Aug 06

It’s Been a Long Hot Summer

Good day everyone and welcome back to my blog.  I’m sure you’ve been wondering “where’s Jimmy gone?” That is, unless you’re one of the many people who sees me on a regular basis…

In any event, I am not a summer person.  Summer has the effect of really slowing me down…too hot to work out, too hot even do much thinking, so I mostly have just been sitting on my duff.  All that said, I still got a few things done recently.

First of all, I HAVE actually gotten some blogging done.  I’m still writing a few articles a month for Bright Hub.  I have never really enjoyed “SEO baiting” types of assignments, but I think Bright Hub has set it up so the experience feels less like selling out and more like a network for answering questions that people may Google.

My writing for Geeks Are Sexy has decrease a bit (I think it’s just cyclical…sometimes it’s nice to take a little break), but I also got one story out for them as well.  I tend to write in order to AVOID work, so when I have little to do, I tend to slack off on blogging itself.  Hopefully once I’m nice and busy again, the freelancing will be a nice little diversion.

Here’s the latest:

For the most part, the rest of my time has been spent puttering about in the lab.  Working in a lab over the summer can be tough because sometimes your experiments kind of hit a wall and you can’t figure out how to move forward.  I’ve spent a lot of time reading protocols or trying to make found protocols work in real life.  Thus far about half of the stuff I’ve tried has worked and the others just give me nothing!

The semester (and my move into new housing) is fast approaching though, so I should be neck-deep in new responsibilities fairly soon.  I’m ready for summer to be over and for autumn to rush in and take its place!

Jun 24

Driving, Star Trek, and Other Adventures

Well Summer is FINALLY here (though I think the heat of Spring kind of stole its thunder).  I’ve been busy these last few weeks, mostly trying to enjoy the season while not getting killed by oncoming traffic.  So far in the last month or two I’ve been pulled over twice for incredibly minor stuff and have had my car crunched on from each end (fortunately I’ve had very minimal damage).  I don’t seem to have incurred any injuries, so that’s good.

On the topic of relaxing, I attempted to attend Crystal City’s showing of Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan out of doors (which was also attended by Think Geek).  I say attempted because I made it all the way down there, but just as the movie was starting, it began to really pour and soggied up the ground.  While Wrath of Khan is a great film, it wasn’t quite worth it to sit on wet ground for two hours, so the trip was aborted.  Don’t worry, though, I later watched it on Netflix streaming in all of its glory (and I got some Think Geek/NASA swag before I left the showing)!

Speaking of the internets, I have been kind of a busy blogger recently.  I wrote a few more stories for GeeksAreSexy.net this last month and have also realigned myself with BrightHub.com.  The latter is network for bloggers to write more “Googleable” stories.  Essentially the idea is to answer those questions that people ask directly of the Google search box.  It’s a great little site because even though the per article pay is fairly low, you get a large part of the revenue from long-term ad sales.  So far I’ve made a noticeable amount from the 14 stories I wrote two years ago, so I’m willing to give it another go!

Here are my GAS stories:

Here are my first Bright Hub syndicated articles:

Anyway, I’ve got some more stuff to share on the ol’ blog, but this post would be too long if I crammed it all in, so I’ll update it again in a short while.  Have a nice Thursday!

Jun 03

Exploits in the “End of School” Season

Contrary to popular belief, things DID happen to me during the downtime of my site.  Here’s a few examples…

School pretty much finished up until Fall.  My TAship is paused until I teach (probably) micro lab again, so I have all kinds of time to focus on the lab.  I also finished my unnerving but nonthreatening genetics course with a B.  Overall I guess it was a good semester, though mostly because it was much less hectic than the first.

I HAVE done a little internet-related work.  Mostly writing articles for GeeksAreSexy.net again.  This time I created Science Is Sexy: What’s The Big Deal About Synthetic Life? and REVIEW: Is Betterment.com Really a Better Way to Grow Your Money? It was nice to get writing again and find something I genuinely wanted to write about.

My lab work is going really well!  Thus far I have created a very successful transformant (a kind of genetically modified bacterium) and am currently working on deleting a gene from that bacterium.  If I can remove a gene and then replace it with my modified version, I’ll have essentially completed the “mutation and rescue” paradigm of molecular genetics.  Feel free to ask questions in the comments.

As an added treat for those interested in the above, here’s a picture of said transformant (the change is that one of its proteins is now fluorescently marked, so this is a fluorescent microscopy image), click it for a large view:

Right now the above bacteria are being a bit stubborn about giving up their genetic material (I mean I only want to blow up their outer layers and strip out their identities, geez!) so I’m cycling through a number of techniques that SHOULD be helping.  Thus far, no luck.  It’s still nice to feel like I’ve already done SOMETHING in lab this season.

As it goes with magic…I am kind of taking a little break.  Hobbies are only fun when you’re mentally engaged.  Just like my writing, sometimes the activity gets a little stale and I need some time away so I can miss it.  I’m pretty much just in maintenance mode…I still carry cards and can entertain a bit, but not a lot of new stuff is coming out at the moment.  I think it’ll probably pick up in Fall (also, Summer is horrible for card magic…humidity and “stickiness” are no fun for paper).

Lastly, on a pop culture note, I just saw Prince of Persia and LOVED it!  If you would like to see Disney’s Aladdin in live-action form, this is the movie for you.  The plot is pretty compelling too!

I’m so glad all this registration nonsense is behind me.  Now I can just get back to guilting myself into blogging at a regular pace!

[“Stand Back” image from XKCD]

Mar 03

A Day in My Life: Yesterday

Here’s a look at my usual schedule during the busy times of grad school:

6:30-7:30am
Awake repeatedly to multiple alarms (needed from lack of sleep).

8am
Leave for school

8:30am
Begin prep for the lab I TA (Microbiology)

9:05-11am
Teach the lab and handle the 20 things that will unexpectedly go wrong

11:10am-11:50
Grab some lunch at the food court (while tasty and filling, not too nutritious)

12-3:30pm
Work in the lab doing a number of protocols including enzyme digests, PCR, bacterial cell culture, and numerous gels (did most of those)

3:30-4pm
Chat with other grads waiting for class to start

4-6pm
Take graduate Genetics (looking at gene expression in detail)

6:15pm
Head home in medium traffic on Rt. 1

The rest of my evening involves a combination of dinner, grading papers/project/exams, reading several journal articles (avg. length 10 pages), and diverting myself with Hulu.  It should be noted that Twitter and podcasts permeate the whole day.

At about midnight (hopefully) I get to bed and wake up around 6am for the first time, clocking in about 5 hours of total sleep…starting the whole saga over again.

Overall, a very stressful way to be…part teacher, part student, part experimental scientist.  At least it’s never the same two days in a row!

Feb 28

I’m Internet Famous! – An Interview with Discovery News

feedbagLogoWowee I have been so super busy since my last update. More details on that in a bit, but first I have a neat announcement!

A couple weeks ago it my editor over at GeeksAreSexy.net (for whom I freelance occasionally) asked me if I wanted to do an interview with Discovery.   I was surprised at first that they would even know we existed, but it turns out that all of our sciencey stories over the last year have come to the attention of one of their podcasts.

The Discovery News Friday Feedbag podcast takes a few science stories each week and discusses them in a casual atmosphere.  They have a growing listener base and one of those loyal listeners forwarded our site to them.  Last Thursday (after quite a bit of planning and then snow and then more planning) I chatted with them via telephone on the show.  It was an incredibly fun experience and I’m glad that new media gives me a chance to share it with all of YOU.

Here’s the link to the podcast’s episode page….or if you don’t want to subscribe on iTunes, copy the link below into your browser URL bar to get the MP3 file. I’m about 1 minute into the file.

Also here’s our announcement about it on GeeksAreSexy.

Aside from being famous on the internet I’ve mostly been hard at work in grad school.  I have gotten a little closer to understanding my research project and ran my first successful PCR (which I got right on the first try).  If you don’t know what that is, just think of it as a complex chemical reaction which occasionally decides it’s not going to work at all!

Classes have been pretty interesting this semester, as they are significantly more microbially centered.  I’m really enjoying Microbial Pathogenesis, despite it’s 8AM meeting time.

On Friday I saw a talk by Dr. Robert Gallo, co-discoverer of HIV.  While I already knew the story of the virus pretty well, I was impressed by how amusing some of his personal stories were.

Lastly I’ve been helping out with new grad student recruitment and look forward to meeting the second batch of applicants next week.