Month: November 2018

It’s All Gone Belly-Up

It is Lab Practical Week.   The students are studying frantically, trying to recall everything they’ve learned throughout the course of the whole semester so they can get it all down on the exam paper, twenty-five stations per exam, three minutes per station.

If I could bottle panic and sell it, I’d have funds enough to take over two planets.

The human female and her Prep Staff spent a lot of hours setting up each station, carefully positioning the pointers on the microscopes, doing neat dissections, color-coding the chemical experiment stations so the color-blind can answer the questions, and just generally making sure that the students have the best chance to show off what they know.

Which is why it’s so mean  funny that I’ve gone through the rooms and disarranged a few things.

That marvelous mollusk, the chiton, which is so immediately recognizable by its dorsal (top side) plates, becomes an anonymous lump

chiton in jar

When flipped over…

Every semester, the human female rights it.  Every semester, I flip it back.

It’s one of our little traditions.

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So What Was the Verdict?

The fellow from Slow, Silent, and Costly (who, oddly enough, turns out to be the spouse of the lady who runs the greenhouse) has come and gone, and come and gone again.

Now we know what the mysterious white stuff in the R/O water line is.

It’s chunks of biofilm!  A biofilm being a layered carpet of bacteria.  Yummy!  Biofilms are really interesting!  They’re usually composed of several different species, intermixed and in layers.  When the bottom layer gets smothered by newer layers, it can detach and break away, taking top layers with it.  That’s what’s going on here.

That’s right, folks!  The building’s reverse osmosis water system is basically a giant bacterial culture!  Harmless–they think.  But who knows?  Apparently R/O systems are quite prone to them.  Set up a membrane and pipes and whatnot, and here come the microscopic goobers to glunk it all up.  It’s enough to make a body believe in Spontaneous Generation.

They’re really, really hard to get rid of.  Steam cleaning the line is out, because the PVC pipe can’t take temperatures that high.  Annihilating them entirely would involve running bleach or some other disinfectant through the ENTIRE BUILDING’S system, making sure the disinfectant runs out of every tap on every floor. Then the system has to be flushed out of every tap so that no trace of the cleaning agent remains.

As you can imagine, this is not cheap, so negotiations will have to be begun with Chemistry, who’s in charge of the building.

When I do mischief, I do it right.

The temporary solution is to install a filter to trap all the crud before it comes out the faucet.  The fellow from SSC ordered one, but the company sent the wrong size.  (I may have helped.)  He had them overnight the proper size, and then he came and installed it.

And here it is:

RO-filter

The hoop-y things are wrenches for removing the blue filter cartridges so that the filters can be changed.  The human female was told that they’ll unscrew backwards, because one has to pretend one is looking at them from underneath.  I bet she forgets.

Now, the whole R/O water question is made more complex by the fact that the Aquatics people also use the water for making the salt water for the aquaria.  Prep Staff accuses them of leaving the sprayer nozzle in their big drums of “instant ocean,” which corrodes the spray-y bits, so that over time, the nozzle doesn’t shut off very well, eventually becoming totally useless.  Prep Staff has tried to get them to quit, but hasn’t had much luck, so Prep Staff bought a splitter, along with a hose and a nozzle for the aquatic techs’ particular use, in the hopes they’d leave Prep Staff’s alone (so far, it hasn’t worked.)

So now that particular corner of the Plants and Animals room is a plumber’s nightmare.  Pipes galore, the water line for the ice machine, the splitter, the filter system, two hoses, two nozzles…

…and the new valve setup for the now-filtered R/O system.

The human female, needing to fill some jugs with R/O water for the plants, was the first person to try it out.  She had good water pressure at first, but it soon slowed to a trickle.  She tried opening the red R/O master valve.  Same result.  She fiddled with the splitter.  She tried the master valve again, in both the parallel and perpendicular positions.  Same result–lots of water, then nothing at all.

Now, humans are nothing if not predictable.  There are standards.  Usually, when the valve handle is inline, the valve is open, and perpendicular usually means “off.”  Neither position worked here.

With a little trial and error, the human female and one of her techs determined that “open”, in this case, is about 23 degrees off of inline.  (Why?  Because I like the number twenty-three…)

The human female, ever helpful, decided to mark the valve and the pipe so that other users wouldn’t have to thrash about, trying to get more than a trickle.  Unfortunately for her, she sometimes suffers from sleep-deprivation aphasia.  It can cause trouble with her vocabulary—she’ll say or write a random word that sounds a bit like the one she wants, sometimes with hilariously nonsensical results.

RO-valve

And sometimes it’s just laughably accurate.

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Brightening Up the Teaching Lab

The teaching labs are a little…dull.  The cabinets are brown, the benchtops are black, the dissection specimens are…pinky beige.  What these rooms need is a pop of color!

I’ve been saying that for a long time, and this semester I decided to do something about it!  Crystal violet, meet floor.  Floor, crystal violet.

crystal-violet-spill

That was way back in the beginning of the semester.  Let’s look at it today:

 

crystal-violet-2

 Tris(4-(dimethylamino)phenyl)methylium chloride, the gift that keeps on giving!

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What’s That Stuff? I’m Not Telling!

It has been too quiet here in the human female’s workspace, ever since Slow, Silent, and Costly showed up to fix the drooling cold room.  Time for me to cause a bit more mischief.

Hmmm.  What could I do that would be annoying every single day?  Something she and her staff use all the time?  Something basic like…

Water.

That’s it!  I’ll muck up one of the specialty water lines!  There’s regular tap water, distilled water, and reverse osmosis water (R/O).  They’re all important, but the R/O water has to be specially good, since it’s what is used to water the plants, make the salt water for the aquaria, and all sorts of other sciencey goodness.

A wave of my hand, a few choice utterings, and behold!

RO water chunks
Odin’s eyepatch, that looks awful!  It won’t take them long to see the problem.   I wonder how long it’ll take them to figure out what it is…

(later)

I’m having such fun with this!  I let it clear up for a few days and everyone was happy, but now the whatever-it-is is back with a vengeance!

And what IS it???

They still don’t know!  They thought  perhaps the faucet gasket was decomposing, or maybe the lining of the hose.  Nope. Being scientists, they experimented a bit and discovered that the water looks like this straight from the tap.  Chunks abound!

Ehehehehe. *I* know what it is, but I’m not telling!  They’ve taken a sample to show Slow, Silent, and Costly:

RO-chunks

Mmm.  Looks delicious!  But seriously—Isn’t that pretty?  It’s just like a snow globe!

A weird, contaminated snow globe.

Stay tuned, kiddies.

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All the Pretty Little Implements of Destruction

The students around these parts can’t manage to keep track of more than two things.  If they have a notebook, a phone, and a water bottle when they come to lab, they will leave with a notebook and a water bottle.  Or a water bottle and a phone.  Keys, glasses, notebooks, pencil pouches, earbuds, umbrellas, jackets, phones, ID cards, heads—you name it, it ends up in the lost and found and the human female has to deal with it.

Lately there’s been a glut of dissection kits.  The students just can’t seem to be bothered to write their names on them.  Most of the kits look alike–blue plastic case, scissors, scalpel, two probes, forceps.  The bookstore sells hundreds of them every semester.

This morning, however, a really, really nice one came in, and I have commenced to covet.

It’s all sharp and clean and pretty, not covered in hagfish bits or whatever they’re dissecting this week.  It’s in a zippered case with padding, not a cheap plastic box.

All the tools have little elastic loops to hold them steady.  Look! Gungnir would fit right here.

toolkit2 - Copy

I recognize that tool on the right up there.  It’s a hemostat.  Very useful for clamping things— and pinching humans.

Plenty of fresh scalpel blades…

toolkit3 - Copy

…and a whole assortment of probes.   I like this one.  It’s wicked pointy.

toolkit4 - Copy

Neither the human female nor I recognized this thing.  She looked it up and it’s called a Groove Director (which sounds like an formal term for the Activities Coordinator on a cruise ship or something.)  Theoretically, one places it where one wishes to use a scalpel and cuts between the two lobes.  Saves fingers and prevents slips.

toolkit1 - Copy

That may be so, but I think it looks quite…imperial.  I shall have one made in green and gold and appoint a flunky to stand behind my throne and hold it whenever I sit in state.  (And I will give it a better name.)

In the meantime, this gorgeous set is now mine.

And you can be sure I’m going to put my name on it.

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In Which I Am Grudgingly Thankful

Oh, look.  It’s the annual eat-until-you-are-more-than-half-afraid-you’ll-burst holiday.  Didn’t we just do this?

Sigyn says it’s also a day for giving thanks.  She says I should make a list of my “blessings.”

I am not one naturally given to gratitude–or platitudes–but I suppose I am at least marginally thankful for the following:

  1. Sigyn, of course.
  2. Good health.  I am the epitome of perfection, so no complaints here.  Sigyn is fine too.
  3. Plenty of work.  There is always something to bung up, disconnect, unbalance, leave fingerprints on, loosen the cap of, cancel an order for, or submit a bogus requisition for.
  4.  It is still Too Wet to Mow.  I’ve gotten out of more yard work this fall, and the human female is ashamed of the state of the lawn.
  5.   The Terror Twins.  I’ve trained them well, and they are now expert-level toy stashers.  The house is full of mice and balls and none are in evidence.  Taffy is into everything, and Flannel has learned how to barf from the top level of the cat tree.
  6. Colored leaves. (Sigyn made me add that one.)
  7. The human female.  With her penchant for falling down, running into doorways and desk corners, and bludgeoning herself with lawn equipment, she’s an endless source of amusement.  If I were making Thanksgiving dinner and she didn’t live in the house, I wouldn’t invite her, but she has her  uses.
  8. Pie.

It’s a short list, but again, I’m not one for huge displays or mushy emotions.  It will have to do.

Pass the pie.

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