another oratorical misadventure

I spoke at Northwestern’s proseminar for first-year graduate students yesterday. You know that family dinner scene in Say Anything where Lloyd Dobbler realizes he’s started off badly and tries to talk his way out of it and comes across worse and then tries to talk his way out of that and comes across worse still? That’s me. If only I had been holding a boombox over my head and it was pouring rain in the seminar room, I would have been Lloyd Dobbler exactly. Seriously, by the end I felt like somebody who was coming across like he had just stepped off the mothership, and I’m not talking the P-Funk Mothership. Continue reading “another oratorical misadventure”

public sociology

Hello everyone. I’m new at this. My first thoughts are about how “out” to be. Now that I do a lot of public sociology, I have a public personna to consider. How much can I say to the web about the interesting things I’ve observed without delegitmating myself and my work? Much of what I spend a lot of time thinking about is race relations in the US, due to my teaching and public work, and I hope to write about this as I think I have had thoughts and experiences different from a lot of White people’s. But I worry about saying something in public that will seem condescending or insulting to the people I am writing about. I have to think about just how public this forum us. I was up most of the night preparing much-overdue reports for the commission I’m on. Somehow a couple of dozen of us have to agree on a report, and we have not had much time to work on it. Many of us said, “why don’t we just send email drafts around?” Turns out some people are very worried about drafts circulating. Partly we are subject to open records laws. Partly there are concerns that anything that is emailed can get forwarded to who knows who and that people would start criticizing the report before we even get it written. There are people who have already written editorials against what they expect us to say. So getting the work done is that much harder. This relates to a second point. While the political culture in my home town (which for now I’ll call Universityville) Continue reading “public sociology”

smaller stakes than solving the problem of longitude, but presumably simpler also

Update:  Problem solved.  After some consultation from an outside adjudicator,  Mike wins the prize for his copy-and-paste-perfect solution although Peter’s solution from a few minutes earlier might work if I fiddled with it.  Mike: send me your address, and then start waiting by your mailbox for the prize.

In addition to public accolade here, I will personally send a real (i.e., tangible, nonvirtual) and quirky prize worth at least $10 to whoever can successfully solve the problem of making Scatterplot’s sidebar wider. Be sure to read clues in the comments to my earlier post before proposing a solution. The CSS for Scatterplot can be viewed here (HT: mbader). Anyone is eligible; please alert anyone you think has sufficient geek-chops for this challenge.

(Aside: should that be whoever or whomever above? Where’s Eszter when you need her?)

Two simple rules: Continue reading “smaller stakes than solving the problem of longitude, but presumably simpler also”

tipping point

I was in San Francisco this weekend for a conference. First night I went with some people for dinner at a great restaurant and the bill worked out to $50/person plus tip. Second night I went with many of the same people to this hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese restaurant that had been recommended. The food was probably 80% as good and we had at least 90% as much fun, but the bill was only $11/person plus tip. We all marveled at what a great deal this was, and surely we would have been content to pay $20/person or more. As it was, I put in $15, as did others. But then the issue arose of starting to give people back money, because, after all, it works out to more than a 30% tip.

I can see the reasoning of taking money back, but I didn’t take any myself. It felt too much like, “Wow! Isn’t it wonderful this place gives you so much food for so cheap? So, now let me punish the server because he works for a restaurant that is such a great bargain!” Even if we would have given the guy a $4/person tip, it would have been less than half the tip we gave the night before. Continue reading “tipping point”

our gnotobios, our selves

The term “gnotobiotic” stems from the Greek words “gnosis” (“known”) and “bios” (“life”).   Somewhat paradoxically, a gnotobiotic animal is, at least originally, one with no known life.  That is, a gnotobiotic animal is born and reared in a sterile environment, so that it is germ free (or GF, in the parlance of the articles I’ve been reading of late).   Gnotobiotic animals can be colonized, then, with defined microbiota and used in research that examines the role of specific microbes (e.g., by comparing physiologic processes in gnotobiotic and colonized animals).

Why is this interesting to a sociologist (beyond the opportunity for wordplay with the Rumsfeldian title of the previous post?).  Well, it’s interesting to this sociologist because research using gnotobiotic animals is part of recent scientific endeavors, like the Human Microbiome Project (HMP), which focus on the relationship between humans and our microbiota, the microorganisms that live on and in human beings.  While many aspects of the HMP are fascinating, I am most riveted by the proposition that it will support an understanding of the human as a “superorganism”: Continue reading “our gnotobios, our selves”

our known unknowns

This is a blog, which is not as flexible as if it were a WordPress blog we were serving ourselves. For example, I would love to have a custom favicon instead of the WordPress logo next to the URL up in your address bar, but does not allow this. Even though one can still do a lot of twiddling with the template, the twiddling is actually editing CSS that runs on top of other CSS that runs on top of the actual HTML template. The result is super-kludgy and not wholly satisfying, although if you look at the template we used as our starting point, you can see that much customization has been done.

Still: Continue reading “our known unknowns”