31 December 2006

Auld Lang Syne

This final post of the year comes to you live from my favorite place: Lopez Island. Looking back, I can unhestitatingly say that this has been the most ambiguous year of my life. It would not be a huge stretch to say that the very best and the very worst moments of my life happened in the last twelve months. Since I have so few readers, I don't want to scare any away with excessive negativity, so I'll just focus on the positives. First of all, I spend most of the year in Britain, which for an anglophile such as myself is pretty sweet. I also love traveling, and I set a record for countries visited (7; 9 if you count Wales and Scotland as separate from England) that I doubt I'll ever break. Of course, it's not all about quantity, but let me assure you that these were quality trips as well: paleontology in Ottawa, art in Madrid, Easter in Germany, Viking ships in Denmark, finding the England that I thought existed only in fiction in Cambridge. Of course, best of all was my acceptance into Oregon: there's just nothing quite as wonderful as knowing that I'll get to spend the foreseeable future "at home" in the Northwest. For those of you who I've known for a long time, and for those that I've just gotten to know since last January, Happy New Year!

24 December 2006

Lovely Weather for a Fish Hunt Together with You

Of course, one of the things we all love about Christmas is that it's the time of year when people are more likely to work together for the greater good. Once again, though, mankind has been one-upped by nature: fish work together throughout year. A recent study of groupers and moray eels in the Red Sea has shown that these two totally unrelated fish regularly hunt together, to the benefit of each. Truly cooperative hunting requires two species with complex brains, as both must be able to communicate with the other, and the behavior has previously been observed only in birds and mammals. For more on the fairly major implications of this study, see the well-written (if somewhat overstated) response by Frans de Waal. Also be sure to check out the original article, particularly the videos of hunting groupers and eels. So, there you go, the spirit of the season embodied by fish. Merry Christmas!

17 December 2006

Call to Arms

Don't get me wrong: I really enjoyed my time in Britain, and I firmly believe they do many, if not most, things better than we do. That said, they have to be the only developed country that can compete with us in being ignorant about the rest of the world. I'm not the only person who thinks this: a group of concerned geographers has recently put together the Geography Cup, an online contest pitting the US versus the UK. Of course, by definition, the readers of this blog are highly educated, geographically literate people, and I strongly recommend that you go to that site right now and give the quiz a shot. It's really very simple: you have to identify 10 randomly selected countries and answer three questions. Sadly, the average score for both Britain and America are just over 50%. So please, rather you're from the US or the UK, do your part to up those scores and show the rest of the world that we're really not complete idiots.

11 December 2006

Joy to the World

This, my friends, is a red-letter day (and not just because I'm going increasingly broke). First, I finished grading the enormous pile of exams from "my" Geology of Oregon class (90 copies of a ten page exam - you do the math to get a sense of just how big a job that was). Then, as I was bringing a load of laundry out to my washer this evening, I ran into my duplex-mate. He's moving out and was looking to unload things, including...a microwave! Those of you that have microwaves may think it's a little weird to get excited about them, but imagine how much more convoluted the cooking process would become without one. Reheating things becomes a balancing act in the broiler, to say the least. I'm probably overreacting to this, but I just can't say how great it is to have a microwave again. I celebrated by having my first hot chocolate in a very long while. Mmmm, warm milk...

08 December 2006

One Down...

...and who knows how many more to go? Part of the fun of being a PhD student is that I really have no idea how much longer I'll be here. However long it's to be, you can subtract one quarter from it. This morning, I finished my first and last final of the term. I have to admit that this has been about the least stressful Finals Week I have ever endured. I had a short presentation on my research to give on Tuesday (which, at the risk of tooting my own horn, has gotten rave reviews from the other students in the class), a research proposal on the same topic, and today's ecology exam. It's certainly a far cry from the frantic, no-sleep-for-days Finals Week that I had the displeasure of going through every quarter at Chicago (not, of course, that I would ever complain). After I finish up grading exams for the class I'm TA-ing, it's clear sailing until next quarter. And what do I have on my plate then, you may ask? For one thing, I go from TA-ing a 90 student, non-major class to a (so far) 3 student upper level geology course, Geobiology. I'm actually looking forward to that quite a bit, and I'll admit I feel a bit smug that I'm the best-qualified grad student in the department to help teach it (what with the biology BA and all). I'm also taking classes, of course: the follow-up to my current ecology class, an introduction to GIS, and (the somewhat intimidating) Sedimentary Petrology. Stay tuned for all my wacky misadventures starting in January...

01 December 2006

Deck the Halls

I will never be one of those people that starts celebrating Christmas the minute the Thanksgiving dishes are off the table. That said, a few conversations I've had in the past week have convinced me that the old tradition that I'd slavishly followed my whole life of waiting until the 7th to break out the decorations, string up the lights, and switch my iTunes over to the "Christmas" playlist just didn't make any sense. So, weird as it seems, I'm ringing the season in now, at the beginning of Advent (which, if you follow the actual church calendar does not necessarily begin on the 1st, but I was never one to get hung up on church doctrines, to say the least). I may have changed the date, but I'm observing the event in the same way I do every year: staying up until midnight to listen to Duke Ellington's jazz Nutcracker. Yes, I lead a thrilling life. Make fun of me if you want. It won't bug me. It's Christmas!