January 26th, 2011 - I've Got Questions, You've Got Answers

Today we are going to take a short walk through my brain. That's about the only option we have, really, it's not that long of a path. Consequently, some days I feel I know next to nothing. It seems like everyone in my field of work (no pun intended) knows more, and remembers more than I do. It's frustrating. On the other hand, I feel that if I have the courage to ask my questions, they are often "outside the box" and often do help to answer other peoples questions that may be related, but from a different perspective.
I don't know how much faith I put into Myers/Briggs tests, but I always seem to come out between an ISTJ and an INTJ. Lately, I have been thinking about the characteristics of an ISTJ, which go something like this: "With Introverted Intuition dominating their personality, INTJs focus their energy on observing the world, and generating ideas and possibilities. Their mind constantly gathers information and makes associations about it. They are tremendously insightful and usually are very quick to understand new ideas. However, their primary interest is not understanding a concept, but rather applying that concept in a useful way. INTJs are driven to come to conclusions about ideas. Their need for closure and organization usually requires that they take some action."
Maybe it's the constantly gathering information that leaves no room for the information that is already there, but this seems pretty true for me, and it just keeps coming. And I feel a need to "see it though" and get my questions answered or I can't move on. So I go in circles.
I recently read a quote from Albert Einstein. He said, "It's not that I'm so smart, it's that I stay with problems longer." Maybe I can aspire to this.
So I drive around the state for my job as a plant inspector, (Re: ISTJ - Inspector Personality) and lately I find myself just looking at things during all of the driving, the amount of which can be considerable. Just looking. No radio, no audiobooks, just looking, absorbing, and thinking. I like to think I absorb a lot of information like this, but then again there is an infinite amount to absorb. I see things I don't understand, and they stick in my head. Forever. Until finally something associates while I'm in a situation talking to someone who would know the answer, and I ask. If I don't get a full answer, the question lingers until I do.
Recently, I've gotten some answers to some nasty brain-itches from the past. Thank god. I might forget the answers tomorrow, but at least I have closure. 
Here are some of my questions resolved this week:

#1. I've been working on the microscope for the Department of Ag, trying to learn how to take good "stacked-mosaic" images (which result in sort of a pseudo three-dimensional picture, similar to a CT scan). It's amazing stuff, and an amazing tool.
One of my trial images was of the "Black-legged tick" (a.k.a. "Deer Tick") that was attached to me last fall. I kept it in hand sanitizer for months (works great, you should try it) until I got the chance to look at it under the scope, and it is an incredible world within a world.



Now since we're able to look at the tick so closely (about 100x), I noticed the two small holes at the base of the hypostome ("harpoon") and wondered what the heck they were for. 
First some interesting things about the tick. The ixodes scapularis ("deer tick") here has a few characteristics that other ticks don't have, such as the long hypostome, (for it's body size) which actually harpoons you, and then the animal secretes a "glue" that literally glues the tick onto your skin. They are much more difficult to remove, especially without breaking off the hypostome once they're attached. As opposed to, say a wood tick, which pretty much just sucks with it's mouth, can clings on with other handy appendages.
In speaking with Dr. Phillip Pellitteri, Chief Entomolgist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, at a worksop this week, I was able to get answers to a few of my questions. 
One was, "Is the hypostome hollow? Does it suck blood through it like a straw, and into it's gut?" Answer, "no." Along with the glue, the hypostome is for attachment, and the tick secretes saliva that keeps the wound open (as an anti-coagulant) so it can suck with it's mouthparts (under the bottom of the hypostome in this photo). It alternately sucks blood and secrets saliva into the wound to keep the process going. If it wasn't for the anti-coagulant saliva, the tick couldn't suck the blood, because it would coagulate, dry out and turn into goo, and it wouldn't flow. Unfortunately for us, this also seems to be the process that exchanges the tick's nasty gut-bacteria with our system and ultimately transmits the Lyme's disease to us in ticks that carry it. The tick also has anti-coagulant in it's gut, so that it doesn't turn into a gummy-tick. 
My photo is a bit unique in that because the organism was yanked out of me, the chericerae, and palps that usually protect the hypostome and retract during it's injection, are gone. If you look closely on the hypostome, you can see it has little "troughs" that help the blood flow, even though it is stuck into a very small hole in your skin. Some say that the shape of the barbs, officially known as "files" or "scales" on the hypostome actually help keep the wound open to a point, being not flat like a knife, but raised and triangular, much like a bayonet, a weapon designed to make an incision that is irregularly-shaped and slow to heal. Clever.
My final and ultimate question was, "What then are the two small holes for, Dr. Phil?  Salivary glands...?" Answer, "no."  He said we can see that they are glands of some sort by their sub-structure with an electron microscope, but that the saliva comes from the mouth and blood/gut tract. He wasn't sure what their ultimate purpose was. He said not all 34 subspecies of ixoides have them, and said that some of these types of ticks have sensing appendages near their heads also with unknown purposes, and that we can only guess what they are for. We don't even know if they are useful to the tick in it's form now, or perhaps only served a purpose at some other point during the tick's evolution. 
So bottom-line, they are glands of some sort, but I need a super tick-freak to tell me what they think they're for. 
File that part deep in the brain-void for future reference, and hope it remains accessible. 
I can see why people dedicate their lives to studying insects and microscopic creatures - when you can actually can look at them closely, there are an amazing amount of body parts and things that we never would otherwise see or think about.


#2. Driving down the interstate one day, I was behind a 4000 gallon pumper truck. I know this because it said, "Contents 4000 gal." on the back of the tank. It also had painted lettering which read: "Recycling in Action!"
This immediately got me thinking, "What the hell could be in a 4000 gallon pumper truck that would be recycled...?"  Feces? Please don't let it be feces. Um, waste water? I really had no idea.
So as I passed the cab of the truck, the door stated that it was from the "LaBore Grease-Trap Company."  Okay... what is going on, does Burger King sell their French-fry grease to McDonalds and then McDonalds sells it to Wendy's...? I couldn't put together the "recycling" part.
As it turns out, after talking to my counterpart in the Department; Lenny, formerly a  pesticide cop, fertilizer, and farm implement salesperson, that some of the grease from restaurant grease-traps, at least in Wisconsin, goes to... cattle feed producers. Cows and cattle need a balanced diet of fat, protein, carbos, and nutrients, and some if not all of the fat is provided by nice cheap grease from restaurants. Hunh. Kinda scares me that cattle are already eating fast-food before we slaughter them for fast food. Just another reason to add to the list of why I don't eat fast food.


#3. My third and final question (for now) is one that has been clattering around my head for some time. I think it started as I was sitting in a construction zone, staring bleakly at the heavy equipment trundling by.


I was noticing the bulldozers with the track system that has one idler wheel or "bogie wheel" sticking up in the back, sort of making the track into a trianglar shape, instead of the stereotypical stretched-oval or "D" shape one usually sees on dozers, cranes, army tanks, and the like. 
When I see some mechanical 'break from the herd" such as this, my immediate response is, "Why?"  (Which is usually my immediate response for everything, I guess.) And my first guess as to an answer is usually, of course, cost. And I am usually partly right.
Back to Lenny again. He told me the reason, but by the time came to write it down, I had already forgotten it, so I had to look it up again. Then I said to myself, "Oh. Yeah..."
The reason behind this design, which is exclusively owned by the Caterpillar Tractor Company of Peoria, Illinois, is manifold.
According to those in the know about heavy equipment, this configuration is called "elevated sprocket" or "high drive", and it goes a little like this:


"The high drive design is unique to Caterpillar bulldozers. It eliminates the final drive system, which tended to break frequently on conventional units. This elevated drive sprocket undercarriage is built in modular form. The tracks can be easily disassembled and the drive sprockets easily replaced. The transmission can be pulled out the back of the machine without much disassembly." You can imagine this is a major wear part on something that pushes maybe hundreds of thousands of pounds of rock and dirt all day... 


"The high-drive system eliminates the traditional final drive in favor of a planetary final drive, which is more effective at withstanding engine torque, since it spreads the forces over multiple gear teeth instead of a single tooth as in the traditional system." 
Very much like a bicycle, the smaller cogs tend to wear out before the larger ones due to less chain wrap, and less stress on the individual cog teeth.
So in a nutshell: easier to maintain, less wear on expensive parts = cheaper overall.
Always with the cheaper.


Well, we'll see how long this information sticks around. At least if I write it down it has a better chance of sinking in.
Until next time, keep absorbing, keep thinking, stay with the problems, and ask a lot of questions. And ask someone who knows.