Posted by: fireweaver | March 10, 2010

systematic strangeness is apparently beneficial

the trick with doing any kind of research is figuring out how to ask the question such that the answer you get is meaningful.  that how can be as broad-ranging as which type of technique to use or what statistical analysis, but is also as narrowly defined as the particulars of any one given technique:  use this brand buffered solution in your western blot and it’ll work fine, but use an off-brand or unbuffered one and nothing runs right.  some of these how-to tips are nothing more than black-box voodoo¹, but plenty are entrenched Fact.

in animal research, a lot of those Facts revolve around reducing outside variables.  we acquire very clean, specially bred for the purpose creatures; we feed them very clean, specially analyzed feed; we house them in cages that can’t harbor outside diseases.  after all, if you have animals with random diseases, how can you be sure your drug is treating what you thought it was, vs simply having an impact on that random and unexpected viral infection?  the most extreme version of our need to standardize stuff is in the mouse world, where inbred (effectively, genetically identical) animals are commonly used.

in theory, we’ve cut out all the background noise of inadequate nutrition and extraneous diseases.  this recent article about some mouse work being done at perdue calls that into question though.  it turns out that some carefully selected variability actually makes the results more stable, more faithfully reproducible elsewhere.  perhaps what the extreme standardization actually does is amplifies any tiny background blip (vibrations from the local highway, a flickering light bulb in the room, the secretary’s perfumes) into an actual issue.  making a (controllably) heterogenous population then, instead, smooths over these random and meaningless blips to let the real impact of things stand out all the more clearly.

i’m sure figuring out how much heterogeneity is a good thing vs a wrench in the works could be the next lifetime’s worth of residency projects…

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scientific researchers are weirdly enough some of the most superstitious people ever.  as the man said, “if we already knew all the answers, we wouldn’t call it research,” but because those answers can be so elusive, we tend to get very touchy about those moments they do work.  lucky socks and all.  or,  to illustrate the point, a good friend who happens to be an atheist used to set up a virgen de guadalupe votive candle near some of the equipment when the cells weren’t behaving properly.

Posted by: fireweaver | March 9, 2010

tasty tuesday: strange things that DO go in lasagna

a coworker was having a frozen microwave lunch of lasagna yesterday that smelled like heaven for all its lowly origins.  after lunchtime, i promptly called Chris and told him we had the dinner plans for the evening all worked out:  “you’re going to make me some lasagna, please,” and being a good guy, he did.

i’d told him i wanted spinach and lots of mushrooms + any other veggies he felt like putting in there.  he apparently interpreted “lots” as both quantity and type, rather than just the former.  thai and oyster mushrooms ended up in there as well as regular baby bellas – the eastern ones gave it all a very distinctly rich and earthy flavor that was wholly unexpected but totally yum.  being a carnivore, he says his typical lasagna involves ham + ground beef + sausage, but i managed to rein him in to just the beef (feel free to experiment with the concept sans meat).

***recipe to follow soon.

Posted by: fireweaver | March 8, 2010

sadly, not strange at all

via the magic of on demand, we were watching a somewhat depressing ‘nature’ special this evening, “the loneliest animals”

(watch the whole episode here at pbs.org)

it’s a rare nature documentary that tells me a whole bunch of new stuff, so this one was pretty darn amazing.  depressingly so (stories focused on “last specimen of their species” type of extinction threats), but in a few instances adorably so.  check out the baby sumatran rhino, Andalas, first of his kind to be zoo-bred, who’s just completely ugladorable:

Posted by: fireweaver | March 7, 2010

one-offs from that strange land of l.a.

being a movie and costume junkie, i totally love the oscars.  i’ve missed a lot more of the noms than usual this year (especially odd given that my bf runs a theater after all), but i’m still all over the spectacle.

hmmm, going with a “roast” rather than a monologue?  i missed the first couple of minutes, so i dunno why they’re giving clooney the stink-eye.

oh, miley.  go ahead and declare your adulthood.  the liebowitz spread was beautiful, not tawdry.  the gold bustier dress you’re wearing now, just the opposite.

wow, that wikus dude from ‘district 9′ is substantially hotter sans being half alien and smarmy.

ben stiller’s ‘avatar’ bit was way more hilarious than the opener here.

monique just won for best supporting actress.  chris thinks ‘precious’ is going to clean up all around, and win best picture.  i think ‘avatar’ will take it away.  i’d give my left wingnut for the darkest of horses, ‘district 9′ to win.

wow, costume winner chick, way to rub in that you already got a pair of these.  no bonus points for humility; chris sez, “what a bitch.”

chris & i both: wtf is charlize theron wearing?

how come there are NO CHICKS AT ALL in the sci/tech winners bunch?? women nerds unite and take this stuff over next year!

lolz, james cameron looks way irritated at the argentinian guy for saying, “thank god na’vi isn’t considered a foreign language.”

all the best actor noms look like they’re gonna cry with all the sunshine being blown around.

and that’s it.  chris and i are now of course debating what was actually our fave movie of the past year…but major schadenfreude makes me all kinds of gleeful the king of the world isn’t taking it.

Posted by: fireweaver | March 6, 2010

strangely enough, this technique works some of the time

Chris manages a rather huge movie theater that, due to its location in the midst of several very different neighborhoods,  sees patrons from all walks of life¹.  the high volume of bodies flowing through the place means that there’s generally some pretty interesting tales of irate people getting touchy when herded into and out of the big cattle cars for a couple of hours at a time.  enough irritation makes people complain about whatever their beef happens to be, and since Chris is usually the top of the crap-flowing-uphill pile, he’s the one who ultimately deals with it.  the funny thing about it all is the sheer chutzpah of people unreservedly demanding stuff/tickets/refunds for free.  it’s enough of a “known situation” there that while the place is undergoing renovation to its concession stand, all managerial staff have been informed they’re not to give out comps for “construction inconveniences.”  the dozen or so people last night who demanded their popcorn & drinks for free because of the long lines at the few remaining stations were mostly out of luck.

the fave complaint of most people tends to be unpleasant theater conditions.  managers do indeed give out refunds for theaters bizarrely hot or cold (with unpredictable weather shifts and enormous open spaces, this happens in actuality now and again), and of course for scratched up or broken prints of the film.  some of these requests get pretty outlandish, though, legitimate or not.  example 17: the frequent complaints of the massive pot smoking going on during the show.  last night was a real doozy as far as unpleasant conditions.  to quote Chris:

man that theater was all fucked up. I need me my money back

excuse me – can you be a bit more specific?

Man the n’s² in front of me was drinking some gin or something and getting all fucked up… plus there was a lot of gas…

Im sorry???

Da n’s in front of us was fartin all movie… it was some repugnant shit.

I see

I mean what the fuck man… I saw your peoples in there getting people to turn cell phones off.  Don’t you have some kinda rules about being nasty and shit?  I couldn’t enjoy my mother fuckin movie, is all I’m sayin…

Because of the cell phones? Or…….

No, n – cause of the farting!

Sir, can you please not refer to me as “n”.

Shit,– I’m just telling you that those motha fuckers was disturbing me with their nasty stank ass farts – the entire movie.  If you can get a man to shut his cell phone off, then kick his ass out for drinking that cheap ass liquor and fartin all night.

and yes, this gentleman and his girlfriend went on to demand an immediate cash refund due to farting in the theater.  the tills were closed down tight for the night (it was indeed 3am in this tale, after the last late movie was over and done with), so that didn’t completely work out, but the offensive bottle of liquor was in fact located.  since that qualified as a legitimate complaint, these guys were successful in getting some free passes.

i’ve gotta brainstorm some creative complaints of my own in the future.

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¹ok, clearly, not all possibilities.  here, all = a representative slice of the total american moviegoing public.

²call it my white guilt or whatever, but for as much as i cuss like a sailor, i’m thoroughly uncomfortable using “the n word” even when it’s not in a hostile context.

Posted by: fireweaver | March 5, 2010

the strange kids

h/t to scientist, interrupted for the hilarity:

Posted by: fireweaver | March 4, 2010

strange weather we’re having here

somehow, i’m in denial about the weather, and this week it looks like it’s sort of paying off.

the east coast has gotten whaled on by a back-to-back pair of historically crappy snowstorms in early february, following hot (cold?) on the heels of a similarly airport-crashing storm in mid-december.  we’ve had epic piles of snow 3 times this winter, the sort where flights are canceled for days, you have to get your shoulder behind the front door to push it open over the mass of dense fluff, and a bajillion people loose power (more on that some other day).  it’s been the sort of season that makes me question why i left the Texan homeland in the first place;  i’ve done far more than my share of shoveling this year.

and yet, somehow, every time i look out the window, it’s a total surprise to see things covered in a blanket of white.  i drive along in the car with the heater cranked up to “july in dallas”, lost in my thoughts, and end up somewhat stunned to notice the hillsides i’m driving through are still white.  maybe it’s that the new office doesn’t have a window, but every time the back door of the building opens to admit an icy blast, it’s an unexpected annoyance.

those white hills are finally fading out to greenish brown, and i’m starting to do that ridiculous thing where i stop wearing a coat because willpower alone will keep me springtime warm.  is it denial or optimism?  is there a difference at this point?

now all i have left to do is hope like hell that it hurries up and melts so the mudpit back yard can finally dry out.

Posted by: fireweaver | March 3, 2010

when you’re strange

i’m in the midst of new-job blues.  i wonder if this is a universal phenomenon, or if i’m just so crazy social that the lack of daily buddies is really this distressing.  maybe it’s that i’ve changed jobs more often than most people i know in the past couple 0f years, and i’m sick (though well practiced, i guess) of starting over.

the first couple of months are just tough for me, and the same has been true of every job since i’ve been out of school.  though there are people i still miss like crazy in each of these recent gigs, the settling in period is always way longer than is comfortable.  i don’t have any solid  friends, just plenty of people i’m friendly with; to be fair, though, this group is by far the most outgoing and casually welcoming i’ve ever met.  no “allies” as of yet, and i’m still trying to figure out the politics, both petty and important.  to top it off, until i completely have the hang of the place, i feel pretty close to useless, and maybe that’s the worst.  i often wonder if i could ignore the gradual social thaw if only i was a needed and integral part of the goings-on.

on the bright side, they’re working my ass off, so some of that latter is obviated.  my goal is to learn one person’s name a day, and that’s working pretty well to take care of the rest of it.  hopefully, it will even out sooner than the last time(s)…and in any case, we have a party on the 20th to look forward to.

Posted by: fireweaver | March 2, 2010

tasty tuesday: strange(r) oils

most stovetop cooking involves using some sort of fat to sizzle the food in, something to transfer the heat from the pan to the crisping edges of the meal.  i’m an olive oil or butter person, myself (just say no to margarine, and why bother with canola oil?), and usually these 2 get me through most anything i want to try out.

Chris, though, has brought over a wide assortment of strange spices & sauces.  most of these simply end up as a part of his various spice rubs for meat, but lately, he’s hooked me on sesame oil.  it has a warm, delicious smell that makes you instantly recognize why it’s the basis for plenty of massage oils; the aroma released when cooking with it though, is divine.  sesame oil cooks at a higher temperature (if i understand correctly), and is thusly perfect for zapping things quickly while keeping them juicy and fresh.

clearly, this is ideal for a very simple tuna steak:  let your slab of delicious red tuna come to room temperature.  gently rinse it off and pat dry with a paper towel (not critical, and i don’t do it with all fish, but i find that tuna tends to show up pretty bloody), then set on a small plate.  lightly dust the whole upper surface with sesame seeds.  get a pan very hot (i put mine in an oven cranked to 390 or so, before taking it out and putting it on a stove on high heat), add some sesame oil, and sear the seeded side.  add more seeds to the naked side, and gently flip with tongs when the steak releases itself from the pan.  for very rare tuna, just sear generously on each side.  for slightly more done fish, pop into the oven after searing both sides and let it gently cook for a short while.  mayo cut with a little wasabi paste makes a nice accompaniment.

Posted by: fireweaver | March 1, 2010

well, hello there strange(r)

even though i crashed and burned for the most recent NaBloPoMo, i’m going to try to give it a swing and get back into this mess with this month’s theme, strange(r).  there’s enough strange things in the big wide world, and my little life, that i’m hoping i can come up with something on a rather regular basis.

first up we have my job, or perhaps the root cause of me having been a blogging stranger for so long.  once upon a time, i really really loved my job.  life at JHU was awesome, and is now missed with such rosy-tinted reminiscing that it’s like a john hughes high school movie.  after fledging and leaving the nest there, my first job out started out wonderful (i have plenty of great stories from both, even given board-prep hell and the occasional day slogging through necropsy).  over time, though, that job ended up changing very dramatically from what it started out as – key personnel shifts, among other issues, hugely altered the corporate culture there until it was time to leave there.  during my job search a couple of years ago, i went on the strangest interview of my life, and i’ve always been convinced this blog had something to do with that whole head-scratching event.  though i’ve always been very careful to not name names (good or bad) when telling tales of noteworthy things coworkers have done, i’ve never revealed trade secrets or otherwise confidential information, and i feel i’ve often used this as a soapbox to counter animal rights rhetoric, it apparently came off as a liability to these guys.  the statement that my background check had revealed this blog’s existence was dropped unnervingly into the interview conversation as though it was a bomb – though i’m obviously not hiding anything here, i’m not signing things with my real name – and it’s nothing i felt i was supposed to be chagrined over, anyway.  they clearly felt differently, and it was implied that not only would any employment with them expect work-based blogging to cease, but blogging altogether.

i spazzed and deleted a few posts, the sort that had mentioned even the names of former employers.  and after that, posts about work pretty much dried up altogether.  my new employer (not the odd interview, of course) was a contract research company, with lots of concern about revealing client information, so i just never got back into the habit of telling tales about work.  notice the stories about the whole trip to china, which was in fact a business trip, never mention what i was actually doing there every day.  getting more dissatisfied (it may be a tad too melodramatic to say “depressed”) over my last job as time went by, plus the easy one-liners of facebook, means this has trickled to a stop.

i started a new job with NIH one month ago.  they’re working my ass off, and i love it.  cross your fingers for stability and continued contentment here, and hopefully, i can get all this life back on track.

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