Wednesday, August 30, 2006
This cracked me up: a quote from a fundamentalist running for the governor of Ohio:
"I stand with you this morning as a defender, as an advocate, for religious liberty, and I will fight for the right of the nonbeliever to nonbelieve because we all have a right to be wrong."
Funny, I always thought advocating for religious liberty would include not taking snide jabs at the other side? He also mentioned "spiritual DNA", which made me say "wtf?!"
Fall is in the air
Two straight days of rain, followed by a warmish overcast day where I noticed the very first hints of yellow on the basswood trees on campus. Fall always fills me with a deep sense of relief, like I can finally rest and stop thinking about what fun event I should be taking advantage of, or which blooming flower or rare butterfly I should be capturing on film before it's gone, or whether my tan is really as good as it could be. The days shorten, the weather cools, and my thoughts turn inward, to house and family and self. Plus, my birthday is coming :)
In other news: had to take Libby to the emergency room last night. Apparently the 7 days of metronidazole weren't enough, since the morning after they finished the pills Libby barfed and Jazzy had the Big D. Then last night Libby was in some unidentified stress, probably because of her stomach, and was panting hard and wheezing, refusing even a cracker. It kept getting worse until we freaked out and took her to the vet. Turns out that 1) yes, she needs more medication (as does Jazz), and 2) she has laryngeal paralysis, a condition that weakens the muscles that pull back the vocal cords, causing her to wheeze and have trouble breathing when she's stressed. This has been getting worse all summer so I'm very glad we have it diagnosed now. We're treating with sedatives rather than surgery, and the stomach thing we'll continue to manage as we have been. It was a very expensive night :/ but at least we know now that she doesn't have an airway-blocking tumor, or worse. Mark will bring Libby home today; if I remember right, he brought her home from her previous stay at the ER, too. I am missing out, but I also tend to get a bit emotional there so maybe it's just as well.
It's been a rough summer for the doggies, and for us. Another reason to be glad it's almost behind us.
Monday, August 28, 2006
Year Three, Day 1
Today is the first day of my third year of graduate school. I don't really feel a whole two years' worth of smarter than I was on my first day. Too bad, though: my prelims MUST be done in the next 12 months, smart or not.
Dogs are better and are eating their overpriced prescription food with huge enthusiasm. Jazzy starts eating it right out of the scoop before I can pour it into the bowl.
Went clothes shopping for the first time in I can't remember how long yesterday. Tried on ten million pairs of jeans, even bought some. Hey, curvy is back in style, hallelujah! That was probably my last-ever visit to Marshall Field's, since they become Macy's sometime in September. Merchandise-wise, I doubt it will make a bit of difference, but I do share in the collective resentment felt by much of the city. The Field name is an institution, an icon of Chicago retail and civic responsibility. We'll get over it pretty soon, but seeing the Macy's logo on that gorgeous building on State Street is going to be painful at first. This poor city has always had trouble staying out of New York's shadow. And just a couple of days ago, it was announced that Carson Pirie Scott is closing their State Street store. Perhaps the department store is an outdated concept, but this is still sad news. At least the building will survive intact, being a landmark regardless of its contents.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Not good, and good
[Dogs: sick again, same nasty intestinal thing. I found my notes from June in this blog useful so here's stuff you don't need to read: Friday evening: Long drive to Michigan, limited water during and after. Saturday morning: water for both, then Libby threw up twice (no food). Libby: Big D starting that afternoon, Jazzy starting a few hours later. Test for parasites was negative again. Prescribed 7 days of metranidazole and started them on broth Monday night. According to my previous notes, this could take more than 3 weeks to clear up, but we cut off food and started treatment much sooner this time. Don't rush the food! Both dogs are in good spirits, though tired, and are not begging for food yet.]
Anyway. Went to my mother-in-law's retirement party this weekend in Michigan. It was a very nice party, a LOT of guests and food. Some rain, but I don't think it really hampered anything and it was nice and cool out. I'm jealous; is it time for me to retire yet? No?
Orientation for the new students starts tomorrow, but I may not go b/c of dogs. Definitely have to go on Tuesday, though, at least for a while. I feel so fortunate that I can be flexible in my schedule (of course, I'm not getting anything *done* during these times, but at least I'm not going to get fired) and that the weather has been cooperative during these times when we need to keep the dogs outside on old blankets.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
A very disheartening post
In vol. 313 of Science, 11 August 2006, an analysis of levels of acceptance of evolution, in the U.S. and abroad. "A third of American adults indicated that evolution is 'absolutely false'", compared with 7% in Iceland, France, and Great Britain. And it's not all associated with religion; it seems to be the result of some crazy interaction of fundamentalism with Americanism, and conservatism with Americanism. No other Western country is as biblically literal as this one, and no other country has politicized the debate like this one. Sometimes it's enough to make me want to move to Scandinavia, except for the darkness and high suicide rate and weird fishy food.
Interesting: "When presented with a description of natural selection that omits the word evolution, 78% of [American] adults agreed to a description of the evolution of plants and animals. But, 62% of adults in the same study believed that God created humans as whole persons without any evolutionary development. It appears that many of these adults have adopted a human exceptionalism perspective." (emphasis mine) I guess evolution is fine for the lowly beasts and plants, but not for the perfect and glorious God-copies that are humans. So why exactly do humans and dogs and goldfish share the exact same bone structures and proteins and cellular processes? Why do we share most our genomes with chimps? And why are humans so frail and inefficient? Truly God works in mysterious ways. I would think the average Christian would want to give him more credit than that. For an omnipotent being, he did a pretty crappy job on his masterwork, and apparently also plagiarized most of it.
I could rant some more but I won't.
Is it that time of year already?
I was on the El, overhearing bits of conversation between two young men, something about football, when a louder young man with exactly the same oafish voice I would have used if I were trying to impersonate a football-obsessed fan said, "Excuse me, sir, I couldn't help but overhear you talking about Ohio State. I am a HUGE Michigan fan!" The Ohio State guy and his friend said something politely friendly like "Oh". Mr. Michigan went on to say how he's watched nothing but Michigan since like 1993, and you know they have this huge rivalry with Ohio State, and he's always hated Ohio State. (It was pretty clear that he hadn't actually *attended* UM, which makes his supposed hatred of OSU pretty baseless.) He tried to goad the guys into a friendly verbal battle, but they weren't biting. He continued his monologue for a while while they politely feigned interest; then the train stopped at Washington, and the two mumbled a hasty "see ya" and took off into the crowd, leaving Mr. Michigan without an audience. He stayed on for two more stops, groaning and stretching theatrically so we'd all know how exhausted he is by his devout love for The Blue, then finally departed.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Forgot to mention, I saw a peregrine falcon in the parking lot of the River Bend Nature Center (Caledonia or Racine? in Wisconsin) last week. Tried to get a picture but it calmly watched me fumble with camera and batteries, then flew away as soon as I got the camera turned on. Smart bird.
Learn something new every day
Atom sitefeed is working now. For what it's worth.
ObElStory: A clean, well-dressed man got on the train yesterday at about 9:30 a.m., drinking a bottled beer through a straw. That's one way to deal with a Monday.
A guest blogger at a blog I am rapidly growing tired of in general had this to say today:
"Am I the only one who thinks that Carrie Fisher's slave outfit in Return of the Jedi is part of the reason that there are so few women in science and engineering?"
Give me a break.
Not surprisingly, this is the same guest blogger who made me nauseous with the pancake comments the other day. Be gone, guest blogger.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Extreme excitement in blogland!
I not only have a flickr account now, but I made a flickr badge (see sidebar). How cute is that?!
At Jewel this evening: a woman with a canary in a cage in her shopping cart. I guess it's good to take the pets out for an airing once in a while.
On the El: a man compulsively wrapping a rubber band around his bandaged thumb. The bandaid was held on with a bit of duct tape; I think the rubber band started out as extra staying power, then evolved into full-on OCD. I could barely take my eyes off it.
I really wanted to stay up to find out how the Cubs/Astros game ends, but it's the 13th inning and I'm sleepy. I'm sure the Cubs will find some creative way to lose. Was that cynical?
In other news: I may have my fourth committee member. I'm feeling slightly less frazzled but still a long way from cool and steady.
The book in my backpack: John Irving - The Cider House Rules
The book on my nightstand: The Blue Corn Murders (I don't know... my grandma loaned it to me)
I've been watching: Strangers with Candy season 1, and Buffy season 1
This game will never end. Bed. Now.
Monday, August 14, 2006
Hey, it's post #300!
That's a lot of blathering to myself. Sheesh.
Some beech-related items of note:
An interesting post on arborglyphs
A description of beech bark disease
A quick trip report from my beech-hunting trip last week:
First stop, Highland Park, to once and for all sample the silly things correctly and accurately record which tree is which, with diameters (gave the snazzy new meter tape a workout! thanks, eBay!). I spent much time ducking down to avoid detection by park district employees as they drove down Ravine Drive, and also to avoid the landscape guys working right above my head. I don't know if the landscapers care about Crazy Gringo Lady climbing around in the ravine, but I wouldn't be surprised if they've been instructed to call the police if they see anything suspicious while they're working. A passing lady with her dog didn't seem concerned about my presence (clipboard and 30-meter tape make me look very official), and the dog came across the ravine to wriggle and say hi.
It was very overcast and dark under the canopy, and unbelieveably muggy. My bandana was sopping when I was done, and my glasses kept fogging up at inopportune times. And the mosquitos!!! In any case, though, I found 21 mature beech trees and took samples from all but the four that were just too close to one of the houses. I recorded sizes; the largest was 59 cm in diameter. I also mapped their approximate locations on the slope. Unless I want to return to look for Epifagus in September, I'm done there. (And I do, so I guess I'm not done. Sigh.)
I then drove on north, getting utterly lost in the process because finding a road with an entrance to 94 is no small feat, even with an atlas. My first stop was in a park in Caledonia, Wisconsin. I couldn't remember if I wanted to go there because I knew there were reported beeches or because I just had a good feeling based on the satellite photo. I parked, walked down a dry swale, and found two nice trees, almost like I knew they would be right there. If this is a first report, I'm pretty excited. Not that nobody knows they're there, but if it's not reported in the scientific literature, it doesn't officially exist.
I took my samples and moved on, but had no more luck the rest of the day, even at places where the trees do exist. The park at Wind Point was a huge disappointment. The park is surrounded by a fence, because we certainly don't want riff-raff invading our forests, oh no! The golf course community that backs up to the woods was a maze of dead ends and private drives, and I peered into the trees but saw nothing useful. I also walked along the actual lakefront because the description of where the trees are said "near Lake Michigan", and I didn't think they'd be right on the lake but it was worth a look. Saw several cormorants in the water, and massive squash plants growing wild, but not much else. The lakefront is a mess, weedy and rocky, with an unusable sandy beach and a handful of piers (probably to reduce sand loss). There's a lighthouse farther out on the point. The water, though, was the most remarkable feature: it was full of charcoal grey sludge. The rocks in the shallows were coated with it, and you could see the sludge floating in water. Really disgusting. I don't know if it was a one-time spill or this is a routine situation. I guess I'm spoiled by the efforts to keep Lake Michigan and the lakefront so nice and either natural or recreational, but in either case, *clean*, in the Chicago area. Racine in general looks pretty poor and run-down, and doesn't treat its piece of the lake well. I watched three guys smacking golf balls into the water from the golf course. Lake Michigan: Everybody's favorite dumping ground! GRRRRRRR.
One other thing: Visited, or attempted to visit, Renak-Polak Beech Maple Woods. Should be crawling with beech, but I couldn't get to it. I think there was an access road or trail farther south from where I entered, but I attempted to go in overland and was finally stopped by an impenetrable shrub layer and a weird sense of foreboding. It was about 4:30 by that time, the sun was getting lower, and I didn't want to get myself somewhere I couldn't get out of. I was also wading through knee-high poison ivy (again, no rash, yay). I saw the road as I was driving away, so next time I'll try it. I will say that having a GPS with me makes me feel much better. I set a waypoint at the truck whenever I venture off somewhere. If I get lost, I can always navigate back, assuming I can get a signal under the trees.
So, I will have to go back someday, but for now I have enough material to extract and do some sequencing. There are many beech locations north of Racine that would be worth sampling and at least mapping. Plus, satellite photos show some other spots where I'd be likely to find the trees someday when I feel motivated. But today is not that day. I also have a possible location in LaSalle County, of all places, that will be worth a look if I can narrow it down.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Amazing how a day of walking and driving can be so exhausting!! More details later, but suffice it to say, I found another location for my trees, possibly previously undocumented (as far as I can tell!). After the frustrations of the rest of the day, my mind keeps returning to that happy first stop and how very pretty the little blue flowers were that led me to the site. Also, grasshoppers fleeing my footsteps like little winged fireworks. It was a very pretty place. If I'd just sat there all day, I would have been much less exhausted later, and my success would have been the same. Ah well.
Now, someone tell me what moron thought it was a good idea to make I-94 south from Wisconsin to Illinois merge down to ONE LANE before joining with 41. All those people around me who drive to and from work every day: insane. Every one of them. I can't imagine thinking so little of myself that I'd be willing to go through that kind of drive twice a day. My commute: walk three blocks to train. Get on when it comes. Read/listen to music/sleep/play solitaire/zone out for 30 minutes or so. Get out, walk three blocks. Cost: something less than $1.75 (we get a big student discount). Cost to sanity: zero. Cost of parking and hunting for a parking space: zero. Pounds of emissions added to atmosphere: none. Progress made on very important V.I. Warshawski novel: ~25 pages. There must be a Mastercard commercial in there somewhere.
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
So a guest blogger over at Bitch PhD just recommended freezing pancakes for quick meals for little kids. The very thought of microwaved frozen pancakes actually made me a bit nauseous; I don't like pancakes but I don't usually feel ill at the thought of them. Thanks for the imagery, guest blogger. Grr.
I visited the coffee shop at University Hall (UIC's tallest building) today, hoping for a new perspective on the ideas I'm trying to wrap my head around. I had limited success, and spent more time gazing down at the plaza that I think is now complete on the west side of the building. I concede that it's better than it was, an ocean of concrete in a concentric-circle pattern with a random rusty "sculpture" parked in the middle. (I wonder what happened to that sculpture? There's another one south of SEL; one day it was lying on its side and it didn't seem to matter) A bit of hunting tells the story of the new plaza: The artist, Vito Acconci, designed the plaza with walkways of concrete that radiate out from the entrance in a shadow pattern. It would have sitting areas, berms and rises, and shallow reflective pools to mirror the building. Stainless steel screens that reach the second floor would be covered in vines, "waterfalls of greenery", that retain their leaves all year. The entire plaza should be considered one work of art, according to one university trustee.
Now, granted, I'm not 100% sure the project is done, but there's no current work being done that I can see. I have my camera with me today. I'm going back for pictures.
There's a small picture of the concept art here - it appears that the plantings are not yet complete and are integral to the design.
(and speaking of pancakes and urping, I need to find an MP3 of this, or locate the tape if I haven't already thrown it out: REM ordering breakfast at Denny's at 3AM)
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Yesterday, went to Volo Bog to do some fieldwork. It was SO HOT (how hot was it?!)... well, I don't have a pithy response. It was just HOT. The temp gauge on the truck was at 102 when I got home. We did our work with frequent pauses to mop the sweat that was pouring into our eyes. Really unpleasant, and not a lot of shade at a bog :( The bog is still really dry after last year's drought. The water depth marker in the eye is at about 2 foot 6, and the bog's eye is really reduced though better than last year. Still tons of birds and dragonflies, but don't expect to see any frogs near the boardwalk anymore. There's a definite impact on the vegetation, too - cattails everywhere (invasive? need to learn diff. between native and invasive Typha), and certain rare species are declining. We know that bogs are ephemeral by their nature but nobody wants their lifetime to be the one when the bog finally fills in and becomes a plain old meadow.
The eye of the bog
A typical image along the boardwalk near the center of the bog, where shrubs (mostly holly) predominate. Those trees are tamaracks, Larix laricinia, a typical bog tree. They are actually growing out of the floating peat mat, and they bend at a right angle within the mat so they won't have their roots directly in the water.
Closer to the edge of the bog, away from the peat mat, the vegetation is again more typical of open or shallow water, though you can no longer see any water here. Milkweed and Typha predominate.
On the way home from the bog, I had planned on lunch at Culver's (there's no Culver's near us so we take advantage of every opportunity!). I figured a morning outside in that heat had earned me a frozen custard. However, the fates were not smiling (or rather they were laughing) and some emergency police action on Rand Road forced me and everyone else to double back and find an alternate route. By the time I'd wandered aimlessly through downtown Lake Zurich and regained Rand, I'd passed Culver's. *sob* I stopped at what appears to be the third brand new sprawling megamall in Deer Park (which now has more mall employees than residents) and found a Quizno's, where I passed a happy half hour in the A/C. I watched workmen rig up those soaker bags around the newly planted trees; the men were wearing long-sleeved shirts and I wondered if it was by choice or if TPTB at Deer Park don't want their upscale shoppers to be offended by the sight of bare Mexican arms.
I went outside just now with the dogs and - hallelujah! - it's not unbearably hot out. It's *only* supposed to get to the low 90s today, and possible storms. That will be good because I only managed to get part of the yard watered yesterday and some of the plants are looking resentful.