Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Debut in the Smith-Brown Lab

Good day today. Classes didn't drag too much, I had some interesting moments of intellectual reflection, and I got some work done. Lunch was also amazing, because it was a repeat of the delicious soup that Matt made for dinner last night. I was pleasantly surprised yesterday when I got home, because he had made a big pot of egg lemon soup. I think it might be a new favorite, that man can cook!

I'm currently putting some finishing touches on a talk that I am giving tomorrow: the same talk I'm giving in a few weeks at a conference. Tomorrow, however, I am talking about my previous research to my lab group, which has me a little nervous, but excited as well.

I am one of a couple people in the lab group who regularly thinks about the fossil record. Felisa's advice for tomorrow is to be careful about what I assume, as in, don't assume that people in the lab know terminology, and all there is to know about my research. Odds are, they don't know. This is so true, I've been in the situation where I've been talking to very smart geologists who were clueless. I'm going to guess that biologists will have similar problems. What I study, and how I've been studying it, is very different from what they are probably expecting. Different questions, different data sets, difference data problems, and different analysis problems.

I have to keep reminding myself that this department accepted me for a reason. I have a different background; I think about time differently; and, therefore, I think about biological communities very differently. Not better, differently. And so I hope that makes me valuable.

If nothing else, this will get me warmed up for Pittsburgh in a couple weeks. And it'll let everyone know exactly what I'm about.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Year 1 Week 5 Recap

Finally, it's Friday! Actually, the week went by much faster than I would have liked, so I'm rather shocked that it is already Friday.

This week had a little more variety than usual. Monday was typical, but the lab wasn't ridiculously involved, and I felt it went rather smoothly. We watched a movie on the deep oceans for part of it. Any lab that involves watching a movie narrated by Johnny Depp is bound to be laid back and easy. The hopelessness of my students with the metrics system is also deminishing. I'm a little confused as to why they act like they've never seen this before. Apparently it is a part of their standardized tests, fairly early on in school, if they went to public school (presumably, most of them did). Maybe it's one of those things where you see it when you're young, forget it, and then years later it shows up agian and it's like it is brand new.

A large part of my first year, I have determined, is going to be about collecting tools for my research. This involves making as many connections as possible, and learning as many new tricks as I can. Today I met with a Peter Fawcett in the Earth and Planetary Sciences department (sort of like geosciences). We discussed looking at pollen, and directed me to some other helpful people and reading. I ended up at the library later to obtain some books which will hopefully aid me. It looks like if I'm going to proceed with this project, I'll need to spend some time in another lab in another institution doing my data collection, because UNM doesn't have a lab that works with pollen.

I've also started a file on my computer for reading that I want to do to get caught up in my area of research. This is on top of the other reading I'll need to do for class.

Today my adviser gave a talk over in Earth and Planetary Sciences, which I attended. Her talk was on the after effects of the Late Quaternary Extinction, specifically, the drop in methane at the onset of the Younger Dryas that may have been caused by the loss of large herbivores. The idea is that large herbivores produce a lot of methane, which is an important greenhouse gas. For example, cows produce an absurd amount of methane; one could then imagine that things like mammoths also probably produced a lot of methane. Remove them from the picture, and you have a decrease in methane. If humans were the cause of this extinction, this means that we had a hand in altering the biogeochemistry of the earth WAY before the industrial revolution. If this is true, then humans are indeed the most miserably destructive creatures on the planet.

It's important to quickly note here that I'm sort of the oddball in my research group. I don't necessarily buy into the idea that humans are the sole (or necessarily the major) cause of the megafauna extinction at the end of the last ice age. My research group seems to think so. It's a sexy idea to think that humans caused it, and its really difficult to conclusively invoke climate. At the same time, I think the evidence just doesn't provide enough information to say humans were the main cause. Actually, I'm of the opinion that more evidence is needed to say much of anything regarding it. Until then, we have to just work with what we have without, hopefully, making too many assumptions about what we think we know.

Felisa's talk was interesting for many reasons, the foremost being that it asks a really important question: What did the removal of all the large herbivores do to the climate, environment, etc. once they were gone? Regardless of how it happened, the fact that they were gone likely had major ecological consequences. I agree with her a 100% on that point, and my research is largely involved with trying to figure all this out. The fact remains that a lot of what happened at the end of the Pleistocene, human caused or not, is happening NOW as a result of human activity on this planet. The consequences of those activites is largely unknown, but based upon what happened in the past, maybe we can prepare ourselves or stop it from happening in the first place.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It's Raining!

I woke up this morning to a surprise: it was sprinkling out as I was walking to the bus! This continued for much of the morning. After lunch it was full blown rain. I got tricked by the weather as I was heading out to get some caffeine with Matt, as soon as I got away from cover it started to pick up, and once I was back in classes it was coming down pretty heavy. You could tell who had to come to class from another building, no one was prepared for this much rain, and some people were soaked. And, I had definitely not brought an umbrella.

This is all very weird for me, because 1) this is the dessert and 2) it isn't monsoon season anymore. The only time I saw it rain this heavy in the past couple months was in the middle of the night, when I was awoken by thunder. This is the first time I've see it rain consistenly all day long. This is about as humid as I've experienced Albuquerque. It was gray and overcast, just like Pennsylvania.

The rain had an unforeseen benefit, the bus was empty on the way home, and I made it back in record time. We didn't even stop at the other bus stop on the route, and my walk from the bus stop to my apartment was quick, I seemed to time the crossing signals perfectly. So, at least I wasn't outside for terribly long.

I received annoying news this evening: my student loan company thinks I missed a payment. 1) They didn't send me a bill for August because 2) I'm supposed to have a deferment for being back in school. Guess who'll be on the phone with American Education Services during breakfast tomorrow morning? Me! Hopefully this will be easy, and they won't claim that I owe them all sorts of money. I'm a grad student, I don't have any money!

So, despite the fact that I had a good day, the rain kind of foreshadowed what was awaiting me when I got home, at least as far as annoying bill issues go. On the bright side, Matt had dinner waiting for me as I was walking through the door. So I'm going to end on that positive note. Broccoli pesto, yum!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Recap of the Weekend

Well, I'm about a third of the way through the semester. This weekend proved to be fun as well as fairly productive.

Friday evening was the Biology Graduate Student Association's fall mixer. Matt and I went, and I tried to not just talk to people I already knew. We met a guy named Patrick who actually knew some of the paleobotany folks at Penn State, including our former office-neighbor Stephan. Patrick studies the evolution of wood, and it was good to meet another person who works with "paleo-type" stuff. We also met a few of the Witt Lab members, who study birds, and Matt got to talk to them about birding and what their lab group does. Matt emailed Dr. Witt this morning, I hope he'll have something interesting for Matt to do, either paid or just research.

Saturday we went to the New Mexico State Fair. There was a lot of agricultural stuff (farm animals, plants). We watched part of a horse show, and we saw some younger horses work on a lead. It was pretty interesting, the idea was to evaluate how they would eventually do with a rider. I also talked to a guy about cacti, and he had some good tips for getting them to bloom. I think I need to re-pot my catci (I'll need gloves), and once I do that I'll try out some of what he said.

New Mexicans will put chilies on anything. While at the fair, we got some ice cream that has dried powdered green chili on top. It was surprisingly delightful, and I'm going to try it on my own at home. The ice cream kills a lot of the heat, and you're left with a really interesting flavor. That's not to say that it wasn't spicy, it just wasn't a punch in the face. Very yummy.

Sunday was sort of my work day. I slept in, but got right to work when I got up putting together an application for travel money for my trip to Pittsburgh in October. As of yesterday evening I have 2 out of the 3 applications I want to fill out completed. I don't feel super confident about the first one, but I think I did a pretty decent job on the second. The second one provided better instructions and a more detailed rubric for what they were looking for.

We went to church again for the second time at the Newman center on campus. On the one hand, I know some people there and there is free dinner after mass, both of which are nice. On the other hand, the music isn't to my liking, and that's kind of a big deal to me and Matt. We'll see how it goes for the next couple weeks. Matt and I are just never going to replace Good Shepherd, at least not in Albuquerque. The free dinner last night was upside-down pizza. It was more of a casserole style thing, with sauce and toppings in a dish, baked with the crust on top.

Today, another long day of teaching. I'm feeling good about today though. The lab activity sounds like it won't be a pain, and there is only one thing they really need to do.

Also, I've seen more praying mantises in the past few weeks than I've seen in my whole life. One of the cats in my complex was sitting in a swarm of ants that were devouring a dead mantis. Fun times. April, the kitten, is so adorable and cute, and if it wasn't for the fact that she is filthy half the time and that I have a rodent for a pet, I would invite her to visit in my apartment. The other day she was acting all cute, then flopped around in a pile of dirt. Hilarious. I have a picture of her eating Matt's car antenna, I'll post it later when I'm back home (I'm at school, waiting to teach).

I can't believe I need to start planning my trip home for Christmas. I'm not a fan of Christmas, but it'll be good to be home.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Year 1 Week 4 Recap

Wow, no updates all week. Sorry Mom!

To put it succinctly, I was busy this week. Funny thing is, I have no idea where the time went, although I suspect it got sucked up by teaching duties. Nothing too unusual happened. Monday was as expected: teaching from noon till 9:20pm. I feel like I'm starting to gain the energy to do this without being tired for the rest of the week. I didn't get a sore throat this time from talking for 9 hours! That's an improvement in itself. It's really a pain the way my week is structured, it's really heavily weighted at the beginning with teaching and my own classes. Although, I do appreciate my very open Fridays.

I have all my grading done, and I've put in 16 hours of teaching assistant related stuff so far this week. All I need to do is write my quiz for next lab, and I'm good for between now and noon on Monday.

I had my first test this week. Okay, let me rephrase that: I had my first test in four years. Granted, it was sent via email, and it is a take home, and it isn't due until Tuesday of next week; but, it's been a while since I've had my skills evaluated in any form other than a paper or project. Had I stuck it out with Rudy's evil sedimentology class, I would have had an exam about 2 years ago during the first year of my master's degree; but, I dropped that insanity before he had the chance. That class was a test in itself: a test of endurance, and a test in how much could you take before you broke down.

This weekend will consist of me trying to scrape together more sources of travel funding for my upcoming trip to Pittsburgh. I'm headed there in October for the annual Society of Vertebrate Paleontologists meeting. I've given talks before, but not at this particular meeting, so it's kind of a big deal for me. I'll also get to reconnect with Penn State people at the meeting.

Someone from the Biology Graduate Student Association is throwing a party this evening: the fall BGSA party. I don't think it is necessarily a department sponsored event, just that the people in that group happen to be organizing it. A lot of the new students are going, and I'm hoping to meet some people that I haven't met yet. I think that, based on the people I've already interacted with, it'll be a good time. Of course, I've never hung out with biologists, only geologists. And geologists are pretty crazy partiers. The only thing crazier than a geologist, in my experience, is a paleontologist. So basically, I don't know what to expect from these "studiers of the living".

Till later, or as I have heard people say in New Mexico, hasta.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Year 1 Week 3 Recap

It was a short week, due to Labor Day I didn't teach or have anything much going on Monday. It was a rather typical week otherwise, nothing too much going on with school. I had a meeting with my adviser, I'll be starting a project soon looking at plants and pollen in some fossilized pack rat middens. Something new and completely different from what I am used to doing, but hey, if it gets me going, I'll take it. This particular project already has some funding, which means I don't need to go searching for research money yet.

None of my students sought me out for help, which meant I got a lot of grading done during my office hours. There was also free food and people for me to chat with, so it was fairly enjoyable. The free food was during an open house type thing for graduate students. I'm a believer that if you put out a table with piles of sandwiches, I need to eat them (at least one). Particularly if it is lunch time. The thing is, I actually brought lunch, and forgot to eat it. I'm reluctant to eat that sandwich now, because it was in my backpack all day. I also spent some time talking to some new grad students who seem nice, Virginia and Julian. I hope our office hours overlap more in the future.

I need to get some applications in fairly soon in an attempt to get some travel money to go to a meeting in October. One is due at the end of this week, but I need to get a version finished for Felisa to look at early in the week so she can write me a letter of recommendation. The other is due the following week. This means my weekend will be full of busy business to get this and other things taken care of. A lot of people don't realize this, but not all researchers just automatically get paid to go out and present their research. The funds have to come from somewhere, and often times they are competitive. So, that's what I'll be up to over the next few days.

One of the accomplishments of the week is that a few of us grad students have put together a group to learn how to use R more effectively. R is an open source environment for statistcal analysis and graphics. The nice thing about it is it is free to download off of the internet, which makes it a powerful tool for sharing data and analyses for research. It also has really nice graphics, which once you figure out how to use them, makes nice figures for publication. It'll be great to get a larger group of people on board with it in our department.

And of course, last night was the Burning of Zozobra in Santa Fe. I talked all about it in last night's posting.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

New Mexican Traditions: Zozobra

This evening I had I very interesting experience. After work, Matt and I drove about an hour to Santa Fe to see the burning of Zozobra. This event marks the beginning of the three day long Santa Fe Fiesta.

Zozobra is the worlds largest marionette. He is about 50 feet tall.

And every fall, they burn him to the ground.

In Spanish, Zozobra means anguish and misery. The other name for him is Old Man Gloom. This is the 86th year in a row they've been burning this effigy, and his burning is supposed to symbolize the destruction of all the gloom and unhappiness of the past year. Many people write down their gloom from the year and burn it in a box along with Zozobra. Frequently among these papers are unpleasant legal documents.

Prior to the burning, Zozobra is read his death sentence, outlining how he has made everyone miserable for the year, and that he deserves a fiery execution. Then he is torched. During the burning and afterward there is dancing and fireworks, so all in all, it's a pretty elaborate ritual.

One of the cool/crazy things about this whole thing is that this is a marionette, and the thing is actually moving around, arms flailing, mouth opening, head turning back and forth, bellowing and howling. And all the while everyone is shouting "Burn him! Burn him! Burn him!"

This tops the list of "bizarre" things I've been to. But I have to admit, there is something strangely gratifying about a giant, yelling, burning puppet.

If you haven't seen this, I suggest looking up a video on YouTube. I also have some of my own footage on Facebook. Also, here's a link to a video of the entire execution. It's kind of long, but it was a really crazy show.
Zozobra 2010

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Good News!

I got paid today! Not only that, but I also received my refund from Penn State for the money that was in my bursar account. I suddenly can buy things like food, and pay for things like electricity.

I also met with Felisa today. We have decided that I will be looking at pollen and plant macro fossils from the pack rat middens she has collected. Despite the fact that I'm a vertebrate paleontologist, I'm developing more of an interest in how animals lived and what their ecology was as a whole through time and space. A large part of that is what animals eat, namely, plants and other animals. I'm sure I'll still look at teeth and skeletons, but I'm trying to do as much as possible with as many different things to find out what I'm into.

Graduate school is one of those rare places/times where it is okay to spend lots and lots of time just thinking about things. You can't do that in most other instances.

I'm meeting up with people later to go over our statistics homework assignment. I've got it all done, it's just a question of whether it is right or not. I'm feeling pretty good about what I have, though. I also have to work on designing an experiment to answer hypotheses about the brain and its function. Totally unrelated to what I do, but interesting none the less.

Good day!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

There's Some Good News and Some Bad News

It's been a pretty lazy weekend. I didn't get out of bed until way later than I'm willing to admit. But it's a long weekend, and I was up late, so I don't feel too bad about it. Actually, I don't feel bad about it at all.

First, some good news. Matt and I have keys to our mailbox finally! And my mom sent us a package that DIDN'T have a a bill in it! She bought us a colorful dish towel set. That's good, because Matt and I were just recently saying how we should get some towels that aren't white, because they are starting to look pretty disgusting, clean or otherwise. That was so thoughtful of her.

Then some bad news. I got my deposit check from my landlord. A substantial chunk was taken out for cleaning and other BS things, which if I thought I had a chance in hell of winning, I would dispute. If you follow my blog at all, you know I didn't get out of State College until midnight the evening I moved simply because we were cleaning the house. Then I get this crap. I'm not a happy camper about this. Not much can be done about it now, so I'll just fume for a while, get over it, and we can go on with our merry little lives.

Moving on to...

More bad news. I haven't been paid yet. I have $38 in my checking account, and I was supposed to get paid on the 31st. It just didn't happen, and it's a holiday weekend, so I can't do anything about it until Tuesday at the very earliest.Thank God I have SOME savings and Matt to back me up for a couple weeks. I owe him, big time.

Okay, let's finish up on some good news.

Last night Matt and I went to my friend Fred's house to play games. It was a lot of fun and we met another cool person, Todd, who we will hopefully see more of in the future, especially where game playing is involved. We played a couple of card based games: Guillotine and Flux. Guillotine is pretty easy and funny, the goal is to gain points by executing "noble" people: the higher their rank, the more points they are worth. Flux is a bit more complicated. The rules change based on what cards you play, and there is no way to win the game from the onset. And the way in which you win changes throughout the game. It sounds confusing, but it makes sense once you play for a while. I won!

We also played Settlers. Matt and I were the only ones to have played it before, but Fred and Todd picked it up easily. Matt won, like usual.

I love game nights. Sure, games are expensive and there is a start up fee for actually buying them, but once you have them they provide hours of cost free fun. Which is exactly what I need. There's also something about board games that you can't get with video games or games over the internet. There's a whole other social aspect to it that is lost when you put a machine in the midst of everything. It turns out that, despite my cynicism, I enjoy people.

Okay, I should probably do something productive today, even if it is just getting to the grocery store or doing some laundry. Maybe some homework? We'll see, I have tomorrow to screw around as well. I love long weekends!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Year 1 Week 2 Recap

Not all that much happened this week, at least not academics wise. Adviser was away, so no adviser meetings. Which also means I didn't get started on any kind of research.

I'm pretty much caught up with statistics problem sets and readings for other classes. One would hope that by week 2 I haven't fallen behind. I'm trying REALLY hard to stay organized and up to date. That's always been a problem with me: I get my work done, but there's always some kind of backup somewhere along the way. Ah well.

I'm also trying to broaden my intellectual horizons and not become so narrow in my studies. I went to a genetics talk on Wed, which admittedly, I had little idea as to what was going on. This evening I made a special effort to go to the Physic's Department Seminar, there was a talk on energy, carbon sequestration, and sustainability. This talk I managed to follow, there was a lot of overlap with my geology background. I was also seen by a biology faculty member, thus building up my reputation as a multifaceted student. Maybe.

Thursday there was free food for all biology graduate student courtesy of our graduate student association. It's was a pretty sweet affair: tacos, taquitos, and enchilada casserole.

None of my students showed up for my office hours. I'm inclined to believe that since we don't have class next week due to Labor Day, no one has even downloaded the homework. Hopefully there won't be a flood of students next week.

Last night was date night. Matt and I had dinner at home, but went out for dessert and a drink at the Opa! Bar in Nob Hill. Very nice place. Drinks are a bit too expensive, but dessert was awesome. It's a "once in a while" type of place.

As for tonight, Friday night, so far it's pretty quiet. Too bad, I was hoping to do something or go somewhere, even just play games. The night is young, though, so who knows. Matt suggested looking for episodes of True Blood to watch online, so maybe that's what will happen.

I've been trying to organize the blog a bit by adding labels to entries. I've gone back and I have March done, and I hope to get the rest of the entries labeled in the next week or so. The labels will enable you to look at all posts that share that particular topic in common. Several posts will have multiple labels, since I tend to bounce around between topics in each post.

Have a good Labor Day weekend, everyone!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Moral Support

Sitting here, in front of my computer, Matt called from the kitchen, "Dinner will be ready soon. Do you want a salad to go with it?"

I have a very supportive and caring boyfriend. I'm lucky to have him here, and I'm so glad he came out to the southwest with me. He says I could have done it fine without him, but I wouldn't have been nearly this happy. He helps me make decisions, and is upbeat and encouraging in all that I try to do. I feel like we have a very even and fair relationship. It's what I always wanted, and having a good partner is going to make my whole New Mexico/PhD experience all that much better.

Better not keep him waiting.