My week of pain has begun

Students get to suffer through final exams next week. This week piles of work come due and get handed to me, and I am committing to getting them all graded as they come in. I’ve got different classes handing in stuff on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, so that means every day has a fresh bolus of essays and lab reports pouring in, and if I don’t get them done that day, I fall farther and farther behind.

We’re also doing phone interviews for our current cell biology search. Eight candidates. One hour each. Do the math.

In the midst of all this, I still have classes to teach.

At least next week looks like paradise in comparison: I’m only giving one final exam on Thursday, and it’s optional, so the whole class won’t be taking it.

Unfortunately, what I’ve got scheduled for next week is to start prepping for spring term classes, since I’m teaching a brand new course in ecological developmental biology. I’ll also have to start raising fly stocks for genetics. And getting my lab in shape for a new project we’re starting.

Watching the legal sausage getting made

You may know that Freethoughtblogs, The Orbit, and Skepticon have taken on a lawyer to defend us against a lawsuit for over two million dollars by Richard Carrier. Weirdly, this suit was filed in Ohio, where none of the targets live, and where most of the conflicts did not occur, and our lawyer’s first tactic is to file for a change of venue. This is a public filing, so you can read it yourself (pdf).


Maybe this is your idea of entertainment.

I refuse to believe the media is tainted


It cannot be. For example, this story from the Daily Express, an unimpeachable source (tabloid: it means “concentrated, easily assimilable”), and besides, I want it to be true: “A KILLER giant squid that can hypnotise its prey and paralyse humans at a distance of 150 feet using poisonous venom is being developed as a secret weapon by Vladimir Putin, a scientist has claimed.” Entirely plausible. Especially since it is accompanied by evidence, a blurry photo of an octopus.

Dr Padalka said the octopus, which was discovered in a fresh water lake trapped beneath two miles of ice, possessed an array of weapons and was responsible for the deaths of at least two of his scientific colleagues on the expedition.

He said: “We encountered Organism 46-B on our first day. It disabled our radio – which we later learned, to our alarm, was intentional.

“It is also able to paralyse prey from a distance of up to 150 feet by releasing its venom into the water.

“Tragically my colleague and lifelong friend was killed this way. He tread water wearing a blissful smile as the organism approached him.

Further proof: no one would lie about the death of a lifelong friend. I have seen this same argument effectively deployed in arguments for the existence of Jesus. If you believe in Jesus, you must accept this story.

“We watched helplessly as it used its arms to tear off its head then popped its remains in its mouth. It was as if it had hypnotised him telepathically.”

This, too, has the ring of truth. That’s exactly what I would do if I were an intelligent predatory squid with telepathy, poison venom, and an array of weapons.

The 33 foot-long man-eater also boasts extraordinary camouflage that helped it stalk the researchers – including shape-shifting.

Dr Padalka said: “The shapeshifting capabilities of organism 46-B sound almost diabolical. It shaped itself into the form of a human diver.

Likewise. This is exactly how I’ve fooled humans for more than half a century.

He revealed the octopus could also use its tentacles to kill, even after they had been hacked off its body.

Dr Padalka claimed another of his colleagues were killed by a tentacle many hours after slicing it off with an axe.

He said: “Later that night it slithered across the ice bank and strangled her.”

Seems only fair. I note that the scientist mutilated the squid/octopus first, so this was appropriate retaliation.

He said: “Some species of octopus lay 200,000 eggs. Imagine if they were deposited in reservoirs and lakes across North America.”

Shhhh. Now there’s irresponsible journalism, revealing top secret plans.

The great groaning suffering of the dreaded Job Search

The load is back on my shoulders: we advertised for a tenure track job opening a while back, and this is the week we’re reviewing all the applications — that great mass of applications. That’s what I was doing yesterday, that’s what I’m doing today.

I just want to thank all those applicants who didn’t read the job description. We are a liberal arts university, and the ad emphasized teaching, because that’s what we do, and yet so many applicants wrote fantastic great treatises on their research, talking about all the fabulous high tech gear they use, and their letters of recommendation write glowingly of their amazing commitment to research, nothing but research. We can read them admiringly and appreciate the really cool stuff they’re doing, and place their application respectfully on the honorable pile of file folders that we never need to look at again. It’s a tall stack. Good luck at the R1 universities to which you’ve also sent applications!

There are also applicants that talk enthusiastically about their teaching and how their research can be carried out at an undergraduate university, and we reverently set those aside in a much smaller stack that will be opened repeatedly in the next few days, and that we’ll probably quickly narrow down to a dozen or so and we’ll moan in despair that we can’t hire them all right now, and then we’ll argue bitterly over which ones we’ll invite to a phone interview, and then we’ll agonize more over the few we’ll get to invite to campus, and then we’ll decide which one will be offered the position in a knife fight between their faculty advocates in the Ring Of Death out back, and then our first choice will probably turn us down and we’ll wallow in despond, drooling out rivers of tears that, given that this is Morris, will freeze into crystalline shards that will festoon the building to mock us until spring.

Aren’t job searches fun for both the applicant and the search committee?

I have bad news for everyone

There’s all this talk about how horrible 2016 has been: celebrities dying all over the place, an evil orange dorkwad getting elected to the presidency, etc., etc., etc. But I hate to break it to you, but there’s nothing magical about arbitrary date boundaries — there is no wicked juju over this particular revolution about the sun. It’s just a combination of chance, the large number of boomer celebrities, and a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy — we’re now in the habit of announcing “oh god it’s 2016 again” at every minor bit of bad news.

What that means, unfortunately, is that the bad news will continue to roll out, even after the mystical boondoggle of 1 January 2017. Nothing will change. Different celebrities will die. The sneering orange sphincter will continue to make horrible political decisions. This is simply the new normal. Get used to it. There will be no transition to a less depressing state. There is no hope.

Is it too late to clone him?

I was thinking about SEK overnight, and realized something. He spread himself thin — he was all over the place, writing and commenting — and I thought about some other people who are all over the place, writing in their isolated little enclaves and commenting, the trolls. But there was a big difference: the trolls write out of spite, say nothing anyone but other trolls wants to see, and their goal is to comment where they aren’t wanted.

Which means SEK was the anti-troll. Here was a guy who liked to write and make people think, and always made a positive contribution. He had his passions, but he wasn’t obsessive, like the trolls are.

Now I miss him more. We need more Scott Eric Kaufmans.

They discredit themselves with their own words

You know I filter the comments here and have a fairly extensive block list — it’s necessary. Especially now. You wouldn’t believe the crap people are trying to post here now, emboldened by this recent election. I’ll just put one particularly ugly example from someone calling himself sinceretrupsupporter below the fold. You might want to skip it. I find it useful to remind myself from time to time what we’re fighting.

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