Thursday, December 18, 2008

A good sign

President Obama has chosen Oregon State Professor Jane Lubchenco to head NOAA.  She is a brilliant scientist and in my opinion her appointment is another great indication that not only did the country make the right choice this fall and that logic and science will have a place in this government, but also a sign that this country will change and better days will come.  And yes, I am totally biased because she is from my alma mater, and I have admired her since undergraduate school.  For the inadequately written story from our local paper click here.  For a slightly more informative article from the washington post try here.  Go Jane!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Making plans

I've always been one for planning the future.  Today I started thinking back to some of those plans and I realized that things have rarely ever turned out the way that I had intended.  Life seems to take its own direction without regard to my plans, and usually I think it turns out just as good or better that way.  I've always just sort of fallen into the next great stage of life.  Marriage, college, career, graduate school.  I'm not implying I wasn't involved or that these things just happened to me.  Point of fact I worked my tush off for each one of them.  But each turned out entirely different than my plans had been, and each seemed to just fall into place in the beginning.  

What seems cruelly ironic about this is I think that unknowingly I've been depending on the next great stage of life to line itself up after graduate school.  At conferences, in discussion with old friends and peers, reading the news, I feel like I'm always on the watch for what will be next for me.  Some clue of what the future holds.   Now, unlike in the past, I have no plan for what will come next.  I have no solid answer for my plans after grad school, though I usually make something up about getting a job.  (A plan that seems less and less likely every time I read the news.)

I have to wonder, was there a point to planning? Will life just go the right way if I work hard and keep myself open to new directions?  Or was having the plan an important part of being redirected to where I am now?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Two long months

It has been a while since I even thought about blogs.  I haven't read any of the usual suspects or taken the time to update my own.  No surprise, I've been unnaturally busy with school and research.  Sometimes I wonder why I bother with this silliness, and then I think about my own search for blogs about graduate school and life in science.  The search for commonality, understanding, explanations, and the deep need to speak without consequence or justification.  

I guess I can sum up my two months of absence very simply: Life, sometimes it's unbelievingly awesome and other times it sucks so hard you can't take it.  The more joy you can find in the good days, the easier it is to get through the bad.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sometimes I wish I could grow facial hair.

I could feel its imminent arrival at the beginning of the week.  A zit of such volcanic proportions villagers would quiver in its shadow.  Normally such circumstances would not more than trouble me, but this particular week appearances are rather more important than usual.  The first week of my graduate teaching assignment.  I spent three hours speaking in front of a group of students with a diorama of Vesuvius on my face.  No the most auspicious way to began my career as a TA.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Escape to the Wild Rumpus

At the end of each summer the husband and I escape reality for one weekend.  We and hundreds of other unusual individuals don historical costumes, speak in strange (and sometimes very BAD) accents, and spend the weekend in the past. Historical and fantasy faires are common throughout the western world and I've delighted in attending them since I was very young.  Now the real delight for me comes from taking on the persona of a person from the past. You see it's more that just a great weekend get away, we perform for the public and as such are forced into holding character and presenting yourself as an entirely different person.  Slipping into my costume is like slipping into another persons skin.  I'm instantly changed in every important way.  How I speak, move, interact, and think is all at once altered.  Though the rules of conduct are more restrictive it is also freeing to be this other person for a weekend.  I can forget about computers, science, and higher learning and just exist in a simple way for a short while.
Anon!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

LHC - We're not dead yet!

Well, so far the LHC hasn't killed us all in our sleep (as far as I can tell).  The story is probably being told everywhere but I first heard the good news on NPR this morning.  Of course there isn't much to tell yet, just a lot of excited scientist who are basically saying: "we told you we wouldn't destroy everyone."  But here's a link to a NPR article on it, good stuff but I find it disturbing to think of a lab full of physicists having a pajama party.....

In case you're worried about the earths imminent destruction you can navigate to this webpage
where they bravely answer the question: has the lhc destroyed the earth?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Stinky lab hands

I'm taking a 2 week molecular biology lab intensive course that keeps me in laxtex gloves for about 6-7 hours a day.  It's only the second day of classes and my hands have a fowl laxtex smell that I just can't get rid of.  Soaps, lotions, detergents, sanitizers, nothing will kill this smell.  I don't know how people working in labs everyday can stand it!  It reminds me of the dentist and make me feel ill.  Bleh.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The harvest weekend

Labor day weekend proved to be a mellow and productive holiday weekend. 

Saturday
Utilizing our newly procured B.O.B. trailer we successfully foraged at the local farmers market  for fresh veg-edibles and a few new garden plants.  We felt incredibly smug pedaling home with our market fare rolling along in such a stylish way.  Car-free appears to be the height of green-urban-society-life-choice right now and we got lots of questions and compliments (imagine if I'd been riding and S.U.B).  On the ride home we stopped to forage a basket-full of apples from the feral trees along the bike path.
The new bike trailer loaded down with market purchases: basket of veggies, blueberry bush, honey fig tree
Spoils of a successful market forage: asian eggplant, casper eggplant, oyster mushrooms, heirloom tomatoes, purple peppers, red onion, and blue potatoes.  All locally grown and purchased from the producer (smug, smug, smuggity, smug.)
Apples and pears from feral trees, possibly the beginnings of a future fermentation experiment.

Sunday
The bees had finally lost interest in my lavender bushes so it was time to harvest.  It was very productive year.  Later we discovered a cooler fits nicely on the new trailer and is very handy for grocery shopping expeditions. We also attempted our first mead making experiment Sunday evening with a large jar of meadowfoam honey.  I'll try to share fermentation pictures in a later post.
Enough English lavender to set four large bundles to dry.

The bob trailer is just the right size for hauling a cooler.  I can think of so many wonderful  reasons you'd want to bring a cooler with you...

Monday
Major trimming of the spice garden.  Saved enough mint to dry one large bundle and composted the rest, also saved smallish bundles of thyme, marjoram and oregano  (I prefer them fresh, but a little dried can't hurt).  Another exciting bicycle expedition, this time to the recycling plant and picking blackberries for another fermentation experiment (more on that to come).
Mint from my garden.  Great for teas, baths, mojitos, tzatziki sauce, but also my biggest weed.  Transplanted from a 4 inch pot and now covers most of my spice garden.

We got some strange looks from other folks dropping off recycling (all driving cars and leaving them idling while disposing of recyclables) but that's half the fun of using your bike for these round-the-town errands.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Priceless

Three days in a row, waking without an alarm clock.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

the husband

This seems very familiar....


























courtesy of lolcats 

Friday, August 29, 2008

My thoughts on Bird Porn

Among the protests at the DNC there was an interesting group that caught the attention of such crack reporters as Dave Barry and James Lileks.
The group was advocating banning bird watching because of its negative effect on bird populations.  The basics of their argument (which is in no way based on scientific fact) is that birds are aware they are being watched so they are not breeding and populations have thus declined, and also that bird watchers are voyeuristic pervs.

Just the sort of pervy thing bird watchers like

I feel that I can speak profoundly on this issue because I received my bachelors degree in salamander pornography. Well, technically the degree says zoology but my research project consisted of making salamander porn videos and observing courtship in person.  The courtship behavior is biologically important for understanding the relatedness of different species, but that's another story all together.  Basically, I would spend many hours a day reviewing video tape and noting interesting behavior, it was all very scientific and a little boring.  

"Bitch stop staring at me!"

Now back to the issue of bird porn.  I would first like to point out that like salamanders, birds lack external genitalia and because of this the sex part of mating lasts a few seconds and does not resemble mammalian sex in many ways (unless you are a very unlucky mammal, but that's a different issue all together.)  So what we are really observing by in large is courtship or foreplay.  

Frigate bird foreplay

Now that we've straightened that out I can get to the main problem I have with their argument.  They are making one very important and very miss-guided assumption:

Birds are self conscious about sex

I don't believe that for a second!  My argument against this assumption is also really not based on scientific fact but instead my own observations.  Since I have in-fact studied animal behavior extensively in the past I feel comfortable with this basis.  

I have seen my own pets act ashamed or guilty when they behave badly, but I have never seen such behavior in a wild animal.  Even with the captive wild birds who have spent their whole adult lives working with humans are simply not ashamed or shy about their sexuality.  And to get back to domestic animals, nearly every day I see my own pet birds masturbate quite shamelessly, ringing bells and whistling at themselves during and just after the act.  When my dogs have made a mess or chewed on something they shouldn't have they feel guilty and it's quite obvious from their behavior.  But they never feel that way about sexual gratification, even if we tell them to knock it off.  They are quite content to ignore us and anyone else in their presence.  

Are all the animals I've spent time with in my life merely exhibitionists?  I certainly hope not because I think that may reflect on my own personality in some disparaging way.  Regardless of that, I have a bit of advice for the wackaloons at stopbirdporn.org, you want to save the worlds declining bird populations?  Put the time, money and effort you are wasting on your current cause into conserving and creating bird habitat.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Choke

I just found out that the bizarre book Choke by Chuck Palahniuk has been turned in to a movie. 
I'm not sure what to think of it.  I never would have thought it a good idea, but it does star the always entertaining Sam Rockwell.  Choke is one of those strange books that you feel kind of bad after reading.  Like you've been abused, but you enjoyed it.  The book was recommended by and borrowed from my strangest friend.  One of those people that everyone knows is a little odd right after meeting them.  Even knowing that I still didn't expect the book to be quite so strange.  I guess I liked the book, and though it was unpleasant at times I couldn't put it down.  I don't think the movie will be as popular as Fight Club, but I guess it will be worth seeing (at least worth watching a crappy internet version with chinese subtitles.  Oh don't be shocked you do it too.)

With respect to LOLCats

(Yes, I reads them.)

Macitude 
I haz it.



Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Douglas Adams kind of day

I'm currently (or should I say finally) reading "Salmon of Doubt" by beloved Douglas Adams. 

I usually avoid books published posthumous, I'm always afraid the author had good reason for not publishing the work.  I'm glad I made an exception because it's a really lovely book and there was one line in particular that struck me.  It's in the passage of Turncoat when he's  describing Monty Python era humor, or the way that humor used to be before all us jug-heads mucked it up with inaneness. 

"Comedy was a medium in which extremely intelligent people could express things that simply couldn't be expressed any other way."

Simple, true, perceptive and leaves you with a smile.  Perfectly Douglas Adams.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sometimes science hurts

A weekend of field work has left me sore and exhausted and my trusted field assistant (the husband) in bed dreadfully ill.  Nothing ever seems to go as planned when I'm in the field.  There is always something I'm unable to do that I have to report back on to the professor come Monday morning.  This time events were totally out of my control, which actually made me feel a bit better.  The tasks may be unfinished, but not because of some personal failing on my part.  
This weekends mission had been to do the regular site maintenance (mowing down the alleys between the plots) and to cut into the weed jungle to install two new experiments (28 plots).  We utilized a dull machete and gas powered brush mower to cut paths in the jungle (my hands are soar enough today to make typing a great challenge).  It was exhausting but exhilarating and the field assistant and I collapsed into the tent that night confident we'd have the job finished by noon the next day.  

And then the vomiting started.  

Camping is usually great fun, even work related camping, until you are ill.  And then there is no place you want to be besides at home in your bed.  I'm quite certain it is the same for all people around the world, when you are sick you want to be at home, in your own bed, period.  I've had this experience before, the research group I worked with as an undergrad camped during the field season.  A delightful experience until I got the flu, and suddenly even the most luxurious camping was a misery.

So, sunday morning I packed up camp and drove the field assistant home to his own bed and the comfort that it could provide.  Unfortunately the 3 and 1/2 hour car ride was lengthened to nearly 5 hours because of the need to stop repeatedly (and the need to wash vomit of the side of the truck).  

Once the patient was tucked in and sleeping feverishly I was able to finished the job of unloading gear and returning the half washed pickup.  It was incredibly draining to do all this on my own, but even as tired as I was I had resigned myself to a sleepless night.  I thought with him feverish and sick I'd sleep lightly, ply him with medicines, try to help him feel better.  All the proper caregiving duties that you feel obligated to do when your loved one is sick, but alas I did not.  Instead I slept like a corpse, selfishly ignoring the rest of the world until the alarm called me to consciousness.   

As a result of the deep sleep I feel quite refreshed for a monday morning, but also a bit guilty.  Beyond the soreness of my hands and a slight stiffness in my back I fared quite well this weekend, but the poor husband/field assistant is going to need at least a week to recover.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sunday Morning Philosophy

There was a tremendous thunder storm last night, a rare occurrence in this area.  It was a long and drawn out storm, punctuated with periods of silence during which you roll back to unconsciousness, only to be ripped from sleep by thunderclaps so earth shaking you're screaming in terror before you realize you're awake and alive. 

In the sleep addled aftermath of a stormy night shared with a houseful of terrorized pets I've been thinking about thunder and other terrifying forces of nature.  I've been trying to imagine more primitive humans without clear scientific understanding of such events.  Imagining feeling terrorized by gods, or spirits, some powerful being raining down fire from the sky in a deafening roar of anger.

We modern humans are raised with a basic scientific understanding of lightning that can be very comforting.  Where it is most likely to strike, how to calculate the distance of the storm, this knowledge makes us feel that we have some meager amount of control.  But in that brief second after being pulled from sleep and before conscious awareness settles, no scientific explanation can come to mind, your are functioning with a primitive brain and all it can think of is terror.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Guest Kitteh

We have another guest cat at our house this weekend.  He's the son of a very fecund feral cat and has been adopted by my sister.  He had a big day yesterday, first Vet visit.  Good news is he tested negative for FIV and FELV, got his first round of shots, flea treatment, and got neutered.  It was a very big day.

The vet has good drugs.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Which level of hell?

We always have a few miserably hot days during august.  Day's where the temperature exceeds 100 degrees fahrenheit.  We as a community are ill adapted to such temperatures preferring the cooler wetter seasons, and so extreme heat warnings plaster the news and people clog every body of water and air-conditioned building in town.  Imagine my displeasure upon hearing the news that the air-conditioning in our campus building is broken.  The building in which even when in perfect order the air-conditioning only serves to cool a meager half the labs within.  My office boils even on the cooler of summer afternoons, and the heat often interferes so severely with my brian function I have to find other places to do my work.  Perhaps today I will set up a desk in the Greenhouse.  That cooling unit is functioning perfectly well and keeping the greenhouse at least 10 degrees cooler than my office.  Such a brilliant use of resources.  At least my plants will be comfortable.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Other methods of relaxation

Last Sunday the husband and I took a few hours to brew a batch of beer.  Our first batch in much to long a time.  A honey cream ale which we brewed outside on my canning stove.  First time for the cream ale and the outdoor brewing.  It was lovely.  I was just downloading research pictures I took this morning in the greenhouse and was pleasantly surprised by the presence of pictures of our brew.
The boiling wort after the addition of Perle and Mt. Hood hops.
(It tasted very sweet and delightfully hopy.)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Sometimes I yell.

I have various ways of releasing pent-up emotion and stress.  Lately I've been yelling.

Not at people, or pets, other drivers, or really anything in particular.  It's not really even a yell per-say.  More of a guttural noise.  An expulsion of air from the diaphragm releasing a primal bellow.  

Some people like to cry to release pent-up emotion, especially when it is frustration.  I find exercise or excessive house cleaning is good for frustration.  (By the state of my home anyone could guess that I haven't been using the latter for releasing frustration).  I know that crying does release some good chemicals  into the brain, you can feel it when it happens.  A release and a slight cooling sensation.  I find the yelling (or grunting, as it may be more appropriately described) to have similar effect and much easier to call forth.  

Tonight I topped off a healthy bout of yelling, with a long session of hand watering in the garden.  Not really necessary due to the soaker hoses we've installed, but pleasant and appropriately cathartic none the less.

Science can be a bit mad sometmes.......

I've recently been pondering just how odd the science that I do can be sometimes.  I spend many months raising small seedlings, nurturing them to maturity.  Regular watering, fertilizing, transplanting as they grow.  And then once large enough, I devise new and creative ways to dispatch them to plant heaven (or in these plants case, perhaps plant hell).  It's a funny thing to study the unwanted.  Those species that are not just undesirable but the loathsome bane of our collective existence.  I suppose that's a bit dramatic of a description, but I've always found it useful to have a subtle hatred for these plants.  Makes life easier and helps to stave off the stockholm syndrome or at least stave off the apathy that I feel at constant risk of.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Escaping the routine

Leaving for 4 days of Backpacking this morning.  I've been looking forward to this mini-break from my routine for weeks.  The simplicity of your day when you are on the trail is delightful.  Eating, walking, reading, sleeping.  These are the events of your day and the only decision is how to order the activities.  

You know that you are ready for a break when the monotony of normal life leaks in to your subconscious.  I have lately been unable to create the little mental stories that serve to distract when faced with the most boring of tasks.  My dreams are also victims of the routine.  They have become diluted versions of their former selves.  

My last dream this morning (that dream you remember and take with you, the dream that sets the tone for your day) was about visiting the doctor.  Well, I should say visiting the waiting room because in the dream I never saw the doctor.  I checked in with reception, sat in the waiting room and then watched as all the other patients were called, and then I woke up.  I'm really glad I know nothing of dream interpretation because I'm sure that this dream would say nothing interesting about me.  

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Escape the waste?

When shopping I try to consider the packaging waste from the products I buy.  For the things I purchase regularly I tend to buy in bulk and reuse my own bags and containers.  The last few day's I've been biking around town picking up stuff we need for our annual backpacking trip.  Nothing big, mostly food and replacement items for the first aid kit.  We packed our bags up last night and I was shocked by the amount of waste we had produced from such a small number of things.  I had always thought of backpacking as a "green" vacation.  Spending a week fueling ourselves instead of our cars, living simply finding joy in the quite.  Not necessarily a zero impact vacation, but much better that spending it running an ATV around the dunes or camping in an luxury RV complete with air-conditioning and satellite television.  But this waste concerns me, I'm going to have to think through what products we choose before the next trip.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Religion and more thoughts from childhood

I was reading through some posts at Panthera studentessa and I was intrigued by this post about her childhood experiences with a Pentacostal step family.  The rules of the religion clearly made no sense to her and I was reminded of a girl from the neighborhood I knew when I was young.  

We were riding home together on the bus and I invited her to my birthday party.  She told me that she didn't go to parties.  When I asked why she said that she was a Jehovah's witness and then she told me a story about a man having his head served up at on a platter at the request of some crazy woman.  I can't remember if the dead guy was attending a party or if the crazy lady with the decapitation fetish was hosting a party, or exactly how the details came together.  But I do remember her conclusion: so we don't go to parties because our heads will end up on a platter.  

Having attended many birthday parties myself and never having been decapitated or otherwise disfigured I really thought this girl was crazy.  We were kids and birthday parties were awesome.  I'm sure the belief system that forces the Jehovah's witnesses to stay home when everyone else is out having a good time is more complex than she had made it out to be, but in her young mind it was quite straight forward: attending party+having good time=head on platter.  Now that was the finest bit of brain washing I'd ever heard.

God stole my car keys

Yesterday, in a ridiculous moment of fuzzy-headedness brought on by to much heat and exertion and not enough food and water I "miss-placed" my car keys (they were never really lost, grrrrrr.)  I naturally began to panic when all my searching could not locate them, it did not help that I was at my field research site with no cell phone reception, and a 3.5 hour drive (plus a long embarrassing explanation to my colleagues) away from another set of keys.  

In a fit of near-tears-panic I found myself saying a little prayer in my head to locate the keys.  Even in my fuzzy headed state I thought what an odd thing to do.  Who exactly was I asking for help?  Did I think the Flying Spaghetti Monster had reached down from the sky and plucked the keys from my pocket?  Holding them hostage until I showed his meatballs the appropriate reverence? Of course not, but in the absence of any corporeal help it was, apparently, my first instinct to ask for assistance from some non-corporeal being.  

The logical part of my brain finally screamed at me loud enough to be heard over all the static, “retrace your steps, go through everything, they must be here! start with the most likely places…..” and quite quickly I literally ran right in to them (the keys having been laying right out in the open for nearly a hour while I frantically search all around them.)  And after I located the not-really-lost keys what was my immediate instinct?  To once again thank some non-corporal being.  

What did the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Shiva the destroyer, or Ra the sun god have to do with my not-really-lost keys?  Diddley.  But in my fuzzy headed state the need to rely on someone or something else was so strong I couldn’t contain it.  The impulse has to be more than simply the effect of our culture, for culture only names the non-corporeal being.  The impulse to give up control, to put a situation in someone else’s hands when feeling helpless, must be much deeper than that.  

Friday, July 18, 2008

Dr. Horrible: not just for crazy Joss Whedon Fans











A musical comedy created by Joss Whedon and staring Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, and some readheaded chick.  Awesome, right?  Still not convinced?  Remember this under appreciated piece of awesomeness:


or this delightful musical:

Both of Josses creation.

The third act isn't up yet, but better not wait to long to start watching because according to the master plan after Sunday (the 20th) you'll have to pay to watch.

And NO, I'm not even remotely a crazy Whedon fan, I just have good taste.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Scientists, Atheists, and thoughts from childhood

After returning to school last fall I started reading a lot of science blogs.  The first, and probably still my all around favorite, was Living the Scientific Life.  I was drawn to a lot of other blogs about life as a scientist (especially blogs by women scientists), as well as blogs that discussed life science and evolution (which I tend think of as one and the same).  Without really intending to I also ended up reading many post about atheism (it sounds weird to call it an "ism" for some reason) and posts on the many problems with religion.  After reading so many of these posts, you can't help but wonder about what you "believe".  So this curiosity lead me listen to some old Dawkins lectures on the topics of religion and science, and watch some fantastic interview clips with David Attenborough discussing evolution and belief in the existence of god.  Their ideas are always so eloquent, insightful, and logical but I can never completely reconcile them with my own way of seeing the world. 

Today I read an intriguing post by GrrlScientist at the aforementioned Living the Scientific Life blog.  She discusses being raised to be a religious person , how this conflicted with her inquisitive nature and how this conflict lead her to become an atheist.  So that got me thinking about my childhood, and I wouldn't say everything clicked in to place but it has certainly helped me to make a little more sense of how I interpret the world and why.  

If my parents had a particular belief system in mind when they raised me I'm still not aware of it.  In fact if they raised me to be anything I would say it was to become a scientist.  Most people would say that's not surprising considering I was raised by an anthropologist and a biologist, but there was more to it than their own knowledge and interest in the natural world.  I think I was allowed to experience nature differently that many children are.  If I was curious I was encouraged, if I had questions they were answered and no answer was ever dumbed down (even if this meant teaching a very young child the details of how animals reproduce).  

One might expect such an upbringing to take away the mystery of life, but it did just the opposite.  For some inexplicable reason all these answers just made the world seem more mysterious and amazing, I was sure I would find something unexplainable if I just looked long and hard enough.  I never did, but I also never stopped looking.  Now I no longer seek the unexplainable with a belief it will remain unexplained, but instead seek the answers to the yet to be explained questions.

What more is a scientist than a child who was never taught not to ask questions? or at least never stopped questioning, even when told to.  And as a result of this childhood I am what exactly? certainly not religious, but not an atheist either.  I have a feeling that Professor Dawkins would tell me that to understand evolution, biology, and the origins of life on this planet and not proclaim oneself to be an atheist means that I am not following the scientific reasoning to it's logical conclusion.  Maybe that's true, perhaps there is a flaw in my primate brain that makes me perceive the natural world with too much awe causing me to believe there may be something beyond what I can see and know with the tools I have.  Perhaps it is a side effect of always being encouraged to question what I see and experience.  Maybe it's just the revolting nature of all the labels people assign themselves causing me to resist assimilation in to any belief or non-belief system.

It's strange to have enough scientific knowledge to explain most of the world I encounter, and yet be so incapable of explaining myself.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Thou shalt not forget thy ipod!

During the summer we graduate students help with projects out at the research farm as often as possible.  Our lab group has many research trials that are ready for harvesting and data recording, it's usually fun and gets us out of the office (which isn't air-conditioned anyway so why bother....)  

One of the most tedious tasks is cleaning grass seed.  After grass seed has been cut, laid in the field for a while, and the seed harvested with the combine it needs to be sent through the seed cleaner.  This chest-freezer-sized machine separates the live seed from the stalks, hulls, and chaff that the combine also collects.  Each experimental plot is individually bagged during combining and must be cleaned and weighed individually.  This is a long, noisy, and tedious process that is made worse by the heat and dust particles released during cleaning.  

Listening to music, podcasts, our audiobooks is one of the few things that make this task more bearable.  I forgot my ipod today, and oh how I suffered.  I thought I might be able to call upon my creative storytelling brain function to entertain me with fictional stories and random characters, but I completely failed.  Apparently my "magical thinking" does not work upon request, or by force of will.  Must, must, must remember ipod!

Making Green Easy

Each day my husband and I work at changing our behavior to make our lives more "green."  The biggest change for us has been riding our bikes everywhere.  I've also taken the community link buses when I have to visit neighboring towns.  The inconvenience of long waits is almost enough to make me want to drive, but lately I've found driving to be very unpleasant (perhaps it's the lack of airconditioning.)  But when I do have to drive my car the destination is typically either my research site (275 mile round trip) or to visit the parents (200 mile round trip).  For those trips I've had ideas on how to be a more green driver:
  • Keep it at or under 55 mph (much easier on the windy coast road to my research site than when I take I-5 to visit the parents) but driving 55 mph or slower saves gas, and using less gas to go the same distance is a basic green concept.
  • Drive with high tire pressure in the summer.  We have icy and wet winters so if you visit the tire centers during the winter months chances are you're driving away with lowish tire pressure to aid in traction.  But greater traction also means greater friction and less efficiency.  Once the weather has improved get them pumped up an your gas mileage with improve.
  • Just say no to drive-thrus.  Yes, it's un-american but we have completely given them up.  It's easily the simplest green choice we've made, just park the car and walk into get our greasy fast food or mocha frappuccino.  I have no idea just how much gas is typically wasted in drive-thrus, but it just makes sense to give them up.
  • Get a tune up!  (I emphasize this because I have yet to check it off my "to-do" list).  A well tuned car is a clean running more efficient car.
You can make being green as simple or complex as you wish.  The green culture is growing and I've found that we don't need to commit to extreme changes that complicate our lifestyles or don't fit with our economic level in order to feel like we're making an impact.  

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Question?

Is it wrong to have a .69 cent pot pie as an afternoon snack?  And just what is "MECHANICALLY SEPARATED TURKEY"


I was eating so healthy too, I've gone a whole week with out eating any top ramen.  I guess I was deficient in sodium tripolyphosphate.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Pharyngula - undeniably addictive

I began reading Pharyngula many moons ago, and lets say it wasn't love at first read.  I found many of his statements and opinions to be a bit extreme for my taste, but as time went on I found myself reading it more and more, not just for the shock of what he might say next, but for the scientific content.  I guess I was also sold on the unwavering support given to keeping evolution in education and creationism out, an issue that I like so many other scientists take very personally.  It's a strangely addictive blog, that you just can't stop reading once you've started.  Even if you don't agree with everything PZ writes (which believe me I don't) you can't help but admire the guy for being consistent and keeping all arguments rooted in science.  And of course there is always the friday cephalopod to look forward to.

Compassionate professor

When I feel like I have failed somehow in my research, or haven't lived up to my own expectations of my work, I always expect to see disappointment equal to my own in my professors face.  Time and again this isn't the case.  Instead I'm given support and encouragement to try again, even empathy for the difficulty I'm having with my research.  It's astounding that I've been fortunate enough to find myself in such a supportive environment.  I read so many other blogs written by young women in science who are not only lacking an encouraging advisor, but who are in some cases being systematically browbeaten by senior faculty.  It's an important lesson for all of us that have the potential to continue in academia: Remember our own tribulations, disappointments, and failures in order to treat others with compassion.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Disappointment and self doubt

Having failed to collect the data I was seeking during the recent trip to my field site, my mind has been dwelling of thoughts of failure.  Doubting wether I have the skill to complete the research, fear of the disappointment I will see in my professors face tomorrow.  The idea of managing a field site and collecting data on the plant species seems simple when planned from the safety of my desk, but the ideas once applied to the real situation never come to fruition.  It's incredibly frustrating to have so little control over the experimental variables at this field site.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Tales of a misspent youth

What is it about the fourth of July that brings out the juvenile delinquent in everyone.  Normally sensible adults suddenly have the desire to make homemade fireballs, convert super-soakers to flame throwers, play chicken with roman candles and shoot bottle rockets at each other.  The scent of sulfur and burnt hair has filled the air of our quaint little town for the last few days.  Not sure if that makes us patriotic or idiotic......

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Into the great wide open

I'm off to the woods for a few days, to collect data at my research plots.  Fingers crossed for enough plant growth to make grass ID easy.  The forecast is a mix of clouds and sun and temps in the upper 60's (F).  Should be just lovely, wish I could spend the whole summer.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

One more anniversary link

GrrlScientist just put a new post up on Natural Selection Turning 150.

Yeah for science!

Favorite Darwin Quote

On this auspicious day I thought I would share what has always been my favorite Darwin Quote:

"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved."
—Charles Darwin 
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, 1859

It's difficult to choose a favorite, but something about this one has always spoke to me.  Perhaps it's that you can hear the clear admiration and amazement at the incredible diversity of life he had observed during his explorations.  Perhaps it's his attempt at aligning religious and scientific views.  More likely, it's the memories of Stephen Jay Gould that this quote conjures for me.  

Though Stephen Jay Gould passed away just as I was blossoming as a young scientist I've always felt some unexplainable connection to his writing.  I remember the presence of his books in our house growing up, but never read them until entering college.  When I was immersed into the world of Darwin I also began reading Gould.  With Voyage of the Beagle in one hand and the Flamingo's Smile in the other my view of the world was forever altered.  

I think Darwin perfectly describes this alteration of the perceived world we experience through gaining understanding of natural selection; "-from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved."  It's really a grand view.

150 Years of Natural Selection

150 Year ago today the scientific world was introduced to a great new scientific concept, and in that time few realms of science have been so hotly debated or passionately disputed by the ignorant, closed-minded, and stupid.  The anniversary is chronicled by the beagle project and many other well known blogs...

It was the meeting of the Linnean Society of London on July 1st, 1858.  One month before the publication of both Darwin and Wallace's papers, and these lucky scientists got a preview.  Can you imagine being there, hearing these ideas for the first time.  How thrilling, I wonder how many of them knew just how important these papers would be.  I wish I could know what questions they asked, what the feeling of the audience had been.  Did some of them truly think nothing of importance had happened that day?  Or did some of them have that burning feeling of witnessing history being made.  I hope it was the latter, I like to imagine the feeling of scientific revolution.

My favorite picture of Darwin

Monday, June 30, 2008

Douglas Adams



Quote of the day from iGoogle was another great thought from Douglas Adams and I just had to share:

"He attacked everything in life with a mix of extraordinary genius and naive incompetence, and it was often difficult to tell which was which."
  - Douglas Adams

That is Just how I feel most days.......


Sacrifice

There are some serious things happening to people in my life right now, and it's got me thinking about sacrifice.  Specifically, what part of myself would I sacrifice to survive.  Sounds strange I know, but in this world of cancer and disease it is a very real possibility we may have to make such a choice at some point in our lives.  Your breast, your bladder, a large portion of your colon, a foot, a leg.....  It's morbid to contemplate, and often there will be no other choice, which really isn't making a choice at all.  But I'm thinking of the situations when you have a choice, usually a choice between two treatments one being more likely to succeed and more extreme.  You can take a chance on one treatment while maintaining your vanity and pride, or you can opt for the more extreme treatment, perhaps sacrificing some personal dignity but gaining a greater assurance of future health.  It's hard to know how you will react when faced with your own mortality.  Can you be strong enough to sacrifice part of yourself?  Would I still feel like me, even though a part of me is missing?  

Back in the saddle

Getting ready this morning was slightly disastrous, but that made the ride into work that much more enjoyable.  Ran out of hot water just before I ran my morning bath, and had to boil the kettle to get my bath to a desirable temp.  But, still got myself together and out the door basically on time.  After sitting in meetings and cars most of last week pedaling to work was amazing.  My muscles have been craving a good stretch.  The ride was exhilarating and the rest of my day is shaping up nicely.  All my plants in the greenhouse survived a week without me and I'm being thoroughly entertained by reading all my notes from the conference last week.  Not just references to journal articles needing reading, but choice pieces of insight such as: 'I need to learn to walk in heels, and start buying more sophisticated clothing.' It's funny where your mind goes during meetings....

Sunday, June 29, 2008

For the love of dog

Well, I'm home now, but I had to post one last salute to Vancouver.  It became obvious during my stay that dogs play an important role in Vancouver culture.  To say that the people of Vancouver merely love their dogs would be an understatement in the extreme.  There is an abundance of dog friendly parks, walking paths, hotels, cafes, and little shops all over town.  I was tickled by a display at the Westin showing a very posh dog bed available for guests.
"Heavenly Dog Bed" available at the Westin

This adorable little shop was just up the street from the Westin

They had an interesting selection of gourmet dog treats

And other foods, toys, and clothes.
Really a uniquely Vancouver place.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Last call

Well, it is the last day of the IWSC and I do feel an extreme sense that it is over before it has started.  Everyone is exhausted after such a long week and great banquet last night, and of course dwelling on the long trip home.  Many I know have left, but I'm not yet sure how full the talks will be today.  Hopefully enough remain to stave off the feeling of preforming to an empty theatre for all the unlucky presenters that had to wait until Friday.  I've heard a few say, "Well, someone has to go last"  and I can almost hear the voice in their head say, "-but why does it have to be me."

The future of weed science

Tonight was banquet night at the International Weed Science Congress.  This is when we recognize exceptional scientists and award the best young weed scientists and students.  The night was wonderful, but you couldn't help but notice the disproportionate amount of young females receiving awards.  

The future of weed science looks very bright for women.  It's something I've noticed in all my graduate courses.  There is significantly larger number of women studying in my department right now then men, and It's true of many classes I've taken in other departments.  What is ironic is that with one exception the classes were all taught by male professors.  

I know this is an issue touched on by many of the other great female/science/academic blogs out there.  [For links see blog-roll, at bottom right of screen]  I truly hope that this large proportion of women is a new trend, and we will slowly move into higher positions, making the ratio of men to women senior professors more equivalent.  I truly hope there isn't some type of filtering process that separates out all female weed scientists sometime around the postdoc phase.  

I suppose only time will tell, but in the afterglow of a lovely night of good food, canadian beer, amusing conversation, and vigorous dancing I'm feeling quite optimistic.  I see a future for women from all nations and backgrounds in our field.  Though our female roll models are few, they are extraordinary, and they have the knowledge, experience, and tools to assist us.  Our male roll-models seem equally supportive and willing to mold us to our greatest potential.  How lucky we are to be in this academic life......

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The social dynamics of professional meetings

I've found the patterns of social behavior throughout the conference to be very interesting. Particularly during the poster sessions and free periods when we as participants shape the format of the meeting. The nonverbal communication of poster presenters is particularly interesting. The way a presenter stands, gestures, and the amount of eye contact they give to the "passers-by" has and intriguing effect on the number of people who stop and discuss the poster with them. And we as "passers-by" are clearly making judgements about the presenters on this non-verbal communication and this is how we chose to engage. Such choices can have an important affect on the professional future of both the presenter and their audience, so it is interesting that non-verbal behavior will have such significance.

Sorry for the rambling-thought post, just a bit of mental regurgitation during a lull in the conference.

Most imported part of meetings.

The last few days attending sessions and socializing with other weed scientists at IWSC I've been wondering what will end up being the most important thing I do while I'm here.  

Perhaps a connection I make with a scientist will prove to be beneficial to my career in the future.  

It's possible that some of the bites of information out of my normal realm will give me new perspective on my own research, possibly even direct me down a new path.

The overall theme of shared problems and weed concerns has certainly open my eyes to the possibility of research in other parts of the world.  (Although, Antarctica is still top of my list and unfortunately no one is here representing those weed issues.)

And lastly, if I have any more amazingly fun days in Vancouver I may have to immigrate, but I'm not sure I could afford it.

Botanical Garden and other stops

Today (day three of the International Weed Science Congress) was field trip day.  We started at the botanical garden on the UBC campus, it was by far the best stop.  Though, the final stop at a cranberry winery was interesting.  Some of the highlights...


Cardiocrinum giganteum - Giant Himalayan Lily

Grows to 15 feet high!


Minotaur and a hare.  Statue made of chicken wire and bed springs on loan to the garden.



The final stop.  Tried cranberry and strawberry wine, and blackberry port.  The wine was okay, but it all had a "fortified" flavor from the large amount of white sugar added for fermentation.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A rose by any other name......

Some more images from the UBC rose garden. I don't know the variety names but they all smelled delightful!



Beautiful UBC

Spend the evening after day two wandering around the UBC campus.  It is lovely.  Very sophisticated and well designed.  Some of the nicest images.....
The rose garden in bloom


The totem poles in front of the museum

Pacific spirit regional park

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Enlightening additional information

Writing form the IWSC....

It's funny how we travel so far to attend conventions, spend endless hours in sessions, taking in and processing an incredible amount of information, and yet some of the best bits of information comes from casually chatting with other scientists. Such as the enlightening comments I heard from an senior professor who I have come to idolize....

Such as the fact that we constantly repeat studies that we already know what the outcome will be because we desire conformation. It's very similar to the definition of insanity I've heard in the past, repeating the same process but expecting a different result.....

Additionally, the need to repeat a experiment without modification in order to be able to publish the data, even if it didn't work well the first time, and we could make it better by modification before replication.

It's interesting. Observations that seem so obvious but I would have needed years of experience in the field before I would have made then on my own.

IWSC - More on day one

While I've already mentioned briefly that the high point of day one was an Australian farmers presentation on farming land with a large population of herbicide resistant weeds, I thought I would mention some more great things I learned.

I had a fascinating talk with a passionate scientist who did her thesis work on Buddleja davidii.  She was extremely interested in the social biology of of invasive weeds and their spread.  Butterfly bush was an amazing example of this because people feel so strongly on both sides of the argument (beneficial shrub vs. noxious weed).  I love this area of inquiry, the human component of invasion and how it relates to human history and perception of nature.

I learn about a potentially important bio-herbicide that is being tested on kudzu.  It shows great control potential without adverse effect to the trees the kudzu smothers as is grows.  I think some help in that area might possibly be greatly appreciated by residents of the southeast US.

New weeds I learned about:
Lantana camara (Lantana)
Lygodium microphyllum (old world climbing fern)

Monday, June 23, 2008

The 5th International Weed Science Congress

Day One
More than 500 people
From 48 Countries
Presenting more than 250 posters
and 21 different oral sessions,
with I don't know how many individual presentations.

In other words: AWESOME!

Vancouver has many nice water features.


Some other (less than scientific) things I observed today
  • 75 words on a slide is too many
  • It's greatly appreciated when the speaker before lunch ends on time
  • Charismatic farmers give the best talks
  • I need to practice my professional banter (and reduce the excessive nodding and idiotic smiling)
New word: "transformer" - a weed that drastically changes an environment it invades by adding extra layers to the environment.


How to know you're in a foreign land


Vancouver has such a lovely Pacific Northwest Culture it's easy to forget I'm not back home. But I did notice distinct signs that I wasn't in Kansas anymore....

Traffic signals sometimes inexplicably flash green.

Cuban Cigars are readily available.


Taxicabs are hybrid fuel vehicles, more often than not.

Bathrooms have been transformed to washrooms.



Sunday, June 22, 2008

The emperors new clothes

Well I'm all packed and leaving for Vancouver in an hour. Attending the International Weed Science Congress this week. I'm looking forward to staying in Vancouver again, this time I'll be sharing dorms at UBC with a dozen other grad-students from our lab. The conference is at the Westin over near Stanley park.

The really amazing part of getting ready for this trip was locating a weeks worth of business clothes in my disaster of a closet. Being presentable and business like for a day or every two day's in a row has always been do-able. But a full weeks worth of "dressing-my-best" is, I'm embarrassed to say, something I've never had to do. Regardless, I'm attempting to present myself as a real science profession instead of a sarcastic grad-student who laughs too loudly. Never know how important each new acquaintance can be, and saying that first impressions are the most important would be redundant.

Friday, June 20, 2008

You gotta love this town



Had to run a quick errand down to the city library. I was cruising across campus on my bicycle contemplating the emptiness of a small university town in the summer. All the seasonal students have gone home and we "year-rounders" are left to enjoy the quiet and peace of Corvallis in summer. A city built around the University.

As I cruised towards central park my ears perked up at an intriguing sound, a drumming circle. The strangest part was that the circle appear to be performing for a large gyrating group of young children. An urban hippie day care? not sure....

Smiling to myself and cutting across the park pathway to the library, I did another double-take. There was a massive group of people waiting in front of the library. Being that this is Corvallis my mind first went to protestors, but at the library? and no signs. Just lots of People all types and ages, but the majority were mothers with small children. I was left with the obvious conclusion that they were all waiting for the library to open. Over 40 people lined up to get in to the library on a warm summer morning. Amazing. It reminded me of the lines of people waiting to get in to the Wal-Mart on christmas eve in the southern Oregon town I used to live in. That's a sad commentary. But hey they are both centers for the community, right?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Is there hope?

Recently I've taken to complaining about the lack of transportation options for people "like me" - i.e. not very wealthy but feels guilty about driving gas-powered vehicles.  The best option for the husband and I has been to bicycle everywhere (and for him this includes a 21 mile roundtrip ride to work each day.)  I've been so disappointed with the technology that is available, electric vehicles that can't go fast enough or far enough, and are basically designed to only go to the places I bike to now.  And Hybrid technology that in my opinion is not going to be the answer in the long scheme of things.  Alternative fuels that are exciting to learn about, but each one seems have a whole other set of issues.  I have to wonder how many of these vehicles are going to be the next steam car, and fall out of use as quickly as they are introduced.

A story on NPR this morning answered a few of the questions I had about vehicle options.  The potential for new companies and new vehicles soon to be available.  And best of all he predicted vehicles that are "priced for the masses" and a greater public acceptance of alternative vehicles.

It's a nice thought, but I'm still impatiently waiting for an option that fits with my lifestyle.

I found this great video at a new-to-me blog: Plugs and cars.  Good blog, must read more....
Enjoy:



Thursday, June 12, 2008

Changing behavior

Campus feels very different today.  There is an increased emptiness now that people are wrapping up their final exams and either heading home or taking a short break from work.  The hallways have a dark echoing feeling with so many shut doors.  The pathways thru campus are sparsely scattered with students behaving in a "schools out for summer" manner.  Walking about without determination or apparent destination, loitering in parking lots, in front of school buildings and cafes.  Some choice conversation snippets I overheard included "Just how wasted was I last night?" and "Hey, there she is! How's it going slut?"  It really is amazing to me that these students are intelligent enough to compete at the university level.  Perhaps it's just the natural end of school year release, some of us get really drunk and behave like heathens, and some of us spend three hour scrubbing our stove top until in sparkles.  Everyone just needs a bit of change and a way to release the tension.

The inhumanity of man

I'll never be able to understand how a person can be cruel to the helpless little creatures.  My husband is a veterinary nurse and in his work he is witness to unimaginable evil.  Some days seem to be particularly full of horrifying  stories.  The worst of yesterday was a tiny kitten being tossed from a moving vehicle during morning traffic.  Thank god, a kind woman saw it happen and saved the little dear.  He still doesn't know if the kitten will survive, the skeletal damage is minimal, but the brain damage is difficult quantify and to heal.  

Is there a logical explanation for spurts of evil in the community?  The classic explanation of moon phase is illogical since we are at an intermediate waxing stage.  Could it be depression from our winter extending in to June this year?  Stress from the end of school, graduation, life changes.  I know it is ridiculous to attempt to make sense of something evil or of insane behavior.  This is a problem I've always had.  I remember as a small child asking my mother why John Lennon was murdered, she told me simply that the man was crazy, and you can't logically explain why.  This truth is as difficult to accept now as it was then.  It seems like every time I'm faced with a tragic event I try to justify it, rationalize why it happened, campus shootings, the suicide of a gifted young professor, harming helpless animals.  

It's pointless, but I can prevent myself doing it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Relaxation update

Looks like the hammock is out for this week.  We're having an unusually cold and rainy June here in Oregon.  Last nights exercise in relaxation was a wash.  Had a very nice pub dinner followed by  a really bad rental flick.  I'll have to try again tonight, perhaps a Kim Stanley Robinson novel, chips and salsa, and a cool beer.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The end is nye

Just need to drop off my Stats term paper and I'll have wrapped up my first year of grad school. At the end of fall term I toasted with Champagne and Guinness.
At the end of winter term I spent a week in Vancouver, drinking the best beer BC could offer.
And now for spring term I feel an anti-climax.  I kinda just want to have a relaxing swing in the hammock and read a book.  Sounds lame, but a guilt free evening that includes reading for entertainment is unattainable during the school year, and can truly only be found during this brief transitional period where the stress of classes wane and the stress of research has yet to build.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Catharsis

One week left of term and the veil of procrastination has been lifted.  Writing term papers (ie paper that should take a term to write) in a short period of time (like a week) can be a form of catharsis.  Dumping every thought and applicable strand of information out through your fingers and into the computer gives me a feeling of being lighter and emptier when finished.  I still wish I hadn't procrastinated, but at least there is an upside to the stress and pressure I've subjected myself to.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Epiphany

Statistics is awesome. 
Why the hell did I resist for so long?

Pasteur's insight

Listening to the Science Friday podcast this morning I was drawn to a Louis Pasteur quote: 

"Chance favors the prepared mind."

Ira quoted Pasteur when introducing a story on recent amazing observation of the early stages of a supernova.  What a fantastic description of how most great scientific discoveries occur.  We train ourselves, believe in our instinct, and use science to discover the why behind our luck.  What a brilliant man Pasteur was.



Friday, May 23, 2008

Blind leading blind?

This afternoon I got a call from a young woman who is finding herself in the same position I was in a little over a year ago.  She's considering graduate school, studying in my area of research, and was looking for advice and help making contacts.  I tried to help, I can remember so many seemingly futile efforts at making first contact.  I still feel like I got here simply by luck and a series of chance happenings, so I don't feel completely qualified to offer advice.  I also feel a little guilty about having gotten this opportunity.  Let me explain, one of those chance happening was being introduced to my current advisor at a meeting just over a year ago.  The young woman who called me today was also attending the meeting and also introduced to my current advisor.  Somehow, almost magically,  a year later I ended up here - hence the guilt.  I don't know, I guess I just feel unqualified to advise someone on how to get your foot in the graduate school door.