Saturday, November 17, 2007

Breakfast at Saul's

This morning I grabbed my book and wandered down the street to my local Jewish Deli. I grabbed a booth as far away from the whimpering child and one table away from a man who looked a lot like a young Bill Cosby. The waiter poured me a cup of strong, hot coffee in one of those off-white ceramic mugs whose handles always seem to crowd my fingers and scorch my knuckles. I ordered the eggs and onions with a side of hash browns and an onion bagel with cream cheese.

The only difference in my routine? I did all this in Berkeley, California not Brooklyn, New York.

I've been casting about for how best to transition Flygal76 from a blog about life in New York City to one about life in the Bay Area of California... and this morning I realized that some things, like brunch at your local Jewish Deli, just transition themselves!

I mean, it's not like I'm moving to a farm in Nebraska (thank God), Berkeley's a lot like Park Slope, Brooklyn: lots of kids and parents; lots of places to eat good food; plenty of community-oriented people; and did I mention the good food?

Life in Berkeley differs from Brooklyn in some important respects though: my commute is 20 minutes walking instead of 45 minutes on the subway so no more evil subway eye (yea!); no more encounters with tragic hipsters in Union Square subway station, the people I encounter on my commute now are Cal students and those Berkeley residents who make their home on Shattuck Ave (though 7:45 AM is a bit early for both).

Overall, life is pretty good so far. I can walk to the Cheeseboard (a worker owned cooperative that sells cheese (natch) and fancy-pants pizza); the original Peet's Coffee; Love at First Bite, a cupcake shop with all the flavor and none of the celebrity of Magnolia; and three grocery stores that sell, natural, organic free-range, free-love goodies at a fraction of the price of "Gross-tedes" and "Food Extortion" in New York.

I have a garden, as the Brits would say, so I'm planting native California plants in the hopes that the hummingbirds and butterflies I've seen buzzing around others' gardens will find their way into mine and entertain me and my cat. Gone are the fire escape gardens with under watered plants turned to ashtrays.

I even have a dishwasher, washer and dryer. It's like moving into the Barbie Dream House of my Youth... I even have a Ken arriving in 5 days!

Despite my initial euphoria, I'm sure that the Bay Area with its smug environmentalism, and liberalism will get on this jaded east coaster's nerves. So if my first Pollyanna-ish post disappoints you, stay tuned, I'm sure I'll return to the snarky posts of yore.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

News Flash: Too many Biomed Scientists, Not Enough Jobs

I've got to hand it to Nature Magazine, intrepid journal that it is, breaking open a heretofore unheard of story: grad schools, particularly in the biomedical sciences, are training too many grad students; this has led to a surge in biomedical postdocs but, amazingly, the number of tenured faculty positions has not concomitantly risen...

If this is news to you as well, then welcome to life outside that rock you were living under.

In today's Nature Magazine (email me if you aren't attached to an institution that has a subscription and I'll send you the article) Erika Check discussed a recent Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) publication that lays out the bad news in easy-to-understand graphs and charts. I seriously have to hand it to Erika; she's been one of the few science writers to discuss the ugly truth: we're training too many scientists for the current number of academic jobs and level of federal funding available. I truly look forward to reading her well-researched, balanced articles each week.

I haven't fully digested the FASEB report yet, but the news isn't good. They basically show that grad school matriculation has gone up (particularly among non-residents) but that GRE scores haven't. So no arguing that there are more qualified applicants than in the 1970's... grad schools have just become big PhD factories. (Note: Anyone interested in the topic of S&E graduate education should read Goldman and Massy's 2000 book by the same name The PhD Factory: Training and Employment of Science and Engineering Doctorates in the United States)

The FASEB report further states that NIH funding of training grants for grad students and postdocs has gone down while demand for these grants has gone up. So we're training more scientists but the money is not coming from training grants but from research grants. This may seem like a negligible difference unless you've ever been tethered to the bench by a tyrannical boss supporting you off of his or her research grant. Sadly, not much training happens in these situations.

Ah, but what to do? NIH has already been given its Christmas bonus in the form of a budget doubling between 1999 and 2003. And much like the grasshopper in the fable of the Grasshopper and the Ant, most of the money from the budget doubling was frittered away like a summer afternoon.

But here's the real news flash: it's beginning to get a little chilly, and the worst is still yet to come.

Thank God I left the bench.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Attention hipsters

The great thing about having a blog is that I can rant as much as I want when I want and where I want (assuming it's close to a computer). I invoke this privilege today to recount my commuting experience this morning and to issue advice to all those tragically hip New Yorkers who cross my path.

I normally don't leave the confines of the N train during the morning rush until my appointed stop, but this morning, in an effort to shop at Trader Joe's before the hoards descended upon it, I hopped off the train at Union Square just after 9:00 AM.

Union Square, where the yellow trains, green trains and grey L train converge, is a mad house at any time of day and is especially intimidating at 9:00 AM when all the people with "serious jobs" have been at work for an hour or more and those left commuting are the aimless, oblivious commuters who don't have to be at work till 9:30 or 10:00. (Apologies to those diligent commuters with flexible schedules for lumping you into the latter category.)

It was in this setting that I encountered my first tragic hipster of the day. I more wove around him than encountered him, really, seeing as how he was WANDERING AIMLESSLY ON THE SUBWAY PLATFORM! Come on! You're in the subway station, that implies intent to RIDE A SUBWAY TRAIN. You've got the express to your right, the local to the left, JUST PICK ONE AND GET OUT OF MY F***ING WAY!

Of course I said none of this, being the gentile southern lady I am (heh). I just grumbled about f***ing hipsters and went on my way. But thinking back on this guy I'm really bugged by the pervasive trait that all the tragic hipsters seem to share: those enormous f***ing aviator sunglasses. Have you noticed that irrespective of weather, temperature, and most annoyingly, location, the aviators are always donned, the hair is always shaggy and those retarded looking military hats are always on their heads (except when replaced by the equally annoying newsboy hats).

Maybe that's why this poor kid was wandering aimlessly on the Union Square platform, he couldn't see through his hip yet impractical sunglasses to determine which train he should get on. Was that it? Or was it that he had the sunglasses on to hide his bloodshot eyes from the harsh neon lights of the subway platform?

Either way, hipsters of New York, let's be practical. You don't live in Miami, LA, San Tropez or any of the other well-lit destinations that might necessitate consistent wearing of aviator sunglasses. You live in New York City where 7 million people miraculously manage to live together without doing each other serious bodily harm (at least not on a regular basis). And you, hip though you are, must do your part to maintain this ecosystem.

So while I realize that you take a great deal of pride in your appearance and have invested heavily in your plaid and corduroy wardrobe, please think for a moment about how your utter oblivion to the world around you may piss off those of us who are not quite as hip as you.

And take off your sunglasses inside for f**k's sake.

Thanks to The Fed, Columbia's subversive newspaper, for the hipster guide. It's worth looking at the full size picture here.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

City Slalom

Monday's I Can't Believe It's Science discussed a few recent "science-ish" articles including one by Richard Wiseman, a University of Hertfordshire psychologist, that found world-wide walking speeds have increased since the last such study in 1997.

I have no trouble believing that in our increasingly 24/7 society, where we're multitasking and trying to be in 3 places at once ,we've picked up the pace and are getting there faster than we did just 10 years ago. After all, 10 years ago, cell phones were big clunky things, blackberries were fruit that you ate and email was only good for sending around unix-based lewd jokes, or that 's what it was used for at my college at least... I feel so old.

The part of the article that surprised me was that New York City was only the 6th fastest city in the world. Working in midtown I think that we're fairly fast walkers, especially in the Rockefeller Concourse... if you're not careful you'll get flattened by some snooty-looking ad executive wearing 4 inch heels and through some miracle of biomechanics power walking to get to where ever ad executives have to go.

So although I was first surprised that Singapore (really? Singapore? Maybe they really are an Asian Tiger force to be reckoned with like The Economist says... those fast walking Singhs) had garnered first place, I soon recalled that not all those who walk in New York are (a) New Yorkers and (b) fast walkers.

To address these annoyingly slow walkers, Time Out New York, the obsessive guide to compulsive entertainment, took matters into their own hands. Dressing up like oversexed meter maids, they handed out tickets to individuals guilty of the following infractions:
  • Walking too slowly in a crowded area
  • Stopping in an inconvenient place
  • Blocking pedestrian traffic by walking side by side in a group of three or more
  • Irritating use of cell phone
  • Stopping at the top of the stairs in a subway station (Great quote from the article: "Where is Wooster? Hint: not at the top of the stairs")
  • Other (I think this category could be extended to the tourists who sling their H&M bags willy-nilly and who are generally recipients of the evil sidewalk eye*)

It seems clear to me that in order to be contenders for 2017's award for fastest walking city, New Yorkers are going to have to get serious about enforcement of the afore mentioned moving (or failure to move) violations. You can download your own spiffy citations like the one pictured at the link above. So get out there and show those annoying foot draggers that we won't stand for their leisurely strolls down 5th Avenue, or any other avenue!

*see evil subway eye