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Pesto season has begun

I snuck in TWO trips to the BAP this week. Yesterday was the usual rigamarole: get up, prepare breakfast, lunch, and a change of clothes, go rowing, have breakfast at work, etc.

From the north end of the Berkeley Aquatic Park
(view from the north end of the BAP)

This morning was different: Get up, go to the boathouse for physical therapy exercises/strength training, then meet up with sytharin and L for Bike-Friendly Friday coffee at Catahoula, and ride home after that.

I spent the morning at home, gloriously, doing laundry, tying up loose ends in the kitchen, and gearing up for back-to-back trips. So many bits and pieces to remember. Then I went back to the fancy hat store and bought a fancy, wide-brimmed hat. A blurry photo of it:

Blurry wide-brimmed hat

Hopefully it will be less warm than the wool felt cowboy hat in warm, sunny weather. Good for times when I'm stuck in the sun.


Last night, sytharin announced that the basil in the garden was ready to harvest. She carried in a huge bunch, enough leaves to fill the salad spinner to the brim, and we made a large batch of pesto. It went well with some pasta and the vegetables I needed to use up before I leave town. We put two half-pint jars in the fridge, two in the freezer.

And now, work. 1 am timepoint tonight, then sleep, then we depart for fieldwork.

Milo versus Ovaltine

People in the lab here all seem to appreciate a good beverage. A while back, we had some conversations about different kinds of hot chocolate, and I learned that in New Zealand, most people drink Milo instead. Apparently, if one is accustomed to Milo, hot chocolate tastes too thick and sweet. This intrigued me, so I went and bought a tin of the stuff to try out. But then I couldn't remember C's instructions for how to prepare it. At a lab event towards the end of the spring, I finally just brought it along and had her mix it up for us. I guess the way she learned to prepare it is to mix some heaping spoonsful into a bit of milk, and then pour in boiling water, stirring all the while.

I did an approximation of that technique and enjoyed the Milo as a mid-morning beverage in the lab up until the tin ran out. Then I tried replacing it with a canister of organic hot chocolate and found that, as predicted, it tasted too thick and sweet.

The problem is, I'm still trying to avoid palm oil, and there's palm oil and derivatives in Milo.

It turns out that the malted variety of chocolate Ovaltine tastes very similar to Milo, and doesn't have any palm oil products in it.

I need to wean myself off of the dark chocolate McVittie's digestive biscuits. They, too, contain palm oil. Graham crackers are too sweet. And really, I should probably just stop eating this category of snack food altogether.



Yesterday was a long day. After tending to a handful of miscellaneous errands in the morning, I headed in to work. During our lab meeting, we hashed out plans for a field expedition this upcoming weekend. Originally we were going to leave on Friday, but the circadian crickets made things complicated, so the new plan is for us to finish out the circadian experiment Friday night/Saturday morning, then sleep, then head out to the field site. We aim to return by midday on Monday so our intrepid undergrads can make it back in time for their summer classes. Then I will turn around and head out to the Midwest via Amtrak on Tuesday morning for some Midwestern bicycling adventures.

I'm reminded of that one 400k brevet that scrottie and I completed last September, where work was super hectic and we barely got any sleep before the brevet. The early hours of that brevet were such a merciful relief from being in the lab, but by the end of the ride we were so exhausted that we had to keep flopping down on the ground for little naps.

I don't know quite what to bring along for the Amtrak segment of the trip yet. Probably the cat bed quilting project and a book or two.

Anyway, after hashing out fieldwork plans, I had to do a somewhat hastily tacked-on project to start repeating the procedures we've worked out for the sand crickets (Gryllus firmus) in the variable field crickets (Gryllus lineaticeps, the species we'll go hunt for over the weekend). That made yesterday a triple-procedure kind of day, oof, where I had to roll straight from one task into the next.

The thing that hits me the hardest is the carryover aspect of things. I'm feeling so unmotivated today because task-switching takes extra energy that I just don't have right now, so then I wind up with awkward gaps of time where I can't seem to get anything done. It's not easy to be at peace with the gaps, even though that's probably the best answer for things.


Flea eggs and late-night novels

I was able to get a good look at some flea eggs this morning when I vacuumed Emma's perch, because the perch is made of dark micro-suede and flea eggs are opalescent white. Flea eggs are maybe a quarter of the size of harvester ant eggs, and according to Wikipedia, fleas basically indiscriminately pop out 20-30 eggs per day, and release them out into the environment everywhere. This, in a nutshell, is what makes flea control challenging, especially when you consider how many different porous egg repository materials we have in this house (floorboard cracks, couches, bedding, seat cushions, carpet).

Unfortunately, the current vacuum cleaner options here aren't great because they are all bagless vacuums without all that much suction, so anytime we vacuum we aren't doing much good unless we immediately remove the vacuum cleaner from the house and keep it out. Bagless vacuums have a lot of internal nooks and crannies that are difficult to clean out, so I'm going to have to think some more about optimal methods on that front.

So I broke down and bought a 2-pack of Advantage-II and applied a dose to the nape of Emma's neck this morning. I gave her another dose of lufenuron about 2 weeks ago, but we have been continuing to find 3 or so live fleas on her every day. I was reading somewhere that flea infestations may be on the rise due to evolved resistance to the more commonly used insectidices, and in addition, the lufenuron pills I've got are probably 4 years old at this point. All the insecticides used to treat fleas and ticks on pets are broad-scale compounds that are routinely applied to crops, too.

I'm not happy about having applied yet another neonicotinoid to my cat.


I also stayed up until 1 am last night finishing a novel. It's so satisfying to rip through a piece of fiction in comparison to dragging my way through academic nonfiction.

Cookout and slouch buddies

I like bringing together eclectic groups of people. sytharin woman'd the grill again, which was great. It is not an especially high-heat homemade firepit, but it got the job done. It's good to have people hang out in the backyard, although I think we need even slightly more table space to make it easier for people to access the copious amounts of tasty food.

Two friends who live in the area but who I haven't had a chance to catch up with yet both managed to come by. One was a college roommate of mine and is a fellow ex-president of the Monty Python Society (although I still stand by my title as Dictator-in-Chief for my term of duty). Catching up with him was great in the "old slouching buddy" sense. Another was a grad student wrapping up her degree when I arrived in Arizona, who helped introduce me to both the local rowing scene and the Tempe ceramics program. She subsequently moved to Tucson for a postdoc, then switched into a nursing program and is now an oncology nurse. It's good to have these kinds of connections in this area, with people who know what it's like to have lived in other parts of the country.

At times, it's frustrating how long it can take to get together and connect with friends in this area. I think I'm most content if I have a couple of slouch buddies. A more extensive friendship network takes a lot of energy to maintain.

Persistent disruption

It is too hard to figure out how to go rowing in the face of a highly sleep-disruptive schedule. Not rowing leaves me in one of those reflective self-assessment states where I question everything. Is this the kind of life I envisioned? I never did envision anything all that specific, during those times when friends and classmates had dreams of weddings and houses and children.

I am finally reaching a point where I'm not just living month-to-month, at least for a little while, here, which is making me wonder about things like saving up for a house down payment. I'm setting aside a chunk of funds regardless - I just wonder what to do about it.

Last night L calculated that, over the past 8 years, he has spent around $95,000 on rent in Washington, D.C. and out here, which is part of what got me on this train of thought. Living in a space that doesn't entirely satisfy one's needs gets frustrating at times, especially when there's no clear end in sight. On the other hand, I remain aware of how much work it is to own and maintain things, especially houses.


More mundane matters:

Yesterday: Got to sleep at around 2:30 am, slept in until 9, had breakfast, and started in on cookout preparations. This included some clean-up under the pluot tree and harvesting more rhubarb. The other rhubarb plant is also starting to look vibrant, so pretty soon we may be in a situation where there's enough excess to think about things like rhubarb wine.

In the meantime, however, I figured I'd make more rhubarb nectar to share with others at the cookout as a nice, non-alcoholic alternative beverage. I chopped up the rhubarb and put it in the blender, along with some sugar and water.

When I started to see smoke coming out of the blender base, I had to cancel that project.

I also cleaned the bathroom, did more laundry, and got more fleas off of the cat. Then sytharin, L, and I biked over to Berkeley Bowl for cookout supplies. Then we were hungry, so we visited a nearby Korean restaurant and I got to try bibimbap for the first time. Delicious.

Quaxing party supplies

Korean food taste adventure

The daily lab duties basically occupied the rest of the day, along with more party preparations.

Black krim versus black prince

In our climate, the black krim tomato plants are fairly short and scraggly. The black krims started to ripen shortly after the sungold cherry tomatoes, so we're enjoying some of them on occasion.

The black prince plants are much taller and more leafy. None of the tomatoes have ripened yet, although sytharin noted that there's one that's just barely starting to blush now. The plants have loads of green tomatoes on them.

She says this corresponds well with the experiences of one of her coworkers who has also grown both varieties of Siberian tomatoes, albeit on the warmer side of the hills.

I was so happy during that year in Arizona when I got a black prince plant to make its luscious fruits. I tried black krims in Texas, but they got blossom end-rot and were uninspiring.

We've been getting zucchini, although some other animal appears to also be getting some of the zucchini. One of the chickens, most likely.

We're reaching the end of the strawberries and pluots. The blueberry harvest was all right but not amazing. In a couple of years, though...there could be enough fruit to jam some of it.

Bodily failures

I wanted to get up and go rowing this morning, but I just could not. Instead, after seeing scrottie off to the train station, I slept for another three hours. That's the carryover cost of staying up until 2 am on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.

This morning, I learned that they've found yet another tumor on my father's liver via a careful MRI scan. This means that the tumor ablation procedures they've tried previously probably won't really work, and so continued chemotherapy is the current best course of action.

When my friend with the recurrent tongue and throat cancer received her most recent diagnosis (she is on cancer number four at this point), I spent a brief amount of time reading about the immunotherapy methods that are sometimes used to treat cancers such as hers. There were multiple good arguments in favor of pursuing the immunotherapy route for her case, but ultimately her insurance company wouldn't cover any of them anyway and so she's also going through chemotherapy in advance of inevitable and extensive surgery.

For me, the liver is an amazing, but dark and obscure, organ. It doesn't remind us of its existence, most of the time, unlike the beating of our heart, the sighs and wheezes of our lungs, the growling of our stomachs and bowels, the fullness of our bladders, the tightness of a headache. The liver is crucial to our well-being, however, because it is our metabolic centerpoint. It detoxifies toxins and interconverts nutrients, and thus it is an organ that experiences high levels of chemical stress. Vigilant people pay close attention to things that adversely affect the liver, like alcohol, but in general it's easy to ignore or forget about. For instance, my father hasn't experienced any noticeable symptoms from any of the growths on his liver.

Given its central role, there's room for a whole lot to go wrong with the liver. Multiple tumors are likely to reflect multiple different kinds of deleterious mutations, and the only way to really know what's going on would be to biopsy all of the different problematic spots, which sounds tremendously invasive. And then, if different tumors have different things going on, it would be difficult to pick the right combination of immunotherapy drugs to effectively cover all the bases. And at some point, we all die anyway, it's just a matter of the form of bodily failure we experience, and what we do in the meantime.

Meanwhile, here we are.

Science jet lag

The science jet lag isn't so horribly wretched at the moment, although I'm expecting some carryover through tomorrow.

We did the first run of the 1 am timepoint last night. That meant hanging out in the lab until 8 pm, when it was time to remove food from the cage, then hanging out until 11:30 when it was time for our final preparations, then running the show from 12-2 am.

To fool the crickets into thinking it's nighttime, we worked under red light. K took some photos at my request:

Nighttime tracer injection setup

Nighttime tracer injection setup

Nighttime tracer injection setup

Nighttime tracer injection setup

We made several mistakes, which could mean having to do a three-peat of this timepoint. At some point, the light to the left of my head fell down and the bulb burned out. While plugging in a replacement light, K must have accidentally jostled the adapter for the fan pump we were using to flush those 60-mL syringes with dry, CO2-free air. Unfortunately she didn't notice quite when that happened, so we had to re-flush all of the syringes and start the stop-flow incubation 30 minutes late. We'll still be able to compare long-winged versus short-winged crickets, but since we don't know the full timecourse for our injected tracer we don't know if these results will be comparable to the rest of our results.

At one point, I also opened the door and exposed the crickets to some incandescent light. Argh.

Then I slept on C's office floor in a sleeping bag until 4 am, when I got up to remove food from another set of crickets for the 9 am timepoint. This system wound up being less hellish than just running one of the two timepoints. Once the crickets were squared away at 4 am, I slept until 7:10 and then walked over to Yali's for a latte and scone. We wrapped up the 9 am timepoint by 10, and I headed home for a couple of hours.

The downside of this kind of arrangement is trying to figure out what to do from 10 am - 2 pm. I'm not very good at taking naps, nor do I want to completely throw my sleep schedule out the window. So I rested and worked on a couple of household chores.

Tomorrow we only have a couple of crickets that will be ready, so we'll take things easy and just run the 5 pm timepoint. We'll be doing another 1 am stint on Friday night. We're actually making very good progress overall, although things can get a little frustrating because we lose data left and right due to various small mishaps. It's just a difficult experiment to complete smoothly.


This morning, my brain simply could not handle the logistics anymore. So I skipped rowing. We're going to have our first crack at the 1 am timepoint tonight, so going rowing would have meant: getting up early without a full night's rest, saddling up Froinlavin (haven't ridden her in a few months), packing breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as shoes, rowing clothes, and a sleeping bag and sleeping pad, then heading out to the boathouse. Oh, and then staying at the lab until probably around 2:30 am.

I feel like I shouldn't be so antsy already, given that it's only Tuesday. Circadian experiments are disruptive.

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