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 fiancĂ©e, 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.