Sunday, July 27, 2008

Serendipity of sleep.

"There are some good things to be said about walking. Not many, but some. Walking takes longer, for example, than any other known form of locomotion except crawling. Thus it stretches time and prolongs life. Life is already too short to waste on speed. I have a friend who's always in a hurry; he never gets anywhere. Walking makes the world much bigger and thus more interesting. You have time to observe the details. The utopian technologists foresee a future for us in which distance is annihilated and anyone can transport himself anywhere, instantly. Big deal, Buckminster. To be everywhere at once is to be nowhere forever, if you ask me."

Edward Abbey

"This above all: to thine ownself be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!"

Hamlet, William Shakespeare

Serendipity of Sleep - When it's most needed in preparation for the coming of another day of challenges and tasks, it seems hardest to find.

People playing guitar and singing upstairs, others dashing up and down the row of apartments shouting/screaming and banging on the railings. On the surface I'm a bit grumpy about that as I'd like to be sleeping, so that tomorrow goes more smoothly. I'm pretty sure that what's really keeping me up is a little closer to home though.

As strange as it sounds, I think it's actually the predictability of my life right now that's bothering me. The regularity of work, the knowledge of just which problems I plan on tackling in the morning, details and plans for the coming two weeks. All of this mixed in with plans for a fall job, plans for years of graduate school. I usually think that it's the not knowing what will come next that bothers me the most. But maybe I've got it all backwards, and what scares me is knowing what comes next. Because with that certainty (or at least the semblance of it), comes the knowledge of what won't be happening next, and a bit of the joy of a spontaneous life evaporates. It's an interesting dynamic - the tug of war balancing act between stability and spontaneity.

I think usually I prefer to participate in spontaneous things within the context of a stable foundation, like when I was in college still. I had a background orderly flow to my life, stabilizing enough that I felt comfortable (safe?) being spontaneous, with respect to events on campus, visiting friends, procrastinating, trips and the like. Little pockets of unpredictable goodness.

So maybe the trick to adjusting to this transient part of my life is to accept that the foundation is the spontaneous part of my life right now, and to learn to work from that to create little bubbles of stability. Maybe.

Or maybe this is just the product of light night mental ramblings. Seems to make sense right now though. From the Abbey quote above - to be everywhere at once is to be nowhere forever. Note to self: stop trying to be everywhere at once in thought, spend more time being here and now, even as the heres change to theres. Remember that each time you stop to realize that you are here, in this place, right now, that realization is a little piece of stability in itself.

Chamomile's gone, time to try the pillow again.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Busy couple of days...

As the subject line of this post implies, it's been a busy couple of days out here.

On the research front, the breakthrough related to the scribbles I posted a picture of a few days ago has turned out to be a fascinating set of ideas. It's totally revived my enthusiasm for this project, as well as sparking some interesting thoughts for where to go next. I remain optimistic that this new-found energy will be the motivation I need to finish a paper on this project. There may even be one or two more papers worth of material to be gotten out of a few extensions of this work. Heady stuff. Right now I've been trying to put together the graphs and such that I need to make my case. This has involved remotely running a batch of simulations on a Linux server back at my old school... 2.5 days and counting! Yikes. Hopefully it'll be done by the end of the weekend, so I can take a look at the results on Monday. I'd really like to have a new draft of this paper to show my old adviser in two weeks when we'll both be attending this year's national conference. So far I haven't told him about this breakthrough at all... Can't wait to share the surprise!

On a more personal front, Thursday and Friday were rather challenging days, as Bait was trying to figure out how to handle all of the BS being handed to her by people she works for at her research institute. Check out her post for the run-down on that. Being a sort of outside observer on all of it, and someone that knows her rather well, it blows my mind that people can be so inconsiderate/petty/blind.

"Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength."
-- Eric Hoffer

It's a sad thing when people fail to recognize the talent and resources that others bring to collaboration, and to put such skills to use in doing productive, important work on what are some very important and pressing conservation issues. It's even worse when the reason for their "oversight" comes from not paying attention, or especially, out of feeling threatened by the skills of another person. If not even the people working within environmental and conservation organizations can set aside their egos and power plays for the purpose of furthering the causes they profess to advance, things are in a scary state indeed. We need to stop feeling threatened by each other, and work together instead to address the threats our lifestyles pose to the amazing critters and plants of our natural world, and consequently, ultimately to ourselves.

I'm a lot calmer than Friday night... you might be able to tell even so, but I was decidedly angry about this whole thing. I make it a general habit to not get seriously angry more than a couple of times a year. It definitely has it's time, place, and purpose. As some Greek dude said a long time ago:

"Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way... that is not easy."
-- Aristotle

I think (hope?) this was a pretty good occasion for getting a bit angry. It definitely would have been more satisfying if I wasn't many many states away, but perhaps that's a good thing too. In the end, I think the best things to have come out of all of this was the conversations I had with Bait about it all. Not easy ones, or happy ones, but very very real ones, allowing us to meet and know each other again in some different ways. If that makes sense. I'm going to lean on a crutch again and use another quote, part of my reflection on the value of having been angry and responded to it by conversing:

"Nonviolence is about speaking the whole complicated truth, the truth of our rage, the truth of our longing, the truth of our tears and our laughter, the truth of our smallest fears and our grandest dreams."
-- Pam McAllister

Switching gears yet again, and maybe for the last time in this post, I spent most of today researching graduate schools and potential advisors. I almost feel like this should be an entire post in it's own right, so I may not go all out right now.

The jist of the story though is that I've sort of already delayed attending graduate school for a year for two reasons. The first (and better) reason is from the desire to broaden my experiences, hopefully by travelling to new places (different countries?) and stretching myself outside of the comfortable little pocket I've found in academia, maybe figuring out what I want to do next in life along the way somewhere. The second, less praiseworthy reason is that I was wayyy too busy last fall to put the kind of time I wanted to into looking at graduate programs and doing the research necessary for making good selections.

Here I am almost a year later, and I'm not sure how much of that has changed really. I've definitely got an earlier start on the process this time around. But fundamentally, I still don't know what I want to do (ie, what 'topic' I want to study within my field in graduate school). There are just sooooo many interesting and exciting topics out there! The thought of having to specialize is distinctly unpleasant. I originally got excited about double majoring as an undergrad because it meant I didn't have to choose between interesting subjects as much. Without having that lighthouse of a topical direction, trying to narrow down graduate programs and advisors is a real challenge.

More on this tomorrow; I'm starting to get weary, and this is an important topic for me - I want to express it right.

For my closing today, I'm going to offer up two great links I came across while browsing the internet today on the grad school quest:

1) REALLY cool - this site is a compendium of (FREE) online textbook resources on subjects ranging from math and physics, to biology. Some really great resources here. And did I mention they're free??? A nice way to protest the exhorbitant price of a lot of course texts these days...

2) Humor - check out these 'stickers' designed as spoofs of a sticker placed inside biology textbooks cautioning readers about the dangerous treatment of evolutionary theory within the book.

The closing quotes:

"That you may retain your self-respect, it is better to displease the people by doing what you know is right, than to temporarily please them by doing what you know is wrong."
-- William J. H. Boetcker

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the word to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
-- George Bernard Shaw.

Those are for you Bait. Keep it up!


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Quotes to cover the day

A few quotes that sort of summarize a few parts of my day, in more or less apparent ways:

Jonas Salk:

The reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more.

- so many new research discoveries... and so many unanswered questions cropped up today.


Science is facts; just as houses are made of stones, so is science made of facts; but a pile of stones is not a house and a collection of facts is not necessarily science.

- that one's for you Bait, after talking about the 'science' that happens at COI

Allan K. Chalmers:

The Grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.

Bertrand Russell:

Three passions have governed my life:
The longings for love, the search for knowledge,
And unbearable pity for the suffering of [humankind].

Love brings ecstasy and relieves loneliness.
In the union of love I have seen
In a mystic miniature the prefiguring vision
Of the heavens that saints and poets have imagined.

With equal passion I have sought knowledge.
I have wished to understand the hearts of [people].
I have wished to know why the stars shine.

Love and knowledge led upwards to the heavens,
But always pity brought me back to earth;
Cries of pain reverberated in my heart
Of children in famine, of victims tortured
And of old people left helpless.
I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot,
And I too suffer.

This has been my life; I found it worth living.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ups and Downs + Naked Moose???


So today was a real mixed back in the research department. This morning I resigned myself to having come to an utter standstill with one of my three ongoing research projects - there's a problem with my code somewhere and it leaks significant amounts of memory while performing quite a lot of numerical calculations. The language I'm working in I picked up just this summer, and it's beyond my current knowledge/skill level, and the contents of the less than helpful 'help files' to resolve this leak. I'm resorting to a very kloodgy solution for the time being - added 3 gigs of ram to the laptop I'm working on, and now it just takes a lot longer for the constant memory leak to become fatal. Ugly, so very ugly.

Having accepted failure on that front, I switched to my oldest research project during the afternoon. This one has been on-going for about three years now, and is at the point where I should have written and published a paper on it some time ago. However, I suffer from a case of perfectionism, and I haven't really be satisfied or confident enough with my results to finish writing and send my first opus out into the dog-eat-dog world of academic publishing. Not having worked on this project for several weeks now, this afternoon I actually had a nice set of little breakthroughs and small ideas of a new way to look at what happens in my simulational model. Most of the new code required is up and running, and hopefully tomorrow I'll get the rest functional. If things turn out the way I'm predicting, this might finally be the explanatory material I was looking for to round out my paper. I really want to make the first one a good one!

Not that anyone probably cares very much, but here's one of my scribble sheets from brainstorming this afternoon:

Probably another 6-7 of these are still littering my desk back in the academic building. Stories about my lab to come in some future post... it's an interesting place. No stealing my ideas now, y'hear? If my scribbles are even legible that is.

On a different note completely, I read an interesting article today from the Washington Post, about the effects of climate change on a well studied and unique predator-prey sysyem on Isle Royale in Lake Superior. More than 50 years of observations have been done on the wolf and moose populations coexisting on this isolated island, since wolves first crossed the ice from the mainland one winter. It's a rare opportunity in ecology to be able to studying such an important trophic interaction at such a large scale in a relatively closed system. Apparently moose populations are on a severe decline, probably due to increasingly warm summers that stress their physiology, which is better adapted for cold climes. Read the article here (they really do reference naked moose, I promise!) or check out Isle Royale. It's definitely a place I'd love to visit some day.

Ok, enough out of me for tonight. Peace.

Monday, July 21, 2008


I always sort of feel like beginnings should be particularly inspired things, well thought out, planned in advance, and as close to perfect as possible. Strange then, that some of the best things in my life happened from beginnings that were hardly even detectable, the accumulation of a series of small events. Indeed, I can only hope this little foray into the world of cyberspace prose is one such beginning, as I can claim no premeditation this time.

Probably the usual thing is to start with a summary of the purpose motivating the creation of a blog, and to utter a few enthusiastic intentions to write regularly and at length. I've started enough journals in my time to view such commitments with a bit of cynicism. For now, my main motivation is to add enough text so that the slap-dash formatting of this blog doesn't irritate me later when I want to sleep.

"Transient Theorist" is rather a vague title, which currently suits my mood, place in life, and certain parts of the way that I see the world very well indeed. With regards to my current occupation, it refers to ecological and mathematical theory. When not subsumed by this occupation and my day to day struggles with computers, equations, simulations and the like, the 'theory' component could expand to cover everything from environmentalism and philosophy, to theology, literature and economics. With the buzz words out of the way, I often find more the more random, particular theories of my everyday life to be far more amusing (ranging from predictions about the underlying pattern behind the lunch menu, the presence of sprinklers in diving pools, the fall of 'nifty' from lexical favor, and the merits of munching red peppers on airplane flights).

I guess that covers the Theorist part. Transient is even easier to explain... I'm well into my second month of living with only the things I could carry with me via air travel, with an unknown number of months and journeys yet to go. This represents rather a challenge for me (in case it wasn't apparent from the way that I began this post, I much prefer to plan my futures out far in advance), but I'm attempting to embrace this as a new and novel way of existing. Time will tell.

As for now, I think this is quite enough to get things rolling. Just like getting into a cold lake - I always take it real slow... To finish up with, I think I'll post a quote. I enjoy collecting them, and have amassed some substantial word files, so I intend to indulge in sharing these little gems, which I can at best take credit simply for having appreciated.

“If it should turn out that we have mishandled our own lives as several civilizations before us have done, it seems a pity that we should involve the violet and the tree frog in our departure.”

- Loren Eisley, US author, scientist and naturalist.