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      As many have heard, John Tory, the mainstream right wing candidate, won convincingly in Toronto and Olivia Chow came in third place, even doing worse than Doug Ford (brother of the famous crack-smoking Rob Ford.)  Much hand wringing has ensued that progressive just can’t win elections in Toronto. While it’s true that Toronto is hard [...]
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Can I just say one thing?: Podcasts

This is a new series about things that are immensely irritating for no good reason.  

I am a podcast fan.  Mostly, I like podcasts on history, language, history of science and cultural trendiology stuff.  When I got my first iPhone, I was ecstatic because I could download podcasts through iTunes and every time I synched my phone, the podcast would magically refresh and I would get a brand new set of stuff to listen to.  

Then, someone at apple had the bright idea to disconnect podcasts from iTunes.  Why this decision was made is beyond me.  Usually, I’m pretty tolerant of interface and design changes.  Sure, many people bitch about how things used to be better and make themselves a pain in the ass but most users adapt within a few days to a week.  That’s how it should be.  We need to be able to adapt.  

So, I didn’t particularly like the new setup where the podcasts were separate but I was determined to adapt.  Give it a couple of weeks and I would never know the difference.

But along with separating the podcasts from iTunes, apple forced users to download a new podcast app.  It was a baaaaad app, oh best beloveds.  It really was.  Steve Jobs is going to haunt that developer for eternity.  For one thing, it didn’t sync well with the podcast downloads.  I had to go back into iTunes on multiple occasions to try to troubleshoot why a particular podcast didn’t download to the iPhone.  And then there was the weird skipping bug.  Right in the middle of the podcasts, the feed would start to skip every 10 words or so.  It was maddening.  So, I looked for a different podcast app and found one but it came with a whole new set of problems, specifically, it downloaded every episode and was difficult to maintain.  

Then the podcast app/iTunes interface was “improved!”.  Over several upgrades, it has gotten marginally better but it has never gotten back to the state of utility that it had when it was fully integrated in iTunes.  In fact, it’s weird that on the laptop, podcasts are still integrated into iTunes but on the iPhone they’re not.  They still don’t sync flawlessly like they did before and I frequently have to go into the app or iTunes and tweak the settings.  Sometimes, I will get three episodes to load, listen to them and then find that neither the app or iTunes will update the subscription any further.  I have to do manual refresh.  This happens a lot. And for some subscriptions, Fresh Air, for example, the podcast episodes never delete themselves as they’re supposed to, requiring me to manually delete many of the same podcasts over and over again.

The latest “feature” is that the podcasts update themselves on iTunes but not on the iPhone.  There’s no option to refresh the podcast on the iPhone so I have to manually delete the podcast and resubscribe to get the newest episode.  

Was this necessary?  Whose bright idea was this?  Could someone fix this please?  

Next week: Siri needs an attitude adjustment.

Add your more notable non-improvement upgrade story below.

Hubris and Stampede

Making this short because I’m going to archery practice.  

So, there is a great gnashing of teeth beginning over The Upshot post this morning on Why Democrats Can’t Win the House, blah, blah, blah, woe is us, how dare they point this out for the world to see.  

Yes, the Republicans did blithely gerrymander through the gently (steeply) rolling hills of Pennsylvania, fa-la-la! And they didst separate the wheat from the chaff and packed the Democrats into vanishingly small districts (I’m District 14! Go, Doyle!

BUT, and this is a big but that the progressivey types ignore because, frankly, it’s embarrassing, the Republicans didn’t do that until they had won back the House in 2010.  That was a full two years after Obama and the Democrats had a clear, unobstructed path to do whatever their hearts desired.  And what they desired the most, apparently, was fluffing up the guy who campaigned in Pennsylvania and Appalachia as if the voters there didn’t matter a whit!  Nay, he even called them gun toting, churchie types who knit bitterly, or something to that effect.  That’s probably why Pennsylvania and Appalachia did not vote for him during the primaries.  

Yes, I was there.  I was at the Hillary campaign office in Harrisburg on three occasions during primary season and did much phone banking.  Most of the Democrats I spoke to had nothing against Obama.  They just didn’t think he was ready to be president.  Which just goes to show you how intelligent the commonwealth of Pennsylvania is.  But that didn’t stop Obama from treating this section of the country as if it was his enemy.  So, now, they hate his guts with a white hot passion.  And they’re none too trusting of the morons who forced him upon them.  If I were a Democrat in Pennsylvania, I wouldn’t be calling Obama my best buddy and pal and talking up all of his “accomplishments”.  

It was the hubris of the Netroots Nation type activists, skillfully played by the Wall Street backers of Obama that got us all into this mess.  I can remember the first YearlyKos where some nerdy Nate Cohn type stood up and declared writing off the south and the Clinton coalition as a pretty snazzy idea.  Who needs the south? It’s full of idiots and knuckle draggers and they all have déclassé gun racks on the back of their trucks.  {{sniff}}  No, they did not see that population as one that was the most likely to fall into a black pit of poverty once the Great Recession hit.  

Who were the stupid ones?  

So the country put its trust in Obama in 2008, hoping desperately for a true Democrat to set things right and arrest the bankers and save their jobs and houses and children’s future, all the while not knowing that he was the bankers’ secret weapon.  When he failed to make any progress and the economy fell into an abyss, the Democrats stayed home in 2010 and the Republicans were motivated to go to the polls, taking with them the population that Democrats had abandoned in 2008.  If Democrats had been smart and were really concerned about gerrymandering after the 2010 census, you’d think they would have been more careful about guarding their legacy.  

But not to fear.  There is a lot of pent up frustration about the state of the country.  I predict that there will be a stampede for Hillary Clinton in 2016, whether the progressive male contingent likes it or not and whether or not Hillary has been forced to sell her soul to the guys in the smoke filled rooms.  

If I were the progressive male contingent (and you know who you are, screaming “neoliberal”, whatever that actually means to you, at everything you don’t like), I would stand back.  Because the less resistance you offer, the less money she will have to get from the people you SHOULD have been watching out for back in 2008 when you got us into this mess.  

Your turn has come and gone.  You had your chance.  You blew it.  Shut up and sit down and, for god’s sakes, quit whining.  

 

The Employment Index: Week Two

I pass the test.

(See last week’s Employment Index for background on this project.)

Week two and I’ve already diverged from my original intent.  I was busy the first two days of the week so I wasn’t able to devote as much time to my job search as I wanted to.  But on Wednesday, I submitted 7 applications.  So, in addition to the 3 additional ones I submitted last Saturday, that makes 10 online applications since the last unemployment index post.  I also made two networking connections.  

So, why so little activity this week?  Well, as it turns out, I went a little outside my search territory on Wednesday and submitted an application in a different industry.  About 3 hours later, I got a call from that company.  They were very positive (I’m trying not to get my hopes up) and asked me to come in for an assessment test in several different areas.  That had me sweating bullets.  I was really worried that I was going to have to do heavy math and the last time I had to take a derivative of anything was back in the late 80s.  That’s what server clusters and scientific software are for.  They do the work so you don’t have to.  Oh sure, you have to know the equations and relationships but the heavy lifting is done by silicon.  Anyway, I freaked myself out unnecessarily.  Most of the stuff I reviewed wasn’t on the test and there were sections of the test that I would have needed much more time to learn because it was outside the scope of anything I’ve ever done.  

I passed it anyway.  The HR person said I got a score of “awesome!”.  Whew.  She says I should be scheduled for interviews next week and will know by the end of the week if I can rejoin the middle class.  I’m trying not to make plans because even though I give good interview, I’m getting to be very superstitious about these things.  The universe can be random and weird.  But the thought of having a full time job with benefits and a decent salary has driven the thought of useless application churning right out of my mind for the moment.  I will pick it up again on Monday.  

Some other notes:

One of my networking contacts was an old friend from the Pittsburgh area.  She’s a little older than me.  She and her husband were also tossed out of the middle class during the recession.  They had a hard time making ends meet for about 4 years until they moved back to Pittsburgh.  She’s a little bitter about the fact that older baby-boomers are retiring comfortably while she and her husband can’t buy a house and will probably never retire.  

She told me that their luck turned in a single day.  In both cases for her husband and herself, they applied online and heard back from their current employers within minutes to hours.  

That makes me wonder if there’s a sweet spot for submitting an online application.  It could be that HR reps or hiring managers scan the resumes online at certain times of the day.  It could also be the case that the sooner you apply to a posting, the better your chances.  

The other thing I noticed is that there is one company that I apply to frequently that everyone I know says is low hanging fruit but for some peculiar reason, I can’t get a response.  Not even a nibble.  It’s ridiculous.  It might have something to do with their online application system.  It reformats my resume every time I submit to it.  It also asks if I’ve been out of work for a period of more than 30 days during my entire working career.  Come on, who hasn’t been out of work for more than 30 days in the last 6 years?  Is that a realistic question?  Some of the best people I know, the hardest workers, the smartest people, have been out of work for more than 30 days.  Not their fault, especially if they were located in NJ when their turn came.  I used to go to meetings where everyone was looking for a job.  When sites are closing all around you and the competition is high and jobs are few, you tend to spend more time out of work than you intended. It’s just that random universal thing.  But it does suggest that there is a  level of prejudice against the unemployed that may be impossible to overcome if the criteria is set at how many days of unemployment a candidate has faced.  

Total applications this week (end 09/06/2014): 10 

Total applications since the beginning of this project: 35

Total number of calls for interviews: 1 

                           Temp agency: 1

                           Direct position: 0

Total number of assessments taken: 1; Number passed: 1

Total number networking contacts: 2

Re: Ebola (slightly geeky)

The crystal structure of the homo 8-mer assembly from the ebola virus.

I’ve been meaning to write something about this topic because I’ve been warning for a couple of years now that we haven’t paid much attention to infectious diseases.  Recently, Lambert over at Correntewire, sent me a blurb from Mapp Biopharmaceuticals from January 2014.  This is the company that is making the monoclonal antibodies that have been given to a couple of patients.  You can read the link to the Mapp announcement from earlier this year at this site.  Lambert asked me for my assessment of this announcement.  

Basically, this looks like a public relations announcement with the purpose of attracting venture capital.  The monoclonal antibody was produced in tobacco plants.  There’s nothing weird about that anymore.  Molecular biology techniques are making this easier to do.  It is possible to insert a human gene into a plant or insect cell or e. coli and have that organism pump out your desire product.  You can even tweak the organism’s protein making machinery.  For example, bacteria produce limited set of amino acids because they reproduce rapidly.  Their protein machinery is simpler and more efficient than a higher order organism.  In order for them to produce properly folded human proteins, you can engineer them to use a more human ribosome or use a synthetic gene that codes for a more narrow set of amino acids.  In this case, the monoclonal antibodies were produced in tobacco plants so there must have been some not so insignificant tinkering going on for it to produce human antibodies.  

[Sidenote: I'm finding it amusing to watch the initial reactions of the anti-GMO crowd to the concept of growing human antibodies in tobacco plants.  What kind of ethical dilemma must be going on in their heads as they weigh the idea of ebola victims having to consume GMO medication in order to save their lives?  But I know that in the event of some side effect or inefficacy, I can count on them to be the first ones to scream about forcing untested, imperfect medications on a disadvantaged (but critically ill) population.  Wait for it, you know it's coming.]

Mapp tested their therapy post infection on 7 primates but 4 of 7 primates died.  That’s a lethality of about 60%, which is in line with the present epidemic.  I’d have to read the whole paper but I don’t think they’ve proven anything yet, or at least this interview doesn’t show conclusively that the monoclonal antibody was any more effective than the immune response produced by the monkey itself.

So, to summarize, this antibiotic therapy is in the very early stages of development.  In my previous life, we would say it’s in the pre-development stage, nowhere near ready for clinical trials.  There’s not enough data to say that this treatment has better outcomes than the body’s natural ability to fight a viral infection.  There’s no proof that the patients who received this treatment did not benefit from the support they received from the team of physicians that treated them.  The body does have the ability to fight and recover from viral infections as long as it doesn’t succumb to the symptoms of infection in the meantime.  It is possible that the patients who received Mapp’s treatment were in better shape physically than the typical ebola victim and the antibody treatment was just the icing on the cake.  What would be more instructive is if the monoclonal antibody was given to many, many more patients during the first or pro-dromal phase of the infection and observe whether the lethality of ebola drops accordingly.  

I can understand the desperation of the countries involved and why anyone who is infected would want to take these antibodies (I would!) but this looks to me like very early research.  Back in 2011, when I went to a big proteins conference in San Diego (back when I was still gainfully employed {{sigh}}), researchers producing antibodies and other proteins were still in the “it’s an art” phase.  That is to say, we know a lot about the mechanisms by which organisms produce proteins and such but we still don’t understand all of the details in order for them to not aggregate or to get them to fold properly or even to know how to snip genes in the right places to get the vectors and organisms to express, then extract and purify the resulting proteins.  It’s going to take a long time, a lot of research and a lot of money to figure it all out.

Now, this is not to say that Mapp Biopharmaceuticals doesn’t have a winner on its hands.  It’s only to point out that Mapp needs a lot more funding and clinical trials before this is a “go to” treatment for ebola.  And that’s the sad thing.  Many small start ups like Mapp have up front research costs but can’t do the clinical trials.  (This is why I only want to do contract work from my home when it comes to the pharma industry. Job insecurity is extremely high.)  They aren’t ready for an IPO but if they don’t get funding from somewhere, they may have to shutdown their early research in order to move into development.  Those sobering facts may fly under the radar to most Americans because ebola is far, far away and not likely to affect anyone we know.  But woebetide the day when there’s an American version of a deadly virus without a vaccine or a cure when our champions are small, underfunded and understaffed.  

Just sayin’.

For more on the ZMapp treatment for ebola, see this followup from the BBC, especially the third video.  I see that there are several crystal structures from the ebola virus.  Hmmmm, I wonder if Mapp has considered a paptamer to interfere with protein-protein interactions in the homo 8-mer assembly…  (Call me)

 

The Employment Index

Just for fun, I’m going to track how many positions I have applied to since I tweaked my resume and how long it has taken since I have gotten ANY responses at all.

For the record, I’m not looking for a job in research anymore. The industry has contracted too sharply and has relocated to much more expensive areas of the country than I am willing to tolerate. It’s one thing to pursue the job of your dreams, it’s quite another to lose your house, savings, etc, because of a constant, rolling wave of layoffs and employment instability.

Besides, I have an LLC for free lance work. If someone has some cheminformatics, HTS screening, modeling, docking or structure work, they can contract with me. I live in PA now and I can do all of this work remotely in the evening. It may take the industry awhile to figure out that this is a viable alternative so, in the meantime, I am looking for a full time job outside of research.

What I’m currently looking for is a position as an administrative assistant or research assistant. I have the experience and the qualifications to do this sort of work. I’m very good with Microsoft Office products. I can make PowerPoint presentations with all the bells and whistles. I’ve scheduled meetings, written minutes, action items and reports, prepared budgets, serviced workstations, updated software, written and maintained websites, purchased items through purchasing database applications, analyzed data using Excel, arranged training sessions with outside vendors, etc.

There are quite a few positions posted in Pittsburgh with exactly these specifications. I apply to about five a day. Each application takes time to format, upload the resume, rewrite a cover letter and answer all of the questions related to equal opportunity and immigration status. I spend roughly half of a working day doing this. I could spend more time applying but I do have a part time job now and plenty of things to fix in my older house.  And, quite frankly, I’m not entirely sure this is the best use of my time.  From what I have heard and read, you’re more likely to get a job through networking.  Yes, I am trying to do this too.  

I can’t help it if I’m overqualified or not 25 anymore.  YOU try to stop getting older.  I’m as healthy as I was in my 30s. I am not overqualified to eat or pay taxes or purchase expensive health insurance, or so I’ve been told.  And it’s not like I haven’t spent my entire working life using computers and technology that would scare most sane people.  

So, today, I have applied to three posted positions. I am also going to apply directly to two positions at a company that appears to be expanding.

Total applications this week (end 08/30/2014): 25 (including one for the US Army Corps of Engineers)
Total number of calls for interviews: 1 (temporary placement agency)

My Voting Strategy – Democracy

Following the My Voting Strategy Series, here is my own:

E. B. White: Democracy is itself, a religious faith. For some it comes close to being the only formal religion they have.

George Orwell: In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.

George Washington: As Mankind becomes more liberal, they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protections of civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations of justice and liberality.

Jesse Jackson: In politics, an organized minority is a political majority.

John Bright: Demand the ballot as the undeniable right of every man who is called to the poll, and take special care that the old constitutional rule and principle, by which majorities alone shall decide in Parliamentary elections, shall not be violated. Continue reading

I had an Obama supporter for lunch today

And it was yummy too!  Like my my previous post when an SEIU Canvasser dropped by, I’ll write out the exchange in a MadamaB style playlet post except that it’s actually happened to me.  It’s a phone rant, so please bear with me:

[The Scene:  I am in my humble bungalow abode in Tampa, FL, coming back from picking up Abuela from a medical lab test appointment.   While making a "greca de café", the phone rings.  On the Caller ID I see "Democratic Party" with a local number.   Suddenly, I maliciously smiled as my inner PUMA growled and I answer the phone.  A polite caller introduces himself en español.  For the sake of this post, I will write out the exchange in English.]

ME:  Hello?

DNC Phone Guy:  Hi, my name is Mauricio and I am calling on behalf of the Democratic Party.  We would like to remind you that you can early vote today at the West Tampa Library located on Howard and Union streets.

ME:  Hello Mauricio, I plan to vote in my district, 205, at the West Tampa Convention Center on Election Day.  I want to vote where I always vote.

DNC Phone Guy: Well, that’s good then, ok, well we’d also like to remind you to please vote for Barack Obama as well as other Democratic ticket runners…

ME:  Hold up, stop right there.  Mauricio, with due and proper respect that you deserve, I know that you are only doing your job.  Whatever I have to say, please don’t take offense.  Get this straight, write this down and tell anybody and everybody in the FL Democratic office there.   There is no way I’m not voting for Barack Obama after he and the DNC stole my vote in the primaries and did not allow my vote to be cast the way I intended it at the convention.  I will be voting for McCain because he co-wrote the bill for Comprehensive Immigration Reform together with Ted Kennedy and endorsed by Hillary Clinton.  I marched in the LULAC protest and McCain stood by us Latinos – but what has Obama done?  His own aunt in Boston is an illegal immigrant and he hasn’t even had the nerve to help her, not even to help her get an immigration attorney to help her out.  If he ignored his own aunt, what makes you think he’s going to help pass this Reform we so desperately need, especially in the Latino community?  I was going to vote for McKinney but with the race so close as it is in Florida and in other states, I want him and the Democratic Party to lose so they know not to steal votes like they did on May 31st at the RBC meeting in Washington.

DNC Phone Guy: I, I, I understand and I’m happy to know that you are an informed voter and…

ME: And another thing – the Democratic Party I knew, the one defended Democracy, one person=one vote,  Liberty, Freedom of Speech, Women’s rights, is DEAD thanks to Obama, Pelosi, Dean and Harry Reid.  They trashed everything that I identified with as a Democrat.  If Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were alive today, he’d be hanging his head in shame at the fact that the first African-American presidential candidate stole votes in order to win.  This is a disgrace and a cancer to Democracy.   Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina’s votes counted, but not Florida and Michigan’s?  The only thing that makes everyone equal in this country is the right to vote.  And the Democratic Party did not count my vote because they felt like putting Obama as the leader and how are they going to do that when Hillary won the popular vote and she won the electoral map across the board?  He only won little pockets of the population but the DNC assigned more delegates to that particular population and ignored the rest.   Well guess what, my vote will count this November 4th and when Democracy comes back to the Democratic Party, so will, I.  Until then, I am a PUMA – have you heard of PUMAs before?

DNC Phone guy:  Well, I have heard yes, but I urge you to please at least vote downticket…

ME:  Oh I will, I don’t know about Kathy Castor though since she went against her district and endorsed Obama back in February, when Hillary Clinton clearly won our state, county & district hands down over Obama.  To me, Kathy Castor is part of the problem and I may vote against her.  She had the chance to speak up for us, to urge the DNC to count our votes but she did not.  I did like her foreclosure program she had for foreclosing families and was against the bailout since it did not protect homeowners.  I’m not sure yet.  Other than that, I will support every other Democrat on the ticket though.

DNC Phone Guy:  I hope that you have a good day and I understand that you feel this way, but I am happy to know that you are an informed voter and you’ll be voting this election.

ME:  Without a doubt I’ll be voting and yes, I do look forward to Hillary Clinton running for 2012 – but this time, let the process play out.  Tell them to send Obama back to Democracy School so he can learn what a Democracy is.  You can’t steal votes in the primary and expect the same people you stole from to support you in the general election. There is no Party Unity worth enough to trade the only thing that makes me a free person in this country, which is MY VOTE.  Remember that and have a good day.

DNC Phone Guy:  Thank (click)

And that was it – I leave you with Eddie Palmieri’s “Revolt/La Libertad Logico”  with the Fania All Stars sound that invokes the spirit of rebelión and demands freedom for all people.

UPDATE: WordPress automatically generates related posts around the net (see blue links below) and this very powerful quote by our lovely Katiebird came up from May 2008:

A vote for Obama is a vote against the poor. A vote for Obama is a vote against workers. A vote for Obama is a vote against good government. A vote for Obama is a vote against the future of the Democratic Party.

¡Que viva los PUMAs!

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