Friday, May 30, 2008

Pulp Parenting

Thing 1 is on the girls Lacrosse travel team for our town. I knew nothing about Lacrosse when she first expressed interest in the sport; I thought it was something that rich kids who went to elite prep schools played. That may, in fact, be true. But the town we live in has a Lacrosse program, for girls and boys, and there are no tryouts - everyone who wants to play gets to play. She played last year, and it was all fun and games, but this year, she seems to be much more serious about the whole thing.

So at her last game, when the referee told her she would have to remove her fisherman's bracelet that she had been wearing since last year's summer camp (sleep-away edition) she flipped out. On the one hand, her team was counting on her - they only had just enough players that day. On the other hand, she thought something magical was going to happen if she kept that bracelet on long enough. She also really believed that the bracelet could not be removed intact (since it had been shrunk to fit snugly on her wrist, and hadn't been removed for, like, almost a whole year). But she wasn't counting on Mama MacGyver to be able to quickly unravel it just enough to loosen and slip over the hand, just in time to start the game.

I saw her look at her rope-free wrist, and I knew - this is not going to go well. She was, as we say in our family, out on the ledge, and she was going to need a lot of help to get down. Suddenly, a movie scene popped into my head, and I said, "Come on, now. Let's be like Fonzie. What's Fonzie like?"

Now before you send social services over to my house, my kids have never watched Pulp Fiction. But I have. Lot's of times. So I guess I was just a little bit on the ledge myself, but I had her attention, so I ran with it.

"Who's Fonzie?" she asked. So I told her about Happy Days, which I remember watching as a child, and Fonzie, who was always my favorite character, even before Pulp Fiction came out. I told her how all the girls would get all swoony when Fonzie came around and how he would say "aaay!" and how he was so COOL. And pretty soon, Thing 1 calmed down. We gave each other one more double thumbs-up and said "aaay!" right before she donned her goggles and went into the game.

So, I accomplished the objective - talk child down from ledge, allow normal life to continue with minimal disruption. I'm not sure how she will feel if, when she gets older, she sees that movie and puts two and two together, but I think Jules would have been proud.

I just hope I never have to quote Ezekiel 25:17...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Two Weeks...

For two weeks, now, I haven't been able to get much of anything done in the lab because my camera, the most important (and expensive) piece of equipment I use on a regular basis BROKE! And I can't fix it.

Funny thing is, I've spent much of the past two weeks trying to convince the representative from the manufacturer that the thing actually is broken. He's been to the lab twice. The first was two weeks ago Friday in an heroic instant response to a somewhat frantic phone call from yours truly. I had already turned the thing off after verifying that it was, indeed, not working, and that I was not just doing something dumb like changing one of the software settings, or having some switch or toggle in the wrong position. He re-installed the drivers, installed a nice diagnostic program, and, lo and behold, it worked. Too bad my experiment samples were now past their sell-by dates.

The next week, other people use the camera without event, and we think everything is fine. But we order a new computer to run it, just in case that's the issue. Then, halfway through the week, the computer starts crashing every ten minutes. Damn! And the original mode of camera failure repeats. Shit! But wait, there's a spare that was going to be used for a new set-up which arrived early and is just sitting in the box. Yay! But even if the computer would cooperate, it doesn't have the right kind of slot for the new frame-grabber card. Damn! And the computer we ordered is not going to arrive for two weeks. Fuck! Shit! Damn!

Since it's unacceptable to have the set-up down for two weeks, we go out and buy a computer and so we can get this thing up and running with the spare. But we run smack into another problem, and its name is Vista.

It takes a few days this time to schedule a time for the rep to stop by. Meanwhile, we finally get the new computer up and running and driving the new camera, just in time to have to set up the old camera again, so he can look at it. When he turns everything on, it works just fine. He starts asking me about all sorts of possible ways that some other part of the set-up is making it appear that the camera is not working - things that only a novice would not notice. As he leaves, he says that we should try to take a picture if the camera fails again, so that the repair people can have some information to try and figure out what's wrong. IF it fails again.

Great. So I just have to soldier on and hope that I don't lose another set of samples IF the camera fails again. Okay, so be it. But as I walk in the door on Thursday morning, everyone is in a tizzy - another camera on a different set-up has failed overnight, in an identical manner to my own. And there is saved evidence! We figure out exactly how to replicate the failure. Hooray! Maybe we can finally get this fixed. But the failure is not reproducible on my camera under the same conditions. Boo! We send the data to the rep, and wait for a response.

Friday morning rolls around again. I discover workmen in the room where I do my experiments, doing some plumbing work. We were supposed to be notified when this was scheduled, but they started in the middle of the night without telling anybody. We had been told that, once the work started, it would take two weeks. I'm about to wring somebody's neck, or shoot myself in the head with a pipette tip ejector, but the workmen tell us they will be done by lunch time. Amazingly, they stay on schedule, and even vacuum up all the mess before they go. Wow! Maybe things are finally turning around!

After lunch, I get an email from the rep - turns out there is a hardware issue that is known to the manufacturer, and both cameras must be sent in for repairs. Take a guess how long the turn-around time is.

A Gordian Knot

We needed a new computer in a hurry last week, to replace the one that has been faithfully driving my camera for a year, but just couldn't seem to go on running stably for another day. Our software and drivers don't run on Vista, of course. But I can't find anyplace that stocks a new machine that has, simultaneously, a PCI-E slot, room for two hard drives, and XP loaded. That's okay; we can make do with two out of three. We got a Dell with all the slots and bays, but loaded with Vista, and bought a copy of XP.

Of course, we had no idea that we had just picked up a Gordian Knot of the computer world. Apparently, one cannot install XP "over" Vista. One must do a "clean" install after formatting the hard drive. But Vista will not let one format the hard drive. One must boot up from a disk, reformat in a DOS environment, and install the operating system from there. After finding all the drivers from the individual component manufacturer's websites, of course, since, for anything new, they won't be on the XP install disk. And Dell only maintains a list of Vista drivers on their website. At least this is what the guys from our computer support department told me after working on this for two days. I didn't get as far as booting from a disk.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mothers' Day

This is a day to celebrate mothers.

The woman who gave birth to me was a truly amazing person, and those who met her either loved her or hated her, but they never forgot her. She was incredibly bubbly, opinionated, and loud. When she arrived to pick me up from ballet class, I always heard her laugh before I saw her, much to my chagrin when I was a very quiet and awkward teenager. She was also a person who was never able to really chart her own course. When she was young, she was an artist, musician, and dancer. Her paintings hung in many of the rooms in the house I grew up in, she talked passionately about her favorite composer (Rachmaninoff), and loved to reminisce about how, at 5'10" she always had to "be the boy" when she danced. Though 5'4" is a slight exaggeration of my height, I somehow inherited her scale of movement, and choreographers liked to pair me with very tall men because it was interesting to see such a small girl keep up. Though I'm not much of a musician myself, I can be moved to tears by music, just like my mother. I also had access to every kind of arts and crafts supplies, and was left to my own devices to use them as I saw fit, which I did in the extreme.

However, my mother was a middle-school math and science teacher until my brother was born; then she became a stay-at-home mom. She was never an art or music historian as she would have liked because the only way her parents would support her going to college was if she went into a career that was "suitable for a woman". To them, that meant school teacher or nurse, and I think she made the best of her limited options. Judging from the way her former students greeted her with real affection when we ran into them around town, she must have been an excellent teacher, but she did not like to teach her own children (a slanted sort of blessing). She did, however, do everything she could to help me achieve the very sorts of goals that she was never allowed to aim for in earnest. As I got more involved in dance, she managed my schedule, drove me to classes, rehearsals, and auditions. She sought out and expedited all sorts of opportunities for me, and even made me custom leotards and dresses (for better fit, to save money, and because she enjoyed it). She also pushed my high school guidance counselors to put me in all AP classes, with no study hall, in spite of the fact that I had rehearsals until almost 9:00 most nights (later, sometimes, for tech or dress before shows), because she knew I could do the work, and that someday, I would need that education. You better believe I'm thankful for that now!

At the age of 47, she lost her husband to a heart attack, and was diagnosed with terminal inflammatory breast cancer a few months later. She died before her 48th birthday. She was the only one of her siblings to get a college degree, and she had worked incredibly hard to put her children on the trajectory to college. My fathers' siblings all had large families already, and none of them lived in our town. So, she asked her best friend, who lived a couple of blocks away, to finish raising her children. And she said "yes" without hesitation.

That was 17 years ago. This year marks the point at which I will have been mothered by these two women for the same number of years. My second mother is every bit as passionate about and committed to raising children who achieve their greatest potential, but is in no way a carbon copy of the first. She has a successful and busy career. She taught me how to drive - I don't know how she kept her cool when I couldn't shift into fifth gear the first time I went on the highway. Then gave me an old car and allowed me to get myself where I needed to go. She didn't manage my schedule; she only asked that I let her know when I'd be in. She didn't involve herself at all in what I wore. She asked me what my goals were, arranged meetings for me with people who could help, introduced me, then sat quietly while I spoke for myself (not very well, at first). She taught me, and continues to teach me, how to be an adult. And she never treated me as anything but her beloved daughter, even though I often had a hard time returning the favor.

I know I am lucky to have known two such amazing and different mothers. There is no such thing as the perfect mother - for every thing a person can do, there are many best ways. Happy Mothers' Day.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Semi-Adult

Children are selfish. They can't help it. They have not developed a sense of their place in the world. They also have not developed their moral reasoning to a level that would be acceptable in an adult. But somewhere in between the small child and the adult who is fully participating in society is a massive grey area. Many of the people you know probably fall in that grey area. They can't help it either. They just have some more growing up to do.

I don't presume to say that I myself have fully developed into an uber-adult; I don't always make choices based on what would serve the greater good. I can be selfish, too. And sometimes I don't even realize until it's too late. However, I sometimes find it annoying that many of the people I interact with on a daily basis are, being ten years younger, ten years behind me in this area of development. I will call these people semi-adults:

  • They complain openly about having to do their share of the grunt work required to keep the lab running smoothly instead of doing their REAL work.
  • They also complain openly when the grunt work doesn't get done. But they don't ever think of lifting a finger and just doing it, because they are TOO BUSY.
  • They say they don't have time to talk science (or anything else) unless they think you have information that might be useful to them (or they happen to feel like it). Of course, if you do (or they do), they have no problem whatsoever distracting YOU from whatever you are pipetting to try and get that information from you (or get that ego rub they can't do without).
  • Whatever anyone else is doing cannot possibly be as important as the semi-adult's WORK. Which is, by the way, much cooler than anything anyone else is doing.
  • When they are doing work on a multi-person, multi-paper project, they don't want to do things that will not eventually end up in the THEIR paper (the one on which they anticipate being a first author). Never mind if that holds up publication of another paper on which they will be a contributing author.
  • They make a big deal about how they can't POSSIBLY go to that talk everyone else is leaving for because they have so much to do.
  • Whatever challenges anyone else faces cannot be NEARLY as difficult as what the semi-adult has to overcome.

Hey, semi-adults - I know you can't help it. You're only in your early- to mid-twenties, and you have only just entered the adult world. But seriously, just stop it already and grow the fuck up! Everyone is working hard here. You don't have to act like a sanctimonious prick and screw everyone who has the misfortune of working with you in the process. As a public service, I am willing to spend some of MY precious time to set you straight. Every chance I get.

I will:
  • Make sure you are not overlooked when lab chores are assigned, even if you were too busy to make it to the meeting on time.
  • Remind you of your job if you forget to do it, since you are juggling so much these days.
  • Make sure I don't leave you out of the loop when discussing science or lab doings.
  • Mention, from time to time, that I, too, am doing research for my thesis. And yes, it's a pretty cool project that I am sometimes excited about.
  • Let you know how important the not-so-sexy stuff you need to get done is.
  • Not stop inviting you to go along with me to talks that might be interesting.
  • Occasionally invite you to take your head out of your ass and look around.