As a bit of variety for our readers, I’ve decided to throw together a periodic humor piece inspired by Simon Travaglia’s BOFH. It’s not exactly an angry rant… but it is Friday — you deserve a few laughs. For those new to the HoS series, the first episode is here.
It’s group meeting time: an hour and a half of boredom (if you’re lucky) punctuated by The Advisor spewing out a litany of things that you need to try in your research (even though some of them are so obviously nonsense that you wonder whether the old man is reading any of the updates you send him). Since Javier and I nearly got busted a few weeks back for playing Spellcast (right before I cast Finger of Death too!) on our laptops during the group meeting, we’ve been playing it safe and actually paying attention during the meeting.
I have no need to tell you how painful that is.
After listing to The Advisor politely discuss research with Amy, he and Sasha nearly come to blows over a new idea that he’s proposing. Sasha is firmly convinced it won’t work, while the old man thinks its a sure thing. Finally, Sasha storms up to the whiteboard and slams out a few lines of math that’s utterly incomprehensible to mere mortals (and barely comprehensible to me) and The Advisor is suddenly left speechless. Sasha was right and he was wrong. After a embarrassingly long pause, The Advisor suddenly squeaks out, “Uh………. continue on as you proposed, I guess.”
I suppose that’s what happens when you get nailed dead to rights. Or strictly speaking, when you nail the old man dead to rights. When you nail me dead to rights, I get revenge a few weeks later.
After a quick round with Javier and the first year, the old man finally gets to me.
“I found this paper in PRB. I think its a good idea and you should implement it.”
“That’s that. I have a faculty meeting that I’m already late to,” as he leaves the room in an awful hurry.
After a nice long lunch and several margaritas with Javier at Relleno Caliente (Mexican food is the fifth food group), I head back to the lab to look over the paper. Now, perhaps it’s just the margaritas speaking (but on “Dollar Margarita” day, is there any other option?), but while the paper has some pretty results, I can barely figure out what they’re doing, let alone reproduce the results or integrate them into our work.
Actually, it’s not me (or the margaritas) at all, it’s Phys. Rev. B. As a service to various physicists looking to artificially inflate their publication counts the APS has graciously obliged by providing a “Rapid Communications” section in their various Physical Review journals. Designed to help get “breaking” results into print, the crafty editors limit the article length to four pages…. which once you’ve included the title, the abstract, and the list of references you’re down to about three. As a result, there’s about enough room to say, “We did something cool, here’s a pretty picture and trust us on the details.”
As far as I can tell, the authors are obscure Bulgarians, from some equally obscure school known back in the Soviet days as The People’s Glorious University in Dobrich. None of these Bulgarians have managed to publish a more substantial paper in English any time since the fall of the Berlin wall. Sure, they have long treatises in Russian and Bulgarian, but that does me no good whatsoever, since my foreign language skills are limited to being able to order a beer. Reading their paper leaves me only leaves me with more of a feeling that these guys are charlatans, and even if they weren’t, the idea is useless for us anyway.
So why did the old man give me the paper? A careful reread of the abstract reveals that the authors’ poor command of the English language might accidentally confuse someone who didn’t read the paper into thinking it was relevant to our work.
Statement 1: Anyone who read only the abstract might think the paper is relevant.
Statement 2: Anyone who read the paper would know the work isn’t relevant and would have a strong suspicion that the authors are crackpots.
Conclusion: The Advisor didn’t read the paper… and it’s only four pages long!
Theory: The Advisor doesn’t read any of the papers he gives us…
… and the only way to test a theory is an experiment. I wander down to The Love Nest, since I don’t want anyone disturbing the work I’m about to perform. It takes me a few hours, but I manage to knock together a quick theory paper. It begins with an impressive abstract, a few convincing looking plots (should The Advisor actually flip to page three) and is filled out with incomplete, contradictory and poorly written theorems. Overall, it would fit in quite nicely at the “crackpot session” of a conference, except for several choice lyrics from the musical artist Gunther (Link is NSFW -ed.) which I have scattered throughout the text.
Another half-an-hour gives me an fake “new issue” announcement from a Phys Rev journal I know the old man publishes in, faked sender and all. A week later, at the next group meeting, he hands the article to Sasha telling her to “study it carefully.” Within the hour she’s at his office cursing in whatever language it is she speaks (and no, it’s not Bulgarian). All I can make out is something about a “Tra la la.”