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.

Monday, May 16, 2005

You need a Ph.D. to do this right!


I am a moron

Sister #2 always treats herself to a manicure when she goes to a wedding. This struck me as a fine policy, so I decided to treat myself and Leah Lar to manicures on Saturday for N’s wedding. This was only my second professional manicure ever, the first one being for my own wedding.

Everything went swimmingly until I was sitting with my hands under the UV/fan dryer thingy. We were on a tight schedule, and I felt that my right thumb wasn’t getting the full drying effect of the fan. I tried to reposition my hand, and promptly jabbed my right thumbnail with my left hand, completely destroying the polish on my right thumb. My manicurist was very nice about it, and fixed it handily. When I sat back at the dryer thingy, I was full of promises to be very careful. Two seconds later, I scraped my freshly polished right thumbnail against the top of the dryer thingy while trying to reposition my hand for more effective drying.

So it’s probably a good thing I don’t get manicures often.

Immaculate misconception

I once had the following conversation a December evening in a crowded, noisy bar.

“I had to go to church today, because it was a holy day,” I said.

“What?” my friend replied.

“CHURCH!” I shouted. “I HAD TO GO TO CHURCH! Today was the feast of the Immaculate Conception.”

“The immaculate what?”


There was a pause while my friend thought about this. “But why is the Immaculate Conception so close to Christmas? That’s the shortest – or longest – pregnancy I’ve ever heard of.”

“What?” I said.


“Oh! No,” I replied. “It’s not the conception of Jesus. It’s the conception of Mary.”



My friend was confused. “BUT I THOUGHT THAT MARY WAS THE ONLY…”

“No, no,” I said. “That's not what immaculate conception means. It’s not a sin for a husband and wife to conceive children. God wants husbands and wives to conceive children. But we believe that Mary was conceived without original sin.”



There was another pause. And then, “WHAT’S ORIGINAL SIN?”

But that was a discussion I was not prepared to handle in all caps.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Warning: Epileptics should not enter

Our lab had fluorescent lights that were on pretty much twenty-four hours a day, and, as a result, burned out all the time. When fluorescent lights burn out, they flicker. At first, the flickering was so minor it was almost imperceptible, and as it would slowly get worse we would continuously adapted to the decrease in light. But eventually, we’d be left with all the lights burned out except for one that flickered on and off with the regularity of Chinese water torture, and the lab would be full of grad students hunched over benches, squinting at samples in the near-dark, and driven mad by the incessant flickering. At this point, it would finally occur to us to tell Operations that we needed bulb replacements.

So someone from Operations would come and replace the burned-out, flickering bulbs. All of them. All at once. The lab would suddenly be transformed from a dim cave to a brilliantly lit room, causing all of the squinting, mad grad students to flee to dark corners and whimper. The light! It burns!

Friday, May 06, 2005

Costumes are for suckers

If I had a nickel for every time someone said to me, “Mo, why don’t you like dressing up in costumes?” I’d have… well, no money at all, actually. But I’m going to tell you why anyway. I think it dates back to the Halloweens of my youth. It all started innocently enough; I was a Hershey Kiss, a pumpkin, Big Bird. And even though Big Bird was a cheapo plastic costume from the drugstore that split when I squatted to count my candy, it held up through the begging. Mission accomplished.

But in the second grade, one of the girls in my class had a Halloween party at her house, and I really wanted to be something cool, since my classmates would see my costumes and not just my neighbors. My mother suggested I be a carrot. She had acquired an orange jumpsuit from somewhere, possibly a prison, and had scrounged up an orange ski cap. “It will be great!” she told me. “I’ll sew some green yarn to the top of the cap, and you’ll look just like a carrot!” I was skeptical about the coolness factor of such a costume, but I agreed.

I love my mother, but I learned not to trust her judgment about cool Halloween costumes. I wore the carrot costume to the party, and spent the whole time explaining my costume in response to the weird, confused looks I got from every single person there. I think the flaw was in the overall shape of the carrot costume. Instead of being shaped like a carrot, I was shaped like me, wearing an orange jumpsuit. I was not cool.

Things went downhill from there. In the third grade, Sister #4 agreed to be Punk Twins with me. I was so psyched. I would definitely be cool if I were one half of a set of Punk Twins with my big sister. We were going to wear side ponytails on opposite sides of our heads, and we were going to put on sparkly hair spray and blue eyeshadow. I could not wait.

But then. The betrayal.

At the last minute, Sister #4 decided to be Punk Twins with her friend from school, leaving me in the cold. As a grownup, I can look back and understand that Sister #4’s was about eleven years old, and being the punk twin of her friend instead of her little sister had a certain appeal. But the eight-year-old girl deep inside me never totally forgave Sister #4 for leaving me scrambling for a new costume like that. But can you blame the hidden eight-year-old, really? We were going to wear sparkly hair spray.

So I was stuck trying to think of cool costume ideas. This time, I knew enough not to ask my mom for cool costume ideas. Unfortunately, I did not know enough to ask a cool person for help and instead came up with the costume of “Harried Mother.” I put curlers in my hair, cold cream on my face, wore a bathrobe, and carried Benjamin, my Cabbage Patch Doll around as though I were taking him trick-or-treating.

No one got it. The subtlety of the Cabbage Patch Doll was lost on the candy-hander-outers, and, if they hazarded a guess at all, they thought I was “Ready for Bed.” When I got to my cousins’ Halloween party, I did not help matters because I took off the bathrobe and washed my face, thereby reducing my costume to just curlers in my hair. The looks I got when I was an abstract carrot were nothing compared to the looks I got as Crazy Curlers-In-My-Hair Girl.

My heart wasn’t really in it for the next couple of Halloweens. But I did notice how comfortable my Harried Mother costume was once I shed the cold cream and bathrobe – unsurprising since other than that, it was just my regular clothes – and decided to design costumes around the wearing of regular clothes. The costumes I recall from this period are carpenter (overalls and painter’s cap) and a Neon Leon (black sweatsuit with Neon Leons wrapped around my wrists and ankles). The carpenter was a blatant lazy cop-out, but I really thought the Neon Leon costume would be cool because the Neon Leons were supposed to glow like crazy. Sadly, I had neglected to consider their cheapness, and they did not hold their flourescence. It was a good idea in theory but failed in execution.

So, when I got invited to another Halloween party in the eighth grade, I decided to go all out and be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. I made the shell out of cardboard and cut up an old t-shirt for a mask. But there I ran into a problem. How would I wear the mask and my glasses? I can’t see without my glasses. Being the eminently practical person that I am, I just tied the mask on over my glasses. But the old t-shirt was threadbare and virtually transparent, and shape of my glasses was clearly visible underneath the “mask.” Consider for a moment how ridiculous I looked.

As the years passed, I returned to my technique of putting together “costumes” that allowed for normal clothes, and if only if I was forced to wear a costume in the first place. I was Carmen Sandiego (raincoat and hat) once and Napoleon another time. Napoleon actually turned out to be tricky. To be a good Napoleon, you can’t really wear just regular clothes, but I had a go at it anyway. I slapped some curtain tassels on a blazer for that “military” look and fashioned a hat out of paper. I did not make a good Napoleon. (Interesting side story: The Napoleon costume was for a high school language club Mardi Gras party. Sister #4, the same sister of the Punk Twins debacle, went as a French-English dictionary. She won a prize for “Most Work Put Into a Costume.” I personally witnessed Sister #4 draw on a t-shirt for about 15 minutes the afternoon of the party, throw it on with a pair of jeans, and call it done.) In grad school I was Harry Potter in Muggle clothes (“No look, see? I drew a scar on my forehead with eyeliner!”), and two years ago, I went to a party as a tea bag. Black pants, black shirt, and a cardboard tea bag label tied to my bra and hanging out of my shirt.

But thanks to last year, I have forgiven Halloween for inflicting costumes on me. Last year, The Husband and I agreed to attend Leah Lar’s sister’s Halloween party, and costumes were required. Because of our utter lack of ingenuity in making respectable costume from household materials, we tried to buy them. We were stunned to discover that the cheapest ones available were $30 each! But they looked much, much cheaper than that. Unwilling to shell out $60 for crappy costumes we would wear once, we fell back on my technique of cobbling together a lame costume from the clothes in our closets. We decided to be Buffy and Angel.

But here’s the thing. I didn’t have any shoes that Buffy would wear, so I got to buy cool, tall black boots. I had been in the market for tall black boots for about three years, and I found a pair at DSW for, wait for it, $60. The very same price two cheap costumes would have cost us at the Halloween Outlet. Halloween had given me a legitimate reason to splurge on the tall black boots I had been coveting for years. I look so cool in those boots.

So, Halloween, I forgive you.

But Sister #4, you still owe me for the Punk Twins Betrayal.