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.