Catching Up

It’s been several weeks since I’ve had time to just sit down and write!  Seems like between work, vacations, and social events I just haven’t been home with nothing to do but talk to you guys in quite some time!

I thought maybe I’d just catch you up on a few things that have been happened recently!  

First things first, The Engineer survived his first long distance, week long vacation with Momma Mishappenings and my Sister!  We took him to what might be our favorite vacation destination….Colonial Williamsburg!

Williamsburg really is one of my favorite places.  The smell of boxwood shrubs and gingerbread cookies fills the air and oyster shells give a particular crunch under foot that can’t be created or mimicked by anything else.  Don’t even get me started about the magnolia trees.  I can technically plant a magnolia tree here, but they aren’t the same variety as those large southern plantation magnolias that have come to be a system of southern living.

While in Williamsburg we made a day trip to Monticello.  In all our trips to Williamsburg, I’ve been maybe 13 times…..we’ve never been to Monticello.  Sometimes it’s discussed, but we always just end up staying the extra day in Colonial Williamsburg.  While the house and lawns were impressive, I have to say the tour left some things to be desired.  Tour groups run continuously at 10 minute intervals….so they really have to rush you through the house.  It’s hard to take in all the furnishings of the rooms or see all the custom architecture, and there really isn’t even time to ask questions.  While I’m sure the gardens are lovely in the Spring and Summer, fall trips to Monticello’s extensive gardens are a bit lack luster.  I can’t say that I regret going, but I’m also not sure that I would recommend the visit….if that makes sense.

We also celebrated The Engineer’s birthday last week!  It really did turn into a week long celebration, mostly because I managed to snag us tickets to a 4 course Beer and Dinner pairing at one of the boujee-ier restaurants in town.  You know you’ve had a good night of eating when the dessert course was the least impressive of all the courses!

Smoked scottish ale and a porkchop on a bed of parsnip puree….yes please!

We took Friday off work to scout some public land for turkey and pheasant. We found both, but unfortunately the turkeys waddled through a thick windbreak into a private field, and the only pheasants we flushed up were hens.  Never the less it was fun spending the day driving around and trudging around all the land that’s open to the public.  I do love me a good trudge!  I’m really not much for blaze orange, but now I have a hat and sweet matching vest.  Safe to say I think I’ll mostly stick to turkey hunting so I can leave the neon colors at home!

Birthday week wrapped up with maybe the worst decision I’ve made in a long time.  

In early September I found out that The Engineer’s alma mater was playing a rivalry game on his birthday weekend.  I got really excited and snagged 2 tickets.  I know how he feels about football, and how he feels about being a Jackrabbit, and I thought it would be a fun birthday surprise!

Ahhhh, inside drinking beers before we were forced onto the frozen tundra.

What I failed to consider when buying the tickets, was the drastic change in temperature that occurs in South Dakota between September and mid-November.  

IT WAS FREEZING!

I don’t know that I could tell you the last time I felt that cold.  We were sorta okay until halftime. Two blankets, hot chocolates, and a pretty eventful game kept us going until the action stopped…every minute from halftime through the 3rd quarter felt like hours.  Minutes move much slower in frozen toe time as it turns out.  By the time we left the stadium and checked the weather from the relative warmth of the un-started car, The Weather Channel informed us it was 10 degrees and felt like -1 due to wind.  Even with the seat warmers on high for the hour drive, my booty was still an ice cube when we got home!

Never again will I buy tickets to an event in an outdoor stadium anytime after Halloween!

This was before our faces felt like they were going to crack and fall off!

Lab Queries: What to Do When Things Go Wrong

I’m sure you’ll all be happy to know that this week on the blog we are leaving calibration curves and math behind us!

Don’t worry, if you still have questions about instrument calibrations, or a new issue arises in your lab, I’m always here to help you address those.  In talking to some of you at FELC a few weeks ago, the issue of troubleshooting came up a few times.  I know this can be a hard topic and really digging into a broken instrument can be an intimidating idea for some people.  But I’m going to let you in on a secret….it’s maybe one of my favorite activities to do!

I’m weird….I know…..I’ve accepted it and moved on. 😊

What to Do When Things Go Wrong

We’ve all had that moment….we started samples on an instrument, left for the night expecting to come back in the morning to a nice, completed data set, and return to find that our instrument malfunctioned!  Now results are behind schedule and you have the added issue of an instrument that just refuses to cooperate.

squirrel

Troubleshooting can be a frustrating and tricky activity to complete, especially because instruments never break at convenient times.  If I had a dollar for every time an instrument broke when I had rush samples to do, I wouldn’t have to work anymore!  But, because instruments will always continue to break, and I need to keep my job, I thought I’d fill you in on some of my favorite troubleshooting tips.

  • Follow the Path

A good way to make sure you don’t overlook any parts of your instrument is to start at one end of the instrument and follow the sample path through to the other end.  It’s easy to jump from place to place first, maybe checking your sample loop before jumping up to check your eluent filters.  Odds are that you’ll over look something, and your issue will be in the place you over look.  Following the path helps ensure that you give every section of you instrument it’s due investigation.

  • The Tubing Checker

One of my new favorite troubleshooting tools is a spare autosampler syringe!  When I need to troubleshoot one of my instruments with a large amount of tubing, I’ve found that using the syringe to carefully inject DI water into each section of tubing is a quick and easy way to look for the source of the problem.  Maybe a section of tubing is plugged, maybe it’s cracked, maybe there’s a dust bunny lodged in the end (true life this has happened to my IC!!)  It’s so hard to tell sometimes by just eyeballing the sections, but this technique has yet to fail me!

  • Look Beyond the Science

Sometimes the source of an instrument issue isn’t related to the “science-y” components we would typically focus on.  Sometimes exhaust fans wear out or autosampler screws fall out or sheer off.  Don’t be afraid to look into the more mechanical parts of your instruments.  Think of them as support systems.  If your autosampler syringe housing is loose and wobbly because a screw is loose, maybe the syringe isn’t being held firm enough to puncture the vials.  If you’re lucky, your instrument will be smarter than you.  Sometimes the software might notice that something is wrong and stop the analysis run.  If it’s not….you’ll come back to a broken syringe plus a lack of data.

screw

If you have any fun or interesting troubleshooting tricks that have never steered you wrong let me know!  I’m always on the hunt for new ideas, and if I get enough, we might do a part 2 later.  Having as many tools in your troubleshooting tool belt as possible is so beneficial, and it’s one of the areas that we should all constantly be striving to improve.