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It’s Not Individualism or Bad Fashion, It’s Sexism

I once hypothesized that male heterosexual scientists and engineers single-handily keep the Hawaiian shirt industry in business. Don’t ask me why, but as a group, they love those shirts. I make jokes about their lack of fashion and just plain dressing ability. I tease because I love. I love their individualism, and I love how they don’t know or care about fashion. I may be a female heterosexual scientist and engineer, but I am one of them when it comes to dress. The last time I remember being fashionable was when I was in fifth grade. I don’t understand or like many fashions. I have my own style, and I like to look nice, but I consider my ability to wear jeans to work and not even own a suit, a serious perk of my career (and employer).

And then there is this.

This is Rosetta Project Scientist Matt Taylor of the European Space Agency (ESA) in a shirt covered in scantily clad women in in sexually suggestive poses. That is the shirt he chose to wear on a day when ESA did the amazing feat of landing a probe on a comet. This is the shirt he chose to wear on a day when he would be interviewed by the media and featured on live webcasts of the events. Not only did he not see a problem with this shirt, but evidently no one else at ESA did either. This. Is. Not. Acceptable. This is not appropriate. This is offensive. This shirt should not exist period, but it most certainly should not exist in the workplace. This is not about how ugly the shirt is. This is not about how unprofessional a shirt like that is. This is not about Dr. Taylor being an individual and expressing his style. This is about a shirt that objectifies women. This is about a shirt that is sexual harassment without Dr. Taylor even opening his mouth or making any type of gesture or doing absolutely anything other than wearing it. This is about a complete and utter lack of respect of women on the part of Dr. Taylor and evidently everybody at ESA who works with him and would have been in a position to say something. This about no one over there seeming to care about whether or not women feel comfortable working there when someone can wear a shirt like that. This about telling women it doesn’t matter your intelligence, skills, education, or ideas, you are but sex objects. The STEM fields continue to have a problem with sexism and gender inequality. My alma mater, a technical college, still only has about a 25% female student body. Wearing shirts like that to workplace will not help. It will not tell women that they are welcome. I quite frankly don’t care if Dr. Taylor is actually a really nice guy who is actually very supportive of women in STEM. His shirt says otherwise. He and ESA owe all of us an apology. That shirt overshadowed what should have been the main headline that ESA did the absolutely spectacular task of landing a probe on a comet. That shirt and the attitude it expressed ruined it for me in fact.

Finally, I would like to give mad props to Dr. Paul Coxon for his absolutely awesome idea, that if you want to wear a shirt with women on it, wear one with these women on it.


These would be some of the women of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) celebrating after ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Spacecraft successfully entered the Mars orbit. And they are awesome.

Gowanus Canal

Last month while in New York, I spent some time walking around Gowanus Canal because I’m an environmental engineer, and I couldn’t resist an opportunity to visit a body of water, infamous for being incredibly polluted. The Gowanus Canal is a Superfund site due to contamination with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), volatile organic contaminants (VOCs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), pesticides, and metals. However, the Gowanus Canal is also polluted with more ordinary pollutants such as bacteria from untreated wastewater from combined sewer overflow outfalls and other urban pollutants from surface runoff (and possibly illegal outfalls). The area residents are understandably pushing to get the canal cleaned up quickly, and the cleanup is a joint effort between the city, state, and federal government. The area around the canal is an interesting mixture of industrial, art galleries, and up and coming residential. It is actually a nice area. There is a Whole Foods Market next to the canal that has a nice little canal walk on the property, which features signs that say “This is the greenest supermarket in New York State. No smoking, please.” I will take them at their word about being the greenest supermarket, as I did notice solar panels and wind turbines in the parking lot. However I still had to laugh at the irony of the sign. On the bright side, the Gowanus Canal is not so polluted that should someone smoke near it, it is not in danger of catching on fire, like the Cuyahoga River did in 1969. While I was walking along the canal, I spotted a small boat with two people who seemed to be monitoring the water and also two people in a canoe. I guess the canal is safe to canoe on, if you just make sure you don’t touch the water to your skin and most definitely don’t let any get into your mouth, nose, eyes, or any other orifices. The canal does not look that polluted. There are areas with floating trash, but there are very few places where I saw a sheen. When I was there it did not smell either, but evidently especially in summer, it can smell. However, it is a good example of how appearance is not a good way to tell if something is polluted. If you want to read more about the Gowanus Canal, this article in Popular Science is pretty interesting.

Northern end of the Gowanus Canal

Northern end of the Gowanus Canal

Bridge on northern end

Bridge on northern end

Carroll Street Bridge

Carroll Street Bridge

Carroll Street Bridge

Carroll Street Bridge

Stormwater discharge warning sign

Stormwater discharge warning sign

A wooden dolphin that had a book attached to the top as some sort of art or memorial

A wooden dolphin that had a book attached to the top as some sort of art or memorial

View from the Third Street Bridge

View from the Third Street Bridge

Survey boat

Survey boat

Third Street bridge

Third Street bridge

People actually canoe on the Gowanus Canal

People actually canoe on the Gowanus Canal

Barge sitting on the canal

Barge sitting on the canal

Fourth Street Basin, next to the Whole Foods Market

Fourth Street Basin, next to the Whole Foods Market, with some sort of art in the sculpture in the water

Gowanus Canal southern end

Gowanus Canal southern end

Gowanus Expressway

Gowanus Expressway

Liquid storage tanks

Liquid storage tanks

Run the Chesapeake Bay Bridge 10K

View of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge near the start of the race

View of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge near the start of the race

On November 9, 2014, I ran the inaugural Across the Bay 10k Chesapeake Bay Bridge Run. The point to point course includes 4.35 miles across the bridge, which reaches 186 feet at its peak. The run across the bridge provided amazing views of Chesapeake Bay. As an engineer, I really loved being able to examine the bridge up close at a slower pace than when driving across it. I wore a GoPro Hero 3+ on my head during the race to make a video of the run. I have edited the video to only include the start, bridge portion of the run, and the finish, and I have also sped up the video. My official run time was 1:16:24, and nobody wants to watch a video that long of me running across the bridge. I removed the sound due to a weird noise that was created when I sped up the video. Also, I took a few photos with my iPhone and made a few photos from freeze frames from the GoPro video.

View of the bay from the bridge

View of the bay from the bridge

View of both bridges

View of both bridges

In the truss section of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge

In the truss section of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge

They also gave us a pretty cool medal for completing the race.

Completion medal

Completion medal

Real Sexy PhD Regalia

It seems to be more and more, all Halloween costumes for women are “sexy” costumes for women. Of course the definition for sexy being showing as much skin as possible. This Halloween, some company named Delicious has given us Delicious Women’s Phd Darling Sexy Costume. This probably sounds stupid, but the only reason this one particular “sexy” woman’s costume annoys me more than others (they all annoy me truthfully), is that this is not Doctor of Philosophy, or any other doctoral regalia. I mean if you are going to demean an entire group of people like female PhDs, at least get your costume close to correct. This costume is not even a Master’s regalia; it is a Bachelor’s regalia with honors. That gold “sash” is a stole, similar to what Bachelor graduates wear if they are a member of an honor society or have high scholastic honors, depending on the school.

Academic dress differs by country, but I am sure this is meant to be United States regalia. So let’s review what is wrong.

1. I’ll just ignore the length of the gown at this point. Because SEXY!

2. The sleeves are too short and should balloon out as bell sleeves. Yes, yes, I know, but sexy means more skin!

3. The sleeves do not feature three velvet bands on the upper arm.

4. There should be two velvet bands running vertically down the length of the gown.

5. It has no hood. The Master’s regalia has a hood that goes about halfway down the back of the torso, and the Doctoral regalia has a hood that goes all the way down the back of the torso. The hood features different colors that designate your specific academic field.

6. The head gear is wrong. Head gear can differ, but normally Doctoral regalia features a tam which can be 4, 6, or 8 sided. The tam is normally velvet also and is softer looking and puffier than the mortar board Bachelors wear.

To demonstrate the difference, below is me in my Doctoral regalia after I graduated. Sorry for the weird blurred out face, but I want some anonymity. However, let me be clear, my actual, hard earned Doctoral regalia is sexy. You know why? Because I am smart enough to become a Ph.D. Because I worked my butt off for six years to earn it, not to mention the four for a Bachelor’s and two for a Master’s. Because mine is REAL. Because sexy is not just about the body, it is also about the mind.

So Delicious and all other makers of “sexy” women’s costumes, why don’t you go demean men for a change?

Me in my Ph.D. regalia

Me in my Ph.D. regalia

Me in my Ph.D. regalia

Me in my Ph.D. regalia

 

Bergen Sign Shop

Collection of old signs on the shop's wall

Collection of old signs on the shop’s wall

I recently had a chance to tour New York City’s MTA’s Bergen Sign Shop. The Bergen Sign Shop is where all the signs for MTA’s subways are made and possibly a few other signs. The wonderful employees came in on a Saturday so that they could take two tour groups, from the New York Transit Museum, through the shop and show us how they make the signs. It was really neat to see and also interesting to hear how things have changed from the way things used to be made. Computers are now used for much of the process where as like many things, they used to have to be done by hand. Some of the signs they make are made like many of us make signs with regular ink jet printers, although they have massive printers with the biggest ink cartridges I have ever seen.

Safety first signs being printed in bulk. As an engineer, I particularly enjoyed seeing this.

Safety first signs being printed in bulk. As an engineer, I particularly enjoyed seeing this.

All the “buttons”, the colored circles with the subway line letter or number, are printed on rolls of colored vinyl with adhesive backing. The line’s letter or number is then printed in black or white. A machine also cuts the circle into the vinyl, so employees just have to remove the excess from around the circles.

Rolls of vinyl in various colors ready for the printer. C line buttons being printed.

Rolls of vinyl in various colors ready for the printer. C line buttons being printed.

Drawer full of ready to go buttons. The buttons are made in 7 standard sizes.

Drawer full of ready to go buttons. The buttons are made in 7 standard sizes.

They have another machine that just does detailed cutting of vinyl rolls. Once the vinyl has been cut, the excess is removed, and letters, numbers, and symbols are left in place. The letters are already spaced properly like they would be from a printer and are then transferred as a unit by an employee to a sign.

Roll of vinyl leaving the cutter.

Roll of vinyl leaving the cutter.

The below, very short video is a series of photographs of an employee showing how he transfers the cut letters to a sign. The method he uses keeps all the letters spaced properly as they were spaced by the computer. The letters are transferred from the vinyl roll to transfer paper then to the sign.

Once the letters, buttons, etc. are on the sign, the sign is then laminated. It is later sent to the tin shop to be applied to a metal frame.

Sign being laminated

Sign being laminated

There is another machine that engraves signs and also applies to plastic beads to make braille signs.

Engraving machine

Engraving machine

Temporary location sign with Braille.

Temporary location sign with Braille.

In a separate room, they make frosted glass signs by applying a template and coating the glass with uv-activated substance. Ultraviolet light is then applied, and anything not covered by the template will be frosted.

Glass placed into machine where a vacuum will be applied and then it will be treated under ultraviolet light

Glass placed into machine where a vacuum will be applied and then it will be treated under ultraviolet light

Sign about to be treated under ultraviolet light

Sign about to be treated under ultraviolet light

Sign being treated under ultraviolet light

Sign being treated under ultraviolet light

Glass after being treated with uv light

Glass after being treated with uv light

In the back, they had the finished signs stacked up ready to be installed. They also had a supply of generic signs used in various places.

Spare generic signs stacked in storage

Spare generic signs stacked in storage

Finished signs ready to be installed

Finished signs ready to be installed

It was a really fun tour, and it was really neat to learn how the signs are made. Thanks to the New Your Transmit Museum and MTA employees for allowing us to take this tour and showing us how they do everything!

Do not mess with a toxicologist

I was attending a lecture today on toxicology, and of course the subject people purposely poisoning other people came up. The lecture relayed the story of a female chemist who had a romantic relationship with a male chemist who worked in the same lab. The male then broke off the relationship and starting dating another female chemist who also worked in that same lab. The first female chemist evidently pretended like she was ok with everything and continued to make tea for everyone afterwards. However she started adding acrylamide to the male’s tea. It sounded like the poisoning was discovered fairly quickly. He then relayed another story of similar circumstances when a male broke off a relationship with another woman, but they continued to work together. She used thallium to poison his tea. She however was a toxicologist and made detailed notes of the effects on the male. She then adjusted the dosage accordingly. My lecturer did not relay information as to when she was caught. Summary of the story is don’t piss off a toxicologist, and if you do, don’t be stupid enough to let the person make your tea.

DISCLAIMER: This is in no way meant to encourage people to poison people. Don’t do that. Seriously, don’t.

Feste and Orsino

I have had Feste and Orsino for over six weeks now. Last week they got neutered and finished the last of the vaccinations (until next year). They have settled in now. Orsino is still a bit skittish, but Feste is trying to be the cat that curiosity kills. Feste will also one day probably kill me by tripping me as he attaches himself to my ankles and just swarms around while I try to walk. Ferdinand really doesn’t care about the cats, but he does seem to get intimated by them sometimes. To celebrate their neutering, here are some photos of them because the internet needs more cat photos.

Feste and Orsino relaxing

Feste and Orsino relaxing

Ferdinand and Feste demonstrate the double decker couch

Ferdinand and Feste demonstrate the double decker couch

Feste's new favorite toy the rubber drain cover from the kitchen sink. He keeps pulling it out every time I put it back in.

Feste’s new favorite toy the rubber drain cover from the kitchen sink. He keeps pulling it out every time I put it back in.

I assume everyone stores their cats in the kitchen pantry next to the soup.

I assume everyone stores their cats in the kitchen pantry next to the soup.

Orsino keeping Feste under the cushion

Orsino keeping Feste under the cushion

Orsino licking Feste

Orsino licking Feste

Feste and Orsino cuddling

Feste and Orsino cuddling

Orsino watching Feste's tail under the coffee table

Orsino watching Feste’s tail under the coffee table

Old Medical Journal Memos

I have a confession. Sometimes I am not productive as I should be because my curiosity gets the better of me. I need to look something up, and in the course of researching it, I read some other tangental tidbit, which cause me to look something else up, and then down the rabbit hole I go. Case in point was today. I have a project at work that involves a database of environmental contaminants. The short version is, these contaminants are in the database under numerous synonyms, including synonyms that are insanely obscure and uncommon, or perhaps they were common a hundred years ago, but certainly not today. All the contaminants are in the database associated with their CAS Registry Numbers, so it is clear what the chemical is. [A CAS Registry Number is like a Social Security number for a chemical. It is specific to a chemical or a specific type of mixture of chemicals.] Many of these synonyms I have never heard of before. One synonym for nitrobenzene was oil of mirbane. I had to look this one up for pure curiosity reasons. After much searching, I have yet to find out the etymology of oil of mirbane or simply the word mirbane. [@vonOberst on Twitter suggested thusly “Mirer is a candle in French. Bane is “fatal”…maybe someone tried to make a candly from nitrobenze crystals?” For the non-chemists, nitrobenzene is among other things, explosive, so a candle made from it would definitely be a fatal candle, and I find this idea disturbing and amazing. If anyone knows the etymology I would seriously love to know from where this name came.]

Anyway, in the course of searching for the origins of oil of mirbane, I came across a British Medical Journal memoranda from Jan 27, 1912 (1(2665): 183) about someone who was accidentally poisoned with it. The article didn’t get me to a better understanding of that name, but it was an interesting article, and I became interested in these old memoranda and the way they were written, diagnosis, and treatment. So then I had to read a few more in this volume, and now reading old medical journal memoranda is going to become my new hobby. They are fascinating. However, I need to share part of my favorite one from that volume, “A supposed case of heat-stroke: remarkable recovery.” This report is completely fascinating, and I would really love to know from what this patient was suffering. I have no medical training, but this does not sound like heat stroke as it has been described to me in first aid training. The case as described.

“A man, aged 53, was crossing a road during one of the hottest days of last summer, when he suddenly found himself on the ground, with a “horse’s hoof right on top of him”; this was his description of what happened. He picked himself up and ran across the road to his son, who was waiting for him on the pavement, and who brushed the dust off his clothes.He complained of no pain or discomfort of any kind, but his son took him into a chemist’s shop, where he was given a dose of sal-volatile. He then went home by train (a distance of eight miles), sat down and made a good tea, feeling quite well all the time. Towards the end of this meal he became a “little queer,” went upstairs and felt very ill indeed, and remembered nothing afterwards. This attack came on about five hours after he had fallen down in the road.”

Read the whole article. It is not long and is truly fascinating. Included is the information that the doctor examined him and found no injury, which kind of calls into the question the idea of a horse hoof on him. I am not sure what I love the most about this article, but the pure Britishness of it is definitely part of it. I adore the details that the son helped brush dust off the man, which makes me wonder what the son was doing when the man fell down in the road or whatever he did. Also, of course the man went home and made a good tea. The man recovered after his attack over the three days, then he got worse. Part of the treatment that was given to him when he fell unconscious was withdrawal of cerebrospinal fluid. It never states why. The patient got better after that, then got worse, then they removed more cerebrospinal fluid, and he got better again. Evidently his “heat stroke” was cured by removing cerebrospinal fluid. Is this still something done for heat stroke? How exactly does removing cerebrospinal fluid help heat stroke or anything? I actually would like to know why this was done, or what the theory was back then (or now?!).

Thus now, I reading these old medical memoranda is going to be my new thing during my free time. The article before the heat stroke memoranda describes two children suffering from tetanus infections who were treated unsuccessfully with magnesium sulfate injected into their cerebrospinal fluid. One of the children was also given strychnine. This makes me all the more thankful for tetanus vaccines, even if they do hurt.

Twitter, Scientists, and Arbitrary Lists

Fairly often some website produces a list of people you should follow on Twitter. Yesterday it was Science with their The top 50 science stars of Twitter. This list, like so many before, is arbitrary, lacks diversity, and is based on, in my opinion, stupid metrics. Many people on Twitter have noted that this list is overwhelmingly white and male. They based the star status on follower count and a completely ridiculous metric called the Kardashian Index,” or K-index, which is about as ridiculous as the people for which it is named. The list also lacks diversity from a field of study standpoint. Also, some people have noted that other “star” Twitter scientists were left off, which according to the article’s author was because they restricted the list to Ph.D.s. I think that is a stupid restriction, and I am a Ph.D. Furthermore, someone noted that one of the accounts on the list is a bot, and another one are simply tweets by the person’s PR person. 

I follow a few people on the list, so obviously I think some of them worth following. However, if you are trying to be more active on Twitter and interact with people, most (but not all) of these people are not the people to follow. The more followers you have, the more difficult it is to interact with them, assuming you are even trying. Don’t get me wrong, some of the people on this and other lists do tweet great information. However, if your goal on Twitter is to network, make friends, learn things, and sometimes get help or advice, then “stars” are not to the people to follow. I have made friends on Twitter, including friends I have later met in person. I have also networked and gotten great advice on work and personal projects. I see tweets on an almost daily basis of scientists helping each other out via tweets. Someone will tweet out asking for advice on some lab protocol or best manner to collect a certain type of sample, and others will reply with advice. Many people, including myself, tweet out a photo of something we are trying to identify. If I know people who know things in that field, I’ll tag them, and via crowdsourcing, we can normally identify the life form or object. That sort of fun learning experience is through interactions with us non Twitter stars.

If you want to use Twitter for things like that, you need to seek out people in your field or fields you are interested in, or just people who tweet out interesting things. Ignore the number of followers they have, and look at what they tweet. The less followers they have, the more likely they will follow you and interact with you. There are wonderful people with tons of followers that are worth following on Twitter, and some of them do a good job of interacting, and there are some worth following even if they don’t interact. I just mean that you can get a lot more out of Twitter if you interact with people. That leads to the obvious question, how do you find these people? Look for Twitter lists such Women Tweet Science Too which was created to in reaction to the lack of women on the above mentioned Nature list. Many people have already created tons of great public lists like this for people in various fields. Follow people on these, and then once you find people you really like on Twitter, see who they follow and with whom they interact.

Furthermore, if you want my personal opinion on how to get people to follow you, which you can take or leave, then see below.

1. Tweet. That may seem obvious, but it you don’t tweet, people are not going to follow you. Tweet links to articles you find interesting. Tweet things you find funny. Tweet about what you are working on, even if you think it is uninteresting or no one will understand what you are doing. Your fellow nerds and geeks will understand and be interested. Even if no one if following you, you have to get started somehow.

2. Have a avatar photo. Having one that represents something about you, even if it is not a photo of you. I rarely follow Twitter eggs.

3. Have a Twitter bio. When someone follows me, I look at their bio. Do they work in a field interesting to me? Do they say something funny? Do they have interests similar to me?

4. Interact with people. Even if a person doesn’t follow you, if they ask a question you can help with, reply to them. Give your input.

Decipher This Warning Sign

I saw this warning sign today by creek near my office. I know what the sign is trying to warn people against, but the drawings struck me as a little weird. I tweeted the photo out with my interpretation of two of the drawings, and then got some more hilarious interpretations. I have listed them below. Submit a comment with your interpretation if you can do better.

Water warning sign

Water warning sign

1. Person standing above water drinking from glass:

Me: Humans, no standing on top of water.

@Ilovebraaains: No standing on top of bacon

@marginfades: and yet, no admonition for walking on water.

2. Person leaning over water with huge water droplets.

@MGhydro: No crying in the water.

@MGhydro: No crying over bacon! Unless they’re tears of joy!

@fMRI_guy: Caution: Windy. While you are washing your face, your towel may just fly away & you’ll be naked

3. Person swimming

@Swansontea: No punching water while in the prone position

4. Person washing car

@MGhydro: No throwing dog poop over cars.

@fMRI_guy: Don’t use your car as a barrier in a snowball fight. That’s just rude.

5. Dog running above water

Me: Dogs, no swimming on top of the water

6. Hand above water with bottle and banana peel (why is it always a banana peel?)

@MGhydro: No picking up trash from the water.

@fMRI_guy: Also, don’t pick up bottle messages.

Me: No sending messages in bottles

@lockwooddewitt: Garbage and bacon: Gotta keep’em separated