Monday, April 28, 2008

Mentors, Part 1

As I sit here waiting for samples to thaw, I have a few minutes to post on something I’ve been thinking about lately. I have kept in touch with my former Advisor, as well as two of my committee members. Those two have been important mentors for me and I wanted to sing the praises of mentors for a while.

S and I meet for coffee every few weeks, swap dog stories, and talk about academia related stuff. She not only knows her stuff about plant population genetics, she can teach and write about it as well. Coincidentally, she lives down the street from me.

Over the weekend, I saw her walking her dog while I was out walking Sally. We were chatting, and I mentioned that I probably wouldn’t be able to pursue this great postdoc after all because of the low salary, and that I wished the professor hadn’t withdrawn the tech position.

In a great piece of wisdom from someone who always seems to keep her eye out for the next cool project she says, “well, it doesn’t cost you anything to go and talk to her, now does it?” Hmmm, I thought, no it doesn’t. So I’ll be ready to talk, if and when the professor with the postdoc calls, and we’ll see what happens.

The Butterfly Effect

The Exploratorium in San Francisco has a nice little demo of this effect in the form of a "Lorenz Butterfly" that I'm unable to upload here, so I'll give the link:
http://www.exploratorium.edu/complexity/java/lorenz.html

The idea is that two particles can start out in the same spot, but will eventually the difference in their paths becomes greater. This is an example of "sensitive dependence upon initial conditions". It's fun to look at, too.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Another Poem

My former officemate from grad school sent me this whimsical ditty on Botany. Thanks b!

There should be no monotony
In studying your botany;
It helps to train
And spur the brain—
Unless you haven’t gotany.

It teaches you, does Botany,
To know the plants and spotany,
And learn just why
They live or die—
In case you plant or potany.

You learn, from reading Botany,
Of woolly plants and cottony
That grow on earth,
And what they’re worth,
And why some spots have notany.

You sketch the plants in Botany,
You learn to chart and plotany
Like corn or oats—You jot down notes,
If you know how to jotany.

Your time, if you’ll allotany,
Will teach you how and what any
Old plant or tree
Can do or be—
And that’s the use of Botany!

--Berton Braley

From: Nature Smiles in Verse: A Collection of Bi-Illogical Poems compiled by Bernal R. Weimer (1940)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

This just in


CB's coming to visit in just three weeks. Sweet!


I'd better clean my house...






image:
http://www.miltonpark-jun.portsmouth.sch.uk/images/Logos/binoculars.jpg

Phew!

A couple of days ago, I was busily going about my business at work. I was doing several different things in the lab: setting up PCR, running a gel, setting up a run on the sequencer, and was getting done all the stuff I wanted to get done.

I went to my desk, supposedly just for a moment before my daily trudge over to take care of ourinsectary mosquitoes, and started getting emails from my boss, asking for clarifications on this manuscript we've been working on. First one says, "Table 6 is wrong, there's 100 added, where there should be fifty". I go into panic mode because this is a table that was indeed wrong when I gave him the manuscript, and I fixed it just before leaving to go see CB for a long weekend.

I'm not good at keeping track of all the nuances of each analysis done for a manuscript. Granted, this is just the third one I've done, but it I always seem to need to go back to the Excel spreadsheet and see the process of how that figure or table or result came to be in order to say what I did. So I had to do this (again) for good old Table 6, and you know what?

It was correct. He had just transposed a couple of digits when he was reading it. I was relieved, because it would look bad to have an incorrect table twice.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Season has started


Yes, indeed, the garage sale season has begun. I was looking through our local paper this morning and there are about 30 sales this weekend, good for this town.

Before I went back to school/got pregnant/had Mr W, I would hit the sales most Saturdays during the summer. While I am not a freakishly organized person, I had my street map and different colored pens, and I would map out my route the night before so as to maximize my efforts. I would usually stop at the bagel store after a sale or two for an egg and cheese bagel, and be done around 11:00 am. As I write this, I see several things around that I've picked up from garage sales: lamps, an old school desk, TV table, clothes.

The appeal for me is getting a good deal on stuff that I could use. This doesn’t always happen of course, but that pile in the basement is pretty small. There are some sales where the people think their junk is worth a lot more than other people's junk. As in asking a dollar for a used magazine. Sometimes I'll offer less (always nicely) if I think the item isn't worth the asking price, but I usually don't haggle at all. That's not part of the fun.

The qualifier to garage sale enjoyment is time. I have to feel like I've got the time to spare on such folly. When Mr W was young and I was in grad school, I could take a couple of hours on a Saturday, but always felt like I should be doing something else, which sucked the joy out of the whole thing and I stopped going.

Thankfully, I'm at a point where I can carve out a couple of guilt-free hours AND I can take Mr W along on weekends when he's with me. Yes, I've enticed him with the possibility of cheap toys to make the deal sweeter, but he's pretty willing to do that kind of stuff.

If the weather's nice tomorrow morning, I'm hitting a few and then going in to work.

image from www.nataliedee.com

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I miss my sister

My sister died two months ago. Forty-five years old, she was blindsided by a Stage 4 colon cancer diagnosis in November 2006. She did fairly well on the chemo for almost a year, but it was just too aggressive to beat.

She left behind a husband of almost 20 years, and two boys, teenagers. She was a skilled neonatal intensive care nurse, and completed the coursework for her Bachelor's of Science in Nursing while she was undergoing treatment.

She had a bawdy sense of humor, and defended the people she loved fiercely. Her older son, my nephew Patrick was born with Hirschbrung's Disease, and was in and out of the hospital for much of his first two years of life. He had all of his large intestine and some of his small intestine removed - it was a huge strain on the family, but Pat's OK, although side effects from his time in the hospital left him deaf (he's got a cochlear implant, so he's been able to hear since he was about five).

She loved the beach. Loved the feel of the sun and wind and water. She and her husband would have likely retired on a coast somewhere. Even when we were kids, she'd be out in the back yard slathered in tanning oil, and I'd do 5 minutes where all I could think was "my god, it's so hot out here" and hightail it in the house for some kool-aid.

I felt her absence a lot yesterday. Every day since she died, I wake up and check my cell phone, as I did when she was sick, to see if she's called. If she needs me. And when I have a spare few minutes waiting for a train, or hanging out at the dog park, I think to call her. There is simply a hole there that exists because she's gone. She was such a good friend. She was instrumental in helping me through my divorce, and had wisdom beyond her years that came from being a good listener.

I'm trying to remember my network of people during this weird time. CB is one of the greatest empathetic listeners on the planet, and I plan to make use of his patient ear. Friends have been really helpful too, and it's my responsibility to contact them if I need them, as I hope they would do if they needed someone to talk to.

The picture is of Kris from summer of 2006. The summer I flew to OH and we drove to SC to meet up at my brother's house. She was feeling a little tired at the time, but thought it was her hectic schedule. Little did she know she probably had had cancer growing in her for several years. GET YOUR EXAMS, PEOPLE. Anyway, I love this picture because my niece is gnawing on Kris's arm and Kris is showing her professional baby holding technique. She looks strong, confident and happy and that's how I want to remember her. She'd kick my ass if I did anything else.

How can this be?

I filled up my gas tank this morning, after looking down at the gas guage and saying, "oh shit, I need to get gas!" I don't always calculate my gas mileage, but today I bought just about 10 gallons of gas so it was easy to figure it out. I have a 1995 Civic, and got 38 miles to the gallon on the last tank of gas. This included a trip to the Denver airport and back (140 miles), but was city driving otherwise.

Why is this the exception? Why is it so hard to find a new car that gets this kind of gas mileage? What happened so that we Americans accept cars that get 25 miles to the gallon and think that's OK?

With $4.00 a gallon gas looming on the horizon, I feel like we consumers should be awash in options for cars that seat four people, and get 35-40 mpg. The other day, I looked at gas mileage of cars that could fit 5 people and a dog (read: minivans). They get about 15-20 mpg.

*sigh*

Who needs shoes? Apparently not us

It took 4 million years of evolution to perfect the foot, and humans have been wrecking that perfection with every step since they first donned shoes, New York magazine's Adam Sternbergh says.
"Everyone who wears shoes walks wrong," he says, echoing the headline of his recent article, "You Walk Wrong."

Sternbergh calls the ubiquity of footwear a "conspiracy of idiocy." He points out the probability that at no point did any shoemaker say, "Let's design something that works with your foot." In the Middle Ages, for example, people began wearing shoes with higher heels to avoid stepping in other people's excrement. Today, high heels are considered sexy. Whatever their reasons for wearing the shoes they wear, people don't usually consider whether a shoe actually works with their foot, he says.

The human foot works pretty well on its own, Sternbergh says, and it doesn't need a lifetime of help from shoes. He explains the basic illogic of footwear by comparing the concept to a perpetual cast. "Imagine if someone put a cast on your arm when you were 3 years old and you never took it off," he says. "Your arm would stop working. That's kind of what's happened with our feet."
Sternbergh cites a 1940s study of barefoot rickshaw drivers in India. Scientists found that the drivers had unusually healthy feet. Sternbergh says subsequent evidence supports the conclusion that feet don't need shoes.

Why are shoes on virtually every foot, then? Sternbergh says the rationale that most urban and suburban people use is that the ground is hard and our feet need the cushioning of footwear. "But in many places in the world, the ground is quite hard," he says. "[Our ancestors] were able to absorb the shock."

Sternbergh concedes that in most settings, some form of foot covering makes sense. "I'm not going to convince anyone to walk barefoot," he says, acknowledging that he continues to wear shoes as a bulwark against glass, grime and gross things.

He may still wear shoes, but Sternbergh has switched to a model from England called the Vivo Barefoot from the Clark shoe family. Galahad Clark, son of the inventor of the Wallabee — a particularly successful, if traditional, shoe — helped develop the Vivo Barefoot. Sternbergh says the shoe is basically a slipper with a Kevlar sole, to prevent puncturing.

"They kill your heels," he says. "A traditional shoe advocate would say you need to switch back to sneakers that have a big cushiony heel." But a barefoot-walking advocate would say, "You're walking wrong," Sternbergh says. He asked Clark for advice or instruction, but Clark said walking in the shoe is instinctual.

"You'll find that your walk starts to change," Sternbergh says. "You land on your heel, but it's a much softer landing. ... A traditional shoe with a lot of cushioning is designed to allow you to walk with the bad habits that you have because you've been wearing shoes all your life."

For those who cling to their typical footwear, Sternbergh is sympathetic. "Shoes perpetuate shoes," he says, referring to the cycle of coddled feet forever needing high-tech swaddling. "It's a classic self-perpetuating system."
Story and image copied verbatim from NPR's "Bryant Park Project" http://www.npr.org/

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What nice ruffles you have

Stinky flower - going strong. Check it out:

http://gustavus.edu/academics/biology/titanarum/

I take care of yours if you take care of mine

I know, I know, I promised a post on ecological genetics, and it will be forthcoming. For the moment, I'm still immersed in the excitement/trepidation phase of considering this new job. One thing that is pretty darn expensive is kenneling my dear Sally.
I like the kennel that Sally goes to. They like her and take good care of her. But I guess it's a result of different dogs needing different things that I feel like I'm nickel and dimed to death. Basic lodging is $18, one daily turn-out to play with the other doggies is $5.50, her meds (which she gets only in the kennel because she gets the runs) are $2.00. So we're up to $25.50 per day. Of course they are happy, and it is convenient for me, to get her up to date on her vaccinations, and test her for heartworm. But the last bill, for 6 days, was $429.00 Ouch.

So, I'm working on a flyer to post at the dog school, offering an exchange of dog watching services. I watch someone's dog while they are away for a few days and they return the favor. I figure meeting them through dog school increases the chance that their dogs will be similar to Sally. It will have to be somewhat specific, though. The dog will have to be used to sleeping in a crate like Sally does, and will have to be able to be home (so as not to incur dog school expenses) every other day.

It's worth a try. Arf!
image: www.dogsdoright.com

Monday, April 21, 2008

20 ways to make an extra $100 a month

I did it. I emailed the professor and asked her to go ahead and consider me for the ecological genetics postdoc. I'm going to do a post soon about what this kind of genetics is and does, but today I will focus on how (in a tongue and cheek way) to bridge the gap in income that I will experience:

1. Run copies for busy professors at a University - no

2. Buy things at garage sales and sell them on eBay (I actually might look into this one)

3. Clinical trial participant - let me get back to you on that...

4. Computer consultant - not with this set of skills

5. Convention worker - I can think of one related side business that's a real money maker, but no thanks

6. Freelance editor - I probably don't have the skills there either

7. Handyman - I wish

8. Mystery shopper - not time-efficient enough

9. Paper deliverer - I get up early enough as it is

10. Pizza deliverer - no thanks, safety issues

11. Plasma seller - might look into this one too, although it's 3 hours of my time each time

12. Pooper scooper - while I'm good at this, I do it enough as it is

13. Professional shopper - I'm not good at figuring out what other people want to buy

14. Retail - ick

15. Teaching - I will likely look into this one too. I've talked to the biology dept head at the community college here in town and they usually have one or two classes that need adjuncts

16. Temping - maybe

17. Tutoring - maybe, if it pays OK.

18. Writing - hmm, maybe for that as well

19. Catering staff - no thanks

20. Cleaner - as in offices. Probably not, but you never know. Hopefully one's worthiness isn't based on the tidyness of one's own house


It's going to take some juggling, but I could probably make it work. I'm also going to keep in mind that if I don't spend it, I don't have to earn it, so there will be belt-tightnening, although it won't involve canceling trips to AZ or getting rid of the dog.

Anyway, Yippee!!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Neighbors - commonalities

Friend La g├╝era had a post recently about neighbors and I had a talk with my neighbor today that prompted me to write. When I moved into this house, about 2.5 years ago, I was still feeling a little odd for being a divorced woman with a kid moving into a house by herself. It seems weird now to think that I thought that way. Anyway, I moved in, and quickly met the families on either side of me. Both had boys, one side had two that were 2 and 3 years younger than Mr W, and the other had one that was a couple of years older.

In the course of those 2.5 years, one side's neighbors got a messy divorce and they are far from settling their differences, and the other side's are legally separated and she's not sure if the marriage can be saved. How's that for a turn of events? No indeed, I am not alone among the ranks of the divorced.

I don't know how the legally separated couple is doing in terms of providing the best care possible for their kid. One the other side of the alley, she has remarried, and is trying to move, with the kids, to the new husband's home town in KY. Big resistance and bad feelings and using the kids as pawns with that situation. Seemingly endless instances of (at least) the ex husband trying to above all else be difficult. It's hard to know the whole story, I know. But this is an acrimonious relationship at best.

For my part, my x and I get along pretty well, and in my mind, this is for the sole purpose of taking care of Mr W. The x is not my friend, I don't want anything other than a more or less professional relationship with him, and we have (thus far at least) been able to keep at the forefront the goal of raising Mr W. That's all one can ask. As it turns out, CB has the same deal with his x. Not too much strife, and they work together (only) for the purpose of raising the kids. As it should be.

I don't have as much contact with my other neighbors who are more than one house away. However, we talk when we see each other, and one neighbor works at Mr W's school. It's a cordial relationship and I've been so please to have good relations with my neighbors.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Houses and Homes

I've been thinking about houses lately. The weather is supposed to be nice this weekend, so I'm itching to do a bunch of stuff in my yard, part of my ongoing efforts to make my place look a little less like a rental. If I have any energy left, I'll turn my attention to the inside, where it's been a while since a vacuum passed over the floors.

My neighbor, who owns a remodeling business and has lots of connections, is coordinating the repair of my house's foundation, which cracked over the place where a sinkhole developed last summer due to leaky sewer pipes. He has been AWESOME and the relief I feel at having someone to turn to for these repairs (and not feeling like I might get taken advantage of) is huge. If I need something done, I send him an email and he either coordinates it or gives me the name of someone who he recommends.

And I found a person to do handyman-type stuff for me as well. He's a person who attends the Unitarian church I go to, so he comes with good moral credentials anyway. I'm waiting to accumulate a list that's worth calling someone in to attend to, but there always seems to be little somethings that I don't know how to fix or can only achieve a band-aid type of repair for.

My sister in law sent me an email and in it mentioned that her grandparents are moving out of their farmhouse to be closer to her parents in town. But get this: she said there's three generations of stuff in that house that they need to sort through. Three generations, so not only did her dad grow up there, but his dad (or mom, I'm not sure) did as well. Wow. Talk about rooted to a spot. Since moving out of my parent's home, the longest I've lived in one place is four years.

It certainly cuts down on the amount of trinkets I have, as every pending move results in a once-over and purge of accumulated stuff that is no longer needed or wanted. But if I was living in a house with no plans to ever move, I suspect I'd become more of a pack rat. Bits of this and that, you never know when you'll need one of those, that kind of thing.

I'm not there yet. I love this house, but will need larger digs when CB and I are able to live in the same city. Between us we have three kids, and this little two bedroom just isn't big enough for that. But for now, it's perfect for me and my kid.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Poetry and mild angst

Poetry is something this science-y person knows little about. But April is National Poetry Month, so here's one that's plant related.

Epitaph

An old willow with hollow branches
slowly swayed his few high bright tendrils
and sang:
Love is a young green willow
shimmering at the bare wood’s edge.

William Carlos Williams

Found on John Lynch's blog http://scienceblogs.com/strangerfruit

In other news, I'm still miffed about what feels like a potentially great job opportunity that I must (must I?) let slip from my grasp. Still looking for a way that I could exist on that kind of dough, and thinking about what it is I want to do when I grow up. I usually imagine myself as a person who isn't severely career-driven. The only times in the last year that I have felt like I should be doing something else were when a faculty job in Plant Evolutionary Biology came up at a liberal arts college, and then with this postdoc.

The pondering will continue for a while, I guess. I have another month before the posting for the position actually closes.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A bit disappointed

The other day, I saw a posting for a job that was a really good fit for me. It was working with plants, doing ecological genetics as a postdoc in a lab here in town. It would take advantage of what I learned in school, as well as what I've learned in my present job. At the same time, the professor posted a part time lab tech job, and I got her approval to apply for a position doing both jobs.

Offering to do both jobs was an economic necessity. Yes, getting a postdoc is a big step up from working as a teaching assistant or research assistant, but I can't pay my bills on a postdoc salary alone. Between both positions, I could make what I'm making now. What a sweet deal.

Unfortunately, the professor emailed me yesterday, saying that her revised budget wouldn't allow her to offer the lab tech position after all, so only the postdoc was open, and did I still want to be considered for that. Damn. I wrote her back saying that while I was really interested in the job, I would have to withdraw my application because I couldn't live on the salary.

I'd guess most postdocs still rent, as opposed to paying a mortgage, and they may or may not have a kid or two to support. But I just can't take a 10K pay cut, even though this is a dream job. And that pisses me off a little bit.

It also makes me that much more grateful for my current job with the mosquitoes, even if I dread going to the insectary every day to take care of them.

Squidaliscious


Yup, that's how the web cast dissection of some big squid has been described. The Deep Sea News (DSN) blog, http://scienceblogs.com/deepseanews over at Science Blogs posted the story.

This is lifted from DSN:
Monster squid hunter extraordinaire Dr. Steve O'Shea will be dissecting giant and colossal squids and it will be webcasted LIVE from Te Papa Museum in New Zealand. It will be an event-filled week as Dr. O'Shea and his squidaliscious team of crack experts unlock the mysteries of deep sea squids, starting with the thawing!

Looks like it's scheduled from April 27-May 2. Go to DSN for updates.

I have been interested in giant (colossal, etc.) squid for years. First, I think I'm impressed by things that are so large and fierce. An eye the size of a basketball is nothing to sneeze at. Also, I think it's extraordinary that we don't know all that much about these creatures. Every once in a while one washes up on a beach http://www.reuters.com/news/video/videoStory?videoId=59981 , but scientists rarely get a glimpse of them.

I love a scientific mystery.
Image: Kathrin Bolstad.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Runs in the family

My dad spreads the word. Each time my brothers or I send him an email letting him know how we're doing my dad forwards it to the other siblings. I think it's his way of keeping everyone up to speed on what's going on with an economy of effort.

My younger brother sent Dad an update the other day, in which he talked about his gardening plans. Moving plants, creating a couple of new beds, and making sure everything is on a timer so he doesn't have to remember to water.

I hadn't realized that everybody in my family gardens. My dad plants the same stuff every year: marigolds, red geranium, petunias, zinnias. My older brother has a vegetable garden that is more or less a kitchen garden for him to have fresh ingredients to cook with during the summer. The younger brother is doing flowers and impressively sized kid-friendly stuff: corn, watermelon, pumpkins. I plant a mishmash of drought tolerant perennials punctuated by whatever new and different annuals strike my fancy. We'll probably plant broccoli, carrots and maybe pumpkins this year too.

I've always wanted to have a bunch of red raspberry bushes, but have never had enough space. Ditto peach and apple trees and grape arbors. Maybe someday. I like what I have going so far, and as long as I don't have to remember to water it (thank you whoever invented the watering timer), it has a good chance of surviving!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Technology Wimp

OK, might as well start off with the most glaring examples of this. I don't have cable, and my TV has a whopping 9" screen. It does have a DVD player, so Mr W can either watch PBS, or videos when he's at my house. Otherwise, the TV doesn't get turned on much if he's not home. Somehow I find other things to do.

I had the dial-up internet connection from school until I graduated and was forced to find something else. I now have high speed cable internet, and that has been nice. It was a big deal for me to get and install (with the help of those nice customer service people) a wireless router, but it has been nice to not be chained to one spot with my computer.

Now CB, on the other hand, is technology savvy, uses the stuff and is willing to research the options to see what will serve him best. Isn't it nice how there is a balance in relationships like that? As I write this he's on his computer, processing sound recordings he made of bird calls. He has and uses his GPS to get him around when he's home and when he's traveling. He has a couple of digital cameras, a couple of ipods, you get the picture. He's comfortable with the technology and is willing (here's the difference) to put in the time to understand the capabilities of the thing.

I did, I am mildly embarrassed to admit, poke a bit of fun a couple of times at the amount of gear that gets brought along when we go on outings. But only a couple of times, because it readily became apparent that I was a direct beneficiary of his use of these gadgets. For example, we went to OH to see my family over Thanksgiving last year. I figured I could, from memory, get us from the Akron airport up to Mentor. Except that I hadn't ever actually driven that route myself. Enter CB with his handy-dandy GPS, and within a minute or two we had a route to follow and I didn't diss the gadgets ever again.

With any luck, maybe I'll never have to pick out the right TV out of the more than 58 (no shit, I counted the other day) hanging on the back wall at Best Buy. It's a bit of a relief and I can live with my 9" TV until then.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Arizona Bliss

I'm in AZ visiting CB at the moment. When I left CO, it was snowing such that the roads were slushy, visibility was poor, and the plane had to be de-iced before we left. Nothing out of the ordinary for this time of the year, but damp and cold. In AZ it was warm and sunny. It never fails to amaze me how a 90 minute plane ride can take a person into such a different environment.

As always, it's good to be with my guy again. The 2-3 days before a visit I get a little cranky, where the combination of getting ready to go (stopping paper and milk deliveries, boarding Sally) and not having seen CB take their toll. But that evaporates after we are together for a little while.

I enjoyed birding before I met CB, but hanging with a really really good birder is a whole different experience. I have found there are two sides to this coin. On the one hand, I don't have to work very hard at identification if I don't want to, because CB can identify everything. On the other hand, I don't have to work very hard at identification, but if I don't, I don't get any better at it on my own. And for his part, since he does this for a living, it's natural for CB to just say what the bird is. This makes the bird not "count" as much because I didn't ID it myself. What works, we have found, is my saying, "don't tell me!" And then trying to figure it out (always with help, it seems). I have learned a ton already, but there is a lot more to learn.

We went out birding yesterday, to a place called Madera Canyon. It's at about 5000 feet, so it's a little cooler than the surrounding desert, and the weather yesterday was just perfect. There has been a Flame-colored Tanager there, which is rare, but this one has come back to this very spot for the last few years. Wacky. The picture is of that very bird, and as usual, a photo doesn't do justice to the deep orange color of the bird. We also saw a Painted Redstart, Bridled Titmouse, and Broad-billed, Broad-tailed, Anna's and Black-chinned Hummingbirds.

It's for times like these that I work my job and do the other stuff that feels like stuff I HAVE to do.
image from http://fireflyforest.net/

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Stinky Flower update

The titan arum is just starting to unfurl. Here's the link again if you haven't checked lately.

Ahhh, mitosis.

http://gustavus.edu/academics/biology/titanarum/

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Then and Now

Yesterday, the front end of my car was going wub-wub-wub-wub, as though one of my tires was losing air. I filled it, then went out to start my car this morning to find it almost flat.
Jump back in time a couple of years ago, when I would think from time to time, "I've never changed a flat tire, I should learn how". I did get that first flat tire (thankfully this one was in my driveway too), and it was symbolic of my new independence and woeful lack of skills in some areas.

With my trusty helper Mr W, I got the lug nuts off the tire, thinking, "hey, I can put on the spare, what's so hard about that?" Trouble was, with my old car, I couldn't get the tire itself off. Even after following my mechanic's advice to "kick the shit out of it", it wouldn't budge. I was almost frantic, was I going to have to get towed out of my own driveway for a flat tire? Luckily, common sense prevailed, I pumped up the tire as much as I could with our dinky little bike tire pump, and drove to the tire place. Total time from discovery to getting to the tire place: about 2 hours.

Now go forward in time to this morning, when I go out to start my car and discover a flat tire. I sigh, go back inside, tell Mr W we need to deal with a flat tire, and finish my cereal. He asks, "can I jack the car up?" You bet. So instead of even trying to get the tire off, we jack up the car, fill the tire, I drop Mr W at school and drive to the tire place. Total time from discovery to getting to the tire place: about 20 minutes. Not to mention no noticable increase in blood pressure. Good doggie.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Jogging the memory

Maybe it was writing about the iris yesterday. I had a dream about my sister right before I woke up this morning. Lots of symbols that I have to mull over, but it took place at a nice house that was in the woods, on a beautiful day. My sister and brother in law were there, and me. They were getting ready for her not to be there, preparing for her absence. They took her spoken words out of videos to construct an answering machine message. They showed me the list of words and it was written in my mom's handwriting. Then my brother in law was in a costume, he was wearing a white shirt and pants, and had sprayed himself with gold spray paint, but had missed a couple of spots in the back where he couldn't reach. I was helping to cut loose threads from the shirt she was wearing, which had a lot of strings on it anyway, almost like fringe, and it was tricky to find the threads amongst the strings. Finally, my sister and I said we loved each other and missed each other, hugged tightly and I woke up.

Anybody out there good at dream interpretation?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

A good Saturday

It's been a busy day. We had an early soccer game (they got pasted 5-1, but remained in good spririts) at 8:30 and went to the library for a Webkinz party they were having. For those of you not familiar with the Webkinz world, it's a scheme where kids get a small stuffed animal that comes with a code. They enter the code at the website and *presto* their pet is there in cyberspace, and the kid can earn kinz-cash to buy food for their pets, furniture and other stuff for their pet's room, play games. It's pretty harmless, and like a lot of faddish things, Mr W's interest peaked early and waned, but he heard about the party and wanted to go. It was lame, and we left after about 10 minutes. Oh well.

I got a lot done in my garden today! It's so satifying to rake out the old leaves dead plants and reveal a garden that's rarin' to go for spring. I put in a garden on the alley side of my house last year and have been working on that. I got some edging put in, and it looks really nice. Best part of it was that I had four big bags of dead leaves and instead of saving them for my weekly trash, or attempting to compost them in my puny yard, I was able to take them to the leaf drop off place. For a paltry $3.50, I dumped my leaves on their pile and they'll make compost out of it. Sweet.

Also, my bronze iris are coming up and have doubled over the last year. Iris are one of those plants that do really well here in CO. And these are iris with a story. One year for mother's day when I was a teenager, we bought my mom an iris rhizome for Mother's Day. After she died, when dad sold the house, I dug up some of it and have toted it around to every place I've lived for the last 14 years. It never fails to remind me of her. The iris that came with my house, I kid you not, smell like grape kool-aid. Funky.

image from www.jupiterimages.com

Friday, April 4, 2008

Dog, owners: Part 2


It was bound to happen eventually. Mr W bought an inexpensive (read Styrofoam + a motor) remote-controlled airplane with some birthday money. We have gone to the dog park several times (3 or 4) to fly it, and make efforts to not launch it at any dogs. Occasionally some pooch comes over and checks it out when it lands, but all had left it alone. So far.

Yesterday, for some reason, MY dog, dear sweet Sally, picks up Mr W’s plane after it lands/crashes (it’s hard to tell sometimes) and runs off with it. She has ignored it all other times, but yesterday, she decides she’s going to run off with it. I of course start yelling at her and chasing her, and she eventually drops it.

Enter obnoxious beagle, with no manners whatsoever, who takes it as soon as Sally drops it and takes off for the other end of the dog park. This Bad Dog destroys Mr W’s plane, and Mr W is crying, and the other dog owners are nervously (god, I hope it was that) laughing that a dog would do this.

Some guy (I assume it’s the beagle’s owner) runs after Bad Dog, and eventually retrieves the pieces. He hands them back to me, saying “sorry about that”, and I say, “It’s OK, the dog didn’t know it wasn’t a dog toy”. Mr W, meanwhile has realized that this means a new plane for him, and is already scheming for the top of the line (well, our line, anyway) model, something like $160.00, and I’m saying, “probably not that much, we’ll have to see what’s available”.

The punch line: I see the guy leave the dog park WITH ANOTHER DOG. He wasn’t even Bad Dog’s owner. After that, I see Bad Owner skulking around the other end of the dog park and quietly leave with Bad Dog. I’ll have to thank the first guy next time I see him and his nice little pug, who stayed out of the fray.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Stay tuned for large stinky flower blooming

http://gustavus.edu/academics/biology/titanarum/
Here's a web cam from Gustavus Adolphus college, where they are the proud caretakers of one of those giant stinky flowers that smell like rotting flesh. Scientific name: Amorphophallus titanum, common name: Corpse flower. Really, what more could you want in a tropical flower?

image (not of the Gustavus plant) from: http://commons.wikipedia.org/




What I did at school today

OK, it's not school, it's work, but it's always nice to have a pretty picture to show for it. The picture above is a representation of genetic data from the mosquitoes I collected from NYC last month. I should say "we" because I largely came along as the genetics person for whom the mosquitoes would be ground up and analyzed.

Anyway, I have a set of genetic markers called microsatellites, and the ways that those vary among individuals and populations give me information about how similar or different those individuals and populations are. We used to visualize them on gels cast between large glass plates, but now I use a DNA sequencer to do what they call Fragment Analysis. It sizes the markers for each individual, and the end product is a spreadsheet with marker information for each individual.

I then take that spreadsheet info and put it into programs that analyze the data. One program is called Structure, and it looks for genetic structure in populations. Each individual is represented by a vertical line. With the picture here, you can see that two of the populations are similar to each other; those are the above ground populations. The third population are the sewer mosquitoes.

We have specimens of all three groups in the insectary at the moment. My next job is to look more closely at the two above-ground populations and see if they are similar enough to combine them as one group for the purposes of establishing a colony in the insectary.

It's good when the analyses work like they are supposed to!!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

BinoBag is Done!



I finished the binocular bag I was working on. It was my first felted knitting project and I like how it turned out. I think the yarn was heavier than it needed to be because the felting process really thickens up the fabric. This will provide great protection for my borrowed binos, however, and someday I'll buy a new pair for myself to put in it.

I like the idea of felting because it's more art than science. Yes, you know the wool will shrink and glom together, but you don't know exactly how. The felting process consists of throwing the piece in a lingerie bag and agitating it with hot hot soapy water for 5-15 minutes or so. You pull it out every 5 minutes or so and put it back in if it's not done.

The funny thing was, once it was done and sitting on the plastic-bag-covered-cracker box to block (be blocked?) I felt like I didn't have anything to do. I sort of wandered around the house, and poked around the internet. Yes, I need the next project. I thought about finding something to read, but it didn't appeal as much as doing something with my hands.
So, Mr W and I are off to the yarn shop after work today. I'm thinking a new backpack-style purse, felted, and in the not-so-subtle color scheme of red, orange and pink.