Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Inner Circle only

One of the graduate students at The Institute, to whom I've often given a lift to some off-campus science event, now feels he is old enough and ugly enough to book a room and invite a visiting speaker. The speaker is a friend who is going to give a short communication on a Bio-safety Index used for plant growth promoting bacteria (PGPB) which he developed as part of his thesis research. I teased the organiser by asking if there would be biscuits to sweeten the deal.  He replied that of course there would be tea and biscuits but he didn't want to announce the fact in case the room was flooded with gannets only interested in free food.  I liked that approach very much and replied in my sententious fashion I'll do my best to be there.  It sounds really boring, but my experience is that you get hidden gems in unlikely places and I never miss an opportunity to get some education - the biscuits are a bonus.  I can buy biscuits but nobody can buy somebody else's accumulated knowledge expertise and insight. If I didn't turn up regularly, I would never have heard Aled Edwards' stunning talk about Funding Fondling.

There's a story of the Nobellist Richard Feynman [multi-prevs] about how a student Physics Society up-state sent him a nice letter asking him to give them a talk.  It was just after he got his Nobel, so they agreed to announce the talk as something obviously Physics-Nerd: Professor Henry Warren from the University of Washington is going to talk about the structure of the proton on May 17th at 3:00 in Room D102. That went off, one of them met him at the airport, he gave his talk, they all had a fabulously nerdy discussion and he went home.  When the news filtered out, the Faculty and Admin were FURIOUS because they'd missed a change to schmooz with a Nobel Prize winner.  Feynman felt he had to send a letter of apology to the Faculty Advisor for Physics. That letter is probably framed on the dude's office wall, like the folks who received a $2.56 cheque from Don Knuth - which shows again that celebrity all too often trumps merit.

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