Author Archive - gilbert

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The Simpsons Movie

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

I have a hunch that I have a greater affinity towards The Simpsons than most readers of this blog. (My blog bio says one of my ambitions is to write an episode. Seriously, it does say that.) The knowledgeable Simpsonophile will note that I have at least one reference to The Simpsons in every conversation. I’ve noticed, however, even the most obvious references are missed more often when I’m conversing with undergrads as opposed to my grad school friends.
Maybe its because I’m a bit older than the average reader. I’m old enough to remember many of the Tracy Ullman shorts and got to see most of the first few seasons in their original versions, unedited for syndication. I always felt a bond with Lisa in many ways even as I was often no more mature than Bart or Homer. Maybe it’s because I’m just nerdier or dorkier. I remember fondly the “Simpsons drinking games” while watching back to back episodes (sometimes even a third). Whatever the case, I’m a likely to be a bit more obsessed with The Simpsons than the average person in general. That’s how I went into The Simpsons Movie: an obsessive, nostalgic, factoid-full fan. I wasn’t really disappointed (More after the jump. No spoilers, don’t worry)


Holy Crap

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

Kevin Drum points to an article in the LA Times on housing forclosures. Wow!
I’m not sure who else cares about the housing market, but as someone who’s generally interested in fiscal policy this is a bit alarming. Wow.

Revolutionaries, Reformers, and Free Thinkers

Thursday, July 19th, 2007

Since I’m ineligible to enter the NYT contest I won’t necessarily try to be coherent or, to appease Perlstein, attempt to be all that creative. Creativity, with Perlstein’s blessing, is no longer something that I possess. Nor will I feign pretense and write in overly grammatical, awe inspiring prose–I’m now allowed that right? So it goes.
The first thing I want to take issue with is perhaps Perlstein’s subtle intimation that students these days don’t “[enhance] their social life with special celebrity guest speakers”. Is he serious? Today’s corporate climate makes it pretty unlikely that a simple phone call will get some big shot writer to show up at your dorm. But you know what? I’ve seen some great speakers myself. I’m interested in politics and have had the opportunity to see all the current Democratic presidential candidates speak in person (excluding Gravel), having finagled my way into the 2004 Democratic National Convention. I even got to chat and shake hands with Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Wes Clark (who I still consider a candidate).
Student groups have brought Dennis Kucinich and John Kerry to campus. Does Perlstein find nothing special about having the first African American female Senator come to our campus? Her pioneering spirit has made her a personal hero. Bart Ehrman, a writer of early Christianity, whom I enjoy reading and learning from was on campus recently. Does that count as anything to Perlstein? I sure found it exciting. I’m sure all readers here have at one point attended a talk with some public intellectual or artist they find exciting. (I realize the repeated use of such a banal word as “exciting” is very uncreative. I’m allowed as much, right?)


Goodbye Stanford Democrats (c/o ’07)

Thursday, June 14th, 2007

I first became involved with the Stanford Democrats back in 2003. There was a lot of frustration with the direction our country was headed and a growing desire for change, particularly if you weren’t a Republican. My social circle at the time–mostly scientists–was not necessarily the most politically active and the Stanford Dems was a great outlet to go from talk to action. There was a lot of excitement and the Stanford Dems was a great group to be a part of. I never fail to mention that, in December of that year, the current Dems president (Dylan Mefford) was able to get John Kerry to campus which catapulted Kerry to the Democratic nomination.
Starting in 2004, I became increasingly involved with the group coordinating with different campaigns (Kerry for President, Boxer for Senate, Eshoo for Congress, Ira Ruskin for Assembly, … ). I remember starting the Students for Kerry group that, with a lot of work by Marie Jonas, ended up taking about 150 students to Nevada to canvass. I also remember Jen Haskell and I being the first people in the state to canvass for Ira Ruskin’s relatively poor Assembly campaign (his opponent was a billionaire). There was that botched trip to SF to help Barbara Boxer that few probably remember. So many memories.
Naming everyone I enjoyed working with would take too long. There are several former Stanford Dems presidents (Marie, Nell, Bobby) graduating this year and it has been great getting to help and or pester each of them. Many of the current and past board memebers (including blog founder, Galen) also contributed to a great time and a real learning experience. There are other people from different years, but c/o ’07 started with the Stanford Dems at the same time I did back in ’03-’04 and most of us had a great political journey together. I wish you all the best of luck and hope you say hi from time to time without asking for a political contribution :o).

Life, Death, and Better Days

Sunday, June 10th, 2007

Last week was not what I would call a good week. On Saturday morning (6/2), my brother-in-law had a heart attack. I was in a state of shock for most of the day. (The same sister lost her former husband from a similar, unexpected heart attack a few years ago.) While I was worring about that, I found out that a friend had written a draft of a suicide letter and had to have them put in a hospital. I spent six or seven hours in the Emergency room. I also found out that a friend’s grandparents passed away. A different friend lost a childhood friend.
While my personal life was on the brink of chaos, my academic life wasn’t exactly, shall we say, peachy. I found out that all the NMR instruments in the Bay Area which I need to run a last set of experiments were out of commission–all of them! The cells I needed for other experiments last week died so nothing I needed to work was working. Needless to say, I wasn’t in the most pleasant of moods–which rarely happens to me. A perfect time to make that five hour “pissed off” MP3 playlist.
After a rather hellish week, things are looking up. I had a wonderful Friday evening at Nola’s (wink wink), despite not being in a typical “going out” mood. I was able to catch my bearings on Saturday and let everything sink in. My brother-in-law is now out of the hospital and doing great. My friend, who has been suffering with depression for years, is finally getting the appropriate treatment. (Depression is a generally treatable sickness and nothing to be ashamed of. Get help if you need it!) My cells for this week are still alive. I may be able to get a trip out of town to do some NMR experiments (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, btw). I even got to finish the book for bookgroup Monday night and catch up on my New Yorker and New York Review of Books subscriptions that have piled up on me over the last month or so. I was able to get to the gym for the first time in weeks today. All in all, a much better weekend than last.
I was able to make it through my horrible week with great friends and family, but sometimes that’s not enough. If you are having a hard time dealing with life for whatever reason, seek professional health. Stanford is making a serious effort to deal with mental health problems and I’ve already seen the benefits of professional help with my friend. There is nothing wrong with needing a little help from someone who knows what they are doing.
Here’s to better days!

More On That Stupid Law

Friday, June 1st, 2007

Some might be wondering why I was so mad last night. Here’s a little more info.
I’ve had my car towed for this once before–in front of my own place! I ended up having to pay almost $700 in storage fees. No, it wasn’t parked there for months or even weeks for that matter. After many, many months, I got over that. I now force myself to drive to the store when I would normally bike (yeah, great anti-environment law!).
I know which cars live in the house that complained and they were parked two cars away from where my car was parked. That’s pretty darn annoying in itself. But what really bothers me is that I tend to be in lab from 8am until about 8pm so when I force myself to drive to the store it’s around 9pm. When I get back tfrom the store, my previous spot is usually still available. That’s what happened this time. The people left a note that couldn’t have been there for more than 24 hours. I know, because I used my car on Tuesday evening and saw no such note. They then called the police to complain despite my car not being there for 72 hours consecutively. Even by the standard of the law, I should not have received a warning as my car was definitely moved less than 48 hours prior to the warning. That’s infuriating. Apparently, I now have to v-log every time I drive my car.
What aggrevates about this law, is that I can’t park my care anywhere near these people’s house and go on a weeklong vacation or even a long weekend trip. It doesn’t matter that I live on that street. I could understand if the car was there for a month, but we are talking days. (I’ll post a image of my “Tow Warning” once I scan it)

Stupid Palo Alto Laws

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

Did you know that you can have your car towed in Palo Alto if you do not drive it at least 5/10 of a mile in a 72 hour period? Even if it is in front of your own home. I’ll post more on this tomorrow. I’m infuriated and prefer to have a nice sleep–after a glass (or two) of wine–before posting anything. Grrr!

Dream Deferred

Friday, May 25th, 2007

Last night, Wesley Clark speculated that the issue that defines our generation will be the way we deal with economic inequality. Do we accept the growing disparity as the natural evolution of society and do nothing or do we enact policies to combat this disparity. I tend to agree and would even extend this to whether or not we accept dramatic inequalities on a global scale.
I won’t go into my views, but point you to a study over at the Economic Mobility Project. (Via Kevin Drum.) As you can see from the chart above, men in their 30s are doing less well, in an absolute sense, then their father’s generation. If you read the report, you’ll see we aren’t doing so well in terms of relative mobility.
The question is, how are we going to address this issue–if we are going to address it at all? I’m fond of talking about the powerful, transformative potential of our generation (those under thirty) and believe we can deal with it if we choose to and make it a priority. But will we?

Wes Clark and American Legitimacy

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

Wes Clark (whom I support for President even though he’s not an official candidate) will be giving a lecture on campus today at 7:30 in Room 200 of the Hewlett Teaching Center. I don’t know exactly what he’ll be talking about today specifically, but he has been discussing for many years now about ways the US should be working internationally to build its legitimacy.
I was able to meet Wes Clark earlier this year and can say he’s very knowledgeable in a variety of areas: he’s edited books on military history and taught economics at West Point. He’s also quite engaging. It will be worth attending if you want a more thorough discussion than we’re getting from the current crop of presidential candidates.
I should also point out that, back in December of 2003, Stanford hosted John Kerry while he was trailing most of the Democratic candidates and then Kerry went on to win the nomination. I always tell people that it was his appearance at Stanford which launched Kerry to the Democratic nomination. We might see the same with Wes Clark.

What’s New In The School of Medicine?

Monday, May 21st, 2007

If you’ve ventured to “the other side” of Campus Drive to the Med School (SoM), you’ve probably noticed some construction going on. The SoM is working on a little something called The Learning and Knowledge Center, or LKC. The vision of the LKC, according to the website, is to be “A New Model of Medical Education for a New Era in Medicine”.
Several years ago I was involved in focus groups and committees to discuss how the LKC (which at the time was called “SMILE”) could and should impact graduate students in the medical sciences. It’s actually been rather exciting to see this endeavor progress from a vague concept to an actual design plan. If you want to see what medical education and research in the future is going to look like, make sure to check out the LKC. It’s really cool! (The image above is a picture of what the area currently occupied by the Fairchild Buildings on Campus Drive–the two buildings between Beckman Center and the Clark Center–will look like in several years.)

More On US News & World Report

Monday, May 21st, 2007

Every time someone asks me about Stanford graduate school, particularly in the biosciences where I have some knowledge, I always comment on the high concentration of talent. Compared to many other top research intensive schools, Stanford is small. This influences the top ranking Stanford Medical school can obtain in the UNSAWR list. This is something that School of Medicine Dean Philip Pizzo has been discussing for quite a while. For those interested, here’s a little blurb from one of his recent newsletters:

In looking at the data for this year, where we are once again ranked #7, it is clear that the only thing holding us from a higher rank in this survey is the total amount of NIH funding. We are lower than any other school in the top 10 in total NIH funding – which is really a function of our smaller faculty size compared to peers. Since total NIH funding weighs heavily in the scoring, we are truly impacted by that category.
In contrast, we are highest in NIH funding per faculty member (a better surrogate for quality). However, since this has a lower weight, it is offset by total NIH funding. Accordingly there is a ceiling that we are not able to break through.

Science at Stanford

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

Since I’m a scientist, I figured I should at least post a little about some of the science that goes on at Stanford. Today’s inaugural installment is about Folding at Home. I’m a little biased because the faculty member is part of my PhD program and one of my best friends was a graduate student in his lab. But the concept is really cool and simple: use distributed computing to perform biological computations to study protein folding that were previously inaccessible.
If you’re not a biologist you might be wondering why we should care about protein folding. There is some fundamental biological principles that we can learn, but there are important clinical implications. Each gene has information that encodes a specific protein. In order for proteins to perform their proper function, they adopt a very specific three dimensional structure. That is, they “fold” to a specific shape that allows them to carry out their job. When proteins “misfold”, they can’t carry out their function and this can lead to serious problems. By understanding what goes wrong, we can begin to figure out how to go about fixing problems.
You can find out more at the Folding at Home website. You can help out the effort by downloading the software which runs in the background while you’re sleeping or out having a drink.
Update: If you want to contribute to my F@H team, I’m number 72156. I just started it a few days ago so I’m way behind.

Minority Report

Friday, May 11th, 2007

I recently posted on diversity of the graduate student population at Stanford. A recent editorial in Nature Medicine discusses this a little more (my emphasis):

The typical American lab is peopled almost entirely with white scientists. That’s not reflective of society at large. A shake-up of the way minorities are recruited, trained and promoted could give minority representation in science the boost it so badly needs.
In 2000, the US population was 75% white, 12% black and 12% Hispanic. But the proportion of minorities that completed biology PhDs between 1993 and 2002 did not match these numbers: only 2.6% of new PhDs were black and only 3.7% were Hispanic. The proportion of tenure-track biology faculty in 2002 was even more disparate: 89% white, 1% black and 2% Hispanic.
These disturbing statistics tell only part of the story. According to first-person accounts, because minorities are often the only one of their ethnicity in their lab or department—perhaps even in their institution—they often feel isolated from their co-workers. Because they lack colleagues from their own ethnic group, they may feel unable to effect institutional changes to address the unique challenges they face.

Personal perspective after the jump.


This Week In Cynicism

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

According to The Stanford Dems Poll everyone loves Obama, except perhaps me and one or two others. (Note: I happily consider myself a Stanford Dem.) But I’m not impressed. For that matter, I’m not as impressed with any of the presumed front runners as I am with some of the ignored candidates. Perhaps that makes me cynical. Who knows. But if you’re like me and are tired of hearing only about the top three candidates, C-E-O, then you should check out Bill Richardson’s new YouTube video:

Part of me posted this because I’m actually enjoying my political pariah status, but also because this ad is humorous in a way I enjoy. As one commenter at Political Animal asks, “(Maybe in our political system, experience is a bad thing?)” This ad implicitly asks that question. Incidentally, I proposed a series of similar ads months ago to a presidential candidate who has yet to declare. Alas, I’m too late.

Diversity At Stanford

Monday, May 7th, 2007

One thing you’ll find published about Stanford is the impressive diversity of the undergraduate population. But one of the little secrets about Stanford is that the graduate population is significantly less diverse, as the chart above demonstrates. If you’re interested in learning more there will be a town hall forum at the GCC:

What: Graduate Diversity Town Hall Forum, Discussion of Implicit Bias
When: May 10, 2007 @ 5:30pm
Where: Graduate Community Center (750 Escondido Road), Havana Room
Free Pizza will be provided, all are welcome!

Sorry for the poor image quality–I’m too lazy to make a new figure.