Friday, February 29, 2008

Upcoming post teaser...

Here's a clue:

Here's another:

This'll hopefully be up by the end of the day tomorrow. I promise I'm trying to write about paleontology (thank god I don't write a science blog). It's just hard to find the time when I'm spending every free hour of my life learning chemistry and calculus basics. I could blog about those for hours...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Presents in the mail...

After having such a long week (month), I decided to indulge in a little bit of retail therapy. It's a habit I've outgrown since I actually started making enough money to live off of (funny how spending your own money is less appealing). I'm not relapsing into the habit...honest to FSM...but I do believe that monetary indulgence, in small infrequent doses, is okay.

I'm now the proud owner of, and anxiously awaiting the arrival of, the following:

One large, women's Mammut Pilgrim Jacket with 650 down filling and wrist gaiters! I borrowed a jacket from my friend Jamie for most of the winter and am now wearing my bulky, ugly, non-hoodie, down Timberland jacket. I've wanted a new coat all winter, but couldn't imagine putting down between $200 and $300 for I've waited until now, when all the coats are on sale.
One MST3K DVD. That's's Mitchell, one of the most amazingly funny episodes of MST3K ever! I tried to rent it at the video store the other night and they only had it on VHS. So, it was either buy a DVD or buy a VCR. This made more sense.
One MST3K The Essentials DVD. It's two of the absolute worst movies ever made, Manos: Hands of Fate and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, made bearable by Joel, Crow and Tom Servo. I've been trying to find Manos: Hands of Fate on DVD because it really is one of the stinkiest movies of all time and J and I especially enjoy the REALLY bad movies. Again, it was buy the DVD or a VCR. (Are VCRs cheaper than DVDs now?)
One Von Steuben's Continentals: The First American Army DVD. This isn't necessarily something I'm REALLY interested in...I'm more of a Civil War buff...but the guy on the cover, Matt Keagle...he's my childhood best friend. So, of course, I want to financially support his work...and it'll be SO MUCH FUN to watch. This guy was my first partner in paleo crime. As kids, we planned on doing a week-long dinosaur dig with Dinamation International Society (it didn't happen...pennies don't add up to thousands of dollars that quickly). I don't really know where he is now. He's one of the few people I know who make a living doing exactly what they've always wanted to do. That's admirable.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Pictures from the SDS Household

I love my little corner of the planet. It's so cozy and filled with furry animals and people I can relate to. And something wonderfully funny happens almost every day.

Like a pile-up:

We have some grumpy moments, too (like, when we try to give Echo a cool hair-do that she doesn't really want):

And it's never dull when Emily is in the room. She just sits pretty:

And sleeps with her nasty open-eye face:

I actually love the open-eye face. J sleeps like that, too. It's like neither of them fully trust what's going on in the room.
P.S. We watched a stand-up routine by Louis C.K. last night. It was hysterically funny. I highly recommend it.

Learning to Let Go: When a B is not an F

When I was completing my first B.S. in Professional Writing, I found the A's easy to come by, with minimal effort required. So, as I started my second degree, in a science, I expected to do well with only slightly more effort. My past grades told me so. I was wrong.

To get an A in a science course, I have to do ALL of the assigned work, study hard for EVERY test and quiz and then go above and beyond and seek out practice problems and additional reading. I take advantage of the software that comes with the textbook. If I don't understand a homework problem, I email the teacher. I've come to expect, here at OPU, that an "A" really means "excellent" and not just "average."

I've set the bar for myself pretty high. I know I can do well if I put in the work.

I got my first calc test back the other day and I got my first B (I don't mean ever, I just mean in the last four courses I've taken). It was a low B. I knew it was going to be an "eh" grade. I've had a rough month and the course moves at an incredibly fast pace. I don't have time to do practice problems because the homework assignments and labs take up all of the time I have to devote to the class.

Y'know what? I don't care. It's a B. It's not the end of my school career.

I don't know what brought about this change in my attitude. I think part of it is that I can't change the grade, so I can either accept it or act like a crazy person over a grade that is entirely acceptable. The other thing is this: I've spent the last few days really worried that someone I love is very ill. In the shadow of that, a grade on a test seems like it's the least important thing in the world. The annoyance I feel over a lower grade than I'd like is NOTHING compared to the fear and anxiety* I've felt this week. It's cake.

*I just wrote this as "axiety" and the spell-checker picked it up. I stared at it for a few minutes, trying to figure out what was wrong with "axiety." I even compared it to the correct spelling and STILL couldn't figure it out. I need sleep. Oh...what's that? I have a snow day tomorrow? I can sleep in and watch movies? Thank you, Winter! Now, go away!

Monday, February 25, 2008


She's such a lady, my little Echo:

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Boneyard XIV

the boneyard logo

Welcome to the 14th edition of The Boneyard! I usually like to do this in story format, but I've been in and out of the E.R. with J for the last few days and just haven't had the time to prepare as usual (meaning the one other time I hosted this). So, I bring you The Boneyard, in bullet form:

That's all for the past two weeks. I only had one submission this time around and so if I've missed something you've posted, I'm sorry! You can always post a link in the comments below.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

E.R. Tales...

At 11:30 last night, after his third bout of vomiting in a month, we packed J into the car and hauled him off to the emergency room. His blood pressure was 88 over 50, he was a weird shade of gray and he was cold...despite the long johns, pajama bottoms, jeans, three shirts, a sweater, a fleece, a down jacket and a fleece face mask. The E.R. staff was fairly nice but the physician's assistant and one of nurses were so rude and condescending that I wanted to throttle them. When the nurse suggested that J follow up with a doctor and he said, "Well, I don't have insurance so I don't have a doctor," her response was, "well, it cost you $350 to come here (add condescending tone)." What a b!tch! Guess what, lady? Some people are poor and can't afford insurance. And sometimes, they're not poor enough to qualify for Welfare. What are they supposed to do, just sit at home while their blood pressure drops and they vomit up all the life-sustaining fluids in their body? Stop acting like a lack of insurance is a choice, b!tch.

Sorry. Anyway:

They gave J an I.V. drip of Sodium Chloride mixed with Promethyzene (for the nausea and dehydration) and ran some blood tests and a urine test. They concluded that nothing is wrong and that he's sick, which, of course, we knew already (the sick part). He's had the nausea, upset stomach and sinus-y symptoms for almost two months. The vomiting happens every week and a half or so. He's taken 2 courses of antibiotics and a bunch of OTC drugs, so the doctor thought that maybe the antibiotics had exacerbated his condition. But they don't know.

And that's how where we were left. J doesn't have any answers and he's upset. He feels like he's not going to get better and I don't blame him. Sometimes an answer, even if it's not something you want to hear, is better than no answer at all. I hope that the discontinuation of his antibiotics will help and that he'll feel better within the week. He said he wants a gold star if he makes it through the semester with good grades. I'm giving him one right now.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ready for SVP...

Bring it on!

I reserved the hotel room yesterday for 10/14-10/19. I bought plane tickets; one set for me (10/14-10/19) and one set for J (10/16-10/19). We're both really excited. And nervous.* And excited.

Now all we have to do is register.

Here's to hoping nothing goes wrong, since the plane tickets (totaling $800) are completely unrefundable.

*It's a bit scary to go somewhere for a few days to hang out with strangers who know a billion times more stuff than you do about practically everything having to do with the reason you're there in the first place.

Overheard in my chemistry class yesterday...

"I should give myself a reward for coming to class today."

What??? I can't even begin to explain how obnoxious this is.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Florida Adopts New School Standards...but...

The story can be found here.

Apparently an amendment was made to the standards, calling for all theories and laws to be referred to as "scientific" theories and laws.

Also, a proposal to add an amendment to the standards was struck down. According to the Miami Herald, "The amendment would have given teachers the explicit permission 'to engage students in a critical analysis of that evidence.'"

Donna Calloway said some amazingly annoying things, including this:

If we decide that we're going to hide this debate and we're going to hide the controversy, and we're going to hide the fact that thousands of people disagree, then we better get with the witness protection program,'' she said. This is a point of debate, and we need to address it right here.

Is this a good thing, this "scientific theory" prefix? I don't know. If you ask me, calling something a theory gives it much merit. To a person unfamiliar with the scientific method, it weakens it.

SVP Annual Meeting Bits

As you may have noticed, my savings meter has been creeping up towards 50% lately, thanks to the IRS and my paranoid overpayment of federal taxes during the year. I'm now almost halfway to my goal, which is, admittedly, higher than it should be because when I was originally planning the trip, I included J (and it looks bleak as to his attendance). He still may come for the weekend bit of the conference, though. We'll see...registration isn't until June, so there isn’t any HUGE rush to figure it out.

Anywho. I went to the Cleveland Renaissance Hotel website today and reserved myself a room. I also checked out airline prices. I've run into a few decisions that I could really use help making.

1) Should I drive or fly? My car is on the fritz. It really is. Yesterday it was 56 degrees here and the sudden change in temperature caused my car to have a massive coronary (in the way cars do). It's fine now, but I don't know how it'd do in a 20-hour total road trip. As much as my car sucks right now, it feels more environmentally responsible to drive...and it's slightly cheaper. The flights I want to take will be booked soon, and I'd like to get the tickets as soon as possible, if I'm going to fly.

2) When should I leave and when should I return? I know the conference is from the 15th to the 18th, but I'm assuming that there's registration on the 14th and that the real meat of the conference starts early on the 15th. So, should I arrive on the 14th or 15th? And then, it seems the conference ends in the late afternoon on the 18th. Should I book the hotel room until the 19th? Checkout is at noon, so I could get away with checking out on the 18th if I leave that night. Do people usually stay until Sunday? Do people hang around together on Saturday night? I surely don't want to miss anything!

Someone who has attended an annual meeting before (or not): what would you do? Is there anything going on on the 14th besides registration? Should I put up another 150 bucks for Saturday night?


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Ahhh, to be young....

When I moved into my current apartment this past June, my father came to visit, bearing gifts (lamps, blankets, kitchen stuff). He also brought with him my favorite puppet, Rocky the raccoon, and an essay I wrote in 6th grade, which has since lived on my refridgerator. Every time a new guest comes over, we read the essay. It's become somewhat famous in my circle of friends here and I thought I'd share it with you. Click on the image to see a large, readable version.

Notice the left-handed check-plus. That was done by my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Richards. When I was in her class, I thought she was the most evil woman on Earth. Now that I'm older, I see that she pushed us hard and that I'm a better student for it.

Thanks, Mrs. Richards.

Friday, February 15, 2008

On Empathy and Cleaning up Messes

Today, as I was walking from my office to my classroom, I imagined hearing the pucker sound of bullets popping on the pavement near my feet and zinging past my ears. Turning toward the roof of the medical building, I could picture a dark shape there, huddled against the cold, muzzle of his automatic weapon peeking out through his coat.

As quickly as the vivid daydream came, it left.

For a moment there I felt as I had at Pompeii when I first saw the plaster casts of people shielding themselves from heaps of volcanic ash; the sense that tragedies I'd only heard about happened to real people who had real lives and real bodies. That, given the right time and place, those bullets could have been real, slamming into my flesh and shattering my bones; raining little drops of my life onto the faces of my friends.

I'm truly horrified that violence like that happens so frequently and that I've become so desensitized to it that a news cast about school shootings feels like a television show or a movie.

There are so many things that need fixing- not just gun control or campus security- but underlying cultural issues. It seems hopeless and impossible. It's like that time, when I was a little kid, that my parents made me really clean my room. Sitting in a pile of junk and toys and clothing, I just didn't know where to start.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Post for J...

Dear J,

Of all the things I could do for you today, I would like to do the thing that will bring you the most joy. I would like to make you laugh so hard that you forget, momentarily, that you're sick, that life is really really hard and painful and that we had that stupid fight yesterday. And then, somehow, I'd like to extend that feeling of joy for the rest of the day so that when you close your eyes tonight, you feel as if nothing is wrong in the whole world. And then continue to give you that joy for as long as we're together.

Happy Valentine's Day, buddy. I love you very much.



Morphing: Jesus and Darwin

A friend of mine recently turned me on to MorphThing, a tool to upload and combine images. While I suppose I would have enjoyed the application more in high school, when I NEEDED to know what mine and my love interest of the week's babies would have looked like, I must admit I had a hell of a time combining Charles Darwin and Jesus's* faces:

The faces of jesus111007_468x591 and darwin_5 combined together -

*I used the really really white version of Jesus for this picture.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

More on Confidence...

Female Science Professor has a post up at her blog about confidence. She asks, "Can a lifetime of lack of confidence be overcome during graduate school?"

One of the important points that comes up in the comments is that education does not lend itself to confidence-building. In science careers, we must be independent thinkers, able to come up with new ideas. But our school experiences don't routinely include this "independent" type of study until late in or undergraduate educations or in graduate school. There are many opportunities for independent study outside of school, but often they're too expensive or time-consuming for students to take on.

There are other great points, too...check it out!

Happy Birthday!

Happy Darwin Day!

Today is the birthday of one of the most important, influential men of all time! On February 12, 1809, Charles Darwin was born into this world and twenty-two years later he set out on the voyage aboard the Beagle that would inspire the research behind his writings.

Visit the Darwin Day website for more information about Charles Darwin, evolution and the events taking place internationally to celebrate his life and work.

Personally, I'm going to greet everyone I meet today with a "Happy Darwin Day" in hopes of starting some interesting coversation and spreading awareness. My initial plan was to print out flyers to give out at the movie theater for the release of Expelled...but that fell through.

What are you going to do today?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Loose Ends...

School: This semester feels so different from last semester. I don't feel like I know what's going on in my classes. Part of the reason is that I don't have enough time to study. I'm studying just as much as I was last semester, but the material is harder and much more dense and I'm at the point where if I devote another minute to any one thing, everything will come crashing down. If I don't do enough studying, I won't do well in school and I'll feel like crap. If I don't do enough relaxing I'll go crazy and feel like crap. If I don't go to work I'll get behind on rent and starve and feel like crap. But enough whining. I got the grades back from my first Chemistry test and I got an A. And then I forgot to take an online quiz this weekend and I got an F on that. Fortunately, the grade will be dropped (the lowest grade is dropped) but it's a testament to my mentality this semester. My head isn't where it should be and I can't afford that.

In other news, school is at least amusing. Seen in the student center:

Other: J is sick and has been for almost a month. I feel bad for him. It's on and off sinus-y stuff with intense headaches and vomiting thrown in. The vomiting occurs when there's a headache and the headaches stem from the sinus infection. He's taken antibiotics already, but either they weren't strong enough or there's no sinus infection. He's taking another round of them starting today...the stuff that's for anthrax poisioning. I hope they work.

Weekend: We hosted the "Big Lebowski Bathrobe Birthday Bash" this weekend. It was a birthday party for J and a bunch of other people whose birthdays fell in the first two weeks of February. It was also a going away party for my friend Danielle, who's going to spend her first out-of-country experience in South Korea for an entire semester. The party involved bathrobes, caucasians (white russians) and of course, The Big Lebowski. It was a decent time...I tend to not have so much fun at alcohol-centered events. Speaking of...the 3rd was my recovery anniversary and I've now been clean/sober for six years.

Cats: Echo and I played "hide the Ewok" this weekend. She won.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Self-Confidence and Science...

It seems a lot of female scientists actively involved in the blogosphere have been talking about or experiencing low confidence lately and I got to thinking that it seems like high confidence is a requirement in a science career. It seems. But is it, really? Do most scientists have high levels of confidence? Did they have high confidence in their undergraduate years? Graduate years?

I've suffered from a lack of confidence for a long time and have always wondered if I'm fit for a career in science. In fact, what initially steered me away from the sciences was a lack of confidence; I just couldn't imagine that I'd pass all those chemistry and biology courses. It was only after working for a few years in a repetitive, unchallenging job that I decided it'd be worth the possible failure to do something I love. And so here I am...and so far so good.

I have confidence in my intelligence. I also now have confidence in myself as a science student. But being a good student and being intelligent don't guarantee success as a scientist. What about innovation and creativity? Science isn't just about learning things that have already been studied. It's also about coming up with new ideas and putting them to test. I don't have much confidence that I'm an ideas person. Like my art, I can copy something very well, but translating from my head to paper just doesn't seem to work. What if, as a scientist, I can't come up with new ideas?

I hope that as one progresses through undergrad and grad school, that things seem less impossible. I can't imagine coming up with a novel idea at this point, but then again, I don't have a large knowledge base to work off of. Perhaps when I'm more familiar with, say, biology and its language, I'll be able to form hypotheses around evolution. Until then, the best I can do is study what's already been learned.

How did you get through your graduate and undergraduate educations? Did you have your doubts? Did you feel like research was the unobtainable Holy Grail and that the ivory tower was on mars?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

On Peer Review

I love peer review. It makes sense. There is just too much information in the world, even within a given subject to expect an editor to have enough knowledge to make an extremely well informed decision. So the help of experts is enlisted and we generally shield out the crap.

As someone who deals with the peer review process daily, I understand that it's far from perfect. Sometimes we get articles here and after sending them to 10 or so reviewers, only one person has agreed to review. When you get 20 articles a day, you can't take more time than it takes to invite 10 people, so you go with what you have. Sometimes that one review is all you have.

Often, the authors of a paper will supply a list of preferred and non-preferred reviewers. The reviews done by preferred reviewers are often strongly in favor of publication. When we can't find enough reviewers and the only reviewer ends up being a preferred reviewer, it's highly likely that the decision will be based on a strong review in favor. This is rare, but it happens. It also doesn't necessarily guarantee publication, as our editor is an expert in the field (but nobody is an expert in everything). Sometimes we get a couple of people to agree to review and then, 30 days later, only one has actually done a review. Again, we base the decision on a single review if we must.

When I stumbled upon this post at Pharyngula today, I wasn't entirely surprised to hear that somehow, creator-talk had finally found its way into a peer-reviewed journal. I assume it happened in this fashion: reviewers are requested, none are found, editor uses preferred reviewers and gets back reviews in favor of publication and decides to publish based on the reviews.

Dear OPU,

If the weather is so bad that you can't run your precious buses, don't you think it might be too icy for me to drive my tiny front-wheel drive car in to work?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

MEMMM (I should really move this to Tuesday)

Last night, I made a yummy red curry. It's not an expensive dish, really, but I had to go with the local, organic chicken, so it emptied my wallet. But it was worth it, really, as it'll feed me for a few days. Ms. Emily was feeling a little under the weather last night, but she showed up for the tasting, anyway.

To make the curry you'll need the following:

  • 1 chopped organic red pepper
  • 1 chopped organic carrot
  • 1 cubed sweet potato
  • about 8 organic shitake mushrooms
  • 1 can organic coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons red curry paste
  • 4 or 5 cloves organic garlic, minced
  • one bunch organic basil
  • 2" long piece of organic ginger, grated
  • 2 chicken breasts (or substitute tofu)
  • canola oil
Cook the garlic in some canola oil until slightly browned. Add chicken or tofu. Add ginger and fish sauce. Cook for a while and add a can of coconut milk and some water (1/8 the amount of coconut milk). Bring to a near-boil and add curry paste, carrots and sweet potato. Simmer for about a half-hour and add mushrooms and peppers. Simmer for another 10 minutes and add basil. Serve over a bed of rice.

I add hot sauce, as well. Something hot w/o a lot of flavor works best.

After eating, it's nice to relax with a study session. Unfortunately, in my apartment, studying is hard to do as many tiny creatures demand my attention.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Why I Love School...

Well, there are a million reasons really, but today I experienced the big one. Kinda the raison d'etre, if I'm using the phrase correctly.

It happened in calculus class. Seriously. That class I've been freaking out over for the last few weeks. The one that moves at the speed of light and covers a vast amount of material, all of which is cumulative? Yup...that one.

I was frantically taking notes as my professor was explaining Riemann sums. When I looked up, I saw that he had drawn a line on a graph, under which he'd drawn multiple rectangles. It looked like this:

He mentioned that the sum of the areas of each of the rectangles under the curve would give you the area under the curve, minus, of course, the parts under the curve not included in the rectangles. And the he said, "if we used more rectangles, the sum of the areas would be closer to the actual area under the curve." So here's where my day-maker moment happened: I thought, wouldn't that mean that when the number of rectangles under the curve approaches infinity, that the sum of them would approach the actual area under the curve?

BINGO! Wouldn't you know, that's exactly where he was going with the lesson. Now, I know this isn't news to most people. But it was damn exciting to be guided like that through the learning process, instead of feeling dragged; to arrive at a conclusion without needing to be told what conclusion I should be arriving at.

It's times like those when I feel most confident in myself...when I feel capable of understanding all of the things that I always thought were out of my reach. It's times like those that remind me of how important it is to have teachers...ones who know how to set the stage for thought and encourage it.