Thursday, December 29, 2005

That's just the kind of friend I am.

The Doktah was waxing sentimental one day, telling me how she appreciated my friendship. “You’re such a great friend to have,” she told me. “I know I can trust you, and that you’d always be willing to help me if I needed it.” She paused, searching for a way to explain what she meant. “You’re the kind of friend who, if I had a boil on my butt, would be willing to rub salve on it. You’d rub salve on my boil, wouldn’t you?” she asked.

“What, are your arms broken?” I said.

Friday, December 23, 2005

If you don’t get this, try reading it out loud

I had a long debate with myself about whether or not to post this, given that, being the youngest and all, I am trying to maintain a mantle of innocence among my family, and they read this blog. But I couldn’t resist. Below is a transcript of a recent conversation The Doktah had with the guy who was fixing her laminar flow hood.

GUY: There was a leak, so I just plugged it up with caulk.
DOKTAH: (thinks) Don't laugh, don't laugh…
DOKTAH: OK, so how long until I can run it?
GUY: You won’t have to worry about the caulk; it should be hard in a day at the most.
DOKTAH: (thinks) Are you kidding me? OK, don't laugh.
DOKTAH: But after that it should be OK, right?
GUY: Yeah, the hoods are in good shape and that caulk usually fixes the problem for a few years.
DOKTAH: Thanks.
Papers were signed and they went back in the room to take a final look.
GUY: Sorry about the smell. It's the caulk.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Important news bulletin

I think that I should warn the scientific community that The Doktah will be beginning her career as an actual professor at a real honest-to-God university in January. Yes, she of “I-bet-this-olive-pit-won’t-get-stuck-in-my-nose” fame will soon be responsible for molding fresh young minds of the next generation of scientists and/or engineers. God help us all.*

*All joking aside, The Doktah is going to make an excellent professor. Congratulations, Doktah! Just don’t expect me to take you seriously. Or anyone else who reads this blog. Because, c’mon.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Love is...

...when you spend the evening baking cookies and then tell your husband, "Ugh, I feel sick," and he responds with genuine sympathy instead of telling you it's your own damn fault and not to eat so much batter next time.

Friday, December 16, 2005

I’m sorry, I don’t know anything. I’m a grad student.

“Excuse me,” the woman asked. “Do you know where the campus tours start?”

I paused on my way from the lab to my Tae Kwon Do class. I pondered the question. Of course I know where the campus tours start. I mean, I must know. How could I not know where the campus tours start? I thought about it logically. They must start from the admissions building, right? But… which building is the admissions building?

Having searched my memory banks and come up dry, I had to tell the woman that I had could not tell her where the campus tours started from, and I could not even hazard a guess. I could have told her where to go for the campus tours at my undergraduate institution. I could have even told her what time they started. But at my grad school? No idea.

You see, grad students are different from undergrads. Undergrads get to know their campus inside out. They have at least one class in almost every building at some point in their time there. They know where all of the dining halls are and they root for the sports teams. Grad students, on the other hand, know their building inside out. We have at least one class in almost every room in our building at some point in our time there. We know where all of the Coke machines are, and we couldn’t care less about the sports teams. I was at my grad school for five long years, but I couldn’t tell you where the English department was located. Hell, I couldn’t tell you where the math department was located, and I was an engineer.

Yes, grad students are different from undergrads.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

You should hear him when his allergies act up

I was talking to The Doktah on the phone when The Husband walked into the room with a tissue in his hand. As he started to blow his nose, The Doktah was mid-sentence, and I heard, “…so then I HONNKKKKSCHHNOORRRRFFUURRRRRGLE on the kid.”

“Can you repeat that?” I asked her. “I missed some of that because The Husband was blowing his nose.”

“That was The Husband?” The Doktah gasped. It was so loud, she had assumed that I had rudely blown my nose right in her ear.

Yes, it’s when The Husband has a cold that I wish we had TiVo, if only for the rewinding-live-TV feature.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Motherly instinct

I work with tissue cells, and they require a lot of care and attention. I’ve often said that taking care of cells is almost like taking care of a baby. Except that when the cells die, you just say, “Oh, well,” and throw away the dish.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Naiveté, thy name is Mo (and The Husband)

A few years ago, The Husband and I went to Cancun for a vacation. While we were there, we decided to rent a car and take a day trip to Tulum. I highly recommend doing this if you are planning a trip, because Tulum is just gorgeous. We spent a few hours wandering around the ruins and then took an incredibly refreshing dip in the ocean. Well, I took a dip. The Husband just waded because he had a broken hand. Still, it was a great day.

On the way back, we realized we were out of cash. We figured we’d stop at an ATM before dropping the car off. Unfortunately, just a few short miles from town, we got pulled over for speeding. “Aw, man!” I said, as the cop approached the car. “I don’t even think you were driving that fast!”

“I wasn’t the fastest car on the road, that’s for sure,” The Husband replied, rolling down the window.

“Hola,” said the cop.

“Hola,” we replied. Then we spent a few minutes struggling to communicate. Although the cop’s English was weak, it was better than our nonexistent Spanish, and we eventually understood that he was telling us that we were speeding, and we would have to go down to city hall to pay a 300 peso fine. But, if we had the cash, we could just pay him 150 pesos right there and save a trip.

“That’s weird,” The Husband and I thought. “I guess things work differently in Mexico.” But, unfortunately, we were completely out of money. We tried to tell the cop this, and get him to just give us the ticket so we could move on with our lives. He, however, was very insistent that we should just pay him the 150 pesos. He didn’t seem to believe us when we said we had no money.

Finally, The Husband opened up his wallet and showed the gaping emptiness to the cop. The cop heaved a huge sigh, rolled his eyes, and gave up on us. “Just go ahead,” he said. I’m paraphrasing, but that was the gist.

“Really?” said The Husband. “What about the ticket?” But the cop just waved us on and went back to his motorcycle, shaking his head.

The Husband and I were thrilled. “Wow!” we said to each other. “That was really weird! I wonder why he just let us go!”

Because, you see, we still didn’t get it. In fact, we didn’t get it until at least a year later when we were sharing this anecdote with some friends of ours.

“He was asking for a bribe,” our friend said.

The light dawned. “Oh my word, he was totally asking for a bribe,” I said.

“We’re complete idiots,” said The Husband.

But hey, we didn’t have to pay anything! So I guess ignorance is bliss.


Um, that entry down there should be entitled "I'm ready for my close up, Mr. DeMille." Then again, maybe Cruella had a long-lost brother who directed. You never know.

Monday, December 05, 2005

I'm ready for my close up, Mr. DeVille

Last Saturday, High School Tennis Partner was at my house for a dinner party. He was disappointed to find out that The Doktah lives far away from me, and wouldn’t be attending. When I told The Doktah that she’s famous, she said, “Yeah, but I’m not famous, famous. I’m famous like a… a circus freak.”

What could I do but agree?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Sesame Street let me down

I was out having lunch with Grouchy Guy, Athletic Post-Doc, and a visiting Post-Doc from Mexico. Athletic Post-Doc was also Mexican, and Grouchy Guy spoke Spanish at home growing up, so I was at a bit of a communicational disadvantage. Athletic Post-Doc and Grouchy Guy did their best to keep both me and the visiting Mexican involved in the conversation.

Wanting to show off what little Spanish I new, I said, “I don’t speak Spanish, but I did learn a few words on Sesame Street. I can say 'hola', 'como estas', and 'agua', and I can count to ten.”

“Oh, yeah?” said Athletic Post-Doc, encouragingly. “Let’s hear it!”

“OK,” I replied, and began. “Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho, huevo, diez.” But for some reason, when I got to nine, the three native Spanish speakers started laughing at me. “Why are you laughing?” I said, hurt. I thought that they were merely amused by my poor accent.

“Well,” said Grouchy Guy, “it’s just that you didn’t say ‘nine.’ You said, ‘One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, egg, ten.’ The word for ‘nine’ is not ‘huevo,’ it’s ‘nueve.’”

So that explains the strange looks I get when I order neuve rancheros.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

How does this work?

I get a lot of, “Hey, Mo, you’re an engineer. How does a car work? How do you hang these blinds? How many bugs are there in the world? Which way do the exits go on the Mass Pike?”

But the other day, Brother-in-law #4 asked me a question. He said, “Hey, Mo, you’re an engineer, right?” I braced myself for the inevitable question about something completely unrelated to chemical engineering. But instead he said, “If I put my water bottle in the freezer, it will cool down faster than if I put it in the refrigerator, right?”

What? What was this? A question about temperature? About heat transfer? But... but... that’s the kind of engineer I am!

Sadly, it’s actually only the kind of engineer I used to be, and I couldn’t remember the correct answer.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Actual song lyrics

The Husband didn't know the actual words for the misheard songs in the post below this one, so in the interest of making sure you all know how very far off I was, and how not that bad The Doktah was, these are the real lyrics.

"Voices Carry" by 'Til Tuesday (refrain only)
Hush, hush!
Keep it down now,
Voices carry!

Interpreted by The Doktah as:
Hush, hush!
Even downtown,
Voices carry!

"Cherry Cola" by Savage Garden (refrain only)
Ooo, I want you, I don't know if I need you
But ooo, I'd die to find out!

Interpreted by me as:
Ooo-wah, ooo-wah, one fine day!
Ooo-wah, one fine daaay!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Do you use it to floss vinyl shrimp?

The Doktah and I have a policy that when you mishear someone, you should always explain to the general public what you thought you heard. Song lyrics are ripe for this sort of thing. I am usually the one who has no idea what the real lyrics are, and The Doktah once caught me singing along to Savage Garden’s “Cherry Cola:”

Ooo-wah, ooo-wah, one fine day!
Ooo-wah one fine daaaay!

Those aren’t the words.

But The Doktah has made a few errors in her day. For years, she thought ‘Til Tuesday’s song “Voices Carry” went like this:

Hush! Hush!
Even downtown
Voices carry!

But mistakes like these can happen in regular conversation as well. When The P.I.’s first grad student asked me to edit is manuscript, I suggested that he add the phrase “shed some light on.” First Grad Student and Smelly Lunch Guy – for both English was a second language – conferred about my suggestion, and then asked me if I was sure that “shit lightning” would be an appropriate expression for a scientific journal article.

My favorite mishear, however was the time The Doktah asked me if I knew where she could find the vinyl shrimp floss. She didn’t really want vinyl shrimp floss. She wanted an Erlenmeyer flask. Which is different.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

So, this is some weather we’re having, huh?

During my first semester at grad school, the ten or so students in my class formed a pretty tight-knit group, a natural result of everyone’s taking the same classes and working on homework together. So when, in my second semester, one of the guys suddenly began turning down all invitations for get-togethers outside of class, it struck the rest of us as odd.

After about three weeks of his mysterious disappearing act, the rest of us started discussing his strange behavior. “Hey, have any of you seen him lately? I mean outside of classes?” I asked the group before class started one day.

“We were going to go to the movies last week, but he backed out,” someone replied.

“Yeah… a bunch were going to go to Quizzo at the bar, and he backed out on us, too!” someone added. Even The Doktah, who was actually pretty good friends with this guy during the first semester, hadn’t seen him in a while. Since this guy had grown up in the area, we figured he must have been hanging out with friends from high school.

So when he arrived at class I teased him by saying, “Hey, Crazy Secretive Guy, we know you have secret friends!” He looked very startled and said, “What?” nervously.

“Well,” I replied, “you haven’t been hanging out with any of us the past couple of weeks, so you must be hanging out with other people.” He just looked very shifty and changed the subject.

Well. As it turned out, he did have a secret friend. He had met a girl over Christmas break, and had been secretly dating her for weeks. He didn’t tell any of us about it until they got engaged about a month later. Why did he keep her a secret? We never did find out. We know that she didn’t keep their relationship a secret. In fact, one of our classmates happened to be friends with Crazy Secretive Guy’s fiancée, and had known that they were dating all along. She didn’t mention it to any of us grad students because it was obvious that Crazy Secretive Guy didn’t want us to know, but she had no idea why not. We could only conclude that we embarrassed him.

Crazy Secretive Guy got even crazier and more secretive from this point on. He had loaned me a sleeping bag for a weekend camping trip, and when I tried to return it to his apartment building, he wouldn’t let me upstairs, nor would he come down to see me. The doorman called up to his apartment and relayed the message that Crazy Secretive Guy wanted me to leave the sleeping bag with the doorman and go.

His strangest attempt at keeping a secret, however, occurred right around the time we were assigned to advisors. The way that worked in my department was that every professor in the market for a grad student gave a presentation, and then every grad student in the market for an advisor wrote down his or her top three advisor choices on a super-secret ballot and turned it in to the department head. In my particular class, we did not discuss our advisor choices among ourselves ahead of time. This was because all ten of us appeared to want the same two advisors which was awkward, as we couldn’t all work for the same two people.

But after the advisor assignments were handed out, I ran into Crazy Secretive Guy in the computer lab. I asked him who he would be working for. He hemmed and hawed a bit, and then he changed the subject. He wouldn’t tell me who his advisor was.

For the benefit of any readers unfamiliar with the nuances of graduate school, I feel that I should stress that the identity of your advisor is not really something that you can keep secret. His name is usually right there on the door of your lab. It’s the last name on your papers, and he signs your thesis. It’s sort of public knowledge. So what Crazy Secretive Guy hoped to gain by the few extra hours of secrecy, I couldn’t say.

Eventually, Crazy Secretive Guy decided that engineering grad school wasn’t his thing and went off to law school. He got married shortly after that. Needless to say, none of us were invited to the wedding.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

It depends on how many smart jerks there are

At a friend's cook-out, The Doktah was making small talk and asked a post doc how old he was. His response was, "I'm 27. I got my Ph.D. when I was 25. How many people can say that!"

There was a slight pause, and then The Doktah said, "So... you're 27 then?"

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Yes, I know

I am purposely leaving that typo in the below entry for the sheer irony of it.

Technology is making me stupid

Today I needed to calculated how much serum I needed to get 100 mL of a solution that was 3% serum. I dutifully keyed “0.03x100” into my calculator. Guess what the answer was!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Patience is a virtue

Experimental protocol for immunostaining of patterned cells

1. Prepare patterned coverslips, painstakingly, one at a time, over the course of three days
2. Plate cells onto these coverslips
3. Lovingly feed and tend to the cells for a week
4. On the first day of the experiment, fix, permeabilize, block, and label the cells with primary antibody; place in the refrigerator overnight
5. On the second day, permeabilize and label the cells with secondary antibody
6. Place a drop of gel mount onto a microscope slide in preparation of mounting the coverslips
7. Get tweezers out of the box where you keep the tweezers for the express purpose of picking the coverslip out of the Petri dish
8. Discover tweezers are missing again
9. Spend ten to twenty minutes finding the tweezers
10. Swear about this a little bit
11. Put gel mount onto fresh microscope slides to replace the gel mount that has dried on the first set of slides
12. Painstakingly, and with much frustration, pick the coverslips up out of the Petri dish with tweezers
13. Place them carefully on the gel mount
14. While the gel mount is drying, check the set up of the microscope
15. Discover that both lamps are misaligned again
16. Spend ten to twenty minutes realigning the lamps
17. Swear about this a little bit
18. Bring the supposedly dried and mounted samples over to the microscope, place upside down on the 60x oil objective
19. Adjust the stage to locate a cell in the field of view
20. Discover the gel mount was not actually dry, and your sample has been smeared across the slide and is ruined
21. Swear about this quite a lot

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Can you give me a hand?

Our lab, as I have mentioned, was on the ground floor. Well, I probably called it the basement, but actually it was on the ground floor. It turns out there was a real basement in our building that I truly didn’t know about for at least three years. I walked into the building every single day and went up the four stairs to get to the main floor without noticing that there was also a staircase that went down. But those four stairs meant that the first floor was slightly above ground level, and our lab was actually at ground level, so it felt like the basement. Plus, no windows.

But the actual point is that our lab was right across from the loading dock. But sometime in my fourth year, they closed the loading dock so they could start work on a new building. This meant that the delivery guys had a huge headache every time they came to our building, because loading docks are nice because they are right at truck-bed level. Without a loading dock, they had to get the stuff off the truck and onto the ground before bringing it in the building. And, since we were the first door that the delivery guys found when they got to the building, we got a lot of questions about receiving packages.

Sometimes they just wanted to know how to find a room. Sometimes they needed to find the freight elevator. Sometimes they wanted us to sign for something, regardless of to whom it was addressed. And sometimes they wanted us to find them the dolly.

But, you see, that wasn’t really our job. Now, we’re not jerks. If they needed to know where the freight elevator was, no problem. But, as grad students, we weren’t really supposed to be accessing the facilities store room and taking out the dolly without permission. Nor did we have keys to the forklift.

But my favorite request for assistance was the time a delivery guy wanted help lifting something off the truck. This was not an item for us, mind you. It was being delivered to someone else in the building. But we got a knock on the door, and when I answered it, a very stressed out man asked me if I knew where Room 246 was. I directed him. Then he asked me if I could help him lift something out of the truck. Me, being the helpful, kind person that I am, figured, sure, why not? Mostly because I was caught off guard, and I don’t know how to say no.

“It weighs eight pounds,” he said, warningly.

Thinking this guy was a huge wuss for not being able to lift eight pounds by himself, I said that was OK and started to leave the lab. But The Doktah, who had overheard the conversation, came over and placed a restraining hand on my arm.

“How much did you say it weighs?” she asked the delivery guy.

“Eight hundred pounds.”

“Um,” I said. “I really don’t think I can help you with that,” I told him.

What kind of person finds a random stranger and asks for help moving an eight hundred pound object? Eight hundred pounds? What exactly was he expecting me to do? I mean, I know I was in pretty decent shape at the time, what with tae kwon do and all, but come on.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Any questions?

The Doktah and I had several theories about the best way to schedule a thesis proposal and defense. Traditionally, people schedule them for early in the day, so as to get them over with. In addition, hopeful grad students usually try to get on the committee’s good side by plying them with coffee and doughnuts.

But The Doktah and I agreed that this is where typical students go wrong. The best time of day to have a thesis defense is not first thing in the morning, when the committee is fresh and awake. And it is definitely a mistake to give them coffee. The last thing you want is an alert, caffeinated thesis committee, full of probing questions. No, the best way to hold a thesis defense is in a warm room at 2:30 in the afternoon. Bribing the committee with food and drink is advisable, but give them wine and turkey. And warm milk if they’ll drink it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Careful, that last step is a doozie

For Christmas one year, I gave The Doktah soft, fuzzy socks. I’m talking soft, here. These socks called out to be petted. The Doktah was thrilled to get them, because who wouldn’t want soft, soft, fuzzy socks? And even better, at the time, The Doktah was living in an old house with a front hall that featured a highly polished hardwood floor.

So after work on the day I gave her the socks, she rushed home and ran up to her bedroom to put them on. She couldn’t wait to go sliding in the front hall. With the new, soft and fuzzy socks on her feet, she ran down the stairs to the hall.

Unfortunately for The Doktah, the stairs also featured a highly polished hardwood floor.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Whudduz this do?

There was a pipe sticking out of the wall over my desk in the lab. It had a valve, but it was capped, and we had no idea where it led. One day during the lab remodeling, some construction guys came over to examine the pipe.

"Where does this come from?" they asked. "Is it connected to anything?"

"No idea," The Doktah told them. "We've always just ignored it."

"Hmmm," they said. Then, in the research-oriented spirit of the lab, they decided to test whether the pipe was hooked up to any plumbing. They did this by prying off the cap and turning on the valve. That's when gallons of brown, cruddy water spurted out all over my desk. Turns out, it was connected to the plumbing.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Not what I was looking for

I worked with photoresist for my thesis project, and one time I did an internet search for the chemical that removes photoresist, which is called the stripper. Except I didn't search for "photoresist strippers," I searched for "strippers."

That wasn't what I meant.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

These are bones.

A few years ago, The Doktah was invited to give a talk at a mini-seminar on osteoblasts (bone cells) at the American Society of Cell Biology meeting. This surprised us all, as The Doktah did not work with osteoblasts. We had a lot of fun planning a talk where she entered the seminar room with a demonstration skeleton and began with "These are bones." Naturally, she would have continued with, "The hip bone is connected to the thigh bone, and the thigh bone is connected to the knee bone. The knee bone is, of course, connected to the shin bone which is in turn connected to the ankle bone." Nevertheless, the ASCB annual meeting is huge, and it was a big honor to be invited to speak. Especially for a grad student, because grad students typically only present posters. Talks are usually given by post-docs or above.

At the time, I was the only one of us going who had a laptop computer, so the night before we left we loaded her talk onto it. The meeting was a two-hour drive away, and her talk was on Saturday afternoon, so we left Satuday morning and went straight to the mini-seminar room so she could get ready.

Now, I don't know who out there has tried to use one of those overhead projectors for showing Powerpoint presentations, but anyone who has will know that they never work. Especially five years ago when they were just starting to be the norm. There was a secret order in which you had to connect things and turn them on, and people always seemed to get it wrong. Perhaps you can see where I'm going with this. Yes, when it was The Doktah's turn to speak, I plugged my laptop into the projector and... nothing. Her talk didn't show up.

While we were fumbling around with the projector, the coordinator of the seminar asked The Doktah if she could just do her talk without slides. Without slides? Was he insane? No, she could not do it without slides.

Fortunately, before she was forced to answer the talk coordinator, we managed to get her talk to appear on the projector, and all was well. But seriously. Without slides?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Sometimes the simplest explanation is the right explanation

The Doktah came into the lab one morning and said, complaining, "Why does it smell bad everywhere I go?" Then she paused, while I smirked at her.

"Wait, that didn't come out the way I meant it," she said.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Ah, marriage

Over the past two years, I have come to realize that The Husband enjoys reading the paper in the morning. Unfortunately for me, he only enjoys reading the section of the paper that is in my hands at the time.

Wonder killer

Warning: The following contains a spoiler for The Sixth Sense. But since that movie came out about 6 years ago, I feel safe.

I advise against going to see any kind of suspense movie, mystery, or thriller with The Doktah. I went to see The Sixth Sense with her, and about twenty minutes in, she gasped and said, “Oh! Bruce Willis is dead!”

Twenty minutes in!

Speaking of the movies

We got to the theater in time to see the hateful ads that come before the previews. The first ad was for the movie theater itself. The commercial depicted a boy about 13 years old on a date with a girl. His mom dropped them off at the theater and he used gift certificates to buy two tickets, two large popcorns, and two large Cokes. As he made each purchase, the girl looked at him with growing admiration in her eyes. He impressed her so much, in fact, that when the lights went down in the theater she leaned as if to start kissing him.

The Doktah and I watched this with our mouths hanging open in shock. When it was over, I leaned over and asked The Doktah in a whisper, “Did that commercial just suggest to thirteen-year-old boys that if they take a girl to the movies they’ll get lucky?”

All she could do was nod.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

And her heart grew three sizes that day

So there’s one thing about The Doktah that I made not have made clear on this blog. The Doktah is a bit of a crank. She hates fairy tales and love stories. She loathes romantic comedies and she doesn’t like to read fiction. Her favorite movie genre is horror. Bad, slasher horror.

But while we were on our infamous trip to San Francisco, we decided to go to a movie. Unfortunately for The Doktah, there were no slasher flicks playing. The pickings were pretty slim all around, actually, but we were determined to go see a movie. It was a weeknight! We were living it up! We were going to the movies if it killed us!

We ended up settling on How the Grinch Stole Christmas. We had both been skeptical of this movie because it’s a dangerous thing to mess with a classic like the Grinch, but The Doktah was particularly reluctant to see it given her own tendency towards grinchiness. She was afraid she’d be sickened by the sweet nature of the film, but, given the alternatives, we agreed

At the end of the movie, when the Grinch and his extra-large heart is singing with the Whos in Whoville, I glanced over to The Doktah and saw a tear rolling down her cheek. Her heart, it had broken the measuring device.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Baseball fans can be geeky too

Speaking of arguing about the semantics of limits, I had what boiled down to the same conversation with father about how to keep track of how many games ahead or behind one baseball team is from another. My father explained it to me, and, although he did teach me to keep track of team placement, I can’t remember exactly what my father said, I just know how understand it. For me, each game is worth one game, or point. The team that wins game gets half a point, and the team that loses the game loses half a point. That way, if two teams play each other, the one that winning team gains a whole game over the loser, which makes sense, and also allows for keeping track of teams that don’t play each other.

So when my father explained it to me, I thought about it, and told him how I understood it. He got all upset, and said, “No, it’s not like that.”

“But it works,” I said.

Again, just like my high school calculus teacher, he was stumped by this fact. He considered my technique, applying it to theoretical baseball teams, saw that it worked, and said, “Well, fine, it may work to keep track of team placement, but that’s not how it really works. The games aren’t worth ‘points,’ for one thing.”

“But the entire purpose is to keep track of placement, so if it works to keep track of placement, then it works, right?” I said.

“Look,” my dad told me. “I don’t care how you keep track in your head, just don’t tell people you are assigning ‘points’ like that, OK?”

“OK,” I said, rolling my eyes. And Baseball Cap Guy reacted in much the same way when I told him my team-tracking technique. So I guess it’s just not kosher. But for any of you out there who could never understand limits or baseball team standings before, try my way.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

When geeks argue

The Husband and I have an argument that has been ongoing since college. You see, I was telling him about learning how to do limits in my high school calculus class. I developed a technique for understanding what to do when x approaches infinity: Plug in infinity for x, cross off any terms that are added to or subtracted from infinity, and then cancel an things out just like you would for any other number. For example, the limit as x approaches infinity for (2x+1)/x is 2. How do I know? Plug infinity in for x. Drop the 1 and in the numerator, because 1 is nothing compared to infinity. You’re left with 2x/x, or two times infinity divided by infinity. Cancel the infinities, and bam! The answer is 2.

When I told my high school calculus teacher how I was doing these limits, he got all upset and said, “You can’t ‘cancel out’ infinity. Infinity is not a number.”

“But it works every time,” I said. “It’s what you were doing in the examples, you just weren’t saying ‘cancel out the infinities.’”

He cast around for a decent response to this simple fact, and said, “Well, fine, but just don’t say you’re ‘plugging in’ and ‘canceling out’ infinity.” I agreed to not say it aloud, but that is how I do limits and how I will always do limits. Because it works every time! And it makes perfect sense to me.

Enter The Husband. Somehow, limits came up as a topic of our conversation. (This is not so bizarre given that we are both in professions that actually require us to take limits sometimes. I know! People really do it!) And when I told The Husband about my conversation with my calculus teacher, he, too, got all upset.

“You’re teacher was right. You can’t ‘plug in’ infinity,” he said, exasperated. “Infinity is not a number!”

“But it works every single time!” I said. “It’s just semantics, here. That’s what you do too. You cancel out infinity when you have infinity over infinity, you just don’t call it that.”

I tried to demonstrate my point by going through some examples of taking limits, but The Husband just got fed up with me every time I got to infinity over infinity. Eventually, the conversation degraded into name-calling.

To this day, if I want to get The Husband’s dander up, I just mention that I’m planning to “cancel out the infinities."

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Oh... right

The Husband is going to a conference tomorrow and won't be back until Thursday. I was thinking about how I'm going to miss him while he's gone, and this morning I said to him, "You know, this will be the first time we won't get to sleep in the same bed together since we got married!"

He replied, "What about the six weeks last summer when you started your job up here and I was still in Jersey?"

Oh, well, sure. If you're going to count that...

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Saline drops

The Doktah and I were hanging out in my living room, probably watching Buffy or something, when she started complaining about something in her eye. Now, I consider myself something of an expert when it comes to getting something in your eye. My eyelashes fall into my eyes so frequently that I often wonder how it is that I have any eyelashes still attached to my eyelids. In fact, I used to keep a mirror by my bed so that, when I was reading before going to sleep, I wouldn’t have to get out of bed every time I got an eyelash in my eye. I used that mirror six times a night.

So when I saw The Doktah suffering, I ran upstairs to get the eye drops I keep on hand at all times so she could rinse out her eyes. She looked at the bottle somewhat skeptically, but I assured her they were just saline drops. “Trust me,” I told her.

Well, she dropped them in her eyes, and pulled face. “Um,” she said after a few seconds, “they kind of hurt.”

“What?” I said. “Don’t be ridiculous. They don’t hurt.” I took the bottle and examined it. “They’re just saline!”

“Well, she said, eyes reddening, “maybe some of the water evaporated and the salt is too high of a concentration.”

“I don’t see how that could happen. The bottle’s sealed,” I said, and I decided to try out the drops myself. I tipped my head back and dropped them in.

“Oh my lord!” I cried as the liquid fire drops hit my eyes. “What the hell happened to these?” I ran upstairs, tears streaming down my face, and found a fresh bottle of saline drops which solved the problem.

Moral: Saline eye drops have a shelf life.

Friday, September 09, 2005

My poor mother

There was a bridge between my house and my lab that I walked, biked, or bussed over twice a day. This bridge was falling apart, by which I mean actual pieces of the bridge fell off all the time. At one point, I found a gaping hole in the sidewalk that was so big, a small child could have fallen through it. But I realized I should have chosen different words when I called the city to report the hole, because the guy on the phone gasped, panicked, “A small child fell through the bridge?”

I cleared that right up, but pointed out that the gaping hole was an accident waiting to happen. With his mind at rest concerning small children, the city worker said, “Oh, on the South St. bridge? We already have people working on that hole.” I looked across the street at the cones and construction markers surrounding one of the other gaping holes on the bridge.

“No, it’s a different one,” I told him.

“You mean the one up at the intersection with the highway? Because we…”

I knew which one he was talking about, and cut him off. “No, it’s not that one either. I know you already laid a metal plate over that one. This is a new hole.”

The man sighed, “That damn bridge. OK, thanks for letting us know,” and we hung up. And I am happy to report that by the end of the day, there was a metal plate bolted down over the hole to prevent the falling through of any small children.

Nevertheless, the state of the bridge drove me crazy. Yes, I realize that closing the bridge for repair would cause major traffic and inconvenience for the city, but you know what else would cause major traffic and inconvenience for the city? The collapse of the bridge! And you’d also get deaths!

They didn’t even close the bridge for repair when a gigantic chunk of it fell off onto the interstate. Fortunately, it didn’t hit anyone, but that was just lucky.

So why did I title this entry “My poor mother?” Because there was one spot on the bridge that made a loud bang whenever cars drove over it, and a really loud bang when trucks hit it. I often used my walk between home and the lab to make phone calls, and I was talking to my mom on the bridge when a truck came by with a bang! bang! I couldn’t hear my mom over the noise, so I said, “Hold on a sec,” and waited until the truck finished passing by.

When I got back on the phone, my mom was shouting, “Mo? Mo! MO!” hysterically, because she thought I’d been shot.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Mighty mighty and letting it all hang out

It was a few months after I graduated, but I had returned to the city for The Doktah’s birthday party. A bunch of us got together and had cake and ice cream, and then went up to a local bar for some drinks and dancing. While we were there, The Doktah put in a request for Brick House by The Commodores and made me promise to dance with her when it came on.

So we waited at the table until we heard the familiar strains of our song. “Let’s go dance!” The Doktah said, and off we went. We had a great time, dancing away. Brick House is a great song, after all. And while we danced, we sang along with the music. The last time the refrain came around I sang it again:

Play that funky music, white boy!
Play that funky music, hey!
Play that funky music, white boy!
Lay down and boogie and play that funky music till you
– Wait, this isn’t Brick House!”

Thursday, August 25, 2005

While we’re on the subject, I also have a “being repeatedly kicked in the leg” thing

One day I was just sitting at my desk, and The Doktah came up behind me and stuck her finger in my ear. Just like that. No warning, no precedent. One second I was merrily typing away, the next second I had her finger in my ear. Needless to say, I was startled.

“What the – what are you doing?!” I shouted as I jerked my head away.

“What?” The Doktah said. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t know you have an ear thing.”

An ear thing? Now, I readily admit that I have a pigeon thing. I also have a dog thing and a bug thing, and I should tell you that The Doktah knew that I don’t like people to touch my ankles, which may qualify as an ankle thing. But it was a bit rich for to claim I have “an ear thing” because I am uncomfortable with people sticking their fingers in my ear!

After I regained my composure, I explained to The Doktah that in polite society, it is generally considered rude to insert one’s finger – or any other object – into someone else’s ear. Apparently, The Doktah had thought that such a gesture was just an acceptable method of teasing among friends. It seems that her older sisters used to torture her in all kinds of creative ways, and she never got a good handle on what was off-limits.

Eventually, we established that, rather than my having “an ear thing,” The Doktah just has an “extremely tolerant of aberrant behavior in others” thing. So if you meet her, feel free to stick your finger in her ear.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

At least it wasn’t a bikini top

You know what’s really awkward to be wearing when you meet your housemate’s girlfriend for the first time? Leopard print pajamas.

Monday, August 15, 2005


The Husband never listens to anything I say. A typical conversation between us will go like this:

Scene: The Husband and I are watching a movie on TV

ME: Hey! It's that guy from Law & Order!


Two minutes pass

HUSBAND: Hey! Isn’t that the guy from Law & Order?

This sort of thing happens constantly. So when I heard a discussion on NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me about a recent study demonstrating that men have a harder time listening to women’s voices then men’s, I couldn’t wait to tell The Husband.

“Husband,” I said, “I heard that there is a study showing that men have a hard time listening to women’s voices because they are more complex.”

Completely without irony, The Husband said, “What?”

Well, when we bought official World Series caps last year they were too small

Last weekend, Father-in-law and Mother-in-law were in Maine at the outlet mall, and Father-in-law called The Husband to ask him a question. “What’s Mo’s hat size?” he said.

“What?” said The Husband. “I don’t know!”

“What do you mean you don’t know!” cried Father-in-law. “How can you not know her hat size! You're married to her!”

Friday, August 05, 2005

And like a phoenix, it rose from the ashes

The Doktah was a recipient of a prestigious graduate fellowship from the Whitaker foundation. Whitaker fellowships are awesome, because they include a certain amount of money every year expressly for computer purchases. I think it’s $1000 or so, and if you don’t spend it on computer accoutrements, you lose it. So, in her first year as a Whitaker fellow, The Doktah bought herself a desktop computer.

The Doktah was very generous with her stuff, and she set the new computer up in the lab and gave us all permission to use it. At the time, there were not enough computers to go around in the lab, so this was a pretty sweet deal. The Doktah had only a few rules to go along with the use of her computer:
1. The Doktah had priority of its use.
2. No one was allowed to install or download any programs without The Doktah’s permission.
3. No one at all was allowed to install Napster.
4. For the love of God, no Napster.

See, this was back when Napster was free and legal, but some people were apparently using it towards illegal ends. You may have heard something about it. But The Doktah found that, anytime Napster was installed on her computer, it got really screwed up.

She uninstalled it over and over, and spoke to the person responsible many times. Eventually, she stopped finding Napster installed on her computer. But the Napster-like problems persisted. She realized that the guilty party was installing Napster at night, downloading songs, and then uninstalling the program. He thought that he would get away with it that way, but her computer went screwy anyway.

Then one day, The Doktah was working on some data analysis and suddenly her file was gone. Poof! Gone! She went into the C-drive to look for it, and found that her files were scattered haphazardly all throughout her computer with new names and file extensions. Tension mounted.

The Doktah figured she might have gotten a virus on there, so she went to click on the icon for her virus software. “Um,” she said, “why is my auto-protect turned off?” Someone had turned off her automatic virus protection without her knowledge or consent.

She turned it back on and started a scan, but she had to stop it at 10,000 viruses found, because the software couldn’t handle it. She called the IT people, and there was a lot of congregating and discussing of options. Eventually, they came to the conclusion that her hard drive had to be wiped. Reformatted. Erase everything, start again.

But first The Doktah had to back everything up. And, thanks to one of the 10,000 viruses, this was no easy matter. Since all her files were moved all over the place, she had to go into every file directory by hand, change the name of the file, and copy it to a CD. One at a time. And she thought reanalyzing data was bad.

We never figured out who shut off the virus protection or why. Our best guess was that someone using the computer, probably downloading songs through Napster, found the little announcements of “file infected” annoying. Sort of like the people in this town who shut off their carbon monoxide detectors because they won’t stop beeping.

You walked from where?

We moved into our new house last weekend, and The Husband's great-aunt and cousin stopped by. It turns out we now live about a mile from her house. During the course of the conversation, Great-aunt said, "We used to walk here from Somerville every day!"

Now, Somerville is approximately 30 miles from where we now live, so I found this pronouncement rather astounding. "Somerville?" I said.

"Yes! There were no cars then! We had to walk!" she replied.

"But, from Somerville? That's pretty far," I said again.

"Yes. We did what we had to," she told me, apparently thinking I was a typical lazy young'un.

I couldn't believe she really walked from Somerville every day. If she said a town that was five miles away, I would have believed her. But 30 miles? I turned to the cousin and said, "She is saying that they used to walk here from Somerville every day."

"What?" he said? "No, Centerville." Centerville is a neighborhood of my new city about 2 miles away. That I can accept.

Friday, July 29, 2005

April 22nd

Today I called the phone company to switch our service to the new house. Afterwards, I had to go to the automated verification system to promise that, really, I swear, I want you to set up the new phone the way I said. The following is a direct quote from the automated system:

"You now need to verify the month and day you were born by saying the month and day you were born. For example, if you were born on April twenty-second, say 'April twenty-second.'"

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Yo no habla espanol

I was in Buenos Aires last week, and when I asked the hotel desk clerk where the nearest church was, I may have inadvertently asked him where the nearest Iglesias was. Either he understood what I meant, or Julio can be found about 2 blocks south of the hotel.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

That´s a big boat

The Doktah and I were driving to the movie theater down near the water, and The Doktah gasped and said, "Mo! Do you see that boat! It´s huge!"

I looked around for it, but couldn´t see it anywhere. "What boat?" I said, and The Doktah pointed. I followed her point, but still couldn´t see it. "All I can see are those two buildings," I said.

"Dude," she said. "That's the boat."

Thursday, July 14, 2005

And with that...

I will be away next week, and after that I'm moving, so I may not be posting very much for a few weeks. I know, big difference. But I think I may have a few regular readers out there who don't know me in real life, and I'd like to keep them. Hi, people I don't know! I'm still writing the blog, so don't go away! Check back in two weeks!


Do you ever watch C.S.I.? You know how their lab is all shiny and black with mood lighting and crazy expensive equipment all over the place? And there is always tons and tons of empty, shiny black bench surface which to spread out samples?

Yeah, real labs aren't like that.

More inappropriate lab attire

The Doktah, as you know by now, sometimes wore unexpected things to the lab. And, as you may not know, The Doktah can sometimes become obsessed with the oddest things. At one point, she decided she had to have some roller skates. Not roller blades, mind you. Roller skates. Roller skates were the one thing missing from her life; the one thing which would bestow true meaning upon her existence. And so she went with Jersey Girl to New Jersey to get a pair that was on sale.

But here’s the thing. In order to go roller skating, one must leave the lab for an extended period of time; say, three hours at least. This, The Doktah could not bring herself to do. “What? Go outside to enjoy the pleasure of fresh air and sun and nature when I could do another experiment instead?” she would say. (The Doktah was a better grad student than I was.)

I’m being a bit hard on The Doktah, though. She also didn’t want to go out roller skating because she was pretty bad at it, and she didn’t want to get hurt. So The Doktah decided the best and most time-efficient solution (The Doktah is nothing if not efficient) would be to wear roller skates at the lab. Yes, The Doktah, who is a brilliant scientist but sometimes lacks common sense, decided that the safest course of action would be to practice roller skating in an overcrowded, oddly laid-out laboratory packed with sharp corners, and objects – not to mention fragile, expensive equipment and dangerous chemicals, and which lacked clear paths of any kind.

These are the kinds of things you can’t get away with in industry.

Shh, I'm working

The Easter of my last year of school, I took over the responsibility of writing the annual Easter Poem. Every year, the Easter Bunny a poem for one of the kids to read aloud, which is followed by instructions to a treasure hunt. In my youth, I marveled at the Easter Bunny’s ability to ring the doorbell at my aunt’s house and then just vanish, but as I got older, I began to notice certain similarities in the Easter Bunny’s poetic style compared to that of my aunt’s, who sometimes has reason to treat us to poems of her own. Eventually I put two and two together and realized that he must help her write hers.

At any rate, I have always had a talent for writing Dr. Seuss-type rhymy sing-songy poems, just like my aunt, so I always knew I would be the one to take over – um – transcribing the Easter Bunny’s poems when my aunt retired from the duty. And so I did.

Around this point, Baseball Cap Guy and I had to attend a seminar. I brought a notebook with me. I made an effort to pay attention to the talk, but within a few minutes I was working on the poem. When I was stuck on a rhyme, I would gaze at the speaker apparently concentrating on what she was saying, but actually thinking, “Year, here, clear, deer, fear, near, we’re…”

On the way back to lab, I told Baseball Cap Guy that I had made some real progress in my Easter poem. “That’s what you were doing?” he said. “I thought you were taking notes! You made me all paranoid, and I ended up taking tons of notes myself!”

Since this entry falls kind of flat, I will now grace you with some sample stanzas a la the Easter Bunny. The first one I remember from that Easter in particular, but the last two I whipped off just now.

Another year gone?
My goodness, time flies!
Why do you kids get big
While I stay the same size?

But Rudolph is shaking
His bells; this, I know,
Is a sign that he feels
It is now time to go.

So I left a great hunt!
Good luck with the search.
I’m off before Rudolph
Leaves me in the lurch.

Friday, July 08, 2005


Apparently, I take after my father. When I told my mother and Sister #4 about hurting The Husband’s feelings because I’d be willing to sell my engagement ring for a mere 400 times its worth (but actually much less than that), my mother was shocked and appalled. “Would Dad be upset if you sold your ring for a million dollars?” I asked my mom.

Sister #4 laughed and said, “Dad would probably not be able to rip the ring off her finger fast enough!”

Thursday, July 07, 2005

I have a cold, dead heart.

So, I lose things. I think this is why I have no sentimental attachment to anything I own. It’s simple self-defense; if I don’t get attached to it, I won’t miss it when it inevitably disappears. It all started when I was about eight years old, and I suddenly realized that at the pile of useless ticket stubs I was saving because I thought I was supposed to care about them meant nothing to me at all. I threw them out, and felt this amazing sense of release.

This habit of clearing out old clutter has stuck with me. During my second year of grad school, I went through my box of old photos and threw out a huge stack of them. My housemate and his brother were there, and as I started to dump the pictures into the trash, they said, “No! Stop! How can you throw away photos?” But then I showed them the pictures. I had taken them in grade school, and for the most part they were bad snapshots of people whose names I couldn’t remember. The rest of them were just bad snapshots. Housemate and his brother looked at the pictures and said, “Oh, uh, go right ahead,” gesturing towards the trash.

Cards are another thing. If someone goes to the trouble of picking out a card, it seems wrong, somehow, to throw that card in the recycling bin. Or it used to. Now I say, “Oh, look, a card. Isn’t that nice!” and then I throw it out. If it’s also addressed to The Husband I make sure to show it to him first, but either way, it’s gone by the day’s end. It seems cold, I know, but why hold onto a card, only to find it weeks or months later and then throw it out? Upon first witnessing my card-tossing act, The Husband felt that same liberation I felt when I tossed my ticket stubs, and now he’s a convert.

And pens! How many times have you pulled a disposable pen from a drawer, and, finding out that it’s out of ink, put it back in the drawer? Throw it out! The ink is not coming back, people. When I see people putting an exhausted pen back in the drawer, I usually tell them to throw it out instead. A look of amazement crosses always comes over their faces. “You mean I don’t have to save used up pens for the rest of time? That’s brilliant!”

But no item holds deep sentimental value for me. None. Because when you get right down to it, your great-great grandfather’s pocket watch is just a thing. In explaining this to The Husband at one point, I tried to find an example of something that should be so special to me I’d never part with it, and then tell him my theoretical price for selling said item. “Take my engagement ring, for example,” I said to The Husband. “If someone offered me, say a million dollars for it, I’d sell it in a heartbeat.”

The Husband looked taken aback. “Oh, did I hurt your feelings?” I said. He nodded. But what could I do? I couldn’t take it back. I said it. I obviously meant it. “But, it’s not worth a million dollars,” I said, trying to reason with him. “I could buy another one exactly like this one, and we’d have a lot of money left over!”

I managed to mollify him, but it’s a good thing I didn’t tell him the real price I’d be willing to sell it for. Because it’s a lot less than a million dollars.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Lab clothes

Sometimes it’s really hard to be a female scientist. At least, it’s hard to look pretty while being a female scientist. The Doktah, in particular, discovered a few problems with certain outfits while working in the lab. She suggests that you not wear angora, as the angora sheds and the fibers float around in the air, inevitably settling in your microscope samples. Also, makeup with any kind of shimmer or sparkles can really screw up your fluorescence microscopy because sparkles fluoresce. The Doktah learned this the hard way when she inadvertently used sparkly nail polish to glue a coverslip down to a slide. This is a legitimate use for nail polish; the quick-dry nail polish is perfect for gluing coverslips. But avoid sparkles. Trust me.

It can also be difficult to keep clothes clean in the lab, what with all of the chemicals and whatnot. One day, The Doktah was wearing a nice outfit and she had to empty the cell culture waste vessel and refill it with bleach. Because she was looking so pretty, she asked Baseball Cap Guy if he would mind refilling it with bleach so she could avoid getting stray bleach droplets on her clothes. Baseball Cap Guy kindly obliged, but when he got a little bit of bleach on his hands, he shook them dry, showering The Doktah with droplets of bleach.

The Doktah also had trouble with non-traditional lab chemicals like Diet Coke. I’ve alluded to The Doktah’s Diet Coke addiction, and she herself has commented on it, describing her attempt to fill a hamster water bottle with Diet Coke so that she could lap at it while sitting at her desk. This was partly a desire to be able to drink without having to stop typing, partly just for fun. (It’s the first “partly” that’s the scary one, though.) Anyway, it turned out to be a terrible idea, because the carbonation in the Diet Coke lifted the little ball which keeps the liquid from pouring out, thus breaking the seal, and twenty ounces of Diet Coke gushed out all over The Doktah’s khaki pants.

She was sure they were ruined, but the weird thing is that once the Diet Coke dried, there was no stain! And Diet Coke has no sugar, so it wasn’t sticky either. It was as if the spill hadn’t happened. Later that year, Big Sisiter #2 spilled Diet Coke on herself at a family function, and I said, “Don’t worry. Diet Coke just disappears.” She doubted me, but twenty minutes later, her skirt was clean.

Diet Coke: It stains your teeth, but not your pants.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Speaking of the service industry

This story is not mine, but I’m telling it anyway, especially given the nerve struck by the Dunkin’ Donuts rants.

The Doktah was driving in Ohio, and she stopped at McDonald’s. She went through the drive thru and ordered a Supersized Number 9, with a Diet Coke. At the window, the guy handed her nine supersized Diet Cokes.

“What is this?” The Doktah said.

“Well,” the guy replied, “The intercom doesn’t work very well, and I couldn’t tell if you were asking for a Number 9, supersized, with Diet Coke, or if you were asking for nine supersized Diet Cokes.”

The Doktah regarded the enormous volume of Diet Coke she was being offered. Now, one superized Diet Coke is pretty large. Nine of them is enough Diet Coke to last the average Diet Coke fan at least a week. Granted, they would probably only have lasted The Doktah two days, but still. It was a lot of Diet Coke.

The Doktah said, “So you weighed the options, and decided that nine supersized Diet Cokes was the more likely of the two, huh?”

Apparently, Dunkin’ Donuts does not have a monopoly on their brand of employee.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

At one point, I used the expression, “Beard the lion in its den” in front of The Doktah and Bitter Guy. They accused me of making it up. “No!” I said. “That’s a real expression!”

“Oh, come on,” they said. “You bearded the lion in its den? You expect us to believe that means something?”

“Look it up!” I told them. So they did. It turns out that the Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines the transitive verb “to beard” as:

1to confront and oppose with boldness, resolution, and often effrontery
2to furnish with a beard.

Needless to say, there was much merriment made of definition two, and we immediately instituted the policy of using “noun me” to mean “furnish me with a noun.”

Also needless to say is that there was much gloating done by me about the existence of the phrase, “beard the lion in its den.” Granted, I am used to people my age questioning the legitimacy of certain phrases that are a part of my vocabulary. Because apparently, I have the slang vocabulary of an eighty-year-old woman. I have been known to say, without irony, “dang,” “cripes,” “new digs [in reference to an apartment],” and “criminey.”

But the crowning glory is my use of the phrase, “Now we’re cooking with gas!”

Seriously, that’s a real expression. I didn’t make that up.

Monday, June 27, 2005

And a good day to you, too, sir

On Friday, as I was leaving work, a pickup truck towing a trailer was coming down the street between my building and the parking lot. Seeing as how that street is a really steep hill, I figured I would just wait until it went by before crossing the street. But the truck came to a stop in front of me and an old-ish man with hardly any teeth rolled down the window and said, “Schmu too baaa schmur schmeldt mumble mumble zees mumble,” and then chuckled. I could not understand him at all, but I tried to just smile and nod in the hopes that he would drive on by, because he was creepy. Evidently, he could tell that I didn’t understand, because he said it again. “Schmu too baa Roosevelt mumble mumble Nazis mumble mumble, heh heh heh.” Still no good, but I was a smidge more anxious for him to drive away. On his third try I got it. “It’s too bad that Roosevelt didn’t save any of the Nazis’ bodies; you could do experiments on them and figure out what was going through their heads. Heh heh heh.”

I just smiled and nodded, and he drove away.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

I must be cooler than I thought

In my current job, my work is more that of a biologist than of an engineer. So yesterday, when one of my coworkers saw me using a ruler while trying to set up the robot pipettor, he said, “Hey, you look like you’re an engineer!” I guess I can pass after all. Probably because I make less jokes like this there.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Linebacker, grad student… same difference

I was talking to Bitter Guy, and I mentioned to him that I have a very hard time finding button down shirts that fit. “I must have wide shoulders or something, because they’re always too tight there,” I said.

“Yeah, Scottish Guy and I were just talking about that the other day,” Bitter Guy replied.

I was a tad alarmed by this. “You and Scottish Guy were talking about my having large shoulders?” I asked him. I knew that my shoulders were wide, but I didn’t know they were topics of conversation for people who weren’t me.

“Well, yeah,” Bitter Guy said.

“Dear God, how big are they?” I cried.

Bitter Guy tried to reassure me. “No, no. We were just talking about how people who work out tend to have large shoulders, and then you came up as an example because you do tae kwon do.”

Despite his consoling tone, I still felt a bit ruffled. Especially since my shoulders were wide long before I started doing tae kwon do.

More tales from DD

Since EditorKit posted that comment about her experience with Dunkin' Donuts, I have to add the rest of my stories. Because I, too, have come to the conclusion that everyone who works at Dunkin' Donuts is a moron.

At another DD in my grad school city, I ordered a medium iced coffee with cream and sugar. The guy put a lot of cream in it. Normally, I just accept fate and deal with however the coffee arrives, but it was so much cream that the coffee was actually making me feel ill. It was less of an iced coffee and more of an iced cream, with a splash of coffee. It was undrinkable. So I actually walked back to the store and asked for another one, with less cream. "You filled it with cream all the way to that line on the bottom of the cup last time, and it was way too much. I can't drink it," I said. The guy apologized and started to make me a fresh one. I watched him put the cream in, and I had to shout, "Stop! Stop! That's enough!" because he was filling it all the way to the line again. The second one was also too creamy, but was at least drinkable.

At the DD in the train station, I ordered a bagel with cream cheese. There were no more little cream cheese packs in the fridge under the counter, so the guy went into the back to get more. Then, as I stood there waiting for my cream cheese, having already paid, he started to restock the fridge. "Um, can I have one of those?" I asked him. He gave me a look like I had just appeared from nowhere asking for free cream cheese, and reluctantly pushed one of them across the counter to me.

Finally, after Pixie Niece's First Communion, Big Sister #1 (aka EditorKit) asked me to get 18 bagels on the way from the church to her house. So I stopped off at a DD, and ordered a dozen and a half bagels. Well. This completely flummoxed the service girl. "How many bagels?" she said.

"A dozen and a half."

"A half dozen?" she asked.

"No," I said. "A dozen and a half. Eighteen. I want eighteen bagels."

"That's a lot of bagels," she said. She seemed to think that she wasn't allowed to sell so many bagels to just one person.

"They're not all for me," I told her.

She glanced around as if looking for a manager to check the protocol for such a large bagel order, and then, very reluctantly, started to put bagels into a bag.

EditorKit: Was that the same DD from your story?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Meetings with Jason

There was a Dunkin’ Donuts on campus that The Doktah and I used to frequent. Oh, how I miss having a Dunkin’ Donuts within reasonable walking distance from work. Yes, there are approximately 37 Dunkin’ Donuts within a 5 minute drive from work, but not a one that I can pop out to for a quick coffee break. But that’s not the point. The point is that this particular Dunkin’ Donuts was managed by an extremely high strung woman, and was set up in the absolutely least efficient way possible.

First of all, you could always tell when it was your turn to order, because the manager would scream, “WHO’S NEXT!” She would scream it in a panicky, desperate way, no matter how many people were in line, and no matter how calmly we were waiting. It was as though she were hallucinating a store full of jostling, shouting people demanding to be served immediately. The Doktah and I thought she probably needed to lay off the coffee.

Considering how desperately the manager seemed to want orderly service and short wait times, the store was remarkably poorly laid out. The store was very small. There were two cash registers but only one hot coffee station, and it was on the other side from the iced coffee station. There were always so many people behind the counter that they were tripping over each other on trips back and forth from the iced coffee to the hot coffee to the toaster and back again. Why did they have to make so many trips? Well, I’m glad you asked. Instead of one person asking what you wanted and then waiting to find out, the procedure for ordering something in this Dunkin’ Donuts was as follows:

Manager: WHO’S NEXT!
Customer: Yeah, I’d like an small iced coffee with ski–
Manager (to service person #1): SMALL ICED COFFEE! (to customer) Cream or sugar?
Customer: Yes, skim milk and two su–
Manager: SKIM MILK! Any sugar?
Customer: Yes, two sugars. And I’d like–
Manager: TWO SUGARS! Is that all?
Customer: Yes, I’d like a toasted plain bagel wi–
Manager (to service person #2): TOASTED PLAIN BAGEL! (to customer) Cream cheese?
Customer: Yes.

If you wanted an iced coffee to bring back to someone, the manager would recruit a third service person. And any random person behind the counter would ring up the order, which required another round of explaining what you got.

The employees did this tag team style of ordering whether the manager was there or not, so I think it was the official policy. It was very very confusing, because none of the service people knew whose order they were working on, and none of the customers knew which person was working on their order. And oftentimes, the orders were wrong. Just for kicks, I once placed my order via The Doktah, who relayed it to the manager so she could pass it along to the various service people. No one noticed.

Alone among the incompetence at the campus Dunkin’ Donuts shone Jason. Jason was the only employee at that Dunkin’ Donuts who wasn’t an idiot. He calmly and correctly filled orders, and he made the best iced coffee. I don’t know what he did differently; he probably didn’t overload it with milk or something. But whatever the case, The Doktah and I always tried to place our orders with Jason when he was working. In fact, we started referring to our coffee runs as “Meetings with Jason.” As in, “Mo, I’m really sorry to interrupt you and The P.I. as you discuss serious science, but did you forget that we have an important meeting with Jason at 3:00?” And then I could leave!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Rich girls

If you wanted to park a car in one of the garages at my school, you had to pre-pay for the year. I had a car my first year of grad school because I didn’t realize how convenient the train to visit The Husband would be, and so I had to make this giant $800 payment by August 1, before I even started grad school. I remember calling to ask about the cost of parking. The woman on the phone told me it would be $89 a month. “But I can pay that month by month, right?” I asked her, assuming that the answer would be yes.

“No,” she told me, with the air of someone dealing with a complete idiot. I’m pretty sure I could hear her eyes rolling through the phone lines. “You have to pay for it all up front.”

“I can’t pay month by month?” I asked, a bit stunned. Why did I have to pay all at once? I got paid month by month. I could afford $89 per month on my stipend, but they didn’t give me the stipend in one lump sum at the start of the year. And fresh out of putting myself through college, I wasn’t exactly rolling in ready cash.

The woman on the phone, however, acted as though paying monthly for a service was the most ludicrous idea she had ever heard. “No! It’s prepaid for nine months!” she snapped. “Do you want me to reserve you a spot or not?”

“Well, I guess so,” I told her, since it was either that or arrange to have my car hover over the graduate housing when not in use. I spent the rest of the summer working at minimum wage to save up the $800. And fine, it didn’t kill me. I still was able to have fun that summer.

But for many of the undergrads at this school, coming up with parking money was not a problem. I went to a state university for undergrad, and there was quite a difference in overall population at the two schools. Of course there were some well-to-do students at the state school and of course there were some financially struggling students at my grad school, but in general the kids at my grad school were rich kids.

The Doktah, who also put her own self through college via a combination of scholarships and living off of lima beans for a semester (but she made it through loan-free), was behind one of these rich kids in line to pay for her parking for the year. The girl in front of The Doktah had some sort of argument with the woman at the window about whether she still owed money. “My father has already paid this,” she said, vehemently. “I can call him right now, if you want,” she added, apparently thinking this would strike terror in the hearts of all.

“I don’t really care,” said the cashier. “All I know is that your bill hasn’t been paid.”

“Fine!” snotted the girl, and she whipped out her cell phone. She got a hold of her father and said, “Daddy, this woman at the parking office says that I still owe $100!” There was a pause. “But, Daddeeeeee!” she whined. Another pause and then “Fine! Whatever!” and she slammed down the phone. Or she would have slammed down the phone, except that it was a cell phone. Instead, she just jabbed angrily at the “End” button. Then she pulled out her checkbook.

Yes, that girl is different from me. Or is it different than? I can never remember that one.

Friday, June 17, 2005

So, have you noticed any problems?

By now, you know that I didn’t use traditional micropipettes for my thesis research. But when I started working on the project, we were using much smaller micropipettes which we were able to make ourselves. There are two main steps in making a micropipette. First, you insert an off-the-shelf glass capillary tube into a pipette puller, which heats the glass up in the middle and, well, pulls it apart. This creates micropipettes with wispy, flexible tips that are useless for most applications, leading to step two: forging. You take the freshly-pulled pipette and put it into a microforge, which is a sort of microscope combined with a heating element and a tiny bead that you use to melt and break the tip of the wispy micropipette to make a smooth, custom-sized pipette tip.

For several years, our lab used the microforge in the lab of one of our collaborators. But as our respective labs grew in size, this became more difficult, so The P.I. decided to buy a microforge of our very own. And because it would make training people in the art of forging micropipettes much easier, we decided to get one with a video hookup so that the forging process would show up on a TV screen. There was only one of those on the market, so we bought it, and I was put in charge of getting it set up.

The new microforge arrived, and when I got it put together, I pulled a few pipettes to try forging. I ran into a few problems. First of all, controls for adjusting the position of the objective lens were extremely stiff and difficult to turn, so that fine-tuning the focus was impossible. In addition, the objective itself was attached to the forge in a way that made it too heavy to stay put when fully zoomed in, so that when the lens was zoomed in enough to actually see what was going on, the objective slowly sank out of line with the pipette tip. The entire experience was an exercise in frustration.

I called the manufacturer to complain, and thus began my long relationship with the microforge’s designer. I explained the problems we were having, and he asked me to ship the forge back to him so they could take care of it. Over the next several weeks, during which various pieces of the microforge were shipped back and forth between our lab and the manufacturer, I learned that we had been lucky enough to be the first-time-ever purchasers of this particular microforge. And apparently, they had never actually tried to use their product to forge micropipettes. It seemed that, rather than test the product themselves, they just shipped it out to us, trusting that the design was sound. Because if they had tried to make pipettes with this thing, the problems would have been immediately obvious to them. They sure were obvious to me.

Eventually, they fixed the design and the microforge became a usable tool for our lab, but not before I grew to intensely dislike the designer and the company for essentially using me as a test engineer for their product. So when the president of the company emailed me to ask me if I could give them a quote about the microforge that they could put on their website, I told him that I didn’t think I had anything to say that they would want advertised.

The Doktah did have a few quotes to suggest:
It worked… eventually.
They’re the only ones that make this type of forge, so we were pretty much SOL.
Perfect for the masochist in the lab!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Do you prefer Laurel or Hardy?

I was just watching the weather and the meteorologist started talking about a low pressure system that is going to move in over the weekend. I can never remember which pressure means good weather, low or high, and I was reminded of a field trip I took in the fourth grade.

My class saw the Channel 4 meteorologist give a presentation on the weather. He explained the difference between low and high pressure systems, and to help us remember which one meant good weather, he told us to think of the Laurel and Hardy. The meteorologist said to think of Laurel when we saw the “L” on the weather map for low pressure, and we would know that that was good. Or bad. I forget.

But I ask you, did the meteorologist really think that a bunch of 9-year-olds in 1984 would be familiar with a comedy team from thirties? I think I was probably the only one in the group that had even heard of Laurel and Hardy, and I had no idea which one was Laurel and which one was Hardy. But even if I did, assigning their initials to pressure systems was, and still is, no help at all. Which guy is preferable? The fat, smart, mean one, or the dumb, skinny nice one?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


In grad school, my experiments were mostly on 6-day old cells which, when the preparation of the patterned substrate on which they grew was factored in, required almost three weeks of preparation. Experiments on primary cells were even more difficult to set up, as I could only obtain the primary cells sporadically. And experiments on primary cells from knockout mice bred without a gene for the protein I was interested in were the most difficult experiments of all, because these mice were not healthy, and therefore the cells were very rare.

My main experiment involved a micropipette with a 75-micron diameter. This may seem small, but micropipettes are usually only a few microns in diameter, so my micropipettes were actually huge on the micropipette scale of things. Because I needed such large ones, I could not forge the micropipettes myself. (I’d explain why, but those readers who don’t already understand why likely don’t care. In short, I needed at least 20 microns of constant inner diameter, and that’s nearly impossible to do for such a large pipette.) So instead of traditional micropipettes, I used a hollow fiber optic waveguide that was commercially available in spools of several yards. I owed this brilliant suggestion to The Husband, who works with lasers and optics and waveguides.

In addition to suggesting I use the waveguides in the first place, The Husband also prepared them for me. His lab had a fancy-schmancy waveguide cleaver which made clean cuts through the glass to create micropipettes about 2-inches long. Without the cleaver, the spool of fiber optic glass was useless, because I couldn’t make smooth-edged pipettes. We never got around to buying the cleaver because The Husband didn’t mind making the micropipettes for me, and I could just pick them up when I saw him on the weekends. Since The Husband lived a 2-hour drive from me, I was always careful to make sure I always had plenty of prepared micropipettes ready at all times.

That’s why it was such a shock to discover that I had only one pipette left the day of my big, big experiment on the knockout primary cells. I couldn’t believe it. I checked and rechecked all of the spots where I kept the pipettes, but that was it. One left. I held up my sole pipette to the light to examine it for defects and try to determine whether I could run an entire experiment with only one pipette, and I dropped it. I had one pipette left, and I dropped it, and it disappeared into the dust on the floor.

I called The Husband in a blind panic and he agreed to make some more and meet me on the Jersey Turnpike in ninety minutes. I had to borrow The Doktah’s car, which was a Chevy Metro. It got great mileage, but it couldn’t go above fifty miles per hour and run the air conditioner. I met The Husband, picked up the goods, and headed back to the lab.

About ten hours after discovering the shortage of pipettes, I finished the experiment. The results were good, and the data comprised a large portion of my thesis, so it was all worth it in the end. But damn.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Non-grad story about my nephew

I was putting sunblock on nephew #2, The Charmer, who is 3 years old. He held his arms out to the sides so that I could put it on his chest and back, and he said, "I'm like Jesus!"

Bonus story (added for the enjoyment of Big Sister #1 who checks this site every day): I was putting on the sunblock because we were at the In-Law's house to use their pool. The Husband's cousin and her two children were also coming. When they got there, The Husband said, "My cousins are here!" Then they walked into the backyard and The Charmer said, "Hi, Cousins!"

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Did you lose something?

The Husband requested that I tell you I found that random scrap of paper on which I had written a blog idea. You know, the one I told you he lost? Yeah, I found it in my purse.

It reminds me of the time that The Doktah lost an important piece of paper that had info about dissociation constants or something. “Do you still have that paper you borrowed from me?” she asked me.

“I gave it back to you,” I said. “Why, did you lose it?” I was kind of enjoying her consternation. Not long before this, The Doktah had been making fun of me for losing things all the time. She never loses anything; she is far too organized. But for me, things just… go away, and I don’t have them anymore.

That’s typically how I’ll notice things are missing, too. It suddenly occurs to me that, hey, I used to have blank. I wonder where blank is? And although I lose normal things like umbrellas and pens, I also lose things that people shouldn’t lose, like clothes. I once found a picture of myself in a shirt that I was quite fond of, and realized I hadn’t seen it in some time. A shirt! Where did I lose a shirt? It makes no sense. When I was moving out of the house I lived in as an undergrad, I couldn’t find my winter coat anywhere. I had simply vanished. Poof! Gone.

I have been known to lose a glove within one hour of purchase. In college, I spent a few weeks wearing a glove on my right hand and a mitten on my left. I looked like an idiot, but the others were missing, and it was cold and I was poor and I couldn’t buy myself a new pair of gloves every ten minutes! I was just grateful that I had something for both hands.

So yes, I found myself enjoying Miss I-Never-Lose-Anything’s search for her lost paper. “Oh, you lost it?” I teased. “I thought you never lose things!”

We found it eventually.

On my desk.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Dear God, but I was in school for a long time

Around my 3rd year or so, Pixie Niece asked me what grade I was in. I told her, and blew her mind.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Alas, alas

I just wanted everyone to know that earlier this evening, I had a great idea for a blog entry. It was going to be hilarious, witty, and wise. But The Husband lost the loose scrap of paper I wrote the idea on. Clearly his fault entirely.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Fun games to try with your friends

The Doktah and I like to amuse ourselves by pointing out sentences that take on entirely new meanings when you change which word is emphasized. Take, for example the sentence “I don’t think you look fat in those jeans.” At face value, this is not an insulting sentence. It’s reassuring; almost complimentary. But watch what happens when you change the emphasis:

I don’t think you look fat in those jeans…
I don’t think you look fat in those jeans…
I don’t think you look fat in those jeans…
I don’t think you look fat in those jeans…
I don’t think you look fat in those jeans…

See how it works?

We also like to make declarations about subjects of which we clearly know nothing, and then add, very grandly and knowingly, “Trust me.”

Example: “When you're training monkeys, you definitely want to make sure you don't shine lights in their eyes. Trust me.”

Try it yourself! These word games are almost as much fun as putting fake middle initials on the acknowledgement slide!

Friday, May 27, 2005

Localized earthquakes

Today I took the day off work and went on a field trip with Sister #1 and the nieces. While I was talking to Sister #1, I fell over. I was just standing there, and then I fell over. Sister #1 said, “What happened?”

“Remember my blog entry about that time in the bank with The Doktah?”

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Naked DNA

The Doktah’s thesis project was about red blood cells and nuclei. This may be surprising to some, as red blood cells are the only cells without nuclei, but it turns out that red blood cells and nuclei have similar physical properties. Or so The Doktah claimed in her transition slides during presentations. (And, Doktah, don’t be all “Chicken red blood cells have nuclei” in the comments, because nobody likes a smart ass.)

Anyway, one day The Doktah said to me, “Tomorrow I have to look at the DNA naked.” This was not too long after the microscope work in a bikini top, and I gave her a very odd look. She noticed my expression and said, “I mean unlabeled. I have to look at unlabeled DNA.”

It’s good she clarified that, because with The Doktah, you never know.

What, no lab coat?

Our lab, as has been documented, was rife with temperature control problems. I have already referred to the heating problems we had thanks to the gaping hole in the ceiling, but more often, the lab would get too hot. Sometimes the building’s air handler went on the blink, and when that happened, the temperature would easily reach 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit. But even when the air handler was working, the old one was never quite up to the task of modulating the temperature of the whole lab, especially if we had machines running. Take the laminar flow hood, for example. For those uninitiated to the joys of the laminar flow hood, it’s just a biosafety cabinet for working with cells that keeps a sterile field by blowing clean air over the surface. The blower motors can really generate a lot of heat, and on more than one occasion, the incubators in my cell culture room overheated because the ambient room temperature was too high. The incubators were set for 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit), and they overheated.

Fortunately, people usually only needed to work in the cell culture room for an hour or two at a time. The microscope room, on the other hand, was a sweltering little cave of solitude. We were a very microscope intensive laboratory, and people used to sit at the scope for hours and hours at a time, running experiments. The room was very small, and microscopes are chock full of motors and mercury-arc lamps that generate lots of heat. So by the end of a long experiment, it could easily be twenty degrees hotter in the microscope room than in the rest of the lab.

At one point, The Doktah had to run a series of experiments that required hours of sitting in front of the scope. These particular experiments were also flourescence-based, which required total darkness. She was also trying to run these experiments during the lab reconstruction that was supposed to take only two weeks, but took about four months, and which involved replacing the air handler. The air handler, therefore, did not work at all for about a week.

That is how The Doktah found herself sentenced to seven days alone in a tiny, dark room, with no air, a room which reached temperatures upwards of 80 degrees F. She was not happy about this. The other members of the lab knew that her experiments were terribly expensive to run, and, attempting to be helpful, kept bringing her lunch and snacks so she wouldn’t have to stop working to go get them. Unfortunately, by doing so we were inadvertently taking away her only chance to escape the hot, dark, lonely room for a few precious minutes. As we handed her her lunch, the wall of hot, stuffy air hit smack in the face. “Well, here you go!” we’d say. “We don’t want to interrupt you, so we’ll just leave this here,” and we’d run off.

“Wait!” The Doktah would call after us. “Stay and talk! I don’t mind!” But we’d already be gone, gasping for the fresh air of the rest of the lab.

By the end of her sentence of solitary confinement, The Dotkah had taken to doing the experiments at night, when there were fewer people around to generate heat and no construction to cause vibrations. She also took to doing the experiments in a bikini top and shorts. Because, why not?

Monday, May 23, 2005

Seriously, Route 20 would have been the best way

Remember a few months ago when I told you about the time The Husband and I called my father-in-law to ask about the exits on the Mass Pike? Well, a little while later, I told my father-in-law that I wrote about him. He didn’t remember the story, so I refreshed his memory. “We had accidentally gotten off at Exit 10A, which was new at the time,” I reminded him, “so we were getting back on the Pike but weren’t sure whether to go east or west.”

“You got off at 10A?” he said. “You could have just taken Route 20!”

I never used to be afraid of the dentist: Part 2

I started talking about my dentist troubles in November, and I’ve finally gotten around to Part 2.

OK. So when you last left me, I was right back where I started. Well, almost back where I started. I was still dentist-less, but now I had a set of bloody gums to inspire me in my hunt. Despite this inspiration, my search was fruitless. I could not get an appointment with a dentist anywhere remotely close to my apartment or the lab. I finally gave in and called the dental school.

The benefit of using the dental school was the brief wait for appointments. I was able to get one for only a week after I called! The drawbacks of using the dental school, however, were numerous. First of all, before I was allowed to see the student dentist, I had to have x-rays made. Now, in a normal dentist’s office, getting x-rays takes about 10 minutes at the beginning of your appointment. But at the dental school, the student x-ray technician needed an entire appointment to herself. So it looked like I would need at least two appointments to get my teeth cleaned.

Once I finally got to see Dr. Student Dentist, he discovered that I had three cavities. (Look, leave me alone. Some people are just prone to cavities. I brush and floss every day, I swear.) But because he was a student dentist, I could only schedule appointments between noon and two, which was when they had their clinical practicum. In addition, the teacher had to come check his work after each step to make sure he didn’t drill out healthy teeth or miss any of the cavity or anything. The upshot of this is that it took four more visits to get all the cavities filled, and I wasn’t done for at least another month, which means the whole process of going through my biannual dental appointment took three months, and I was almost due for a checkup by the time I was finished.

So after the second to last cavity was filled, Dr. Student Dentist called me to ask a favor. “Would you mind being my final exam?” he said. “We all have to do a procedure for a final exam, and you’d really help me out. I’ll pay you $50.” Well, who am I to turn down $50 for getting a cavity filled? I had to get it filled anyway. So I agreed.

On the day of the final, I headed up to the dental school. I was almost feeling guilty about getting paid for receiving dental care, but I didn’t realize what was in store for me over the next few hours. Yes, hours. First, I sat in the chair, and Dr. Student Dentist shot me up with novocaine. So far, normal. But then he fitted me with a mouth-spreader and rubber sheet, which exposed only the tooth he was working on. “Because it’s a final, we have to put this in,” he told me. Well, it was mildly uncomfortable, but at first, not that big a deal. But then it turned out that after every step in the procedure, I had to leave the main room with all the dental students, cross a large hallway filled with people waiting to take exams or have their teeth worked on, check into the room with the test proctors, and wait my turn to have my student doctor’s work examined. And I had to do all of this while wearing a mouth-spreader. I was walking around, in front of people, and my mouth was forced open by a huge metal contraption.

The incessant walking back and forth from examiner to examinee made the procedure take so long that my novocaine started to wear off before the cavity was completely filled. But by that point, I just wanted the damn thing to be over, so I refused Dr. Student Dentist’s offer to give me more. “Just finish!” I said. Except it came out, “Yuh yeuh-ueh!” because I was wearing a mouth-spreader.

When he was done, the sweet relief of getting the mouth-spreader removed almost made the whole thing worth it. And I tell you, I didn’t feel one bit guilty cashing that $50 check.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

California dreaming

When The Doktah and I were in San Francisco for the conference, we spent a lot of time on the bus thanks to the location of our hotel relative to the Moscone Center. This turned out not to be such a bad thing, because we got to see a lot of the city on our daily commute back and forth. Every morning, for example, we saw twenty or thirty middle-aged people gathered to do deep knee bends in the park. I have nothing against group exercise, but there is something inherently amusing about seeing so many people doing deep knee bends at the same time. We rode by them every day, and all we ever saw them doing were deep knee bends. If those people had signed up for a tai chi class, they were getting ripped off.

But riding the bus also introduced us to some sights we wanted to see, like Ghiradelli Square and Fisherman’s Wharf. So we decided to take an afternoon off and tour the city a little bit. Since we were so familiar with the bus system by that point, we hopped on the Muni line down towards the water.

The bay looked lovely, and I found myself taking a lot of pictures of the water. I took pictures of the water from Coit’s tower, from Lombard St., and from Fisherman’s Wharf. So without realizing it, I took about twenty pictures of Alcatraz as seen from various points in San Francisco. We ended up taking a tour of Alcatraz, so I took about ten more pictures of it from the boat, and a couple more of the grounds. A narrative of my pictures from that trip would go something like this:

ME: That’s a picture of Alcatraz, and that’s Alcatraz from Coit’s Tower. This one is a picture of the seals, but Alcatraz is here in the background. And this one is of Alcatraz from the boat, and this is the entrance to Alcatraz itself. Oh, and here’s a picture of San Francisco’s skyline.

VIEWER OF PHOTOS: Oh! Where’d you take that one from?

ME: Alcatraz.

While waiting for the bus to take us back to the conference, The Doktah and I found ourselves once again discussing the benches in the bus shelters. The benches at the bus stops in San Francisco have four seats each, and the seats are hinged so that they swing to a vertical position if no one is sitting on them. We had an ongoing argument about their design.

"It's so no one can sleep on them!" I said, yet again. "You can't lie down on them because your weight would be distributed wrong, and they would tip you right off." Although The Doktah agreed that that was the reasoning behind the design, she insisted that a person could lie down on the bench if motivated. “No way,” I insisted. “You can’t balance with your feet off the ground.”

The Doktah is not one to refuse a challenge, and we had some time to kill while we waited for the bus. “I will prove it,” she said, and she handed me her bag to hold. The Doktah sat down on the middle seat, stretched out one leg, and carefully lay down. She lifted up her other leg to rest along side the first leg, and very triumphantly shouted, “H-!” She only said “H-!” because that’s as far as she got before the seats turned and the bench tipped her right off onto the sidewalk. She didn’t have time to get out the full “Hah!”

You may feel some discomfort

I’m not afraid of needles. I’m a very easy patient, really. I let doctors poke and prod me as much as they like, and I try to attend to problems like stomach pains as quickly as possible. So when I was at the dermatologist’s office to have a couple of weird moles removed, I took the opportunity to tell her about a recurring zit I used to get right on the corner of my nose, where my nostril meets my face. This zit resurfaced every couple of weeks, and it was always extremely painful because of where it was located.

“Can you do anything about it?” I asked the doctor.

“Sure,” she told me. “I can give you a cortisone shot which should clear up the blocked pore, and that pimple probably won’t come back.”

I was very pleased to learn this, especially because I didn’t expect to hear such good news; I thought I’d just have to live with the zit. Unfortunately, the doctor wasn’t finished with her explanation. “But,” she said, with a concerned expression, “I will have to give you the shot right where the pimple is, and because it’s right by your nose, it will hurt more than an average shot.”

“Oh, that’s no problem,” I reassured her. “Needles don’t bother me,” and the doctor turned around to get the cortisone and syringe. When she turned back, she was filling a small syringe with one of the largest needles I had ever seen. I think it was a 16-gauge needle. I meant it when I said I’m not afraid of needles, but if she had injected that thing into my face it would have gone straight through into my brain. It was at least one and a half inches long and maybe a millimeter in diameter. A millimeter may sound small, but trust me. It isn’t.

The doctor looked up and saw me, blanched and open-mouthed, staring wide-eyed at the Needle of Death in her hand. “No! This one is just to fill the syringe!” she said, hurriedly. “This is the one I’ll use to inject!” and she held up a whisper thin, 26-gauge needle that was only about a quarter of an inch long.

“Oh, thank God,” I said.