Saturday, December 25, 2010

best wishes for a lovely holiday

Blog friends, I hope your Big Day is as lovely as mine. We had lots of present, music, and of course, food. Before I go put the roast in the oven, my family wants to wish your family the season's best.

Tootsie, Louis XIV, Fritz and Kitty-Guy hope you enjoy your dinner too.

Tis still the season

Last Christmas was the season to replace the electronics in the living room. It has been a Big Project, entailing much shopping, new cabinet to hold them, and on (and on and on). The last remaining project (aside from the time payments, no interest please) is to hang the speakers on the wall. This started last spring by placing the speakers on 4 x 4 boards and getting electronic testing equipment to ascertain the most correct placement. Shortly after, I had dinner for my friends, and was peppered with concern that there might be structural damage in my living room. There is still much to ponder, so no, the speakers haven't made it to the wall yet. Well, friends, we again had dinner this week to celebrate my Mom's arrival. There was much admiration of the beautiful Douglass fir and the festive decorations. But wait, one friend said, we aren't finished here. There is one more touch needed.
Do you really think he hasn't noticed???

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tis the season

We are almost ready. Mom arrives tomorrow. Meanwhile, there are lots of new boxes and places to explore.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Louie is snoozing in my lap

I'm home again, for a few days at least. Louie is doing very well, checked in at the vet's yesterday; he gained back a half pound in the last week. He gets to eat KITTY FOOD for a little while to fatten him back up. What a treat that is! Best we can figure it may have been a spider bite followed by an infection, but he is mostly OK now.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Louie is home again

Three years ago my neighbor called: my vet has a lovely bluepoint male looking for a home. His human had died; the daughter's cat was spraying the walls in protest. Daughter took the cat to the vet to have him euthanized as she could not keep him. Buster arrived with a white crocheted blankie and a hairbrush. After some consideration (Buster is a dog's name) and with no disrespect to his late human, we christened the cat Louis XIV in light of the fact he was much luckier than his namesake.
Louie was punky over the weekend, but perked up some on Sunday. By Monday morning he was one sick kitty and seriously dehydrated, so I checked him into the vet's and started calling every 4 hours for updates. He's home again, I hear (I am not). No clue what was wrong, but he is doing much better. It's only money, after all, and I will feel much better when I can get him to purr for me again.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A stash is a good thing to own

Do you have piles of stuff for projects waiting for you to attend to them? On my J & P Coats oak spool chest are folded pieces of fabric and 2 hanks of yarn just waiting for the right pattern to get pinned to them. I was really bored yesterday, so I dug around and found the yellow silk I had dyed black, so that it turned burgundy (go figure, but that is what happens when you dye things, it can be a real surprise). I have a great Loes Hinse blouse pattern that made up spectacularly, so today I get to cut it out and swing by Fabrics R Us and pick up buttons. Life's good when one gets to start a new project, even a little one.

Friday, November 19, 2010


My friend of 10 years is leaving the company today. Due to an injury, she can't walk the campuses where she does her daily sales rounds. I can't believe there wasn't a desk job for her somewhere for a few months. At breakfast this morning, a number of us expressed the sentiment that we feel like we are married to the company, but the company doesn't feel a similar attachment to us. It's all, what have you done for me lately? Ah, well, life here goes on, but I am sad.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I lost an old friend yesterday

I only had on one gold hoop erring last night when I undressed. Sigh, I am so sorry to have lost it. They are my faves, and probably 25 years ago I bought them, one of the few jewelry pieces I have ever bought for myself. I must have pulled it out of my ear with my radio headset, when I pulled the headset off my head in the garden with my knee. I thought I would find it in the garden, but it wasn't laying around where I could see it. Awwww.

Friday, November 12, 2010

I'm eating chocolate for breakfast

and feeling very smug about it. We all knew chocolate, especially dark chocolate, is good for you, right? Now we have some documentation (go here ) Turns out a new study, which I unfortunately can't access as I don't subscribe to that journal, says that dark chocolate can lower your blood pressure. Yup.

There is a small peptide hormone called angiotensin that causes arteries to constrict. That raises your blood pressure, and it's the normal way blood pressure is regulated. Too much angiotensin, too high pressure. Blood pressure medications mostly work by inhibiting an enzyme that converts the precursor to angiotensin to an active form. So does chocolate, and it can lower blood pressure. Probably great for your cardiac health in general.

So don't be shy, pass the chocolate.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I kinda miss Ma Bell

I remember when I turned 13 and I came home from school one day and the telephone rang. The reason I remember it is that when I left for school there was no telephone, so I had to hunt around to find the ringing. My folks said that now that I was a teenager, we should have a phone. I presume while I was at school the nice man came to the house, hooked everything up, and left when it worked, because that was how things were done when I was a girl.

Fast forward a half a century. My company sent a new IP phone to the house in a box. It doesn't plug into the phone jack on the wall any more, it uses a wireless Internet connection with a little antennae on a box. Nor is there a nice man to come to install it. There were instructions sent to my computer from the IT people on how to get the Internet and the phone to communicate. Some place during the instruction list, I got derailed and several phone calls later (from the old phone still plugged in the wall), I got it straightened out. There were two part numbers for a wireless or a corded headset, so I ordered one. It came. It had a USB connector, not a phone jack. My new phone had a phone jack. Call Plantronics, get the right part number. Out with the old box, in with the new. Get the next headset assembled and plugged in. No dial tone on the hand set. No dial tone on the head set. Speaker phone worked. More calls on the speaker phone. Yep, the directions did say you needed to adjust the little dial on the side, but I missed them. Hand set cord was loose, got that fixed too.

Several hours, at least, of troubleshooting later, every thing works. It's all magic any more. There is a directory on there, but I can't figure out what it wants for a password nor how to set one. That's OK. Shortly everyone I want to talk to will have called me or I will have called them, and I can access those numbers.

Years ago my MIL had Alzheimer's and eventually she forgot how to use the telephone. Well, I am not there yet, I can still use the @#$! phone, even if I couldn't hook it up. Sigh. Magic.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

It was the BIGGEST party I have ever seen

Yep, I played hooky yesterday. Well, sure, just how often do the Giants win the World Series? G & I went to the Giants parade with (literally) about a million of my closest friends. I had no idea there were so many Giants tee-shirts and jerseys in the bay area, and they all showed up to see the parade and rally in front of City Hall. Their photos are better than mine, so see the link It was the biggest crowd estimated to ever convene in downtown, and I believe it, because there was literally no more room left for more people to stand. It was a happy, smiling, friendly crowd, and everyone had a good time cheering and yelling. And there were a lot of champagne bottles on the street as we all cleared out. Happy, happy.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Why the Giants won the Pennent

We settled down to watch the pre-game hoopla on the TV last night, and G reminded me I had not washed his Giants tee shirt. I had my jersey on, of course, but since I didn't get anything on it the night before, I could still wear it again. Black tee shirts are apparently not so resilient, so I jumped up and dumped a mixed load of clothes in the washer. At the end of the second inning I checked the things in the dryer, and it was just barely damp. I told G he could put it on if he wanted to, but he said if it wasn't dry it wouldn't work, and I could look it up, it was true. So sure enough, as G walked into the living room in the top of the 3rd inning with the Giants at bat, pulling the shirt down over his belly, there went a line drive into left field. It was the start of a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It's easy to make friends when you give them $$$

Yesterday was a VERY BIG DEAL. About 40 people turned out to celebrate the University of California, Davis-Agilent collaborations. We had Deans and Presidents and 3 layers of managers there (and my boss wasn't even there) and about a dozen Agilent poeple who touch the project in some way. G decided to tag along as a tire-kicker, being an alumnus and all. The new Robert Mondavi Center for food and wine and brewing sciences is really beautiful. It has a platinum star energy rating, with beautiful sky-lights and windows and natural lighting. The dairy and food processing areas are still getting set up. We had speeches and introductions and tours and goodie bags and a buffet lunch. Paul had a new suit (I had never seen him in a tie, so it was a good thing to have a photographer to document same) and was on good behaviour, aside from promising the store to some of the faculty. In the yet-unused dairy processing room were six large Agilent cartons of equipment (the size of a king sized bed and about 3-4 x that high) waiting to be unpacked and installed. This wasn't even for my project, but a separate grant for an instrument lab to be run by two of the nicest women investigators.
For lunch, we moved to the California Animal Health and Food Safety facility, which is where my project is running. I'll be working for the next 2 years on a new method to rapidly identify bacterial contamination in food. "Rapid" in food safety parlance means faster than days or weeks to pin a name on the bad stuff causing a food poisoning epidemic. We will be using equipment that microbiologists have never touched to replace the petri dishes that are now used to culture up the bugs. Molecular methods are the "in" way to go.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I like to visit

but I am glad I don't work here. My company bought their company a few years ago. There is a lot of pressure for this site to become profitable. The people are nice, friendly, helping me to understand the work. Several of them will take me to dinner shortly (friendly, but they also get a free dinner out of it). The management, not so much. We are all under orders to communicate ONLY with G, and he will approve any communications. He doesn't want us to distract them from his agenda. I'm not thinking this will be helpful in actually managing my collaboration where I want to know something.

On the other hand, it is a stunningly beautiful drive from the hotel to the site, gorgeous as only a seaside road in Southern California can be. Too bad I am sitting in a cube while I tell you about it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

tomorrow will be a good day

Tomorrow, I have my last physical therapy appointment for my poor broken, stitched-together shoulder. Tomorrow, I go back to the doctor for an x-ray and a checkup. I hope I will then be able to lift something larger than a cup of coffee. I have weeds to pull and holes to dig, and sitting in the chair ain't gittin' 'er done. So I was discussing with G the list of things I need to ask the doctor if/when I can do. The doctor is an Asian, 35-ish Type A personality, very sharp as you would expect for a sports med kind of guy. G said to ask him when I can use the trapeze in the bedroom and see what he says to THAT.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

a little story

My life has been hijacked when my computer hard drive died. I have to reload all my software, so while that is going on, I can tell you a funny story. The people down the street moved last weekend. He had been out of work for a year, so the street was happy for him, the two kids, the dog and the mom that he found a new contract as principal of an elementary school.

After they moved out, the for sale sign went up and there was an open house Sunday. As neighbors will do, we all went in to check out the place. Well, it was FILTHY. Nasty is not too strong an adverb. Several of us gathered in Sue's driveway to cluck over the state of the interior. Jan said that when the mom was at her house, she said she didn't cook and she didn't clean. Without batting an eye, her husband said to the deeply religious mom, "I hope you are a good screw."

I guess in this case cleanliness takes a very distant back seat to godliness.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

a little military history

The last time I worked at our factory in Waldbron Germany we spent a week in Austria on vacation. On a day trip to Graz we visited the regional armory, home to 300,000 items of Baroque weaponry. The valley leading to central Austria was often assaulted by the Turks and Hungarians, so a kind of renta-armor collection was put together and sent on the road when the invaders threatened. I began to understand the enormous influence of the geography on the historical events.

This year we ventured a bit further east, on the way stopping at Berchtesgaden, Germany. We had toured the Eagle's Nest on a previous trip, but came back to look through the Holocaust Museum that has been constructed at the foot of the mountain. There is much documentation about how Hitler's regime manipulated society to make his ethnic cleansing program acceptable.
While we were in Hungary, we ended up in Budapest for a day. Now Hungary is a place with a lot of consonants in the language and a lot of 0's in the currency. Compared to Austria, it is noticeably much less prosperous. Buda is up on a big hill overlooking the Pest across the Danube - very defensible piece of land (until the last time). Shown is the funicular up the hill, and Pest across the river. There are 3 military museums in the area, a Holocaust museum, one devoted to the terrors of the Nazi and Communist regimes, and we went to the Military History museum. Hungarians are very proud of their militaristic culture - the collection of uniforms was fantastic, their war recruitment posters look like ours without Uncle Sam - but it sure is hard on a people who were on the losing end of the last century worth of wars.

Hungary is volcanically active, and there were a number of hills with ruins on the top. It looks to me like they have been needing those defenses since the first settlers could roll the rocks up the hills.
Now I am a lucky woman who has grown up in a country that has had few wars, at least not in the parts of the US where I have mostly lived. But I've been through the battlefields and cemeteries rolling across the hills of the east, and the horror has not diminished with the decades of stillness since the battles ceased. Austrians tend their cemeteries meticulously and plant colorful flowers to honor their dead. Every little churchyard we visited had multiple graves from the same family from both wars last century.
I don't know how to respond when men march in and burn your livestock and food. A country has to do what it has to do, but I don't want any part of it. Not quite what I expected to bring home from vacation.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Night of the Living Dead

That will be me, every night, after tomorrow. After chatting up the doc, I came home and did some research on allografts. I knew they did that, but had never needed to know up front and personal much more about it. I've got a few more questions I can't quite find the answer to, but OK, I guess so.

Enough of sitting here in front of the screen, there's peaches that need to be turned into jam. Bwaa-haa-haaa!

home again

I had a lovely weekend (not). I spent most of it on a plane, flying to and from Florida (not easy from here), spending a night in a lovely resort on St. Pete's Beach. For at least a half an hour I got to walk in the water. Kind of an expensive way to get a hotel room, yes? Turns out almost 2 weeks ago I fell on my shoulder. Saturday, finally, the swelling went down I could see that my shoulders were now crooked. Sunday I managed to get the x-rays which show not only is my clavicle broken, it is completely moved apart and it just ain't gonna heal the way it is. So I get to navigate the medical system here and see what is to be done. I'm thinking I am not going to like the news. Sigh. I guess I better go wash the sea breeze out of my hair.

Monday, July 12, 2010

32 jars of jam on the wall, 32 jars of jam

The plums and 'cots have been fab this year, thanks to all the rain. In addition to 2 batches of apricot jam, 1 batch of plum jam, a batch of plum sauce with a new, improved recipe (thanks, Glen), feeding the neighbors, the co-workers, the turkeys and deer, I took almost 200 pounds of them to the local food pantry. Yum, all around!

Monday, June 28, 2010

the more things change . . .

So I am in a huge sales meeting this week, bigger and better than ever since we bought another company. I am sitting in a room with 675 of my closest work friends gathered at the LAX Westin, and take a moment to look around. The other company has a very similar demographic, very Caucasian, graying, and about a third female. My CEO brings his staff on stage, and they sit in a long line with microphones to answer questions. There they are, 10 middle-aged graying white guys and 2 women. Uh-huh. No Comment.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Is it a requirement in Anchorage for a business permit?

It is stunningly beautiful here, just like all the photos. Since it is May, it is only cool, not frigid (although the wind can bite). After I took my first walk around town and got back, I realized that every store is named after an animal, or has an animal, or both. In fact, the best restaurant I ate at was named Orso, although it did not have a bear out front. So, here are the best of the bears.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

necessities in Fairbanks AK

I have been at a fish congress in Anchorage AK this week. The bennies of company-sponsored travel are many. I have made a lot of friends and had interesting conversations all week long. Now Fairbanks, the capitol, is a small town. There is not a lot of snow melt, there is not a lot of municipal water. Evidently there is not water mains to much of the town, so one has to have it trucked in at $0.09 a gallon, store it in tanks with heat wrappers, and bring it into the house with a pump. This makes indoor plumbing a luxury, so many people have outhouses. -40F. Think about it for a few minutes. The 6" foam seat gets hung on the wall so it doesn't freeze to the platform. Nothing decomposes, so you get it pumped out every other year. Everything freezes where it lands, so there is a frozen cone of waste to deal with on a daily basis once there is a small accumulation. I hear they keep big sticks in the buildings. Now I have used outhouses at several relatives' places when I was a kid, and I didn't much care for it then. In Missouri. Where it doesn't get below -15F, and I was probably not even there, then. Count your blessings, anyone?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

It was SO 20th Century

I was in a lab today that tests fish for import. They test a LOT of fish, lots of it wild caught salmon from Alaska, but also US caught fish that is exported for processing and then imported again. The brick building on a hill in Seattle is 40 years old, they said (used to be a dry cleaners) and I'll bet not too long thereafter this lab was founded. I mean, I would have been right at home here in my summer jobs during college. Not too much equipment was much newer than that - well, this gas chromatograph was one of the first Hewlett-Packard (now Agilent) ever made. Will you look at this plug?
Well, I made a miscalculation when I signed up this lab - or at least when I talked to them about what lab equipment they did or did not have. For a number of reasons, no lab work this trip. We hauled out the supply catalogs and looked at pictures, went over the procedures and what are used to do them (the pictures again) and made sure to spell out the basic definitions, which may or may not have been vaguely familiar to them. They made out the shopping list; I get to go scrounge through the labs at the factory and see what kind of equipment I can scrounge for them, and get the rest of the equipment that we make sent to them. This will be a tall order, bringing labs like this one from brute-force analytical methods that were developed a half-century ago to 21st century molecular techniques. On the other hand, the ladies took me to a most excellent (and inexpensive) Japanese restaurant for lunch. Glad I like the food here, looks like I will be back!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Back when I was a chemistry professor, I put together a very popular lecture that explained the basics of cloning and amplifying a gene. It was new and hot then, scientists had just figured out how to get humanized insulin - before that they took pig pancreas from slaughterhouse and made it that way. I always got to end that lecture by telling the kids, now you have made your protein, get your $$ and take it to the bank.

Well, now everybody, even high school kids, can start with a primer (a piece of DNA that binds to your gene and says Start Here) and and make zillions of copies of any gene of interest from just about any kind of critter. So these folks at the University of Guelph have taken a bottle of Mescal, the tequila with the worm in the bottle, and amplified up the DNA of the worm from the liquor (not from the worm). If you would see that it takes us 2 hours to get a little speck of fish ready to do the amplification, this would impress you too. This would make a great change in our protocol - instead of a fancy kit and a lot of washes and fussing, just pour a shot of vodka (and maybe a shot into a glass for you - oops! no beverages in the lab please), put in your fin clip, and get the DNA from the alcohol. Woo-Hoo!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Millions of women can't be wrong

Chocolate is good for you. Really. Those who ate half a bar a week had lower blood pressure, and 39% lower risk of strokes and heart attacks.
Dark chocolate is probably more effective. Goodie, I was hoping there would be a better way than just exercising more to get my blood pressure down. Hee!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sustainable Seafood

Trader Joe's announced last week that by the end of 2012 all of its seafood will originate from only sustainable sources. It joins such stores as Safeway, Whole Foods, Target, Aldi's and Wal-Mart (they are not all bad). Among other things, that means Trader Joe's has or will stop selling Chilean Seabass, Atlantic Cod, imported Mahi Mahi, Orange Roughy, farmed Tilapia, farmed Salmon, and Tuna EXCEPT Albacore and Skipjack. Add the free app from Seattle Aquarium to your iPhone so YOU know how to buy fish that are certified as sustainable to the Marine Stewardship Council.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Alaska, here I come!

I get to take a trip to Anchorage in May to deliver a fish paper. Woo-Hoo! Never been up there, about time. I will go a day early and take a day cruise around Kenai Fjord Bay to see the birds and other wildlife. So when I saw an article in Science about a huge gold and copper deposit a bit north of Bristol Bay, I looked through it with great interest. It is the usual environment vs financial interest story, with a few twists. A number of major jewelers from Tiffany to Walmart have sworn never to buy gold from Pebble Mine, should it materialize. 40 million salmon who live in the various habitats there is big $$ to the state's fishing industry, but then, so is an estimated 33 billion kg copper, 2.9 billion kg of gold and 2.2 billion kg of molybdenum big $$ to the state's mining industry. The potential conflict involves using water from the various rivers to scrub the low grade ore. Some evidence suggests that aqueous copper, at concentrations below the legal "pollutant" level, may interfere with the way salmon navigate. Not being able to swim up river means the salmon won't spawn and make more salmon. So this will be a real Hobson's choice for Alaskans, who love their fishing and mining industries equally.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Getty Center

Well, I am back in the office chair after a much needed break for a little vacation. On the way home we swung by LA (and the traffic is just as bad as I hear it is) and drove (and drove and drove) across town so we could go to the new Getty Center the next day. I had been to the Getty Villa near Malibu some years ago, and had always wanted to visit the new museum. Unfortunately for you, I could not really find any good images of the spectacularly beautiful travertine buildings, so go here and take my word for it We took the architecture tour and the garden tour. The 5-6 buildings and plazas were built as a collection on a wonderful mountain top site, and the site is well reflected in the building design. The gardens were designed as a sculpture to accent the architecture. I can't really give it justice. The museum is worth putting on your bucket list and all that traffic to visit. We have to go back. Really.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

cool blog to visit

Science has started a new series looking at blogs. The winner of the Science Prize for Online Resources in Education is On the right most panel is a Most Popular heading. Go to the Cell Size & scale and open it. You have to drag the tab on the bar, then you can scroll down to smaller and smaller stuff. Cool!

One of the scientific tools I use a lot in my job is electrophoresis. Under Virtual Labs on the left is a gel electrophoresis box. Run the demo. It's fun. I actually use this technique in an automated instrument with a disposable chip using microfluidics, but the demo is fun. I could waste a lot of time playing with this site.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge

I was in Pascagoula MS a few weeks back, which entailed a nice drive across the coast from New Orleans. After leaving my appointment, I was lured off the highway by a sign. Who knew there needed to be a refuge for them? Sandhill cranes live on wet savannas that are not good for much else - or wasn't until timber companies began buying up land in the '50's to plant pines. By 1973 with the passage of the Endangered Species act, there were less than 40 cranes, and this was the first refuge established under that law. So did I get to see a crane? Not a live one, just the stuffed ones in the exhibit. Cranes lay eggs days apart, and the first hatched chick usually kills any siblings. Now, the biologists monitor the nests and just leave one egg to hatch. The others are taken to form a captive breeding flock. For the past 30 years, offspring have been released so that there are now about 100 birds in the wild and 25 breeding pairs. Amazing. So the next time you happen to pass through Gautier MS, stop at the visitors center, check out the exhibit, and leave the nice folks there a few bucks.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

welcome (back) to the deep South

Yesterday I got to drive from Birmingham to Auburn. Not sure I have been in this part of the state before, which is atnthe western edge of the ridge-and-valley belt that extends from the Appalachians. Yep, I can tell I am back in the south because: Spanish moss is festooned from every vertical branch; the speed limit signs are only suggestions; the drinks tables have tall carboys labeled Sweet and Unsweet; the houses are made of brick; you still see teased and bouffant hairdos; men wear baseball caps to eat in nice restaurants; the valet, greeter and waiter all called me ma'am multiple times; and everyone (EVERY SINGLE ONE, I looked around carefully to be sure) in the restaurant was of Caucasian descent.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Every project has a beginning, full of excitement and happy thoughts. The middle may last awhile, depending on how much yard work there is to do. But the Olympics have provided the excuse to finsh my beaded cuff. There seems to be more yard work than usual this spring, but as long as I get to the weeds before they set seed, I guess that is all that matters. Actually that is a maybe at the moment, but it is no fun to sit on cold damp earth when the sun is not shining. Much more fun to sit at the ott lamp in the rocker in front of the TV. It is not a great photo, but here is the finished project.

Friday, February 12, 2010

the girls showed up

We have a flock of male turkeys that live in the hills above the house. I shamelessly support them with cracked corn from the feed store, even though the wildlife biologists tell us that encourages the coyotes to come down from the hills. Since I haven't seen the coyotes and didn't even hear them this winter, I have discounted that and continue to feed all the birds that come to my property. The females seem to live on the other side of the hill, to the north of here. A few weeks ago a few females showed up and joined the flock. They are smaller and not as colorful. How fun it would be if there were chicks around this spring!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sieving 101

I pretty much keep up with Science, which arrives weekly. I'll confess I don't read many of the research articles, but since the first 75 pages are news and timely summaries, I can at least keep up on a wide range of biology, chemistry and medical news. When I get behind, the issues lay in a stack on my desk until I have a plane trip, and Science makes great airplane reading. So the 2 October issue went with me last week, and in honor of the year of Darwin, this issue had 11 articles and some editorials describing the paleobiology of Ardipithecus ramidus and other early hominids. Discovered in 1994, the articles described what it is like to hunt for fossils, every bucket of dirt shaken through sieves and each piece inspected by hand so as not to miss a fragment, how to compare bones from different species. I can't give you a link as the articles on-line are by subscription, but I can pull down pdf's or lend you my copy if you are interested. I plan to re-read this issue and maybe read an intro anthropology book, I learned so much. The issue also contains 2 pages of thumb-nail photos of the 50-odd authors of these articles, a first, I believe.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Busman's half-holiday

The meeting with the FDA crew went very well today, and I got complements on my presentation from the marketing and product managers who oversaw the work on which it was based. We had a lovely lunch with the fish toxicologist (who is helping to build a fish library complete with fish identified by a taxonomist and the DNA sequences with the Smithsonian) and ocean scientist with whom we will be working. J asked me how I planned to spend the afternoon, and I said in my room working. Why don't I take the Metro to the Mall and go to the oceanographic exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History? Because I have never been on the Metro. Easy, he said, you leave your car in the FDA lot, get on the green line, transfer to the blue line and get off at the Smithsonian station. Well, it did sound like more fun than staring at beige wallpaper and a computer screen, so off I went.

No problem, even for me who once took a trolley north trying to get to the Mexican border from San Diego. So I gaped at the whale skeleton, the very cool illuminated big (BIG!) globe with the various currents and oceanographic features playing out on the surface (how did they DO that) and eventually wandered over to the irresistible fossils. I decided to look for a fish book in the museum store, and the nice man with the cane struck up a conversation with me. He works with the ithicologists, so we discussed the research with the FDA and he recommended a book for my further education (Barnes and Noble, cheap, he says).

So what I have learned (twice!) this week is when you have lunch with fish scientists, someone is bound to order fish, look over the menu item on the plate, and speculate on whether it is really the species the menu says. I'm not there yet, guess I had better order the book.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Who Dat!

I left New Orleans this morning. I stayed out by the airport and drove over to Pascagoula MS and back (the speed limit is 70, meaning the speed limit is 70 in the slow lane, the other ones are even faster). It was a sunny and mild, pleasant day. Although southern Louisiana is always in a good mood this time of year, festooned with purple and yellow Mardi Gras decorations, this year, everyone is estastic. The Saints, of course. Fleur-de-lis tumbled over themselves on signs, GO SAINTS was plastered on anything that would accept a sticker, and more cars than not were flying 2 SAINTS flags attached to the roof. All the bars were running playoff re-runs from 2 weeks ago. WHO DAT could be heard literally in every dining room, bar, corridor, and WHO DAT was kind of a rumble at the airport. The local news was almost exclusively about the Saints, photo ops abounded in Miami, and these big hulking brutes in business suits proclaimed it was just another business trip. Right.

I wish them well. When I lived in Louisiana we called them the Ain'ts, so it has been a long time coming.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A feast and a beer for $15

I am in Kenner LA, a working class neighborhood near the New Orleans Airport. I spied a Fish place while I was trying to get to my hotel, so I went there for dinner. Perfect! A long bar and grill built cheaply with paneling and linoleum, and the years have been hard on it. I knew I was in for a treat when I saw the long thin baskets of packets of crackers neatly lined up, and the alligator wooden paper towel holders on the tables. Since it was pretty full, I sat at the bar, just down from where two dudes were shucking oysters. The whole time I ate my dinner, they shucked oysters. The trays of oysters kept riding past my back to the other diners. I had blackened catfish with tender little shrimps in a heavy tomato sauce with probably a whole bell pepper chopped up in it, over a mound of rice. Alligator was on the menu, and I could smell when they fried it. I think I will go back tomorrow night and try the gumbo - I saw a lot of that as well. Yum!

Friday, January 22, 2010

DNA Barcoding

I tend to think that what I do is pretty hot science. Well, Science Friday on NPR thinks so too! Go here to see that even a high school kid can do this!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

earthquake drill

original post deleted due to spam comment. ugh!
Well, I am awake now. A 4.1 earthquake is not much as these things go, but when it is a few miles due east of the house, it does get your attention So I jumped out of my chair to get out from under my A/V receiver which sits smack over my computer. About the time I got to the hall, it quit shaking. I looked out the back window to see Fritz the cat twisted in a quarter turn, glaring into the house at me. It was, of course, my fault, as are all the loud human disturbances to his quiet universe. Nothing seems to have fallen, although I did hear stuff moving during the shaking. After inventorying all of the various cracks, we see the concrete next to the side of the house has moved another 1/2"away from the foundation, there are several new cracks, and all the existing ones are now bigger. But the important stuff, the retaining walls, all look to be the same as before. Yay!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Saturday Glen decided my Christmas present should instead be a wine-tasting course at Culinary Institute of America. The GrayStone building was built in 1889 as a cooperative winery for Behringer and some of the other locals in Napa. CIA has gutted the interior, put up earthquake reinforcements and is installing state of the art teaching kitchens. One of the stone outbuildings has been retrofitted to have a tasting lab, much like the one I saw in the UC Davis new food building. Each station has a chair, a flat workspace, a recessed light panel, a bitty sink, and a shelf above the table that is tiled with about 18 3" tiles that serve as a grid for, in this case, wine glasses. Very clever. Lots of flat screen monitors and white boards that slide around.

I kind of know the vocabulary of tasting wine, but have never been very organized about it except to read tasting notes at whatever winery I was visiting. Turns out there IS an organized way to do this and it is called the wine aroma wheel. This very useful concept will probably help me a lot in the future.

It was supposed to be a 2 hour course, but in this case, ran 3 hours, which of course no one complained about. We started with a single wine, and looked, smelled, described, and then tasted and described. I realized if my wine were in a black cup, I could not tell by smell alone what color, much less, what grape I had. Smelling is hard! Then after the break we had 4 pairs of wines to compare. We thought about old world (Europe) vs new world (anywhere else) origin, a single grape fermented in very different styles, two different grapes fermented in the same style, dry or not dry, oaked or not oaked, and terroir. The pairs were carefully selected to point out one or two such characteristics. We both learned a lot, but I can tell you by the end of the day, when we stopped at Franciscan Brothers, where we have a membership, I couldn't tell anything apart any more. So, along with not growing up to be President, I guess I won't grow up to be a sommelier either.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Jury Duty - a long tale made shorter

I obediently showed up for jury duty when my group was called, and 90 of us were told to report to the trial of a young gentleman of mixed heritage who was being tried for murder after the dude shot up a house in gang-related activity. I decided 6-8 weeks off the job would do my short-term job performance no favor and decided to see if I could get out of it. Yes, I know, I am a civic shirker, and so be it.

So when my turn came I whined to the judge and was told, no, I had to report for seating. I asked if I could ask a question. Did I have to remain in 1-hour proximity between now and whenever they might get around to starting juror questioning? Can't get on an airplane or even make any customer visits? Judge called counsel up to his bench and after a short discussion, he said counsel decided I could leave. My best guess is after they heard what I did, neither of them would seat me in any case. Glad I found that out without having to wait a couple of weeks. OK, back to work.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

a replacement for those bad-boy trans fatty acids

Hydrogenated vegetable oil. Crisco. It was supposed to be so much better for you than lard, remember? Stable shelf life, takes a long time to turn rancid (oxidized), tasty in baked and fried foods. Then the cardiologists told us that trans fatty acids raise the bad cholesterol and lower the good cholesterol, thus increasing risk for coronary heart disease. Four years ago the FDA mandated labeling trans fatty acid content on food packaging, and the Dietary Advisory recommendations are less than 1% of total fat intake. This caused a mad scramble in the food industry to reformulate recipes, and I am still carefully reading labels to avoid foods on the market that still contain trans fatty acids.

So, no more hydrogenation of corn oil. Leaving those double bonds in place on the oil gives a reactive bond to be attacked by oxygen, causing rancidity. How now to extend shelf life of foods that contain vegetable oils?

Turns out some bright assistant professor has found that a nanoparticle starchlike substance that comes from sweet corn can be used to emulsify oils and act as a barrier to oxidation. It's early research, but a nice natural product like sweet corn to extend shelf life will be a blockbuster patent. for more chemistry speak.