Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Fritz is like my child...

I saw the comic below on Pinterest recently, and it resonated with me. I'm sure other dog lovers out there or people that know Ted and me will also appreciate it.
Did I mention that I took some pretty cute pictures of Fritz and the squeaky tennis ball that he is obsessed with?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

When life gives you bees, eat honey!

There are many benefits associated with working with the largest social insect research group in the country if not the world such as having an endless supply of colleagues and friends ready to “nerd out” over an insect or other invertebrate at any time during the day. There’s also no shortage of people willing to go on a night hike at a moment’s notice to look for scorpions, beetles, ants, and any other critter we happen upon during the adventure. Yes we still get excited about macrofauna such a bears, coyotes, and great horned owls when we see them, but you’ll notice that many of us will have our head lamps on with our eyes on the ground (this posture also helps avoid unwanted rattlesnake encounters). Needless to say, Ted and I love it here! Ted even got close enough to a bark scorpion to photograph it during our most recent nocturnal adventure with my mom and grandma.

I recently discovered a perk of working with a large group of social insect researchers that I hadn’t anticipated. If you visit our building at ASU you’ll have the opportunity to see many species of ants, some cockroach, giant beetles, and other random invertebrates that show up from time to time. We also have a lovely balcony on our floor that is reserved for a couple of honey bee colonies. These honey bees are used for research on the floor and can often be found inside of the building trying to get back out. They also contain colored number tags on the dorsal side of the thorax, which can be amusing for students who come upon expired marked bees when unlocking their bikes from the bike rack bellow the balcony. I enjoy watching the bees, but my interaction with them normally ends there especially after my failed attempt to rescue a worker that found her way inside. The rescue attempt took a turn for the worst when she stung me resulting in her demise Contrary to what you may be thinking, I didn’t hurt her. Honey bees die when they lose their sting. However, I recently had a new interaction with the bees. Well, it was actually an interaction with their honey!

I arrived at work recently to find a 5 gallon bucket sitting on the sink in the break room. I assumed that someone was getting some water and left their research supplies there, which isn’t uncommon. I was quickly set straight by a friend of mine that works with our building bee colonies. The colonies had recently had their honey harvested and it was up for grabs, and so I along with many of my colleagues partook in native raw honey. Because the honey was a surprise, a scramble for containers to put it in ensued. I decided on my travel coffee mug, but others used tupperware and empty coffee containers. When collecting the honey from the bucket, you lift a hinged lever at the bottom of the bucket and let it flow out while the impurities rise to the top of the bucket. The result of this adventure was local honey that tastes fantastic although quite different from honey you buy in the store. It’s less sweet and is reminiscent of agave nectar while being thinner making it flow easily. All in all, it’s a pretty good perk of the job!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Tried out a Spring training game today

Seats at a Spring training game are much better than you would get during the normal season... And these were pretty cheap!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Texas-shaped waffles in Amarillo

We made a long road trip back to Ohio in December to see our families (and to bring the dog!). On our way back to Tempe, we stopped in Amarillo to sleep one night. We woke up and found that the Super 8 we were staying at included a Texas-shaped waffle iron in its hot-breakfast setup. Of course, we couldn't resist...

Texas shaped, but certainly not Texas sized. :)

[ Ohio and Texas don't look too different, but you don't see a lot of Ohio-shaped things. I guess you do see a lot of Block O's though... ]

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Friends, Graduate School, and a Spoiled Dog

Friends and Graduate School

I love graduate school! It's intellectually stimulating, fosters creativity and problem solving, and provides platform for me to express my love of arthropods! In addition to these positive attributes, I get to do it all around other people who are equally excited about research and arthropods (these traits are hard to come by outside of a biology department). Someone I met recently said that being in an academic environment is great because people talk about ideas not about people. This statement struck a chord with me. I have definitely worked in other environments where the main topic of discussion during lunch revolved around co-workers or other people and their lives. There's nothing wrong with this. After all, most people I know enjoy a good snippet of gossip now and then. However, I feel lucky to be able to discuss various cool insects, hiking trips, and the latest discoveries in science during lunch or social events after work. Graduate provides the ideal environment for my neediness to shine and be embraced by all of the other nerds surrounding me. What more could a girl ask for?!

As with any career, there are pros and cons to a career in academia. One of my least favorite things is the transient lifestyle that most of my colleagues are required to undertake. In fact, the transient lifestyle of academia was the inspiration for our blog address! Most master's students take 2--3 years to finish their degree and most doctoral students take 5-6 years (this is all assuming they don't encounter any lab or field catastrophes along the way). After a doctoral degree, most people continuing on the academic path will embark on one or more postdoctoral fellowship positions, which last at least one year and can last more. Following completion of the postdoctoral phase, lucky individuals can hope to get a tenure-track faculty position. I have made friends in all of these stages of academia and watched them move on to the next phase. Ted and I attended a going away party last weekend for a friend that finished his PhD and is moving on to a postdoc. It was bittersweet as it always is. He's going to be starting a great postdoc, and we'll most likely see each other at meetings in the future. However, we probably won't roam the same halls again. I've stayed in touch with some of the closer friends I've made in grad school and lost touch with others. It's always sad when someone from our nerdy little community moves on to a new place. The upside of this situation is that someone new is always wandering in, and I hope that one day I'll have tenure and remain a permanent fixture in the halls of a building serving as home to a bunch of enthusiastic scientists.

Spoiled Dog

As many of you know, Fritz is the equivalent of our child. This isn't unusual among dog lovers. We spoil him much more than we probably should, and it's debatable as to who is really in charge around our house. As a result of our affection for Fritz, our parents have also adopted this view of him. He receives Christmas gifts from them (wrapped of course) and other surprise gifts from time to time. When Ted's parents visited in the spring, they brought him a stuffed lamb chop. Fritz carried it everywhere with him! He used it as pillow while also removing all of its stuffing and squeakers. It had reached the point where there was nothing left but the outer shell. The largest of the five squeakers was still inside and giving Fritz a bit of trouble. When we mentioned this to Eileen (Ted's mom), she purchased a replacement for Fritz and mailed it to us here in Arizona. Fritz has taken to the new lamb chop and has already removed one of the squeakers. Below are pictures and video of Fritz opening his new gift. Yes, our pup unwraps his own gifts. He'll even help unwrap yours if you let him!

This photo doesn't include lamb chop,
but I love Fritz's expression and wanted to share!

Watch Fritz open his new toy!

The lamb chop on the left is the old one. The new one is on the right.

Fritz likes to use lamb chop as a pillow.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Animal Behavior and Life in Tempe

Standing by my poster at the ABS meeting
Ted and I just spent a week in Boulder, CO, at the Animal Behavior Society meeting (ABS 2013). We had the opportunity to learn about some great research and some not so great research. While there, we made quite a few new contacts and rekindled some old ones. I also came up with a new research direction that I'm really excited about and looking forward to starting. Juergen (one of my advisors) was also excited and encouraging, which is a definite bonus. I'll be investigating some the proximate mechanisms involved in nestmate recognition. This involves determining how an ant knows what her colony smells like versus another. For  those of you that haven't reached the level of enthusiasm about ants that I have, it's important to know that ants use cuticular hydrocarbons that are smeared all over their body kind of like a lotion to identify nestmates from non-nestmates. So, I want to know how they know what their colony smells like. It's kind of like learning what your house smells like versus your friend's house and being able to determine who lives in each house using only that smell. Some of you may be yawning at this point, but I'm excited and hopefully if you're reading this post you are at least somewhat interested by proxy.

Unfortunately, the meeting kept us pretty busy, and so we didn't really get to explore Boulder. It's a pretty small city with a hippie/outdoorsy vibe to it. I'm glad I got to visit, but I'm not sure I'd add it to my list of places to vacation or live. However, it is surrounded by some gorgeous mountains, which are known for their amazing hiking and rock climbing opportunities.

Fritz likes to help Ted while he's working at home.
We came back to Tempe to pick Fritz up from PetSmart Pet Hotel to find him emitting a squeaky, tiny bark. Apparently he enjoyed playing with the other dogs and barking so much that he lost his voice during the visit. There's no need to worry though; he quickly regained his voice and is as talkative as ever!

We've been having a few overcast and rainy days in Tempe, which I am finally coming to appreciate. Initially I loved that every day was sunny here and disliked the occasional grey sky. However, once in awhile it is nice to walk around outside without feeling like some giant being is holding a large magnifying glass above you and directing a beam of sunlight straight at you. After living here, I'll be sure to encourage all children to avoid partaking in this activity which many of us did with ants when we were young.

Because Ted and I haven't posted on our blog for a couple of years, I thought a longer post was needed. I'll try to update it more often so that friends and family living far from us can keep abreast of our adventures. To start this off, I thought I'd post some photos of the ants I work with. Enjoy!

Below are pictures of the Environmental Growth Chamber that many of our ant colonies live in.


Here are photos of two of the species of ants I work with.

Camponotus festinatus

This is a typical nest box made of dental plaster.
 has a nest area and foraging area.

This is a close up of the nest area.

These are some workers (both majors
and minors) and brood.
This is a C. festinatus queen.

Aphaenogaster cockerelli

Aphaenogaster cockerelli queen
Workers and brood in the nest area

This is a typical nest box for
Aphaenogaster cockerelli.

Here is a video of the Aphaenogaster queen in the nest.
 Note the egg stuck to her gaster (i.e., her butt). :)

Monday, July 18, 2011

How we fixed our Ikea wardrobe after the bar fell

Our apartment has no bedroom closet space. There are two coat closets and a linen closet all clustered in the same wall between the living room and office and near the bathroom, but there is no storage in the bedroom. So a while back, we bought three large Ikea wardrobes that fit nicely next to each other down one of the walls of our bedroom. This particular wardrobe model was one of Ikea's budget options (i.e., it was not one of their crazy customizable types; it basically came as a complete unit). The closet bar (shown here without the shelf that is usually above it) should attach to the closet using a plastic insert like this (click on the image for a larger and clearer version):
As you may be able to see, there is a large vertical scrape a few inches beneath the plastic insert. That scrape came into our lives when the plastic insert on the left side of the bar failed ("wardrobe malfunction"), which sent the awkward-shaped metal closet bar (and the clothes hanging on it) into the floor of the wardrobe. As you can see, there is a cantilever-type support jutting out from the plastic insert that sheared off (pretty clean cut, actually):
Ikea often keeps spare parts like this on hand that you can grab for free in bins from the store, but we didn't want to drive all the way to West Chester to look for them, and we were pretty sure these wardrobes were discontinued and these (likely specialized) parts were not available. So we went to Meijer instead (it was too late to go to a hardware store to find real closet accessories) to look for a way to hack together a good pre-fabricated furniture fix.

Just before we were about to give up, we found these corner braces that looked like the perfect size and shape for our problem. They were about $2.50 for a pack of 2 (in case any of the other supports ever break later).
So here's how we used a corner brace to support the closet bar:
As a bonus, the screws that came with the corner brace were short enough to not protrude out the side of the wardrobe. They were self-tapping screws, but I didn't trust them in the Ikea-style formica-covered particle board, and so I pre-drilled some small holes first, and that worked pretty well. We used a zip tie to fix the bar vertically; however, we also experimented with binder rings that we had stowed away in our office supplies. The binder rings actually provided a much tighter fit so that the bar didn't wiggle at all; however, as strange as it sounds, the zip ties were a little more discrete as they hugged the corner brace snugly.

[ I should note that I took off the shelf to get easier access to the closet. That meant pulling out the three small brads/nails attaching the masonite-ish backing. Because the area moment of inertia of that backing is very high, I think it provides significant support to the closet structure as a whole. So afterward, I pulled the closet out and put the nails back in a different spot. I probably could have left the shelf in through the whole fix. ]

I almost like the look of our fix better than the Ikea insert (which looks like it has a tenuous hold on the bar anyway).

[ You can also find this post at Ted's personal blog. ]