Loki does science

Mischief Update–I Solemnly Swear That I Am Up To No Good

I always say that I’m going to keep up with documenting my mischief. After all, future scholars and chroniclers will want to be able to appreciate my long games, my spur-of-the-moment flashes of evil brilliance, and my witty prose. But I’m so *busy* doing the actual mischief (and fighting off vegetative nightmares) that I do sometimes fall behind and then have to jot down an elephantine wodge of insidious history. Like this one.

I continue to do some of my best work with vendors. My collaboration with They Had One Mission And Stumbled is proving to be a very fruitful one. The human female put in an order for cases and cases and cases of those green, biodegradable lab gloves she’s switched the whole teaching program to. Her two previous orders each had delivery problems, so she was hoping for a smooth transaction this time. As if.  No, the whole pallet of glove cases did arrive, but it came in in dribs and drabs over a few weeks’ time. Half the order came in one or two cases at a time. Each little portion had its own ship notice and its own packing slip. The packing slips weren’t all the same size or format, and things came via both Unrepentant Package Smashers and Fed-up and Exhausted. In the end, there were eight packing slips, and one of the larger shipments came addressed to Stephen Wolfe. Luckily, that particular addressee-fu has occurred before, and the stockroom personnel know now to just shrug and reroute-the shipments to the human female. Finally, when one of these multi-box shipments of four different sizes of gloves comes, all the cases need to be held somewhere until they all come in and are checked off. Basically, it takes over a whole room for a couple of weeks.

One particular order for a refill for an antibody demo kit never came in at all. The human female waited….and waited…and waited. Finally, she called the vendor directly. The vendor did the email equivalent of a blank stare. They’d never received the PO at all. Turns out that the purchasing software had “helpfully” directed it to the personal email of a person who is not at the company any more.  The human female fixed that, much to my annoyance. Perfectly good prank, and I only got to use it once.

Preparations for the annual Dead Cat Ballet have already begun. She asked for a quote from the customer rep at the Purveyor of Dead Things and eventually got one. Of course, it didn’t have the plethora of pickled piglets she wanted and they had to do it over, so… Starfish remain totally unavailable, so the human female had to order three-hundred some-odd sea cucumbers. (Is that even an animal? Or are they switching to vegetables for dissection?) In any case, she submitted the order for approval and waited….and waited. No PO. I’ve figured out that if I distract her just as she’s quadruple checking the order one. last. time, she forgets to file the This Order Must Go to the Purveyor of Dead Things/ sole source paperwork, which slows the whole process down to a crawl. The order’s been placed now; we’ll see if it actually shows up as promised….

Earlier, she ordered some sharks for the a different class. The professor very strictly specified 1 female and two males. I helped the PODT pick out three beautiful females.  At my behest, hey also shipped three female stiff kitties and no stiff tomcats on a two male, one female order.

Speaking of Dead Things–remember the room full of skulls? Most of the shipment came in at once but there were a few things backordered (cats, deer, and the ever-elusive platypus). They came in a few here and a few there. Then the human female received another shipping notice and another invoice for two deer and one platypus, with a different order number from the big main one. Cue panic. Turns out that fake invoices are the Purveyor of Dead Heads’ way of putting shipped backorders through their system.  The human female submitted it for payment, but she’s discovered it didn’t get paid because a few days ago, the Purveyor of Dead Heads sent it to her again.

Oh, and remember the papers the human female has to sign every year for the Vendor Whose Responsible, saying that she promises not to use any of her chemicals to set up a meth lab in the basement?

VWR-Intended Use 2019

She filled them out this year and sent them in. Then they sent another request. “I already did this!” she whined. “How about you have your supervisor sign where it says, ‘supervisor’?” they replied. So she had him sign them and sent them back. They sent a third request. “I SAID I already did this!” she type-screamed at them. “But it’s a different account!”the VWR shot back. And setting her up with two account numbers wasn’t the best part of the joke. After all the wrangling–it turns out that the new lab exercises don’t even USE the chemical that triggered all the DEA paperwork in the first place!

That wasn’t the only fun the VWR and I had with the human female!  Oh, no!  Not by a long shot!  The new 111 labs use an astonomical number of test tubes–and now that the Powers That Be have decreed that they should be single-use (or at least tossed in the glass waste at the end of the week), the program is going through mounds and acres and tons of the things.  The human female ordered FIFTY THOUSAND of them.  She waited.  And waited.  Finally, there was a shipping notice!  She tracked it very faithfully on the Unrepentant Package Smasher’s website.  It got as far as Waco (which is, as they say in this part of Midgard, “up the road a piece”) and that’s when I stepped in.  You see, fifty thousand test tubes–fifty cases of 1,000) comes on a pallet.  When UPS has a pallet to deliver to the Department’s stockroom, if the driver doesn’t feel like working his large vehicle down the alley, he doesn’t.  He may take it to Central Receiving or just dump it somewhere else.  Which is what I suggested to him this time.  He dumped it down at the UPS hub facility back in Waco.

testtubes-vs-ups

The tracking said, “Will attempt delivery the next day,” but they didn’t.  And they didn’t call.  When the human female called them, asking if they could pretty please route the package to Central Receiving so that she could get it from them, they said, “NO,” and insinuated that she was somewhat lower than pond scum.  They made her get an Authorization For Reroute from the VWR, e-mailed to UPS and not sullied by her hands or her mail program.  She managed to do this, resigning herself to the $110.00 change of address fee she incurred in the process.  While she was waiting for the authorization to go through, the UPS tracking said, “Out for Delivery”–which induced a panic, because it wasn’t supposed to go anywhere until the paperwork cleared.  Frantic, she called the UPS depot in Waco who looked and said, “Nope, sitting right here.” It took a day or two after that to have the package show up at Central Receiving, and finally all the test tubes came to their “forever home.”  She should thank me!  She knows now to split the big test tube order into parts or to specify that it not be on a pallet.

Sometimes, when I finish with the human female for the day, I have a little mischief left over. Then I start looking for other mortals to tamper with. One of the human female’s techs, for example, played a big part in the acetone scare of a few months back. Funny, was it, coworker?  How “funny” did you think it was when I had HR lose your paycheck?

For the 111 labs, this summer was the second go around with the new labs. The professor wanted to try something different with the Forensics lab, the one that uses invisible bits of DNA and gooey/gelly agarose and lethal amounts of electricity. The first time, the results were deemed “okay,” but apparently they could have been better. So the human female ordered a different set of DNA primers. (Whatever those are…) The test gel–ehehehe! The test gel was completely blank except for the ladder of reference DNA fragments! Now, it’s a multi-step process from sample to gel, so they had to re-run it with various combinations of old and new primers and old and new regents. (I don’t need to know what “taq polymerase” is to mischief it up a bit!) Nada. Zip. Zero. They never did figure it out and ran out of time and had to do the lab the “old way.” I think the human female needs to read fewer articles on gel electrophoresis and more on chaos theory.

She won’t have too much time to read for a while. She’s been sad in recent years to do less with botany than in days of yore. I’ve been whispering in her ear that she’s a washed-up has-been and that she will die in ignominy, and I’ve been looking for opportunities to torture her further.  And now I have my chance! Years ago, she worked with a team of other plant nerds to write The Big Book of East Texas Planty Things That Only Other Plant Nerds Will Care About.  Recently, she’s agreed to collaborate as editor on Volume Two Much (which is FINALLLY in production), meaning she’s going to need to lay in a stock of red pens and patience with other people’s prose. About 157 pages of daisy-related gibberish is going to land in her mailbox any day now. I’m especially tickled because she’s going to have to shell out over $100 dollars to increase the size of her Dropbox space to handle this project. Time-consuming, unpaid, tedious, AND expensive. I’m enjoying this and she hasn’t even started yet.

I suppose it’s not true that she hasn’t been doing any botany this summer. She hasn’t been in the field because a) hot, b) foot in a boot, and c) did I mention hot? She has been working on the Herbarium’s database, fixing errors, checking label information, and other very boring jobs. Recently, she found that I told the student workers they could make changes to the database, an apostasy that was supposed to be Forbidden At All Costs. They’d been editing their version and she’d been editing her version, with the result that she had to re-enter a couple of work sessions worth of data. Now she has to work, not on her saved version of the file, but on the main version that I have urged the Herbarium to host on its server. She has to do all sorts of computery gymnastics just to log on and reach it, and there’s always the chance that the file she needs will be locked for use by someone else.  (Like when I had someone leave for the weekend still logged in with the file open!) And I’ve peeked–the student workers, busy little bees, are always adding new records, all of which will have to be vetted, so the proofing is very much a moving target.  She’ll never be done!

You know…sometimes, all it takes to put the finishing touches on the human female’s day is something very simple. The other day I saw to it that her ugly silver car had a nasty-gram on it when she went to get it from the church parking lot, where she had left it for a few days. During the week, the church makes a little income from charging students to park there while they’re at the university. “Your license plate has been recorded,” the note said, “and the next time we find you here without paying, you will be towed at your own expense.” This note was left under her windshield wiper, right next to her properly displayed parking permit, whose number– along with her license plate number–is duly recorded in the parish office.  You should have seen her eye twitch!

The human female was making (delusional)  gardening noises and plans for a while there. “I’m going to plant this,” and, “I’m going to plant that,” and “Oh, this would look good out front.” She was starting to be really annoying. Then the heat hit, and now she’s just hoping nothing expires from pure despair.  She tried to plant a shrublet the other day and couldn’t manage to chip a hole in the hard-as-iron dry clay.  She had to let the soaker hose run for an hour before she could scrape out a spot for it.  I did nudge a little rain her way to help. But is is *my* fault the accompanying wind broke off 1/4 of her beloved Vitex bush? Or that the five lush, now-house-high elm trees that planted themselves neatly along the property line are, she’s beginning to suspect, not native winged elms but invasive Chinese lacebark elms? Yes. Yes, it is.

In the backyard, the big dead oak is still looming over the house, making the human female fret every time the wind blows.  The tree service folks she’s called either want an amount with a lot of zeros, or they quote a price so low that it’s pretty certain that their “company” is just Joe Bob With a Chainsaw.  The one reputable outfit that comes highly recommended has a voice mailbox that’s full and doesn’t answer email.  (They wouldn’t come take the tree down anyway.  I’ve warned them what a loOnY the human female is, and they have a file on her that says, “do not respond.”)

Inside the home, I’ve been egging the Terror Twins on.  They stage wind sprints and wrestling matches every night about 11:00.  If you’re a betting person, bet on Flannel.  She outweighs Taffy by a fair amount and knows a little judo (I think she’s been taking lessons from Muffy.)  Recently, she gave Taffy a scratch on the chin that made a big scab.  The humans had to take off work, come home, crate up Boo Boo Kitty,  and haul her–screaming all the way–to the vet.  The vet cleaned it up and administered an antibiotic shot, to the tune of over-a-weekly-grocery-bill or half-a-nice-fountain-pen.  It took four adults to hold Miss Wriggle on the table for the shot, and by the time the fur-slinky was back in the crate, the entire exam room, all its occupants, and all its contents were covered in drifts and fluffs of cat hair.  They’ll remember Taffy for a long time.

So, you see, I have had my fingers in all her pies, as the mortal say.  Work, church, home –you name it, I’ve done it.  “But, Loki!” you cry.  “Can you keep this up?  Aren’t you running out of ideas?”

Not even close…

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Science is Wiggly, But Fragile

There’s something new in the Critter Room!

For the 112 labs, this summer is the first time the new activities are being tried. Some have worked well and are relatively Loki-proof. Others have enough moving parts that I can get a little traction. For the Osmoregulation lab, the precious little kiddos are no longer going to dissect a kidney and learn how to do a urinalysis. They will be experimenting with real, live clam worms, members of the Annelida. This is a clam worm:

Image result for nereis

Sigyn thinks their myriad paddle-like parapodia are “cute.” I’m reserving judgment until I see one in real life.

We’ve heard that a small batch of test subjects has arrived and has settled into their new aquarium home.   Let’s go look!

Supposedly they’re in the thank with the sand.  Do you see anything?

clamworms1

I don’t either.  I understand they’re good at burrowing, so maybe they’re down in the sand?

(later)  Ah ha!  The human female and her minions are about to test the experiment. Now we can get a good look!

clamworms2

They don’t have any legs, but those little swimmy-things undulate, so they’re able to move pretty well.

(later)  The human female is shocked and grumbling.  The worms are supposed to be able to change the salt concentration inside their bodies to match that of the water outside their bodies.  The experiment called for the worms to be moved from their average-sea water tank into beakers with water that is more or less salty and then weighed at short intervals to see whether they are gaining weight by taking up water to become less salty or losing weight through losing water and becoming more salty.  And when that was done, they were put back into standard sea water and weighed some more to see if the adjustment can be reversed.

Um, the experimenters ran into a little snag or three.  Why?  Hello?  God of Mischief standing right here!

First, one of the treatments called for the worms to be put in plain water.  Note for future reference:  Clam worms do NOT like that.  Much wriggling and stress ensued.  They won’t be trying that again.

For the most part, the worms behaved as expected.  However, to make sure that it is only “worm” being weighed and not clinging water, each time a worm moves from a treatment beaker to the scale, it must be patted dry.  The humans went through a LOT of paper towels, and the worms were looking quite a bit the worse for wear by the end of it.  One of them didn’t survive.  (Sigyn was very sad.)

Afterwards, when the worms were returned to their big tank, I meddled some more.  I took some of the fine sand that the Prep Staff minions had stirred up while getting the worms out of the sand in the first place and worked it into the filter pump.  I was only trying to make the pump make funny noises, I swear!  I didn’t mean for the pump to fail entirely and make most of the worms die.  Don’t tell Sigyn.  She’s very soft-hearted and would be mad at me for days

(Much later)  Well, the humans went ahead with the experiment on a large scale with all the classes, as planned.  They ordered one hundred clam worms and were all set to house that many.  They even found some super-absorbent paper to dry the worms with, so they wouldn’t get handled so much.

That’s when I thought it would be funny to have things to even wronger.  Clam worms are voracious carnivores but will eat fish flakes in a pinch.  Apparently they themselves taste pretty good.  Two days before the lab, the Vendor (whom we shall call the Purveyor of Things That Can Breathe In Seawater) called and admitted sheepishly that somehow a fish had been introduced into the holding tank that was housing her worms prior to shipment–and it had EATEN two thirds of them or more. Eheheheheh! Oopsie!

Only about thirty worms arrived, so the experiment was set up to use far fewer worms.  By the day of the experiment there were even fewer left.  Who knew that traveling makes them hangry and liable to indulge their little penchant for eating one another?

And then there were eighteen.  Six each for three rooms.  The worms got put through their paces morning and afternoon, and I have to say, the results were not pretty.  The worms refused to do their osmoconforming magic in the morning sections, and by the afternoon sections they were quite battered. There is no way they’d last a whole week in a fall semester.  The filter pump quit again and, all in all, it the whole caboodle was judged a failure.

I haven’t told Sigyn. As far as she knows, the worms have just gone to the great big fish tank rest home, or whatever serves as the out-to-pasture equivalent for weary Annelids.  I’m sorry that worms suffered—but more than a little gleeful that the humans feel guilty about it.  They’re going to work with the POTTCBIS to see if a sturdier—and presumably less-appetizing!—creature that doesn’t have to be fished out of the sand with a litterbox scoop is available for next time.  They’re thinking snails.

In which case, I’m thinking garlic butter…

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It is Nine Kinds of Macabre in Here

The human female and her minions managed to make it through the first semester of new labs for Biology 111.  Now they’re facing all new exercises for Biology 112.  This course deals with evolution, phylogeny, and the many and varied organisms that inhabit this realm.  The instructor, with an eye to relating one notion to another, has planned an exercise in which the students will examine various vertebrate skulls and use their features, coupled with gene sequences, to come up with a vertebrate family tree.  It sounds both cutting-edge and ghoulish, and I must admit to being intrigued.

Sigyn, the human female says the skulls have arrived and are in room 313.  Let us see what has come!

skulls1

That is a veritable plethroa of crania!  And they’re from some outfit called “Skulls Unlimited.” Snort.  Of course they are.  I shall call them the Purveyor of Head Bones.

Some of the skulls are quite tiny.  This one is from something called a shrew.

skulls2

Sigyn is surprised at how tiny it is.  But as you should know, my diminutive princess, size is no indicator of fierceness.  A look at the teeth will reveal just what voracious predators shrews are.

The rat skull, on the other hand, just has long, orange incisors.

skulls6

And, according to Sigyn, “the cutest little molars ever!”

While the turtle has no teeth at all,

skulls5

though its bony jaw is quite capable of snapping up its prey.

Still, it is not always the carnivores that one needs to watch out for–

skulls4

Turn my sweetie loose this instant, you perfidious cervid!  Hang on, dearest, Loki’s coming!

Apparently white-tailed deer are not above a little snacking when the morsel is especially tasty.

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Sigyn Is In Love

Remember all the fuss with the power tools and racks and seeds?  It has all come to fruition.

The seeds came through their cold nap very well, and the students were able to plate up their seeds.  Well, mostly able.  Despite being instructed to pipette their seeds into a straight line on the Murashige and Skoog medium, some of the kiddos were guided by a certain Jotun who shall remain nameless and just plopped all of their seeds in the center of the agar.  Others, in a demonstration of obtuseness which will live in infamy, carefully pipetted all of their seeds onto the lid of the petri dish.

Still, enough of the little geniuses did it near enough to correctly for the plates, after two weeks in a growth chamber, to be worth looking at.

arapidopsis seedlings2

Sigyn thinks they are adorable and wants to hug them.

arapidopsisseedlings

The students are using them to study heredity.  One of the parental lines is “wild type”.  When viewed through special glasses under a blue light, the little plants don’t fluoresce and just look like dark shapes.  The only brightness is where the light source is bouncing off the background.

arapidopsis-no-glow

The other parental type, however, has been Meddled With and gifted with a gene originally found in jellyfish.  The plants produce green fluorescent protein (gfp) in their cells.  When viewed with the fancy glasses under blue light, the plants fluoresce–they appear green and are clearly visible– not just shadows.

arapidopsis glow

Theoretically, the gene for fluorescence is supposed to be dominant.  Let’s look at the F1 plants, the hybrids between glowy and not glowy.  All of these seedlings have one copy of the glowy gene.

arapidpsis-hybrid

Great Mendel’s peapods!  All glowy!  Our hypothesis is correct!

Further observation of seedlings that are the result of crossing this F1 generation with itself shows that glowiness is inherited in a 3 to 1 ratio over non-glowiness, thus re-confirming that the gene for green fluorescent protein production is, in fact, dominant.

That green glowiness is a neat trick, I must say.  And yes, Sigyn, the little seedlings are cute.  But let us bring science to bear on the real question raised by this little experiment: What would it take to get this gfp into me so that I can glow green in the dark?

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And While I Am Down Here…

While I am down here in Room 303, showing you where I hid the human female’s ID card, I thought I’d do a little more mischief.

Room 303 is where most of the lab dishes get washed.  Test tubes, beakers, graduated cylinders–you name it, if it’s dirty, it comes here.

These tubs are full of spirometer parts.  Since people have breathed through them, they have to be soaked and disinfected to make sure no pestilence is spread.

gonna spit in the tub

In theory, this results in a sanitary experience for the next group of cardiopulmonary lab experimenters.

In practice, I always make it a point to spit in the spirometer-part-soaking-tubs, as part of my ongoing research into the effects of Jotun saliva on the cardiopulmonary health of university undergraduates.

I have reams of data to date.  Can publication be far behind?

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DNA Stands for Do Not Attempt…

The students are going to be studying DNA in lab this week, and Prep Staff is running a text experiment to make sure that all the reagents and equipment will work properly.

The experiment involves something called PCR.  That stands for …. I’ve never figured out what, exactly.  I’m going to assume it stands for Please Contribute Resources, so I’m doing exactly that.

Because I’m helpful like that.

Anyway the idea is that it can take a teeny, teeny, teeny amount of a person’s genetic material and make a bazillion copies so it can be analyzed.  Prep Staff is getting a sample from various people on the floor.  Obviously, they want the finest DNA possible, so I’m giving them a sample.

I have my little tube full of sterile saline, here.

PCR1

Next, I label a cup with my name…

PCR2

Well, that was predictable.  Sigyn, my love, you’ve contaminated my cup!  Your lovely DNA is all over it now and I’ll have to get a new one.

Where was I?  Oh, yes.  I’m going to swish the saline in my mouth for a moment or two…

PCR3

Spit it into this new cup…

PCR4

And then pour it carefully back into the tube.

PCR5

That is some precious Jotun saliva, right there.

Next, the tubes of saliva will go into the big centrifuge.

But first, a little ride…

PCR6

After a spin, it’s all alcohol and primers and a long, boring wait for the thermocycler.  We’ll check back in later to see how it all turned out…

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Fun With Photosynthetic Pigments

One of the student lab exercises the human female has to support addresses that all-important biological process, photosynthesis.  One of the activities involves poking test tubes of various photosynthetic pigments into a spectrophotosomethingorother and seeing what wavelengths of light they absorb.  It’s actually rather cool.

But the best part is that these pigments have to be extracted from plants.  One cannot just waltz down to Pigments R’ Us.  The protocol is very long and very finicky, and it involves all SORTS of nasty organic solvents.  It takes all day, and it’s about as close to alchemy as it gets.  At every step, something could go wrong, necessitating starting all over.  Sooo much opportunity for mischief!!

The human female and one of her Tech II’s are attempting the process today.  They’ve whooshed up the spinach and a bit of yellow squash peel (for extra xanthophyll) in a blender full of acetone with some calcium carbonate. (I stayed FAR AWAY from this step!!)

Then they pulled the resulting slop through a Buchner funnel with a vaccum, and the resulting lovely green liquid has been “washed” with water.  That is a very fiddly step, because it takes one person to pour the water s l o w l y into the separatory funnel while someone else gently rocks it and “burps” it periodically to vent the gas it gives off.  I got to help with that this time, because burps are always funny.

They’ve reached the point, about an hour into the process, where the separatory funnel is placed in the hood and the layers are allowed to settle out for about forty minutes.  What they should have is a nice bilayer, with clear water and waste on the bottom and the chlorophyll and other pigments in a nice, dark green layer on the top, all ready to be decanted for the next step.

Let’s have a look!

chlorophyll

Norns’ nighties!  That is not at all how things should look.  At this point, there’s nothing to be done except start over.  Perhaps the human female was holding her ugly face the wrong way…

More spinach, more squash peel, more calcium carbonate, more acetone, more getting very much out of the way!, more water, and more rocking and burping.  Surely this time…

chlorophyll

Ehehehehe!  And we haven’t even gotten to the petroleum ether part, let alone the rest of the separatory steps!

We could be here all day, folks.

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