Friday, June 01, 2012

The Best Years of Our Lives

Subtitle: Actually, we all really did mean it when we said, "I hate this place, and I'm never coming back."
Alternate subtitle: Go big or go home.

I graduated from high school in June of 1991, roughly 21 years ago. Last year a few people remembered that it had been 20 years and tried to throw together a picnic reunion at the last minute, and about five people showed up. They vowed to do a real reunion this year.

So this year, some people put together plans for some sort of event at a country club -- sort of like a wedding reception without the wedding: bland catered food, a dj playing bland music, people who you never talk to on purpose. They started selling tickets and talking up the event.

Do you see where this is going?

Due to very, very, very few people expressing interest in this event (even with the bribe of a discount if you buy now), the Niskayuna High School Class of 1991 Reunion has been cancelled. Current plan is for anyone who is around to go to a bar. In Saratoga Springs. Roughly 30 miles away.

No one wants to go back to Niskayuna on purpose.

Now I Have No Reason to Leave My Office

I have a coffeemaker now.

The library will deliver books.

There is a live web-cam of the construction.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Recently

  1. My paper was accepted! Yay! Now I need to write the talk.
  2. I have given up on medicating the cat. Did you know that if you squirt an unpleasant-tasting liquid into a cat's mouth that your floor will end up covered with a truly impressive number of very large puddles of cat spit? It is hard to imagine that there is enough liquid inside a cat to produce that much cat spit. But there is. Fortunately, I had the foresight to buy the "dye free" version of the children's benadryl.
  3. Someone was wrong on the internet. About Jacobson rings. So of course I needed to weigh in. A lot of what you see on the Internet is only true of commutative Jacobson ring, but there is a lot of interesting stuff going on in the not-necessarily-commutative case. So of course I had to weigh in. And in the course of doing so, I have discovered that I have misplaced one of my copies of McConnell and Robson. Considering how long it has been since I have done anything with ring theory, I should have sold the math books before I lost them. But then how could I correct mistakes on the Internet? There is more to life than Eisenbud's Theorem 4.19.
  4. Construction on campus gets more interesting. They have changed traffic patterns to create the following intersection.
    I'm sure that no undergraduates will be involved in accidents at this intersection. This intersection seems to be the epitome of local traffic engineering. I like it even better than our three-way stop.
  5. I have bought a $100 Cuisinart coffee-maker, which you might laugh at me about because I can not taste the difference between good coffee and bad coffe. But I care very much about the temperature of the coffee, and this coffee is very, very hot.
  6. My PI has assigned me a high school student as a summer minion. I have been told that the student needs a research project to occupy his time this summer. High school student does not come with an especially impressive array of skills for computational science, as high school student's background in both computing and science is at a, well, high school level. Math without proofs to the rescue! I am giving the high school student a combinatorial problem about HPC scheduling. While queuing is a well-established area of research with many well-known results, there is plenty of work for a high school student to do about how our system with our queueing policies will behave under the range of conditions that we observe.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Losing Battles with the Cat

The cat has an itchy rash.

According to the vet, most times that a cat is itchy, it is because of fleas. Gwen is an indoor-only cat who is on flea preventative, and they found no fleas on her. If it's not fleas, then it's mites. If it's not mites, then it's probably a bacterial infection of the skin. And if it's not bacteria, then it might be ringworm.

Tested for mites and bacteria. Came back negative. Ringworm test is not back yet.

Gwen has been put on two medications: an anti-flea pill because whenever a cat is itchy, it's fleas. Even when it isn't. And a twice-a-day antihistamine. My priority is giving her the antihistamine because that is, in my opinion, more likely to help.

Ways in which I have been unsuccessful in getting a pill into the cat:
  1. Hide pill in pill-hiding cat treat. Cat started to eat the treat, bit it in half, tasted pill, and spit it out.
  2. Hide pill in wet cat food. Rejected entirely.
  3. Hide pill in sushi-grade tuna. Rejected entirely.
  4. Hold cat down and try to pry her mouth open. Cat's jaw is remarkably strong. Unable to open cat's mouth enough to insert pill.
  5. Grind pill up, mix with a bit of unflavored gelatin and smear on fur in hopes she would groom it off. Cat is sleeping, ungroomed, gelatin-side-down on a fabric chair cushion.
I have determined that the cat has decided to be itchy. My goal of avoiding bacteria-filled puncture wounds (such as cat bites) is a higher priority to me than the cat's comfort.

Giving injectable antibiotics to a goldfish was much simpler than giving a pill to a cat. Especially since the goldfish was even dumber than the cat and blind in one eye, which made him easy to sneak up on.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

This Would Never Happen in Math

Subtitle: "I don't see what the editor is complaining about, I've only had the paper for a year." -- Mathematician, upon being asked about the status of the paper that he is reviewing

Here's another great thing about switching from math to computer science -- in addition to making double what I used to be making. It is so much faster and easier to get things published.
Mid-April:
Get idea for paper. Do research. Write paper.
May 1:
Deadline for submitting paper. Submit paper.
May 22:
Receive reviews. One reviewer had no comments. The other said to make the figure more readable and add more to the conclusion.
May 23:
Fix figure and conclusion. Upload new version.
May 28:
Accept/Reject decisions will be announced.
That's right! Less than two months from thinking of the idea until having a decision about publication!

If someone had told me how much easier computer science is back when I was 19, I totally would have done this instead of math.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

It's Not Just Our Organization that Gets Problem Interns

So yesterday Dean Dad posted about non-prepared interns.

Apparently everyone has problems with interns. We pay our interns. We pay them anywhere from $13 to $15 an hour. To put this in context, this is about double minimum wage or about what you might earn from teaching two summer classes.

The reason why we have interns is that we are strongly encouraged to do so. This encouragement comes in the form of money to pay them.

Let me take a moment to say that I have a different metric from assessing interns than some of the commenters on Dean Dad's post. I do not care when the interns arrive nor when they leave, as long as they do not lie on their time sheet about the number of hours that they were at work. They can wear whatever they want; my own outfits are not always unambiguously workplace-appropriate. They don't need to be able to write coherent email or communicate with other people on a regular basis.

We are a computing group and involved in research. Almost everyone on staff has at least a masters degree. Not because we are intellectual snobs but because we do sophisticated scientific work that requires a significant amount of domain-specific knowledge. Add to this that we deal with some pretty quirky stuff, and things get even more complicated.

I realize that there is only so much that you can expect undergraduates to know, but if they are going to be able to work here, they need to know something relevant. Programming in C or Fortran -- and none of the "I'm afraid of pointers" stuff that you sometimes hear from undergraduates. Or database and scripting skills. Or knowing linux well enough to be useful as a minion to a sysadmin. But you need to know something. We can deal with students who have never worked on a really large project, who have never used version control software, and who have never programmed for our particular architecture.

We do not do any photocopying. Everyone makes his own coffee. Our admin staff spend a lot of their time dealing with complicated budget issues that are subject to so many rules that they require training in accounting and frequent consultations with the campus lawyers.

You need a few semesters of specialized training before you are even qualified for our scutwork.

Unfortunately there is no program that will give us money to hire unemployed adjuncts with masters degrees who can't get summer teaching and bring them on for the summer so that they can build their skills and their resumes to the point where they can be competitive candidates for non-academic jobs.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Speaking of My Classmates

So I grew up in Niskayuna, NY, a town that, according to the Wikipedia, is almost 91% white and 6% Asian and with a median household income of $70,800. The town is headquarters of GE Global Research. In my 12th grade science class, only one student did not have at least one parent with a doctoral degree. While we are not talking Greenwich, CT and "the 1%" here, Niskayuna has long been a snobby suburb populated by educated people who make good money.

I'm learning to stop being surprised when classmates who we thought of as "not that bright" are physicians or are working in the business/marketing side of famous, large Silicon Valley companies. But I still find it absolutely mind-boggling the number of my classmates who are updating their Facebook status at this time of year that their children are coming home from college -- not to mention the classmates who are grandmothers.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

This Week

  1. New Minion started today. We did HR paperwork, key paperwork, laptop paperwork. Talked about the project. Met with a collaborator. New Minion also did some development work on his own laptop. Got more done today than Intern accomplished last summer.
  2. I have been in a horrible, horrible mood. The only small pleasure is this delightful gin & tonic that I am drinking. I am now out of tonic water. Perhaps I will pick up a bottle of vermouth on my way home from work tomorrow. This is very good gin.
  3. Missing from this summer's travel plans: My 21st high school reunion. I will pay for the $55 ticket (plus the service fee) if you want to go and insist that you are me.
  4. We have two essay questions for you today. Choose at most two to respond to.
    1. AT&T: Malicious or Incompetent? Or, why does the phone company find it so challenging to determine whether or not a two-year contract still applies to a phone that I purchased on August 8, 2009. (I have spent three weeks arguing with them, including 49 minutes on the phone and sending them a fax.)
    2. Age inappropriate short skirts. Pack them up and send to Goodwill? Or continue to wear them? (I have been cleaning out my closet.)
  5. Sometimes it is amazing how little I can get done in a day.