17 December 2007

My favorite kind of warning sign

Seen on the office door of one of the faculty:
(click to read.)

One of the biggest hazards of doing science in the field is tampering and theft by random passersby. It never helps to explain anything in the hopes that people will just nod along and leave things alone. Trickery and camouflage tend to work better. When I was in grad school helping a fellow student do some research with shorebirds, they had a box of tracking equipment that had to just sit out in the middle of an island. It was surrounded by a useless but official looking fence and plastered with "Warning: High Voltage" signs. Seemed to work pretty well.

And perhaps humor works well too. ;) The above sign, which is probably also out in the field attached to some electronic equipment too heavy to steal, reminds me of the birdwatcher's box.


Megadeus said...

It reminds me of a tip I read in a book once.

In order to keep her jug of milk to herself in a community fridge, the protagonist labeled it "Milk EXPERIMENT" and everyone left it alone, afraid of what the experiment might have entailed.

John the Scientist said...

That brings back the worst memories of grad school. Huge, Huge, HUGE pet peeves.

1. People using the solvent bottles and not refilling them.

2. People dirtying equipment and not cleaning it up.

3. People not re-ordering stocks when they use the last one. (or just making a trip to the stockroom for in-stock items)

4. People not checking the gas in the cylinders, making you go replace an N2 or and Ar cylinder right as you were starting an experiment because the gas supply ran out on you after 10 minutes.

5. People not cleaning out the chemicals refrigerator, leaving me to clean the thing monthly of used protein samples that were frost-bitten and covered in "snow".

6. People taking valuable equipment pieces and not returning them to the communal holding areas. (We were a spectroscopy lab except for my little sub-group. You had to sign up for laser time. Many is the time the wife went hunting for the allen wrenches that worked the mini-stands that held the optical components in place, until I got her a personal set for Christmas. We still have it.)

7. People breaking stuff such as expensive quartz lenses and not saying anything until the next experimenter discovers it. "No wonder you were getting lousy throughput, dipshit, there's a big old crack in the quartz lens."

8. People doping stupid stuff to equipment after you told them not to. One dude kept putting teflon tape on gas-line ferrules. The whole point of a metal ferrule is to let the soft brass make the seal as you tighten the screw. Teflon tape totally destroys the utility of a ferrule. Our USMC reservist in the lab almost killed him when he discovered that he'd done it a third time after being warned twice.

10. People who pick their nose while working on the lab computers. Honest-to-God, this happened. Mainland Chinese. I told my wife to deal with it. "They're you're countrymen", I said. "They're not my countrymen. They're peasants. And Communists," she replied. Needles to say, I got to have that surreal conversation with the boss (showing him a booger on the "e" key). I lost it when I saw his look of horror. He eventually found it funny, too, but YUCK.

MWT said...

Heh. Suddenly I'm glad that the vast majority of my grad school research was fieldwork, and the labwork was all done either in labs controlled by one person, or with equipment only I was using.

My coworker talks about the nightmares of communal labs all the time though. Apparently there are some repeat offenders from another lab who do much as you describe, all the time, with the added bonus that he has to train their students and new staff how to use the lab because their own lab leads are too lazy to learn.

Jeri said...

One of the more annoying managers at my office used to post this sign:

"Please Do Not Disturb Unless It's Urgent. If you feel it is essential to talk to me, slip a $20 under the door. If I agree with you, I'll give it back."

She was laid off in a reorg. :P