June 2007 Archives

Well American Eagle/American Airlines was not satisfied with messing up my trip to Halifax; they had to screw with me in my trip back to Raleigh. They lost my luggage on my way up there (see previous posts) and make me find my own way home from Canada on my way back. Moral of the story: American Airlines’ staff sucks, American Airlines’ planes suck, and American Airlines’ sucks in general.

I and two other lab mates started yesterday at a leisurely pace. We didn’t try to do anything in Halifax instead opting to head to the airport after we checked out. We had enough time so we stopped at a Tim Hortons for breakfast before eventually catching an early shuttle to the airport. At the Halifax airport we precleared US customs and ate lunch at the lone restaurant inside the US-bound holding area. We took that time to use up the last of our Canadian currency. As we sat looking through the window at the airstrip, I remarked at how nicely slow-paced the day was—I should have knocked on wood.

We met up with a colleague of ours from NESCent, who was leaving on the American Airlines flight to JFK, which was delayed and managed leave about thirty minutes before we boarded our American Airlines flight to LaGuardia. I even joked that if his plane was any later he may just end up on ours.—Little did I know that that comment would come back to haunt me.

Our plane arrived a little bit after his took off and we got on board, slightly delayed but nothing of major concern. The flight crew closed the doors and we were on our way home.—Then the cabin flooded.—Yes the cabin flooded. Something broke in the plane and water (or some other liquid) was soaking the carpet of the aisle from underneath. It was even puddling on top of the carpet at some points. The passengers alerted the attendant, who got the pilot, who got the gate crew whose jaw dropped in shock when she saw the plane. (I guess someone didn’t do a proper preflight check. Good thing the paying customers were paying attention.) At that point it became obvious that we would be getting off the plane and going back into the terminal. As we walked back, we were able to look back and see that the plane was leaking and making large puddles on the tarmac.—Our plane was not flying anytime soon.

So we stood in line for half-an-hour inside the US-bound holding area trying to get rebooked on another route back to Raleigh. There we met a woman from Halifax, who was traveling to Raleigh as well to see her boyfriend.—We would become good friends.—So after standing in line a long time, while the ticket people tried to figure out how to get other people to their destinations, they abruptly stopped doing it and sent us all back outside to the main lobby to pick up our bags and get rebooked out there. We first went to the baggage area because they told us to pick up our bags.—Little did we know that the American Airlines employees had no idea what they were doing.

So we stood around the baggage area for another half-an-hour until the American Airlines people told us to go get new tickets because the bags were going to be a while. So we all went upstairs and got in line at the American Airlines ticket counter waiting on our luggage to appear. We were at the end of the line so our luggage appeared before we spoke with a ticket person. I went down stairs and grabbed mine while a lab mate who carried everything on stayed in line. The woman who was also Raleigh-bound got her ticket and informed that the next route to Raleigh involved flying out of Halifax at 4:30 Saturday (today), connecting in Chicago, and landing in Raleigh at 10:00 Saturday evening.—Since I am now in Raleigh, you can guess that I found another way home.

So I hatched a plan, roping our new friend into it, to get the four of us that night to an airport in driving distance from Raleigh, where we’d either split a rental car or be picked up by friends or family. The only problem is that the American Airlines staff lacked the training or wisdom to think that we might want to get near Raleigh last night instead arriving at Raleigh late tonight. The were completely unable to help us in this regard, which forced us (me actually) to think up alternative airports. From other passengers on the plane that flooded, who’d been rerouted, I knew that we could make a direct flight to Washington/Dulles Airport that evening. The only difficulty then left to us was making a connection to a city closer to Raleigh. Of course, American Airlines staff lacked the training to help us with this task. So we offered Charlotte and Richmond as a alternative destinations, but they couldn’t get us either place any faster than Raleigh. Now this is the point where a properly trained staff would have come in handy. They could have proposed trying several other airports near Raleigh served by evening flights from Dulles: Greensboro, Roanoke, Charlottesville, Norfolk, etc. However, American Airlines staff did not do this. Thus the only option left to the four of us, if were were going to get to Raleigh Friday night or early Saturday morning, was to go to Dulles and drive the rest of the way.—So the four of us booked flights to Washington/Dulles and reserved a rental car (an SUV actually) a bit later.

Of course, American Airlines refused to pay for the rental car. They’d put the four of us up in separate rooms at the brand new Hilton near the Halifax Airport and pay for four meals for each of us, but paying for a one-night rental car was out of the question. At that point we didn’t care. We were tired of dealing with American Airlines and just wanted to get home. So we worked our way through US customs. Again. Despite the fact that nothing had changed about me or my carry ons, the second time through they required that I get additional screening and had one of my bags hand searched.—But that wasn’t most annoying part.

It was while standing in line to clear US customs that we learned from another passenger that he was able to get booked on a connection from Dulles to Greensboro NC, which is close enough to Raleigh that we could be picked up instead of renting a SUV. With that knowledge in hand, we called American Airlines from the US-bound holding area. We would have talked to someone at Halifax in person, but they did not have a single staff member in the holding area, and it did not appear that the agents of Homeland Security guarding the area would allow us to leave it to find American Airlines staff. Our new Canadian friend called American Airlines and tried to get the four of us on the connection to Greensboro. The agent was very rude and snippy to her, choosing to lecture us on the proper way to make changes to flight itineraries. I guess she’d never been stuck in a Canadian airport because a plane flooded, looking at a five hour drive in the middle of the night we landed, and lacking any way to contact local American Airlines staff because they’d gone home as soon as they processed the last of us bilge rats. Eventually when the lectures ended, American Airlines’ represented rudely informed us that she would not be able to help us make it any closer to our original destination.—With that let down, our adventure was on.

After all the crap that American Airlines put us through, dealing with United Airlines went smoothly. We left Halifax for DC on time and got to fly in a plane of much higher quality than American’s. We arrived in DC on time and after collecting our bags, took the shuttle to Hertz. Washington Dulles Airport has an odd layout and relies on giant above ground trucks to move people around the airport. The more airports I go to, the more I appreciate the efficiency of Atlanta’s airport; Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is probably the only thing in Atlanta that was planned exceedingly well. After standing in line for too long at the Hertz place, we finally made it to the counter and spoke with a clerk. It turns out that despite advertising that Hertz provides computerized directions in the lobby and from the clerks, the direction computer at Hertz at Washington/Dulles did not know where Raleigh was and the best directions that we could get from the clerk was how to get on I-95 headed south toward North Carolina. It wasn’t all that helpful since I knew that we’d be taking I-95. However, I-95 runs east of Raleigh and there are many different choices of how to get from it to Raleigh. It would have been nice if Hertz could have provided a little more customer support than “Head South Young Man”. We asked about splitting the bill four ways, and the clerk said that they’d do that when we returned the rental in Raleigh. About that time I was tired with dealing with clerks, agents, representatives, and all other people put in place by the travel industry to screw with my trip home. So instead of paying more money and taking more time to put people other than me on the rental agreement, I just decided to drive the entire route myself so we could leave sooner rather than later. I’d gotten used to driving for six or more hours at night over this last year when Tiffany lived in Athens and I lived in Raleigh; it wasn’t going to be a problem for me.—Thus, around ten last night we got in our rental car and headed to Raleigh.

From the airport we took the freeway that led to the the DC Beltway (I-495), and took the beltway south heading towards I-95 and Richmond. One of my lab mates is a student from South Korea. On our way to I-95 we stopped at an exit so he could run into a Korean restaurant and get some takeout for his wife, who’d been taking care of two small children by herself for a week. Apparently the Triangle has very crappy Korean food, and taking twenty minutes to pick something up in DC was worth it to them. At least American Airlines peeing all over our trip worked out for them. After that errand was run, I took us back the the beltline and heading again to Richmond, following the signs to I-95 South. We got off the interstate near Quantico and ate dinner at a Waffle House. I had three eggs, over medium, double plate, scattered and smothered and some Coke.—One drawback of my trip to Canada, they didn’t have enough Coke. I’m from Georgia. I bleed red and black and 100% sweet tea and Coke.—We were back on the road a little after midnight.

I’d already talked to Tiffany several times on my cell, and she let me know that the exit from I-85 was a little south of Richmond in Petersberg. Of course, I had to drive through a thunderstorm and Richmond at the same time. In Petersberg, after I’d driven past the storm, but before I took the exit for I-85, I stopped for a bottle of Mountain Dew, to ensure that I didn’t get tired during the drive. From I-85, we took the US Highway 1 exit to Raleigh, and met up with the boyfriend of our new Canadian friend near where US-1 and I-540 intersect. That was a little before four o’clock in the morning. At that point we settled up, and she paid cash for her fourth of the rental. After saying our goodbyes, I took one lab mate home to Morrisville via I-540, and past the Raleigh Airport, only seven and a half hours after we were originally scheduled to be there, but a good eighteen hours before the crappy staff at American Airlines thought they could get us there. Then I dropped the last lab mate off at his car near campus.—Finally I could go home to Tiffany at nearly 4:30 in the morning.

Of course I had to tell Tiffany all the stuff about the trip that she hadn’t heard. And given that I was still wired from that Mountain Dew, I didn’t fall asleep until after 6:00 and the sun came out. This afternoon, my two lab mates and I met at the rental car place at the Raleigh Airport to settle up. And I should have guessed that the attack of the crappy clerks was not over. Having been assured by the clerk in DC that they could split our bill four ways, the clerk in Raleigh said that they could not. So it all ended up on my card, which hopefully won’t mean that I have to fill out extra paper work to justify such an expense when we get reimbursed by NCSU. But if I cross my fingers, close my eyes. and chant enough times, maybe this nightmarish adventure will be finally over.—And I guess one good thing happened on my way home from Canada, my luggage arrived home at the same time I did.

G is for Great.

Online Dating

For dinner this evening RPM over at evolgen organized a science bloggers dinner. Prof. Steve Steve and I managed to make it. (Of course, Steve Steve is just happy that he is not stuck in the AA system anymore.) On the suggestion (direction?) of John Logsdon we headed to il Mercato for some lovely Italian food. I had seafood spaghettini, and it was mm—mm—good.

At the end of dinner the waitress was nice enough to take a group picture.


Back: John Logsdon Jason Stajich RPM Julius Lucks Reed Cartwright Prof. Steve Steve Rosie Redfield ?

Front: Jacob Tennessen ? ?

I’ll post names and urls of people as people claim themselves in comments.

I presented my current research this morning at SMBE 07 conference. You can download the presentation here.

The presentation went fine, and I got asked some good questions. I like answering questions because it means that people paid attention and were thinking about my presentation. You can usually tell bad presentations by the lack of questions at the end.

Afterwards, I spoke to several people about my research, its implications, and extensions.

I’ll probably do a little bit more with this research before I write it up and make the software publicly available.

I finally got my luggage this afternoon. It arrived at the dorm while I was walking around Halifax this morning and afternoon. I didn’t know it was there because the delivery people never called me like they were supposed to. The woman working the desk stopped me on my way out and asked if I was Mr. Cartwright. That is how I got my luggage; Dalhousie University did its job. Because of that, I was able to put on a fresh pair of clothes and grab Prof. Steve Steve before the conference started.

So while I was talking on the phone to the woman at American Airlines, who told me that it was in Toronto, it was downstairs the entire time. I don’t think she knew where it was. I just think that she was giving me a story to make me believe that it was going to arrive tonight. If not, some poor person is having their bag routed to Halifax for no good reason.

I will never fly American Airlines again after the poor service that I have received.

Yesterday, I they lost my luggage, including Prof. Steve Steve. I filed a claim with their baggage people at the Halifax Airport. I was given a number and told to call it if I didn’t hear from them in 24 hours.

Well, I just called the number and found out that my baggage was in Toronto and the people at Halifax airport never filed a lost baggage claim. They have just now made arrangements for my baggage to be put on an Air Canada flight this afternoon. (That should have been done yesterday.) I should have my baggage delivered to me this evening but not before the conference starts.

I just hope that my sweaty clothes dry out in time for registration.

Blame Canada and Other News

Well, I’ve made it safely to my “hotel” room at Dalhousie University. Unfortunately, Prof. Steve Steve convinced American Airlines that he would like to take a detour with my luggage. I have my new laptop and digital camera, but that is about it.

Hopefully, my luggage will arrive sometime tonight; otherwise, I may have to give my presentation Tuesday morning wearing the clothes that I flew in with. I’ve heard that Halifax has these things called “stores”; I may have to use some of them if Prof. Steve Steve has skipped the country with my luggage.

While waiting at the airport for the shuttle to downtown Halifax, I made the mistake of meeting a biologist, R. Krell, who works for the UN World Food Programme in Rome. He was in Halifax for a leadership conference and when he heard that I was a geneticist he began to explain to me his hobby research into HNA or “Holistic Nucleic Acids”—okay that is my term. He believes that the twistings of DNA might store “information”. His example was how flowers need to send “information” to honey bees so bees can find the flowers and bees need to send “information” to flowers so the flowers know what shapes to take.

At first I just nodded because I figured that there was a language and terminology barrier; however, then he eventually started talking about how water has memory . … I felt like Dawkins and his 20-second pause. … Not caring to want to continue talking with this Kook, I tied my best to listen and smile and change the conversation to something else. Luckily the shuttle arrived and ended our conversation.

Also it appears that Bioinformatics has published my application note this week. I am already getting requests for reprints—yei—from foreign students who don’t have online access to the journal. The following link will take you directly to the paper, bypassing any login requests.

Cartwright RA (2007) Ngila: global pairwise alignments with logarithmic and affine gap costs. Bioinformatics 23(11):1427-1428.

Now all I have to do is finish my presentation, which requires some last minute algorithm creation and simulation running. …

The Victim Strikes Back

The San Francisco Chronicle has a cool story about a woman who chased down the person who stole her identity.

If it hadn’t been for the distinctive suede coat, there would have been no chase through the streets of San Francisco, no heroine and, in all likelihood, no justice. But when Karen Lodrick turned away from ordering her latte at the Starbucks at Church and Market streets, there it was, slung over the arm of the woman behind her.

It was, Lodrick thought, a “beaucoup expensive” light-brown suede coat with faux fur trim at the collar, cuffs and down the middle.

The only other time Lodrick, a 41-year-old creative consultant, had seen that particular coat was on a security camera photo that her bank, Wells Fargo, showed her of the woman who had stolen her identity. The photo was taken as the thief was looting Lodrick’s checking account.

featured in openlab 2006

The OpenLab 2006 has been reviewed for Nature by nuclear physicist and PT reader Paul Stevenson: “Blogger’s Unite.” (Don’t miss the editor’s summary as well: “Brought to blook”).

The review is pretty positive for something that was put together at the last moment using material that wasn’t made for print media.

The entries highlight the great variety of styles that can thrive in the blogosphere. Most of the pieces are a little chattier than the usual book or magazine article, but those chosen are formal enough not to grate on the printed page. Occasionally, the prose is loftier than a typical popular science book. Some even veer too much towards the tone of a research article — leaving terms like suprachiasmatic nucleus or a zygomaticomaxillary suture unexplained.

The book works well enough as a standalone anthology of science writing, but I share the editor’s hope that it will prompt eager print readers hitherto unfamiliar with the vibrant young medium that is science blogging to have a look, and maybe even have a go.

I am serving as the editor for the 2007 edition and Bora serves as series editor. As the Nature review mentions, we are already accepting nominations for next year. Click the image below to submit something. We’ll probably be making an early cut in July, so get your favorite posts from the first half of the year in.

Openlab 2007

Note that you can put this banner on your own blog.

(Hat Tip: Neurophilosophy)

PT Down


We’re having issues today with the Panda’s Thumb’s server over heating. We are trying to let it cool down so we can access it remotely.

We have a new server nearly ready to go, and we can press it into service if necessary. We’re not using it yet because we are deploying a new layout for PT at the same time we deploy the new hardware. We are also switching from MySQL to PostgreSQL.

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