Tuesday, November 30, 2010

WHY

Is writing such a paralyzing activity? WHY?

Is there anyone out there, who simply puts pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and writes away, without feeling like running away, getting distracted, etc? How do you achieve that kind of efficiency? I'd think having an outline is a start, and then focusing on each bullet point and trying to flesh it out, without getting distracted, staying focused on just that point. This is what Ph.D.Advisor told me to do. But I seem fundamentally incapable of it.

I have been "working on writing" this review article for the past 5 days now. Mostly it has involved reading the literature, getting distracted into tangential areas, doing dishes, baking a cake, blogging, worrying, reading some more, wondering, doing benchwork instead of writing, and finally, the lowest of the lows, hiding from boss.

All so familiar too.

Sigh.

Monday, November 29, 2010

On customizable browsers

Apparently we are still very far from having a google-for-life. I will keep waiting. In other news, I found my keys (YAY!) and my camera (YAY!). :)

But while waiting for google-for-life, I have a few other items on my internet wishlist that I think are a lot more do-able and perhaps the equivalents already exist and I just need to find out ?

1) You know how we set can set our homepage to be a certain page on our browser? Now, when I am doing certain tasks, there are a fixed few websites I visit for them. For example, while writing a scientific article, I visit google scholar, pubmed, my institute's library website, etc. While working on a particular kind of analysis I have a few set half-dozen tabs that are open. When I'm wasting time on the internet, I have a fixed few twitter/blog/reader pages open.

Now, I wish I could I create customized profiles on my browser (in my case firefox), so that, I have "manuscript profile" which automatically opens up the relevant pages each in a separate tab, "analysis profile" which automatically loads these 5 -6 pages that I routinely need to do this analysis?

Some may say I should just organise my bookmarks in neat folders and be done with it. But even if I had done that, I would have to manually open up each page. And given that this is a repetitive task, wouldn't it be a lot nicer to have such profiles? Just like having multiple homepages for a browser.

Also, I found an app called Freedom that cuts you off from the internet for whatever amount of time you set it. I have been trying to use it to help me stay focused on work and it is quite helpful, when I have to be on the comp to work but don't need the internet. I am currently using the free trial, if I continue to find it useful I might buy it. Let us see how long i last with it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Random memories from the wedding

Just got off the phone with an old pal who wanted all the details of my wedding ceremony. Sharing them with her made me want to write this down for memory, and also I am avoiding the dishes.

I mentioned how, in Telugu weddings, there is this custom of the bride's maternal uncles carrying her in a basket to the mandap. In my case, I was pretty sure that my er..BMI would dissuade any of my uncles from either attending my wedding or signing papers that absolved them of any such duties. Finally, I made a deal with my dad that we would cut that bit out of my wedding ceremony, and do the high BMI equivalent, which is the maternal uncles walk the bride to the mandap.

The morning of the wedding dawned, and I was whisked downstairs to perform Gauri pooja. I was doing this in a tiny room adjacent to the mandap up on the stage. It was then I discovered what a high-handed fellow this pandit was. He was loud and bossy and always yelling, even at my parents. I didn't like him one bit, and amongst other things, was caught on camera having a fight with him at one point :D. Not your traditional demure bride, this.

Anyhow, after the Gauri pooja was done - in full fast forward fashion, I heard him yell at his minions to bring the "Butta" = basket. We had like 5 minutes left for the "muhurtam" - the pre-appointed auspicious time when the groom and bride are officially married, and a time that is of utmost importance to the exact minute. So the pandit was yelling to bring the basket, and saying- "this muhurtam is five minutes away WHERE is the basket!" and I was trying to protest saying "Actually, my father and I decided that we would not be needing the basket" but my dad and mom were busy at the mandap, the pandit was not even listening to me. I began hoping that the basket was just symbolic. May be some tiny basket would be brought. Next thing I know, this huge basket has been commissioned. The pandit yelled at me again to sit in it, and I, swept in the sense of rush and urgency, alighted into the basket putting my best foot forward (My left foot- I am left handed, after all!). Then I heard the pandit scream some more "Ayyayyo! You didn't just put your left foot in! Get up and sit again, this time, start with your right foot, PLEASE".

Then, he goes out back and yells at all the guests - "The bride needs to be carried in her basket! Come forward to carry the bride!" Like he was rounding up volunteers to push a car that wouldn't move. All the yelling was being done in telugu, but clearly it was being translated and broadcasted because a lot of my dad's friends, non-telugu speaking people came up. The next thing I knew, there was like a horde of people, burly, tall men, and I was sitting in the basket, looking extremely petrified and upset that I was actually being put through this. My assorted "uncles" - there were like 7 of them at least, came forward to lift the basket. The pandit was yelling some more in telugu, and I, sitting in the basket, was translating it into hindi/english for my non-telugu speaking strong and brave uncles- "Hold it by the base! Hold it by the base!" They would have to carry me for about 2-3 yards to the mandap, and I was mortified of this spectacle we would be making as we entered the stage area, in full view of all the guests.

Memories of my sister's wedding flashed through me. Then, there were just 4 uncles, of medium height and built, carrying my demure looking sister, and smiling at the camera. I was beginning to see how my pics would look- an army of burly men, probably sweating at the brows, with no time to pose for pictures as they had to get this done before something or someone gave, may be even cheering one another on. And a defiant and scared looking bride glaring at the camera looking like she was being married off against her wishes.

Just as we emerged from the room, into the stage area, the lights went off- power cut! In the few minutes that it took for the generators to kick in, I was carried to the mandap and set down, no mishaps whatsoever, and I quickly got out of the basket and sat myself down. If there was such a thing as divine intervention, I had just witnessed it. There is no photographic proof and nothing on tape covering this most embarrassing event. While my uncles are disappointed that there is no evidence of their bravado, I, for one, am thankful for load-shedding practices in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

Friday, November 26, 2010

W O M M

A place for everything and everything in its place is not a sentiment I subscribe to. Currently I am terribly frustrated with my penchant for losing or misplacing things. I am unable to find my digital camera since a month, and now, my keys have gone missing for the past few days. Luckily my neighbours had my spare set, but that only has keys to the house. Getting into lab has been an adventure every day- either entering through the neighbouring lab that connects ours or begging and pleading my way with the security guard. And I have, of course, turned my blackhole of an apartment inside out to find these things but cannot find them. As a kid, I was constantly misplacing my books, especially on the day before the exam. Then I 'd weep copious tears and hope and pray that my mom had hidden them to teach me a lesson. That never turned out to be the case, and the book would be found later in some random location in the house. I have even been known to walk in my sleep searching for misplaced notebooks. :) My mother was so freaked out she took to putting on an extra lock on the main door at nights so that I don't step out.

Top on my wish list is a google button for life. If only I could google "my keys" and find the random corner of my apartment where they are sitting right now, I would be so happy. I hope those smart folks at google are listening and working on this.

Thanksgiving was: experiments that didn't work, good food, friends, and good conversation. Lots of eating. :)

During one of my crib-fests with H recently, he was remembering the first time he met me- when I had just arrived in Lutom from India. I was full of spunk and outspoken and had no care in the world. And I had really short hair. :) Now, nine years later, here I am- a lot more mellow, and, along with these long tresses I have managed to also accumulate all this baggage from over the years :). H was saying that I need to work on going back to being that person I was then. I wonder if that is possible- after all, this is what life does to you. It takes you through some harsh realities and shapes you. When I left India, I really had nothing to worry about, at all. It was a carefree existence. Part of me misses that old me, but for most, I have come to accept what I have become as the natural progression of life events. If I were the same person I was 9 years ago, it would mean I had seen nothing in life. But the past nine years have been an enriching and fun ride, that I wouldn't want to reverse for anything. I think back to my lowest moments and am still thankful they happened because of all that I learned out of them. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Or, may be, chopping off my hair will do the trick. :)

I wish I could stay home and laze but off to lab I go.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

W O M M

Pet peeves: People who cannot say yes, or take proffered help out of politeness. I don't know how to push or force my way- if someone says no, i step back and desist. I have no way of telling if they meant no or yes, and most of the times, it turns out they meant yes but said no. What nonsense. I also HATE it when friends use terms like "don't take the trouble". WTF.

All the time I bitch about not having company around here or friends to spend time with, and the one time i get invited to join in some fun stuff, I get invited by two different people for the same day and time. Pah. Greedy me so badly wishes I could go to both.

There was much turkey-talk happening in this lab next door where I spend a lot of time using their equipment. I love going there mainly because the lab atmosphere is so chatty and fun-filled. Not quiet and morose like mine. So I enjoy eavesdropping into the conversations in this lab next door and the turkey-talk, even for a vegetarian like me, got me excited about thanksgiving.

Sorely miss the thanksgivings in lutom. They used to be such fun. Over the years, each one that I went to was different and and an experience in itself. My favourite part of it, second to the food, is just all the people getting together, in a great mood, probably thanks to the food. :)

I feel a lot more sorted out as far as all the going-ons in lab are concerned. Nice feeling to be at peace and have a plan and to not give a flying f*** about anything. Hope I can maintain this detachment.

Very nice post: Lessons from a recovering post-doc.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

W O M M

The wedding of one of our closest family friends going on in India right now. Of course as always, I am missing it, but my husband B is attending it along with my parents. I am enjoying getting to hear what a fun time my parents are having, meeting up with people from our childhood days after all these years. Getting to show off their new son-in-law and B being a good sport to all the uncle-aunty humor. :) Hard to believe that my mom hasn't been to Bombay in over five years- unable to visit even while my sister and niece transited there a couple years ago. I am so glad she was able to go now, and what better time than a wedding to be there. As always, I am sorely missing the hungama and so badly wish I were there right now.

I am glad B went and is having a good time with my buddies even though I am not there. It's fun to hear about all the folks from him, and get updates about the wedding going-ons. Its also fun to reminisce back to our wedding, and feel self-congratulatory about the fact that we didn't have to pose for those stereotypical photos to please the photographer and didn't have long ass lines of people waiting to see us at the reception - instead, we flitted about the room- often dragging each other in opposite directions as we'd see someone of ours come in. That had its own comic effect, though.

It's a happy feeling to think about my close childhood buddy getting married. I am happy for him - in some ways its almost surreal and another reason I wish I were there to see it happen. I am really enjoying the excitement in my mom's voice. It was hilarious to have my dad text me to ask me the name of "that gentleman who used to play tennis with Mr. Gupta- he was here and I wanted to introduce B to him but I couldn't remember his name" :) It's fun to exchange gossip with B- "did you meet her husband? - Isn't she just the way I used to describe her? He said that? OMG he hasn't changed one bit." heh. :)

This I know for sure, the next wedding in our family, I will be there for it along with B, stuffing my face with gulab jamuns. :) And, as I crib about not having friends here to hang out with on a regular basis, its gratifying to see that B makes an effort with my friends back home, so that, when I go back, we can enjoy hanging out with people we both know and like and that will hopefully lay the roots of some nice friendships.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

W O M M

There is now the equivalent of "So, when are you graduating?" in my life. It is called "So, when are you going to go back to India to be with your husband?"

Yeah, same people, in case they are aware of having just asked the same question few weeks ago, will turn it around and ask "So, all plans set for returning in March?"

Please either find other placeholders for conversation that do not involve raking up uncertainties that daunt my life, or else, kindly fuck off.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

W O M M

Reminding myself that I can choose what I want to focus my thoughts, energies and efforts on. What is the end-goal? What is the big picture? And how do minor irritants fit in? Answer: end-goal is data, papers. Minor irritants do not fit in anywhere. Should not take up more than 2 minutes of my day. I don't have the time for it.

The girl at the subway sandwich store used to be my friend - in that she was the one person I'd have a social, chatty conversation with in my day. That was enough to make me keep going there, but then I finally put a stop to it because I can't eat that stuff so often. These days, I work late and take the escort shuttle home. The van driver is now my buddy. It's nice to have a real conversation with him at the end of a long tiring, silent day. I wish I had some lunch buddies or something. The thing is, I save my lunchtime for talking with B on the phone, and therefore never made an effort to go out and seek friends to eat lunch with. But I miss having some buddies around here. People to meet and go out with, bitch about work with, explore the city with etc. But I crib about this all the time, may be I need to make a better effort at it myself.

I have been reading about the whole barkhagate shit. More than I should, more than I have the time for. :) The whole thing is so icky. And the realization that it is mere entertainment at best. Tomorrow is another day, everyone would have moved on to the next scandal.

Since I made a conscious decision to reducing eating out, even if its just boiled vegetables at the cafeteria, I am going crazy coming up with ideas to feed myself. What a pain.

Back to work. Kaafi timepass ho gaya.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

On self-righteousness

Self-righteousness: confident of one's own righteousness, esp. when smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others.


I have been accused of being self-righteous on several occasions. To reinforce it, let me say that I never understood why it was a bad thing. :) Finally H broke it down to me superbly. That there is no point in arguing for " the right thing" because a) it is extremely relative and b) we don't live in an ideal world. So in doing so, and doing it vehemently, aggressively, I only end up looking smug and arrogant. You'd think I'd have figured it out by now, but perhaps my thick head was in the way. :p

W O M M

The truth is, I am trying to avoid working as I write this post.

My neighbours- and the only friends I have around here moved out yesterday. We got along really well and I will really miss having them right next door, making impromptu visits and stuff. I also feel really bad that I wasn't too helpful to them during their move. I put in a few hours of taping boxes, lugging them, etc. but that was it. Partly because I am so unfit, I cannot do the heavy lifting work for too long, my knees and back just revolt. Also I had to work in the lab to make a deadline. We do what we have to do, right? But I can't help feeling a bit bad. Especially because I've enjoyed so much help each time I had to move. I remember the time I was leaving lutom, I didn't call my friends to help me because I was such a mess and wanted to sort it all out on my own before calling people to help. Finally, there was no choice. And all sense of shame/embarrassment left me as my friend M was scrubbing my fridge and cooking range while I kept tearing up junk mail and there were 2 hours left for me to hand over my apartment and get out of there. If not for her just coming in and taking charge, I think i'd have missed my flight.

Then I remember the time I was vacating my Philly apartment. I was dealing with an entirely different kind of mess: I was struggling to finish a paper and was under tremendous pressure to get it done before I moved out of Philly, since I was headed to India right away. So while I sat at my computer and worked, B, who I had been dating for a few months then, was sitting and emptying out my apartment into boxes and taping them and labeling them, and, in what I still consider an amazing feat, did not say a word about how much junk I had. :) That was the point I decided I need to marry this guy. :) :)

I think when it comes to packing up your stuff and moving, we all need the "Take charge" type of friends. People who will pick up and do stuff, and not come and ask you every little thing, while your own mind is filled with dozens of bouncing thoughts. I tried to be that friend for my neighbours yesterday, but wish I could've done more of it.

--

As I watch the way couples interact, I imagine how life will be when B and I finally start living together as husband and wife, almost a whole year after we got married. Right now it feels almost strange to say husband / wife in a marriage that has been solely long distance. I foresee a considerable amount of bickering once we get together because we have both been living on our own for so long now, and are quite set in our ways. I am actually looking forward to both, the living together and the ensuing bickering :).

And in spite of all the problems that come with R2I, I do feel that this might be the best time to leave the US - Job cuts, research funding cuts, and the instability that lies ahead. India has its own share, though, so that will be another struggle.

--

OK time to get back to work. Over and out.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Foreigners means copycats

My boss was invited to write a section of a review article, and like most busy bosses, he passed on the job to me. I gladly took it up because I enjoy stuff like that. Now the main author of this review article is another PI (lets call him Dr. mainauthor) and his post-doc from another univ. Today I sent them an email asking about word limits etc. In the ensuing chain of emails, in which every contributing author is cc-ed (totally 4 or 5 people) I find Dr. mainauthor asking his post-doc for a link to a plagiarism checker with a note

"I'd like to fw it to Dr. tgfiboss. We have to be careful with outside authors".


Then in the next email, he has sent us all a link to dustball.com with a note

"We use this regularly to check all our manuscripts, this is a good way to check cutting and pasting"
.

I got a bit irked by that but let it go. Then, he follows up this with another separate email to my boss alone in which he says

"Dear Dr. tgfisboss, Please dont take it personally, i admire your writing work, i just want to be careful and avoid problems as we have faced in the past. People from overseas have the habit of cutting and pasting"


What is worse is, this dude is a foreigner himself. All the authors on this review are, except tgfiboss.

What is even worse is, my boss replies to him with one line

"Do what you have to do"


- and cces it to me. Thats how I get to read this dude praising my boss and painting all foreigners with one wide brush. I am not even sure why my boss cc-ed me on it.

This whole thing pisses me off on various levels. The blatant stereotyping, the horrible attitude that it is only important to be respectful to the big guy, the small folks can be insulted/stereotyped all you want and finally, my boss being equally non-committal and dismissive of such attitudes instead of putting in some effort to stand up for the integrity of his lab members.

This is what i plan to write back to him and cc my boss on it (ETA: The text of this email is the result of my husband - B's editing, and hence a lot more professional and less frothing at the mouth :) )

"Dear Dr. Mainauthor

I understand your concerns. I am familiar with dustball.com having used it as a TA when I taught undergrad classes, where violations were prevalent regardless of nationality or country of origin. Please feel free to check my work using your resources.

Sincerely
TGFI

Sunday, November 07, 2010

W O M M

Amongst a few hundred milligrams and lots of warmth and fun, I also gained an hour overnight. Love it when that happens.

Fun weekend- just what I needed. Back to work, recharged, and snapped out of all the gloom that I was wallowing in.

Two nice friends of my sister at the Diwali party at my sister's place gave me a ride part of the way home. All throughout the ride I was struggling to remember one of their names. The two hour car ride was filled with me asking pointed and weird questions so that the wife would say her husband's name, and then thinking up some more strategies when she didn't bite. I am wondering if she is one of those people that just doesn't utter her husband's name or something. She always said "him" and "his" much to my growing frustration.

I don't remember anything that we talked about in that car ride. But now, sitting at home, the name comes to me. Why does this happen to me?

Compare and contrast.

Friday, November 05, 2010

W O M M

Missing being in India big time during Diwali. But i'm headed to my sister's place this evening and that should help.

The zero-expectations policy is helping. No expectations from experiments, from people, from systems..yeah.

I wallow in self-pity every now and then only to snap out of it when I see that I have precious little to complain about. Sure it sucks to be away from B and to be stuck in a rut at work, but really? I have a lot going for me and need to remind myself of it all every time I go down the self-pity party path.

I think of lutom a lot these days. I sometimes miss the security I felt there. A good bunch of friends to hang out with, more money than I do now, and happier lab-life....But then again, there were a different set of struggles then. I have reminders all over this blog :)

I am *this* close to calling in sick at work today, but I will drag myself to work and get busy and keep on keeping on.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

W.O.M.M

Paneer jalebis. Thats on my mind right now. Gosh. I crave so badly now! Anyone in Bombay reading this, please go and get a plateful of them from your nearest Brijwasi or Chappanbhog or..sigh. Enjoy.

Today I went and bought a whole lot of groceries- restocked after ages- only to come home to find that the lift wasn't working. :( The security guard who I chat with every now and then offered to help me bring my bags up. That really totally made my day, as I was mentally preparing to make 2 trips up and down 5 floors each time - with a bad back. She really didn't have to help me out, and I almost hugged her for her niceness.

Diwali is coming up! Happy Diwali to all of you.

I am starved of good blogs to read. Please to suggest. I generally enjoy personal blogs, well-written, argumentative, and don't take themselves too seriously.. :) Know any?

Today while in the grocery I am talking to my niece on the phone and she says "So what is up?" As if that wasn't bad enough, when I tell her I'm buying groceries, she goes "At 8:30 in the night?" and before I could react to that, she stops and then repeats herself "At 8:40 in the night?". :D