The closest to Normal (Illinois) that I've ever been.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Help--I'm being held hostage by crickets

Somehow I decided to do this experiment that is 8 hours long, with scan samples every 5 minutes. Basically, I sit here in the dark quietly waiting for crickets to mate, and if they do, I have to quickly snatch up the spermatophore before the female eats it, and weigh it. This is day 2 of a possible 4-5 days. I feel like Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron who had headphones that played an earsplitting noise every 5 minutes to prevent him from having any meaningful thoughts. I think that my brain is actually shrinking. (Maybe more like Flowers for Algernon?)
On the plus side, I am listening to a decent Spoon concert on npr and someone must be cooking breakfast in the lab, because it smells like whole grain toast in here. I am also teaching myself the code to do repeated measures on SPSS, but that all is going rather slowly, what with the damn crickets and all.

Halloween at the Planetarium

My lab at ISU is approximately 8 feet from the ISU planetarium. So, of course, whenever there is a new show, I take the kids. The planetarium is really old school, and has that dusty old museum smell to it. This week we went to the Halloween show. It was really cheesy, as anticipated. First, there was 25 minutes of some kind of a "dancing laser pointer" show on the dome, roughly choreographed to mystical music. I can only guess that the target audience was supposed to be stoned?
Next was a series of ghost stories. The pre-recorded narrator read the whole script with this folksy and amiable but oddly inexpressive voice. The more gruesome the story, the more people started snickering because the delivery was so incongruous. "And then he cut off her finger..." The visuals were also pretty cheesy--each story only had one or two generic pictures to go with it. Joseph apparently hadn't figured out that the stories were supposed to be scary. I asked him what he thought the cats in "Wait until Martin Gets Here," were going to do to the lost hiker when Martin got there. Joseph told me that "The cats would probably do tricks like in the circus or something."

What I was imagining that the laser show would be like

What the laser show was actually like

The ISU planetarium star thingy

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Random pictures of interest

Sam carves his first pumpkin

Joseph's class at the pumpkin patch

Joseph the Grouch

Road trip

As part of my acclimation to midwestern life, I got lowlights

I also bought a winter coat

More Argos and Lucy

Argos and his little buddy Wrigley

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Urine luck

Argos is a late bloomer. He clearly has no idea that he is 105 lbs, and he tends to be submissive around other dogs. Although he is almost 1.5 years old, he lifted his leg for the first time today. Our neighbors have a nasty little chihuahua that they allow to relieve itself outside our fence. Today the little rat was marking the perimeter of our fence. When he got to where Argos was standing, he peevishly urinated through the fence at Argos. Argos had been intently watching the whole display and shakily attempted to lift his own leg. He let loose a blast of pee and directly hit the little dog. Argos must have soaked the chihuahua with at least 200 ml of urine. The visibly damp chihuahua was clearly shaken and ran home.

Argos at the dog park

Argos is very popular at the Normal Dog Park. He gets along well with every dog that he's ever met (even mean dogs) and gets all the dogs up and running.

Argos and his girlfriend (grrlfriend?) Lucy

Argos' other girlfriend Bella gets jealous

Monday, October 15, 2007

Spread the Red

Last weekend we were in the ISU Homecoming parade--Joseph's school made a float. The theme of homecoming was "Spread the Red," which sounds like a venereal disease. Argos was in the parade too. He was surprisingly popular, and took a couple of detours from the parade route to get a pet. He is a remarkably mellow dog, especially considering how many random phobias he had when we got him from the rescue. He was not phased by crowds, Ronald McDonald, the circus guys on stilts, or the giant furry red birds. However, he still has a phobia of buses, and when we walked past the bus stop (no buses in sight--the streets were closed), he sat down and I had to drag him to get him jump-started.

The Mulberry School float

Argos waiting for the parade to start and doing his best alligator impression

Stolen bat

Some loser just stole the flying bat off of our front porch! We bought that thing when we first moved to CA in 1999. You may remember--it flew in jerky circles and the eyes lit up.
There is this presumption that theft is less common in the flyover region of the US. The other day, some woman in the locker room actually said to me:"Don't worry about someone stealing your bathing suit--this is the midwest." However, I would like to point out that this bat was flying around our front porch for many years when we were living next to a meth lab/stolen car emporium/homeless hangout in Rubidoux, CA, and no one touched it.
In contrast, I grew up in Cleveland and recall that pretty much every cool thing that I had ended up stolen. On the first day of kindergarten, my gym shoes with the rainbow laces were stolen (before I even wore them once). My first bike was stolen the first time I rode it anywhere (and it was locked up on a busy street!), and my first jeans jacket (the only enviable piece of clothing I owned) was stolen days after I got it.
We have replaced the flying bat with a spider that is matted and missing a leg due to Argos. Steal that!


Saturday, Joseph and I were watching a nature documentary about caribou. One of the calves was separated from its mother and died of starvation. Joseph got interested in why and how the calf got lost. After we sorted that through, I asked him, "What would you do if you got lost?" "Die." he told me in a very matter-of-fact way. I had to explain to him that he would not die, and help him remember who he should talk to if he got lost, etc. Apparently, since the last time that we had this chat, he claims to have forgotten both the full names of his parents and his address. After I reminded him of these important pieces of information, I quizzed him and he GOT MY NAME WRONG. Inexplicably, he told me that my last name was GERSHWIN. After a lifetime of strangers mispronouncing my name, this was like a DAGGER TO THE HEART. And he surely does not know the composer, so where did he get this from?
This blows my theory that the reason that people mispronounce my name is that they know exactly one person with a somewhat similar name (Gershwin, Gresham, Hirshman), and assume that I have the same name.

Rotten kid

Less rotten when sleeping

Sunday, October 14, 2007

How's the research going?

People keep asking me how the research is going. It's going decently well. I have been doing a series of experiments to determine whether or not male crickets have a preference for novel versus previous partners. If males have a preference, I would like to determine whether they use the same type of self-referential cuticular hydrocarbon cues as females, or perhaps use other cues entirely. I just finished an experiment to determine whether males preferentially court novel versus previous partners in a 2-choice design with dead females (to prevent the females from contributing their opinion--we know that females prefer novel males). The answer is no, males do not devote more courtship to novel females.
I am also looking at whether males allocate more resources to spermatophores (nutritive gifts and/or sperm capsules) when females are novel. I have already completed a version of this experiment, but I was not entirely happy with it, so I am changing the protocols and trying again.
If nothing pans out with the males, I have another series of experiments on the back burner.
This week one of my manuscripts came out in Ethology, however, I still have three (or four) more manuscripts that I have to get published somewhere. I spend most of my days watching crickets having sex or working on manuscripts. I am enjoying being focussed on research rather than splitting my time among a dozen different obligations.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


I was surprised to find out that there are kinds of fruits that you can't get in CA. Check out these Sechel Pears. They are tiny and travel well--perfect for the kids' lunches. They are firm and sweet with a slightly thick skin.

Sam breaks board

Although Karate dojos are pretty common in CA, not so much in Normal. So, Sam has switched to Tae Kwon Do. Although he had to go back to being a white belt, it is a good class. There are grown-ups as well as kids, and everyone gets a real workout from it. I debated joining Sam in the class, but after completing my PhD, it will be a while before I volunteer to let someone boss me around. Monday, Sam broke his first board, and went all around the neighborhood showing it to everyone.

Sam looking fierce in his gi.

Sam re-enacting the board breakage.

The board (it is really just a regular board from the hardware store--no tricks!)

Joseph enacting how he would break a board

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Looong weekend

I suppose that around here, it takes a little while to get anywhere. Consequently, Joseph's school extended the Columbus day weekend by declaring Friday a teacher's day. It has been a long weekend indeed. Around here, 90 degrees in October is called "Indian summer" (of course, in California, it is just called "October").
Normal has a comic book store that sells some pretty cheap old comics. The kids have picked up quite a few crumbling yellow Superman and Fantastic Four books. This weekend Joseph wrote a few of his own comics, entitled" Attack of Black Robot," and "Attack of Letter Man." Sam has been writing his own comics for years. This weekend he is working on "Ice Man versus Darkness."
This weekend we bought costumes for the kids. Here are Sam and Joseph as vampires

Saturday we all went to see a matinee of the 1954 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea with Kirk Douglas and James Mason at the historic Normal Theatre. The kids really seemed to enjoy it, although Joseph kept asking for plot clarification every few minutes for the entire two hours. Sam said that he liked the scenes where the divers were gathering food underwater. In addition to the other foraging scenes, this film shows pairs of divers carrying (tasty?) sea turtles by the flippers in some kind of undersea perp walk--I was rather alarmed. Joseph said that he liked the part where the sailor saved Captain Nemo by cutting off the giant squid's tentacle. I believe that entire theater was aware of Joseph's feelings on this subject, as he stood up and yelled "AWESOME!" at the top of his lungs. On an unrelated note, I must say that Kirk Douglas was wearing the tightest pants that I have ever seen on a non-Chippendale's-type performer. And it was a fine view indeed.

Sunday, we made nasty pink fudge from Sam's book "Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes." The kids seemed to enjoy it, though.

Other weekend highlights: we went to the Children's Museum. Here, Sam and Joseph diagnose a patient

Joseph and Argos relaxing on the kitchen floor. Admit it--you lie around on the kitchen floor when you think that no one is looking. Mmmmm... crusty crumbs.