• Spring quarter starts for me tomorrow: Categorical Data Analysis. I am curious how it will go. I have been urged to switch my teaching around so that next year I would teach Fall and Spring quarters here, with Winter quarter off. I’m not sure how to feel about this.
  • I was thinking today about the line from Top Gun, “You’re ego’s writing checks that your body can’t cash.” I always thought this was a clever line, but today I realized that it doesn’t really make any sense if you think about it. Which is too bad, because the other thing I was thinking about the line was how the academic equivalent would be “Present You is writing checks that Future You will never actually get around to cashing, at least judging from any dispassionate examination of what Past You has gotten done.”
  • Apologies to whoever I dissed for recommending Dexter as my exercise workout video. I decided to give it another shot past the first five minutes of the pilot where he brutally murders someone, and I enjoyed it so much I did a longer workout and watched two episodes. I do have to cover my ears and look away when he’s murdering someone, which is half-awkward-half-dangerous on the elliptical trainer.
  • One friend wants me to get a budgie. Or a lorikeet, which is my favorite bird in the abstract but in actuality need a special liquid fruit diet and are reputed to decorate one’s apartment like a fecal spritzer. Another friend says I should take up abstract painting and try to be like a postcocious Marla. Another friend says the follicular recession has finally reached the point where I need to be shaving my head and possibly growing a beard.
  • I am still holding to my use of LeechBlock at the office, and on my home PCs between 7am-8pm. (Recap: LeechBlock is a firefox extension that I use to make me unable to access blogs, news sites, and other non-work-related Internet timesucks.) I have even tightened the self-paternalistic reins to have it shut me out of GMail except for a brief window at the beginning of every other hour. I won’t declare it MiracleWare just yet, but it’s helped. It’s cut into my Scatterplot participation, sure, but it turns out the Internet goes on without me.
  • Speaking of which: My colleague Bruce Carruthers is guest blogging at Crooked Timber, further consolidating the leading role of Northwestern sociologists in the socblogging order of things.

i’m all about money these days

The London Review of Books has an interesting article about the development of profit in science (biomedical science in particular). It’s by Steven Shapin, who studies the history of science. Shapin tracks the changes in the desire for monetary gain in Science. He begin,

Until fairly recently, you did not choose a scientific career with the idea of getting rich. After the end of World War Two, American academic scientists started out on about $2000 a year – the rough equivalent of $17,000 these days – while few full professors at the peak of their careers commanded as much as $10,000. The American scientist, a writer in Science magazine observed in 1953,

is not properly concerned with hours of work, wages, fame or fortune. For him an adequate salary is one that provides decent living without frills or furbelows. No true scientist wants more, for possessions distract him from doing his beloved work. He is content with an Austin instead of a Packard; with a table model TV set instead of a console; with factory rather than tailor-made suits. . . . To boil it down, he is primarily interested in what he can do for science, not in what science can do for him.

Around the same time, a US senator asked Karl Compton, a physicist and president of MIT: ‘Do you believe this is a correct statement, that probably of all the professions in the world, the scientist is least interested in monetary gain?’ Compton agreed: ‘I don’t know of any other group that has less interest in monetary gain.’

Now the first thing that came to my mind was, “well, how has the class background of scientists changed since 1953?” Continue reading “i’m all about money these days”

deep like space

From a friend: “There is a cluster of galaxies called the Perseus Cluster, which is 250 million miles away from Earth. Scientists found that all of the sound waves it is emitting form a single note…B flat. ”

Apparently, this is the deepest note ever generated in the cosmos (?!).

In other geekly weekend highlights: Quantum Hoops is the history-of-science-and-underdog-sports-team-documentary for which we’ve all been waiting.  I’m assuming here that you’ll grant that a 21 year losing streak qualifies the Cal Tech basketball team as underdogs (that’s over 240 consecutive conference losses). 

Among the many great lines in the film, here’s the current coach noting with clear pride that the Beavers (Nature’s Engineers!) reduced the point spread for their losses from 60 points every game (in 2003) to only 10 points (in 2006):

We’re only losing by ten points this season. Winning has gone from impossible to improbable!

earth hour

I didn’t know about this. But apparently TODAY there is a global movement to turn off your lights for an hour (starting at 8PM). This reminds me of when I was a kid visiting my family in Pakistan. Every night for an hour electricity was shut off to parts of Lahore. There wasn’t enough of a supply. I rather enjoyed this time – sitting around with family, chatting. Then again, I was a kid and I was on vacation. So I’m cautious to be too overly romantic. Today I will not be turning my electricity off for an hour from 8 to 9PM. My dedication to watching basketball supersedes my dedication to the environment. But I’ll make up for it by doing it for two hours some other night. I wonder what I’ll do. Unfortunately I don’t have anyone I could talk to (I’m single). And going somewhere that has electricity is most certainly cheating – in fact it’s probably worse than staying at home with the electricity on. Any ideas? It will be too dark to read…  Perhaps others will be part of the movement tonight, though. Make me proud…

rate your professor

Course evaluations came in for my undergraduate course a couple days ago. Mine were good, not fabulous like the evaluations for the comparable course at Wisconsin, but certainly fine given my long layoff from teaching and ways that I already know I can make the course better.

Evaluations at Northwestern are online and include part that can henceforth be viewed by anyone with a Northwestern userid. (One’s salary is private at Northwestern but public at Wisconsin; one’s course evaluations are public at Northwestern but private at Wisconsin. Choose your poison.)

I did have one student who deeply disliked me and wrote at length for the public evaluation about aspects of my mannerisms that irked them. (Previous Me would post the evaluation here, as it’s ultimately kind of funny in its outlandishness; Present Me suspects that doing that would be too easily troll fodder.) Among other things, though, apparently I “smack my mouth” when I talk. I don’t exactly know what that means; someone who knows me as a speaking being should let me know so I can put it on my list of Things To Work On.

Curiously, despite this person going on about their dislike for me, they still gave me a 4 out of 6 as my overall evaluation. And luckily, their evaluation is in the middle of the list, so future prospective students who look up the evaluations for this course will have appropriate context to see it as an outlier.

family, life – update

Thanks for all the kind responses to my post about my mother’s infirmity. She is doing somewhat better and still hopes to improve more.  She does not want to make drastic changes in her life (like acquiring a permanent housemate-helper) until she figures out what her long term prospects are.  It looks like a good situation may be developing, at least for the short run.  My mother’s neighbor actually did this kind of care on a free lance basis in her previous community and is hoping to build a clientele in her new area.  She and her husband have repeatedly offered to do things for my mother for free, as good neighbors, but she is also happy to be paid to come by a couple of times a day to do the relatively easy jobs as well as the more challenging jobs, such as assisting with showers.  Because she lives next door, she does not need to insist on minimum shifts of four hours, as the services do, and she takes the whole wage herself, instead of splitting it with a management firm, so the cost per hour to my mother is lower and the pay to the caregiver herself is higher.  They have said all along that they were willing to be called in the middle of the night if needed.  My sister is also talking to another person, recently retired, about being a backup person and someone else to come out for a few hours a week for companionship and to help with errands and small chores. This option was in the air when I was there, but the neighbor was sick and so staying away to avoid infecting my mother.  Caregiver illness is one of the reasons there has to be more than one person in the system.  There are liability insurance, taxes and other issues still to be checked into.  But it’s looking like things might work out.

overheard (central square edition)

~5 year old:  Dad, what’s the biggest building?

D: That’s a good question.  Do you mean what’s the biggest building in Boston, or in the United States, or in the whole world?

5: In the whole world!

D: That’s hard to answer, because they keep building very tall ones, but I think it’s in Malaysia.  Why don’t we look it up on the internet when we get home?

5: Yay! Let’s look it up on the internet!  That’s the most fun!

behold, the interruptron

At the risk of becoming the first Internets Anonymous blog, I thought that all those of you out there who feel like your habits are getting out of hand might like this useful tool to monitor your focus: the interruptron.

It’s just a neato little gadget that lets you monitor when you’re working on task and when your attention drifts away (the name seems to suppose that others are interrupting you, but I think we all know that you are the biggest interrupter you’ve got to deal with).

dodging bullies

Not that I post often, but I haven’t been posting at all lately. Not that I need to offer an account, but I am about to do just that: I’m being bullied.

I thought that there was something wrong with me if I could be bullied by colleagues and students, but it turns out that I’m not alone. In fact, 424 comments and counting later, it is increasingly obvious that there’s an issue here and while there are a few academics on those 424, I’m looking for more who will share their stories.

I’ll start. Continue reading “dodging bullies”

mea culpa

Earlier, I refused to link to the soc shrine blog because I thought they had “proto-noxious” intentions toward the sociology blogging community. As far as I can tell, I was wrong about this, and I’ve also been finding it fun to read. My original title for this post was “tentative mea culpa,” but I have my moments of being a creature of faith against my usual sea of expecting the worst, so I’ll even remove the “tentative.” Here, btw, is one of their posts about me: no, I don’t know what the various acronyms they use to refer to me mean, nor do I know why they call me the first sociology blogger (perhaps I should make up bumper stickers saying “Kieran: Earlier, Funnier, Smarter, Saner”).


So, I haven’t been posting lately, in no small part because changes wrought by LeechBlock. If anything, I’m trying to figure out more ways to expand my means of protecting myself from mywebcompulsiveself. More on that maybe later. (Kieran in the comments to my earlier post compared my use of LeechBlock to Ulysses and the Sirens. The analogy would be closer if Ulysses had bound himself to the mast and stopped his ears, with the reasoning that if he only stopped his ears he could just unstop them unless someone bound his hands.)

But, can I just say: yes, I know most of you have no interest in American Idol, especially as I’ve vacillated between absolutely no and almost no interest the first six seasons. I don’t know why the sudden change this year. However: Scatterplot comes out bravely last week endorsing the dark horse candidate David Cook, and this week he comes out with an absolutely kick-bother rendition of Billie Jean. I double-dog dare you: push aside the contempuous cloud with which you go through your day, watch this, tell me this is not cool.  I mean it: watch it and try to move your fingers to type “Not cool.”  You won’t be able to do it, unless you have a supernatural ability to will yourself into a deep state of coolness-denial.