Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ladies and Gentleman, we have the real thing

I went to New York City last month to collect a certain kind of mosquito, one that is known to live only in enclosed spaces that stay relatively warm during the winter, like sewers, subway tunnels, that kind of thing. We worked with some really helpful people (no kidding, they were tops) from the city department that conducts mosquito surveillance and control.

There are a couple of cool things about this mosquito. It is so similar morphologically to another one that even experts can't tell them apart that way. Of course they are closely related, but it's unknown whether the sewer mosquito is a long-standing entity, or if it arises independently in cities with the proper environments. One of the cool things is that it doesn't hibernate. The closely related one overwinters as impregnated females. The other cool thing is that it can, unlike its close relatives, lay its first batch of eggs without a bloodmeal. That last one is the definitive test (so they tell me) to tell if you have the sewer mosquito or not.

We collected enough to ship home, and set they up in the insectary. One of my duties lately has been rearing these creatures. They have to be checked daily because the larvae hang out in pans and as soon as they turn into pupae (after about a week) they need to be moved into a screened cage because if there are adults in the pan, they can get loose and their liberator is looked at with scorn and disgust for letting mosquitoes free in the insectary. So there is a lot of moving around of larvae and pupae, and the above ground ones get fed blood three times a week. More on that some other time.

About a week ago, my supervisor asked if I had done a blood feed for the sewer mosquito's offspring (which never been outside), and I said I hadn't and how about we see if they laid eggs, as that would confirm their identity. He said he doubted they were the sewer mosquitoes to begin with for reasons that I'm not clear about. But we decided to wait and see if what they did with only sugar water.

Well, today I checked and there were three egg rafts in the cup of water, so sure enough, we have sewer mosquitoes! It's an interesting taxonomic/phylogenetic problem, being able to tell these apart from other similar types using genetic means. The trouble is, up until now, we didn't have enough confirmed specimens to develop the assays. Now we do. Huzzah!

Should people apologize for their dogs?

I was at the dog park yesterday with Sally. She's almost out of her mind with excitement as we pull in, and, after I have her sit, explodes from the car in what must be one of the most gleeful displays of dogdom ever. She bounces around for a while, does her business, greets other dogs, then usually follows me around as I walk around the place a few times.

My otherwise wonderful dog, however, has one fault when it comes to the dog park. She is a shameless toy thief. Yes, I do bring her own ball when we go, and I've left several there, so she'll usually run into one, but if she sees another owner throwing something to their dog, she'll often go over there and make an attempt to get it. About half the dogs let her, and the other half won't, but if she gets something, there's another doggie happy dance as she galumphs away with her prize.

After I apologize and tell the owner that I'll get their toy back, I try to ignore her and she'll usually lose interest in a couple of minutes. If I don't it's a very fun (from her point of view) game of me following her around saying in a stern voice, "Drop it, Sal".

I was sort of following her yesterday, when we wandered into the middle of the park, where the most dogs and owners are. The park is an old high school track, which is such a great place to take dogs and walk around - everyone wins. Anyway, I was following Sal (discretely) when this Great Dane starts chasing her. They were only playing, but the dog slammed into my leg as it was trying to get to Sal, who has this habit of walking between my legs, I guess to feel safer.

This was a 100 lb. dog, and its owners were right there. I said "Ouch!" and they both said, in that voice reserved for cute toddlers, "Oh, Sampson!" As though he gave me a lick instead of a bruise. I may sound like a curmudgeon, but this disassociation from one's dog's actions annoys me. If Sally behaves in a way that impacts other dogs or owners, well, see two paragraphs above.

Dog-ful but child-less couples are pretty obvious.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

More springy thingies

I continue to ramp up for spring. Being a part-time single mom, full time worker and a home owner (don't forget working weekends to get time off to see the sweetie), I'm busy, like everyone else, it seems. I think that's part of the reason why I usually feel like the exterior of my property is lacking in some way. The outside is boring, the gardens are unkempt. I live in a part of town where people (college student renters excepted) really do give a hoot about what their house and yard look like.

Now, I'm not a yard person, really. I keep some grass because of Sally and Mr W, and I guess because it feels like I'm supposed to. I water it just enough to keep it on the edge of death - not a drop more. My tree lawn has been a thorn in my side since I moved in. It's uneven, so it's hard to mow with my little reel mower, and it's a pain to water it, so it has turned to weeds. It's also a significant part of the property, which is wide and shallow; it measures 10' x 50'.

So here is my to do list:

Tree lawn: kill weeds/grass, enclose with RR ties, cover with mulch

Regular lawn: Plant something in front of fence so I don't have to mow there (sense a trend?)

Gardens: Move/divide plants so I can see what's in there!

Exterior: Paint front door and trim I want some WOW to my very boring white and white-trimmed house. Plum and rust? Moss and Slate? Hmmm, what do you think?

I guess that's the priority list for the moment. I'm looking forward to looking at my house and yard and not cringing slightly!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Manuscript Limbo

I'm just about finished with a manuscript that summarizes the work I've been doing for the last year or so. I'm happy with how the research and results turned out, my analyses are solid, and I have drawn some interesting conclusions.

The research involved two subspecies that hybridize, and I used microsatellites (a genetic marker) to characterize the hybrids and better define the hybrid zone. The part that shows the genetic composition of individuals along the hybrid zone - grading from one subspecies to the other - is a classic example of hybridization. All that is good.

My supervisor doesn't like the introduction to the paper, and there's one bit of the discussion where I can't explain part of the results. This is completely due to the fact that I'm working with a critter instead of plants, as I have a good handle on the plant literature.

So I need to wait for my supervisor to rewrite part of the introduction, and come up with a reason why two introduced (i.e. non-native) subspecies would show different amounts of genetic diversity. The one in the south has little, the one in the north has a bunch.

Meanwhile, I'm starting some other stuff, and it feels really good to be back in the lab. I just have to wait for my very busy boss to find the time to sit down with my paper and apply his knowledge of the organism to my paper.

It IS good to be almost done with it, and (this is so geeky) I'm going to submit it to my favorite journal.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mini-rant: coach's salaries

I was reading the paper this morning, and CSU fired its women's basketball coach, hiring her assistant to coach next season. She still had two years left on her contract, which the article insinuated CSU will pay.

Guess how much a women's basketball coach at a mediumly-large university makes.

Go ahead, guess.

Wait, before you guess, let me tell you that a new assistant professor in biology makes around 50K, plus start up money for a lab and travel to meetings. So, knowing that, you think, 'well, basketball is very secondary to academics. It is a univerisity after all. And the basketball season is only a portion of the school year.'

So, maybe 40K?

No, sorry, she makes about $125,000 a year, and the new coach will start at $115,000.

What the hell?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A year ago today

After I was divorced, like a lot of people, I ventured into the world of online dating. It's such a wacky time, there's this hole in your life because you're used to being the other half of a couple. At the beginning, on the one hand, you know you're supposed to establish yourself as this independent person. One the other hand, the loneliness seems overwhelming, so you want companionship.

I filled out my profile and began to correspond with men about this and that. And over the course of 2006 went out on a lot of first dates. There were no psychos, but there was always the imbalance of one person liking the match and the other person not feeling the chemistry. And sometimes, both parties felt that way! I wasn't a patient online dater, either. I could check my inbox 25 times a day to see if I had gotten correspondence.

By the end of 2006 I had about had it with online dating. I wasn't meeting anyone I really wanted to spend time with, hadn't really clicked with anyone. Then I read an article in Discover magazine, which is a magazine about science, about an online dating service for scientists, call Science Connection.

It's a small operation, and they don't match people. You put up your profile, and if you see someone you are interested in, you email them on your own. I think it was $10 a month, and I joined for three months. With SciConnect, you can list what your degree(s) are in, and what types of biology (cell? or organismal?) you're interested in. And you get to display one picture, none of this 'here are 10 photos of me and my dog and my mom and my beautiful friends'.

The downside of a small operation that caters to a small subset of people is that there may not be anyone local that you find worth emailing. Sure enough, while there were a couple (really, just a couple) of men from the area, I had to expand my idea of what was an acceptable distance quite a bit. I thought, "well, within a day's drive". Then I saw this one guy's profile...

He was from AZ (not too bad, our states touch at least), he had kids, was about my age, liked the same kinds of biology, and worked as a tour guide. Interesting. But I figured, having kids, he'd not want to correspond with someone so far away. However, I figured he should at least know that someone with similar interests found him interesting, so I emailed him a short note.

Then he replied, and asked questions in his reply. A good sign, as it necessitates further replies!

The story of when we actually met is a good one and I'll save that for another time.

Long story short, it is now a year later, and we are in a long distance relationship that is working, at least for the moment. I don't feel lonely when I'm alone (too busy!) and we see each other when we can. Skype, cell phones and email are good things indeed. I don't know how people did it when all they could do was write letters.

So, it's a bit of a celebratory day, and I'm so pleased CB is in my life!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

My Favorite Kids Books (the start of a series)

I've read to Mr W forever, and our routine at my house is three books before bed, read in my bed. I then give him a piggy back ride to his bed. I used to be able to lift and carry him more easily, but he's just too big.

I aim for about 20-30 minutes of reading, so I have to choose the books carefully. For whatever reason, reading three books is important to him.

What kind of kids books do you like? I tend to choose ones about stuff that has a little bit to do with reality, but also a major fantasty component. Books about talking animals, aliens, wierd and great stuff happening to regular kids - that's the stuff that appeals to me. I say "to me" because I usually pick out the books at the library to fit into our schedule. And I want to be interested in what I'm reading. Reality can be so boring... Or, I guess, reality happens all the time, why not escape in a book.

That being said, we are currently reading a book on the Hindenberg, done at a kid's level. It's a picture book, and Mr W likes it a lot. And we occasionally get the one out about Casey Jones, so I guess we do a bit of nonfiction.

But the book I wanted to write about today is "A Bad Case of Stripes" by David Shannon. It's about Camilla Cream, who "loved lima beans, but never ate them". Sadly, she was afraid of what the other kids would say. So afraid, that one day, she come down with, you guessed it, a bad case of stripes, and for a while, the power of suggestion makes her stripes turn into different patterns. In the end, she is cured by a kind old woman "just as plump and sweet as a strawberry", who tosses some lima beans into her mouth. Being able to admit it, even though it's not like everyone else, that she loves lima beans, she turns back into her old self again.

Yes, indeed. Be true to yourself, even if it means admitting you like lima beans.

Mr W and I agree, although we don't like lima beans.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Milestone

I guess I saw this coming. Mr W was playing on the computer and I asked, “so what do you think of getting rid of the train table?” And he said, “You can get rid of the Thomas stuff, but I want to keep the Brio”. Wow, and in that statement, my kid went from being a little boy to more of a big boy.

He was a wee lad of 18 months when he got his first Thomas play set. It was a slippery slope and we first had the cheaper metal engines, followed by the wooden ones. A friend was nice enough to lend us their train table, and before long we had amassed an impressive collection of more toy trains than any kid could reasonable play with in one sitting. I counted them tonight, and am slightly embarrassed to say we have 41 toy engines of the Thomas ilk. That doesn’t count another 15 or so Brio (which have no faces and are therefore less baby-ish, I gather) ones we are keeping. Holy cow.

And he was a big Thomas fan for years. Family and friends could count on being able to give him Thomas stuff and knowing it would be a big hit. We went to the “Day out with Thomas” down at the RR museum in Golden for three years, most recently in 2007. We own several videos and got others out from the library. A teacher in preschool bought him a Thomas comforter.

Lest you think I will wallow in sentimentality too long, I am planning on giving a couple of engines to the little boys next door, and then putting the lot for sale on ebay. I told Mr W that he could have a cut of the proceeds.

What will he buy? Well, of course he wants a Nintendo DS, but he’s not likely to get one of those for a couple of years. He wants an Airhog remote controlled plane, and he wants a Swype-out racing kit, where you get cards and your own scanner to do races online. Those are OK with me. There are plenty of violent computer games out there, and I’m trying hard to keep those from him (keep him from those) for as long as possible. But the racing stuff is fine. And he’s good at it. Picture above from

Oh, and Percy and Edward were always my favorites.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Polaroid to stop making instant film

Yup, it's true. A mainstay of family get-togethers in the 1970's is being discontinued. This is the list, from Polaroid, of all the different kinds of film that won't be made anymore.

I remember my grandparents having a camera that took color Polaroids. In this age of instant digital gratification, it may be hard to appreciate how incredible it was to see the picture develop in front of your eyes. I suppose it's obvious, once you think about it, but it's the smushing together, as it is pulled out of the camera, of the two halves of the picture/developer that start the developing process.

My lab at work uses the black and white instant film to photograph agarose gels that we run. After we amplify lots of copies of the DNA fragment of interest (with a process called PCR), we make a gel that has ethidium bromide (EtBr - a carcinogen, btw) in it and wells to load the DNA fragments. Then we run a current through it. When it's done, we can see if the fragment(s) are there, and/or if the results are the right size compared to the ladder of known size we run with it.

We have a light box that passes UV light through the gel, and the EtBr makes the bands light up. We take a black and white polaroid of the gel for our lab notebooks, and also make a digital record as well. There's an example up top (picture from: ) that I took off the web because our system saves the pictures as tiffs.

I guess we should stock up on film, and then we'll have to think about how to save records of our films in the future.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Should I stay or should I go?

The call has gone out: we siblings are expected to show up at the wedding. Said wedding is for the son of my dad's partner of 10+ years, and is in Tampa in May. Nice guy, he's not the issue. I'm sure the wedding will be lovely.

*sigh* I understand the pull of family obligations, but I'm ambivalent on this one for a couple of reasons. First, I'm inclined to save my travel resources to see CB. Airline tickets ain't cheap, and I've long since used all of my vacation time, so I need to work weekends to get days off.

The other reason is that, from my perspective, from the me at this point in time (2 1/2 years post divorce and in the beginning of what I hope is a long term relationship) I think investing so much on the front end of a relationship, like hosting an expensive wedding reception, is sort of missing the point. Yes, I get it that the wedding is a public declaration of two people's commitment, but looking at the divorce rate, it's obviously not an indicator of success.

In my opinion, I think that a there should be a modest celebration to start the couple off with the best wishes of friends and family. Then, a good party should be thrown after about 10 years, with successively bigger celebrations at regular intervals thereafter. I mean, it's not the getting together that's hard, it's the staying together.

Too cynical? Maybe. And my little rant here is not directed specifically at the people getting married.

What will I do? I have to confer with my brothers and their spouses. The couple has specifically not invited children to the wedding, so that puts my younger brother and his wife in a bit of a bind. I mean, what does one do with two kids for a wedding that's 7 hours away?

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

No Peepers

Mr W and I attended the frog survey training yesterday. They were very organized, and gave us our packets, and maps and CDs and we were out of there in under an hour. The training was at a natural area, an old farm, and we were in a remodeled farm house. Very peaceful, and in my opinion would be a great place to come to work each morning. Mr W's assessment: "it's boring". I have come to realize that this isn't a slam, it's a code word for stuff he either doesn't see the whole picture of, or otherwise doesn't understand.

Turns out there are only about a half dozen frog and toad species that we'll be expected to see, (no Peepers) with another half dozen that are rare, but possible. I'm into rarity, but that will be another series of posts someday. So we put the CD in the car stereo right away, and got to hear the different calls. If I can find sound files, I'll post them here because the calls are very distinctive. It is amazing, the diversity of calls of stuff that people lump together as "frogs".

As far as the list goes, we'll be looking for: But before I give that, I'll share a pet peeve I have. The "guide" they gave us to reptiles and amphibians doesn't have the scientific name for these creatures, only the common name. I think it is a disservice, because common names (aside from birds) are not under anyone's control. Give me the latin name alongside the common name, please, because there's only one of those for each critter.

OK, the list:

Bullfrog Rana catesbeiana

Northern Leopard Frog Rana pipiens

Woodhouse's Toad Bufo woodhousii

Western Chorus Frog Pseudacris triseriata

Plains Spadefoot Spea bombifrons

My current favorite song is that of the Western Chorus Frog, which sounds like a thumb across a comb. Pictured above.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Yeah, Bowling

Mr W is on spring break this week. Unlike his peers, who seem to be jetting off to exotic destinations, Mr W's mom has to work. To ease the pain a bit, I said "let's do stuff in the evenings a few times" and he liked that idea. So, what to do? The go-kart place? Nope, we have snow on the ground, and it's too expensive.

How about bowling?

OK, sounds good. Now, we've done this once before, and if you have not bowled recently, you're in for a surprise. No smoking is the the biggest change that I saw, as well as electronic scoring. I never could figure out how to score, even though I was friends in junior high with a girl whose family owned the local bowling alley.

So we go in, and there's a good number of people there, but several open lanes. We get our shoes, and bowl one game. Oh, I forgot about the bumpers. You can tell the people behind the counter that you want the "bumpers up" for one or both players. When Mr W bowled, there were railings that popped up that blocked the gutter. No kidding.

Final score: Mr W: 91 Mom: 78
And I wasn't letting him win, either.

The biggest biggest change? Final price for two games and two pairs of shoes? $13.40. Ouch.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A fun introduction to genetics

I saw this Bill Nye video on a blog I read

It's about DNA and genes and is about 9 minutes long. Good stuff: accurate and entertaining.

How about those colors?

CB sent me this picture from a tour he was leading in Mexico in January. It's a bunting of some kind, isn't it gorgeous?

When I got back from Ohio, on Feb. 23rd, I heard robins singing the next morning when I took the dog out first thing in the morning. Spring is definitely on the way. Sally was barking at a junco and a flicker in the yard this morning. It's good to see the activity.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Dog School

I bought a Labradoodle puppy about a year ago. She's an F1 (first generation) hybrid of a poodle and a lab - what they used to call a mutt. And she is awesome as far as dogs go. Mr W and I named her Sally, he for the character in the Cars movie, and I for knowing two Sallies that were more than worthy of naming a dog after.

It had been a long time since I had a puppy. Ursa died last year at 11 years old. So it's been a lot of the "oh my god, what do you have now???" stealing laundry, pulling papers off the table, that kind of thing. But she's also very very sweet. She's big, almost 80 lbs., but will stand there for well-placed scratches for as long as a person will give them.

And she goes to dog school. I knew I had to run her once a day, and have settled on a combination of coming home over lunch and taking her to the dog park, and taking her to "doggy day care" i.e. dog school, two or three times a week. It wears her out and she is content to sleep on my bed until it's time to go in her crate at bedtime.

The other day, the dog school people were very apologetic when I got there. Seems there was a tangling of teeth and tags while Sally and another dog were wrestling. She lost a tooth when it got hooked on another dog's tags. Ouch. I thought she'd be in resting mode for at least 24 hours, but the next morning she was rarin' to go. Amazing

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Almost done

After Christmas I had the idea to start knitting a sweater. I looked around and found an easy pattern from for a "neck down" sweater. It's a really neat idea, and has been very appropriate for my skill level right now. You cast on stitches for the neck, and regularly increase stitches until the top 1/4 is done. Then you slip the sleeve stitches onto scrap yarn, finish the body and come back for the sleeves. There's no sewing together of the pieces.

I wanted something that didn't use really thick yarn, so I could wear it without getting too hot. Well, of course the downside of using thinner yarn is that it TAKES FOREVER to get the garment completed. Not really, but it's been a big project.

I'm making myself work on the sweater before I start the next project(s). I'm down to the last sleeve, and hope to get it done by the end of the weekend. Here is a picture of my next project, which I'm going to modify to make into a binocular holder for the binocs CB has been nice enough to lend me. It will be my first foray into felting, and it's a good motivator to finish the sweater - before it's too warm to wear it!!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Summer Plans

Summer is starting to shape up. I'll go to a conference in beautiful Minneapolis, MN in June to present the work I've been doing for the last year. I might also do some field work for work, collecting more specimens for population genetic studies. There's is also a two-week workshop that would be great to go to if I could swing being gone for two weeks, but I have my doubts I'll be able to do that.

As far as trips for fun, I'll probably head to the desert to see CB a time or two. Also, I'm really looking forward to trying to swing a whale-watching trip to see Blue Whales off the coast of CA. I don't know, whales and giant squid and big things just fascinate me. Seems I should make and effort to see them at least once. And Santa Barbara is really nice to visit, too. Nice botanic garden there.

Flippers crossed.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

My Old House

I bought a "fix and flip" house in 2005 that met all of my criteria: close to downtown, close to the elementary school I wanted Mr. W to go to, and small yard. It seems lots of people want this kind of house, and when I saw it listed, my realtor had me put a bid on it that day (as soon as I was sure it was the one, of course).
It has largely lived up to expectations and exceeded some. There were vegetables on my back doorstep the afternoon I moved in from my wonderful neighbor Susan. The neighbors on the other side are likewise great and have two boys and watch my house when I'm gone. It's been so great to stroll downtown on summer evenings, and bike over to City Park to play.

But, there have been several old-house things (it was built in 1905) that have needed my attention as well. Last summer I had to get the sewer line repaired. While the leak from the line quietly swept dirt away from my foundation, it cracked and I need to fork over $1500 to get that repaired this spring.

And there's been this wierd leak that is very occasional and comes down the pipe that vents the furnace. Smart furnace-guy said today that the people who put the new furnace in should have replaced it, because water is condensing in and around it, then leaking down into the basement. They'll be back out for an estimate tomorrow. *sigh*

At least the roof doesnt' need to be replaced (YET!).

The illustration above is of a townhome style I really like. They are being built about a mile from where I live now. No, I'm not looking to pack up any time soon, but a brand-spanking new pad definitely has a strong appeal.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


Jeepers, Creepers, Peepers!

I have signed Mr. W and myself up to be frog survey volunteers for the city's program to find out more about local amphibians. I don't actually know if they get Spring Peepers around here, but we will know all that stuff soon.

When I read about it in the paper, I had visions of me and Mr. W out at dusk on spring evenings, with our flashlights and clipboards, listening and deciding what frog species we were hearing and gathering data like real scientists.

Admittedly, this exercise is not just to increase our knowledge of local herps. I see in him a real propensity toward those computer games, and I want to bring some balance to the force, as it were. I think it's good to get kids outside to see how cool nature is (as cool as computer games, in a different way, though, IMO).