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The most famous person I ever met, updated a little August 6, 2017

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On July 25th, 2008, I posted on the most famous person I had ever met. With 9 more years of experiences and further thinking here is the post repeated in Quotes, with following new comments.
“I had a discussion yesterday with some friends. The topic meandered into “Who is the most famous person you ever met?” I had a hard time because my life has been filled with encounters with moderately famous people. There’s no anyone so well known that they are the definite “most” and there are literally dozens of somewhat famous people. I’ll break the choices down by venue.
Athletes: Probably my weakest area. While growing up, I lived in a rural area of Arkansas. Dan Hampton, who was a star defensive lineman for the Chicago Bears, lived a couple of miles away. In college – the University of Arkansas, a small campus at about 10,000 students when I was there, I met future NBA players Ron Brewer and Sidney Moncrief and future pro football players Joe Ferguson, Ivan Jordan, and Jerry Eckwood.
Music and Entertainment: AS a kid, I lived in Salinas, California. My elemetary school was across the street from Dick Smothers house – he is the younger bother in the Smothers Brothers, the “smarter” one. We used to say “Hi” as we walk by after school. THey were just then getting known. In high school, I met Mary Steenbergen, Oscar winning actress, who attended the neighboring school in North Little Rock, Arkansas. While in grad school in Athens, Georgia I shopped a lot at Wuxtry Records, a used music store. The clerk there most of the time was Peter Buck, later guitarist for REM. Michael Stipe, REM’s lead singer lived in the same apartments as a girlfriend’s best friend.
Politics: My aunt was involved in politics and served on the county commission for the Democratic Party committee for Pulaski county – the most populous one in Arkansas and where Little Rock is. She had visits there from governors and congressmen. I remember dropping by one time and a tall balding man effucively greeted me with “Bill Fulbright, but just call me Bill” as he shook my hand. My scholarship sponsar in college was former governor Winthrop Rockefeller – yes, of those Rockefellers. He was Nelson’s older brother. In grad school one day, I was walking across campus when my advisor called me over. He was talking to a big, older man. “Meet Dean Rusk.” Yes, that one who was Kennedy’s Secretary of State.
Finally, science: My research advisor in grad school was a moderately big name in analytical chemistry, so he had lots of luminary friends. When they’d come to visit, he would either tour them around the lab or have an informal meeting for his students to be introduced. I thought meeting Fred McLafferty, of mass spec fame, was big because I was doing mass spec, albeit simple stuff, at the time. Once I moved to the San Francisco bay area, I met Glenn Seaborg and Al Ghiorso, discoverers of many artificial elements. I had a transcon flight with Nobelist Henry Taube as my seatmate. I met Richard Smalley and corresponded a lot with Harry Kroto, Nobelists of buckminsterfullerene fame. I had a brief attempt at a collaboration with Carl Sagan. His group was making brown goo to imitate what might happen on Saturn’s moon Titan. Nothing in it of note. At one conference I was an invited plenary speaker at in Kuwait, I met the head of OPEC and the then crown prince of Kuwait.”
Athletes: I had Golden State Warriors season tickets for several years in the 1980s and 1990. At fan-appreciation days, I met the then coach, Don Nelson and numerous players, like Chris Mullen, Tim Hardaway, and Mith Richmond, and at a pre-game “chalk talk” I met Nate Thurmond and Al Attles.
Music and Entertainment: I used to eat breakfast at a certain restaurant, nowe defunct, in Point Richmond. At different times Elliot Gould and Robin Williams were eating there, too.

The Cry-Baby in Chief June 15, 2017

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It is a mystery how a 71-year old man can be so immature, but Donald Trump proves it many times every day. He attacks anyone he feels like with vicious name-calling, sexist and ethnic denigration, and crude innuendo. Yet, anything anyone says about him draws whining and rants about “Poor me, the most unjustified abuse in history”. That most Americans and an even larger proportion of non-Americans absolutely detest the man is a reflection of how loathsome this big infant is.

More on personality types – Work interactions May 17, 2017

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The personality types found by tests such as the Myers Briggs can be very useful in helping to understand the people you must work with. A key example is your boss or immediate supervisor. If you do not understand how she or he thinks, you can set yourself up for failure.

Is your boss a person who is detail oriented or a bigger picture thinker? A mismatch in your work can result in 2 bad possible results. If your boss is detailed oriented and you present an assessment or results in a bigger picture description, your boss will think you are too sloppy, too unfocused, not looking at what needs to be done right now. If in contrast, you give a detailed assessment or report and only lightly go over the bigger picture, you fail because your boss thinks you cannot understand your role in the longer view or in the team, that you are good at day-to-day tasks, but not for creating strategies.

There are many other characteristics that can be critical.

Perfectionist vs. good enough is enough: Does your boss have a tipping point where a certain effort or a solution can be acceptable? Or must everything be thoroughly completed and any solution cover all the current and future problem?

80 versus 20: A variation of the above one. In looking at solutions, does your boss look at the 80% of the time that yours will work or is the focus the 20% in which it does not? (The proportions can vary for individuals, but the point is does your boss focus on the majority of it being a solution or at the minority in which it is not?)

Intellectual vs. emotional: Is your boss a logical thinker who is open to ideas or do emotions – personal biases or preferences – dominate?

Results-oriented vs. process-oriented: Does your boss look first at what your ideas results are or at the path it takes to get there. Path people often focus on the difficulties and overemphasize them.

Black and white versus grays: This is a very key one. Does your boss see the world in black and white, right or wrong, good or bad? Or is is a continuum of grays of varying values that must be balance for gains and losses.

Direct vs. indirect: In dealing with issues, usually involving people problems, does your boss prefer to charge headlong into an issue? Or does she or he prefer to take a causing approach that inches towards the matter?

Social vs. not-social

Personality types and career choices May 14, 2017

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Most people think that career professions are derived at by discreet steps, such as the choice of a college major. They look at a career and a profession as choices made by which have the most high paying jobs at the time. Success and its long-term maintenance are either glossed over as given and a foregone conclusion or glossed over as nopt important.

But many types of work require certain attitudes and certain types of behavior. For example, anyone going into marketing and sales, must understand people, be personable – and even gregarious, and have the ability to step into a fantasy and make others believe it is real in order to get people to imagine owning that new house or car, or to be on a cruise.

These attitudes and behaviors sum up in a person into what we call personality. Personalities fall into broad families, as found out by and defined by psychologists many decades ago. These are called personality types. One of the more popular personality type systems is the Myers Briggs system.


In Myers Briggs, there are four scales or variables with a trait as being their opposite ends.  With These variations that results in 16 personality types. Each person trends toward a set of 4 values.

Many studies have found that ending up in a profession is not very random. People gravitate to one suited to their personality type.


It turns out that successful research scientists are often INTJ.



Science Day – fighting ignorance is bliss April 22, 2017

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Science, as with many other things that are based on facts (like journalism), is under attack by the right wing in the US. There are many reasons why. Some of it is that the right is less educated than the average. Some is that the right has more evangelical Christians and practicing Catholics than the average and their reliance on faith skews them away from factual-based thinking. Some is that the right’s support of businesses and an unfettered capitalist economy runs afoul of environmental regulations or climate change or the move to renewable energy over fossil fuels.

The Republican party has based a lot of its policies in these philosophies and over time its candidates have been drawn more and more from these less-educated, religiously and politically dogmatic bare-fisted capitalists. Even a cursory look at Donald Trump shos that he strongly reflects those, as do many of his choices for high-level positions – Rick Perry, Betty Devos, Scott Pruitt, Ben Carson. They are proud of being ignorant, boastful that they know better than any experts.

The shortsightedness and tunnel vision is both shocking and dangerous. Science and technology fuel the US economy. The areas the US needs more skills in are the Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (including Computing), the STEM areas, that are suffering greatly in the new budgets. These ignoramuses do not understand that their other pet areas of defense and security, fossil fuels, business and commerce all rely on new innovations that has come from the STEM areas. The US has Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, Oracle, and hundreds of other tech companies. Biotechnology, including pharma, are very heavily American in innovation, in new patents. These also result from the STEM areas. Even a supposedly “mature” industrial area like fossil fuels has relied on new catalysts for refining, new exploration techniques and modeling, better coordination both upstream and downstream, new techniques that allow the finding of and use of tar sands and shale oil or shale gas or Fischer-Tropsch liquids. Again, these arise in the STEM areas.

Will the US sciences remain the top in the world? This is very likely. But for every year of this anti-science government, there will be a period of 5 years where China, India, Russia, and the European Community close the gap.

4/20 is the Stupidest Event April 20, 2017

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April 20th have become a celebration in the US by marijuana smokers that highlights their smoking of marijuana. Its apocryphal origins are supposedly based on the time of 4:20 pm, when a group of high-school students gathered after school to smoke marijuana.

There are only a few people who care – hardcore recreational marijuana smokers and the news media who want stories. That marijuana is increasingly acceptable and legal more medicinal and/ or recreational use in several states highlights that this observance is getting dated and that its advocacy, what little there was, is dwarfed by other efforts.

Science can be fun for scientists. April 15, 2017

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In talking to high-school friends online about my career, 2 incidents that highlight the different attitudes of scientists came to mind.

Once, a well-known European colleague was in San Francisco for a conference. He wanted to meet and talk of each of our research programs and exchange ideas and maybe set up a collaboration. I rode the local rapid-transit train, BART, over to downtown San Francisco and walked to his hotel. We decided to pick up sandwiches at a deli across the street and walk to Union Square, where (then) there were many park benches in an oasis of sunshine among the many tall building.

We sat, ate, talked back and forth on our mutual interests in various fields – synthesis, spectroscopy, physical organic chemistry, some related quantum chemistry – for about 2 hours. The latter hour coincided with the noontime lunch hour and the park had filled with office workers on their break. As we were wrapping up, a group of 6 to 8 young women who had been sitting next to our bench walked by. One stopped and said “We did not understand anything of what you were talking about, but it sounded so fascinating.”

Another time was at a conference. I had just synthesized a new compound and done some preliminary work on it. It was a very weird one in many ways. It had a lot of steric strain, where the atoms were too close in space to each other so that repulsive forces cause the bonding framework to bend to reduce that. Normally, this molecule’s class of compounds would do this by a twist in the structure. A theoretically-possible alternative of folding at that point usually required much more energy and did not happen. But for this one structure, the folding was only a miniscule amount higher. So at room temperature there were both structures present in a solution of the comound, interchanging from one to the other and back. This gave the compound some odd properties.

At the conference, between sessions of talks a group of several well-known scientists in the study of the types of compounds gathered over coffee. I described my new compound. The others all replied with “Could you send me some to study…?” the blank being a technique they did. The interplay and discussion was fantastic. We were like a bunch of children with a new toy.




















normally, the type of mole



A curious observation on politics in the US April 15, 2017

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Indian-Americans, either those who directly immigrated from India or their descendants are only about 1% of the US population. Yet, a few years ago there were 2 Indian-American governors (2 out of the 50 states), Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Nikki Haley of South Carolina. That piqued my interest. Both were Republicans in southern states, too.

So over the past 5 years, I have noticed more when an Indian-American is involved in anything political. One is happening now at the University of California at Berkeley. This place is an icon of very liberal view in a very liberal region (the San Francisco Bay Area). There are, of course conservatives at the campus of many tens of thousands of students and faculty. But this week I noticed them more/ Conservative student groups are sponsoring a talk by conservative provocateur Ann Coulter. The leaders of both of the biggest of the sponsoring groups are Indian-Americans.

Does this mean that a majority, if not a preponderance, of Indian-Americans are conservative Republicans? Maybe. The values in Hinduism are conservative by US standards – very traditional family values, male dominated, very aware of caste (although outlawed) and race, and religion. In India, there is a very strong anti-Muslim populance, too.

Career tip: Never Stand Still April 15, 2017

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One of the things few scientists learn in graduate school is that the topic you work in is transient. The field you work in is not static. In getting an advanced degree, a young scientist typically build up expertise in an area. Since this is often the first such one, an identity also grows – that of being that type of scientist.

But science is very dynamic and careers are long. Few scientific topics last as hot areas with good unsolved research opportunities for longer than a decade. Why? They are hot and many scientists get into each hot topic. After a few years, the hot becomes accepted, the norm. Research in that area moves into minor tweaks of the variables or doing something on a slight variation – in a different solvent or under various temperature or some other not-very-groundbreaking differences.

A smart young scientist must forever be looking for opportunities to morph, to slide into related topics, to fill unfilled niches. I did my graduate research in gas chromatography. My first job avoided that topic, but was a slide into the related area of liquid chromatography. A new challenge. During my first 5 years, I added UV-visible and fluorescence spectroscopies because nobody there was doing those and there was a need. During my next 5 years I got into synthetic organic chemistry areas because in order to do the LC, UV, or fluorescence I needed standard compounds or model compounds. Many were not commercially available, but there were literature syntheses. Some of those syntheses had obvious variations that would yield numerous new analogues of those literature-guided products.

Other forays occurred. The end result was decades of new research opportunities, a lot of fun in the lab, numerous collaborations.

My current binge reading – Sri Lanka March 31, 2017

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For pleasure and to take up time during my travels, I read a lot of books. Although I have read a few ebooks, maybe a dozen or two in the past 5 years, I still prefer paper copies. That is familiarity being preferred. My reading tastes are all over the map in both fiction and non-fiction. I go through periods where I prefer one over the other, then within that preference I will get into different genres. So for non-fiction it might be history – world, US, crimes, art history, military history. Each time might have a more dominant theme, like obscure colonial wars as a military history topic. When I had my most recent one of those, it was British wars in South Asi8a and Africa, various colonial wars in the Caribbean, South American wars, wars in the Balkans. For fiction, it is often novels, but I do get into periods favoring short-story collections. Often I prefer books that are either tried-and-true classic literature or books and authors that have won prizes – the Nobel in literature (Saul Bellow, John Steinbeck, V. S. Naipal, among others; the Booker prize winners and those books on the short list for it; Pulitzer Prize winners, and the  National Book Award. In this category I might put New York Times bestsellers.

Topics also are a theme. When I read Satanic Verses, just to see what the hubbub was about, I read more Salman Rushdie, then other South Asian authors – Amitav Ghosh, Vikram Seth, Jhumpa Lahiri, and others.

My current one is focused on books set in or about people from Ceylon/ Sri Lanka. From the British colonial perspective there was A Village in the Jungle by Leonard Wood. Slightly racist, reflecting the attitudes of the British there a century ago. Others were Anil’s Ghost, Cat’s Table, and Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje – most notable for his non-Lanka book The English Patient; Mosquito and Bone China by Roma  Tearne; The Jam Fruit Tree, Colombo, and Yakada Yaka by Carl Muller; The Road from Elephant’s Pass by Nihal de Silva; and Funny Boy by Shyam Selvaderai.

I have read 6 of these 11 so far. The main these is the various eras of troubles between the Sinhalese and Tamils. It reminds me of the theses in India and Bengal (both Indian and Bangladeshi) between Hindus and Sikhs or Hindus and Moslems. It seems that the most major legacy of British rule was lumping together peoples so that in every south Asian nation there is a majority-minority clash.