Friday, December 15, 2006

Wierd memories from cleaning up

One week left. Time to get serious about the lack of time. One week.

I am a terrible pack rat. I periodically attempt to organize things into folders, but for the most part I use the geologic filing method -- that stratum is roughly October, below that November, below that November (earthquakes & uplifting occur frequently!).

Occasionally my supervisors would crack down (most notably prior to the FDA swinging through the labs one time), but in general there was a better trigger: moving. I was pretty good about lightening up prior to each move. One office lasted 5 years, so there was quite a lot of overburden to deal with that time, but the office one previous to the layoffs was only 2 years and we just moved in the spring. Even at my worst, that's not much time to lay down a mountain. The planners through in one more twist by moving me after the layoffs -- but then again, I was on extended time and they hadn't planned on me being there at all.

However, there was still a lot to go through, with severalmajor categories

  1. Paper for recycling

  2. Confidential material to shred

  3. Items to throw out

  4. Items to forward within Millennium or return

  5. Items to bring home or to next position

We have these big shredder bins which collect stuff for an outside vendor to shred in big trucks -- this is a huge improvement over office shredders, as I always spent more time unjamming them than shredding. It's not efficient to run to the bin each time, so I had a paper grocery bag for batching things. This worked very well -- my four-foot tall unpaid consultant gleefully fed the bins one weekend while I went through papers.

Due to the shortcomings of my system, I came across all sorts of obsolete things. Will I ever again need a serial-to-USB converter? Vendor catalog CD-ROMs from 3 years ago?

On the other hand, some things are really valuable, such as address lists from recent meetings. Others are what I collect too much of but useful: papers that I might want to comment on in this space, old papers I consider really interesting and might refer to.

And, of course, lots goes to recycling or shredding: papers relevant to projects, sequence alignments, snippets of code, etc.

One of the more interesting mixed bags are the business cards, and that's also where I got a strange trip down memory lane. I found some recent ones I thought I had lost, which would have been good contacts to have in my job search (aargh!). Others I couldn't remember at all -- I really should put some context on the back. And finally, I found one from early in my career that I remember vividly.

We had a group (MBio) trying to find the next Epogen and I was the main bioinformatics scientist attached to the group. They were constantly growing & constantly recruiting. I was going to the Hilton Head conference, and the MBio research chief wanted me to screen a candidate: simple enough.

We set up a meeting in one of the hotel bars. The conversation was pleasant, but neither of us seemed to have a strong reaction either way. He wasn't sure he wanted to leave his existing position or take this new one. I reported back to base the equivocal meeting, and moved on.

So it was stunning to see a news item several years later that the same person I had interviewed was the perpetrator of a murder-suicide. I think I saw it on GenomeWeb, but they don't seem to archive very well. I found (via Wikipedia) another item, which adds a truly surreal note about what happened to the pizzas used to lure the victim from her home (you have to read it to believe it).

You meet a lot of unusual people in science, but perhaps you never know -- and never want to -- who are truly outside the norm.

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