Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

Here's the menu from this years feast:

Organic free range roasted turkey, basted in butter and white wine - Fred and Me
Salad - Christian
Two kinds of stuffing - Fred and Me
Gravy - Me
Mashed potatoes - Jason
Sweet potato casserole - Fred
Green bean casserole - Christian
Roasted squash - Jason
Collard greens - Christian
Orange ginger cranberry sauce - Matt and Me
Fresh baked rolls - Mouse
Pumpkin pie - Me
Pecan pie - Matt
Apple and pear pie - Mouse
Home brews - Christian

I don't know if I missed anything, but Thanksgiving was delicious, I can't wait till next year!

Melissa, Matthew, Christian, Fred, Jason, Mouse, Dave, Nicole, Bob

Bring on the next holiday, I want to do some more baking.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Festival of the Cranes

If you've spent time in New Mexico during the fall, you're probably familiar with the odd trumpeting call of sandhill cranes. Every year sandhill cranes and many other birds migrate south for the winter, and many stop in New Mexico. This past weekend Matt and I volunteered with the Albuquerque Audubon Society for the Annual Festival of the Cranes, at Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge. During the fall, the refuge floods its fields to provide important habitat and food for migrants.

While stationed on the swamp deck, we helped visitors view various types of birds. In addition to the cranes there were several interesting species hanging around the refuge, making this years festival another one to remember. We had birding scopes positioned to view a bald eagle perched on a snag, as well as a surf scoter that was an unusual sighting. Despite the weather being a little chilly and windy, there were a good number of people enjoying the wildlife of the refuge.

For pictures and the full story of our visit to the refuge, check out Matt's blog.

Also, if you decide to make the trip down to Bosque del Apache, stop in San Antonio for the green chile cheeseburger that whipped Bobby Flays butt on "Throwdown With Bobby Flay".

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Back to Childhood

Telescopes, giant bubble wands, and chain reaction machines. These are just a few of the things you can play with at Explora!, the children's science and technology museum in Albuquerque. Once a month on a Friday evening Explora! opens it's doors to "children" of the large variety, during one of their adult night events. There's usually light snacks and live entertainment of some kind, but I honestly was too busy playing to pay much attention to either of those (although the band was good, sorry guys.)

Ever since I moved to Albuquerque, my lab mate Fred has been trying to get me to go to one of these adult nights. I'm glad I finally did, and I'll be back in the future, maybe even as soon as their next event on January 20th. From 6pm-10pm, everything in the museum is available to poke, splash, build, and look at. Matt and I spent a good 30 minutes putting together a chain reaction machine: the marble gets knocked into the spiral shoot, down into the funnel, down two more shoots, and hits the jingle bells, hooray! I made a bubble in a bubble at the soapy water tub. Matt made a funny animation of a sauropod being chased away by a T-Rex, but then a pterodactyl flew in and saved the day by exploding the T-Rex. The Albuquerque astronomy club had telescopes set up, and I saw Jupiter and its moons.

Adult night at Explora! gives adults the opportunity to play with things at the museum when it isn't overrun by children. Some of the things on exhibit for kids would definitely work better if you had a willing adult to help out, and I could easily see parents engaging with their children in a serious way during regular business hours. I also think adult nights create a new appreciation for museums. You could easily spend all four hours actively doing something at this event and still not see everything, which is why I'll be back (I still need to ride the high wire bicycle). And for $8, it's not a bad way to spend the early part of your evening.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Absolute Longest Couple of Weeks

It's that dreaded time of the fall semester. That time when just about everything seems to be coalescing. Conferences, applications, class assignments, exams, etc. etc. I fared pretty well myself over the past few weeks, at the very least I don't have exams, nor am I doing any grading. For that, at least, I'm thankful.

Last week I was away at a conference, however, during the past three weeks I was also working on a fellowship proposal. This was one of the few conferences where I actually got work done; when I wasn't at a talk or a meeting, I was holed up in my room writing. I just applied for a STAR fellowship through the environmental protection agency. The EPA STAR grants provide up to three years of tuition and stipend support as well as $5,000 a year for research. I'm hoping to get this fellowship for when my current funding ends, otherwise it's back to teaching and grading to support myself and looking for research money elsewhere.

The application had many parts to it, including a five page research proposal, a personal statement, my resume, and three letters of recommendation. I feel pretty good about how the whole application turned out, and I think it's pretty strong for a first submission. We'll see if others agree with me, I guess. Many of my friends are also going through the hell of grant writing. It's just that time of the year: mid fall, everything is due. Several friends were writing NSF predoctoral grants (which, sadly, I'm not eligible for because I have a master's degree) and a few were writing a doctoral dissertation improvement grant (DDIG), which is strictly for research money, not stipends or tuition.

After getting through the past few weeks, I'm finding myself extra agitated at the people you hear going around talking about how scientists are scammers, out to get rich off of research money. Rick Perry comes to mind especially, and after all the work and thought I put into just trying to get a piddly amount of money to stay fed and do work, I really would love to punch people like him in the face. These people are liars, ignorant, or some sad combination of the two. I'm certainly struggling to find research money, as is everyone else I know, and I'm certainly not living it up in my little apartment near the war zone of Albuquerque. I suppose maybe the implication is that scientists shouldn't get paid to do research, or that research expenses should come out of my pocket somehow. But research is a real job, and it would be like asking a teacher to pay for textbooks or a McDonald's worker to pay for the fryer. Ridiculous. Incidentally, many teachers DO pay out of their own money for supplies, which like I said, is ridiculous.

After next week I'll have more time for getting some writing done. I have a class presentation on Tuesday in my paleoclimate seminar, and a lab group presentation on Wednesday. I'm going to be talking about past climate change, and changes in wild fire frequency and vegetation. I have no idea what I'm going to present to my lab though, probably what my new project ideas are for the upcoming year. I don't have data, but I have lots of interesting questions that I want to start working on. I came back from SVP with lots to think about.

Friday, November 11, 2011

SVP 2011 - Las Vegas, NV

A week ago I was attending the annual meeting for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontologists. The reason this post is coming as a follow up to the meeting was because internet at the hotel and conference center was outrageously expensive, as was everything else

Pro: Despite not presenting anything this year, I felt it was a highly productive meeting for me, personally. I met some new people, got leads on projects, and caught up with collaborators who I haven't seen in a while. Russ and I put together our writing schedule, and I think we're back on track for submitting our paper. We should be ready for submission by early to mid January.

Pro: I saw some really interesting talks, in particular about the salvage project up in Snowmass, CO. One of the hypotheses for how this mammoth death assemblage formed was that animals sunk into the ground during earthquakes. It works like this:
1 - Animal is standing in lake, happy and free.
2 - The earth starts to shake, which liquefies the ground the animal is standing on.
3 - The animal sinks.
4 - The ground stops shaking, and the sediment immediately re-solidifies, trapping the animal.
5 - The animal dies a slow (on the order of months) and horrible death by starvation since it is trapped.

My friends at Eastern Tennessee are all doing really interesting projects for their master's degrees. I can't wait to see what they do for PhDs, and where they end up going. A plus for me is that they all seem to be proficient at geometric morphometrics, a technique I'm interested in using. You folks will be hearing from me in the near future.

Con: The conference was at the Paris in Las Vegas. I have a hard time imagining a more irrelevant venue for an academic conference. Las Vegas represent everything that is wrong with the world, and I argue the decision to have the meeting there was insensitive to students and particularly insensitive to women. It was insensitive to students because this conference is already expensive as hell. I roomed with 3 other people, bought food at a grocery store, and carpooled and it STILL was outrageous. More importantly, though, was that this conference was held in a place that treats women like they are objects to be bought and sold. I shouldn't have to choose between participating in my science and having pornography shoved in my face every time I step outside. No exaggeration there, folks, you go outside and people literally shove pictures of naked women at you, and these cards are all over the ground during the day. It's disgusting. If you want to know why we have problems in the world, go to Vegas. It's no place for families, and it's certainly no place for an academic conference. If anyone is interested in helping me write a formal letter of complaint to the president of the society, send me an email.

The other reason this was a less than enjoyable meeting was that the people running it seemed to think we didn't need to eat. In previous years, events that were around meal times had a fair amount of food available. Contrast that to this year, the welcome reception had... chips. And dip. That's it. I serve more than that to friends who are coming over to play board games, nevermind several hours of mingling. What was somewhat amusing, if not annoying, is that these same bowls of crappy chips kept showing up at everything. It was like an unfunny running joke for the duration of the conference. I personally want to know what my $200 registration fee paid for if 1) I'm not getting anything to eat and 2) they aren't printing us copies of the abstract book anymore. That $200 didn't even include the banquet, which I didn't go to because $75 seemed ridiculous for a single meal.

Con: My birthday overlapped the conference.

Pro: I got to hang out with some cool people that I rarely see for my birthday, which ended up being pretty great. I also discovered the one and only good thing in Las Vegas: slushy machines filled with frozen mixed drinks.I want to give a shout out to all the folks who got me birthday drinks, we sure had some fun times. So far, year 27 is pretty good.

In summary, it was a good meeting, but only if you worked to make it good for yourself. Otherwise, you didn't miss much if you skipped it this year.