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      I find it interesting that  many centrists are angered and surprised. They though these, arguably the most progressive members of the House caucus, would endorse Warren. Certainly by recent standards Warren is progressive and left leaning, but she’s weak sauce compared to Sanders. But centrists thought because she was a woman, AOC, Tlaib and Omar […]
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More Whineter, STEM and being a dick with peppers

It’s March already. Why is it still snowing? Why is it 15º outside?? The other day, it rained and melted some of the snow. The sump pump was going off every 90 seconds. I timed it. I started to see the ground. This morning, I woke up and there’s another layer of snow out there. WTF?? I have about a cup of rock salt left and there’s none to be had for miles. It’s too much. Make it stooooop.

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In other news, PA Governor Tom Wolf visited a school in Chester yesterday to find out about its STEM programs.

Ok, I know Wolf didn’t ask for my opinion but when has that ever stopped me from giving it? (There’s a proposal at the end of this little rant so stay with me.) Here it goes:

There’s no living wage in STEM jobs. Even the people who have good jobs are constantly worried about losing them. They’re forced to move to very expensive parts of the country and can never relax. The fear of losing a job just after they might have already lost one is not a good way to live. This happened recently to people I used to work with who were transferred to Massachusetts after the layoff, and then lost their jobs- again.

Jumping from job to job after a short period of time means people in pharma and biotech R&D will not achieve the degree of experience that they need to be really good at their jobs. It takes a long time for R&D professionals to gain enough experience to be really useful to their company. That means starting and staying with a project over a long period of time, like, 5-6 years. At that point in time, they will have just about enough seasoning to be useful to the company and laying them off is a tragic waste of talent. There is no cheap substitute, as this country will begin to realize (and may already realize, judging from the ads I’m seeing for computational chemists with at least 5 years of industrial experience).

Unfortunately, this is not what the finance industry had in mind. It thinks we can all work under their crazy employment rules like they do on Wall Street. That means flexibility at all costs. That’s a losing game for the R&D professional in terms of living standards, skills and passion for research.

If the R&D professional doesn’t get a good paying job in Cambridge or San Francisco, the alternatives can be grim. Academic research associates with PhDs and industrial experience make between $37-$54K/year. I know because I have the job postings to prove it. You can live on this in the midwest but academic research is subject to grant availability. If the grants don’t materialize, the jobs don’t either.

A potential place where a governor can productively intervene is at the small start up level. Pennsylvania would be a good place for startups, especially in the Pittsburgh area, which has a university/medical culture and a renaissance in the east end. There’s good mass transit, affordable real estate, and an educated population. BUT what every state of the country lacks at this point is access to affordable R&D resources. That is, there are some things that any start up is going to need access to but probably can’t afford. In my case, as a consultant, I can’t get access to a lot of scientific literature. I don’t have a license to Elsevier, ACS publications, etc, which can cost millions of dollars to a large university. I also can’t afford the vendor licenses to do my modeling work. I can ask vendors to give me demo licenses, for which I must sign an agreement to not use them for research. They’re only for evaluation purposes and to keep myself current. If I want a license so I can make money, well, I can’t afford the license.

So, verily I say unto Tom Wolf, if you want to attract STEM startups to Pennsylvania, (and why not? It’s a heck of a lot more affordable than Cambridge) you need to fund a license bank. Ok, I don’t know what else to call it. Make it more affordable for startups and consultants to access the licenses they need to get their work done. At this point in time, the only entities that can afford licenses for literature and proprietary software are large multinational companies and universities, leaving the rest of us to smuggle papers and cobble together software solutions from publicly available sources. That leaves us at a disadvantage in the beginning phases of research where the start up costs are already astronomical.

I don’t know if a license bank has ever been done or what a configuration might look like but here’s one possibility: Put the licenses on a PA server, start a consortium, and allow startups and consultants to ping the licenses for a fee based on number of papers downloaded or amount of time licenses are checked out. Or make us fork over a cut of anything we discover to the state. I could agree to that. Wouldn’t Tom Wolf like to be a partial recipient of the next antibiotic patent? Yes, this would be an investment for the state. It could cost several millions of dollars. No, Republicans won’t like it because… I don’t know why they wouldn’t like it. They’re always going on about helping small businesses but they want us to somehow use magic to afford the start up costs. I’m beginning to think that Republicans aren’t being honest with us about their love of entrepreneurs and small business people… Is that possible?

But the payoff could be substantial for the state if it attracts businesses and the patents generate money. That money could be used to fund education while some of it could be used to buy other things early discovery researchers might need. It could be self funding down the road because if you run for two consecutive terms, you could leave a nice little pile of patent shares for the state by the end of your them.

And since I need a real job, I will gladly work for the state setting up this system for a decent living wage. No, no, don’t thank me. See my LinkedIn profile.

So, there you have it. I have given you a possible solution to a pressing problem that doesn’t involve the governor making pointless visits to schools to encourage innocent children to go into professions in which they can’t make a living. As for teachers of STEM subjects, that’s where some of my former colleagues are going now that they can’t make a living in research. So, you know, you’ll have plenty to choose from.

***************************

Finally, Titli Nihaan has a recipe for a hot dip on a cold day. Pay attention. 😉

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Something to look forward to

The Nuttery garden in winter at Sissinghurst Castle, England

It’s the dead of winter but surprisingly mild here in New Jersey.  The weather is going to be sunny and in the high 40s, low 50s all week.  Weird.  So, I’ve been watching gardening videos and visiting gardening sites.  What do I know about gardening?  Not much.  I’m usually a horticidal maniac.  But lately, I have been able to keep a few plants growing.  I wouldn’t say they are thriving but they haven’t died yet and they are still green.  And I’ve managed to do that for at least a year with one plant and several months with the others.  Yes, I lost a rhododendrum last summer but I kept the limelight hydrangea going.  It’s a start.

Last year, I introduced some of you to Titli Nihaan, the English Halal cook.  But I only recently found that Titli, who really should have her own show on TV, also has a very busy garden.  I was wondering where she got all that rhubarb.  Last year, she documented her garden in something like 46 youtube episodes.  You catch the last half of these episodes on youtube, the beginning half is only available on DVD.  Pretty nifty business model.  I like to watch Titli not just for her gardening skills but for her camera appeal.  Here’s a montage of Titli’s Busy Garden from 2012 so you can see what I mean:

I’m thinking of trying my hand at some real gardening this year and might even plant some GMO tomatoes.  Just kidding.

Or am I?

But wait! There’s more!

The Vermont Bean Seed Company has a garden planning app that will help you layout your garden, set up a Gant chart of when to plant and will send you reminders and tips.  Too cool.  The first 30 days are free.  It’s $25 after that.  I haven’t found a similar app on the ipad or for OSX yet.  If I’ve missed one, let me know.

Titli and One: Mmmmm, beta carotene!

Titli makes African Sweet Potato Stew to raise awareness for childhood malnutrition:

 

Looks delicious.  I think I might try this one.

And here is One’s website.  You can submit your own sweet potato recipe.

Wednesday: Melange

A mixture of things from around the web:

1.) Charles Pierce writes that Obama’s press conference yesterday featuring Slutgate and contraception left him uneasy.  In Standing Up for Sex, Pierce writes:

Not a simple, mumbling word about the right to decent health-care, let alone the right to choose. Given a golden opportunity to say flatly that he and his administration were foursquare behind these rights, he gave the whole thing a pass. I’m sure he’s got poll numbers that tell him not to say “abortion” in public but, damn, this was disappointing.

This is what I mean when I say that this issue can only be a political winner for the Democrats if they go out and make it one. How hard would it have been for him to say, “Look, it’s probably not a good time in history to be using the war metaphor, but there’s no question that the Republican party is a vehicle in an organized campaigh to roll back women’s rights in the most personal sphere of their lives, and, as long as I’m president, that won’t happen.”?

I’m glad he called Sandra Fluke. I just wish he’d show that he appreciates the incredible political gift she gave him.

Obama thinks his party affiliation speaks for itself and we should read into his statements what his real thoughts and intentions are.  And this worked so well in 2008.  Everyone thought he was a liberal even though he didn’t embrace liberal or even Democratic or New Deal principles.  Everyone thought he was an anti-war candidate even though this was all premised upon what he *might* have done had he actually been present at the IWR vote.  Everyone thought he was a feminist, which flew in the face of hard evidence that we watched and heard with our very own senses.  In the past four years, he has shown himself to be none of the things he was assumed to be so, and, as far as I’m concerned, we should not assume or presume that he is onboard with sex being guilt free for adult women.  More likely, he has no natural empathy for women in this regard so he’s more inclined to do what’s good for him politically and not for women socially.  And right now, he thinks it is good for him politically to reach out to evangelicals and the women’s vote will just flock to him because women are assuming he is not as bad as the Republicans.

I think he is just as bad, if not worse, because his attitude encourages complacency.  It will all be taken care of, don’t you worry.  A year from now, women are going to be kicking themselves for not being more demanding of him.  You’re only going to get a commitment from him under duress and until you hear him choke it out in a high squeaky voice, don’t assume anything.

2.) Speaking of beliefs that may or may not have any basis in fact, have you checked out the Richard Dawkins Belief Scale?  Unlike women’s rights, you don’t have to commit to a god or atheism.  It’s perfectly Ok to land somewhere along the scale.  I’m a 5.78324.  Some people might round that up.  Here it is:

  1. Strong Theist: I do not question the existence of God, I KNOW he exists.
  2. De-facto Theist: I cannot know for certain but I strongly believe in God and I live my life on the assumption that he is there.
  3. Weak Theist: I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.
  4. Pure Agnostic: God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.
  5. Weak Atheist: I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be skeptical.
  6. De-facto Atheist: I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable and I live my life under the assumption that he is not there.
  7. Strong Atheist: I am 100% sure that there is no God.

Assuming that there are not as many 1’s out there as the Beanie Boys would have you think, why should we allow the 1’s to run the country based on judeo-christian biblical principles?

3.) More on belief.  Pat Robertson may have exceeded his stupidity quota.  When asked on the 700 Club about why God kills people with tornados, he had this to say:

There ya’ go, tornado victims.  Let this be a lesson to you.  Don’t buy a farm in the middle of tornado alley.  Don’t be a person who earns a living in tornado alley either.  And woe to you on the west coast in the earthquake zone.  The kinfolk say, move away from there!  Californy is NOT the place you want to be.  Also, if you are anywhere where you could be swept away by a flash flood, get caught up in a hurricane or Nor’easter, burnt to a cinder in a wildfire, trapped in a heat wave, engulfed in a blizzard, frozen in a cold snap, eaten by wild animals or poisoned by insects and plants, or irradiated by a particularly unusual and strong solar flare, well, it’s your own damn fault.  Did God promise you a rose garden?  You should have bought one of the time shares in Glenn Beck’s underground bunker cities and retreated to it with your 6 months supply of dried ravioli and Tang.

I guess Stephanie Decker, who protected her kids from the tornados with her own body and lost her legs as a result, should be thankful that God didn’t demand more of a sacrifice for living in the wrong place.  But I have faith that with the help of doctors, physical therapists and prosthesis engineers, Stephanie *will* walk again.  Hang in there Stephanie.

4.) A couple of days ago, a PR person for Chris Viehbacher tried to do a What Chris Really Meant response to Chris’s insensitive and clueless presentation of the reasons why his company was getting rid of its own scientists and turning to cheap and desperate small company scientists for potential blockbuster drugs.

Now, Viehbacher’s point seems to be that small biotechs and mid sized companies are more nimble and innovative than big behemoth pharma companies so, and here’s the logic of the bonus class in all it’s glory, big pharma scientists just aren’t as good as those in smaller biotechs and therefore deserve to have their jobs eliminated.

This ignores two things that Viehbacher is either denying or completely ignorant of.  The first is that those of us who up until recently worked in big pharma until we were dumped for working in big pharma, did not start our careers in big pharma.  Nooooo, we were in medium pharma.  The first pharma I worked at only had 3 research sites and the one I worked at in Princeton was relatively small having about 400 people total working on about 5 different therapeutic areas.  It was all self contained with chemistry, biology, animal facilities, structural biology, analytical, scale up, everything in one building.  But then came the mergers and more mergers and we added more facilities and companies and satellite research centers in different companies and then we got consultants to come in every couple of years and rejigger everyone, just to keep it light and breezy.  Every time there was a merger, work would come to a screeching halt for two years so the managers could play musical chairs and find a department headship position, usually by doing a real Julius Caesar meets Brutus in the Senate scene.  So, big was never OUR idea.  It was the bright idea of the finance guys, the consultant guys and the Viehbacher guys who got big bonuses from every merger they made.

The second thing that undermines Viehbacher’s argument is that all of those big pharma scientists that he thought were no good are now working for the small companies and acedemic groups that Viehbacher is planning to rape.  Now that they’ve been liberated from the shackles of big pharma wage slavery, they are working more nimbly and innovatively at small biotechs and university labs with vastly reduced salaries and benefits.  And this must warm the cockles of Viehbacher’s heart enormously.

5.) Finally, Titli Nihaan, my new favorite internet chef (until #1 child gets her own show), shows us how to make a Cassoulet and gives us some French lessons as a bonus!  This is the halal version.  I tried it the other night but made some even leaner substitutions.  Delicious. Er, Magnifique!

Friday: English Muffins

YouTube is getting rid of a lot of copyrighted content.  Yesterday, I was looking for a scene from the movie Water, which was more like a music video, and the Taylor Swift version of Mean from the 2012 Grammies and I couldn’t find them anymore.  It seems like content owners take even their own versions down within a very short period of time.  I don’t see the point.  If you can’t make any money off of them anyway, why not just leave them up so we can all enjoy them?

Anyway, the nice thing about YouTube is that it is easy to find new YouTube stars.  YouTube exposes you to people from all around the world with unique talents and personalities.  Yesterday, I discovered Titli Nihaan, a video cook.  It’s difficult to describe Titli’s style.  Let’s just say that she delivers her precise cooking techniques in a voice that’s a cross between Julia Childs and Monty Python.  I can’t understand why she’s not more popular.  I absolutely adore her.

Here’s her recipe for English Muffins:

[youtube-http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=8b6Bp2PCFhY]