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Saturday, December 18

done with all this measuring of proof

I'm finished with quals now. I'll have to wait a few weeks to know how well I did. The only speculation I'm willing to do about today's is that it was in the region where I have no idea whether I'll pass or fail. It was less of a nightmare than last time, but I honestly don't know if I've done well enough.

At least I can partly relax now, because I don't have this nagging I should be working right now thought in the back of my mind on a Saturday evening.
posted @ 4:16 PM -

Friday, December 17

one down, one to go

a) I think this morning's exam went OK. I'm confident it was better than the fiasco in May. But we should bear in mind that I thought I had done well on this one first time round, and that I failed by such a huge margin that I could do better than last time and still fail. This is as much speculation as I care to do about the exam; I need to forget about it now.

b) I won't know the results until January. I'm not very happy about that, but there's nothing I can do about it.

c) Tomorrow morning I have the other half of the qual. It's the one that I've always been more afraid of. I've been working hard at this stuff, and I've made some progress, but there's still a lot I'm unsure of. Luck will play a part in this one, because some possible sets of questions would hand me the qual on a plate, and others would leave me completely screwed.

Now, back to work.
posted @ 10:47 AM -

Monday, December 13

The perils of over-specialisation

I shouldn't be blogging right now, but something I've encountered in revising for exams has irritated me so much that I had to share it. I have a genetics final tomorrow (a most unfortunate distraction from quals, I must say), and in preparing for it I've finally reached the textbook chapters that cover topics I was familiar with before the course, from my own work. The coverage is really getting me down.

For starters, the ignorance assumed on the part of the reader is shocking. This is a textbook aimed at upperclassmen and graduate students, so it assumes a great deal of prior knowledge of chemistry and cell structure and so on (which has made my life difficult, but it is sensible, and I knew I'd be letting myself in for that when I registered for a biology course), yet it assumes its readers are not familiar with some really basic statistical concepts. No-one should be able to reach a 300-level science course without knowing what a normal distribution looks like, or what a standard deviation signifies. Never mind that this textbook explains how to calculate the mean of a sample. Now I understand why some students are so terrified of the introductory programming course that they opt for a BA in biology to avoid having take it.

More annoying than this, though, is that there are errors in the text. I'll give just one example, with minimal explanation. Sorry if this is incomprehensible to people who haven't studied such things, but I don't have the time to explain it properly this week. The larger a population, the lower the probability that a new allele produced by a neutral mutation will fixate. So far so good, and the textbook gives a clear explanation of why this is so. However, it then goes on to argue that this is because the new allele is more likely to die out in the larger population, which is the opposite of what happens. It is precisely because every allele is less likely to be extinguished by random genetic drift in a large population that old allele A is less likely to be replaced entirely with new allele a, which is what fixation of the new allele would mean.

This is too frustrating for words.

slightly sheepish update: um.... my explanation about fixation probabilities was also wrong. I was conflating independent things: the probability of an existing allele disappearing (which is lower in a larger population) with the probability of a new allele disappearing (which is the same, regardless of population size). But the textbook is still wrong.

update after the exam: the good news is that I got 100% for my coursework, meaning I don't actually need to have done very well on this exam. The bad news is that the balance of evidence strongly suggests that the professor hasn't actually bothered grading the coursework, but just gave everyone 100% on the assumption that no-one would bother him about it. This same person is also about to become Case's Dean of Graduate Studies.

This pisses me off even more than the issue with the textbook. Teaching is a responsibility. We'd all be better off if those academics who can't be bothered to do it properly would just stay in the lab. But no. Academia's collective incompetence at personnel management (and this is definitely not a Case-specific malaise) rewards people who can't be bothered to teach properly with promotions that give them more pay and more responsibility for teaching.
posted @ 8:36 AM -

Saturday, December 11

one week left

all i ask of myself is that i hold together

The good news is that a week from now I will be very, very drunk, probably asleep, and hopefully able to not think about work. The bad news is that at the moment my inability to think about anything other than work is tormenting me. It's bad enough that everything in my future hangs on the result of two exams, both of which I failed first time. What makes it much worse is how little information we have about what is expected of us. It would be nice if they would actually announce a pass mark, or give some indication of how good one has to be to pass. As it is, it's like trying to kick a conversion, only without knowing where the crossbar is. I may already have done enough, or the whole thing may be hopeless, and I have no way of knowing that is more reliable than slaughtering a goat and reading its intestines. And let me tell you something, boys and girls: when that is the case for the most important test you have ever faced, your life becomes hell. Because it is impossible to do enough work in a day, or to have enough days, to satisfy an unknowable requirement.

In the coming 6 days I foresee myself being a bastard to everyone around me. It's already started, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it. All I ask of you is that you can forgive me.
posted @ 11:52 PM -

Friday, December 3

phone number

If you have my phone number, please note that the landline (the one that starts 216 2.. ....) is going to be cancelled soon. I'm going to become one of them pesky mobile-phone-only persons. With immediate effect I've changed the plan on my cellphone so that it no longer costs me horrible amounts of money to make and receive calls on it, so if you're one of the 5 people who ever calls me, please use that (the one that starts 216 5.. ....). I don't actually know when the landline will cut off, but the change to the mobile is immediate, so it's already more convenient for me to use that phone for everything.

If you're one of the people who uses my server, the address of that changed approximately 25 minutes ago because part of this is that I'm also changing ISP. Drop me an email and I'll give you the new address.

If you're wondering why I'm bothering with this: it should leave me about $30/month better off.

Finally, I'd just like to plug Skype, which is a service for making phone calls via an internet-connected computer. It's very cheap for international calls (calling the UK with Skype costs me about 20% of the cost of a call from a US landline, even with a pre-pay discount card), and calling computer-to-computer is free.
posted @ 4:52 PM -
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