Wednesday, November 26, 2008

from the airport

I'm waiting at Big City Airport to fly to Jon's Hometown for
Thanksgiving. We're able to do this trip thanks to Jon's mom's
frequent flier miles- but it means we're flying on different airlines.
She travels extensively for her job (just got back from Sudan and may
be going to Iraq after Christmas... yes, she has a fascinating job).

I don't think I've ever seen so many 9-24 month old kids waiting to
get on the same flight. I guess I don't usually fly the day before
Thanksgiving. Here's hoping I'm not seated near the screamer. Or in
front of a kicker. That's really annoying.

Damn. They just delayed might flight for at least an hour. I should
probably go find some food.

We successfully replaced the wheels on our friends' car yesterday. It
cost $100 plus Jon's missed wages for 4 hours to deal with it. It
could've been worse.

Monday and Tuesday were mad busy. I was at school from 9 am to 1 am on
Monday working on a 20 minute presentation for Tuesday in the midst of
meetings. I had a very long list of things to accomplish on Tuesday
(including giving my presentation) and I got all of them done! It was
so satisfying!

Ok, in the end I got on a different flight that got in a little bit
sooner. I probably won't be online much until Friday or Saturday.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

what the #@^#$(@*#^$#!@$%)(#$&!?!?!?

I'm not even sure how to start explaining this.

First of all, WE DON'T HAVE A CAR precisely so we don't have to deal with shit like this! This car belongs to our friends who are out of the country for a week. We've had their car since Thursday in exchange for taking them to the airport.


We parked the car one street over from our apartment last night. I went and tried to use the car this morning but it wouldn't move. It seemed like the car wouldn't get into gear so I gave up. We had very busy day and couldn't be bothered with it until this evening when Jon went out and noticed that the passenger side wheels had been cleverly been removed and the car propped up with a block.

Sometimes, the problem is so obvious that you can't possibly think of it. Thought process that didn't happen this morning: Hmm, why isn't the car going? Maybe I should get out and check if someone STOLE THE WHEELS from the OTHER SIDE of the car so I wouldn't notice.

So, I called the police to report a theft. The officer thought someone played a prank on us. He said that in his 17 years as a Big City officer, he had never heard of the wheels being stolen from the right side of the car. I convinced him that it wasn't a prank, and after that he was incredibly helpful, except for the fact that we can't file the report because we don't own the car. He suggested all sorts of places where we might be able to replace the tires for a 12 year old Toyota. Why in the world did someone steal the tires?!?!?!

We are leaving on Wednesday morning for Thanksgiving and the plan was to leave the car at the airport so our friends could pick it up when they return on Thursday. Now we have two days to replace the tires (and bolts) on their car so we can actually drive it. I was just writing at the Economical Academic about how we're really buckling down on our budget and this isn't going to help one bit. This kind of unexpected expense is exactly the reason we don't have car. But, obviously this is our responsibility since it happened on our watch.

I'm not sure if it's comforting or disconcerting to know that people rarely get the tires stolen off their cars when they leave it parked overnight on a side street. Either way, we've got 48 hours to borrow someone else's car, buy the right tires, and put them on. Typing that out makes it sound so easy but Jon will have to take a half day off of work to do this because I'll be mad busy with presentations and papers. I'm crossing my fingers that this goes as smoothly as possible. Who knows, maybe we'll even find the right shop and get the same tires back.

my very busy and exciting weekend

This weekend was mad busy with non-academic work and I've got tons to do before we leave on Wednesday, but here's rundown of my non-stop weekend.

7:45 pm- Arrive home from school after a long day of meetings.
8:00 pm- Friends arrive to play Settlers of Catan.
~midnight- Friends leave and we get ready for bed.

9:15 am- Wake up, check email, start laundry, etc.
10:30 am- Other friends pick us up to go to a museum for several hours.
4:00 pm- Friends bring us home.
4-6:00 pm- I make yogurt, start making banana bread, and start a loaf in the bread machine.
6-8 pm- Run errands with Jon and a friend to pick up crafty items for a crafty workshop on Sunday.
~8:00 pm- Park car that belongs to our friends (who are out of town this week) a block away from our apartment.
~8:30 pm- Different friends come over to play Settlers of Catan.
Midnight- Three people (a friend plus two others) stop to spend the night. They are driving A Very Long Trip over two days in the most ghetto-tastic 1995 Geo.
12:30 am- Settlers of Catan finally ends with Jon's victory.
~2 am- Different friends leave.
3 am- We finally go to sleep after chatting with the road-tripping guests.

8 am- Awakened by the departure of our 3 midnight guests for their second day of driving.
9:20 am- Get out of bed to get ready for day of crafty workshops, shower.
~10 am- Get in aforementioned car that isn't ours to pick up a friend to run final crafty errands. Car starts but doesn't move. I give up and friend walks to our apartment and we forgo final errands. I tell Jon and we decide to deal with the problem later.
10:30-noon- Bake cookies, prep apartment, prep crafty stuff.
noon-2 pm- First crafty workshop.
2 pm- 4pm- Second crafty workshop (two people from school completely forget to come)-:
4 pm- 6pm- Final crafty workshop with friends from SFC who bring their bfs to hang out with Jon.
6-7 pm- Cleanup crafty stuff, chat and be exhausted.
~7 -8 pm- Eat semi-potluck dinner with our 5 friends.
8-9 pm- Play Chinese checkers with some friends while others play with the Wii.
9 pm- Our friends leave. We play on the Wii until about 10 pm.
10 pm- I get ready for bed and remind Jon about the car. I plan to spend the rest of the evening blogging about my weekend and thinking about what I need to do this week except this happens. It deserves its own post, so I made one. This is both the most exciting and unfortunate part of the weekend.

Tomorrow I have 3.5 hours of meetings and a 20 minute presentation to prepare for Tuesday about a section of a paper I haven't written yet. Before we leave on Wednesday we have to deal with this! Monday and Tuesday are going to be very busy.

Friday, November 21, 2008

dum da da dum...

...I have a committee! I had a great meeting with Melody this morning and she agreed to be on my committee. Then I had a moment of panic in which I couldn't remember if I'd actually ever asked Chip to be on my committee. I've been assuming for several months now that he would be, but I couldn't remember asking! So I tracked him down, asked him, and he said, "Yes, that would be great. But if you'd sent me an email about scheduling a meeting I would've just assumed I had already agreed to be on it!"

Next I've got to schedule a meeting with everyone. Speaking of meetings, I spent most of today in meetings. My interdisciplinary group* had a highly productive meeting this afternoon that lasted for several hours. We still have a lot of work to do, but it was great to make significant progress today.

*I'm inclined to call it my 'fellowship group' but that sounds like I'm talking about a church group! We did spend a little while today bashing talking about the Atlas of Creation...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

creating a committee

I'm tentatively planning to take my Ph.D. candidacy exam (aka preliminary exam or 'prelims') in March. Before then, I have to create a committee of faculty members who will assess my performance at the exam. I already know that Herb, Leo, Chip, and Sam will be on my committee, and I need one more person. I'm hoping that Melody, the new assistant professor, will be on my committee. I have a meeting with her tomorrow morning to talk about research with her and I also plan to ask her to be on my committee. I hope she says yes.

If Melody agrees, then I'll contact everyone to schedule a meeting. Ideally my pre-prelim meeting should be in December, but it might not happen until January. I think that will be ok but I'd rather know exactly what to study before winter break.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

introducing new characters

I need more female characters in my blog! Here they are.

is a new assistant professor. I'm excited about her work and I think she's a great addition to the department. She also knows my friend Cora (it's a small academic world).

is a new Masters student in Herb's lab. She's really cool, and she might also study critters.

Val is my office mate. It's just the two of us in the office, and she usually works at home because she has kids and she's almost finished with her Ph.D. She's the most experienced grad student in the lab right now and I like chatting with her (though I don't get to do that very often).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

5 things meme

Sarcozona tagged me for this one. Oh, Fia tagged me too. My very first meme was a similar version of this one. I agree with Theo that a Five Things meme should only have 5 things so I'm eliminating the snack one. Who cares what my favorite snacks are? Besides, I answered that last time.

The rules:
~Complete meme and post.
~Email the person who tagged you to let them know it's up.
~Tag 5 others and email/comment to tell them so.

5 things I was doing 10 years ago:
-Getting ready to try out for my high school's huge variety show.
-Working at a nature center.
-Generally being way more stressed out than I am now.
-Taking AP Biology, AP Stats, AP U.S. History, and studying Russian.
-Disliking most of my classmates.

5 things on my To-Do List Today:
-Get a massage!
-Read Mariyah's paper for lab meeting
-Work on interdisciplinary proposal
-Add books to our wedding registry
-Reset the mouse trap in our kitchen

5 things I would do if I were a millionaire:
-Give lots of money to Small Friendly College for lots of different things. Maybe I'd endow a professorship.
-Pay off my student loans.
-Take my parents to Remote Foreign Country.
-Support lots of other organizations working to make the world a better place (socially, environmentally, economically)
-Put a lot of money in my IRA for my retirement.

5 places I've lived:
-an old farmhouse that was formerly inhabited by a macaw (1 year)
-the back of a station wagon (on and off for 8 months)
-a tent by a beautiful mountain lake (1 month)
-Jon's sister's basement (1 year)
-a suburban ranch house that no longer exists :-( (for most of my childhood)

5 jobs I've had:
-reptile caretaker
-barn manager
-adobe house builder

Blogs I tag:
I think I'm one of the last people to do this, but I tag...

how minds work... or don't

This semester Jon and I have established a routine of always sitting down to eat dinner together on Monday nights and then watch of movie. Last night we decided to watch Superbad, because Jon had been quoting it for several months now and I said I hadn't seen it.

So we sit down on the couch, start the movie, and I recognize the credits. I remember watching the opening credits with Jon and talking about their bad ipod-esque dancing. We pondered why I had only watched the opening credits and not the rest of the movie. Weird. I insist I remembered nothing about the plotline. I must have gone off to work or read blogs while Jon watched the rest of the movie.

Then the opening scene. Oh my gosh, I recognized the opening scence. Did I see this movie? Surely I only saw the opening scene because having seen the main characters now I still can't remember anything else about the rest of the movie. Nothing. A blank. Then Jon says, "Do you remember McLovin?" Vague images of McLovin in a liquor store slowly started to come back to me, but I still couldn't really remember what happened in the movie, or how it ended. At all. But I had definitely seen the movie before.

I watched this movie less than six months ago and remembered NOTHING about it, and even FORGOT THAT I SAW IT.

Jon has teased me about this before ("you could hide your own Easter eggs!" or "it must be fun to watch Star Wars again and again and still be surprised that Darth Vader is Luke's father!"), but this Superbad experience takes the cake. (For the record, I could remember where Easter eggs were if I hid them.)

So, that is the long way of telling you that I have a terrible memory for plot lines. But I do remember numbers. Oh my gosh, I remember numbers. Especially when it comes to food prices. I still remember the unit price we paid for tortilla chips when I worked at Mid-Atlantic Field Station. I remeber what a good deal on cheese was in Remote Foreign Country. I know when we should buy extra olives or refried beans because they're cheaper than usual. I also remember my mailbox combination for Small Friendly College (I confirmed this last month), but that's probably more muscle memory in my hand than anything.

Does anyone else have this plotline retention deficiency or a knack for numbers? I think my mom is the exact same way. I also count things differently than most people I've explained my counting to, but I'll save that for another post.

Monday, November 17, 2008

communicating what I do

I recently attended a communication workshop to learn how to more effectively explain what I do. I went with relatively low expectations, but it turned out to be incredibly useful. I learned about some exciting new venues for science news and information, and got to practice distilling my research into easy-to-understand pieces.

Before the workshop I had an unanticipated lesson in communication at BNHM. I was there for another one of those donor-schmoozing events. They always include a presentation of some sort, but this one also had a behind-the-scenes tour for the donors/guests. I got to watch several museum scientists, including Leo, talk about their research in a whole new way. Instead of hearing them talk about their research for other scientists, they were talking to intelligent adults who were interested in science and research, but didn't necessarily know anything about their field or what they actually do as scientists. They noticeably changed their language, eliminated jargon, and spoke concisely. Leo and another scientist were particularly good at it, and you could tell. The other scientist also happened to be a great story teller, and people were riveted to him. He's an excellent example of an effective science communicator. He made it exciting and easy to understand. I explained my research too, but I could tell immediately one-on-one when I lost them somewhere.

[At the end of the event Leo said to me, "I'm so glad you came over for this event. It's good to attend these things, especially since you're interested in education and outreach." I was thinking, Oh good! He doesn't notice I'm here for the free food and alcohol! Well, that's not the only reason I go (I do like trying to explain to people what I do), but I'm self-conscious of the fact that I'm almost only at the museum when they're giving me free food or I'm taking some friend or family member behind the scenes.]

But really, I love talking about science. I love trying to explain what I do in a way that makes it real to people. Podcasts, blogs, and well-planned in-person presentations are some fantastic ways to communicate science. I can't wait to actually collect some data so I can talk about it! The next challenge I've got to tackle, though, is communicating my research to people in Ukenzagapia.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

conceptualizing interdisciplinary work

This year I received a fellowship to do interdisciplinary work as part of my Ph.D. training. I'm not going to distinguish between inter/trans/multidisciplinary work. Basically I'm working with other graduate students from different departments with a common theme of sustainability. One of the main things we need to accomplish is a group project that incorporates our skills and disciplines in a cohesive way. This is remarkably more difficult than it first sounds.

This semester we've been meeting with professionals who do interdisciplinary work all the time. It has been exciting to learn about their projects and interesting to hear about the challenges. Now we're at the point in the semester when we have to come up with ideas of our own. All we have to do is propose a project, we don't actually have to do what we propose (at least not yet).

We started our discussion about this by picking a site and independently thinking of projects within our line of research that could be done there. We ended up with a list of mini-projects that lack a central question we want to answer. This became obvious at our last meeting, so now we're trying a slightly different approach by asking a question that we can work together to answer (in retrospect, this probably sounds really obvious but it isn't necessarily).

This conversation within my group has made me think about what it means to collaborate on an interdisciplinary project. Will I be working within my discipline on a small stand-alone piece of a larger question, or will I being doing something that is totally integrated with other disciplines and maybe only broadly relates to my specific sub-field? Ultimately, how do I see my role as a collaborator? Will I expand my horizons or stay squarely within my field as part of the larger whole?

Perhaps part of the difficulty for us is the artificial nature of the project. Instead of finding a problem and assembling a group of diverse people to answer a question or come up with a solution, we have the group of people and have to find a question we can answer based on who we have to work with.

You can expect more posts on this topic in the near future as the semester draws to a close and we have to come up with a proposal!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

other conversations in the blogosphere

There's a conversation going on over at Professor Chaos about clothing in academia (part 1 and part 2). It was inspired by some of the conversation about Dr. Isis that happened earlier this week.

I also (tried) starting a conversation over at The Economical Academic about how academia is feeling the economic crisis. How is it affecting your research or institution? Go on over and comment!

I won a t-shirt!

Alice Pawley from Sciencewomen had a free t-shirt drawing for readers who donated to DonorsChoose during the Scienceblogger campaign, and I won! My t-shirt is going to look like the one Sciencewoman is modeling here. It says, "This is what a scientist looks like."

I'll post a photo of me wearing it when it arrives. Hooray!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

work-free weekend

I didn't do any work this weekend. In fact, I didn't do much other than play games and sleep. On Friday and Saturday nights we had friends over to play Settlers of Catan and Puerto Rico. Today we slept in really late. Jon used my fast, new computer to play Sim City, and I started watching. Lame, I know, but it's really mesmerizing. Then I was hooked. I started my own game and that was pretty much the end of the day. I haven't played Sim City in years. It's so addicting because I just wanted to build a little more, get a few more residents, or balance my budget. Next thing I knew I'd been playing for 5 hours!!! Seriously. Addictive. That's enough for a while.

Well, now I've got to get a few of those housekeeping (on the computer) things done before I fall asleep. This is going to be another busy week!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

skirting the gender gap in my fellowship application

I submitted my NSF GRFP proposal at 4:59 pm on Friday and now my goal is to forget I even applied. But before I forget I do want to blog about it.

This year I abandoned chronology in my personal statement and instead shaped it around how I'm going to increase diversity in science in many ways. One way I plan to do this is by supporting women and underrepresented minorities, such as Ukenzagapian students.

I began the paragraph about increasing diversity of participants by saying, "Historically, scientific fields (including ecology) have been dominated by white men." Then I went on to say how I would change that. However, some people commented that I might be alienating the white men who were likely to be reading my essay. Herb in particular thought I should cut it. So did my mom.

I clung to it somewhat stubbornly and talked to my friend Cora (who received a GRF) about my essays on the phone. She didn't think I should cut it either. It was a statement of fact. How could any reviewer deny that? In the end, though, I cut the whole sentence. It didn't really add enough to justify the risk that I might offend a white male reviewer.

Kate's post for this month's Scientiae carnival said that women are tricked into thinking gender equality exists in science when it doesn't yet. Perhaps our reluctance to make statements like mine make us silently compliant to the status quo?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

oh my GRF...

I received a deluge of feedback today from Herb, Sam, Cora, Jon, and my mom on my NSF GRFP essays. I'm basically finished. I've uploaded 'backup' versions to NSF Fastlane so that if I can't do anything else I can at least hit the 'submit' button. That said, I'm meeting with Herb tomorrow morning to discuss the final details of my plan of research. Then I have 6 straight hours of meetings and class that end at 4 pm. I must submit by 5 pm. I'm going to proof read everything aloud to myself before I hit that button.

I must say, I think I've really put together kickass personal statement and previous research essays this year, and I'm feeling pretty good about my plan of research. I'm not as panicky as I was at this time last year, but I do have the legitimate lingering concern that they'll decide I'm not eligible (I wrote about this in the spring, but came to the conclusion that the potential benefits* were greater than the costs and I was going to apply anyways). So, I'm giving this thing my last best shot while trying to stay emotionally detatched and plan everything after this as if I never even applied for this.

*For my readers who aren't familiar with it, the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program gives you $30,000 per year for 3 years and money for tuition. This is far more than I could earn as a teaching assistant and gives me the flexibility to conduct field work in any month of the year.

my life in comics (part 2)

Every morning for the past several weeks I've woken up to news on NPR about the economy (or the election! But mostly the economy). It's kind of depressing. At the same time, though, I'm not too worried about me. Being a grad student isn't the most lucrative employment, but it is pretty secure if you still have a ways to go like me. Ph.D. Comics summarized it well:

I've probably got 4 or 5 years left before I hit the job market, so I'm hoping by then I'll be able to get a mortgage and buy a house.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


It's still sinking in. I was totally unprepared when they called it as soon as the California polls closed. I'm so glad it was a decisive victory so I could go to sleep last night knowing that Barack Obama will be my next president.

Now I've got to try to get some work done today.

Monday, November 3, 2008

election eve

Tomorrow I get to cast my vote for Obama! I'm so excited. I might make calls for Obama tomorrow too. We'll see. Jon is taking the day off, on the principle that election day should be a national holiday. I completely agree. Is there a movement for this somewhere? I want to support it. But, I'll probably still be at school for a little while tomorrow.

Last night I finished another round of NSF GRF drafts and then spent an hour composing emails to send them to various people for feedback. I thought I was going to have a meeting with Herb, but he came and left. I thought I was waiting for him, but maybe he was waiting for me. I guess I should've been more proactive. Today I did a bunch of little tasks like writing emails, downloading programs like R and Google Earth, and aerially exploring Nyota (my field site) on the internet. Later this week I'll probably have a bunch of final revisions to do so I'm trying to get my end of the week assignments out of the way tonight and tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, I'm really not sure how much work I'll get done. I mean, this is a HUGE election! We're planning to go watch with election results roll in with some friends tomorrow night and hopefully celebrate Obama's victory. It might be a late night.

If you haven't already voted, GO VOTE!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Tale of Two Computers

After much anticipation, I finally received my new MacBook on Thursday afternoon! I used it to write my Scientiae post that evening, and set it up to get the data from my old laptop while I slept on Thursday night. That's when things started to get frustrating.

The newest MacBooks lack a firewire port, which is one of the fastest ways to transfer data from one device to another. Without a firewire port, I had to resort to other data transfer methods such as wireless or ethernet cable. On Thursday night I set up my computers to transfer wirelessly using the MigrationAssistant utility. It said it would take about 7.5 hours. When I woke up the next morning about 9 hours later, it said "less than one minute remaining" for the transfer... but it continued to say "less than one minute" for the next half an hour. I called AppleCare. They told me sometimes the final "minute" took a long time, especially when transfering between OS 10.4 and 10.5 so I should leave it for another hour or so. I didn't have another hour (I had about 15 minutes) before I had to leave for school, so I left both computers at home tied up in the transfer with the hope that it would finish while I was gone.

When I got home on Friday afternoon, it still said "less than one minute" so I called AppleCare again. They suggested I cancel it and try again with ethernet. This time I couldn't even get MigrationAssistant to set up properly so the AppleCare woman told me I should visit an Apple repair place because it might be a hardware problem. I immediately scheduled an appointment for 8 pm at the Apple store's Genius Bar.

I explained my problem to the guys at the Apple store, and they talked me through the options. We set up the transfer with MigrationAssistant using ethernet, which seemed to work this time. It said the transfer would take about an hour and 20 minutes. I got my flirt on with the Genius Bar guys since they'd have to let me stay past store closing. Until the store closed, I wandered around oogling at all the sleek products and people watching. One 'customer' looked like she was doing her online LL Bean Christmas shopping.

Once the store closed, the computers said they had about 25 minutes remaining. I sat at the Genius Bar chatting with the employees while they cleaned up. Then it got to that final, frustrating step of "less than one minute remaining" and it just stayed there. I just wanted to go home, get my costume on, and go to a Halloween party! At one point there were five guys all standing around watching and willing the transfer to finish. One of them kindly brought me a coke and a snickers, and I even got a free Apple water bottle. After 30 minutes of "one minute remaining", we decided I should leave both of the computers, go home, and come back on Saturday. GAH! I didn't get home until 11 pm and didn't go to that Halloween party after all.

I called on Saturday and found out that the transfer still didn't finish. I already had another Genius Bar appointment, so I went back on Saturday afternoon. This time we didn't use MigrationAssistant at all. They used an external drive to transfer everything, and had to use the terminal to get around permissions on a lot of my data. This is probably what screwed up the transfer with MigrationAssistant. I had about 2 hours to kill while my data moved this time, so I did quite a bit of window shopping at expensive nearby stores. It was fun, but I was planning to work on my NSF essays on Saturday! Good news: not a hardware problem. Bad news: both of my computers had been tied up in attempted data transfers for almost 48 hours! Lesson learned: If your first transfer fails, go immediately to the external hard drive (USB capable) method without MigrationAssistant. Be prepared to enter password multiple times or override permissions using the terminal.

I finally left the Apple store around 4 pm on Saturday with both computers and all of my data transferred. So what did I do on Sunday? I left my new computer at home with Jon (who promptly created his own user to play computer games) and took my old computer to school so I could work on my NSF essays without the distraction of setting up all the little preferences for my new computer. Still gotta do that. But now, I've really gotta go to sleep!