Hong Kong Fooey #1

Its official, my first overseas blog entry. Its curently, day number 2 in Hong Kong. The flight in was longer than I could have ever anticipated but it wasn't entirely painful. We had a quick jump from logan to JFK that was pleasant enough and was pretty cool because the plane wasn't flying very high which let me see very familiar landmarks from the air as we traveled down the RI and CT shores towards Long Island. We then waited in JFK for 4 hours to board our long haul flight into Hong Kong. The plane was nice...of course not enough room to be really comfortable but certainly better than most airlines I've been on. The seats had a bunch of video on demand available so I could watched 4 movies and a bunch of other stuff and slept a little. We had two meals on the flight which were both pretty good and a few snacks in between. Additionally, the airline including free beer, wine, liquor, etc. at any time which was pretty nice and so we took advantage of that during meals. The flight attendants were almost all Asian and most were at least bi-lingual. They were also all very attractive and Elsa told us its because they have an upper age limit and the women have to be a certain height...this should be a selling point for the airline. One of them even corrected Brians mangled Chinese when he tried to order coffee in cantonese. After 16 hours in the air we landed a hong kong international (which is rediculously large) and made our way to customs. Here we were quickly segregated into HK ID holders and foreigners. The lines were essentially Asian and Non-asians. Brian and I segregated ourselves appropriately and quickly made our way through customs without a problem. We picked up our luggage and rode the bus for an hour towards Elsa's home and our hotel. There we met her parents and dropped of our luggage before going out to grab a quick bite to eat. I was pretty excited for our first meal and a little scared that I wouldn't know anything we were eating. We found a little stall and sat down. Elsa and her mother ordered for us because brian and I wouldn't have a chance. We thought we were getting tripe but it ended up being a beef dish that was strikingly similar to yankee pot roast and a iced lemon tea. Thus our first meal in China was potroast and ice tea...how very authentic. I'm sure we'll be moving into more uncharted territory soon. Pictures to come...Patrick OUT!!!

Really quite brilliant

So we're getting down to the wire on the big trip. Of course some details still need to be ironed out but I guess thats to be expected trying to match three peoples visions, schedules, and budgets. Things at work really couldn't be busier right now which makes me feel good and just a tad bit guilty about leaving it all. I will say that I am slowly coming around to believing that I "deserve" this vacation and that I should leave without remorse over the work I'm leaving others to do (to be quite fair it isn't really my work to begin with...so I'm kind of just handing it back with a smile). Anyways, along the way I've been inundated with meetings about the grant the group is writing and what I need to do to prepare for that. We have been facing some pretty substantial problems recently and I proposed a solution yesterday that my advisor described as "really quite brilliant." Which is pretty simple but totally made my day. Made my day enough that I'm still talking about it the next day. Just that ever so slightest bit of approval made me feel like a little kid again bringing home a math test with the big red "A" on the top and getting a "good job kiddo." I guess I'm just that kind of person that needs a little affirmation every so often so I can convince myself that I'm as good as the facade I put up. Way down deep, in grad school especially, there is this sinking feeling that everyone knows more than you and that at some point you will be exposed as a fraud. Of course, after only 25 years on the planet, I've kind of started to figure out that everyone feels that way...except for the people that really should feel that way. Which leads me to perhaps one of my favorite research papers of all time. It appeared in 1999 in issue 6 of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and is entitles Unskilled and Unaware of It: How difficulties in recognizing one's own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. For those unfamiliar with this seminal work...I will summarize.

There are essentially two kinds of people for every field of knowledge or skill: the incompetent and the competent. In relation to the incompetent among us the authors state that overestimation of ability is a consistent problem.

"The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it." More plainly, idiots tend to think they are not idiots and overestimate their own abilities because they have no ability to realize that they are in fact idiots. Perhaps this is all a truism and while I find the paper entertaining, it also gives me cause for worry that I might be in that sorry group and that I would never know it if I was. The other group, those top performers in society, tend to perform in the reverse...there by assuming that they are less competent than their actual abilities would suggest.

This,I suppose puts me at a bit of a cross-roads...a mix of extraordinary self confidence in some situations that may betray my ineptitude and a constant need of outside affirmation suggesting the opposite. It then follows that I am left somewhere in the middle of mediocrity. Of course, the theory breaks down a bit when for instance I know that I really suck at dancing and that I am not in that top tier that tends to underestimate their abilities...or maybe I am...dancing with the stars anyone??? Patrick OUT!!!


I know its only monday but I am already feeling done with this week. Perhaps it was the relatively busy weekend but I have a feeling its my upcoming trip. I am just totally ready to be on vacation at this point and now this week is a lot of waiting to do very little. I can't start a lot of things because they will either not be done in time or done too early for my return. I've already cleaned the lab and done all the little nagging stuff thats been hanging around for the past month. Now, I'm writing blog entries while I should be working. It doesn't help that my boss is back in town for a few days and she will, of course, expect to see me working away when there isn't that much i could be doing. Furthermore, WPI had its commencement this past weekend which means that all my assistants are gone for good now and so I'm on my own again in the lab. This makes things a little slower and definately a lot more empty. Over the weekend, my sister had her bridal shower which went fairly well it seemed. I, of course, was absent from the affair and so I could only judge its success by the food remnants left behind, the various states of inebriation, and the pile of gifts that now dominates the living room. Of course, any party that leaves the benefactor with a full stomach, an empty glass, and a pile of gifts is a good one in my book. In the mean time, I saw Ironman. This was a pretty good movie I would say. A well done superhero movie with lots of good effects and relatively good acting from robert downey junior who apparently managed to put down the blow long enough the get to the gym quite a bit. Gwyneth paltrow was also in it but was sidelined a bit and I think could have been in it a bit more for a more complete movie. The upside to her character is that she is not nearly as whiney and annoying as Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane character from spiderman. Plus Gweneth is faaarrrr more attractive to look at on screen than ms. dunst. The movie was directed by Jon Favreau who manages to insert a bit part for himself as a limo driver in the very begining...of course I didn't realize he directed the movie at first. When he first came on screen I noticed him right away and figured that the limo driver must play some important role later in the plot of favreau wouldn't have taken the role. So for the whole movie, I waited for his return (I'm not spoiling anything when i tell you he doesn't come back) only to finally discover with the closing credits that he directed the movie. My only gripe about the whole film was the half-assed attempt at including a moral to the story about the evils of weapons development and the american millitary-industrial complex. Now, I am all about arms reduction and scaling down defense spending but this was not even close to a realistic representation of reality and the whole thing does not at all fit in the summer blockbluster vibe of the rest of the movie. It was like at the last minute, Favreau decided he wanted to make a run at the Palm d'Or but was stuck with a comic book hero and decided to go for it anyways. Of course, this probably wont win any major awards...but it doesn't have to...its just fun and it should make a ton of money for some studio execs which will quickly greenlight a sequel (which was set up so well in the first one) and I will pay my $10 to see it next summer. Patrick OUT!!!

Getting Closer Everyday

So its getting closer every day to when I finally make my pilgramage to the lands of the far east. Of course, when I plan my trip the state department issues travel advisories, the chinese government launches a crackdown on dissidents, makes it harder for foreign nationals to get visas, and the country has a HUGE earthquake. Besides that, trip planning is going swimmingly. Of course the upside to all of this is that unlike a trip to Europe my money is still worth something in China. After three years without a real vacation I am looking forward to this more than I thought I would those many months ago when we started planning the whole shebang. Though I am admitedly a bit nervous about the whole affair, I have confidence that things will turn out as planned or at least turn out OK. On the other side of things, I am doing my best now to wind things down at work so i can leave without guilt. I am going to do my best to not bring any work with me when I go, but I'm still contemplating the possibility of bringing a bit of nagging writing along for the plane ride over (23 hours shouldn't be wasted on crosswords and bad food). On the other hand, I feel like I should ignore all that on purpose out of principle for what a vacation should be. Time will tell as to what kind of a work-a-holic I really am.
Of some other note, I am now approaching the one-year anniversary of this blog. This is my 86th post here which seems like a lot to me as I'm rarely as consistent for this long. I guess I had originally intended it to be a travel log of sorts and not the scattered vent session it has become but i'm happy with its direction thus far. I've also recently surpassed my 2000th hit and I am approaching 2500 page views. For those of you keeping track, that is just over 6 hits per day. So if I take out my family (4 people) plus my girlfriend (1 person). That means, on average I have 1 reader per day. So to you...unknown reader...thanks. I'm just kidding of course with that breakdown...I probably have two unique readers at least...maybe more because I know some of those listed above are not as consistent readers as they would have me believe. To that I raise my virtual glass and hope for twice that number by this time next year...tell your friends. Patrick OUT!!!

A gym divided

So as I've already mentioned a few times, I've started going to the gym again...and I've been pretty consistent with that. Of course, the YMCA was threatening that with a series of renovations that had entrances moved and for today they were going to be moving the "wellness center" (cardio and weight training), so it was going to be closed for a while. In the mean time they suggested going to their sister branch. We had been going to the central branch for some time and it suited us OK. It was downtown, not the nicest area but not awful either (we did see someone get arrested as we were walking in one time but I guess thats a small price to pay for such cheap membership). Their other branch "greendale", I had never been to. I always just assumed it was a satelite branch or something like that and that it must be smaller so I never investigated. Well yesterday I was forced to and it came as quite a shock. The place was huge and the parking lot was full. We walk in the front door and it is immaculate. Everything was clean and nice, no construction debris and the gym itself was phenomenal. Besides the nice facility though, one thing hits you over the head time and again. The place is almost all caucasian. This is in stark contrast to our previous gym which was the exact opposite where it would not be uncommon to find that I might be the only white guy there. Even the music at greendale was different...we went from 50 cent and Akon to james taylor and bonnie rait. I guess we just never got the memo about where the white folk were supposed to be. These places are all owned by the same group, so why the disparity? If I didn't know better I would think we has been timewarped back to the 1950s, when segregation still rained. Of course, now I have the crisis of conscience that wants to go back to the nice gym in greendale but feels like I would just be extending the problem further. White guilt strikes again as I can not help but feel like a heel for enjoying the amenities that are placed before me. I don't have an option today but next week the guilt will begin. I'm sure I will eventually forget about the central branch, just like the YMCA already has. I will sink back into my realm of racial homogeneity...but I will have a nice gym in exchange.

Forbidden to Die

So a mayor of a town in France has forbidden his residents to die. The stated reason behind this is of course, cemetary overcrowding. The mayor also promised, "severe punishments" for those who do not follow the ordinance. I for one have trouble guessing what sort of punishment they could inflict on someone allready dead. I guess the upside of the whole thing is that I bet whatever punishment they choose...the recidivism rate should be awfully low. Patrick OUT!!!

I think I'm getting old

So i think it might have finally happened...I just might be an adult, though I must admit I'm still not sure. My little sister, just graduated from college and is off to get married in a little more than a month. It seems like just yesterday that she was running around in pig tails being a royal pain in my ass. Now, a young woman who still has a way of being a pain in the ass. I'm just kidding about all that of course...but it will be a good test to see if she reads this or not. In actuality, i'm pretty proud of her and happy for what she's got and where she's going but at the same time, she makes me feel a little behind in life. Like I'm watching the life train pull away from the station and I'm stuck in my lab coat telling the conductor to wait because i'm in grad school. He laughs and the train keeps moving and i'm on the platform hoping to catch the next one. Getting a bit older and yet a bit further behind...I thought it was supposed to be the other way around. Anyways, I've also been a bit sick recently (which rarely happens to me). With a combination of a new gym regimen and an ear infection, I'm probably that only 25 year old that had trouble walking down stairs and couldn't hear a damn thing. I'm doing better now though, and have regained just about all of my hearing (without the aid of the Rx I was given, one's immune system can do marvelous things when given the time). But still, it was a scary forshadow of things to come and at such a tender young age I was brutally unprepared. Of course, I have immense advantage of being able to just try these things out and not have to deal with them on any permamnent basis which is more than I can say for a lot of people.
Switching gears, my lab life is starting to shape up a bit for the summer and next year. It appears that I will be going back down to AR for a few weeks this summer and then to a conference in washington state anothe week. In addition, a new student is going to be volunteering for 15 hours a week over the summer which is great because I will not be alone in the lab, and she can do the things that usually bore me to tears. Also, next year...I few more undergrads to work in the lab with me. I haven't met them yet but hopefully they will be OK. I've heard that one of them did less than spectacular in the intro biochem course...which makes me worry a little bit but hopefully he will turn out OK. Still waiting on a few others that might be interested in working in the lab, which I guess is a good sign that the undergrads I had this year didn't go running back to campus to tell people what an awful person I was to work for. Or maybe they just don't care enough to warn the next generation...either way, my gain. Patrick OUT!!!