31 October 2006

Happy Halloween?

Remember when we were kids and the streets were alive with trick-or-treating children on Halloween evening? At the risk of sounding like a cranky old man, what happened to those times? Not only did I not see any trick-or-treaters on my way back from the university today, I didn't get any coming to my door either. What gives? It's not as though I live in a particularly crime-ridden neighborhood; in fact, it's really pretty nice. Have we really become such a bitter and distrustful country? Don't get me wrong, I'm all for misanthropy, but to ruin every kid's favorite night of the year? That just seems wrong. On the plus side, I have a large bowl full of Three Musketeers and Milky Way bars now, as well as a carved pumpkin and a spare candle. Those will all come in handy, I'm sure...

29 October 2006

Fall Color

Some people wax ecstatic about the brilliantly colored Autumns out East, but let me tell you, there's nothing quite like a nice Fall day on the Oregon Coast. I was there this weekend, doing a geological mapping activity on the rocky shore along the town of Yachats to make up for a field trip I missed while in Ottawa. That section of the coast is riddled with surge channels and spouting horns, and the wind and tide were both at just the right levels to make the surf put on quite a show, without being so strong as to make me feel as if I were in imminent danger of getting swept out to sea. Since it wasn't the middle of summer, the only people I was sharing the park with were locals (nice both for the solitude and because I would have gotten extremely tired of answering questions about what I was doing with a compass, a notebook, and a weather-beaten aerial photograph of Yachats). Even in that fairly built-up part of the coast, I saw my share of wildlife as well, best of all a line of pelicans scaling above the breakers not fifty feet from where I stood. It's no secret I love coasts - the Northwest Coast most of all - at any time of year; they give me an oddly comforting sense of human insignificance in the face of nature. Days like this Saturday just remind me how lucky I am to be living in the greatest part of the world, somewhere where I can drive an hour and find myself in wonderful Fall weather on one of the most sublimely beautiful coasts anywhere. The Easterners can keep their colorful leaves: we've got the better end of the bargain by far.

24 October 2006

Oh, Canada

First off, let me say how nice it is that people (you know who you are) are actually complaining when I don't post for a while. Honestly, it's nice to know that at least some of you actually look forward to reading this thing. That said, there's a good reason there haven't been many updates lately: I've been in Canada. The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology was having its 66th annual meeting in Ottawa, and being back on this side of the Atlantic, I just couldn't pass it up. I'll admit I had my doubts when I first signed up, but in retrospect it was an excellent decision.
It turns out Ottawa is a really interesting place. It's not very large, and the vast majority of the city is extremely nondescript. That said, the area around the Parliament building is nothing short of gorgeous. First of all, there's Parliament itself. I've seen my share of world capitals, and Canada's just about takes the cake. As far as location (a bluff above the Ottawa River) goes, I don't think it could get much better. The building itself is something of a mix between Westminster and a French chateau (I'll admit that my first impression upon seeing it at night was that it looked like a haunted house, but maybe I'm just being influenced by the season). Actually, the English/French conglomeration makes a great deal of sense in Ottawa, which is just about the only truly bilingual city I've ever visited. If you cross the bridge a few blocks from the B&B in which I stayed (the Auberge du Marché, which I very highly recommend if you ever find yourself traveling to Ottawa), you're in Quebec. I'm told that many tourists do just that to brag about having visited the Francophone world, and I'll admit I did as well. I had a good excuse, though: I wanted to visit the Canadian Museum of Civilization. It's really a great place, especially if you like Northwest Coast Indian art. In fact, Ottawa has a disproportionately high number of really outstanding museums, making it a far more interesting place than most cities its size would be.
The reopening of one of those museums, the Canadian Museum of Nature, was what brought the SVP meeting to Ottawa in the first place. They have what has to be one of the world's great dinosaur collections, and we got to be the first to see all those fossils in their brand new gallery. That was one of the highlights of the trip, but the best part was getting to see old friends from Seattle, Chicago, and Bristol. I also got a chance to meet some of the big names in paleontology, including John Alroy and Mark Norrell (meaningless names to most of you, I realize, but an honor for me). All that was great, but I think the most important thing to come out of this meeting for me was the fact that I've gotten excited about paleontology again. I'll admit I may have gotten a bit apathetic in the last few months, but after Ottawa, all I can seem to think about is what I can do to guarantee that I get to present something at next year's meeting (well, I'll admit I think about the World Series also). Thanks, Canada: it's nice to be enthusiastic about something again.

14 October 2006

Hey, hey, BooBoo!

Well, I've gone and made a friend. Turns out that if I leave either door to my house open, my neighbor's cat BooBoo invites herself in. In fact, since my neighbor seems to be gone much of the time, even if both doors are closed, BooBoo will often climb up on the outside window sill and meow until you open one. I probably shouldn't encourage her, but I've always been a sucker for animals, as you all no doubt know, and it is nice to have at least some sort of company while you're spending all day working on projects (this is a lost weekend for me, I'm afraid, as I scramble to get things in order in advance of my big trip to Ottawa next week). Besides, there are two definite advantages to having a cat around the house. First, after finding a suspicious hole in a bag of pasta the other day, I'm beginning to think I may be harboring mice or other rodents of an unsavory nature, and this saves me the trouble of looking for a cat of my own and of paying the extra pet deposit. Second, while I would never voluntarily give any animal a name like BooBoo, it does give me a chance to practice my Yogi imitation every time she wanders in. So I guess the cat is welcome, as long as she stays out of my pic-a-nic basket.

12 October 2006

Indiana John

As with so many things in life, I have my very definite opinions about research. I believe real science is done in the lab and the library, while field work is just data collection. Still, it can't be denied that field work can be a very fun time, especially in paleontology. Heading to wide-open spaces to unearth the remains of organisms that haven't seen the light of day for millions of years does have a certain romance to it, it can't be denied. The powers that be at the U of O gave a group of us from the Geology Department a chance to experience that romance today, though in place of the wide-open spaces, we got an enormous hole in the ground in the middle of campus. The university is in the process of building a new integrative science facility, and at this stage all they've done is dug down to begin work on the foundation. Turns out that if you dig anywhere in Eugene, you wind up in the aptly (if unimaginatively) named Eugene Formation, which was seabed in the Eocene. So, while it wasn't the Gobi Desert of Mongolia or the sculpted red rocks of the Chinle Formation (see, I do know a little geology), there were certainly lots of fossils to be found. In fact, pretty much any rock you picked up was filled with fossils. There were three main types: "regular-looking" clams, shells that looked very much like razor clams, and much rarer snail shells. I found some very nice specimens of each type (which I would include a photo of, but apparently my camera has decided that life isn't worth living anymore), though some will require a bit of gluing after some overzealous chisel work on my part. We didn't advance paleontology one iota, but I think it's fair to say a good time was had by all. Tomorrow, back to the real science...

07 October 2006

Requiem for Buck O'Neil

I don't think I've ever used a blog to opine about baseball or baseball players before, but I feel obliged to now. I imagine that a) there aren't too many people out there reading this blog just yet, and b) most of you aren't big enough baseball nuts to know who Buck O'Neil was, let alone that he died yesterday. I won't bore people with his biography, but his life's story does make interesting reading if you have the time. Suffice it to say, he embodied everything that I like about the game, and nothing that I don't. In fact, I always thought of him as living proof that, at its best, baseball can be uplifting in a much more profound way than most other American institutions. Above all else, he saw baseball not as a showcase for overpaid, steroid-abusing primadonnas, but as something that could be a common ground for people from all walks of life. I saw him at a Mariners game once, where he had been invited to throw out the first pitch, and it was clear even from that one little glimpse that he relished and enjoyed every moment of his life in baseball. Now more than ever, baseball - and, to be fair, sports in general - could use more people like Buck O'Neil.
On a less serious, but still baseball-related, note, I was happy to see that the playoff team with the lowest payroll (the Oakland Athletics) advanced to the next round, and that the team with far and away the highest payroll in the game (the New York Yankees) flopped embarrassingly. For the sake of baseball fans everywhere, let's hope this trend continues.

06 October 2006

Blogging Again, Naturally

Only a month here at the U of O, and I'm already feeling like I need to blog again; it's addictive like that. This time, though, I've learned from my Avon Stream mistakes (I hope). I'm not making any foolish promises about updating this daily; I'll try to wait until I actually have something interesting to say (needless to remark, entries may be few and far between).
How's this for a starter: I'm in Nature! Those of you who have known me for a while also know that I spent the summer or 2003 on the Olympic Peninsula working as an ecology field assistant. I had figured that getting to spend time on Tatoosh Island (which has to be the coolest place I've ever been - just check out the photos here and on my Flickr site) and wandering around the forests along the Pysht River were their own rewards, but a few years down the road it turns out that there was one more job perk in store. One of my supervisors, Tim Wootton, published a Nature article earlier this year, and who's listed in the Acknowledgments section? J. Orcutt, that's who! I know the fact that I'm so excited over just an acknowledgment is a clear sign that I'm still very much a student, but really, how would you react of you saw your name in Nature?
Ahh, it's good to be blogging again...