Monday, May 21, 2007

Summer time

(This was written last year when the visiting summer students arrived. I have no idea why I never published it then. But today being the day that the summer students start their six week thing, I figure I would post it today. )

Summer time and weather is fine.
If you stretch right up you can touch the sky…

Thus spake Peter Andre – the one with the six pack abs.

However, summer time for a research scholar means something entirely different. This heralds the arrival of the species which in polite terms are called the short-term students. The people from various undergrad institutes that makes their way into My Esteemed Institute ostensibly to learn something new. This is of course all a part of the great initiative of a government funded research institute to encourage science aptitude in the undergrad.

I don’t know how it works in the theoretical sciences but it the experimental ones they get tagged along with some (un)lucky grad student.

Some of them are quite nice and I have had quite an enjoyable time with them. But these days all the summer students come with one thing – attitude with a capital A. I don’t know it is just me , or just me getting old, or some radical shift in perception.

Situation one

Here I am. We use carbon dioxide to make flies sit still so that we can work on them. The CO2 comes from huge cylinders outside the lab. One of these got over. Me poor me standing there with a spanner in my hand trying to move these huge things and fix them right.

This VSRP comes, makes whistling noise as if he pities me and then he just stand there and watchs. Just watches. All this while i have this huge spanner in my hand and I am trying to move these big cylinders because the helpers have all gone for the day.

“Why don’t you use some other less cumbersome method of anesthetizing flies?

Pregnant Pause.

Are you sure you are doing it right?

Another Pregnant Pause.

“This is really dangerous. What if it explodes?”

I had these mental images of crushing his skull out with my spanner. But then I gave him my MEI sneer and he went away.

Situation two

Then the irritating guy (from IIT) of larger than average proportions who comes into the lab.

Opens the door. Door bangs against some book shelf kept behind it. Then he asks why don’t you get rid of that thing? And gives us a look of supreme contempt. Like the morons that we non-IITians are should have fixed that problem earlier.

Situation three

Trying to make some lunchtime conversation – you know the situation where no one knows anyone and you are trying to pass time while you chew the grub. This fellow happened to be working in a certain s***** theory dept - which MEI is supposedly famous for.

Him: So who do you work with?


Him:Oh I don’t know him.

That is good thing.

Me:What do you work on?

Him: You would not understand.

End of conversation.

Situation four

Then there was the story of the student who thought he knew everything. And then he would catch people at the time when they had the most work and ask "what do you do?" Most people like to talk about their work so someone would start explaining about drosophila spermatogenesis and then he would say “Yah yah I know.” But he does then you start explaining something else and then he would say “yeah I know that too.”
Can’t you just listen? And no you don’t know these things.

And just when you think that you have got it all figured out and you are finally exploiting them to full glory – pat comes the news. Their six week training period is over and they have to leave and you end up finishing all the experiments that they have started.

Truly speaking they do provide us a whole bunch of jokes to laugh at for the rest of the year. Don’t get me wrong some of them are quite useful. and there are the incidental advantages. Some lucky peeps have found mates this way. But most of all they do remind us wizened old souls about why we started science in the first place – for the wonder and joy of it.

Just when you start to forget them, comes a new bunch of them bigger, brighter better - with attitudes to match.

Here's to another six weeks with the peeps that arrive today!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Death of an obsession

(Emotions are such fickle things. One day I am desperately in love with Tracy Chapman. I play her songs again and again. Next day, I am bored of her. Bored to death. Therefore a poem is born! If there is one thing I am consistent with is the fact that at any given time I will be obsessed - just that it will be with different things.)

The gossamer wings of a butterfly
The silky web of a black spider
A dewdrop within a dewdrop
A dream within a dream
Transient, evanescent
An emotion, a feeling
There for a second

And in a flap
Gone forever
Not a trace
That it ever

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


The wonders of Adobe Illustrator. I wanted to make a schematic illustrating a stage of Drosophila spermatogenesis - something like the diagram on the left.

But then I started fiddling around with Illustrator and somehow ended up with the picture on the right. (a psychedelic 's view of the Drosophila testes perhaps?). I did not have the heart to delete it so I do the next best thing. Blog it!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Ode to Spot

(I came across this poem supposed to have been written by Data - the android from Star Trek for his cat. For some reason, I found it very funny, thought right now I cannot recollect why. Text courtesy Memory Alpha, the Star Trek wiki.)

ODE TO SPOT by Commander Data.

Felis Catus is your taxonomic nomenclature,
An endothermic quadruped carnivorous by nature.
Your visual, olfactory and auditory senses
Contribute to your hunting skills and natural defences.
I find myself intrigued by your sub-vocal oscillations,
A singular development of cat communications
That obviates your basic hedonistic predilection
For a rhythmic stroking of your fur to demonstrate affection.
A tail is quite essential for your acrobatic talents:
You would not be so agile if you lacked its counter-balance.
And when not being utilized to aid in locomotion
It often serves to illustrate the state of your emotion.
Oh Spot, the complex levels of behavior you display
Connote a fairly well-developed cognitive array,
And though you are not sentient, Spot, and do not comprehend
I none-the-less consider you a true and valued friend.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Science writing

I have started blogging at another place. A friend invited me to join a group blog to write about science and other related things. This blog will be pretty much restricted to not-so-serious issues.

You should hop over there. We have real fun discussions sometimes.

Currently listening to - New York state of mind - Billy Joel.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Writing on a wall.

No matter how many times it happens it always hurts the most.

The strange part is that I thought that it would get easier with time. But it has not.

It has gotten worse.

This pain when someone whom you like and trust betrays you. When someone who you think is a good friend, turns their back on you.

I wish I would grow up soon. But I don’t. I am just a kid at heart – for whom the world is new and still full of possibilities and joys unexplored - na├»ve and trusting and believing.

Sometimes I think it is better than I have not grown up. Because I am afraid that if I did, I would become bitter. And that would definitely be the end of my world.

Now listening to – I never gonna dance again – George Micheal.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

MEI underground - Satyajit

(for todays article I have given my space to our guest blogger as he reports on happenings in MEI– May the truth prevail!)

From our special correspondent – Satyajit.

Late into the night when the whole world sleeps, My Esteemed Insitite(MEI) awakes. The MEI underground emerges in its full dark glory.

The corridors come alive with sounds of screaming as someone is being strangled (for the record that was the frustrated fifth year was mortally wounding a innocent first year because he asked her how many publications she has) . This is followed by the sound of the piercing laughter of the resident siren (who with her laugh lures many an unsuspecting person into the quicksand of desire from wherein no one has escaped)

From another lab comes the sound of someone yapping nineteen to the dozen telling the world that he will do for [INSERT RANDOM SUBJECT] what Einstein did for physics. You actually pay attention till you realize he is just back from Gokul(local pub) therefore should not be trifled with. You try to shrug him off but he follows like a faithful dog.

There are reagents smuggled from one lab to another, which in broad daylight would have caused more than one P.I. to have a heart attack and would have made the P.I. realize the importance of the saying that no man is an island. Truly some men are not islands but are the Eurasian continent unto themselves. They have been known not to start an experiment until they know that all the reagents they need have been made by someone already. "Why bother making something when you can just beg, borrow or steal it? It is also much faster besides. " says the drunk as he quietly 'borrows' the 2 dimensional electrophoresis apparatus.

Whispers in a small corridor catch your attention. Clandestine hard discs and flash drives are passed around, information too sensitive to be transmitted across the networks, bits and bytes of precious data that entertains, that enthralls, that mesmerizes and that ruins. The digital apple in the silicon Garden of Eden. "Have you seen ********?" A soft voice who in the day you would have never even known existed is suddenly the complete center of your attention. "Later!" says the drunk to the soft voice and drags you away before you can succumb to the temptation. The first sensible thing he has done this evening. You go outside to clear your head.

Strange combinations of people which are not fashionable in the broad daylight of the midday sun can be seen scattered around the campus. The mathematicians politely but guardedly socialize with the experimentalists and biologists consent to talk to the theorists. Class distinctions fall and presence of juniors is actually acknowledged.

Over endless cups of tea and soggy parathas of the open canteen, the days events are mocked, analyzed, exaggerated, re-examined and remade,. New stories emerge out of this. Fodder for another night perhaps.

Subtle nuances gain importance. Whey did the third year girl call her room mate ‘darling’ in that lilting tone? Is there more to it than meets the non-pink eye? "Yes, we get our cheap thrills like this only." says the drunk.

On the sofas outside the canteen various secret societies meet with secret handshakes and even more secret agendas. You hang around and try to listen –certcon certcon certcon - is all you hear so you give up when you notice them giving you strange looks.

where is the science in all this? you wonder. The drunk from Gokul says “This is what science is actually all about”. You ignore him and move on. Time to go home.

Even at the hostel the MEI underground does not let go of you. They take the hostel cat and treat her like a goddess, take snaps of her, cuddle her and feed her, insist that you appreciate it. And the cat she has the attitude of a diva. "I love her, "says the drunk, "I will make a video of her. I will market the video. I will make her a superstar. The world should know my diva for what she is." You suspect this is no longer about the cat so you ignore it.

As the morning hour nears, the players of the MEI underground flock to the beds to sleep till the wee hours of the day like bats. You do too, knowing that tomorrow is another day, another challenge and the MEI underground rests too knowing the same. If they did not get you today, tomorrow they will. You switch off the light in your room and try to sleep.

"Good night" whispers the drunk. You start and then you realize the drunk was always inside your head. The talons of the MEI underground reach farther than you had fanthomed. You have no choice but to surrender.

Current obsession – Comfortably numb by Pink Floyd