Archive for: August, 2012

Lowly Grad and the Magic Beans: Repost

Aug 27 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

I just realized that I missed my second bloggiversary by about 2 months. Bah, who cares anyway. But in realizing this, I was looking back at some of my old posts and came across this, written almost 2 years ago, and which I'd forgotten about. I read it, and I was like "I wrote this?? Holy shit, it's actually quite good!" So, since I hope I've acquired new readers since I started this here blog, I've decided to re-post for you the story of "The lowly grad and the magic beans". Enjoy!

Originally posted: September 26, 2010


"Lowly Grad and the Magic Beans"

You had seen him several times skulking around your poster, furiously scribbling notes. Every time he came by you recognized his pointy beard and short stature. Once he pulled out a ruler and started measuring your error bars, another time he took out his camera and took a snapshot of your poster. And every time you couldn't read his name tag, it was flipped over, or covered by his jacket. Who was this guy?

It was your first big meeting and you were excited to be presenting your hot new results. It would have been better if your advisor had come, but he had to stay behind to finish his grant proposal. After the poster session as you were leaving with the awkward and enormous poster tube you saw him again, and this time he looked like he wanted to talk.

"I saw you stop by my poster several times, do you have any questions?"

He tugged on his beard and asked "Is it for sale?"

"For sale? My poster?"

"Yes, I'd like to buy it."

"Who are you?"

"I'm the poster buyer."

"Why do you want to buy my poster?"

"Because that's what I do. I pay very well."

You think, what the hell, I can get some extra cash and not have to lug this thing back home. "OK, let's do it." The poster buyer takes your poster and pulls something out of his pocket, handing it to you.

"What's this?"


"But these are only three beans, what's the deal here, dude?"

"Ah", says the poster buyer, "not just beans – magic beans. I thought you were hoping to get your project published in one of those fancy Glamour Journals?"


"Well, these beans will help you do that."

And before you have a chance to object, the poster buyer and your poster are gone.

When you return home you tell your advisor about the whole incident. "FOOL!!" He yells. "You don't know who this guy was, he could be a competitor, or one of our 'science enemies'. He's totally going to scoop your project, you are totally screwed, you'll NEVER get it published, you will now take 14 years to complete your PhD! I hope that he at least paid you well…". Sheepishly, you say "Well he gave me these magic beans… he said they would help get my paper published in a fancy journal." Your advisor gives you a despondent look and walks away laughing maniacally, shaking his head. Totally in the dumps, you walk home and you bitterly toss the stupid beans in your front yard before you get to your apartment. You spend the night eating Doritos and drinking heavily and fall asleep in the couch.

"Dude, you gotta check this out. Dude wake the fuck up!" You open your eyes, your head pounding, to see your housemate shaking you awake.

"What?! Leave me alone!"

"The seeds, the ones I thought were pot seeds you threw in the front yard…they're not pot seeds."

"I know, they're magic beans. Now let me go back to sleep."

"Take a look, look out the window!"

You figure that looking out the window is the only way to get rid of your housemate and as you look, you are totally astonished at what you see. The beans had grown into a giant bean stalk, twisting and curling all the way up to the clouds. "Holy crap! I'm going to climb that thing." And after quickly dressing you run out and climb the giant beanstalk.

The beanstalk is much taller than you thought, and after 3 hours of climbing, you reach a large sign: "NO TRESPASSING. This is the laboratory of the Head Honcho,  funded by NSH, NIS, DDT, CIA, PDQ, ABC, DoF, QED and the Willy Wonka Foundation. Unauthorized lowly grads are not permitted beyond this point, because your science ain't shit compared to the stuff we do in here!" Ignoring the sign you press on, until you reach a large, warehouse-like room. In it are hundreds of ashen-looking grad students and postdocs working away in endlessly long lab benches, pipetting, running gels, imaging cells. And wandering around are large goons with whips, with tee shirts that say "Lab Manager", ensuring everyone works harder, faster. At the end of each bench there are large bins, connected to chutes and you recognize the names of the various Glamour Journals in the labels to each chute: Journal of Sexy Science, Trendy Topics in Nature, etc. And a continuous stream of grad and postdocs are wandering over to the bins, one after another, and dropping in their manuscripts, watching them be whisked away through the corresponding chutes. After a while you realize that there's this strange, wonderful music in the background. It's like nothing you have ever heard before, a warm sensation fills your body, what is that?! You decide to pull over a postdoc wandering to the bins and you ask her "What is this strange music?"

"It's the Mojo Banjo, of course."

"The Mojo Banjo?"

"Yes, where the science mojo comes from."

"Science mojo?!"

"You silly, lowly grad, the science mojo is what makes your science tick. It's what makes it glamourous, and hot and sexy and trendy. It's what makes people want to listen to it and publish and fund it. It's the key to it all. Whithout science mojo, your science is bupkes! Nada! Zilch!"

"But my science is very interesting and groundbreaking, I'd like to think…"

"It doesn't matter, without the science mojo it's worth a handful of beans! "

"So how do I get some of this mojo?"

"Only the Head Honcho can make science mojo by playing the mojo banjo. And he never lets go of the mojo banjo, he even sleeps with it. Now if you will excuse me, I need to deposit this manuscript in the 'Hot Journal of Cell Science'  bin".

You know you need to get a hold of the Mojo Banjo and mesmerized you follow the music until you get to a large banquet hall. In it is a large table, full of people eating and laughing, almost drunk on the sounds of the mojo banjo. And you recognize among the guests prominent editors and grant reviewers and representatives from funding agencies. At the head of the table is the Head Honcho himself, playing the mojo banjo, his fingers flying across the strings. And everyone seems to be eating cotton candy, which is made by these gigantic machines. And the cotton candy looks delicious and you never had breakfast, so you decide to sneak in and taste some. It tastes wonderful! Nothing like regular cotton candy! After you taste it, you taste fame, and fortune and you feel important and powerful. And mixed with the sounds of the mojo banjo, you soon fall asleep under the table. When you wake, everyone has fallen asleep. The head honcho is slumped over, cotton candy stuck to his chin and the mojo banjo dangling from his hand. Carefully, you sneak close and snatch the mojo banjo and make a run for the exit. But the Head Honcho has been woken and angrily looks around, loudly exclaiming:

"Fee, fie, fo fudent! I smell the blood of a graduate student! Be he alive, or be he dandy, I'll grind his bones to make my cotton candy!"

And seeing you with his mojo banjo he begins to run towards you, his face beet red with ire, the room shaking as he does. You make a beeline for the beanstalk, running away from the Head Honcho you start the long climb down. But the Honcho is relentless, no matter how fast you climb down he seems to be catching up. And when you reach the bottom you can see him just a few feet away. So you have no choice, you begin to hit the base of the beanstalk with the mojo banjo until finally it topples over with a gigantic crash, crushing the Head Honcho. But the mojo banjo is destroyed! You will never get your glamour publication, your PhD WILL take 14 years!

"You did it!" exclaims a familiar voice. You turn to see the poster buyer, tugging his beard and cleaning his ear with a Q-tip.

"Did what?! I destroyed the mojo banjo. I'll never publish in a fancy journal, ever!"

"On the contrary, lowly grad, you have set science free! No longer will those in possession of the science mojo will be granted exclusive access to Glamour Journals. Papers will be judged purely on scientific merit and not trendiness. Grant reviewers will provide useful constructive feedback, ensuring all good grant proposals get funded. PhD's will be completed in no more that four years, graduate students and postdocs will be appreciated, and anyone showing a genuine interest in science will be reward with a faculty position. Because of you, lowly grad, a new era in science has been ushered! You are a hero!"


"Yes, now get back to work, after all you are only a lowly grad and I understand you have a thesis committee meeting you need to prepare for…"


3 responses so far


Aug 24 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

A recent blog post and conversation on the tweeter was addressing the question of "what were some of your formative books your read when you were 10-15 years old?" I remember I was not really into reading until I was about 10, when my brother returned from college and gave me a copy of "The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe". Up until then I basically read comics (Asterix, Tin Tin), or magazines ("World", "The Electric Company" and the Mexican magazine "Chispa") and I thought there's no way I'll get through that. Especially since I was (and still am) a slow reader and the book was in English, which is my second language. Nevertheless I was totally blown away, so much so I had my brother send me the rest of the series which were hard to find in Mexico. After that I discovered an English-language bookstore in Mexico City and I would always want to go there to buy books. Whenever I visited the US I'd come back with a suitcase half-filled with books. I discovered the Great Brain series, which I loved and almost made me become a Mormon (until I realized that you didn't need to be a Mormon to engage in the Great Brain's shenanigans). I also liked those Chronicles of Prydain books, but they always fell a little flat compared to Narnia. The Phantom Tollbooth for sure. And all the books by this dude named Edward Eager (Knights Castle, Half Magic, etc.) I read all the Judy Blume books and I had all of the Choose Your Own Adventure series. Also I read all of the Roald Dahl books I could find. As I got a bit older I got into Ray Bradbury and The Hobbit (I didn't read the rest of the Lord of the Rings until high school).

One of the reasons I read so much in English, is that I think children's literature in English was so much better than anything I could find in Spanish. Everything I had in Spanish seemed either antiquated/irrelevant or just plain bad. So much so that I don't remember a single chapter book in Spanish I read as a kid, other than the whole Asterix series, which I love (although that was translated from French, but whatever). It wasn't until high school that I discovered all the cool Latin American writers which occupied most of my reading during high-school: Borges, García Márquez, Cortázar, Bioy Casares, etc. I also discovered German writer Michael Ende (Neverending Story, Momo) and Vonnegut.

Now my kids are starting to read a lot. My son not so much yet. He can read well, but still doesn't have the bug. My daughter, who is 8, is completely obsessed. She's reading at a level far more advanced than I was at her age. She's on her second iteration of the Harry Potter saga (which I've never read other than reading the first two books to her out loud). I tried to get her into some of the books I used to like and she did enjoy Narnia and Momo and Mrs. Frisby and the rats of NIMH, but hasn't shown much interest in others. But I think that the best thing is to just let her develop her own tastes, and she's found all sorts of cool books in her school library by authors I don't know but that seem pretty good. Books I would have liked to read as a kid (she really loved this Warriors series about some epic cat saga) and she loves graphic novels. I'm hesitant to introduce her to Asterix, because I would feel painfully rejected if she didn't like those. She also appropriated all my Choose Your Own adventure books and has been going through them (I recently slipped on House of Danger, left on the bathroom floor). But most of all I'm glad she's reading and enjoys it. And Im sure my son will follow soon once he becomes a bit more confident. Then we can all sit around and read. And maybe I'll finally read Harry Potter. Or not.

11 responses so far

Arroz con Pollo!

Aug 09 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Yum! We just had a most delicious dinner of arroz con pollo and a nice salad, my son had thirds, which is unheard of, unless he's eating soft boiled eggs, but that's a different story. So arroz con pollo (a.k.a. chicken and rice) is a typical Latin American dish common to the Caribbean and the north part of South America. It's sort of like paella, but not quite and there are probably about 100 different ways to make it. I'd like to say that my recipe was learned from my Cuban grandmother, who learned it from her own grandmother, etc. But, (1) I'm not Cuban and (2) I sort of made it up by tweaking it over the years until it came out right. And the nice thing about it is that it is extremely easy. So what do you do?

Take some chicken parts and brown them in olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot until they are pretty much cooked. Add some salt, pepper, dried oregano, maybe a bay leaf. I like to use boneless thighs, but you can use whole cut-up parts, breasts, whatever. Make sure they are not crowded in the pan such that they are all touching the bottom.

Once the chicken is browned, remove from the pot and set aside. Then saute in the drippings a small chopped onion and a sweet red pepper cut into thin strips until they get soft. Add the chicken parts back and 3 cups of rice, a hefty pinch of saffron, a bit more salt and a couple of shakes of turmeric for color. Some folks like to use those Goya flavor packets, but they're full of all sorts of stuff like powdered garlic and MSG that just shouldn't be in your food. Mix everything well until the rice gets coated with oil and pan juices.

After adding the rice and saffron.

Then add enough water or broth to cover everything plus an extra 1/2 - 2/3 of an inch or so. Make sure chicken is evenly distributed. You can also add some sliced chorizo or other sausage at this point. Cover the pot, and turn up the heat until it boils. Once it boils, set the heat to low and make sure you keep the lid on.

Stock has been added.

After about 15 min check on the rice. If all or most of the liquid has been soaked up, then add another ½ cup or water. If it's still very soupy, just cover it again. Again let it boil and lower the heat. Check every 5 minutes until the rice is done and the liquid has been absorbed. The rice should be done, but a little moist, but not soupy. If you did it right you should have a nice crispy rice crust in the bottom of the pan.


Dish it up! You can eat it alongside black beans and a nice mojito. I like it with lots of hot sauce, preferably Melinda's, and a salad consisting of shredded romaine lettuce, thinly sliced tomatoes and onions and oil and vinegar.

And here's some Celia Cruz for you to listen to, while you cook:

3 responses so far