Sunday, October 31, 2010

bad cat!

You, Natalie! This is a CFZ: cat-free zone.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Oh, so it wasn't us?

More about the same old same old
I’ve mentioned in various posts that our lab bought one of those new-generation DNA sequencers (what, two years already now? And we haven’t a single paper to show for it?). There was an upgrade to what should be a doubling of Felix’s* capacity over the summer, and since then the runs we’ve done have been no better - and sometimes worse - than what we obtained before.
First, we just didn’t know how to deal with the new procedure.
Then it was determined by the technical hotline that we didn’t keep Felix clean enough. Repeating that run after a new cleaning round was just as bad as before.
Then, yes, we had a bad batch of DNA.
Then, well, we just didn’t have as much data as we should, probably our quantitation was off.
And again, we were still not putting in the amount of DNA we should. We should revise our quantitation protocol. We should do this, we should do that.
But we’re still having mediocre results. Not usually out-and-out disasters. But not what we’ve been promised, and not what we see coming out in the literature. We’ve been knocking our heads against the walls, trying to figure out what on earth we’re not doing right.
So this latest return from tech support is both a relief and a cause for vigorous fist-shaking.
Stop! Don’t run another sample! Felix is broken!
Apparently some pump somewhere is not delivering the right amount of reagents at the right time. If it were completely broken down, we’d get no results at all. But it seems to be working badly, and this is the source of our mediocre data.
Four months we’ve been tearing our hair out.
Perhaps for four months we’ve been working miracles to get any results at all.
They can send us reagents to replace everything we’ve used.
They could send us a check to cover the salaries of the people doing the work.
But they can’t recover the damage to our reputation when we run samples for outside clients. Nor can they repair the loss of competitivity that results from not being able to publish.
I just want somebody out here right now this morning to fix it, and then I want it to work the way they say it’s going to work.
* we call the machine Felix because all our major equipment is named. The old workhorse sequencer is Bob, and the thermocyclers are Bruce & Robin, etc.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


This new Stats function is one thing a blogger can really get lost wasting their time at. It’s fascinating! Who visited the blog, what post, how did they find it? It’s addictive!
I wonder how the Keyword search function really works, though. Keywords that led people to my blog Tuesday included:
Angela winbrush
Cowboys vs giants
Four loko
Giants vs cowboys
Ivan the terrible
Last kiss lyrics taylor swift
Liz vassey
nanu blog poetry bus.
Only one of which makes any sense at all. Googling a selection of the others turns up nothing whatsoever with any link to me. “liz vassey”?? Oh, Please!
Also, I have had more different people comment on a post than there were visits to the post, supposedly. Sheesh. If you're going to keep track, keep track, Blogger!
Yet another cat photo with nothing in particular to do with the post.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Regular life

These past few months now on the blog I haven’t been doing much of anything but bouncing from one meme to another plus the occasional travel story. No science blogging at all!
It’s pretty much the same old same old at the lab.
Just let me share some of my frustration.
At the moment I’m wrapping up writing the paper on a new technique we’d like to use for molecular genetic diagnostics. We’ve got a “new generation” sequencer, and although some people work miracles with it, what we’re trying to do is a bit different. The thing was sold with all the assurance that it can do what we want it to. Ah, I’m sure it can do what we want it to. But does it want to? not nearly as conveniently and reliably as advertised! And the software that goes with it has clearly been neglected in favor of bigger, sexier, applications.
A year and a half after starting a project that ‘should’ have yielded results in a month, we’ve developed our own software, our own protocols, worked everything out from scratch, endured just about everything possible going wrong (including never-explained crashes of the instrument itself), and we’re still not able to say the new way is better than the old way.
We can say that with just a little tweak here and a nudge there it should be great.
So you might ask (and reviewers certainly do) why don’t we do the tweak and the nudge and get it great before publishing?
That’s where reality sets in.
Science is a race to publish, because your funding depends on your publications. With a new technique like this, decent journals will only care about the first handful of labs across the finish line. We need to be in that handful, and we can see some of the other labs we’re in competition with getting farther and farther ahead.
A tweak takes three weeks, a nudge three more. If they work, which they may well not and then you’ve lost a month for nothing. Labs who wait for perfection to publish end up sitting on the bulk of their data until it’s stale and nobody wants it. It’s a pretty fine line when you know the end of the race is nearing but not exactly when it will end. Submit now and be rejected for not being complete enough, or delay and publish in a 3rd-rank journal?
The paper has already been sent out once and come back, and we did do the major experiment that was lacking in the first try. The first-rank journals have already gone on to the Next Thing. I’m crossing my fingers to get this through my colleagues and out the door for a respectable second place.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Bus Meeting at 19:00

Argent was having an excellent week at the office last week, and thus set us the following Poetry Bus task: Meetings.
So here you are, a whole day early but I've got meetings all Monday:

The hour has come.
They're waiting
They turn in circles in front of the closed door
Beyond the door, the Place where they gather
at the appointed time.
Suddenly, one spies the woman approaching
The Boss is coming!
She's coming!
Get ready!
The jingle of the keys excites them
they leap over each other rushing into the kitchen
It's Catfoodtime.
Catch the Bus here!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

FSO Patterns

The Shootout this week looks at Patterns.
I prefer to make my own patterns, even if I'm not quite expert at designing things that fit just the way they should. This scarf is done in a classic 16-stitch feather&fan lace pattern, something simple enough not to look up any more; I can just do it on the bus or a train or wherever.
This blue scarf in a wool-alpaca blend (so incredibly soft!) is the first pattern I did out of my new lace stitch book. I found some very thin wool-cashmere yarn on clearance this summer - six balls of black and six of grey - just perfect for making a lace wrap to wear when the office is a bit chilly. Now to pick the lace pattern and start knitting.
This pattern caught my eye last fall, especially for the no-sewing part. I hate all the sewing and tucking in of yarn ends at the end of a project.
So I picked up all the blue-green merino wool in the shop, but it wasn't enough. Then my friend sent me two more balls, and that wasn't quite enough. Just a month ago I broke down and ordered some from the States, and the sweater is finally finished.
It hasn't been blocked yet, which will help with the shaping. But it does seem a bit off.
Yes, it's meant to be for somebody rather tall. The sleeve shaping, however, isn't quite what the pattern indicated. The way it's knitted, though, you can't go back and fix just the sleeve fit.

Some random patterns I've made. I like to work with color or texture on a pretty standard t-shirt or sweater shape. Since knitting isn't 'square' (stitches are taller than they are wide), standard graph paper distorts the image significantly. If I really want to see what it should look like, I knit a swatch for gauge, then make graph paper to fit on the computer.
The cat is a commercial pattern I'll be making a second copy of just as soon as I find the right fibers for it.
And this t-shirt I made from a few odd balls of a nifty linen-cotton blend picked up on clearance.
I buy so much yarn that way! No one color is enough to make a whole project (why it's being sold so cheap in the first place), so it's mix & match. I quite like the way this one fits, too. Usually these bargain odds & ends wind up in my collection bin, waiting endlessly for something else to come along.

Link to the Friday My Town Shootout here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

No Links, please.

What is it with this "Linked In" network?
Yes, I know what the network is about. It's supposedly a job/business/professional network where people 'network' in the more-or-less old-fashioned sense (of this not being your social life).
I don't want to be "linked in" because my professional contacts simply don't use it.
In the past month or so, Facebook friends (barely acquaintances, all) have been asking me to link to them on this other network.
Isn't ignoring each other on Facebook enough?
Since we have no professional activity in common whatsoever.
Well, whatever. Suffice not to accept, no?
There's an email notifying you of the invitation, with a link to click to accept that will take you all over the universe of their website. There is no click to decline. Click anywhere; there is no Leave Me Alone! category. Fine, just delete the email.
A week later, there's a reminder email that you have not yet accepted So&so's invitation. The email doesn't come from the person whose invitation you'd so very much like to decline, but from some server you cannot respond to except to say Yes.
A week or so later, here's yet another reminder.
Ah, guys, don't you get it?
Even were I inclined to join a "professional" network of this type, it would never, ever, be yours.

Not that famous yet

Do you realize that if you google "the poetry bus", the Bus, the Real Live Poetry Bus, does not show up on the first page?
How can this be????
In fact, the first Poetry Bus hit, as far as Google is concerned, says this:

28 Oct 2006 ... As much as we all want and need to stop, it is devastating to know once we step into this city, the Poetry Bus stops forever. ...


Yet another gratuitous cat photo.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Watercats Lament

Whatever has happened to the Watercats?
Have they gone away to mousier fields?
Did they dip their paws in the Suir for fish
and get carried to sea by the current,
The Big One hooked by their claws?
Whatever has happened to the Watercats?
We like them so!
Bring them back!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

No, I don't like the reform. It's too weak.

The French have got a bad case of the gimmies.
The general retirement age is currently 60 (yes, my American friends, a mere 60, and even 55 if you work for the train company or many others). This is, inevitably, driving the country into debt very quickly.
The government is trying to introduce a reform that would raise this age to 62, already with many exceptions and special cases. It’s a timid reform, and not nearly enough to offset the change in demographics that means fewer and fewer young people supporting more and more retirees.
The French people want their retirement Right Now, and they want it well-paid. No Way will they accept working two horrible more years. They look forward to turning 60 and putting the shop and office behind them.
I can see that for somebody who’s 50ish and not in love with their job. Me too, I'd love to have a secure future that didn't require me to work. But I think it's reasonable for me to give up my job at 65 or 70, as long as infirmity doesn't require an earlier leave-taking. (And the reform doesn't prevent people with disability from retiring when they need to.)
It’s harder to understand the 60-and-out attitude from the high school students who are out in the streets today. Not even at work yet, and they want to hang it up. These people are being duped in two ways:
First, they don’t seem to have thought out the problem of the incredible debt their elders are burdening them with. Today, one retiree is supported by about 3 workers. Without reform this will be one-to-one within a generation. Without reform, the system will either crash and burn and there will be no retirement benefits at all for those very strikers, or the level of payout will be so low as to not support any decent kind of food, shelter & clothing.
The second argument of the high-schoolers is that the 'elderly' people in work are taking jobs that would otherwise go to young people. As if there were a fixed number of jobs in the country. As if a significant number of jobs left by a 60-year-old would indeed be filled with a kid just out of lycée.
Geezers not making space is not the problem with the job market. The big problem there lies with the rigidity of the market: the rules that make it so difficult for companies to lay off workers that they simply don’t hire them. A temporary contract can last up to 18 months, but beyond that an employee must either be let go or hired permanently (Permanent with a capital P). That means an awful lot of jobs with a revolving door policy. Grandpa is not taking your job, kid, the government itself is discouraging hiring.
But that’s a whole different reform.

The young people skipping class to parade and shout slogans should in no way be supporting the NO campaign that wants to keep the status quo. They should be out there demonstrating for a reform far tougher than the one on the table. It’s their own future that’s being mortgaged here!


Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Poetry Bus s'arret ici

So in complying with my own challenge concerning habits and environment, I wrote my poem
- at home
- in the morning, (before even finishing my coffee)
- in my other language (why should English be emperor)
- in cursive (being a printing person)

Je me lève
et qu'est-ce qu'il y a?
toute une journée devant;
toute une vie.
Je regarde l'endroit
ou le soleil doit se lever
hâte de le voir
mais les nuages sont
trop fort
trop gris
trop plein d'eau
J'espère qu'il ne pleut pas
toute ma vie
juste assez
pour rendre le jardin
bien vert.
I get up
and what is there
but a whole day ahead
a whole life.
I face where the sun should rise
eager to see it,
but the clouds
are too strong
too grey
too full of water.
I hope it doesn't rain
all my life
just enough
to keep the garden
deeply green.
I do apologize if it's taking time to get all the tickets posted on the sidebar. Teaching interferes today, but I'll keep up as best I can. I'll get around and actually read all your wonderful work likely tomorrow!
Update on the Links on the Sidebar problem: for some reason, I just can't add any more. Error every try. I'll try listing the missing ones here:
PoetiKat is at: http://hyggedigter.blogspot.com/2010/10/stuck-in-rut-get-on-poetry-bus.html .
Muse Swings here: http://muse-swings.blogspot.com/2010/10/poetry-bus-is-experiencing-life-in-fast.html
The doc is in at: http://thedocspoems.blogspot.com/ (I think)(Yea! it seems to have done it)
Emerging Writer hops on board: http://emergingwriter.blogspot.com/2010/10/poem-for-poetry-bus.html
The Muse is back for seconds: http://muse-swings.blogspot.com/2010/10/poetry-bus-strikes-twice-in-one-day.html
Jinksy at last: http://pens-poems.blogspot.com/2010/10/poetry-bus-for18th-october.html

Friday, October 15, 2010

FSO Chairs

Chairs this week for the My Town Shootout. Here are two of my chairs, sunning themselves in the yard over the weekend.
They were joined by the other two chairs. It could have been a tea party if the table had come out.
After a while, they started doing Stupid Chair Tricks.
That looked like fun, so the canvas folding chairs came out of the gardening shed to join them.
Even the bench got involved.
But before they got any higher, it was time to greet the friends arriving and go in for the rugby match. The ASM vs the Sarasens! Excellent game, at the edge of our seats the whole time (the couch and the armchair, which had not come out to play with the chairs), all the way to Victory for the ASM!!!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cat of the Month: Natalie.

Yes, folks, we have at last arrived at cats who do currently and really live at my house. Cats who have been digitally photographed. NatalieNatalieNatalie.
But, you know Natalie! She doesn’t feature quite so frequently as January’s pinup, but she’s in the blog pretty often. Usually when things involve shrews, and abandoned kidneys.
Okay, maybe there is what to say.
Natalie is a hunter.
She started off bringing in earthworms and leaving them in the kitchen. That got her the nickname Earthworm Queen for Volume 2 of Pan’s biography. Then she graduated to larger, more problematic fare. Live birds let go in the house (nasty feathers everywhere). Live but unsteady shrews that ran under the fridge. I used to have a stick to put in the gutter of the sliding door that would allow me to leave it open just cat-wide while I was out, but with Ms Natalie bringing in the wildlife I had to stop. Since we moved to the house with the big yard, Natalie has been in heaven. The first month there were two and a half smallish rats left on the doorstep. Appalling, but on the good side I do think the rats have permanently given up on my basement insulation as a home. My disposal of these offerings taught Nat that leaving me stuff just isn’t worth it. I’m utterly unappreciative. Now all I get are kidneys, and the occassional entire shrew. I think Natalie forgets that she doesn’t like kidneys. She’s reminded by the first one, and she leaves the second for me. Just one.
Natalie is not a cat’s cat. She just doesn’t like other cats. I got her because Pan needed a companion, and at the shelter she was so sweet and affectionate I thought she’d be perfect. Well, she loves me... Thank goodness she does tolerate the others in the house, as long as they don’t try to play with her, and they offer their foreheads in submission once in a while, because she’s a terror when it comes to outside cats in our territory. Watch out!
. Natalie likes to change sides of the door sometime between 2 and 4 am. If she’s in she must go out, and will paw at the window for an hour if necessary. If she’s out, she’ll scratch at the front door just as long as it takes. Persistent little bugger. Now I usually don’t even try to hold out until she stops, just get up and get it over with. But when I have an early train and won’t be back for a week, we both suffer Natalie’s Not Being Allowed Out.
That's all for Cat of the Month. Stay tuned for real-time NatCat adventures!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Poetry Bus gets out of the rut

Ah, the Poetry Bus.

Usually I write my poems in the evening, at a pub with a glass of kir. Always after lunch, definitely, and usually in public and on the weekend, as I scurry about running errands with my little notebook in my pocket and the thing finally gels and it's time to write it down. Never do I write poems in the morning. Morning is for leaping up at the last possible minute, having coffee, and some kind of carbohydrate surface useful for holding lots of jam and nutella (not mixed! jam on the left, nutella on the right), and then rushing out to work (or to those errands on Saturday or to the market for eggs and veg and fleas on Sunday) until lunch somewhere.

We all have our habits.

You have yours.

For this week's Bus ride, instead of suggesting a topic to write about, I'd like us to change the poem-writing environment. Write your poem in a place and time and circumstances that break with your usual thing.

YES, you have a usual thing. If you think you don't have a thing, that your poems come at any time and in all places and contexts, and thus nothing can be different than nothing in particular, the nothing in particular is the thing, and the thing to do is to schedule it. By Friday you will identify the time, place, writing implement and receptive medium for your poem. When the time comes, there you are.

I've put up a list at the top of the sidebar for you early-birds.

(gratuitous cat photo)


Update on the Links on the Sidebar problem: for some reason, I just can't add any more. Error every try. I'll try listing the missing ones here:

PoetiKat is at: http://hyggedigter.blogspot.com/2010/10/stuck-in-rut-get-on-poetry-bus.html

Muse Swings here: http://muse-swings.blogspot.com/2010/10/poetry-bus-is-experiencing-life-in-fast.html

The doc is in at: http://thedocspoems.blogspot.com/ (I think)(Yea! it seems to have done it)

Emerging Writer hops on board: http://emergingwriter.blogspot.com/2010/10/poem-for-poetry-bus.html
The Muse is back for seconds: http://muse-swings.blogspot.com/2010/10/poetry-bus-strikes-twice-in-one-day.html

Jinksy flagging us down: http://pens-poems.blogspot.com/2010/10/poetry-bus-for18th-october.html

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


For ABC Wednesday, it's time for M.
And we all know that M is for Maurice.
Maurice tells stories.
Maurice goes to the United States

Maurice picks blackberries.

... and...

the very first photo of Maurice, ever! Fresh from the flea market, he wasn't even named yet.
But he sure was pinker then.
Click here for ABC Wednesdayers

Monday, October 11, 2010


It is heavenly to fly
The updraft from the plains throws me up the hillsides
Wins outstretched and motionless,
just a feather or two riffling in the breeze.
I survey my domain
....of stone villages and stubbly harvested fields
....the corn still out there, hoping for another sunny week.
I am lord of all -
....of that mouse - I think I will swoop down for a snack
What's this?
A string attached to my breast?
I struggle upwards, bursting, but cannot break free
My dives and turns fail to liberate me.
The wind dies and I sink deflated to the ground.
They wrote in the paper:
Hier, et aujourd'hui encore, le ciel au-dessus du Plateau de Gergovie prends toutes les couleurs, avec le XVième Festival du Cerf-volant...
And there you are for the Poetry Bus, riffing off a newspaper article from yesterday's Montagne.
Catch the ride!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Magpie 35

They're all around

They were up and now they're down

They were green and soft

now they crackle underfoot

fill gutters, divert streams

They have changed

they blanket the ground, protecting it,

keeping it warm, encouraging its bugs and worms.

By spring they will be transformed

into new earth.
That's Magpie Tale number 35. Join the fun over here.

Friday, October 8, 2010

FSO reflections

FSO: fallen leaves in the Artière

Thursday, October 7, 2010


I love radishes. I planted a great many this summer, and in June and July had radish in some form every other day. Around August I was getting a bit tired of them, and in September completely stopped putting radish in my salad.
Now I'm packing up the garden for the winter, pulling up the ex-potato bed and the done tomatos and all, and I noticed that the late-planted radish patch had some pretty fabulous root veg in there.
No, that's not a miniature clothespin.
I think I will still not be putting radish in my salad - these things are woody on the outside and hollow inside. Impressive, but not food! (for me, at least)
This weekend, if the wind isn't off its rocker like last weekend, I'll be having a bonfire with the wood from the branches that fell off/were trimmed from one of the plum trees. Fun! Get some ash into the veg patch while I'm at it. Last time, Bandersnatch has a frumious time rolling in the ashes and I had to deny her coming into the house all weekend.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

ABC Wednesday

Today is L.L is for Laboratory.
In the Laboratory, this one at least, there is a DNA sequencer machine called Bob.
No, Bob is not an L-word.
But Bob has one. Bob has a Laser.

When Bob's Laser is sick, everything stops.

For more L's, stop by here!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Poetry Bus of Happiness

Yes! Yes! The Poetry Bus!
You've been waiting and waiting and looking at your watches and I'm sure plenty have gone home.
But then: What comes around the bend but the Bus? A little dented and muddy from its fall in the ditch, but the gears still work and here it comes for you.
I'll be collecting tickets tonight (I hope, depends on computer access) and most definitely Monday. It is a Monday Bus, after all.
Theme: Happiness

First up: TFE with a real gem.
The Bug has a memorable outing.
Rachel in need of some happiness.
Martin flagging us down.
Emerging Writer writing on the Bus
Helen is on board
and Doc TSFE on the bus about the bus
Karen went down the nowhere road
Here's Titus!
and the infamous Peter Goulding
Stafford having a tickly happy visit
Jinsky with two.
Domestic Oub jumps on with a sparkler.
Dramatic anarchy from Niamh
Stillness with Socks
Enchanted Oak leaps on with style
Mrs Trellis gives a few points.
Flagging down the Bus before it gets away are Chiccoreal
and the famisher of Pixies

For my own poem, I was thinking of Happiness for driving on the 18th and wasn't very far along cooking something up, when along came the Emerging Writer with a comment to write a poem about the Poetry Bus itself. Thus the Happiness Bus, and here it is:

Mariana smoothed out her dress, touched her hair again, smiled nervously,
relaxed a bit and smiled for real.
She looked at her watch again, so early yet but she didn't want to be late
Every passenger who got on, she wanted to hug and tell them
She was riding to her first day at work. She glowed, and rubbed her ticket in wonder.
Huddled in the back, Jeremy rummaged in his rucksack for a package of biscuits
He couldn't believe his luck: eighty euros in the old man's wallet
Eighty euros to start a new life
not a lot, but he fingered the bruises on his face and figured it was better that than stay home
He looked out the window at the dawn, and wondered where the bus was going
Away would be fine.
In the second row, driver side,
Nick spoke softly into Lydia's ear
There was still pink confetti in her hair.
They were going to the seaside, to their honeymoon
He loved the bus for taking them there
He loved the sky for its gentle light
He loved Lydia asleep on his shoulder.
Sixteen days on the road already, in a week I'd have to be back at work,
but today was still paradise
town to unpronouncable village,
foot paths, trains, this rattly old bus
through fields and forest, industrial suburbs, always something new,
someone to meet, a foreign way of saying hello, and a coffee please.
Here it comes up the hill
grinding to a stop at a pile of rocks in the middle of these emerald fields dotted with sheep, striped with stone walls
where an old woman waits, plastic bonnet in case of rain,
shopping bag waiting to be filled with the wonders of Town,
sturdy walking shoes.
One more passenger happy to be on the Bus.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Please tell me.

Is it just my screen, or is all the text on the blog all squished together? It looks strange, but I haven't changed any settings.
Plus a random black object for your viewing pleasure.

Well, alright. The comments indicate that it's just my screen. I could delete this post then, but Bandersnatch is so pretty & black.

Orange in Aubière

Alright it's not really Aubière; Aubière is down the street about a mile east.
Orange in Clermont just doesn't sound as nice. You are so lucky! It isn't raining today. If it doesn't rain tomorrow, I'll be the lucky one.
Here we are having Orange.
It's our new Radiotherapy wing!
Should be ready to greet the public by the end of the month.
And that's my building, the blue bit peeking up above the new one. This month's CJP newsletter mentioned its imminent destruction, but as yet there is nothing done to move the lab to the old hospital, no architectural plans for that, certainly no money for it. So I think we'll be staying for quite some time.