Lab Life is Rough

Busy lab, limited resources. Everyone wants to use the same equipment. Jeepers. Some days.


Image shows the scene from “Finding Nemo” where the crab fends off the seagulls (the ones who yell “MINE! MINE!). Text says: “C’mon guys – I got here FIRST!”. The crab is labeled “me”. The seagulls are labeled “The coworkers, they want my instruments!”


You know how when you’re doing data analysis, you sometimes get sucked right in? You’re working with the raw data, getting it all organized and pretty so you can drop the whole chunk into a statistics program and watch the Passing-Bablocks and Pearsons fly forth onto the computer screen? But it takes a while to do all the organization, data point exclusions (with valid justifications), reprocessing, manually checking the lines and watching the SD and CV calculations to make sure there are no cut/paste errors, double-checking formulae, making sure no single reps in set of mostly double reps are mucking up the whole scheme, but finally! – you’re ready to define the final data set, you click the analyze button and BAM! SLOPE OF 1.01, R=1.00 BEETCHEZ!

*ahem* So, work went well last night. How about you?

Anyway, after getting home from work and the grocery store at 10:30pm I lazed out on the google reader and blog writing. But here are a few things that I’ve been mulling over.

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The Poinsettia Mystery

I was a biology major in college. During that time I was a student employee and I got stuck with the mind-numbingly boring and frustrating task had the opportunity and challenge of gluing hundreds of friable, sometimes paper-thin plant specimens into specimen books. I also took a botany course, but it was only one semester long and I believe that the most I’ve retained from that class is an understanding of the differences between deciduous and coniferous trees. Actually, that was one of my big SCI-ENCE! moments. I remember being hugely impressed with needle-bearing evergreens’ adaptive strategies for surviving in nutrient-poor soil, and arid and low-sunlight conditions. Rah! Rah! Evergreens!

Anyway, that’s just a side story. The point is, I’m not a botanist, but I do imagine myself to be a bit of a naturalist and appreciator of ecological science. And what I’m…. Well… Hmmm… What I’m trying to say is that I learned something new, something that’s probably common knowledge and I’m a little embarrassed to have not known this, especially having studied a bit of botany. But on the other hand we all make assumptions about little things that don’t have much to do with out day-to-day needs or experiences, and it’s neat to have those misconceptions or ignorances cleared up. Here’s the story:

We, like many work offices, acquired a poinsettia over the holiday season. You know, one of these:

Image Source

And as is the fate of so many under-appreciated and ignored office plants this one didn’t get nearly as much water as it needed. Eventually all of the green leaves blackened and curled and fell off to their final resting place on the dry soil. For some reason, after the last of the green leaves dropped, the officemates and I were spurred into action. We became poinsettia paramedics, determined to bring this abused plant back from the brink of destruction to which we had driven it.

As we were considering the poinsettia several days later I had this conversation with my office mate, R.

Me: Isn’t it weird that the leaves fell off  before the petals did?

R: I think the red ones are leaves too, not petals. 

Me: No way! Why have two different types of leaves on a plant? And leaves have chloroplasts, and don’t those cause the leaves to be green?

R: (A PhD in virology and rather far removed from his own botany course) I don’t know. Maybe. But I don’t think it’s necessary to be green if you  have chloroplasts.

Me: I don’t know either. I bet the concentration of chloroplasts is less in the red parts than in the green leaves. I wonder how long the plant is going to live without the green leaves. Will it be able to produce enough energy to survive?

R: Hmm. [goes back to his computer]

Me: You know, if only there was someplace where we could easily look all of this stuff up.

R: [Playing with a ROC curve and only half listening to me ramble anymore] Have at it.

To the interwebs! As I knew it would be, the answer was immediately presented:

From the website

At first glance one might come to the erroneous conclusions that all leaves are green, and that which is green in nature is a leaf. While often this is the case, there are numerous exceptions. Plant organs are green because of the presence of chloroplasts in the cells near the surface, which reflect green light and absorb other wavelengths as a source of energy for photosynthesis. Certain cells in many leaves contain these organelles , but chloroplasts are also found elsewhere in other organs, such as the stems of cacti of the desert and twigs of sassafras trees in the deciduous forest. In addition, flowers such as the head of broccoli, and fruits such as watermelons also contain chloroplasts.Conversely, many leaves are not green. The winter holiday season brings potted poinsettia plants into many homes. The bright red or pink organs on these plants are not the flowers; they are specialized leaves called bracts, with cells that contain so much pigment that the limited amount of chlorophyll in the chloroplasts is obscured from view. Some poinsettias are white; usually a close look reveals that they have a green tinge due to the presence of a few chloroplasts. Poinsettias do, however, produce flowers. They are less conspicuous small, round yellow and green organs nestled at the apex of the stem, surrounded by the colorful modified leaves.

So – one mystery solved! But why bracts? Wikipedia says that the colorful red leaves serve the function of attracting pollinators. And an article on e-how provided some fascinating insight on why the poinsettia in our office is the way it is:

Why Colored Bracts Form: In nature, the poinsettia plant is deciduous and drops its leaves in the winter. Some of the leaves change color before they fall. Growers carefully control the light exposure of poinsettias cultivated for the home market to mimic this natural cycle and the topmost leaves, or bracts, turn color in response.

Special Breeding and Cultivating: Although all poinsettias have descended from the tall perennial Mexican plant, plant cultivators have bred and selected plants over decades to produce poinsettias with a height and appearance appropriate for inside decoration. In addition to shading leaves to induce color change, growers pinch the plants to produce side shoots for a fuller poinsettia.

Controlling Light Exposure:The amount of light a poinsettia receives controls its ability to produce colored bracts. Growers manipulate this natural process, called photoperiodism, to create colored leaves in time for the Christmas season, by giving the plants at least 12 hours of darkness for eight to 11 weeks.

Thanks, internets. I love when you prove me wrong get me the information I’m seeking!

And our Poinsettia is still hanging in there, although we’ll probably toss it out when it comes time to torture the poor potted Easter Lily that will show up in a couple of months.

Wisconsin Weekend and Photo Contest

A friend of mine invited me and the Hubby to spend this past weekend in Wisconsin with her and her family. They have a GORGEOUS  house on a quiet lake in the Northeast corner of the state. We went tubing, jet skiing, boat cruising around the lake and flying through the woods on an ATV. We played board games, had tasty adult drinks and ate incredible meals prepared by her mom (her mom bought all sorts of gluten-free goodies just for me, including brownies, spice cake and ciabatta rolls!). We packed a lot in over 30 hours. Oh, and we saw a frickin’ black bear as we were driving home!

Tubing on Crane Lake
Me tubing!

Photo Contest

I could use your help. I’m submitting three photos to a gallery at work (just a showing, not a contest) at one of our upcoming site-wide celebrations. I’ve picked out my top thirty favorite photos and placed them in a flickr set. If you have the time and the inclination, I’d love to have your help in narrowing it down to the three winners. Here’s how you can pipe up:

Oh, and did I mention that there is a contest associated with this? I love contests. If you vote you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a set of prints of your three favorite photos, even if they aren’t the three that I use for the gallery showing. I’ll chat printing options (size, finish, etc.) with the winner. 

Thanks for any votes, thoughts or advice!

New CUP Contest tomorrow!

Okay, I want to write about my week, so you can either bear with me OR if you just want to learn about tomorrow’s CUP Contest scroll all the way down to the last paragraph of this post.


This past week has been amazingly stressful, both in good ways and bad.

On Friday I drove eight hours down to Chicago to visit with my Mom. On Saturday we went to the Art Institute, enjoyed a lovely tapas lunch at Emilio’s, and went to Cirque Eloize that evening. After the show we ate a light dinner at Petterino’s and then came back to the hotel and packed. The next morning we got up early, I dropped Mom off at the train station and I headed over to meet Chicago cool cat and fellow blogger Jeremy and his Chicago cool cat wife, Tina. We puttered around snapping photos in a relatively famous cemetery called Graceland Cemetery, then battled the Mother’s Day crowds to have lunch at Marietta’s (phenomenal lunch and well worth the wait!). I’ll have more info and pics of the Chicago trip in a later post.

I left for Minneapolis at around 2pm, but immediately became stuck in traffic on I94 leaving Chicago. I survived that and stopped at the Belvidere Oasis for road snacks (i.e., junk food that can’t be justified in normal day-to-day existence), and then I made it four hours NW to Mauston, Wisconsin when my car broke down. My bought in February of this year/60-day bumper-to-bumper warranty expiring less than three weeks ago/NEW CAR broke down. When I stopped for gas in Mauston, the engine wouldn’t start again. I called AAA for a tow truck. When I went into the BP to let them know why I was blocking a pump, I was browbeaten into pop clutching the car by this horrific bully of a woman who mocked me for  calling for help when it was so obvious that all I had was a dead battery. We got the engine started and I agreed with her that I should just head for Minneapolis and not stop anymore.

But instead, the second I left the  BP gas station I drove over to a local KMart to buy a battery, just in case mine quit on the trip home. At KMart the car died as I was pulling into a parking spot. Not a good sign, but my first reaction was  joyous indignation as I thought “Ha! I knew that pushy b*tch was wrong!” But then I realized “Oh wait, my car is broke good, innit?” Still, I decided to replace the battery and try for home.

As soon as the battery was in, I started the ignition and the engine roared to life. I headed for Minneapolis, but made myself nauseous with worry for the next three hours. I tried all sorts of tricks to relax including listening to different kinds of music and podcasts to distract myself, breathing deeply and calmly, arguing with myself that even if I did break down I could call for help, and really a breakdown was just money and time.

None of that worked.

I worried for the entire time up until I actually did break down again outside of Hudson, WI, which is about 40 miles from Minneapolis.  I was THIS close to making it home! It was about 9:30pm and night had fallen. I glanced down at my dash and saw that it was completely dark. I glanced at the road in front of me and was horrified to realize that my headlights had gone out. The only reason I was able to see was because the traffic behind me was illuminating the road and the tail lights of the cars in front of me were guiding my way. I pulled off the road just as the engine died. Alternator.

Aych eee double hockey sticks.

To make an already long story slightly less interminable: AAA came and towed me to Stillwater where some nice friends rescued me and put me up for the night.  

Monday was gray and depressing. I had left my glasses in the car at the repair shop and my contacts had conked out, so I spent most of the day with fuzzy vision, which gave me a headache. The car wasn’t ready until 2:30pm. So, many hours and $600 later I left Stillwater. I drove right to the house of some friends in North Minneapolis to relax and be around nice people, because I was so bummed out that I didn’t want to be in an empty apartment by myself. Who knows what kind of damage I could have done the Ben and Jerry’s container in the freezer at my place?

On Tuesday I had to go to the dentist AND I had a doctor’s appointment. Also, work got very…involved that day. The one bright spot was a crazy spring storm and an evening of drinks and gossip at the Independent with a friend.

On Wednesday work was very busy again, and I spent the evening doing laundry and cleaning the house.

So, you see…it’s just been an often crabby, sometimes enjoyable, busy few days.

But yesterday was pretty awesome. Work is crazy busier than usual, but I’ve taken on an interesting new project. After work last night I headed over to the Be’Wiched Deli in Minneapolis to enjoy dinner, drinks and conversation with the Minnesota Skeptics meetup group.

And today I felt like blogging. Woo-hoo!


So, now that I’ve completely tricked you into reading about my personal drama by putting a misleading title on this blog post, allow me to announce that TOMORROW at 6pm I will post the next Close Up Photo Contest entry. I actually have the CUP Winners page up to date, so stop on by to read the rules, learn about past entries and take a gander at the current player rankings.

See you tomorrow!

Biology Pareidolia

Forget Mary in the grilled cheese sandwich Jesus in an MRI scan; my officemate and I saw a seriously spooky image today.  We both saw something, but we can’t agree on what exactly we saw.  

What do you think: Does this sunlight reflected off of a glossy-covered industry journal onto the ceiling looks more like a golgi apparatus or an endoplasmic reticulum?





Work Haiku

Sometimes the notes I take in meetings come out in three lines of 5-7-5.  You know, like they do.

Haiku from a meeting:

He points, waves his pen.
To us, a gaudy gesture,
to him it’s so clear.

The meeting bores her.
She swings her left foot around.
A suffering sigh.

I <3 My Job

I absolutely love my job right now.  I may be mistaking stress and adrenaline rush for love, but I’m pretty sure that this is what the young kids call “having a blast”.  (Do the young kids say that?  Seriously, who says that?)

I’m working on more projects than a non-manic, non-drugged up person has any right to attempt, my calendar is filled with meetings, I’m reading product literature, I’m designing and running experiments, I’m making connections with people from other groups and I’m a researcher/developer who’s getting to learn more about the manufacturing side of my company’s business.

It’s ordered chaos, and it’s fun!

The more engaged I am, and the more responsible for retaining and applying knowledge to produce visible results, the more questions I get to ask and the more answers I get back, the more fun I’m having.  And I am grooving on my half-desk/half-lab job today.

But, **********, would you please finish up your review of my document so I can update it and release it?  Sometime this century???

Oh, not to worry, heckling and nasty-grams are just part of the fun.

Mario on My Mind

I am jonesing to play Super Mario Bros 3 on NES!  That must be why I noticed this:

The blog Guys On A Couch is on WordPress’s Freshly Pressed today, and in the featured post they had a link to the 7 Ballsiest Ways Anyone Ever Quit Their Job from, which features this awesome farewell notice from one guy to his company (phew, how many links did that take to get here?  Go go gadget interwebs!)  Clicking on the image below will take you to a website where you can play the game/message!

Productive Sunday

Sunday was a decidely unadventurous day, but that’s alright – I can find peace and quiet in the mundane!

I opened at the bookstore, which means I started at 8am and was able to leave at the nice, early hour of 1:30pm.  This is my favorite shift *ev-er*; I get to put in a respectable five hours and I still have the best part of a weekend day available to enjoy.  To add to the awesomeness of the shift, it was a beautiful, sunny 70°F when I left the bookstore . 

After work I got my gardening groove on.  I decided to go straight for the seedlings this year, except for chives and parsley which should pop right up from seeds.  I tried the Mpls Farmer’s Market, but they’re not open until April 24th – boo!  So, I went to Home Depot…on a weekend afternoon. *shudders*

This will be my third year gardening at the apartment.  I live next to a bus stop in a semi-okay part of South Minneapolis with no private (fenced) yard or garden spaces, so I have developed a very easy-going attitude toward my plants: I put the pots outside by our window, and if someone tips ’em over, ah well.  I haven’t had any hooligan-type shenanigans yet, which makes me happy.  This year I planted one grape tomato plant and some herbs: Rosemary, Oregano and Basil.  Oh, and the chives and parsley. 

In other gardening news, my mentoring program has rented a plot at one of the local community gardens, and all matches are invited to join in the fun.  So this year I might get a chance to grow some root veggies (carrots and kohlrabi!) and vining plants (beans)!

After the gardening came the laundry and dishes.  Our laundry facilities are so much like college, except without the worrying so much about someone stealing your clothes thing.  I’m not a big fan of laundry (or the $2.50/load charge), so I usually put this particular chore off until I have 4-6 loads to do at a time.  Sunday was a six-loader.

After that was dishes.  I don’t mind doing dishes – there’s something mindlessly satisfying about filling the sink and…oh wait, no there’s not.  Really, dishes kind of stink too, especially after cooking fancy-pants dinners that require lots of pots and pans.


About the time dishes were done, it was time for a quick dinner and laundry-folding with House, M.D.  So all in all, it was a very productive Sunday, although I did get distracted by the internet…a few times.