DunnyBrushFinal

Weapon of choice or object of a tale.

Weapon of choice or object of a tale.

The Lair is welcoming contributions from those with an Australian freshwater fish bent. We are chasing written pieces of two types: short format (less than 301 words not including title) and long-winded (600–1000 words not including title or references). Participants should inform us of a thing they use in fish ecology by penning a potentially interesting tale. The centre of the written piece might be a piece of field sampling equipment (perhaps a type of net, a vehicle, a tool, a hat), a piece of office equipment (e.g. laptop, stress ball, quill, coffee mug), laboratory apparatus (e.g. pipette, stereo-microscope, DNA sequencer) or aquaculture and aquaria stuff (e.g. air bubbler, auto-feeder, trickle filter). Be creative, funny or serious. We would really like to hear from a range of practitioners including geneticists, aquaculturists, behavioural biologists, policy makers, environmental and fisheries managers, and genuine hybrids. Diversity is the rice of strife.

A short format entry should be accompanied by an image. A lengthier piece requires one or two images. One and a half images will not be accepted. Personal anecdotes are encouraged but not essential. Please provide an authentic author name and residential town or city of current occupancy. All tasteful entries will be posted on the Lair.

The prize you ask: one of the first Moray’s Lair T-shirts (in a realistic size of the winner’s choice). Entries for the short format section should be sent to Allswell and long format to Ebb (see ‘Faces’ pages for email addresses). Closing date is midnight 16 November 2014. Judges decision is final, however, complaints and post competition feedback has the potential to be fodder for the website.

Below is an example of a short format essay:

The Dunny Brush

by Allswell (Canberra)

That’s right. That embarrassing tool used to banish skid marks to the dark side of the S-bend would have to be one of my favourite bits of scientific equipment. And no, that is not a direct reference to the quality of my research.

During my PhD study I maintained 68 fish tanks of varying sizes housing happy populations of moggies (Mogurnda adspersa) and rainbows (Melanotaenia splendida). These fish were kept in tip-top condition to induce them to ‘get jiggy with it’ on a regular basis; the powerhouse of offspring for my experiments.

But keeping these fish happy was no trivial matter. Their diet consisted of liberal amounts of barramundi pellets (55% protein) and raw prawns. Combine that with soft Canberra water supply and it meant that tank cleaning was near daily chore. Apparently, excessive nutrient build up in the tanks would result in acidic conditions, sending my fish into dark and unhappy headspaces, and warranted rapid water changes and endless scrubbing and washing of gravel substrate before restarting a tank – only to redo 4 weeks later.

Danswell scrubbing tanksReduced2

Morning cleaning at the Mogurnda Motel 

The dunny brush was key. I tried many different cleaning implements, but none were as ‘tough on stains’ (read: algae) as the dunny brush. For instance, sponges made reaching the back of tanks too difficult. Continually scrubbing took its toll on the skin of my fingers due to long hours in contact with fish food and tank water. Gloves were so inconvenient it was easier just to put up with the peeling. On the upside, it gave me something to pick at while procrastinating.

I digress. My advice for all newcomers to the insane world of breeding fish in bulk – get a dunny brush.

 

Below is an example of a long format essay:

Whiteboard

by Ebb (Mareeba)

When I die, or at least when I am sacked or retire from this field of research, I want my few closest colleagues to remember how much I loved them. Loved the whiteboards that is. I have had many such lovers.

The whiteboard is a space-time continuum beyond which the computer screen is yet to surpass. It is old school to the younger generation of scientist, but retro to the likes of my cohort. I must confess to having mainly been exposed to an inferior predecessor to the whiteboard, the chalkboard, as a primary and high school student. Some feel as to why I have a negative and visceral reaction to the primitive chalkboard can be gleaned from the unforgettable scene where steely-eyed Quint (the ship captain played by Robert Shaw) drags his salty fingernails down the blackboard in Jaws I (a 1975 film). In school, the screech of chalk on a blackboard was only second to expended Band-Aids on the bottom of a swimming pool as my greatest fear. And to be fair, people swim with sharks everyday. They talk about them, and that is healthy. People don’t talk about swimming with Band-Aids, let alone swimming with used Band-Aids. Some things are so terrifying they are rarely if ever discussed. The West Australian government should cull near shore Band-Aids.

For a techno-dinosaur, I was surprisingly quick to jump on the PC tablet equipped with drawing stylus early in its inception, partly because I love to draw. Frankly however, it has not the touch, traction, finesse nor feel of more primitive options. The whiteboard takes its rightful place in recent history wedged between the blackboard and the computer tablet.

In terms of big-ticket items my office is part turkey’s nest, part computer and part whiteboard. The whiteboard performs three roles. One is for basic lists and reminders. For those of us that are perfectly disorganised this function is nontrivial. Even the organised such as Iain Ellis give this function the thumbs up.

Two is for enabling my personal thinking and conceptualisation. Most commonly the whiteboard carries some words linked with a smattering of arrows or lines in webs or a hierarchy. Sometimes it is just a huddle of words. Words that are topics, questions or points meant to jog thoughts. These word combinations play out in my mind, evolving, else fading away and eventually meeting spray and wipe. Three, is well, a little less easily described. For it is where golf ends and team sport begins.

For me, the third and real strength of whiteboards is that they are venues for some of the most successful scientific communication that I have been fortunate to experience. Sure these venues have also bared witness to unfruitful moments. Yet I would argue this is often where clarity has exposed layers of complexity that I and other members of the team had not properly appreciated. Rather than bore you with endless detail I’ll offer a little of each extreme: the hard luck and the triumphant.

Perhaps the best example I can recall from the unsuccessful whiteboard, was working in a group of four at the ACT Government when we would brainstorm in the meeting room inevitably using a large electronic whiteboard. There were several wins in that environment for the nucleus of a young and upcoming team. However it took a slow learning Ebner to realise after nearly a year that one of the members of the team simply did not work well with whiteboards, while the other three did. A hard lesson learned. Just because I love a whiteboard, doesn’t mean we all love a whiteboard.

EbnerWhiteboardDSC_0709

At home on the whiteboard 

Positive experiences with teams using the whiteboard have been far more common for me. In fact I could literally bore you silly with some of my favourite science moments being based around conversations and debates facilitated by whiteboards. Ben Broadhurst and I once constructed a home on a whiteboard over a few days. There are three whiteboards in my aquarium room shed. Two of these are vertical surfaces.

Perhaps my favourite whiteboard is a smallish-medium sized pain in Chris Fulton’s office at ANU. A couple of my colleagues have spewed thinking at that board. I also visit there occasionally and sometimes just leave marks of confusion and ideas half-baked. The custodian of that board never fails to steer me truer, progressing the line of thought. Somehow minds can join to some extent from that board; and smarter people than me have maybe even gained a little from my noggin at that interface.

So, black pen, blue pen, red pen and at times green. If possible a thin-tip black pen is my weapon of choice because it enables little subplots or ideas to be captured in an ever-filling car park. And in all seriousness what makes whiteboards special is that they facilitate the clarification of a common image having provided a haven where mistakes can be made and erased.

Bibliography

Benchley P. (1974). Jaws. Doubleday & Company Inc., New York. (311 pages)

Walny, J. Carpendale, S, Riche, N. H., Venolia, G. and Fawcett, P. (2011). “Visual thinking in action: visualizations as used on whiteboards,” IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics 17(12), 2508–2517.

Ju, W., Lee, B. A. and Klemmer, S. R. (2008). Range: exploring implicit inter-action through electronic whiteboard design. In Proceedings of CSCW 2008, pages 17–26. ACM, 2008.