Entomology, chemical ecology, evidence-based environmentalism and science in general. I like big bugs and I cannot lie.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Good riddance

And on the subject of American presidents, I've been trying to find a good picture of an eye with tears through Google images and instead I found this:

Completely useless for my project of course, but it made me laugh.

Americans - good at presidents, lousy at bureaucracy

There's about a three hour lag every morning between the time when my body wakes up and the time when my brain comes on line, so in order to function during this period I rely on simple rules rather than actual thought to function, such as "Positioning self behind stationary person in newsagent will eventually permit a transaction to take place, the result of which will be the acquisition of a Guardian". This was how I managed to spend ten minutes standing in Smiths on Friday behind a bloke perusing either the headlines or Lucy's tits rather than actually queueing up to pay. He eventually noticed me hovering behind him awaiting my next thought, turned and said "Gee sorry, I was so not in the line" in a broad Southern accent.

I almost hugged him and said "Don't worry about it, there's at least a 50% chance you voted for Obama". I didn't hug him, as this may have been taken the wrong way which would have delayed my purchase of a paper even longer, but the events of last week have left my with a warm and fuzzy sense of goodwill towards all Americans. This feeling is, however, in serious danger of dissipating following my dealings with the US Fish and Wildlife service.

I need to get hold of some Musca autumnalis, a fly that is very closely related to Musca sorbens and does pretty much what sorbens does in humans but in cattle. The University of Kansas has a colony, and rather naively I assumed it would be a simple matter for them to send me some. They offered me some free of charge as long as I promised to take care of the paperwork, which I thought was awfully decent until I found out what the paperwork entails.

To get insects out of USA you need an to fill in the form and pay the fee to get an export licence, then for every shipment you need to fill in a form and pay a fee to get an export permit. The form is very long and covers all animals, living or dead, up to and including pianos with ivory keys. It doesn't stop there either, the insects have to go out through a designated port and have a welfare inspection on the way out, all of which costs money. (Yes, a welfare inspection for a pest insect species that US universities have spent a lot of time working out how best to kill).I had got as far as trying to fill in the export license form and emailed to try and find out how much I needed to pay and how, and finally got a response saying that the University of Kansas, as a scientific research institution, was exempt and did not need a license after all.

After spending quarter of an hour attempting to bash my own brains out with my monitor, I sent a very polite email off asking what I should put on the application in the wee box that asked for export licence number, if the university of Kansas didn't need one. I have just had an email back saying that the University of Kansas should be filling in the form, not me, and am now giving serious consideration to a plan to hurl myself repeatedly against the insectary fly-killing grid and hope for electrocution.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Moral dilemma

Imagine a purely hypothetical PhD student, who for illustrative purposes only we shall call Judy. Judy ordered an expensive piece of scientific equipment that needs a specific power pack ordered with it separately. When it arrived Judy discovered that the equipment, which we shall say purely for the sake of this example costs ten times as much as the power pack does, worked perfectly but that there was a problem with the power pack. Judy phoned up the very helpful scientific equipment supplier who offered her a replacement power pack.

This morning a parcel was delivered to the lab where we're going to pretend she's based, containing another piece of the very expensive equipment, rather than its power pack. Judy now has two options, phone the supplier to ask for a replacement power pack and send the piece of equipment back, or just buy another couple of power packs.

On the one hand Judy is doing a PhD which she, perhaps rather egotistically, thinks will be of benefit to a large number of people and which will go a little faster with twice as much equipment. On the other hand Judy's Mum managed to instill a fairly powerful sense of Catholic guilt in her which has proved rather harder to shake off than the actual beliefs themselves and she's started thinking about the employees of the scientific equipment supplier sleeping on park benches with only a pile of glossy pamphlets on PCR supplies between them and the elements.

What should Judy do?

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Spellcheck no substitute for brain

Ok people, your pub quiz fact for today is that a fly's digestive system has three parts, imaginatively named the foregut, midgut and hindgut. Now I realise that Word's spellcheck can do some funny things when confronted with scientific terminology, but you'd have thought this wouldhave been picked up in the peer review:

From "Some Aspects of Epidemiology of Filth Flies"

The only known existing literature in different parts of Nigeria is that of Dipeolu and Ojo (Adeyeba and Okpala 2000, Dipeolu and Ojo 1975), who isolated several genera of bacteria, some of which are pathogenic to man in Nigeria. These were isolated from the dissected midgets, and appendages of M. domestica vicina and M. domestica caught from refuse dumps in various public places in Ibadan.
Of course if it turns out that Adeyeba and Okpala did in fact isolate pathogenic bacteria by cutting up very small people then I shall apologise unreservedly.

P.S. No more cockroaches spotted yet

Monday, 12 January 2009

A little too much entomology

Unlike every other Monday, when obviously I leap cheerily out of bed and skip to work whistling a jaunty tune, I have not had a good morning. I had to be in early to do something complicated with some machines, the details of which I won't bore you with (mostly because I don't quite understand it myself) and as Thameslink trains have only a 30% chance of getting you in at the time they say they will, this necessitated getting up at 5:30.

Switching on the kitchen light so early in the morning caused something to dart out from under the microwave and across the worktop. I must admit that my initial reaction was to shriek thinking it was a mouse, then think "Oh it's ok, it's only a German cockroach". It took a few seconds for my sleepy brain to realise that this was also a bad thing. I spent the next ten minutes chasing it up walls, behind the fridge and, generally, being outwitted by something with a brain the size of a pinhead, before dispatching him with extreme prejudice. I then had to give the worktops a quick clean on the offchance that Jeff would wake up and start licking them or something (admittedly unlikely, but better safe than sorry). This made me later than I would have been if I'd got up at the normal time when the cockroach would presumably have been hidden, allowing me to leave the house quickly in a state of blissful ignorance. I didn't have time to walk to the station and had to catch the bus - that roach owes me two quid.

So in all probability we have a cockroach infestation, which probably isn't something to confess to a few weeks before I'm considering having a birthday party. I will be monitoring the situation over the coming weeks (read getting up horrifically early and hitting my own fingers with frying pans).

Your pub quiz fact of the day is that cockroaches belong to the order Blattodea, so called because of the noise they make when you step on them. German cockroaches look like this:

Monday, 5 January 2009

Guide to easing yourself back into work mode gently

  1. The Saturday before you go back try to wake up at commuting o'clock. Fail.
  2. Repeat on the Sunday before you go back. Fail. (In my case, turn off the alarm and overshoot by six hours)
  3. Somehow manage to get out of bed on Monday. Walk into wall. Discover it's snowing. Discover the price of a season ticket has gone up. Reward yourself for surviving this far with a cup of coffee. Discover the coffee shack next to Harpenden station makes lousy coffee.
  4. Waste half an hour deleting emails from beautiful Nataliana who wishes to do me acquaintance.
  5. Check gmail.
  6. Check facebook.
  7. Mess about on Badscience for a bit. Convince yourself this counts as work.
  8. Check facebook again.
  9. Realise you have two days to get your fieldwork proposal into an acceptable form to submit for ethical approval.
  10. Panic. Then go on blogger to try and ignore it.

Happy New Year all.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Clinical shiny beats green and spiky

Some time ago I asked you to vote for which type of forceps looked least threatening, and nine people did. That's right folks, nine people read my blog and I don't even have any porn on here! I haven't felt this popular since my Mum picked me up from school with the dog!

But back to the forceps, it looks like the round-tipped metal ones have beaten the friendly green plastic six to three, which is good as the plastics are a complete bugger to grip. Thanks everyone who voted.