Thursday, October 17, 2013

Have your screen porch and your BoWrench too

Do you want to build a porch or a deck? Do you have a BoWrench? Do you live in the South?

You can have your screen under the floor and use your BoWrench too. I bought a 25' roll of 3' wide 20x20 mesh fiberglass screen and tacked it to my beam, put down a board, rolled up the screen to fit between the parts of the Bowrench and proceeded like normal.



It gets kind of saggy underneath. I will probably have to go under there and staple the joints up to the bottom of the 2x6 where it overlaps. But it's a pretty good compromise. The floor boards running straight is more important to me than how taut the screen is underneath.

The price of the 2x6 floor and the screen is only a little less than what I would have spent on 1x4 tongue and groove pine, but I would have needed two more joists and I couldn't just run Deckmate screws into it. I don't think I could balance a floor stapler on the joists even if the staples would stand up to outdoor use in pressure treated lumber. Instead of a pretty little porch floor I have a very strong 2x6 deck that I can fix up nice with Minwax 2 part wood putty and solid deck stain. And maybe screen in later.

I have heard of 5/4 tongue and groove kiln-dried-after-treating porch flooring, but nobody around here makes it or sells it.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

How to unlock your ATT iPhone after you upgrade

When you upgrade your iPhone you can get the old one unlocked. You have to wait two weeks, but then it's pretty a straightforward process of filling out forms online and doing stuff with iTunes.

So from the day you activate a new phone, say Friday afternoon, you have to wait two weeks. Friday morning two weeks after the new phone activation you can click the link below and fill out a form to request ATT unlock your old phone. Then the day after that you can restore your old phone and it's unlocked.

Unlocking means you can put different Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards in your phone, like you can use T-Mobile for less money and slower data speeds instead of ATT, or you can go to Europe and get a local carrier to sell you a month of minutes and a SIM card to put in your phone. This only works for ATT phones because they have the same kind of radio they use in Europe. It's called the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM). It was originally called Groupe Spécial Mobile when they made it up in the '80s, but they changed it when more carriers adopted it. GSM is a radio with a digital modulation scheme based on Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA). Verizon uses a radio with Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA). It's like the difference in getting your home internet from the phone company with Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) over twisted pair or from the cable company over a coaxial cable. To somebody non-technical they can't tell the difference because they see the same web pages on their iPad either way. But if they want to change from cable to DSL they can't use the cable modem anymore and have to buy a DSL modem instead. There are also technical differences in the way the bandwidth is shared for cable versus DSL, just like GSM and CDMA are dissimilar. But the differences in the pricing, availability and customer service tends to completely outweigh the technology when it comes to deciding which to use. It's a metaphor for my life.

Anyway, back to unlocking. Having an unlocked phone makes people who don't even need it feel extra cool, like having $500 speaker wires. I have no problem catering to their whims. I shall unlock my iPhone for them.

Clearly I don't need anything an unlocked phone offers over a contractually locked one. I use my iPhone within site of the ATT tower at the end of my driveway 98% of the time, and my wifi covers about 5 acres. Yet I keep renewing my 2 year contract every time I get a chance to have an upgraded camera. If you ignore the extra $20 a month I pay to be on contract it's like a free camera every 18 months.

So the reason I'm unlocking my old iPhone is to sell it and completely offset the $199 I just paid for the new 5S.

ATT website detailing eligibility to unlock your phone: Unlock your ATT device

STEP 1: Start the forms to unlock your phone: Customer Device Unlock

You need to click the box saying you read it then click "Agree" to get the following form to come up.


This is easy except for the IMEI number (International Mobile Station Equipment Identity). That's the special number that identifies individual phones. It should let a carrier block use of a phone for life if it gets stolen. Unfortunately carriers don't actually use that feature. Remote wiping your lost or stolen phone with iTunes will remove your personal data and make it unusable though. (details on iLounge.) Anyway, back to unlocking your iPhone.

Your phone number identifies your ATT account. Don't freak out that it will identify your new phone. It's all cool. The form wants the number you just transferred to your new phone.

There are two ways to find your IMEI number. If you aren't using your usual computer where you sync with iTunes, then find it on your phone. Go to the Settings app, then General, then About. Scroll down until you find it. Type the 15 digit number into a note so you can copy and paste it. Or put it straight in the form then take a screen shot of your completed form for future reference before you hit Submit. You may need the IMEI number again to check the status of your request later.

Alternately plug the phone in with the USB cable to your computer and look at the summary tab in iTunes. There's a line next to the picture of the phone for phone number. If you click it it changes to IMEI and again ICCID. (Who knew you could click a number and it would change to another number? This opens up a whole new world of things I can try.)

When you put in your IMEI number right in the ATT form it should pop up with an extra line identifying what kind of phone you have. This means you put it in correctly.

I left ATT Account Passcode blank and it worked fine. It will whine if you don't put in your social security number though.

If you do something wrong you'll get an error box and your browser won't go back. Click the above link again and start over. This is why I recommend taking a screen shot of the completed form before you hit Submit, just in case.


When you get everything copacetic and hit Submit they'll give you a confirmation window with a request number. You don't have to take a screen shot of that as they'll email you two emails in just a second. You can copy and paste the number later from the email if you want to check the status.

If you don't wait the whole 14 days you'll get two emails in quick succession, one saying your request was submitted and another one telling you it was summarily rejected. I tried it. The morning of the 14th day is fine though.

STEP 2: Get your confirmation email and wait 24 hours more.
Request number: XXXXXXX
Thank you for contacting ATT Customer Care about unlocking your ATT Mobile device.
We have reviewed your request and confirmed that the device may be unlocked.
Please allow 24 hours upon receipt of this notification to complete the unlock process.
To complete the unlock, simply
1. Open iTunes on your Mac or PC and verify that you have Internet connectivity.
2. Ensure a SIM card is inserted into your iPhone.
3. Connect your iPhone using the dock connector to USB cable that came with your iPhone.
4. Backup and restore your iPhone using iTunes. For information on backup and restore, please visit http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1414.
5. After restoring, your iPhone will be unlocked.
Additional information on unlocking can be found at http://support.apple.com/kb/TS3198
For questions regarding AT&T Mobile device, please visit the Phone/Device Learning Center.
Thank you for your business. For other questions about our ATT wireless service or other Mobile devices, please visit att.com.

STEP 3: Plug your old phone into your computer with the USB cable. If you already restored it then it will want you to set up up again. Just click "Set up as a new phone" then navigate back to the "Summary" tab and go straight to "Restore".


You already did File>Devices>Transfer Purchases to iTunes, right? And already backed up your phone to put it on the new phone, right? So let's do it! Restore!

The phone might ask you to enter your iTunes password. On the phone, not in iTunes. That's to stop somebody from restoring a stolen phone so they can just set it up as their own. Enter your Apple ID password. (I say it might ask you because I'm not sure it does in iOS 6 if you didn't set it up with that level of security. iOS 7 definitely requires a password to restore the iPhone to factory settings. Mine did because I'd already restored it and then reactivated it with iOS 7 to play with it. I restored it twice today just to see what happens. It doesn't ask for a password if it's already in a restored state.)

You'll get an indicator on the phone saying it's connected to iTunes, then a status bar under the Apple showing it's doing stuff. iTunes also indicates things are happening.


When the phone finishes talking to iTunes it will drop off the list of devices, restart itself, show you a status bar again, then vibrate and come back up on the list of devices. This time is should be just iPhone, not your name anymore.

I name my phone and tablet this way because
"Syncing Into a Deep Sleep" and
"Syncing Into Oblivion" amuses me.
My iPod is just named Valerie.
Notice the restored 4S is just iPhone now, not Barbara Tomlinson's iPhone.

It would save you time if you could resist restoring your old phone as soon as you get the new one. I couldn't resist. Then I set it up again with my Apple ID and everything so I could compare the screen to my new phone because they looked different to me. (The new one seemed yellow but I concluded that really the old one was just really blue.) It's not a big deal if you reactivate an old phone once you've transferred service to a new one. The old one will just come up with No Service where it used to say ATT. You can use it just like an iPod Touch.

There's a rumor on some sites that say iTunes will give you a "congratulations your phone is unlocked message." Mine didn't the first time I did it. I could have missed it so I repeated the process to see if I could get a screen grab. I did get the message the second time.


It's going to try to make you set it up. I just clicked eject in the Devices list instead of Continue.

I think I accidentally left the phone turned on for the 2 week waiting period, thus the dead battery. I finished this blog post while it charged up so I can pack it up and take it to UPS already.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Plastic Permeability Experiment the iScience Way

When I moved into a house only 12'x18' small I had to go paperless. Instead of notebooks on a shelf I put everything I might want to refer to later on my blog. Easier to search and retrieve.

Last week I wrote a blog about Dr. Means and his attachment to paper in his pursuit of science. And I also addressed questions from his video on National Geographic showing him holding a Ziplock sandwich bag with three small toads inside. It made me curious about these bags. Why don't the frogs suffocate? So I did some experiments. Friday night I tested if the zipper parts leak. I used smoke as a test because I can see it. (Link to Friday test with video) The zipper didn't leak. So that means oxygen must be going in and carbon dioxide must be going out, right through the bag. I don't have any way to measure respiration and permeability, but I thought I could come up with something that would at least produce some gas. I thought about hydrogen peroxide and a potato. That makes oxygen. But I didn't have a potato.  And it might make the gas way too fast. I wanted something pretty slow, like a frog breathing. I do have yeast and sugar. That makes carbon dioxide, and if I use a small amount and don't get it too hot it will be fairly gradual.

Back in the olden days my science teacher was very strict about lab notebooks. They had to be kept in pen, not recopying them for neatness, all original. That's probably still the preferred method because you can't fake it. But I'm not that rigorous and I do everything with my iPhone. I have a complete record to refer to later if I want to. But mostly I do it because it's easy. What's the point of doing science for fun if you make it too much work? I'm going to go through my experiment with you the iPhone way. Realize I'm leaving out a lot of photos for the sake of it's boring.

125 ml (1/4 tsp) instant yeast in 37ºC (100°F) tap water
(I would use it hotter for bread but I didn't want
it to go too fast.)
Equal amount white sugar

Stir it up

Put the dish of yeasty water and an equivalent dish of plain water
in baggies and zip them shut. The control is because the air inside
will expand just from heat so I need to isolate that effect from the
carbon dioxide coming from the yeast.

Start the timer. This screen shot shows the start time, 11:36 am
Now I just let the stopwatch run and take a screenshot
every time I take a measurement. I just went about my business
and checked it whenever I felt like it. Science is not the
boss of me. I'm not trying to calculate a rate
 or anything, I just generally want to know what's going
to happen.

First observation was after about 20 minutes. Screen shot the stopwatch.
It has the actual time as well as the elapsed time in the shot.
How convenient!
The baggie with the yeast in it was noticeably puffier than the
control bag. I realized I needed a way to measure this change.
I made up this haphazard way of pinching the top of the bag and
holding a ruler to the zipper line. I should have done it at 0:00:00
but I didn't think of it. Should have equalized them to be identical.
This is why real experiments get done over again.
Control bag with just water lets me pinch 1/2" more than the
yeast bag. This bag is not filling up with carbon dioxide,
the other one actually is.
I was sitting on the front steps making notes (on my iPhone) and
realized I could smell the yeast. Pretty sure that means carbon
dioxide is permeating the plastic. Smells like a beer. Other bag
smells like a bag.

I checked several times during a rather hot afternoon.
I could plot my little measurements if I wanted to. Maybe I will.
Skipping ahead to the end here.
To compare both bags. Condensation in each. Yeasty one still puffier.

It was a bit cooler by now. Control pinches down to
1 3/4"

Experimental one is only pinchable to 3/4"
Minimum at the hottest part of the day and peak
yeast output, about 1/2"
I brought the experiment inside for the night and
checked it again this morning. 
Yeast isn't doing anything now. Bag is pinchable to 1 1/2"
Temperature in the house about 25°C 
Control pinchable to almost 2"
I keep my notes for the experiment right on my iPhone
(It goes longer than this, have to scroll.)
Notes are immediately synced to my computer
and iPad so I can work on notes wherever I want.
Note typos where it says "on" when I meant "one" and
"puffer" when I meant "puffier." This is real,
Mrs. Burns!

So that's how I document science experiments with my iPhone! It's way easier than a paper log book. If nothing interesting happens I don't have to put it on my blog. I develop recipes the same way. Take pictures of the scale and the measuring cups as I'm working, then I have that to refer to when I'm writing it up as a recipe with notes saying it's too sweet or too sour so I can use different proportions next time.

As for the permeability of zipper bags to CO2, I definitely think they are permeable. Overnight the control didn't contract where the one pressurized with carbon dioxide contracted enough to allow another 1/2" of pinching (+50% the previous amount of pinching, 1" to 1 1/2"). I think carbon dioxide definitely got out of the bag.

This doesn't say anything about oxygen getting in the bag, but carbon dioxide getting out would be pretty important to anything breathing inside there. I'm no biologist, but I read WWII adventure books about sailors in diesel submarines so that's the basis for that totally non-expert statement.

I'm glad I did the little experiment because I really wasn't sure what would happen. If I'd had more identical little dishes I would have done more bags with increasing amounts of yeast until I got one to blow itself open. I probably could have mixed the yeast right in the bottom of the bag, but somehow that seemed messy. I liked that my little sushi-dipping dishes held the bag upright.

Just for the sake of seeing how fast I could do it, I made a chart. I used Google Drive. Just like Notes on iCloud it's automatically available now on my iPad or to any of you online if I give you the link. I did it really fast. Spreadsheets are my bitch. Here's a screenshot.


I'm not really sure what my 8th grade science teacher would think about all these ways to create data that literally anybody can alter. I mean, I just clicked a button that says "smooth" and got these lines to look like this. I don't know what it's doing. Since all of this is arbitrary and made up it doesn't matter. But for a real experiment that others will want to replicate or confirm I wouldn't feel comfortable with a tool on the computer like "smooth." I would need to be able to explain the algorithm it was using for that smoothing. 

I think the lesson is that all you see anymore is charts and most of them are not meant to be taken as full scale or even based on an accepted measurement. Inches of Pinch is not a legitimate measurement of pressure. I made that up. Realize these things are only relevant as they relate to changes between the control and the experiment, no relation to the outside world. If I want it to indicate pressure I should probably invert the whole thing to indicate an increase in pressure with a decrease in pinchability.

But my back hurts and I want a snack. I think it's fine if random hacks like myself can do some Saturday Science and whip up a half-assed chart all with software that's free and post it on a blog that's free and give it to you to enjoy, for free. Hey, if somebody reads it, does that make it peer reviewed?!





Why are there so few women who build their own house?

This morning I read a 10 pager in the New York Times titled Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science? These things come up a lot in my twitter feed because I follow a lot of women scientists who tweet the links. Also I follow @NYTimesScience. I read these articles and I feel like I'm supposed to think, "Exactly! Me too!" but I usually don't. I mean, I'm a woman with a failed science career. Why don't I identify with other women? Does it increase my vulnerability to prejudice or decrease it?

I think up until the age of 25 I was just oblivious to gender based prejudice. From NY Times:
I was dismayed to find that the cultural and psychological factors that I experienced in the ’70s not only persist but also seem all the more pernicious in a society in which women are told that nothing is preventing them from succeeding in any field. If anything, the pressures to be conventionally feminine seem even more intense now than when I was young.
For me "pressures to be conventionally feminine" was my in-town grandmother talking me into shaving my legs when I was 11 (I've shaved every single day since then) and teaching me that I must NEVER wear socks with a skirt. (I never have and never will. But I never wear skirts or socks, so not a huge issue.)
Consequently, gifted girls, even more so than boys, usually camouflage their mathematical talent to fit in well with their peers.
The study’s findings apply equally in science. Urry told me that at the space telescope institute where she used to work, the women from Italy and France “dress very well, what Americans would call revealing. You’ll see a Frenchwoman in a short skirt and fishnets; that’s normal for them. The men in those countries seem able to keep someone’s sexual identity separate from her scientific identity. American men can’t seem to appreciate a woman as a woman and as a scientist; it’s one or the other.”
I didn't know any of this. I was so sexually stunted up until my mid twenties I had no idea that boys were particularly put off by my being scientific. EVERYBODY shunned me in high school, boys and girls. Because I was better at them in ALL the classes. It never occurred to me that one subject was more important than another, and it certainly never occurred to me to pretend to be stupid. Frankly I didn't care. Why would I want to be popular with a bunch of people who were so mean, so shallow, so ignorant? I got along with the ten people in the upper level classes with me. And I didn't really feel that smart. I slept through Calculus every day. (I stayed up too late.) Then before tests one of my classmates would study with me. She would show me the steps the teacher did on the blackboard to solve the problems. She kept excellent notes. I would figure it out and explain to her why he did that. Then we both did fine on the test. I think that was the only time in my academic career I had a female study buddy. I never even thought about it until now.

I did realize in my 20s at my first job that I could get people to do what I told them if I dressed up. I honestly didn't think it had anything to do with sexiness. I thought it had to do with the impression of power and rank. In my mind that turquoise knit suit I had with the tight miniskirt and the low cut jacket with a peplum was an indicator that I was a valuable engineer and the men in the machine shop would pay attention to me and do my project in time for me to meet my deadline. When my office mate (a married man) said, "Oh, you look nice today. Trying to get something done in the shop?" I figured we were all on the same page. I wasn't trying to get the machinist to DATE me. I just wanted my parts milled! I thought of it something like that scene in The Holy Grail,

"Who's that, then?"
"I dunno, must be a king."
"Why?"
"He hasn't got shit all over him."

So basically this article is saying that all women are clued into the way people really work and I'm just totally naive and out of touch.

But I do have two science degrees. Isn't it fair to think that there might be other women as clueless as me that study this stuff and do these jobs because they just don't know any better?
The most powerful determinant of whether a woman goes on in science might be whether anyone encourages her to go on. My freshman year at Yale, I earned a 32 on my first physics midterm. My parents urged me to switch majors. All they wanted was that I be able to earn a living until I married a man who could support me, and physics seemed unlikely to accomplish either goal. 
I trudged up Science Hill to ask my professor, Michael Zeller, to sign my withdrawal slip. I took the elevator to Professor Zeller’s floor, then navigated corridors lined with photos of the all-male faculty and notices for lectures whose titles struck me as incomprehensible. I knocked at my professor’s door and managed to stammer that I had gotten a 32 on the midterm and needed him to sign my drop slip. 
“Why?” he asked. He received D’s in two of his physics courses. Not on the midterms — in the courses. The story sounded like something a nice professor would invent to make his least talented student feel less dumb. In his case, the D’s clearly were aberrations. In my case, the 32 signified that I wasn’t any good at physics. 
“Just swim in your own lane,” he said. Seeing my confusion, he told me that he had been on the swimming team at Stanford. His stroke was as good as anyone’s. But he kept coming in second. “Zeller,” the coach said, “your problem is you keep looking around to see how the other guys are doing. Keep your eyes on your own lane, swim your fastest and you’ll win.” 
I gathered this meant he wouldn’t be signing my drop slip. 
“You can do it,” he said. “Stick it out.”
I don't remember every talking to my parents about bad grades on a test. I think I probably called my father to laugh about the first Statics test I took. I got a 42. I did drop that class. I took it again and got an A on the first test, and something terrible on every one after that. I ended up with a D. I also got an F in Calculus and a C in Physics and a B in English and an A in Weightlifting. I liked that I got a complete run of all the grades. But I was on academic probation and I was very worried. I don't remember getting any encouragement to go on, but I must've done. I expect I called my father and he said something succinct like, "It's hard. You just have to study more." My brother probably told me the same thing. He never got grades that bad. He never worked at a job that required an all-nighter every Wednesday either. I was working about 50 hours a week as an editor on the student newspaper at the time. I think I accepted that I was going to flunk out if I didn't stop. I turned the job over to my assistant editor. I reconnected with him a few years ago and found out he absolutely hated Georgia Tech because it was hard and his social life was awful. He quit and went to law school. I had no idea. I think people who had a good time in high school liked Tech less than I did. I hated high school. I thought college was SUPPOSED to be hard. I was PAYING for it. I had no concept of a social life. It didn't strike me as odd that nobody asked me out on dates. I didn't have money or the wardrobe for stuff like that anyway. I don't know why I didn't put it together that the other girls I knew had tons of dates. I just really don't know. I still argue that it's irrelevant what you're studying though. They were all taking classes just as hard as me. Maybe they were better at just not talking about that stuff with men. Or maybe they just had way more hormones than me. (Probably that.)
Not even the math professor who supervised my senior thesis urged me to go on for a Ph.D. I had spent nine months missing parties, skipping dinners and losing sleep, trying to figure out why waves — of sound, of light, of anything — travel in a spherical shell, like the skin of a balloon, in any odd-dimensional space, but like a solid bowling ball in any space of even dimension. When at last I found the answer, I knocked triumphantly at my adviser’s door. Yet I don’t remember him praising me in any way. I was dying to ask if my ability to solve the problem meant that I was good enough to make it as a theoretical physicist. But I knew that if I needed to ask, I wasn’t.
I feel really bad for the author of this paper. I'm sorry she didn't get the praise she needed. But I'm also confused why she thought she would. I think she must have had the kind of parents people have on TV shows, not the kind I have. Her professor acts just like my father would. That's what I expect. I get all my satisfaction from the job of work, not from praise for the job of work. I am recently realizing this is abnormal for women, but clearly it is not something tied to the chromosomes, it's societal. When I tried to switch my career from electronics engineering to civil engineering I spent a year as a Project Technician, but basically I was a secretary to a Professional Engineer in coastal engineering. I enjoyed writing reports for him. He would write the basics out longhand on yellow legal pads. Then I would type that in Word and almost entirely rewrite it and reorganize it as I went along. He liked it. He quickly learned to leave out details he thought I could fill in. He just got the important stuff down and let me fix it. When I finished he would sign it and seal it and I'd send it out. He never said anything embarrassing like, "Great work! We make a good team!" I KNEW it was good work. I liked learning coastal engineering by typing, and he got the advantage of my mastery of language. (I really enjoy typing.)

Unfortunately the whole engineering group expected me to do secretary stuff like send faxes and make travel reservations as well as my field work inspecting sea walls and writing reports. One day the head of landscape architecture got to the airport to find no e-ticket waiting for him. When I got back from walking 10 miles on the beach I had an email saying "help me understand why I didn't have a ticket." Oops. When I got back to the office my boss said, "Jesus, Barbara! I thought you could do this job! It's not ROCKET SCIENCE!" This was a man whose nickname for me was "Atom Splitter." I gave him a look. "If it was rocket science then I could do it! Don't you think if I was good at Secretary I would have majored in that and not something as hard as Rocket Science?!" He allowed as how it was his mistake for giving me the desk where the administrative assistant used to sit. He moved me to the other side of the building and hired a real secretary. She did a great job with all the chores. And I still got to write the reports.

One day after about 8 months she quit. I spoke to her on her last day. She was complaining how trying that job was. "Oh, I know! They're always interrupting you to do some trivial thing when there's an interesting report to edit!" She gave me this confused look. "I'm fine with multitasking. I love it! I'm talking about how they never say 'Thank You!' There's never any encouragement at all!"

"Are you serious? Well then we were both ill-suited to this job but for the complete opposite reason. I thought the amount of positive feedback I got was perfectly fine."

And even faced with this evidence that I'm not a normal woman I just chalked it up to her not being brought up with engineers. I STILL thought I was looking at differences in personality of scientists and secretaries, not women and men. Because I'm a woman and I'm nothing like that.

Which is kind of how I feel when I read these articles about why there aren't more women in science. Why are these women so different from the men? I feel right at home in the male environment. Is it because I grew up with a brother and male cousins for my only playmates? Is it because I emulated my father and not my mother educationally? I expect the women that ARE in science are also weird in their own way, with their own background that shaped them. I'm not sure what anybody can do about it. I'd be inclined to say it comes down to your parents, but look at Amanda Palmer. Her parents are scientists and she is decidedly nothing like them.

More from NYT:
Not long ago, I met five young Yale alumnae at a Vietnamese restaurant in Cambridge. Three of the women were attending graduate school at Harvard — two in physics and one in astronomy — and two were studying oceanography at M.I.T. None expressed anxiety about surviving graduate school, but all five said they frequently worried about how they would teach and conduct research once they had children. 
“That’s where you lose all the female physicists,” one woman said. 
“Yeah, it’s even hard to get your kid into child care at M.I.T.,” said another. “Women are just as willing as men to sacrifice other things for work,” said a third. “But we’re not willing to do even more work than the men — work in the lab and teach, plus do all the child care and housework.”
Yep, that's where you lost this female physicist. This is why I won't go to any meetings for supporting women in science and engineering. I went to one as an alumni and I was disgusted. It was all about this. Husbands and babies. I NEVER wanted babies. Never for a second did I worry about how I would do science once I had children. In fact I never visualized anything about my future, not the job OR babies. Which is probably why I failed. But it is extremely off-putting. I feel like I should start a group for Childfree Women in Science for people that want to talk about something besides life balance. I like going to talks by scientists where they talk about SCIENCE! And I can get that by participating in groups of men.

Another quote:
Back at Yale, Urry laughed at my own stories of how inept I had been in lab — drizzling acid on my stockings, which dissolved and went up in smoke, getting hurled across the room by a shock from an ungrounded oscilloscope, not being able to replicate the Millikan oil-drop experiment. Even she had been a disaster in lab in college. Only when she took a more advanced lab and spent hours poring over a circuit diagram, figuring out that her fellow students had set up an experiment wrong, did she realize she knew as much as they did. 
“I’m soldering things, and I’m thinking, Hey, I’m really good at this. I know the principles. It’s like an art. It took me years to realize I’m actually good with my hands. I have all these small-motor skills from all the years I spent sewing, knitting and designing things. We should tell young women, ‘That stuff actually prepares you for working in a lab.’ ”
I never thought of that. I was never a disaster in the lab though. I sure as hell never wore stockings. I guess I already had tons of experience doing things myself. I also had a good lab partner who made the oscilloscope show the right things, then I wrote better reports and got better grades than him. (I felt bad about it too. But now he owns the company where he learned to use an oscilloscope and I'm a freelance pro-bono science writer, so I guess it was good foreshadowing.) I tend to credit my success in lab to good writing, not sewing. How could it be sewing? My brother made model airplanes but I sewed. I tried a plane once but I didn't know you were meant to put glue only on the edges of the wing then shrink the paper. I put glue on all the struts too. My brother was nice to explain to me what I'd done wrong without making me feel any worse than the actual hideous wing did, but I think I was glad to throw it away and just go back to needle and thread.

Counted Cross-stitch I made when I was about 13 for my town-grandmother.
When she died my aunt gave it back to me. I'm glad I did this when I was young
because I can barely hold a needle any longer. Hands are worn out.
More from NY Times:
Most of all, we need to make sure that women — and men — don’t grow up in a society in which they absorb images of scientists as geeky male misfits. According to Catherine Riegle-Crumb, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, gender differences in enrollment rates in high-school physics tend to be correlated with the number of women in the larger community who do or do not work in STEM fields.
This is only half true. Why does it matter if the scientists in the community are women? I grew up in a TINY community. But in that tiny community I regularly encountered scientists, engineers, naturalists, teachers, and writers. None of the engineers or scientists were women. The women (and some men) were writers and teachers. But I honestly didn't differentiate between the women and men when it came to role models. My mother teaching me the rules of grammar seemed equally helpful as my father teaching me l'Hopital's Rule. I was collecting rattlesnakes for Bruce Means to dissect when I was just a kid and helped him use his radio tracker to find snakes in the woods. I remember my father studying for the professional engineering exam. I used to thumb through the whisper thin pages of his CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics and admire it's odd dimensions. (It had small covers like a novel, but was about 7" thick.) He taught me to use his old HP reverse polish notation calculator with the red LEDs when he got the new programmable one, and bought me an HP15C as soon as they were introduced. Clearly I didn't mind being the kid who was different, and I didn't mind emulating my father AND my mother. I liked that I never had to loan anybody my calculator. And I liked when my orthodontist said he liked my poem in the school poetry pamphlet. Of course I was the only kid in school with these science oriented role models. None of the rest of them lived like I did, 15 miles away in the country with a long distance phone number from the kids in my class, doing science for fun.

Unfortunately my obliviousness as a child just gave me a lack of people skills that in middle age equates to being unemployable as a scientist and invisible as a woman. So I'm not wishing this path on any other would-be scientists. I think if I had joined a sorority and learned to get along with other women my life would have turned out differently. But at the same time I enjoy that I get my satisfaction from doing a good job of work and don't require any personal or societal praise to feel fulfilled. Isn't that just what it's like to be a person who asks questions and then seeks the answer, who designs something and then builds it? Why are people continually asking why there aren't more women in science and not asking about any of the other things I do that are weird?

Why don't more women build their own house? I've built several. I'm not good at it particularly, if you go by speed. I'm terrible compared to a man. I'm 1/4 as good at hammering as a man I know who also has built several houses, as a strike-for-strike comparison will show. But I still do it. And I don't care if nobody encourages me or if nobody says they like it. Most of my relatives have never even seen the houses I've built. They aren't impressed. They weren't impressed when I got a physics degree either, or an oceanography degree. Despite what it says in my aunt's book she did not come to my college graduation. Only my dad did, because I made him. I said, "You paid for it, we're going." I paid for my own Masters Degree and I didn't bother with graduation. My diploma came in the mail.

I kind of wish I could show my relatives my house because I'm proud of it, but that's fine. I get it the way I want it and I feel good about it. Maybe that's odd for a woman, based on what I've read. We're supposed to need all this "support." I was the same with science. I thought I was pretty terrible as a physics student. But I didn't spend a lot of time comparing myself to other students. It was none of my business what their grades were. I was actually really surprised when I showed up at graduation to find out I was ranked 30 out of 60 in my graduating class. I would have thought I was dead last. I just did physics because the professors were good, the subjects seemed interesting, and I'm stubborn. I'm still drawn to the physical questions. When Bruce Means tells me he keeps live frogs in a zipper bag I immediately think of the physics of permeable plastic. Thinking too much about a frog in a bag really weirds me out. It's possible I do physics to deflect the empathetic anxiety I get from biology.

I'm glad that as person who isn't actually "in" science I can satisfy my curiosity with half-assed experiments and not have to take down tons of data if I don't want to. I think I can "be" a scientist without being "in" science. It's a shame there's not a better word for somebody who builds their own houses who isn't "in" building. I'm just "handy at DIY." Nobody would write an article called "Why aren't there more women who are handy at DIY?" though, because there are as many women as men on TV shows doing home renovations. But as a portion of the population, how many women and men would be considered "handy at DIY"? Where is that data? Is perception of a problem more important than an actual discrepancy? Does it only matter if it's a career and not a way of life? Do you need just one TV show to make it so? There are more shows than Big Bang Theory that have scientists, even women ones. Eureka, for example. Also Bones* and Voyager. Firefly had all the extremes covered by women. I don't have the channel that gets Mythbusters but I follow them on Twitter and I'm sure there's a woman on there. She might be doing science and being handy at DIY.

I have to write up my experiment with yeast in a zipper bag now.

* Bones is a terrible example of a woman scientist. If she was so smart she would learn from all the help people give her in how to get along better with others. Also reversing her desire to not have children infuriated me. I stopped watching then.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Permeability of Zippered Storage Bags

Earlier this week I talked to Dr. Bruce Means about his frog research. I found out he keeps live specimens in quart size storage bags. Seems surprising they don't suffocate. I want to do some experiments to see how oxygen gets in and carbon dioxide gets out. Unfortunately I don't have a lot of chemicals on hand that react with oxygen and put out carbon dioxide. I guess I could put some iron filings in a bag with some water and watch it rust. I'd need a way to evacuate the oxygen first so any rust would come from oxygen permeating the bag. I'm out of dry ice. I have some yeast. I could use that. Yeast would actually pressurize the bag, so if it doesn't explode then it's obviously permeable one direction. Maybe I'll set that up tomorrow.

Meanwhile I thought I might as well check if the zipper leak. I have one thing readily available that takes up oxygen and gives off carbon dioxide — fire. But it also gives off so much heat it melts plastic. But if I make the heat stop then it gives of smoke, which is a good indicator of air leakage. If I can fill a bag with smoke and it doesn't come out through the closed zipper then that's not how the frogs are getting fresh air. It doesn't come out. The plastic itself must be gas permeable, or else the zipper is permeable, but at a smaller scale than smoke particles. I feel like a real scientist because my conclusion is that I have to do more experiments.




Smoke test of a zippered storage bag from barbara tomlinson on Vimeo.

How to stop Picasa redirecting links to Google+

My aunt asked me to help her list a house for rent. She wanted to "call somebody and tell them where to see pictures on the internet." Hmm, that's... not something people usually do. They email a link or text it, something they can click on. I figured what she needed was a URL she could say over the phone, so I needed to do use bitly.com to generate a short, custom URL.

These pictures already existed online in a Picasa album my mother created last time the house was for rent. But when my aunt, with an iPad2 with a non-functional home button as her only electronic device, clicked the link in the email I sent her it threw her into a splash screen to download the Google+ app. If she clicked "Or continue to the mobile site..." then it showed her giant pictures she had to scroll to see and the captions were nowhere to be found.

The same link on an iPhone looks great. The difference? iPhone wasn't redirecting to Google+.

I finally fixed it on my third bit.ly URL. The secret is to stick "&nodirect=1" at the end of the list of things after ? in the original private picasaweb.google.com URL. If it's a public link and just has a number after picasaweb.google.com/, use "?&nodirect=1" after the number.

example 1: Private link to an album
https://picasaweb.google.com/123456789101112131415/AlbumName?authuser=0&authkey...&noredirect=1

example 2: Public link to a photo
https://picasaweb.google.com/123456789101112131415?&noredirect=1

Thanks to George Maschke for the instructions!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Bruce Means Q&A: Frog Science

National Geographic just published a story about the tepuis of the Guiana Shield* featuring my friend Dr. Bruce Means.

Pristine "Islands in the Sky" Are Window on Evolution: Unique plants and animals of South America's tepuis (mesas) reveal rich secrets.

Go read it now. Be sure to watch the video and then come back here. Pay attention to the part where he's holding a plastic bag with some pebble toads in it above the title Dr. Bruce Means: Herpetologist and National Gegographic (sic) Grantee.

At the end of the video Bruce says, "As in all science, when you investigate something you come up with a lot more questions than you can answers." Because there is a hierarchy of ignorance, though, I can get answers to my questions. I had plenty.

I emailed Bruce for more details and he sent me a PDF of a paper all about the DNA studies. I emailed him back to complain that there must be something in between the National Geographic fluff piece and this thing so full of italicized Latin and statistics-speak I can barely parse the sentences. I realized I needed to ask the questions directly and write it myself. Bruce said, "Stop by. I'm in."

Dr. Bruce Means, Herpetologist
Here's Bruce in his office in Tallahassee Tuesday afternoon. Over his left shoulder lives a beautiful black and white kingsnake with an articulated lamp shining on him. There are other snakes living there too. Unlike me, Bruce likes to capture and keep animals. It's this capturing and keeping I wanted to know about today. I tried to record our conversation but I did it wrong and got nothing. I'm going to write this in Question and Answer format anyway, but it's totally paraphrased from memory.

Q: In the video in the National Geographic story you're shown at the bottom of the chasm holding a ziplock bag with three frogs in it. Were they alive in there? 

A: Yes. That's how I collect frogs. I try to get about 5 males and 5 females. I put a few specimens in a quart size baggie and blow some air into it and zip it closed. Here I put it in a cooler to stabilize the temperature when I'm out collecting, but it's not necessary. In South America I can just put them in my pocket and they're fine for up to three days. I think those bags must be oxygen permeable.

Q: That would be an interesting experiment, to measure the gas permeability of the bags.

A: It would. You should do that. (I will)

Bruce said in the video it took him 36 hours at the bottom of that chasm to figure out how to find the pebble toads he was looking for. It took me under a minute with a flashlight to find three frogs on my lab so I could demonstrate this frog-in-a-baggie technique.
First one I found got away because I had a flashlight, my phone, and a baggie in my hands.
He disappeared inside my air conditioner. It wasn't on.
There were two frogs by this window.
I put my phone in my pocket after I took this picture and caught him in my hand.
Frog in a bag. Bruce swears they're fine like this for days at a time,
even three or four frogs in there together, inhaling and exhaling.
This one also peed. Bruce didn't mention them peeing.
He probably handles them until they get that out of their system,
as it were, before he puts them in the bag. I didn't like him in my
hand so I popped him straight in the bag.
This is where Bruce and I diverge, I just don't like messing with my neighbors.
I immediately put that frog back where I found him. Then I tested that true-tone
flash on my new camera phone. I'm way more technological than biological. 
Q: But surely you can't bring live frogs back with you. Don't you have to kill them and preserve them? How do you do that?

A: I usually collect for several days then process them all at once, but on the tepuis I have to do them every day.

Bruce in his wet lab. Specimens preserved in ethyl alcohol in jars. 
I get some of that stuff you use on a toothache, benzocaine, and squirt a little bit out into a bag, about an inch of it, and add some water and slosh it around. Then I put the frogs in and they immediately go limp.

 For frogs gently killed and lovingly preserved in ethanol;
over-the-counter preparation at my Publix on the way home.
Then I take the limp frogs and spread them out on a towel. I like the brown ones like in public restrooms. I use forceps to get them all arranged so their legs and feet are spread out. Then I put another towel over them and soak the whole thing in ethanol. That makes them get stiff. Then I can put the labels on and put them in jars of ethanol.

Looking for the forceps.
We're not so different. I have forceps in my lab too,
but I keep them in this bag with my soldering iron for
rework of tiny components on surface mount circuit boards.
Bruce demonstrates how he would arrange the limp frogs
on toweling with forceps
Q: What about the DNA analysis? You can collect the material later from the preserved frogs?

A: No, I do it in the field. For the specimens I want for DNA analysis I cut their stomach skin open with scissors and collect a tiny bit of heart muscle and liver tissue and put it in one of these.
Specimen containers for heart and liver tissue for DNA analysis
I label the specimen container with the same identifier as the tag I attach to the frog. I put some ethanol in the container to preserve the tissue. You can't use formaldehyde because it fixes the DNA.
Photograph of frog specimens arranged on a brown paper towel, stiffened with ethanol.
Live frogs are very colorful. This is Pristimantis dedrobatoides. It's bright red underneath.
Ethanol dissolves all the red and blue pigment from the preserved frogs leaving only melanin.
(These are not the same frog as above.)
Preserved frog showing identifying tag attached.
If you've ever been in a silkscreen shop you know the smell of ethanol. They use denatured alcohol as a solvent for the dyes they press through the tiny holes in the silkscreens onto whatever they're printing. When the alcohol evaporates the color is left behind. It makes perfect sense to me that the color would be removed from frog specimens preserved in ethanol.

(Regarding the colorful red and brown frog above: I called it the Louboutin frog because it's bright red underneath. Bruce didn't get the reference.** He calls everything by the real scientific name. My grandmother did that too. If I hear it enough I pick it up, which is why I say gambusias instead of mosquito fish, but Bruce has an ear for Latin and easily remembers Pristimantis. He doesn't need a nickname to call the image to mind.)

Q: What information do you record about a new kind of frog when it's still alive? 

A: I photograph it to record the color. I handle it to get it to release its defensive excretions, hold it right up to my face to smell it, and then taste it.

Q: Do you just dab a bit on your bottom lip like my grandmother used to do to test mushrooms? If her lip went numb after ten minutes she wouldn't cook that one.

A: No, I just lick it like any other predator would. I try not to lick it a lot in case it is really bad. This one just tasted very bitter. (The Louboutin frog)

Q: And then when you've got it arranged on the paper towel and stiffened you take all your measurements?

A: Right. I measure it with dial calipers and a ruler and write that all down in a form I make up ahead of time.

Q: How do you tell the males from the females so you can be sure you got some of each?

A: Some of them I can't tell. I have to dissect them when I get back to the lab to be sure. Most frogs have some external difference, like the males have the throat pouch for calling.

Then all this information ends up in these three ring binders that you see all over his office. It's quite impressive organization. He can find anything he's looking for immediately.

It's a lot more paper than I like myself. I'm so space limited I tend to keep everything electronic. I'm trying to talk Bruce into letting me do an iBook of his Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake research, but he really likes the printed and bound version of things. At the end of our conversation I came away with a dropped hard drive that wouldn't turn on and a note to bring him a Firewire 800 to Firewire 400 cable so he can hook his slide scanner to his new Macbook Pro. I might not be inclined to handle animals as much as Bruce, but I can contribute to the advancement of natural science in my own physical science way.

** History of the Guiana Shield and Guyana the country, and Guayana, Land of Many Waters. Venezuelans originally called the region the Guayana Shield, pronounced "gwah-yana." Then Columbus came along and they called the region Guiana, pronounce it like it was spelled Guyana, and then read like a Frenchman would say the man's name Guy, "gee." Then in 1970 they became an independent English speaking republic and changed the name to Guyana, pronounced "Gye-yana" (see Wikipedia for more.)
** Louboutin reference explained. Pigalle Ada $650
Bruce's website. You can buy a book and support science! Stalking the Plumed Serpent is a great read.