This is how I pay the bills


January 23, 12:30 pm: I'll never get this day back, nor yesterday. I'll never get a second crack at the next 6 hours. Yesterday, and again today, it was still dark when I left my house to attend this 4-day meeting. It'll be dark tomorrow too, and Friday. It was dark by the time the meeting adjourned yesterday and I walked back to my car. The sun had come up and gone down without shining on me. A day of my life gone. A day of my dog's life lost forever.

I'm sitting in an auditorium listening to a series of technical presentations, only a few of which are of any interest to me. This morning I listened to a series of chemists describe attempts to formulate new compounds in their labs. I had one year of chemistry in college, so I'm like someone who's had one year of Greek listening to a series of talks given in Greek by native Greek speakers.

The session that's beginning now is scheduled to run until 6pm, and is certain to last at least that long. I'll never get the next 6 hours back.

An hour into this 6-hour afternoon and we're 15 minutes behind schedule.

3pm: back on schedule after a shortened break.

4:10pm: I've dozed off a couple of times. It's amazing how terrible most of these guys--they're almost all men--are at giving presentations. They stand with their backs to the audience, talking to their slides or just reading from them, always in a monotone. Sadly for advanced education in this country, the professors aren't much better than the scientists from the labs. There was one brief moment this morning when I thought: if I were a student and this were a class, I'd remember just that one thing. It was when a chemistry prof anthropomorphized a chemical compound in solution, saying "...and it looks around and says 'Oh my God, I'm supposed to be a hydride,' and it grabs an ion."

5:10pm: illegible slides, speaker has his back to the audience, using a green laser pointer as he drones on. Last slide now, the one he says is the most important: it's a list of the names of his collaborators. There are about 25 names on the slide. He reads them all.

5:45pm: The last speaker is surprisingly good. He's talking to the audience, using his hands, getting some expression in his voice.

6:10pm: freedom.

August 2011

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