An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles

September 6, 2010

Yarn!

Filed under: DIY — Tags: — Radical Scientist @ 8:24 pm

I just finished spinning and dying a few ounces of yarn for the first time. I even made the drop spindle myself, with a dowel and a circle-cut saw, because those things are always fucking overpriced. They dye, though, was all Kool Aid (Cherry with undertones of grape). Wanna know something creepy? When you put a big bundle of wool in a pot full of super-concentrated hot Kool Aid, it soaks up all the dye. As in, I put  mess of white yarn in a pot of opaque-red Kool Aid, turned on the stove, and pulled pomegranate red yarn out of crystal clear water. I tried rinsing it just to be on the safe side, so it wouldn’t bleed or stain later, but nothing came out.

I am, however, quite pleased with the end result. I hung up the skeins to dry in the shower, weighted down with cans of curry and vegetarian Abalone-substitute (which, FYI, is incredibly fucking tasty. I have no idea if actual abalones are anywhere near this good, but holy crap is the cheap, canned gluten based fake stuff delicious)


I have some Merino/Cashmere blend and baby Icelandic wool coming soon, thanks to the discount section on Etsy. Eventually I’ll stop posting pictures of it all.

ETA: Here’s the comprehensive how-to I used for the dying, courtesy of Knitty.

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September 4, 2010

Product Placement

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Radical Scientist @ 4:59 pm

Yesterday I borrowed a travel mug from a friend who works as a barrista. He’s got a nice assortment of thermoses and things, mostly acquired via the sale rack at his job’s coffee gadget shelf. But none of them tops my long-lost Best Ever Portable Beverage Thingie, the super geeky tea thermos. Behold:

It holds 350 mL (about 12 oz),  and is almost too well insulated. What you can’t see in this photo is a little lift-out stainless steel basket that nests into the mouth of the thermos. You fill it with loose tea, pour hot water over it, and screw the lid on. By the time you get to where you’re going, your tea is all brewed and waiting. Or, if you’re me, you mostly just use it for coffee and water, but pretentiously feel that you could start drinking tea at any moment.

But the best, nerdiest part is there on the lid. It’s a little built-in dial thermometer that tells you the temperature of your beverage in Celsius. While not exactly precise, it works well enough to let you know if your drink is super hot, pretty hot, warm, cool or cold. Do I need my thermos to tell me that? No. Is it awesome? Absolutely. Slap on a OSHA chemical sticker with the hazard diamond printed on* and you’ll never make it through airport security again.

Tragically, I lost my tea thermos a couple years ago. But, I’m in luck, because my fabulous partner just so happens to be in NYC this week, and may be nice enough to grab me a new one from Pearl River.** If you’re not so lucky, but are willing to pony up the $11.50 + shipping, you too can have an overly elaborate thermos.

*Being dishwasher proof, chemical label stickers are the best way I’ve ever found to label my re-usable water bottles and coffee mugs. I can always tell which generic-looking bottle is mine, it has my name on it, and no one else ever wants to drink out of it.

**It’s on page 5 of that section, labeled ‘Thermos w. Thermometer Cover & Infuser’ Their site doesn’t facilitate direct links. Boo.

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August 29, 2010

Filed under: Blogging about Blogging — Tags: , , — Radical Scientist @ 10:56 pm

Seriously, if you don’t read Samia’s blog already, you really should poke your head over to check out her recent post “radicalism, love and the scientific temperament.” It’s a great, thoughtful, sometimes goofy meditation on how her personal need to understand things–people and proteins–drives her politics an her science. Here’s a taste:

Looking at one’s privilege head-on is painful, and I think we are all familiar with that reptilian urge to simply remove ourselves from the offending stimuli and pretend that shit didn’t just happen. But this doesn’t work in science, does it? The stuff you don’t know…is still out there. Not being known by you. TAUNTING YOU FROM JUST BEYOND GREAT GAPING MAW OF THE ABYSS WITH ITS NOT-KNOWNNESS. How satisfying is it to just leave the answers there, undiscovered? Well, it’s not.

See? I have nothing smart to talk about this week, so go read 49 Percent instead.

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August 24, 2010

Busy busy

Filed under: Blogging about Blogging,DIY — Tags: , , — Radical Scientist @ 3:31 pm

Remember that shared studio/collective craft and art thing I was talking about last week-ish? Well, it’s taking on a life of it’s own. We’d needed 5 members minimum to pay the rent, and we’ve got 7 so far. This past weekend we had a low-key build-out in the space–swept and mopped, set up some tables and chairs, brought in the all-important coffeepot, and so on–and now we’re up and running, even before the planned first of the month. One of the members has suggested we all throw in on a vendor space in the local holiday Sell Shit To Yuppies Craft Fair, which I think is an awesome idea. Hopefully that’ll give those of us who want in a goal to work toward between now and November. Obviously it’s waaay too early to tell how this will work out long-term, but I’m excited to see people so enthusiastic about trying this out.

The downside to this for you, dear readers, is that I’m spending less time sitting around my house being bored and blogging. I’m going to keep aiming for at least a couple posts a week, but it may be more like 2-3 instead of the 4-5 I’ve been managing. Not that y’all care or anything.

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August 20, 2010

Searching for A Grad Program: There’s More Than One Right Answer

Filed under: Education — Tags: , , , — Radical Scientist @ 1:02 am

I am at the verrrry wee beginning of thinking about maybe next year applying to graduate school. Which means I’m at the stage of looking at different programs, thinking about where I want to apply. It’s an exciting and daunting task–there are dozens, if not hundreds of schools I could potentially apply to, just in the US. And as someone who’s research interests and experience-thus-far are at on the border between a couple of different disciplines, there are a number of departments I’ll be looking at, opening the field even more.

But when I look for advice on how to pick a school, I keep finding the same single suggestion: Find the current top names in your field, or people whose research sounds interesting to you. Find out where they teach, and start by looking at those schools. It’s fine advice, especially to the Ideal Grad Student–someone who is free to move anywhere (at least within their country), who has flexible but strong research interests, and so on. And, apparently, is somehow also completely clueless as to where they want to go.

But when I talk to friends and co-workers about how they settled on the school they eventually attended, I’ve never once heard ‘Well, I looked at the top working scientists in [subdiscipline]…’  I don’t think that’s all sample bias; there are a couple well-know researchers around these parts.

Instead, most people seem to work from a variety of more, er, practical questions, including:

Where can I get admitted?

Where will I get enough funding?

Is the campus near my family?

Will my partner be able to find work/go to school/etc there?

Will I like or hate the city?

Do the courses sound interesting?

Did the department have a nice website (admit it, folks. You notice)

Will there be a good community for me there?

What kind of vibe did I get when I visited the department?

And so on. I’d love to get some advice on how to get the gossip on a schools’ funding options, department’s labor expectations (everyone wants you to work more than they say they do, but by how much?), how to find a queer-friendly campus and town, how to navigate choosing schools with a not-infinitely-patient-and-portable partner, and so on. In particular, how do you do those things if you’re looking at schools far away from where you live now, that you can’t afford to visit before applying (and can only do a prospective student weekend or somesuch before accepting). I’m sure this info is out there, and I don’t expect my dear readers to hand deliver it to me (unless you want to. In which case, go ahead!). I’d just like to move beyond a single piece of advice. Especially when there’s no guarantee you’ll get to work with the Dream PI anyway.

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August 18, 2010

Grad School Applications, Recommendations, and Mentoring

Filed under: Education — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Radical Scientist @ 4:38 pm

This post is part of 49 Percent’s zomg grad school!!!1 carnival. Go check out all the other lovely posts over there.

There is one part of the grad school application process that scares me shitless. I’ll stare down the GRE with gritty determination, and I can swallow my pride and lay claim to my lackluster GPA. But even thinking about having to ask for letters of recommendation makes me consider food service related career options instead.

I got my BS on the installment plan, over 8 years. Along the way, I worked more than I studied (out of necessity), and had a couple mental health flare ups, eventually culminating in a hella-awkward-at-the-time gender transition. I didn’t handle any of those issues as well as I should have. None of which is my professor’s fault (ok, maybe that one asshole who taught intro to calc), but let’s just say my best work was spread out across the years. Add in one mentor who retired and decided to move to a remote island with no phone, and a lot of giant lecture hall classes where the professors struggle to recognize more than a few of their students on sight, and, well, it’s a less than ideal situation.

I get that LOR’s serve a specific purpose in graduate admissions. Grad programs want students who work well with faculty, who have made a positive impression on at least a couple of their instructors, and they need some perspective other than the numbers on a transcript and the student’s own self-praise. And now that I’ve spent a couple years working in labs, I understand that any worthwhile professor or PI considers handing out recommendations for their protégées to be a standard part of the job. But no one told me that, at least not until I was…oh, 25 or so.

Some students can feel comfortable asking their professors or mentors to take the time to send out a half dozen recommendations for grad programs or internships. There are some academic environment factors–smaller classes and smaller departments breed familiarity. And some students will be outgoing no matter what barriers are thrown up in front of them, and some will always be shy.But at the broad generalities level, asking for recommendations is even more fucking terrifying for students who have grown up being told that the old guard of professors–white, male, straight, cis, and middle to upper-middle class–are their social betters.

Sometimes those fears are founded, often they’re not. But so long as they exist, they are one hurdle to the sciences (or any other discipline) becoming more welcoming and diverse. I know I, for one, am not looking forward to tracking down professors from several years ago, trying to get them to remember me, coming out to them (lest I get the wrong name on my rec letter), and then asking them to take the time to write letters to a number of schools and federal programs.

Meanwhile, my frat boy classmates have nothing to fear. They’re unafraid to ask, to send deadline reminders, to specify which of their most charming attributes they’d like highlighted. Even those who are, shall we say, on close terms with the gentleman’s C. They’ve spent their lives learning to navigate Old boy’s Networks; they seem to know what’s expected, and feel that they deserve to succeed.

I had a small honors class once where the professor did a wonderful job of pulling everyone in, and driving us to excel. Before handing out the final exams, he gave us a short speech about how lovely a class we’d been, that it had been a pleasure to  teach us, etc etc, but he ended by saying he’d be glad to write a recommendation or be a reference for any of us whenever we began applying to jobs or graduate programs. It was a revelation to me.

I understand that it’s unusual to have an entire class full of students you’d be willing to vouch for. But in my brief time in the science blogosphere thus far, I’ve seen a lot of great discussions on the value of mentoring, the importance of making science more ‘diverse’ in various ways, how to mentor, and so on. One thing that I haven’t heard (and I freely admit I may have just missed), is the value of offering recommendations. To student workers and interns, to students who excel in your classes, and to advisees. Look at each one, and think ‘would I be comfortable writing this student a warm recommendation, if they asked me to?’ If the answer is yes, for god’s sakes, tell them. Make sure they know you are willing to help them advance, and that that is part of what you do.

Sure, assertiveness and self confidence are good characteristics to develop. Ideally, students would have the self-confidence to a gruff senior professor for professional help based on their performance, rather than the professor’s friendliness or whether they feel inferior to their instructor.  But being unapproachable doesn’t weed out people who are bad at science, it weeds out people who are afraid to ask old white guys for favors. And that’s one more little thing that gives us a new generation of scientists no less homogeneous than the last.

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August 16, 2010

Public Space

Filed under: Uncategorized — Radical Scientist @ 2:42 pm

So, because I’m prone to harebrained schemes, I’ve found myself starting up an art/craft/workshop collective space, renting out part of a building where some friends live and others have personal studios.I’m basing the idea loosely off Freeside Atlanta and other hackerspaces, even though I’ve never been involved in one myself. Hopefully, we’ll get a bunch of people to pony up $20 a month for access to a big shared workspace and a place (probably a shelf or rubbermaid bin) to store their stuff.

But I don’t need a workshop or studio. I do a lot of knitting, and lately I’ve been churning out drop spindles for friends (and hopefully Etsy), but all my hobbies fit neatly in my home. What I want is a clubhouse, a fort, a treehouse, a public square or a zocalo.

A few of my friends and partners have worked for Starbucks over the years. Part of their corporate philosophy is this idea that everyone wants or has a ‘third place,’ a place that the default to outside of their home and workplace when they want to hang out, be social, or get out of the house. Being the corporate bohemouth they are, of course, Starbucks make sit their mission to be the ‘third place’ for…everyone everywhere, ideally.Which is, frankly, creepy.

But I do think they’re on to something. I get stir crazy if I don’t get out of my house everyday, and depressed if I don’t spend time with friends every few days, at least. Over time, I’ve had the homes and porches of friends, favorite coffee shops, and bars to go to when I want to go out and see people. I’ve lived in the house everyone wanders into to say hi. It’s an integral part of small town life, I think, but both houses and businesses have their drawbacks. Not everyone wants houseguests all the time. (I dare say most people really don’t want their friends around all the time–it takes a special kind of gregariousness to welcome that little privacy. Hanging out at coffee shops gets expensive fast, and the place is never really yours–you’re just a customer in someone’s business. At the best of times, you’re also a welcome face, even a friend, but it’s not the same. And the last few decades of American life have been especially toxic to the idea of public space, or even shared semi-public space, if no one’s making a profit.

So I’m hoping this works out. A friend of mine who does political organizing says one of the things he hears over and over, from people in all walks of life around these parts, is people want a place to get out to. They want to meet their neighbors, break down some of  isolation that goes with living where we do, when we do, and build some community. He’s doing that through community gardens, I’m hoping to get it in a workshop. Wish us luck.

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August 15, 2010

Oh, We Were Supposed to Follow The Whole Law? Whoops.

Filed under: Government and Policy,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Radical Scientist @ 12:35 pm

You know how when you go to the DMV, they also ask you if you want to register to vote? That’s because the 1993 National Voter Registration Act compelled states to make it easier to register to vote, by offering voter registration to people seeking other government services. simply having DMV employees ask people if they want to register while their at it has added millions of people to the voter registration rolls.

Except that’s not the entirety of the law. It also mandates that states offer registration to people when they sign up for welfare programs, including foodstamps, disability services, Medicaid, and S-CHIP (health coverage for children whose families are just above the Medicaid income cap). And if a state doesn’t comply, the justice department can sue to force them to comply. Which they’ve started doing, 17 years after the law was passed. Thanks Bush. And Clinton.

Of course, the working assumption here is that people who receive public assistance, being low income (by definition) and generally not stupid, will mostly vote for Democrats. And enforcement of the non-DMV parts of the law went completely enforced throughout the Bush years, as the Justice Department tried instead to whip up a dubious panic panic about voter fraud. As the NYT put it:

The Bush administration devoted its attention to seeking out tiny examples of voter fraud and purging people from the rolls in swing states. It did little to enforce the motor-voter law despite years of complaints from civic groups and Democratic lawmakers.

I do agree with Ed that registering people is not a guarantee of massively improved turnout–plenty of people will say ‘yeah, sure’ and forget it. But, in my very limited experience with Get Out the Vote campaigns, it’s a lot more work to get people registered and then get them to vote than to focus on voter turnout. In states (unlike mine) that have party registration, this is even more true–each party can turn to their own voter roles for targeted GOTV/ride to the polls/etc campaigns. Hopefully this will do some noticeable work toward undoing the Bush era purges.

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August 11, 2010

How to Get Rid of Fruit Flies

Filed under: DIY — Tags: — Radical Scientist @ 8:10 pm

Just FYI, this type of trap, (scroll down to ‘eradication’) baited with a banana peel, is eerily effective. Summer in the South combined with the delicious wares of less-than-reputable produce stands makes them a constant nuisance, even in a clean kitchen (which, let me just say, mine is not). My carnivorous plants can’t eat ‘em all, though  Sundews (Drosera spp)  and butterworts (Pinguicula spp) put up a good fight. Enough to where their leaves can essentially choke to death on the overabundance of little winged nutrient balls.

So last night I put a half an overripe banana in a jar, then stuck a paper funnel down inside. Within 20 minutes, I had caught 10 or so. By morning I had a writhing Molotov cocktail of Drosophila, ready to bwe thrown through the windows of my enemies.

I always have a hard time describing the trap. This illustration pretty much covers it–the paper funnel has a small opening that sits down in the jar, and you tape the juncture where the funnel meets the mouth of the jar. Fruit flies climb down the funnel to get to the bait, but when they try to leave, they inevitably fly up, getting stuck at the side of funnel/mouth of jar junction. Once you’ve hoovered them all up, either dump the contents into your compost or start a genetics lab.

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August 10, 2010

Conservapedia: Propaganda or Performance Art?

Is there anyone among us who hasn’t gotten a little tipsy at the club, stumbled home safely, and spent an hour or two laughing their nether regions off at Conservapedia?

I didn’t think so.

I know I’m a little late to the party with this story from Talking Points Memo, which relates the tale of Conservapedia founder and second-generation douchebag Andy  Schafly’s inability to remember the difference between general relativity and moral relativism. Whatever, I’m sure even after someone explains the difference to him, he’ll still believe that understanding deep physics leads people away from Jesus (which, ok, there may be some correlation/causation there), and that that means Einstein must have been wrong. Luckily, Conservapedians were able to snark right back, with this mathematically & logically sound bit of self-referencing on their main page:

Counterexamples to the Bible 0
Counterexamples to Evolution 60
IQ of Atheists 0 divided by 60

Oh, snap! Zero divided by 60! That’s gotta be less than regular zero!

But there’s so much more to love about the internet’s most fake encyclopedia. You could go for the obvious, reading the reality-challenged articles on feminism, atheism, gay rights, Obama’s birth certificate, or other far-right hobbyhorses. But the real genius is the care with which they’ve fabricated delusional alternate-universe explanations for  innocent seeming topics.  Did you know that liberals lie about certain species of North American cactus being endangered, so we can up the supply of peyote? (to be fair, they seem to have deleted the entire article on cacti to hide their shame on that one) Or that Dodos might have gone extinct all of their own? Or that the bible proves the existence of unicorns? Unicorns, people. Normally I’d say don’t feed their egos, but this is some seriously worthwhile comedy reading. Just look at today’s top pages:

Most viewed pages
Main Page 8,067,661
Atheism 4,940,958
Homosexuality 3,565,061
Barack Hussein Obama 1,429,644
Wikipedia 924,932
Adolf Hitler 822,325
Sarah Palin 771,927
Liberal 721,863
Examples of Bias in Wikipedia 688,911
John McCain 585,396

Barack Hussein Obama! Adolf Hitler! Sarah Palin! In that order!

Hours of crying while laughing (followed by laughing while crying) are at your fingertips, thanks to the magic of the internet. Welcome to the future.

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