Monthly Archives: June 2008

Going green: water harvesting

Seems everyone out here in the desert is trying to go green and Mr and Mrs Juniorprof are no exception. We’ve already got our “green” car and we’re riding the bike to and from work. Yesterday, while I was hooping it up with some more senior colleagues (I should say I was raining 3’s on ’em), Mrs. Juniorprof went off to a water harvesting class at the local botanical garden. She came home with what sounded to me like an odd plan: to water the plants with water from the washing machine.

Yesterday afternoon we got a long pool drainage hose and a pipe clamp and took the washer drainage line out of the sewer line and placed this long (and cheap) hose on the end. Since the washer and dryer are already outside it was quite easy to run the hose over to a citrus tree. This morning we tried it out for the first time. To my amazement it worked quite well and an incredible amount of water came shooting out of the hose when the washer hit the spin cycle. The hose is long enough that we can move it from one tree (or cactus) to another between cycles and we can even hook it up to a water collection canister to save it for later. I’m quite impressed and would highly recommend this little technique to anyone wanting to save water (especially for those living in the desert). The people at the botanical garden insisted that neither washing detergent nor fabric softener is damaging to plants but they suggested that buying something biodegradable would make one feel more secure about the whole thing. Since we’d been doing that already, no worries on that front.

The next step for us is to figure out how to harvest the water off the roof during the coming monsoon season. Looks like I’ll be doing some gutter rearrangements in the near future so that we can put the water collection canister somewhere other than in the middle of the back yard.

Bike thieves are the lowest form of life

You try to do the right thing, riding to and from work, finally get into road biking (after years on a mountain bike — that also got robbed 4 months ago) and some jerk goes and robs your ride. Did I mention that’s the second one in four months? Did I mention its between seasons and darn near impossible to find a 56 or 57 in a decent price range right now? Did I mention my 25 mile ride for Sat morning that I’ve been looking forward to all week is off? Did I mention that I’m pissed?

Looks like I’ll be spying the pawn shops for the next few days.

Fancy Diagrams

At a recent meeting I noted that a few PIs have started to incorporate “professional-style” graphics into their talks. By professional-style graphics I mean the sort of graphics that you have come to expect in such publications as Nature Reviews. These graphics are colorful, eye-catching, and often look like something you would expect to see in an advertisement in a magazine or on a billboard. At the time, I suspected that these graphics were done by a professional graphics artist, but I didn’t know for sure so I asked. Nope, they were done by students in the lab who had experience with Adobe Illustrator or other such programs. It would appear that some of the young’ins are getting training in graphic design (or devoting their own time to the cause) allowing them to make diagrams of the science in these talks that are truly awe-inspiring. When I say awe-inspiring I am being quite serious. You could here gasps of amazement (or shall I say jealousy) among the audience when these diagrams were presented. I was among the gaspers. I was jealous.

Never one to be outdone, I decided that it would be to my young lab’s advantage to spend some time getting to know how to use Adobe Illustrator. Lucky for me, my institution has a site license for Illustrator so it didn’t cost me half an arm. I have now spent the better part of the past week getting to know the program and I am happy to report (perhaps naively) that the program is quite easy to use and I’m churning out all sorts of gorgeous diagrams to replace the old stick-figure type diagrams that used to populate my grants, papers and talks. I plugged one of these diagrams into a collaborative grant that we are currently getting ready to submit and let’s just say that my colleagues are very pleased.

So what is the point of writing a blog post on this? Continue reading

Producers vs. Consumers, don’t be a consumer (UPDATED)

A colleague of mine likes to share a saying passed down from a very famous neuroscientist who used to give this advice to all his trainees. “In science there are producers and there are consumers, don’t be a consumer!” What exactly does this mean? Well, consumers are those that pour over the literature endlessly, reading voraciously and going into excruciating detail on all papers they read (obviously a caricature, but you get the point). Producers are those who know the literature but prefer to experiment, trusting their own work rather than relying too heavily on what has been shown before.

Why do I bring this up? Three major reasons, creativity and interpretations of negative data (which are linked) and time management. But before we get to those, let’s begin with a bit of an ode to consumers. Continue reading


Busy, busy, busy, am I. We’re done moving the lab to the new digs and its looking great. We’re organized and running experiments again. This is a GoodThing.

On the other hand, we got three scores and/or grant reviews back this week. No good news on that front. My first grant submission to come back with a score got funded, 1 for 1. Now we’re down to 1 for 4. Well, what can you expect, funding is tight and we’re still hitting .250. There was one little thing that sort of irked me though Continue reading

Blogrolling TRP channels

I just noticed what I believe is the first blog from a TRP channel postdoc in the blogosphere. His name is Nathaniel Blair and he’s started a blog called The Junction Potential. The blog is brand new so go over and give him some encouragement and some hits. Maybe he’ll repay me with that advice we’re still looking for on gramicidin perforated patch which continues to be a thorn in our collective sides around the Juniorprof lab.

Why don’t you ever hear hip-hop in labs?

I’ve been thinking about the music that is played in labs lately. Most labs have some background noise going on. In my experience, the single most common background sound in a lab is NPR (us scientists love us some NPR). Lagging far behind NPR is weird shit. By weird shit I mean some kind of Brazilian samba, some off-kilter tango or the latest and greatest ultracool band that no one has heard of before. I have to admit, I have no problem with any of this stuff (after all, I loves me some NPR and samba) but do any of us actually listen to this stuff at home (aside from NPR of course).

For the last few weeks I’ve been paying attention to what I hear in other labs, to what I listen to in the office and to what I listen to when working around the house and in the gym. Continue reading

Why are new classes of analgesics needed?

I’ve written a few posts here lately about cannabinoids as new classes of analgesics. At some point I think I also wrote a post about how I am a chronic pain sufferer. I am one of millions of Americans that suffer from chronic low back pain. Over the past week I’ve been having a flare-up of epic proportions. Although the present situation basically sucks-ass for me, it does provide a nice opportunity to explore why the development of new analgesics is so important. There is a great clinical need and this stems largely from intolerable side effects of available analgesics.

Let’s start with a simple fact. Opiates and NSAIDs are effective analgesics. If you have an acute injury, chances are that you can take these compounds and have your pain effectively relieved. The problem is that if you need to take these compounds over the long term you are going to experience some side effects and in most people those side effects are going to make you stop taking your analgesics. Let’s look at the case of Juniorprof to understand how this happens. Continue reading

Completely Disgusted

I was watching The News Hour last night and Jeffrey Brown was interviewing Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald about the start of the Guantanamo hearings for the trial of Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. She mentioned that the proceedings were being shown to reporters via a closed-circuit system that was on a 20 sec delay so that the information being streamed to reporters could be censored for security concerns. A bit into the interview she mentioned that Ramzi bin al-Shibh was on psychotropic meds:

Ramzi bin al Shibh, one of the detainees, who — the one who was shackled to the floor, talked about some psychotropic drugs he was on, and the screen went blank, and the white noise came, and we were told that we couldn’t hear the discussion of what kind of drugs he’s on as part of his HIPAA privacy protections.

WTF, HIPAA protections!!! These suspects, who should be prisoners of war with the associated legal status, have no defined legal rights under national or international law but they have HIPAA protections? That’s a cop out if I’ve ever heard it.

Amnesty International has this to say:

Observers were later told that the sound had been cut under the Health Information Protection Act (HIPA). Such an explanation suggests that even if the US Constitution and international law are deemed by the US authorities not to apply to the detainees, this piece of legislation does.

Makes my head want to explode. What an utter disgrace. When are they going to tear that abomination that is Gitmo down and do this in a manner that is consistent with the principals principles that this nation is supposed to represent?

Your postdoc mentor should be an effective advocate for your career development…

At least I think so. I keep meaning to write a post about how my postdoc mentor was, and continues to be, an effective advocate for my career advancement. Now is that time. First a few disclaimers. I did not postdoc in a monster lab. I am in a relatively small field within the neurosciences. Small enough that I know most of the players personally, big enough that you can pick up a basic neuroscience journal and expect to see a few papers from my field in nearly every issue. Now that we’re done with that, let’s jump into the details. Continue reading