May 31, 2008

Idling on empty

Oh, thesis writing! How you vex me! I have started into the “Results” section of my dissertation, and while significantly easier to write than the introduction, it has its own set of problems. Namely, mind-numbing boredom. I can't in good faith expect anyone to read through this drivel when I myself can barely stand writing it. I'm in luck on that point; a recent trip to the library showed me that no one checks out the theses there. Half the people who have graduated don't even have a bound copy of their dissertation on display. A student's committee are meant to read their thesis thoroughly, but having read a former lab mate's missive, I am reasonably sure that his mentors didn't quite make it to the first sentence of his introduction. The scientist in me wants to run a little experiment and see whether anyone would notice if I wrote the first and last paragraphs of every chapter, and then filled the rest with cut 'n' pasted online chapters of the bible. The big drawback there would be that a positive result for that attention assay would be my failing my PhD. I think the best course of action would be to write this thing to the best of my ability, until I come up with a good piece of rationalization in favour of blowing it off… I’ll field suggestions on that one by the way. For my downtime, I recently rediscovered Lost in OC, which I found in a free paper when I lived in Huntington Beach. Very entertaining!

May 17, 2008


My friend told me a very entertaining story about how a famous knitter (yes, they exist) called the “Yarn Harlot” was speaking about how knitting is really a form of magic. This was exemplified for her by her nephew bringing her red yarn and asking her to make him blue mittens. It’s neither the process nor the product that makes knitting such a compulsion, but it’s the mystery of how it all works. I never cease to be amazed with what complicated, three-dimensional objects can be achieved with two sticks and some thread. Despite having made hundreds of items, I still don’t really believe that patterns are going to work when I start new projects, even though there is a photo of the thing right at the top of the page. We can safely assume that these instructions have worked at least once.

I’ve come to understand most of the mechanics of knitting, but every so often, something new crops up that just blows my mind. I just finished my first top-down sock, which ends by grafting stitches at the toe together. I used the video from as a guide and grafted the 28 stitches together. It was my first time ever doing this, so I was amazed at how it worked. I had set aside enough time to do it once, pull it out and then redo it correctly. But no need; I got it first time! Only that the yarn is variegated can I even tell which row is the one that was grafted using one darning needle rather than knitted on four double-point knitting needles! It is stunning to me that the same stitch can be achieved either by sewing or by knitting – magic! It’s probably not that great being my first attempt, you be the judge. I still think it’s amazing.

May 15, 2008

And this little piggy faceplanted something much bigger than it…

Many diverse toe-woes for Liz recently:

I have come to the conclusion that where knitting patterns are concerned, it just wouldn’t be a sock if I didn’t have to unravel it at least once. I got all the way through the, as it turns out, reasonably easy heel-flap over which I had previously fretted. I then moved on to the heel-turn. After I got all the way to through that and was starting on the gusset (my new innocuous-word-I-don’t-like), two of my knitting buddies took one look at it and realized I had done something wrong. Here are the instructions:

“Row 3: Sl1, knit to 1 stitch before the gap, SSK over the gap, Turn.
Row 4: Sl1, purl to 1 stitch before the gap, P2tog over the gap, Turn.”

To me, that reads that I should p2tog or ssk using one stitch from before the gap and one from after it. Nope. I stubbornly said that I wasn’t going to take it apart and redo it as per my friend’s suggestion. Yes, my reaction to disappointment has not evolved one iota since I was three years old. After I got home, I thought the wiser of it, and given the cuff pattern has come out so beautifully, I felt it a terrible shame to half-ass knowingly the rest of the pattern. It is looking a lot better, though the stitches I picked up down the side of the heel-flap are a little loose having been picked up twice.

In oddly related news, I have been hobbling around like a Beatles’ ex-wife this week. I spent Saturday evening at my friends' house, and after an ill-advised trek home I woke up on Sunday with my big toe bigger, and more brusied, than I had remembered it being. Oh, well. It’s not like thesis writing, knitting or MSW viewing are all that requiring of my ability to move around while not looking like Bambi learning to walk. Besides, the fact that the only things I can comfortably wear on my feet are flip-flops meshes rather well with the near-constant delays on my sock-production. Maybe there’s some universal causality between the two? I am definitely steering clear of complicated hat patterns if that is the case. The last thing my brain needs is to work less!

May 7, 2008

The Hunt for Red Mitosis

My boss once told me that research biology is basically long stretches of depression broken up by short-lived feelings of minor relief. I'm in one of the former. I am imaging a cell line that supposedly has defects in mitosis. It seems to be the case because I can see a lot of multinucleate cells on the slide, which is an indication that something's going hooey (which is what we want to see), but every cell I have sat and watched go through mitosis (a process that takes about an hour) has gone through a division so normal that it could be put in a textbook. Pretty, but useless.
To try and refine the search for the messed up cells, we co-transfected with a reporter construct that glows red and therefore, allows us to find them pretty easily. Unfortunately, the reporter didn't take so well and there are about five red cells on the entire slide; none of which have ventured out of interphase.
On a brighter note, because imaging requires a computer, my minesweeping skills are razor-sharp at this point.

May 6, 2008

I have a boo-boo on my I.Q.

I like to think that, as people go, I am reasonably smart. I'm hopefully going to get a shiny new salutation on my name this August (and don't for a second think I will respond to any address lacking it!) and I can kill moderately challenging crosswords on occasion. The one thing keeping my intellectual ego in check, of all things, is knitting patterns! There were women who were completely deprived of the opportunity to be educated that could get through these things. I can find a 0.08 cubic micron centriole in a 1500 micron cell by serial section electron microscopy... How is knitting a pair of faux-cable socks eluding me so adeptly?
I'm making my first pair of top-down socks, and despite a pretty good start on the cuff, I got a little stumped at the heel-flap. To be specific, I got one row into it before losing all track of what I was meant to be doing. The pattern calls for all rows to start with a purl wise slipped stitch, and then to knit until the heel-flap is as long as I want it. My first problem is that I don't necessarily have feelings about how long I like my heel-flaps. The other problem I am having is that I can't envision it getting to any length when I am slipping the same stitches over and over. Once I figure this out, the next section is a similar quagmire of quantum mechanics masquerading as a hobby, but one problem at a time!
Maybe it's karma. I bought the yarn, needles, and a crochet hook that I didn't actually need for the pattern on impulse. I was at a craft store looking for something that we use at work for western blots. When it turned out that they didn't carry that item I decided to use my one-woman-economic-stimulus powers for procrastination; knitting at work on a Saturday is so much more fun than thesis reading after all. And why drive home to get one's knitting when all that stands between you and new yarn is a little over $30?
There's no real point to this. It's more a heads-up for my knitting circle buddies that, come Wednesday, I am going to be a little whiny pain in the bum until someone shows me what to do! Either that, or I'm going to try and solve Fermat's last with classic math alone in the margin of my journal; it can't be harded than socks, right?

May 4, 2008


I'm famous... or my fear of Nature (the concept, not the publication) is...

From Andrew, one of our undergrads:
"I was in lab yesterday and a moth somehow made its way through about 8 doors and down into the basement. He was flying around for a while and I didn't pay much attention to him. Then all of a sudden, Liz, one of the graduate students in the lab, sees him and flips out. Right when I hear her, I'm thinking she had spilled something acidic or carcinogenic or horribly lethal or she lost her protein...but nope. It's the moth. She instantly points at me and shouts, "Undergrad. Kill," and continues being terrified. So basically I'm running around trying to catch this moth, while avoiding all the junk sitting around. After I miss him once, I turn around and see Liz with a bottle. She runs after the moth spraying the poor guy wildly with 76% ethanol. "This is the best way to get him," she says. It was massively entertaining. She eventually hit him and I had to clean it all up."

To sleep, perchance to read.

When Mark lived here, we spent many a Saturday night watching Babylon 5 marathons in lieu of alcohol-fueled nights of partying. I remember once thinking that this was, albeit fun, a pretty nerdy state of affairs for my social life.
With Mark now graduated and back in Jersey, things have got, if it were possible, nerdier. I decided, having accomplished nothing today, to spend the evening getting some reading done. I obviously dozed off, because I just woke up on my couch, on top of a paper my boss wrote that I had highlighted randomly in my sleep. I had even highlighted sections where there wasn't any writing. Score none for the subliminal learning fans.
This doesn't bode well for my career if I can't manage to stay conscious reading about it. Of course, if I keep falling asleep whilst working on my thesis, I won't have a career to worrying about being bored by. It's all about the silver lining kids!

10 Things in 1000 days

I decided to rationalize my impulse purchasing of knitting books by setting myself a personal challenge.
Here's how long I have left:

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