Thursday, September 30, 2010

Friday Photo Shoot Out: Black

This week's FSO theme is Black and Orange. I haven't had time to get the orange photos I want yet, and they will be a separate post (though not if it rains tomorrow).
The Auvergne region is littered with old volcanos. Nothing active, but they do provide a distinctive building material. Most of our official buildings are made of the black stone from a nearby quarry, but today I'll show you just one, a church that's tucked away on a little-used street just a few blocks from the train station.

I would have taken a really nice perspective shot, but it started to rain properly and that was enough for me!

Orange tomorrow, promise!

Other shootouts are here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Signs of the times

7 signs I’m no longer in college (idea nicked from Niamh, whose list last week made me laugh, and think oh yes, that's exactly how it was):

1. I no longer eat any sort of noodle & cream of whatever soup-based casserole whatsoever.

2. I don’t walk lopsided from the gigantic books in my bag.

3. Papers get written more than one day before the deadline.

4. I keep my back to the blackboard in class.

5. I know what I’m talking about. Really, this time.

6. No calculating my bank balance to the penny before buying a cup of coffee.

7. I’ve discovered that knowing where information can be found is often more important than knowing the information (as long as you do in fact go find it before needing to know it is critical).


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Friday Photo Shoot Out: Hot & Cold

This is a thermocycler. It gets pretty hot for 20 seconds, then cooler but uncomfortably warm for 20 seconds, and then hot again but not so much as at first for 20 seconds to several minutes, depending on what you want. Then it goes through all those steps again, 25 to 35 times. If you started with some DNA and a couple of primers that face each other in the DNA, at the end you've got a jillion copies of whatever is between the primers. In my lab we go sequence that and find out if there's a mutation that might predispose to cancer.
Graduate students used to sit in front of collections of water baths for hours on end, transferring tubes from one to another, but now we have thermocycler machines that do all that for us. Thank goodness. This particular machine will do 384 samples for us in about 2 hours, which is about a quarter of the lab's capacity. Next year we should double that.
And, yeah, the four blocks all have names. We keep track of which block does which experiment, and the Tetrad has Joe, Jack, Avery and Tex. It's more fun than blocks 13, 14, 15 and 16 and easier to remember.

Out back, between the vast array of trash bins (paper & cardboard recycling, plastic recycling, kitchen trash and regular trash, plus a huge bin for the construction zone) and the auxiliary parking (no, no! fire truck access lane! though there is always a car or two or three there) is the tank farm. Nitrogen to the left, oxygen on the right.

There's a collection of small N2 tanks in our cold room, which we use for temporary storage and to take to different hospitals to collect surgical specimens for instant freezing. In a different building now we have four or five huge tanks for permanent storage.
Liquid N2 is about -196°C, and produces clouds of vapor as it boils whenever anything warmer approaches. Dunking a real rat in it would not be very nice. Stuffed rats hold up pretty well. If you slosh it on the floor, here on the tile you might crack some, but in the main lab (where we actually manipulate it, because the cold room is too small to be properly ventilated) you can see where we've spilled because it cracks the linoleum terribly.
Wearing these huge gloves isn't practical all the time. Just try to hold a tube half an inch by one inch with these things on. So we use big tweezers. And sometimes our fingers, which doesn't do much harm as long as you let go very quickly. Otherwise watch out for the freezer burn.

One of these rats is very, very cold.
There was an episode of NCSI on the other day, where the murder victim had been killed by forced ingestion of liquid nitrogen. The scientific team supposedly found traces of the liquid N2 in the thermos used to transport it. Nonsense! When it warms up, the liquid simply becomes nitrogen gas, which makes up 78 % of normal air. There are no 'traces' to be found. I hate it when science-dependent shows do bad science.
Click here to visit other My Town Shootouts!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Walking weather

Sunday I went on one of my favorite hikes.

It's an 8 km trail, mostly dirt access roads, that winds around farmland on the south side of town. There were still blackberries out, though most had been picked.

There were a fair number of people out on the trail (though I didn't take their photos). Going for a long walk is a big Sunday tradition here, and the trails can be real highways sometimes. At one spot there was a gathering of trucks, and people tearing up and down a hillside on motorbikes. Amazing the damage those things can do. At least the noise is transient.

Some farms have sheep. On this side of the road the sheep are particularly white.

This is the other side of the road.

Where the sheep are still white (well except for one), though not quite as brilliantly white as their neighbors.
The mysterious movements of sheep: one of them started to go, so they all went. Then the one stopped and they all grouped up again, like traffic at a light.

More road. This is cow territory.

One one side, the black & white cows.

On the other, mesdames are brown and white.

No mixing of the cows.

Then it was getting late, so I didn't do the second loop for another 7km. I haven't done that one all year, now that I think about it. It follows a stream up a gorge, then winds through some farms and sub-suburban housing tracts. Maybe I'll do that one next week.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday Photo Shoot Out: Flora and Fauna

Flora and Fauna this week at the Shootout. That is, respectively, the plant and animal life of a particular region or period, considered collectively. Wild or domesticated doesn’t come into the definition, so if you’re in an urban area, or indeed farmland, domestic species may be what there is. You've probably tired of my cats (no, that's not possible. My cats are a-dor-able!), so here are a couple of different animals making up the suburban fauna.
Both animals and plants are eukaryotes (meaning their cells have nuclei to hold their DNA instead of letting it just float around anywhere), and multicellular ones at that. Big enough to just look and see. Microorganisms may not be plants, and may not be eukaryotes, but they get lumped into flora anyway. This fallen apple is home to whole cities. Maybe I should gather up all the windfalls and sell them for millions to a pharmaceutical company. Thar's gold in them thar goldens!

Or maybe not.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

To Mag, or not to Mag

The new Magpie prompt is up, and I'm thinking about it. On one hand, I like having that small but essential push to get me to write some fiction. I like reading the other posts from the same prompt, because there are some real gems in there.
On the other, Magpie Tales draws about 120 posts every week. Unlike other memes I participate in, where you usually really do make the rounds of all the posts every week, this is too many to do that. The traffic to my blog does not increase when I post to the Magpie list - only my regular readers plus one or two other magpie writers stop by. So there's not the return you enjoy with smaller memes. In trying to make it through the list of posts this week, I only got through two dozen or so, and I can understand why people don't do that: the majority are of no interest. It's discouraging to click and click and click (and my computer does take its time) only to not be interested. So at participant number 112, I can see why not many people make it to mine! Maybe being early in the list makes a difference, but when I saw the new prompt this morning, there were already two dozen posts up, and I hadn't even started to think of what I might write. I saw that some people add their names to the list without even making a Magpie post, like they're just holding their place.
It's also too many participants (at least for me) to be familiar with most of the other members of the group. It's too many to be personal. I guess if I make the effort to go through the whole list, and note whose work I liked, next time I can skip right to them. Some day when it rains all weekend I might do that.
So I don't know. It's not as if I need to be in a club to write stories. But you do kind of need to be in a club to get feedback. We'll see.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Magpie in the window

I was meaning to write a (very) short story for Magpie Tales this weekend, but didn't quite get there. A poem I can pop out in a few days (maybe 10 minutes of writing, but the days & nights spent stewing over it really do count), but stories take several rounds of Oh, yes, that's it!
I've also been meaning to say something about that news article I saw, oh weeks ago now, about Unbaptizing in Belgium. But I couldn't decide what. In my college years it's something I would have gone for. Since then I've made my peace with all that and don't see why everybody else doesn't just do the same. Well, I'm sure they have very good reasons to do what they do.
All that to say, here you have it:

Walking in the echoing evening, a residential quarter of Brussels. Dim light from a large formal house illuminates a robed figure. I pause by the streetlamp, voyeur. The robed figure raises his arms, appears to be leading a ceremony. Half-glimpsed faces watch intently, a cult having its hour. I move on in the growing chill of night, home to where the lights are on strong and no gods lurk in the corners.
They are here to be released. I will let them go, though all that binds them is in their own minds. I will raise this bowl and they will sip what is never the blood of the lamb. I will break this bread which is only bread, and share it among fellows in the age-old way of people. I will wash the oil from their foreheads, leaving them clean and whole and belonging to themselves. I will put the scissors in their hands, to cut the ties that strangle.
I have been so long captive. Caught in thou shalt and thou shalt not. In the name of goodness I was hurt. In the name of love I was violated. In the name of trust I was betrayed. Then I was told to forgive, not prosecute. Jesus loves you. Here, let Father show you how much. It's not enough to leave. Not enough to renounce. Not enough to stand in the witness box at last, though these are all necessary things.

Tonight I am Unbaptized.


This week's Poetry Bus entry isn't really about color, but has plenty of colors in it.

Relay Race

It's funny how fast a season can change.
It was only two weeks ago I noticed that, yes, the hazel tree did really package actual nuts into those spiky envelops.
I gathered them up,
got out the ladder,
learned to leave the green ones (I can come back for them later)
Then it rained, and rained again, and today not a single hazel nut more is to be found.
Come and gone in a fortnight.
Like cherry season:
One day the ornaments all turned red,
Two weeks later none hadn't rotted or been picked.
But never fear, it's just time for the apricots to become small golden suns hung upon their tree
Two, three weeks - all 'et up or jammed!
No rest; the wild plum is orange-red ready
which is only to warm us up for the deluge of yellow mirabelles
Followed hup! hup!
by the long yellow teardrop plums and the purple ones for making prunes.
Barely a breath before the apples insist, red-streaked and grey-green and yellow.
One day soon all this frenzied tree activity, this fruiting,
will collapse into the repose of brown winter.
And I will miss it.

There you have it for my bus ticket. I hope to have a Magpie Tale up later today, if I can just find how to finish it. Catch the bus here, driven by Marion!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

September gardening

One thing I really like about late summer and autumn is digging in the garden. The tomatos are starting to pack it in. Though there is plenty of fruit still on the vines, the leaves are starting to turn and the stems to shrivel. The green beans have all dried up, except for the ones I planted in mid-August. The remaining radishes are all woody. I noticed the potato plants were gone. This is my first year doing potatos, and advice was they'd be ready when the plant regressed. So I guess it's time to start digging.
Here they are!
Honest-to-god Potatos. The first part of the patch gave about three pounds.
The second part of the potato patch, which got watered much less than the one closer to the faucet, had only very small tubers. They're so cute! Note to self anyway: water more next time.
And then I noticed this guy. A potiron squash! The plant is huge and rambling and put out dozens of giant flowers (it's a trooper; it's still putting out flowers), but each time the flower faded, the naiscent fruit was devoured by the beasties that like that sort of thing. They missed one.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

I'm Versatile!

Thank you thank you thank you to Niamh at Various Cushions for this fabulous Versatile Blogger Award. Just when you think that blog awards are lame, you get one and that changes everything. Yea! It really is cool to be recognized, right out of the blue, by people who are not even related to you.

So according to Niamh, I'm to tell you some things about myself, and then pass the award on to other blogging greats.
Some things about me that you’re not going to read anywhere else:
Umm. Hmm.
1. I’m terrible with orchids. I can keep the plants alive, more or less, for years. But I’ve never had one put out flowers for me.

2. I didn’t pluck my eyebrows until I was 39. Looked in the mirror one day and saw that something should be done. We’re a bushy eyebrow family. I mocked my dad once, a little, (sorry Dad), about having his eyebrows trimmed, when really, it’s better to keep them under control.

3. Either I can’t count after all, or I’ve forgotten a cat. At the beginning of Cat of the Month, I figured I had 24 months of cats. Well, I’m up to Natalie now, and there seem to be just 23. 24 with the guest appearance of my parents’ cat Kisha, but only 23 of my own. Sure, there were some cats in the house when I was little that didn’t stay for long, but I do think I got them all. Guess I can’t count.

4. I don’t like tomato guts. The fleshy part of the tomato, okay, but the squishy part between the seeds, no.

5. I did a really horrible thing in college. Over the summer once I signed up to be a volunteer to take care of a handicapped teenager at her home while her parents went on an anniversary vacation. The girl was 15 and had cerebral palsy; she needed help cooking and moving around, nothing complicated. I visited the family about a month before their trip, and proceeded to go on with my summer, working at a printers and going out with my boyfriend. And I just kept on with my summer life. The week the family needed me, I totally spaced it. Completely forgot. By the time I remembered, they would have been back already. To make matters worse, I was far too ashamed to call them and apologize. What on earth would I say? Sorry to have screwed your whole vacation, but I just forgot? Instead I pretended the whole thing never happened, and I still feel badly about it.

And now for my nominations. Hmmm, so many neat blogs out there. Some of my favorites get nominated for awards all the time, others not so much. In alphabetical order (not because I’m an orderliness nut or anything, I’m just using the list as a brain annex) a handful of my current favorites:

Coffee Helps. I adore well-written blogs about picking up sticks and moving to an entirely different culture.

Mad Aunt Bernard. A screaming crackup! Please blog more!

Millenium Housewife. I don’t think I would ever have that sort of conversation with anybody.

Tooting Squared. Sharp observation, great presentation.

Us and Them. Captain Dumbass has as much fun as his kids.

Oh, it's seven things to share about me.
6. Why do I have to be able to count? I have machines to do that for me. This is what I say to myself whenever any sort of math comes up. Though actually I'm not too bad at math.
7. I like to eat breakfast cereal, dry, for dinner. And I eat Nutella out of the jar. In fact, I was working on my now-empty Nutella jar this morning so that it will be available as a prop in this afternoon's Pink Rabbit Abroad story.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday Photo Shoot Out: Lines

This weeks FSO theme is Lines and Stripes. I didn't have much time this week, and was prepared to just skip it, but on arriving home last night I had just time to capture some of the wonderful sky. A line of weather moving out.
Another one moving in.
The line of the earth's shadow crossing the sky.
Other shootouts are here.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wednesday observations

For your reading today here are some random tidbits that don't particularly go with anything else.
Bandersnatch does not seek out pillows for sleeping on nearly as much as the other cats. I think it must be that she's so fluffy she's her own pillow, wherever she goes.
In Belgium you can be "unbaptized". When I saw this on the news last week, I got all excited to blog about it because it seems so absurd. If you were baptized as an infant and now adult you want to dissociate yourself from the Church, just don't go. On the other hand, a few people have been so hurt within the church that I can see how having a ceremony cutting all ties and obligations could be a step forward in the healing process. It doesn't have to make sense to me to make sense to other people.
Freakonomics authors Dubner and Levitt went to pains to point out the role of Roe v Wade in the sudden and spectacular decrease in crime in New York in the 90's, concluding that the legalization of abortion resulted 15-25 years later in a highly significant decrease in just the sort of young men most likely to commit crimes (those born to mothers who couldn't or didn't want to handle raising children), and that this was in fact the driving force in reducing crime.
Contrast this with Tipping Point author Gladwell who fails to even mention this factor in his own chapter on what caused that same change in crime in NYC. Gladwell comes out in favor of the Broken Windows theory, citing the crackdown on graffiti and subway fare-jumping as making the difference.
What I'd like to know is why people are stuck on ONE thing making all the difference. Roe v Wade did not make a significant impact on population figures, but it had a huge impact on exactly that most vulnerable but very small part of the population. Without R v W, and without the increase in police numbers, would the anti-graffiti program have been enough to tip crime into a very steep decline? I doubt it. You need all the factors, together at the same time, and things can change. Stop saying it's the rock on the top of the pile! If the bottom rocks weren't there, the top one wouldn't be on top.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Magpie Bus

It's such a beautiful day out I almost couldn't stand to come indoors and blog. But I did want to post for both the Poetry Bus (driven here by Pure Fiction) and the Magpie Tales (by Willow, here). I haven't done a Magpie in ages (since the matchbox!). But the apple got me going, and I hope in coming weeks to do some short prose. The transition from the squarely summer days of August to the busy packing-up days of September means the garden is full of changes.

It's raining.

It was raining plums for a month, though the carpet bombing of mirabelles

seems to have stopped now.

They tapered off over the weekend and appear to be done for the year.


-The respite was brief-

It's raining again

It's raining apples no matter how fast I pick them

Dried, sauce, crumbles, pie, eaten right off the tree

Four trees covered

It's going to rain all month and into October.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Friday Photo Shoot Out: Graffiti

This week's My Town Shootout theme is graffiti.
Where the tramway makes a long cut to go up a hill to the university campus, the concrete retaining walls are a favorite canvas for local artists.

To limit graffiti on trains (always a favorite target), they've made the train colorful. Not only does spray paint not stick as well, but even if it does, it's less noticable. And thus less rewarding for the tagger. If people can't see your work from blocks away, it's not worth doing.
Still, rail yards and underpasses are favorite places for graffiti. This building shows signs of being painted over regularly, but it remains a large blank page just begging for new decoration.

Although in certain spots graffiti seems to be tolerated, the city has a fairly aggressive campain of cleaning and overpainting that removes graffiti and keeps our town clean-looking. The other anti-graffiti strategy is to cover vulnerable buildings, like this closed (for the day) kids' center at a public housing project, with art from the community. The residents thus have a better sense of ownership and pride and are less likely to tag, but also tags are a lot less visible in the colorful chaos.
Click here to see the astounding graffiti on trains in a wrecking yard I discovered last year. And here for the Shootout links.
Have a good weekend!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

September Cat: Yersinia Pestis

Well, well, Cat of the Month already and it's only the 2nd!
Yes; I thought I'd better get this out while I still have a bit of time to breathe before the term starts.
When Fofa and Kika moved out, happy to be back with their mom and no longer chased by Pandemonium, it became obvious that Pan needed a playmate. He was so happy to have company! He’d get so bored home alone all day that I’d come home and find the place a wreck.
Happily, Pan’s mom still lived at Eric’s grandmother’s farm, and was still having kittens, season after season. One fine day Eric stopped by with a small cardboard box, and inside was Pan’s half-sister (possibly full sister, but what were the odds of that, with so many tomcats around?)
Yersinia Pestis was very very shy, and stayed under the furniture for days. I could tell she was white, with a patch or two of calico, but it took several days to get a good look at her. Soon enough, though, she was coming out for catfood and a spot of petting, and a bit of a wrestle with Pan. Her calico was on her head and part of a shoulder, like a slipping shawl, and her tail. It was like this calico tail was stuck onto a white cat by accident.
It was pretty funny to see her wrestle with Pan, this small, delicate kitten and the full-size Tom. Really, she was always the one to jump at him, trying to bowl him over. Pan was ever so gentle, willing to play but never trying to win.
Yersinia was possibly the dumbest cat I’ve ever had. Clumsy, too; she’d bonk right into things. I didn’t want to let her out so young, but Pan wanted to go out so I’d often be getting up and dancing around to let one out and not the other. Then I opened the window in the bedroom for Pan while Sinia was in the kitchen. Pan would be in, Pan would be out. Sinia couldn’t figure out how he did that. It took her four days to discover the bedroom window was open.
So I closed it, and opened instead the sliding door in the kitchen while Sinia was in the living room. Again, Pan was in, Pan was out, Pan was in, Pan was out. How did he do that???? Three days this time to discover the trick.
Eventually Sinia was allowed out too, which was a mistake. She was such a sweet little kitty. If only she didn't try to follow Pan across the street.