Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A bad case of boomerang arm

The other day, a good friend from my college years (haha, that makes me sound like an old fart) visited me here at my folks' place in the middle of nowhere. Accompanying him was a boomerang that he discovered while cleaning out his aunt's garage. Perfect, right? I mean, two young guys with not a lot going on, middle of nowhere, and the house here is right next to a big abandoned agricultural field with lots of room for flying objects.

The trick, apparently, is how to make said boomerang actually fly in a somewhat appropriate or intentional manner. Being recent college grads, and with at least one of us a physics geek, we figured we were now more educated than the average joe (plumber?), and with a few hints, should easily have been able to overcome this challenge. Resourceful guys, we asked the all-knowning google, which took us through meandering pathways to a page on "wikiHow". We read about how to hold and aim a boomerang, as well as tips on adjusting for wind, layover, and catching without fear. While we doubted that we'd achieve the prowess of this dude:

We are in awe... this boomer' is easily three times the size of ours... Formidable indeed!!!

we were feeling pretty confident that we'd get some acceptable results. The phrase "Always wear open-fingered gloves and some form of eye protection to guard from shrapnel" caused but a momentary concern.

Two hours later, we'd traversed all around the field many, many times, chasing mis-directed boomerangs, and often walking in circles looking for a brown piece of wood amongst dead brown vegetation. Also climbed trees and finagled our way through brush and briars when a few throws went especially wrong. By the end of it, we'd managed to throw and catch the boomerang upon its return exactly once each. Both times as I recall, there was a bit of mad dashing and athleticism involved, as the boomerange refused to return to its actually point of release, although often it would wizz over our heads, tantalizingly close, but beyond our jumping abilities. Despite this, we felt fairly pleased with ourselves as we headed in to lunch and to warm ourselves at the woodstove.

A day later, I'm here to report that the boomerang had the last laugh... nowhere on the wiki page was it suggested to stretch thoroughly before and after boomerang sessions, or better yet, spend a few months weight training before attempting a 2 hour session. Alas, today, my arm is sore enough as to complain about carrying and putting on a coat, a rather necessary ability up here in the cold north... Next time maybe I'll use the boomerang for the purpose it seems made for at first glance - not hunting or sport, but kindling wood!!!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Random Memory

While shopping in a curiosity shop for Christmas presents, I came across a loose-leaf tea section. I am a big fan of tea, and loose-leaf tea is great. But I pretty much lost control when I saw one kind of tea being advertised:

"Poobong tea"

Perhaps I am too juvenile for my own good, but that had me giggling for a good thirty minutes. I'm sharing it on the off chance that maybe one of my 5 or 6 readers has a similar sense of humor...

Adventures adventures

Wow, so a lot has happened since I wrote last. In particular, I've driven more than a thousand miles over the course of 4 days, including one 12 hour day of snow-storm awfulness. I rarely swear, but during one part of the trip was heard to repeatedly exclaim (with feeling), "Just get me the hell out of ____". Sometimes you couldn't tell if you were on a three lane highway, or if maybe there were only supposed to be two lanes and people had invented the third. Other times you'd wonder why you were paying tens of dollars in road tolls, to drive on roads that were not being plowed at all. I had new firsts, like "first time ever driving on an 8 lane highway"(!!!!). I'm home now though, and got to visit a lot of great people along the way (fellow alumn and physics grad student, old housemate + lady friend, and Eugenie :-D...).

Oh yeah, and the trip almost got off to an interesting start. As is rather customary prior to packing up your life and apartment and moving, I'd been focusing on consuming as many edible things in my fridge as possible, to avoid wasting or moving food. This included a third of a carton of eggnog, which I downed while packing up my apartment. I generally very much enjoy a bit of eggnog around this time of year (sprinkled of course with some ground nutmeg). Talking with Eugenie, I learned two important things:

1) There are some kinds of eggnog that are alcoholic.
2) "Southern Comfort" is a kind of alcohol. I thought it just sounded homey and was probably a brand name. After all, I was in the south.

Who knew? Alcoholic eggnog? What will they think of next???? Adding vodka to kids' juiceboxes?

After a bit of panicked scrounging in the trash, and secretly wondering if this is why I enjoy eggnog so much, I managed to retrieve the carton. In fine print, it declared "non-alcoholic". Whew, crisis averted. Starting off a major roadtrip by accidentally getting a buzz would not have been a good sign.

Packing up my car was a challenge too. I remain quite pleased with myself for how much stuff I got in that car, even now as I look at the mound it has made in my room here at home. I had to leave enough room in "Cosette", my 4-door sedan car, to pick up a passenger - a friend of mine who lives in the same state - as I was giving him a ride home for the holidays. This wasn't going to be a problem, until I opened up the last closet in our appartment, and discovered a stack of five or six boxes containing all of the glass bottles I've been saving for the last 3 months. We couldn't recycle glass where I was, and it pained me immensley to see them thrown out... glass is so easy to recycle comparatively!!! I called up my friend, and learned that he could recycle glass... so into the car all of the (beer, wine, peanut butter, microbrewery gingerale) bottles went, most coming to rest in the front passenger seat where there was still room left. After arriving and disposing of the bottles, it occured to me that it's a good thing I didn't get pulled over or something. I can just imagine the conversation... "No officer, I have no idea how those got there, but I assure you I haven't just consumed three bottles of wine and close to 40 some odd beers"... "Only the gingerale was mine"..."It's really good stuff, just enough bite to it; wanna try some"?

I also stopped by a big state school in a major city to visit a potential grad school advisor, and check out the facilities and program. It was a fun time. I had been quite thoroughly nervous, worried that I'd seem like an idiot, or generally clueless. When I showed up, they had a whole schedule figured out for me, and I drifted back and forth between meetings with different faculty members, and grad students, talking about science and sort of repeating the same things about mysel over and over again. Once I relaxed, (which happened almost as soon as I started talking about math and bifurcation diagrams with the potential advisor), and realized no one was out to get me, everything went smoothly and I started having fun. Made me excited to finish my grad school applications, and now I'm really looking forward to "official" grad school interviews at other schools. Especially now that I've gotten some practice.

Incidentally, I've been invited for the first of those as well (yay!). Looks like things might really come together. Which means I may have some tough decisions to make in the future... eek. Today I finished off another application (yay for recycling personal statements), so now I'm more than halfway done. I might be able to finish them all off before x-mas with a little luck, so I can get back to doing fun work, or maybe even a little plain old having fun.

For now though, it's good to be home, and not driving anywhere in particular for the near future.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What makes a bad bookstore...

The single thing that is guaranteed to turn me off about a bookstore (something that ordinarily isn't easy to do, because I love books immensely) is when its shelves are poorly organized.  Titles clash, subjects are all mixed up, even alphabetization by authors name is out the window.  Ruins my ability to browse for something new and exciting, as well as my chances of actually finding any particular title I might have been looking for, and by and large doesn't put me in the mood to buy books.  How bad is it when you can't even find Dr. Seuss books with ease?  Jeepers.  I like supporting smaller businesses, although this might have been a chain for all I know, but seriously... makes me long for Amazon.  Sigh.

Also, what's with half of the books in the science section being about God?  "How Science deals with God" and a dozen other books with similar titles mixed in all over the science section.  As a scientist and a "papist" (to steal Dr. Isis' term for it), I think about such things from time to time.  But they don't have books in the religion section about science, so why is the science section half populated by pseudo religious books?  Give them their own section at least, so I can find science when that's what I'm looking for.  What science books weren't dealing with the science-god controversies seemed to have to do with a very limited selection of other topics, including sex, our brains, and Einstein.  I'm sure he'd be glad to know he made the hit list with humanity's favorite preoccupation.  There's a whole world out there book-store owners... c'mon now. 

And, get rid of the small stuffed animals that make obnoxious sounds each of the fifty million times bored children squeeze them.  Or bad things are gonna happen.

(I wasn't supposed to post again, but I'm irritated, and avoiding packing.  ick)

This is 49 Tango signing off...

Today was my last full day of work here down south.  We took it kind of easy, compared to earlier weeks of insanity.  Visited our field sites one last time - they looked somewhat naked, with all of our meteorological gear gone and pin flags removed.  Still very familiar, but different.  Like they can finally settle down for the winter (or maybe that's just how I feel).  We collected one last errant data point, then did a little sight seeing, visiting a bunch of low spiderwebs coated in dew from the fog, examining low growing mistletoe, and generally wandering around.  Ate lunch outside (wearing my HAT); it was easily 70 degrees out.  Not at all what it'll be like when I return north...

After lunch we packed up the last few boxes, fiddled around, and eventually settled into a bit of data analysis.  I'm still seeking the quintessential contour plot to show our data to best advantage.  Made one this afternoon that looks pretty snazzy, but apparently they would prefer that I use a different program so they can avoid licensing issues.  Shrug.  Ended up working late, as we were waiting until dusk to take some staged pictures of our 'fieldwork techniques' for potential presentations and publications in the future.

Given the way things work down here, chances are good that unless I go to a particular grad school I applied to, probably I won't ever see these places again where I've been working the last three months.  Adds an unusual sense of finality to it all, that I haven't experienced despite having left behind a number of places in the past year.  I'll get to see lots of my coworkers again though, and that's been the best part all along, the people I get to spend time with.

Ok, my dinner is at an end (quick meal of leftovers - Chickpea Artichoke soup, easy garlic bread and a spinach salad w/ poppyseed dressing, broccoli, sunflower seeds and feta).  So now as I promised myself, I have to stop writing and get my act in gear.  Tons of things to get done before I hit the road tomorrow afternoon/evening...  When I'm finally settled in again back home, I intend to write a post reflecting on this job from a distance :-)

As for now, 49 Tango (my radio call sign down here on the job) is signing off.

Monday, December 15, 2008

365 Days

Watching movies. Peaches and footsteps on a chilly fall evening. Don't turtle up! Roast beef and American. Bagels - delivered specially, any time, anywhere. Oooo, come take a picture of this plant! Hockey hockey hockey! Salivary amylase. "That's not all you have..." TOES:

Dinner every Friday night... Falling asleep in biostats. Smokin' hot holiday ball + dark chocolate M&M's. Conferencing it up. Creaky floors, cold rooms, warm hearts. Chlorine. Slip-sliding down the hill. Best reason for a train trip ever. Let's ice skate...or not... or try ice skating up a mountain! Singayou a song. [] dancing. Sailing on the sunfish. Ghetto Chicken. Spatula fight. Full court pingpong...... Here, hold this turtle! The noble eating of the jelly. "visits". Life as a Pirate of the Carribean. Claiming to 'slip' as an excuse to grab my rear in public :-P Kyaking! That long-ass swimming thing where they fire the gun. Great stories. "I just made a pi in the snow!" Disparaging the pinkies. More (probably ineffective) pep talks than I can count. Packing the forerunner to the gills. Watchin the lympics. Snow football. "Taste this, it's good, I promise". Canoeing at sunset. "Yes, you really do have to dress up and put all that stuff around your neck, goof". Random elephants. Phone calls from the grocery store. 7th order polynomials at town court. Halloween parade. Fresh Laundry like whoa. Furniture moving! The search for Bailey chair. "Tastes like ____!" Scrubs. Post-its. Backrubs. SQUISH! All the latest from CNN and craigslist. Welcome to the blogosphere. Manatee. Random french phrases about potatoes or cabbages or something. Perfectly timed "dope slaps". Cold feet... but warm eyes, smile, hands, hugs. Meet the ol' roomie. Published poets!?!?!?!? Mac-Queen. Pop culture interpreter. PURPLE! Dream land. Matching pens.

And sooooo much more. Wouldn't trade a single one of these, even for that new matrix modeling book....

"You" know who you are.

Remember these things when stuff seems impossible and gloomy. I never thought all this would be possible, and can't remember a time when I've been so tremendously glad to be proven wrong. Couldn't do it without you: you have the patience, faith, stubbornness, strength, personality, and hope that make this happen. Just be yourself, remember these strengths, have hope, and keep shining that beautiful smile. I was going to write more mushy stuff (something along the lines of deep brown eyes, silky hair, cute ears, thermally extreme bod', huggability, effortless coordination/grace, loving personality, etc) to teasingly embarrass you, but if you want that I guess you'll have to send a special request...

Here's to 365. And to a whole lot more!

With love,

'Theo' (one lucky dude!)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Getting smoked out

Our neighbor in the next apartment down the hall smokes. And is doing so currently. And every time that happens, the smell of it works it's way through our front door, making our apartment smell too, despite the towel I've got crammed under the door frame. Grrrrrr. And I had just made a nice breakfast, and settled down to take on a huge to-do list with time constraints.

I'm leaving the south in 4 days. Between now and then:

- One grad application is due
- I need to make soup
- A final draft of my manuscript, formatted for submission to a particular journal is due
- A bunch of papers need to be read, so that i can sound halfway intelligent when i visit a prospective grad advisor on my way back north
- Christmas shopping is incomplete
- I'm trying to finish up making some sexy graphs based on this fall's data to contribute to an NSF grant my boss and his boss are putting together so that this project can be better funded next year.
- frisbee so I don't go stir crazy
- grocery shopping so the soup will have something in it (stone soup anyone?)
- straightening out my application for expensive health insurance that provides little coverage (as supposed to really expensive health insurance that provides moderate coverage). Good thing that the periods in which I have the lowest income will probably correlate to the times when i'm at my healthiest, if I'm lucky.
- I almost forgot to mention packing my life up into a car, and cleaning out the apartment.

And i might have to move back into my bedroom to work 'cause it reeks. But the only table is out here in the living room. Bah Humbug.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmasy things

After 3 days of significant rain and thunderstorms, today it was clear and sunny.  With the passing weather, moods all around lifted and changed.  Also, I spent the majority of my day today working on analyzing some of the data from our experiments, involving tinkering in excel and R.  I made some kick-butt graphs, and I think really surprised my boss dude.  I even came out ahead on a "discussion" with him about whether or not rotations of vectors in space are the result of a linear transformation or not (they decidedly are).  That was a small victory for mathematics; maybe one more ecologist will be conscious of the appropriate use of terms now... just maybe.  I think a good part of my lethargy and gloomy mood the last several days was related to spending all day counting repeatedly to twenty (sorting and counting seeds).  With an adequate diet for my brain, I'm feeling much better.

I really dig mistletoe.  Can't remember ever really noticing it back home, but down here, now that the leaves are mostly off all of the trees finally, there are little spheres of greenery scattered about the branches of the oak trees, high off the ground.  Mistletoe.  Parasitic plants are sooooo cool.

Yesterday was the annual Christmas party at the Forest Service unit I'm affiliated with.  The whole cast of characters was there, ranging from researchers, natural resource managers, forest fire crews, maintenance and administration.  The office curmudgeon (Bob), was in classic form.  The Christmas party consisted of a luncheon, during which bad christmas jokes were told, and one employee played an Appalachian dulcimer with moderate success (he knows exactly 3.5 songs, and played them all).

The highlight of the event was a game known as "Dirty Santa" or "Yankee Swap" (depending on how southern a person is I guess).  I'd never heard of it before, but it was pretty hilarious.  The general idea is that everyone participating brings a small wrapped gift of some sort; all gifts are placed under a tree, and each person gets a number.  The first person picks a present, and opens it.  The next person in line can either open a new present, or steal the already revealed present.  If your item is stolen, you can then either steal from a different person, or open a new package.  And so on.  Combine a bunch of characters with a random assortment of presents ranging from desirable (multi-tools, crock pots, food goodies, sandwich maker, socks) to entirely humorous (santa claus toilet seat cover, rapping reindeer, rubber chicken, ceramic angels, singing frog in cardiac arrest), and the potential for theft, and hilarity ensues.  I haven't laughed hard enough to cry in aaaages.

Some favorite moments:

- manly firefighter opens a bag, revealing a decorative (and rather feminine) glass container of bath oil.  Reading the label out loud, he says "smells like fresh linen.....!?!?"

- tough female firefighter pulls a reindeer stuffed animal out of a bag, holds it up examining it, and accidentally triggers a switch, causing the reindeer to start wiggling around and rapping a christmas song.  She must have jumped about a foot and almost lost control, haha.

- Bob opens one of those U shaped neck pillows with built in massager... this is totally his type of thing (he's re-arranged his office so you have to walk all the way in and around a partition to actually see him, and everyone's sure that he frequently takes naps back there).  Predictably, the neck pillow gets stolen after a few rounds, and, opening a new parcel, Bob ends up with a matched pair of small ceramic angels instead of his nap pillow...

- in the final play of the game, a humorous character gets stuck with the rubber chicken (and now is honor bound to foist it on someone next year apparently).

This weekend is going to be intense.  I've got a half week of work next week, followed by a roughly 4 day trip back north, involving a grad school visit and meetings (gulp), and visiting several friends, as well as hopefully a visit with Eugenie!  Which is enough to make anyone excited.  However, in the mean time, I've got a grad school application to finish, a final draft of a paper to complete, a rescue mission to a nearby state to pull off, and two going-away dinners the next two nights.  Plus packing.  It's gonna be a busy one!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What am I getting myself into?

Picture this:

1) You hike all day, struggling up steep trails with a hefty pack on your back, challenged every step of the way.
2) Upon reaching the top of the mountain, you find a nice big granite boulder.  Taking a long, sturdy rope from your bag, you anchor one end of the rope to the boulder and tie the other end around your waste.
3)  With another bout of hard labor, gritted teeth, and maybe some friendly advice from fellow hikers who you've encountered along the way, you manage to pry the gigantic boulder from the ground, and set it in motion down the mountain.  Bystanders cheer you on.
4) You straighten up, wipe sweat from your eyes, and in a moment of clarity realize what you've done.  Your life is tied to a boulder bouncing and tumbling down a mountain, choosing it's own direction, and stopping only where everything ends up, down in the valley.  Everyone else is gathered around, patting you on the back, congratulating you and wishing you luck, and proud of their part in helping you to this point.  No one looks hard enough to see the fear flickering in your eyes.  

So what do you do?  Cut the rope and stay up on the mountain, letting go of all the work you put into getting there, and moving that great rock?  What about the parts of the tumbling whirlwind of the boulder's trajectory that are highly appealing?  Things you've wanted (or convinced yourself that you wanted) for years now.  Is that desire real, or just a conjuration arising from that fear-sharpened clarity, and sense of the future?  Is this just a passing moment of weakness?  You've done everything right, worked hard, and thought through your actions as much as you possibly could.  All indications seem to point to having taken the right path.  But if that's the case, what's the shock all about?

And then someone taps you on the shoulder, tells you that you can't stay up there on the mountain forever.  Before you're ready, or you've made up your mind, before anyone notices or takes seriously the flashes of fear and checks up on you (maybe they just didn't know what to say either, or maybe all they could see was their own great stone), you feel the rope start to tug.  Out of slack already, you start to slide alone down the mountain, propelled (compelled?) onwards to catch up with the rest of your life on it's way to the distant valley below.


That about describes the feelings I have about my life right now, driven in part by sitting alone on a quiet, dreary evening.  Reading blog posts by new professors and such about the insane work loads they have has me worried that however much i think i might like science and think that i can do and enjoy research, that deep down I really don't have anywhere near the love of the subject to carry me through all of that.  Hence the twin concerns "what am I getting myself into" and "is it really worth it?" are making an appearance.  Having done a lot of things pretty darn well to get to the boulder in the first place, and to set it in motion, makes it even harder I think to digest feelings of doubt... because I feel like I shouldn't be having them!

That and the part about being tied to a moving boulder fits pretty well too.  Captures both the feeling of distance I feel towards a chunk of my life right now, and the simultaneous connection and inseparability of the pieces.  And the wish that there were people who knew me better than I know myself, people that would understand me and say "See here, it's all right." and explain to me how I work and make me make sense to myself.

Maybe I should have tried a career writing cheesy books... hmm.  

Monday, December 8, 2008

Curse of the Transient

Yeah, yeah, so it's been a while.  Shrug.  I've been busy.

Thanksgiving week was pretty enjoyable.  Insane amount of traveling (6 planes, 6 long car rides), but things went really smoothly, with only my last flight of 6 being delayed (not that it was fun to sit on the ground in a plane for 2 hours waiting to leave).  I was low key about computer usage over the vacation, which was probably good for me.  I don't remember the last time I spent 2 days consecutively without checking my email!  Being back in the town I went to school in was a blast.  I got my hands on a sub from my favorite sub shop, ran into a number of old friends, and spend a few hours talking with my old advisor.  It's always so nice to see him.  I forget sometimes just how much alike we are in a lot of ways (or maybe, how much I grew to be like him), although there are some differences.  Got a lot of good feedback on my manuscript.  Inch by inch it's getting closer to being done.

One of the best parts about being back was surprising my sister.  She had nooo idea I was going to be in my home state, let alone at school!  Eugenie invited her over for dinner, and I hid, then snuck up behind her and surprised her most thoroughly.  It was a lot of fun.  Most of my old buddies from swing dance club were still around too, so we got together and busted out the dance moves (I finally got to use my new shoes!).  Good times had by all.  The longer you dance with someone, the easier and more enjoyable it gets - you just learn how to move together.  The current president of the club started taking lessons at school the same time I did, some 4 years ago now, and we've been dancing ever since.  So it felt good to be dancing again with someone that it's easy to synchronize with, if that makes any sense.

Most of the time I was there visiting I felt like I could fall back into my old routines without blinking.  I kept expecting to head home from class to my old house, hang out with my guys, and start cracking on some math homework with my thinking cap, fingerless mittens and fuzzy blue bathrobe for attire (it got cold in the old, leaky house we rented last year).  Or to walk to a different part of town and crash on the futon in the downstairs of the apartment I rented the year before that with my roommate of two years, and close friend.

But I don't live in these places anymore.  New people are there, creating their own stories.  The places are the same, and some of the people are the same, but even just 6 months after I left, I can feel a growing sense of disjointedness.  It's really strange.  Spending too much time walking around seeing memories that no one else close at hand shares makes me very pensive.  I was also getting a little frustrated with Eugenie, for no good reason I could figure out at first.  Later I realized that I was just feeling a bit jealous that my time there at school is over and hers continues, and wishing that I had appreciated those years even more thoroughly while I had them.  There's something rather indescribably different when you cross the boundary between school and working a job.  New cares and concerns, different social experiences and topics of conversation, even new sleep-wake cycles.  I was feeling that disconnect too when chatting with Eugenie and her housemate/former roommate.  I hope it doesn't get any bigger.

All of this sort of spurred me on in my graduate school quest.  Maybe the only way to deal with letting go of an old home is to hurry about the business of finding a new one to distract yourself with.  I just hope someday I can land somewhere for a good long time and maybe never have to make new homes again.  Ah the curse of the Transient.  Probably there's a reason that a lot of people setting off on journeys and choosing to become transients intentionally try to leave everything behind them, and avoid ties to places and people and memories of the past - less to pull at your heart strings in a sense.  Despite the challenges, I think I much prefer to hold on to these things though; they provide a sort of grounding, structure, and meaning that I'd be lost without.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Still breathing...

I'm on the last day of a very long work week, involving a 16 hour work day, followed by an 11 hour work day, and more fun...  I'm working again today/tonight, and then blowing out of this popsicle stand at 0400 on Saturday morning, starting my journey back to visit Eugenie and my sister up north.  I deserve this vacation like none other, whew.

Time to finish the laundry, pack, cook dinner, and hit up the store before heading in to work.  I've got some fun stories for y'all from the last week - I'll get to them when I'm settled down at Eugenie's.



Monday, November 17, 2008

Life of a working man + Fame = Uncertainty

Several things on my  mind right now.

1)  Applying to graduate schools after graduating from undergrad is hard.  I don't have reliable or significant access to advisors and faculty members to help me wade through the conventions and intricacies of this process.  I'm not in a setting where I get to spend my days thinking and talking about science with other students.  Most of the people I work with are quite content at the end of the day to hang out, have a good meal, and enjoy life.  All of which are lovely things, but it makes me want to come home after a long day at work and just hang out and eat and shoot the breeze.  When I really should be reading journal articles, emailing professors, and writing and thinking about the things that I want to do.  It's sooo hard to get motivated - just sitting back and enjoying life is a whole lot more pleasant than pushing into the science mindset at 8 pm at night.  And my house ends up being the gathering place for our group, because we have the most tables and chairs (even though I'm currently sleeping on a camping mattress and using furniture made out of boxes in my bedroom).  I enjoy playing host, but it's hard to disappear or opt out of an event when it's happening in two of the five rooms in your apartment.

2) Famous people.  There are a number of ecologists on my graduate "hit list" that I have been encouraged to contact about PhD positions.  At this point, most of the ones remaining are the really top notch, famous sorts, mostly because I've been avoiding emailing them.  This is for complicated reasons that aren't so clear to me in my head, or beneficial to me in all likelihood.  I guess mostly it's a combination of distrust of people that are famous, and the worry that if I were to work with them, expectations for my work would be extraordinarily high, potentially a lot higher than I might actually be capable of working.  Especially given the challenges I've been having getting my act together recently.  I feel like my current showing on paper makes me look a lot stronger than I am, which intensifies this worry.  Also, I don't like that my heart starts pounding and my tongue stops working when I think/talk about these people, makes me feel shallow.  Argh.  

I got an email response from one of these folks today.  It was very vague.  Sounded positive, but left me without a clue as to how to respond/move forward.  Another one of them has asked me in the past to consider him for grad school, after I turned down a job he had offered me (long story).  I really don't like how easy it is to sort of slip into hero-worship mode when I interact with these people.  I can't help but wonder if this would be something that I would get over, or if it's more of an innate part of my being (Scary).

And the job market is scary, even from this far off.  Maybe I should place more emphasis on trying to work with a big name, and just get over my apprehension with regards to famous people.  So that someday I can have a job, and take evenings off on occasion and not fret about it.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

In which the sexes battle it out, resulting in confusion

So last week, by general consent, we had a game night (we being the research techs, plus my boss).  Prior to this, the gender of our respective brains had been a topic of much conversation (to determine your brain 'gender' based on various mental aptitudes and perspectives, check out this from the BBC).  I, some how, came out on top in our group as having the most 'male' brain, at 25%.  The other two males were both 0% male brained.  Among the ladies in our group, one has a 25% 'male' brain (which is amusing - she and I do think very much a like in some humorous ways), and the rest are all 25% or 50% female.

Naturally, there was a good deal of debate then on how to divide up teams when it was determined that game night would consist of playing "Battle of the sexes".  In the end, we went for a traditional gender divide, rather than 'mental gender'.  3 guys, vs. 2 girls.  It should be noted that this game is basically a trivia competition, with the female team having to answer questions that are stereotypically though of as male knowledge, and vice versa.

In general, I am an unpredictable member of trivia teams at best.  The vast majority of knowledge used in most trivia games is entirely outside my realm of purvey.  I can occasionally contribute on some quirky, obscure, "challenging" questions about things that I was actually exposed to, or found personally interesting at one point in my life.  Like, 'name an american artist famous for painting sea scapes'.  Or, "What did Frank McCourt write?".

I've been encouraged to relate pieces of what transpired during the playing of this game, as apparently my "shelteredness" is amusing to some.... (Eugenie, *cough cough*).  The Bon-Jobi post did get far more comments than my epistles usually receive.

Things I know:

Female Knowledge: twall, colander, johnny jump-ups, types of tea, fabrics, spices, cooking trivia, authors (think Jane Austen, etc), pregnancies are measured by the trimester, some brides make bouquets out of ribbons from their bridal shower and toss them at their wedding rehearsal (please don't ask how I knew this), how to make Tiramisu, what baby's breath is, etc. 

Male Knowledge: types of screws, names of operational space shuttles, star wars trivia, names of fishing lures, I think some other stuff, but I stopped paying attention when it wasn't our turn, as I was in the midst of learning about inner product spaces (Linear algebra stuff).  Except for when I had to read one of the questions for the female team.  Some of them made me blush, and I won't repeat them here.

Things I (still) don't know:

- What the heck is "The OC"?  By all rights it sounds like it should be an operating system, but it's not one I've ever heard of.

- Apparently OPI is not a brand of feminine products.  Oops.  Seemed like a good guess to me.  It's possible that after this question, this became our standard response when we had no idea what else to answer.  (Question:  "What is Prada?" Answer: Feminine Product!!!"  Question: "Who co-starred with Audry Hepburn in bladdedeeblah, a popular movie from the 50s"  Answer: "Max E. Pad!")

- Following the above theme, names of actors/actresses.  It doesn't matter if the movies/tv shows/etc are modern or ancient, chances are very good that any question of this sort caused me to return to reading "Linear Algebra", leaving my two male team mates to tough it out for themselves.  On a related note, what the heck kind of a name is "Sex and the City"?  Shouldn't it be like, Sex IN the City?  Probably the city doesn't care so much about sex that it would want to be an element of the union of sex and the city.  Cities don't have sex.  Stupid movie questions.

- the name of the first person to appear nude and pregnant on some glamour magazine.  Why that's considered female knowledge, I haven't a clue.

- anything about baseball involving technical rules, history, or league structure.

In the end, the male team won.  Lucky for us, one of the guys knew a lot about TV shows.  I pulled through with niche items about cooking.  Not sure what that says for the accuracy of the BBC brain quiz which determined my gender, haha.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Crazy decision, much excitement.

So, I've been working my tail off here at this job.  Well over 40 hours a week, which is all that I had originally committed to when interviewing, as I wanted to make sure I would have time to work on applications.

But it's going to end up paying off...  My boss told me today to plan on taking off all of Thanksgiving week as paid vacation!!!  I had already insisted that I was taking Wednesday through Friday off, to drive to where Eugenie will be celebrating turkey day with her family.  With Monday and Tuesday off, I've got a 9 day vacation now!!!  I haven't had that much time off since like right after graduation this past May.

With all this new-found vacation time, I've come up with rather a crazy scheme, which doesn't make a huge amount of practical/logical sense, making it rather attractive.  Even more attractive, it means that I'll be seeing Eugenie in less than a week from today!!!!  I'm going to fly from one local city, up north to visit Eugenie at SLAC for about four days (and get to see my sister too!), then flying back south to a different city along with Eugenie and her sister for another 4 days or so, including turkey day.  And then flying back to a 3rd southern city (a reallly big one with cheap flights), from which I will catch a ride back here with another of the research techs.  All in all, six plane flights and seven trips to and from airports in 9 days, yeeeeehaww.  I'm really really excited though.  I'm dying to see Eugenie (I last saw her just over two months ago, and today is our 11 month anniversary.  Pretty soon we're going be shifting over to a whole new unit, gasp!).

Only two downsides that I can see - 

1) Carbon footprint.  It's a lot of traveling.  Flying is supposed to be better than driving for this, but I doubt that 6 flights balances out with two 8 hour car trips, which is what I had been planning.  Maybe I'll look into personal offsets, I think they have them.  Although this traveling is going to pinch the piggy bank a bit as is.  A month or so ago, it would even have been a possibility, but I guess with falling oil prices, ticket prices have gone down quite a bit.

2) This will be my first thanksgiving away from home.  I don't think that's quite sunk in yet.  I'm very close with my family, so it will be kinda strange to readjust from our usual small (~4 people), relaxed celebration to celebrating with Eugenie and her family (20+ people).  And it feels a little awkward to be back in the same state as my family for just a couple of days, but then not stay for turkey day.   I'm telling myself though that I'll see them soon enough, as I'll be home for Christmas, and plan to stay for a good long while as I'll be in-between jobs.  It's definitely strange to feel love pulling you in different directions.

How important is location?

I'm going to be spending pretty  much all weekend on grad school stuff, wheeee.

Right now, I've got 4 solid lines of communication open to different potential advisors, and I'll be applying to each of their schools.  Two of them I'm really excited about, and the other two have a lot of potential (younger faculty members in programs I don't know as much about yet).  One of them I would never have found/contacted, but that he's involved in the large research projects going on at the place I work at, and he approached me.  But he's a crazy cool guy, very energetic and sharp.


- I have another ~4 people that I had been considering contacting.  And I really feel like I shouldn't apply to more than 5, maybe maybe 6, places.  Otherwise it's just too much work, and too much time spent interviewing/traveling, with the prospect of having to make even more difficult choices.  How to choose the last several people to contact?  Gulp.  I hate striking up conversations and then turning people down.  And right now I'm running a greater than 80% success rate for inquiry emails (# of positive responses encouraging me to apply vs. total number of emails sent).  Another reason for not applying to too many schools is that I'm pretty confident that I will be admitted everywhere I apply (maybe I shouldn't be, but I feel good about it).  That, and I have some guilt at the thought that if I apply and am accepted to a lot of places, then I'm getting in the way of other really awesome people who would have liked the slots.  Ugh.

- There are one or two people who do really awesome work, related to what I do, in some really good institutions.  But, the schools are in parts of the country that I don't really want to live in.  I feel like this is probably a bad bias, but so far I haven't been able to overcome it.  Anyone have any thoughts on this?

Back to the grind stone.

Friday, November 14, 2008

2nd edition

Why are there seven questions on a meme with a 5 theme?  This bothers me...

And, again in support of the evolutionary foundations of this concept, I've mutated something... see if you can catch it.

5 things I was doing 10 years ago:
- like I can remember?  eek.  1998...  To the best of my recall
1) getting ready to turn 12
2) considering trying out school for 7th grade (I had been homeschooled since 2nd grade)
3) Living in a house other than my childhood home for the first time, and in a town instead of out in the country.
4) Got nick-named "the alien" or "alien" for short by a group of neighborhood kids, for my uncanny ability to catch a football, and my total ignorance of what to do with it having caught it.
5) Setting my heart on learning how to calculate the volume of irregular shapes using calculus, after seeing pictures in a math book.  Except I didn't know what it was called back then, I just knew what it did (sort of), and that it was cool and hard.  I hated the fact that I couldn't learn it right away.

5 things on my to-do list:
1)  get my lazy bum off the futon and make something to eat for dinner
2) make a difficult decision (see upcoming post)
3) email a few more potential grad school advisors and start putting together grad school applications
4) check my oil (well, technically, my car Lia's oil)
5) call my parents

5 favorite snacks:
(I actually answered this one last, took a lot of careful pondering)
1) cheese (all kinds)
2) chips and homemade guac
3) pretzels and mozzarella
4) hot air popcorn and my dad's hot chocolate
5) apple and peanut butter

5 things I would do if I were a millionaire:
Right.  An ecologist millionaire? hahahahaha
1) move back to the same state as eugenie, buy an old house to fix up, and spend a few years living simply.  just reading and thinking and not working.
2) help my parents retire and build their dream house - an earth sheltered house back on the property where i grew up as a child.
3) send two of my favorite girls to vet school.
4) fund innovative startups (green technologies, agriculture, social causes, etc)
5) start a scholarship program

5 places I've loved:
- the small town I went to school in
- my grandparent's house in the mountains, site of many family reunions, feasts, adventures and good fishing
- the northern coast of Maine and adjoining Canada
- little alpine meadows in the Cascade mountains of Washington
- Monongahela National Forest

5 jobs I've had:
1) field hand on a small organic farm
2) peer tutor at a community college (best job ever - working with some awesome people, tutoring english, math, biology, chemistry, you name it).
3) camp store manager (frisbee?  t-shirt? personal hygiene product? 
4) various and sundry research assistant/technician jobs.
5) I used to make 5 cents a nail when I was a kid, pick up nails off the ground around our house after it was resided... if that counts?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The problem with field work

Spending all day outside in the woods, doing fairly repetitive, mindless tasks leaves a person with a great deal of time to think, and very little in the way of external stimulus/distraction/input to break up the thinking.  Sometimes, this is nice.

Other times, you end up spending all day turning something over in your mind, again and again.  And if you're like me and you hold grudges against yourself or get angry at yourself for something, this means you spend all day feeling mad at yourself and spinning your wheels.  Seeing something over and over again in instant replay.  Mountains become mole-hills, mole-hills become Mt. Olympus.  And it's all pretty unproductive, because you can't say which is which, as probably it's all in your head.  But it doesn't stop you from feeling bad.

Today was one of those days.

Aaaand I might have to work saturday and sunday.  Aaaand my boss is depressed.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Culturally Oblivious?

Every Sunday night, our little group of research techs (5-7 of us usually) get together for dinner, usually with some sort of theme.  Tonight, for some reason, was pizza.  After 5-6 years of college life (depending on how you count), I thought that I had pretty much come across all the different forms of pizza imaginable, including everything on the gradient from make it from scratch pizza (like my mom makes) through pizza delivered to your door, with the in betweens ranging along a laziness gradient from picking up dough from our favorite local pizza joint, to buying dough in a bag from the grocery store, buying a premade crust, and heating up a frozen pizza.

Well my friends, apparently I am not so worldly as I had believed.  Tonight, for the first time, I came across pizza dough in a cardboard can.  Courtesy of that creepy dough boy dude.  As a well educated, scientific minded, practical sort of guy, I was like, 'No problem.  There's a little tab here on the side, obviously I'm supposed to pull it, and the top will come off or something'.

Alas, this turned out to be rather a major understatement.  Shortly after pulling the tab, the whole thing came apart in my hands, divulging a whitish blob of dough and producing a loud bang.  Upon closer inspection, after my heart rate returned to normal, I concluded that the contents must have been stored under pressure, which puzzles me.  Consulting Eugenie, apparently this storage method for pastry and dough is pretty common.  That's what I get for my cavalier assumption of comprehensive knowledge of the world of pizza.

At dinner, conversation turned to music, and people were quizzing each other on songs and artists and the like, especially with regards to country music.  Feeling somewhat left out of the conversation, as my knowledge of country musicians is next to non-existent, as you will soon agree, I wracked my brain trying to come up with the name of a singer that was country.  Nothing.  A set of furrowed eyebrows and a good bit of head scratching later, I though finally I had received inspiration:  

"What about that Bon Bon guy - Bon Jobi or something like that?"

*uproarious laughter ensues*

Apparently it's Bon Jovi, not Bon Jobi (either way, what the heck kind of a name is that?  How do parents come up with this stuff?).  And he's not a country singer, although I could swear the one time I saw a picture of the dude he was wearing a cowboy hat.

Who knew?  Who knew. 


Charles Shultz by way of Charlie Brown:
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it sure makes the rest of you lonely.

Music stuck in my head:

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Wandering around on the internet, trying to waste some time (as my efforts to finish a chapter in this mathematical evolution book are failing, and I don't want to sleep too early), and thinking of other people in other places, I stumbled across these.... They're comedy skits from Bill Cosby, familiar to me from my childhood. We had cassette tapes with a lot of these on them, which my granny made from the original records that my mother listened to as a child. My sister and I listened to these skits a lotttt when I was younger, to the point that we can (still) recited most of them the way some people these days recite movie scenes. I thought I'd share, for any one out there in need of some laughs.





I'm well on my way to enjoying a quiet weekend, after a very long work week. Slept in until 9:30 this morning (how decadent!), and browsed the internet for a while, snacking on dried apples that mom sent me from our trees back home. Also included in the package was a lot of my warm clothing for increasingly colder nights of field work.

Right now, I'm alternating back and forth between reading random science for fun, and working on making a kick-ass lunch... For a good 5-6 hours last night, out working in the dark and avoiding man-eating holes, I had an intense craving for french fries. So the lunch menu for today:

- spiced french fries (cut strips of potatoes, coat them with a mixture of olive oil, paprika, chili powder, onion powder, thyme, salt and pepper, then bake at ~230 C for 45 min). Preferably avoid setting off the fire alarm... although it's after noon, so probably I didn't wake anyone up. In honor of an old housemate, probably I will also use such things as BBQ sauce and dressing as 'dipping sauces' as well as the traditional ketchup/catsup (I never have figured out why is it spelled two very different ways).

- tomato-cheese melt on focaccia. Pretty self explanatory. I used extra sharp cheddar, and sprinkled feta on top of the 'maters.

- cranberry sauce. from a can. with the ridges (very important). Dad makes a great fresh-cranberry, orange rind cranberry relish that's all gourmet and tasty. But, in one of my few concessions to convenience food, I really just dig canned cranberry sauce/gelatin. Shrug. And since this meal is about satisfying night time cravings, I figured, what the heck, why not?

On the science/social front, 

- I'm reading an environmental analysis of the use of rbST (a form of bovine growth hormone) to increase cows' milk production.  This article doesn't talk about human health consequences, but at least from an environmental perspective, rbST seems to be a pretty good thing, reducing the environmental footprint of producing a fixed quantity of milk in comparison to conventional methods.  Basically, it argues that for the same amount of feed, you produce more milk per cow, allowing demand to be met with fewer cows, and consequently, less waste.  I get a little skeptical though when one of the authors of the paper is an employee of Monsanto, a company with a vested interest in rbST, even though the conflict of interest is noted at the bottom of the paper.  What do you all think?  Check it out:   (Open access brought to you by PNAS.)

- closer to home for me, I perused a review in TREE on new ways to think about long distance dispersal probabilities and mechanisms of dispersal.  Also flipped (digitally) through an article on dealing with missing experimental data.

- shifting to the social side, a nice commentary on the source and consequences of anti-intellectualism in our country, especially with regards to politics.  This is something that made me really angry after the VP debate way back when (!), after which I heard a commentator reflecting negatively on Biden's performance, suggesting that he was too intellectual, and thus, less desirable as a political candidate than people like Palin and Bush, whom the average American would be comfortable having a beer with.  Duh-oh.  

- read some commentaries regarding Michael Crichton's death earlier this week.  He wrote some great books, including Jurassic Park, one of the only popular audience fiction books I know of to feature chaos theory in a pretty accurate fashion.  (I'm pretty fond of chaos theory).  Other classics include the phenomenal biological thriller "Andromeda Strain".  He made me pretty upset a few years back though, coming out against global warming as being a scientific apocalyptic approach.

Annnd just like that, my afternoon is history.  Oh well, it was really nice to just read and follow my interests; something I wish I could do more often.  Tomorrow, back to the grind stone - time to get back on track with grad school apps. 


Friday, November 7, 2008

Falling half-way to China

Whew.  It's over and done with - submitted my NSF GRF proposal earlier today.  While I doubt it's good enough to land the big bucks, I'm pretty happy with what I was able to pull together in less than a month, while working a more than full time job and being outside of academia for the present (plus working the grad school application machine).  And, it looks like I haven't lost my ability to write well under pressure, which is comforting.

I'm really looking forward to catching up on the rest of my life though.  Things like laundry, grocery shopping, paperwork, correspondence, sleep, etc, which have been falling by the wayside the last week or two are crying out for attention.  All the other technicians are taking a trip to a nearby state this weekend, so I'll have lots of quiet time to attend to the details (I'm sticking around as I have to work tonight).  This will be my third night of doing field work...  makes for a very strange schedule.  I'm eating like, one or two meals a day whenever I sort of feel like it, and everything else is sort of out of whack.  Drinking little bottles of Eugenie's favorite caffeinated soda.  Hopefully this is the last night for a while though, with some luck. 

Cross your fingers it doesn't rain - makes the work a little less fun.  Also, I fell into a hole that went up to my waist the other night in the dark.  I'm pretty sure my writing prowess has conveyed my height (6'1"), but there it is just in case.  So this wasn't a little hole.  The ecosystem I'm working in is mainly coniferous, and managed by controlled forest fires.  When a tree is cut down, or falls over, the stump will actually catch on fire when burning happens.  This creates these lovely little holes - deep and narrow, which are difficult to see during the day, let alone at night, as often a bit of charcoal remains at the surface, so it there's nothing for your depth perception to notice.  Excitement.  Annnd I was wearing a pretty high quality GPS setup - hand-held unit, plus backpack antenna, to the tune of several thousands of dollars of electronics.  It's enough to make you nervous if you think about it...  Good thing (so far) that I don't scare easily in the dark.  The place we're working tonight actually has an old abandoned cemetery adjoining it...  Let's hope the spirits are in favor of ecological science!!!

Ok, time to get my act in gear and head into work.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


In the last five days I have - 

Spent 3, 12-14 hour days putting together my NSF GRF application (after all),
Worked 9 hours, and then talked about NSF proposals for another 5 hours or so
and I've been working since 8 am this morning, back home for about and hour for dinner, and then I'm heading back into work for a night survey.  I hope (maybe maybe maybe) to be back by 1 am.


Wiped out.

Plus my air mattress is busted (not that I've had much opportunity to sleep on it anyways!)

Sometimes being a scientist is an insane thing...

... and bizarrely exhilarating!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer."

Warning - what follows is a very introspective post, having little to do with science, jobs or school, a quite a lot to do with self reflection, evaluation and stuff at the core of life.  Other than the one humorous quote, not terribly cheerful either.  But hey, it's my blog to write.  Shrug.  

As is my usual tendency, when I can't come up with my own words to describe what I'm thinking and wrestling with, I end up wandering through quote compilations, saving the ones that resonate.  Sometimes it helps me put a finger on what it is that's bothering me, and at the very least, they convey such things more skillfully than I can.

Today's short list:

One will never reach distant shores,
if he chooses to remain upon the dock,
In fear his little ship of dreams
may be dashed against the rocks.
-- F. Bolen.

4:18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
-- 1 John 4:18.

Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.
-- Arthur Somers Roche.

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
-- Frank Herbert, Dune. Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear.

Women's faults are many, men have just two!
Everything they say and everything they do!!!
-- Unknown.


This story in particular came to mind.  I think right now I am the younger monk.

"Two monks were making a pilgrimage to venerate the relics of a great Saint. During the course of their journey, they came to a river where they met a beautiful young woman -- an apparently worldly creature, dressed in expensive finery and with her hair done up in the latest fashion. She was afraid of the current and afraid of ruining her lovely clothing, so asked the brothers if they might carry her across the river. 

The younger and more exacting of the brothers was offended at the very idea and turned away with an attitude of disgust. The older brother didn't hesitate, and quickly picked the woman up on his shoulders, carried her across the river, and set her down on the other side. She thanked him and went on her way, and the brother waded back through the waters. 

The monks resumed their walk, the older one in perfect equanimity and enjoying the beautiful countryside, while the younger one grew more and more brooding and distracted, so much so that he could keep his silence no longer and suddenly burst out, "Brother, we are taught to avoid contact with women, and there you were, not just touching a woman, but 
carrying her on your shoulders!" 

The older monk looked at the younger with a loving, pitiful smile and said, "Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river; you are still carrying her."


The cycle is something like: love -> fear of loss -> amplified by a scary event in the past -> after which you thought you moved on like a mature adult -> a new, pretty harmless but vaguely reminiscent event brings all the memories and emotions back, and you realize that you didn't do such a good job of letting go as you thought you did.  And confusingly it seems like love is antithetically at the base of all these new dark things - jealousy, fear, anxiety.  Enormous, heart pounding things in dark nights, but in the morning the reality check light goes off on your mental dash board.  And you browse quotes, little bits of what other people have felt and thought and said.  Then you can name the darknesses, and start cutting them away as fruits unworthy of love, and dangerous beasts to harbor.

Culpa est mea.

"Aren't you already there?"

"Can miles truly separate you from friends... If you want to be with someone you love, aren't you already there?"

- Richard Bach

In this case, by all rights, I'm a couple hundred miles away, at a halloween party on a cold dark night.  Which might explain the disorientation I feel at also being right here, on my air mattress in the dark looking at a computer screen, hearing the click of keys, the white noise of a fan from the other room in the background, and my heart in my ears.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

All I needed to know I learned (not) in school

It occured to me today that I'm over six weeks into my "new" job now, and things have settled down into somewhat of a routine, or semblance of normality. But I'm not sure that I've really described the kinds of things that I'm doing here, which is cause for some reflection, and perhaps some story telling.

Let's see, on Monday I spent most of the day visiting a bunch of field sites and pouring seed/sand samples from tubs into plastic bags, collecting data for a grad student at a remote school who's doing a project on seed predation. A common aspect of my job is actually often designing/inventing the structures and devices we need to accomplish some of our experiments. This is a fun, and rather unexpected part of work... on any given day, it involves a lot of head scratching, tinkering with all kinds of hardware, pvc pipes, metal conduit, pipe fittings, plywood, 2x4's, plastic craft boxes, rope, steel cable, hog rings, rebar, lots of duct tape etc, etc, etc. Also playing with power tools: drills, drill presses, table saws, hand saws, hack saws, pipe cutters, crimpers, screwdrivers, wire strippers, hammers ("persuaders"), vice grips, wrenches, pliers, sledges (or as I like to call them "big persuaders"), and so on. Most of the things we make are driven by the need to accomplish a given task, without pre-existing plans, and (because this is ecology) the conflicting demands of the best/sturdiest/most easily opperated device and at the same time, using materials that are as cheap/easily obtainable/fast to construct as possible. Right now our project is significantly limited by budget and time constraints.

I like to pretend (not without some true similarities I think) that I'm one of the engineers in Houston that helped figure out how to save Apollo 13. This job is, I'll grant you, not quite so stressful, and no one's life rides on the success of our inventions.... (Thank goodness!)  But still.

How does a theoretical ecology dude end up with a job that involves such a significant amount of engineering, tool usage and common sense? I guess I'd have to indirectly blame (credit?) a good deal of it to my parents.  Ever since I can remember, the houses we've lived in have been in one state of renovation or another.  There are pictures of me as a baby in one of those walker things, in a room where all of the walls are sorta ripped out and you can see wiring and lathe n' plaster...  This started literally before I was born, when my parents bought a run down old house (now more than 200 years old!) and a lovely old piece of property.  18 years later, it was just about all fixed up and perfect, and we moved...  Repeat.  

We've always done a lot of the work on our houses ourselves, as my father is very handy (skills he learned from his dad), and my mother learned to be so as well.  Plumbing, electrical work, framing, deconstruction, roofing, painting, you name it, we've done it (probably more than once).  Once my younger sister and I were old enough to help, we chipped in, handing tools and nails and doing simple jobs at first.  As a result of all of this, I've ended up with a set of common sense/practical/handy-person skills that are serving me well right now.  I've told my dad (much to his amusement) that the knowledge I'm using right now for this job I had to have a bachelor's degree to apply for is actually everything that I learned from him long before I ever entered halls of higher learning...

What was the point of college again?  ;-)  Not really to get this job, but to carry me on to the next phase I guess, the ever closer, looming graduate school period.  On that front, I'm up to two solid/exciting possibilities, one safety, one maybe and one no-go.   With maybe 3-4 people left to contact.  I'm slowly making headway.  I think I'd be happy calling it a full set if I end up applying to 5 schools, +/- 1.  Whew.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

News + 5 random things + 1 lie= worth a post

Easy part first...  I wasn't going to do this because it is strongly reminiscent of email chain letters that I make it a rule to delete, but I am going to cave in to peer pressure.  Add in the fact that at this point every blog I read has already done this tagging business, such that by my participation I still represent a dead-end in the network tree and won't be contributing to the spread of this 'meme' thing, and I have no more defenses.

In honor of the Dawkins-esque declaration of this process as a 'meme' or slowly mutating piece of culture, I'm going to shake things up a bit and post six random things about myself, one of which is untrue.  Kudos if you can pick it out.

1)  I've personally met the presidents of Costa Rica and Panama.
2)  I was born in a blizzard under an unusual astronomical event, called a syzygy.
3)  One of my fond and vivid memories is having sea grape cytoplasm squirted all over my leg.
4)  I spent several years of my childhood wearing rainboots and a tri-corner.
5)  Before I came along, my parents were revolutionary war re-enactors; I, finding gunfire distasteful, and having a powerful set of lungs even as a baby, made short work of that past-time. 
6) I used to take ballet classes, and wanted to be the next Magical Mr. Mistofeles from the musical Cats.

Hope that was all y'all wished it could be :-)

News section:

- I turned in my absentee ballot today, and have now officially voted in my first presidential election (I missed the last one by being about 2 months too young, much to my annoyance, as at the time I was organizing and running a student group promoting voter registration....  I used to be quite the young activist before academia consumed my soul).  I ended up voting for a candidate I hadn't expected to vote for, with feelings of optimism and wanting to give him a chance to prove that he means what he says, rather than voting for the candidate I had intended to originally motivated by my young, idealistic, environmental perspectives.  Go figure.

- as for local elections, I hate it when there's only one candidate for an office, and refuse to vote in such cases.  Doesn't make a bit of difference, but it feeds my pique.

- I am the proud owner of a halloween costume for the first time in several years (last year i carried a hand mirror and pretended to be a mirror image of myself - the culmination of several years of increasingly lamer costume excuses).  Went shopping at a nearby Goodwill with one of the other research techs, and picked out an awesome outfit, which will interface nicely with those new dancing shoes I've mentioned before.  I'll put up a picture perhaps...  its wild.  And the fun thing is that parts of the get-up I'll probably happily wear again.

- Got my first paycheck from the new job today, almost six weeks after I started working here.  It seems to be rather a pattern that short term research jobs take a long time to catch on... good to know in the future.  Luckily I tend to be a pretty good saver, so it wasn't horrible to wait for the paperwork and checks to start catching up with me, but this could be a big problem for others...  if you know someone doing the whole take-a-year-off thing intending to work short term jobs, tell them to be persistent and timely in making sure the bureaucrats get their paperwork done, and to have a buffer of cash on hand...

- Sent out a difficult email to a potential grad advisor this evening... took forever to write it, as I knew from his website that he wasn't planning on taking new students this coming fall.  I wanted to check to see just how firm that statement is, but also didn't want to seem ignorant of his website info, or presupposing/arrogant.  Hopefully I got it right.  This guy does neat work, and as an added bonus, he teaches at the same big academic school that Eugenie visited last weekend with her pre-vet folks...  Finally, I got a response back from another email I'd sent, so now I'm up to 4 positive responses to inquiries, 2 of them at places I'm solidly interested in, one at a 'safety' school, and one that I don't know what to make of yet.

I'm like that rock you see in animations of potential versus kinetic energy - rolling down hill and picking up speed.  Look out...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Thou mammering pottle-deep fustilarian!

This amuses me:

That is all.

A little southern culture

Yesterday was the big day - our first full scale attempt of our coordinated experiment.  Things went really smoothly, perhaps even surprisingly so.  A very long day though - I clocked in about 18 hours of work; exhausting business, and not something I want to do on a regular basis.  But, in the name of science...

Only had about an hour to grab dinner last night, so instead of driving all the way back to my apartment (~20 minutes), I stopped at a small town BBQ place.  "Catherine's" is only open three days a week, and consists of a buffet of various southern dishes, including pulled pork, BBQ sauce, fried okra, hushpuppies, sweet potatoes, corn, green beans, rice, some sort of orange brown stuff to put on the rice (I think), swea' tay'  (sweet tea - supersaturated sugar water with some brown coloring), mac and cheese, potato salad, coleslaw, and dessert options: banana pudding (with real banana chunks!) and peach cobbler stuff.  Did I mention that it's a buffet, and you can come back for as many helpings as you want?  Pretty much a perfect situation for dinner on a long work day, preparing for a long cold night of work...  Cold air fights rather effectively with threatening food-comas.

It's an interesting place to eat solitarily too - lots of local character to watch.  There aren't really any small tables here, just long ones with lots of chairs, so it's rather communal.  It's fun to listen to the conversations and try to understand the "southern-ese" with varying success.  Usually I can only catch a few words here and there.   Highlights from last night:

"And someone baked that lil' child a cake, and he'd never seen one before, so he asked 'what'd you do to the corn bread?'"

"Say something soft and sweet",  response:  "banana pudding"

... from where I sit now, maybe those aren't quite so interesting as they were last night when I heard them.  Shrug.

Other notable objects of southern culture to be found around town include probably my favorite pawn shop ever - "We Buy:  Gold - Coins - Silver - Diamonds - Jesus Loves You"

Does it get much better than that?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

On getting excited...

Hey all

So the graduate school search continues.  I've decided to shelve my efforts to throw together an application for the NSF graduate fellowships for the time being, and focus on getting to the graduate school and advisor that will be right for me.  Seems like this is a more important and immediately pressing goal.  If for some insane reason I find myself with enough time as the deadline for the NSF thing approaches, and am simultaneously struck by inspiration, I'll give it ago, but for now it's cooling its heels.  I've been discovering how hard it is to work on designing and thinking about science when you work 40+ hours a week, and aren't in an academic setting...  one more reason to get my butt in gear applying to schools.

Towards that end, my total count of potential advisors contacted is up to 4, of which 3 have responded, and 1 has conversed on the phone with me (soon to be 2)... I've also started contacting their graduate students to get some inside scoops.  I'm kind of starting to get excited about one place in particular, although that may just be because I've gotten the best response/most information from them to date.  So far everyone responding has been very helpful/friendly/informative, so that's nice.  It's cool to be on the up swing of a "feeling excited about science" cycle - sometimes I just get too overwhelmed to feel the excitement.  There are probably about 4 more people I want to e-mail, but definitely I'm making headway... whew.

In other news, we've got the first of 9 replicates of a very large experiment happening down here tomorrow - something we've been preparing for over the course of several weeks, and involving the coordinated efforts of 6 people and several radios.  Keep your fingers crossed that all goes well tomorrow, gulp.  If so, then I'll be working the next several nights collecting data (argle, also yeeeehaw!).  I'm working significantly more than 40 hours a week right now, which was something i was concerned about when deciding if i wanted this job - I'm trying to preserve the time I need for grad school apps, etc.  But I tend to be very stubborn, and want to work until a job is done, rather than cutting off at 8 hrs a day, so I'm well over 40 again.  Extra hours are saved up and count towards paid vacation apparently...  at this rate, I could be getting paid for a week or two of extra 'work' well after having finished physically working here.  Good deal.  I'm planning on burning some of that over Thanksgiving, when I'll be heading off to visit Eugenie and her family (more on that in the future I'm sure).

But for now, off to bed, as tomorrow could be a 16 hour day (eeeeek!)

Peace out...


- Jonas Salk

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The gates of the temple of science...

Currently engaged wracking my brain trying to come up with a research project to propose for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship application.  I feel like there are so many things that I am very curious about (which is a good prerequisite for a research project), but that at least for now, the vast majority of them are things that quite a lot is already known about.  I just need to study the topics more, which is why I want to head back to academia.  But it doesn't make a great "original research proposal" to propose to learn about things that are already known.  Trying to come up with an original, meaningful project to advance the edge of scientific knowledge, when you still can't feel quite where that line lies, and if the stuff on the other side of the curtain is worth knowing, is, well, HARD.  Not sure what to do about this.  But it did remind me of a quote that I like, by "some physicist dude"...

"Anybody who has been seriously engaged in scientific work of any kind realizes that over the entrance to the gates of the temple of science are written the words: Ye must have faith. It is a quality which the scientist cannot dispense with.

- Max Planck

I guess I'll keep reading and thinking and see where I end up.

PS, I think this is me.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

And so it begins...

In the last several days I've begun at long last contacting potential grad school advisors.  I feel like I still haven't looked at everyone I should, or compiled the best list of people possible to write to, but it's starting to get late in the season, and I need to get going.  So last night I jumped off a cliff, send out a letter to a guy I met at ESA over the summer, and took a deep breath.  Now that I've begun, I feel like this means I'm definitely committed to beginning grad school next year.  Gulp.  Hopefully a lot of the nerves are out of the way now that I've begun, and the excitement of this whole thing will shine through.

This afternoon I got an e-mail back from the guy I wrote to - it was very, very positive, which makes me happy.   He wasn't planning on taking a student in 09 because of a sabbatical that he's taking, but he said he "can't pass up a chance to get you here".  WOW.  Very unexpected...  am I just being flattered?  Eeeek.   Now the pressure's on.  I realllly didn't think I'd get that good of a response from someone I'd only briefly met and conversed with.  

I'm pushing on, with the intent of getting out a letter a night minimum until I'm done (right now 7-8 people are on my hit list).  Before I get to that though, I'm paying rent, grabbing some thai food with the other research techs, and then back here to read through my paper manuscript (the lab group here is reading and discussing it at the meeting tomorrow am to give me feedback.)  I really hope it goes over well - this is a group of people with a much more applied focus than who I usually share this project with.  My co-author's comments on the current draft are in the mail too, so maybe this weekend I'll submit the sucker (who knows!).

Time for a shower...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pesky Plant

There's a plant from the genus Desmodium (Fabaceae) all over the place down here in our field sites.  It ranges everywhere from about 10 cm high all the way up to plants taller than I am.  When I first started a few weeks ago, mostly it was still flowering.  Since that time, it has gone to fruit, and it produces these special legumes called "loments" with an exterior that is very, very sticky (like microvelcro or something).  These "seeds" are now sticking to everything, and I mean absolutely everything.  All you have to do is brush against a loment and it sticks in pieces or as a whole section to your shoes, pants, shirt, skin, facial hair, you name it.  At the end of a day of field work, you can be covered in these suckers.  Our office back at the lab has them all over the carpet, and some people have been arranging the loments into little pictures and mosaics...

The most annoying this about this plant and its tenacious dispersal mechanism arrives (as I recently discovered) when you go to do laundry...  if you don't get all of the loments off your clothes beforehand, then end up in every bit of your clean clothes.  Alas, I just spent a half hour picking them out of my clean underwear, socks, shirts, etc, etc.  Sigh.

I kind of wonder where these seeds will end up if I toss them in the garbage?  Would they have a chance at some sort of long-distance dispersal event and establishment of a new population?  Or do they end up buried so deep that they are unable to germinate?  I usually try to pick the seeds off and leave them behind me as close to where I picked them up as possible, but sometimes I definitely miss some.  And I don't want to just chuck them outside my door.... Hmmm.  The conundrums of attempting to be a conscientious ecologist and understanding invasion biology...

(Images are from an archive of plant photos maintained by the University of Texas, Austin, check it out here)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Getting paid to wear assless chaps, or Why I love ecology

*Yep, I got paid to wear assless chaps today for work...*


*I know you're dying of curiosity... keep reading*

So the project I'm a part of down here in the southeast involves habitat restoration experiments.  For some of these systems, this means the periodic clearing of brush and small saplings and subsequent controlled forest fires.  Fire plays a really important role in the regeneration and maintenance of many traditional plant communities and habitats.  

*Wait for it...*

Being a lowly research tech, today I was assigned to help clear out these "small" saplings (trees can grow awful fast in a year!  Mostly oaks, cherry, sassafras, and various nut trees) from some of our experimental plots.  So I spent all day using one of these to clear brush.  Hot, tiring, sweaty, smelly, loud work involving quite a bit of physical exertion.  And, as part of my personal protective equipment (PPE as the red tape calls it around here), I had to wear these assless "chaps" made of a special fabric that stops saw blades (useful for if you slip with a chain saw and try to cut off your leg or something).  Usually the buckle right on over the top of everything, although mine was messed up today.  Oh ecology - runs the gamut of skills and talents needed in the pursuit of science, ranging from power tools to electrical knowledge, genetic analysis to mathematical modeling...  And involving so many fun toys (not talking just about DBH tapes here...)!

Also, the air conditioning in our apartment makes me think of the sound of the brush saw engines revving and cutting - that's how you know you did the same thing for too long a time period!

Another country heard from...

Saturday, September 27, 2008


This is all out of order, but I'm really excited about these "new" shoes I found at a thrift store today:

I've been dying to get a pair of shoes for swing dancing in, with nice leather bottoms for slippery goodness, so that I can stop wrecking socks and take my level of class up a notch or two.  But definitely I'm wayyyy too cheap to pay for new dance shoes.  I found these today for $5 at a nearby thrift store.  Wicked exciting, and the fit well too!  I wore them most of the day around my apartment.

Now all I  need is a place to dance!!!