Wednesday, October 10, 2012


So I've been spending the past week working on a post for another blog I occasionally write and edit for. It's on my most recent field experience, and the link below will take you to the post on UNM's Biology Blog. Enjoy!

Exhuming Ancient Giants

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


I've been working on a post for another blog on my recent fossil excavation, and I'll provide the link to that when it goes up. In the mean time, I thought I would share my academic website. Basically the idea is to have a resource with my academic and professional stuff. It's not done, and I could use some advice if people want to give it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Blue Screen of Death

I'll skip the apology about being absent for the past month.

Yesterday I returned to my desk and was greeted by a big blue screen with scary white writing on my computer. I have no idea what any of this gibberish meant, but nothing good ever comes from the blue screen of death.

I restarted my computer and everything seemed to be fine, I was even able to recover the one sentence I had written in a Word document I had been working on. I have no idea what caused this hiccup, but as far as I can tell everything seems normal. But it sure is scary to come back to your computer, one where you haven't saved any back-ups in a while, and see this:

I have the time to write this post mid-afternoon on a Tuesday because I am currently backing up everything on my computer onto an external hard drive. Yesterday, I backed up my operating system. I've been stupidly lax, even though I've had disasters happen in the past. Many years ago, I lost my entire undergraduate thesis (twice). Rebuilding research, after months of work, is absolutely heartbreaking. And nothing can induce a panic attack in a graduate student quite like the prospect of having months or years of work lost. Gone. In an instant.

So it might be over kill, but I now have weekly back-ups scheduled from now until the end of time.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Lofty and Ambitious Goals

Okay! Semester is off to a good start so far. I haven't been to all of my classes as of yet, and I'm not sure where my schedule is going to settle, but it looks promising. I'm still somewhat stuck in vacation mode, and it was really nice getting out of New Mexico for a couple weeks to visit family and friends before things got busy again. I was pretty desperate to see the ocean and sleep on a beach, and I was successful in checking that off my list of to-dos for the year. I came back from CT more tan than I ever get in NM, probably because I'm so paranoid about sunburns here that I slather myself in sunscreen pretty religiously.

Classes and work aside, I have some personal goals and things I'd like to see happen over the next couple months. I really want to get back into music, I really regret letting that part of me atrophy since college. Starting next week I'm going to schedule daily bass practice, at least 40 minutes a day. Given that I kind of putz around my apartment aimlessly every morning before getting myself out the door, I can easily reallocate this time to playing my electric. If I can commit myself to this successfully for a couple months, I'm going to sell my old upright that I left in CT and allow myself to buy a new one out here in NM. I've also acquired a contact for a voice instructor, and I'd love to take singing lessons and get back into singing somewhat seriously.

Exercise. I kind of became a gym rat over the summer, going for a couple hours roughly 5 times a week. I'd be happy exercising at least 3 times a week while the semester is going, because I turn into an antsy wreck if I sit around for too long at my desk. I'm not sure how I'm going to make this work, running and lifting during the day means I'm sweaty and gross for the remainder of the day, but going at night means I'm taking the bus in the dark, which is kind of sketchy. I might need to get a parking pass to make this doable.

And I am going to harass Russ until we get our papers written and done. There's no reason I shouldn't have at least 2 papers published from my master's research by the end of the spring.

Friday, August 17, 2012


Summer is gone... sigh

The new semester starts in 3 days, and I realize that I haven't posted in over a month. Part of the reason is that I found myself a little burnt out and discouraged. The other reason is that I have been taking a mental siesta during this time.

Let's just say the past few months haven't exactly gone according to plan. In my last post I was lamenting about how no matter how much time or effort I was putting into writing, it never reaches completion. A few weeks after writing that post my working group turned in the third(?) version of our review paper for my adviser to look over. Then we didn't hear anything for a few weeks. After making three figures, editing the crap out of the paper, and various people (including myself) leaving town, I more or less had moved on from this project. In my naivety I figured we were more or less done. Oh how wrong I was.

I strolled into my office the other day, my first day back at my desk for almost 3 weeks, and the first thing I see is our paper on my chair. Bleeding. It actually had more comments on it than the previous version. This isn't the end of the world, the figures aren't going to change and the edits are somewhat minor, but COMMON! I'm so over this.

Here's the thing. It's already a really well written paper, I have no problem saying that. Many of the edits are wordsmithing or tweaking, and I'm just not up for this. Granted, some of them are worth following up on, but others kind of change the meaning of what was originally written. And that drives me nuts. I've gone over all the comments, and Meghan and I are going to work on this some over the weekend or next week.Then maybe it'll be done? Maybe?

I also discovered another orphaned paper that somehow ended up on my desk: a non-dissertation related side project left over from a class last semester. I contacted the people involved with it yesterday to see if we could resurrect it and get it done, but so far I have heard nothing. I've decided I'm not even going to worry about it, it's not going anywhere as far as I'm concerned, and I can come back to it whenever. I just don't want to see it never come to completion, especially since so many man hours have already gone into it.

Since I'm not made of time or energy, I'm going to have to start forcing myself to not work so much on side projects. They have their place, but right now I have dissertation proposals to write and comps to get ready for.

Monday, June 25, 2012


"In analytic geometry, an asymptote of a curve is a line such that the distance between the curve and the line approaches zero as they tend to infinity." -Wikipedia

Figure 1. Time, effort, and perfection. You're never gonna get there.

That is, the curve never actually reaches the line. It just gets really, really, really close.

Such is the case with "finishing" an academic project. In my case the "curve" is the paper I've been working on, but really it could be anything academic. A thesis, a project, and experiment, etc. etc. Whatever. The "line" is the completion status of the thing I'm working on. And no matter how hard I work on it, no matter how much time I put into it, I will never ever reach completion. It simply won't happen.

For me, the hardest parts of writing a paper are the very beginning and the very end. The beginning is rough because I have a difficult time building up motivation and getting over the initial hump; but, once I start writing I see the progress being made and it comes easier. The end is even more painful to get through, however, and it is all because of this asymptotic approach to completion. The last 10% of a paper takes an absurd amount of time to get through.

I know perfectly well this paper will never be good enough for my own standards. I know that eventually I'm going to have to just let it go, because any more time invested in it will just give me diminishing returns (see Figure 1). It just eventually becomes more work than it is worth. And that is how you know when a project is "done", even if it technically isn't. 

Because it can't be. It's mathematically impossible. And there's no use driving yourself crazy over it.

But for me, for right now, I think I've yet to reach that critical point where I feel like I'm wasting my time. So I'm off to the crazy factory for a couple more days of staring blankly at my computer screen. 

I'll stop if I start to go cross-eyed.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Academic Flailing

This is a topic I've intended to write on for a while now: academic flailing. I'm bringing this up now because I've been trying to learn how to do something new all on my own and it's taken me months to only be half successful with nothing to really show for it yet.

What's been going on is I have been working on a paper with some friends/colleagues since December. We originally intended to have the paper written and submitted some time in February or March. If you check the time stamp on this post you'll note that I'm writing this in mid June. So we're a "little" off target, needless to say.

The paper is, broadly speaking, a review on niche modeling. Somehow or another it was determined that we should DO a species distribution model to make a figure illustrating some of the points we were making in the paper. The only problem is that no one in our group does this kind of modeling. And I ended up being the one to take on this task while writing and editing continued.

Cut to the punch line: it's been two months, I've sort of learned enough about what I'm doing to be dangerous, but the result thus far hasn't ended up being particularly useful. I'm stubborn as hell and I'm going to do this, but I'm getting frustrated and exhausted fighting with this thing day after day, week after week (month after month). It's been a very steep learning curve, trying to teach myself how to do this thing no one in my lab knows how to do. I would seek out the help of outside people, but I feel like I need a basic understanding before I can even begin to ask them intelligent questions.

And so I've been flailing.

Science is, often, directed flailing. You flail, and flail, and then flail some more. And then sometimes, maybe, you end up somewhere. It's a lot like me swimming. I can keep myself from drowning, and if I point myself in a particular direction I can get from point A to point B. But it isn't pretty to watch.

It's kind of a funny analogy, unless you're the one who's been trying to keep their head above water for an obscene amount of time. And I'm tired, damn it.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Back to Reality

I fully intended to blog about my vacation with my mom, but a lack of reliable internet sort of put a damper on that plan. It is also completely non-academic, and although I have posted about things other than graduate school on this blog, I don't want to make that too much of a habit.

I will say though, vacations are important for maintaining the sanity of a graduate student. We all need breaks, and anyone who tells you any different is a dirty filthy liar. Our trip to Arizona was one of the better vacations I've taken in a long time, and it was nice to finally see the Grand Canyon. It wouldn't be the kind of thing I'd want to do every year; but, sometimes just staring over something so vast and outside of yourself is what you need to bring everything else in reality back into perspective. It's the main reason I miss being close to an ocean, and why I want to see the Pacific some day.

Hance Rapids. Taken with my mobile, so forgive the lousy quality.

But now I'm back to reality. First, I'm going to do the cliche thing and comment on how I can't believe that it is June already. I'm completely unapologetic about this. Summer intercession is almost over, and come Monday there will once again be college students wandering about. This won't change my working environment much, though. Working in my office over the past few weeks has been incredibly boring. No one is around, and by that I mean I sit in my office for 8 hours by myself, only seeing other human beings when I leave to go to the bathroom or get food/coffee. The PiBBS space is a different world when classes aren't in session. Furthermore, I think a lot of other people are traveling, so it is extra dead.

Another dose of reality came recently when I finally got my rejection letter for a big grant I had applied for back in the fall. The big yellow envelope of depression showed up right before I was going to Arizona, so I put off reading its contents until I got back. I finally went over the reviewer comments the other day. I had myself mentally prepared to get ripped to shreds, but it actually wasn't that bad. I agreed with pretty much everything the reviewers had to say, and they will help me write a stronger proposal for the next go around. Three years of support is just too good to not try again. I didn't really expect to get it this time around, they only funded something like 80 proposals with this particular award.

The reviews I got were also mixed. One reviewer rated my entire application as "fair" and provided the most detailed comments and criticisms. The other two rated it as "good" and "excellent". Even I know that my application wasn't "excellent", so I'm going to just go ahead and average everything out and say that I did "good" on my first attempt. Which isn't too shabby. All three reviewers commented that the whole proposal was really well written. The primary complaints were that I didn't elaborate more on my methods and statistics and that I was vague about the broader impacts. It was only a 5 page proposal, so I'm going to have to really try to fit some of these details in and trim up other areas. I'll also have some publications by the time I try again, so that will also boost my application.

The complaints about my broader impacts section kind of threw me, however. Almost all funding agencies now require applicants to explain how they are going to make the world a better place with their research. Kind of like a Miss America pageant for scientists. I thought I had included enough in this section, but clearly not. Apparently they wanted to know how the specific project I was proposing would be relevant to my community (aka NM). I was more broad about how my activities as a scientist were beneficial to my community. Wrong! Looking back on it, I can easily make my project applicable to NM because it is on the role of large carnivores in communities. NM has a lot of issues with wolf populations and managing their larger carnivores, so this should have been a no brainer. But I wasn't sure what they wanted from me and I gave them the "wrong" thing. Next time I'll know better. These sections are becoming more important and less of a kiss-off, and now I know to put more into it.

The next month is going to be all about me tying up loose ends with projects, and thinking about my comprehensive exams. I'm thinking those will happen in the fall, but I'm kind of on the fence about it. We'll see.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

First Publication

I got an email today from the editor of my book chapter, forwarded from Felisa (even though I'm first author), indicating that the electronic version of the book we contributed to is available online.

Paleoecology in an Era of Climate Change: How the Past Can Provide Insights Into the Future


Anthropogenic climate change is the most prominent conservation issue of our time. Expectations are that the Earth’s climate will warm ~2.5–6.5° within the next century. The accompanying biological consequences will no doubt be huge. How will the diversity of life on our planet respond to rapid climate change? The best way to predict the future may be to examine the past as biota have experienced numerous episodes of climate fluctuation throughout geologic time. Some of these climatic fluctuations, particularly those of the late Quaternary, have been as rapid as those anticipated by climate warming scenarios. Analysis of the paleontological record can yield valuable information on how past climate change has shaped biodiversity in the past, and provide clues for what we may expect in the future. 

Paleontology in Ecology and Conservation
Springer Earth System Sciences, 2012, 93-116, DOI: 10.1007/978-3-642-25038-5_6

This is very exciting, and it gave me a boost this morning. I was kind of dragging when I got in to work today. Good news is always nice, and I'm going to try to ride the momentum through the day.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The End?

I had a surreal moment yesterday afternoon. I suddenly became aware that the semester was ending, and I was caught off guard. It sounds dumb, but it hadn't actually registered in my head that the reason my big-ass class project was due this week was because we only have a week left of class, and then finals week is after, and then nothing. I recall a couple weeks ago being kind of annoyed because it felt like it was due "too soon" in the semester. No. It is due exactly when it should be.

I don't know if it's because I don't really have exams anymore, or I'm not teaching, but at the end of both this past fall and this spring I have had almost zero concept of time and the calendar. A week goes by, a month goes by, and it's all the same to me. I recall I was having anxiety over something back in February, and I felt like I been dealing with it for several weeks. Turns out I was way off, it had only been one week.

Maybe I'm impatient, and that is screwing with my concept of time. I'm simultaneously tired of waiting for certain things, and other things can take their sweet time for all I care. I've also been very distracted lately, which means I'm not really paying attention to many things around me, like time.

This hasn't had any permanent or detrimental consequences, yet, so I'm not worried.
I'm living in the moment, for now.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Peer Review Take Three: Done!

So it was down to the due date, but I managed to submit my review to the editor before 10pm tonight. Comments to the editor: check. Comments to the author: check. Annotated PDF: check. I feel relatively good about this, seeing as how this was my first time. I probably spent more time on this than I should have, but from what I hear that is typical. I probably missed some details on some things and didn't give enough feed back on another thing. But it is done and off my desk.

At the very least I can hope that one of the other reviewers was more experienced than me and will pick up on stuff I missed. I was reviewer #2, so I know that at the very least one other person besides me and the editor looked at this thing.

The one thing I really appreciated about the manuscript was that it was really well written, despite any complaints I did end up making about clarity. I've read published papers before where I have absolutely no idea what is going on. At the very least that didn't happen this time around.

I get to add this to my CV right? This was a submission for a pretty big journal. I feel like I should be able to brag about it.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Peer Review Take Two and Spring Fever

I've been staring at my screen all afternoon, knowing full well that I'm not getting anything done, and that the review for this paper is due. Tomorrow.

I remember times when I was productive. Like a couple weeks ago, I was sitting at home feeling blue so I went to my friend Natalie's apartment and magically spat out my presentation for lab group in no time. Or last semester, when I worked furiously for two weeks on a grant submission for the EPA. Or back when I was an undergrad and I would get my second wind at around 11pm, and then spend 3+ hours in the computer lab working on my senior thesis.

No such luck this week.

It's not that I don't want to do this peer review. I do. I believe strongly in the peer review process, and it is actually a really interesting paper I'm going over. Its just been an emotionally exhausting couple of months, and I never really fully checked back in (mentally) after winter break. You read that correctly... winter break... as in January. It's April. And I have a million other things on my mind other than school/work.

I have a really hard time working when my mind is other places. My brain doesn't shut off, and I am one of those people that will ruminate over the same thing over and over and over again until it is resolved either in reality or in my head. I've never been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, but lately I sure have been feeling like I'm afflicted.

At any rate, I've read the paper that I'm reviewing in excruciating detail, and I've made lots of annotations to the PDF directly. Now it's a matter of writing out my comments for the editor and the author. That is going to be the thing that will require a lot of activation energy on my part. The Word document is open on my desktop. The major bullet points for the things I want to address are typed. I just need to do it.

But all I really want to do right now is go lay on some grass somewhere, watch clouds float by, and think about what I'm doing with my life.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Peer Review Process

I apologize for the hiatus, I've had some personal stuff going on and an existential crisis that is still looming over me. But I'll leave that for another post once I have time to process what I've been going through. For now I want to talk about my first experience as a reviewer.

Over spring break I received an email from a fairly big name journal in which I was asked to peer review a submission. How I came to get this email became clear once I saw the name of the editor that selected me as a reviewer: it was my adviser. Advisers often have their graduate students review papers they themselves are selected for, mostly to give the student experience doing something that is important to the scientific publication process, but also in part (I suspect) to clear things off their own desks. This request from Felisa was slightly different since I was directly asked as a primary reviewer.

The most amusing part of the email was that it was addressed to "Dr. Pardi". Cart before the horse.

For those who didn't know this already, the peer review process involves sending out manuscripts to other people in the scientific community for critique before publication. Reviewers identify weaknesses in the science or analyses of a paper, and the authors receive these comments. Reviewers can request that additional analyses be made, or if a paper is really bad they can indicate that they feel the paper shouldn't be published at all. In summary, it is quality control that the scientific community has embraced as a whole. It can, unfortunately, be a painful process for many involved.

I can't go into details about the paper I received, but I'm kind of nervous about being the person who is judging someone else's work. Almost everyone I know has gotten nasty reviews back on a grant or a paper before. Reviewers can be brutal, unnecessarily so. They can also give away their own ignorance by making irrelevant or stupid criticisms when they aren't necessarily an expert in the topic they are reviewing. I don't want to be either of these kinds of reviewers, and it is that second category that I am particularly wary of falling into.

Having said all this, I'm going to try to do this one on my own, at least initially. It turns out that I do know a bit about the subject matter, enough to refer Felisa to other people who would also make good reviewers if she needed anyone else. I have until April 10th the get this done, and my goal is to get it done early and do it right without being a jerk or sounding like a moron.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Don't Call A Woman A Slut

I'm going to digress for a bit from my usual banter about my life and school to bring you...

Rush Limbaugh

What he actually said:

“What does it say about the college co-ed Sandra Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her?” Limbaugh said on his radio show on Wednesday. “It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps.”

What he wants us to think he meant based on his "apology":

"I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities. What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line? If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit? In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone's bedroom nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a Presidential level."

I'm not an English major, but these two statements have very little to do with each other. The first is a sad man's attempt to entertain or be humorous in a way that is crude, misogynistic, and inappropriate. The second statement could be a well articulated social commentary if you ignore the fact that it uses straw man arguments, logical fallacies, inaccurate information, and completely misses the subtle nuances of the debate. Never mind that he clearly has no idea how hormonal contraception works or what else it is used for. Limbaugh would have been better off using that second statement if his goal had, in fact, been to make a social commentary. But that wasn't his goal. His only goal is to maintain listeners who for some reason like to hear his big mouth flapping. And it's sad that in this day and age that sort of things sells. We really are that unsophisticated as a society.

This isn't about being or not being politically correct. This whole thing speaks to a deeper issue about how our collective perception of women is still in the dark ages. What Limbaugh said is appalling, but what might be even more disturbing is that some people actually came to his defense. You can't justify what he said without conceding that it's okay to be verbally abusive. He used this woman. He used her to boost ratings for his show. When you use someone, you dehumanize them. And when you dehumanize someone it makes it that much easier to keep abusing them. I suspect this is why he initially double down on his comments and didn't apologize until he started losing sponsors from his show.

Based on the content of his "apology" Limbaugh is giving the impression that he wants to talk about personal responsibility and accountability. If he wants to be responsible he can start by not promoting misogynistic hate speech. And if he keeps it up, he should be held accountable. Here is a reddit posting with his list of sponsors, you might not want to buy their stuff if they sponsor such trash in the media:

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Soul Searching

This is kind of a weird post to be putting up on a blog about getting a PhD. I've actually been second guessing whether or not a PhD would actually be a good idea for me or not. This might seem like it's coming out of nowhere, but this has been nagging at me for a while now. In the past I've jokingly made long lists of all the things I could feasibly do if this doesn't work out. Some of the things on that list are silly, like being a dancer at a club (haha); still, other things I could see myself doing. More importantly, I can see myself being happy and less stressed out doing them.

I can do research. I understand research. I like learning new things and I actually enjoy teaching people quite a bit. I've talked in the past about how I can't imagine myself doing anything other than being a college professor. Lately, though, I've been questioning 1) whether I'll get the satisfaction out of it that I thought I would and 2) if I have the personality to be constantly vying for grants and publications and status. If I'm stressed and worried now, that's not going to change if I graduate. If I become a professor I will be doing that for the rest of my working life. I want to be more laid back than that.

I sometimes think I'd be happier with a regular job where I have time to pursue other interests. Where my entire existence doesn't revolve around one thing. Some of the people I go to school with just seem like they're always "on", always talking about work. I have other interests besides my research and I'm really frustrated that I feel like I have no time for them. And I don't know how to tell people that I don't want to talk shop all the time.

Maybe I want a career where I feel like I'm making a tangible difference? I can sort of relate what I'm doing now to real world problems... but it's so far removed that I'll never be able to pin point a single event or person and say "Yes, I helped!" Other jobs are much more directly in contact with the real world, like doctors, nurses, paramedics etc. Stopping someone from bleeding to death... yeah, that is pretty direct. I'm not even sure at this point that I want to be an academic. Maybe a government or industry job would be more fitting for me, but there aren't too many jobs like that for paleontologists. I just know that right now I feel like I don't want to be at a research university forever.

I have two degrees, I've been in school for almost 9 years, not counting the one I took off. I hated what I was doing during that year off, it was a crappy job. But a lot has changed since then and I have more experience doing other things. Surely I could find something that makes me happier than what I was doing then? Maybe I need to do something completely different. I know plenty of people who went to college for one thing and then ended up doing something else that was unrelated.

I'm not making any decisions right now, but I am re-evaluating what I'm doing with my life. I'm going to stick it out for the rest of the semester, think about my options, and then just take it as it comes. My philosophy going in to graduate school was that if it doesn't work out it isn't the end of the world. And I don't want to waste my time being unhappy. I believe there are very few instances where we can't change our trajectory. I'm freaking out now and feeling really badly about all this, but I have to keep this all in perspective.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Duck Sex

For those who don't know, mallards are pretty aggressive this time of the year. They're kind of mean jerks most of the time, but late winter/early spring they are particularly bad. The reason for this increase in obnoxiousness is, obviously, because it's time for the ducks to start pairing up and mating.

I've been attending college for the better part of a decade. All of those campuses I've been at have duck ponds, with a ton of mallards, yet somehow I've never seen "the deed" being done. I'm not a wildlife voyeur mind you, but as someone who is interested in nature and spends a lot of time outside I just think it's kind of weird this has never happened. All that changed yesterday.

I went out for tea yesterday morning and wandered down to the bridge at the duck pond. I was pondering the mysteries of life enjoying my London Fog, and as I was standing there my friend Lee walked by and we chatted for a bit about ducks and Pleistocene fauna. As we were standing there I noticed something weird; I thought I had been observing two ducks, but for some reason I now only saw one duck sort of struggling in the water. It turns out that there WERE two ducks, but one was under water, beneath the other duck. It was a strange moment, one where it probably took me longer to figure out what was going on than it should have. Awkward.

The whole incident probably took all of 5 seconds, so the female wasn't in any real danger of drowning. But the most ridiculous part came at the end, when the male bit the female in the head and then did a victory lap around her.

I told you mallards were jerks.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

In Memory of Wolf Scott-Cohen, February 21, 2012

Part of living is dying, and part of getting close to a person means eventually having to part with them. Last night a friend died. This is my message to Wolf who, in the words of my friend Jacqueline, "discovered the last great mystery of life" yesterday evening around 8pm...
Wolf, teaching you last spring was a privilege. There are some students I will never forget, you are one of them. You were always asking questions (SO many questions), always right up there in the front, making an impression. Driving me crazy, but in a good way. I remember you as lively, but mostly I remember you as being a friendly, bright, and honest guy. You would have made a devoted and talented doctor, the passion you felt for helping people was some of the most intense and sincere I have ever seen. I admired and respected you immensely. You became my friend, and I wish I had known you longer.

The outpouring of love I've seen for you over the past 11 days has been overwhelming to watch unfold. You believed in so many things, and were unrelenting when it came to trying to do good in a world that has so much wrong with it. If I know anything about your character, I know you were fighting as hard as you could till the end.

I'm feeling so many mixed emotions with the loss of a friend, and I'll never get used to the idea of not seeing you around or talking to you. I can't make any sense of it. My first impulse is to try to make something, anything, good come from this. I feel like that would be most fitting to your memory. There's so much left that this world needs from people like you.

I miss you, rest easy. ♥ Mel

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Blues

If I was a song writer I would be putting out some seriously depressing stuff this month.

I just haven't been able to get out of my funk. I've been moody and irritable for weeks, and it's really getting the better of me. It hasn't been good for relationships and it hasn't been good for productivity either. I've likely killed one friendship, and I'm just not feeling good about graduate school at the moment either. I've been asking myself a lot lately "Why am I doing this?"

In other horrible news, my friend Wolf is in the hospital in a coma. He suffered traumatic brain injures when he was hit at 4pm on Friday by a drunk driver while he was on his scooter, and I'm impatiently waiting to find out what's going to happen next. He was in critical condition as of yesterday, and they have no idea if or when he is going to wake up. The news of this happening really shocked me. He is a former student of mine, a nice guy, and I would see him around campus pretty regularly. I can imagine very few things more unfair happening to a person, and this kind of thing is completely preventable. I really feel for the family, the uncertainty of the situation has got to be awful.

Uncertainty. I think that's the biggest thing bothering me. Uncertainty with everything. While I like surprises, not knowing what the future holds is scary, especially when things aren't going the way you thought they would.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Misserable Couple of Weeks

This semester has been rough going from the start.

Beyond PMS, being a moody pain in the arse, and not feeling well I'm finding myself in the unusual situation of wishing school was over for the year already. The only really good thing going for me at the moment is that my cough appears to be going away. This virus just wouldn't let up for almost 2 and a half weeks, though the folks at the health center didn't seem at all concerned.

Then there is my car. You know it's not a good thing when multiple alert lights turn on and you're still in your parking spot. For the next few months I'll be trying to put some money away to get it looked at/fixed.

I guess things can only get better from this point?

Stop the world, I want to get off.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Am I Sick?

I'm still coughing, and now I'm starting to wonder if it's allergies and not illness, or some combination. In the past when I've had this happen a week on Mucinex did the trick. I haven't taken it for a couple days, because I felt like it was getting better. I also used my netti pot last week and was really starting to feel better. Then yesterday I started coughing again. This is either a really persistent respiratory thing, or something in the air is trying to kill me.

I hope it's not the cat. There are several reasons I don't think it's the kitty though. I WAS beginning to feel better. It didn't start getting worse again until the other night where I was out at a loud bar yelling/talking a lot. The yelling seemed to bother my throat and I started having trouble breathing and the coughing picked up. Last night I was hanging around a bonfire and the smoke also seemed to really be bothering me. I don't feel any different when I'm away from the cat, and he's always in my face when I'm home. I feel like if it was the cat I'd feel worse during those time. So I have no idea. This is really beginning to be annoying.

The good news is that this doesn't appear to be affecting my ability to do my Nia class or run, provided I do it inside. I've been religiously using my inhaler for those activities too.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sick Start to the Semester

Well no sooner did classes begin did I catch a cold. I've been coughing up a lung all week. I've noticed a lot of people around me coughing, so I think there is probably something going around. At first I was worried that it was my allergies (new kitty), but then Matt started having a sore throat and post nasal drip too. I feel pretty confident now that I've been actually sick all week.

Aside from this minor health setback, the first week of school went pretty well. I like my classes so far, although I'm already anxious about Macroecology. We have two assignments, the first being a class project with very little guidance from the instructors. I'm a little nervous trying to work on something with 25 people, but it isn't due until April. The class is already trying to organize itself, and if we can pull it off we'll hopefully finish the semester with a paper we can submit to a journal for publication.

The rest of my classes just seem like they're going to be fun. My working group is also trying to reorganize ourselves to get back to writing our paper. We got an extension, and I've been trying to do more background reading. At the moment I don't feel competent enough to do much writing, but that will come eventually.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Introducing... Donut the Kitty Cat!

On Tuesday we finally brought home our new kitty from the lady who's been fostering him. Yes, I'm allergic to cats, but I'm more or less permanently on allergy medication because a) I'm allergic to a bunch of other things I can't avoid and b) most people I know have a cat or some kind of pet that would bother me if I wasn't on meds. I've always had a cat, or had room mates that have cats, and I just enjoy having one so much.

I've never owned a kitten before. Donut is about 7 months old and despite starting to get big, he's still very much a baby. You can tell he still had a lot of growing to do, his paws seem big and his tail is super long, about the length of his body. His behavior is also still very kitten like; his eyes have been dilated ever since we brought him home, and he is almost constantly in play mode (I've missed most of his cuddly moments because they seem to always happen when I'm at school). I will say, though, that he sat in my lap first. He adjusted remarkably quick, and seemed comfortable after only a few hours. He hasn't tried hiding from us or anything.

This is Donut back in December when we first saw him at PetCo, and before we decided we were definitely going to adopt him. He was already pretty big then, but I swear he seems smaller now.

Taken with the web cam on my new computer. Bad quality, but I'll try to get additional pictures of us together.

Matt took this one while I was at school. That's one content looking cat!
Like most cats, Donut has been waking us up at 5am. Between wanting to suck on my fingers, kneading, purring loudly, and climbing around he is both adorable and frustrating. I know he'll probably grow out  of the cuddlier behavior, and I'll miss it. I also realize this is just part of having a kitten and teaching it to behave in a certain way. Matt has been looking up ways to try and get him to not play bite or attack our feet while we're trying to sleep. As fun as I find under the blanket chase games, I prefer sleeping. He also seems to prefer sucking (nursing?) my hand, and hasn't really done that to Matt since we got him home.

Over all he's a sweet little boy, and I'm already pretty attached. He's absolutely adorable and a ton of fun. I'd say he's good about 90% of the time, and hasn't been destructive really. We're still trying to gauge how he's going to be with Allen the guinea pig, and we don't trust him yet. I think he was used to playing rough with other cats, and that would just be too much. I'm afraid he'd hurt Allen unintentionally, I don't necessarily think he would try and eat him. He does seem very curious about the guinea pig, and is a little freaked out by him too. That's pretty much to same reaction that my room mates' cats had in the past.

I'll try to keep my blog posts more PhD oriented, but my personal life I a huge part of my time here in NM. We'll see how having a new furry room mate will affect it.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Another Beginning

I have a week until the semester starts. It's funny, I don't really see it coming anymore until right before it happens; my life revolves around so many different things that the beginning of classes just isn't as important to me anymore. I am looking forward to what's coming up, though. I'm registered for some really interesting courses, and I'm hoping to make this my most productive semester yet.

Over the next few days I'll be settling in before all the chaos starts and students return in droves. The fact that I'm not teaching means I don't have that anxiety associated with wondering what I'm going to teach, what my students will be like, and if I'll be able to manage it in addition to my own life. They really give the TA assignments too late to let the TAs prepare. I don't think the biology undergrads realize this. Sometimes we don't find out what class we're leading until only a couple days before hand. If we seem freaked out, it's probably because we are a little.

 Another new beginning is my resolution to take better care of myself from now on. I'm not so sure I accomplished that today: I went running, but my asthma started bothering me. I'm still coughing some, I think the cold air really is going to be a problem for a while. I didn't, however, have my inhaler so I'm going to try again next time by taking it a little before hand. That's what I would have normally done anyway. It was actually a pretty nice afternoon to be outside, in the mid 40's or so. I had lunch outside with a new friend, and it was pretty comfortable. Hopefully the next time I go running I won't end up coughing my lungs out. When school starts I'll be taking a dance class for exercise, and that will be inside. I'm hoping I can get a break from the end of winter and get into better shape, then when I do more outside my breathing will feel better. We'll see how that goes.

I'm trying to get things settled at home before my schedule gets too busy around here. I'm nearly unpacked from my trip. Allen is back from Socorro, and Dave did a very good job of taking care of him. I'm glad to have him back, I missed the little furball. Allen will also be getting a new friend tomorrow; Matt and I adopted a cat before break, and we're finally bringing him home. We were having him fostered until we got back so he wouldn't feel abandoned. We've decided to rename the him Donut. Right now the adoption agency is calling him Isaac, but we want to give him a brand new start. New home, new family, new name. I'm so excited to finally have him coming home.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Ten Years?

I suppose the math works. I was reminded yesterday that this year will mark the 10th anniversary of my high school graduation. It doesn't seem possible, but sure enough, yeah that happened that long ago.

The whole reason I was reminded of this was that some folks are starting to plan the reunion. We didn't have a 5th year, so there is some anxiety about having this one be good. Here are my thoughts on the whole thing.

Will I go? I'm not sure yet. I graduated high school, kept in touch with the people I cared to, and moved on with my life. Only in very few instances did I ever look back: wishing I hadn't swooned so much over certain people, wishing I had paid more attention in math and history (I especially wish this now), wishing that I had practiced my instrument more... I know some people who LOVED high school, and it was the time of their lives. I have no particular affection for where I went to school, or for that time in my life, and frankly my life now is pretty good. My friendships were spread over many graduating years, so it's not like it will be a grand reunion of all my old buddies. Sure, I graduated with some of my friends, but many of the more lasting relationships I have now are with people who were a year or two ahead of or behind me. My favorite teacher is dead, although I know that few teachers would 1) be invited to this thing or 2) want to go to it.

Maybe it will be fun. Maybe it will be amusing. Or maybe I'll see that girl who was unkind to me, married with children to some rich doctor/lawyer/engineer. Where am I in life right now? I don't feel like I've been unsuccessful, I'm just taking longer to get to where I want and need to be. I can't relate to these people. I'm not married. I want kids, but not for another 4 years or so. Is it weird I'm still in school? I'm surrounded every day by people who are in the same "place" as me, but I realize this maybe isn't normal in the global population. This isn't how everyone else does it. I go on Facebook and see that a lot of people my age are married (some divorced) and have kids. Some are working on their second or third baby. I have two degrees, and I'm working on a third one. My plans have just been different.

I graduated from a class of about 330 people. Honestly, I would estimate that I've only interacted with about 3% of them in some form or another over the past 10 years, max. The rest I either don't know (in a school that big you just don't meet everyone) or am indifferent about. And it's not like I'm a snob, either. I have nothing to be snobby about. I know how some people viewed me back then, as sarcastic, loud, and opinionated. I have news for them: not much has changed, except that my opinions are now more developed, and I have an even lower tolerance for other peoples' BS. I suppose I'm slightly better about my own volume control.

I guess I'll see how this whole reunion thing develops, and then I'll make my decision. Timing would be a major determining factor. It would actually make me happy to see some people I've missed over the last decade.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Done? Really?

Seriously, this just in! The only thing standing between me and my book chapter is the consent form.
25 pages, 158 references, and 4 figures have been completed, corrected, and sent off to the editor as of this evening.

To celebrate, I bought a new laptop. My current one has been dying a slow death for the past two years, and it recently started sending me error messages about not recognizing the power adapter. That was the last straw. Just for the record, writing a book on a stodgy computer is hard. I don't recommend it.

I won't be making any money from this book, but the sense of accomplishment feels pretty good anyway. It's also not indexed, so the publication "technically" doesn't have the weight of a peer reviewed pub. But it's still something I can put on my CV. The blank area for publications will now have something there, and I'm relieved for that.

The name of the book is Paleoecology in Ecology and Conservation, my chapter (Ch. 6) is Paleoecology in an era of climate change: how the past can provide insights into the future

That's all I can say about it for now. Springer is publishing it, and I have no idea when it will come out in print, but rest assured that I will post that information as soon as I know it!

Cheers everyone. I'm off to enjoy the remainder of my break.