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So, I am back on the project of video-tracking crickets, only this time I have (slightly) more leeway in picking out a camera.

...which is kind of a problem, because shopping for a camera on the interwebs seems like a monstrous rabbit hole to fall down.

I am really tempted to just pick this one. While running this experiment I should probably also figure out a way to share more videos with the universe at large.

In other cricket news, we're doing some work with juvenile crickets here. I need to draw some illustrations of the last two juvenile instars. I also want to make some illustrations of the willow leaf beetles we work with. Both the juvenile crickets and willow leaf beetles are very cute.


John Henry

[A story in which our heroine confirms that water is wet and concrete is hard]

So, weekend.

I went rowing Saturday morning. The weather was glorious, and the rowing was no worse than it has been on recent days. Maybe even marginally improved. After rowing, I came home and we got ourselves geared up for a tidepooling expedition out at the Point Reyes National Seashore, because the weekend was an extreme low tide and sytharin had learned that supposedly it was a good spot for tidepooling.

I found it highly enjoyable, especially because we kicked things off with a picnic on the beach:

Shoreside picnic

The only other picture I took, however, was of a few found artefacts:


This is a picture of: some human-made substance heavily weathered by time in the ocean; a large and smelly dead, rotting chiton; and some animal's fin-bone.

I guess I spent most of the rest of the time poking anemones (never gets old!) and enjoying being out along the beach, as I failed to take any other pictures of anything, including of the beautiful sunset. We also saw: a small dead dolphin; several starfish; some fish in the tidepools; sea urchins; adorable hermit crabs; regular crabby-crabs; sea grass and algae; a tiny living chiton; and, well, you get the idea.

When it got dark, we returned home and burbled in the hot tub for a bit.

Sunday was devoted to projects. I am still working on the overall bike storage situation. This has been the subject of a great deal of conversation in the household. The original garage for the house has been converted into a studio apartmet, where L lives. The front portion of the garage area was walled off, with room for a little bit of storage, a couple of bicycles, and a washer and dryer. The garage doors were replaced by a set of handmade double doors, which up until now have been secured with a tiny luggage lock looped through two screw eyes in a half-inch gap between the doors. The doors are made of two-by-fours and plywood, and like to expand and contract as the humidity changes.

Not especially secure or ideal, but the doors are beloved by our itinerant landlord, so they're what we've got to work with. He was in town for about a week in January, during which he added a deadbolt lock across the gap, but we're still concerned that it would be too easy for someone to come along and pull the doors open and help themselves to a few too many bicycles, so further measures are needed.

Based on some ideas from scrottie, I eventually decided that a cane bolt would make a tremendous amount of sense, especially because it would keep the doors from slamming around so much on windy days. He determined that the Ace Hardware didn't have any, so I set off for the Despot instead.

The only trouble is, the bolt needs to go into some concrete.

...long story short for the moment. The Despot's selection of fencing supplies was in horrible disarray, but I somehow miraculously managed to find a single intact cane bolt, hurrah-phew. After about an hour of drilling in total, I've made it an inch into the concrete so far, with a pilot 1/4" bit, in preparation for a 1/2" diamter hole, which I think I'd like to get up to about two inches in depth. This is with a standard drill and multi-purpose masonry bit, contrary to WikiHow's recommendation for drilling into concrete. Since I don't plan to do much concrete drilling, I am figuring I should be satisfied with this progress so far, even if it is slow going.

While waiting for the bit to cool down between rounds of drilling, I worked on other bike storage elements. For one thing, I put in a base board below the hooks in the bike garage, so our rear wheels aren't digging into the insulation. For another thing, I got Froinlavin securely stored away in the workshop, finally.


There's a large screw-eye with a ring in it behind the U-lock, so Froin's attached to the wall and not just hanging there.

It's frustrating to have to pause in the middle of a large project, especially because in the meantime we're using both the luggage lock AND the deadbolt and it's fiddly to get in and out of the bike garage. But, it's progress. I'm going to try and do a bit of drilling every evening this week to keep at it.

After wrapping all that up, I cooked. It was not the most glorious of cooking, but consisted of: bran muffins, chocolate-marmalade cake, bbq tofu (for weekday sandwiches), seitan fajitas, and chipotle pinto bean puree. There is food in the fridge and we won't starve this week.

I sort of feel like I should have had some time in there to sit down for a minute, or maybe get some work done, or maybe work on a creative project instead of house-fixing, or maybe just think a little more about the manuscripts. Mostly it would just be nice to have the bikes all situated to a point where we don't have to think about them or work on things anymore. It will happen. Soon, I hope.

Cafe culture

After my third Bay Area "Bike-Friendly Friday" coffeeshop bike ride, I feel as though it may just be that this area doesn't quite hit my sweet spot in terms of what I'm looking for in a coffeeshop. Meadowlark, in Lincoln, was just too good. They had a reasonable selection of food offerings (mmm, good pie), plus great espresso (including affogatos), and they had great hours for both the morning people and the night owls. They were also within easy biking or walking distance of my apartment and had ample seating for those looking for a place to sit and work for extended periods. Plus they were next door to the grocery co-op.

There are places in Seattle that fit this category, too. Cafe Allegro, for example. Also the erstwhile Someday Cafe in Davis Square in Medford, MA. If Lux in Phoenix hadn't started to spray for pesticides, I'd be even more highly enthusiastic about them, too.

Out here, there isn't anything within easy biking distance (~1 mile), although there are things within moderate biking distance (2-3 miles). Places that could be good seem to keep really limited hours, catering towards the morning crowd, perhaps because there's no business advantage to staying open late.

One place that stands out to some extent is the People's Cafe, which strongly reminds me of the Oxfam Cafe on the Tufts campus where I used to volunteer on Sunday nights. Ahh, the Oxfam Cafe. Usually there were only a couple of people who would visit, so mostly it was a chance to hang out and listen to various jazz CDs in the collection while learning to use a little home-use espresso machine that would regurgitate a reasonable beverage (according to my as-yet-unsophisticated college student palate).

We'll keep trying, though. One place a week. Maybe once we start venturing further into Berkeley I'll find something more to my liking.


Manuscripts of doom

Wouldn't it be nice if demanding a revised draft of a manuscript NOW resulted in such a thing?


Instead it seems to just push me over the edge of the stress-performance inverted U-function.

To some degree, this has to do with how I process feedback from other people. It's an instinct to drag my heels and fight because I *know* that I know the literature way better than coauthors and am trying to think it through on a deeper level than they are. I refuse to turn in embarrassing and shoddy work. And I know this is to my detriment at a certain point, but I've also observed firsthand that turning in stuff that's half-baked is seriously embarrassing and an even larger waste of everyone's time.

Mixed success

This morning, it was rainy and 43 degrees when it was time to get up and go to the boathouse.

I managed to successfully haul myself out of bed, get everything together, and get myself over to the boathouse, but I could not convince myself to actually get out on the water in the cold and damp.

I think it gets back to that motto, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear."

My crew jacket, which has been fantastic for sweep rowing over the years, is too bulky for sculling (or I am too full of excuses). The gore-tex is worn out, and the water repellant layer on the outside has worn off. The water repellant layer has worn off of just about everything I have that was once water repellant, actually.

I decided to not wear the thick Pearl Izumi gloves in the rain, which meant my hands were cold when I showed up, and the thought of rowing with cold hands was unappealing.

I couldn't motivate myself to dig my wool cap out of the bottom of my pannier.

I don't know where my warmup pants are, but they would be really useful as an extra layer for this weather.

I should have put on wool socks.

After a bit of stretching and some core exercises, I browsed the tiny library in the weight room, and encountered a copy of the Boathouse Row Cookbook, which was written by that amazing rower I mentioned the other day.

Maybe this evening I will be able to spend time taking stock of things to get myself to a better frame of mind and better state of gear to keep at this thing. I know of two other challenging pieces at the moment: lack of a training plan, and trying to get writing done. When I am trying to write, my brain goes on strike with regards to extracurriculars. I need to keep the bar low to keep myself going.


Moments of brilliant stupidity

On Friday and today, I've been working on that leafcutter manuscript I mentioned. I've gotten all the way to the Discussion, but have been feeling stuck on the Discussion. What to talk about, at what length? How to structure the damn thing? My PhD advisor offered one clue, in the form of "talk about your results first, THEN the other literature," based on the material that's currently there under the label of Discussion, but I have still been hung up on something. How to structure it so it all hangs together as a coherent story? What's the most efficient way to bang out a Discussion for an academic paper? In writing about the subject, I tend to wander off into the forest, admiring all the different trees and flowers, reading all the papers that are only remotely related to what I'm working on, and then reading all the interesting papers that are cited in those remote papers. Basically.

Just now, I had a flash of insight, based on something clever I learned from my first postdoc advisor. His strategy is to sketch out the main talking points based around the figures. Bring it back to the data, the heart of the story.


I think I can do this now.
Hmm, this is going to be unedited because I have a bunch of other work to get done today.

So, scrottie arrived in town on Thursday evening, hurrah! But things have been something of a blur since then. We skipped Bike-Friendly Friday because there was just too much to do. To begin with, I spent a couple hours working with an undergraduate researcher on an assay that's of mutual interest (vanillan, used to quantify total lipids). Then I dashed off to a Postdoc Lunch on that perpetual topic of interest, "How to Get a Job." To some extent it's reassuring that most of their recommendations line up with the recommendations I've already gotten from others, elsewhere. I just need to keep at it. Then I worked with another undergraduate who I am setting up to run a cricket feeding experiment, and once that was underway I put in a couple of hours on the current leafcutter feeding manuscript.

Interspersed with all of that, I got underway with sorting out logistics for Saturday's 200k brevet. I hadn't realized until Thursday that the brevet start time of 7 am at the Golden Gate Bridge would be challenging to reach by public transit, because the BART doesn't start running on Saturday morning until 6 am. After S decided that he really couldn't do the brevet, I worked out a carpool with another randonneur from the East Bay. As we drove out to the start, he said there aren't any ways to bike across the Bay unless you go all the way down to Fremont (the South Bay, basically? Still learning the local geography). If I knew more of the other riders, I probably would have been willing to take the BART and just start a couple minutes late, but given that one of my goals for this ride was starting to meet the local riders, the carpool was helpful.

Ahh, logistics.

The rest of Friday evening, then, was full of the usual pre-brevet logistics: downloading the .gpx and then uploading it onto my phone, putting air in Froinlavin's tires, repacking the toolkit into the trunk bag, printing the cue sheet, prepping and stuffing four burritos. It's a bit of work, but it's familiar work by this stage.

There are some contrasts between the brevets here and the brevets in Nebraska. For one thing, a few more riders show up.

Starting crowd

For another thing, the terrain is much more lumpy.

The route took us through the Samuel Taylor State Park, dripping and full of redwoods and ferns, then up to Pierce Point, a peninsula on the coast that is separated from the mainland by the San Andreas fault. The course was basically wishbone-shaped, so from Pierce Point we backtracked back through Point Reyes Station, and then traveled along Coastal Highway 1 up to Nick's Cove. At Nick's Cove, we turned around and headed back through Fairfax to Sausalito and back across the bridge, enjoying some nice harbor views and views of the city skyline along the way.

I didn't take any photos of the lovely redwoods in Samuel Taylor. The forest gave me flashbacks to that wonderful bike touring trip around the Olympic Peninsula several summers back, although I have to tell you that the Olympic National Forest is even more grand. Plus there are better shoulders on those sections of road in Washington, and Washington drivers are generally more patient. Still! I have no cause for complaint, and am happy to have gotten the introduction to some of the great parks that are within biking distance.

Things got more interesting past Samuel Taylor, as we headed towards the second control at Pierce Point. If you look again at the elevation profile, right around mile 47.2, you might have some idea as to why. Last week my legs were sore up until right around Friday, from doing lunges early in the week. All through the first part of the ride, I just kept telling myself that if I got myself all the way to mile 50, the rest would be just fine. If I got to 50, then I could just do another 25 miles, and at that point, heck, I would only have 50 miles remaining, and my recollection from a hasty glance at the elevation profile was that things would be smooth sailing from then on.


By the time we had reached that lumpy business right at mile 47, I'd already chowed down on a bunch of stuff out of my feed bag, because URGH, hills, and not enough gears (banana, granola bar, Balance bar [gross!], mini-Clif bar, burrito). And dead legs. There were enough other riders around that I was pushing the pace to keep up, especially because other riders kept on passing me and I was nervous about finishing with a non-embarrassing time. Just picture me huffing and puffing away up the hills in slightly too high a gear, chowing down on a banana and trying not to choke on it, and you've got the right picture. I kept myself going by telling myself that it would be SUPER embarrassing if I had to stop in the middle of a hill to pant. Just keep going, self, just keep going!

And then, The Hill. My body was already working hard and disgruntled by the time we reached yet another hill where I pretty much just ran out of gears. Whoof. I watched with some envy as another rider shifted down to spin his way up this beast, while I did what I could to lurch along. I did the best I could, but finally, it happened. I redlined so hard (yes, that hard) and my legs went NO, and I just had. to stop. The "KEEP GOING!" instinct runs so strong, though. If I couldn't hang on and pedal my way up without asphyxiating, I could at least walk, right? I haven't walked up a hill in the midst of a bike ride since the days of the Chilly Hilly as a kid. But walk I did.

Really, I only needed to walk for about 50 yards before my heart rate dropped back down into a sensible range and my legs said, "Well, uh, okay, but don't overdo it again." And after that point I managed to smooth out my pace to something more sustainable. But OOF, that hill.

On the other hand, the reward was a view like this:

Lovely view from Pierce Point

(alternating with view of cows in grassy, hilly pastures reminiscent of the French countryside)

And I was only a mile from the second control, where the volunteers had plenty of water and some energy bars and fresh, home-baked chocolate chip cookies.

Pierce Point Control

I paused and ate one of the cookies, plus a second burrito, and then hit the road again, grateful to know that I was through some of the craziest bits (based on my hazy recollection of the elevation profile).

The second part of the wishbone, out to Nick's Cove, was lovely too. I was happy for a chance to see what Highway 1 is like, but it made me think that if I do more bike touring, I'll go elsewhere. I can understand why motorists on Highway 1 get tired of bicyclists. It's stressful to have to pass cyclists on narrow, winding highways, and frankly, the motor traffic sucks out a lot of the fun for me as a cyclist. I don't need to ride right along the ocean at all times.

On the return, I stopped in Point Reyes Station to check things out for a few minutes. I'd seen bikes parked while on my way out to Nick's Cove, but still wanted to keep pushing along since I know I can lose a lot of time if I stop. I had come up with a stupid goal of trying to see if I could get back to the Golden Gate Bridge before it was completely dark so I could take a fun tourist photo. On the return, though, I had this feeling that it would be a good idea to look for more calories, as I'd already gnawed my way through the Luna bar I'd snagged at the second control and M&Ms were sounding really good.

Calories appeared in a different form, though: a nice, big, walnut brownie from the Bovine Bakery. The bakery had a bunch of other things that also looked phenomenal, so I'm going to have to go back. I hung out and chatted with a couple other riders for a few minutes, then saddled up and hit the road again.

Somewhere along the return, about 30 miles from the end, as I was pedaling along and working on the remnants of an apple, a paceline passed me and the guy at the front of the paceline remarked to me, "Nice job," as he rode past. The effect was like striking a match: I finished the apple, tossed the core into the bushes, caught up with the back of the line, and managed to hang on and ride with the gang for the remaining miles. I was particularly grateful to the rider in their midst who was struggling the most, because he set the best pace on the remaining hills and made it possible for me to keep up.

And with that, we cruised into the finish, just after the sun went down, and just under 11 hours after we'd started.

I took a photo at the finish anyway, even though it was dark. Not too bad for a hilly little adventure.



I woke up this morning sometime before my alarm was scheduled to go off so I could get up and go rowing. When I woke up again to the sound of the alarm, I pushed snooze, and when the alarm went off a second time, I turned it off and went back to sleep. This isn't a post about excuses, or about regrets about not going rowing this morning. My legs are still sore from doing lunges on Monday, and I also have busy work and home life agendas at the moment, to the point where I could tell my subconscious was rebelling and deserved some thinking-space.

At the moment, my mind seems to be most preoccupied with two instances of failures, which both belong to other people. One instance is an exploration of how certain traditional hetero relationship expectations can wind up undermining relationships. The second is on how housemate dynamics fail, which is a somewhat delicate topic because I'm in the midst of working out how new housemate dynamics will go and have had my own fair share of failures in that department.

I'm not inclined to obsess endlessly over failures, as I get the feeling that such obsessing and anguish can turn into a deep, dark, black hole. I'd like to learn from them, reflect on them, and also use them to see areas that could have been failures, but aren't. For instance - on the traditional hetero relationship expectations undermining relationships. That whole notion got me thinking on how the absence of that structure presents its own challenges, because it means that more aspects of a relationship need to be actively negotiated, especially surrounding "housekeeping vs. the dirt."* So people who might wish to be egalitarian may wind up falling back on the hetero tropes because it takes less energy, and for whatever reason, we're overly busy adults. Anyway, all that said and done, I'm immensely grateful to be in a relationship that feels like it's working pretty well on this front.

But failures shouldn't be glossed over or ignored, either. Heavens, no. Again, I have that hope of learning, tied to that notion of one's whole lifetime as a developmental process.

I wish I could keep lying in bed, to fully work out what's going on, on this subconscious level, but I also know that after a point I inevitably get stuck in my thinking and wind up with an incomplete thought. Plus, the sun was up, the sunrise was lovely, and it was time to start the day and attend to other things.

*This is the title of a book by Nick Hornby, which is a collection of literary essays, but I just love the title.


I took my Doc Martens in to a shoe repair shop this morning because the elastic on the second shoe has broken and needs to be replaced. Some of the first sites that came up in a web search for shoe repair shops were links to Yelp reviews, so I figured, what the heck, I'll get an opinion or two. The first prospective shop was located near the stationery store, but reviews were pretty consistently negative, about things done to shoes that weren't in line with what was requested. The second place had a mixture of positive and negative reviews, but most of the negativity referred to the eccentricities of the owner and not the quality of the work. So, okay, that sounds interesting enough, and I want the job done correctly.

It turns out that the gentleman running the shop is British. I guess maybe many people don't realize that the delivery of insults can be a cultural and stylistic thing. I found the guy suitably entertaining and informative, and willing to work on my poor old Doc Martens. Those shoes are probably around 20 years old by now.

He tells me my best bet for cycling is to just get some cheap, throwaway tennis shoes, and then change my footwear when I arrive at work. He also said to look for shoes that have a metal shank, if I really want something that will work well and last a long time.


Miscellaneous academic links (mostly)

Ants that don't appear to age: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/these-unusual-american-ants-never-get-old-180957887/?no-ist

I have been reading about ageing recently, because I am working on a manuscript on the nature of connections between nutrition, reproduction, and lifespan in crickets. I should probably read the primary article in this case, at least to get an idea of ways to characterize senescence.

Comments on reviewing the statistics in that manuscript you're reviewing: https://methodsblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/03/reviewing_statistics/

This diagram on why dishes pile up in the kitchen sink makes me think about what we call the "Dishwasher Model" for the division of labor in social insect colonies. Essentially, it is based on the idea that different individuals have different stimulus thresholds for the various tasks that need to be done in a colony (or apartment). Once the level of stimulus (amount of dishes in the sink) reaches the threshold for the person most sensitive to the task, he or she will do it, and so the stimulus won't ever reach the threshold of the others and the sensitive person will become a task specialist for that task.

Okay, this one isn't quite so academic, but it's sorta related? Apparently, a Liverpool student has created insect haggis. S bought a can of vegetarian haggis once, when we were in Boston. I think it was made of lentils. It was all right.

Tips for responding to illegal questions asked during job interviews. Or, related ideas in comic book form.


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February 2016



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