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Why I am liberal March 25, 2017

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My politics are decidedly liberal. Even though I am an American of the upper middle class, I identify much more with the blue-collar stratum of American society in what I want our society to be and do. Why? That was the one my parents were in and in which my brother, sister, and I were raised. We were not poor, but every dollar my parents earned was valuable. (My success was built upon a pillar of their emphasis – You can be anything, do something you like. Get educated and build on that. Each of us three did and moved into the much higher strata.

But I always think about one factor when I think of government policies or how things work in the US. How would this have affected my parents when they were raising us? Not “How will this new law or regulation benefit me now?”. I believe, therefore, that there must be voices for the “little people” who cannot donate big sums to influence things. That government must take their interests seriously. The wealthy in this country have clout. Businesses and their industries have clout. Without organized, effective clout, these people of modest means will be hurt by new laws and policies because those with clout will dominate.

As an example, I can point to the current fighting over healthcare and health insurance. The average person needs some system to help with the huge costs of an emergency or serious disease. Insurance is a help with that, but the insurance industry must bring in more than enough money to cover things. Going without insurance is a foolish gamble, but affording even minimal coverage can be expensive for many. This is where the government can step in to aid he most needy, to limit premiums to an affordable level (the choice should never be “Do I eat or do I have health coverage?” Insurance ought to be available to everyone.

On other issues, I tend to be liberal – war only when very necessary, access to education, a rein on companies( because true free-market capitalism is ruthless and bloody), and so on. On some fiscal matters, I am a libertarian (with a small l as opposed to the Libertarian political party. I believe a person should be able to live and enjoy his or her life as desired, unless it impinges on someone else’s life. Thus, you can be religious, but do not try to force me to obey your faith or laws designed by the beliefs in your faith. If you are for or against something based on your religion, fine. Live your own life that way. But if I do not, stay out of my life..

The most “British” of the former empire? March 24, 2017

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In my travels, I meet many people. Some are from nations that once were British colonies (then dominions and commonwealths and such). A short and selective list of examples that lead into my point: Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand. Why? The societies were dominantly shaped by the Anglo population (Yes, that is debatable). Of these, all retain some Britishness, be it engaging in teatime or playing cricket and rugby or saying phrases like bloody.

Canadians, as a whole, are not very British. Only some take tea in the afternoon. They play their own games, especially hockey, and eschew cricket almost completely.

Australians also are only moderately British. They speak the most distant version of the language, although they do use bloody. They play rugby, and a little cricket, but Australian rules football is the main sport. Although they have a Union Jack in their flag, there is much debate over changing it.

South Africans take tea, use bloody and some other British slang, ate rabid about cricket and rugby, take afternoon tea.

New Zealanders win the prize because their language sounds the most British, they do tea, they are rabid about rugby and cricket, they do not wish very much to get rid of their Union Jacked flag.

Others in my thinking: Amongst south Asians, the Sri Lankans are more British than Indians, who are more British than Bangladeshis, who are more British than Pakistanis. Jamaicans are the most British of the independent former colonies in the Caribbean. Outside of South Africa, Kenyans are more British than Nigerians. The others are even less so (Ghanans, Gambians, Sierra Leonians, Tanzanians, Ugandans, et alia in sub-Saharan Africa. In the Arab nations of the former empire, Emiratis are more British than Kuwaitis, Omanis, Qataris.

These are just my very personal views from observations.

Exotic fruits are not that exotic anymore March 21, 2017

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I have written here about the start of a pastime I picked up, the eating of fruits that are not commonly found in the US. It started on a 2-week trip to Qatar, in a small town away from Doha. I was staying at a company’s guest residence, which was more like a nice small hotel in its layout. Food was served at the company’s main building complex, but there were times when this was not so because of repair work and preparations for a big company event. So another instructor of a short course and I walked the 15 minutes to the nearest grocery supermarket to get cooking ingredients (there was a full kitchen in the guest house).

This supermarket had mangosteens, rambutan, chiikoo (sapote). I bought some to try and was hooked on looking for others during my trips. I even found a local market that carries some exotic fruits, the Berkeley Bowl in Berkeley.

But this past few weeks I have seen some in the local supermarkets – Safeway, Lucky’s, and Sprouts. Starfruit, dragonfruit, custard apple, and today I saw whole durian at Sprouts. Big ones, the size of large melons. I have never tried one on any of my trips because I am told that they stink to high heaven (but taste great).

To all Indians, it was about courtesy. March 19, 2017

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Five years ago, I posted a blog here on my experiences flying to and from Dubai on Emirates. The point of the post was that amongst the passengers, many were either people who were Indian-Americans or from India itself and that a certain proportion were not good to fly with. This portion, but not all, were oblivious to me and other fellow passengers by being rude, loud, discourteous, and oblivious or indifferent to that.

This one post has by far been the most active one on this blog, with hundreds of comments. They either adamantly disagree and use charges of racist or cultural ignorance or Indian nationalism as arguments. Conversely there have been numerous posts agreeing and even expanding the grievances. The ones I most connect with are those from cabin-crew members because I see how awfully they can be treated.

The point of this post was to ask why Indians had a larger proportion of these boorish people than other nationalities. Yes, I have been on flights full of mainland Chinese and eastern Europeans. Neither are good co-passengers either, but even they are more courteous and aware that others fly with them. These postings in comment have main good and valid points that many Indians are ignorant of norms in other countries and that more could be done to educate then on awareness before they fly. Others point out that amongst Indians such courtesy is more common and that maybe the mindset needs to be Imore inclusive and expansive when in a group from many nations.

I also must admit to becoming more tolerant, but there are limits. I still do not think ignoring the crew’s instructions for boarding, in-flight actions (fastening seat belts, for example), landing, and deplaning can be ignored.

 

A PhD does not mean someone is brilliant or even that someone is capable March 19, 2017

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Over the years, I have met many, many people who possess a PhD in one field or another. I also have travelled to different nations where the attitudes about someone with one are vastly different than in the US.

First, a PhD is an advanced degree, so it usually is preceded by gaining a bachelors degree or the equivalent in whatever nation the person’s education is done in. A bachelor’s degree in many fields only means you learn well enough to remember things – facts, how to solve certain math or science or engineering problems. Advanced degrees often are just very focused study and research – either in libraries and archives or a laboratory. The topic is a small, but advanced, topic. A person can be very knowledgable or adept in that one small area. (Mine was in a few very arcane areas of chromatography and the only interest I know of was in one of the topics because it might be useful in separating isotopes of lighter elements.)

This does not mean the person is adept at even the whole field of study (like chromatography in my case), let alone the field (chemistry for me). It means the research was done and acceptable to meet the standards of that university’s criteria for a doctorate. Only that.

Thus, there are a wide range of PhDs in general and in a field like chemistry or biology or history or any other. Some are brilliant eventually, but that usually takes a few years of independence with study and research on one’s own. But like in many things, there is a spectrum and the top quarter or tenth or whatever are different that the bottom quarter or tenth or whatever.

In some nations, due to cultural role expectations and history, having a PhD changes your status. As soon as it become known, you are always addressed as “Doctor”. You are exalted and expected to be very capable. I guess some of this is a result of many areas having been European colonies because this attitude was the norm in Europe a century or more ago.

But because of the spectrum of talent, this assumption is not true. There are bumbling PhDs with only bits and pieces of knowledge and only limited abilities in knitting these together into understanding.

Webinar-ing March 8, 2017

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Over the past two or three years, I have expanded some of the types of training I do from short courses, with durations of days up to a week, to webinars of only an hour or so. These are either very focused on one specific topics or extreme condensations of the longer course work.

There are dozens and dozens of companies competing in this market. The presenter is a freelance person who can do these for any or all of them, even on the same topic using the same material. They do not own what is used, ceding it to the presenter who created it. I, so far, have about a half-dozen topics I do, but the potential is large because of my store of all of those many short courses. It takes a few hours to prepare one, and I do that in bits and pieces. But them it can be reused as offered by several companies.

After a very long hiatus March 7, 2017

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I once wrote a lot on here, but grew busier with other things and felt limited by having to create new topics frequently. But after a long spell of just checking on stats and replying to comments, I think I shall be writing a lot more here. I do not anticipate my once almost daily postings, but one, two, or three a week. Topics, again, will be all over the map, but often focusing on chemistry news that strikes me as interesting and an occasional writeup on career development as pertaining to scientists.

Early career chemist: personality in the career choice September 20, 2014

Posted by fetzthechemist in Careers.
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I have written some on personality and how it is important in a successful science career. I am thinking I ought to reiterate some of those ideas and refresh them, too.

A scientist coming out of grad school or a post doc sees a three pronged path ahead. The routes of academia, industry, or government service (there are other possibilities outside of laboratory work, but those are minor trails and usually termed “non-traditional”).

Academia is the most familiar to the young scientist. He or she has spent many years getting advanced degrees and often spending more time as a post-doc. They know the logistics – teaching, building a research group, writing research proposals and getting grants, and publishing to get tenure. But what else other than these mechanics ought the young scientist have?

Academia is a lone-wolf, non-collaborative venture in the first few years. Collaborating and getting second- or third-author publications does not build a strong reputation. These collaborations are tough to get funding for unless one of the collaborators is a Big Name. If so, then the young researcher gets little credit and no increase in reputation.

The researcher has to be a supervisor and manager from the start. Nobody else will build a budget, get resources and equipment, draw in and “hire” young talent. (A paradox here because most people coming out of grad school think academia is not strongly weighed in this area, but industry is, so they eschew industry.)

Academia can be very competitive, even a dog fight, for the young scientist. Other young professors may also be on a similar timeline for tenure.

Industry, in contrast, is faster paced in its science, but slower paced in its careers. Supervision seldom happens before 5 years and managerial duties (budgets, resource allocation, safety, et cetera) are owed by others with more experience.

In the science, academia has long-term projects of a bigger scope. Industry gives someone many more small and shorter-term work. Much of industrial work is problem solving – developing new methodologies, solving problems in plants or with products, improving quality, yields, and throughput. These are minor aspects of an academician’s work.

The young scientist must understand her or his own personality and attitudes to assess which of these 2 is a better fit (I will discuss government service in a future article). Is a slow, steady workflow more enjoyable then a frenetic and varied one? Is working alone more suitable than supervision or is a mentor needed? Is spending time at the bench most important?

A new Coldplay album coming in May March 10, 2014

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My music tastes tend to go towards rock, the classic rock of my youth of the Beatles, the Who, the Kinks, Pink Floyd, and other bands of the 1960s and 1970s. But unlike most people of my generation, my tastes did not stick there. I have always enjoyed some newer groups, the Cars, U2, Blur, and continuing to bands that are still active. Radiohead, the Dandy Warhols, Coldplay. Yes, the tastes now are mainly alternative (but I have been enjoying Mark Knopfler’s several solo albums of late, too).

So I was glad to hear that Coldplay has announced that their latest studio album will be out in May. Called Ghost Stories. Two songs, Midnight and Magic, have been released on YouTube.

Fruity delights February 24, 2014

Posted by fetzthechemist in Musings, Speculation.
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In my travels I have tried in the past couple of years to try new fruits, ones not common in the US (or at least in the San Francisco Bay Area). This started with having fruit salad at a hotel in Doha, Qatar. There we4re chunks of dragonfruit, pink skinned with that black speckled white flesh.That got me curious, even though dragonfruit is very bland to my taste buds. Next, in January of last year, were wax jamu and starfruit while in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia. Both were tasty and pretty to see. That led me to a supermarket during my next visit to Qatar. There were rambutan, lychee, custard apple, mangosteen, and slices of jackfruit. Most were tasty and several are very eye-catching – rambutan and mangosteen. Then it was a different supermarket while in Dubai this past December. Yellow pitahaya, more starfruit and mangosteens and rambutans,and soursop. Back in the US, I bought a few books on exotic fruits, used ones through Amazon. Most were full of recipes, but some of each was about the fruits and their plants, uses, et cetera. I found a supermarket in my area that does carry some exotic fruit, which varies on the season. So from there I have tried Chinese gooseberry, Cape gooseberry (a totally different plant source), Buddha’s hand citron, prickly pear, and got starfruit, rambutan, and mangosteens (it is great having a source that some of the time has these and other favorites). I tried granardilla and dragonfruit on a more recent trip to Abu Dhabi. I will keep my eye out both here and overseas for ones to try. I wonder if there will be comments suggesting other peoples’ favorites.