Saturday, January 31, 2009

Am I living in a Fantasy world?

I've re-written this post about five times, lets hope maybe it's finally come out right.  I know it's a little long, but please read it - I badly need some advice.

The other night I was out at a local brewery with a group of grad students from the station here, at a reception for this week's visiting seminar speaker.  At one point during the evening, the conversation turned towards a particular institution's graduate program, a premier program which usually admits a very high-powered, small, and highly selective group of students each year.  Someone proceeded to express a set of very strong negative opinions about the program's students, noting that good GPAs, recommendation letters, and GRE scores only meant that they were "book-smart" students.  Said individual had gone to a much less renowned program in a different part of the country, identified as anything but a book-smart student, and yet has done some stellar research work, and has the publication record to prove it.

To boil down my take on the matter, (this is nothing revolutionary), "book smart" is a stereotype.   We're all familiar with the general way of things - stereotypes are generalizations about a group of people, based on experiences drawn from a set of case examples demonstrating a pattern.  Often stereotypes can actually point out things that aren't good about a particular group, or the way that they do something, or the privileges that they receive.  As with any generalization, there are exceptions (often many exceptions) to the generalized rule.  

"Book smart", being a stereotype, fits all of this.  Without going into this a whole lot, because there's another part of it that is more on my mind right now, I'll be the first to admit that "book smart" people can be arrogant about their perceived "intelligence", and that often they are afforded opportunities (graduate school, jobs, scholarships, etc., etc. etc.) that other people with other skills are equally deserving of, and could perform at just as well.  So many people seem to want the skill, and dislike those that have it with degrees ranging from mild rancor to hate.

What's really on my mind right now is how to respond to a stereotype when you're in the group that it refers to.  This is where it gets kind of personal.  By pretty much any standards, line up the credentials and I'm "book smart".  I can't help it.  It's who I am, it's my nature, it's who I was taught and raised to be.  I can't help it.

So what are we supposed to do?  What are the options when someone dislikes you for who you are?  Retreat into your books, which can't hate you, lose touch with the world and place your trust in the fact that jabs you aren't aware of can't hurt you?  Take the offensive, develop a thick protective coat of arrogance, and surround yourself with a similar group of "elites" to weather the raging?  Either response simply serves to reinforce the stereotype that engendered it.  Accusations of arrogance, elitism, and feigned superiority hit their mark, targeting both the people for whom this stereotype is unapologetically accurate, and those who are driven into adopting such a protective persona.  And even talking (or writing on a blog) about the subject is often enough to get you classified as arrogant.  

I am acutely aware of this stereotype, and where I fall with regards to it.  I can't stand arrogance, and nine times out of ten I wish I could wave a magic wand and change things so I wouldn't stick out.  It makes me feel isolated from other people, even people that are really close to me, not because I choose to be isolated but because they choose to set me apart.  Put my picture on the wall.  Hang meaningless things around my neck.  Put me up on a pedestal, and then dislike me because I'm there, and decide that I can't understand who they are and the path that they walk, because of where I've been put.

So how do I deal with it?  I don't know that I've got the best solution.  I think so far I've managed to avoid completely sinking myself into my studies, letting myself get pigeon-holed, and losing touch (although I can always feel this tugging at me.  it's so tempting sometimes to slide into that - comparatively - safe world.)  I'd like to think that I've avoided the arrogance armor, although this is a continual source of self doubt.  I even avoided applying to some good grad programs because I was afraid of the arrogance bug.  But I don't know that my hands are clean even so (maybe just mentioning it or thinking about it this way is tantamount to exhibiting it).

The path of recourse I've been taking so far involves clinging with a good degree of desperation to the belief that anyone could be where I am, given different past opportunities or present motivations.  That if they believe in themselves enough, and approach the world with enough tenacity, they can take what they want from it.  And that hopefully, if I can work hard enough to be a source of encouragement for other people, a teacher, a mentor, a friend, I can somehow assuage the guilt that I feel for being who I am.  That if I deny my skills hard enough, swear them off as nothing and unimportant, maybe they will go away or become irrelevant and stop serving as a painful source of separation.

So you tell me readers, I really want to hear your thoughts.  Do I live in a fantasy world?  Am I clinging so hard to this optimistic belief (perhaps for my own selfish reasons) that I do more harm then good by believing in people?  When do you start causing harm by refusing to accept that something is impossible, that someone can't change their life and their prospects, that somethings can't be overcome and only lived with?

Perhaps more selfishly, if I were to stop denying that differences meant anything at all, how do I live with myself, and the realization that the part of me that is so detested, the "book smart" part is actually an inseparable part of me, rather than just a position that I find myself in by good (cursed?) fortune?  That it's not my luck that's disliked, but actually me?  What's left to do then... suck it up, let it hurt, come down to earth alone?  run away to the books?  Cut my ties, go over to the dark side of the force and put on black arrogance armor?

Am I going about this all wrong?  HELP!!!

A speaker I once heard talk about diversity from a racial perspective said that what was important was not to get to the point where we are all blind to racial differences and ignore them, but to get to the point where we could recognize them, celebrate them, and live together enriched by them instead of using them to alienate ourselves.  Maybe I've been approaching this all with the attitude of blindness.  But I don't know how to recognize and celebrate these differences without feeling convicted by society, and hence myself, as an arrogant, ungrateful, pompous jerk.  This is too big for me, I don't know what to do.

Please please please tell me what you think.

This blows my mind!

Is this amazing or what???

Komodo dragfox

I bet that got your attention...

So you think you have weird dreams? Amateurs. I was going to try to hybridize a few images to share my night vision with y'all, but I don't have photoshop anymore (and probably my computer would be too slow to run it anyways), and I'm lazy. At any rate, picture a hybrid Komodo dragon and fox, but dressed in drag.

The Komodo dragon part I owe to my housemate, who told me about this. That's whacked out people... almost as weird as plant reproductive systems! The rest of it is anyone's guess.

Also there's a tarantula living in my house. She eats crickets, which we're trying to breed. They make a lot of noise.

Monday, January 26, 2009


This is just to show you people that, while I make up more than my fair share of dubious or strange analogies, they're really quite good compared to some of what's out there. Check this one out for example:

"Imagine you wake up one morning and find yourself on an alien planet entirely deserted except for a watermelon with a step stool beside it."

- Synchrony, by Steven Strogatz

That's the lead in to a thought example that he uses to explain how lasers work. Interesting factoid that was new to me - the word "laser" is actually an acronym, standing for "Light Amplification by Simulated Emission of Radiation". Way cool. As is this book:

I'm only about half way through, but it is an engaging read. Lots of fascinating examples, drawing together everything from the biology of fireflies to the physics of the power grid, and revealing their common underlying mathematical framework. I dig it.

Something else that has me pumped right now: read this

I so hope that this all comes together, it has me feeling so hopeful to see already these beginning signs of changing policy and new chances for a better future.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Sometimes I really love the winter. I came home from the grocery store today, and saw this:

So I threw the groceries on the kitchen counter and ran outside with my camera. Took a few pictures, and my fingers froze, so then i put my gloves back on and just watched the sun set.

*sigh of appreciation*

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Similie of the Cake.

Warning - the following contains an inside message that will be pointless to pretty much everyone. But trust me, it's pretty important, and I want to remember it, and somehow this blog has become a place for saving memories.

Here's to working towards an ever better, and more understood, cake.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

stupid shoes. help(?)

At lunch today, for some reason, the subject of academic attire came up. Apparently, the combination that I wore to last night's bio station "inaugural ball" (sweater, buttony shirt, tie (!), khakis, and brown sneakers) has a major flaw that sticks out to some unusually perceptive people. A hint for all you normal people out there like me, it has something to do with the footwear. I was like, ok, well, no big deal, it was a gathering of 6 grad students and me (not a grad student) in the middle of nowhere. The problem is, see, this represents a measurable portion of what I had planned to wear for grad school interviews, and everyone is saying no sneakers.

So for all you fashionistas out there, what should I do? I limited what i brought to the bio station with me... sneakers, hiking boots, ski boots, snow boots, dance shoes. Mostly I wear hiking boots around all day. I guess the options are to stick with the sneaks, wear my fun dance shoes, have my mom mail me my dust covered dress shoes (even though they claim to be comfortable, they can't compare with sneakers or hikers), or grudgingly shell out $ for yet another pair of footware that I will rarely ever wear. I figure y'all will have fun telling me what to do, and then I don't have to think about it...? :-/

I very much dislike spending time thinking and worrying about fashion and attire - it bores me, and I'd rather be doing something else like science. I need like a butler to decide such things for me so I don't have to worry about it. I think what gets me most of all though is that as much as I'd like to totally ignore it and write it off and be liberated, a part of me that really diggs doing my science worries that such opinions will limit me. Yay hypocrisy.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Why I avoid animal stories...

Over winter break, while she was visiting, Eugenie read "Marley and Me" a book about this dude and the rambunctious Labrador he and his wife raised and lived with for 13 years. When she left, she left it behind for me to read, as I had remarked at the number of times it made her giggle. Brought it with me when I left home, and in keeping with the theme of the weekend (ie, pretending not to know what science is), I read it through in the last two days.

It was good. Lots of funny parts, easy to read, moved along and kept me interested. But then you get to the inevitable part of every animal story out there, and it seems, particularly dog stories. Every dog story ever written, the dog dies. Sometimes heroically, sometimes unjustly, often of old age. Regardless, the dog moves on to a different existence, leaving its adoring human behind with a profound sense of loss and grief, and a head full of memories tinged bitter-sweet.

I read these books, and I'm a sucker. Almost without fail my nose starts to get drippy, my eyes water, and I end up scrambling for a tissue box or handkerchief. "Where the Red Fern Grows" - fantastic book; trainwrecks me every time. Eventually as a kid I noticed the pattern, and started trying to avoid such books. Who can stem the tide though? They're everywhere. "Old Yeller", "Call of the Wild", "White Fang", "Shiloh", "Sounder", ... , ... On and on.

I've learned to mostly stay away, and am no longer at an age where assignments can force them upon me... But every now and then one slips through the cracks. And I find myself laughing, and, inevitably, exuding a certain moisture from the viccinity of my eyeballs. Sigh. Sometimes it's good though I guess to have your emotions stirred up a bit. Not something that journal articles usually bring to the table, that's for sure.

The essentials: Food. Computers. Word games.

Hey y'all.

Just in case anyone was starting to worry that I'd starve away into a space smaller than the empty set, I did make it to the grocery store yesterday. I'm now stocked up with enough good eats to last me a week or more. It was a bit of an adventure though - despite forecasts that the snow would stop (it had been snowing for a good five days or so), it never really got around to it. And I was getting hungry. So I ventured out, down roads that apparently this state chooses not to plow with any real frequency on the weekends. Seriously - there was a good 4 inches of snow on the road. Felt like I was in the middle of a blizzard. But I made it. ~$100 later, I've got lots of food, and a little set of tiny screw drivers so I can take my laptop apart (yeah, food is definitely more expensive here than it was down south; I wasn't shopping at a gourmet store by any stretch of the imagination). Although the first shop in a new place always costs more - 'cause you have to invest in all of those one-time items, like a pack of TP or ketchup or olive oil, etc.

I was kind of a lazy bum all weekend; hardly left the house here, and didn't really do any science, which is bad. But I did spend a good chunk of time on computer maintenance, trying to bolster my laptop and help it hang on for another half a year or so, until I start grad school. I'm jumping from 512 mb of RAM up to 2 gb, which should make a huge difference with luck - waiting forever for firefox and other essentials to load is really starting to suck. I might even be able to run Mathematica again on this machine. Figuring out what memory to get took a long time though, as I had to do a lot of sleuth work to determine the make and model of my laptop (an old, not mainstream piece of technology). Along the way, I came across a site with all kinds of advice on my particular kind of laptop, including the reccommendation that the fans and venting duct work needs to be cleaned out every 6 months or so to prevent blockage and overheating. Good thing to know, now that I've owned this computer for ~4 years... Oops! So I pulled out some surprisingly substantial dust bunnies, and the temperature of my CPU is now 20 C cooler than it was before. Still too warm, but loads better. And, my computer no longer sounds like it's an early prototype jet plane trying to take off.

Saturday night we hung out over at one of the grad student's houses. Had a really good time. Snacks. Beverages. People in good humor. Dirty Dancing (the movie) on fast forward. And then someone brought up word games. I've found another word game addict! Joining forces, we coerced various other people into playing speed Scrabble, Squabble, etc. Fun fun fun. Also, playing speed Scrabble while slightly buzzed adds a whole new twist to the game, haha. Before we knew it, it was 2 am. People started dispersing, heading back through the snow to their own houses. Jogging through the snow/snowbanks at 2:30 am with a headlamp on is a happy experience. There was ice in my beard when I finally arrived back at the house here. Yay winter!!!


Quick combination of factoids, something that's on my mind:

I'm reading "A Whale for the Killing" by Farley Mowat (a wonderful Canadian naturalist/author, who has written some excellent books, among my favorite is "Never Cry Wolf"). It's a mixture of an autobiographical account of time he spent living on the coast of Newfoundland, and information on whales and the hunting of whales.

I consider myself to be an environmentalist, right? And decently well informed. So we all know that a lot of whales are in trouble, threatened by extinction, and probably most of us know that human hunting of whales for oil and commerce since the 1800s (and continuing today to a degree) has played a huge part in creating this problem.

But I had no idea the sheer number of whales we're talking about here. In one chapter of this book, published in 1972, Mowat goes through species after species, with original population estimates of half a million, or a million, or more, reduced systematically to a few thousand, in some cases even fewer. Blows my mind. Quickly referencing Wikipedia to generate a comparison, that's like taking a few cities like Philedelphia, Dallas, San Jose, Phoenix, Detroit, or San Francisco and systematically killing off their inhabitants until only a few thousand remained, shrinking them to a fifth the size of Wasilla, AK. Damn people.

Another thought that crossed my mind - all these marine biologists that study whales and whale behavior, and maybe spend time pondering what the purpose of whale brain capacity is, How Can They Ever Know? Think about how much would change about a human population if you reduced it from a million to 1500!?!?! Knowledge, customs, social constructs of all sorts would vanish. So much would change. And as usual, as biologists we're left to pick up the pieces and try to understand what we can of something that is forever changed in our increasingly depauperate world. Daunting.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

A visit with invention's mother

I left home on Monday, the back of my car packed up tight, including a few boxes of assorted food items in cans, tea, flour, sugar, spices, chocolate, and some other odds and ends. Two and a half days of travel later, I arrived here at the bio station, having accumulated a bag of bagels, some butter, and string cheese along the way.

Since arriving, I have lacked both the time and energy to trek to a grocery store, the closest of which is about 20 minutes away, especially in the dark - not having ever driven much in this area, and never in the winter, I was partially worried I'd get myself lost. This has resulted in some interesting meals. At this point, pretty much all the bagels are gone - toasted with butter, fried with butter, plain, sliced with peanut butter. I managed to scrounge up a box of spiral pasta, a jar of "chunky vegetable tomato sauce" (which both sounds wrong and is wrong... I love mushrooms, but not pieces of rubber shaped as mushroom slices), and a can of olives. As a firm believer that cheese is an essential component of pretty much any good meal, and that it's addition is one major way to rescue pretty much any questionable meal, I resorted to grating string cheese onto my plate of pasta... That's stooping to a pretty low level for this here guy, who tends to consider himself a quality cook and appreciator of fine food.

Fortunately, things are looking up - it seems that tomorrow a break in snowfall might coincide with a break in the arctic chill pervading this area of late. In other words, my car might actually start, and conditions will be ripe for a major adventure to the grocery store!

In the mean time, I'm gonna fry me up a bagel, sprinkle on some cinnamon, drink some hot chocolate and peel open another string cheese...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Back in the saddle again...

Hey all -

After several long days of travel, and visits with some friends (including back in my old college town!), I arrived at the biological station yesterday. I'm pretty much settled in to the apartment I'm sharing here. It's nicer than I had hoped, which makes the little bit extra in rent more or less ok - I'm sleeping on a real bed instead of a Thermarest, and I've got a fair sized room which is close enough to one of the academic buildings that I can pick up mediocre wireless. My own bathroom if I use the one downstairs. And there's even a dining room and a living room, both with furniture! Haven't used them much yet since I'm so used to just existing in my own room. Kitchen is pretty nice too, although there isn't much space for my food and stuff - I moved into the top most shelves since my housemate is a good bit shorter than I.

Last night I got tired of unpacking around 6:30, and decided to take a power nap. 13.5 hours later I woke up, after a series of rather intense dreams (one of which involved the CIA!). WOW. I can't remember the last time I slept that long. I didn't even wake up to make dinner or anything! Felt very refreshed in the morning, if somewhat sore from staying in the same position all night. But I think I'm caught up on the sleep debt accrued from several days of travel, and late nights visiting with friends.

Today I settled back in at a desk in the lab I worked at all summer, and started the painful process of trying to remember where I left off on this research project 4 months ago. I thought I had left myself pretty good notes, but wow the dust is thick. Might actually end up being a good thing for the project though, because it's forced me to back away from the nitty gritty in your face business of trying to make code work, and developing new code for its own sake. I've got a chance right now to stop and think about the questions we were originally trying to answer, how well we've done with them, and what else needs doing. Talked with my advisor here for a while this afternoon, and apparently he thinks we're a lot farther along towards the requisite material for putting together a paper than I would have thought we were. This is quite heartening, and also confirms my suspicion that I have absolutely no sense for breaking science into paper-sized morsels. If left alone to my own devices, I'd probably spend years working on a project, and then belatedly realize that instead of one ginormous paper at the end, I could have gotten a bunch of pubs along the way. Sigh. Oh well, doing the research is the best part anyways. And there's still quite a bit to do on this project.

I'm going to try hard to not put too much time into this project right away - this will be hard. Once I get going I don't like to stop. But I really really do need to set aside time to do my own reading of papers, tinker with my own projects, and most importantly, start getting ready for grad school interviews. Gulp.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Life: Reformatted.

Cold night. Upcoming topics at a glance: puts on a new tuxedo; a discovery about health insurance; walks down memory lane; book reviews; setting off on a new old adventure.

I'm in between again. Yesterday I sadly concluded a lovely visit with Eugenie here at my folks' house in the "arctic" as she refers to it (Trying hard not to think 'bout how it could be a good 3 months or so before we can visit again). And Monday morning marks the beginning of my next road trip, heading back to the biological station where I spent this past summer to work. I've been using the intervening hours to address some projects that have needed attention for a while, and may not get any again for quite some time.

First, and the only one any of y'all would notice, I've changed around the format of my friendly old blog here. I pick up occasional complains about the white text on black background business. They haven't gone entirely unheeded; months later, I've done a bit to address the problem. Still really like the black and white feel, but hopefully this is easier for the aging eyes of my readers ;-) With so few of them, probably it behooves me to heed their complaints on occasion, lest I end up lonely in cyberspace. I'm moderately pleased with the result, although I'm having the darndest time trying to make the grey boxes be the size I want them to be. Years ago I dabbled with html just a bit, but having spent the last 3+ years working with C, Mathematica, Matlab, and R, all languages that actually like dooooo things in a logical, orderly progression of steps to solve problems, all this edit html template business is highly confusing and seems only to create problems. Sigh.

Paralleling the changes in my cyber-life, I spent a good chunk of today cleaning out years worth of accumulated paper files that I've been storing in boxes in my parents' basement. The final tally for this recycling spree: 1 year physics notes; 2 years chemistry notes; english papers galore; page upon page of environmental activism material I used back when I was much much more, well, environmentally active I guess; old correspondence; a whole public speaking course; assorted materials from 6 years worth of higher education and a couple of high school. For the most part, I hate going through stuff like this, either because it reminds me of times gone by and I feel guilty remembering the people I haven't kept in touch with, or in the case of course notes, I realize how much knowledge has used my head like an exit ramp motel - staying for a night/semester, then hopping back on the highway and heading off towards greener pastures in the distance. In other words, there's a junk load of stuff I knew at one point and definitely do not anymore. This makes me sad. Also, it just plain out hurts to recycle notes and assignments that consumed hundreds of hours of work and cramped writing. Alas.

A few parts were amusing though. Like coming across a print-out of the very first computer program I ever wrote, in visual basic... a language I haven't tinkered with since. My dad got all excited back then when he saw me getting into it, and came home one day with 3-4 "learn to program visual basic in a week" books, all of which I pretty much failed to make use of. Guess I ended up going down a pretty similar path in the end anyways. Also amusing/bitter sweet was coming across the only yearbook I own - from seventh grade, as most of my life I was homeschooled. The page in the back is still there, where everyone scribbled messages and such. I'm not in contact with any of these people anymore, and haven't been for years. The puzzling message scrawled in one corner is still there though - someone thought I was "hot" (!?!?!?!), cautioned me to stay out of trouble, and signed anonymously. Probably someone's joke, as best as I can figure. Just one of those things though that makes you think of the "what-ifs" every time you come across them. Strange to think of myself almost a decade ago(!)

One of my favorite leisure indulgences is reading sci-fi and fantasy novels. It's been a good long while since I've been in any place with a quality library long enough to hold a library card and visit with regularity. So I'm wayyy out of touch with what good new stuff has come along. But last night I started and finished "Chalice" by Robin McKinely, one of my favorite fantasy authors for years and years now. It was pretty good, and delivered some of her usual uniqueness (a strange phrase come to think of it!), although I was sad at how fast it ended.

Also new and inspiring, I've been reading "Vagabonding" by Rolf Potts, a book about how to set things aside and go off on an adventure. Something I rather dearly want to do, especially with interviews looming in the immediate future, and grad school kicking off this fall. The way this guy writes makes it seem so easy and possible and in reach to strike out on an adventure with just a bit of advanced planning and an open mind. It's been very therapeutic, to dream of escape and adventure. That alone is worth having bought the book, and who knows, it might just pump me up enough that I'd take a leap and see where I landed! Chock full of really good quotes too - I'll add some when I get a chance.

It's definitely time to get back to work, although I'm sort of begrudging packing again and leaving home. But, I have projects that need finishing, and I need to get myself back into the academic, near-drowning-in-science mind frame in preparation for upcoming grad school interviews. Also, a paycheck is going to become rather necessary in the near future...

*Warning, rant*: (had to shell out 345 bucks for dental care last week... yay vacation?). Fortunately, after many hours of confusion, misdirected paperwork, faxes, emails and phone calls, we ended up determining after all that I'm still, remarkably, covered under my parents' health insurance for another year after all, despite what we had initially been told, even though I just had another one of those birthday thingies happen. This is really good news for me, as it saves me 130 plus dollars a month, and I'll have more than just bare-bones hospital coverage. Universal healthcare people. Seriously. Can we do it already??? Any maybe while we're at it, simplify the tax code, in the hopes of helping this poor math major here be able to figure out how to do income tax returns for 3 different states and the federal government??? Not looking forward to that part.

Ok, bedtime... I was up wayyy too late last night reading, and I've got lots of driving coming up in a few days. Might be more posts before I leave, but who knows. Keep your fingers crossed I don't get stuck in a blizzard somewhere.


Thursday, January 1, 2009

The New Year's bandwagon

New Year's thoughts

Aaaah, New Year's... a time for introspection, self-evaluation, a putting to rest of things in the past, and of hopeful glances towards the future. And, in my family, usually falling asleep well before midnight. Last night was no exception - the rest of the family was in bed by a bit after 10, and I was more or less out by 10:30, drifting in and out of sleep until I knew Eugenie had arrived safe and sound at home around 11:30. She then proceeded to write an awesome post with her goals for the new year, while I acquiesced to the demands of my pillow.

Spent most of my time today cleaning in preparation for her arrival tomorrow (!), working on a surprise (working outside with metal tools in a shop is rough this time of year - last night it was -4 here!), and drinking copious amounts of tea to fight a cold. Peppermint, Spearmint, Echinacea, Rosehip/Lemon, Lapsang, Orange Pekoe, Chai, beef broth, hot chocolate, I've had it all at least once today. My bladder is filling a demand for overtime/holiday pay.

This evening, after dinner, my family prevailed upon me to join them in a game called 'Chronology' - the gist of it is that you have to successively place cards with historical events in order by the year they occurred in. History, and in particular dates, may well be my Achilles heal... I'm terrible! Although I don't feel bad about not knowing things like "What year Ed. Lowes invented cat litter in" or the comparative ages of slinkies and lincoln logs. Maybe in another 20-30 years I'll at least be good at the history that happened during my lifetime! Strange to think that history really is occurring in our lifetimes, every year, even every day. I guess that's one of the things that celebrating the beginning of a new year is good for - stepping back a bit from the day to day, and realizing even briefly what the big things in your life and world are.

2008 -

A pretty big year, all in all. I guess one of the more significant events was finishing my bachelor's in biology and mathematics in May. Since then, I've held two research positions, one in mathematical research at a biological station in the Midwest, and the other doing hands-on ecology fieldwork at a site in the Southeast. These experiences have been a good chance to check myself, reassuring me that I'm probably heading in the right career direction. I know for sure that I need the stimulation that comes from constantly having things to think about, problems to solve, and mental challenges. As much as I love being outdoors and seeing cool plants and animals, it's not enough to overcome the boredom of repetitive fieldwork for me. Ideas are what keep me going. So maybe I'm a little closer to finding the right balance of field and office for me. At the very least, having experienced this boredom/frustration as a field technician, I feel more confident that graduate school is the right place for me - a place to drown myself in ideas.

Graduating has brought along other new things too; trappings of an independent life. I own my own car, no longer pay school bills, or have help from my parents in paying for food and rent. Starting this new year, I'll be paying all my own health insurance, car insurance, phone bills, the whole kit and caboodle. I decide now where I'll live, my schedule, and what I do, more than ever before. It's exciting, but scary too - no more buffers. I'm still followed by the persistent feeling that I'm the same person I used to be, but trapped in an older exterior of whom more grown-up things are expected. Maybe that's a universal feeling, I don't know.

Another major major thing that made this past year different from any other before it, has been dating Eugenie. The five wonderful months we spent together and school have now been joined by a harder, but still amazing seven plus months of this long distance business. Thanks to the marvels of modern technology, we manage to talk a lot, and she's become an integral part of my life, even from far away. The biggest lesson I take from all of this, is a sense of humility. I never thought such a thing could be possible, not for me. It's scary now to think how very close that certainty came towards making this relationship impossible by denying it a chance to begin. So, people, be humble - we can't know or see all of the wonderful things that are possible for us in life. Say that something is impossible for you, and you make it so. Humbly deny your ability to judge what might be, and if you're really really lucky, you might get a blessing like Eugenie.

I'm also very grateful for my companions and friends in 2008 - they stand out as one of the best parts of the year. Many new friends come with working new jobs in new places, and I have made some good ones indeed; friends who have shared good food, humor, different perspectives on life, and interesting ideas. I'm glad that our stories could come together. It's a delightful thing to meet someone and feel that you've made a friend that you get to keep for life! I also had the good fortune to visit many old friends on my travels. I realize more and more that these friends, these people, old and new, are at the core of my joy in life, deeper down even than all the equations and ecology and plant names and facts that swirl around me and identify me.

2009 -

I'm tempting fate, and lucky already if I've escaped without being too sappy in the above. So I'll move on to looking forward with a hodge podge of thoughts for the coming year.

A bit more than a year ago now, I decided not to apply to graduate school, opting to take a year off. I had some good reasons for this (having spent 6 years doing the college deal, I wanted to try a different kind of life, distance myself from academia a bit, travel, challenge myself in different ways and broaden my perspectives), and some not-so-good reasons (procrastinating about applying, a ridiculously busy fall semester - five 300 level biology/math courses, among other things, and being scared of future commitment). At this point I've got about 8 months left before I'll be in graduate school, starting a PhD. And I feel like i've only partially lived up to my goals for this time. I've traveled a little, but by and large I haven't come close to stepping outside my comfort zone. Life is definitely different from being a student, but even in my employment, the work I've done is quite similar to what grad school and an academic future will bring me. I've been sticking to things that are safe, known, and predictable. So, a big goal for 2009 is to take advantage of the time that is left to me, and really try to push myself in new ways. Maybe find a job thoroughly outside of academia and maybe outside of this country, working for an environmental movement, or some kind of social justice initiative. Something to shake me up, and help me see the world from new angles.

Of course, there's the excitement of deciding on a graduate school, settling my future to some extent for five or six years to come. Adjusting to living in a new place, and to new academic challenges. I hope I choose well, and am happy in the place I go, and what it brings me, academically and personally. In particular, the choice that I make will unavoidably have consequences for Eugenie and I. It's pretty much impossible to predict and plan for a future right now, as there are many, many unknowns. But I dearly hope that things work out such that we can be near to each other, one way or another. We're tougher than I imagined, but time and distance are weary weights to carry, especially as life stresses rise. One way or another, I wish, too, to keep growing and learning, and becoming a better boyfriend and supporter for her in achieving her hopes for 09.

Another goal I have for myself is to keep up the tightrope acts of balancing theory and reality, mathematics and ecology, the academic and the applied. I'd really like to reconnect to my early roots in ecology, when I was much better informed of current events, environmental and social issues and movements. I don't want to end up as a disconnected and irrelevant academic, studying fascinating questions that do squat to address real problems in the real world. While I'm looing forward to a graduate experience where I can steep myself in my subject, I don't want to do this at the expense of maintaining the diverse interests that make me who I am.

Finally, as I move on to new places, new people, new challenges, I don't want to walk away from the old. That's a big one. I've moved on before, not looking back, and in retrospect, it gets lonely without connections to your past, things that ground you. I'm looking forward to having friends from college that remain friends from life - but like any relationship, that means keeping up on things.


Wow, that's rather a lot of text. If you made it through all of that, probably either:

1) You skimmed it, didn't you? thought so...
2) Winter break has bored you significantly
3) You're procrastinating
4) Wow, you really are stalking me aren't you? ;-)

Whatever the case, best wishes for a peaceful, productive 2009.