Friday, May 30, 2008

Last day of school, another day of work

Today is Mr W's last day of first grade. He's had a good year. A few bumps in the road like many 7 year old boys learning the social skills necessary to get along with people, but overall he's learned a ton. Reading, writing and math.

He'll start summer camp on Monday, at a nice (and expensive) place with a pool and gymnastics classes and a bus for field trips to all the neat kid places in town that I intend to get to but rarely do.

He likes it OK, but would rather hang out at home with me. He's got a friend whose mom doesn't work outside the home, so the kid gets to hang at home this summer. He also has a friend who is being looked after this summer by the teacher from the after-school care (who Mr W loves because Jake lets him play Sonic games on his cell phone thing).

I imagine most families are like me, though. My job happens to be a year-round gig, and work life goes on as usual. I'll take some vacation with Mr W in August, and he'll go to Yellowstone with his dad in July. But largely it'll be like the school schedule without the academic stuff.

This makes me ambivalent. One the one hand, I wish he could just play and play during the summer and enjoy himself. But on the other hand, when I had my summers off, I remember being bored stiff and looked forward to school starting up again. My mom stayed home with us, but we didn't do much in the way of activities beside joining the community pool.

So what's better? Being bored at home or being engaged in activities at camp? If it were me, I guess I'd take the camp gig.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Holy walkin' pterosaurs

The Tetrapod Zoology blog over at Science Blogs has a very cool bit on an article they recently published. As the picture suggests, they did a morphological analysis and conclude that these beasts were more stork-like than, say, hawk like. Apparently they've refuted claims they were skimmer-like (see picture below) as well. "Terrestrial Stalkers" is what the authors called them.

Skimmer image: Sharon Anthony, azhdarchid image: Mark Whitton

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Invasive plants attract different pollinators

Invasive plants are one of the byproducts of humans moving around our planet so much. Invasives are an interesting area of research for a couple of reasons. First, most introduced plant species don't end up being all that invasive. They stay relatively well-behaved because they don't find conditions favorable enough to get a toehold and outcompete native vegetation.

Second, those that do end up successful (from their point of view anyway) do so in a several ways. For example, they might be released from an herbivore or from competition from another plant species that's present on their home turf. Or perhaps there's a genotype that happens to be super duper adapted to the habitat in which it has landed. It can also happen that people think the plant makes a great garden plant, and it escapes and becomes a problem, like purple loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria.

And, as unlikely as it may seem (I love how truth can be stranger than fiction sometimes) it could happen that an introduced species crosses with another introduced species of the same genera that's from someplace else and this produces hybrids that are REALLY invasive, which is the case with Salt Cedar (Tamarix sp.) I'll do a whole post on that cool system sometime.

Of course, the effects on the invaded plant communities are varied. A paper recently came out that showed two species of invasive plants with showy, insect-pollinated flowers, Opuntia stricata (a prickly pear cactus) and Carpobrotus affine acinaciformis (a succulent) attracted more pollinators to the area, and thus increased the overall rate of pollination for native species.

So the native plants received some benefit, during this slice of time in the process of the invasion anyway. The study did not show whether this increased attention by pollinators translated into the tangible benefit of higher seed set, or bigger seeds or something like that. However, there were differences in the types of pollinators the invasives attracted. The succulent attracted more generalist pollinators that everyone benefited from, while the cactus had a higher percentage of insects that came in only to pollinate it.

The authors concluded that invasion by the cactus was more detrimental because it could monopolize pollinators, while invasion by the succulent could actually benefit native plants by bringing in generalist pollinators. I think this study is interesting because it shows some of the more subtle effects of non-native plants.

Reference: Bartomeus I., Vila M., SantamarĂ­a L. Contrasting effects of invasive plants in plant-pollinator networks. Oecologia 155(4): 761-770

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Manuscript Limbo, part one million

I think my manuscript is done, except for the abstract, which shouldn't take too long to put together. I can not BELIEVE how long it has taken me, and the extent to which I have felt utterly ineffectual at times during this process. I've had so many final versions, they're numbered now.

The rational part of me wants to think that it's my lack of background in mosquitoes that has made it difficult for me to really put my (if I do say so myself) great results into context. This has led to a dependency on my boss to fill in these gaps, although I have of course learned a lot about mosquitoes so far. I've had to wait for him to do the other things he's got to do, and that has been at times frustrating, although it's not anything he's doing deliberately. I also have to remember that this is only my third manuscript. But that tends to bum me out even more because I feel like I should have published more so far.

But all of the little tweaky changes, it's like herding cats. Oh, I changed this part, now that part doesn't flow so nicely. I redid this table, so now my numbers over here are wonky. Did I take out the extra references I ended up not using? It's like trying to hold a laundry basket full of socks without the basket and with Sally following me, hoping to eat one or more of the socks.

I just hope it gets easier. It hasn't turned me off to the process, but I sure as hell hope the next one is less exhausting.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Big Plant = Little Plant + Time

I made my first trip of the season to the plant nursery yesterday. I like patronizing this place because the owner is involved in our local native plant society. It would not be an underestimation to say I love going to pick out plants to put in the garden. All the choices, and trying to figure out what would do best in the spot and yet not be something I've grown before, unless it has proven to be really good in that spot. Like Verbenas, which have done really well in my garden.

Here's some of what we bought yesterday:

Mr W and I have made our first foray into growing strawberries, and I bought six plants that are supposed to be "ever-bearing", so maybe we'll be able to go out there all summer and discover a choice berry or two that the squirrels and birds haven't found yet. Thankfully, the neighbors have lots of strawberry plants, so maybe the critters won't focus on ours entirely.

We also bought the requisite kid vegetable, a pumpkin vine. It's fun for a kid (and his mom) to watch the progress of this fast-growing plant, and we'll hopefully score a couple of Halloween pumpkins out of it as well.

All this was fun, and I feel like I got a good value for the price I paid, but when I looked to buy some perennials, I was dismayed to see that most of the ones for sunny spots were sold in 1 gallon pots. Here's where the title of the post comes in. I can buy three different plants for $9 when they come in 2" pots, but a plant in a one gallon pot costs $9! Now, it's probably true that the bigger plants survive better and the nursery sees fewer returns (I'm guessing). But even a mildly competent gardener like myself can get a smaller plant to establish with minimal care.

So, what to do? I'll go to another place to see if I can get a better price on a smaller plant. But it gives me an excuse to peruse another nursery, so it's not all bad.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Just wow

They are so gorgeous, I could stare all day.

Near miss

Yesterday, a tornado ripped through a nearby town, Windsor, CO. My friend La Guera and her son live there (about 20 minutes from Fort Collins), and although a tree fell on a corner of her garage, her house is OK and they are both OK.

It's a rare thing, so the news reports this morning are saying, for a tornado to hit so close to the mountains. Apparently conditions just don't get to the point where many tornadoes form around here.

Made me think about how fast situations can change sometimes. And, I'm thankful my house has a basement.

"It's a major award"

I just got back from Mr W's school, where he received an award for being a good communicator. No, he didn't win the leg lamp like Ralphie's old man, but he got recognition from the school during an assembly and I'm very proud of him.

He goes to an IB (International Baccalaureate) school, and they emphasize a very nice list of attributes like communication, cooperation, respect, risk-taking, independence and things like that. They emphasize that the kids are citizens of the world and seek to increase their understanding of people in other places.

Ah, tolerance - start 'em early.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Buying Books

CB was here recently for a visit, and we went to the local Barnes and Noble to see if we could find a decent field guide for Colorado birds. Of course we worked our way around the science and nature section, and I found several books that looked interesting. Alas, the prices were such that I hesitated, and then decided not to purchase anything. It was about $25.00 for a hardback and $15.00 for a paperback.

It got me thinking about my relationship with books. I've had, hmm, let's see, 14 years of post-high school education, so I've made use of a lot of books over the years. I'm not ashamed to admit that I really looked forward to purchasing books each semester, especially in graduate school, where the subject matter was more consistently to my liking. I'd page through the books over the next few days and feel like I was in possession of a sort of treasure.

The downside of all the reading for educational purposes, was that I've been ingrained with the idea that reading for pleasure is an extravagance I cannot afford. I thought this feeling would go away about 2 hours after I graduated this last time (which was two years ago) but I'm sorry to say it hasn't, which indicates to me I need to do something about it. I sincerely believe that being in the middle of a good book is one of life's sublime pleasures, and one I've been missing out on.

I supposed it's a slightly different issue than kvetching about how expensive books are, but it's related. I feel like for the price, I need to make the commitment to read the book and for that price I'd better well like it! Maybe I need to loosen my expectations a bit.

In contrast, let's look at CB's relationship with books. He owns a lot of them. His bedroom has 4 floor-to-ceiling book cases, and they are pretty full. Lots of the books are bird books of one kind or another, and they serve as a reference library for his work. He's got other kinds of books too, but the point is, he sees books as an investment. A tangible something that can be used more than once. I like this attitude.

I tend to run out of time and energy at the end of the day such that I don't read before bed. I just sort of fall in and go to sleep. I'm thinking of maybe trying to get to bed a little earlier to have some reading time before bed. I'm still not ready to plop down $25 on a whim, but I'd like to think I could work towards getting a little more that way. As in, seeing a good read for that much, and deciding it's worth it, even though it's $25.

Suggestions for the next purchase, anyone?

image: invisibleman

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Coworker update

I saw my soon-to-be-a-transplant recipient coworker today. Our boss talked to his boss and they agreed that she's worth keeping (I agree) so they will renew her contract and give her a 6 month unpaid leave to get through the transplant and get well enough to work.

How cool is that? She's excited about it, and I think it gives her something to look forward to while going through this arduous process.

Isn't your dog worth it?

Like most pet owners, I want to feed Sally food that is good for her. She's a big girl, about 80 lbs., so I buy "large breed" food. Originally, I fed her some large breed puppy food that I found at what Mr W and I call "the dog food store", or Petsmart.

I guess I'm a victim of marketing, but I was in the mindset that I'd be unable to find quality dog food at Target or the grocery store. I settled on a large breed kind made by Nutromax, and Sally liked it fine. Then I went to the dog food store once and they were out.

Out? Yes, 'it's our most popular brand'. Could you check in the back? Come back Wednesday. I had enough of her old food to tide me over, and went back to the store like a dutiful consumer. I didn't want to switch food on her, as it can give her the runs. She went through that bag, I went to buy more and guess what? Yup, they were out. So I bought a bag of Iams. I gradually mixed more and more Iams large breed food in with her old food and she did just fine.

It's funny. In this day of (I'm not kidding) holistic, organic dog food, there has been some goalpost-moving as to what is touted as the best food for a dog. Iams isn't considered a premium dog food anymore. Is it time to remind everyone that organic food hasn't been shown to be more nutritious? Sure, buy it for the lack of pesticides, but this sense that one is doing the very best for their pet if they feed organic food rings a little hollow with me.

To get some info, I went to the American Veterinary Medical Association's website. Search for dog food recommendations and you will find none. Food recall information from a year or so ago, yes. This says to me that it doesn't matter all that much what brand one picks, as long as it says it's nutritionally complete. So for the time being I will continue to buy Iams because I don't have to make a special trip to get it.

To be fair, I did recently buy rawhide specifically not made in China. I went on the web and found stuff made in the US, due to the general feeling that regulations are rather lax over there.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Reality Check

My coworker came to my cube this morning and said, "can I talk to you for a minute about something?" Sure thing. Cubeville has no privacy, so we go to one end of the office trailer. I like this coworker. Her thing is virology, while mine is population genetics, so we have good discussions about how to go about getting the stuff done that the boss wants done. She's also a mom, so we talk about our kids as well. She had a difficult pregnancy a few years ago, which coincided with the discovery of a tumor on one of her kidneys. They removed the kidney and her daughter was born premature but OK.

Well, turns out her other kidney is failing, and she wanted to talk to me about how to tell the boss. She'll have a kidney transplanted from her brother, and is expected to be out for 5-6 months. She was worried the boss would be disappointed in her because they've got a very busy summer of experiments planned.


Can you imagine? She's in her late 20's. The transplant is supposed to make her better for a long time, but she's got to deal with the possibilities brought by her one kidney being in the process of ceasing to function, and all the worry associated with getting an organ transplant.

Hearing about stuff like this makes me want to kiss my kid, hug myself and acknowledge to someone (maybe the Flying Spaghetti Monster?) my gratitude. Although I usually wish I were thinner, my body has served me quite well these 40-some years, I am grateful.

Friday, May 9, 2008

A Year Ago

CB and I met face to face a year ago May 10. We had been talking on the phone a lot, and about a month into it, he asked if I would be interested in going to a concert with him. The catch: it was in Los Angeles. I did say yes, and as I thought about it that night, it seemed like the idea should be fraught with red flags, but try as I might, I couldn't find any, which I took as a very good sign.

So I did it, I flew to Phoenix, and we had lunch, where I (mostly) jokingly said something like that was my chance/ our chance to size each other up and decide if we wanted to spend the next eight hours in the car together. Again, no red flags, so off we went. We talked and talked, and drove through the desert, and past those huge wind farms as you get into CA.

We spent a night (two nights?) in Santa Barbara, where we went whale watching and also to their fabulous Botanic Garden. Colorado's got great weather, but growing up in Ohio, I appreciate really nice weather. It's no wonder people want to live out there. The concert was good, loud. CB provided these very effective ear plugs that saved my bacon. We could still sort of shout at each other and understand what each other was saying, but the volume of the music didn't bother me (and it was crazy loud without the earplugs). It was all wonderful and went so fast.

On the day we were to head back, we went to the La Brea tar pits. Very cool, but I, um, how to say this delicately, needed a bathroom as we were walking around outside. To put it into context, it was a pretty stressful few days (all the good kind of stress, but stress nonetheless), so I guess I'm not surprised that the need arose. Anyway, we're back in the building, I feel funny, and I end up fainting. Indeed, not only fainting, but falling into a display case, giving myself a cut over my eye, upsetting some magnets that were for sale and scaring the hell out of CB. I remember him saying, "what's my name?" Of course, as soon as I hit the ground, everything cleared and I felt much better, so I looked at him like he was asking a silly question.

I was fine after that, but it was more drama than I wanted to introduce to the situation. But it makes for a good story, and I am now ever-wary of magnet displays. It was the beginning of a grand adventure that I'm excited to be part of.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Mr W has a check up at the dentist today. On the up side, he’s got plenty of room in his jaw, so isn’t expected to need braces. But on the down side, he’s prone to cavities. He had one horrendous appointment where they filled four cavities at once and he was a wreck. I am a wreck as well, because I’m fairly certain that I transfer some of my dentist anxiety to him, although I try my best not to.

I can remember being four myself and sitting in Dr. Rossi’s office. The family story goes that I actually asked him to shut the door so my mom wouldn’t hear me crying. Nowadays, I can easily get through a cleaning like a big girl, but if I have to get work done, my preference is to have both Valium and the nitrous oxide to smooth me out. At that point, they could probably offer to pull them all and I’d drowsily say, “OK”.

Pediatric dentistry has come a long way since the dentist would try to drill without anesthetic because it was “a small one”. They use distraction to give shots, are willing to use the nitrous and have a kid-friendly wait area that looks like a McDonald’s playland. I think it goes a long way to take some of the stigma out of what can arguably be an awful experience for a kid.

I know they’ve been doing this for years, but at his last visit, Mr W had four of his permanent molars sealed. How I wish I could have take advantage of this when I was a kid. The dentist said something like, “there aren’t any guarantees in this life, but sealing teeth against cavities comes pretty close”. So hopefully he’ll have fewer cavities overall, and both he and his mom can breathe a little easier at the dentist.


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Outside the box

How cool is this. There was a design competition to build on a vacant lot in NYC, and this is one of the ideas. Lifted verbatim from

The Locavore FantasiaWORK AC
It would be a total departure if Work AC’s utopian vision were ever to bear fruit—and we do mean fruit, because it’s an apartment building topped with a working farm. “We thought we’d bring the farm back to the city and stretch it vertically,” says Work AC co-principal Dan Wood. “We are interested in urban farming and the notion of trying to make our cities more sustainable by cutting the miles [food travels],” adds his co-principal (and wife) Amale Andraos. The cheerful if slightly mad design, riffing on a concept they came up with to win the P.S. 1 Young Architects Program, would have different crops on each floor; land laying fallow would be used for play (putting greens, say). Four large water tanks would collect rainwater for irrigation. “Sculpture structures” commissioned from artists would act as columns supporting the building, which leans back to face the crops toward the sun. “We show a Brancusi, but it could be anyone,” says Wood.

Originally found on a very interesting new blog (for me)

Friday, May 2, 2008

Not-so-pretty Package

I ordered some lab supplies a couple of days ago. The sequencer that I use to generate microsatellite data takes these gel cartridges, which are very convenient to use, although they cost a lot of money. When I order stuff, I look at the catalog and order the thing at the price in the catalog; if there's a discount the nice ladies in Purchasing figure it out, as well as figuring out shipping. They really do a lot for us science-y types here, it merits another post at some point.

Anyway, what I ordered came in 4 boxes, each of which was about 9"x9"x4". However, they came in a phenomenal amount of packaging, consisting of each being wrapped in a padded envelope with two cold packs, and then another dozen more cold packs, all in a styrofoam cooler that was 5x the volume of the product. And there were two coolers, two boxes per cooler. Sheesh. Speaking of the awesome support staff, I put the boxes and cold packs and packaging in the hallway when I'm done, and the custodial staff comes and takes it away. They rock.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Eye Candy

I just love this picture, found on Ketzel Levine's blog on She has a bunch of photos she calls "Sumptuous Snapshots" and I agree. The blue ones are Nemophila menziesii var. menziesii or Baby Blue Eyes. Common names for plants are not very useful, as you could call them one thing and I could call them another, and we'd both be right, except a little confused. Don't know for sure what the orange ones are, but the shot was taken in CA, so I'm guessing CA poppies, Eschscholzia californica. Lovely.