Sunday, March 27, 2005

Sunday Update

Though there are a number of school and work projects that required attention this weekend, I decided yesterday was to be my "free day," in that I pretty much did nothing other than a little personal reading, some cleaning, and making an early evening trip to Barnes and Noble to pick up a special-order book that finally came in. I wasted a lot of time yesterday in being singularly unproductive, but we all need days like this from time to time. Of course the downside of taking a day off from life is that I have double the amount of work to do today. But this is completely acceptable as I feel more energized having taken a break from things. And I'm sure the gulit associated with such laziness will pass in time.

So today's tasks will consist of working on the thesis, putting together a Powerpoint for the presentation on Thursday morning, epidemiology homework, a grocery run to the local Harris Teeter, and laundry. In other words, a full day. Thesis work and the presentation are the two most pressing issues and consequently will receive priority. Nonetheless, I'll probably do the grocery run (or walk, since the store is only a few blocks away) first thing since rain will be rolling in later on today.

This has been a bizarre week. My relationship of five years came to an end Wednesday night. Though this occurrence was not unexpected, it's still a difficult thing and as a result I've been somewhat out of my predictable orbit the last few days. I suppose the bright side is that it was an amiable ending to a good five years and we're still very good friends. Our trip to Arizona in a few weeks is still on and at least I don't have to worry about being pushed off of some high precipice into the Grand Canyon (a la Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty strugging atop Reichenbach Falls). to start the day.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Sunday, March 20, 2005


A rainy night has given way to clearing skies. I awoke this morning around five (I know...too early) and was greeting by the sound of rain pattering against the window. All that has cleared out and the sun is beginning to peek through the breaking clouds. A perfect day for some more preliminary fieldwork at the ecological preserve. It's going to be muddy as hell out there, so it's a good thing I didn't get around to washing the Jeep yesterday.

The only drawback about fieldwork this morning is that I will miss forrmal meditation again. The Buddhist group to which I belong meets only every other Sunday and two Sundays ago I was doing the fieldwork thing. It would be nice if the group met at some other time during the week (e.g., a weeknight). Ah well. Life is a series of choices and one has to base decisions on what is most pertinent at a given time. In this case, the research has to be done.

Over the last week, I've been rather engaged in reading The Ancestor's Tale, by the great evolutionary zoologist Richard Dawkins. The book is immensly rich in detail, which is both a good and bad thing, depending on ones level of biological training. Topics such as the evolution of color vision in New World Monkeys (told at the level of genetics) certainly proves a point, but the general reader may find such detail more than a little tedious. But at any rate, The Ancestors Tale is a wonderfully engaging and thought-provoking book and for those contemptuous of creationist beliefs, the book is more than entertaining. From time to time, Dawkins takes a well-timed and aptly-framed swipe at creationists (e.g., A "Creationist Misquotation Alert," etc.) which in a humorous and factual way, show those pious "intelligent design" types for the frauds (and danger to educational advancement) they really are. Wonderful stuff!

But let me stop here before I get wound up on the whole creation versus evolution debate and spend the entire morning hammering out my own take on the issue. I've long been passionate about this and my personal evolution from churchgoing kid to evolutionist may (or may not) make for interesting reading. It factored large in my journals from the teen through early college years and at some point I may have to take the time to tell the story.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Saturday PM

Enjoying an early evening coffee while I hammer out a few lines. It was a warm sunny day that certainly felt like spring. It was so warm that a friend and I were comfortable seated on the outside patio of our favourite Mexican restaurant in Virginia Beach this afternoon. Spring is certainly on the way and I couldn't be more ready for it.

I picked up a couple Arizona travel guides from Barnes and Noble early this afternoon and have spent the last couple of hours sketching out the probable ininterary for the trip. There appears to be quite a few things of interest to see out there and I seriously doubt we'll get to them all over the course of five days. As such, I've decided to limit the trip to northern and central Arizona. The general outline of the trip will be head southeast out of Las Vegas towards Flagstaff, then east/notheast, ultimately recurving westwards for the return trip to Vegas.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Booking Flights and Buying Travel Guides

It's now confirmed: my next travel adventure will be the Grand Canyon (and the desert Southwest in general) in mid April. The flights were booked and paid for yesterday and the next step will be visiting Barnes and Noble to pick up the appropriate travel guides (tonight's project, possibly). The selection of the right travel guide will be critical as we'll be arriving in Las Vegas and from there will travel by rental car to the Grand Canyon or wherever we opt to go. We've have five days out there...which is plenty of time to accomplish all the sightseeing we want to do. So it could be said that we'll hop in the rental car and follow the road whatever end. :-)

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Saturday AM

It has been a productive morning. I was awake before six and in an oddly super-productive mood, so I had to take advantage of it. I've paid the rest of this month's bills, cleaned the kitchen and bathroom, bought much needed groceries (see the previous post), and went for a walk around the neighborhood which included the obligatory stop at Starbucks on the way back to the apartment.

The trouble with this morning's burst of productivity is that I'm not quite sure what to do with the rest of the day, having accomplished pretty much everything I had on my list for today's "must do" activities. There are a few things for work that could occupy my time, but nothing pressing (other than some employee evaluation, which I always hate doing). As such, I may walk down to the local video store once they open at noon to search for anything worthwhile to rent.

Friday, March 11, 2005

The Greening of Ghent

Tonight is the Greening of Ghent neighborhood block party, which is held annually sometime around St. Patrick's Day. Over the last few years it's become quite popular and draws crowds from all over Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and the other neighboring localities. It's quite the affair with all types of Irish beer, live bands, and throngs of people. The city even closes the main street to vehicular traffic (which I suppose is done to prevent drunkards staggering around in the street from getting run down by a bus).

As I tend to avoid such public displays of foolishness, I kept with my tradition of not going. Hearing the bands and boisterous crowd from the comfort of my apartment two blocks away is quite enough for me. Besides, it's cold and misting rain. Some of my friends were talking earlier about going and I suppose it was a few of them knocking on my door earlier this evening. As I was otherwise occupied, I didn't even bother answering the door.

So instead of taking part in rain-drenched bouts of alcohol consumption, I kept busy with paying a few bills, reading, and preparing dinner. The latter task was somewhat daunting in that I'm practially out of groceries. Obviously this poses a problem to culinary efforts, but it also presents a creative challenge: making good use of whatever you have on hand. I managed to scrounge up enough basic ingredients to make baked spinach stuffed pasta with zesty tomato sauce, which turned out exceptionally well. I may have to serve it sometime at one of my dinner gatherings so I might want to jot down the "recipe."

Ahhh...the music down the street has finally stopped. Time to think about heading off to bed.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Wacky Weather

Let's we've had:

1. Warm temperatures and rain early
2. Plummeting temperatures and gusty winds from the north
3. Hail
4. Snow falling so heavily that you couldn't see 50 feet in front of your vehicle
5. Thunder during the snowstorm
6. Power outages all over the city due to wind-downed power lines
7. A funnel cloud reported just south of us across the North Carolina line

Now the temperature is hovering just above freezing (and well below freezing if you factor in the wind chill). And just think: it was 72 degrees and sunny yesterday.

Sunday, March 06, 2005


As it was a beautiful, sunny day with temperatues well into the 50s, I decided this morning to make a trip out to the Blackwater Ecological Preserve where I'm conducting my thesis research. It's still a month too early in the season to begin the actual fieldwork, so today's trip was one of exploration. There are many places in the preserve that I have not had the opportunity to visit so today it was a matter of heeding Frost's advice about the road less traveled. Actually, roads are few, so it's a matter of selecting a patch of woods and bog less traveled. And today I knew exactly where I wanted to go.

At the back of the preserve is a stand of long leaf pines which was burned I believe last year. These pines comprise a part of a unique ecosystem in which fire plays a key role in clearing out plant species that compete with this particular type of pine tree, which indicentally is fire-tolerant. From what I've heard, the preserve comprises the northernmost stand of such pines in the U.S and is also home to many unique or otherwise rare plants in Virginia. Or so I'm told. I'm not much of botanist at all. My goal for today was to cross this charred, sandy terrain dotted with the occasional cactus and pine and explore the lower river floodplain on the far side.

So across the pine "barrens" I went then disappeared into the thickets. The terrain here is a mix of oak, pine, and assorted scrub and drops off to a seemingly impenetrable bog. But it's only impenetrable if you don't want to get your feet wet. As I accept this sort of thing as a minor inconvenience I maneuvered across the bog, hopping from one dry "patch" to another and using falled trees as bridges to gain access to the high ground on the other side which ultimately dropped off again, culminating at the river's edge.

I had no real goal other than just being outside enjoying the quiet and grandeur of nature. Other than taking a few pictures with the digital camera and jotting down some observations in a field notebook, I occasionally rolled over or broke open a fallen log and by doing so found more than few insects, all still sluggish from the cold. I would have collected a few as has been my habit for years now, but I already have a backlog of specimens at the lab in need of processing, so I let them be.

Later on in the day I ran into my advisor and one of her other graduate students in another part of the preserve busy with a spider project. As I was on my way out, we spoke only briefly but managed to set up a meeting for later in the week and then some fieldwork for next weekend, weather permitting. So it looks like the transition from hours in the library to hours in the field is about to begin.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Cloudy with an 80% chance of geekiness

Rainy, cold, and generally dreary out now. What a change from this morning. In fact, I'm not sure exactly when the weather deteriorated. I was so involved in the thesis work, going from sundry articles, the written draft, and the laptop, that I completely missed it. No matter as the important thing is that I finished what I set out to do. The revisions were mailed early this afternoon to my advisor for her review and to celebrate this accomplishment I went out for a margarita and lunch.

So the completion of the aforementioned research task has left me in an odd predicament: there is absolutely nothing on the agenda for this afternoon. We're into spring break so there's nothing due for class this week. This is a nice feeling though I have far too much energy to idle away the day. I think what I may do is haul out of the file one of my on going "fun" research projects and sketch out the fieldwork agenda for this year.

Yeah...I'm such a geek.

Sunny least for now

Just now back in from an early morning walk around the neighborhood with a requisite stop at Starbucks on the way back to the apartment. It's a beautiful, sunny morning, but that's supposed to change with rain rolling in later on today. There's even been mention of a possible thunderstorm which would be great. A true sign that spring is on the way.

The coffee is most needed as I was up far too late for my own good last night. Though I had planned on going to bed early, I got carried away with the ever-addictive joy of reading. Last weekend I picked up Thomas Eisner's book "For The Love of Insects" and over the last week have read a page or two here and there as time allowed. Not much free time for reading this week. So last night I caught up. The statement that "I'll just finish this chapter" turned into "Well..let me start on the next" and before long all sense of time was lost and I was deep into the book. Only reluctantly did I put it down and eventually fell off to sleep.

"For The Love of Insects" is quite the remarkable book and I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in natural history. It's a lively, well-written account of Eisner's discoveries as a chemical ecologist working on insects. But it's so much more than just a book about bugs. While insects do play the central role, much of the reserach Eisner has done over the years deals with insect chemcial defense, so across the pages of the book march a host of other players from the natural world, including birds, frogs, spiders, lizards, and so on. So essentially what you have is a multi-act drama of evolutionary adapations of predator/prey relationships borne out both in the laboratory and natural setting. Eisner's profound knowledge of and deep passion for the insect world serve as the sweeping orchestral accompaniment to this drama which heightens the experiene for the reader and fosters in them a greater appreciation for intricate workings of the natural world.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Before and After

So another workweek comes to a welcome end. I'm looking forward to the weekend and there's absolutely nothing on the agenda but reading and working on the research. This will be THE weekend for knocking out the part of the thesis with which I've been dragging my heels.

The transformation of my study from "catch-all room" to a working study is all but complete and the metamorphosis is truly remarkable. It doesn't even look like the same room. In addition to a few extra lamps, I procured a plain six-foot table for additional workspace. So essentially I have two work areas in here now: when you come through the door the computer table is to the right and on the opposite wall is my lab space: plain table with microscope and various implements and a bookcase for handy storage of the taxonomic guides for the species on which I'm working. It feels right, feels comfortable in here and very conducive for research. I'm very motivated now and should be able to finish up a couple of the long-term research projects and pump out a few scientific publications.

So here are the promised before and after images of my study.

After Posted by Hello

Before Posted by Hello