On vacation

Maine flag

Starting tomorrow I’ll be on vacation in Maine for two weeks, so posts are likely to be few and far between. The week of June 24, I’ll be completely unreachable, so if you’re a first-time commenter, your comment won’t get approved until around July 1.

Wow, that’s really Maine’s flag. It’s not the worst, but it’s pretty bad.

I think Tina/Nora has given up on me

I should say Tina/Nora/Victoria, since, as Owlmirror pointed out, she signed her second email to me as Victoria. No problem, Tina/Nora/Victoria, I keep forgetting to sign as Paul myself!

When we last heard from Tina/Nora/Victoria, she was concerned about what happened to the payment I had her FedEx to the Federal Trade Commission, and I told her

You would have to ask A. Robinson. I don’t know who that is, maybe a Harkonnen spy. At any rate, I never got the payment.

Tina/Nora/Victoria is happy to take my word for it. Of course, it’s a fake cashier’s check to begin with, so the only thing she’s really out is the cost of a FedEx overnight shipment.


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Don’t ask for letters of recommendation up front

I’ve been sitting on this for a while, not wanting to piss off hiring committees who might evaluate my own applications. I have applied for over a hundred tenure-track faculty positions, and I’ve had over a dozen in-person interviews. One of the things that has always struck me is the incredible degree to which the time of anyone not on the hiring committee is devalued. This is true of the applicants’ time, but today I’m mainly talking about the time of their references.

It’s typical to request three letters of recommendation with an application, but some departments will request four or (rarely) five. In most cases, the application is considered incomplete and will not be considered until all of the letters are submitted. If one of your references has a hard time with deadlines, tough.

In most cases, your references will be fairly senior scientists, Associate Professor or above. It would be nearly impossible, for example, for your Ph.D. advisor to be an Assistant Professor, since that position typically lasts about as long as a Ph.D. In my case, all three of my references were full Professors, one a department head. In nearly every case, all three references will be highly productive scientists. Their time is valuable, not just in terms of salary but in terms of advancing science. Requiring letters of recommendation up front wastes it.

Letters of recommendation should be requested by the committee, and they should be requested after the first cut.

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Above the law


That’s effectively what the president’s lawyers are arguing: President Trump is above the law. Here’s a quote from the letter:

It remains our position that the President’s actions here, by virtue of his position as the chief law enforcement officer, could neither constitutionally nor legally constitute obstruction because that would amount to him obstructing himself, and that he could, if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon if he so desired.

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Waltzing Volvox

I can’t believe I haven’t already blogged about this, but if I have it isn’t turning up in my searches. Ravi Balasubramanian’s preprint about “flocking” behavior in Volvox barberi mentioned that

V[olvox] carteri is capable of using fluid forces created by flagellar beating to form waltzing pairs.

He’s referring to a 2009 paper by Knut Drescher and colleagues in Physical Review Letters. Drescher and colleagues analyzed the physics that cause Volvox colonies to enter a hydrodynamically bound state in which two or more spheroids orbit each other in close proximity:

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Alternative patterns of explanation for major transitions

The Major Transitions in Evolution Revisited

One reason to study green algae is because they can teach us something about the evolution of multicellularity. A number of related species in the Volvocalean family form a gradation of complexity between single-celled and simple multicellular organisms. The members of this family of algae differ in size, the number of cells they produce, and whether or not there is a split between germline and somatic cells. This split is thought to be central to understanding how a new level of individuality has evolved. — Calcott 2011, p. 39.

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