Monday, July 30, 2007

Eight Things

I'm pretty sure someone tagged me for this, though I can't for the life of me remember who. So here you go: eight random things about me. Because it IS all about me. I am a bad, rebellious non-rule-follower, so no rules.

1. I hate shopping because I never have time. As a result, I have something like three shirts in a few colors each. My wardrobe is very dull.

2. I only met Mr. S a year before we were married, and I thought it would be a completely non-serious relationship, i.e. a fling. Oh, how I was wrong.

3. I learned to speak like a dem' Yankee in college, and now I talk in Midwestern Broadcaster Standard most of the time. But I can talk like a total hillbilly; when I'm upset, I lapse into pure Southern, and I still say baaay-ugh for bag, 'That car needs washed' and 'She's good people.'

4. I'm a committed libertarian and bra-burning feminist, but I want to live in Virginia, a state which causes me to tear out my hair and weep. (See: Amendment banning same-sex marriage, long history of racism, etc.) And I used to dye my hair. I draw the line, however, at pointy heels.

5. Pursuant to 4, I loves me some rednecks. Bless their hearts, they may all be Republicans, but they're good people (by and large). To wit: once, when I was 10 or so and my sisters were 6 and 1, the wheel bearings on my mom's car gave out, just short of Afton Mountain. We made it to the local gas station and deer-and-turkey-check-station (complete with slab of salt pork on the floor) right before the car gave up in a smoky screech. The owner of said station called her son and his buddy- at 8 PM on a cold Friday night!- who were car mechanics, and they not only came and had a look, but also woke up a buddy of theirs who owned an auto parts shop, went over and bought new wheel bearings from him, and then installed said bearings. At (by then) 10 PM on a cold Virginia night. Of course, they refused payment of any kind beyond the cost of parts. Because it's just what you do. Soon after, we sent them a large and elaborate basket of tasty foods. Because that's also what you do.

6. I don't make friends easily. When the average residence half-life among one's friends is about three years, this is a bit trying.

7. I have unusually flexible joints and can put my feet behind my head even if I haven't stretched in weeks. It runs in the family; we sprain things a lot.

8. I am a compulsive proofreader. (Although it may not be evident here.)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

More Modern Fairy Tales: No Adventures Here

I had a whole long story worked up about a perilous journey to the All-Elf Meeting, and the various trials and tribulations along the way, complete with a choose-your-own adventure encounter with the bridgekeeper which ended in various disastrous ways. But! Yesterday I had an extremely peculiar and entirely unexpected conversation with my advisor over lunch, and the adventure is canceled in favor of a mainly pleasant surprise. So here's Version 2: Now With Less Adventure.


Once upon a time there was a young elf who lived in the land of the toadstools. She had a very nice toadstool indeed, full of little flowers. Why, her toadstool even had its own lilypad, to practice one's flying leaps! The fairies and elves had wonderful games under the full moon, and were known all through the land for their work growing beautiful berry bushes.

One day a beautiful butterfly came swooping and diving over the toadstool field. It was a messenger from the Council of Elves and Fairies! It dropped birch leaves to tell everyone there would be a great meeting very soon, so they could all come learn about the kinds of mushrooms, and how to make ponds for your pet dragonflies, and all sorts of useful things.

So the young elf packed up her favorite mushroom spores in a bluebell, and made a few nectar-filled pods to sustain her, and set out along the garden path. She ran and ran and ran, and soon enough she came to a tall, tall bridge.

Under that bridge there was a Gatekeeper. Now this Gatekeeper had been there as long as anyone remembered, and he was as crabby as the day is long. This young elf was very worried, for to pass the bridge, she would need a token from the Gatekeeper. So she put on her very best face and said 'Please sir, could I give you some of these delicious nectar pods? And would you perhaps have a token to spare?'

That Gatekeeper snatched up her nectar, and looked at those pods, and sniffed. 'Come back when you have more,' he said. She was so sad, but she was a determined little elf, and so she went back to her toadstool and worked and worked and worked.

The next year, the young elf brought her nectar pods and a lovely basket of acorns. And the Gatekeeper looked at the nectar, and looked at those acorns, and sniffed. 'Come back when you have more,' he said. And she was sad again, but what could she do but turn away?

The next year, the elf was more determined than ever that she would cross that bridge. So she came up with a clever plan, because you see, she had realized that the tokens to get across the bridge were plain old birch bark. If that mean Gatekeeper wouldn't give her a token, why, she would make her own!

Now, it was only a week before the great meeting was to start. She went up to the bridge and offered her nectar, and her acorns, and a maple leaf full of tasty grubs. And that old thing looked at all she had and sniffed. 'Come back when you have more,' he said. She turned away into the forest to hunt for birch bark, because she had made up her mind she wouldn't be stopped by any mean bridgekeeper!

But a strange thing happened just as she found the perfect smooth white piece of bark. She sat down in the forest to have a bit of nectar and who came along but the Gatekeeper! 'What a nice piece of birch that is,' he said. 'If you'll draw a little sketch of an elf on it for me, why, I'll send you right across that bridge, and I'll even give you this basket of berries to take along. How is that, my young elf?'

The elf sat there with her mouth open. 'Very well,' she finally managed to say. And she drew the most elegant picture you've ever seen and gave it to the Gatekeeper and skipped right across the bridge.

Moral of the story: If you're me, when you've already decided to do something no matter what, objections seem to disappear in the most mysterious way.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Why To Be An Electrician

'The drain is making noises,' Bert said to me yesterday. 'Do you think it's chicken again?'

'Did you look under the sink?' I asked.

'What? You can look under the sink?' he said.

After the unfortunate Chicken Incident, you see, our long-suffering plumbers replaced the metal pipes with clear plastic. Which is why we were able to see: five metal spatulas, three stir-bars, several unidentified bits of centrifuge tubes, and the requisite blob of brown gook.

The plumber is currently plungering the sink, to very little effect. Ooh, he's opening up the main standpipe now.

At least... this time it's not chicken.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Friday Photo Library: Summer Flowers and Fickle Hair

Next week: Fairy Tales With Bridges; Plumbers; possibly also Blaming

And it gets cut shorter again.

Bee balm

Something pretty.

(Blurry) ornamental kalanchoe

Ornamental grass Miscanthus sinensis

Day lily



Pretty things whose names are not known to me

Summer storms rolling in.

Lovely weekends to all!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Best! Ever! Google Hit!

"What's the law for medical professionals hitting on the receptionists?"

Pity It's the Wrong Finger

PSA: When playing football, if it's going to hit your fingertip, DUCK. Because you can sprain fingers!

Photo 1No, Really

No comment for the press. I simply couldn't, dahling.

Monday, July 16, 2007

I Fixed It! I Fixed It!

The posts, they expand again. Thank goodness for other people's detailed instructions. :)

When English Majors Write About Genetics

Our favorite newspaper is at it again.
Williams syndrome rises from a genetic accident during meiosis, when DNA’s double helix is divided into two separate strands, each strand then becoming the genetic material in egg or sperm. Normally the two strands part cleanly, like a zipper’s two halves. But in Williams, about 25 teeth in one of the zippers — 25 genes out of 30,000 in egg or sperm — are torn loose during this parting. When that strand joins another from the other parent to eventually form an embryo, the segment of the DNA missing those 25 genes can’t do its work.
A brief consultation of even, say, Wikipedia would tell this otherwise well-meaning author- who, by the way, apparently writes about science for a living:
During meiosis, the genome of a diploid germ cell, which is composed of long segments of DNA packaged into chromosomes, undergoes DNA replication followed by two rounds of division, resulting in haploid cells called gametes. Each gamete contains one complete set of chromosomes, or half of the genetic content of the original cell.
For those of you reading at home- since meiosis is probably not on the top of your reading list- I remind you that like most stable DNA structures, chromosomes are double-stranded. You start with a cell containing 46 chromosomes- two copies of each 23 chromosomes. They duplicate; the cell has 92. The cell divides, then divides again. You end up with four cells, each of which has 23 chromosomes.*

At no point does the DNA unzip one strand from another in order to put one strand in each new cell. And for people who would like to say 'But it's a little error! Why do you care?'... because it's the writer's job to get it right. It's like saying President Bush regularly wears an Alf tie to signings. Easily checkable, and wrong. But anyhow. On to the interesting stuff.

What actually causes Williams Syndrome is defective recombination.
Meiotic recombination between polymorphic markers proximal and distal to the [7q11.23 1.4 Mb] deletion has been documented, suggesting that unequal crossing over between homologous regions is the mutational mechanism in most cases.16 17 However, the absence of recombination in other families suggests that intrachromosomal rearrangements may also occur. The presence of a genomic duplication at the deletion breakpoints may act as a hotspot for the recombination events causing Williams syndrome.
All human cells are supposed to contain 46 chromosomes total. Many common conditions, including Down's Syndrome and various trisomies, are caused by having 47.

Chromosomes are paired off during meiosis: of the 23 kinds of chromosomes, let's say each has an A and a B: 1a and 1b, 2a and 2b, etc. Since an egg has 23 chromosomes and a sperm also has 23 (in normal gametes), let's say A is inherited maternally, while B is inherited paternally.

During meiosis, the A and B chromosomes are stuck to each other (here's a very cool picture). This is part of a mechanism to make sure each new cell gets the right set of DNA- a correct 'genetic complement' . While they're stuck together, both strands of the chromosomes break through both strands in certain places. This enables, say, the top 'inch' of A to switch with the top 'inch' of B. There are certain places along the chromosomes where they don't usually break; think of them as armor-plated bits. One theory is that this prevents important genes from getting bits missing in the middle: if it can't break in the middle of a gene, it can't stick back together wrong.

Recombination is an important mechanism for genetic variation. Say that genes are colors and A1 has a pattern that goes red, blue, blue, orange, red, while A2 has a pattern of yellow, blue, blue, green, yellow. If they both break between the blues and then re-combine differently, you would get one (call it A1a) that was red, blue, blue, green, yellow and another (A1b) that was yellow, blue, blue, orange, red. Both of these are called non-parental genotypes: neither A1 nor A2 had this pattern originally.

Now here's what the author was trying to say. Imagine that A1 breaks after both blues, but A2 breaks between the blues, and then they recombine. You get A1a of red, blue, blue, blue, green, yellow and A1b of yellow, blue, orange, red. A1b is missing a chunk because of improper recombination. That's how people get Williams- a chunk with 25 genes is lost from somewhere in the middle of the chromosome, and the truncated chromosome is inherited by the child.

As a side note, if I were going to say that DNA got unzipped, I'd think the teeth would be individual bases. Not genes. Yes?

*Except for that weird thing where the egg goes through Meiosis I but only partly through MII, and then sheds its spare 23 chromosomes once fertilized. So the sequence is a bit off. But the principle holds.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Friday Navel-Gazing Angst (For A Change, Eh?)

Update: My script died. That last post? It was longer. It's all there now!
P.S. Sorry about the dead link at the bottom of every post. I'm working on it.

Hi, blog! I've been neglecting you. Not so much from an actual lack of time as from a bad case of overwhelmed dissatisfaction. I get home and I want to pout, or hide in the closet for a while. You know, a year or two. Ironically, I used to be a very sociable person. I went out every night! I saw plays! I organized parties! Now it's all I can do to answer my email. (I can't be the only person with a pathological fear of opening my email, can I? Lest someone has been mean to me.) So if you don't hear from me, I'm in a closet with my hands over my ears.

On the grounds that this is not a fabulous response to life, however, I hereby resolve to try to post MWF. Really.

(By the way, I just told Mr. S that I've had a blog for 9 months. Mr. S: 'Okay. I didn't know I was married to a blogger!')
  • I started this blog so as to have somewhere to say things about science and life in science. Unfortunately, I think it's best to keep details about lab stress to a minimum, because the Law of Pseudonymity is that eventually your co-workers will find you. Equally unfortunately, lab stress is kicking my ass. I wish I could describe it and get it off my chest.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Ask A Scientist: Real, Crying Co-Workers

Edited: My expand-post script isn't working. Here's the whole thing.

A correspondent, Nice Post-Doc, writes (I summarize):
'I remember you wrote about women scientists needing to behave like "one of the boys" and not be too emotional at work. So, I thought you might have some advice for a well meaning post-doc... Today, a female student who's writing her thesis broke down crying. She's losing her stipend, her friends have left, her project didn't turn out well, etc. I'm helping with language in her thesis. We sat down to talk today, and she had come out of our boss's office, and she came unglued. I was pretty uncomfortable. She was clearly embarrassed about it, but she settled down and I managed to tell her about the tears I shed during the writing of my thesis, among other things and we agreed on a plan between the two of us, the kind of plan she should be making with my [male] adviser. So what is your advice? Should I never mention this ever again? Check on her a little since I know she doesn't have family close? I don't want to treat her like a little sister or some sort of emotional cripple either nor do I want to increase her embarrassment, but she is rather alone.' [In a later message:] 'She came over for dinner Sunday, and is clearly over most of the embarrassment.'
First, I applaud NPD for not only stepping in for the professionally absent advisor, but for also empathizing to put his colleague, Stressed Grad Student, at her ease! Would that everyone's colleagues were so nice, sensitive, and helpful. (Sigh.) Can you come re-train my colleagues?

I agree that checking up in a 'did you get through X, Y and Z on the plan yet?' way would be annoying. Since she's already asked for help with language, and presumably with organization as well, I think it's appropriate to check up in a professional way. It's nice to know that someone cares about one's work, and is willing to help. If you want to ask SGS how her thesis is going every several days or so, and if there's anything yo can do to help out at present, I think that would be great. She knows that she needs more guidance than she's getting, and that's what you've offered. In effect, you are her (surrogate) advisor, except without the pressuring-to-finish part that advisers generally supply.

I wouldn't bring up the crying in a 'Remember that time you had a nervous breakdown' kind of way (not that NPD would!), nor really go into her feelings unless she brings it up. The last thing I want in lab is someone to ask me if I'm less upset now.

Speaking of emotions, I'm all for work situations where one needn't pretend to be emotionless. The response to her tears- this is upsetting, I found it upsetting too, and I'll try to help you get through it- is the best one I could imagine. You acknowledged that SGS was upset, told her you had been upset in similar situations himself, and helped her to find her feet professionally. To me, the wrong response is to ignore that someone's upset. Usually there's a reason, and ignoring it is like pretending the terminally frustrating situation is all okay. Especially if it has to do with work frustration, the cryer doesn't want to feel they're crazy to be upset. When this happens to me, I want to know that I'm perceiving a difficult situation accurately, and that there's a way out. I don't want to be treated as less intelligent or able, which is the sometime downside of crying in lab. But that isn't happening here; you made it clear to SGS that she is legitimately upset at an upsetting situation.

The dinner invitation was also very nice, and I don't think condescending; more nice and sociable. Clearly you treated SGS with respect, which in my experience is sufficient to overcome the embarrassment of having cried in front of someone.

On a more personal note: Like NPD, I am also somewhat disconcerted when my own co-workers cry in front of me! (Rare though it is.) For some reason, if someone from the next lab over cries, it doesn't bother me. They work on nuclear submarine construction, which is nothing like bricklaying, so our interactions beyond 'Could I use your soldering iron' are mainly social. In fact, the last time I was sobbing in the bathroom, a submarine tech patted me on the shoulder for a half-hour. Maybe it's because there's no particular expectation of a purely professional relationship between us that crying is less alarming.

Good luck to SGS and her frustrating thesis. May it be over soon, because while 'done to perfection' is good, 'done' is usually better.

Thoughts, dear readers?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Let's Hear It For America

Originally uploaded by Jenny F. Scientist.

Unfortunate, but funny. (Note that lab tape was used to affix it to a pole.)

Happy 4th of July to everyone. May you live in freedom and donate to the ACLU.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Traditional Weird Google Hits; etc.

Oh right! That blog thing! I have one of those. Sorry, folks; overwhelmedness, a bout of Terminal Anxiety, and another bad allergic reaction- fortunately headed off before the not-breathing part- have been having their ways with me. And my sister had a baby! I find this extremely disorienting.
Google asks:

What are the two parts of science?

Why must be a scientist be objective?
1. If you find out, let me know. Despair, followed by results? Rinse and repeat.
2. Because we like to pretend we're finding the objective truths of the universe. In practice, maybe not.

tulips pennies stand science
sweet potato postdoc job
Excellent fodder for future blog haiku. How does one parse these? Do tulip pennies endure or enjoy their scientific careers? Are special tulip stands used in labs? Do people actually study sweet potatoes?

How to deal with whiny co-worker
Honey, ignore 'em. Ignore 'em good and hard. Earplugs help.

Reproductive benefits of sudafed
It's very simple. When your nose isn't dripping ooze, your spouse is more likely to get some.

cell center stockroom university of penn add grant 2007
I really, really want to know why my blog comes up for this.

recipe haiti pregnant
metformin pcos ovulation vinegar
Again with the mystery. Vinegar?!?!?