Friday, October 30, 2015

Hello nana.


Hi nana.

Today is the best thing ever when I when I was at school. We did a experiment it's awesome. There were little pumpkins and we put the pumpkins in water,vinegar and oil. The pumpkin in the oil did nothing. The vinegar disappeared. The water changed orange and the pumpkin turned white. Good bye nana. 
Ps the pumpkins were candy. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Things that go bump in the night

Things have been . . . complicated.  At the end of pollinating, I was told about a reorg that was happening with my company.  I was offered a new job, kinda like my boss's role, but working with soybeans, cotton, and wheat instead of corn.  My current job was changing too.  This weighed pretty heavy in my mind, but I didn't feel comfortable writing about it here, because the reorg was company-wide. That and there has been a lot of discussion about whether we move to St. Louis or not.  We are definitely not moving this year, but there is a decent chance we may need to move next year.  Then that was completely overshadowed by stuff with one of my kids that I was pretty sure she didn't want me to write about.  After that harvest hit with all of the long hours and travel, but this time I was visiting cotton and soybean fields.

On this American Life, they had a Halloween special.  Kind of.  I know that Ira Glass's voice is like pretentious fingernails on a hipster chalkboard for some people, but I am addicted.

And the Call Was Coming from the Basement | This American Life

They focused on true spooky stories.  The first was seemed like a Hollywood ghost story, that actually came from a medical journal article.  The family seemed to be haunted by malevolent spirits, but actually were being poisoned with carbon monoxide gas from their furnace.  OK, so maybe not scary, except an invisible, odorless gas can make you live the plot of The Shining. Oh, that is why they went nuts locked up in that hotel!  Carbon monoxide is so, so scary. Add that to my list of chemicals to fear.

So I have one of my own to add to this list.  Maybe our furnace leaked carbon monoxide.  Maybe it didn't.

Let's start at a sleepover at my friend Shad's house.  We stayed up late playing with his Transformers and K'nex.  We made a fort out of blankets and told scary stories.  Afterwards Shad shared his very logical process to overcome being afraid of things in the dark.

  1. Tell yourself it is probably something normal, like a chair with clothes on it. 
  2. Try to remember what was there when the lights were on. 
  3. Get out of bed.  Now this was the genius, yet terrifying step to stop being afraid of things in the dark.
  4. Walk toward the thing that in your brain you are sure is a ghost, goblin, ghoul, tiger, giant, or zombie.  In a horror movie, this is a very bad idea.  In reality, I conceded, most scary things are not real and it is probably something commonplace.  OK. Deep breaths.  In, Out.  One step after another. 
  5. Reach out your hand.  Logic says what you are going to touch is something normal.  Logic says that.  Keep telling yourself that.  Really.  It is going to be a bathrobe.  Or the cat.  Maybe it is your brother sleepwalking.  Actually that is terrifying.  
We even practiced this.  We picked out objects in the room that in the dark could be mistaken for something crouching in a corner and practiced stepping out the halo of the flashlight, reaching out and double checking that it was still a chair with a pile of teddy bears.  

A few nights later, I woke up and had to go.  Like really had to go.  So, after lying in bed debating whether I really needed to get up or if I could fall back asleep.  I could not.  We had these orange nightlights that gave some light in the room and down the hall, but really they did not help.  Everything came out with an ethereal, sickly-orange graininess. 

I climbed off my bunk bed, and went in the hall towards the bathroom.  The light was on, but the door was mostly shut.  There was light framing the door and streaming out a few feet in front of it.  I glanced the other direction towards the dark living room and saw something standing in the middle of the hall.  

I froze. I needed to move, but I couldn't.  It didn't move either.  I remembered Shad's steps to break the fear and the logical part of my brain convinced me this was the perfect chance to test this out.  

  1. I told myself it was probably the vacuum cleaner left out in the hall.  That totally happens all the time.  Then someone draped clothes on it to make it look like a bald goblin like person standing in my hallway.  
  2. I tried to remember if I had put the vacuum cleaner away when I had done my chores.  I probably hadn't.  I didn't remember doing that.  Yeah, that is totally the vacuum cleaner, I thought. 
  3. Deciding that it was the vacuum cleaner and not something that looked like a tall Yoda.  I moved forward.  Maybe it was my sleepwalking brother.  Except he was taller than me and this was shorter.  If Marc slept walk, Jon probably did too.  That is totally reasonable. One step.  Then another.  The light from the bathroom was almost totally gone.  It is dark.  Getting closer. 
  4. I reached out my hand.  It totally still looked to me like some sort of goblin standing in front of me.  I envisioned touching it and feeling a towel on top of the vacuum cleaner.  I thought, at worst I will feel my brother's hair.  
  5. I touched it.  It wasn't a towel on the vacuum cleaner.  It felt like a bald head.  I am not kidding.
It moved.  

I ran faster than I have ever ran.  I could have won the Olympics flying down the hall, into my room, and up to my bed.  Under the covers, lay still.  Breathe.  Eyes closed.  Breathe quietly.  Maybe it won't come get me, I thought.  

It didn't.  I lay there for a long time, bathroom forgotten.

In the morning, the vacuum cleaner was not in the hall.  I discretely asked my brothers if they had gotten up in the night and stood almost perfectly still at the end of the hall.  They looked at me strangely.  I made sure to always go before going to bed after that.  

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Charleston, SC. Back to cotton


I am Kate Kate is writing this blog 

Hi nana
I am so amazing I love you so much Aleah is cocoo.

 I'm good at extra math.  How are you doing? Nana You are so nice nana

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Epic road trip

We decided for Chris and Angela's wedding we would make an epic road trip to California. We would cross Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and finally stop when we got to the Bay Area. 

I didn't take any pictures in Nebraska. It is a subtler place the the rough crags of Colorado. We stayed with Rich for a couple of days before our next drive to Utah to visit the Cooks. 

They live in Fountain Green, home of lamb days and "helped" walk sheep at night. We also ate and ate. Tara spoiled us with homemade ice cream, cookies, tamales, egg rolls, Spanish rice, lasagna, and more. 

Becca was in heaven talking to the lambs and cows. The bummer lamb her favorite thing ever. 

We toured temple square in a bit of rain. 

But it didn't last. 

Now on the California. 

Thursday, June 04, 2015

The Future of Science is Bright

Too often predictions of the future are dystopian, full of daunting challenges due to climate change, exponential population growth, environmental disasters, and economic woes.  Finding solutions to these problems seems so hard, but this last month I was able to peek into a much more hopeful future at the Intel Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), where Monsanto sponsors a special award for plant science. I was a judge for the award and helped one day at a booth in the expo hall to talk to the thousands of parents, students and teachers about Monsanto. One day was open to the public and there were a lot of questions about genetic engineering, Monsanto, and plant breeding.

 Intel sponsors this science fair together with the Society for Science and the Public (SSP) for some of the brightest students from around the world.  This is the world’s largest international high school science competition with approximately 1,700 high school students from over 75 countries.  Each participant has already won their regional science fair or national fair and came to Pittsburgh to compete for around $4 million dollars in prizes.  We met students from the USA, Saudi Arabia, Korea, Japan, Russia, Egypt, Indonesia, South Africa, Thailand, Ireland, and many other countries.

As I wandered the two huge halls I was so impressed with the breadth and depth of the research presented by students that ranged from 10-17 years old.  Research topics covered everything from demonstration of how to build a trinary computer using Legos®, a method for improved silk production, 3-D printing custom implants and prosthetics, a homebuilt PCR machine with improved algorithms for controlling temperature, improved airplane wing design, environmental studies on changes in ocean pH and flora due to global warming, the mechanism for folding of cotyledons in radishes, and so many others. I kept thinking that many of these students had done Ph.D level science as high school students. 

After some significant deliberation, we chose the 2015 ISEF Monsanto Special Award winners:

1st place --- Anna Marie McEvoy --- Drogheda, Ireland.  Aetiology of ‘bleeding canker’ disease of horse chestnut trees. Anna McEvoy noticed a tree growing by her school with an oozing disease lesion.  She wondered what it was and how common it was.  She catalogued and sampled thousands of trees throughout Ireland, cultured the diseased regions to find the candidate pathogen, sequenced its genome, compared the genomic sequence to other available sequences to potential origin of the disease, and developed PCR markers that could be used to quickly identify the disease in the future. 

2nd place --- Saumya Ramadugu Keremane --- Riverside, CA. A rapid field detection of Liberibacter bacteria using lateral flow technology. (She was our 2014 3rd place winner.) She worked to develop methods to detect citrus greening bacteria prior to the development of symptoms.  She made labeled primers and a single amplification PCR using wax and a coffee cup.  The results are read similar to a commercial pregnancy test. If farmers tested trees prior to the development of symptoms they could potentially remove and replant those trees before it spreads to the rest of the farm. 

3rd place --- Vasu Chavanasupitchaya, Natchamukda Paibooi, Wanicha Khotwongsa --- Khonkaen, Thailand. The effect of crude extract of Imperata cylindrica and the survival and growth rate of Nilaparvata lugens Stal and its impact on predatory insects of Nilaparvata lugens Stal eggs. This team from rural Thailand noticed that rice pests avoided a weedy grass growing in their fields.  They made extracts from the plant and tested efficacy of the extract as a pesticide on replicated field trials on their own farms and in larger field level tests in four locations.

We also gave out 12 honorable mentions.  We really wished we could have given awards to them all.  There were that many great presentations.  The Society for Science has descriptions of the grand award winners:

It is a hopeful future with such hardworking and bright young scientists.  I came home buoyed up with optimism.  

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Pittsburgh for the Intel Science Fair Finals

When I think of Pittsburgh, I think of one thing: steel.  It is a city that was built as a mill town at the convergence of two rivers.  Frankly, I did not have a very good impression of Pittsburgh before I went, but was happy to be proven wrong.  I stayed right downtown near a hockey rink and the conference center. 

The downtown is flanked by rivers and defined by steel bridges.  This bridge was covered in locks inscribed with names of couples.  I think this is something that people do in France, but apparently in Pittsburg as well.  
I rode a tram up the hill and took some great pictures of the valley.  It was a relatively easy city to get around because there were buses or trains from 5 AM to midnight. 
I walked the length of the downtown and ate at some great restaurants.  

Carpets in Abu Dhabi

While I was in Abu Dhabi, our friends took us to this great Suk in Sharjah.  The outside was covered in great blue tile and sat next to a Mosque that was full of taxi drivers for their evening prayers. Parking was a little crazy, but we arrived early in the evening before the heavy shopping hours. We came directly from the beach to choose Persian carpets for their apartment.  

Mall food in Abu Dhabi is different than I expected, obviously no Orange Julius. Surprisingly, the busiest kiosk sold sweet corn. They served a large kernelled sweet corn that was a little bit starchy, but nice flavor with butter and a choice of spices. They also sold fresh potato chips fried on a stick.  That would make a killing at the Iowa State Fair.  

So many of the buildings in the Emirates were so new that this older building really was striking. The bottom floor was almost entirely gold and jewelry stores, and lots of gold.  Everything from a gold necklace that looked more like a breastplate it was so wide and thick to thin wire hoop earrings. Upstairs were a number of carpet shops that had piles of carpets to the ceiling in the back of each shop, smaller rugs hanging on the walls, and rugs on the floors.  

The shop owners were happy to sort through the piles of carpets to show the different color combinations.  Our friends had been their before and the shopkeeper remembered which carpets in the pile she had been interested in before and laid out the options on the floor. He would tell for each carpet where it was from and whether it was an unusual pattern or color.  
The most expensive carpets were woven from silk instead of wool and were extremely thick and plush. I was interested in this thin carpet that I thought I could fit in my luggage to bring home.  The large thick carpets weighed easily 50 lbs and this one was still pretty large, but very light.  Since our friend was buying a few carpets the shopkeep talked me into buying this one.  It is not as fancy or intricate, but had a series of geometric patterns and I loved the red and blues.  So I bought it.  I put the carpet upstairs on the landing.