One of the funniest internet sites I’ve seen in a long time is http://lolmythesis.com/ It’s a place where people rephrase their thesis titles in plain English, with the simplified explanation generally showing how ridiculously useless and/or frustrating a lot of research actually is.

For example:

Behavioral Analysis of D. melanogaster larva: Determining if TRPA1 is Necessary and Sufficient for an Avoidance Response from ITC

turned into:

To nobody’s surprise – Fly Larva do not appreciate nor enjoy being tossed face first into a dish of the stuff that makes Wasabi so damn hot


Investigating Populations of Pseudoroegneria spicata in Eastern Washington using a Stochastic Integral Projection Model

turned into:

I was paid to sit on a hillside and count grass and then my research site burned down, so here’s a mathematical model I don’t understand

Although my current work is not (thank goodness) anything I actually need to produce a thesis about, I am in the midst of putting together an abstract for a conference. The title in layman’s terms would have to be:

I can measure tiny amounts of two really small molecules, but the biologists don’t agree on which cells I should be looking in

Another project I’ve spent a lot of time on this week is:

When you put stuff in hot acid, it falls apart

And then there’s a weekly analysis that I run, whose results periodically show:

If you’re trying to kill cells with chemicals made 20 years ago, your data is probably going to be garbage, because most of your chemicals went bad

Combine the following elements:

1) Night-time

2) Cat with cabin fever 

3) Glowing jogger’s armband worn as collar

4) Reflective aluminum canoe 

5) Feline curiosity 

No, the cat isn’t channeling his inner werewolf and howling at the moon. I think that weird circle is the flash reflecting off something, possibly my thumbnail. 


More realistic, but not quite as fun. 

M and his best friend want to go to New York City for a couple days at the end of this week to compete in a college debate competition. Mostly I think they just want a road trip together before M goes back to college on Monday, but at least they really are on the debate teams at their colleges. We told M we wanted to know the following:

1) When it starts and ends

2) Where they plan to park (they’ll be driving friend’s mom’s car)

3) The address where they will stay overnight 

4) His friend’s cell phone number 

5) Whether he needs to bring a sleeping bag

So far the answers we’ve gotten are:

1) Arrive mid-afternoon on the 8th, leave early evening on the 9th

2) No idea

3) The physical address of the host college, and “we’ll be staying in the dorm” – but it’s a community college and has no dorms

4) Phone number was written down on a post-it note that he lost then found again 

5) Yes 

To me, this seems like they’d wind up sleeping in the car in their sleeping bags in some truly skeevy section of the city, and we can all guess how badly that might go. 

Sorry M. I know you’ve just spent 4 months without parental supervision, but that doesn’t mean we’ll let you go to a very large and totally unfamiliar city unless you actually come up with a coherent plan. 

Style is so complicated

M and his friends were heading into the city for lunch, as a last hurrah together before one friend headed back to college.

M: “Is belt color supposed to match shoe color?”

Me, looking at the olive-green Boy Scout belt he had fastened around his waist: “Theoretically. Are all your other belts at college?”

M: “Yeah.”

Me: “It really doesn’t matter. You look fine.”

M: “This is a semi-formal restaurant. I just want to make sure it’s OK.”

Me: “If it’s a semi-formal restaurant, then your blue jeans are going to be more of a problem than the color of your belt.”

Fortunately, there was a pair of khakis hanging in his closet that still fit him.

2 days into his visit home, he wanders away from the kitchen table with your bookmark in his book.

4 days into his visit home, you look at the kitchen table after he’s finished a meal, and realize he’s left your phone holding his book open. (He thought it was his phone).

1 week into his visit home, he’s accumulated enough new library books and dragged out enough old childhood favorites for his bedside table to look like this:


Yes, I know that based on movies and TV commercials, Christmas is supposed to be all about joy and magic and wonder. But let’s face it, when your holiday gathering includes cranky and critical elderly parents rather than small children, magic and wonder are not going to happen, and the bar for “success” is set pretty low.

Fortunately, this year we had Mother Nature and her unseasonably warm temperatures on our side. So when my parents arrived on the 24th, we went out letterboxing. This entailed a very long walk through moderately scenic conservation land in record-setting 69 degree weather.



That particular conservation tract has been rumored to contain a purple shack where high school students go to buy drugs. When I saw this shack, I thought perhaps we’d found the infamous building, and it was described as purple rather than green to confuse parents.


Then we realized that even drug dealers probably wouldn’t operate out of a wide-open outhouse.


Having the open side face the trail, for absolutely minimal privacy, makes it even more bizarre — although having a dilapidated outhouse on public conservation land was pretty weird to begin with.

Dinner was a fish-related extravaganza although we didn’t attempt to hit 7 kinds. And then my parents went to sleep in the guest room, where we’d managed to fit the spare cot in beside the twin bed, so nobody had to share a room with teenage-boy-smell.


Christmas morning, my mother and I headed out fairly early to do a little more letterboxing. Because if you ask me for a bread knife, and I hand you the serrated knife we always use, and you refuse it because it’s technically a steak knife, and then you get out a different non-serrated knife, and then you get annoyed that it’s not cutting your bread properly, then I would rather wander the woods counting off 65 paces along a stone wall from a triple-trunked tree than continue sharing a kitchen with you. Ahem. Not much to be said for the theoretical scenic vista, but at least it was neutral territory.


Back at the house, E had brought her mom over, and we then attempted to make coffee for everyone using the dying coffee-maker. It started leaking coffee out of every orifice it had (plus some it didn’t), at which point I heaved it out the window to minimize the mess dripping into the floor, and E’s single-serving French press went into overtime.

We entertained ourselves at Christmas dinner by making predictions for 2016. Each of us had to predict:

— 1 US political event
— 1 general news event
— 1 positive event
— 2 famous people who would die

Yes, this counts as uplifting entertainment by our family’s standards.

We also reviewed how well we’d done with last year’s predictions. I had succeeded with “Boston will not be nominated to host the Olympics” and “Governor Deval Patrick will fade into obscurity.” E unfortunately also succeeded with “there will be a major terrorist event outside the US.” In good news, all of the people on our 2015 death-prediction list are still alive and kicking.

Finally, E took her mom home, while M and I and my parents did one more round of letterboxing before my parents drove home.

Whew. All done for another year.

Think they’ll notice?

We finally got around to buying a Christmas tree on Sunday. Think we can get away with not bothering to decorate it, without getting too much criticism or questions from our parents when they visit?  We did put one random bow on top, that came off a package. And we do have Christmas lights up — although not on the tree, and they’re lights we keep up year-round. 

Maybe we can just scatter a few more cat toys around the bottom and call it good. 


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