Archive for: January, 2011

Too much heaven on their minds

Jan 30 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I have a confession to make – I am totally obsessed with  "Jesus Christ Superstar". Which is a strange thing for a nice jewish Mexican boy who doesn't particularly like musicals, especially those by Andrew Lloyd Webber. In fact I hate almost everything else by Andrew Lloyd Webber. But JCS is different. Technically it's a 'rock opera', whatever the hell that means. But really the music has some killer guitar and base riffs, that are really so raw and powerful that by themselves would be enough to justify the existence of the whole thing. But also the songwriting is excellent and the story is interesting. In particular I like the movie version which was directed by Norman Jewison (see, I'm not the only jew who thinks JCS is awesome CORRECTION: Apparently Norman is not a Jew ) in 1973. It was filmed in the desert in Israel, with no sets except some scaffolding, some Roman ruins and some cool caves. It's starts with a bus with some Arabic writing on it barreling down the desert, and then as the music starts a bunch of hippies emerge from the bus and start unpacking props and donning their costumes which are of course very 1970's as opposed to 0030's. As these guys transform themselves into character, the dude playing Judas (Carl Anderson), clearly in angst, starts harping on Jesus and how he's egging on his followers in what is probably one of the best songs in the show. It's really awesome and I get all tingly when I hear it. Plus the guy playing Simon Zealotes is pitch perfect and Pontius Pilate looks like a guy I went to summer cam with.

So how did my obsession come about? Back in the 70's my parents bought a Betamax VCR machine and they bought four movies – Modern Times and The Great Dictator by Charlie Chaplin, Fiddler on the Roof and Jesus Christ Superstar. I'm not sure what drove this initial decision for movie purchases, but as an eight year-old I must have seen each one of them hundreds of times and I still have them all memorized and would recommend them to anyone who likes movies. In particular, I was totally blown away by JCS. Mind you that as a Jew I only had a very vague sense of the gospels. It mostly consisted of some of my classmates telling me that the Jews killed Jesus and that some dude named Judas did something bad. So much so that there was a special day, "la quema del Judas" where they burned effigies of him. Sometimes Judas was depicted as a black person, sometimes as a bull, and sometimes the burning of the Judas became the burning of the Jew. So Christianity didn't look good for us Jews.

Yet when I saw JCS it was a totally different story. Judas was a cool dude. He was basically trying to convince Jesus that he should cut down on the heaven and son of God business. That they had gotten a nice little resistance going against the Romans, but that he was in danger of turning his following into a religious cult. And Jesus is depicted as single minded, with all his talk about God and the power and the glory. So Judas tried to save him by facilitating his arrest by the local authorities, not knowing that their intention was to kill him, at which point he realized his mistake and hanged himself. Judas was actually trying to save him. Yet Jesus still had a chance to save himself while being judged by Pontius Pilate, but no, and then Pilate sentences him to death. So after watching this, to me it became clear that it was not the Jews that killed Jesus, in fact it was the Romans, maybe egged on by the Jewish priests (which do not count in my mind as "The Jews") plus everyone else was Jewish, even Jesus, so it didn't make any sense what my classmates said. It clearly was a lot more subtle and complicated than that. Now, I have no idea whether the story in JCS is anywhere near to how the gospels are taught, but I did read the gospels (some of them) during grad school and the story in the movie seems fairly accurate, other than the movie seeming a lot more secular.

So there you have it. Very cool music, a good film and a compelling story. Plus vindication for my people. What else could you want?

3 responses so far

Wintry afternoon

Jan 28 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Kids just walked in, after having an epic snowball fight, to bowls of hot freshly-popped popcorn and steaming mugs of whipped Mexican hot chocolate.

6 responses so far

Perspective

Jan 25 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Today I found out that the senior faculty in my department voted unanimously to recommend me for tenure. This of course does not mean I got tenure, there are still layers of university committees and administrators that my case needs to go through, but it is a very important first step. It tells you that your colleagues feel you and your  work are valuable and that they would like to keep you around.

I also found out, after receiving results from my blood tests, that my immune system is starting to come back after being suppressed for weeks, sufficiently so that I can once again pucker up with my very lovely Supercool wife! And kissing her lovely lips this morning was by far the highlight of my day/month. Far more than the tenure thing.

It's funny how your perspective can shift so radically such that you really learn to appreciate specific instances that turn out to be so significant. My life recently has been so moment to moment that its nice to have moments like the one this morning with my sweetie. Normally I would have been freaking out all last week knowing that The Tenure Vote was today, and upon hearing the news I would have been running down the hallways with a bottle of tequila celebrating. But honestly, I did not give it a second thought last week. And I have been working my ass off for the last six years, so I'm obviously thrilled with the news, but then again perspectives shift.

I've been told that having a major illness makes you appreciate what's really important. But it's not that I didn't appreciate my family before, I've always given my family priority and I've known that they are the most important thing. That hasn't changed. I think what changes, is that you learn to appreciate specific instances. Little things that are positive, and you learn to become aware of them while they are happening, so you can enjoy them and not let them pass by. There's still a long road to go on my recovery and on my tenure process, and it's little things like today's respite on a dusty crossroad, that make things bearable. Hopefully the roads will be less bumpy from now on, and full of more good things ahead.

Meanwhile, here's some travelling blues:

17 responses so far

Bad Project

Jan 23 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

This is for all lowly grads and postdocs who are stuck with a Bad Project (courtesy of the Zheng lab at Baylor):

5 responses so far

How to float your boat

Jan 22 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

The last 7 weeks or so have been a fucking bitch. I've spent I think more time in the hospital than out and I find myself appropriately beat up. The rest of the time I've been home, recuperating. But that's not what I'm going to tell you about today. The question today is, what the fuck is happening with my lab in my absence? I am a junior faculty after all. Fortunately, and to my delight, I've found that my peeps are holding out swimmingly. I think every lab reaches a point where it can run itself, at least for a period of time, in the absence of the PI. And it seems like this happens more or less around the time when a PI is eligible for a sabbatical. In a way I feel quite glad to have reached this milestone (although I'd rather be in sabbatical in Spain having a plate of serrano ham and green olives, with some red wine, watching the olive groves sway in the breeze while "working" on my next big project, than getting a blood transfusion) and it makes me proud. Our lab is funded for the next 2-3 years, we just had 2 fancy journal pubs, current projects are promising, folks are working independently, so my immediate attention is not needed. After I got sick, my department's chair was very understanding and offered to teach, with the help of the other faculty, my course, he reassigned temporarily my administrative duties and offered to have my lab attend and participate in his lab meetings. And I am so thankful for that. The other senior faculty have been just as helpful. My lab has a senior grad student who basically is on autopilot to defend this summer, a senior postdoc who can take care of himself, a newish a postdoc who is very independent and has taken to running the lab meetings and sending me detailed weekly reports of what is discussed, a technician who keeps the lab running, two undergrads who are under the wings of more experienced lab members and a new grad student, who in my absence stopped depending on me to fix every little problem with his electrophysiology equipment and figured it out on his own. They've all become more productive and focused. The idea was to meet individually with people weekly, probably at my house or through skype, and have me skype into lab meetings, but I just haven't been feeling well enough to do that. But even without that they seem to be doing OK, with minimal email input from me. I'm looking forward to reengaging in my labs life once I feel a bit better, and telling them how proud I am of all of them.

But...what about tenure!?!?!? My chair pointed out that at this point in the process, whether I'm at work or not, there's not much I could contribute. My dossier is all set, letters are collected and it will soon start making it's way through the chain of committees and administrators involved in the process.

So, I'm not needed for much. And that's a nice feeling, I think. I hear "Clash of the Titans" is on TV tonight...

Free-floating labs, on their merry way...

5 responses so far

Welcome to my new home!

Jan 13 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Welcome to the new home of "Take it to the Bridge". I'm very exited to join the Scientopia community. For old readers, expect the same sort of stuff (minus the yellow background), everything, comments and all, has been moved over from my old site so it will all be accessible here. For new readers I hope you enjoy reading my blog and I look forward to you comments.

Some metal feet...

10 responses so far

Open lab 2010!

Jan 12 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Not to brag or anything, but one of my posts "Neuronistas vs. Reticularistas" was selected to show up in Open Lab 2010. This means that it will appear in this years anthology of the best science blog posts of the year! Thanks to the editors for selecting my contribution!

5 responses so far

Paella!

Jan 05 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Oh no! The holidays are over and you intended to have your colleagues over to your house for a little holiday celebration. Nothing big, just your favorite faculty colleagues, maybe your department chair, bring the family, have some spiced cookies and nice wines, a little rum. But you fucked it up, the holidays came and went and you missed your opportunity to socialize and show off your hosting skills. How can you have them over now? Everyone is on holiday withdrawal, plus spiced cookies sound so 2010.

But there is still hope. That's right, invite them over for paella! There's nothing to cure a depressing winter sunday afternoon than a leisurely lunch of steaming, fragrant paella. A veritable treasure chest of delicious goodies that will not only showcase your cooking skills but will show off your international sophistication and élan.

So how do you make said paella? In Spain, they typically make paella with either "land" meat (rabbit, chicken) or with seafood, but not usually with both. It is typically cooked over a wood fire and requires patience and artistry passed down through generations. Down in Mexico, we disregard these silly conventions and mix everything together. This recipe uses a mix of seafood with sausage and chicken, but feel free to use any combination of meats and seafood. While the recipe may look daunting, it is actually very easy to do. If you want a test run, you can limit the types of meat used, or even try a vegetarian version (but this is not recommended - I think rabbit will impress your colleagues more).

You will need:

Olive oil

6 chicken thighs

4 sausages (chorizo, sweet Italian, whatever)

Shellfish (mussels, clams, etc. – calculate about 4-5 per person)

Un-peeled shrimp, or large crayfish (2-3 per person)

Squid (hoods and tentacles -1 squid per 2 people)

1 onion, quartered

1 red pepper cut into strips

1 cup frozen or fresh peas

About 4 cups of rice (see below)

Chicken broth (or water)

Salt and pepper

2 bay leaves

2 hefty pinches of saffron (or substitute 1/4 tsp of turmeric, but saffron is way better)

In the largest skillet you own, first brown the chicken and whole sausages in olive oil, sprinkle some salt and pepper on the chicken, and cook until the chicken is well browned and the sausages are cooked. Remove the meat and cut the sausages into thirds. Next briefly saute the red pepper and remove from pan. Briefly saute the quartered onion and then start adding the rice. The rice should cover the bottom of the skillet and should be no more than half an inch high. If your skillet is too small, use two skillets. Once you add the rice cook the rice in the oil for 2 minutes or so until it is nicely coated and shiny. Gradually add the broth until it covers the rice, about 1/2 to 2/3 inch above the top surface of the rice. Add the saffron and bay leaves, stir and bring to a boil. Once boiling, stir once more and lower the heat and arrange the chicken, sausage, red pepper strips and peas over the rice in a single layer. Cover the pot, raise the heat for a minute or two and then lower heat. Wait 15 minutes (go make some sangria or something). After 15 minutes take a peek. The rice should be mostly cooked. If the liquid level is too low and the rice is very undercooked add very small amounts of broth to moisten, but not submerge the rice and cover and cook for a bit more. When the rice is almost done, arrange the seafood on top, again in a single layer. Add maybe a little more broth (about half cup, unless it is still soupy, then don't add more) to generate some steam. Cover, raise heat until you hear boiling noises and lower. Check every 5 minutes or so until the seafood is cooked (ie. shellfish has opened, shrimp is bright pink and squid is "curly" but not rubbery). Bring the whole pan to the table, call your colleagues and enjoy! Serve with plenty of sangria...

15 responses so far