Friday, November 21, 2008
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
-- 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.
-- Frank Herbert, Dune. Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear.
Women's faults are many, men have just two!
Everything they say and everything they do!!!
Everything they say and everything they do!!!
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.
"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.