Saturday, April 30, 2005

Saturday AM

It's a cool and cloudy morning with the occasional sprinkle of rain. The latter was insufficient to deter me from the traditional early morning walk around the neighborhood and I'm just now back home after the requisite stop at Starbucks. There is not much on the agenda this weekend other than studying for finals and working a bit on the thesis. I'm also meeting some of the other team member for lunch today to discucss the Sri Lanka project in greater detail. Should have some interesting updates about that later on. And hopefully I'll venture forth to formal meditation tomorrow morning as I haven't been in a while.

Life around the office has been significantly more stressful than usual thanks to all the drama instigated by my secretary. I've implemented a number of changes over the last few months (both at the policy and operational levels) which she has resisted every step of the way. And to be honest, it's more than mere resistance, she's now actively undermining nearly everything that I do. She's been there for almost 30 years (as as a result sees herself as more important than she actually is) and hates change in any form (whether it be at the office, at home, or on whatever level) and since I'm seen as an agent of change, I'm suddenly this terrible threat that must be stopped. And she's taken it upon herself to do just that. So it has been this ongoing contest of wills, the struggle between the old way and the new and of course I've bested her every time (the real benefit of authority in this situation combined with a rational justification for what I'm trying to do). This has led to greater resentment on her part and some rather disturbing emotional displays. Despite the occasional temptation to verbally rip her head off, I've maintained a cool, somewhat detatched, level of professionalism which further annoys her (she thrives off of direct confrontation). Will all of this blow over? Possibly. But if not, I've begun the process of having her involuntarily transferred to a different department if the normal routes of disciplinary action fall short.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Early Afternoon

I've made some progress on the things I metioned this morning, though it's going slower than I would like. I also took care of a few much needed errands this morning, which served as a wonderful diversion from the paper and presentation. The run to the grocery store was an absolute must and the brief nap..well....not really a must, but it was nonetheless nice. Presently I'm raising the caffeine level with a cup of Starbucks coffee, a must for pushing the projects to conclusion this afternoon. If I can get everything wrapped up by five or six this evening I'll wander on down to the Taphouse and treat myself to a beer or some other alcoholic refreshments.

Down To The Wire

I took today off from work to finish up the the presentation, paper, and homework assignment that are due for class tomorrow afternoon. Originally I had hoped to have them done over the weekend, but as it turned out progress was very slow and now the pressure is on. This is just as well since I'm always at my best under pressure. Oddly enough, I just haven't been motivated enough to make the necessary progress, owning to the myriad of distractions this semester and the inevitable case of "senioritis" (e.g., this is my final class).

It's a weird feeling knowing that this is my last official class of the masters degree; all the remains in the thesis project research which will be completed by this time next year. Of course this probably isn't my last class since I have a bad habit of taking extra classes when I can, mainly for fun and personal enhancement. And they'll probably be biology courses as well. Epidemiology has been enlightening and certainly a challenge, but overall I've found it lacking in many ways compared to my own primary area of interest in natural history. Perhaps I'll even take some foreign language courses that are better suited to the ultimate goal of international public health work than the two years of German I took as an undergraduate. Spanish would be the logical choice but I will explore some other options before enrolling in anything. Shortly after the return from Thailand in January, I began learning some of the basics of Thai in preparation for future trips (and certainly there will be many), but as I'm learning this on my own, progress is slow. It's a shame Thai isn't offered at my university. My Thai friend coaches me on some pronunciations from time to time and there's a Thai temple maybe half an hour from where I live, so there are options for taking the language aquisition to the lext level should I choose to do so. My goal at the present is not to become fluent; I just want to be able to get some basic communications skills down and learn enough of the script to avoid taking the wrong bus the next time I'm in Bangkok. So essentially, the Thai language will be a wonderfully challenging hobby with the potential for future career applications.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Grand Canyon in late afternoon Posted by Hello

Grand Canyon at sunset Posted by Hello

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Southwest Reflections

Though I returned from the trip to the Southwest Monday night around 11, this is literally the first opportunity to sit down and hammer out a few lines. I had to be in Richmond early Tuesday morning to give a presentation and have subsequently been occupied with work and classes and homework and everything else. I met up with a couple new friends last night which was good fun and a much needed break from the rushing about of this past week.

The Southwest trip was a lot of fun and as always on such adventures the time passed too quickly. In a span of five days, we toured Las Vegas, drove across Arizona to the Grand Canyon, then spent some time in Flagstaff. Along the way we saw some pueblo ruins, Sunset Crater volcano, Meteor Crater, and other natural history attractions. We also spent some time wandering around on the Navajo Reservation. So it was certainly a very full vacation.

I was not particularly fond of Vegas. I had fun and it was certainly worth seeing, but it just symbolized many of the darker elements of human nature which I hold in contempt: greed, crass materialism, and so on. This bothered me to no end, particularly when juxtaposed to the visit to the Navajo reservation two days later. In this context, Vegas was sickeningly opulent. And since I've been asked about this by everyone since I've been back: I didn't gamble at all, not even a quarter in a slot machine. It's not my thing and I can certainly find better uses for my money.

The Grand Canyon was impressive and humbling and truly gives one, at least casually versed in the subject, a good sense of what constitutes geologic time. The stratigraphy was visually wonderful; all those various sedimentary layers laid down over millions of years subsequently and gradually cut over time by the Colorado River and now exposed. The scale of it all is certainly humbling both in the sense of nature's beauty (to which the most glitzy hotel in Vegas could not even begin to compare) and the sheer antiquity of the Earth. Certainly the processes of nature have been cycling long before humans ever arrived on the scene and will continue to do so long after we're gone.

We arrived at the Grand Canyon shortly before sunset and I wandered off from the group in search of a quiet overlook to observe and contemplate all of this. With field glasses worn from many such adventures, I scanned the layers and outcroppings and the sliver of the Colorado meandering below. A few patches of snow clung to sheltered ledges on the cayon walls, tucked away behind scrub of brown and green. Off in the disance was a trail and on this rough zig-zagging path along the Canyon's wall a handful of people were making their way out in the waning light of day. Even at high magnification, they were the smallest of specks, perceptible only by movements of colors brighter than the surroundings. As the sun set, the sky and the Canyon became alive with orange and red; shadows crept out of dark recesses below and gathered and grew in the fading twilight until night fell and all was quiet on that ledge under the stars winking brightly above.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Packing and Preparation

I've been home from class for only a short while and much later than expected due to class not ending until 7:30pm and a subsequent visit to my advisor's lab to pick up some paperwork. As I have not even given a thought about packing, I have a lot to do tonight in preparation for tomorrow's trip. I'm some ways I'm looking forward to the vacation and at the same time, I'm so swamped with research and school and work that I hate to take any time off. But I think that once I'm packed and on the way to the airport in the morning, exctiement and the need for adventure will outweigh any reluctance.

The most obnoxious part of the trip will be arriving home in Norfolk Monday ngiht at 11pm. Ordinarily this isn't a bad thing, but I have to be in Richmond (a two hour drive from here) by 8 Tuesday morning to give a presentation that's not quite finished. I need to addd a conclusion that won't take long and I may be able to get to it tonight as well as review the presentation for any glaring errors. I've printed out a copy of the slides/notes and will review them whilst on the flights to and from Arizona. It's a five hour flight so I'll certainly be prepared...and it will be matter of just staying awake long enough to give the lecture. A few friends in Richmond want me to visit them afterwards, but I'm not sure about this. Depending on how I feel, I may just drive back to Norfolk and immediately fall asleep. We'll see.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Tuesday PM

I have so much to do between now and when my flight leaves Thursday morning that I don't quite know where to begin. Homework due tomorrow night, putting together a presentation for the day after I get back, another project for school, assorted pre-trip activities, and meeting a potential team member for the Sri Lanka mission tomorrow night. All of this has to be done by tomorrow night or at the very latest, early Thurday morning. Ugh.

I really wish I hadn't wasted so much time last weekend doing absoultely nothing. Though putting me somewhat behind the proverbial 8-ball on some thing, the slack time was nonetheless much needed. After all, running at full capacity for so long without a break quickly leads to burn out and I don't need that now.

Off to be productive.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Monday Evening

Home from the office a short while ago and am relaxing with a cup of coffee before starting on some homework. Despite having the remnants of a migraine headache this morning (as well as a pulled muscle in my shoulder) it was productive workday and the time passed quickly. Sadly, I didn't get much homework done over the weekend due to a singular lack of academic motivation, so I have a lot to do tonight. This is just as well since I tend to be more productive under pressure.

Compounding the urgency to get at least somewhat ahead in my studies is the forthcoming trip to Arizona beginning on Thursday. While the timing may be a little suspect as it's the start of my research field season, it'll nonetheless serve as a good break before I get carried away with the research. Unlike the trip to Thailand, I doubt seriously I'll be updating the blog from Arizona as I'll only be away for five days. Hopefully, though, I'll have some interesting pics to post on here once I return.

At any rate, I'll off to get started on some things.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

A New Hope (tm)

Though each season has about it elements that make it special (even winter), I've long been quite fond of spring. It's a time of renewal, a time of hope and good things to come. This is especially true this year with my newfound status of singleness, which has taken some adjustment, but in the final analysis its not a bad thing, really. One chapter of my life has come to an end and I'm now in the opening paragraph of the next filled with excitement, the unknown, and possibilities innumerable.

I suppose my understanding of Buddhist philosophy (as humble as it may be) involving living in the here and the now and the respective roles of the past, present, and future, have helped me adjust to the aforementioned status change. This is such an elegant, yet common-sense approach to a full, happy life, particularly so when combined with a proper detatched view of the things and people around you. One can care about these things, but once it passes the point of attachment, that's where the trouble begins.

In other news, on Wednesday I met with one of the other project coordinators to discuss this summer's humanitarian mission to Sri Lanka. This is going to be a wonderful outreach opportunity if all goes as planned. The centerpiece of the project will be the construction of an orphange for the 200-250 kids in the province orphaned by last year's tsunami. Thanks to a generous donation we've already acquired the land, so its just a matter now of raising the necessary funds for construction and the implemention of peripheral public health components. I suspect that most of this will come through grants. We're also setting up a permanent college scholarship fund for those kids who otherwise would not have an opportunity to pursue higher education. Every project component, no matter how diverse, revolves around the orphans, those kids whose lives changed so dramatically in a matter of a few hours. We want to give them a safe home, a healthy life, and the hope for a bright future.

*Since I included the trademark symbol (tm) in the title of this post I do hope Mr. Lucas won't come after me for copyright infringement.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Sunday Coffee

The busy week left little time for updating the blog, which was just as well since I wan't in the mood for posting. So as such, I'm going to take a few minutes this morning to go over the highlights of what has transpired since my last post.

My presentation Thursday morning for the regional laboratory staff went exceptionally well. This was a relief as I had spent a lot of time putting it all together (the primary reason why blog time was so scarce). I took some creative liberty with the design and by this I mean every so often I stragegically placed in the presentation an appropriate images from my Thailand trip. Though not usually an expected component of a professional scientific talk, the additional visuals nonetheless went over very well as it broke up the motonoty and more or less kept my audience awake. Regrettably, success has it's price and my manager (who caugh the latter half of my talk) requested that I give it again when the entire bureau meets at the end of April.

Ugh. I so hate presentations.

The other big event of this week was another presentation, but thankfully not by me. My university has a monthly President's Lecture Series and the guest speaker Thursday night's Natural History Lecture was paleoanthropologist Lousie Leakey, the latest generation of the long dynasty of Leakeys working on early hominid fossils in Kenya. Her talk was entitled "Origins and Evolution: In Search of How We Became Human" and was absolutely riveting. She touched on a number of topics including a little of the Leakey family history in Kenya, the discovery of assorted early hominid fossils, present discoveries (one as recent as three or four weeks ago), and the plight of indigenous peoples in Kenya and their struggle between traditional ways and modernization. The funny thing is that I almost didn't go as I was physically and emotinally drained from the week's events and as such didn't feel much up to going out. That certainly would have been a mistake.

Next up on the President's Lecture Series is Garrison Keillor at the end of April. I'll certainly go to that as I've long been a fan of NPR's :"A Prairie Home Companion." coffee cup is almost empty. Off to Starbucks for a refill.