We're a little crazy, about science!

Equipment modding time

Well today was a long day, but something good came out of all the running around. Some of my new equipment showed up, which will improve how I do the experiments that I want to do, but also make my life so much easier, like way easier. Unfortunately, the usual applies,I can’t talk about it directly, but it’s a good time to discuss how ideas evolve and how you find ways to improve things as you go!

This is, of course, related to “big idea.” A quick word on big idea. Big idea was something I came up with a year ago that I hope will change how we do things and advance the state of the art. I’m excited, everyone is excited, we’re going to publish something great… eventually. Part of the problem is funding, as with all things. Currently, there is no money directed toward big idea because, well it’s big idea and we it’s more concept than reality. We’ve collected some data using my method and I have exactly one dataset that was THE dataset that I really wanted. The results have been good, but we can do better!

Shortly after using the equipment I built for big idea, I realized that we had a better way of doing it. There’s a lot of wires involved and lots of wires means lots of connections. Lots of connections means lots of ways to introduce noise. Noise being a big problem for the recordings. Not that I can’t remove it. I’m very proud actually of the way I removed some of the 60Hz (here in the US) line noise from the data we collected. However, like I said I came up with a better way of doing this.

In fact, it’s so elegant you would be hard pressed to find a better solution. Looking at the solution I came up with you wouldn’t be able to tell it was a custom job, that’s how good of a solution it is to the problem. And best of all, we go from roughly 70+ wires, to four. Yeah, not only will this reduce the noise significantly, but it will also reduce setup time to virtually nothing. I’m absolutely thrilled. Unfortunately, about four months ago, when I came up with it, hospital-PI wanted to hold off on ordering it. Money, always money.

So the solution sat in the back of my mind, until a few days ago when hospital-PI realized we had several big experiments coming up using big idea (unfortunately, not the way I envisioned). It’s going to be a good dry run for the way I want to use it and the lab funding the experiments isn’t our lab, so it’s good practice, we’ll get good data from it, and with any luck that data will be used to get funding for the project as a whole. Not a bad deal if I do say so myself!

We ordered the equipment on the off chance that it would come before the experiment. The lead time for that equipment was 4-6 weeks and if you remember my dissertation fiasco (here) lead times are more like lead suggestions and can be (will be) extended. Thankfully the stuff I wanted was “pre-built” so I hoped the lead time didn’t apply in our case.

I was correct because today the parts showed up and it was best case scenario in terms of the modifications I needed to make to fit our project. Once again, I’m taking everything apart and building something new from it, but this is really going to be an impressive feat. I’ve spent months thinking about how I would do this and how I can perfect this. When I cracked open one of the pieces everything was nicely labeled, I double checked that the labels matched the outputs and sure enough they did, so for once I’m happy a company actually did this right.

Most of the time when you open up a piece of equipment, even the really nice looking stuff, you find a horror show of mangled parts mashed together in a way that you would be surprised is still functional. Some of the time it’s a space issue, some of the time the labels make sense to the company only, some of the time it’s just cheaper to do a mediocre job than a good one, and sometimes it’s simply a way to keep people like me from breaking it apart and making something else with it. That last category is particularly annoying, for obvious reasons, but I also hate the idea that a company has a, “if I didn’t make it, no one else can” kind of mindset.

Unfortunately the good news was damped some when I opened another package I ordered of some special cables for the project and instead of finding three ten foot lengths of cable I found one three foot length of cable. It was an odd thing and has NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE! You can’t even order 3 foot lengths of cable, it’s not a selection on the website. Which means I didn’t get the chance to get started on the modifications today, but I’m hopeful that some time next week I can get started. In the worst case, I can harvest the cables from the first iteration of big idea. I don’t want to do that since the equipment is still good and useful, but sometimes we have to do what we have to do if we want to keep to the schedule of things.

All in all, it’s a good outcome because the cables ship very quickly so we just need to square away the order with the company and get it all figured out. I am told we placed the order again and with some luck I should have them Tuesday or so, I’ve got two weeks to get the equipment built so no matter what happens, it’s going to be some work, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I won’t have to work late nights to get it done.

We do need a few other key components that won’t be here in time for the experiments for sure, so I’m going to be severely limited to what I can do with the equipment we purchased until we either get the needed equipment (either late this year or early next), or we find someone who happens to have the equipment we need and can loan it to us. We’re aiming for the second option since we would like to have it for the studies coming up, but if not we’ll figure it out. It will just make more work later when we’re processing the data.

Things are finally coming together for big idea!


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