Wednesday, April 25, 2007

More than you wanted to know about cat litter

One of the things I do when I travel is take my back issues of Science with me and read through them while I am waiting to do computer work. When I get to a page that elicits a wow, cool, huh! or huh? I tear it out, fold it in half, and stow it. I have a couple of inches of these folded up pages on my desk. Most of them represent future good intentions to follow up, forward to someone, or just keep in my memory. Here is a little story about a Huh! I found last week.

Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite that requires a cat intestine, where it starts its life cycle, and another host, e.g., a rat. Toxoplasma returns to the cat intestine to start it all over again. To improve its chances, Toxoplasma cysts form preferentially on the rat amygdale, which controls fear responses in the brain. Infected rats don’t just mellow out, they specifically lose fear of the smell of cats, which makes it easier for the parasite to make it back to the cat intestine. So now you know why pregnant women should not handle cat litter.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

40 years of recipies and counting

In my kitchen drawer there is a large box dating back to when business stationery came in fine cardboard boxes with lids. It has been filled with a file of clippings, and more recently, printouts of recipies. Then there are a couple of special purpose file folders for things like peaches and plums (I have trees)and bread machine recipies. Otherwise, no order, and the stuff on the bottom of the box has not seen daylight lo these many years. My neighbor to the rescue! She told me to buy a 31-day expandable receipt file, and label the days with food groups, such as salads, etc. I made special labels for zucchini and tomatoes, etc, things I grow and need lots of recipies for. File is availible upon request, since I couldn't figure out how to attach one here!

The only thing more satisfying than cleaning out a junky drawer is planting new plantlets. I got the garden in this weekend, and found yellow zucchini and lots of heirloom tomato sets to go in this year. Hope always springs eternal when dealing with sets from the garden store. Now to get the hedge trimmed so there is afternoon sun!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

St. Patrick and the Snake

I attended the engineering campus at Missouri for college, University of Missouri at Rolla, formerly Missouri School of Mines. The patron saint of engineers is St. Patrick, who bludgeoned to death all the snakes in Ireland, which is why there are no snakes in that island. You can only imagine the drunken festival at a mostly male university that annually occurs on this anniversary. Whatever. The point is, my cat Fritz, has found his niche in life, and that is to hunt snakes. After 3 years we have finally discovered the toy that turns him into a mewing, chirping, whirling dervish. Fritz was born to hunt snakes, notwithstanding that there are rarely snakes in this part of the San Jose foothills. We have a cotton-covered cord that in Fritz's little pea brain, must represent the most fascinating of prey, because he will beg to make the snake live, even at 4 a.m. Bless his little kitty brain, after over 3 years of trying to coax him to play, I've finally discovered his cat essence.

Monday, March 12, 2007

I should live to be 90

I found this lifestyle quiz on (OK, if you are under 50 and still have a crack at this). Now I don't do quizzes, having had quite enough of taking and giving them in my university career. However, I thought I might learn something, and so I did. If I would religiously floss my teeth daily, which I will confess doesn't happen, I would statistically gain a quarter of a year. Is it worth it? Doesn't my trusty Sonicare do a good enough job? I also completed the quiz for G, who will predecease me by 14 years, statistically speaking. Why am I not surprised?

Spring has sprung and other minutae

The trees are spectacularly beautiful again, as they always are. You will note they are not yet pruned, which is normal for this yard, as the man has to handle the pruner and we have to wait until he has been appropriately motivated. It has not been a good week although it should have been. Last weekend we went to Sonoma and drank wine. I finally bought a new serger, and took a playday mid-week to set it up, and of course, buy more fabric. My review this week was the best in years; I still have the new boss fooled that I can walk on water with only my feet getting wet. However, there is no money for raises, and I (and some 30 of my close colleagues and probably way more than that) am pissed. 300 shares of Agilent stock, which has not gone up in price and is indeed drifting down again, is not compensation for a year of knocking my socks off and not making the commission because the product line is under quota. There, I have had my public pout, I shall go finish in the lab until I have to come back tomorrow (Saturday) and I shall go home and stand in the yard and admire my trees. I just need to get my head straight again.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Chicago O’Hare Whatever

I just had the good fortune to spend 3 nights in the Chicago O’Hare Hilton with some 300 of my closest colleagues. Pretty good meeting, actually, although it would have been more fun if the hula dancing had been by our management team than the girls they hired. And so I am languishing in the Chicago O’Hare Airport, because, being Chicago in February, it is fixing to snow and all the departure boards have a lot of ‘Cancelled’ lines on them.

There are a number of things I like about this airport, however. The local Berghof’s cafĂ© has a sandwich stand with good meats (hey, it’s the Midwest) and a very good lager (which the lady who sat across from me spilled all over the lady next to her, poor thing, who will smell like beer for the rest of her (delayed) trip). I like the tunnel between terminals that plays the United song with the neon tubes. I LOVE the brontosaurus skeleton near the security exit in terminal B. But the toilet seat covers in the ladies’ rooms comprise my main entertainment. Some lucky salesman sold the airport a system that automatically rolls a new plastic sleeve over the toilet seats for each new patron. Nifty little motor hums and does all the dirty work. I’ve never seen them anywhere else. Not as techy as the ones in the local brauhaus in Germany, where the whole seat rotates under a UV lamp that is supposed to sanitize the seat, but I would think the plastic sleeves are more protective. I could do a short dissertation on the various modern forms of Thomas Crapper’s invention, but I see my gate is starting to board and I’m trying to get out of here before the snow hits.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What I do for a living

Much to my surprise, Agilent Technologies has posted a couple of cool videos on YouTube. This one is my bread-and-butter product
This one is the same actor, and to us, also very funny . These were my lab before they spent mega$$ on the new Center of Excellence (sorry, that's really what they call it). For a greybeard organization, someone has a sense of humor.

Monday, February 5, 2007

The angry lizard

I looked out the kitchen window to see a 6" post lizard clamped on to Tootsie's neck fur. Tootsie was wildly dancing and swatting at it. Now although Tootsie has the chocolate temperature-sensitive pigmentation of a Siamese, the rest of her, the stubby legs, chubby body and especially the dense fur with lush undercoat, arises from a different genetic heritage. I rushed out to rescue the lizard (Tootsie, of course, was in no danger) to find the lizard on the walk, mouth open and hissing in fury. It was morning and still cold, so he wasn't fast enough to be able to go anywhere this time of day. I picked it up with a dishcloth and took it to the geranium patch where my other Kitties rest in peace. The lizard was firmly clamped onto the cloth, no shaking it loose. You have to admire the fight in this one who was not about to take any hassle just because the mammals were bigger than it was.

Now my yard is a Certified Backyard Habitat although it is primarily my front yard we are talking about here.We have many large rocks where the lizards can live under and sun themselves or do pushups, two sources of water, and a mix of native plants and hummingbird-attracting flowers. I bell the cats when required to keep the predation minimal. This lizard eventually got deported to my neighbor's rosemary when we found Tootsie keeping him company later in the afternoon.

Have a good life, Lizard, it will be mating season soon and we need you in the gene pool.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

the airport thing

I am a bit of an odd duck in that I like airports, as opposed to just tolerating them as a way to get there. No, not the security and the lines, of course, but walking around in the mini-malls and seeing how the city views itself. The PHX airport, for example, sells lovely cheap vinyl purses with beads all over that make them very expensive. You can put a lot of bling on a denim jacket and sell it for a couple of hundred bucks there. They have airplanes woven into the carpet, although the walkways connecting the wings are otherwise boring and uninspiring. SFO does great displays of tile, recording devices, scrimshaw - something new all the time. The ELP airport seems much nicer than the city of El Paso. I could spend some time here, and the boots on display are quite elegant.

I like that people are so unselfconscious and one can just sit and stare and no one seems to notice being watched. People eat, drink, talk on the phone or occasionally to each other but don't look at me watch them. People at an office, at the grocery store or other public building are for the most part homogeneous and display behavior appropriate for the place, but it seems to be anything goes at an airport. You see all kinds of dress, hear all kinds of phone conversations that would be embarrassing to hear in any other setting. Because there are so many people and everyone is intent on getting their seat on the big silver bird, it's like no one else is on the floor. It is as close as I will come to being invisible.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

new quilting show

I have only made a few wall hangings, not a real quilt. But my fingers and heart are in the right place, and I look forward to our local quilt show, Pacific International Quilt Festival every year (well, they do have wearable art as well). So I'm happy to tell you to watch for a new quilting program at this link . It should be in March. See you there.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Civilization at the Maple Leaf Lounge

Vancouver has a lovely airport that is reasonably efficient on most days. Prominent Canadian art is displayed amongst the usual airport newsstands, even some great wearable art on display. A 10 foot plush polar bear with long black fake claws is maybe not art, but fun. There’s a Crabtree and Evelyn soap store to drop off the $5 Canadian bill that would otherwise get lost in the dresser. But the airport club lounge that services AirCanada and United is particularly civilized. There are not one but 2 cappuccino machines, they have lovely veggies and fruit as well as the cookies, a big stainless steel refrigerator full of beer, sauvignon blanc and drinks, and at least 20 bottles of assorted spirits in a self service bar. Truly worth coming to the airport early to partake of the free delights. I don’t have to drive for some hours yet! Life is good and I get to sleep in my own bed with my favorite mammals tonight.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Ettiquete for a Scientific Meeting

Just my private rant about public behavior:

For most of you, thanks for your interest and friendliness as you walked past my booth and poster. It really makes me enjoy being here. However

Watching you teeter on your spike heels makes my back hurt.

Turning your badge over so I can't see your company name is tacky. Hey, it's a small meeting and I've already figured out where you work.

Spell out the title to your presentation in plain English. I am not here to translate your alphabet soup.

The stone in the stud in your nose should match the sparklies on the back of your jeans.

If you are President and want to bring your St. Bernard onto the show floor, it's OK with me.

If you are Dr. Big Professor who was on my organizing committee for 5 years at the last company, it's tacky to look through me as if you don't recognize me.

If you are Dr. Big Pharmaceutical who tried to stiff my company with the hotel bill in Chile, yes, I still remember.

And finally, don't hunker down on the floor under your poster and immerse yourself in your computer. It makes your butt-crack show, and inquiring minds DON'T want to know about your hairy back. Not to mention being rude to your readers. Euwww.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

To belabor the point

Except for the arsenic water contamination standard, Gary Trudeau has said it all

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A glimmer of hope

I have to admit to watching the Food Channel during the President's address last night. I thought I could handle it a lot better reading it in the paper this morning. Uh-huh.

I read an interview with the new Chair of the House Science Panel, Bart Gordon (D-TN), this morning (thank you, mid-term elections). You will recall the current administration did away with the oversight committee. Gordon commented that he believes the Republicans were stifling some scientific conclusions and looking to staff committees with people who would go along with those conclusions and discourage any opposition. With a top-down Administration, there is a lot of pressure to make conclusions match the preconceived notions of the administration. Here's hoping Gordon's Panel will be able to pick back up the job of reviewing whether or not the Administration is "cooking the books with science." From what I've been reading for the past few years in Science, it's past time for some oversight.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

How to bake a chicken

The food section in the local rag was especially good today. Of course, anything I read about food sounds good, especially since I am trying to eat less of it these days. Enchiladas at Casa Vicky's, yum. I'll have to try the Pupusas at Donut Field - I didn't know about those. But the recipie for Zuni roast chicken looks to die for. (Sorry cuz, you will have to be satisfied with the bread salad - it looks good too.) I don't eat chicken skin, but do know that the inside tastes better when the skin is great.

After salivating over the thought of the chicken, I re-read the recipie. Serves 2-4. 827 calories. 8 tablespoons of olive oil. 1/2 - 3/4 pound of bread. Surely one could make the warm bread part as directed using olive oil cooking spray, use a whole lot less of them and still have a luscious dinner. Whatever are these people thinking??

Monday, January 8, 2007

The ERA and the Speaker of the House

Some 30-odd years ago, I boarded a chartered bus and rode east all night. In the morning the bus disgorged us and I happened on a group of women forming behind an AWIS (Association of Women in Science) banner. Wearing white, we all got an ERA sash (Equal Rights Amendment) sash bespeaking our unity as we surged down Pennsylvania Avenue toward Capitol Hill. Following an afternoon in the sun listening to women (and maybe even some men) tell us why the amendment was needed, I did manage to find my bus, which carried me back to Nashville. Like so many other good plans, this amendment foundered off into oblivion when it failed to be ratified by the requisite number of states.

My sash hung in my sewing room for years. Did it the ERA matter then, does it matter now that it didn't pass? In 1975, women faculty earned 10% less than their male counterparts ( and for old farts like me, things haven't changed (, last chart at the bottom). I'm in the bottom 10% of my salary grade, I am sorry to admit to you, and the managerial food chain above my head at this fine company is all male.

But our new Speaker of the House of Representatives is now a woman. No matter that she is so liberal I would have trouble voting for her against another moderate Democrat. Would we have gotten here sooner if the ERA had passed 25 years ago? Maybe not. But I have finally asked my manager for a salary adjustment. And I'm cynically betting that in another 30 years, it will still be the same.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Harbingers of spring

The first robins showed up today. They'll be here a couple of months and then go on to wherever they go. While raking up the peach leaves and stones (we have peach curl), I made the happy discovery of a perfect row of volunteer poppies from last year's poppies.

The hummingbirds are actively working the lavendar and my neighbor's bushes have the pink flowers that spur their mating flights.

Oh, and the pansies are here just because they are so lovely this year.
This is why Fritz and I live in California.

It's too early to be doing this

I've been thinking of doing this for days - a place to capture the sprites and cobwebs from the corners of my head. I need a place to put the links I capture, and post the cool things I encounter in Science. As my thoughts gush out my pores with the flash sweats, I'll catch them and transfer them here. So I'll try out this fad while I'm still with it enough to implement the technology.