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.