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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Mokele-mbembe's LiveJournal:

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    Monday, September 30th, 2013
    12:57 pm
    Well, time for my almost 18-monthly update. I've noticed LJ getting a lot sparser these days - lots of folks and communities have vanished, and the remainder don't update nearly as often.

    So, the sad news over the past 17 months was the passing of my two favorite pets. Darwin, my blue tegu lizard, passed away from kidney failure about a year ago at the age of 10 (since we bought him, it's come to light that his species/line/whatever is badly inbred, which probably shortened his life). About 5 months ago, Speckles, my 9-foot boa and the very first snake I ever owned, passed away from extreme old age at 20. He'd been ailing for several years, but eventually reached the point where it was time to let him go. I've constructed little memorial areas to both of them, and an artist friend from Brown also gave me some art he'd drawn of them. I miss them both, but they both had long, healthy, happy lives.

    In much better news, I finally graduated from Brown with my PhD in biology (in early August)! The defense went great, I got some awesome feedback, and lots of cool congratulations from the faculty, other students, and my friends. I also made a complete, mounted turkey skeleton for Tom (he mostly works on turkeys), and gave it to him at the after-party, which delighted him.

    I'm now at my new position, a post-doctoral research gig at Georgia Tech. Due to a quirk of fate, I'm actually in the physics department as part of a large "Physics of Living Systems" grant. One of my advisers is a physicist who works on animals moving on/in sand and other granular materials, while the other is a mathematician who's studied everything from ants to snakes to mosquitoes. My current major project involves turning during sidewinding locomotion, using, of course, sidewinder rattlesnakes (housed at Zoo Atlanta), and I just got back from some preliminary fieldwork/scouting in Yuma, AZ.

    So yeah, those are the highlights. Given the current schedule of updates here, I'll be updating again in about 2 years. ;)
    Monday, May 28th, 2012
    12:56 pm
    Update plus more media stuff
    Well, it's been about 5 months since the whole PE thing, and by and large it's been pretty good, aside from the rat poison pills.

    In the meantime, things have been going well, especially on the academic front. After a few false starts, I got all of the data collection for my 2nd thesis chapter done, and now just have to analyze it (which could and probably will take up to a year, depending on how fast and well I can get 3 different software programs to work together). My 3rd chapter has been much more frustrating, requiring almost 2 years of experiments prior to this to get it working, but now that it *is* working, I'm moving really, really fast. At this rate, I can do 3 species a month, and will quickly reach the point where I'm running out of frogs, which is far better than running out of time to test the frogs I have access to.

    Also, one of my many side-projects is finally out the door: a paper describing the locomotion of brittle stars. Because they're such weird animals, the media picked it up (including Nature, Science, and several non-scientific venues). We made a CreatureCast animation for it here, and I did an interview for Discovery Channel Canada's Daily Planet show (starts at a bit after 3:00) with a colleague of mine who now hosts the show. There's also a hidden bonus in the interview for those of you who're gamer geeks.
    Friday, December 23rd, 2011
    3:11 pm
    Snakes and lungs
    So, a lot's happened since my last update, but the big news consists of two things.

    In my last post, I mentioned that my elderly boa constrictor had stopped eating for an alarmingly long time. Thankfully, after this latest round of vet treatment (including Baytril, anti-parasitics, and tube-feeding him some cat food), he's eating on his own again. So far he's eaten two rats that are quite small for him, and after one more, I'll try moving him onto bigger prey.

    The bad news is that on the night of the 12th, I developed a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in the lungs).

    Back in early November, I had an intense pain in my right calf, consistent with a deep vein thrombosis (DVT, blood clot blocking a vein). I was sent out for a doppler ultrasound, which found nothing, so it was mis-diagnosed as sciatica and I was given painkillers. After a few weeks, the pain was gone, and I thought nothing more of it until the 12th, when I started having chest pains aggravated by breathing. I went to the ER, and after a D-dimer test showed clot products in my blood, I was sent for a CT angiography, which showed clots in my right lung. I was immediately admitted to the hospital and given LMW heparin, a potent anti-coagulant. Over the night, I got poked, prodded and tested in all sorts of ways, and by the next afternoon I was sent home with heparin injections and an Rx for warfarin (formerly used as rat poison). Since then, I've moved entirely onto warfarin, which I'll have to keep taking for anywhere from 3-12 months, depending on the results of genetic testing. There's no identifiable cause, which, while it sounds alarming, isn't that uncommon, and preliminary genetic testing indicates I may have a clotting mutation that's exceedingly common in those of European ancestry.

    As of now, I'm fine, and just have to get blood drawn every few days to check my rat poison levels, so don't worry. Still, not the highlight of my year, that's for sure.
    Wednesday, November 16th, 2011
    1:23 pm
    Woot, publication and attention!
    So, after much analysis, revision etc., I've finally got my first frog paper out in Biology Letters, abstract here, which is fantastic.

    Also, for some unknown reason, this got a lot more media attention than my prior papers on snakes, not that I'm complaining. Brown issued a press release, which also made it to the university's front page, and the media offices of Science picked it up as well (and a variety of smaller outlets through them).

    In other news, science stuff has been going well. I've got another paper ready to send out, and two more in early drafts. I've finally sorted things out with one of my thesis chapters, and I'm highly optimistic about another (largely because I've resorted to a brute-force approach).

    The only downer is that Speckles, my 9 foot boa and my first pet snake, has been very reluctant to feed and is losing weight. We've tried just about everything I can think of, and upon taking him to the vet, they found he has cataracts in both eyes (he is, after all, nearly 19 years old). Tonight we're taking him in again, probably for a force-feeding to at least get something into him before he goes down for the winter. Hopefully it stimulates his appetite.
    Saturday, September 24th, 2011
    5:17 pm
    Siren skeleton
    Years and years ago, I had a pet Greater Siren, an eel-like aquatic salamander with a long body, no hindlimbs, tiny forelimbs, gills and a huge appetite. It was awesome, but then the filter broke while I was literally on the other side of the planet for 3 weeks. After an extended stay in my freezer and a quick trip through the beetle colony, I finished mounting it up.

    Siren skeletonCollapse )
    Sunday, September 11th, 2011
    7:58 pm
    Wednesday, August 17th, 2011
    7:11 am
    Writer's Block: American idol
    What is the one song you must sing at karaoke?

    "Please allow me to introduce myself,
    I'm a man of wealth and taste.
    I've been around for a long, long year,
    Stole many a man's soul and faith..."
    Sunday, August 7th, 2011
    9:10 pm
    The week of suck.
    I should have known better than to post my last entry, because the last week was just terrible (at least as far as work).

    On Monday, my muscle-tendon prep, which I thought was *finally* working, failed. I'm pretty sure I know why, and have an idea of how to fix it, but it was immensely frustrating for it to fail just when I thought I had it working.

    On Tuesday, the actual experiment (a rat muscle prep for a side-project) worked fine, but I found out that I can't order any small toads because the only commercially available species is the *one* we don't have on our approved species list. Not a huge problem, but annoying. Anyhow, the amendment is submitted, so hopefully I can order soon.

    On Wednesday, my custom force-plate malfunctioned, and I had to spend about 3 hours sorting it out, but it's mostly fixed now.

    On Thursday, I found out that my X-ray video from my second chapter was unusable due to a combination of imaging properties and the tiny, poorly calcified bones. This, unfortunately, is much more difficult to fix - I either need to figure out a way of making Cuban tree frogs work for this project, or use a different species.

    Friday I did some quick image testing in the Xray facility, which helped a bit - there is a set of imaging parameters that work, but reduce the time I have to get the frog to jump from 4 seconds to 2 seconds, and I definitely need to do surgery to implant a bead.

    But, that's how science is - this coming week, I'll try to fix both issues while waiting for the IACUC committee to approve a few new species. I've still got two years to go, but I am worried about getting enough preliminary results for the abstract deadline of my favorite conference (due Sept. 9th). Fingers crossed, something will work by then, and I have a few backup plans.
    Friday, July 29th, 2011
    3:10 pm
    Things have been going surprisingly well, science-wise, so I figured I should do an update.

    As far as side projects go, the brittle star paper is on a colleague's desk for review, the Calaveras paper is on my adviser's desk for review, and my undergrad is revising the springy perch paper. I've put the frog-jumping simulation aside for the moment, mostly so I can focus on other things, but also because I can't actually publish it until someone else publishes *their* results, which could be a while. The rat project is progressing nicely, in spite of some difficulties in getting everything to work properly, but a long-time colleague is taking the lead on that, so it's not super-pressing for me. I've also got a potential project involving some cross-genus snake hybrids, but we've really not done much, and should probably get our butts in gear if we want to get IACUC approval before hatching season.

    I've actually hit major milestones in all three of my thesis chapters within the past few weeks. I just submitted the first chapter to a high-level journal, and I'm quite optimistic. The second chapter's first experiment went well, and I'm about to start data processing after being stuck for 2 weeks waiting for a micro-CT-scan.

    Most importantly, I've finally had success in my third chapter's experiment. Basically, the project involves doing a series of tests and measurements on a wide variety of frog species showing both independent convergence on similar forms / locomotor modes and divergences from closely related species, with a goal of examining the evolution of jumping (and, more specifically, the rates of evolution of various underlying physiological traits).

    The power of this experiment is that I'll be doing exactly the same tests and measurements on every species. Unfortunately, this means that I have to get every aspect of the methodology nailed down before I can even start, and with 23 species in the planned experiment and (hopefully) only two years left in my degree, time was getting short. Last week, if preliminary data proves correct, I finally got the last piece of the puzzle, the final bit of methodology that had been thwarting me for months.

    Now, off to do data processing!
    Tuesday, June 28th, 2011
    11:09 pm
    Lrr, Ruler of Omnicron Persei 8!

    This is Lrr, our newest family member, a "fantasy" Pac-man frog. Basically, he's a mouth with a frog attached, and will get big enough to eat adult mice.

    This genus of frogs (Ceratophrys) is my favorite of all. Unfortunately, my very favorite species, the most beautiful and impressive, has a habit of dropping dead for no apparent reason in captivity, while the hardy species look like turds with mouths. So someone hybridized the pretty, difficult species with the hardy ugly one and got the best of both worlds, the "fantasy frog". Yes, they are sterile.

    Nothing much else to report, but had a great pre-anniversary trip to the White Mountains in NH (it'd be too hot on our real anniversary).
    Sunday, June 5th, 2011
    6:15 pm
    New LJ names?
    Ok, so it's definitely time for a new online handle. A few ideas:

    Barbaratus lateralis (pseudolatin for side-beard)
    Archosaurus barbaratus (for 'bearded archosaur')
    Barbaratus herpetologia (on the other hand, there's a lot of herpetologists with beards)
    Some variant of the above using 'barbarolateralis' as a fused pseudolatin for sideburns. May be too long for some places.

    Malar beard
    Dread Pirate Side-beard (or some variant thereof)
    BiomechanicalSnake (or taxonomical variants thereof)
    SarcomericSnake (sarcomeres are the functional unit of muscles)
    Sarcomeric Sideburns

    What do y'all think? One possibility is that I could just pick the best few and use them in different places as desired, but I still like the idea of having a reasonably consistent handle.
    Tuesday, April 5th, 2011
    10:56 pm
    Another sporadic update - possible name change
    Things have been going well since the last update, though I've already failed one of my New Year's resolutions (not to accumulate more side-projected - I'm up to 7, but I'm not lead on 3 of them, and another is just mathematical modeling). Actual thesis work has been mixed - I've been stalled for lack of animals on one project, but I'm several months ahead of schedule on another, so it all works out. I'm also at the point where I'm nearly ready to submit one paper, I've sent another out for feedback from the lab group, and I'm starting the lit search on the third.

    In other news, I'm thinking of changing my LJ username, and in general retiring "mokele". I've been using it for over 10 years at this point, and it just doesn't seem to fit anymore, as well as conveying a highly inaccurate impression of my views on "cryptids" such as the namesake.

    Unfortunately, coming up with a replacement has been rather difficult. There's no single species or genus that I'm drawn to enough to adopt its scientific name, and I'd feel weird using many other scientific terms since I'm familiar with them as they're meant to be used.

    Most of my ideas revolve around the intersection of my defining physical feature (my sideburns) and my overwhelming obsession (biology/herpetology), such as "scideburns" or "malar_beard" or somesuch.

    Thoughts? Suggestions?
    Saturday, March 26th, 2011
    10:44 pm
    Leopard Gecko skeleton
    I finally finished mounting my leopard gecko skeleton!

    pics belowCollapse )

    A few of the toes went missing during skeletonization, but I was still able to keep most of them. You can see the hyoid underneath the skull, probably my favorite bone. It's derived from embryonic gill arches, and supports the tongue. Humans have a much more boring one. It connects to the trachea, and you can see the tracheal rings.
    Tuesday, March 8th, 2011
    1:45 pm
    Writer's Block: Toys in the attic
    Did you have a favorite toy as a child that you took with you everywhere? If so, what was it and what happened to it?

    Other kids carried around a doll or blanket.

    I carried around a Rancor monster.

    Yes, the giant monster under Jabba's palace that he tries to feed Luke to in Return of the Jedi. Specifically, the almost foot-tall toy Rancor from the original Kenner toy line.

    I loved that Rancor, and carried it with me everywhere through a good chunk of my childhood. I still have it, back at my folk's place. I'd consider it pretty revealing about myself, for two reasons. First, I suspect it set up some of my early monster preferences - I've always liked ape-style monsters with long forelimbs and small hindlimbs, regardless of whether they're mammals or not. Second, it shows what I consider to be a fundamental aspect of my personality - my immediate love of creatures others consider bizarre, ugly, monstrous or otherwise terrifying. In many ways, I'm the real-world Hagrid - big, hairy, and drawn to creatures feared by most others.
    Sunday, February 13th, 2011
    12:43 pm
    Bitey face

    That's our foster greyhound, Sweetpea (the little black one), playing with our greyhound, Peyton (the large brindle one). They just *love* running around after each other in the yard, even with all the snow and ice. Peyton doesn't chase Sweetpea as she runs but rather lunges from strategic positions, probably because of his bad back leg (the break that ended his racing career and just never properly healed). The muzzles are just on because, like most dogs, they like to play-nip, but they have very thin skin. Plus, a play-nip is a lot more severe when delivered at 45 mph.
    Friday, February 4th, 2011
    10:36 pm
    Thursday, January 13th, 2011
    1:27 pm
    SICB '11 and stuff
    As usual, it's been a while since my last update and a fair bit has happened since.

    After passing quals, I immediately went out and got some Popeye's fried chicken and Starcraft 2 to celebrate. During the entire Thanksgiving break, I did little else aside from relaxing, playing SC2 (AWESOME game), and devouring turkey.

    The time between Thanksgiving and Xmas was mostly dedicated to getting a variety of smaller things done around lab, writing up my first thesis chapter for publication (still in revisions), and preparing for the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB, pronounced "sick-bee") during the first week of January.

    Greedmas was great, and I got lots of great stuff from Gemma and my family, including food, DVDs, shirts, fun odds and ends like magnetic toys, and best of all, both Gemma and I got iPads! They're pretty nice, though I have to be careful not to use it at the wrong angle or my neck aches. Definitely great for storing my papers and suchlike, and the Hungry Shark game is pretty fun. We had a massive snowstorm the day after Xmas, but since Xmas dinner was a 17lb turkey, we had plenty of leftovers.

    After that was SICB, which was great. I was not only a session chair (not as important as it sounds - I basically announced the speakers and kept time), but I was presenting my brittle star locomotion work I did in Belize. Basically, this is the first single-author work I've ever done - all of my other work has been produced with close collaboration of an adviser, so while it's still "mine", this brittle star work is my first truly 100% solo project. Needless to say, I was quite nervous about presenting it at what is essentially the "big conference" for my field, but it was very well received and I got lots of interesting questions. In other good news, I might have a data-exchange with another scientist - we're both doing inverse dynamics on frog jumps, but he's interested in bone strain and I'm interested in catch mechanisms, so we can each use the same data for different things, and since we're working on different species we each expand our dataset from the other's work.

    Now I'm back, buried in snow again, and back to work revising the manuscript and plotting the next series of experiments. I'm gonna give summer meetings a miss this year, which will help get more stuff done for next SICB. Right now, my new year's resolution is to get these 3 manuscripts out the door, make good progress on my thesis work, and at least *try* not to accumulate any more side-projects (right now I have as many side-projects as thesis projects, and I may have 2 more in the pipeline).

    So yeah, good times, lots of fun work, and new gizmos to play with.
    Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010
    3:36 pm
    I passed my quals*!

    Now it's just 2-3 more years and some extremely ambitious experiments left to do.

    *AKA "comps" or "candidacy exam" - a massive exam early in the 3rd year of a PhD, spanning pretty much everything in biology - failing it means you get kicked out of the program, passing it means you'll probably pass defense unless something goes catastrophically wrong.
    Sunday, August 29th, 2010
    12:46 pm
    Long overdue update
    So, it's been a while, and a lot's happened, good and bad.

    In bad news, Crunchbite the frog died, for reasons that are still unclear (I haven't done a necropsy yet, as I've just been too busy). The only thing I can think of is that he was just a dud - lots of baby frogs just never make it due to developmental oddities, etc. Anyway, between that and the fucktons of work I'm doing, I'm taking a break from new critters.

    In much better news, Gemma and I treated outselves to a long weekend in Martha's Vinyard, which was wonderful. We got a room at a lovely old Bed & Breakfast, lounged around in the rocking chairs reading, ate tremendous amounts of seafood, and did some snorkeling.

    Unfortunately, things started sucking literally the moment we got back. I started feeling a bit crappy on the ferry and drive home, and quickly deteriorated into full-blown flu. Sleep helped a bit, but we still had to drive 50 minutes in each direction the next day to pick up the dogs from the kennel, whereupon we found out that the foster dog had somehow cut himself on their fencing and these dipshits hadn't taken him to the vet. Unfortunately, Gemma can't drive on US interstates, so this left me doing various dog-repair-errands over the next few days, even while sick. Finally, the vet had to put him under to stitch the wound (it was *that* extensive), and he wound up wearing one of those damned collars for 3 weeks. The useless kennel never admitted that a 5-inch gash is cause for a vet visit, and while they refunded the cost of his stay, they didn't refund the cost of the surgery. We didn't have to pay, since he's a foster dog, but the group is still out ~$300. Stingy bastards.

    After that, it was right back into the swing of things with work, specifically with a American Society of Biomechanics meeting, which Tom was one of the hosts for. It was fun, but very busy.

    More importantly, I've got quals coming up soon. For those that don't know, quals are basically the uber-exam of your academic career. Once you get in to a PhD program, you have ~2 years to take courses, read, do preliminary work, etc. before you have to put together a thesis proposal. What follows is a half-hour presentation, then a 3-hour interrogation on every aspect of the proposed work and, more broadly, your entire knowledge of biology and science, with the goal of pushing you to the very limits of your knowledge. If it's judged to be not enough, you fail, and have to take remidial courses and prepare again. If you fail the second time, you're kicked out of the PhD program. Period, no appeals, no consolation prize, just a boot in the ass. So pretty high-stakes.

    Now, I'm very confident I'll pass, but I still have to do all the work and put my best effort forth, so I'm doing a fuckton of writing and reading in preparation. I'm *also* finishing up 2 major projects and a side project at the same time, so loads of work.

    Oh, and last but not least, my work appeared in the media after my Herp conference presentation:
    Tuesday, July 13th, 2010
    3:34 pm
    Prague / SEB
    About 2 weeks ago, I left for the annual Society for Experimental Biology conference in Prague, along with my sister, who badly wanted to visit the city. Mostly I just stayed in the hotel for the conference, as is typical, but I got to go out a few times before and after the conference, including to the Sedlec Ossuary, aka The Bone Church.

    prague photosCollapse )
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