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!