Thursday, March 04, 2004

Today's wildlife: First, numerous male red-winged blackbirds on the wooded median strip along Interstate 69 between Marshall and Lansing. Rick and I call them all "Bubba" because of their noisy good-ol'-boy attitude. (We also call all the spiders that roam our house in the winter "Fido", but that's another story.) Second, saw a queen ant crawling very slowly on the sidewalk behind Giltner Hall at MSU. I think she was a Tetramorium caespitum, but that's just a guess. Third: For the first time in my life, I successfully identified a bug from mangled parts sent to the department by a civilian. Okay, it was Camponotus pennsylvanicus, the common black carpenter ant, which isn't tough to ID from body fragments. But, it was one of those all-too-common cases where someone sprayed a bunch of bugs in her house, let the little corpses desiccate for a few weeks, shoveled them into a Baggie, and then apparently hit them with a hammer four or five hundred times just to make sure they were really, truly dead before asking an insect taxonomist to figure out their identity from the tiny shards of chitin left over. Cathy and I got to play at being real forensic entomologists, as in the folks who figure out exactly what happened to the victim.

"Hmmmm, this was no accident -- this ant was murdered!"
"Looks like a clear case of insecticide to me!"

Also on the agenda today: I got to make the traditional "hysterversary" post to HysterSisters on the occasion of one year having passed since my own body repairs were done on March 4, 2003. I can't say enough for that group, which is an incredibly wonderful circle of support for women going through hysterectomies and similar surgeries. (It has its own equally wonderful and positive language. For example: A member wasn't a patient having surgery in a hospital -- she was a princess being crowned in the castle!) If someone you love is facing hysterectomy, send her in that group's direction. If she doesn't have a computer, buy her one. Get her some chocolate, too, and a cuddly stuffed teddy tick to hug when she's feeling low. Worked great for me.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Yet another sign of impending spring:

Since Rick and I are both shockingly inefficient at getting our take-home brainwork done at home, we often join the hordes who take said work to Panera and finish it over a cup of coffee and a pumpkin muffie. We had just settled into our seats, and I'd just popped open my laptop, when Rick yelped an expletive and jumped up. At first I thought he'd spilled coffee on his notes, but the culprit was something much more solid. A somewhat sluggish but definitely mobile Polistes dominulus queen was crawling on his thumb.

Yup, like many of its fellow polistine vespids, P. dominulus seems to have a thing about sneaking into buildings to warm up. As usual when one of us has a close encounter with a potentially scary bug, the bug can count itself as being very, very lucky. Rick scooped up the wasp on a napkin and dumped it outside. If it hasn't since been stomped on by a more hymenopterophobic passerby, I hold the anthropomorphic hope that it's properly grateful now.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

The world map has been repaired. You can even see French Polynesia if you look close enough, although the Caribbean islands (Aruba, the other Netherlands Antilles, and Antigua) don't seem to show up at all.

Add to the list of earth-shaking events at home: Because Rick has become a serious computer-graphics aficionado and his favorite program doesn't run on the Mac, there is now a Windows machine in our house. This is something I never thought Rick would do; given his long-time disdain for Wintel machines, it's caused tremendous cognitive dissonance, as if Michael Moore had announced support for Dubya's re-election, or Ronald McDonald suddenly endorsed the Ornish diet. I thought briefly about walking around the house wearing a garlic necklace while menacingly brandishing a stake, but it seemed a waste of good garlic.

Anyway, the new computer has not (yet) caused anyone in its vicinity to spew pea soup from a spinning head, and I relented and told Rick he really didn't have to name the computer SATAN1. We're not planning to equip it with duplicates of any expensive software (like Office) that already run fine on our Macs, and its 160 GB hard drive should make it an excellent server/backup system on our home network. Rick is now able to do the homework for his community-college graphics class without driving 10 miles each way, and I should be able to load up all the Windows-based population-genetics freeware I want. (Population-genetics software is almost all freeware, which means that it's usually limited to whichever platform the developer has time to support. Currently available utilities are about evenly divided between Mac-only and Windows-only, with Linux catching up fast. Typically, the one you need most at any given time is the one that runs on the computer you don't have.)

Oh, and I've produced an outline for the review article. At least I've produced an outline for a 100-page review article. The trick will be to cut it down to make it appropriate to the 10-to-15-page article we have in mind.