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      I do so love this stuff: EAST DEVON, ENGLAND—Archaeologists and conservators from the British Museum have announced that an amateur metal detectorist has found one of the largest hoards of coins ever discovered in Britain. The hoard is comprised of no less than 22,000 coins dating to between A.D. 260 and 350 that were in […]
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      The calls are coming in. Assuming they are correct, I think this vote is a mistake, and I note that having been given a clean vote to leave and a chance to live their own values, but having given in to fear; for me, at least, Scottish complaints about privatization of the NHS and other [...]
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Go Scotland!

The Picts are back. Get your woad on.

In case you haven’t been following this issue, Scotland is having a vote on September 18 on whether to separate from Britain.  When I think back on how many centuries and lives it took to bring Scotland into the fold, it’s astonishing that the whole thing could be undone by the relentless pursuit of conservative policies over the last 30 years.  It’s almost like the Thatcherites and sons of Thatcher have been for years yukking it up in Westminster over Scotland, saying, “Riiiight, where are they going to go?”.  I’m not sure I would have been so confident, given that the Romans had to build a wall to keep the Picts from marauding and that William Wallace trounced Edward I’s forces at Sterling Bridge. Earlier this month, I had found a long post written by a pro-independence Scottish journalist but I’ve misplaced the link (neglected to save to instapaper. Grrr).  His argument was convincing but here is a list of pro-independence arguments from the Independent Scotland movement that are very similar.

Basically, the sentiment is that the Scotland that most people grew up in post WWII is rapidly disappearing under the policies of the conservative movement and the concessions that the Labour party has made to it in order to keep the peace.  There is a deterioration of public services and an alarming increase in the rate of privatization.  Along with that, the government in Westminster is becoming increasingly stingy, sending less and less money back to Scotland over the last decade.  The result is that Scotland is becoming a bit like, well, us.  There is more inequality, more mean spiritedness and less willingness to help others pull themselves up.

Scotland keeps sending Labour party representatives to Westminster but nothing ever comes of it.  The voice of the people is continually muffled.  Scotland also has it’s own parliament, by the way.  Think of it like a state legislature.  Anyway, they haven’t gotten anywhere in quite some time.  It would be like having the state of Massachusetts run by Rick Perry and his Texas Republican legislature, or the entire east and west coast and urban areas of the US politically at the mercy of a bunch of plantation owner wannabees from the South.  They’ve had enough.  They want to be more like Sweden or Iceland.

Since the latest polls have come out showing the pro-independence forces having a snowball’s chance in Hell, there have been boogie man “Oooo, don’t go down to the cellar!” posts in the last couple of days to try to keep Scotland in the fold.  Scotland says it wants to keep the British pound as its currency and still join the EU.  Krugman predicts disaster, the pound took a hit yesterday but Scotland carries on. Sometimes you have to accept a loss in order to have more control over your life.  It looks like England has pushed its harsh form of conservatism over the Scottish border one time too often and Scotland is now determined to reassert its boundary.

Meanwhile, Bank of England governor Mark Carney tells UK workers that may deserve a raise but first they have to earn it.  They’re not productive enough, to which I ask, productive enough compared to whom?  Scottish voters may be asking themselves the same thing.

Anyway, I find the whole thing fascinating.  It’s like watching the western world’s version of the Arab Spring.  Call it the Caledonian Autumn, or some such thing.

Maybe it will spread.

Be Brave.

 

It all came out right in the end.

By the way, Brook does the best Merida impression.  It cracks me up every time  she says “I want to change my feet!”

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)

 

Monday: Research Professionals in NY, NJ, CT- pay attention

riverdaughter:

A blast from the past, this post from 2011 hinted at where the 1% are going. Krugman and Atrios are three years late to this party.  

Now, we only have to ask ourselves if this is connected to the reason why there is no employer mandate for Obamacare until 2015- or ever, for all we know?

Originally posted on The Confluence:

A lot of you are understandably upset that the world expects you to take a steep cut in pay and forego benefits because they don’t see how the chicken gets made, plus you belong to a reviled profession.  You’re only a step above health insurance claim processors and nuclear reactor specialists (there are family members out there who are laughing very loudly right now).

Anyway, how do you pay for everything on your vastly reduced salary while you fly back and forth between coasts trying to keep your head above water?  Well, this article in the NYTimes describes one possible option.  It’s called the Freelancers Union and it is growing:

For most of the 20th century, it was efficient to link benefits to jobs this way. But today, more and more work falls outside the one-to-one, employee-to-employer relationship. Work is decentralized, workers are mobile, and working arrangements are fluid…

View original 780 more words

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)

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