Tuesday, September 23, 2008

knitting nowhere


It seems that the knitting muse has left me. I am having approximately zero luck with getting anything done. Well, that's probably because I am having approximately zero TIME to work on anything. It's interesting to me how my time is spent very differently with another person being important in my life - namely Not Joe. ...Perhaps I need to start toting my works-in-progress over to his place whenever I go hang out. We do a lot of sitting around talking, anyhow; I might as well knit while doing so.

Regardless of the time issue, there's also the previously mentioned (yes, from way back in July *whimper*) fact that nearly everything I was working on seems to be at a stage where the best option for it is to pull it all apart and begin again. I thought that I could use a quick project to motivate me back into knitting. I chose to make some hand warmers (a.k.a. fingerless gloves) out of alpaca. I adore alpaca, and I knew that fall and winter were on their ways and wouldn't it be lovely to have something soft and warm on the hands when the air became crisp? It's crispy now, but I have no hand warmers. I have started them four times, and then I mess up the simple lace pattern so terribly that the best option is to start all over. Not so cool. To steal a line from Relient K, "They say I've lost my Midas touch, what once turned to gold now turns to rust."

I am thinking I need a Knitting Weekend. Stop doing all the other things I am doing - work, road trips, cleaning my apartment, attacking Joelle's hair, sewing (more on that on another day), more work - and tell myself I have nothing I need to do except knit. ...But it sure is hard to convince me that it's okay to not do all of those other things and be allowed to do something...enjoyable. Wow, what a concept!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I'm reading a novel. This does not seem to happen very often anymore. The last novel I read was the final Harry Potter book about a year ago. Actually, that may well be the last book I read, period! I pick up books here and there, but very infrequently do I actually get through more than about half of the book before I get distracted or lose interest. Talk about ADD!

Nevertheless, here I am reading a novel. (Although, to be honest, I'm thinking about tossing it aside and not reading any more of it, but that's mostly because the book is bothering me because it's kind of R-rated.) The thing about reading is that it can create a sort of alternative reality. A reader can get so engrossed in what is happening within the pages of the fictitious story that the story seems to be truly unfolding. When the reader is reading, she's entirely into what is happening to the characters. When the reader is not reading, she's thinking about the characters just like she would her friends or family - wondering what they're going to do next, trying to figure out why they acted a certain way... I suppose that's what makes good writing. But it's kind of scary.

While reading my current book, I've been engrossed in the main character's changing relationships with various other characters. I noticed today that I am giving perhaps more of my "reality attention" to the characters' interpersonal relations than my own! Not Joe is in China right now for work and has been gone for the past two weeks. Despite his frequent emails and online chats and calls, it's very different having him not here. In fact, when I strolled in the lab this morning and glanced at the picture of him and me that is on my desk, I felt astounded and bewildered: I'm dating this guy? ...What did I ever do to be so lucky?! I'm dating this guy? Since when do I date people? I only ever have had one boyfriend in my life (yes...I am 27...), and that was eight years ago and really kind of weird and only for three months. I'm dating this guy? He's pretty great. :-)

And...he feels very unreal right now, like just words in an email or on G-chat, like simply a voice on a less-than-perfect phone connection from the other side of the world, like a face in a photograph, like a fictitious someone out of a novel. The unrealness of it brought me the shock: I'm really dating this guy? Truly. Woah. Pinch me. Some part of me is afraid to say it or write it down, because maybe by declaring that I'm dating Not Joe will somehow nullify it, curse it, end it.

The reality of it all is that he is real and we are really dating and he is coming back soon. His flight leaves Beijing in 12 or so hours. He's (presumably/hopefully) sleeping now, and then he'll wake up and get on a plane, and then I'll be picking him up at the airport in State College tomorrow night, God willing. I have been waiting for tomorrow night for the past two weeks. There are many eager questions. What will he say? Will he be dog-tired from the 24+ hours of travel? Will the flights be delayed and I'll end up grumpily waiting in the airport? What will it be like to see him again? What will it be like for him to be tangibly REAL again? Reality is, without a doubt, better than fiction.

Just like in a novel, all I can do is keep trucking along, getting through one "page" after another, letting the story unfold at its own pace. So...I will wait and see what is on the upcoming pages!

So...you want to see? Hee hee. I apologize for my giddiness. I bet it's pretty cute, though.

Thursday, September 04, 2008


This is a little randomocity (that's not really a word), but here goes.

I love words. And over the past week I've been struck with multiple moments of love towards them. Today when it occurred it was enough to send me over here to blog about it.

Every day I receive in my emailbox a note from Anu Garg who publishes A Word A Day. He includes a word, its definition and etymology, and a few examples of its use. Today's word is one I've not heard of before but am entirely grateful that it exists. It's a word that describes something that I find very difficult to put into words: a feeling of resentment and hostility accompanied by the lack of means to express or act upon it. The word is "ressentiment," pronounced Frenchly ruh-san-tee-MAH with the final syllable being nasal. How many times have I felt this way and wanted to say that's how I feel but have been entirely unable to say so?! Wooh! I love words that can succinctly and accurately describe things!

Anu also includes a quote, which has nothing to do with the word. Today's quote addresses a question I've been pondering recently: What is love? (Yes, every time I ask this question the song come into my head... It's a bit distracting.) Here's what essayist Michel de Montaigne has to say about it: "If a man should importune me to give a reason why I loved him, I find it could no otherwise be expressed, than by making answer: because it was he, because it was I." Ah. So sweet. So accurate. Love is not reasonable and is not able to be reasoned, so it certainly cannot have a definition that really is definitive.

My final thought for the day is that there are words that don't exist but we think they do. Just yesterday I was going to write the word "strategery" - you know, cunning, tactical skill, the quality you must employ in order to successfully carry out a good strategy. But...it turns out that it's not a word. So why in the world do I think it is?! Do you know who made this word that is not a word? A fake George W. Bush. James Downey, writer for Saturday Night Live, created it for a skit poking fun at Bush's invention of and misuse of words. Sad thing is, the fake word has actually now been adopted by the White House. Yow. And all of this tricks me into thinking it's actually a word. No fair!

...Can someone explainify that to me!?!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

alterations and another mystery

For Labor Day weekend I set out to finish revisions for a paper I submitted months ago, cut Joelle's hair all off, do all of the dishes, and unpack boxes that have been sitting in my bedroom since I got here in April. I also intended to get a fairly good chunk of work done in the lab.

At the end of the weekend, what I had in fact done was...play the Sims 2 for a good 12 hours, chill with friends on Saturday and Sunday nights and all afternoon Monday, have ice cream and coffee with coworkers, wash half of the dishes, cut about a quarter of Joelle's hair so that she looks rather insane, write about one sentence for the paper and take out about ten sentences, and rearrange all of the furniture in my apartment.


The good news is that somewhere in the midst of the half-hearted haircut and the major change in layout, Joelle seems to be making it into her litter box much better. It is also possible that my presence in the apartment (as opposed to the lab) for much of the weekend contributed to her success. I have also been slipping in some raisins and outstanding grapes when she gets treats for good behavior. In any case, something seems to be working.

Back at work, another mystery exists. In the history of my lab's working with my bacterium, there has only been one or two instances where there has been successful growing of the bacteria on what we call agar plates. They're sort of like Jell-o in a Petri dish. My bacteria only grow when there is no oxygen, and they like very specific growth conditions (a.k.a. what's in the Jell-o). Apparently I am not providing them with what they want, because they are not growing. And that is not good.

The question is WHY. There are several possibilities. One is that there is oxygen in the place where I'm trying to grow the bacteria, and that would make the bacteria die. Another is that the agar plates have not been prepared correctly, which could mean that the ingredients are slightly wrong, they got burned in the process of being made, THEY have oxygen in them, or something else. And it is also possible that there is both a problem with oxygen in the growth chamber and issues with the agar plates.

Slowly but surely clues are coming in. First, the chamber that I thought had no oxygen in it seems to in fact have oxygen. It depends on whether I look at the electronic oxygen sensor (which says there isn't any) or at the low-tech oxygen sensing paper strip (which says there IS). I tend to believe the paper strip since when I put excess non-oxygen gas into the growth chamber and overpressure it so that the rubber gloves that are part of the contraption blow up like balloons and stick out, the gloves deflate back to normal pressure within a few hours. This indicates a leak. Not Joe, being a mechanical engineer and rather handy, stopped by the lab and helped me in this investigation and agrees with me that there's a leak. He's funny: he wanted to figure out in which part of the multi-part chamber the leak existed, and he asked if I had a stethoscope so he could listen for leaks. Why in the world would I just randomly have a stethoscope!? Apparently a screwdriver works just as well, because he used that instead and achieved his diagnosis.

Another clue is that agar plates stored in a separate non-oxygen chamber have a high pH. This is bad since the bacteria don't like high pH and will die if exposed to it. What is kind of annoying is that the chamber in which the pH is wrong actually has no oxygen, which is what I want. But since it has nitrogen gas and not the carbon dioxide that would make the agar plates be at a normal pH, it's useless.

I also realized that the previous work done with the bacteria in our lab was performed in a chamber that detected oxygen using the same oxygen detector that seems to be giving erroneous readings in the leaky chamber. That old chamber also had some odd glove pressurization issues, so it's quite possible that it, too, was leaking and had oxygen inside and was killing the bacteria.

So, at least things are starting to make some sense. The long and short of it all is that there are probably multiple issues going on. Now all I need is one simple way to fix all of those issues. ...Getting that simple way is probably not going to be very easy, though!

Thank goodness I took a class in forensic science in college, eh? I'll get to the bottom of this, and hopefully within a couple weeks I'll have bacteria growing AND all of Joelle's bathroom habits contained in one location. Hopefully I will not need to rearrange all of the furniture in the lab in order to do so...!