Archive for the ‘Humour’ Category

Spam spam spam

April 11, 2011

If one maintains a blog, one gets, inevitably, a lot of spam.

No joke. The ratio of spam comments to real ones for this blog, over its three and a half years of operation, is something like 15 to 1.

And if one maintains a blog over a reasonable period of time – like three and a half years – one starts to notice trends in the spam.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – what kind of saddo looks at the spam comments on his blog? Well, some bloggers, doubtless of greater moral fortitude than me, never look in their spam folder, but I admit that I check mine once in a while. After all, at 15-to-1 spam-to-real, one doesn’t want to throw out any real comments along with the spam.

So over the years. I have become something of a connoisseur of spam

There is, of course, a permanent background level of the stuff in the usual categories you would expect, like P*rnSpam (offers of sites with rude pictures) and DrugSpam (offers of cut-price pharmaceuticals). There are also the hybrids, like P*rnDrugSpam – which typically offer a range of, er, chemical enhancements, mostly, but not limited to, cut-price knock-off versions of Pfizer’s most celebrated product.

Over the years, though, there has been an interesting tendency for the spam to become less obviously spammy – far less multi-URL LinkSpam, for instance – and more sneakily comment-y.

Some of this stuff simply offers a random comment like:

“Cool blog!”

– and the link back to the spamsite. Or often the link appears only in the supposed title of the blog that sent the Spam-comment.

Others offer longer comments than this, though typically not much more interesting.

Then there are the odd ones that seem to have been generated by random cut-up of words or phrases. This is a particular favourite Spam Category of mine. Who knew spam-bots were William Burroughs fans?

And very, very occasionally, one happens across something inadvertently funny.

For instance, the other day one arrived that began:

“Life is like a box of chocolates. A cheap, thoughtless, perfunctory gift that nobody ever asks for.”

Heh. Was the spam-bot related to Forrest Gump, I asked myself?

Or was the Spam-bot a Spam-bot-philosopher? Because the next line was:

Un-returnable because all you get back is another box of chocolates.”

Anyway, for some reason this comment, with its philosophical gloom, reminded me oddly of the line Mrs Dr Aust usually uses when I am complaining – as I often am during busy parts of the year, or when the kids are sick, or when we are short of sleep,  or all of the above at the same time, like several points this Winter – about being fat, or feeling knackered, or old. Or, indeed, whenever I say something like:

“!**!! – why does life have to be such a bloody struggle?”

To which she responds, far more philosophically than I can muster, with:

“At least it’s better than any of the alternatives”

Which, if you can believe it, usually leaves me quite without riposte. Apart from a ruminative:

“Hmmm”.

Of slime and childish curiosity

March 26, 2011

In which Dr Aust ponders slime. And scientific tendencies.


Reproduced from the wonderful xkcd.com, the comic strip that regularly captures the spirit and the reality of science

Last weekend the Aust entourage, including Junior Aust (aged six-and-a bit-well-nearly-seven-in-a-few-months) visited this event at one of the nearby museums, run by the people from Manchester University’s Life Sciences Faculty.

In the event you could, as it says, “Come on a tour of the human body” and learn “how the heart works and how your lungs help you breathe”, among other things.

Junior Aust was fairly unimpressed by the nice chaps with their two-electrode ECG trace, even when I told her it was one of the things dad gets his students to measure on each other. I think the ECG wasn’t participatory enough for her, as they weren’t allowed to wire up members of the public (a shame, really, but understandable).

I DID manage to persuade her to blow into the spirometer and have her Forced Vital Capacity measured – another of those things you can find me getting students to do in their lab classes. I also measured myself for comparison, though I’d already done my annual Hypochondrial Full-service Multi-parameter Respiratory Function Self-assessment while I was running the student classes earlier this Semester.

She was a bit more impressed with the video of the view of the inside of your airways during a bronchoscopy (not done live, before you ask!), which I was able to tell her was the kind of thing mummy used to do to patients.

But the thing that REALLY made a deep and lasting impression on Junior Aust was the “make your own mucus-alike slime” stand. Kitted out in disposable plastic pathologist-style apron and dashing purple nitrile gloves, she was helped to concoct some truly disgusting-looking greeny-yellow slime out of acrylic glue, water and food colouring. I reassured her that the yellow colour was just enough to made it look properly yellow phlegm-like and grungey, and she was given some of her confection (tied up in another nitrile glove, no plastic bags left) to take home.

Now, we assumed she would lose interest in the stuff quickly enough, but this turned out not to be the case. For the rest of the day we were repeatedly called into action to stop her turning the slime out over the table, or the chairs, or the floor. Despite our best efforts, small chunks of it made their way onto her and her brother’s clothes, and onto the furniture. Yum.

But then we made a truly catastrophic error.

** Warning – you may find the next bit slightly disgusting. **

In a moment of attempting to out-gross Jurior Aust, The Boss (Mrs Dr Aust) remarked “That slime” (which was now semi-congealed) “looks exactly like what was in Junior Two’s nappies when he was ill the other week*”

Oh dear.

Big mistake.

Big, biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig Mistake.

Huge.

For, thoughout the week since this conversation, we have been regaled daily (or indeed several times each day), by one or both children, with the useful information, faithfully and exactly repeated, of just exactly what Jr Aust’s slime resembles. Typically combined with a display of THE GLOVE, turned inside out so we can have a good look at the congealed yellow stuff.

Nice.

Note to self:

Take care what information thou doth impart to those under seven.

For verily, thou canst not take it back.

Anyway, we are trying to look on the optimistic side. You certainly have to applaud Junior Aust, and her younger sibling, for their impressive curiosity. Even curiosity into slightly gross stuff.

Which explains why I found the cartoon at the top of the post, from the brilliant xkcd.com, so funny when I saw it earlier this evening.

Now, Mrs Dr Aust and I have sworn an oath, in blood and in at least two languages, that the Aust-Sprogs are to be discouraged at all costs from going into any career related to science, or into medicine.

But there is, I fear, the chance that genes, or conditioning, will out.

Time, I guess, will tell.

 

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* It was almost certainly a rotavirus infection, BTW. Most unpleasant, and not a week we are keen to remember.

Take a deep breath

January 29, 2011

In which Dr Aust hails a vintage piece of Corporate-balls.

One of the occasional pleasures of blogging is the unexpected emails you get offering tip-offs or material, relating to something you have blogged about. For instance, my friend David Colquhoun, having written extensively about bogus B.Sc. degrees in Unreality, often gets plain-brown-envelope anonymous deliveries of material relating to such – usually, one assumes, from academics with an actual sense of responsibility who are ashamed of what their own institutions are doing.

Dr Aust, not being in the same celebrity skeptic bracket, does not get the same level of mole-mail, but nonetheless, things do appear from time to time. They sometimes come via people I know, but just as often from people I don’t.

Now, Dr Aust is a long time collector of vintage manager-bollocks, so it is a special pleasure to post the following photos, which arrived a few days ago, relayed on by a friend of a friend from an anonymous source somewhere deep in the bowels of Big Pharma.

Take a close look at these two pictures.

You might think this is a picture of a simple packet of sunflower seeds.

But you would be wrong.

Look closer.

The corporate PR-speak is unmistakeable.

“Igniting Passion”

“Unleashing potential”

“delivering benefit to our patients”

[Funny – I never knew that drug companies had “patients”. I thought that was doctors. Silly me]

And in case you can’t read it,  the smaller lettering in the top left hand corner reads:

“Inspire to Innovate”

Hmmmm.

I don’t know about “Inspire”, but it certainly caused me to take a large breath in. After I’d spent half a minute speechless with laughter.

Anyway, the answer is that it IS a packet of sunflower seeds, but it is also much, much more.

According to the accompanying email, this is a key part of a campaign to reinvigorate the innovative-ness of a Large PharmaCo’s Worker Bees.

The idea, I gather, is that the Worker Bee should plant these seeds in their garden, or window box, and then, as the sunflowers gradually emerge and grow, they will remind the Worker Bee to ignite their passion to “grow” new ideas from small seeds of innovation.

Or not.

Now, sunflowers are nice things to have in your garden, no question. But when you see stuff like this you do have to wonder if the company management think all their workers are completely brain-dead.

And as for the slogans….

“Inspire to Innovate”, in particular, is one of those  meaningless exhortatory mantras, dreamt up presumably by a PR consultant, that cause such eye-rolling in the sort of broadly cynical milieu that Dr Aust works in. Not that that means Universities are immune from the enthusiasm for such slogans, of course. One of Dr Aust’s former Faculty Deans, a genuinely nice and usually impeccably down-to-earth bloke, once had a rush of blood and told a Faculty meeting in apparent seriousness that he thought our new Faculty watchword should be:

“To Infinity – AND BEYOND!”

[This was many years ago now, when the movie Toy Story was just out].

A spate of alternatives soon emerged in the corridors and tearooms, as such things will:

“To Inanity – AND BEYOND!”

“To Insanity – AND BEYOND!”

And finally, one which comes back to mind especially in these latter days of uncertain University finances:

“To Insolvency – AND BEYOND!”

Now, it is one thing when the Boss dreams up one of these little bon mots half-way through a dreary meeting. It is another when a company has a PR department doing it, or pays a PR consultancy good money to “strategize” or “vision” or “futurize” and then come up with this sort of platitudinous nonsense. Do they really not have anything better to spend their money on?

Personally I find it almost impossible to imagine that anyone’s reaction is REALLY some variant on:

“Great. Super. I feel SOOOO STOKED to innovate!”.

I would be predicting something more like eye-rolling, followed by complete indifference.

Though perhaps the PR folk will be doing an impact assessment for their campaign? I can see the MCQ now:

When you received your “Innovation Pack” did you feel
A despairing
B embarrassed
C underwhelmed
D queasy
E all of the above

Because most people can see through vapid slogans.

Finally, whenever I see a slogan which has the form:

“[Imperative] [Verb]” (like “Inspire to innovate”)

I am reminded of this wonderful movie scene from my all-time favourite Clint Eastwood western, The Outlaw Josey Wales:

So perhaps there IS a message there, after all.

For if your employer is treating you to this kind of stuff, I sincerely hope that you, too, will endeavour to persevere.

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PS  Getting serious for a moment, perhaps you may think that I am being a bit too negative. There is, dare I say it, little doubt Dr Aust is a grumpy old so-and-so, and he usually feels even grumpier in the Winter.  Anyway, the question of whether there actually IS a way to encourage people to be more “innovative” is sort of interesting.  There is a bit of discussion here, and some ideas in a video that Dr Grumble posted over here.

The not terribly startling message seems mainly to be to leave your more innovatively-inclined employees alone to get on with it. This is, of course, rather what Universities traditionally did until the Govt and University managers had the idea that it would be a good thing to start micro-managing everything. And having lots of “campaigns” and “initiatives”, of course. Anyway, watch the video if you are interested.

Suffice it to say, though, that sunflowers are not involved.

Ant-acid

January 23, 2011

In which Dr Aust finds some black humour on the Internet.

As redundancies loom in various parts of the University sector, I have to remind myself that we here in UK Universities PLC are still, despite an expanding cadre of managerial droids, comparatively “under-managed” compared to many sectors of the economy.

No, really.

Well, all of us except the folk at Imperial College, perhaps.

The NHS, it hardly needs saying, is awash with Trust Deputy Directors of Patient Experience, their PAs, Assistants to PAs, Secretaries to PAs and their Assistants, and so on. Local Government in the UK also has a long-standing reputation for managerial “layering”.

Now, some people would tell you that the private sector has less of this kind of thing – though I don’t believe it, based on what I have heard from my friends who work there . More of that later – but for now I will just say that you should read the Dilbert cartoons – originally based, of course, on its creator’s experiences in the US private sector – if you think that the private sector is immune from managerial “creep”.

This brief bit of musing was triggered by a couple of things in particular.

One was the emails on this comments thread from a fellow academic, “Bobber1”.

The second was the arrival, in an email from my father, of the following presentation (click link below to view). It has obviously been doing the rounds of the internet in various forms.

The Ant’s Story

(PS: rather annoyingly it wouldn’t embed properly using the automatically generated embed code, and life is too short to learn HTML coding).

Now, the version I originally saw had one of the final captions changed to:

“Any similarity to the Ministry of Defence, NHS, Local Government, Education or any major company big enough to have an HR department, is NOT purely coincidental.”

To which I – like, I dare say, many another who has encountered the shiny suits from HR – would say a hearty “Hear hear”.

Anyway: going back to the private sector, one of the people who laughed the loudest at this slideshow was a friend of mine who is a refugee from a large international Pharmaceutical Company. PharmaCos are often held up as the apotheosis of Sith Private Sector Evulnez, so they are arguably as far from the TopplingGlittering Spires of Academia as you can get, ethos-wise. But there too, the Hegemony of the Bean Counter is all-pervasive.

For instance, once you have perused the Ant’s Story, compare the following history related by my ex-Pharma pal, and originally recounted by me in a comment in the blog a year or two back:

“Another of my ex-sidekicks who went the Pharma route took redundancy two or three years back from a large Pharma that was “re-sizing”, or whatever the current euphemism is, its UK operation. There, what the company did to “restructure” was to convene a panel of ten mid-managerial suits and get every single member in the research teams to go in individually and present their “personal vision of their own future in OurPharmaCo, with a five-year horizon” (for an hour)… followed by a further hour’s grilling from the suits. Very Dragons’ Den.

The upshot of this process, according to my mate, was to cull, with an amazing reproducibility, the two best practical lab scientists from each eight-to-ten-person research team. It turned out that these folk tended to be the least equipped to sit and bullshit the managers in fluent Manager-ese, which ability was the characteristic that was being positively selected for retention.”

Once more, I dare say this has parallels outside science.

Oh, and before I go:

Will the last person out please turn out the lights?

I have little doubt that HR will previously have arranged an afternoon course, given by a pricey outside consultant, training you in how to do it in accordance with all standard operating procedures.