Friday, May 30, 2008

And Also, A Friday Photo

The main problem about the aforementioned difficulties is, of course, that I need more data. In more ways than one.

In any event, to distract myself from my gnawing envy of pregnant friends, I make them quilts after work:

Because hand-sewing is both mindless and soothing.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Where's Waldo?

Waldo is very busy, that's what. Did I mention that we have to leave our apartment by September? That's right. If I don't finish by August we will be HOMELESS. And all our stuff will be homeless. This promises to be a joy.

So, in addition to working like a coal miner to finish my @#!!!*&* experiments, I get to contemplate our various unpalatable options... if I don't make it. Store all our stuff? Try to find a 1- or 2-month rental, HA HA HA? Stay with Mildly Insane Postdoc in one-room studio? Try to rent friends' condo except if it sells we're homeless again?

And then, y'know, it doesn't get any easier. So then we move. Except we can't rent anywhere yet because when am I finishing? Or we could leave our stuff with the Scientist-In-Laws, run up to Cold But Beautiful City, and buy a house. Fewer moves, but crazier. And so on.

This is what I think about: mortgages, and science.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Congratulations and Baruch Hashem

Aurelia just had her beautiful little baby boy. Thanks to her own good sense, her good doctors, and God's mercy, she was in the hospital when her placenta abrupted and she and the baby are both safe. Go congratulate her!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Useless Superpowers I've Learned In Lab

  • Lifts heavy rotors with a single hand!
  • Opens cold room doors with only her littlest fingers!
  • Can hear centrifuges spinning down from three rooms away!
  • Catches speeding bottles only moments before they hit the floor!
  • Judges cell growth by eye!
  • Has a spectacular memory for things people said 3 years ago in lab meeting!
  • Quotes reams of science trivia!
  • Can do experiments in her sleep!
What are your superpowers? Scientific or not. :)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I Do Not Think It Means...

Inspired by this, I bring you another installment of 'Needed a Better Editor':

Recently I saw a blurb on the cover of David Drake's "Other Times Than Peace".

It said "He couldn't write a bad fight scene with a gun to his head."

Monday, May 19, 2008

Fear, Or Justice

I love my country. But I cannot believe that in only eight years, Bush and his cohort of evil Republicans (plus Joe 'Evil Rat Weasel' Lieberman), and all the Democrats who rolled over and played dead for fear of being labelled terrorist-appeasing treasonous slugs, have let the US become a mockery of law and justice. Because it's not like this has happened before.

It makes me sick to see supposedly universal Constitutional rights eroded and suffocated and twisted so they apply only to the wealthy white. I find it incomprehensible that Bush could put such incompetents in charge of others' lives, and then stand aside as poor people died; that he could give fancy speeches about helping the needy, but give his helping hand only to the rich and prosperous. Meanwhile the infant mortality rate among African-Americans is almost three times what it is in whites. There are people going hungry in the streets while we are spending $340 million per day so that innocent civilians can be slaughtered while their counterparts in Afghanistan are forgotten. Thousands upon thousands are dead while we forget them because that war is 'almost over' as of 2002.

I still cannot believe that my country has tortured citizens within its own borders- while the CIA and others were certainly doing it for years, never before has an administration stood before its citizens and claimed that deliberate and illegal inhuman treatment was necessary to our security, and gotten away with it. Twice. (By the way, Russ Feingold was the only senator who voted against the 'Patriot' Act in 2001. Both of your senators therefore have supported torture and civil rights violations. Except in Wisconsin, where it's one. In the House the vote was 337 to 79.)

Bush machinated to violate our Constitutional right to privacy in our own borders. He has let the military and the CIA disappear and maltreat people, hold them without charges for years, and otherwise do as they wish. Our own citizens have been convicted on suspicion after years of isolation and torture.

Please, write to your senators and reps. Send something to the ACLU if you can. If you can give to the local food bank, there are a lot of hungry people. If you can volunteer and help teach someone to read. Anything. This is intolerable.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dear Family, Friends, Acquaintances, Classmates, Co-Workers, Dr. S's Co-Workers, and Clergy Members:

I do not have a thesis defense date yet. I do not know when I will be done. I assure you that my fondest desire is to leave this hellhole and never come back. I will tell you when the happy event is projected to occur.

Also, I will bite the next person who asks.

Sincerely yours,

Let Me Out Before I Get Arrested

Monday, May 12, 2008

On Pesach Cleaning and Theology

The excellent Janus Professor asks, "I am curious as to what you do to 'celebrate' Pesach and why you do it."

Some days I am a theist and some days I am an agnostic. Nevertheless, I keep a fairly strict Jewish observance as kind of a spiritual exercise: it gives my life a framework, and it is a cultural connection to my family and to a larger community.

That said, the longer I spend in grad school, the more I find holidays a trial rather than a blessing. It's just so tiring.

So anyhow, Pesach. Taken from various harvest festivals, probably, (see here for an excellent summary); grain storehouses were cleaned before the first harvest, to prevent ergot and rot. The first fruits were then given as a Temple offering. Presumably while all the old grain was being tossed, one couldn't eat it (?). Therefore matzah. Or something. Later some spring fertility rituals got tossed in for good measure.

Somehow this got tangled up with the Exodus story: The Israelites were in a big hurry and didn't have time to let the bread rise. So we eat matzah to remember their affliction(s). So no leavening.*

Rabbinic tradition extends this to anything that has ever touched a grain, lest it should be leavened. So I, and many others, clean every flat surface in the entire house, switch out all the dishes for another set,** and boil the 'leavenedness' off the metal and glass dishes. And then plasticize or foil-ify all cooking surfaces (this year: autoclave bags!).

Traditionally we celebrate with a large feast (Seder- or two of them) with a lot of readings and holding up of symbolic foods: horseradish for the bitterness of slavery, lamb shank for the Temple offering, parsley and an egg for spring/ fertility. It's a big family-and-friends kind of affair; most years we hold one and go to someone else's. There's lots of food and eating and talking about peculiar Talmudic rulings and the natural history of matzah. This part is actually fun, especially if you don't have to do any of the cooking.

Some years, when I'm feeling energetic, I go to services and, y'know, pray. When I have enough mental energy, I try to remember the things from which I've been liberated, and be grateful for whatever spiritual support I receive. The theme is, after all, 'remember that your God brought you out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.'

And then at the end, we go out and buy a dozen doughnuts:
And eat them all.

*Just in case. The logical connection is a little tenuous.
**Yes, we have four sets of dishes. So help me.

Thursday, May 08, 2008


Yesterday I found some 3H-labelled [cellular assay drug] in our freezer.

We don't have a radiation license. Oh, and the half life? 12.3 YEARS.

So.... how am I going to deal with this, without getting the lab in serious trouble?

I am going to put it in the back of the freezer and graduate before anyone notices.


A couple years ago, another lab- which does have a radiation license- moved to Snooty U. They packed up the freezer contents in styrofoam boxes with dry ice, loaded it all onto the truck, and then unloaded it all immediately into the -80.

When safety came by to inspect, they found two packages of hot dogs in with the 32-P.

Someone was not paying attention while packing.

Safety was very upset.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Seminar Titles We Never See

"Shit We Tried That Didn't Work, Sometimes Repeatedly."
-Dr. Jekyll

"Things Do Things To Other Things."
-My dad's version of every slide title

"Things Do Things."
-Our joke about bad seminars

"I Don't Believe It Either, But It Got Me a Nature Paper."

"Spot the Faked Figure!"

"Unpublished Results That Contradict Our Hypothesis."

"Nou Viff Acksents aaand Typografffikal Erorrs."

"Incomprehensible Verbose Pretentious Old Guy Science: Fall Asleep Now."

"Using the Same Obsolete Technique Since 1983!" (corollary)

"Towards a Model of Bad Job Talks: Crystallography Strikes Back."

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Research On The Cheap 3: Playing Nice With Others

How To Run A Lab (As) Cheaply (As Possible)

I encourage commentary; additional suggestions will be appended.

Part 1: Recycling and Repair
Part 2: DIY Lab Supplies

6. Shop around and negotiate.
  • A lot of things can be bought elsewhere for less, and this place sells the weirdest stuff.
  • Used equipment! (See here, e.g.) Really old things, especially, are worth it: they are unlikely to a) have circuit boards or b) break irreparably.
  • Common household things- like tupperware containers- are useful. See also: Hardware stores.
  • Ask for a samples, demos, and trials on equipment/ materials.
  • Big companies (Sigma, IDT) will cut rates up to 25%. Negotiate long-term written agreements on consumables and services if possible, including sequencing/ analytical chemistry/ computer time. There is a lot of competition. If your college has any kind of support staff, try to negotiate for the college, and publicize: the more people will use it, the better deal you'll get. (Our stockroom gets 20% off, for example, and Dr. S's old lab negotiated a 3-for-price-of-2 deal with Qiagen. Of all places.)
  • Ask for an academic price on equipment. Get two quotes and play them off each other; Sigma won't starve if you pay $500 less, and salespeople usually work on commission.
  • Think hard about service contracts and how much the thingum breaks. Often, not worth it. (Except for: see #9.)
7. Share.
  • Some places are set up so that large equipment can be used in common: centrifuges, -80 freezers, autoclaves, etc. Ask if anyone else has one, and offer to pay part of the service contract.
  • There are grants for large equipment if it'll be used in common. (Though often not for maintenance.)
  • Collaborate with someone who'll do your expensive experiment for an authorship!
8. No, really, avoid equipment with electronic parts. My lab has a Beckman ultra, bought seven years ago. It breaks every 3 months. Dr. S's lab has the very same ultra, bought 35 years ago. It has never broken. Old equipment that's still running.... works better. Beckman's parts used to be made by GE. Now they're made in China.

9. Know when it's dead.
That centrifuge tube with a hairline crack? Toss it, it's dead. Don't push your equipment beyond its tolerances or you'll spend a lot of time fixing it.

10. Think twice and order once. I can't tell you how many wrong primers I've ordered, and I have a whole drawer of prematurely ordered things I can't use. It doesn't matter to my lab, but very important for the limited budget!

11. Try not to be depressed by how much everything costs. Yes, we're being ripped off. Oh well.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A Curious Thing

Today I read an article from 1999. The authors have since, of course, moved. So I searched for the last author's last name on PubMed.

After 2004 she did not exist.

I searched on Google. After 2004: nothing. I searched for her and 2007. I paged through several sets of uninformative data. Finally, on page 6, there was a 2007 conference program.

She got married and hyphenated her name. PubMed cannot find B. Godenot when listed as B. Godenot-Anstruther. (I am making this up, but both names are very distinctive and quite uncommon.)

Ladies and gentlemen, do not hyphenate your names, or the world of biology will think you've quit science, joined the circus, or died.

Addendum: You can harass by emailing custserv AT nlm DOT nih DOT gov, or by calling 1-888-346-3656. (See here.) I'm going to write them a vehement letter. And don't even get me started on their problems with Asian names.