Not To Be Trusted With Knives

{April 21, 2008}   Can’t blog. Marking.

It’s exam time, which means I’m now faced with a giant pile of exams to mark. *sigh* And they don’t seem to be marking themselves, so I’m resigned to the fact that I will, in fact, need to mark them myself. *double sigh*.

And, because I have this crazy idea that university should be about learning how to think critically, how to analyze and synthesize and evaluate using information rather than how to regurgitate random, out-of-contexts facts, I won’t give fill-in-the-blank or multiple-choice or matching questions, which are, of course, waaaaay easier to mark. So marking 94 exams is quite a project. Now, I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much, as at least I’m being paid to do this, whereas the students have to pay to take the course and write the exam!

But I still don’t like marking. I don’t like it in a house. I don’t like it with a mouse. I don’t like it in a boat. I don’t like it with a goat.

You totally have to check out these videos.  They are both of Hans Rosling, a Swedish professor and global health expert.  Not only does he present very compelling statistics (yes, statistics can be compelling!), but he show them off using super cool software that really lets you visualize and engage with the data.  As a visual learner, this kind of thing is right up my alley.  Oh yes, and he’s freaking hilarious.  Plus, you won’t believe what he does at the end of the second video!

Vodpod videos no longer available. from posted with vodpod

And this is his 2007 TED talk:

Vodpod videos no longer available. from posted with vodpod

After watching Hans, you’ll believe that the “seemingly impossible IS possible”!

This afternoon I gave my last lecture for the class I’m teaching. It was a short one because it was just an exam review and my students clapped for me at the end, which totally caught me off guard¹. The exam for the class is next week and I can’t *wait* have all the exams marked and be done the class. Don’t get me wrong, I *loved* teaching the class, but, damn, it’s a lot of work. I know that any time you teach a class for the first time, it’s a ridiculous amount of work, but it’s one thing to “know” that and a totally other thing to live it. So I’m looking forward to having some time back because I was totally getting burnt out from the lack of sleep². And now, a list.

Some of the things that I’m going to do once I have the exams marked:

  • clean my apartment, for the first time in I don’t even know how long, including vacuuming, cleaning my icky microwave and doing battle with the sentient lifeforms that have evolved in my bathroom
  • my taxes
  • scrapbooking my photos from 2000-2008, inclusive
  • sleep

¹Is this common? I’ve never seen students clap for their instructor before, but maybe it’s what kids do these days. Or maybe they were totally fucking with me. Or could have been because I said I’d be perfectly happy if everyone got an A.
²This may also have something to do with taking on a few different contracts and spending a weekend in Vegas.

{April 7, 2008}   Hockey Tournament Recap

This is our goalie, Megs, at dinner on our first night in Vegas. Her shirt (and she had those shirts made up for everyone on the team because she *totally friggin’ rocks*!) pretty much sums up our weekend at the Lady Luck Cup hockey tournament in Las Vegas.

Highlights of the trip:

  • the U.S. border guard who asked us to explain what a “hockey tournament” is. Seriously.
  • these randoms from Ottawa who met some of our team on the Thursday night showed up to watch our game on Saturday morning. Apparently when it’s 6 a.m. and you are still in the casino after a night of drinking and gambling an idea like “hey, we should go watch those girls play hockey!” sounds like such a good idea that you wake your friends up and drag them off to the arena. Unfortunately, these dudes ended up at the wrong arena¹ and after a $100+ cab ride trying to find the arena, they showed up after our game had ended. We let them ride back to the Strip on the bus with us² and I’m sure that at this very moment, they are bragging to all their friends “… and then we were on the bus with a hockey team full of hot chicks!”
  • Speaking of $100+ cab rides, one of our players accidentally paid $109 for a $10 cab ride by mistaking a $100 for a $1 bill³. She more than made up for it, though, by winning $2300 on friggin’ slot machines!
  • The buffet at Paris was so ridiculously awesome. Crème brûlée4 to die for!
  • Picture this: there’s about 2 minutes left in our first game, we are down like 9-0 and our one an only fan yells out at the top of his lungs, “There’s plenty of time left!”
  • Apparently the other teams in the tournament, all of whom were from Canada btw5, went to Vegas to actually play hockey. We, however, thought the competition had more to do with maximizing the consumption of alcohol containing beverages while minimizing the number of hours slept. Thus, things like going to the arena, putting on our gear or moving in such a way as would result in skating-like motions/stick handling/shooting pucks anywhere near the opposing team’s net were not among our favourite events of the weekend. Some of our more stellar moves in the tournament included:
    • when our two defenceman were fighting over who had to go and get the puck: “No, you go and get it.” “No, YOU go and get it.”
    • the defenceman who would just stand and wave at the other team as they went by on a breakaway. Buh-bye!
    • the way the goalie would break out into laughter every time the other team scored. She was to explain later that her thought process was something like this: “Oh hey, there goes a puck. Wait, I was supposed to stop that, wasn’t I?”
  • At the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay5 they let me touch a stingray!

Lowlights of the trip:

  • Nuh uh! What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, so you aren’t getting any of the good dirt from me here!

I’m relatively certain that I’m forgetting a tonne of other things (some of which I’m not even intentionally leaving out to protect the, uh, innocent), but I’m way exhausted and must go to sleep RIGHT NOW! If I remember anything else of note, I’ll post an update. Srsly, must sleep now!

¹Who knew that Vegas had more than one arena. Or, as they like to call them, “ice centres.”
²Which may or may not have been because they bought us a couple of cases of beer.
³Stupid American money that all looks the same!
4No relation to Gilbert.
5Seriously, we went to Vegas to play teams from BC and Alberta. There was a team from Saskatchewan in the women’s division, but we didn’t play them.
6Check out my photos from the Aquarium, including some person dipping their 5-year-old into the tank to touch the sting rays, here.

The next time I give my students an assignment, I’m going to play this video for them:

Because there really is not prostitute for careful editing of your own work.

{March 15, 2008}  

Man, two days of no blogging! I blame The Man. And fiscal year end¹. Anyhoo, since I’m sure that you are all dying to hear the random thoughts in my brain², here they are:

  • I taught my last lesson to the grade 3-5 students that I was teaching Human Anatomy too. They are sooo damn cute. Especially the one that called me “Mrs. Dr. Snow.” And the one that drew a picture of a flower to give to me since it was my last day with them.
  • We won the first of our three hockey playoff games that we need to win this weekend to make it to the finals on Sunday. We were playing the last place team and, since players need to have played at least 8 regular season games to play in playoffs, teams can’t bring out ringers, so it wasn’t unexpected that we’d win last night’s game. But, anything can happen in playoffs…. last night the 5th place team beat the 2nd place team… so we can’t get too cocky! Keep your fingers crossed for us today at 4:30 p.m. Pacific as we take on the 4th place team!
  • Since I have to drive out to Coquitlam three, possibly four, times this weekend, I decided to rent a car rather than using a Car Co-op car. I got one of those cheap-o weekend deals, my credit card covers the insurance part and I get unlimited kilometers³, so it works out a lot cheaper to rent for this trip than to use the Co-op. The car I rented is a 2008 Toyota Yaris. It drives nicely enough, but I have three complaints: (a) the speedometer is located in the middle of the dashboard, rather than directly in front of the driver, so every time I glance up to see my speed, I have a mini-heart attack when all I see is a blank dashboard4, (b) my hockey sticks don’t fit in the trunk5 so I have to put them in the backseat, which just makes for an extra step when loading and unloading my gear into/out of the car, (c) the cupholder is weird. Based on my patented system of determining if a car is good6, this car ranks an “I wouldn’t buy it.”
  • Fun things I’ve got to talk about lately in the third-year university class I’m teaching: impotence, using semen as a biological testing sample, having the students touch each other.  Don’t you wish you were taking my class?

¹Yes, I realize I’m not in finance and I pawn anything financial that I need to do off on the finance people. But I’m blaming fiscal year end anyway. It’s my blog and I’ll prevaricate if I want to.
²And aren’t just saying “oh, you didn’t blog for a couple of days? I didn’t even notice! Get over yourself already!”
³Random question: Since we measure distance in kilometers here in Canada, why don’t we say “kilometerage” instead of “mileage”?
4I’m not sure why I have a little freak out when I look up and don’t see what speed I’m traveling. The thought going through my mind is something like, “Oh my god, I can’t see the speed, I must be going too fast!”
5My sticks are really short and they fit in the trunk of the Honda Civic that I usually drive from the Car Co-op, and the Yaris feels like a bigger car than the Civic, so I have no idea what’s up with that.
6My system for determining if a car is good consists of (a) can I fit my hockey gear in there?, (b) does it have good cupholders, (c) can I get it in standard, and (d) is it not a Ford? Cars must meet all four criterion to be considered appropriate for me to want to buy it.

{March 12, 2008}   Happy Work-iversary to Me!

One year and one week and one day ago, I was unemployed and seriously wondering how I was going to continue to pay my rent, buy groceries, and basically, well, live.  I was filling out the necessary paperwork to postponing the onset of my massive student loan payments on the basis of abject poverty.  I was pouring over job posting after job posting, all of which I was either way over- or way underqualified for.  Then, one year and one week ago, I had a meeting.  Then, one year and three days ago, I was offered a job.  A job with a description that was pretty much written for me.  At a cool place, doing very cool work.  A job with a paycheque.  And benefits.  And pretty business cards.  And a swanky office with a view of the mountains.  A big girl job.

Happy workiversary to me.

{March 5, 2008}   Stress Hurts Your Brain

At work, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about addictions, trauma, violence, and mental health. And to be honest, it can be a really downer reading things like “Most violence against adult women is perpetrated by intimate partners” and “…past victimization increased the risk of a new rape incidence by a factor of seven and increased the risk of a new physical assault incidence by a factor of three,” and “…women who reported being raped in the preceding 12 month months averaged 2.9 rapes in the preceding 12 months…”1,2 all day long.

But the following sentence in a paper about the effects of stress on the brain that I was reading today made me smile:

Along with epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinepherine, glucocorticoids are essential for surviving acute physical stress (evading a predator, for example) but they may cause adverse effects when secretion is sustained such as when waiting to hear about a grant renewal.2, 3

Also making me smile in this paper were the use of the words: hippocampi (the plural of “hippocampus,” the structure in the brain that is involved in learning and memory) and Cushingoid (to describe people with Cushing’s syndrome, a disease in which individuals produce excessive amounts of glucocorticoids (a hormone we produce in response to stress).

Say them with me: Hippocampi.  Cushingoid.  Fun to say, right?

Oh yeah, and the moral of the story is stress hurts your brain.  So chill out already. =)
1All three of these quotations are from: Najavits, L., Weiss, R. D., & Shaw, S. (1997). The link between substance abuse and posttraumatic stress disorder in women. American Journal on Addictions, 6(4), 273-283.
2Emphasis added
3Sapolsky, R.M. (1996). Why stress is bad for your brain. Science, 273, 749-750.

Apparently Quirks & Quarks and I are not the only ones expressing displeasure with the federal government’s “manifest disregard for science

A recent issue of Nature contained an editorial that lambastes the Canadian government for such moves as eliminating the position of national science adviser, backing away from the Kyoto Accord, muzzling Environment Canada’s scientists and poor funding of science.  Kudos for calling it like it is, Nature.

{February 12, 2008}   Publish or Perish. True Dat.

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of writing of the I-would-like-to-keep-my-job variety. That’s how things go in the world of science – we spend a lot of time writing applicants for money to fund our projects, reports to tell our funders that we are spending their money wisely, and publishing our findings to (a) show our worth as scientists so that we may get jobs/promotions/more funds to do research and (b) actually move the field forward/make some kind of impact in the world. If I’m making (b) sound like a bit of an afterthought, it’s only because it kinda feels like a bit of an afterthought sometimes. The part where we publish in order to share our work with others so that what we learn through our work can be used to make the world better is supposed to be what it’s all about. But I can assure you that “publish or perish” isn’t the mantra of the academic because we’d just *die* if we didn’t get to share our work with the world.

Anyhoo, I’ve been doing lots of writing, and talking to other people who have been doing lots of writing2, and I remembered that I’ve been meaning to blog about this paper from the Annals of Improbable Research3. Highlights of the paper include:

Nominally, science involves discovering something new about the universe, but this is not really necessary. What is really necessary is a grant.


The real purpose of introductions, of course, is to cite your own work (e.g. Schulman et al. 1993a), the work of your advisor (e.g. Bregman, Schulman, & Tomisaka 1995), the work of your spouse (e.g. Cox, Schulman, & Bregman 1993), the work of a friend from college (e.g. Taylor, Morris, & Schulman 1993), or even the work of someone you have never met, as long as your name happens to be on the paper (e.g. Richmond et al. 1994).


Be sure to spend at least 50% of your time (i.e. 12 hours a day) typesetting the paper so that all the tables look nice

It’s funny because it’s true.

1OMG, Googling “publish or perish” led me to this site, where you can buy software called “Publish or Perish,” which is “designed to help individual academics to present their case for research impact to its best advantage.”
2Hi Jen! Hi Dan!
3Brought to you by the same people who granted me membership in the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists.

Photo by paperbackwriter. w00t for Creative Commons licenses!

{January 25, 2008}   Congratulations Dr. Ziba

Today, my good friend Ziba successfully defended her Ph.D. thesis! Ziba conducted an amazing program of research during her Ph.D. and defended her work with such intelligence, confidence and, believe it or not, humour1 today that it would have been impossible not to have been impressed. So congratulations, Dr. Ziba, on a job well done and best wishes in your future endeavors!

1I mean, seriously, who cracks jokes during their thesis defence? I was waaaaaay too nervous to do that in mine!

{January 19, 2008}   Hot for Teacher

First off, welcome to my new digs here on WordPress. Update your feeds, blogrolls, bookmarks, rolodexes, stone tablets or however the heck you remember where I am. Because I know that you don’t want to miss a single update on my nylons.

Secondly, I’ve recently become obsessed with what I wear when I’m teaching. I gave my students a little questionnaire in the first class to get a sense of the background & experience in the area of nutritional assessment and also I included the question “Tell me something about yourself that doesn’t have anything to do with school.” I think that it’s nice to get to know your students a bit, which is hard to do when you have a class of 100, and this is a my little attempt to do that. A lot of people told me about hobbies they have, sports they play, places they’ve traveled and the like. And one person wrote that I dressed “too nice for lecturing.” I wasn’t really sure if this was meant as a compliment (i.e., “you dress nice”) or an insult (i.e., “you are trying *way* too hard, Loser”), but I’ve decided that I’ll believe it’s the former. And, now, of course, I need to keep up with this reputation as the best dressed instructor of 20081.

So here’s a picture of my outfit from class #2. Apparently posting what I wear to class is becoming kind of a thing here on NTBTWK. Which may just be an excuse for me to need to buy more clothes once I get through all my current outfits.

1Which may or may not be completely in my head.

Typing this out on my Palm Pilot on the bus on the way to a free screening of Cloverfield. Won’t have time to write blog posting when I get home as I have to finish my lecture for tomorrow. My wicked cool lecture about the BC Nutrition Survey, about measurement and about dietary assessment. But I’m so very, very tired…

So, some random thoughts. A recent study found that 75% of people in the study who called themselves vegetarians ate animal flesh sometimes. wtf? They put new floors in the hallway to the caf at my work. The new floors muffle the sound significantly compared to the old floors. I’m thinking they put the new flooring in because my new boots are like the loudest things ever when I walk down the hall in them. My ski buddy busted her knee & is out for the season; now looking for people with whom to ski. Is it wrong that I’m not done my lecture, but I decided what I’m going to wear to my class tomorrow 5 days ago?

In defiance of Clean Off Your Desk Day, and because it for some unknown reason seemed to alleviate my anger at not being able to find a very important set of papers on my desk, I took these pictures of my office just for you, gentle blog reader:






I’d like to say that there is a system to this mess. You know, like ordered chaos. A method to my madness. Like it’s one of those messes where it looks like a mess from the outside by the creator of said mess knows exactly where everything is in this shitstorm. I’d like to say those things, but if I did, I’d be lying. Sometimes I have to call my cell phone in order to find it on my desk. Seriously.

{January 12, 2008}  

The class I’m teaching is a nutrition course. The classroom is in one of the engineering buildings. As I was setting up my laptop for my lecture yesterday, with the students from the previous class filing out of the room and my students filing in, one of the students from the previous class came up to me and asked bewilderedly, “What class is this?”

“Nutritional Assessment,” I replied, somewhat confused as to why he looked so confused.

“Oh. It’s just in engineering classes there aren’t usually so many…” His voice trailed off.

“Ah. Not usually so many girls. You are wondering where all these women are coming from!”

* * * * *

Overall, the first lecture seemed to go well. It was waaaaay too short, as I suck at estimating how long it will take me to present stuff. But it’s not like anyone is going to complain about leaving early on a Friday. Plus, it gave students lots of time to come up and chat with me, which several did. I love to see that kind of enthusiasm for learning!

Since this was the first class, it was just introductory/refresher stuff, so I was able to get through the material at a fairly rapid pace, as it wasn’t the first time most of the students had seen this stuff. I’m hoping that I was able to convey my passion for the material by the high energy style. Or something like that. All I know what the I was fucking exhausted by the time I got home!

The rest of the classes will be more challenging, as more of the material will be new to them (and to me!).

et cetera