Friday, January 28, 2005

Falling down

Last night I was talking to The Doktah on the phone, and right in the middle of her telling me something very important, The Husband came over and started staring at me with a really goofy grin. This made it very hard to concentrate on the conversation, so I had to interrupt The Doktah to ask The Husband, “What?” Apparently, the fact that I was lying on the living room floor while talking on the phone struck him as highly amusing.

I explained to The Doktah that The Husband was laughing at me for no reason, and she said, “Well, to be fair, you do do funny stuff all the time without realizing it. Remember the time you fell down in the bank?”

“No,” I replied.

“Exactly!” she said. “We were waiting in line for the teller, and you just suddenly fell down and almost knocked over a pole!” Apparently, after this happened, The Doktah gasped, “Are you all right?” I looked at her, confused, and said, “What? Yes, why?” I had not even noticed that I fell.

I fall down a lot. One time in college, I tripped over nothing and fell down the stairs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’m still not quite sure how it happened. There was a jerk, a few moments of confusion, and the next thing I knew, I was lying down with my feet at the top of the stairs and my head at the bottom. There were lots of people around, so I leapt up and shouted, “I’M FINE!” then ran away to hide.

So a little wobbling in a bank doesn’t exactly stick in my head.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

And you call yourself a scientist?

That last niece story reminded me of the time Pixie Niece was telling me and The Husband (who was only The Fiance at the time) that she had to draw a picture of a scientist for homework. Her sister, Muffet Niece1 was with us, and when I said that she could just draw me or The Husband, that we were both scientists, they were both flabbergasted. Just flabbergasted. In fact, they looked at me with great skepticism. We couldn’t possibly be scientists. Scientists are smart and wear white coats and, I don’t know, talk about science and stuff.

I said we’d prove it, that they should ask us a question about science. We were all set to explain how a radio works, or why ice floats or something. (I was actually counting on The Husband to provide the answer to whatever they came up with, because he’s the one who knows stuff kids want to know. Somehow, I didn’t see them asking me for optimal Young’s modulus of a substrate on which to differentiate muscle cells.2)

But they blindsided us! “OK,” said Pixie Niece. “Name all the bugs in the world.”

What? What the heck kind of question is that? Needless to say, we could not, in fact, name all of the bugs in the world. But come on! I challenge an entomologist to name all the bugs in the world. Sheesh. I guess that’s what you get for trying to impress a six-year-old. My two nieces remained decidedly unimpressed. And apparently were left thinking that I don’t do anything.

1Muffet Niece’s nickname is inspired by a conversation we had when she was about seven years old. She was showing me her journal, and she had written that she went on a field trip. I asked her where she went. “We went to see the Muffet Movie? But without any Muffets in it.”

I was stumped. “You went to see The Muppet Movie without any Muppets?”

“Yeah,” she said. “You know! The Muffet Movie? But without any Muffets?”

I tried to figure out how they managed to make The Muppet Movie without any Muppets. I mean, the Muppets are pretty integral to the plot. In the non-Muppet version, who eats Dr. Bunsen Honeydew’s Insta-Grow Pills, grows really big and scares off Doc Hopper and his professional frog killer just in from the coast? “The Muppet Movie without any Muppets?” I said again.

Muffet Niece was getting exasperated by my thick-headedness. “You know! That Christmas Muffet Movie? But without any Muffets in it!”

A light dawned. “Oh!” I exclaimed. “You went to see A Christmas Carol!”

“Yes,” she sighed, with great relief. “The Muffet Movie without any Muffets in it.”

211 kPa

Trust me, I'm a doctor

I have a Ph.D. Which is impressive, I guess. But I think that the process of going through graduate school sort of removes the mystery and glamour from having a Ph.D. Spending five to six years surrounded by Ph.D.’s and Ph.D. candidates drives home the fact that having a Ph.D. does not in any way guarantee having common sense.

At my graduation, the dean said that we would all finally be able to say those five words in the title. And, as doctors, we could now insist on being referred to as “Dr. So-and-So,” assuming we wanted to be pretentious jerks. I do not, but some members of my family make it a point to call me “Dr.,” like in the program at my brother’s wedding last summer. And of course, I like it.

Because even though I often forget that having Ph.D. is considered a big deal, I take comfort in the fact that my family is proud of me. My mom kept a copy of my thesis on the piano for about six months, and I had thought that the rest of my family was just as impressed. Fortunately, my pixie-like niece is around to keep me from getting a swelled head. She came over to visit me the other day, and had a question for me.

“Mo, how come you’re a doctor if you don’t do anything?”

If I only knew, Pixie Niece.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Chicks dig it

At a cell biology conference about four years ago, The Doktah and I saw a guy with a rattail around eighteen inches long. In case you don’t recall that particular fashion trend, a rattail is a hairstyle wherein a guy wears a very thin section of hair longer than all of the rest of his hair, like a mini ponytail, but far, far uglier. I didn’t like them in the eighties, and I don’t like them now. A rattail is about as attractive as its name suggests.

We spotted the guy in the audience of a huge presentation, and we whiled away the time wondering what was going through his head. The Doktah thought that he simply felt that the rattail made him look hot. “Chicks dig it,” he was saying to himself.

But I think he is just awaiting the return of the rattail. Everyone knows that fashion is cyclical. He was probably one of the last kids to get on rattail bandwagon when they were in style; maybe his mom wouldn’t let him grow one. So he spent his college, grad school, and postdoc years cultivating it, coaxing it to grow ever longer, all the while thinking, “When these come back in style, baby, the chicks will be all over me!”

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Can you just come pick this up?

I just got off the phone with The Doktah, and she gave me a great new story for the blog. The Doktah graduated last December and is currently doing a postdoc two hours south of our grad school. Like me, The Doktah is still working on getting the final papers on her grad work published. Last night, The P.I. was talking to The Doktah on the phone about submitting the paper, and he said he had made a few more edits. “But I made the changes by hand, on a printout of the manuscript,” The P.I. said, and then he paused. He appeared to think that The Doktah could drive up there and pick it up. Sometimes The P.I. is very absent-minded-professor-y.

“Um, can you fax it to me?” The Doktah asked.

“I’m really busy right now,” replied The P.I.

The Doktah managed to avoid driving for four hours to pick up a paper that The P.I. was too busy to fax by recruiting Wacky Hair Guy. Wacky Hair Guy is currently a second year student in The P.I.’s lab, and he is still learning his ways. He helped The Doktah out by deciphering The P.I.’s chicken scratches and reading them to the Doktah over the phone.

This behavior may strike you as odd, but about five months ago, a paper of mine was accepted by the Journal of Cell Science. Once a paper is accepted, the final copy must be submitted to the journal as a hard copy, and the figures have to be print quality. When I told The P.I. that I would send it to the journal as soon as I got a chance get to Kinko’s, he suggested that I come down to the lab and use The Doktah’s printer. The lab is a six hour drive from my new home. Each way. “Um, that’s OK. I’ll just go to Kinko’s,” I said.

Yet another entry about group meeting

Young Upstart, an undergrad in our lab, once got up in the middle of group meeting and started to walk out. This was at the beginning of a semester, and we had had a lot of difficulty rescheduling group meeting around everyone’s classes. So when Young Upstart got out of his seat, The P.I. asked, “Do you have a class, Young Upstart?”

“Nope.” Young Upstart replied. And he walked out.

Thinking outside the box

After I got engaged to The Husband, The Doktah gave me a trivet shaped like three mixing spoons. It had a little ring attached to it for hanging it on the wall. The Doktah said, “I left that ring on, because I didn’t know if you would want to use it as a wall hanging or as a trivet.”

“I’ll probably just hang it on the wall and then when I want to use it as a trivet, I’ll take it down,” I replied.

The Doktah gaped at me, in awe. “That’s genius!” she cried.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Trumpet players are cool, right?

One day, The Doktah and I got to talking about how geeky we were in high school. We were both in the band and chorus, but I had her beat by yearbook, drama, and band drum major. But The Doktah was in the color guard in college, so we evened out.

At this point, Baseball Cap Guy chimed in. "I wasn’t a geek even though I was in the band because I played the trumpet.” We gave him skeptical looks. Only band geeks assign coolness levels to different instruments in the band. You readers out there who weren’t in the band probably didn’t even realize that the trumpet players thought they were so cool. To the rest of the high school, band is band is band, you don’t get points for playing the trumpet instead of the bass clarinet, The Doktah’s instrument of choice. (Besides, everyone knows that low brass is where it's at.)

But the clincher was when Baseball Cap Guy said, “And anyway, I was on the baseball team, so I definitely wasn’t a geek. It didn’t even matter that I was on the math team.” The Doktah and I burst out laughing.

“Dude, math team trumps baseball team,” I said. “Math team trumps everything! Maybe, maybe, quarterback of the football team cancels math team, causing you to break even, but baseball team? Sorry. You were a geek.” He denied it for some time, but, as usual, we teased him endlessly so he eventually admitted that he was a geek. Or at least he pretended to agree to get us to shut up already.

We weren’t laughing at Baseball Cap Guy’s geekdom. There’s no shame in geekdom. I'm a geek, and so are about 90% of the people I interact with on a daily basis. The Husband, for example, is one of the geekiest people I know. (He gave me a laser for my birthday one year. A laser he built himself.) And I know a lot of geeks; I’m an engineer. So Lord knows that I am in no position to poke fun. We were just highly amused by Baseball Cap Guy’s denial.

But geek denial may be more common than we thought. I was once at a conference that was in the city where my cousin was going to college, so we arranged to have dinner. It must have been around the time of the Math Team conversation, because I was discussing geekdom with my cousin. He said thoughtfully, “I was in the band in high school, but I don’t think that I was a geek.” He paused. “But then, I was on the robotics team…”

Our eyes met across the table, as the realization began to hit him. “Um, I hate to break this to you,” I said.