Loki does science

Doing My Part for Science

The human female is back out at the herbarium—no bats today : ( — still working her way through the BBBB (Big Book of Boring Botany). Today she is working through hundreds of specimens of Liatris, identifying them all down to the variety level.

As near as I can figure out, Liatris mucronata used to be its own species, but it has been mooshed into Liatris punctata as Liatris punctata variety mucronata, a difference that matters to a very few botanistic pedants just a smidgen and to the Liatris itself not at all.

Great Frigga’s hairpins! I thought we were done here. She has finished the whole puctata vs. mucronata folders and has now turned her attention to Liatris elegans, which has not one but THREE varieties in this part of Midgard, “distinguished by the color of the phyllaries and the shape of the corm,” whatever that means.

The human female is quite annoyed that Gaiser named variety carizzana after the Carrizo geological formation on which it is found, and as such, it is misspelled.

It is all very dull. Time to liven up the varietal determinations a bit.

Augh. There are maps, too. The human female is going through all of the records she just updated and is making sure the corresponding counties are reflected on the maps.

Let’s see… Liatris cymosa… Sigyn and I saw that plant the day we went to watch the human female try to fly a kite. It is a narrow endemic, found in only a few counties in East Texas. We can do better than that!

There! Now it grows on the Edwards Plateau as well! Doing my part for conservation, don’t you know.

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So Much Mischief in One Small Genus–But For Once It’s (Mostly) Not Mine

The human female has traded the frustrations of ordering and riding herd on techs and grad students for the hair-pullingness of botanical scholarship. She is part of a team writing volume two of a book about the flora of East Texas. If it is anything like volume one, which she was also involved with, it will be hailed and lauded as a seminal work in the field abhorred for its sheer size and weight. There should be a warning on the frontispiece of tomes like this, an admonition to wear steel-toed shoes in case the book happens to fall afoul of gravity and plummet floorward.

At present, she is working her way through the draft manuscript on the largest, most contrary of the dicot family, the Asteraceae or Sunflower Family. There are a lot of them, their anatomy is fiddly and usually quite small, and the distinctions between species can be blurry at best.

For each genus, she has to check the description, test run the genus through the two keys to genera to make sure it comes out where it is supposed to, verify which species are in the region’s flora, and check the key to species, along with the supporting citations. For each species, she has to check the description and then see how the gazillions of specimens in the herbarium contribute to the stated season of bloom and the county dot maps that illustrate distribution.

As you may have guessed, it’s slow going. Today she’s working with the genus Hymenopappus, commonly known as wooly-white or old plainsman.

Accordingly, she has the genus pulled up in the herbarium database:

She has about a dozen very full folders of specimens out and is going through them, one by one, to make sure they’re correctly identified. In theory, it should be easy. One species has pink flowers, one has yellow, and the others have white. One prefers heavy clay and two like sand, with one known only from sands of a particular geological formation. Some have fat-lobed leaves and some have skinny-lobed leaves. Some have undivided lower leaves and some have very divided lower leaves. You’d think that would be enough to work with, wouldn’t you?

Ehehehee. No. I had nothing to do with it, but the pink and yellow pigments don’t always show up in pressed specimens. All the flowers have dried a sort of creamy beige. Many of the older specimens have no habitat information and thus no indication of soil type. Where the soil is mentioned, there’s no guarantee that the plant was growing on its preferred substrate and not being an opportunist somewhere else. A fair number don’t include the diagnostic lowermost leaves. Most have floral characters that are exactly in the overlap between measurement ranges. Some don’t even note which of Texas’ 254 counties they’re from.

Then there’s the nomenclatural fun surrounding some of the species. Locally, there is Hymenopappus artemisiifolius, with two varieties, var. artemisiifolius, which is widespread, and var riograndensis, which grows down in South Texas. We also have Hymenopappus scabiosaeus, also with two varieties, var. corymbosus, which is common, and var. scabiosaeus, which grows in Louisiana to the east and needs to be mentioned in case it takes it into its head to sneak over the border. So after checking the species ID, the human female has to deal with variety.

Now, here’s where the fun comes in: H. artemesiifolius used to be spelled “artemisiaefolilus“, so there are plants and records with the outdated spelling. In a book from the last century on the flora of the Southeast U.S., only H. artemisiifolilus was listed, so there are old specimens of H. scabiosaeus with the wrong name on the label. Later, other botanists combined the two species under H. scabiosaeus, so there are a LOT of specimens of H. artemisiifolius languishing under the wrong species name. There are old sheets marked H. corymbosus that need to be updated to one or another variety of H. scabiosaeus. There are a handful of old sheets labeled H. robustus, which is a synonym of H. flavescens, the yellow-flowered one, but the names can’t just be updated, the plants have to be keyed—and behold! All the ones in this collection are actually H. scabiosaeus. Another few have been identified as a species that doesn’t grow in Texas. Since the name on the label refers to a yellow-flowered species, one can only assume they belong to H. flavescens, the yellow-flowered kind that does grow here. There are older sheets of H. carrizoanus hiding in with other species, because H. carriozanus was only recently described.

Pick up a specimen. Assess the leaves. Look at the flower bits under the microscope. Compare to illustrations, known specimens, and online specimen photos. Consider the label data. Make a determination Correct the name on the sheet. Update the database. Over and over and over. At the end, go back a second time and see if anything needs a different ID, given that a hundred other specimens have now informed your mental image of the species. Refile, relabeling some folders that have been switched to

Repeat.

She has been at this for days. Slowly, she’s making sense of it. She’s been able to identify most of the specimens. There is a LOT of green in the database, indicating where the information has been updated, and because she’s a diligent rather anal-retentive worker, she has taken the time to enter the location and habitat data for specimens whose information wasn’t captured in previous databasing passes. Not to mention she’s found a good few that were never databased at all! And she’s “neatly” colored in a bunch of counties on the distribution maps:

So what is my part in all of this? I’ve been the one hiding the extension cord for the powerstrip for her computer, misplacing first her ruler than her pencil, kicking her ultra-fine red pen off the table and bending the nib, rolling the database up or down a row when she’s trying to enter data, hiding the stack of specimens that was right there, whispering in her ear that maybe the leaves are not quite divided enough for H. scabiosaeus and she should rekey it and all the other H. scabiosaeus, distracting her with funny/stupid things on the internet when she should be checking references, and suggesting that perhaps a nap would be good right about now.

I know *I* could use one!

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I Am Quite Famous in the Botanical Community

Sigyn, do you know what day it is? It’s go-to-the-outcrop-and-look-for-the-rare-plant day! The weather should be lovely, too, so grab your sunscreen and let’s go!

(a bit later)

Here we are. The human female is meeting two colleagues here. Between the three of them, they hope to get an accurate account of how many (if any) plants are blooming this year. Here comes one of the others now.

Ehehehee and neener, neener, neener! Do you know what his first utterance after “hello” was? Not, “How have you been?” Not, “How many do you think we’ll find this year?” Ha! No, what he said was, “Did Loki and his little friend come today?”

Yes, indeed we did, good sir, and thank you for putting the human female in her place!

Idunn’s little green apples! Our first Navasota false foxglove has met us right at the top rim of the outcrop, and it’s a big, well-branched one.

Now that we have all reminded ourselves what it looks like, we can start carefully quartering the outcrop and getting a good count.

Hmm. It looks as if this will not be a record-breaking year, number-wise, though it is certainly better than the worst year. Most of the plants are well-grown and flowering well, which is good to see. There’s a good growth of grass and a lot of leaf litter, however. That means it must be time to BURN this place again! Just name the day, humans, and I will be here with a torch and my fireproof cape. (Setting things on fire is FUN!)

It is like meeting old friends, seeing the usual fall plants right where we expect them to be.

The obedient plant is abundant this year. The flowers will stay in whatever position you put them in. While Sigyn dangles, I think I will try to arrange the flowers on the next plant over to spell out semaphore-wise, “the human female is a dork.” It will look something like this:

except with more pink and less yellow and red. It will be a lot of work and might take two or three plants to get in the entire message, but it will be worth it, and I will definitely have time, as it is taking the GPS forever to calculate the waypoints.

The holly at the top of the outcrop is in full fruit. Isn’t my color-coordinated sweetie cute?

Hello! What’s this? The human female says it is a wild petunia and she’s not sure she remembers seeing it out here before.

It’s not really a petunia. I guess someone thought it looked like one, though.

And this might be new, too.

It’s snow-on-the-prairie. There are only a few plants her, but I imagine that a whole roadside of it would look whitish. Great Frigga’s corset! Sigyn, do you see any mature fruit? I need seeds of this dreadfully! The human female says the sap is caustic and that’s she’s really, really sensitive to it! I want to plant it all over the yard and see if she really does swell up like a red, peeling balloon if she gets any on her. (All for science, of course.)

Oooh! What’s this? I thought junipers made little blue-green-gray fleshy cones and not these pointy, twiggy structures.

Ah. Not fruits. Sigyn, did you hear? The human female says there’s an evergreen bagworm caterpillar in each of these, all tucked up for the winter. Basically, bug hotels. Imagine if you built and lived in a case constructed of everything you ate! It’d be cherries and Cheetos and apples and…more than a little messy!

We have finished our survey of the sides of the outcrop and are ready to have a look at the top. We don’t expect to find any of the rare plant up here, but the human female says we might see other interesting plants.

There’s this. It smells vaguely minty and has small, purple, hand-puppet-shaped flowers.

The common name is “skullcap”, which doesn’t sound very nice but it is decidedly comfy to lie in. The human female is telling some tedious story now, how the little extra “flange on the calyx” is the same shape as an old-fashioned John Deere tractor seat, except that today’s students are used to tractors with enclosed cabs and AC and stereo and have no clue and..blah, blah, blah. How is anyone supposed to rest with you yapping away like that?

One last plant to look at before we wrap up the day’s investigations. I like this one! The flowers of the zizotes milkweed have a strange, alien-looking anatomy—and they have horns!

Supposedly, butterflies love them. If I hang here quietly, maybe I can catch one for Sigyn to cuddle. It’s definitely worth a wait!

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Here a Neener, There a Neener, Everywhere a Neener-neener, Part II: New Releases (and possibly some shoving)

Yesterday we looked at plants we’d already seen recently. Nice, but a bit BORING. Where are the new things? I checked the calendar. It is FALL now. Show me fall things!! I demand fall things!

Ah. This is better. False foxglove. Shows up like clockwork the third week of September.

Sigyn and I have a fondness for this plant. Well, one of it’s relatives, anyway—the rare one that grows on that outcrop to the east of us. I wonder if we’ll get to visit the outcrop again this year?

What does one call that color, anyway? Pink? Purple? Pirpkle? Whatever it is, it seems to be a theme. (Trust Texas to have non-traditional fall color!)

The Beautyberry is quite conspicuous in the understory.

Gaudy, but great for dangling. (The one at the house does not have any fruit this year, on account of I let the tree-removers drop a big oak tree on it earlier this year and it is in the process of recovering.)

The Beggar-ticks has flowers the same color, only a few shades paler.

It has typical bean-family flowers and makes interesting little legumes (one of which is visible at the left end of the stem). They’re scalloped and break up into single-seeded bits that are just covered with microscopic hooked hairs, which makes them perfect for being dispersed by furry animals or clothing. I will keep an eye on this extensive patch, come back in a few weeks when they’re good and ripe, gather up a pound or so of them, and do a little experiment to see what happens when you dump them in the washer with a load that includes socks, sweatpants, and towels. (I’m all about the science.)

Looks like the Woolly Croton is doing well this year.

It has separate male and female flowers and is very, very furry.

Hey, I have an idea! Let’s see how well the Beggar-ticks stick to the Croton! A wildflower cage-match. It’ll be brilliant! I can sell tickets. . .

Whatever else Sigyn does on a nature walk, if she gets a chance to sit in a holly, she calls it a perfect day. The fruit on this Possumhaw are about half-ripe.

A little further along the path we have yellow rather than pirpkle. Unless I’m mistaken (which I rarely am), we are looking at Camphorweed.

That’s the flower head in the photo, but the wispy foliage to the left belongs to Horseweed, and the leaves to the right to another something else. (Sigyn, are you going to play ‘He loves me; he loves me not’ with the flower? Because I can tell you, if the ‘He’ is me; he definitely, definitely DOES!)

The something else those leaves belong to is, I think, Climbing Hempvine. The human female says, “it’s our only local viney member of the sunflower family or Asteraceae.”

She also says it’s related to the Mistflower. I can see that. Both have the same fluffy flower heads. There is certainly a lot of it here, sprawling over shrubs and climbing trees. It likes wet feet, so I imagine it is very happy here in the ditch by the path.

(That’s it, human female… Lean out over the wet ditch just a little bit more for the photo and it will be my perfect day… A little bit more… One good shove…)

Odin’s eyepatch! I hate it when she catches me plotting and removes herself to safety. I really, really wanted to see her sopping wet and muddy today! Oh, well. Maybe I will have another chance for mischief on the way home…

Hmm. There’s more water next to the sidewalk on the way home, a big floody area by the part of the wetland they didn’t build Large, Ugly Apartments on. I could push her down the slope into the Bagpod bushes…

Nah. She likes the clusters of redorangeyellow flowers so much and enjoys popping the seeds out of the inflated legumes enough that she’d probably just sit happily in the water enjoying the plant.

She wouldn’t like being pushed into the Horsenettles though. They have lovely flowers, but they’re very prickly.

In fact–ouch!–this member of the Nightshade genus–ah!— is– ow!—very unpleasant to sit in! I think I shall vacate! Besides, the sun has risen enough that it has cleared the surrounding trees and buildings, and it’s making me all squinty.

I don’t like squinty.

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How to Waste an Afternoon

I’ve written before about how the dusty old human female often spends hours at a time out at the dusty old herbarium, working with dusty old plant specimens.  She has two projects going on.  One is slowly making the herbarium’s database better, correcting errors, adding missing information, bringing the nomenclature up to date, and so forth.  (That’s what she says she’s doing, anyway.  I see a lot more YouTube than botany, some days.)

The other project is checking on distributions of various plants for the book on Texas botany she’s helping to write.  Does the local collection have a specimen of X from Y county?  Yes?  No?  If Yes, is it correctly identified?  If Yes and then No, what is the proper identification?  As you can imagine, this can be a very s l o w process, because each uncertain plant has to be correctly identified and its county compared to a master list of species occurrences, just in case it represents a new county for the map.

The process is made even slower by the fact that Midgardian science refuses to be a knowable, static thing.  On the contrary, I’m convinced that there are legions of plant nerds whose sole purpose in life is to constantly change the classification of things so that, at any given moment, whole swathes of the average herbarium consist of specimens with the wrong names on them.

Find a specimen.  Check the identification.  Check the name.

This furry gray one was originally collected as Gnaphalium falcatum.

gamochaeta1

That’s a good name, because it reminds me of wailing and gnaphing of teeth.

However, as you can see, someone has annotated the sheet.  If I understand the gobbledyspeak the human female was spouting, some geek at some point decided that Gnaphalium needed to be split up based on characters of something called “the pappus.”  I think that was it.  I could be wrong.  My eyes glazed over at that point and I was mentally counting my knives rather than really listening.  I think she said that this particular Gnaphalium is now in Gamochaeta.

“But, Loki,” I can hear  you saying.  “That annotation doesn’t say Gamochaeta falcata!  It says Gamochaeta antillana.”

Well-spotted!  This is something else I’ve arranged to slow the human female down.  I had a word with the person who wrote the latest treatment of these plants.  “I don’t care how or why or what,” I said, “but can you also split up what used to be Gnaphalium falcatum into two or three different things in such a way that other botanists will have to peer at every specimen under a microscope to sort them out?”  He was quite amenable to the bribe of several gold pieces, so now the human female is having to look at every single sheet of the former Gnaphalium falcatum to see how it should be placed.

Now she’s identified it, she has to make the correction in the database.  Let’s see.  This is sheet number 115267.

gamochaeta2

She’s looking up the record in the big spreadsheet….

gamochaeta3

Ehehehe!  I’m not sure if you can read that, but it says “Aristida adscencionis“.  That name belongs to a GRASS, a plant in an entirely CLASS.  Something is definitely NOT RIGHT.

So now she has to traipse across the giant warehouse that is the herbarium and rootle through the cabinet that houses Aristida adscensionis and see what is going on.  Are there two sheets with the same number?  Did someone mis-enter the number on the grass sheet?  She won’t know until she looks, and there are a LOT of Aristida adscencionis to look through.

(Later)  She didn’t find any such sheet among the grasses, so she has to assume that whoever entered this specimen in the database just copied the record before it and didn’t change all the information.  Good old 115267 only exists on this sheet, so now all she has to do is correct it in the database.

Well, that’s twenty minutes or so well spent!  She’s got a dozen or so folders full of Gnaphalium to get through.  I hope she packed a lunch!

One Last Foody Post–And Some Science

I realize this memoir has featured a great deal of food recently.  It is, without doubt, the Eating Season.  I pray you will permit one last post about food.

You see, I have accompanied the male to a boardgaming convention.  The food here is very, very different from what we’ve enjoyed in the last couple of weeks.  For certain, no one is doing any cooking!  Meals are grabbed catch-as-catch-can between rousing rounds of Legacy of Son of Small Furry Creatures of Catan, Apples to Oranges, or Screw It, Mars Is Too Cold, Let’s Just Terraform Utah.

I have found for the human male, one of whose hobbies is eating strange flavors of potato chips whenever he can find them, this new variety to try.

con-awful chips

I have learned some science from the human female.  I know how important replication of testing procedures is.  Therefore, I have insisted that everyone at the table has to sample these.  (Except me.  I am the “impartial” observer.”)

…crunch, crunch, crunch…

My hypothesis was correct, and the results are conclusive–these things are terrible!  Ehehehehehe!  You should see the faces you all are making!  Those will be Figure 2.1 in the paper I’m getting out of this.

Now everyone is looking for something to take the taste out of their mouths.  One of them has suggested partaking of these Propitiatory Chocolates packaged especially for convention goers:

con-chocolate

Niche market stuff…

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Oh, No! I Didn’t Study For This Test!

One of the classes is studying vision and the way various vision defects are inherited.  They’ve left a book of color-blindness test plates on the lab desk.  Sigyn, let’s have a look.  I can already tell you that I have superior, godly vision.  Don’t feel bad if I get a better score than you.

What do you see in this one?

colorblind1

People with normal vision will see a seven.  People with defective vision may see a four.  I can see both.  What does that mean?

Ooh. This one is a little harder…  Sigyn isn’t quite sure what the pattern is, but I can see a square-ish green figure eight. 

colorblind2

Sigyn, do you really not see it?  Yes, that’s right.  On the right hand side there.  It’s got square corners, but it’s still an eight.  (She can see it; she just thinks round eights are prettier.)

Let’s let the human female try this one.  I can see it clearly, and so can Sigyn.  Hint–it’s a blue and purple thing.

colorblind3

It’s right there, mortal!  They’ve hidden your IQ in the dots!

How well would you do?

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Goofing Up The Goop

A am bored.  I think I shall look around and see what mischief I can get up to in the human female’s workplace.  I wonder what is going on in the prep rooms?

Oho!  It looks as if the Prep Staff is going to be pouring little plates of agar and punching holes in them for the students to use for practicing their pipetting skills, in preparation for learning how to load and run a gel. The dishes are here, waiting to be poured, and the agar is simmering on the hotplate.

practice plates 2

I’m in luck!  Some have already been poured but not yet punched.  Here, let me help with that!

Punch!  Punch!  Punch!  Punch!  Ehehehehehe!

practice plates 3

There!  All punched!  And no, my glorious boots aren’t sterile, either, so there!

practice plates 4

One down, seven hundred and ninety-nine to go!

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There’s That Word Again…

It’s a universal phenomenon. Happens on all nine realms and in all the places in between. You hear a new word, something you’re absolutely certain you’ve never heard before. And then suddenly, boom! You run into it three times in the next week.

Today’s word is: SNORKEL. Sigyn ran into it at the pen show last week and fell in love with it. Every now and then she’ll say it to herself and giggle. “Snorkel.” It is indeed a funny word.

Believe it or not, the human female is trying to buy some. She needs them for an upcoming lab exercise. The students will be conducting an experiment on the diving response in humans. Apparently, this primitive species retains some animal hard-wiring. When their faces or heads go under cold water, their heart rate slows. The human female wants to see if this response occurs if the test subjects can still breathe while their heads are under water.

Searching for “snorkels” brings up a wide array of options. Everything from professional divers’ gear to cheap plastic kiddie models. The human female is now muttering under her breath—the really good ones are upwards of $30.00 apiece, which is not at all within the target price range for a state-supported institution.

Now she’s checking to see if perhaps the Vendor Who’s Responsible has them. I’ve tweaked their search algorithm for “better functionality,” and I’m delighted she gets to try out its new features. Ping!  Her search has yielded results.trying to buy snorkel

Ehehehehe! Cheap plastic kiddie models it is, then.

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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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