WayBack: Red Pen/Black Pen

So I started doing semi-somewhat-serious cartooning about two months ago (here’s a link to my growing body of work). It’s a fun expression of scientific ideas combined with my artistic sense (if not actual skill). I believe that sometimes ideas can be communicated more efficiently in a visual manner, and that humor is another way to effectively communicate ideas. It makes you stop and think.

I realized that I’d been on this path for some time. I’ve always had an interest in art and drawing (again, skill?) and I remembered that I had combined this with science – probably since early in College. I’m pretty sure that this cartoon is from early college- maybe 1990 or so. And it’s somewhat funny (even though Zeno didn’t have a “law” of motion). Interestingly, I still think about Zeno’s paradoxes of motion and don’t really think they’ve been adequately resolved- but that’s another blog story.

Where "law" = "paradox", clearly.

Where “law” = “paradox”, clearly.


The Real Mode of Transmission of Black Plague in the Middle Ages

A couple of recent science stories caught my interest recently. The first is that the mode of transmission of the devastating black plague in the Middle Ages that killed something like 25 million people may not have been from fleas living on mice and rats, but it was probably airborne (gulp!). The second is reports that the trend of taking selfies with friends has increased transmission of head lice– but it seems the evidence for this is weak at best.

Anyway, since I have published research on Yersinia pestis (the cause of plague), mice, and rice (not lice, but very close- you see there’s only a single letter difference), and I have taken selfies, I consider myself an EXPERT in this area and can therefore put forward any number of odd claims about things. So please enjoy this mash-up of a comic.

"Sayeth ċīese!"

“Sayeth ċīese!”

The Daily Quest for Productivity

Productivity. That elusive goal of any work day. But somehow the more you want to get done the more obstacles seem to get thrown into your path. Some are small and annoying but others can sink your entire day to the bottom of the ocean.

Here are some of the things that I do to improve my productivity:

  1. Keep a running todo list. I keep a list of things to do open all the time on my computer. I work at my computer, so that makes it a bit easier. I prioritize the list by importance and/or urgency. I make a note of deadlines if applicable. I mark things off when I’ve finished them and use a “+” mark for things that I’ve started to do (I’ve sent an email but haven’t yet received a reply, for example). This is from small stuff to big stuff, sometimes it’s organized in projects – with subheadings for subtasks – other times as individual items. I save a new file each week and update the list at the start of the week, removing those items that are finished and adding new items. I can visit the list when I can’t figure out what to do. It really gives me a sense of satisfaction to mark those things off. I’m being PRODUCTIVE!
  2. Keep longer term goals and achievements list. In the same todo document I also keep a list of my goals and achievements: papers I’ve started, submitted, or gotten published for the year, grants I’m planning or have submitted, conferences and talks I’m scheduled for or have attended, etc. This part really helps me keep me on task on a more career-oriented time scale and gives me a nice positive reinforcement for what I have done.
  3. Turn off social media. When I need to be productive I turn it off. No Facebook. No Twitter. No nothing. Of course, I get updates from my OS (Mac) and likely many people get updates from their phones. If you can turn these updates off (you can) then do that. Give yourself a goal and then reward with a defined amount of time that you can check your updates. This is really hard to do.
  4. Find your productivity soundtrack. I have writing music. I have grant music. I have programming music. Most of it is stuff that doesn’t require much thought and that I’ve listened to 1000s of times before. This works well for me.
  5. Take active breaks. I’ve been getting up to take walks for fitness reasons but I’ve found that this is an excellent way to improve productivity. A well-timed walk alone can prompt my mind to organize and brainstorm and plan. When I get back to my desk I’m waaaay more productive than when I left. I don’t know that it works for everyone- but certainly beating your head against a brick wall won’t help.
  6. Move between tasks. If you’re stalling at one task, take a “break” and work on another task for a bit. This can help get things moving and, like point 5, make sure you’re not butting up against a wall.
  7. Block out chunks of time. On the other hand, for many projects I find I need to block out pretty sizable chunks of time to be able to focus and actually move something forward. Working on something for 10 minutes every hour for a day does NOT generally equal 1.4 hours of solid work.
The Daily Quest For Productivity

The Daily Quest For Productivity

Maple-bacon-kale-white bean pasta

Oh, also sun-dried tomatoes. This is a recipe I just made up tonight wanting to pair the smoky yumminess of bacon with maple syrup sweetness, and the chewy wholesomeness of kale with the warm comfort of white beans. Oh and sun-dried tomatoes to round out the flavor and provide a splash of color. And it turned out dee-lish-us. So here it is, kitchen to plate to blog to you.

  • What's left in the pan

    What’s left in the pan

  • Fettuccini or linguine cooked al dente
  • 4-5 pieces of bacon cut into small 1/3” pieces
  • 1 15 oz can white beans, drained and rinsed.
  • 2 T maple syrup
  • 3-4 T chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • ¼ c butternut squash soup (substitute)
  • ¼ cup water
  • 5-6 sprigs kale chopped
  • salt
  • Pepper
  • Grated/shredded parmesan

Fry bacon in large skillet until crispy. Remove and drain bits, but leave the grease in the pan. With the pan still hot add white beans and cook for a minute. Add maple syrup, squash soup, tomatoes, and water and bring to a boil. Add kale and cover. Cook for about 4 minutes covered until the kale is wilted. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve over pasta topped with bacon bits and cheese.

The only odd ingredient here is the butternut squash soup that we just happened to have in our refrigerator. It worked great, but you could easily make a substitution to something that would provide some body to the recipe. Pureed cooked butternut squash, sweet potato or even white beans, with the addition of some liquid, would serve just fine.

Finished product with green beans and pineapple.

Finished product with green beans and pineapple.


The Map of Manuscript-earth

Adventures in manuscript-land. For those who don’t get it this is imagining the path of writing an academic manuscript from the point of view of a map of a fantasy realm. There’s just so much material here- I may have to do another like this. What I didn’t really capture here is the very difficult aspect of getting rejecting, revising, resubmitting, and getting rejected again (damn you Reviewer 3!). It’s like going over those distant mountains then finding yourself back on the road somewhere still trying to get there. For a case in point of something that is still on this road see my stalled series on a computational biology project.

This comic is just crying out for a board game I think. Not sure anyone would play it though. Too painful.

The Map of Manuscript-earth

The Map of Manuscript-earth