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Professor Liddle-Oldman

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Sweating With The Old-os [May. 26th, 2015|03:43 pm]
Professor Liddle-Oldman
Once again, springtime in Boston was otherwise referred to as "Tuesday". We've gone from burping the heat in the morning to humid heat in, what, two weeks. One night we slept under the quilt; the next night damp under a sheet.

I've said this before, but it's all about who used our weather last. Is the wind off the Gulf of Mexico, or is it off Hudson's Bay? (And has it ever occurred to you that Hudson is still up there somewhere around his euphonious waterway?)

Now begins the season where I will be griping, whinging, snivelling, sweating, and grumbling about the weather. The big AC is installed; I'll have to put the other two in this week. You know how last winter I promised I'd never complain about the heat again? Turns out I lied.

Well, happy spring -- whoops, there it goes -- happy summer. A month to the Solstice, five weeks to the Glorious Fourth. And about six weeks until we go up to the lake and spend two weeks swimming and sitting on the screened porch. Summer. not all bad. Unless your shorts are sticking to you and a mosquito flew in your ear.
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Time and the River [May. 4th, 2015|10:03 am]
Professor Liddle-Oldman
Just dropped in for a moment to deliver the poem from this morning's Writer's Almanac, which is terribly sad but perfectly expresses how I feel -- though of course it's my parent's generation:

My Grandparents' Generation
by Faith Shearin

They are taking so many things with them:
their sewing machines and fine china,
their ability to fold a newspaper
with one hand and swat a fly.
They are taking their rotary telephones,
and fat televisions, and knitting needles,
their cast iron frying pans, and Tupperware.
They are packing away the picnics
and perambulators, the wagons
and church socials. They are wrapped in
lipstick and big band music, dressed
in recipes. Buried with them: bathtubs
with feet, front porches, dogs without leashes.
These are the people who raised me
and now I am left behind in
a world without paper letters,
a place where the phone
has grown as eager as a weed.
I am going to miss their attics,
their ordinary coffee, their chicken
fried in lard. I would give anything
to be ten again, up late with them
in that cottage by the river, buying
Marvin Gardens and passing go,
collecting two hundred dollars.

"My Grandparents' Generation" by Faith Shearin from Telling the Bees. © Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
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Bare Ruined Choirs, Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang. [Apr. 23rd, 2015|12:47 pm]
Professor Liddle-Oldman
23 April 2015

As part of my brain's determination to harsh any mellow and to find the despair in any joy, it collects death poetry. Good death poetry. Edna St. Vincent Millay, Christina Rossetti. And Shakespeare, which they ran in this morning's Writer's Almanac.

That time of year thou mayst in me behold,
When yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day,
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self that seals up all in rest.
In me thou seest the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.
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The Professor Understands That "Highmasters" Is Already Taken [Apr. 17th, 2015|11:42 am]
Professor Liddle-Oldman
17 April 2015

It was at one time taken as an article of faith that all of the major tobacco companies had already chosen and trademarked their brand names for when Mary-Gee-Juanita, dope, grass, boo, the Devil's Weed, reefer, was finally legalized and they could roll 'em and sell 'em. For all I know, it's perfectly true, though I imagine all the canned TV ads have been retired, now that you can't shill smoking material on the tube anymore.

With this in mind, I have decided on the premier brand name for my start-up when sense finally prevails and drugs are finally legalized. Look for the Easy-Bake label for your guarantee of fine smoking pleasure and about three hours of looking at your hands.
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Just For Once, I Would Like To Face An Alien Menace That Was Not Impervious To Bullets [Apr. 9th, 2015|11:15 am]
Professor Liddle-Oldman
9 April 2015

I had what I experience as an amusing thought this morning.

For perfectly valid reasons I shan’t bore you with (Sheldon was cosplaying him, badly), I was contemplating the Fourth Doctor as I shaved this morning. Everyone tends to cosplay Four, and his image is often a shortcut or a coded reference; you see the hat and the scarf, you know it’s about Doctor Who. I’ve been on knitting sites which had a special page about how to discourage your friends from asking you to knit the 16-foot accessory, which is a passle of knitting.

As everyone knows, Four’s outfit is based on a Toulouse-Lautrec poster. You’ve seen it. I had a thought, though – everyone knows that Four’s outfit is based on the poster. But how do we know it isn’t the other way around? It’s more than perfectly possible that the artist was merely documenting an interesting encounter he had just had, and adding one more paradox to the interwoven, complicated, timey-wimey tangle.
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No Stupider Than Acid-Washed* [Apr. 6th, 2015|03:28 pm]
Professor Liddle-Oldman
6 April 2015

I heard The Leader Of The Band again yesterday, for the first time in, what, thirty years?

I cannot say that I’ve missed it, of course. It’s been satirized as The Leader Of The Bland, and is the very definition of soft radio. It’s a song by Dan Fogelberg, a name not heard for a long long time, about his father. It’s actually sort of pleasant, if you space the hearings out enough.

I was reminded, of course, of when it was in heavier rotation. Thirty five years or so ago, I still had the Electra 225, which only had an AM radio, so my choices were circumscribed. Back then, you could still get music on AM, and not just the traffic and psychotic raving. What I most associate with the song was driving out to Belmont to work for the John Birch Society.

I was between jobs, and it was a temp assignment. They had just had their mailing list digitalized, and whoever they’d hired had done the cheapest, fastest possible job of it. They wanted someone to retype it into what I’d now call a mail merge source as though the typist knew how to type and spoke English. Interestingly, the temp agency didn’t tell me who I’d be working for, just gave me the address. (It was the bottom of an undistinguished office building; I’m not absolutely sure which one, though I go through Belmont frequently). They’ve long since moved to the Midwest. (It was sort of across the street from a Richardsonian church I attended a wedding at years later.)

I’d always thought of the John Birch Society as a bunch of paranoid whackos. Pretty much everything was the fault of the Chinese Communists, who were everywhere – in the Legislature, under your bed, hiding behind the roses. Looking at the newsletter I was fixing the mailing list for, it turns out I was right. (I just went to their website, and they have not drifted much. Islamic radicalism and their terror groups are marching to the orders of the international world government communists, as far as I can tell.)

(On the other hand, they also have an article pointing out that the rich corrupt oligarchs in modern Russia are a lot closer, politically, philosophically, and operationally, to the rich corrupt oligarchs in the US than they are to any People, so they’re not absolutely delusional.)

So, way back when, long before the lovely Mrs. Professor or grad school, I took the assignment, drove to Belmont, and found a locked door. I was immediately joined by and let into the building by, I’m pretty sure, Bob Welch hisself, introduced to the man I’d be helping, whose name I have long since lost, shown the workstation, and set to with a will. I would like to point out that I did the best job for them that I could – a foolish consistency may be the hobgoblin of small minds **, but it’s my cause in life.

Nothing is ever exactly what one expects. On, maybe, my third day, the guy I was reporting to turned to me and said something like “So we’re not so bad after all?”, and, to tell you the truth, everyone there was perfectly nice and polite and accepting to the depth one gives a temp. They might have been overwhelmed by anxiety at the complexity of the future they found themselves trapped in, but, I have increasing sympathy for the position.

This has been an irrelevant trip down memory lane, powered by one chance soft rock reminder encountered on satellite radio. Songs are often doors into the past, even if they don’t go to a particularly important room.


*Saturday Night Live had a very professionally done ad for a product called Three-Legged Jeans; A Leg And A Leg And A Leg. Three at last, three at last. At the very end, one of the actors turned to the camera and said “No stupider than acid washed”, which was a thing that was actually big at the time.

**Emerson, but you knew that.
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Notes From All Over [Mar. 23rd, 2015|05:24 pm]
Professor Liddle-Oldman
23 March 2015

I've decided on my next book -- Heather Has Two Zombies.

Boston has had, officially, the snowiest winter since they started keeping records. (Before that, all bets are off. We were once at the bottom of two miles of ice. That counts as a harder winter.) We were left with lots and lots of snow – the roads were reduced to one lane between two lanes six feet deep, and one could not see out of the front windows of our ground floor apartment. I would not have believed the snow would retreat so quickly. It's not gone by any stretch, but all the piles are at most chest high, and many are knee-high to a tall dog. We haven't even had really warm weather, but apparently, anything over freezing makes the piles sump and compact, if not melt away outright.

I'm working too dang much. I logged on this morning at 7:00 for a meeting that didn't end up happening, and I'll be working till after midnight. Day after day after day. Hard to take seriously all the company communications about work/life balance – especially since when I send people emails Sunday night, half the time I get an answer right away, and people will IM me at midnight. On the other hand, my company just got named as one of the 500 most admirable, so perhaps I'm mistaken.

My mother came over yesterday (Sunday) and brought a boiled dinner. She had a yen, and her husband is in Alzheimer's care, and it's pretty much impossible to make boiled dinner for one. We had a nice visit, and she left in time to get home before it got dark. (She's nearly 90, and it's getting hard to drive at night). My wife ate a potato, and was damn happy to get it, after weeks of clear liquids and protein drinks. She was pushing the schedule – she's supposed to graduate to pureed food next week – but it's hard to think a potato will do her much harm.

The ladies at church seem to think I can't, or won't, cook for myself. (They're perfectly correct, of course). Last week someone sent me home with two individual meals from Aiello's, an excellent vendor of Italian food in Quincy, and this week someone gave me a shepherd's pie and prepared vegetables. I thanked her sincerely, and didn't mention that I'm not fond of shepherd's pie. The mashed potatoes touch things, and mashed potatoes must never touch anything. Anything at all. (Gravy is a special case.)

Back to work. For that matter, back-to-back work. When I took this job – even though this isn't the job I took, not by a long shot – they told me we were issued laptops so that we could take them home and plug right back in. I should have listened.

If Heather Has Two Zombies catches on, perhaps I can retire early.
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The Professor Discovers That For Some Things He Is Just Too Old And Tired To Care [Feb. 20th, 2015|03:32 pm]
Professor Liddle-Oldman
20 February 2015

Had my year-end review yesterday. It's a very minimal review – the manager responds to the goals you set last year, and puts in a summary paragraph or two. And, of course, there's a numerical score.

I got a 2 out of 5; Meets some expectations, but not all.

I can't even get angry. I just roll my eyes.

I think there were at least two issues that went into this score. One is, my direct supervisor left the company (the turnover rate in this industry is astonishing), so I've been reporting directly to the head of the department. The head of the department is an Indian national who was brought in to offshore as much of our work as possible. (We've been assured that not all of us will be laid off, as the clients still need someone in their time zones to talk to.) I keep losing track of the fact that we here are not his team – the group in Bangalore is his team. I'm just something that's in the way of his moving more work to them. (I have not in any way been co-operative or compliant in preparing my tasks to go around the world, mind.)

The second is the Final Written Warning.

I haven't mentioned this, but I got a Final Written Warning. For sexual harassment. Because I said in a meeting (during the break, and relevant to the discussion), "There's one thing most men know, even if they don't know they know it. If you leave a mess alone long enough, some woman will come along and clean it up for you." One of the managers took offense, and spoke to me at the time. I apologized sincerely. Obviously, this wasn't enough. So I got several verbal paragraphs on being appropriate and client-facing.

(For what it's worth, every woman I've mentioned this to has been either incensed for me, or vastly amused at the company's expense.)

So, another bad review, but again they didn't fire me on the spot, so it's not a terrible review. I said all the right words and assured them of my dedication and determination to Right Thoughts, Right Actions. It's not the worst thing that's happened to me at a job. And at least I have a job.
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I Believe That Ronald Reagan Can Make This Country What It Was – A Barren Wilderness Covered W/ Ice [Feb. 15th, 2015|04:13 pm]
Professor Liddle-Oldman
Sunday 15 February 2915

Was this the fourth storm, or the fifth? I find that I'm losing track. Boston is at 90 inches of snow in the last three weeks. The office window, to my right, has only less than a foot at the top not buried in snow. The roads are getting narrower and narrower – the news was just talking about a plan to make a lot of side roads one-way for the rest of the winter. I finished digging my car out yesterday – finished clearing the dike behind it – and now it's a snowdrift again. As the next storm arrives Tuesday, in two days, I'll probably just leave it and shovel only once.

My mother called this morning to check in and let me know she was fine – heat, power, groceries. Not a damn thing I could do about it if she wasn't. Janet had suggested she go stay with my sister for a few days, but of course she didn't. Other than moving furniture, washing windows, and spading the garden over, I can't really remember her ever asking for help.

The subway is all closed down today – all of the mass transit is; subway, trolleys, busses, commuter trains. The subway to the South Shore has been down for a couple of weeks now; they've had to hire Peter Pan (a bus line) to get enough busses to run a shuttle to the stations south of here. Luckily, Janet has tomorrow off, so if I can't get in to work, I can have the modem and work from home. (President's Day? One of the holidays we lost when we got bought out.)

I have plenty of work to do – I promised to turn in a new draft of a Data Management Plan by tomorrow morning – but my motivation is in a snowbank somewhere. Ah, well, at least I have tea and Girl Scout cookies. And plenty of whiskey, for later. I am off to face my responsibilities, sad as that may be.
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The Professor Accidentally Writes Bad Fanfic [Feb. 13th, 2015|03:09 pm]
Professor Liddle-Oldman
13 February 2015

Medical studies – even the Phase IV post-approval noninterventional registries we mostly do – run off of Case Report Forms. Once three-part NCR forms, separately or all together in a notebook, they're now largely on-line; an Electronic Case Report Form, or eCRF.

The essential form is like any questionnaire – checkboxes or drop down list to select from, text fields to type into, date fields and numerical fields to enter values in. In order to analyze the data, or even just gather it into a database, every data field has to have a unique name. One of my jobs, when we're developing a new database, or making changes to an old one, is to make up the names. (That is, of course, unless the client has supplied them, but that's as may be.)

For reasons no one has been able to explicate to me, we are constrained to eight letters for a field name. I believe it's a legacy of how our proprietary database manager talks to SAS, but no matter; eight letters is it.

I use a system to create the names. It's not a complicated system; it's just layered codes. Thus, the first letter will indicate the form the data field is on; b for Baseline, for instance. The rest will code finer and finer detail, until the last one or two letters will indicate the sort of field it is; "dt" for date, or "to" for Other, Specify. The system is fast and loose, but it makes the task a lot easier and helps keep track. Plus, for parallel panels, I can use copy-and-paste and global replace to create edit checks and form controls with little trouble.

This is all to explain why, without in any way meaning to, for absolutely empirical reasons, I named a data field "borgtwot".
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