Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Fading memory

I haven't seen my grandparents on my dad's side in more than a year and a half now, since they left their retirement house and moved to an assisted living community in cold midwestern city, near one of my aunts/uncles.  Growing up, this was the pair of grandparents that I was closest to, because it was only a couple of hours to their house in the country, rather than the plane flight it took to see my maternal grandparents.  From my grandfather, I developed a love of Scrabble - we'd play at least once every day we were together, gardening, stacking wood, and valuing doing good work with my hands...  My grandmother's hobby was quilting/sewing; every grandchild and all the parents have home-made, unique quilts that she made.  From her I learned a fair bit of needlework, piecing/blocking, and some knitting, a healthy dose of Irish blarney, as well as how to win at Canasta by making up your own rules...  From both I have received a great deal of love, wonderful memories and family pride.

As I got older, I got busier, spending summers at science/environmental camps, traveling, and exploring the world.  I moved away from home to start college.  My opportunities to see my grandparents were shorter, and farther between.  They started spending their winters away from their rural country home, and only coming back with help from aunts and uncles during the summer.

Now my grandmother is in her late eighties, and my grandfather his late nineties.  Their health is deteriorating quickly, and over the last few months I've been learning that probably they won't ever make it back to their home.  More upsetting though than physical health, is that their memories are fading.  The last game of Scrabble I played with my grandfather, even a year and a half ago, I could tell how much harder it was for him to play; he used to be a tremendous player.  I hear now that my grandmother now can't even remember the names of her children.  

I've been dealing with this like a well practiced coward by trying to pretend it's not happening, and remembering things as they were in past years, walling off the updates and changes and information I hear via email as intellectual facts and not letting them sink in.  I've hardly called or written, I haven't talked with them in months.  Instead of doing what might be good for them, if they even remember me, I've been protecting myself.  I couldn't even make myself call them to let them know about the good news of the NSF fellowship the other week.  I can't even imagine what this is like for my aunt and uncle in cold midwestern city.  

Right now I'm feeling pretty solidly like a selfish, helpless, cowardly, guilty grandson, and I'm not sure how much longer I can keep running away and hiding from this.  Time marches on.

And I just killed the last of a box of tissues sitting here at work in the middle of the day.  Fruitcake.  I'm going for a walk.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Up-and-coming third wheel, looking for upgrades, opportunities for advancement

My best friend, Ariel, here at the station also happens to be sort-of kind-of dating my housemate, James. But this is a recent thing. And Ariel more than once has talked to me about it rather emotionally. I've never seen them commit any PDA's around the labs, or in the company of any other graduate students. They act like they only partially know each other at best. Ick. But Ariel stays over a couple of nights a week now most often.


I don't know how to act around them - pretend like I don't know anything even though I do, or pretend like it's normal when it happens here at the house and like it doesn't exist elsewhere. Ugh.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Walk beside me

A quote for today, capturing a part of my mind:

"Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend. "
 - Albert Camus 

And also a song that I'm hooked on right now (thanks to sarcozona)

Back to doing mathematics and being pensive...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

This alwayyyys happens

I love hard problems and things that are intricately complex to the point that they make my brain whig out.  I just do.  Sometimes it's nice to have a really good excuse for wandering away from my desk to a comfy chair in a different, hidden room, and sort of curling up, closing my eyes and shoving my hands over my ears... To think, *naturally*.  I even have a pandora station that serves as my source for "disturbed genius" music, when things aren't complex enough to justify leaving my desk.

Trouble is, almost every time I tackle a problem like this, my first solution is dreadfully complex, if correct in theory.  Usually a thing of great elegance and beauty for those who appreciate the truly convoluted and arcane.  Then, after hacking away coding out my solutions and trying to make what works conceptually work out in-silico, I gradually realize that parts of my colossus of a solution aren't necessary.  The hubris falls away, bit by bit, and in the end I'm left with something that is a lot more functional.  A part of me though grieves for all the subtle complexity that bore such mundane functionality - all those little pieces of brilliance that no one will ever see or appreciate.  Sigh.

Back to work Theo.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Doing my share

... to boost the economy.

Today I bought new socks. And underwear. This is kind of a big deal. I hate shopping, never think to do it, avoid it whenever possible. Laurie and Fiona (grad students) teased me that getting socks and underwear doesn't count as "going shopping", but I beg to differ. See, when I started off college, I owned enough clothing to go about 2 weeks without doing laundry. I'm down to about a week now before I start running out of important stuff. I think this is mostly because my clothing has been decaying over time, but, not living at home any longer, my mother hasn't been enforcing the entry of new items to my wardrobe. If I weren't so lazy, I'd make a graph of this, and we could extrapolate the point in time where I'd be walking around essentially naked.

Except, I went shopping today. *victory dance* I have 6 new pairs of socks, so I can get rid of some holey ones... now I'll have rags for when I do projects!

I also picked up a bicycle helmet so I can ride safely, zip ties so I can fix up the net on the soccer goals we've been using (I feel bad damaging goals that "little" kids play on too), and dessert for tomorrow's Easter party.

After all of that stressful business, I treated myself by checking out a used bookstore in nearby-city. Of course, this always ends in purchasing new books:

Bella Tuscany, Frances Mayes (author of Under the Tuscan Sun) - travel.
Blue Highways, William Least Heat Moon - travel book, sort of. Recommended to me.
Lord of Chaos, Robert Jordan - solid fantasy, nice long read.
Off the Map, Hib and Kika - seems like a quirky, different read. I'm excited about it.
The Man Who Saw Through Time - Loren Eisley's take on Francis Bacon and science.

Gotta love it when the guy checking out your books at the bookstore comments on how ecclectic your selections are!

Ok, now I'm going to go hunt for spring wildflowers, and maybe read outside, and maybe go to Easter vigil mass.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good news

So, I got some good news today. :-)

I'm still pretty darn excited about this, although if I had had time to write this morning it might have come across more intensely (today was filled with seminars, lab meeting, and other meetings).

Due to some good fortune, and thanks to the NSF, it looks like I'm set for graduate school. I won't have to worry about TAing except for to the extent I want to do it, and I don't have to work on anyone else's research for grant funding... I'll have my own funding, and can direct my own research interests. I hate thinking about money, and so this will be a huge relief, to not have to worry, so I can just do the work that I love. I'm excited about the science that I hope to do, and wicked energized by this. I can feel some of the old creative energy starting to bubble.

A number of my good friends ended up similarly lucky, which is great. Others weren't as fortunate this year. I'm very happy for the lucky, and feel a little guilty that some will be reapplying next year, but maybe I can help them edit and focus their ideas for the next time around, if I know anything.

Part of me is a little sad this evening that I haven't really done much special to celebrate this good news (other friends in other places are out celebrating with lab groups and such) - just heated up some leftovers, lounged, watched a little TV (ok, so that's kinda decadent). I did call and talk to a number of my best ecology buddies, and that's always really fun. I also talked with my parents this evening and earlier in the day - apparently they went out to dinner to celebrate even if I didn't. I'm kind of a private guy though, so maybe this is a better way anyways.

I want to end this post a little differently...

If it weren't for someone who became a very good friend of mine in the South during my adventure there this fall, I would never have put together an application this year. No way. Without her energy and motivation, I just wouldn't have gotten myself to do it (for those that weren't reading back then, we worked on applications together, a sort of mutual support group of two). She didn't get an NSF this year, so I just wanted to recognize how influential she has been... sort of dedicating this post to her, if that's not too strange (she's not a reader). And, people, it really is amazing how little things can change your life. If I hadn't been here at the bio station last summer and made a different friend, I wouldn't have had a job in the South to go to, and I might never have met this awesome person, who has now in a very very real way changed my life (not that friendship in and of itself isn't just as powerful).

So, this is for my friend.

And for the rest of you, remember that life is an amazing, unpredictable, and wonderful thing. You never can tell the implications of the path you walk, but the directions you take, and the friendships you forge, they matter. So stay optimistic, stay awed, stay joyous in the unpredictablity of life.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Funnies for the graphically inclined

A science friend passed along this website...  Some good humor to be found there, although with a few pretty poorly constructed graphs.  But maybe that's half the fun...

I liked this one:

song chart memes
see more Funny Graphs

What do you think? (Summer plans)

Now that I've decided about graduate school (!), I realllly need to start figuring out what I'm doing with my summer.


- Graduate school begins the end of August.
- The first week of August I will be at ESA.
- I can only work at my current job until May 19th.


- If I spend a minimum of 6 weeks this summer doing graduate school type stuff (could include ESA and trips to workshops), I can accept a 6K fellowship.
- I've been offered a one-week position in late June to help out with a summer class here at the bio station on math/ecology, which could be a lot of fun.  It's being taught by my all-time favorite post-doc.


- visiting family and friends in the SW before or after ESA
- getting the heck out of the USA, seeing some place new and different and memorable, and having an adventure
- spending time with Eugenie
- spending time with my family, maybe helping mom and dad build a cabin
- visiting friends
- doing stuff not related to ecology or mathematics
- doing something to help other people

Any suggestions people?

I'm trying to decide about accepting a summer fellowship (6K, fun place, but it would eat up 6 weeks of my 'last' summer).  On one hand, listing fellowships on a CV is good, and it's hard to argue with 6K.  On the other, I really do want to do things that aren't ecology and that help other people out this summer.  I'm in the fortunate position of not needing that money to last the summer, although it could help pay for other adventures/travels.  

I also wonder about the merits of spending six weeks volunteering/some sort of community service, versus me working six weeks at a job that I am skilled at, and just donating my earnings.  The first would probably have a bigger impact on my life, while the second might have a larger overall benefit.  I dunno.

If I take the fellowship, probably any big trips would need to happen between May and June, which is really soon, and I still don't know where I'd want to go (excited about lots of places).


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A lot has happened

A lot of stuff has gone down in the last week and a half, and for whatever reason I didn't feel like blogging.  Time to catch up now... Lots of news to share.  I could write entire posts on most of these, but in the name of catching up, I'll try to keep them short:

1)  I committed to attending School 1.  It's done.  Permanent.  Set in stone.  No looking back.  The saga is over.  Contacted all of the other potential advisors (in the end, by email, despite my dad's recommendations of making phone calls - yick).  Responses were quite nice, including two "let me know when you need a post-doc" comments, so that's good.  Nice to have those messages over with.

2)  Excited - Very relieved to have the decision over with.  In retrospect, amused by how much the psychological build-up to telling my advisor was reminiscent of asking someone to date, shudder.  Excited to start making  what was an amorphous vision of a new future into something with concrete, fun realities.  I can let myself get excited now, it's safe.  

3)  Housing - Trying really hard to believe in the bold new me.  Currently pretty intimidated by my preliminary attempts to locate housing... I will be spending my first 1-2 years living in Big Midwestern City, before getting to move back here to the bio station.  I'm overwhelmed by the number of housing options, roommates, sublets, leases, locations, bus routes, neighborhoods, parking, etc, etc, etc.  Back at my undergrad, you pretty much knew where everything was, what the houses looked like, and could walk everywhere.  I've been looking at craigslist, and will start asking around.  So far every place I've lived, someone else found/arranged, so this is a new experience for me.

4)  Labmate - I will have a lab mate!!!!!!!!  I'm really happy about this.  My new advisor had another prospective student accept, so there will be two of us in the same year/program, with propensities for math and ecology.  One of my concerns about this program was that this lab group is small, but maybe that's changing!  Haven't interacted with her yet, but she sounds pretty cool.  And, being kinda nervous about this whole new endeavor, the prospect of having a good friend, compatriot, fellow clueless soul, etc, is really quite wonderful.

5)  Coincidence - I discovered that one of my cousins will be attending graduate school at School 1 too, in a very similar program.  I had no idea he was even applying here; I haven't seen him in years.  This is pretty nifty too!  Maybe we could live together, i dunno....  I kind of wonder what he's like anymore, although I guess he's probably thinking the same thing!

6) Travel - All of last week (plus a few days) I spent visiting Eugenie back at SLAC.  Almost a thousand miles round-trip (yeeeehawww).  It was a nice visit, although I spent several days of it being quite sick, thanks to my younger sister.  Good food, old friends, the works.  Re-engineered parts of her chinchilla's cage.  Cooked food.  Watched movies.  Hung out.  I'm glad I went - it had been a long time since I saw her last!  It's really different though to go back and visit a place where you used to live.  Strange disconnects between what hasn't changed, and the fact that you don't live there anymore, or have a life there with things to do.  Probably a week was about the longest healthy visit length.  It was also a little frustrating to visit while Eugenie had a busy class/homework/research schedule.

7) Paper - I took advantage of my return to SLAC last week to bug my undergrad advisor, who was sitting on a final draft of my undergraduate research manuscript.  Having extracted that from him, and being laid up in bed with a cold, I redid all of my figures, updated the citations, finished off the last edits, and, as of Monday night, I submitted my paper to a journal!!!!!!!

This is huge, huge news, as this paper has been delayed literally for years.  So nice to finally get it out.  I soooo hope that it is accepted, 'cause having to redo it my reduce me to quivering gelatin. 

M'kay, that covers most of the bases for those that are curious.  More to follow later - I should get back to work.