Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Science baking competition

This week my workplace held a special science-themed baking competition. Entries had to be cookies or cupcakes so they could be easily shared, and groups were encouraged to make entries related to their own research. My original idea was to make a periodic table of mini cupcakes (oh come on, you think it's awesome), but since I was off gallivanting with my Sydney visitors (will post on that later) I didn't have a chance to bake, so I was a spectator and taster instead. My group stayed true to our research and submitted bacterial-themed treats that resembled colonies growing on agar plates. I was very impressed with the entries, and my favorites included macaroons shaped like chromosomes and mitochondria eclairs. The winner was cupcakes decorated with sleeping babies from a group who does sleep research on infants- they were cute but the edible baby decorations were a little bit cannibalistic for my tastes. I really hope they hold the contest again next year- it was really fun and tasty!

Friday, August 19, 2011


I still look at nearly every day and was surprised to see a photo essay on a pink, 26 room mansion in Framingham known as the Owl's Nest. How have I never heard of or seen this place? And it gets better- the current owner has three pomeranians, a massive doll collection, and an Egyptian room. Apparently he's rich enough to be considered eccentric rather than crazy.

In other news, earlier this month, a man broke into a house in a wealthy Sydney suburb and clamped a device around teenage girl's neck, claiming that it was a bomb and demanding ransom. The authorities eventually determined that it wasn't a real bomb and removed the device. Earlier this week, the police tracked down and arrested the suspect, a middle-aged investment banker, in Kentucky. Weird!

Lastly, here's a website about the new Royal Children's Hosptial where my lab will be moving to in November. The current hospital was built in 1963 and the facilities are very outdated- for example, there are no vacuum or gas lines in the labs, and renovations are impractical due to the presence of asbestos. They ran out of office space so many staff members, myself included, have desks in a temporary trailer structure known as The Gantry. Although the move itself will undoutbedly be a bit of a hassle, I've been looking forward to the new digs and having my desk in the same vicinity of the lab. I do think that despite that dated surroundings, the current hospital does a great job of making it a positive, happy environment for the kids in for long-term care. They're continuing that tradition in the plans for the new hospital- they polled children to decide on color schemes, and the foyer will feature a two story aquarium.

What I didn't know until yesterday was that the new hospital will also feature a meerkat enclosure, presumably to entertain the pediatric patients. How awesome is that?? Here's an article on the first patient to tour the facility.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Movie review: Jane Eyre

I saw the new film version of Jane Eyre earlier this week, and I liked it much more than I expected. I remember reading the book by Charlotte Bronte in 9th grade and I recall disliking it, which is strange because I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the other Bronte/Austen novels I've read. Perhaps I was too young for it when I read it, or I had trouble getting past the lengthy starting section with Jane as a young child living an unhappy life (orphaned, she ends up in the care of a nasty aunt who then ships her off to a nasty boarding school). All I really remember of the book was someone mean whacking young Jane with a book, and a crazy lady kept hidden away in a tower. Thankfully, Jane's dreary childhood only takes up a small portion of the movie, and we encounter her at the age of 19, employed as a governess at a lonely mansion owned by...surprise! a handsome, rich, and enigmatic bachelor. If I lived in 19th century England, surely such men would be utterly charmed by my wit and spirit and seek to marry me in spite of my plainness and low social standing. And so it is with Jane and Mr. Rochester, however, this story does not have a classic happy ending like many of its counterparts.
I thought the movie was very well done and the strength was mainly in the casting. Australian Mia Wasikowska was perfect as the heroine- stoic yet passionate, wise beyond her years, and not too pretty. And what is a BBC period piece without Dame Judi Dench? I think this might be a rare case where I actually prefer the movie to the book.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Weekend Report

This weekend featured a LOT of eating. On Friday night, a Pakistani coworker had invited my labmates to join her for the fun part of Ramadan- breaking the fast at sundown. We went to a Lebanese restaurant that does a special set menu service for Ramadan. Diners are seated at 5:30 to tables spread with an impressive array of appetizers. See all that food on the table? That's just the first course. About ten minutes later, the call to prayer is played, signaling that it's time to break the fast, and everyone digs in. Traditionally, dates are eaten first to get blood sugar up. The mains course included lots of slow-cooked meats and kebabs. The food was so good it almost made up for the fact that the restaurant is alcohol-free.

On Saturday, I stuck with the Subcontinent culinary theme and went to lunch at an Indian colleague's house- she had made biryani, chicken curry, mushroom curry, salad with yogurt, and two types of bread. Face stuffing ensued. I tried traditional Indian lime pickles, which have some much red chili on them they no longer resemble limes in any form, and I actually really liked them- I am a fan of spicy foods, and these hit the hot spot without venturing into pain territory.

Saturday night I saw Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I saw the trailer a couple of months ago and it looked like the type of movie that could go one of two ways: it could be dreadful, like comically awful, or it could be really good- there was no way it was going to be a "meh, mediocre" type movie. I think feel squarely into the Really Good category, minus a couple of over-the-top scenes towards the end (the chimp riding a horse? come on now.). The science-heavy plot was interesting and the special effects team did a great job with the chimps- they seemed real rather than computer-generated, and they did a great job of giving them personalities without dialogue. I must confess that I haven't seen any of the Planet of the Apes film and all I really know about them is Charlton Heston and the Statue of Liberty scene, so I likely missed out on all sorts of nuanced references to the series. All I can say is that I'm glad my line of research involved bacteria rather than apes.

In other entertainment news, I finished the third and final book in the Hunger Games series. The style of books two and three is similar to the first, and I'll leave out plot descriptions so I don't spoil things for anyone. The third book is the darkest of the three and proceeds at a frantic pace until the ending, which seems to come about suddenly. I adored the characters and was dying to know how the story would end, but at the same time I didn't want it to be over. Now I can look forward to the movie- I had avoided reading about the casting because I didn't want it to influence my mental picture of the characters, but now it's kind of fun to see who will be playing different roles

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Census time

The Australian census took place earlier this week- on Tuesday, August 9th. I don't recall ever filling out a census form in the US but they seem to be much more serious about it in Australia- everyone fills out the census form on a specific date, and everyone staying in your house that night goes on your form, even if they are just a visitor. And it's mandatory- you get fined if you don't complete it. Because I am a nerd, I was kind of excited about being part of the census. The questions were fairly standard, age, sex, marital status, a lot of questions on heritage (where you were born, where your parents were born, etc..) and employment, although some of the examples they gave made me laugh- "What type goods or services does your employer provide? Examples: hairdressing, sheep and wheat."
If you like looking at graphs, here are some census data- enjoy!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

You learn something new every day

Did you know that there is a contraption on the market that allows women to pee whilst standing up? It's called the shewee. After post-soccer beers last weekend, we were talking about peeing, as you do, and one of my soccer teammates told us about the shewee and that she owns one. The conversation rapidly spiraled downhill from there. We asked her to describe it- I was envisioning a catheter, and she said "no, it looks more like a paper airplane."
It actually looks more like a funnel or a plastic chute, at least on the website, which states "It is ideal for outdoor pursuits and long car journeys or for travelling abroad." I'm sorry, but long car rides? That's what rest stops are for. As much as peeing can be an inconvenience, I don't really see the appeal of the shewee. The big problem is that to use it, you'd have to carry it around with you. Where? In your purse? Gross! And you'd presumably have to rinse it, as well. Although it would make for an excellent conversation piece!

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Short and sweet

My posts have been a bit on the long side lately, so here's an interspecies friendship story to mix things up a bit:

A chimpanzee babysits tiger cubs in a Thai zoo. Said chimpanzee also wears jean shorts, also known as jorts.

Thanks for the link, Caro!

How I learned to stop worrying and like skiing

I went skiing last weekend. Those of you know know me well realize that this is the equivalent of watching a friend who has been a vegetarian for over a decade chomp down into a t-bone steak. You see, I do not participate in a category of activities I refer to as Non-Shoe Sports. Non-Shoe Sports require putting something on your feet or standing on something that is not a shoe. To wit: skiing, rollerskating, snowboarding, surfing, skateboarding, ice skating, and the like. Poor balance, bendy ankles, fear of injury, and bad memories of being the child who had to get towed around by the hand at roller rink birthday parties all contribute to two imminent truths: 1. I am terrible at non-shoe sports and 2. I hate them.

I attempted skiing a few times from the ages of 18 - 22 or so, and the big problem was that I didn't know how to turn, so I'd just end up fucking flying down the slope, too fast to brake, so the only option was to tip over and tumble to a stop. Not fun. The other problem was that I always went with friends who were really good skiers, so I'd either end up by myself and miserable, or with someone else and feeling really bad they they were stuck on the bunny slope with me and my disasterness rather than off enjoying themselves on the real slopes. Plus, if I wanted to spend a lot of money on something that I didn't like, I might as well just go to the dentist. I soon learned that I enjoyed ski weekends much more when they didn't involve skiing, and happily opted to sit by the fire and read, drink cocktails in the hottub, or go snowmobiling or hiking while others did the whole ski/snowboard thing.

However, when one of my soccer teammates organized a trip to the snow (That's what they call it here- "going to the snow"- which never ceases to amuse me because I come from a place where the snow comes to you), for some reason, I decided to give skiing a try for the first time in over ten years. Maybe it was the novelty of skiing in Australia in July that drew me in or the assumption that there would be other novices on the trip, an assumption that proved to be entirely incorrect. We drove up to Mt. Hotham Friday night, spent the evening with wine and boardgames by the fire, and Saturday morning rented our gear and headed to the slopes. One of my friends is a former ski instructor and offered to give a mini-lesson, and she soon realized that I was not exaggerating in the slightest when I said I may possibly be the worst skier in the world. The plan was to learn how to turn, thinking that might be the key skill required to avoid the whole crash landing problem, and the first hour was pretty rough. It took me almost an hour to get down the easiest slope on the mountain because I fell on my ass about every 15 feet. When we finally reached the bottom, I dismissed my very patient instructor and practiced on my own for a little while. I had signed up for an afternoon lesson so I decided to stick around and give it a shot. And guess what? It was great! Being around other people who also sucked made it so much more fun! And I even started to get the hang of it...I got off the lift without falling (okay, 50% of the time) and I figured out the turning thing, to the point where I could make it the whole way down the mountain without falling. Granted, I was doing the snowplow most of the way, but I felt like I could actually control where I was going, and I started go a little faster and practicing keeping my skis parallel instead of in a V, and then hey, I realized that I was enjoying it. Then I got cold and decided to quit while I was ahead. The rest of the weekend involved lots of relaxing by the fire, but overall I had a great time. I'm already looking forward to my next trip to the snow, but I definitely plan to stick with the lessons for a while.