Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Garlic Munchers

6 hamburger bun halves (or however many will fit on your baking tray)
2 medium garlic cloves (or use garlic powder)
1 medium tomato

Lay out the hamburger bun halves face up on a baking tray. Butter them and top them with crushed or chopped garlic. Stack a slice of tomato and a slice of cheese on each face. Other toppings such as avocado or spreadable lunch meat could be added to the stack. Bake for 10 minutes at 400 F or until toasted.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Fun with Experiment Setup

I began work this week in the medicinal plants lab I'm a part of. To get back into the swing of things after a year away, I started simple with an MIC-- a test that determines how much of a chemical it takes to kill 50% of a population of organisms (in this case bacteria). It's a delicate but repetitive process and accuracy is key.

The experiment I was setting up today took about an hour and a half of measuring, calculating, and mixing liquids in a 96-well plate. I worked row by row, going slowly because measurements need to be accurate to a hundredth of a microliter but also because I'm not very fast with micropipettes in general. At last, everything was set up; I measured the optical density of the wells, prepped the plate to be incubated, and then accidentally dropped it on the floor.

I wasn't sure whether I should be upset at the waste of work or if I should just be worried that a broth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria had gotten on my shoes. I certainly had time to think about it as I set up a new plate. In the end, I was happy with the comedic timing of it all and content that my shoes were sterile after treatments of ethanol, bleach, and hot water. Hard work and fixable complications make a good start to the year.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Over-the-top Advertising

I was looking to buy a can opener on Amazon and I found an $8 model that looked like what I wanted. There was, however, something off-putting about the product description. Instead of a simple "It opens cans," which was really all I wanted, it advertised:
"High quality parts will last for years"
"Hanging hooks for convenient storage"
"Sharp cutting disc effortlessly cut the sturdiest can"
"Beautiful design to complement kitchen decor"
"Made for Seniors and people with hand mobility issues"
"Perfect gift for wedding, bridal shower, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and birthday"

Instead of the standard 1 or 2 product images, there were 5 pictures showing the can opener from different angles, and even a picture of it opening a can as if to prove it can really do it. Also, the $8 price was actually an 80% discount from the previously listed $40 price, which smells less like a once-in-a-lifetime deal and more like an inventory that really needs selling.

When in doubt on Amazon, I usually look at the reviews to see what's up, and they told the same story as the rest of the page. The can opener had a 4 star average rating, split between a multitude of 5 star ratings (from people whose openers didn't break) and a large minority of 1 star ratings (from people whose openers did break). I suspect that a lot of the 5 star revies were paid for: they have the telltale signs of emphasizing selling points (I am an old person and the large knob made this opener easy to turn and it cut through cans like butter), saying it has no cons (having all 5 star and few 4 star reviews is suspicious), and finally an eerie similarity between many reviews.

I could, of course, be misreading the situation, but one of the things I learned during my summer as a freelance writer is that many online product descriptions and reviews are written by poorly-paid people who have never used the product or anything like it, and are instead given a list of selling points and a word count to fill out. I, for example, wrote reviews of the top selling compound bows on Amazon and didn't even get paid because I used the phrase "compound bow" too many times (it throws off SEO). In the case of this can opener, I would be willing to spend $8 on an openly mediocre product that just opened all of my cans and then broke after a year, but with the sketchy descriptions and reviews of this opener, it's not worth the risk.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Laundry in a Bucket

My apartment for this year has many amenities, but laundry hookups are not among them. A nearby laundromat offers wash and fold services at $1.40 per pound, but I remembered vaguely from history books and from childhood in the village that it is theoretically possible to do laundry by hand. A bit of research and experimentation landed me with this method:

1 bucket
1 plunger
1 bottle dishwashing liquid
20 feet of clothesline
Clothespins to taste

Cut several small holes in the rubber part of the plunger so that water can run through. Put clothes in the bucket, fill it with water, and add a spoonful of dishwashing liquid. Plunge up and down and stir the clothes from side to side for about 5 minutes; this produces a similar agitation to washing machines, washboards, and beating clothes on rocks by the riverside. Pour out the soapy water and fill the bucket with new water to rinse. Plunge and stir for another 5 minutes. Pour out the water, wring out the clothes, and put them on the line to dry.

This method still has to be optimized, and isn't great for large loads of laundry, but I'm hoping it will keep my laundromat expenses modest through the year. It's also nice to be able to use the balcony for something, and nothing looks more homely than lines of drying laundry.

IRS Transcript Sonnet

How do I get an IRS transcript?
Let me count the ways, for this one task
Most baffling yet remains by Em'ry's ask
Else all financial offers will be stripped
To use the FAFSA widget would be nice
But errors ever plague the address field
On all online attempts, the cause concealed
Alas that foreign equals imprecise
All phone calls to the IRS expire
Amongst robotic menus without end
The four-five-o-six-T form sent by wire
Did not the transcript situation mend
A finish is in sight, but my desire
To be a future donor scarce ascends

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Fun With Customer Service

Over the past couple weeks, I've been in contact with several companies to set things up for my last year of college. There's been a lot of phoning and emailing and some meeting in person, and while customer service politeness has been pretty even across the board, helpfulness has been a real rollercoaster between companies.

The natural gas company was by far the best-- when an online application failed to go through, I gave them a call. In addition to processing the application for me, they explained my options for the coming year, how natural gas distribution works in Atlanta, and what to expect in fees and service over the next few weeks.

A problem with my bank's website led to a 40 minute phone call where the person on the other end very much attempted to be helpful, but we could never get past the point where the buttons present on his screen were absent from my screen. I was trying to wire money internationally to St Peter's College where I studied for the past year, but the phone call ended with the bank representative promising to get IT to fix the website.

The St Peter's financial office was really great to work with; after a few weeks of emailing I worked out with them that I could pay my bill internationally by buying a meal plan from the college cafeteria. The mindset at St Peter's seemed to be that a student's main source of stress should be their studies, not finances or other logistics.

With no laundry hookups in my apartment, I decided to test out a local laundromat where you deposit your clothes in lockers and they are returned clean in a couple days. It's a sleek facility and I set up an account and delivered my first order with zero human interaction. About half an hour later, I got a call from a customer service rep to confirm my order and to answer any questions I had starting out. It was a nice gesture.

My recent visits to the Emory Financial Aid office have been illuminating in their own way, but I can't help but feel that some of the problem-solving flexibility that comes with human customer service has been lacking. When I run into problems with online forms, I'm referred to the same forms to find a solution for myself. In a way, I suppose, it makes sense because I'm hoping to receive money from Emory Financial Aid while I'm paying money to all the other companies I mention here.

In summary, thanks to customer service, I feel at the moment a great deal of goodwill towards my natural gas provider and varying degrees of satisfaction and frustration towards the many other companies and financial institutions that are a part of living life on the grid.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Purchasing Incentives

I've just moved into an unfurnished apartment and am now going about the business of filling it with necessary apartment things, prioritized by level of necessity. I got paper towels and such yesterday evening, and was looking into buying a mattress and some sheets some time in the next week or so. However, after spending the night in a sleeping bag on the floor, the first thing I did this morning was order an airbed on Amazon to get me through the next few days. Same-day shipping, even on weekends, seems to be an affordable option on many airbeds, which is greatly appreciated by me and, I suspect, many others who have at the last moment discovered that the 'hard' in 'hardwood floors' is not a linguistic coincidence.