Sunny Sussex by the Sea to Boisterous Barcelona

September 11th, 2010, 12:54 pm PDT by Kat

My conference went well. It was quite weird giving a bird talk to a room full of people who study plants, but I think it went as well as could be expected. The point of my talk was to show the plant researchers using controlled environments (growth chambers, greenhouses) what kinds of other research can be done using the same chambers. The highlight of the 2-day conference was a visit to the Millenium Seed Bank and Kew Botanical Gardens at Wakehurst Place. The seed bank was amazing and quite beautiful. They were one of the first Millenium projects approved for funding. At present they are processing/storing the seeds of 10% of the world’s plant varieties. They dry and freeze the seeds and periodically test them to ensure that they are still viable. By 2020 they hope to have 25% of the world’s plant varieties stored there. It’s an important thing to do, and I’m glad someone is doing it. The botanical gardens were gorgeous too. We got a behind the scenes tour, which included the back growing plots and greenhouses. I was also able to see a Chinese tree that has only flowered twice while at the gardens – the first time was 27 years after it was planted at the gardens, and the second was this year. Apparently, the first time it flowered, the head gardener was on vacation, and he missed it! When we left “sunny Sussex by the sea” it was chilly and misty.

In contrast, the last three days we’ve spent in Barcelona have been sunny and hot. We’ve eaten our way around the city and have seen many of its breath-taking sights. We had fruit at Mercat de la Boqueria (food market), lunched in the Barri Gotic near the Catedral de Barcelona, had tapas just off of La Rambla (Taller de Tapas is very good!), saw the monument to Christopher Columbus (who happens to be pointing the wrong way if he’s supposed to be pointing towards the New World), had paella on the Barceloneta beach, and had traditional Catalan food. In between meals we found time to visit Antoni Gaudi’s unfinished Sagrada Familia and the Olympic stadiums and arenas on Monjuic. So yes, we’re definitely enjoying the food and the sights here in Barcelona. We’re saving La Ribera neighborhood, which has a Catalan gothic church and the first covered food market in Barcelona, for our last day in Europe.

It’s an interesting comparison between London and Barcelona. In London, we didn’t find the food all that exciting (although I did enjoy the pies and pasties), but then again, we really didn’t see any British people eat (just drink). In Barcelona the food is amazing, and everywhere you look people are eating (and drinking) at all times of the day.

Tomorrow we board the Norwegian Jade for our Mediterranean cruise. Looking forward to crepes in Nice, tripe in Florence (at least I am, not sure about Greg) and pizza in Naples!

What I’ve been doing lately

July 24th, 2009, 11:59 pm PDT by Kat

This has been what I’ve been staring for the past month – almost constantly for last two weeks. I’ll be glad when I can get back to the lab full-time.

Marital Rating Scale

May 14th, 2008, 12:13 am PDT by Greg

Boing Boing just had a post on a 1939 marital rating scale for wives. The obvious question in a case like this is: how does my wife score on this scientific rating?

Only one way to find out… (Points up for grabs in square brackets. Points given at end of commentary. )


  1. Slow in coming to bed—delays till husband is almost asleep. [1] Generally goes to bed before me. Does that count? Probably. -1
  2. Doesn’t like children. [5] She kind of does, but I don’t. Again, the condition is pointing in the wrong direction. I’ll take off partial points: -2
  3. Fails to sew on buttons for darn socks. [1] Never. -1
  4. Wears soiled or ragged dresses or aprons around the house. [1] Two words: flower pants. Taking extra points for those. -2
  5. Wears red nail polish. [1] Nope. -1
  6. Often late for appointments. [5] “I’ll meet you in five minutes.” Yeah right. -5
  7. Seams in hose often crooked. [1] Not applicable? She does have that one pair of sweatpants that don’t sit right (because they were “cheap”). I think that falls under number 4, though. 0
  8. Goes to bed with curlers on her hair or much face cream. [1] There are a lot of creams, but not visible when going to bed. 0
  9. Puts her cold feet on husband at night to warm them. [1] Oh god, how do feet get that cold? Extra demerits: -2
  10. Is a back seat driver. [1] Only complains when I say things like “gonna die” while in the process of a dodgy left-hand turn. Reasonable since she’s the one exposed to oncoming traffic in that situation. 0
  11. Flirts with other men at parties or in restaurants. [5] Any flirting likely negated by mine. 0
  12. Is suspicious and jealous. [5] I will give her this one: I’m a tool, but she trusts me. Giving a point back. +1 [N.B. Her trust is well-deserved.]


  1. A good hostess—even to unexpected guests. [1] Yeah, she’s good like that. It’s the Filipino side. When left alone in the house for extended periods, I can only offer unexpected guests delicacies such as filtered water and ketchup. +1
  2. Has meals on time. [1] Not particularly. Sometimes I even have to cook! 0
  3. Can carry on an interesting conversation. [1] Often goes on about boring science stuff, but is generally interesting enough. Tie goes to the runner: +1
  4. Can play a musical instrument, as piano, violin, etc. [1] Her mother bought her a piano, and then she decided she didn’t want to play. For her mom: 0
  5. Dresses for breakfast. [1] Pffft. 0
  6. Neat housekeeper—tidy and clean. [1] Better than me, but not particularly so. 0
  7. Personally puts children to bed. [1] Not applicable. I’ll give it to her: +1
  8. Never goes to bed angry, always makes up first. [5] We’re not big fighters. Sure, why not? +1
  9. Asks husband’s opinions regarding important decisions and purchases. [1] Hrm. A real split decision here. She often buys crap (and more crap) without telling me (or actively hiding it from me). These are rarely “important” purchases, though. I’m nothing if not generous: +1
  10. Good sense of humor—jolly and gay. [1] I’ll leave “gay” alone. She’s a funny one. +1
  11. Religious—sends children to church or Sunday school and goes herself. [10] Oh, you hate to see that many points slip through her fingers: 0
  12. Lets husband sleep late on Sundays and holidays. [1] I often wake up before her, but I suppose she would let me sleep in. +1

If I’m doing the arithmetic right, that comes out to -6. Ouch.

The brief article doesn’t provide any guidance on how I’m supposed to interpret the results. You probably have to pay for that: that’s how they get you. The negative number can’t be good, though. [Edit: Oops… it’s in the original image.]

I’m sure that if I really worked at the scores, I could get her up to zero. Frankly, I’m too tired (and a little drunk) to do that now. Too bad, because I am actually rather fond of her.

[Kat: Please note that there’s an implicit demerit for beating your husband to death after assigning you a score on this scale.]

Edit: Somebody posted the full booklet on Flickr. On the analogous first page of the husband’s scale, I’d say I come out perhaps slightly better. Go me!

Hello friend, I’ve been waiting for you

April 14th, 2008, 4:01 pm PDT by Kat

I’m giving this Friday’s Lunch Bunch talk in the department. For those of you at SFU, it’s like BISC’s Les Ecologists seminar. Today is Monday, and I just started working on my talk this morning. I’m supposed to give a practice talk to the lab on Wednesday afternoon.

For the past week or so I’ve been wondering when my friend, The Fear, would show up. Well, it finally got here today.

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, picture this. You have a large assignment, exam, paper, or *ahem* dissertation due soon, but for whatever reason, you procrastinate… a lot. Then at some point, generally close to the due date, it finally dawns on you that you have JUST enough time to finish said project. You get this feeling of dread. What if you don’t finish? No… you HAVE to finish. Crap! Yup, you have what Greg and I have termed “The Fear”.

Sadly, it seems like I have made an academic career out of facing The Fear. It started with studying the night before exams. No problem. Then it was waiting until the last minute to write my MSc thesis. I cut it a bit close, but really, who doesn’t leave the printing of the thesis until the day that it’s due? The crowning glory to my increasingly unhealthy relationship with The Fear came the night before my dissertation was due; by 11 pm that night I had yet to write the introductory and conclusion chapters. I think I broke down at around 2 am and cried, but in the end, I made it. The dissertation was turned in on time (thank you Tina, Oli, and Em for last-minute proof-reading and help with printing!).

So now with the last talk I’ll ever give at UNC looming, I think I’ve finally got it down to where The Fear is showing up at the appropriate time. I think I can prep this talk in about 3 days, and technically I have 4 days until I have to give the talk. So maybe I’m heading back towards the more supportive (sometimes you just need a little push to get started) and less psychotic relationship that I had with The Fear when I was an undergrad. I hope so. I’m getting old, and the stress associated with The Fear is really starting to kick my ass.

Ask me on Friday whether today was a good day for The Fear to show up, or if it should have been here last week.

Measuring the Unmeasurable

March 31st, 2008, 11:00 pm PDT by Greg

Today, I’m going to expound on two examples I have come across recently of researchers trying to measure properties that are very difficult to measure, and politically charged.

At SIGCSE, I saw a paper on sex and gender in CS presented, which was thoughtfully titled Cultural Representations of Gender Among U.S. Computer Science Undergraduates: Statistical and Data Mining Results. The results depend on running a bunch of (CS and non-CS) students through the Bem Sex Role Inventory and looking through the results for patterns.

The Bem inventory involves looking at a bunch of adjectives (“analytical”, “warm”, “adaptable”, …), and deciding how much that describes you. Each of the adjectives has a gender that it describes (“masculine” or “feminine”), and you get a score at the end. Of course, there’s a huge cultural bias involved in this score, but gender (as opposed to sex) is a social construct anyway, so off we go.

The results he found were very interesting, but not what I want to get into here. At the end of the author’s presentation, there was much consternation over the use of the Bem Inventory. One woman in the audience in particular had the view that he should have not done the study at all, rather than use this measure that offended her sensibilities.

Of course, the Bem Inventory isn’t perfect: it’s trying to measure an idea that’s moving target, that is not uniform across any significant population, and that is very specific to the U.S. But, it clearly measures something, and not something that there is (apparently) no better way to measure.

I ran across my second example when looking up the authors of the truly excellent book Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters. One of them has recently published an article
on the relationship between IQ and health. [Those with a decent University library can probably find the whole article online: Kanazawa, British Journal of Health Psychology, Volume 11, Number 4, November 2006, pp. 623-642(20).]

The article does confound the terms “general intelligence” and “IQ”. I think it’s pretty hard to argue that the thing we measure and call “IQ” is the platonic ideal measure of “intelligence”. That being said, it’s clear that IQ is a measure of something. It turns out that the “something” that IQ measures is strongly correlated with life expectancy (stronger than income inequality or economic development).

As a result, the author was accused of promoting eugenics. Now, maybe I didn’t read the paper carefully enough, but I didn’t see the “kill the dumb ones” part. The author didn’t even actually measure anything himself: the whole paper is a meta-analysis of other studies of IQ and health. All he did was grind out some stats.

Anyway, both of these studies have the same underlying issue: they rely on the measurement of something that isn’t possible to measure very well. In addition, the thing being “measured” is something that has a bunch of emotion attached to it. I don’t think the solution here it to just not study this stuff. Let’s just all recognize that correlation with the thing we’re trying to measure will do in a pinch.

I have a job for the next two years!

March 24th, 2008, 1:52 pm PDT by Kat

It took a few tries (2 to NIH, 1 to CIHR, 1 to UNC, 1 to AAWS and 2 to NSERC) but I finally got a post-doc fellowship! YAY!!!!! So it looks as though I’m going to be able to work in Vancouver for the next two years starting this summer.

When do tickets for 2010 hockey and curling go on sale?

My day in six word sentences.

February 4th, 2008, 5:28 pm PDT by Kat

The HPLC is $*#&%^@ broken… again.

Got home and found a papercut.

Why does life hate me so?

I like blogging with six words.

My day in 6 words

January 21st, 2008, 1:22 pm PDT by Kat

So Greg told me about a WIRED article where they asked famous people to write a 6-word story. Well, I’m not famous, but here’s how I spent my Martin Luther King Day in 6 words:

Watched birds sit.  All day.  $*#&%^!


July 13th, 2007, 5:21 pm PDT by Kat

For the past week I have been at war with a squirrel. I’m pretty sure it’s only one squirrel, but really, for all I know, it could be a small army of them.

Last weekend I went into our aviary and saw that my squirrel nemesis had chewed its way through one of the screen doors into the inner hallway of the aviary. This is where we keep the food, and the trash can, and the logbook. The doors of the flight cages also face into the hallway. The squirrel had also chewed through the lid of the food bucket and ate some of the pellets that we feed the birds. Luckily the doors to the flight cages are made out of sturdy hardware cloth (like nice chicken wire), so it couldn’t get into the actual bird cages. So, I took some of the extra hardware cloth leftover from the building of my funnel traps and patched the hole in the screen door.

I should have known that wasn’t going to work. The next day the squirrel just chewed away the section of the screen door directly adjacent to my patch-job. On day 2 of the war I took all of the hardware cloth that we had and reinforced the door again. Unfortunately there was only enough to cover about 6 feet up the 7.5-8 foot door. However, this did seem to deter the little bugger from chewing through that door. What did it do? It went to the other door and chewed through that one! But, I was smart. On day 1 of the war I had moved the food bucket into the lab. Take that squirrel! So instead, my nemesis chewed the rim of the garbage can, but didn’t get all of the way in. HAH! Luckily we had enough hardware cloth to patch the small hole in the second door.

The next day I come in to find another hole. This time it’s right above the top of the 6 feet of hardware cloth on the original door. GAH!!!!!!! Once inside, the squirrel chewed a hole in the bottom of the garbage can, giving it access to pellets that we had thrown into the garbage. Damn that wily squirrel! We’ve had a lot of rain and heat, and since the can is outside, the garbage in it is pretty nasty. I hope it got a stomach ache!

So, I bought more hardware cloth. A LOT of it! All day yesterday, in the stifling heat and humidity, I reinforced both doors. They’re both totally covered now. I also had to wrestle the nasty, wet, hole-riddled garbage bag out of the can and into the dumpster. Let me just tell you, it was NOT pretty. I reeked of old bird garbage and had all sorts of scratches on my arms and hands from where the excess hardware cloth and pine branches poked out of the bag. Needless to say, I HATE this squirrel.

Today, I go in specifically to check on the squirrel-status of the aviary — and to have lunch with Lisa :). That’s when I saw it. The squirrel was sitting on top of the cages in the outer part of the aviary (that’s fine, that part’s open). I scared it away and went to check on the inner doors, and that’s when I saw this. The damn thing totally ripped up the rest of the door! But, because of my hardware cloth, it wasn’t able to get into the hallway. Take that Mr. Wily Squirrel! You lose, and I win! HAH!

I don’t really understand why he’s still trying to get in there – there’s nothing in there now, and you can clearly see that from the outside. The food bucket is in the lab, and the garbage can is sitting open and empty in the outer hallway of the aviary where the squirrel has free access to it to see that it’s empty. Meh.

I just checked “Science” for this post. Yes, apparently I’ve spent countless years to get my PhD in Animal Physiology to enable me to wage war against a squirrel. If that’s not a terrible life choice, I don’t know what is!

Whatever… %$#&. At least I won.

Update from Greg: If anybody missed the Simpsons reference in that last sentence: “they just make a terrible life choice“.

Good science week

June 5th, 2007, 7:09 pm PDT by Kat

I’m having a pretty good week o’ science.

Last week I ran a procedure called immunocytochemistry (ICC) where tissue sections are stained for the presence of specific compounds – in our case an enzyme that converts dopamine to norepinephrine. This is the second time I’ve run this assay on my own, and sometimes even though you follow every step of the protocol, it doesn’t work. Apparently in those situations the appropriate sacrifice to the science gods wasn’t made, and you’ve wasted a week of your life and valuable tissue samples. Today, after 3 hours on the microscope I found out that my ICC worked! Yippee!

Yesterday I made a happy discovery. I was going to move my House Finches out of the aviary so that Buddy could move his Lincoln Sparrows out there. However, since I have “breeding pairs” in each of the 5 cages, I figured I should double check the trees that we have in there in case they had nests that I had missed. Sure enough I found a nest that I hadn’t previously known about, and inside it was this little guy (or girl). I think he’s probably somewhere around 10 days old. I have another nest with 4 chicks in it, but they’re still really small, so I’m not going to get my hopes up just yet. But, YAY for the little one!

And, on Saturday morning I caught 4 new HOFIs – two juveniles, a male and a female.

Bite count 2007: 13

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