Posted by: unlikelygrad | May 21, 2011

the phases of the moon

I may have mentioned before that my primary analytical instrument is very, very old; it predates Dr. Hand-Waver’s tenure at MyU. (She was tenured at another institution before she came to MyU and managed to bring a lot of her equipment with her.) How old is it? Well, it connects to a computer by serial port, so it most be pretty old.

Because this instrument is so old, things frequently go wrong with it. Over the last year or so I have learned much about its vagaries and have created a troubleshooting sheet which is now conveniently posted on the wall nearby (for DannyBoy, who doesn’t know how to fix it as well as I do). For example: “If you are getting negative peaks…check [one reagent] to see if it has gone bad.”

But sometimes it doesn’t work right, even accounting for all the things that go wrong on a regular basis. Sometimes it will be flaky for days on end (with my baseline levels fluctuating by 20% from one reading to another), and then–without my doing anything differently at all–it will suddenly start working like a dream (with readings only fluctuating by 2%).

As you can imagine, I get very frustrated by this. Very very frustrated. But since there’s really nothing I can do about it, I joke about it. One of my more common jokes is that it only works at certain phases of the moon.

Ideally, we would just replace the thing, but Dr. Hand-Waver never seems to write money for equipment into her grants. So I just get angry at it and threaten to toss it out the window if it doesn’t behave, etc., and wait for the moon’s phase to change so I can start getting reasonable data again.

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