Global hits

20 07 2014

Since I started this blog, even excluding the thousands of hits from Canada (which could well just be me neurotically checking for typos: the site stats are only for views, not actual visitors), it’s had over 6000 hits!

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Admittedly a bizarre number of these are fuelled by interests in bestiality, but the 800 views of “Who am I and what do we do in this lab?“, 190 views of “Grad studies – are they for you?“, and 2,550+ views of the related blog, “Want to join the Mason lab?“, are a nice antidote (though – hold on – I’ve just realised that since I only get dozens of requests to join the lab each year, hundreds and hundreds must have decided they’re not interested!)

Benefits of being a hoarder

20 07 2014

“Keep EVERYTHING” is Jamie‘s top research advice. There are weird characteristics that make for a successful graduate student. Obviously you need to be clever, and good with working 50+ hours a week. Then you need to be resilient, for when experiments go belly up (as they will). That’s probably obvious too. But loving hardware stores is also a bonus, so you can creatively and cheaply solve practical problems (check out Mike’s duct-taped alarm clock to give a video time stamp, Maria’s ‘feed this one today’ markers made of cable ties, Carole’s elegant place preference apparatus from Canadian Tire, and the bevvy of eccentric clutter that accumulated in the lab over the last few years). And then being a crazy hoarder can really pay off too….

So, this is Jamie on his balcony digging through old ID cards from his 2012 mink litters, to type in the precise locations of their cages which he’d noted on the cards as he took them down (just in case…) He got through one whole bag (just over half the cards) in about an hour. When he stored these, at the time he didn’t realise how bizarrely unreplicable would be his results, nor how utterly invaluable this location info. could be for sorting out why. Comment from his wife Liana: “You’re SO lucky, the number of times I almost put that bag in the trash. I mean, a bag full of little chips of paper? Come on!”

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Results already?

20 07 2014

The first of the young mink in Maria‘s feeding height experiment had their first preference test on Friday.  Given food on all four feeding levels at once, which would they chose to eat from?

DSCN5048Behaviourally we couldn’t quite tell — scan sampling proved inadequate for picking up the brief upward bobs (think Whac-a-Mole) they make when taking bites of food, and so Friday and Saturday were spent rapidly refining and re-refining this protocol.

But in terms of leftovers the next morning, the lowest height was the clearly preferred (e.g. below, left to right, you can see what’s left from the previous day’s food on levels that are respectively 10, 18, 21 and 15 inches above the cage floor): so far, it seem these young mink would rather not climb for their dinner….

Over the next few weeks and months we’ll see if this holds, and whether it changes as they get bigger and stronger.


Learning to sex mink

20 07 2014

There’s a title bound to get loads of hits from guys who slope off disappointed.



Here is Andrea (sporting a t shirt from Tiger Creek: a wildlife sanctuary where she did a 3 month internship), on her very first day with mink. She’s learning to tell young males and females apart, since all our animals are in MF pairs and we want our data separated by sex. She’s looking a little daunted because it can be very difficult. Luckily she found them cute enough to compensate.


Not enough tea

20 07 2014

On Thursday I drove down to Michigan to ferry Andrea Polanco (she’s taking over while Maria‘s at the ISAE) and generally see how things were going.

Wired from the long drive and lively evening out with Steve Bursian, Angelo Napolitano and their partners, I slept like crap that night and struggled to get going on Friday AM, but finally managed to set off. After driving a few km towards Maria’s place, I heard a small thump, and saw something fall onto the road behind me. After driving a few more km, the penny dropped (another small thump): a tower of blank DVDs I was supposed to take to Maria for recording the mink, I had put on the car roof when I was was setting off from the hotel and then… errr … left there. I retraced my route, and sure enough after a few km there were shiny discs bowling about all over the the road like giant sequins. When I pulled over to sheepishly collect them, to my amazement found that most of the tower was still somehow wedged onto the car roof. Phew: did not deserve that luck

The moral? I should not do ANYTHING in the morning ’til I’ve had at least five cups of tea.


Michael Ondaatje in Guelph

20 07 2014

Catching up on the ‘backblog‘, this is from an event here in March. For a small country (population-wise), Canada really does seem to have an unusually high number of great writers (click here for CBC’s list, which Jonathan should now read as he became Canadian on Thursday! Bit disconcerted that I’ve only read 16 of them; was expecting to read the list with smugness).

Michael Ondaatje, whose recent book ‘The Cat’s Table‘ I loved, came across as modest and erudite. There were also readings by a strange over-the-top proclaiming poet (Connie Brook’s widower), and Catherine Bush (who seemed very nice, but whose novel ‘The Rules of Engagement‘ I found somewhat belaboured).


Learning to slice brains

17 07 2014



Danielle Phillips is a Psychology/Neuroscience undergrad who’s going to spend the rest of the summer helping with the next step in investigating our mouse brains. Godsend!

Yesterday evening I finally got her, Kathryn and the relevant keys all together in the right lab, and Kathryn started showing Danielle how to mount the brains on the cryostat chuck, how to work the machine itself, and how to get the tiny transparent slices adhering to the microscope slide in just the right way. Kathryn proved to be a brilliant teacher (and full of new ideas and confidence since starting her Masters with John Vessey), so they managed to do an entire brain, now safely stored in the -80 freezer, all ready for staining. Just 63 to go ladies!

e^beta? Hell yeah!

17 07 2014

Emma and I got a very helpful response from JMP this morning (below) to a question we’d sent in about logistic regressions (though with more preamable than needed; they could’ve just replied “Yep, you gottit”).

Emma’s reaction? “I’m trying to work out how sad it makes me for being so pleased about this that I actually said (out loud) ‘Hell yeah!’…”

I think it means you’re one of us Emma. Embrace your inner nerd, and learn to love her (just don’t let her pick your clothes).


“The relationship between the parameter estimates in JMP and the odds ratios, depends upon the nature of the independent variable. Assuming you have a binary response variable, the following is true. For a continuous independent variable, the unit odds ratio is equal to e^beta. A unit odds ratio is a comparison of the odds for a one unit increase in the continuous variable. In this case, a negative beta will result in a unit odds ratio that is less than one, while a positive parameter estimate will indicate an odds ratio greater than one. For a binary independent variable, the odds ratio can be calculated as e^(2*beta). This is due to the 1/-1 coding that is used by JMP. Therefore if comparing the level shown in the brackets of the parameter estimate to the level not shown, a negative beta indicates an odds ratio less than one and a positive beta indicates an odds ratio greater than one. For an independent variable that has more than two levels, the odds ratio would be computed using the difference between the betas of the levels being compared. Suppose you want to compare level A with level B. To determine the nature of the odds ratio, you would need to look at the sign of the difference between the parameter estimate for level A and the parameter estimate for level B. The same rules as above would apply. If the difference is negative, that indicates an odds ratio that is less than one”.

Congrats to Pat Turner

16 07 2014

Screen shot 2014-07-16 at 9.47.03 AMCongratulations to Pat Turner on receiving the Canadian Vet Med Association‘s Humane Award at their annual conference last week!

Click here for details.

A mild heart attack …

16 07 2014

… is what I had this morning when I first read the email from Proc Roy Soc and its brutal opening line “your manuscript … has been unsubmitted”. But it had just taken them 3 weeks (3 weeks?? Really???) to notice that I’d not typed Hanno’s email address into the online system. Grrrr.

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