Fourth Floor Studio

October 25, 2007

The great and the gaffe

Filed under: news, scientists — chris @ 12:58 pm

James D. Watson, cantankerous Nobel prize winner, proves that no cow is too sacred. Even Lord Jim couldn’t withstand the furore over his latest round of bigoted comments in the Sunday Times magazine on Oct 14th:

He says that he is “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really”, and I know that this “hot potato” is going to be difficult to address. His hope is that everyone is equal, but he counters that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”. He says that you should not discriminate on the basis of colour, because “there are many people of colour who are very talented, but don’t promote them when they haven’t succeeded at the lower level”. He writes that “there is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so”.

I had been waiting to see whether he would have been able to weather this storm, although his suspension from active duty at CSHL on Oct 18th didn’t bode well. There is a fine line between having the courage to drag out sensitive topics so we can look at them, and being a bigot. Apparently, this time Jim was caught on the wrong side of that line once too often.


September 29, 2007

Extra special

Filed under: stupidity — chris @ 11:33 pm

I have just noticed that the fish sauce in my kitchen cabinet is “first press” and “extra virgin”. wtF?

September 26, 2007

Damn you, weak dollar!

Filed under: science — chris @ 1:25 am

A hostile exchange rate is a budget’s worst enemy.

These days, if you count in US dollars, this implies that only the most impoverished of third world countries are desirable conference destinations. I have barely managed to secure accommodation in the UK within my per diem reimbursement range – we are naturally expected to make our own arrangements as the conference centre does not accommodate all –  at considerable cost, which I must carry forward until the check arrives from Central in 6-8 weeks. I happen to have some money stashed away for rainy days and stupid conference setups, but really! How do they expect post-docs to lay their hands on a spare couple of grand for a booking?

September 13, 2007

Giving up?

Filed under: science — chris @ 6:14 pm

How many times do incarnations of a paper need to be rejected (outright!) before you lose hope in it? This one has been doing the rounds for >3 years in 5+ versions.

August 24, 2007

Newbie python

Filed under: programming, python, R, science — chris @ 12:09 pm

I’ve finally hit a problem requiring multidimensional data structures, mathematical grunt, and speed, coupled with good DB bindings and text/file handling. Normally, I would use a perl script to fetch data from the db and process it with R (as I’ve been having trouble with the R DBI library). However, processing 31K chunks of data for 13K variables each just won’t work in R.

So I’m delving into python as a one-stop shop for all my woes. I’ve been procrastinating about learning the language, because, let’s face it, why write bad code in a new language when you can write ugly code in your long-term favourites.

Some resources I’ve found are: a python tutorial, the NumPy library for data arrays, SciPy and the python DB-API module. I’ll also have a look at StatPy for statistical computing in python.

August 23, 2007

Furniture pr0n

Filed under: Uncategorized — chris @ 2:44 pm

My absolute favourite chair is the Eero Saarinen womb chair.

August 13, 2007


Filed under: administration, science — chris @ 3:35 pm

*cough cough* The dust here is rather thick, isn’t it? I’ve been rather busy being unproductive at work, and I’m about to go on holiday for a while. So here are some random-ish snippets:

  • Nodalpoint facebook group
  • My thesis is up at the Australian Digital Theses project
  • The ADT site sucks big-time, so I can’t get a link just yet [Update: it’s back; thesis is here]

A question to the audience – how do you feel about blogging on current projects, particularly collaborative ones where you are not the primary mover? Spilling others’ beans doesn’t seem very polite now, does it?

July 18, 2007

Graceful rebooting

Filed under: administration, geekery, linux — chris @ 1:11 am

When things go wrong, there are more options than the hard reboot.

July 6, 2007

Australian undergraduate teaching

Filed under: news, science — chris @ 1:30 pm

[…] universities are taking in students to study science who do not have the preparation, and possibly ability, to complete courses of proper rigor[…]

In Australia, the pressure to combat declining science undergraduate enrollment has resulted in dumbed-down courses with lower standards enrolling many unprepared  students (a worldwide theme, mind you). Whilst keeping the departments afloat – at least temporarily – the long-term damage to education and science is huge. The other logical extension, recruiting foreign students, has lead to interesting, if flawed, experiments in foreign campuses.

June 27, 2007

Did he deliver?

Filed under: news, science — chris @ 4:06 pm

These are exciting times. Science continues to push back the frontiers of knowledge, finding new areas of which we were previously unaware and making discoveries that add novel twists to the world views we were taught as children. I intend to ensure that the United Kingdom continues to foster excellence in scientific and technological cooperation. Our success will help realize the creative potential of the next generation.

Blair, T, 1998 Science  281, 1141.

See commentary by Robert May in this week’s Nature.

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