Friday, May 23, 2008

Sign of the times

I finished my last final exam today (woo!!!), so now instead of staying up late studying, I get to stay up late sorting through all my junk and packing some of it in boxes with copious amounts of duct tape -- aka 'packing'. I'm moving to a new dorm on the other side of campus next year, and I'm heading back home to California on Saturday, so I have to hurry up and get all my stuff boxed and hauled across campus before then.

Just now, I was making safety sheaths for a set of cooking knives I bought and never used (because they're mediocre quality, and I just used my pocket knife for everything anyway). Take several sheets of paper, wrap around, duct tape, fold the end over, duct tape again, et voila. It works surprisingly well. For day-to-day storage, these sheaths work fine as is; for longer-term storage, duct tape the knife handles to the sheaths so they don't slip out.

Clearly, though, it is a sign of the times, of the era of online publishing, that I used printouts of PNAS papers to do this. It's the rare, rare paper that I'll print out to read, what with PDFs and having an institutional subscription to everything. Anymore, the only papers I print are ones that I need to read and reread in quite a bit of detail -- say, if I've got to write an essay that addresses the content of that paper specifically. (Intro Psych, I'm looking at you!)

Yes, kids, science saves lives! It keeps you safe! Were it not for science, how would I keep myself from being slashed up by kitchen knives??

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Gallery of nudibranchs!

Check this out: National Geographic nudibranch photo gallery. It's absolutely amazing.

I've seen a couple of nudibranchs underwater, scuba diving in Hawaii. It's neat to see them live and in context, but it being underwater, it's kind of dim and the colors are washed out. Seeing them in optimal photography conditions like this is really cool.

[h/t Pharyngula]

Friday, May 9, 2008

Grad students declared "security threats" by govt

You have got to be kidding me.

This article, Government Declares Some Grad Students Are ‘Security Threats’, appeared in today's issue of The Tech (MIT's student newspaper). A number of international students working with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute are being denied easy access to the ports they sail from because the government considers them, for no reason at all, "security threats".

To get in and out of the ports, you need this RFID card, the "Transportation Worker Identification Credential". Without the TWIC, it's very difficult (though not impossible) to get in and out. Difficult-but-not-impossible is a totally unreasonable restriction to impose on these researchers. It's hard enough not having key-card access to the building that contains the lab you're interning in -- *raises hand* -- and even though it's reasonable to expect a bit more difficulty when you're doing fieldwork, it's not Antarctica these students are requesting easy access to, it's a port. And, I might add, these students are only asking for the same access that their labmates and PIs already enjoy.

As the Dept. of Homeland Security wrote to one student (others received similar letters), “I have personally reviewed the Initial Determination of Threat Assessment, your reply, accompanying information, and all other information and materials available to the TSA. Based upon this review, I have determined that you pose a security threat and you do not meet the eligibility requirements to hold a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC).” This is what we say to students who come here to carry out government-funded research? We give them grant money and then call them "security threats"?

Two of the students being denied access are from Britain and Germany. Britain and Germany. I thought we were supposed to be all buddy-buddy with these countries? If this is what students from friggin' Britain and Germany have to deal with, how much worst must it be for students from, say, Syria?

My friend Raffi, who's from Canada, mentioned how the Office of International Students is always warning them about how "if you do this you'll get deported. If you do that you'll get deported." Apparently the definition of "security threat" bears this out: you're a security threat if you threaten national or transportation security, if you pose a threat of terrorism, if you have "lacking mental capacity"... or if you simply have the wrong kind of visa.

I'm ashamed to live in a country that funds scientists and then treats them this way.

[Crossposted to LiveJournal]