31 December 2007


It's New Years Eve, and like many people, I enjoy looking back on the old year before ringing in the new. Because I like dealing in superlatives, here's my recap of 2007 in a "best of" format.


Best Accomplishment: Getting my MSc. Despite doing all the work for it in 2005 and 2006, I officially got my masters degree this February. Not only was it nice to see the fulfillment of my work in Bristol, but I got to return to England for the graduation, a trip that in and of itself was one of the year's highlight
s. Honorary mention: SVP poster, acceptance into Analytical Paleobiology course, winning Thomas Condon award.

Best Trip: England. This one's a no-brainer. Not only was it nice to be reunited with the Bristol palaeontology cohort, but I spent an excellent few days in Wiltshire and Oxfordshire. Museums in Oxford, ruins in Avebury, scenery in the Cotswolds, and jaw-dropping architecture at Blenheim Palace; all told, it was one of the most worthwhile weeks of my life. Honorable mention: Southern Oregon, Austin.

Best Port of Call During my Nomadic Summer: Santa Barbara. I could never afford to live there full-time (half a summer there pretty effectively bankrupted
me), but there are few cities on Earth more lovely and better-located than Santa Barbara. Good wine, too. Honorable mention: Bay Area, John Day Country.

Best Wildlife Sighting: Blue whales in Santa Barbara Channel. It's hard to beat seeing the largest animal on Earth, and we had rare Risso's dolphins and a school of ocean sunfish thrown into the bargain. Honorable mention: California condor over the Big Sur, rattlesnakes and scorpions in eastern Oregon.

Biggest News Stories in...

Oregon: Passage of Measure 49. Oregon voters proved that they still have at least some foresight by re-establishing land use controls that had been largely repealed by an earlier initiative. It sounds boring enough, but it helps preserve the state's incomparable scenery from wholesale development. Honorable mention: Winter storm.

Science: Public perception of science. The good news: the Bush administration finally (and apparently unwillingly) recognized that anthropogenic climate change is real and public opinion on the matter seems to have shifted in favor of action. The bad news: public understanding of science in the US remains abysmal, exemplified by the success of Kentucky's new (and very well funded) Creation Museum. Honorable mention: reprogramming of cells to behave as stem cells.

Paleontology: Ice age meteorite. I may be biased because a researcher from the U of O was in on this study, but the notion of an extraterrestrial impact triggering the most recent ice age is an interesting one, and the evidence at hand seems to support it fairly well. Honorable mention: sequencing of DNA from Tyrannosaurus and a mastodon.

Sports: Fiesta Bowl. It happened all of one day into 2007, but people are still calling it the best football game ever played. I always enjoy a good David-over-Goliath type victory, and the game was made all the sweeter by the underdog (Boise State) being relatively local and the favorite (Oklahoma) being one of the most universally despised teams in college sports. Honorable mention: the Colorado Rockies' improbable World Series run.

In Memoriam

No recap of 2007 would be complete without acknowledging the loss of two of the greatest teachers I have ever had: Paul Raymond and Floyd Standifer. Paul was an advocate of social responsibility and civil disobedience who practiced what he preached, and he is the reason that I and several of my classmates traveled to El Salvador in 1999 to observe that country's national elections (an experience that taught me a great deal more about democracy than any US election ever could). Floyd was a Seattle jazz legend and will rightly be remembered as such, but he was also the leader of the Northwest School jazz ensemble, in which I played for seven years. I will forever be indebted to him for taking a chance on a scrawny young trombonist and subsequently teaching me most of what I know about music. It may be a little late now, but thanks to both of you.

It's had its ups and it's had its downs, but on the whole, my '007 was both productive and enjoyable. I hope yours were as well, and may your '008s be even better! Happy New Year!

25 December 2007

Merry Christmas!

"It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!"

-Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

05 December 2007

Dreaming of a Gray, Soggy Christmas

One of my favorite about-faces in history occurred just over two hundred years ago and is revealed in the journals of Lewis and Clark. After two years of slogging their way across some of the most inhospitable terrain in North America, they had finally reached the Pacific Ocean, a feat that many had thought impossible. On November 7th, 1805, Clark expressed the elation felt by the entire expedition in the most famous phrase he ever penned: "Ocian in view! O! the joy!" A few days later, the realities of a Northwest winter (and a particularly wet one, at that) had set in, prompting a drenched Clark to exclaim, "O how horrible is the day!" Lewis and Clark were among the first to record their complaints about Northwest rain for posterity, but they have certainly not been the last. I have always argued that gray skies and steady rain are vastly preferable to snow as winter weather, with of my central points being that water is generally much more disruptive to daily life in solid form than as a liquid; I can understand how people might get depressed by the lack of sunshine and might want to dry out, but rain (with the obvious exception of hurricanes) usually doesn't shut down cities the way a snowstorm does. The key word in that last sentence is 'usually.' Last weekend, nature chalked up another big victory in its ongoing struggle against mankind by drenching the Northwest with a truly impressive rainstorm. Here in Eugene, the rain began to fall in earnest at exactly the moment Oregon State beat Oregon in double overtime (Coincidence? I think not...) and continued unabated until some time Monday night. This wasn't your typical Northwest drizzle, either. These were torrential, Noachian rains made all the worse by 100+ mile per hour winds on the coast. The results have been spectacular. Highways and railroads across the region are flooded, including Interstate 5, the region's main artery. The logging town of Vernonia was first cut off from the outside world by landslides and then had to be evacuated by National Guardsmen in inflatable rafts. The world's tallest Sitka spruce is now a great deal shorter, and I think I speak for most people here when I say I'm skeptical that my house and yard will ever be dry again. For anyone who thinks I'm exaggerating, I suggest you check out The Oregonian's excellent photo gallery of the storm. After all this, though, I'm still sticking to my guns: give me a rainstorm over a blizzard any day!