Life


As soon as I decided to blog from coffee shops, we stopped going to coffee shops. Go figure!

So today, we are sitting at Vinyl Taco in beautiful downtown Fargo. I really adore this place. The food is good and the atmosphere is spectacular. Clean, airy, dim but not dark, AND they play great music. Not just good music, GREAT music.

I’ve also transitioned once again, this time back to the familiar stomping grounds of faculty. {Music note: Warren Zevon, “Werewolves of London” Bip!!} After spending a year as Acting Dean, I have returned to faculty and am teaching Gen Chem II this summer. I will reserve final judgement on my foray into administration, but I think I can comfortably say that it feels good to get back into the classroom. {Music note: Bowie & Queen, “Pressure”} There were many things I enjoyed about being an administrator, but in that first year of deaning I certainly had a few missteps, not the least of which was poor time and health management. {transitioning to Stevie Ray Vaughn, damn this is good music…}

I think the best thing about returing to the faculty is that I will have a chance to really reflect upon my year as Acting Dean and assess how my strengths and weaknesses fit into the role of administrator. More to come in the near future, but for now, it’s time to wrap up. {Police, “Roxanne”} For the moment, I’m going to sit back, finish my margarita, and enjoy some tunes. “Nights in White Satin” is starting…

I’m not a big fan of gifts. I don’t especially like giving them, and I REALLY don’t like receiving them. If I want something, I get it for myself. If it’s not something I’d buy for myself, then I don’t need it. There are a few gift-giving people in my circle, and when I’ve brought up this “I don’t like gifts” thing, a number of people have pointed out that it would be rude to not accept a gift from someone who likes giving gifts. If it’s someone who doesn’t know me well, I might go along with that, but what if it’s someone who knows I don’t like getting gifts but buys them for me anyhow? If it would be rude of me to refuse a gift (with a polite “no thank you”), is it not equally rude of the gift giver who knows I don’t like getting gifts to insist upon getting gifts for me?

It can also depend upon the nature of the gift. I enjoy unique chocolate, and there are a few people who will at times pick up an uncommon chocolate bar for me while travelling. These personal gifts of very limited monetary value are relatively easy for me to accept; they’re consumable, inexpensive, and represent a genuine personal connection between giver and recipient. That’s a nice and appropriate gift. Anything that I wouldn’t buy for myself that’s given as a gift, especially if I wouldn’t buy it for myself because it’s too expensive, makes me extremely uncomfortable. There’s no specific value on “too expensive”… sometimes a $5 item is too expensive, sometimes a $10 item is cheap, it all depends upon the item.

I’m talking in circles a little bit here. I’m really just trying to work my way through a situation that presented itself earlier today. Someone gave me a gift certificate. That’s like handing me money. If getting a gift makes me uncomfortable, getting money makes my skin crawl. I didn’t say anything when this gift certificate was dropped on my desk, but I think tomorrow I will return the gift certificate to the giver. That will probably be viewed as an insult, but I’ve told this habitual gift-giver a number of times that I do not like to receive gifts. The giver continues to give. That makes the givers actions rude and perhaps even a little aggressively rude. Tomorrow will be an interesting day.

I am once again watching Star Trek in my “DVDs to have on while I’m doing other things” rotation. I’m currently in season 4 of Star Trek: The Next Generation and I’ve come across two of my favorite episodes back to back: “Drumhead” and “Half a Life”.

“Drumhead” is similar in these to perhaps my favorite ST:TNG episode, “Measure of a Man” in that both involve courtroom proceedings and address some aspect of fundamental human rights. OK, I guess that would have to be “sentient being rights” because this is Star Trek, afterall, and although the themes are “human” rights, they’re not being applied to humans. In “Drumhead”, a conspiracy theory/ spy hunt gets a little out of control and it is up to Captain Picard to pull the proceedings back from the brink of disaster. “Measure of a Man” also sees Captain Picard playing the role of defense attorney, in this case in the trial to determine whether or not Data is “alive”. “Measure of a Man” gets me a little choked up every single time I see it.

“Half a Life” is a favorite because of the intensely powerful performances of the guest stars. Majel Barrett is back as the effusive caricature that is Lwaxana Troi, which always brings a special feeling to the episode, but David Ogden Stiers give an absolutely heart-rending performance as the alien Timicin. The plot is reminescent of “Logan’s Run”, with the inhabitants of planet Kaelon II performing “the resolution” when they reach age 60. “The Resolution” is a celebratory suicide. David Ogden Stiers brings such palpable emotion to the screen in his performance, with an immense gravity that plays off the Lwaxana Troi character masterfully. Mr. Ogden Stiers’ portrayal of Charles Emerson Winchester in MASH was always an interesting balance of serious and comic, as was that whole series, but many of his more recent roles have exploited his quiet, serious demeanor. He gives a similarly excellent performance as Reverend Purdy in “The Dead Zone” TV series (another Michael Piller production…). “Half a Life” also features a small role for Michelle Forbes who returns later as Ensign Ro Laren.

I haven’t gone into detail on these episodes because I want you to enjoy them yourself. If you’re not a “Star Trek type”, these 3 episodes would be worth watching. Personally, I find every episode of Star Trek worth watching, but if you’re not as committed to the ST Universe as I am, “Measure of a Man” and “Drumhead” are excellent episodes to explore the moral undercurrent that runs through all of Star Trek (as well as seeing some top notch performances by Patrick Stewart). “Half a Life” showcases some spectacular performances by some guest stars in a very well written and structured episode.

I’ve been having a hard time finding inspiration to post for a few months now. There have been a few things in my personal and professional life that have occupied my time more than usual and I’ve had to examine my priorities… As I evaluated those priorities, Everything Under the Copper Sun has slipped consistently down the list. I’ve been in a funk. And I’m not talking about the good funk that George Clinton brings to the house.

Some of the blame can be attributed to the weather; it has been a long winter in the Red River Valley, and it just keep holding on. One of these days it’ll get above freezing. Really. One of these days.

I’m not going to make some grand resolution like “I’m going to post at least once a week forever!” because those resolutions seem destined to fail, but I’ve come to realize that I truly miss the creative outlet of posting updates to EUtCS. I enjoy it. It’s satisfying. As I evaluate my “To Do” list, I really need to be a little more selfish and prioritize things that are just for me, whether that’s writing a blog post or washing dishes at home or just going for a mid-day walk. I expect the next 2 months to be massively hectic… after that, I’ll have to try and schedule my time and efforts a little more deliberately. Sometimes, the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many. Or the few.

Hmm, references to Parliament Funkadelic and Star Trek… I need to update my cultural database… Maybe a little Justin Bieber and reality television? 😉

 

I’ve had a little experience with Windows 8 now, and I think I can say with some confidence that the experience has been positive. It’s an OS and interface that I will get used to using, although it’s definitely a bigger jump that some of the other “new” Windows interactions that have happened, especially in the recent past. A few specifics…

1. Begs to be touched – I have used W8 on 2 different laptops, neither of which has been a touchscreen. The W8 Metro interface is just SCREAMING to be touched. It just looks so much like a tablet… And that may be where I’m having some challenges here. I have been using a tablet much more in past 6 months so I’m comfortable mashing my big grubby finger into the screen to make things happen. I sometimes find myself trying to poke or swipe at my W7 laptop screen when my brain gets stuck in “tablet mode”, so this is not purely a “feature” of W8-Metro, but the tile layout is definitely touch-intuitive.

2. Loss of control – This is certainly another “learning curve” thing, but I really feel like I have very little control in W8. Call it “Start Menu Withdrawal”. It seems like things either work perfectly, or I’m left staring at the screen with no idea how to fix them. When I set one of these computers up for my Mom, I could definitely see the advantages of the simple interface; once I get everything set up correctly, she’ll be able to use it without too much tech-anxiety.

3. The Windows Store – My experience so far with the Windows Store has been a little less than awesome. I was one of the MANY people who ran into the perpetually-pending-updates problem. {Do a search for “Windows 8 App Update pending stuck” to see the internet joy…} I’m not going to be too hard on them quite yet, I was trying to update a bunch of apps {those things we used to call “programs” or “software”} on Christmas Eve, so I would imagine there was significant traffic coming in to their servers, but it looks like this has been a recurring problem for a few MONTHS for many users. I’m going to try and update a few more apps later this morning to see if I managed to fix all the problems, otherwise I may have to take a little trip to the Geek Squad people for some help. {And their first question will be “Did you try turning it off and back on again?” No, dipshit, that idea never occurred to me…}

4. Random navigation – It seems like there have been a LOT of times that the program I’m working on seems to just close all by itself and dump me out to either the Desktop or Metro or some other {seemingly} random program. I know that this is due to me getting used to a new touchpad and some of the touch-screen activated features that I’m accidentally activating by touching the edges of my touch-pad, but it’s definitely caused a little “salty” language to pass my lips.

As I said, overall I’m pretty satisfied with W8 so far. It looks good, it {usually} works well, and it just might encourage me to request a massive, touch-screen monitor for my next computer at work. Make that a DOUBLE massive touch-screen set-up… I’ll be so much more productive that way…

 

 

A month or so ago, I was browsing at bestbuy.com. I do that fairly often, or at least I used to. I was looking at cell phones and had to add one to my cart in order to see the price. I didn’t buy the phone that day, and I don’t remember if I removed it from my cart or not. The next time I checked bestbuy.com, there was 1 item in my cart, but when I clicked on my cart, there were no items visible. Huh, that didn’t seem right… I was thinking about buying a new CD, so I added a $15 CD to my cart. At checkout, the total cost of my order was $215. The only item visible in my order was a $15 CD. And bestbuy.com was going to charge me $215 for this $15 CD. Something’s not right here…

I’ve had to contact bestbuy.com’s Customer Service before, and although it’s very clearly run through an overseas call center, I’ve had positive experience with them before, so I contacted Customer Service to have them clear my cart. The people I talked to in Customer Service were thoroughly unprepared to help me. The only thing they seemed to be able to do is help me place an order. I didn’t want to place an order, I wanted them to fix my cart so I could place orders without talking to Customer Service and without paying $215 for a $15 item. I managed to convince the Customer Service person that I needed to talk to someone in Technical Support, but the Technical Support person was no more helpful than the Customer Service person. After explaining my problem for the 3rd or 4th time, the “Technical Support” person wanted to transfer me back to Sales. Not helpful.

Talking to Customer Service didn’t seem to help, so I took a couple screen shots to make it easier to explain the malfunction and emailed them to Customer Service. After almost a month, I hadn’t received any response. I thought maybe the Customer Service email account couldn’t accept emails with attached image files, so I sent a text-only email asking if anyone was looking into my problem. After a couple days I got a response.

“Thank you for contacting Bestbuy.

I understand you are having diffuculty using the shopping cart on http://www.bestbuy.com

Simply go to your cart and you will find a link or a button nearby saying to remove items from your cart. Please click that button. That should delete all the items inside your cart.

We appreciate you informing Bestbuy of your concern. We wish you success in all your future transactions on Bestbuy.”

Clearly, this is the stock response they send to anyone who’s a little slow at online shopping. The assumption here is that I’m too stupid to click the “remove” link. I realize that many people who contact bestbuy.com Customer Service are not very computer/internet savvy, so I understand that this type of response is probably appropriate in many cases. I’m not a computer genius, but I’m also not a cyber-knuckle-dragger. I think I have done everything I can from the customer side of the bestbuy.com website to fix my cart and it didn’t work. I need Technical Support. It’d be nice if bestbuy.com was willing to provide that technical support, but they haven’t been helpful yet. The problem can be pretty easily summarized with a single picture:

How can I have "1 Item" in my cart and "no items" in my cart at the same time?

How can I have “1 Item” in my cart and “no items” in my cart at the same time?

Will this problem be fixed? Only time will tell. At one point when I was talking to Customer Service/Technical Support on the phone I jokingly said “So the only way to fix this problem is to cancel my account and never shop at bestbuy.com again?” I was expecting to inject just enough humor and shock into the conversation to get some help, but the person I was talking to said “Well, yeah, I guess that would work.” Wow. I actually had someone in Customer Service at a major online retainer tell me that I should cancel my account and shop somewhere else. That’s great. As a 40-45 year old male with disposable income and a minor obsession with electronics, I would have thought that bestbuy.com would be bending over backwards to keep my business… I guess amazon.com and walmart.com are going to be my go-to spots for online shopping if bestbuy.com can’t help me. Either that or I should stop spending money on electronics… but I don’t see that happening.

Over at the Just Like Cooking blog, See Arr Oh is hosting a fun little event… From Just Like Cooking:

In celebration of the 25th National Chemistry Week (Oct 21-27, 2012), I’ve decided to host a blog carnival called the Chem Coach Carnival.

Here’s my contribution. I hope it’s useful reading, I’m not sure how entertaining it is…

Your current job.

I am currently a Professor of Chemistry and the Chair of the Department of Chemistry at a regional state university {Mysterious State University Midwest}. In our system, Department Chairpersons are not administrators or supervisors of faculty, we are faculty leaders of our Departments. We’re still responsible for budgets and schedules and supervising support staff and speaking on behalf of the Department and running meetings and attending meetings and recruiting students and recruiting faculty and hiring staff and… Yikes. But we’re not “administrators”.

What you do in a standard “work day.”

My primary job is to teach chemistry, and that usually occupies at least part of my day. I usually teach General Chemistry, but this semester I’m teaching two classes that are completely new to me, “The Science of Cooking” and “Introduction to Research & Presentation”. These classes are polar opposites and the contract has been an interesting challenge. I typically spend an hour or two (or maybe 5 or 10…) each day putting together notes for class and testing demonstrations or experiments for classes, an hour or two teaching class, and a bit of time grading or doing other class-related paperwork. I also have a couple research students working with me, we typically meet a couple times a week. Between my duties as Department Chair and the various committees on which I serve, I probably average 1-2 hours of meetings every day ranging from “What are we going to do in Gen Chem Lab this week?” to “What are the 1-year, 5-year, and 10-year goals of your Department and the University as we move into the future?”

What kind of schooling / training / experience helped you get there?

Bachelor of Science (Chemistry, ACS-Approved) from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point; Masters and PhD from the University of Michigan (Chemistry, Inorganic); Visiting Research Associate (post-doc) at Michigan State University. My education and related experience leans toward the broader/generalist side of the spectrum. My PhD research involved a lot of organic synthesis (making ligands, building chirality, etc), inorganic synthesis (making transition metal coordination complexes) and physical characterization (crystallography, magnetic measurements, solution behavior, etc). The group I was in at UMich was a bioinorganic group, so I was exposed to a lot of the biological side of chemistry, but my project was very materials chemistry oriented (liquid crystals, porous network solids). My post-doc was with a very physical-inorganic group where I learned a little bit of laser spectroscopy and honed some of my synthesis and characterization skills.

How does chemistry inform your work?

Although I’m slowly getting sucked more and more into the administrative side of University duties, all of my teaching responsibilities are in chemistry courses, so I use chemistry every minute of every day. As a chemist, I also try to always keep a broader perspective on things and try to apply established solutions to analogous problems, not just in chemistry, but in everything I do.

Finally, a unique, interesting, or funny anecdote about your career*

One of the first crystal structures I got in graduate school was of a synthesis that was “wrong”. I had estimated the purity of a ligand and because my estimate was pretty far off I ended up adding a significant excess of copper(II) benzoate to the synthesis. When I started analyzing the X-ray diffraction data, I saw not only the copper complex that I expected, but there was a big old copper benzoate paddlewheel dimer hanging off the side of it. I printed out a copy of the picture, dropped it off on my advisor’s desk with a note that said “Oops, I messed up this synthesis”. It turned out the copper benzoate dimer was bridging between two copper complexes as part of a 2-dimensional coordination polymer that formed pillared layers with an open porous structure. This “mistake” lead to a few publications and over half of my thesis. Sometimes, mistakes can be awesome.

Where do I blog? Well, obviously here, but also at http://msumgenchem.blogspot.com/ for my General Chemistry classes, http://scienceofcooking100.blogspot.com/ for my Science of Cooking class, and starting this semester my research students and I use a blog as a real-time online lab notebook at http://bodwinresearch.wordpress.com/ . Too much? NEVER!!

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