Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving makes us introspective

Location: Home Base

The thought occurred to me as I see the posts of what people are thankful for, that scientists are frequently not thankful for their science. I heard a quote today on TV:

A: Your dad reminded me of why I got into science in the first place.
B: To solve crimes?
A: To figure things out in ridiculous ways

I identify with this, any self respecting scientist should.

We didn't get into this (or at least not a lot of us did) to save lives, or to cure cancer, or even to make the world safer, better or less polluted. Those are great reasons to use at parties, at home, or when we are trying to justify the hours, the mental anguish, the frustration at another experiment that you know in your heart SHOULD work, and doesn't, but it's not what it's really all about.

Maybe it's just me.

But I got into this because nothing is worse than not knowing.

I love to figure things out. I love to watch TV where people figure things out. My favorite thing in the world is watching a child understand a new concept. My second favorite thing is watching an adult learn something. My third favorite thing is when I figure something out.

I can't have an ego about it though, because there are things that I Just can't learn on my own. I need to know what those things are. I think I could very easily have washed out of science if I hadn't recognized that there were people who got something better than I did, and let them explain it to me. I think I'd probably be a better scientist if I had recognized that more often.

So, why is this a topic for thanksgiving? Well, mostly because I said so. But for those of you sticklers for lists, here goes:

The scientist abroad is thankful for inquisitiveness.

The S.A. is thankful for there still being science out there to be discovered.

The SA is NOT thankful for the fear of exploring those things because, sometimes, there's just no money in it.

In a perfect world SA would like to:

Discover whether all viruses come from the same original source.
Find out whether mitochondria are really the product of endosymbiosis, or if bacteria are a product of exosymbiosis.
Go ghost hunting, because those guys, and their cameras might still be faking for TV.
Find out the best way to gather and use energy.

If SA were a psychologist, dealing with those messy neurons, rather than messy, but more easily studied bacteria, the following questions would be of the most interest:

Why do neurons die? When are neurons created?
Will it ever be possible to create the Terminal Man?
(PS: SA used to be a fan of Michael Crichton, but deep down, don't you think he hated and feared technology?)
What the hell is up with this sleep stuff?
Why does non-procreative sex make us happy?

If SA were an engineer, the world would probably collapse in on itself.

If SA were an artist... Have you ever heard of Dadaism?


In short, SA is thankful that the human race came up with a methodology to interpret the reactions of the universe in such a way as to learn from it. Not only because it makes Rock Band possible, but because in science, I have found a way to learn something new.

Also, it does sound kind of cool to tell people that I'm a scientist, and i'm trying to save the world

Monday, September 1, 2008

Jet Lag's a Bit**

Asterices (pl) - asterix + more.

So, travel one way works OK, but travel back seems to always throw me. The funny thing about it is that, unlike anytime you're having trouble sleeping, you're not even tired, it's impossible to even think about going back to sleep. The funny thing about it is that in this structured environment, my mind runs at orders of magnitude greater rate of randomness than usual.

Between remembering every stressful thing I have to take care of, and figuring out how to do any new experiments, and worrying about what I'll do next year, I pretty much don't even have any desire to sleep.

So, here's my break down from my trip:

Week 1: Arrive late, miss roundtable discussions. These had little purpose for academic furtherment, but would have been fun (I think). The rest of the week is a blur of information, which I am attempting to formulate into information that I will keep with me in my brain, rather than hear, think about and forget.
I would like to take this time to discuss the state of microbial ecology. There appear to be 3 fields in microbial ecology:
1) If you don't have money, you do the old school, low input, high statistical analysis intensive experiments, and display your statistics. This can sometimes include good old old school sequencing, q-PCR, qRT-PCR, T-RFLP, clone libraries, etc. When you're done, if you're lucky, you'll get the ability to compare your results between eachother, and a good idea of how much conditions change microbial communities. This can be colloqually described as "I can't afford to do the expensive high data work, so let me do this, instead, maybe nobody will notice."
2) If you do have money, you do pyrosequencing. Sometimes, you to Reverse transcription, to find out what the signal is, other times you do protein sequencing as well. This is what I call the "Let's sequence the shit out of everything, and see what I can find out." This method is the next, sexy thing, but I'm sometimes sceptical about what we can actually gather from this approach. Who knows, maybe I'm just not cut out for the ecology part.
3) Microcosms, phage work, isolations, stable isotope probing, etc. These are all methods for generating specific data about some subsection of the group. They fall into the category of "I think I know what I want, but I need something to fall back on". Not to mention that it's still boring.

Everyone there is so excited about metagenomics, and about what they can find out with 454, and how cool this is. Of course there's also the fact that everyone is apparently focussing on the nitrogen cycle. I'm not sure I understand either of these trends, but we'll see.

So, back home. I'm apparently supposed to go to a regional meeting in a month, so my life will continue to be interesting. Hopefully In the meantime, I'll be able to harness the jetlag to get work done. One way or another.

Days back home - 3
Bags lost on the plane ride home: 3
Total bags lost (out of 3 in either direction): 5
Naps taken: 4-5
Average hours slept in a row: 3-4
Average time of awakening: 4:30 Am.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Be Casso-wary....

This is probably my last post, well my second to last post, before I depart Australia. I was under an impression, that appears to be false, that internet is available everywhere in Australia. Instead, it seems internet connections in Australia are much like they used to be in the U.S. about 10 years ago. Internet cafes abound in Cairns, but I am fundamentally opposed to paying for internet by the minute. We've moved out of Cairns, and into nearby Mission Beach. We've rented an apartment rather than a hotel room, which has made for much easier living in the addition of a kitchen (not to mention a washer and dryer, much to the SO's relief). Tonight, for example, I'm making bbq chicken. There are some oddities to the Australia palate and naming scheme that I can't quite get over. As an example, if you buy bacon in Australia, you get ham, which brings to mind the question "what do you get when you buy ham in Australia?" (THIS DOES NOT BEG THE QUESTION, because begging the question is something entirely different. Go Look It Up.)

In answer to the question, you get ham.

It's a strange world we live in.

I should also note that Australia is more expensive than I anticipated. Not on an overall scale, but a cheapest meal you can get eating out, is about 15 dollars. Per person. For breakfast. So, a kitchen is actually a money saving measure.

Now to the important question:
Some of you who pay attention may have noticed that the title of this post is "be casso-wary." If you were feeling ambitious, you went out and googled it. If you didn't, allow me to give you an introduction. A Cassowary is a tall, flightless bird, presumably much like an ostrich or an emu, with these notable exceptions: first of all, it lives in the rainforest. Second of all, it is apparently the only mode of transportation of many rainforest fruits because it eats them whole and then poops the seeds out. Thirdly, it is black and fourth, it apparently likes to cross the road. This leads to the caution in our ever helpful guidebook to heed the signs to tell us to be casso-wary.

By and large, tropical Australia is very nice. I do not feel like I have gathered the authentic Australian experience, as I have not seen a wild kangaroo, been in the outback, or played a digeridoo (however, I missed my chance whilst all the other japanese ISME tourists played a lively jig themselves). Tropical North Queensland is nice, however, with rainforests, waterfalls, and beaches galore. Most of the beaches, however, have been unvisited by yours truly, since it has been cloudy and windy nonstop since we got here (ask me later to get details on the sandiest day ever). Instead, we have been exploring the tropical rainforests and waterfalls and driving along the Bruce Highway (ask me what I know about bananas).

Days in Australia: 10?
Sunny days in Australia: 0.75.
Waterfalls visited: 2
Beaches visited: 2
Number of crevices I found sand: countless.
Number of people in this apartment complex with unsecured wireless: possibly 2.

Time to go before they turn them off.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Australia day 6.05479

Last day of conferences. I have spent the last five days having my brain filled with other peoples ideas, methods, procedures and hypotheses. I am so ready to go pet a koala. Speaking of which, we went to the Rainforestation park for an ISME party last night where there was just such occurrances...occurring?? SO pointed out that it was sort of odd to travel around the world to come to a conference on environmental sensitivity and have our party at a park which seemed to exploit the animals and native culture for fun and profit. However, there was free beer and free food. All in all, not a bad party. On the professional front, things are going well (I think), which is good because the weather outside is frightful and therefore the vacation front is less so. After I run this one last errand for the conference, I am planning on spending the rest of the time on the beach in the water, above the water, or in the rainforest. If people interfere with this plan, they will be pointed at....severely.
Concluding list:
Number of days of conference attended: 5
Number of people met through conference by myself : 2
Number of people met at conference through SO: 3
Current score: Scientist 2, SO 3.
Days of beachgoing left: 7.
People who will actually read this blog: 1.5

Peace out, yo.

Monday, August 18, 2008

finally in Cairns

This is the SO post, as the Scientist has gone down to the car to find the number to track our bag that still has not yet been located. We have 2 of 3 bags.

It's been cloudy today in Cairns, which was helpful as both the Scientist and the SO have been under the weather. The Scientist spent his day at the conference, checking out the posters and talks (he'll have to divulge that excitement) but I've spent the day with the worst migraine I've ever had and most of the day I've been asleep.

Now that I'm awake, we are heading out to get dinner and find toiletries to replace our still missing toiletries located in the luggage missing. By toiletries, I mean everything that isn't clothes, shampoo, conditioner, soap, comb, brush, hairdryer, jewelry, tennis shoes (which my feet are screaming for).
They have a Target here in Cairns, so I think perhaps that's where we'll head. They also have a Woolworth's down the street, but I'm eager to see what the Cairns Target has to offer. Right now, I guess you could say I'm still seeing the naive novelty in the Americanized products Australia has to offer. No Dr. Pepper but they do have Subway (my trainer would be happy). They even have Ford cars.

It's getting darker outside and cooler, so I think I'll close up for now. Not much new to report but thought it would be nice if at least one of us let everyone know we did get to Cairns last night around midnight and we're now trying to overcome that so-called jet lag and get down to vacation business.

More to come!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

3/4 of the way there

We decided (somewhere just past dallas) we decided that the best way to measure our progress was not by hours but by legs travelled. This meant that the 2 hour flight to Dallas had the same value (1/4 of the trip) as the 14+ hour leg between LA and Sydney. I think that this may have backfired. It may prove to be accurate in terms of difficulty, however.

I'll start with the quick inventory (Bridget Jones style, I think I'll keep it up)
2+ hours from dallas
1+ hours from LA (This is hard to judge because the rushed us onto the plane, then made us wait for other passengers)

Lost Bags:
2: This is of course problematic when you have to take them through customs. Having to report lost baggage leads to:

Missed connections:
3: All in Sydney. First one we arrived too late for. Second one we missed because we were still trying to clear customs. Third one was overbooked because we were too far back in the line to get booked onto the next flight. Which leads us to:

Free admissions into the Sydney Qantas Club Lounge:
2: One for me, and one for SO. mostly because we were both polite, quiet and obviously very frustrated and tired. And that means:

Free Food:
Lots: Sandwiches, fruit salad, amazing cheese, Decent rolls, and soup that I refuse to eat. So, if you're stranded for an extra 6 hours in Sydney, I would recommend looking into trying to get into the qantas club. Very worthwhile.

The olympics are on live in the afternoon here, so all is well. Checkin will be over by the time we arrive tonight, so I'll have to do it in the morning.

Here's to Australia being better than the flights.

Peace out.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

T Minus 2 days

Wednesday. Leave in 54 hours to the great down under.

Science is a funny business. I'm getting ready to go to another country for a meeting, to try to get a job for my future career, and I have to write 1 final report, prepare for 3 or 4 experimental setups I'm going to run when I get home, and e-mail about 10 people about various projects. And i'm only a graduate student.


Things are getting exciting, though. Just have to finish these quick things, and then I can go home, clean and pack.

Tick, Tick, Tick.

The biggest decision I have left to make is whether I want to go scuba diving.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Let's all go to Australia! Kanga and Roo miss us.

The request has been made that, what with internet access abroad existing, and all, that I keep track of my Australia trip. For those of you who may find this at random (all 2 of you), here's the story:

I'm a microbiology grad student in Tennessee. The beauty of this system is that we, as scientists, have to go to meetings on a yearly basis to present our work, meet people, and line the coffers of various professional societies, convention centers, and hotels. This trip is to the ISME 12 meeting in Cairns, Queensland, Australia. (YAY!)

I'm trying to keep my thoughts straight as I prepare for the plane ride and subsequent jet lag for 2 days worth of lectures, posters, and getting free stuff from vendors who want me to buy incredibly expensive equipment for my lab (an idea I will not disabuse them of, if they give me plush toys).

If I can, I may put up a screenshot of my poster, eventually, if anyone ever reads this.

I guess I should keep track of this by days into my trip, so:

Days in austrlia: 0
Days since I boarded a plane: -4
Unexpected occurrances: 0
Bridget Jones references: 1