13 October 1995

The battle of the halfwits (Part 2)

In 1995 U.B.C. celebrated its 80th anniversary. For that reason, the university administration urged all departments to come up with ideas for an Open House to be held on campus for three days on the 13th, 14th, and 15th of October.

The person put in charge in the Oceanography department was Al Lewis -- again, the oceanographer, not the actor. This came as no surprise as by that time I had learned that Lewis had a rather uninspiring research record, and if he hadn't been granted tenure sometime in the 1970s, he certainly wouldn't receive it now. Consequently, he collected his brownie points not through scholarship but through student advising and event organization.

Lewis assembled all the graduate students and urged us to come up with some good ideas to showcase the Oceanography department. I suggested that we transform the department lecture room into a plankton wonderland by producing giant papier-mâché replicas of well-known plankton organisms, setting the light low, and having visitors crawl through a substance that mimics a low Reynolds number. (Small-sized plankton organisms experience water the same way a human being would experience swimming in a pool filled with Jell-O.) The idea was to give the public a feel what is going on in a drop of seawater. I still think this was a great idea, and I don't know why it didn't take off, especially given that most of us worked on plankton in one way or another.

In the end nothing came of anything, and Lewis decided to put up some research posters in the hallway, which are notorious for being boring, and park the Oceanography vessel on the Main Mall for visitors to admire. The problem of course was that the Oceanography vessel was nothing but an aluminium-hull workboat small enough to be transported on a trailer behind a van.

Nevertheless, Lewis did remember my Coffee Delivery Boycott from the year before, and the Open House would certainly provide a good opportunity to show Baumann who is the boss and what is what, again. Consequently, he assigned me to boat duty for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

I told him that I was quite happy to do my fair share of duties for the good of the department provided that the professors did the same. Lewis didn't like my "attitude" and bumped me from all responsibilities.

The Open House was a success of sorts.

Michael Smith gave a talk on his Nobel work on site-directed mutagenesis, whatever that was. The talk was good, because Michael was good, although I doubt it was the "serious fun for the entire family" the propaganda department wanted us to believe(1). (Michael and I both had our offices in the Networks of Centres of Excellence building, and I ran into him in the toilet once or twice a week.)

The rain, of course, significantly reduced the number of visitors overall, and certainly the number of people strolling down Main Mall to view a magnificent Oceanography vessel.

And that was the Open House, and I still hadn't learned my lesson.


(1) http://www.library.ubc.ca/archives/pdfs/ubcreports/UBC_Reports_1995_10_05.pdf (Accessed: 7 Jan 2021)