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Is a Postdoc Worth it?

fearofcarpet Re:Horse already left the barn (233 comments)

If grad school has at best a questionable return, how could a postdoc - indentured servitude, slavery - be any better an idea?

In plain English, it's cheap labor. As I understand it, once upon a time in America, somebody reasonably good who got their Ph.D. could move to a faculty position fairly quickly. Not tenured at first of course, but likely tenure track. When we started getting more Ph.D.'s than we needed, they invented the post-doc. String 'em along, get lots of cheap labor, and every once in a while give somebody a faculty position so the rest could dream. But hey, everybody knows we've got a STEM shortage, right?

Back in the 80's the NSF pushed for a big increase in student visas. They noted that it would probably push down the salaries of Ph.D.'s, though I'm sure that wasn't a motivation.

Speaking from my experience in the physical sciences:

Postdocs are not cheap labor, at least by academic standards. Funding schemes vary, but grad students are often free, meaning you only have to dig up money for consumables/materials/etc. Those that aren't free are relatively cheap, again, depending on the system, some can have their salaries (and tuition) paid by being teaching assistants. If you want them to spend more time in the lab, you can pay their (paltry) salaries. They also have scholarships available.

Hiring a postdoc means hiring a "real" employee on a temporary contract. Most universities have fixed pay scales or guidelines, but that is the gross salary for the postdoc. The overhead for a postdoc is comparatively enormous because you have to pay for insurance, pensions, employer tax contributions, etc. In exchange you get someone with a PhD devoting 100% of their effort to your research. They aren't making six figures because their goal is to publish papers, which is best done in an academic lab. Also, the low pay acts as an incentive for them to move on... at least, in theory. Usually, though, if they stay on long enough they become "senior research assistants" or whatever, and move up the pay scale.

Also, it's not like academic pay scales are that great for anyone. Assistant professors make considerably less than their industry counterparts and work considerably more. The traditional ways to make money in academia are to be famous enough that other universities want to poach you and companies will pay you for consulting or to found a spinoff. The rest are stuck with standard pay scales. It's the coaches and administrators that pull down the big bucks. If you're curious, the state of California publishes the salaries of all UC professors.

Keep in mind that most/all of the costs for hiring postdocs are funded from an increasingly small pool of grant money. We're not talking about private companies, we're talking about a professor trying to keep cash flowing into the lab by competing for grants, which means publishing papers, which is best accomplished by postdocs, and so on.

I think--but I'm not at all sure--that the modern postdoc is closer to what we used to call an assistant professor. In the "old" system (which is still in place in much of Europe) assistant professors were literally assistants to a full professor. They would work in a lab for years until the full professor retired, at which point one would be promoted (via associate professor). An assistant professor in that capacity functions just like a modern postdoc. We now use the term assistant professor to mean "tenure-track professor," which is basically a postdoc that has five years to prove themselves capable or be fired (and of course takes on much more responsibility).

BTW I think the entire system is broken, but taking a principled stand will destroy your career. A professor who pays their postdocs 100k a year is at a competitive disadvantage and is likely to miss out on funding as a result. A postdoc who holds out for 100k a year will never be hired. What disturbs/saddens me is the seemingly endless supply of postdocs willing to work wherever, for however long, and for whatever money just to "stay in the game" in the hopes of landing a tenure-track position. There is clearly a supply-demand imbalance there that creates opportunities to abuse hungry postdocs, particularly from countries without robust university systems. I have seen people trying to raise children while moving half-way around the world every two years earning a postdoc salary; no severance, no moving expenses, no permanent contracts.

about a year ago
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What's Causing the Rise In Obesity? Everything.

fearofcarpet Re:Sugar (926 comments)

You must be outside the U.S.

In the U.S. we've been using High Fructose Corn Syrup as our sweetener for a couple decades now. Why import something natural when you can synthesize something much worse locally?

Tragically that is the result of political decisions ranging from Cold War era corn subsidies to trying to undermine the sugar cane industries in countries that we don't like. At one point there was simply too much corn being grown to consume, so industries started looking for other things to do with it. They have done some amazingly clever things, but also things like HFCS and ethanol. Eventually the food industry basically broke food into its constituent parts: fat, salt, and sugar. Fat from (hydrogenated) vegetable oil and sugar from refined corn. Toss in some texture from modified soy, maybe a bit of wheat, sprinkle salt on it and add some circus grade meat so you can put "beef" on the box--poof, Hot Pockets.

...so in a way, it's the government that made us fat.

about a year ago
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What's Causing the Rise In Obesity? Everything.

fearofcarpet Re:Failure to even Attempt to process the article. (926 comments)

youre body doesnt "decide" to poop out calories. who the hell taught you biology?

Food moves through the intestine at roughly a constant rate. If it takes more time to absorb calories than it does to make it to the colon, then those calories don't make it into your bloodstream. That is why liquid calories are so dangerous; they are very efficiently absorbed and don't contain the fiber, etc. necessary to feel full.

about a year ago
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What's Causing the Rise In Obesity? Everything.

fearofcarpet Re:Failure to even Attempt to process the article. (926 comments)

If I might add to your spot-on assertions: There was a documentary on obesity called The Weight of the Nation that quite clearly explains the differences in basal metabolic rates between two people.

Two women of the same size and weight are sitting at a table drinking tea (or whatever). One consumes 2000 calories a day as she always has and has never had a weight problem. The other struggled with weight her whole life and eventually dieted to get down to her current weight. She consumes 1300 calories a day to maintain that weight. The difference is in their base metabolic needs; the naturally thin woman is less calorie efficient than the dieting woman. Thus, if they eat the same amount of food--2000 calories a day--one women will keep her same weight, while the other will start gaining. That is also the core of the "yo-yo diet" problem.

There are all kinds of other examples, such as Native American populations that have lived off of fish and basic agriculture for centuries becoming obese and struggling with diabetes and heart disease because they gained access to McDonald's, while the near-by white populations remained unchanged.

I think that people confuse the fact that a calorie deficit will necessarily lead to weight loss with a linear relationship between food intake and metabolized calories when in reality everyone's ability to metabolize food into calories is different.

about a year ago
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What's Causing the Rise In Obesity? Everything.

fearofcarpet Re:Sugar (926 comments)

Really. So you think it is chemically the same as glucose? The difference is that sucrose provides half sucrose half fructose. The fructose gets metabolized in an entirely different way to the glucose.

The two main issues are that fructose by itself provides energy in such a way that it does not make the body feel "full", and that unlike the normal sugar we would expect (sucrose) we get no glucose from using it as an alternative.

Normal consumption of fructose in a natural setting also would include fibre which helps signal the body about satiation. This has been a major contributing factor in the whole "processed foods" vs "weight gain" issue. HCFS is a major component of most of the processed products that we rely on for our bulk energy needs. Really, do take a look at the lecture. The biochemistry component on how fructose gets metabolized in the liver is very interesting.

Most of what you said is spot-on, but fructose is not really metabolized differently than glucose. Both are six-carbon sugars and fructose is immediately rearranged to glucose enzymatically. But, again, not disagreeing with the rest of what you said--it makes a huge difference how we consume sugars and what they are consumed in combination with.

about a year ago
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What's Causing the Rise In Obesity? Everything.

fearofcarpet Re:Sugar (926 comments)

lol fructose is just a disaccharide, its technically a more complex carb chain than glucose (monosaccharide). do you mean high fructose corn syrup? you're sort of right. typically what you see is HFCS55 which is 55% fructose and 41% glucose. to put it in perspective, granulated sugar is 50/50 fructose/glucose. so HFCS is only marginally more fructose than regular sugar, so you're wrong. but you're also right, because sugar, hfcs and all the other high glycemic carbs are what's really causing this problem.

Sucrose is cleaved into fructose and glucose by enzymes in the saliva, but there is also an odd glitch in our metabolic pathways that tends to divert energy derived from free fructose directly into fat storage instead of converting it all to glucose. One theory is that since fruits ripen during the warm months and fruits often contain an abundance of fructose, that it once served as a trigger to start storing fat for Winter, but who knows. The problem boils down to more calories in than out, but it can make a difference how those calories are consumed.

about a year ago
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Germany Produces Record-Breaking 5.1 Terawatt Hours of Solar Energy In One Month

fearofcarpet Re:NO NO NO (687 comments)

i am paying 24,26 €cents per kwh

i prefer the prieces of nuclear power.

Solar has reached grid parity in Eurozone countries. The only way nuclear could undercut it now is if the entire continent stopped installing solar and diverted all their resources into nuke plants.

about a year ago
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LinkedIn Now Targeting Universities, 14-Year-Olds

fearofcarpet Re:They ruined what made it successful already. (87 comments)

It seems like every person that breaths the same air as me at a conference, stumbles across my website, applies for a job, etc., tries to add me to their LinkedIn network. I get a zillion emails with "Someone you don't know and don't want to know wants to add you to their LinkedIn something something." And people keep setting up these groups for former members/employees of stuff, which just dilutes the pool of useful contacts further. LinkedIn is useful for keeping track of former colleagues (because we all move around a lot), and I do occasionally get non-spam from people finding me on LinkedIn, but the SNR is ridiculous.

about a year ago
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Joining Lavabit Et Al, Groklaw Shuts Down Because of NSA Dragnet

fearofcarpet Re:It was a myth (986 comments)

If there's one thing that really annoys me on people from US, it's talking about Europeans. There's no such thing (no matter how much the European Union denies that). Europe is a geographical group of ~50 countries that are very (very very) different in all aspects. Did you know that Azerbaijan, Belarus or Georgia are European countries? (I have nothing against those countries, I'm just trying to explain that assuming all countries are like France, UK or Germany is pretty much nonsense). It's like talking about Americans when actually talking about people from Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Canada because thay all live on continents with "America" in the name.

As an American living in Europe, I could not agree more with that statement. In fact, one of the bigger unifying forces seems to be disdain for the European Union and making fun of the French. (BTW Israel is also an associated country of the EU and I doubt anyone is thinking of Israelis when they say "European.") The idea that a Brit has more in common with a Finn than a collection of treaties their respective governments signed is just wrong. However, this was a difficult concept for me, as an American, to wrap my head around simply because countries here are so tiny (and have such long histories)... they're the size of states, they all belong to a big "union," therefore EU = US is an easy shorthand. It is really difficult to see things from the other side of the Atlantic until you spend a few years here because European countries don't export their culture (e.g., TV and movies) the same way as the US.

about a year ago
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Transport Expert Insists 'Don't Dismiss Wacky Hyperloop'

fearofcarpet Re:Sure it's a loopy idea (385 comments)

I'm not an armchair engineer, but I am a real scientist. And while I have never seen anything at this scale, I have read a lot of proposals. This one did not set off my general bullshit alarm.

I really, really like that Musk has everyone talking about the Hyperloop and the ancillary discussions of public transportation in general, but there are a couple of details that are glossed over in the big, long document. One is the acceleration/braking by linear induction motors. Correct me if I'm wrong, but he seems to jump from idea that they already work in rotary engines and that MVA inverters are already commercialized (in mining equipment and trains) to the conclusion that they therefore will work in the linear configuration shown in the document. The wording there was sneaky.

The second is holding a vacuum, ~0.001 Atm., through the whole tube. Has that ever been demonstrated on such a large scale? He shows some metrics from commercial pumps, but then seems to assume that they will scale constantly with volume... how many pumps? Spaced how? What sort of maintenance requirements? How long to pump down the shunts at stations where modules are loaded/unloaded? Vacuum is non-trivial at commercial scales. Perhaps this sort of thing is commonplace and I have just never seen it (and I have seen vacuum chambers that would accommodate a pickup truck). But it felt to me like he was making a lot of assumptions about how easy it is to work with vacuum at those scales.

Those are both issues that can be demonstrated/prototyped, but it is as naive to say that the proposal was anything more than a whitepaper as it is to dismiss the whole thing out of hand.

about a year ago
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Criminals Use 3D-Printed Skimming Devices On Sydney ATMs

fearofcarpet Re:Totally the fault of the USA (110 comments)

I don't think that is entirely true. The magnetic strip in my PIN card failed and it stopped working on other bank's ATMs. It continues to work fine with my bank's ATMs and in chip readers at retailers... But thanks for reminding me that I have to replace it before I go to the US : )

about a year ago
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Why Internet Television Isn't Quite Ready To Save Us From Cable TV

fearofcarpet Re:It's been dead to me for years (304 comments)

I haven't paid for TV in years. I just pirate everything that I can't find on Netflix. Not because I don't want to pay for something, or because I'm some kind of cheap ass looking to save a few bucks. I simply don't like paying $100+ a month to watch a few TV shows a week, which of course are laden with commercials. Unfortunately, this will always be an underground "war" until either the knowledge on how to safely pirate shows is commonplace, or there becomes actual competition in cable providers.

I'm content with things the way they are now, however. I watch what I want, when I want, and how I want, for either free or cheap. The ball is in their court now.

I pay for cable, but just don't watch it--I pirate everything instead and the since the fastest tier comes bundled with phone and TV, I pay for them too.

I just hate commercials so very much. Those jingles and catch phrases, the branding... it pollutes my brain and I resent it. (I will pollute my brain how I want to, thank you very much.) I am bothered by the fact that I remember commercials from my childhood so vividly. I still remember when a Hostess commercial ran twice in a row when I was six... with that dancing humanoid cupcake in the park telling me how delicious it was.

Once I got a VCR, I would record TV shows on VHS and watch them immediately after so that I could fast-forward through the commercials, but someone who likes uploading things to usenet now takes care of that for me.

I'm sure I belong to a tiny fraction of crazy people, but there are plenty of reasons to pirate besides saving money.

about a year ago
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Ask Slashdot: When Is It OK To Not Give Notice?

fearofcarpet Re:Flawed issue framing (892 comments)

Being a good person is something that will always be good for you.

Demonstrably not true. And giving two weeks notice or not giving two weeks notice does not determine whether you are a good person or not. There are circumstances where not giving any notice is perfectly appropriate and justified. The reverse is sometimes true as well. If someone is treating me badly then I am going to leave. It's MY life and I'm not going to waste it trying to martyr myself proving how much better I am than someone I don't respect.

Being an asshole because you can not see any immediate ramifications of your poor decision does not make it a good one.

Cute (though false) way to frame the issue but first you need to prove that not giving two weeks notice somehow will prove to be a "poor decision". It might but since none of us can see the future with perfect clarity you're going to have a pretty hard case to make. Furthermore you'll have to prove how quitting immediately makes someone an "asshole". They might be one but that typically is established LONG before they leave their job.

Are you a parent? Because once you have kids, decisions can come back to bite you in the ass years later in ways that were not at all obvious at the time. I realize we are talking about the workplace, and understand your point, but being a good person and not an asshole is the first step towards raising kids who are good people and not assholes... sometimes I think children are the origin of parables and generalities about "doing the right thing" and "being a good person" even when you have nothing to gain. All that nonsense about setting a good example can easily follow you home from work.

about a year ago
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Using Laptop To Take Notes Lowers Grades

fearofcarpet Re:Hardly surprising.... (313 comments)

Several of my organic chemistry courses were taught this way. Since there was no practical way of taking notes digitally at the time (which may still be the case?), we were forced to perfectly transcribe the structures into our notes. I still have most of those notes and can still draw near-perfect benzene rings... and am still picky about pens.

about a year ago
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Despite Global Release, Breaking Bad Heavily Pirated

fearofcarpet It spells doom for something (443 comments)

Could this spell the doom to future global releases, since the evidence is people just pirate them anyways?

Probably, but I'd like to solve the puzzle, Pat: "The demise of broadcast TV and push-media in general." Now tell me what I've won!

I had no idea it was airing where I live, but why would I care when the "pirated" version is waiting for me to queue it up at my earliest convenience on myriad devices. (So is the Netflix version, but I use a region-unblocker for Netflix--is that still "piracy?")

about a year ago
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Elon Musk's 'Hyperloop': More Details Revealed

fearofcarpet Re:Yes its cheaper COMPARED (533 comments)

As to european cities... the US operates on a completely different scale and density. Most major european cities are closer together then they are in the US. Which is why passenger rail makes less sense here.

To be clear, I meant flying between any two European cities works basically how it would if American cities connected mass transit to their airports in a meaningful way. Passenger rail in Europe is usually more expensive and slower than flying except, obviously, over distances too short to fly.

about a year ago
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Elon Musk's 'Hyperloop': More Details Revealed

fearofcarpet Re:Yes its cheaper COMPARED (533 comments)

Having lived in both the Bay Area and LA and commuted between them frequently, it was almost always less hassle to drive than to fly. Sure the flight itself was short, but the traffic getting to/from the airports, parking, car rental, standing in long lines, being fondled by a stranger in a uniform, etc. was no match for the tedium of sitting behind the wheel for five hours or so. Making air travel anything less than the dehumanizing punishment that it is now may be impossible, given the inertia of the entrenched interests, but I-5 isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

Traveling between pretty much any two European cities (of reasonable size), where you have efficient mass-transit on both ends and no TSA, is basically what you propose for California, and it would be truly amazing... but as you point out, it would require building a mass transit system and linking it to the airport. And if BART and the LA Subway are any indication, that is a pipe dream for a fantasy world where politicians aren't corrupt assholes.

Much like Africa sort of skipped over landlines and went right to mobile, maybe California can pioneer a new form of medium-distance travel that is--and I think this is the most compelling argument Musk makes--sustainable. If this thing can really be powered entirely by solar panels on the tubes, then it could be a nice alternative to (medium-distance) air travel, which is currently the most carbon-intensive mode of transportation.

about a year ago
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My NSA-induced paranoia level:

fearofcarpet With a global dragnet, who knows (290 comments)

Due to the nature of my job, I spend most of my time abroad and frequently communicate with "suspect" countries. I also engage in international communications involving the US on a regular basis. Given that Obama blows unidentified people up for a "pattern of behaviors" in so-called signature strikes, I say go ahead and laugh at my tinfoil hat. I will never know how my years of paranoia--using proxies, encryption, etc., on a regular basis--have influenced what data the NSA have been able to pin to whatever unique hash represents me in their secret databases, but I hesitate to call it paranoia now... more like prescience.

about a year ago
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The First Fully 3D-Printed Gun Has Been Successfully Test-Fired

fearofcarpet Re:That's nice (717 comments)

Well, you say that, but do have any evidence to back up that claim? (And editorials from Fox News or Cato do not count as evidence.) Also, why does it matter how someone dies from a gun? They're still dead. And it's a hell of a lot harder to kill someone accidentally with a knife than a gun.

Defensive homicides? You mean like when family members accidentally shoot each other because the think someone is breaking into the house? Those are still homicides, right? Defensive homicides are also a crime, by they way, except in extraordinary circumstances or in places with incredibly well thought out "stand your ground" laws. Or is there a rash of people staving off murders by shooting the would-be murder that I just didn't encounter living in the US for 30 years?

about a year and a half ago
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The First Fully 3D-Printed Gun Has Been Successfully Test-Fired

fearofcarpet Re:That's nice (717 comments)

Now, watch this: The rate of firearm-related deaths per capita [wikipedia.org] is 10.23 in the US and 0.25 in the UK. The only countries (of the 75 listed) with higher rates than the US are: Panama, Mexico, Columbia, South Africa, Brazil, Swaziland, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Jamaica. Interestingly, the country with the lowest rate, Japan, has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the world [google.com]. Of course, I'm not suggesting a causal relationship, but I will point out that the presence of a gun is a prerequisite to any form of gun violence.

Kinda hard to have gun-related deaths in societies that actively ban guns, you know. Got any stats on non-gun-related violent deaths in those countries? The numbers would probably surprise you as people tend to use weapons of opportunity.

Sure, here you go. (Hint: its still a factor of four or five higher, depending on if you include Eastern Europe.) And yes, in fact, it's impossible to have gun violence without guns, which is why they should be licensed and registered and people should have to have background checks and pass competency tests to own them.

about a year and a half ago

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