Thursday, July 10, 2008

Oh and lest we forget

That depression study is still in the works. I've done a bit more studying and have diagrammed below an actual test that actual scientists use to measure depression.

Poor Willy
More to follow.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

This too Shall Pass or Can You Smell What the Science is Cooking?

This past July 4th weekend may have been the best time I've ever had in the city. My dad came up to visit and my brother and I showed him a hell of a time. Thursday was dinner at one of our favorite places. Friday we saw the Coney Island Hot Dog Eating contest (USA! USA!) and then fireworks on the Brooklyn side of the South Street Sea Port, close enough we felt our eyebrows smolder. Saturday was a BBQ with Aunts + Uncles, Sunday a Buckminster Fuller exhibit at the Whitney, and Monday before he flew off we got pizza and talked about Trotsky's assassination in Mexico.

Naturally after all that I assumed I was due for some astonishingly bad luck. That's not pessimism, just probability. And maybe a little pessimism, but after today I probably won't have to worry about it for a while. See I can have a bad day at work like anyone else. Quitting time rolls around and looking back you figure your productivity may actually have been higher if staying home with a pitcher of iced tea and the remains of the Sunday paper. The only difference with my bad days is that I work in a lab and as it turns out that makes a hell of a lot of a difference.

It started early, I had to check on some mice for a project at 10 and while I was picking up this 40 gram bastard he squirmed out of my grip and bit off a not small chunk of my thumb. I cursed, dropped him, swore vengeance and held a towel to my digit for a while. This is a rather too common occupational hazard and there are many first aid kits scattered throughout our lab walls and in various crowbar accessible crates.

The 10 o'clock project didn't start till 11, but at least it was something I was looking forward to, sacrificing mice on the altar of science and guess who was first on the chopping block?
Also I was killing the lot for another one of the attractive post docs I work with, and we had a pretty good time at it. Of course she also mentioned (reiterated actually) how she thought it was a really bad idear to date in the office. Balls. Actually I'm not exactly sure sure why it was she brought this up, I don't recall acting particularly flirtatious. Maybe it's just when you peal back a rib cage to reveal a still beating heart waiting for your needles well, these things cross the mind.

Or maybe other things.
An aside regarding the mouse sacrifice. The fuzzy little guy has received a few minutes prior an extremely lethal dose of Pentobarbital-and is before we begin checked carefully for reactions or responses to stimulus or pain before we get cracking. I'm not a monster...not all the time.

Anywho that finished I got to start on the next big project of the day. For that I was measuring how a completely different breed of mouse thermoregulated. That is, I put 2 dozen of them in the freezer and took their temperature every hour for a while. Now we've two means of measuring this-a fancy implanted probe that sits under the skin broadcasting information about the mouse temperature, mood, mass of the lass bowel movement whatever. The other method requires a lot of Vaseline.

Go ahead and guess which system I employed.

So I was walking out of the central lab area for the 2nd to last reading and I noticed a lot of red splotches on my glove. Right, the biting, I knocked around in a first aid kit wiped down my wound with alcohol and applied a fresh band aid. Then, when I turned about to walk out again I heard a sharp cracking sound and felt something small and likely expensive under my foot. I bent down to pick it up and-

Another aside, how do you think we learn about our environment, especially when were confronted with some really novel stimuli? Personally, and I don't have much to back this up with aside from my impromptu experiment, I think a lot of our tactics fall back on the old hunter/gatherer models. For instance imagine you've picked up something smallish, and new to you. You need to figure out if it's good to eat (and then eat it) or potentially dangerous (and give it to your neighbor). You must act quickly so the actions you follow aren't exactly on a conscious level, but it's simple stuff, just getting as much sensory data as you can. Touch, sight and smell, and so on.

So-you feel a thing, kinda papery but solid in the middle. Then your looking at it, but oops not wearing prescription today and the print is very tiny so hold it close, and as you pull it close*SNRF*, a quick smell. All pretty basic stuff, not the kind of thing you'd pay a second thought to unless it went, "Hmmm what's this say? Ammon*SNRF*AAAAAAAAAAARGH!"


Pretty decent zombie comic, and also OH GOD IT BURNED
"Tom what is it?" The post doc again, coincidentally, her bench is the closest to the first aid box.

"AGH it's this thing NO DON-"


"What IS it?!"

"Smelling Salts-get rid of it!" I had no idea how. If I threw it down the sink or in the trash I'd probably gas the lab or at least the cleaning lady. I ran to the underboss, the tiny capsul clenched tight in my fist "AGH! How do I get rid of this?"

"Get rid of what?" She reached for my hand.

"NO! It's Ammonium!" *SNRF*

"AGH! Tom what in the HELL are you doing with Ammonium? Get it in the hood in a container with a lid on it and a note!" And in it went to our dangerous chemical hood to be vented outside, presumably killing overflying birds and small aircrafts.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Wherein I am tossed a shovel

This was all written on Tuesday by the by, my interents have been broken lately and I'm sure you care at all. One of these days I will put up that missive on what exactly my job entails, but once again I’ve been derailed with crazy shit going down in science town. For the time being know that I work on mice that possesses a certain awful neurodegenerative disease and despite our efforts that disease remains pretty much altogether incurable. It’s not the most uplifting of work. I mean it would be if we made any progress at all but as it stands right now not so much. Bah.

But it’s also very complicated work, and for an obsessive like me that’s pleasurable. In fact my employment is also rather complex, since there are a few different grants paying my salary and they’re not all from the same lab. This may actually be my saving grace, since my overseers aren’t sure if they can fire me without pissing off one of the others I toil for. One professor in particular is a floor higher and responsible for 20% of my salary. I don’t see him very often, and just this afternoon he noted this fact.

Dr. 1/5th: Say Tom it doesn’t look like your working anywhere near 20% of your time for me.

Me: Well um some weeks are more some are less but yeah pretty much no where close.

Dr. 1/5th: Indeed. Well I’ve got a new project in the works somewhat removed from the one you’ve been ignoring a while.

Me: Aright.

Dr. 1//5th: You would be working with my most attractive post doctoral student, she doesn’t really know much about mouse breeding.

Me: Oh? Well yeah I’d say my schedule is fairly-

Dr. 1/5th: I’ve also taken an interest in this matter, I think I could say of the work I’ve done in the past decade it’s the most promising line of research I’ve ever seen.

Me: Wow. For sure I could start-

Dr. 1/5th: Oh were also collaborating with Dr. _________ at the institute? You may remember him, he said it’s his most intriguing work to date. Really beyond anything he’d done before. Including the work he did for the Nobel.

Me: Oh that Dr. ______! Oh yeah, right so I’ll just talk to your student about when I should-

Dr. 1/5th: So basically it’s a model, in mice, of…


Me: Fuck.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Beat That My Heart Skipped

I've got a longish post in the works (tentatively "Why We Kill Mice") but what with the care and feeding of my strange uncle and various amusements my posting schedule languishes. Perhaps this weekend. In the meantime a small anecdote of science terror from just this afternoon.

Email from the lab underboss: ATTENTION ANIMAL USERS.

"Dear All,

Recently, 50 mice have been found dead in their cages due to a lack of ventilation from their Thoren-unit. The Thoren-unit had been unplugged accidentally."

A Thoren-Unit:

These steel behemoths can hold up to 600 mice and about half as many rats. They've got wheels to move em about and hookups to automated water and food systems and the previously mentioned ventilation system.

I was certain that once again I had accidentally murdered dozens and dozens of my mice. It's hard to explain the exact combination of feelings I had at that moment which is why I wish I spoke German. Terror-shame, hot buckets of it. I rushed to a fellow tech and told her to check her email.

She read and turned on me with the exact same look of Terror-shame writ large. "Oh my god she didn't say whose mice had died."
"I know, fuck, I moved a Thoren unit just yesterday."
"Me too. Fuck."
"Hey wait a sec,"She turned and looked at the screen. "Did you actually read this?"
I looked where she was pointing, one very important word above her well trimmed fingernail. Where I had read 'mice' it actually said 'rats'. We had no rats in our colonies, only mice. We chuckled nervously and then pondered why she seemed to get an allergic reaction to something in the lab every day at 4 in the afternoon.

So like a Latin dictator I was seeing enemies in every corner, and that would normally concern me. But at that moment I was pleasantly whelmed with relief. Someone we didn't know was having a shitty shameful day, wondering if they were about to lose their job. And that was a nice change of pace.

Also, this.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The road to science is paved with mice

I really didn't want to make this post. I didn't want to post at all actually but my raid shark rodeo was canceled and I had some time on my hands. I had originally planned (I'm trying for weekly updates by the by) a sombre explanation of what the research I'm sacrificing my time, effort and mice is all about. But unlike the mice in question, last week's topic isn't dead yet.

No, enough of that. Actually it was

My meeting with the principal investigator-the guy who cuts the checks-went pretty much as I expected. Actually a hell of a lot better then I expected, since when I told him what I'd discovered about the mouse colony he just kind of breathed in sharply and nodded. He asked if these faulty mice had been used in any experiments? I said I'd checked, and no. He thought a minute, weighed the options and said he guessed I'd have to get rid of them. I nodded, said I'd get right on it. And I did, (damn it) the very next day.

I was thorough, and since my records were kept carefully I could identify every errant cage in the rack and put a little mark on them. I'd considered doing the deed myself but the easy way was just to easy. One of my minions the animal technicians would take care of them when they came in to clean the cages the next day. I lingered, wrapped in a cold shawl of Catholic guilt, thinking about all the ways this was very very wrong. And then I left. And that weekend I got good and drunk against the express advice of my gastroenterologist.

Monday back to work, and inevitably back to the now much emptier room where we kept our mice. In the back of my mind was a command from the underboss the director of mouse work to not forget about the old breeders of this colony, since they were to old to be used again. Since they weren't on my record sheet I'd probably missed them in the first pass. Sure enough, wedged between the wall and the mini-fridge there was the cage of the old girls. Still with the original ordering information, which I quickly scanned.

Then I put the cage back on the rack.

Then I muffled my screams with a handy lab coat.

Yes Dear Reader, my records were faulty, and the mice had been bred exactly as they were supposed to be. No miscegenation, oh outraged Victorian pedigree keepers, those 180+ mice were as pure as the driven snow. Were. Because now, they are dead. And I killed them. Perhaps we will meet again.

The weird thing is, I really have no idea how to even admit to this. Definitely, via means I haven't completely worked out, it's my fault and I'm retarded. But in a completely different way from what I've already owned up to! I was right, when I set up their breeding 9 months ago. But I forgot that, and then I mislabeled them in my records, and then lost the original paperwork. Before I could figure out what had actually happened I reported what seemed to have happened and then the mice were doomed doomed doomed.

So I might be wrong sometimes, but I can also be wrong about being wrong, and that's something to check before getting all kill crazed.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Well lets restart this here science blog with a bit of science, whatdayahsay?

Ah science. I've been pretty fucking busy with it the past two years and also with the running about NYC and trying to not get killed (more on that later), but I did manage a few moments of what I do best. Fucking science up in a preposterously expensive way.

In deference to your feeble mortal brains, I'll be explaining these fuckups with as little actual science as possible. This is also handy because in the extremely unlikely event that someone from my job finds this blog and links me to it (Maybe I should go ahead and remove those photos now...) well then I won't have been passing on precious science secretes or secretions.

Good luck decoding my inconsistent and misleading metaphors!

So my most recent case of science fail has actually been ongoing for about 9 months, and was only discovered now because of an email I'd written to another lab. In a rough ranking of horrible stupidity I've inflected on my lab this ranks at least in the top three.

Roughly 1/3 of my time in the lab is spent working with mice. And the mice in our lab are an interesting bunch because they are immensely varied. Most of the breeds currently used are actually descended from mouse fanciers, circa the Victorian age. Those sexually frustrated gentlemen of that era, like our own, had the ability to devote stupid amounts of time to the most ridiculous of pursuits, be it lepidoptery, spanking, or animal breeding.

Why the hell am I talking about dear Queen Victoria, well mouse fanciers are pretty extinct by now but maybe you're all familiar with different breeds of dog. So, a chihuahua is unlike a Great Dane or a labradoodle but they're all still recognizably dog right? This is because even today a great deal of effort is taken to keep those breeds apart, efforts which occasionally fail:

Ok so the metaphors breaking down a bit but imagine it was really important that I breed about 300 Scottish Terriers. And I've been working on that since last September filling up our fucking what're they kennels? Ok, each Terrier gets food and water in his little kennel and he just sits there month after month shitting away our money. And then I'm told, well we've got plenty of Terriers, but you know what we need? Beagles. Call up this other lab and see if they'll send us some, coincidentally the same lab that gave us our Terriers originally.

And they will, god bless em, but as their version of me is checking over the paperwork I mailed em she picks something up. Something I'd missed for uh yeah exactly the past 9 months I'd been responsible for them dogs. Those terriers I was breeding? Yeah they were actually boxers. USELESS GODDAMN BOXERS!

So! Tomorrow I get to tell my big boss, about 3 levels above my normal boss, that the bitches I've been breeding are useless and also that the other lab can't ship us any Beagles OR Terriers for at least another month or two.

And I still don't think I'm gonna be fired. Because it's still not as bad as the worst thing I've done in this lab. But that is a tail for another time.

Monday, June 09, 2008

I'd mostly forgotten about this but...

I may start posting here again...


If I don't get distracted with all my amazing new SCIENCE adventures here in New York City!

Stay tuned, or not, who knows!

Edit: Fuck. If I'd held out three more days it would have been two years since my last post. Meh.