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.......


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....

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


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.