Thursday, February 04, 2010

A eureka moment - but not of the good kind

Well, today I had one of those eureka moments that scientists all around the world crave.  You know, where all of a sudden you find out something that causes you to re-evaluate all sorts of aspects of the world you thought you knew.  I have had some of these, here and there before.  Sometimes even about my own work.  More often, when I read a paper or go to a talk that presents some major breakthrough that you just know is going to win a Nobel Prize one day.

I spent part of Thursday talking to some people about this exact type of thing in science.  I was answering some questions from some high school students about why one likes doing research and I said one reason is that such eureka moments can happen (mostly I said science was just fun but also said there are some big discoveries that happen too).

Well, 30 minutes ago this happened to me.  Alas, it was not about science per se.  But more about about how one's assumptions can cloud one's judgement and cuase one to miss what is right in front of you.  You see, I just got back, a few minutes ago, from driving through the pouring rain to get to one of the better restaurants in Davis, Osteria Fasulo, where alas I have never been.  I was going there to have dinner with the amazing, brilliant and fascinating Mina Bissell. Mina is a "Distinguished Scientist" at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a well known cancer researcher (see a great profile of her by Gina Kolata from the 12/28/09 New York Times here).

Anyway - I have known Mina for many years since I was involved in something called the Defense Science Studies Group (aka DSSG - though be careful when you search the web for this term ...).  Mina gave a seminar here at UC Davis today in the Cancer Center.  And a week or so ago, her host invited me to go to dinner with Mina and I said yes (after my standard delay due to being behind in email all the time).

Alas, I was unable to go to the seminar because it was at 9 AM in Sacramento (about 20 minutes from Davis - most of the UC Davis medical school including the Cancer Center is there) and I had kid duties in the morning.  But I was looking forward all day to having dinner with Mina and to meeting some other cancer researchers at UC Davis who I did not know.  Plus her host had called me Wednesday to make sure I was coming to dinner - she wanted to know because one of the other participants wanted to know how much special wine to bring.  (It was a little weird that she called Wednesday to make sure I was going to dinner Thursday since the message she left me sounded urgent but whatever). It all sounded good - Mina, colleagues I had not yet met, good restaurant I had not been to, fancy wine.

So today at work I left a little early to buy some dinner for my wife and kids who have all been sick - and I dropped it off at home and got ready to go to the dinner.  And then I headed out - through the driving rain to the restaurant nestled within "Village Homes"  in Davis.  I got to the restaurant at just about the meeting time, went in, and ... nobody was there.

The host of the restaurant said there was no reservation for 6:15 but that there was one for 7:30.  But he said - maybe they made a mistake - and he sat me at a table and gave me some sparkling water to drink.  And then I decided to get out my phone to just double check about the dinner.  And that's when I decided to look at Mina's itinerary to see when her last meeting was before dinner so I could guess when they would really arrive.  And that is when I saw it.  Dinner was Wednesday night.  I literally said something I will not print here out loud.  So I missed the dinner.  Turns out they waited for me for a while, tried to call me (they should have sent me email I guess .. or posted something to twitter), and then went ahead without me (I found out about this b/c I called Mina's host to find out if maybe she was still around Davis but she had left at 5 PM).

So I know a long story not really about science.  But here is the reason I am writing it.  I had set myself up for getting the date wrong by a series of assumptions.  I assumed Mina would just come to Davis for the day since she lives 1 hour away in Berkeley.  And since she was talking Thursday, I just assumed the dinner would be Thursday. But alas she came the night before her talk.  All of a sudden - everything made sense in hindsight.  Her host calling me Wednesday and leaving an urgent message about the dinner.  The comment by another one of her hosts that if I could not come to the dinner I could always see her afterwards (I thought he meant go to Berkeley).  And a few other things ... Oh man, what an idiot.  Anyway - I am sure I should not confess to being such a doofus on my blog - but I had planned on writing about Mina when I got back from dinner.  I even brought Rebecca Skloot's amazing "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" to show Mina, and wanted to know what she thought of the whole HeLa story.  Oh well. Maybe next time.


  1. Wow I've waited nearly 25 years to hear you confess to an was like waiting for the Red Sox to win a World Series

  2. I eagerly read to the bottom expecting a story of you running through the streets of Davis naked.

    This sounds more like a Homer Simpson moment. You ever get that feeling that life is a very elaborate practical joke and you are the only one not in on it?

  3. I chanced upon your blog while doing some background reading for an upcoming post and I got caught up in reading this post. I had to smile because I can totally relate!

    When I was newly married to my husband and he was a mere 2nd Lt., the Colonel's wife called to invite me to an upcoming coffee. She gave a date, and when I asked what day that was she said she thought it was a wednesday. Well, I neglected to double check said day and showed up at her door a day early! Quite embarrassing, but she was graceful about it. I now try to pay attention to those "little" details but it doesn't always work.


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