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Through the Slump?

I think I might be through my August slump. I love what I do and I find the questions fascinating. But sometimes, I see the entirety of the work ahead of me and feel a little overwhelmed. I get stressed out, I get headaches and get tired, and I start to shut down a bit. It is harder with my husband halfway across the country. Luckily this never lasts for long for me- a couple of weeks.

I've been overly migraine-ish anyway, but apparently the monsoon season does this to many of my fellow sufferers. As wonderful as the weather can be in Tucson, when you add wildly shifting barometric pressure to very bright, intense sunlight, you get a recipe for migraine disaster.

slump + monsoon migraine = yucky month and low productivity... which of course adds to the stress which adds to the ... anyway, you get the point.

Luckily, I have my tricks to break free. First, I realize that I've actually been getting things done so I need to quit beating myself up. Along with that, I get enough sleep, drink plenty of coffee in the morning, and remember all the lessons I learned in the mindfulness meditation classes my wise doctors made me take through the medical school. (Laugh all you want about the mindfulness meditation: that stuff works. When three separate doctors insist you learn something to be more healthy, its a good idea to pay attention)

Then I take a step back. Where am I in my research? How close am I to cool results (or any results)? What are the nifty next steps I'm going to enjoy taking? How about my long list of awesome experiments I really want to get to? How does all of this move my research program forward and help define me as a scientist?

That and thinking about the job market and where I want to be is usually enough to kick me in the pants and get me excited again. Heck, I have cool papers just on the verge of submitting to journals. I've got a nifty experiment running that should be done by Thanksgiving or Christmas. That's much faster than the 2.5 or 3 year running time of each of my last 3 experiments. Gotta stay positive!

Ahhh, the process of working on long term goals.

New Laptop!!! More stuff to do!!!

I have a good reason to celebrate today: my new laptop came in. There are good parts and bad parts to this event. On the happy side of things, this is the nicest computer I have ever had. One of the university tech guys picked it out for me, and it is totally fast and awesome. They installed Office for me and took off all the crap-ware. The screen is crisp and I *finally* have a webcam built in. This will make life much nicer.

On the crap side of things, since its through the university, its set up for stupid users. He thought he'd given me admin rights, but I guess not, since I can't install a damned thing. Blech. On the other crap side of things, it took a $2,000 chunk out of my research slush fund for the year. That plus $400 for some extra software, and I have definitely put a dent in that account- and its only 18 days into this fiscal year. Whoo-hoo! Luckily my research is relatively cheap, and I spent all my summer money getting the start-up going for the experiment I'm running now.

This computer was missing Outlook, which I've always hated anyway. So I have fully moved over to Google. A really nice benefit is an automatic sync with my Blackberry calendar. No more wires! I enjoyed Xobni for Outlook, but I'm thinking Gmail for everything will work well. I've always liked the way Gmail gathers up related emails (same subject heading and the emails that spawns) and it is hard to beat the search function in Gmail. So I set up my two university emails with Gmail and I'm ready to rock.

What I'm lacking now is a graceful way to handle task lists. The Google tasks is not set up to sync with Blackberry yet (although my husband, with an Android phone, is in luck). The task function in Blackberry is decent, in the sense that it is simple. BUT, sometimes a girl wants to edit these things on a computer. There are quite a few task apps available for Blackberries, but I'm cheap and lazy. Lately, I've had relatively short task lists. I've been working with a modified David Allen GTD system, where I have all my projects mapped out and the only thing that makes it to my task list are the "next steps" and things I need to do over the current week. I might start calendaring more also.

So what's next? Get those stupid admin rights and then install the things I can't live without (but don't have yet): Statistica, Endnote, MindManager, and MatLab. I already have CS4 everything, so that part of life is good. And I've moved my files, to that is good. Of course, to install that stuff I'm going to have to install Java, Quicktime, and a whack of other things from the web...

Putting Numbers on Bees

I don't know about you, but I can't tell one bumblebee from another. They all look just about alike to me. It reminds me of my first job in high school at Chick-Fil-A, when a few of my coworkers informed me that all white people look alike. That was actually a fun job with some pretty funny people. But I digress. The next best thing to name tags for the bees is numbers.

They (people who sell beekeeping supplies) sell these little colored tags with numbers on them for marking honeybee queens. They come in five colors, numbered from 1 to 99, and you can fix them to a bee using super glue (what else?). It is a fun little process and my mother claims the bees come out looking like they're wearing sweaters. Or maybe ice hockey jerseys.

Once my two colonies of bees came in, I spent the next two full days supergluing tags on each little bee (except for the queen, who is rather huge, and couldn't ever be confused with her smaller daughters).

How do you superglue a tag to a bee? Very, very carefully. Actually its pretty easy. You grab a bee with a giant set of tweezers. The bee gets angry. Then you stick the bee into a tube. The bee gets angrier and starts buzzing in a rather menacing fashion. Then you take a plunger and squeeze the bee towards the end of the tube. At this point the bee is thoroughly provoked but can't buzz anymore because its wings are pressed to the mesh covering the end of the tube. I don't know why, but I find this hilarious. Ok, before anyone starts thinking I'm evil, please know that this is all done gently and no harm comes to the bee!

Once the bee is immobilized, you grab a tiny amount of superglue, put it on the bee (away from the wings!), and stick on the tag. This little bee is Orange 14, from my colony #1.

After repeating this process over, and over, and over again, you get a colony of bees that all have numbers. At this point you can have some fun and collect data about individuals to your heart's content. To the right are some individuals with green tags, busy at work tending to new sisters and such. I say "and such" because I'm merely a casual observer of colony maintenance and reproduction. I'm really only interested in the foragers: the ones that leave the nest in search of food for everyone. Foragers will, conveniently enough for me, go all sorts of distances in their task... they will travel through yards of tubing and brave the wilds of the plexiglas mazes.

Mail-Order Bees

One aspect of bumblebee research that had me entranced from the beginning is that you can order your experimental subjects by mail. Yup- by mail. No catching things in traps, no kidnapping nestlings, no quarantining and de-worming, no blended concoctions of worms and food pellets, no complex breeding charts... just a 1-800 number and a credit card.

The reason? Well it certainly isn't for the benefit of making scientists' lives easier. It is because bumblebees are economically important. These little pollinators are important agricultural workers, and they are particularly good in greenhouses. Those greenhouses where many of our tomatoes and other veggies are grown, all of which need to be pollinated.

A few weeks ago I got my first bees in. By mail. They come in plastic boxes packed into fetching yellow and white boxes, packed into standard cardboard boxes for shipping. The plastic boxes just won't work if you need to observe the colony and work with them conveniently, so the bees have to be moved.

How do you move bumblebees and a next from one container to another? Very, very carefully. First you get your new container ready. We had some new, stylish plexiglas colony boxes, so I used those. I added a substrate (the lab uses wooden cat litter) and got ready for bees. Since bees don't fly in the dark, and don't see under red light, that's the way to go. You set up a little bee red light district in a dark room and move the bees one by one. Its a bit tedious, but better slow than stung!

After everyone is moved, you can move the entire nest with the queen. Add food, make sure everything is covered, and voila! a new bumblebee home!

Blogging and Bad Dogs

Well, July was certainly a busy month. I got back from Brazil, got bees in the lab, and started up with some research. My mom visited, I got a new rug, and very importantly, I adopted a dog (as seen below).
We named him Leroy Jethro Gibbs, or Gibbs for short, or Gibbsy, when I'm being nice. Gibbsy is a rescued dog. They think he's about 2 years old and he apparently came from some people who were hoarding dogs (40 dogs in a garage or something like that).

Gibbsy is super sweet, very affectionate, and not a barker. I had to housetrain him though. It seems the extent of his housetraining was to not go in his kennel. I have a fenced-in backyard, but on the advice of dog training websites, I walked him on a leash for the first 3 weeks. This was I could see his bathroom habits and confirm the, ahem, events becfore we came back inside.

This seemed to be working well, so we switched to off-leash a few days ago. This switch was apparently a mistake. We spent a good 20 minutes outside tonight at dusk. I watered my plants and read an article on the history of shell-collecting, and Gibbs did doggy things. We came back inside, where he promtly peed on the blanket on the bed. My bed. The bed he also sleeps in (at the foot of the bed), which is where he peed. What was he thinking??

I promptly kicked him outside (well, not literally), where he'd better have finished his business for the evening. Now I'm doing laundry. Thank goodness I have my own washer and dryer now!

Strange behavior, given our past weeks together. He's still not quite figured out he must poo outside- he occasionally favors a rug by the front door. And he's had an incident or two inside other places (which I figured was a transfer/generalization issue... "don't pee in my own house, but other indoor locaitons are ok..."). We were working on that. Any advice is appreciated.

Ahhh, dogs. Other than these occasional issues, he's been pretty good. He's a nice size: 18 pounds, has a nice temperament (he's at least half corgi), and is a great companion. He also likes mango, we discovered. I think we should start some formal dog training this month. That could be useful.