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Posts tagged “science

The computer rebuild plan

The frustratingly hot brain of my computer. Currently things are not looking good, but that should change soon… ish. I haven’t removed the watercooler yet, this is a photo from last year when I had to do this once already.

Okay after yesterday’s news that my computer is once again limping along I spent the day trying to figure out what to do. After spending a ludicrous amount of time researching and finding the parts I want to replace the clogged garbage I’m currently dealing with I think I have it all figured out, but it’s not going to be an easy (or cheap) fix. The good news is this is going to be the ultimate solution, the one that will (hopefully) be the last fix until either something breaks, I rebuild the computer completely, or I graduate.

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Technical difficulties

This is my current cooling setup, which I picked because I needed a replacement ASAP and I thought this would last me until after I graduated and not less than a year.

Well if it isn’t the consequences of my own actions. Or maybe not, maybe I’m just unlucky. I am once again having desktop computer troubles. It’s the return of the heat issue, thankfully this time I caught it somewhat early (I think). Since this seems to be a reoccurring issue I think we’ll try to fix it with a slightly more permanent solution. The problem? The cost, this couldn’t have happened at a worse time, but not all is lost, at least not yet.

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The transition to clinical research

Today should be interesting… it’s my onboarding appointment, which is one of the last steps I need to complete to be hired at the hospital. There’s a lot going on in life at the moment, some of which is personal so I won’t be sharing that here, but let’s just say everything has been incredibly stressful. Oh and since I need to get the appointment done this week if I want to start on time, this was the last day I can get it done.

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PhD proposal prep

Well I’ve finally made it to the next milestone in my PhD. I’m now at the point where I can do my proposal defense. It shouldn’t be too bad, but there’s a lot involved between now and then that needs to happen including coming to some sort of an agreement between my two PI’s about what exactly the project will consist of. Since I had no idea what getting a PhD entailed when I started, I’m assuming at least some of you have no idea what’s going on so let’s go over how we got here and what I’m getting ready to do.

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Success! Journal paper 1 of 4

Psst, hey you! I got good news! I’ve officially had my first journal paper accepted for publication! I’m literally crying I’m so happy right now. My inbox has been flooded by emails from my collaborators congratulating everyone on this. It’s been a long, hard, and often painful journey, but I’ve finally, FINALLY, gotten something finished once and for all. Since this is the end of the story, let’s tell it from the beginning, one last time, so you know how we got here.

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The resubmission!

Well we’ve crossed that milestone… yet again. I’ve submitted the third version of a paper I’ve been working on… for years now. Yeah, they can take a while and with COVID, things took even longer. So what happens now and what the heck is going on? Since it’s it’s already been an incredibly busy day, let’s recap the journey this paper has been on and how we got to the latest and (hopefully) last submission of my paper!

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The plastic spinal cord

Amazing spinal cord slice artwork by Greg Dunn

You can’t teach an old spinal cord new tricks, or something like that. Up until recently (like the last ten or fifteen years), we had thought that the spinal cord was a fixed thing. It was the information highway of the body and its primary role was to receive, sort, and send information from the brain to the body and vice versa. That’s (thankfully) not the case. The truth, or at least something closer to the truth, is that the spinal cord is a lot like the brain. It can learn, think, and even act independently of the brain.

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I wanted to be a scientist

What did five-year-old you want to be when you grew up? I see this question pop up on twitter every so often, or rather the question is often would five-year old you be proud of where you are now. I think it’s hard to judge your five-year-old self when you’re an adult because the world looks a whole lot less polished and magical when you’re an adult. In my experience as you transition to an adult that magic and wonder is slowly replaced with dread, anxiety, and mostly doubt. Imposter syndrome is a real thing that many people, including myself, deal with.

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The art in science

One of the easiest ways to turn even the most advanced scientific paper into something accessible is through carefully crafted figure design. Figures are a way to tell a story, but to also capture the readers imagination. The difference between a scientific figure and a drawing from a story is really just the difference in the information you are conveying. However, as is the case with most things in the world, a “good” figure is in the eye of the beholder.

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On trying something new

As a grad student the work/life balance tends to blur. I actually do most of my work on the weekends and tend to try to take time during the week for myself. This works best for me because weekends are typically when no one needs me to physically be somewhere, so I can get into the correct headspace to do some work. This weekend was a busy one, and my Co-PI had some ideas about one of the papers I’m working on that required my full attention. He also wants me to do something I’ve never done before, so let’s talk about trying something new!

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Non-invasive study of the brain

Art by the incredible Greg Dunn (I REALLY!!! wish I could afford his work!)

Non-invasive research is difficult, especially when you’re working with something as complicated as the brain. Imagine being at a pro sports game outside the stadium and trying to figure out what’s going on inside just by listening. I’m constantly in awe that we can record activity from the brain without breaking the skin, it’s like magic. However, it’s still difficult and not without controversy.

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The uncertain future

old door in middle of field, which opens to a whole different world.
old door in middle of field, which opens to a whole different world.

My Co-PI is leaving! Or maybe he’s not? But he could be?! I don’t even know. It doesn’t help that he has no idea and there’s no real deadline for him to make a choice, it’s whenever he’s ready. In fact, we currently have a line graph with his daily percentage on staying or leaving. I wish I was joking. It’s not just my future I’m worried about, there are others in the lab, most of us wouldn’t be able to make the journey to his new workspace, even if we wanted to (and trust me when I say if I could, I would).

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A small success

It was a leap of faith. There were no good choices, but it was the best of options in a string of bad options. I could either work full time in my main-PI’s lab, pulling me away from the clinical research I love, or I could take a job in my Co-PI’s lab. The catch was to take the job with my Co-PI I would have to apply, wait, and go through the onboarding process. That would mean I wouldn’t be getting paid, which would be okay for a few weeks, but longer and I could be in trouble. Nothing is finished yet, but I’ve gotten some good news.

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Minor revisions

Ah, just when I thought I didn’t have to worry about one of the multitudes of papers that I’m working on, it comes right back. This is the journal paper I wrote for one of my classes, which looks to be about ready for acceptance. There were some minor revisions that we were asked to make, but as of ten minutes or so ago I’ve addressed all of them. I think… it will probably be another round of edits with our co-authors to make sure everyone is happy with what we’ve done. Maybe? I’m not even sure at this point.

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Sometimes it rains

Brains are wild. I mean we have this misshapen jello blob stuck in our head and it somehow gives us the ability to be aware. We exist and think, feel, reason, all the stuff that makes us who we are. Brains are great, except when they aren’t. Depression is a horrible thing, which lives in the brain. You can’t “just be happy” anymore than someone could just be rich. Obviously when you live with chronic depression you got a dud of a brain. It may have to do with genetics, environmental factors, the way we were raised, or maybe it’s just horrible luck, but out of all the organs we can fix or replace, the brain is not one of them. You’re stuck as you and sometimes that sucks.

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The voracity for exploration

Humans have set foot on the moon, multiple times in fact. We didn’t go once, we went six different times. Six times. That feels both like an incredibly large number and an incredibly tiny number all at the same time. For you and me it probably doesn’t feel like anything special, but for the people who’ve done it, they KNOW it was life altering. They told us so and it’s a shame that in my lifetime I will probably never set foot on another planet and have the chance to feel so… insignificant.

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Controlled chaos

Life has been pretty messy lately. Not just because of the pandemic, but that is definitely not helping anything right now. I’ve got papers due, I’m making a job change, and the wildest part is that my Co-PI may be leaving so I’m not even sure the job I’m changing to will still be there after the end of the year. That doesn’t include the outside factors, car issues, home issues, health issues. Those are all there too, but mostly right now I’m concerned about work related stuff and I realized that for the past few months it’s just been controlled chaos.

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COVID Vaccine: The third shot update!

It’s been over 36 hours since my third dose of COVID vaccine. For those who don’t know, I was designated as a vulnerable population and the veterans administration (VA) is apparently giving out the third dose to us now and to the general veteran population in the next month or two. Since I was one of the first getting my last two doses, I thought it would be wise to chronicle my experience.

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COVID Vaccine: The third shot!

It’s official, I got my third COVID vaccine shot. With delta ramping up and the long-term effectiveness of the vaccine being questioned there has been a push for a third shot. mRNA vaccines had the promise of being easily adaptable to new strains, it’s why we’ve been doing research on them since the mid-60’s, so it would’ve been prudent to adjust the vaccine to compensate for the new pervasive strain. Alas! It was not meant to be, at least not yet. It’s a little frustrating, but I am hopeful new variants of the vaccine will be forthcoming. So why did I get the shot?

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Education in a pandemic

Well the term is officially underway and with it comes in person classes! Because if there’s one thing a life is worth, it’s money and there’s money to be made by forcing you into the classroom. Yes the world has changed and we adapted with it, somewhat, but even with hospitals on the verge of collapse (again) we’re given the unequivocal message, “We’re going back to normal!” from schools. There’s nothing normal about it, but the economy is built on the backs of the people, so I guess, in a way, we are returning to normal.

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Multi-paper madness!

HELLLP! I’m doing way too much writing and it’s the scientific kind, which is to say soul sucking! Okay, it’s not that bad, but for the past month it’s been a mad rush to get several different papers written. Today I plan to go over all the papers I’m working on, the progress I’ve made, and why I really hope I’ll never have this happen again. Far too much writing! It has to end eventually though, right?

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A small job update

It’s not a straight line to the finish, that’s for sure.

A week ago almost exactly I did something incredibly stupid. Okay, I did it because I really want it, but there’s a chance it could blow up in my face, I’m going into research full-time to help pay for my PhD. Now, I’m not paying for my PhD, that is never a good option. Instead the hospital I will be working at will be paying for my PhD now and I will get paid better while I wrap up the last two years or so of my degree (more here).

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Analysis fails

I’m an idiot. So for the past few weeks I’ve been working with our super fun new dataset! Like a big kid, I did the statistics, made the checks to ensure that the assumptions held, then got my result. Everything was going well until I realized there was a typo (here) in my code. Well it turns out that wasn’t my only problem, but everything should be fixed now… should.

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A funeral is for the living

The steady climb of the death toll from the pandemic is once again ramping back up as more people are exhausted from living like… well like we are living in a pandemic. Misinformation and outright lies are being passed around as truth. What’s worse is the people arguing that COVID is not an issue treat the incredibly high and incredibly senseless amount of death that is a direct result of callous disregard for others as an acceptable price for the right to be selfish. I saw enough senseless death in the military to want to be the direct cause of more. But maybe that’s just me.

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You still need to wear the damn mask

I know, it’s been a long pandemic. I’m tired, your tired, so, so many people are dead. It’s a lot, hell it’s a plot of dozens of horror movies, but it’s not over. So once again I am begging my lovely readers to wear the damned mask. I know there is a lot of confusing information out there. Some of it says don’t bother with the mask, some tells you wear one if you’re not vaccinated, it feels mixed signals sure sure. Well let me make it incredibly simple, wear the damn mask. You put on pants when you go outside, wear the damn mask.

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The R21 Result

Well I’ve been meaning to write this for a bit now, but the R21 I helped write back at the beginning of the year was not funded. It was a longshot and my Co-PI who helped write and submit the proposal was not surprised as to the result. Worse, it was not discussed. Since I’ve spent the past year learning the hard way how grant writing works, I figure today I can pass on that knowledge and we can who knows, maybe it will help others who are grant writing.

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Countdown to the grant submission

We’re just days away from the deadline for the grant I’m writing. We’ve got an awesome team of people that have agreed to be a part of this project and the funding will go towards the big idea I had several years back (what I’m calling my “super secret technique”) so I’m excited! My main-PI thinks the proposal has a good chance of being funded and I trust his judgement since he’s been doing this for a long time. So today I figure I can brag about the team and what will happen in the next few days.

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An unfortunate typoo

Yes, the title was on purpose. No, I’m not thrilled at the moment. Sometimes you just need things to go smoothly, but life has other plans and yesterday I hit one hell of a stumbling block. The good news is I’ve caught it, but the bad news is there is now about 104833423x more work for me to do to fix the issue. No matter how careful you are, something is always going to get missed, yesterday was just a reminder that you can miss things even when you’re paying close attention. I may go as far as to say, especially when you’re paying close attention.

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Why is it always a rush?

Well my latest grant is due at the end of the week, so I am now just a few short days away from the deadline and rushing to meet it. There has been plenty of time between when the proposal for funding went out and now, so why does it always feel like things are last minute? It probably has to do with the iterative approach to writing and the edits that go on forever. Since I need a break from scientific writing I figure now would be a good time to talk about the process and why a far off deadline is never enough.

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The other funding options

I think I would describe my life as controlled chaos. It’s a delicate balancing act of stuff I need to do, mental health, physical health, and just my horrible luck in general. For the past few years my level of panic has been steadily increasing as the end of my funding was getting closer and closer. Try as I might, I have had no luck getting further funding for my PhD and in less than four weeks that dreaded deadline will be here. Which for those who are not students, means I will not be getting paid, my school will not be paid for, and the house of cards I’ve built will come crashing down around me. But there’s still some hope…

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Yet another grant…

The search for funding continues! We’re less than a week away before I need to submit my latest attempt at securing funding for my PhD to the end of my degree. Right now we’re running out of time and in just a few weeks I could be without pay, without tuition reimbursement, and basically on the verge of being homeless again… my how the tides turn. Not to fear though, I’m not doing this alone and I have options. Today we’re going to talk about the grant I’m writing, why it won’t help my current situation, and why I’m still going to do it.

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The final day of summer internship

Today marks the last day of the summer internship for our early career undergrad researchers. On paper, it’s been a long, sometimes bumpy road that wasn’t always the easiest thing to work through. In reality, it was all too short and it feels like we just got to know our interns and now it’s time to say goodbye. Through the experience I’ve got to watch the intern I was mentoring grow as a person, and grow more confident in herself. It’s been a privilege that I got to be a part of this.

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The end of summer internship

Well today wasn’t the official day, but we had our first presentations for the summer internship program. Friday will be the last day for the interns and we will bid them farewell and good luck with whatever they do in life. The presentations today were meant to be fun and just a way to celebrate everything the interns learned while they were with us. We got to see work done in all the labs and the experiences were varied, so that made for an interesting time. Basically summer is near the end and it’s a little hard to process to be honest.

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The hunt for knowledge

Sometimes science is like digital archeology. Thanks to the internet I have the sum of our collective knowledge at the tips of my fingers. I just need to ask the right question and I can find the answer. Unfortunately, the right question isn’t always the question you come up with. The right question may not be worded the exact way you think it should. The right question may not even be the right question at all, it’s just the first in a long list of questions you need to work through. In a digital world, we’re still stuck looking for ways to get the answers to questions the system may not understand. I’m on a hunt and so far I’ve been fairly lucky.

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Juggling papers

It finally happened, it’s the big deadline, or at least most of the stuff I have due is due pretty much right now. I’ve been working on three different papers, and now I have a fourth added to the mix that I sort of forgot about until my Co-PI asked me to review the work we did in that paper, so yeah a lot going on at the moment and it’s all basically writing. So of course I’m working hard on writing… this. The truth is I need a break so I figure blogging would be a good distraction while still feeling like I’ve accomplished something. It beats doom scrolling twitter until the entire day has passed me by.

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Nothing like the first time

There’s nothing like your first time. The first time you accomplish something is new and exciting. Feelings that are hard to capture a second time, much less repeatedly. It’s a magical experience, especially when the first time is good and can be a powerful memory to hold on to no matter how badly things go. When it comes to presentations, in my opinion, everytime is the first time and that can be a point of nervous energy for a lot of people. Next week is presentation time for the summer interns, for their the first time, ever.

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The big presentation

It has been a day friends. Yesterday I got an email from my main-PI asking me about a funding proposal I’ve been working on and when I responded I asked if we were having our lab meeting this week since the last two have been cancelled. He said yes and he mentioned that today would be the day I presented the work I’ve been doing with my project. Thankfully I was ready for it, but it was pretty stressful and there are some changes that need to be made. Overall the lab seemed pretty impressed by the presentation and the work I’ve been doing.

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The value of planning your code

It’s no secret I need to write code, a lot of code. A mind numbingly large amount of code. Researching in a brain-machine interface lab is more about programming than it is about scifi brain hacking or anything the latest techno-thriller movies would have you believe. Anyone can do it, but it takes a certain amount of practice and a whole heck of a lot of time. Over time your skills develop and things get to be easier, but it’s not a linear progression (is anything really?) so things can be frustrating. These days planning saves me tons of time and effort, so today I want to pass that bit of knowledge on to you.

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A five dimensional pain

This is what it’s like working in higher dimensions. Oh is it moving? It shouldn’t be, this is a still image. Welcome to the mountain of madness!

We’re back and this time working in five dimensions! But wait, we’re not done, we’re going higher and I’m not thrilled about this at all. Working in higher dimensions is a pain especially when we’re stuck in a three dimensional world. So what am I doing in a five dimensional space? Well besides pulling my hair out, I’ve been trying to do some not so basic math to find some significance, in life, but mostly in my data.

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Sometimes the progress is slow

Today has been incredibly busy, but incredibly frustrating. So far next to nothing has been accomplished towards the work I have to do, but I did help a few people out and we discovered some interesting issues with some software the lab uses. Okay not issues exactly, it just doesn’t work the way we thought it did. In any case, there has been a lot of running around and doing things, just nothing productive for myself. Some days are like that though, hopefully I will have better luck tomorrow or maybe even later tonight.

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More competing projects

Were does the time go?! I have no time left to get my projects done and yet there’s still a lot that needs to happen. Today is one of my semi-famous lists of stuff I need to get done in an outrageously short amount of time. Didn’t we just do this a month or so ago? I think so, but here we are counting down yet again to the newest set of deadlines and as with all my deadlines they clumped together and fall at what amounts to the same time. Don’t believe me? Well let’s take a closer look.

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A unique figure design

Over the past few weeks I’ve been hard a work making a new visualization for some of the data I’d recently processed. This again is for the project I won an award for (here), and while I’m not trying to brag, I’m super proud of how it came together. It was the first time I tried to do something like this and not only did my main-PI give me his approval it sounds like a lot of people from the lab were impressed with this as well. Unfortunately, I can’t quite give away what I did or how I did it, but I can share some of this.

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Initial results!

Okay I’m excited! I had a project my Co-PI offered me for the summer that I really, REALLY wanted to do (this one). We’ve been slowly collecting data and haven’t had a chance to do a detailed analysis of the result yet. It looked like we had something cool, but we weren’t sure what it was. Our data had a lot of noise in it (which is a given when working with EEG) and we needed to clean it to give us a better “view” of what was going on, so yesterday I sat down to do just that…

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Conferences in a pandemic

I’m vaccinated, I got vaccinated back before most of the public could because I work and do research at a hospital. Because I work with a vulnerable population, some of whom cannot be vaccinated, I still take the pandemic very seriously. I wear my mask like I wear any other piece of clothing and the hospital understands this risk because unlike schools and other places in the area, masks are still mandatory. It’s not just a vaccination issue, it’s that vaccines are 100% effective and not everyone can be vaccinated or has access to get vaccinated. So when my favorite conference came around, I was torn about attending… was.

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Working in higher dimensions

Imagine if you will, only being able to move along a straight line. You’re now in one dimensional space. But wait! What if we are allowed, quite literally, to take a left. You are now allowed to move along a square space, this is two dimensional space. We can do better, though. You suddenly can move up and down, traveling in an area that’s the shape of a cube! You’re now in 3D space. Then suddenly you disappear from view, but where did you go? Welcome to the fourth dimension, you can’t see it, you can’t imagine it, but we can do math here and above!

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Finishing a project… maybe

Today is the day! Well, maybe today is the day, I’m hopeful though so let’s go with that. Today is the day I finish the analysis of the data I collected a while back for the experiment I wasn’t super thrilled about doing. The one I got an award for doing, funny enough (more). This project was a huge headache from the start, but I’m finally about to do the last bit of the work on the analysis and then all I have to do is write the paper. So let’s talk about what’s going on.

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Experimental limits

Well this is turning into a drama, but we keep having issues with the experiment. There are once again changes that need to be made, we’re four out of ten planned experiments into the project and while we’ve done the first four the same way, we keep trying to adjust our testing to a slightly different version of the protocol and it’s running into… issues to say the least. There are some things we just can’t accomplish using our testing paradigm and we have to accept that, but we still try to push those limits, even if it hurts.

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Changing the experiment

For the past few days I’ve talked about the importance of experimental design. Well sometimes midway through you realize a better way to do things. That was yesterday when I realized the thing we were looking for in our experiment could be found a better way. I’m not thrilled about this, but sometimes it needs to happen and I think we will have a better chance of finding what we’re after if we do it this way.

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Technical problems

While people worried about the robot apocalypse, I’m not. If I need to randomly turn my router off and back on again for it to work properly I doubt Skynet will somehow gain sentience and take over the world without someone needing to go in and reboot it from time to time. Technology is an imperfect thing, like biology, but we expect technology to be better than us at what we need it to do. Today we spent almost an hour doing a little dance with the technology in the lab trying to get all the pieces to play nicely. The robot apocalypse will be short lived.

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We meet again, figure 1

If you’re new around here, I’m working on a handful of papers all at the same time. Five in total, all first author journal papers. For those not in academia, that’s a lot. I don’t know how this happened or why it happened, but here we are. Two of them are basically finished, two are just starting, and one will (hopefully) be started soon. Which brings me to the topic of the day, figure 1. Figure 1 is arguably one of the most important figures in the type of work I do, so let’s dive into why and what I’m trying to accomplish.

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