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In the works

AUGUST 12, 2013

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On keeping things running

Most of the equipment in the lab is older then the undergraduates we have working in the lab. And the age of some of the instruments shows as of late 'real bad'. Take for example the microscopes and gel imaging systems. We have a bunch of high-end instruments that I have taken over to either 'assemble' them in the first place, or to maintain them as good as I can. I should perhaps clarify - 'high-end' in this case means state-of-the-art about 15-20 years ago.

Here is the 'brilliant' example of our cell culture life imaging system - an inverted microscope that takes brightfield pictures and movies (approx. 15-20 frames/sec!) through a camera, which is connected via a USB TV-boxy-thingy to an old PowerPC iMAC. All parts are repurposed (e.g. analog terrestrial TV is gone here in San Diego - hence the USB TV-box is of no use anymore), and with the help of a roll of tape and some sweat amalgamated together into a (most of the times) working microscope. And I have to say its simple to use and looks like it was meant to be this way!
Also noteworthy is the state-of-the-art shelving we put in place. Well, lets just hope there is not a big earthquake anytime soon.

Another example is 'the beast' - a gel imaging system we now only use in emergencies. The computer runs Windows 98, installation CD's for the camera program have long been lost, and the system itself is held together by tape and rust. Tape in this case is meant literally. Sometime ago the lens fell off the camera and could not longer be reconnected. Now its stuck in one position (fixed focus, zoom and aperture) and taped to the camera. As you can also see from the image below - there is a reason that the computer does not even have a cover anymore. The frequency you need to access something in the computer did not make it worth while to put the cover back on...

Either way - with the older stuff that we have it comes with little surprise that sometimes things stop working. Most of the times its the attached (control and acquisition) computer that give up. Like just the a couple of days ago in the case of our camera-equipped stereo-microscope. One of the postdocs from another lab came to me saying: "you fix stuff - the harddisk on that microscope makes a funny ticking sound and may be on the way out". And if a harddisk makes a noise then its usually too late. Indeed the harddisk was fried with one of the heads audibly scratching on the disk - ouch. I have a small collection of old computers and components EXACTLY for that reason set aside - repair them. Problem here was - I thought I had made a backup of the program (installation CD's????), but could not find it any more.
I remembered though that I set aside the original computer (the dead machine was the successor) for this microscope some time ago (another machine running windows 98) - and luckily the the original computer was still there in my collection of old stuff. The rest was easy - get it started again, copy the software onto a newer computer running XP and off we go (after some internet searches on troubleshooting the camera/acquisition program (MagnaFire) and editing of the windows registry). Like with everything here in the lab - it works now (more or less) like a charm - until the next crash!

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