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Desktop is down -- Rethinking Home Computing

Posted by Paul Macklin

19 April 2008 at 10:22 pm CDT (UTC +?)

Well, on Friday night my main desktop went down after a failed BIOS flash. The Windows flash utility from Gigabyte (the motherboard manufacturer) failed with a cryptic error message. When I rebooted my computer, the fans and drives spun up, but there was no video and no beep codes. All my efforts to force a reflash failed. So, now I'm in the middle of an RMA to get the motherboard replaced.

The surprising thing is that aside from the loss of data, I don't miss the desktop. The ThinkPad is more than sufficient for my writing and minor coding work, and this is really forcing me to rethink home computer resources. I just switched my nice monitor, wireless keyboard and mouse, and speakers to the docking station for the ThinkPad, and it's nearly business as usual.

When I get the desktop back up, I'm starting to think that I'll reconfigure it as a workstation / file server that's tucked away and accessible by network. In an ideal setup, I'd be able to stream media from it to the living room TV, maybe with some kind of wireless bridge. I really don't have time for gaming anymore, so it really makes sense to use my best monitor, etc. on my laptop when I come home from work. I'll probably install the scanner on it, too.

I'm not entirely decided, as there are some great benefits to using the desktop as a desktop: it's designed to be very quiet, it gives me a non-UT-owned machine to do personal work on (and helps avoid all sorts of IP-type headaches that way), and it has much nicer audio and graphics cards on, which is nice for working at home. So, I guess we'll just have to see! But I'm surprised at myself to even be at such a point, given my PC desktop tinkering roots!

Yippee! New work laptop

Posted by Paul Macklin

17 February 2008 at 6:09 pm CST (UTC +?)

I've been wanting to upgrade my aging laptop (an IBM ThinkPad R51) since last summer, but in the last few weeks, it seemingly went out of its way to get itself retired. Yup, lots of blue screens, failure to resume from hibernation with increasing frequency, bizarre crashes when using the wireless. Perhaps it was merely a driver issue, but definitely a little spooky, given how much I need it for work.

Fortunately, Vittorio stepped in and let me quickly order the replacement we'd been talking about: a nice, lightweight ThinkPad X61 (Model 7675-92U). This thing is just a dream to work with: Core2 Duo, 1 GB of memory, 160 GB, full-size keyboard and trackpoint (but no touchpad, which is fine by me), and best of all, incredibly small and around 3 pounds! It's just night and day when compared against the old laptop.

Also to Lenovo's credit, they allow the option of installing XP on every laptop they sell. After about an hour of using Windows Vista Business and watching it slow to a crawl after opening any significant number of programs, I wiped the hard disk and installed XP Pro (discs included). Now, I just about have all the software I need installed, and things are looking good. Just in the nick of time for the UCI math systems biology symposium at the end of the month.

NIH R01 Grant Proposal Rejected

Posted by Paul Macklin

1 February 2008 at 9:27 am CST (UTC +?)

Well, I have some bad news on the professional/academic front. The huge NIH (National Institutes of Health) R01 grant that I worked on last October was rejected without scoring. This means that in the assessment of the panel, it was in the bottom 50% of the submitted proposal. We know that this wasn't the case; indeed, it was the culmination of some of our best cancer modeling over the past several years.

So, now it's time to self-assess what went wrong. Certainly some of it may well have been political--grant review panels are well known to be extremely politically charged, particularly as funding stagnates and/or decreases. However, it would be scientifically irresponsible and completely unproductive to blame politics and move on without learning.

The composition of the review panel is critical: from an initial review of the panelists, it appears to have been made up primarily of traditional biologists, medical doctors, biomedical engineers, and very few mathematicians. Our proposal, in contrast, heavily emphasized the mathematical modeling details and proposed calibration protocols. Thus, it was likely very unattractive to the panel, as it was outside of their areas of expertise. This really drives home the point that in grant writing, as in any other form of communication, you need to be keenly aware of your audience and tailor the presentation to that audience. We should have done a better job in emphasizing the biology of the proposal. We should have trimmed the amount of detail devoted to the mathematical model. And we should have spent more time emphasizing the clinical importance of the work.

So, we'll assess what happened, try to learn from the mistakes, and work to write a better R01 next time. -- Paul

Mini Grant Proposal Season

Posted by Paul Macklin

7 January 2008 at 1:11 pm CST (UTC +?)

Well, with the new year come new grant proposals, and things are going to be crazy for a few days. (i.e., very little sleep). Vittorio (my "mentor" at UTHSC-H) is co-PI on a joint NSF proposal with John (my former Ph.D. advisor) doing multiscale cancer modeling. This will be due in several days, and so we're in the thick of finishing up the budgeting details and cleaning up the proposal itself.

We're also preparing letters of intent (LOI's) for a few "Concept" awards through the Department of Defense. This type of award is interesting: it's a short-term, relatively low-budget award designed to help kick off innovative approaches. We may end up submitting two of these, so we have our work cut out for us.

So, little sleep, lots of work for a few days. I guess I can view it as a preview of early fatherhood. :-)

Research and Website Update

Posted by Paul Macklin

20 November 2007 at 2:56 PM CST (UTC +?)

Whew! It's been a long few months with quite a few grant proposals, but now that the season is finally over, I'll be able to post more updates.

To help facilitate that, I've been working on a new, web-based form, along with cryptographically-hashed, password-based authentication. We'll see how it works. So far, I'm still fighting a bit with the input, as I can't seem to directly input HTML tags (since it messes with the HTML forms). But, things should be up and running soon. :-)

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