Friday, February 08, 2008

Proof of Gender

My daughter gives me proof on almost a daily basis that she is, in fact, female. Sure, she has all the important bits, her 'biddle biddle' as she calls it, though I swear this isn't my fault. Nor is it my wife's; we actually have no idea where she got this from. We were teaching her the proper name—vulva—which she also knows and uses, if somewhat infrequently, when she busted out with this alternative.

No, even if I didn't change and bathe her on a regular basis there would still be no doubt in my mind that she is a girl. You see, whenever I use the toilet to empty my bladder (another word she knows), there is always this little raw bundle of obsessive-compulsiveness lurking outside, and as soon as I vacate the premises she rushes in and puts the toilet seat down.

She also, in case there are any doubters out there, puts the lid down too.

Now, let me be clear. My daughter is only just now barely grasping the concept of putting pee-pee in the potty. It was a major breakthrough last week when she, for the first time, communicated any sort of pressing need prior to the actual event. In fact, until today, she primarily used one of those little potty chairs, so it's not like the fear of falling in the toilet could possibly be high on her list of worries. So it is in despite of all these facts that she insists on the toilet seat being down. Only a female is capable of this sort of behavior.

It is, of course, obviously a genetic problem. I'm not certain how this particular mutation was peed into the human gene pool, but it does go against the general observation that women are driven by the need to be in committed relationships. It has been definitively demonstrated that when a human male and female are sharing one toilet, they minimize toilet-based energy expenditure by leaving the toilet exactly as it is when they are finished with their business. If it's up, leave it. If it's down, leave it. So, if a woman's genes are fine tuned for maximum efficiency in a mutualistic relationship with a man, then this sort of behavior should have been weeded out by old Darwin generations ago.

Granted, the energy expenditure by the woman does increase under this arrangement when compared to solitary living. However, that is offset by the greater amount of energy saved by the male, which he is then free to expend in providing for her and her genetic investments: hunting, fighting off wild animals, setting new records on video games, etc. So it is obvious that this is a self destructive female behavior.

I've tried arguing this out with my wife, but you know how genes are.

Anyway, let this post serve as proof of my daughter's gender to any potential husbands out there. It had better be good enough for you, too, because if you try any other method of verification before the wedding you'll find yourself in the middle of a scene reminiscent of Sweeny Todd, only it won't be meat pies on the menu.

It'll be Rocky Mountain oysters.

Friday, December 21, 2007

On attaining pre-pregnancy mass

Last week my wifelet made some homemade biscuits for my work X-mas party. As she was pulling them out of the oven (at around 9:00pm) we had the following conversation:

Wifelet: “Do you want one?”

Me: “They smell good, but I’m really not hungry.”

Wifelet: “I know what you mean; my mouth says ‘yes,’ my stomach says ‘no,’ and my hips say ‘what are you thinking you crazy woman.’

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Secret Santa

This year my new lab-group has decided to do a Secret Santa gift exchange. Here's the letter that will accompany mine.

Dear Paige:

You know, it’s not easy being Santa. Oh sure, everyone has this romantic image of what my life must be like, but let me tell you, it’s not all rosy-cheeked children and deep belly laughs. No, it’s only like that on the bad days, the really bad days. Those are the days spent being mobbed by packs of miserable, present-grubbing, budding materialists that clamor and mew, “I want this, I want that!” I have to just sit there and smile until my thigh is a mass of bruises caused by obese six-year-olds bouncing up and down, demanding more video games to ensure that next year they’ll be even heavier. And all the while it’s “Ho, ho, ho,” until my abs start cramping up. Of course, the snotty-nosed vermin are always disease-ridden and I bring an average of three different viruses home with me each time that spend the next two weeks having a competition over which of them gets which part of my respiratory tract. Oh yeah, let me tell you, romantic doesn’t begin to describe it.

I’m letting you know all this so you’ll know that I understand what you go through all the time. People think that being a marine biologist is all about diving on coral reefs and playing with the dolphins. Ha. I’d like to see them try spending a 16hr day in glaring sun, wallowing in knee-deep mud, surrounded by the sweet smell of hydrogen sulfide while being assaulted by insectile monsters with large claws and a nasty attitude.

That brings us to your present. See, whenever I’ve had a particularly bad day, I come home, sit down in front of the fire with my special hot-chocolate (1 package Swiss-Miss; 1 cup warmed vodka, splash of peppermint schnapps), and read this book. It always cheers me up because I figure that however bad my life is, it’s obviously nowhere near as bad as that of the bunnies. Indeed, after the second mug, I like to make up stories that would explain what drove the bunnies to such extremities. It makes me feel all warm inside.

So, bottoms up!


The gift?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ph.innaly Now New and Improved

Just fyi, I managed to successfully defend the old dissertation on Friday. Now I just have to get the old thing into the proper format, have it printed, and turn it into the proper authorities. It all went fine and if you want to see pictures check out the Wifelet's blog. I would have, but she hogged the computer on Sunday and I was forced to set several new Mario Cart: Double Dash records on our Youth Ministers Gamecube.

And now, because you know you want to read 229 pages about a small clam nobody but crabs like, you can download and read my dissertation following the link on the right.

And because I know you need a real reason: it contains a beautiful picture of my wife (page iii), and another of my daughter (page 229).


Ask me how detergent works. No really, ask away. I took organic chemistry; I can give you a coherent explanation involving hydrophilic heads and lipids. My professors would be proud. Now ask me why I don’t do the laundry.

Wrong. It’s not because I’m a slob, it’s because I’m married.

And stop thinking I’m some sort of paternalistic oaf, who lounges on the couch in an undershirt drinking beer. I’m usually wearing much less, and I prefer red wine or brandy, thank you. I also do almost all the cooking. And I clean the toilet. Happy?

Good. Now back to the subject. I used to do my laundry, about once a week, or whenever I ran out of the limiting reagent (told you my professors were proud), usually underwear. I had a very simple method: I took my laundry bag, I tipped it upside down over the washer, I stuffed the clothes in, I added detergent, and I turned on the washer. When they were clean I put them in the dryer. When they were dry I folded them and put them away. Life was simple and my clothes were clean.

Then I got married. Now, before I wedded, I had technically never, well, you know. So there were many things about women that I was very unfamiliar with, and in particular I knew nothing about their clothes. They are quite deceptive, I found. Externally and functionally they greatly resembled my clothes, and I’ve never had any problems with operating them. At least, I mean I’ve never had any problems getting them off and I assume they go on pretty much the same way, though I wouldn’t know personally. There were a few extras to accommodate the various anatomical differences, and some hooky fastener thingies that I’d never seen before, but they were easy to figure out.

It wasn’t until we had settled down that the trouble began. It turns out that laundering woman’s clothes is more complicated than keeping tropical fish alive. You practically have to keep a pH meter by the washing machine next to the mass spectrometer to monitor water quality. I tried to do the laundry once. It went something like this.

Wife: “Sweetie, why are you putting all the clothes in the washing machine?”

Me: “I’m just doing the laundry.”

Wife: “But you haven’t sorted the clothes.”

Me: “Sorted them?”

Wife: “You know, so the colors won’t run.”

Me: “Why? Are they scared of water?”

Wife, busily unstuffing the washing machine: “And you can’t machine wash this,” as she holds up some random piece of clothing that looks exactly like all the other clothes, “or this, or this.”

Me: “But,”

Wife: “Is this the mat from the kitchen?”

Me, happy to know the right answer: “Why yes, we hadn’t washed it in a bit and I thought”

Wife: “Why did you put in it with my delicates?”

Me: “Your whats?”

Wife: “Didn’t you read the tag?”

Me: “Why?”

Wife: “It tells you how to properly wash it.”

Me: “I thought it was just there to let you know which side goes in the back.”

After this little episode there was a similar scene involving the dryer, and a debacle in which my briefs somehow ended up slightly pink. My wife has done the laundry since.

My question is simply this: How could pink dye be so scared of water that I would choose my briefs instead?”

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Worry Wart

“You seem very calm, aren’t you worried?”

D. spoke these words to me in the hallway just a few minutes ago. D. is a very nice person, despite having a PhD and studying phytoplankton, who recently agreed to be the moderator of my dissertation defense.

Some readers may be unfamiliar with how people get PhDed, but it’s really very simple. Think of it as a fraternity initiation rite that lasts for six years; if you make it through all the tasks you get to join the club. The first task is to ‘Build the foundations of your knowledge with your own two hands’, aka, classes. Although grad classes technically have people who teach them, these people would almost always rather be doing research and can get quite snippy if you don’t already know the answers to the questions.

After all, didn’t you do the reading?

The task an initiate must next complete is the prospectus. After the classes have clearly delineated the boundaries of human knowledge, the student must gaze into the limitless expanse of human ignorance and pluck from it a question, and then come up with a plan to get the Darkness of Ignorance to retreat a few more steps. It must be feasible, but not so simplistic that you look like wuss.

So chose, but chose wisely.

Then comes the comprehensive exam. These take on many forms, depending on the particular brand of sadism favored by the faculty at your school, but they almost always involve standing in front of your ‘committee’, a group of PhDs who are specially selected to ‘aid’ you in your quest, and answering questions about anything they care to ask. It is not unheard of for candidates to faint afterwards. Physical encounters are usually frowned upon; psychological torment is so much more subtle and elegant after all. As an example, one of my committee members showed up to my exam bearing a Samoan war club. It was a beautifully carved blade of tropical hardwood guaranteed, if used correctly, to cure any head ache. It made a resonant thudding sound when he brought it crashing down on the table in front of him. It will not surprise the reader that a moderator is also required at the comprehensive exam.

In my case, his job was to make sure the club was used solely for psychological purposes.

Then you actually have to battle the Darkness of Ignorance. If you had a good plan, AND you’re lucky, AND you have an advisor who actually gives you time to work on your own stuff, AND your committee doesn’t decide it didn’t like your first question after, AND substantial parts of your research aren’t destroyed by a hurricane named Isabelle, then this part should only last four or five years.

Ask me why my first-born daughter’s name isn’t Isabelle. Go on, you know you’re dying to.

Next you have to write about it. You must chronicle your own epic story, and call it your dissertation. Make sure it’s well written, because it going to be read by so many people you couldn’t count them on two hands. No, between you, your advisor and half your committee, you’d only need one. But darn it, if you’re going to wax poetic about genetic variability among populations of parasitic isopods (think ticks that eat fish, unless you’re eating lunch in which case try not to), then you’d might as well make it good poetry. Never ask yourself why the exploits of other epic heroes were so fascinating that other people couldn’t help but write them down.

Of course your mom will read it, if by ‘it’ you mean the abstract.

If you think that should be enough you are, of course, wrong. You may have bravely walked into the unknown and lit a tiny candle that illuminated something that no other human had ever seen. You may have managed to produce six hundred pages of heroic couples describing the experience, but that won’t stop your committee from trying to blow your candle out and claim that it’s all a load of copepod fecal pellets.

No, the only thing preventing that is the fact that committee member number three happens to study copepod fecal pellets and thinks they are the greatest gift to humanity since gelatinous zooplankton.

That is why they call it a defense. It’s an all out intellectual battle between you and five octogenarians who have been in school since kindergarten. All that’s at stake is six years of your life. I’m not worried though, because I know I’m ready and I know that my dear moderator, D., will be there to make sure it’s a fair fight, and that’s all I need.

Of course, she doesn’t know about the war club, but that’s her worry, not mine.