Friday, December 21, 2012

Snow days

Wednesday night winter came to Iowa.  We had been in the 40's or 50's throughout November, abnormally warm and dry.  It was still in the high 30's when it started to snow and drizzle, but dropped quickly.  The ground was still warm enough that the snow melted as fast as it came down.  This was the first snowstorm I have seen with lightning and thunder.  When the lightning struck the whole night sky lit up, reflecting off of the falling snow.  By morning, we had almost 13 inches of heavy snow.  My back is sore from shoveling all of our walks.
The kids wanted to go sledding, but just as we started walking the wind picked up.  Each gust of wind would pick up the sleds like sails and blow them off their feet, so by the time we made it to the bit of a sled hill by the trail everyone was weeping and wailing.  
When we got back home Aleah and Colleen decided to play "Angry Birds".  They made structures with different colored blocks for pigs and birds and then took turns knocking them down.  So much more fun than blizzard sledding.  

Even Kate tried. This game kept them busy for hours.  

Christmas is approaching fast and I am so not ready.  Oh, and the world didn't really end so now I need to do some Christmas shopping.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

IPAD review

My work bought me an iPAD so that I can test it out for new mobile applications. I cannot believe how computers have evolved. I was a bit of a Luddite in high school. I didn't have a computer at home and Mrs. Olic-Hamilton loaned me a typewriter so that I could type my reports and essays. I was a horrible typist and used to handwrite everything and then stay up late at night typing it out one finger at a time.

The first laptop that Leila had when we were married was as big as a briefcase. It had a keyboard that lifted out and a small black and white screen. In 2000 I got a Compaq laptop from the BYU equipment sale that had Windows 97 and Word. I typed my dissertation on it and was amazed by its 128 Megabytes of storage. It had a floppy drive and I don't think that it connected to the Internet. I still have it in a drawer at work.  I loved the rollerball mouse along side the screen.

My current work laptop is a Lenovo Thinkpad and it is a workhorse, buts it has a lot of computing power. At home we have an HP desktop that is used mostly for streaming videos, reading blogs, storing and manipulating photos, and Facebook. We don't use our TV much since we can stream Netflix without any commercials on the computer.

The iPAD is slick and easy to use. It has no keyboard, a simple interface and an almost endless supply of cheap or free applications that can be downloaded wirelessly. It certainly makes my early computers look clunky, but it is an entertainment device first and computer second. The touchscreen is better suited to Angry Birds than typing. The onscreen keyboard is functional, I am using it now, but I wouldn't want to type a dissertation with it. Formatting complicated documents is almost impossible and the autocorrect which is nice for quick emails is obnoxious for programming code or technical jargon. Even here it changed my mispelled "it has" to "itch" in the previous paragraph.

Do you have one of the new tablet computers? Are they more than genius toys? What programs do you use?

Monday, December 03, 2012

Poor Pathetic Kate

 Kate has been hit with double whammy - stomach flu and bronchitis.  Either she has been asleep on the floor, or the couch, or a the kitchen chair since Friday. 
We are trying to get her to drink a lot of fluids, but a few sips at a time is all Kate can manage.  Here she fell asleep at the table after two sips of apple juice mixed with pedialyte. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Over 300 posts and a give-away!

I started this blog over Christmas vacation in 2004. I was frustrated with trying to analyze data and was hunting for a distraction online.  I guess if  it were now I would have skimmed facebook for a while, but in 2004, I didn't even know what that was.  I had heard about weblogs and it sounded like a good way to start writing about science and communicate with my family back home. I didn't know anyone else with a blog and wandered through some clicking on the "Next Blog" links from the blogger header.

 I have no idea how many blogs there are total on the web, one site I found says it is close to 173 million.  Some have made the authors money - cook books, memoirs, or movies, but most are for friends or family to share stories and pictures.  Social media sites have dominated this internet market in recent years, and I am as addicted as the rest of the us to facebook, but I still prefer the wordy format of a blog. Google+ seems cool, but only 1 person I know uses it regularly.   I haven't had as much to say here in recent months, but after eight years, I am still writing here.  I don't have a lot of readers, my grandparents, my sister, my Mom.  A few old friends that are like family now.  I have thought about ending this blog, but I am not going to.  I hope you keep reading.  I still have something to say.

Leila's quilt blogs have prize drawings to increase reader participation.  I am not drumming up business, but if you are a reader and want a prize, leave a comment.  I have jars of sizzling salsa that I will mail out this week.  If that doesn't suit your fancy, I will happily send signed copies of my scientific articles - just kidding, no one wants to read those.  More than anything, I am grateful for the friendships I have been able to maintain through the chain of blogs and social media sites.  I am horrible at writing letters, but like to stay in touch with old friends and family.

(Some pictures of the kids so my sister won't nag me:)
 Becca is a happy kid
 Kate took this great picture of Leila. 
 Aleah got baptized this month.  She lives up to her middle name - Felice. 
 The rest of the girls at the baptism
 Finally getting around to painting the kid furniture.  I had helpers, which was aggravating, but endearing.
The finished kid furniture.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Couch Potato Baby

 This kid spent the whole last month sitting on the couch!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Where did October go?

 When I wasn't working too many hours, I was at home too tired to be rational.  I am hamming it up as Emily and I made dinner.
 Much to many of my friends chagrin, I did vote for Obama. I even went to his last rally in Des Moines.  Three blocks and 20,000 people from me is the President.
 Kate got bronchitis and needed to use the nebulizer (How do you spell that?) to help open her lungs.  She is strangely chipper when she is sick.
 Unless you turn off the TV.  Then she is a terror!
Colleen decided to get her hair cut, a lot.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

The rest of us

Fall has been remarkably mild here.  Baby Becca has dominated the Gardunia news, but the other kids insisted that I post something about them.

 Emily has been taking a lot of pictures this month, ~ 400. Good thing it is a digital camera, that would be a lot of film to develop.  Kodak employees everywhere are a little sad to hear that.  She took this great picture of the Huxley water tower.

A bunch of silly self portraits.
This is from a kinda moody sad portrait session with Colleen.  This could be used in an afternoon special warning against bullying or something that makes children sad, like a world without ice cream.  Any moment political ads will use this image to explain that Romney or Obama is going to take away your children's ice cream. Beware.  A sad future for all of us.

 While we were at the hospital, Emily and the girls went to the Schloemer's house and here is Emily's pic of Kate telling a story instead of napping.  Word.

She also made Kate robots to play with.  Kate has been kinda obsessed with robots lately.  Regularly when I wake her up her first words are, "Why are there not more robots? Why don't people want robots?"
Aleah drew a map of our house with fantastical elements including a robot dog.  She was so excited to make her vision a reality that we made this robot dog together last Sunday while Kate was napping.  She was impressed.  Finally a robot in her house.
While Leila's mom was here, we went to the science center - thanks to Chris's generosity.  Afterwards, we were starving.  The Des Moines Farmer's market was finished and some of the bars were open for lunch, as well as the soup kitchen line, but we were hunting for something not quite so obviously a bar.  We found Fong's Pizza - an all hours Japanese pizza joint decorated with cool japanese and chinese decor.  We sat at the bar and ordered the loaded baked potato pizza - potatoes, taco meat, bacon bits, chives, green onions, sour cream, and jalapeƱos with a cream sauce and two different kinds of cheese.  It was remarkably well received by my cheese pizza, no sauce loving kits.
Everyone enjoying the loud indie rock and pizza, which was very filling piled high with potatoes, cheese, and fillings.

I made one last batch of fiery hot salsa.  It is mostly habaƱero and paprika peppers.  It was so spicy that I cooked it outside on charcoal so that the fiery fumes didn't overwhelm us.  If you would like a jar, I will mail you one, send me your address and remember it isn't a weapon, its food that burns use sparingly.
I also brought home two bushels of apples.  Prices are high this year because of a late freeze that killed most of the blossoms this spring.  The local overpriced U-pick place had some for 34 dollars/bushel, but strangely only 15/half bushel.  The teller was confused why I wanted multiple half bushels instead of two full bushels.  Even more when two half bushels overflowed the bushel box.  Ahh, math.  It's a beautiful thing. 

Colleen has been a great help and happy to have half day kindergarten.  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


 Its officially a girl!!!  (who would have thought..)  9lbs 5oz!!! Name?  We are thinking Rebecca Jane or Sarah Jane.  Emily is pushing for Erin Rose.  Any other suggestions?
 I am officially way outnumbered.  Everyone was very excited to see the baby.
 Except Emily, kinda.  She has mixed feelings about babies - she sees them as spit-up machines and is a little leery.
 She warmed up to this one though.
 Kate and Colleen really wanted to hold the baby.
 Aleah is happy to have someone else to snuggle.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Kind flight attendants from AirFrance

The first time I flew I was 19.  I was leaving the MTC and going to my mission in Nicaragua. The MTC rounded us up at like 3 or 4 in the morning to go to the airport and I was giddy from sleep deprivation and excitement.  I remember asking if I could trade seats for a window, fumbling with the seat belts, and the rush as the plane took off.  The flight attendant gave her safety schpeel and no one paid much attention.  I noticed they didn't pay much attention to take off either, or the view from the air.  I thought to myself - why, they could be on a bus on the ground, and they wouldn't notice the difference.  The flight attendant asked me about my upcoming mission and gave me a whole can of pop. It was awesome.

I have flown enough that I could give the safety talk in my sleep.  I no longer look out the window, much. And there is so much about flying that is annoying and frustrating.  I hate security and getting to the airport early and then waiting for the flight.  Taking off my shoes makes me irate. Airline employees have become surly and impatient.  They don't feed you anymore and I swear the seats are getting closer together.  People try to shove their over-sized carry-ons to avoid paying over-priced baggage fees.  A TSA employee once confiscated my bike lock and my bicycle patch kit -". . because those two ounces of glue are flammable and I could hit someone with that lock," he said.

Flying with AirFrance was actually enjoyable.  They served nice meals - I had pasta with chicken on the flight to France with brie and a cup custard.  On the return flight, I had beef, mashed potatoes, green beans, Camembert, and chocolate cake. The flight attendant saw that I had finished my cheese and still had bread, so he brought me another sliver of cheese - so it could all come out even.  On the way back I felt quite ill - the first time I have thrown up on a flight.  The plane didn't have turbulence, but seemed to roll like it was at sea and not 30,000 ft.  They were kind enough to let me stand in the back near the restrooms most of the flight and patted me sympathetically and never asked me to sit down, just if there was anything they could get me to help me feel better.

The highlight was on the flight from Clermont-Ferrand to Paris.  Two young sisters were flying alone to Paris.  The oldest seemed to be around 10 years old and was terrified. She gripped the seat and cried as the plane started to take off.  One of the flight attendants sat in the aisle next to her and held her hand.  He joked with her and wiped her tears.  When the drink cart came by he asked the woman across the aisle to hold her hand for him.  What what impressive was how this act of kindness changed the rest of the flight.  Other passengers patted the attendant on the back as we got off the plane and thanked him.  It made me think.

I usually talk to the people I sit next to on a plane, but this time I really met some interesting people and had fascinating conversations:

Claire - Ex-Pat from Halifax - 10 yrs in Clermont.  Husband researches health and safety of chemicals used in tire production.  She doesn't speak much french, most friends are expats.  Two children, back in Halifax.  They will retire back in Canada.  She told me about so many people react to her because of Anne of Green Gables. She met a Japanese woman once on a plane that wept with joy as she talked about Anne of Green Gables.

Lebanese biologist/investor.  Startups with genomics data. Has lived in Detroit most of his life.

Fatima - Sick woman from Palestine, scared and worried about the trip and treatment.  Doctors were meeting her at the airport.

Alaia - Financial grad.  First new job at Dubai Aluminum going to visit sister in US.  Loves rural Ohio, the nature.  Compared Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Dubai is apparently way more fun.

Math professor - conference in Germany on kernel density estimations.  People often tell him about how hard proofs are.  His son is very americanized.

Victoria - Argentine.  Her father helped discover Mal de Rio Cuarto Virus and I am pretty sure that I spoke with him when we were planning our trials in Sampacho.  He helps with the trials each year.  She works for IA state finishing masters in public health at vet school.  Came back from visiting her sister in EU.

Shaimaa - Egypt.  Research Associate for Pioneer- Dupont in France.  Daughter is 4, beautiful curly hair. She came for training at headquarters.

Patrick - South Africa. son Sean, divorced. His wife is a vice president for a company in Des Moines.  He had begged her to have a family, but she never was comfortable with it.  Sean was a hoot, playing video games on his iPhone.  6 yrs old.  Computer programmer that used to work for Monsanto as a contractor.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Plant Biomechanics Conference and visit to France

This was the view from my hotel room in Clermont-Ferrand.  It is a relatively small town in the center of France.  
Compared to the US, everything is old.  The cathedral was built in the 1300s - 700 years this street has been pretty much the same.

The city has an electric monorail as well as buses for public transportation.  The funny thing about this tram is that it has bus tires as well as the track. Someone told me it was because they make Michelin tires here.

The even older Basilica had great stained glass windows and downspouts that looked like crying people.
The building across from the Basilica was built in the 1200s also and had the original fresco of an elephant still on the outside.  It is faded and the back half of the elephant appears to be missing, but for something 800 years old, on the outside of a building, amazing. 

I bought my breakfast here on the way to the conference.  This is exactly what Huxley needs for a shop - somewhere to get fresh produce, milk, cheese, bread, and a wide selection of French pastries.

Here are some of the people I met at the conference.  It was on plant biomechanics and had a diverse mix of engineers, physicists, and botanists.  I was the only plant breeder and Doug and I were the only ones working on corn - or even grasses.  There were a lot of tree biologists and some Arabidopsis folks looking at cell wall mechanics or specific mutants.  It was very international - French, German, Austrian, Russian, Finnish, Chinese, Japanese, Argentine, and American researchers.  One guy joked that at least his research wasn't funded by an evil corporation like Monsanto - on his first slide.  The guy on the right in this photo is Dmitri - a Russian scientist that kind of latched onto Doug and I.  I think we ate every meal together.  He was full of stories about the Russian and Belgian research organizations. Doug brought two potential post docs to the meeting and the French woman knew the town and took us to a tiny restaurant called "Le Petit Grille" that was probably the best food I ate in France.  
The last few days I rented a car and drove to Peyrehorade where there is a Monsanto breeding station.  It was a six hour drive through the mountains to get there and the rental place gave me a GPS that only worked in French.  It was an adventure, especially before I figured out the french words for right and left.  (A la gauche - to the left, A la doite - to the right).  I got very lost close to Peyrehorade because they were repairing the bridge and I had to ask at a farmhouse for directions.  I mimed where I wanted to go and she drew me a confusing map with lots of handwaving to explain where to go at each landmark.  But I got there. My colleagues were mostly on vacation, but Romain and Pierre came in from vacation to meet with me.  Both were Basque and were excited to show me the Basque country.  Romain took me to San Sebastian in Spain for tapas for dinner and drove me all over the French basque country.