Substitute

Posted By on July 14, 2011

.: Ever since visiting Europe four years ago, I’ve kept a small moleskine notebook in my pocket at all times for instant access note taking. Each moleskine typically lasts three to four months, either until the pages are full or they fall apart. At $9 per three pack, that’s roughly a dollar a month — a dollar a month I no longer have to spend thanks to a truly revolutionary innovation on my part.

.: It all started when I bought my first pair of shorts in nine years. (Some backstory to the backstory: in tenth grade I enrolled in New Braunfels High School, whose policy forbade boys from wearing shorts. Since my recent growth spurt at the time had obsolesced my old shorts and ridiculous rules prevented me from buying new ones, I simply got used to suffering the sweltering Texas heat in pants, a habit that stuck until yesterday.) Now, as with all cargo shorts, the pockets are spacious — far more spacious than the moleskine-mangling pockets of my blue jeans. I began to think about all the things I could do with a slightly larger moleskine, something my jeans would surely protest but my cargo shorts would warmly accommodate. However, the next largest moleskine notebook was too large even for my shorts, and this is where innovation, inspiration, and genius all collided in a violent display of applicability and functional non-fixedness.

.: Behold!

.: For the non-molecular biologists in the audience, the cover is a thick piece of paper pulled from a QIAGEN Plasmid Maxi Kit™ protocol. Every kit we buy comes with one, and I realized that, folded in half, it would be just the right size and durability for a new pocket notebook. In my lab, I average one maxi kit ($209) every three months, which is on pace with how often I replace a moleskine. Add to that the price of two staples ($0.0004) and ten sheets of printing paper ($0.10), and that dollar a month I’d otherwise be paying for a genuine moleskine drops to a mere $69.70013. Success!

Art Dump

Posted By on May 14, 2011

.: I’ve decided to learn how to draw. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time now, having bought Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain more than a year ago but only just recently picking it up to read. Below is a collection of my relatively recent attempts. Enjoy.

Earliest attempt at realistic drawing. ("This is my pipet. There are many like it, but this one is mine.")

Surge Protector Uselessifier

Copy job from the cover art of Goldfrapp's "Supernature."

Supposedly a clenched, posed hand is easier to draw than a flat one. Go figure.

Copy job from a figure in Betty Edwards' "Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain." The original imaged was cropped, so I restored it as accurately as possible.

Copy job of the cover art on Sinclair Lewis' "Free Air." Amazingly enough I can't find the exact image online, but it closely resembles this version.

Early attempt at realistic drawing in a Starbucks.

I eventually want to learn how to draw simple cartoon figures, but ironically the more realistic drawings are easier to learn.

Straight from the imagination.

Quick response to this clever but fatuous comic.

First attempt with a ruler and a regular (not mechanical) pencil.

Tee-hee.

Goodbye Hard Drive

Posted By on December 11, 2010

.: Preface In no way am I trying to convince you I’m not an idiot — I certainly am. This is just an outline of what happened.

.: Background I’m a grad student. I use my macbook for equal parts school and play. I used to have a backup portable drive, but it was stolen some months ago. I did not acquire another one. I am not intimately familiar with the inner workings of a computer, but I rarely have to ask for help to solve a problem. For this reason I am more often than not the “computer guy”.

.: Event I opened it to very quickly check my email, then I closed it and set it aside. The counter space was cluttered, so I set it on top of the carrying case. This was my fatal error in judgment, for the power cord was still inside the case and created a significant slope. The macbook, still in standby mode, slid off and took a meter-long visit to the surface.

.: Immediate Aftermath I picked it up, opened it, and everything was working fine: logged on, surfed reddit for a minute, sighed thankfully to no one in particular, then — frozen. No response from the screen. Tried restarting but was met every time with the apple logo and that stupid taunting pinwheel. There was a loud, regular clicking noise clearly emanating from the hard drive.

.: Prodigy Pub I took my macbook — which was filled to capacity with music (easily replaceable) and scientific data (not as easily replaceable) — to the nearest apple store. An employee optimistically claimed my problem will be solved before I left the store. They ran their diagnostics and found my hard drive was to blame. A sector scratched while the discs were spinning or something. They offered to replace the hard drive (~$280) and restore as much of the data as they could ($99), and I said, “Sure. Might as well take this opportunity to upgrade the size as well.” Then they told me they didn’t sell 2.5″ internal hard drives in this store, which seemed like a really silly thing to say to an apple store customer.

.: Perfect Purchase I declined their not-really-an-offer and took my business elsewhere. I picked up a 500 gb internal drive, a 1 tb portable drive, and a 2.5″ enclosure — all of which cost less than their ~$280 figure. I did have to make two more trips to another store after not having anticipated the number of screwdrivers I would need to remove and replace the hard drive.

.: Insta-llation The Western Digital drive I installed was not recognized by the OS X installer until after I erased it and verified it with Disk Utilities. Apparently this is a known problem with WD drives. Once installed, I tried to transfer my profile from my old, busted hard drive (now firmly encased in an enclosure), and it kinda sorta seemed like it would work. The progress bar was a capricious liar, of course, and at several points (and I swear I am not making this up) it actually went backwards, but eventually it reached the end where I was greeted by this error message:

There were problems transferring the following file(s):
- 2010-12-10 18:17:48 -0800 Error copying file at path /Volumes/Macintosh HD/Users/codyc/./Library/Caches/com.apple.Safari/Cache.db. Input/output error (5)
- 2010-12-10 18:20:57 -0800 Error copying file at path /Volumes/Macintosh HD/Users/codyc/./Library/Caches/Google/Chrome/Default/Cache/f_000121. Input/output error (5)

Errors and Warnings:
- 2010-12-10 19:24:02 -0800 Some documents for codyc could not be transferred
- 2010-12-10 19:24:02 -0800 codyc could not be created

.: The transfer did not work. None of my profile or data was transfered to my new hard drive, meaning I have to re-install everything again. However, I was still able to access all my files in my old-but-now-in-an-enclosure drive. My music and scientific data are still there, untouched. It appears there could not be a smooth transition to my new hard drive because of these two corrupted files. That just seems unnecessary to me. Surely it would make sense to have a dialogue box pop and say, “Hey, this file seems wonky, would you like to skip it?” and not, you know, compromise the entire transfer. I cannot be the first person to try to restore a partially damaged hard drive this way.

.: Looking Forward and Lessons Learned My data is safe, so I have been downgraded from “Absolute Terror” to “There Goes My Weekend”. My first experience with the Genius Bar was a mixed one. Yes, they told me exactly what my problem was, but they were unable to solve it for reasons that just shouldn’t be used. I have a backup drive now, and I’m currently transferring everything from the old hard drive on to it. I’m then going to delete the two problem-causing files mentioned above and see if I can try the profile transfer again. If that doesn’t work, ugh.

I Hate Sherlock Holmes

Posted By on November 20, 2010

.: I hate Sherlock Holmes. I hate him because he gets all this undue recognition as a great scientific mind and he’s not. He jumps to wildly improbable conclusions on the thinnest of evidence without a moment’s consideration of alternative hypotheses. If Watson enters the room with scuffed boots, Holmes will instantly declare, “Watson, your maidservant must have recently miscarried.” Watson, bemused, will respond with shock and incredulity even though this happens every time he visits.

“How could you possibly know that, Holmes?”

“Well, it’s obvious a learned gentleman such as yourself will value his time to the degree that he would never deign to polish his own boots: a lengthy and arduous procedure indeed. Instead he would enlist the hand of someone in his servitude, and since this task can be performed indoors I feel it quite sensible to conclude this particular servant was female. Since you can afford not to employ the feebleminded, it follows this particular servant would be otherwise diligent in her polishing, except on this particular occasion she was agonizing the loss of her progeny. Consequently she returned your boots in subpar condition.”

.: Watson never says, “No Holmes, I was on my way over and I tripped on the curb.”

Highlights from Dan Savage’s talk

Posted By on October 18, 2010

.: Dan Savage was invited to give a talk at Rutgers about his It Gets Better Project. The gist of it was something like, “Gay teenagers are routinely abused in schools throughout the country, and they — unlike victims of regular bullying — often have no one to turn to because their parents/church/community disapproves of homosexuality; let’s let them know that it isn’t always like this, and that when they grow up they won’t have it so hard.”

.: I don’t want to cover all of what transpired because I feel pretty terrible right now (physiologically, not emotionally), so I’ll just paraphrase the bits I felt were good enough to jot down:

.: On people who think sexual orientation is a choice:

I would love to corner Tony Perkins in a room and ask him, “Okay, so you think it’s a choice. Prove it to me. Flip that switch and suck my dick. And don’t let it be OZ-like sucking; you’re not allowed to have tears streaming down your cheeks. You have to like it.”

.: On people who claim to believe the testimonies of ex-gays:

The best counter is to ask them, “Would you want your daughter to marry one?” And you know they wouldn’t because they know it’s bullshit.

.: On bigotry and bad people in the LGBTQ community:

People shouldn’t get a pass just because they’re gay. Assholes are everywhere. Jeffrey Dahmer ate one of my friends. You can’t just assume people are nice, even in your own groups.

.: On the hurt feelings of disapproving-but-loving bigots:

Fuck your fee-fees.

.: The event was recorded in case you suspect my paraphrasings did not do justice to his words (which they did not). If I find a link to it, I’ll be sure to post it.

The somnambulist with one thumb

Posted By on October 15, 2010

.: When I was a kid I would occasionally sleepwalk. In the past few years, however, sleepwalking has become a nightly occurrence for me. Sometimes I vaguely remember it happening in the hazy manner one remembers a dream. Other times I learn about it the morning after; either my girlfriend informs me or I find evidence of somnambulatory misjudgment (e.g., a soiled pile of laundry next to the toilet).

.: Two nights ago, I was jarred awake after tripping over my coffee table, crushing my record player, and bending my thumb back to the wrist. The coffee table and record player turned out fine, but my thumb disagreed vehemently and protested the rest of the night. When I woke up legitimately in the morning, I found myself with a wholly unusable thumb on my right hand.

.: I had an x-ray taken and the bone doesn’t seem broken (why the radiologist didn’t just tell me if it was or not I don’t know). My dad said my limited motion is consistent with a torn ulnar collateral ligament, something more humorously known as Skier’s Thumb.

.: What it means to me is I won’t be using my thumb much during the next month or so. This means no right-handed pipetting, no polishing off a can of beer in one gulp then crushing it in my right hand, and absolutely no thumb wars (with right-handed people). Being introduced to others will be awkward, certainly, and I will flat-out refuse when invited to give a round of applause. Other troubles will surely surface; I just haven’t thought of them yet.

.: I’ve already noticed that, even though the most useful digit of my right hand is out of commission, my body still vastly prefers that hand to my even more useless left. I pick up glasses and open doors by pinching them between my middle and index fingers, and I can pinch the tip of my middle finger onto the nail of my index finger if something requires more precise dexterity. I need practice of course, but already it feels more natural than using my left hand for anything.

.: I’ll leave you then with a few things I’m not looking forward to:

  • Unscrewing things.
  • Buttoning/unbuttoning pants.
  • Tying/untying shoes.
  • Transferring hundreds of leaf segments to new petri dishes.
  • Momentarily forgetting about unusable thumb then attempting to use it.
  • Midterms (nothing to do with the thumb, just don’t like ‘em).
  • Eating Asian food.
  • Typing.
  • Not being able to express approval via high fives.
  • Going to sleep.

Your Amazing Body: Flight or Fight

Posted By on October 15, 2010

.: Human beings are among the most adaptable species on this planet and its orbiting satellites. Our resilient and malleable forms come with many features which, though used frequently, are rarely noticed or understood by those using them. The purpose of this series is to acquaint you with the nooks, crannies, and other hidden mysteries of that thing which makes you, you: your amazing body.

Flight or Fight

.: Your body has two competing nervous systems: the sympathetic nervous system and the callous nervous system. The former, more understanding of the two is activated whenever you are minding your own business and a lion decides it wants to eat you, mate with you, mate with you then eat you, or eat you then mate with you. Humans, as is the case with the majority of mammals, are born with what ethologists term Instinctual Being Consumed Aversion. This instinct alerts your sympathetic nervous system to the danger posed by the lion, and your body is forced to choose* either to fight the lion (unlikely to succeed) or flee from the lion (also unlikely to succeed).

.: Another option not frequently mentioned (on account of the word not ending with an “‑ight” rhyme) is the freeze response. In this scenario, your body will arrest all locomotion so that the advancing lion will not have to exert extra energy as it devours you. The evident advantage towards the predator in this species-species relationship has led evolutionary biologists to explain this behavior in terms of intergroup selection.

.: Additionally, a fourth category not currently recognized by all scientists is the fright response, a defense strategy wherein your body tries to scare any potential predators with an onslaught of shock cuts, fake blood, and Vincent Price.

.: As our species moves further away from lion-infested jungles and closer to jackass-infested cities, our bodies’ flight or fight responses must be constantly updated and retooled. Whereas in the simpler golden age of prehistory mankind merely had to fight or flee from certain death on a daily basis, today’s chaotic and morally-bankrupt society rarely must confront That To Which All Must Eventually Succumb. Consequently, our flight or fight responses manifest only during trivial interactions, such as solicitations from potential dates, Amway representatives, or costermongers.

NEXT WEEK: learn how your amazing body responds to exercise.

*Not actually a choice.

Grade school diversions

Posted By on October 7, 2010

    Wasting ink.

  • Furiously scribbling a pen onto paper to the point that the page wets and tears.
  • Filling in lowercase a’s, b’s, d’s, e’s, g’s, o’s, p’s, q’s; uppercase A’s, B’s, D’s, O’s, P’s, Q’s, R’s; 0′s, 4′s, 6′s, 8′s, 9′s; and ampersands.
  • Tracing the grooves in one’s shoes with a pen or pencil.
  • Pouring glue onto one’s desk, waiting for it to dry, then peeling it off.
  • Making spiral teepees out of pencil sharpenings.
  • Clicking the pencil lead all the way out then surgically reinserting it through the tip.
  • Reverberating the metal basket beneath one’s seat with spit-covered fingers.
  • Paper footballs.
  • Attempting to open three-ringed binders by depressing only one hinge.
  • Peeling torn edge from perforated spiral paper.
  • 5318008
  • Disassembling and reassembling pens.
  • Tracing the red margin line.
  • Drawing that S thing.

The sandcastle of science

Posted By on October 6, 2010

.: Last month I made my first genuine scientific discovery: the genomic sequence and a mutant variant of the magnesium chelatase subunit I gene of Nicotiana sylvestris. It was a discovery only in the strictest technical sense, on par of someone “discovering” in the morning that they have just woken. No new theories were required to obtain this knowledge, the protocols followed have existed in some form since the 80′s, and this particular gene has been sequenced at least a thousand times in other organisms. Even the mutant variant has been characterized previously in maize (down to the exact nucleotide substitution).

.: Still, it’s my discovery, and I can work with it. When I showed the trace files to Csanad, another member of the lab, he mock-congratulated me for “placing another brick in the castle of science.” I had never heard that phrase before, so we ran with the metaphor for a while, eventually coming up with a more refined view scientific contributions:

Science is a partially-formed sandcastle onto which scientists haphazardly heap buckets of sand grains, most of which are unlabeled. Some scientists try to fashion the growing mound into something resembling a castle, while most others busily add as much sand to the pile as they can. Every now and then a bully scientist will come by and stomp everything beyond repair, and a paradigm wave will wash the rest back into the sea of mystery. Pseudoscientists use the same shovels and buckets as science, but they mostly just dig holes on the beach for other people to trip into.

Like he likes his food: fast

Posted By on October 6, 2010

.: I’m standing in line behind a college student and a middle-aged man with greasy, short hair. The greaser seems indecisive about his order and instructs the student in front of me to go in front of him. The student quietly declines the offer, and the greaser becomes indignant. Now it’s less an offer and more a command:

“Just get in front of me, what the fuck.”

.: There is no question mark because it is not a question. The student obliges and the elderly lady behind the counter takes his order. I gesture to ask if I should follow suit, but Greaser ignores me. He’s not even looking at the menu.

“Next in line please!” another elderly lady screeches, and Greaser signals for me to proceed. As I place my order*, I see Greaser finally approach the other end of the counter to order from the only attractive and young cashier. He chats her up with nauseating inanities and she smiles all the while.

*Today is no exception:

“Number one with no mayonnaise and a large–”

“Will that be for here or to go?”

“–unsweetened iced tea. For here, and an unsweetened iced–”

“No mayonnaise?”

“No, and an unsweetened–”

“What size?”

“Medium.”

“And what would you like to drink?”