Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Morgue's blog anti-massacree movement and all you gotta do to join is...

... post your letter telling John Key not to be a Rodney today!

Dear Mr Key,

As a scientist at an agricultural research institute, I am concerned that your coalition agreement with ACT commits you to a potentially lengthy Select Committee process before the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) can be implemented. This delay in implementing the ETS may cause us to fall further behind our global trading partners in managing our greenhouse gas emissions. It damages the international credibility of New Zealand’s “clean green” branding strategy at a time when our global markets are becoming increasingly aware of environmental issues.

Although in general I would support a rigorous review of the relevant science when setting government policy, in the case of the ETS this work has already been done so recently that revisiting the evidence for climate change is an embarrassment. Since New Zealand has already committed to reducing our emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, I feel that this Select Committee should be limited to examining ways of reducing emissions and ensuring that the majority of compliance costs are paid by the polluters and not by taxpayers. Since climate change is such an important issue, I hope that the select committee will be large enough to allow representation from all parties.

I know that like most New Zealanders you value our unique natural environment and our international reputation, and I hope you will take these into account when deciding on your government’s response to climate change.

Yours Sincerely,

Dr [Bunny]

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Study shows that single mothers are not intrinsically worse parents than mothers who live with their children's partner

I'm probably being over-sensitive, but I find the premises behind studies like this one slightly insulting. In this case, however, the researchers in this study obviously avoided blind prejudice against single parents and found that, although working single mothers "on average, spend between three and five hours less time per week on child care than married mothers"... "The reduced amount of time single mothers spend on child care are accounted for by differences in available resources – type and hours of employment, education, maternal age, age of children. When these factors are statistically controlled, the differences disappear." I guess this confirms what single parents and our families, friends and colleagues already knew... that what we give up most when we parent alone, is not time spent with our kids... we prioritise that... but time to ourselves, sleep and self-care, and that extra mile at work. The conclusion of the study was that "public policy needs to pay greater attention to the resources and educational opportunities for mothers, regardless of their marital status." And I really can't argue with that!!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Aquatic Super Power

Articles like this one in New Scientist sure do make me hopeful... using the ocean's thermal differential to generate power seems so obvious... and of course (as the article says), people have thought of it before... but maybe now there will be the will and economic incentive to overcome the (pretty substantial) technical difficulties and make it happen... I like the way they're planning to produce hydrogen to power vehicles as well. Bye bye oil companies. We won't miss you!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sunny Day

High point: Buying and planting plants with J... petunias and lobelias and lavender, verbenas, zinnias, marigolds and brocolli (oh and he let me choose some other veges too). He'd have brought home every flower in the garden shop if I'd let him.

Low point: T pooing in the bath... 'nuff said!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Crystal Drool

Tonight I listened to part of "Charlie and the Great Glass Salivator" with J.

The Crisis is Over (long live the crisis)

More on my mind-altering experiences, my new job and my life-changing plans later.... I've learnt a lot over the last few weeks, but for now I am supremely unmotivated, and this made me laugh so hard I cried...

Obama Win Causes Obsessive Supporters To Realize How Empty Their Lives Are

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Some pretty flowers

G gave me these beautiful flowers from her garden when I visited to meet wee baby E for the 1st time (okay, okay, I know it should've been me giving the flowers). They are making me smile!

Achieving project goals, but not within required timeframe

Design Specifications for Duplo "tall building with flats like Daddy lives in": Must be 3 stories tall ("no, Mummy, I meant one more"), sorry, 4 stories tall, with stairs all the way up and a garden on the roof where people can sit and look at the view.

Unfortunately, the stairs required some pretty tricky feats of engineering, so the project manager passed out before the building was completed.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A bit bitter

There are lies we live by. One of mine has been that if I work hard at the things I believe in, if I am true to my morality and as brave and strong and honest as I know how to be, if I share my passion and enthusiasm for my goals, then the people around me will come to share my goals and somehow everything will turn out okay. This wasn't true in my marriage, it sure as heck ain't true for my politics, and it turns out not to be true in my career either.

Gut-wrenchingly, heart-breakingly, it is starting to look like my career as a research scientist is ending. My contract was due to end (spookily) on Halloween, but they were "pleased to be able to offer an extension to our employment relationship"... 20 hours a week until Christmas (how great is that?)... With redundancies pending, I am not anticipating a reprieve.

On the up side, I've got an interview next week for a job managing one of the lab facilities to facilitate other scientists' research... so hey, I might be given the opportunity to observe science. I can't say I'm entirely sure how this will feel...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Not so trivial

There's a quiz on the BBC website that tests your knowledge of extinction trivia. I only got 6/10...

Monday, October 6, 2008

I made Labour win the election twice

Okay… so this is not sophisticated humour... but boy was it therapeutic bopping that smug hypocritical smile!

Friday, August 15, 2008

"Plausible deniability"

So the US military have a new laser weapon with a 20 km range and the accuracy to pinpoint a vehicle's tyre to "disable' it safely. They also have a global network of spy satellites. Any bets on who will be the first victims of inexplicable tyre blowouts or sudden house fires?

Robots with rat neurons in their brain vats

I guess these count as cyborgs?

I love the idea that a "baby"neuron culture might need to be implanted in the robot and grow up with it to avoid being driven insane by sensory deprivation...

Monday, August 4, 2008

Keeping the pharmaceutical companies in business...

3/3 on antibiotics... but all at work/childcare today in our various states of disrepair.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Perpetual plague pit

At least one person in our household has been on antibiotics for a chest infection at any given time for the last month or so. At the moment it is my turn and T's... and I forgot to tell the doc I am still breastfeeding, so have been given doxycyclin which can affect bone and tooth development in nursing infants... going back to the doctor tomorrow to get my dodgy-mole-removal-stitches out and will make sure I take my drugs after I feed T tonight and in the morning and ask if I should change meds tomorrow...

Still nothing definite on the long-term contract front, but will probably now be extended until Christmas... who'd be a scientist?

And of course, the weather totally sucks, here too... the power keeps flickering and one of my colleagues is stuck at home because road from Tokomaru is closed and wind was lifting the roof of the school...

Still and all, the early magnolias are flowering, I have seen blossom and early-cheer and even the odd brave daffodil, so spring is coming... And I have more peptides in my samples now than LC-MS-MS can resolve, and another iteration of troubleshooting left to come... so may yet get the resolution I actually need for my project...

Monday, July 21, 2008

And acid rained from the sky...

Scientists have found more evidence for a cosmic explanation for the Tunguska catastrophe... some things totally gain in translation!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Wisdom of the ancients?

Does anyone have any birthday advice they'd like to share with wee T to help him through the next 80 years or so?

A year in the life

Happy Birthday to you, My Masi-masi-moo... I love you!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Crispy crunchy...

Glittering diamonds on the deck, silvery edges on leaves and petals of my incredible unseasonal anemones, sheets of silver grass and golden sunshine.

J's favourite "okay then, you can have one poem" at bedtime for the last week has been James K. Baxter's 'Jack Frost'... "Look out, look out, Jack Frost's about", but until this morning he really hasn't been...

Crispy crunch frosty days almost make me love winter!

[And I got my milestone report in with 3 hours to spare yesterday, in spite of T being sent home from creche on Friday, and after our talk on Thursday, a colleague commented that "When you got up, you were in your element weren't you?"... I was gob-smacked! From puking shaking wreck to (apparently) confident professional in only 15 years... I should write a self-help book!]

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Error1a: User does not meet manufacturer's minimum specifications.

So I put the lid on the gel chamber, plugged in the electrodes, set the current and the timer, pressed start, checked the voltage to make sure the gel was running and wandered off.

Five minutes later I come back to check that my gel is running okay. I glance at the voltage... all good.

I look, expecting to see the blue marker dye migrating down the gel. No blue line.

I turn the rig around, thinking I am looking at the buffer dam side. No blue line. Buffer dam.

I turn it back, hoping I was imagining it. No blue line.

I check the power pack to make sure the electrodes are plugged in the right way... maybe I have run my samples backwards out of the wells? Red to red, black to black, all fine.

I switch off the powerpack and check that the lid is on the right way round. Of course it is... these modern rigs are designed so you couldn't run them backwards even if you wanted to.

I am confused. I dither. Where are my samples? Where is the blue line? I've run thousands of gels (no exaggeration here) and never had the samples just disappear (except perhaps back in the days when you COULD run them backwards). This is an eerie, scary happening and it happened right here in my lab.

I glance over at my lab-bench to where my samples are sitting in the heating block. My samples are sitting in the heating block.

Now my gel is running. Blue line. All fine.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Atlas of our changing environment

Check out the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Atlas of Our Changing Environment, and the really amazing interactive map with before and after satellite pictures of environmental changes (courtesy of New Scientist Environment).

After the ball was over...

This is my happy ever after and these are my handsome princes!

A couple of weekends ago Princes J and T were invited to Princess D's 3rd birthday party. We drove a long way into the countryside, through the woods on the gravelly road, to where Princess D's palace is guarded by two fierce kunikuni (actually we arrived a day early and had to go back the next day, but never mind).

Fabulous new knickers

Apart from some supersized ones I bought while I was pregnant and some my mother bought and didn't like, these are my first new knickers since I came back from England. I think they're very exciting!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Space the final frontier...

... for advertising? Apparently this is the way the Brits want extraterrestrials to encounter their culture... mindboggling, eh?!

You can see the ads that didn't make the cut here

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Still more reasons to love Iceland...

... Pickled goat's balls and banana and anchovy pizza... When's the next flight?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Making the blind to see!

Following on from the robotic monkey arms (and here and here), another cool prosthesis, this time stimulating nerve cells inside the eye, to enable people who have lost their sight from (a specific type of) retinal disease to perceive visual images. A thousand miracle cliches are fluttering at my fingertips!

Whether 'tis nobler?

Here's the scenario... you have friends coming over and you know coffee is their beverage of choice. Is it okay to buy the Fair Trade version of the mostly-non-fair-trade-brand coffee from the supermarket or try to get to Trade Aid to buy genuine Fair Trade coffee, knowing you certainly won't make it before someone melts down? Given that I chose the expedient option, did I just line the pockets of an evil exploitative coffee empire or can my consumer dollar make them change their scurrilous ways? (And since I also bought disposible nappies in the same shop, have I any right to pretend I am making moral choices?)

Oh yeah, as it turned out they brought their own, more morally righteous coffee, 'cos they knew I was out! :-)

Friday, May 30, 2008

Yet Another Reason to Love Iceland...

Colleagues who've lived in Iceland were talking about cool Icelandic public holidays including Beer Day. I thought they were having me on, but look at the Icelandic Tourism Board site:

"March first is Beer Day every year in Iceland. That's right, a whole day dedicated to the world's favorite beverage. This celebrated event began on March 1st, 1989, when a 75-year-long prohibition of beer was lifted. Pubs, restaurants, and clubs all around Reykjavik are especially wild this night. No word yet on plans to make March 2nd National Aspirin Day."

Cultural misunderstanding

"Don't call me that Mummy, It's mean, I'm very angry at you"
"It's okay for me to call you 'sweetie', in our culture that's a positive thing to call someone"
"When is outcha?"
"What? Oh, I said Our Culture"
"Oh, where does he live?"
"I wasn't talking about a person... culture is what makes people from a certain area..."
"... Dead?"
"No not dead... " (I pause to think... J loses interest and wanders off... when you're 3, death really is more interesting than culture!)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Is there life on Mars?

Doesn't really look like it from this picture, eh?:-)
Check out the new images from NASA's Phoenix spacecraft...

I may yet get my prehensile tail...

Look! A mind controlled prosthetic arm that a monkey can use to feed itself... Next stop, Perdido Street Station . I'm sure a few brain probes would be a small price to pay for an extra limb!

(But seriously... awesome news for people with spinal cord injuries.)

Red Letter Days?

Last week I had my second period in 4 years (there are some advantages to pregnancy and intensive breast-feeding, at least in my body) and last night and today I have my first proper hormonal migraine in that time... I had forgotten the stomach-emptying, head-splitting awfulness... also the lop-sided pain that makes you want to head-bang like a BSE mad cow or scrape off the pain like a sheep with the same. Five days of sick leave left, which I really need to save for the next time one of the kids is plague-stricken, so here I am at work... and I guess I should do some.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Self medication

Need cheering up? Try burning frankinsence!

Jungle music

Just been to the Vector Wellington orchestra Baby Pops at the Regent and it was awesome... sadly our group didn't march through the orchestra, as we were sitting up the top and had too many kids per adult... but before the concert started, the tuba, a trombonist and a trumpeter all came and had a musical chat right where we were sitting. If you live in Welly or Palmy, you've missed it for this year, but if you have wee people, check it out next year... and they have circus proms coming up in Wellington in July, which sounds even more amazing.

Friday, May 23, 2008

What has it got in its pocketses?

A colourful triangular rattle, a duplo person with a blue hat, a floral box of tampons, my spare set of keys, a used tissue and my phone. what do you deduce, Mr Holmes?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Job Satisfaction... a moment of peace and the illusion of control

The pristine, decluttered benches (in advance of next week's MAF inspection) and anticipation of the 6 month absence of the boss, create a serene medatative aura in the lab... tubes await gel aliquots, pretty in a pink rack... my sample currently nestles in the 30 degree heatblock under a blanket of tinfoil. And I'm working in hope (unusual for recent times) because last week's prep yielded 29 mass-spec-identifiable proteins (count them again to be sure), and though I need ten times that many (and more convincing peptide coverage too) for the project to be viable, a ten-fold improvement seems more feasible than pulling something out of the nothing in my empty thinking cap.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Universal advertising

This morning, a rainbow with its end over Massey... like a giant cheesy comment on the value of education!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Whether to fertilize or fertilise

Discussing American vs English spellings with my Chinese office-mate and found this. Wiki rocks!

I would've used fertilise in preference, but apparently both are acceptable in English and etymologically fertilize is better, deriving directly from Greek, rather than via French... I never reali(s/z)ed I was such a Francophile!


So d'ya think it'd have gone through if I'd been going to the movies instead of buying groceries? :-)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Not another non-specific viral rash

Jack's other house

"This is the priest all shaven and shorn that kissed the man with the crumpled horn" giggles J... and I laugh too, of course, which delights him, so he laughs even more.

Friday, May 9, 2008


In the last week there have been two incidents which have demonstrated to me that post-children I have become risk averse to the point of hypocrisy.

In the first instance, I rang a friend on Sunday, and thought, on being told that she was too hungover to chat, "How could she be so irresponsible?"... I then immediately unthought it, but still...

The second example is more disturbing... I sent an incoherent email yesterday in which I said (among other babblings):

I don't know who I'll vote for, but if I vote in self -interest (which I may even though it goes against my socialist principles… when I was at uni/in the Bolshevik Club I used to spoil my voting paper or vote for the 'cuddies*) I will vote for Labour.

I also said this:

People I talk to seem to be blaming the government for the rise in the cost of living/food costs/petrol prices even though this is a global phenomenon. People (even those with families) also imagine that a 1-2% tax cut will make them better off. Working for families gives me $260/fortnight. No taxcut is going to make up for losing that!

It's not much… maybe not enough to motivate you to vote [for them]…and I hate acting as an apologist for Labour but I think people, esp families underestimate how much worse off they will be under a National government…just saying…

I wish I hadn't said.

In the past, although my world wasn't quite as black and white and red all over as for some of my more politically astute comrades, I had principles and I acted on them... I have always derided people who elevated pragmatism to a political philosophy, but now I seem to be one of them.

Someone said to me recently that she thought National winning the election might be a good thing, not because she agrees with their policies (or lack thereof), but because New Zealanders need a a change to see how good they have it now. I disagree... it's not so good at the moment, especially (as NO RIGHT TURN points out) for those on benefits, and in my political memory, we've had 15 years of new right government, first under Labour, then under National and peoples ideologies shifted and the left disintegrated... to the point where many New Zealanders claim that our current centrist Labour government is left wing.

So what's the alternative? (in my current risk averse state I certainly lack the stomach for a revolution, and find it hard to imagine one succeeding) I'm an environmentalist, but also a plant scientist. I strongly believe that GE is necessary, both as a tool for bioremediation, to mitigate our effects on the environment, and to adapt our food supply to the rapidly changing climate (might post more on this soon, given the current food crisis?)... so I'd find it hard to support the Greens. If all the options are bad, does one simply vote for the best, and as the options get worse, vote for the best of a badder bunch? That's not much of a philosophy...

Blaaaaaaaargh! Watch me vacillate!

*Please note that voting for the McGillicuddy Serious Party was totally against the programme of the Bolshevik Club, I was just had difficulty bringing myself to spoil my vote paper

Some trees are not green...

... and xanthophyll is such a pretty word

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The evil that men (and women) do lives after them...

Some penguins for Ruth...

A disturbing New Scientist Environment newsflash came today about work done by Heidi Geisz, a marine biologist at Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester in the US. (As you probably know) DDT was widely used as a pesticide from the late 1940s onwards, but was banned in many countries since the 1970s and these days its usually only used to control disease-bearing mosquitos However DDT has been showing up in tissue samples from Adélie penguins. If this was DDT that had been around in the foodchain for 30-40 years, then the scientists would expect to find DDE (a DDT breakdown product). Turns out, there were large deposits of ice in Antarctic glaciers in the 1950s and 60s and the DDT has been sequestered there for the last 50-odd years, only trickling out now as the glaciers melt. Fortunately, the levels aren't high enough to harm the penguins, but they're worried that other toxins (eg dioxins, PCBs from refrigeration) may also be being released. It really makes you realise how even relatively short periods of pollution can have long-lasting, far-reaching effects (cos I'm guessing DTT was never sprayed in Antarctica!).

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Living in the future!

I just walked back from the glasshouse with two gigabytes of data storage capacity not making any kind of bulge in my pocket and suddenly thought of the 1st PC that R and I shared... an aging XT clone, bought in the 2nd semester of 1992 for about $600. We named it IGOR because it immediately needed a brain transplant. IGOR died completely (and inconveniently) the following year in the throes of Honours essays and was mourned briefly and replaced forthwith with a not-quite-so-venerable 286 (which took about half an hour to process a round of Civilisation). My memory stick has approximately 200 times more capacity than IGOR at less than 1/20th of the price... We live through incredible changes, oblivious.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Nasty stuff that sea salt...

From a (real... I kid thee not) MSDS (material safety data sheet) for sodium chloride, something I've always been kind of casual about... which just proves that everything is toxic if you are careless enough!

Routes of Entry: Inhalation. Ingestion.
Toxicity to Animals:
Acute oral toxicity (LD50): 3000 mg/kg [Rat.]. (okay, so that's 1g/kg of rat killed half of the rats in the study)
Acute dermal toxicity (LD50): >10000 mg/kg [Rabbit]. (... and bathing in 10g/kg killed half the rabbits but that's a pretty salty stew!)
Acute toxicity of the dust (LC50): >42000 mg/m3 1 hours [Rat].

Chronic Effects on Humans: MUTAGENIC EFFECTS: Mutagenic for mammalian somatic cells. Mutagenic for bacteria and/or yeast.

Other Toxic Effects on Humans: Slightly hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant), of ingestion, of inhalation.

Special Remarks on Toxicity to Animals: Lowest Published Lethal Dose (LDL) [Man] - Route: Oral; Dose: 1000 mg/kg (so someone once died from eating 1 g for every kg of body weight... so eating >60g of salt in one sitting might be a bad idea... I guess if you had really bad munchies and lots of potato crisps?)

Special Remarks on Chronic Effects on Humans:
Causes adverse reproductive effects in humans (fetotoxicity, abortion, ) by intraplacental route.
High intake of sodium chloride, whether from occupational exposure or in the diet, may increase risk of TOXEMIA OF PREGNANCY in susceptible women (Bishop, 1978). Hypertonic sodium chloride solutions have been used to induce abortion in late pregnancy by direct infusion into the uterus (Brown et al, 1972), but this route of administration is not relevant to occupational exposures. (I should hope not!)
May cause adverse reproductive effects and birth defects in animals, particularly rats and mice (fetotoxicity, abortion, musculoskeletal abnormalities, and maternal effects (effects on ovaries, fallopian tubes) by oral, intraperitoneal, intraplacental, intrauterine, parenteral, and subcutaneous routes. While sodium chloride has been used as a negative control n some reproductive studies, it has also been used as an example that almost any chemical can cause birth defects in experimental animals if studied under the right conditions (Nishimura & Miyamoto, 1969). In experimental animals, sodium chloride has caused delayed effects on newborns, has been fetotoxic, and has caused birth defects and abortions in rats and mice (RTECS, 1997).

May affect genetic material (mutagenic) (okay, that's kind of scary)
Special Remarks on other Toxic Effects on Humans:

Acute Potential Health Effects:
Skin: May cause skin irritation.
Eyes: Causes eye irritation.
Ingestion: Ingestion of large quantities can irritate the stomach (as in overuse of salt tablets) with nausea and vomiting. May affect behavior (muscle spasicity/contraction, somnolence), sense organs, metabolism, and cardiovascular system. Continued exposure may produce dehydration, internal organ congestion, and coma.
Inhalation: Material is irritating to mucous membranes and upper respiratory tract.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

So righteous my teeth are shrinking...

Saturday is N's birthday, but I'm taking the kids to Wellington this weekend (okay, so I'm not so righteous that I'd stay in Palmy on a holiday weekend).

Today after Thomas's lunchtime feed I delivered a cake with lollies on (so another way my righeousness has slipped is that it was Pak'n'Save's not-quite-finest 'cos I couldn't bring myself to spend the time baking one with J, even though he was desperate to, and then I refused to buy the $25 super-special Eeyore gateau), birthday candles, a bag of chippies, wrapped presents from each child (okay, and so I also let J choose the presents, and took him to Toyworld, and said they should be things for them to play with with Daddy, so the wooden peg and hammer set and the playmobil pirates might not have been N's first choice), a card I organised for them to make at creche, 2 carrots (he asked for them) and 2 mandarins (J asked for them at the supermarket when we were buying the cake). I also did a bad job of explaining why I wasn't going to Daddy's party when I did last year (a disturbingly last-suppery affair the week before I forced him to leave)

On my birthday I discretely bought my own present and my folks wrapped it with J, and Mum and J made me a cake, but since N's parents are far away, it falls on me to be civil and civilised. I have done my tooth-gritty best.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

How incredibly unlikely is your birth?

A mathematician has come up with a model for assessing the probability of the evolution of intelligent extraterrestrial life...

Professor Andrew Watson postulates that 4 critical developments are required for this to occur: single-celled bacteria, complex cells, specialized cells allowing complex life forms and intelligent life with an established language. He assesses this probability as 0.01 per cent over four billion years which is pretty darn unlikely, I guess... but I'd still like to believe that someone was out there:-) And after all, you know what they say about assumptions...

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Today at afternoon tea time I was called a middle-aged Manawatu woman. When I countered that I am a Wellingtonian, my tormenter replied, "You can't be, you're not cool enough."

Now, I embrace my uncoolness, I'm even prepared to admit I'm middle-aged (though I hope to live well past 74)... but please someone, anyone, manyones affirm my Wellingtoness...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

And T has two teeth now...

... He ate unpureed (though fairly well-chopped) spaghetti bolognese tonight. Everything he does is so clever! :-)

Fragile Things

I walked out of the bathroom, and came face to face with a spider abseiling down from the ceiling. I've been reading Neil Gaiman's "Fragile Things" until far too late (about 10 minutes ago, in fact) and it is brilliant and creepy, and "The Problem with Susan" had got inside my head, and was making me feel young (yeah right) and vulnerable and not at all someone who should be alone in a dark house with two small children. The spider surprised me and for a second I panicked. I went into the kitchen to get a glass and I captured the spider as it tried to reel itself back by bringing the glass up under it and cutting off the strand of web with a 'football party' invitation (J's birthday was yesterday. He is 3 now).

I looked at my spider through the glass. It was beige and brown, a caricature of a spider with eyes on stalks and delicate stripey legs, the front pair longer than the other six. It was beautiful. I let it go outside in the darkness, feeling safer.

J, who is unhinged by his father coming back to NZ after 10 weeks in the UK (as, I guess, am I), said to me this morning "I'm feeling fragile". It's scary being responsible for such precious fragile things (especially when I'm as tired as I will be tomorrow).

Thursday, February 21, 2008

T waves on cue

After lunch I said, "Okay T, say goodbye to your Kauri friends now", and he flopped his hand up and down several times. I wasn't sure, but I handed him to a Kowhai teacher saying "Bye T, Mummy's going back to work now" and he did it again... He's so clever!

... And he has his 1st tooth as well (or at least the 1st wee sharp bit through his gum).

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A lot of balls

Tonight I am printing 30 copies of this...

Monday, February 11, 2008

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Messenger from Mercury

Check out more pictures taken by NASA's Messenger probe here
You can even build your own Messenger model... How cool is that?

J makes breakfast

This morning J snuck into the kitchen while I was changing T, took two bowls out of the cupboard and put two weetbix in each. When I arrived, nervously, to check out the clatter, he said "Put the milk on please, Mummy" (I'm glad I got there before he decided to do that himself, as although I want to foster his independence, I find it impossible to be positive about the mess). Then "Do you want brown sugar on yours?", as he spooned a surprisingly restrained amount into his own bowl.

At morning tea, two of my workmates were complaining about how their teenagers did nothing to help around the house. I felt smug!

Monday, January 28, 2008

But maybe I just need a good laugh?

Seems like Reader's Digest was right about this. Hmmm, so maybe all I need to do to get my life back on track is to crash my landrover over a cliff, break both legs, be mauled by a mountain lion as I try to crawl to safety, offer up a desperate prayer and be saved in the nick of time.

Not so beanful

A mode of 5 wakings per night for the last week. Thoughts fragmented and discontented. I want... something... else...

Friday, January 25, 2008

There was once a microscopic princess who built herself a beautiful glass palace

One day some scientists worked out how to join her glass palace up with the glass palaces of other princesses to make silicon circuitry on computer chips.

"Did you see any diatoms?" asked R's Mummy when I enthused about the uni-cells (and the awesomely destructive rotifer) that I'd seen under the microscope in my 1st year Cell Bio lab. "What's a diatom?" I asked, so she showed me some pictures and described diatoms in such loving detail that they immediately became part of my personal mythology (I learnt a lot about passion for research from R's parents).

R's D, who also worked on diatoms, once described them as "siliceous micro-fossils", which rather lacks romance and (pick the geologist) also ignores the fact that there are thousands of diatom species still in existence, but does prove that diatoms rock!

I suspect the computer chip thing is pretty speculative (and maybe a bit of manoeuvring for grants), as what they have actually reported is identifying 75 genes involved in silicon processing in one species of diatom (Thalassiosira pseudonana) from a screen for genes expressed during silicic acid starvation. They've chosen 30 genes for further study, of which 25 have no similarity to known genes, so I'd guess they have a lot of knock-outs to make and/or proteins to express and a lot of characterisation to do before they fully understand the function of even one of these genes, let alone describe the process and learn to manipulate it in any meaningful way... So unless they have an enormous and unusually well-financed team, diatom-fabricated computer chips are probably a lifetime away. Still, it's a magical idea, and to me, it's ideas like these that justify pure research in fields as apparently esoteric as diatom genetics.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sometimes life really is a bowl of cherries

Cherries, a cup of tea, dark caramel chocolate and both boys in bed at 9:10 pm. It's like one of those reality shows where they make all your fantasies come true!

I want to write about Kapcon and some cool science I read about today, but I also want to sleep. Sleep wins...

Mysterious Journeys

This morning (after a 15 minute search) I found my access card in the bath.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Dancing with PCR machines

I am definitely the target market for this ad (lyrics here). I haven't laughed so hard in ages. I particularly love these lines:

Denaturing, annealing, and extending.
Well it’s amazing what heating and cooling and heating will do

And the chorus:

PCR, when you need to detect mutations.
PCR, when you need to recombine.
PCR, when you need to find out who the daddy is.
PCR, when you need to solve a crime

Disclaimer: This is in no way an endorsement of Bio-Rad, although I do use some of their products because they have me trapped into a dependancy cycle.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Vampiric love triangles

Upon closer inspection, the sandwich labels actually have "Always smitten" in small letters under "Once bitten". (Uh oh... my inner GM is inspired by sandwiches today)

Labels save lives...

Hazno audit tomorrow, so checking labels etc today. Obviously, I support any effort to make my workplace safer, but I still have the urge to put "May cause death by inhalation' labels on all my water bottles (and I guess all my other solutions too). Reassured that I seem to have a general sense of the way in which each chemical is evil.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Monkey bums

This morning our spam blocker at work blocked an email with the subject line "FW: 'Critter cams' reveal animals' secret lives", which contained such gems as Long legs really are more sexy and How primate porn reveals what we really want. Methinks New Scientist sometimes goes for the sensationalist headlines.

More disturbing (but probably also contributing to the block), was Study reveals sex bias in science, which showed that after in the 4 years after double blind peer review was introduced by Behavioural Ecology Journal, 8% more female authors were published than in the preceding 4 years... actually, I think I should really read what factors were considered in the original article, because I can think of a number of reasons other than outright sexism why this might be the case... not least the tendency of senior researchers to prefer research done by their mates (on the surface this really can look like a boys club).

Also extremely disturbing and sad, the unsurprising 'news' from a study in The Lancet that a third of child deaths could be prevented similarly by adequate nutrition of children or their breast-feeding mothers. I wish I knew where to start...

David Attenborough's next series Life in Cold Blood, should hopefully help to popularise reptiles, which is just as well given that, sadly folk medicine is causing many reptile species to become endangered. The Critter cams of the title really are pretty cool though!

In further dodgy social science... smelling chocolate chip cookies can make you more likely to break your budget, so watch out for yummy smelling clothing stores!

More usefully (glad to see there is still some research funding for medicine), it looks like researchers can detect protein markers for the early stages of breast cancer in saliva and are currently trying to develop a 'lab on a chip' saliva test which they postulate could be administered by dentists. Here's hoping they'll succeed and the test is not prohibitively expensive!

At home packing (can you tell?) to head off to Welly to express my (even) geekier side at Kapcon, so tata 'til Tuesday at least...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Don't try this at home.

Yesterday I (accidently) cooked my breast-pump which was sitting in an empty pot on the stove, tried to save the pot and dripped molten plastic on the back of my hand. It is the 1st time I have ever run a burn under cold water for the whole 10 minutes without coersion! I pulled off the bigger chunks of plastic myself as they cooled, but the nurse had to scrape the rest off with forceps. I now have this really cool dressing which is fortuitously washable as I probably wash my hands about 50 times a day (no, I'm not obsessive compulsive just a lab-worker and a parent). She also put a crepe bandage on to remind me not to use it, but it was too annoying, so I took it off this morning:-) It's surprisingly unsore, so I'm hoping the nasty black spready bit I can see through the dressing is something to do with the cream and not me (maybe it changes from black to white on contact with flesh, that would be pretty amazing). Have to soak the dressing off with olive oil tomorrow and go see the doctor to get it checked and get a new one. I expect that bit will hurt...

Last night at 10:30 when James came to say his leg was hurting and it wasn't getting better ( a regular occurence) I offered him a sticking plaster and he said "No Mummy, that won't help... I need one like that". Desperate for sleep, and concerned for future nights, I lied and said I didn't think we had one handy. I am a bad Mummy who tells the truth about Santa but not crepe bandages!

Twice shy?

Our work cafe has started selling sandwiches labelled "Once Bitten". Maybe the selling point is that the sandwiches come pre-tasted?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Strange things afoot...

That Onehunga weed, eh?! How did a prickle work its way into my fake croc and lodge itself in the soft bit between my big toe and my foot? And before you point out the obvious, I noticed the stinging feeling 5 hours... yes... 5 hours after I put my shoes on.

Lunch claimed to be chicken pita and appeared through the glass of the cafe cabinet to be a sizable pile of chicken, pepper and spring onion, stuck on with melty cheese with mango chutney coating the whole thing liberally, but strangely, when I took it out of the bag at work it had metamorphosed into rubbery penne pasta in white sauce with 2 small pieces of chicken and the other things merely decorating the top. Not so delicious. Feeling ripped off.

Recommended activity today is label-reading. Turns out I spent much of last week trouble-shooting my PCR (polymerase chain reaction to make more DNA from other DNA) because I can't read! Instead of using cDNA (DNA made from mRNA), I was using (repeatedly) the control tube from which the reverse transcriptase (the enzyme that makes the DNA) had been omitted (I didn't carry out that step myself, which I think is a slight mitigating factor, but the label WAS clearly printed). I'm soooooo blonde!

Turitea opened again today. It is so good not have to drive home and back twice in the hot car to feed T. And my PCR is working again! I feel light, frivolous and on the verge of mediocre discovery!

Friday, January 11, 2008

The smartest cookies in the tin?

I find it amusing how even though humans have defined ourselves as far more intelligent than other species and constructed the parameters of the trait to reinforce this view, (un)-surprisingly scientists studying animal behaviour keep finding evidence for higher cognitive abilities and tool-use in other animals.
Some cool examples:

Weirdly though, we may be using the kind of olfactory intelligence we usually ascribe to dogs and pigs to decide whether we like a new person or not.

Finally, only tenuously relatedly, and obviously still a long way from reality, this research suggests it might be possible to build a machine that can read your mind (at least if you let some dodgy scientist type close enough to implant electrodes in your brain).

Nerds rule the roads

My workmate mentioned at teatime that someone at Massey has 'Giardia'. Can anyone top that?

More of a nerd than me?

I drove partway to work behind someone with the number plate Spombe... Pretty cool, eh? (maybe just a richer nerd)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A long December, and there's reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last...

2008 still a blur of sleep deprivation, but started well with Susan's party, Ultimate (frisbee) and Yum Cha with the fabulous happy-heavenly-dirty-lucky creatures, a New Year's Day bbq that couldn't be beat, feeling-part-of-a-community-and-like myself-again (for the 1st time in a long time) and several days of wonderful weather... Wellington at its blue-sky, home-town best.

'Home' in Palmy since Sunday, to childcare chaos (thank goodness Turitea re-opens on Monday) and no hot water (fixed now), weather ranging from humid, grey and showery to torrential monsoon, and gut-wrenching loneliness that is slowly being eroded to mild homesickness by the day-to-day camaradie of work (how do at home single parents survive?).

Best decision of 2007

Realising I would be a happier person and a better parent alone and that I would be unable to cope with a new baby, J and N and arranging for N to leave

Greatest Challenge of 2007

Parenting a new baby and a toddler without a partner

Happiest event of 2007

The birth of our wee T on 12 July

Biggest (though not only) thankyous for 2007

  1. My wonderful parents, who came from Wellington to stay with me for several days when N left and then for a whole month around the time T's birth, looked after me and J and helped me set up systems to cope with parenting alone, then had us to stay for a further 10 days soon after
  2. The lovely Ruth, who listened patiently to my whinging almost every day for about 6 months, had N to stay for 9 fraught weeks after I kicked him out, and who came to stay for over a week when I went back to work at the end of my maternity leave and, among other useful things, helped me pack up N's stuff, a job I was dreading!

  3. My amazing midwife, who was supportive far beyond the call of duty and who even lent me her digital camera for a month so I could take lots of photos of my wee darlings (I finally bought one on Monday, so expect many pics!)

  4. My workmate T, who was the 1st person to say I should kick N out, who was hugely supportive throughout and who I have to admit, is usually right.

Resolutions for 2008

  1. To find a new way to enjoy raisins every week

  2. To live in the moment, work hard and be the best I can be as a scientist and as a parent, but not to let home stresses affect my efficiency at work or vice versa
  3. Not to lose my temper unless it is really warranted and even so, to think before I speak or act
  4. To treat this year as my last ditch attempt to make it as a scientist, but to start seriously researching my other options. If by October when my current funding runs out (or maybe a bit before if that is where things are heading) my work is still unpublishable and my contract still tenuous I will cut my losses and find a 'real' job and a fab childcare arrangement in Wellington.

  5. Not to spend longer than 5 minutes at a time beating myself up about 'slippage' (a lovely word from our milestone forms) in these and other goals ;-)

Happy New Year everyone! Lunchtime is long since over so I better get on with it.