lion, I'm just in the way of something with more momentum than I can stop.


But I guess that even if I did get sucked into the mouth of a whale, I'd get spit back out again like this diver.

Technically I couldn't actually end up in the maw of a humpback whale, as maw derives from the German for "stomach" rather than mouth, and I wouldn't fit down a humpback's esophagus. The sea lion apparently escaped, too.


Friday, November 08, 2019

Despicable me

I opened up my email this afternoon to see an email titled "Vaping and Vitamin E." The snippet read

Hi There,  I just read the article posted in regards...

I was quoted in September (and it turns out today, too) in a couple of articles in the Washington Post about the chemicals considered possible causes of lung damage from vaping. I've gotten occasional emails since, ranging from on-the-ball analytical chemistry sales staff hoping I'm in the market for some new instruments to predatory journals hoping I'll 'contribute' an article or join their editorial board. This, I guessed from the chipper start would be more of the same, my money was on analytical instruments (the predatory journal entreaties are more likely to start with "Dear esteemed professor...")

(Double-click) Oops, nope, it's a howler!
My entire reason for writing to you today is to tell you how incredibly irresponsible and cruel you are to suggest animal testing. SHAME ON YOU. Animal testing is horrific and there is no reason an innocent being should suffer for the stupidity of people. I hate that I have to walk to the same earth as people like you who can disregard other living beings for the sake of "science". Despicable. 
Please re-think your stance as it's so undeniably cruel and wrong. There is no justification no matter how you try to spin it. I don't know how you sleep at night.
Whoa. I can almost see the whole thing crumple up and turn to ash.

I'm very confused. I'd spoken about molecular structure and properties, not animal testing. I pull up the most recent article to find I'm quoted about molecular structure and properties, not animal testing. The comment about animal testing is further down and not attributed to me.

I toy with many answers to this email.
Snark. ("I sleep just fine, thank you.")
Demanding. ("I want an apology for this cruel and unwarranted attack.")
Shaming. ("How dare you send this to the wrong person? Can't you read?")
Demanding and shaming. ("I demand an apology for your carelessness!")
None. (Probably the best option).
Flat denial. (What I went with.)
I went with denial, in part because the writer was on social media and if I could keep this from becoming a social media thing, I wanted to. But it was inarguably a mistake, and if I had made it I would not want to get flames in response. So I simply said, "not me." And I did get an apology in return.

Bonus! I've never seen Despicable Me - so now it's cued up to watch while I grade tomorrow.


Thursday, November 07, 2019

Reefing the sails of our oration

I've been to a lot of meetings in the last few weeks. A lot. In the last four days I've spent more than 8 hours in one meeting or another. A whole working day. This morning I was reading St. Methodius (the fourth century bishop, martyr and Church Father, not St. Cyril's brother). To signal that he is wrapping up an oration on Simeon and Anna, he declaims, "let us reef the sails of our oration." There were a few moments this week when I wished I had the nerve to make a similar suggestion to whoever was speaking.

I do note that when Methodius suggested reefing his sails, he wasn't ready to bring them down all together. That reflection still had almost 10 minutes to run, for a total of about an hour and a half.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Teal Pumpkin Project

I have been allergic to peanuts and coconut all my life. No PB&Js. No Reeses. No Mounds. No peanut M&Ms.  Vigilance is a habit, and I’m grateful it’s been a long time since I’ve had anything worse than hives. But Halloween always ended with dumping my candy out on the table and pulling out all the stuff I couldn’t eat. My mother would stash it away for the adults.

Now that I’m on the treat buying end of this annual transaction, I’ve been sure to include something non-food in the assortment on offer. This year I noticed the Teal Pumpkin Project, where you used a teal pumpkin to signal that you had treats that were safe for kids with food allergies, or who otherwise couldn’t eat candy. So I posted a sign on the door.  First set of kids, with one allergic member of the gang (5th grade-ish boys) looked at the spiral glow bracelets and said, “Sick!” (Which I took to be a compliment.) I try hard to find non-edible treats that are equally attractive, so felt this year was a win.

The loss of a significant amount of my Halloween candy every year got me thinking about abundance. My mother didn’t make my siblings share their haul with me, but there was always an abundance, a full measure.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Science nostalgia

Last week I went through the files from some of my early journal articles for an essay I'm writing, and for a talk I gave. It had me thinking about how many things have changed around my work over the last 40 years.  In no particular order...

The watch on my wrist has a thousand times — yes, that's a thousand — more data storage than the "big" 80 MB (no, that's not a typo either, megabytes, not gigabytes) hard drive my research group shared in graduate school. That hard drive was roughly the size of a washing machine.

PDFs weren't a thing, nor were email attachments, until after I had tenure. You submitted articles to journals by postal mail. And you might be notified of their acceptance by a small postcard. You ordered reprints.

I haven't hand drawn a figure using pen and ink for a technical article since before my kids were born (though I have for a few Nature Chemistry Thesis pieces). I note here they have both graduated from college.

Conference posters weren't carried in tubes (or as pieces of fabric), but in folders as single sheets of paper. Wise people brought their own tacks to the meeting to mount their posters. Color? Color? Only if you used colored ink.