Monday, April 28, 2014

How Fight Club defined my generation or maybe just me

Last night I watched Fight Club for the first time in maybe 7 years and it is was interesting to see how much my life aligned with what I imagined it would be 7 years ago. I am trying not to say that Fight Club helped define me but honestly I don't know. Maybe it had a huge impact? 
(The Movie, I have never read the book and don't plan on it. Chuck Palahniuk is like a 1990s Kurt Vonnegut and I dislike Vonnegut very much ) 

Fight Club came out in 1999. I honestly cannot remember the first time I watched it but I have owned a copy of the movie most of my adult life. I have probably seen the movie 50 times but I am obsessive like that. Out of the handful of movies I own I have watched some 100 or more times(Iron Man, Good Will Hunting). Have you ever watched a movie that you haven't seen in 10 years and it blows your mind because your memories of it don't match your current perception because you are such a different person? Watching Fight Club last night was like that because I used to always watch it from the perspective of how I wanted to be instead of the perspective of how I am. 

To me the movie Fight Club is about being an individual. The main characters talk about how the current ways that people attempt to be unique do not make them unique at all and instead we should strive for uniqueness by our actions. The movie is also very punk, everything they do is basically to fuck the system. In 1999 I was 18 years old. It is so hard to be young and have so many grandiose ideas. No one listens to you and it is basically a waiting game until you are old enough for people to take you seriously. Coming from a poor family I also lacked resources. I scraped and scrounged and stole to acquire my first computer which changed my life. Now I am somewhat respectable(depending on who you ask), I have a Ph.D. and work at NASA, I have free time and I have money. And I take advantage of all these things.

It is awesome. I can give people the double fuck you. Both middle fingers. Because no one in my life defines me anymore. I define myself. I worked so hard for so many years that I am good at my job and I love my job, Science. People can never take Science away from me. Even if you lock me up in a jail cell I can still do theoretical Science through maths and hypotheses. If I am fired it doesn't matter, I have accumulated a decent lab at my apartment that I play around in all the time. Building stuff, doing experiments, creating art. My life does not revolve around you. You can't control me like you could when I was 18 or 21. You can no longer threaten me with a bad grade or firing me from my job. None of these things matter to me anymore because I have all I need.

This was my generation. The Generation of Computer Hackers and Punk Musicians and Occupy Wallstreet. None of this shitty Anonymous(The hacking collective) stuff either, hacking was for fun or to give some corporate suit a big fuck you, never to seriously threaten people. My generation wrote "The Hacker Manifesto" ( well maybe slightly before my generation). My generation has Mark Zuckerbergs who wear hoodies instead of suits. Because we do what we want that's why.

The generation before us were the Suits. And poorly fitting ones at that. Most of them still think things need to be a certain way. Most of them are opposed to change. They don't want to rock the boat or they think by wearing a t-shirt instead of a collared shirt that they are rocking the boat.

The generation after me doesn't give much of a fuck about anything and even if they did they think an Online Petition is the way to solve problems not going out and fixing it yourself. I was talking to someone in a bar in the Valley who was an undergrad at Stanford(21 or 22 years of age) and they proceeded to tell me that they wanted to be a Project Manager when they graduate. WTF is that? I remember when I was at St. Mark's boarding school talking about NASA and Science. I asked how many of them wanted to be Astronauts when they were younger and maybe 2 in 60 said they did! That blows my mind. Finance they said.

My generation doesn't give up. They are the loudest most annoying assholes you will meet. The ones who post way too much on facebook about their beliefs. But they speak with their actions and money not just their words. 

Maybe this post is really all about me and not my generation and of course it is all anecdotal. But I don't give a fuck because I don't care what you think. hahaha.

Anyways, if you have not seen Fight Club in a while watch it and see how much you have changed.

Monday, April 14, 2014

GRC Photosensors

The Photosensory Gordon Conference is over and I am stuck in Italy, oh the horror you say but really I want to be home. Before coming here I was at St. Mark's boarding school to give a talk about technology and the Chromochord it was fun but I have been home 4 of the last 24 days and I really like my own things. I am extensively a creature of habit and really like eating the same foods and seeing the same things and working. I love being able to do Science and work. I am excited to return home.
So the conference was about what I expected except that there was not much on LOV domains, *tear*. It was really great to see everyone again and meet people I have been doing lots of work with, Peter Freddolino(we have been running some enhanced sampling MD simulations). Super computers and remote resources for the win. During, my travels I have had to SSH into these computers from my cell phone to set something up. I enjoy 2014 it is so cool. Hung out a bunch with John Christie from Glasgow and John Kennis my laser lab Amsterdam friend. After my last post it was sad because so many people were telling much how they enjoyed my work and how it had helped them figure stuff out or write grants. In fact someone told me that a preprint I sent them of one of my manuscripts before submission helped them to write a grant that they received! Yay for being open with my work and it helping people, that is exactly the point of Science. Anyways, I think in the end friends and colleagues do make one feel truly appreciated.
The conference has given me so much time to think. So many more ideas. I have so many ideas floating around my head I am having a hard time focusing. It is making me more manic than normal. But because I see this I can start to try and take it under control. Sometimes I wish I could turn my brain off without alcohol and then turn it back on again when I needed more ideas.
Arriving in Pisa today I really wanted a hamburger after eating pasta all week. The one I ate was an interesting attempt at one but probably the most disappointing burger I have had in a while. Oh well. Tomorrow I am off to Heathrow and I stay the night there due to a scheduling mistake. Sunday night I gladly arrive home in Mountain View. I miss you Kirin Chinese restaurant and NASA.

Monday, April 7, 2014


One of the hardest things in graduate school was working so hard and never really having much appreciation. I would slave and slave(I mean this term in no disrespect to people who were actually slaves but graduate school can be very physically, emotionally and psychologically distressing) and have creative ideas(or attempt to) and in the end I would beg for the table scraps of appreciation that people would give to me. Eventually, I just stopped caring and wanted to scream "fuck you" at everyone who told me that something I did was good because they had no idea the sweat and blood and tears that went into it(which reminds me, I really want tattoos that say Blood, Sweat, Tears and Toil). My reaction is a little overboard I know. But that is how I felt and how I still feel a little. I only want people to appreciate my work that I deem their appreciation worthy of my acceptance, hahaha. Yeah, a pretty insane way of thinking. But I came from not much. Parents divorced, grew up poor on a farm, almost failed out of high school, almost failed out of college. School was very difficult for me because I have always been an autodidact and I just don't do well on testing at least not compared to the amount of work I put in. People have just always thought I was stupid(which is a problem with our education system but that is not intended for this post).

Now I work at NASA. Of course I know people now that did not know me 15 or 10 or even 5 years ago so it is somewhat silly but lately I have noticed how much appreciation and can I say "awe" I receive for working at NASA. This is not to say I don't appreciate some of it. I am only human and have an ego also. Sometimes however it is beginning to irk me a little. I know I shouldn't complain but let's be honest isn't that what a blog is for? Say I did not have this job at NASA I would probably be appreciated less even though I have accomplished the same amount. This is silly to complain about though. I guess I wish people were more appreciative of the graduate students and post docs in the world that don't work for NASA. That people were not as revered as much for title or position and more for the work that they _actually_ do. Yes, this is directed to the Investigators who have huge egos but have done not much more than write grants since they received their job.

My motto is kind of like "I am only as good as what I did yesterday."
To me a lifetime of effort is worth much much more than a single breakthrough. In general we can always choose to work harder each day or learn more or develop things. I am sure there is a genetic component to this but maybe there is a very slight fraction that has to do with our willingness to sacrifice i.e. something that was a choice. Maybe we do deserve appreciation? To me most Breakthroughs are usually a happenstance of random chance and who is paying attention. A nature or science publication. In the end people may remember your name but your work will have left nothing indelible in the ether. Your work could have been accomplished by someone else. A puzzle requires the finding and positioning of every piece to solve. There is no shortcut. Each piece must be placed. Me, I would rather be the person who places most of the pieces then the one who only places the last piece to reveal the beautiful picture to much fanfare. I don't want my life to be defined by other people's appreciation but more I want it to be defined by the beauty I saw in it. Am I able to become and create the things I think are beautiful? I think truly admiring your own work is the highest form of appreciation but at least for me sometimes I do still need someone else to give me a high five. Despite how grumpy I act.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Peer Review and Frontiers in Chemistry- Don't Publish There

What's the point of Peer Review if it is really faulty?

Peer Review was designed to make sure that Scientist do not become overly bias towards their research and that when someone wants to read a Scientific article they do not have to spend most of their time reading it to determine if the paper is legit or not.

It doesn't seem to be working. There are so many retractions and so many bad papers that are published that the Scientific world is just overwhelmed with much nonsensical stuff.

So when something is broken I generally don't just complain, I attempt to fix it or contribute to a fix. I heard about PeerJ and despite the fact that they are just a business like all other publishers(they just charge less) I decided to Review some papers. I partcipated in the review of a couple of papers but then came upon this one: and I made these comments: . I thought the comments were very constructive considering the paper has no place in any Scientific journal. The paper basically sounds like it was written by someone with high school or below level of Science knowledge. The author responded with equally nonsensical responses and I was pissed for a little bit but I figured no one would really care because it was a paper on PeerJ, which let's be honest is not exactly a respectable place to publish anything, considering.

Then a few months later I receive an email from PeerJ saying that the paper in question was published in a "more" respectable journal, Frontiers in Chemistry ( I was appalled that a journal that says they do Peer Review published this paper considering it has no Scientific basis and pushes the boundaries of even a high school level lab report. I thought that maybe the paper was just overlooked? So I emailed Frontiers in Chemistry with a detailed Review and asked them how it was published and this was their response:

Dear Dr Zayner,

We thank you for your message and for taking the time to send us your comments on the article by Dr Moustafa that was recently published at Frontiers in Chemistry.

I would like to kindly clarify that this manuscript underwent thorough peer-review before being accepted for publication at Frontiers. We received reports from three independent reviewers and two of them supported and endorsed the publication of the manuscript. The final decision was taken by the Associate editor after taking into account all of the reviewers' recommendations.

As you pointed out, any published article should be supported by evidence, and it was decided by two reviewers and the associate editor that this particular article included enough evidence to warrant its publication.

I would also like to point out that this manuscript is an Opinion article. These Frontiers article types allow researchers maximum freedom of expression to publish viewpoints on the interpretation of facts, weaknesses and strengths of any scientific theory or on any topic relevant to the field of research.

We certainly understand that this is an area of controversy and that there are various opinions on this point. We would encourage you to enter in a constructive discussion by submitting either an Opinion article of your own or a General commentary on this article (, which would be linked to the first article and provide an alternate viewpoint of the situation and continue the debate in a constructive way.

Kind regards,

Marie Soulière, Ph.D.
Journal Manager

Frontiers | Chemistry Editorial Office |
EPFL - Innovation Square, building I
Lausanne, Switzerland | T +41(0)21 510 17 11

(If you goto the Frontiers article you can actually see who Peer Reviewed this paper... I feel bad for these people)

That is why I am writing the post. Open Publishing and Open Access and even Peer Review are not all that they are made up to be, which we have heard again and again and again. 

So what now? If a paper in a High Impact journal has a higher than normal chance of being retracted and a paper in low impact journal has a higher then normal chance of being awful.

I really enjoy working at NASA and the freedom they give me but if I have a say NASA will probably be the last normal Scientific post I have(either because I stay here or leave). Science and publishing are just so messed up at the moment and I can do so many more cool things if I don't need to stay within those boundaries.