Saturday, May 9, 2015

Would I be better at BE if I was course 2?

Often, in the course of doing BE, I feel like I would get more biology done if I wasn't in course 20.

Take mini preps for example, everyone does a ton but automated equipment is rare and underwhelming.  At least in academia, there isn't a financial motivation.  Researchers' jobs are doing research, not running a profitable enterprise.  There is also a pyramid scheme of free labour, where the repetitive work gets unloaded on students.  I still think that improved equipment would get more work done, but I don't think it will be adopted quickly.

Another big problem is that the equipment isn't very good, especially compared to what it could be.  Pliers, for example are basically perfect.  The people who use pliers are the people who make them, course 2 types.  There isn't much of a barrier to entry either, there are about 3 parts to a pair of pliers, if there was an improvement, someone would have made it.  The basic pair at this point is exactly hat it is supposed to be.

Every square millimetre has a purpose, and they cost next to nothing.  I could list some features, but I think the easiest thing to do to prove my point is show that no improvement of any substance exists.  All of the "advanced" models are pretty much stylistically different. Here is a representative sample of fancy pliers:

The sexist "girls don't know tools but like pink", "we need a way to sell someone all the tools they already have, and we're only getting away with this once", "This one has holes in it to make it more aerodynamic, and the colours make it work better too, its definitely worth more."

A qPCR machine, on the other hand, is far from perfect.  Most people who use these machines don't make machines.  Most biologists probably don't know how to build these types of machines. Even if you can see an improvement, the barrier to getting that out into the world is pretty high.  It certainly would interfere with doing whatever biology you were doing before.  People also don't have the motivation to improve machines, they get one and keep it.  Something that also could use some improvement is cost.  Its pretty hard to get started in biology.  Back in high school, there was basically nothing I could do.  A lot of these machines are designed and sold to well funded labs.  There isn't a store for garage workshop biology tools.

One example of when I got more biology done when I wasn't doing biology was replacing my labs vacuum manifold last summer.  We used it for doing midi preps, which are like minipreps but bigger.  Basically a lot of the spin steps are replaced with sucking the fluid out of the bottom of the column with a vacuum.  You can also do minipreps on it in large batches.  You line up 24 of them and do all of the wash steps as fast as you can add the reagents, no loading/unloading and no spin time.  The manifold we had had some problems.  The hose connection was broken so you had to hold the tube in by hand, and the other end leaked the waste out so you had to tip it up.  It also had some poorly executed features.  It held the vacuum tube by the outside (I've never seen that before), and it held 1.5 inches of sludge in it (so you could pour it out, but it needed a vacuum flask anyway so why bother).  Worst of all, it costs $280 to buy a new one, when what you are buying is a pipe with holes in it.  So one day I snapped, bought some pipe fittings, and drilled some holes in it.  It cost me $5 (of parts I used, there was leftovers), and took just one day (and most of that was waiting for the T).  I didn't include any of the old design flaws either, and added added 50% more capacity while I was at it.  I'm pretty sure that I've saved people more than 5 hours of time in my lab alone, and I've published a guide on duplicating my work.  Given that, its been the case that on at least one day I did more course 20 work pretending to be a course 2.
I give you:  $280 for a pipe with holes in it, and $5 for a pipe with holes in it.  Not a bit of difference, I even checked the cleaning procedure, its identical.

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