Tuesday, September 22

The Blind Assassin- a review

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood- I would definitely call it a masterpiece. My only issue with the book- I did not totally enjoy the Sci-fi part (the novel within the novel). The book is masterfully written, the characters are gradually developed- Iris and Laura Chase, their pathetic father (one of the characters I did not like), Richard Griffen and his sister Winifred (the evil ones- I consider them both to be equally bad!), and the darling Reenie. To me the most elusive yet interesting character was that of Laura Chase and actually to an extent Iris Chase, who is the narrator. Iris Chase is married to Richard Griffen and in the book she is putting her memories down on paper for her granddaughter Sabrina (who she has not seen in ages) to read.
Atwood made sure that her readers do no put the book down until they finish. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to read something beautiful, her words can capture your heart and mind (My eyes even swelled up once or twice during the read).
I leave you with some of her words from the book (various parts of the book)

“What fabrications they are, mothers. Scarecrows, wax dolls for us to stick pins into, crude diagrams. We deny them an existence of their own, we make them up to suit ourselves — our own hungers, our own wishes, our own deficiencies. Now that I’ve been one myself, I know”

“A hot wind was blowing around my head, the strands of my hair lifting and swirling in it, like ink spilled in water.”

"Beginnings are sudden, but also insidious. They creep up on you sideways, they keep to the shadows, they lurk unrecognized. Then, later, they spring."


Thursday, September 17

A tale of YIM 2009, Boston

YIM or otherwise known as young investigator meet (this is the second such meeting, first one was held earlier this year in SFO) provides a setting for young investigators (mainly postdocs) working in the US to meet and greet the faculty members from a variety of institutes (mostly biology related) in India. This meeting was essentially to talk to people about the new initiatives that are being undertaken on behalf of the Govt of India to further the scientific agenda (sort of put India on science road map, at least in terms of life science research). One of the main initiative is described here and Martha Gray was one of the organizers of the meet organized this past weekend in Boston. The meeting started with open session of Friday (afternoon) and there were closed sessions held on Saturday and Sunday.
At the open session, the faculty members from India gave brief introductions to "what and how things are changing" nothing so elaborate of course and then people could ask questions. There were a variety of questions ranging from reservation issues when it comes to faculty hiring to the application forms that need to be sent via the snail-mail!
The next day began the closed sessions, for which one had to be selected (I was an observer, please do not ask me what it means, I guess I was supposed to observe). Now here is where I have issues (not all negative I assure you). I will try my best to enumerate them and of course keep this civil. Oh if you want only/mostly positive feedback, you can check the facebook page. I must also tell you that I do appreciate every bit of effort that has gone into the organization of this event- however

1. Two things that struck me- one, there were only 3 or 4 women speakers out of a total of 22 (does this mean many women candidates did not apply, I applied and I was chosen to be an observer!) and two, some of the speakers were either directly or indirectly connected to one of the organizers (Happens everywhere, so why not!)

2. There was no mention of the students who will actually be doing the work- how are they selected, how many students does a PI get, how good are the students in general, how motivated are they and how much effort do they normally put in (I have seen some of the best and the worst students, trust me it is important!)

3. While it might be hard to recruit someone in just two days, it sure looked like a recruitment fair to me (that is fair, am not complaining about it- just wanted to point it out). It did annoy me somewhat especially because I did not know what the hell I was doing there- I was not talking which meant I could not showcase what I have done or been doing. I felt like I sat there "observing" how other people got recruited!! But I must add a word of caution- I am of the shy type and would not venture into "networking" mode ever unless I know the person (in which case I am not sure if it can be called networking at all and I am sure I am going to lose out on opportunities on account of this)

4. I would have liked to hear the faculty present their work before everyone else (to get an idea of how well they are doing) but they did give talks on Sunday for which I could not go as I was sick!!

5. Of the 8 talks I attended on Saturday, I liked may be one (I thought they were not good talks, could have been much better). What irritated me even more was the fact that no one had the appropriate number of slides for a 10-min presentation (may be one guy did)!

6. They kept talking about change and being a part of that change and making a difference and all, but my question is- as the newest member of the institution, how can I bring about any change or difference, why would the underdogs listen to someone junior (hierarchy still exists, does'nt it?), in fact much junior to them? And Satyajith Rath put it- you should join not because you want to make a difference but because you think it is something comparable to other top institutes from which you might get an offer. While I agree for the most part- they are two different career goals at least initially, so that statement is something to think about and is something that might influence peoples' decisions.

7. Some of the seemingly interesting panels could have been held during the open sessions -like the panel on "setting up a lab"

8. It was not totally clear as to what the selection process was for the closed sessions- there were quite a few of the speakers who already seemed to have established some sort of contacts with the Indian faculty.

9. I still do not understand why I was chosen and chosen as an observer!!

One thing , actually two things you could not miss- everyone seemed enthusiastic about the whole thing which was nice and there seems to be a ton of money, which is super-nice!!

Monday, September 14

This is scary

Did you see this on BBC, quite scary work on shower heads. Stop showering, what could be next?!
On another note, Federer lost US open!

Wednesday, September 9

The Congress booed....

Did you all hear that- the Congress booed when Mr. Obama said that the health reform bill does not extend to illegal immigrants. Nancy Pelosi seemed to give an expression of "WTF is going on?"! (I want to say to the booers "Smile, you are on national television!!!")
The President kept harping on the fact that nothing would change for people who are happy with their coverage, that a public option will keep the competition healthy and so on. He has made a lot of promises- he said that he would not sign a bill that "adds even one dime to the deficit". But I wonder where the money is going to come from- curbing the wastage in the existing health care system is what he proposes (he would have mentioned this at least thrice in his speech). He did touch upon the much needed (I think!) malpractice reform, doctors should not withheld care because of they are scared they might be sued!
I agree that the system needs to change, I also wonder as to how far ahead into future can you predict things. At this point any bill would be better than nothing and would definitely be a huge step up!! Just do it folks...

PS He never once denied the-pulling-the-plug-on-grandma bit! I am sure Sarah Palin would do that bit for him though.