Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Hail Little Mermaid!

The little mermaid exists in real life! They're trying to turn her back into a human though. Bummer!

Monday, May 30, 2005

Conquering the RNA

My challenge, this week, was to defeat vile RNA. If you've never heard of RNA, it sounds innocent enough from the outside; it is the necessary step between DNA and protein. RNA is sort of the language DNA speaks, and for that reason I recently became interested in it. Unfortunately, RNA is elusive, it vanishes without a trace. It also demands infinite patience and duration of time (at least by my standards), and it's fragile state and finicky taste require use of chemicals that can knock you flat on your back just to keep it happy for the few hours you need it to survive. I knew going in that it was a rough and wily challenge, so I recruited the help of my naked coworker, who has a brown belt in karate, RNA weapons of mass destruction, and a fast and furious temper.

It began with a cloudy stretch of bad weather - the skies were dark and the mood in the lab was somber. I approached the situation with both intellect and brute strength; I collected and read over the battle plans, discussed my plans with my naked co-worker, cooked up a new batch of weaponry, and meditated on the roof under a full moon. When the sun came up on the third day of the week, I unleashed my fury and rage in an all-out RNA assault. It responded with terrifying resilience, pulling out moves we've never seen and taking down some of our finest equipment during its retaliation. It hissed and spit, scratched and twisted, then slithered away untouched.

I lost some hair and had a few muscle spasms, but had to regroup and try again nonetheless. I had a second meeting with my naked co-worker, and we practiced her moves and sharpened the weapons. The equipment needed fortification, the battle plans needed revising, the wounded and embittered supplies needed a pep-talk. After a second meditation, and some deep breathing and prayer, I began the battle with a terror and vengeance that was uncompared in history. After a short fight, the RNA had seen my weaponry and determination, and yielded respectfully before too much damage was done. I think I taught that RNA a lesson well learned this week, and it will remember in the future not to mess with me and my naked co-worker.

How to Write

It's tough to admit it, but sometimes my writing doesn't make much sense, especially when I'm talking about my science. I recently read a paper that was passed through our department on how to write, and it was so good (and well written) that I want to pass on some of the main principles (copied from the end of the article).

1. Follow a grammatical subject as soon as possible with its verb.
2. Place in the stress position the "new information" you want the reader to emphasize.
3. Place the person or thing whose "story" a sentence is telling at the beginning of the sentence, in the topic position.
4. Place appropriate "old information" (material already stated in the discourse) in the topic position for linkage backward and contextualization forward.
5. Articulate the action of every clause or sentence in its verb.
6. In general, provide context for your reader before asking that reader to consider anything new.
7. In general, try to ensure that the relative emphases of the substance coincide with the relative expectations for emphasis raised by the structure.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Probably to get to the other side, but the poor guy got a ticket for jaywalking!!! (As reported by CNN)

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Cheers, to:

Cheers, to:

My naked co-worker, who keeps updating her blog despite her desire to destroy it, and continues to argue that you can't bomb your spouse in bed with farts (a respectful but regrettably weak argument) - and still fights society's request that she put her clothes back on.

My dad, who is making us all jealous by living the part-time at home dad dream, and also for encouraging me to write through his own writing.

My husband, who swears he's going to start a revenge blog.

Anakin, because we can all understand you better now.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Evolution of Man and Woman

I must briefly reflect on some things I have learned from my close association with my man over the past couple of years. First, I want to point out that I try very hard not to be sexist, but after living and learning I am having a very hard time of it. There are some very fundamental differences between us that may not reflect general gender differences but sure make sense when you think about our evolution. Here are a few examples:

1. I forage, he hunts.

While I am settling for popcorn and a banana for dinner, the man is wondering what meat to cook. When we go to the grocery store, I pilfer the shelves for sales and interesting new items, lingering at displays, sometimes forgetting my initial purpose entirely. Without a list I am hopeless. He goes straight for the essentials and maintains impressive focus.

2. I nest, he procreates.

I am extremely concerned about the state of our apartment, is it clean, do I feel comfortable there, is it decorated appropriately, etc. My man never thinks about these things. From what I gather, the urge to procreate is fairly a fairly strong and dominant force, and I find it interesting that we neuter most of our domesticated pets but are living with unneutered husbands.

3. I am not as strong as him.

I wish I were, but I'm not. It really makes me mad, too.

4. I think constantly about everything, he doesn't think much about anything.

If my husband looks at a rock, he thinks "rock." If I look at the same rock, I think of just about everything else. It's a little exhausting for me and limiting for him, but I suppose we complement each other nicely that way.

5. We have an extreme difference of opinion on the sharing of feelings.

I need to talk about every aspect of every feeling I have, always. He would rather dance naked through a fire in front of his boss and co-workers than talk about his feelings.

6. I am definitely more likely to cry than him, unless you are making him talk about his feelings and he instead chooses the naked fire dance.

7. I hate driving. He doesn't mind it so much.

8. I am not very knowledgeable about cars or sports, whereas he was born with some sort of manual that keeps him regularly informed with surprising accuracy.

9. My anxiety is full-force and nearly constant; his anxiety is crisis-oriented.

10. He will forever be my jar-opening resource and hero.

Booze: A History

A weekend of visitors and celebration reminded me of the merits and downfalls of what I was more familiar with in the Golden Era (college): Booze. My experience with it may reflect the experience of many others, beginning with your first glass of beer or wine (Boone's Farm in college, perhaps something more classy these days), peaks when your armor falls, resulting in a moment of extreme honesty or adventure that otherwise may have never surfaced, and ends with the payback you face the next day. After this weekend I felt it necessary to reminisce on my history of adventure, honesty, and payback.

The adventure and honesty includes proclamations of love ("you're the best friend I ever had!") without which my friendships may have never blossomed to what they are now. In addition, my extremely honest outpourings have brought me closer to my friends by necessity to protect the secrets I divulge. The adventures are almost too numerous to count and I can only say I hope they continue. I do apologize for any broken glass, missing articles of clothing or burned carpets and walls. In addition, many of these adventures have become a legend that will be whispered about for years to come and although that wasn't the intent it has become an entertaining outcome.

Along with the adventure, I have accrued an unfortunate history of payback. Generally my hangovers aren't too terrible, and I am ready for action by noon the next day, but on several occasions I have had to put up with some uncomfortable events that took place before then. The worst include teaching spin or horse back riding lessons, playing soccer, moving, church, and long car trips. Facing my entire department during a day of talks at a departmental retreat was also extremely uncomfortable, and most recently I have learned the risky business of fighting my husband for the bathroom the next morning.

Despite the payback, as usual this weekend was an extremely good one. I saw Star Wars, visited with some old friends, got important career advice, had some good wine, and recovered all day Sunday. I owe a big thanks to all my friends for joining me in the adventure and supporting me during the payback over the years!

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Finding Harmony

It's interesting what kinds of differences you find between men and women, especially when you put them together in a house and watch them try to communicate. Here is a summary of a recent conversation between me and my man.

Me: Can you please do a load of laundry?
Man: Huh?
Me: Why don't you ever do laundry?
Man: Laundry?
Me: Do you even know what laundry is?
Man: (scratches head)
Man: Wait a minute! Are you being dirty?

This conversation was following by a brief period of anger and rage, followed by the end-all solution of a large bouquet of flowers. The man also did the laundry. Man and woman are in harmony once again.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Of License Plates and Men

After living in Minnesota for almost 5 years, I finally decided to change over my driver's lisence and car. I am a student you see, and as such I am entitled to pick either my home state (making me an ALIEN of Minnesota) or my residential state (making me an ALIENATOR of Iowa). When my license expired recently, I decided it was time to make the switch.

Unfortunately, making the switch officially means pulling my Iowa license plates off my car and replacing them with Minnesota plates. I knew this would be difficult, since the plates were origially put on in 1989 and have since rusted into fusion with the car and petrified themselves forever. To make things worse, uncountable accidents have significantly altered the shape of the plates and direction the bolts go. I put my manly husband on the job with his manly Toolbox of Mysteries and he got to work. The rear plate came off surprisingly easily and was quickly replaced with a sigh of relief. The front plate, which wasn't even required in Iowa but is in Minnesota, braced itself against us and eventually broke our Mystery Tool #1, to my shock and horror (wow my husband is burly! I swooned). As our tools and egos lied in ruin and defeat, the car laughed in victory, and the bolts remained as stuck as ever in their weird crooked rusted holes in the bumper. We were so weak from the effort we could hardly drag ourselves up the stairs to call for backup in the safety of our apartment.

The backup was an ex-football playing bouncer friend Super-P, who is now a carpenter and has a carpenter's belt full of extremely impressive tools and knowledge (it turns out it was the "ratchet" that broke - wow). He and my husband grunted together for a few minutes (my husband's grunts translated to "you have an awesome toolbelt and wicked sweet set of tools" and Super-P's grunts translated to "thanks... I think"). then Super-P got to work on the car. There was some growling and spitting, some mud-slinging and cussing, some rolling and punching, but eventually Super-P won, impressing the crowd and causing much applause.

The new Minnesota plate had to be custom-bent and only one of the two bolts could be put back in the original bolt-holes, but it'll do, and I am eternally grateful to my husband and Super-P, who have the testosterone and tools to get the job done. Nice job boys!

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Animation Show

We went to see the Animation Show tonight, due to my husband's obsession with 3D animation and everything related. We saw it last year and it was really good. Both this year and last year it was put together by Mike Judge (Beavis and Butthead) and Don Hertzfeldt, and it is about 10 short animations strung together in a movie that tours theaters around the country. My response to this year's show: NO GOOD. While the animation techniques were extremely diverse and creative, the shorts lacked engaging plots and some were so abstract neither of us could follow at all. The first short, Guard Dog, was creative and engaging but it went downhill from there. Even Don Hertzfeldt, who usually rises to every occasion, had a disappointingly abstract short in the Animation Show (clip from his most famous short, Billy's Balloon, is below).

Friday, May 13, 2005

Blood Experiments

I need blood for one of my experiments, and the easiest place to get it is: ME. So, I wander around my building with a needle, syringe, butterfly, and empty jar looking for someone to draw it because I don't feel comfortable stabbing myself randomly with sharp things. I finally found someone who, I find out later, has never drawn blood, but at the time she promised me it would be great and it was. I had such a fantastic time actually that I went back for more. Unfortunately she wasn't around the second time, but her boss was so excited about the prospect of blood that he took my needle in his hand and stabbed his own arm with it, collecting the blood that spewed forth, and giving some to me for my experiment. His blood was not as pretty as mine, nor did it smell as nice or work as well in my experiment, but it was blood nonetheless and let's everyone cross our fingers nobody has to ever witness that again.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Slogging Blogs for Business

Blogs are changing the world! Check it.

(This link provided to you by my dad, who is using blogs in the classroom. Yay dad!)

Nice Hair

I finished my obligations today at a private college in Minneapolis for a class I'm taking. My obligations were to teach three lectures, attend one event with my faculty mentor, and provide some service to my mentor. The three lectures were torture, but in hindsight a good experience. The service was kind of nice, I gave my mentor some strains and a protocol and she promised to use them. The event I attended was today, a research symposium where the undergraduates give posters and talks on their individual and class research projects. These kids get a lot more attention than I did in college, and really impressed me with the depth of their understanding of the projects. What really impressed me though was how good they all looked. I couldn't figure out if it's because they were dressed up (I hadn't noticed this during my previous visits), they were younger than me (am I finally old? I don't really feel old), or because maybe they have more money (does being rich make you pretty? It sure can help with your hair and your suit). So I decided what I really need is not knowledge, understanding, or a good research project, but a good looking suit and some nice hair. This is good to know. I learned a lot from this experience.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


My husband got a Ukulele for Christmas. There are several positives and negatives to this interesting little version of his guitar. It's smaller, so he can more easily pick it up and torture me with it any time or place. On the other hand, it's cheaper so when I "accidentally" smash it to bits he won't be as mad. It's prettier sounding, when played prettily, but the attempted hard metal are quite a bit more grinding when done on the Uke. For those of you interested in playing loud ukulele prettily, seek out http://www.mele.com/v3/info/2907.htm (good stuff).

Flinging Sterility

We are a nation obsessed with sterility. This week, the autoclaves used by our lab are under repair and we have been forced to wonder... just how necessary is it that we are sterile? Must we use deionized, purified water for everything we do? When we do experiments on our bench, right out in the open, they turn out ok. When we open up a plate and look in it, breathing on it, exposing it to the air, it's ok too. I have decided there are things much more important to worry about in the lab, like:

1. The mysterious chemical burn I got on my finger yesterday.
2. The myserious chemical burns I keep getting on my clothes.
3. The mysterious chemical burn that appeared one day on a picture on our wall, that has slowly eaten through the picture and may be eating through our wall.

Considering these thoughts, perhaps what we are protecting our experiments from is not the great and wild but the things we are doing right next door, like flinging chemicals all over the walls, each other and our experiments.

Cleveland Rocks!

Went to visit my posse in Cleveland this weekend and learned a few things:

1. Babies are ok, as long as they're cute and they smile as much as they cry, and you don't mind admitting when they smell poopy.
2. When the baby needs sun block, we all need sun block.
3. Slinging out opera on the train results in a captive audience no matter your talent.
4. Blogging is fun!
5. My posse Rocks!
6. When a girl is determined, she IS capable of refraining from The Drink. We all know who I'm talking about (not ME!).
7. Melinda's man looks confusingly like someone I know from the past... someone whose name rhymes with Jill...
8. There's nothing good about dead fish on the beach.
9. Ariel may not bring breakfast in bed but she makes excellent muffins and provides the best cereal. Yea! Frosted Mini-Wheats!
10. Everyone poops!

Thanks for making this awesome trip possible everyone!!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Responsibly Conducting Research

I went to a seminar on Responsible Conduct of Research this morning (RCR). It was required by my funding (National Institute of Health) because they want to make sure we act responsibly while we conduct our research. As a responsible researcher, it took me three years to go to this thing, and I missed the first two I signed up for. When I finally made it, they taught what I had already learned from reading a recent Nature article (CSI: Cell Biology Nature 2005 434:952). Bottom line: the experts don't seem to know what "responsible research" is. If the experts don't know, no wonder we don't either! According to the Nature article, 20% of accepted manuscripts are considered not acceptible because of unethical modifications to figures, and the vast majority of these are innocent mistakes that are easily fixed. So the University has us go to a 6-hr workshop to prevent this, where they, like Nature, never actually define what is unnacceptible. What we need is for one of the editors of a journal to send over the guy who decides what's acceptible so he can tell us what that is. Until I get that, i refuse to take liability for "responsible research"!

Monday, May 09, 2005

Confessions of a wild scientist through email

Written Sept 1 2004 to an esteemed colleague at an ivy league school on the east coast:

My co-worker has stopped wearing clothes to work. First the fast, now no clothes - what's next? It's frightening us all but we'll get used to it. I think it's part of her master plan to take over the world. The plan is: shock everyone blind, then begin the reign of terror.

Written June 24, 2004 (same colleague):

I hated the new harry potter movie. As a movie by itself it was ok, but it didn't follow the mood of the other movies at all (and the other two books didn't have that significantly different of a mood - the mood doesn't get that dark until the fifth book really). I liked the new set (did you notice everything was new, the castle, the grounds, Hagrid's cabin), but I didn't think it was appropriate to change sets in the middle of a series. I did like the sexual tension between Ron and Hermione though. That was excellent. And Hermione's getting really hot, and Harry too. Ron is turning into an ugly bastard though. Poor Ron. I have no idea which book is my favorite.

Back to my research! That crazy TX5128 bacterial strain did battle with me last night. It unleashed it's kanamycin resistant terror on me and almost got my co-worker too. I resisted however, fought it off and protected the newbies in the lab from its terror. Good thing I've been taking yoga.

April 16, 2004:

I gave lab meeting today. I realized as I was talking that four slides I had made had disappeared from my talk when my computer crashed because I was copying a CD while I was listening to it while I was scanning pictures. So, I distracted everyone by tap-dancing on the table. Everyone was very impressed.

April 19, 2004:

It was 88 degrees out yesterday in Minneapolis! I wore shorts for the first time. I'm really antsy to get out and go bike riding. All I've done so far this spring is go to Iowa and ride my horse, which I hadn't done since before the wedding, and that was fantastic-awesome. We figured out that the horses had plowed through one of the back fences and journeyed out on this several hundred acre plot of land that doesn't seem to be farmed or lived on. My horse is a momma's boy and led them all back home afterwards. When we discovered it, instead of fixing the fence we tore it back and rode out there. It was awesome-supreme. I think we're going to try to get a gate hung. Hopefully nobody will ever find out.

So! They've finally proven that girls learn faster than boys! Good thing I'm a girl. http://www.nature.com/nsu/040412/040412-6.html

I've been sunbathing neud on the roof at work all winter!! That's how I keep my (*censored*) so nice. Speaking of! Star Tribune had a picture of someone jumping into Lake Superior in the middle of winter with a thin layer of ice on top of it. They were part of the "Polar Bear Club" that skinny-dips in the dead of winter. Fascinating!! I think you should try it and let us know how it is.


Remember my advice... keep your pants on, your snot in your nose and your wild language to yourself until told otherwise, then give them all you've got until the bitter end.


My husband got a subscription to Bon Apetit magazine for Christmas and has been making all these cakes (ginger, german chocolate and two different kinds of cheesecake) and cookies (orange coconut and lemon sugar) and an oatmeal pie, which he served with peppermint AND cinnamon ice cream. I have had to increase my gym time by 500% and I think I'm still gaining some weight (all in the boobies). I'm going to have to run home
(literally) and steal the magazine out of the mail and burn it.

Bacteria Sex from my perspective

Email sent to a friend of mine (
http://passiveparanoia.blogspot.com/) on October 22, 2003.

Dear Sir,
My review paper is on why bacteria prefer to have sex with EACH OTHER rather than themselves. The age-old ‘sex with others sure beats masturbation’ theory at its most primitive level. Seriously. I think it'll take about a year to finally come out in a journal. This is part of the first paragraph (an advertisement that is sure to suck you right in gasping and begging for more):

The bacterial genus Enterococcus includes organisms with highly evolved systems for horizontal genetic transfer by conjugation (13, 16, 58). This prolific exchange of genetic information contributes significantly to the medical problems associated with these organisms as opportunistic pathogens, since antibiotic resistance and virulence determinants can be exchanged readily among the enterococci and other organisms. Recent sequencing of a virulent strain of Enterococcus faecalis revealed that over one-fourth of the genome is composed of mobile elements (48), and it has been found that clinical isolates can harbor three to five co-resident plasmids (21, 55).

The references go to very interesting articles published in The Onion about colon cleansers, penis attachments for your macintosh computer, and Bush’s obsession with gummy bears. So you can see, it only gets better from here.

I can’t remember if I told you, but I took a class last year where they tied me up and forced me to learn some PERL. It was extremely traumatic and I came to the eventual conclusion that coding is a lot like playing chess. If you can deal with it, you can have a lot of fun with it. If you can’t deal with it, you’re really going to lose and probably end up killing somebody on your way down.

I suggest you begin at least three more projects. My motto is, if you haven’t yet crashed your computer then you’re not working hard enough. I crashed my computer on every homework assignment for that terrifying PERL class I took.

One of my reviewer’s comments is this:

The use of ‘clearly’ is too often a giveaway that an author suspects the point is not clear at all. This seems to be an example where the point would be perfectly clear without this adjective.

I personally think that the comment is clearly not clear enough. The sentence the reviewer is referring to is this one (in the conclusion of my review paper, I think the reviewer was really grasping for straws here): The pheromone plasmids are clearly a fascinating example of a highly evolved peptide-based system for cell-cell communication.

I decided to remove the word clearly.

I’m really cruising through these revisions.