Monday, March 7, 2011


Still in hybernation.
After getting out and in of New York between snow storms to visit Germany for Christmas I went into hibernation for the winter. Between being hit by multiple massive snow storms (causing a lot of work tunneling out of the house...), starting new projects in the lab and the semester kicking off with lots of class work not too much has happened.
With subzero temperatures a lot of my energy was wasted in putting on layers and layers of clothes every time I tried to go somewhere,... maybe I can blame all the extra sleep I've needed on that.
But, in the last few weeks we've started to see the sun more and more and hope of spring getting here eventually is growing as the expectation that we will have to play our first rugby games of the season on snowy pitches.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Excuse me – do you have sawfish saws?

Yes, what have I been doing with the sawfish saws and why am I stealing bits of sturgeon from museums? One of the projects I’m working on had me contacting all sorts of museums across the country saying: Excuse me sir, do you have sawfishsaws? May I have part of your sawfishsaw? I’m looking to isolate DNA from sawfishsaws.
Okay, maybe I wasn’t using the term sawfishsaw quite that frequently (the scientific word is rostrum) – but I was getting bits and pieces of sawfishsaws mailed to me. The Smithsonian Museum in DC and a museum in Philly told me that they had quite a few sawfishsaws and that it would be best if I could come by to sample them myself. Go behind the scenes at the Smithsonian (or any museum for that matter)? Yes please!
And so I packed my hacksaw to go saw sawfishsaws (yes this is the new version of she sells seashells at the seashore). As I was packing my bag I thought to myself, Shannon, it’s a good thing you’re not flying anywhere. There’s no way you’d get through security carrying a saw, a bottle of ethanol, vials, a lighter, razorblades and a serrated knife. A couple of people were a bit confused when I told them I was off to get pieces of sawfishsaws (I can’t help it, I like that word) from museums. They envisioned me walking in the front door checking out the museum exhibitions and taking parts of the saws on display. Okay, I might have given them a little bit of incentive to believe that :-)
The ichthyology (Fish) department in the Smithsonian Museum is usually in part of the building that is currently being renovated so I ended up in the attic with big freight boxes (the wooden kind, that kinda make me think if I opened the wrong one some archaic dinosaur would march out) and rows and rows of box-type drawer thingies. You unclip a huge board in the front which then reveals shelves of specimen with little tags on them (some of them a hundred years old or so!) about where they came from and what they are.
I was sawing off part of a rostrum that was probably about a foot long and joking around with the curator about how the fact that the tag said that this fish had been speared implied getting pretty close to it. We discussed whether or not that was a good idea. I quickly made up my mind when the next saw we pulled out was only a bit shorter than I am tall!
In Philly I did get to see the cellar which is where I found the big sturgeon (so no, on that picture I’m not stealing part of a sturgeon on exhibition!). I spent most of my time a few floors up in a room that not only housed (shelved) the dried specimen but also entire fishes crammed into jars (kinda spooky), or larger ones stacked in tanks. The shelves where the ones where they have big “steering” wheels that you can use to move them closer and farther apart so you can get at the shelves in between. As the curator climbed up one of the shelves the entire shelves starting rolling slowly, slowly, slowly closing the gap.
I quickly reached out my hand to stop the movement, but couldn’t help but wonder how many curators go missing every year in shelf rolling incidents…

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I like Christmas for lots of reasons...

while I enjoy hot chocolate, gingerbread and Christmas Carols, the main reason I like Christmas is because it's Christmas.

Christmas Bells 
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till, ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The Carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;
‘For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!’

Sunday, December 5, 2010

the issue of (un)locked doors...

The “AllHands” email in our department is constant source of entertainment. Lately there’s been a whole series of emails, forwarded emails, crossed-emails and email parts going around regarding unlocked doors at night.
It started with a forwarded email from the Chemistry department reminding everyone there to make sure they properly locked the lab doors. Apparently they caught a couple of students trying to repeat an experiment they had seen on Youtube.
The email was forwarded to our department with an added comment that we need to remember to lock OUR buildings at night – which started a whole controversy of who found what building unlocked at what time, who should be making sure they are locked, who is unlocking them and so forth. Oh, stuff got blown so out of proportion, people were offended, people were accused, names were named and general name-calling ensued.
Real drama, about real life issues – seriously, who needs reality TV? Oh, my favorite part was one of the email which mentioned certain “ingredients” available that people could “use” for “experiment”. If we’re really that obsessed with terrorists –they’ve kinda already won.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Gone Fishin'

okay... actually this is me taking a sample from a museum specimen and the sturgeon I usually "deal" with a subadults and smaller... but still. This is me in a Philadelphia museum cellar with a very large fish!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Oh, the thinks you can think!

Frequently, when I meet people and they ask me what I do and I reply that I'm a budding Marine Biologist their first reply is (especially if they're female): "I totally wanted to do that when I was a kid -" I generally finish their sentence with "because you wanted to work with the dolphins?" and generally am right in that assumption.
Speaking of dolphins, I came across an interesting website today advertising a symposium to take place in Hawaii next summer. From what I can tell these people are perfectly serious and this an actual even to take place (once you've taken a look at the website you'll understand why I'm assuring you of this!).
It's a symposium on teleportation and apparently dolphins do this all the time so that if you swim with them you can experience it as well. There will be several experts there to guide you through these experiences.
Check it out:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Bless You update

The other day I walked into my office. I had barely set foot in the room when my office mate spun around and said: “Shay-non, I have question for you”, I expectantly held my breath, since as we’ve already established these questions could take us anywhere, “today in class I sneeze and somebody say bless – is this okay?”
We followed up our previous sneezing/blessing/thanking conversation by running through this case study. Apparently he sneezed in class and was quite surprised that somebody said bless you. After our previous lengthy discussion of that convention I was a bit surprised at his surprise until I realized that he thought that this breaks the other convention of not talking during class (though how strictly that one needs to be laid out is debatable). We agreed upon the fact, that with somebody sneezing, class had already been more or less disrupted so that a friendly “blessing” is not adding insult upon insult.
Then we got back into the whole issue of saying “Thank you” after somebody saying “bless you”. This one had been quite confusing for him in our previous exploration of the subject because I couldn’t give him an exact protocol on when to say thanks and when not, though I assured him that it wasn’t offensive not to say anything.
At one point, during the Thanking-non-Thanking part of our conversation I realized that he probably didn’t know what bless you really meant. “Do you know what ‘bless you’ means?”, “yes, when somebody sneeze –“, “No, the word blessing, do you know what a blessing is?”.
Turns out he didn’t. So I tried to explain it to him as simple but accurately as possible: “A blessing is a good thing you get from somebody that you didn’t earn for yourself and maybe don’t even deserve. When blesses you, they are giving you something good. And if somebody is giving you something good you didn’t deserve or wishing a good thing upon you – we should thank them, shouldn’t we?”
Shouldn’t we?

Happy Thanksgiving