Wednesday, June 27, 2007

the end of an era

I've worked at my place of employment for 19 years now. Yes, that many years (as an aside, how in the h*ll did that happen?). That's nineteen years, in case you need another reminder. Here's a picture of me at that place in which I spend such a big part of my life (taken today by gaochen simply because he noticed I had my camera at work).

I actually love this place. This is where I get to exercise my scientific creativity, learn something new every day, and be around some of the smartest people on the planet. I have the greatest job ever, in my oh so humble opinion.

For 17 of those years, one of those smartest people on the planet that I had the privilege to eat lunch with and talk with daily was my friend B. I was just a pup way back when B first came to work at **** with me. Mutual friend DF (who is still a dear friend now) and I helped B assimilate into life here in the southeast US way back when. From the beginning, B and I have never had an "only" work relationship - we hung out and were friends from the start. We would spend weekdays discussing atmospheric chemistry and dynamics and air quality and campaign issues and spend evenings and weekends going through pregnancies, adoptions, raising infants, toddlers, elementary-aged children, and all the assorted activities that come with being friends and extended family. Thanksgivings. Halloweens. Christmases. Birthdays. Children Starting school. Chemistry. Mechanisms. Publications.
On weekdays, we'd be at our computers and on weekends/evenings we'd be with our families - very often together. Our offices were always just a few doors away,and our houses were within a 1.5 minute walk. I don't know that there's anyone who is as assimilated into all aspects of my life as B is.

DH and I decided long ago that B and his wife K were the perfect choice to have in our wills as the family to care for the most precious things on this earth to us in the event of our deaths - our children. That should tell you how I feel about B personally. And at work, B is a superstar. He's one of the "names" in my field. He's a go-getter. He gets things done. He formed a formidable modeling team. He is the cream that rose to the top. I enjoy the comfort of having a close friend at work. I recognize the shuffle of his sandals as he walks down the hall. I like that I know what his reaction will be to almost any event. I know what music he likes and I know what he wants for his kids. I take enormous comfort in knowing that he is not only in my corner scientifically, but is my lifelong friend. We're not simply co-workers and we're not "just" family. We're a lot like siblings. We bicker and have our "moments," but I am incredibly protective of him and would do just about anything to help him out if he needed it.

Today was his last day at work with me. He's with NOAA now, and within a few days, he and his family will be living in Wisconsin.

There will be no more pulling the wagon down to the cul-de-sac full of pumpkins for our pumpkin-carving parties at Halloween or no more extended family get-togethers for holidays or impromptu spaghetti dinners on do-nothing days (well, not with B&K at least!! They'll still happen... You all know I don't believe in god but nevertheless god sent my family new neighbors that we adore at just the perfect time). No more traipsing down to B&K's house with a bottle wine for "Survivor" parties (in my pajamas noless, a few times). No more talks with B as we commute to work together. No more walks in the park as I angst about my career and he counsels me simultaneously as we marvel over the miracles that are our children. I'm going to miss him enormously.

(I haven't even written about B's wife K and the loss that I will feel there - that's just too hard to write about! or the loss that my children will feel. Lordy. Life sucks at the same time that it glows.)

As Dr. Suess said: Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

what day is it now?

Still here...

Life is crazy, but more so for my neighbors than for me. We're still in the midst of the Grand Month-long Send-off (tm) to my friends B&K. I know I am totally exhausted so I can't imagine how B&K feel, or neighbors M and family who are not only hosting B&K (and family and dogs) for a week before they leave, but are also hosting my family and assorted others who are taking full advantage of their kind natures and can't seem to leave them all alone.

I started the coffee going this morning, checked on daughter E's nose (which got whacked with a falling glass lid yesterday at summer camp...don't know if it's fractured or not), and went out to get the newspaper. On the front page there was a summary of some of the Supreme Court rulings from yesterday. I'm confused.

Judge Roberts wrote "We give the benefit of the doubt to speech, not censorship" in overruling the FEC's ban on pre-election ads (a right to life group in this case). Free speech rights take precedence over government restrictions on political advertising.

Then the next ruling I read about restricts student speech rights when the message seems to advocate illegal drug use. (By the way, Roberts ruled to restrict the kid's rights in this case).


I'm not advocating for drug use, and I certainly don't advocate for advertising illegal drugs to my kids. BUT. What gives? Free speech rocks and rules but only in certain cases?

I admit, I haven't read the cases thoroughly - only skimmed the headlines. But. I'm just sayin. It seems awfully hypocritical on the surface. If someone can explain it to me, I'd be appreciative.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

my brilliance

Am I brilliant, or what?
We gave DH a panini grill for Father's Day. So yesterday I had a tasty panini dinner made for me with goat cheese, fresh basil, garlic and scallions. I raved so much he got up early to make me one to take with me to work for my lunch today. He loves his panini grill. So do I!

Now how in the world do I follow that up with a birthday present? (which is tomorrow, ack!)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

my little ones

Can you find my two sweethearts in these photos?

Do you hear the celebrating? Baseball season is over!!!! (until the fall)

more on the scientific process

I'm continuing in the same vein of thought as my last post, but I'll try to be a little less obscure about my point.

Science can be maddening. Thomas Kuhn describes the evolution of science as long periods of "normal science" punctuated by major paradigm shifts (earth goes from flat to round, sun orbits the earth to planets orbit the sun, Newton's laws of motion to Einstein's theory of relativity). I see the normal periods as also sprinkled with countless little shifts in thinking but with orders of magnitude of less immediate significance.

Each little bump results in the worker bee scientists scuttling and scurrying around behind it to see how well it holds up. Only with time and intense scrutiny do the majority of scientists begin to congregate behind the bump, elevating it to a slightly larger bump. And so on. I tried to make the plot trend upwards to show increased understanding even between paradigm shifts, because that's how I think it works.

Myself, I find the entire evolution of the gain of scientific understanding fascinating. Everything is empirically driven (observation) and any theory we come up with must describe those observations. (Which, in atmospheric sciences, can seem frustratingly contradictory at times.) However, the public really doesn't care much about the evolution of these shifts in thinking. What is important to them is how the current "state" of science impacts their lives. (Are pesticides harmful to humans? Should we use asbestos? What do you do to stop infections?) Normally, science only makes it into the process of general public knowledge, and sometimes into policy-making once it has withstood a significant amount of testing.

Then along comes global warming, hand in hand with the age of the internet. This mix of direct impact on the environment (and lives) of the human population, political and economic implications, and the ability to communicate every wrinkle, every possible theory to massive numbers of the population is new. Because now, much of what makes it into the press for public consumption are these tiny little wiggles that have not been subjected to the rigorous testing. With the internet, anyone is able to cherry-pick the scientific studies and find the ones that support their pre-selected point of view to be offered up as "scientific evidence"... which results in a mess of convoluted contradictions, rendering the public frustrated and completely skeptical of science.

I want to state here that I am absolutely 100% behind the public questioning the science behind global warming. They SHOULD do that. (Just as they should question the decisions our government, our president, makes about foreign policy, etc. but that's another day...). I teach my kids that daily - to question what they hear. To ask themselves if it makes sense. What annoys the #@$@ out of me is folks who walk into the global warming debate and arm themselves with obscure and untested theories (those cherry-picked wiggles) to "prove" that global warming is a hoax. That is no longer questioning, but is manipulation.

We don't know what is going to happen with the climate tomorrow or in the next hundred years. We are working with the empirical evidence that we have and those theories which have undergone and withstood rigorous testing, and have come up with a consensus of what we (scientists) currently believe will happen to our climate (the IPCC reports are the best source for what this consensus currently is). Again, these reports cannot offer absolute proof. They never will. But there is an enormous amount of confidence by most scientists in that report. It's not a guess. It is full of rigorously tested theories, including mountains of empirical evidence. While it is interesting and fun to talk about the evolution of scientific thinking and how theories constantly change, it is important not to forget that science works. We have antibiotics. We have learned the importance of clean water. We have traveled to the moon. We have identified the ozone hole and CFCs as the likely culprits, have passed laws to restrict emissions of CFCs, and the most recent empirical evidence is that the hole is gradually "repairing."

There is some level of uncertainty in science, but we must remember to keep any uncertainty in perspective. We must weigh the repercussions of action versus inaction. We must never stop questioning, but must also not tolerate manipulation of science. (We must, we must, we must).
There are frighteningly important decisions out there that we have the responsibility of making. What we need is solid, thoughtful leadership that is immune to the influence of any company, any groups with special interests. We need to calm the hysteria and bickering and find solutions.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


The subject of this post is the result of three unrelated comments that I have either heard recently, or which have been made directly to me recently.

Two of them came from my mom's email list but I didn't feel that was the right forum for me to go all philosophical and wordy so I didn't address the comments there. In the first instance, one of the moms was involved in a discussion of mammograms and how a radiologist didn't like the look of something in her mother's x-rays despite it having all the signs and symptoms of being a cyst that is benign 99% of the time. It turned out the radiologist was correct to be concerned. Anyway, she closed her story with with
"I'll take intuition over science any day."

Another mom on my list (being a quizzical sort) referred to the Carl Sagan signature that is at the end of all my emails that reads: "
It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring." She noted my sig and simply asked:

And the last instance comes about because of my penchant for browsing through blogs of some very conservative people and trying to understand their positions on global warming. I do this for several reasons. Many of these people are quite intelligent and have some good questions. In my constant quest to remain open-minded, rather than dismiss their arguments, I enjoy thinking about them and trying to decide if they make me question my own beliefs. Unfortunately, most of these folks are also clearly not open to a rational discussion of the subject and would not be interested in hearing my viewpoint as a scientist working in the field (mostly because what I have learned does not mesh with what they'd like to hear). And because many of them can be downright rude, I'm not about to jump into the fire. (I'm not good at confrontation, believe it or not.) But I am intensely interested in the motivation and reasons for their beliefs. In any case, the comments on more than one blog I have been reading demand proof that climate change is being caused by humans. One of the recurring battle cries is essentially:
"No one has shown me the proof!"

Which all have led me to wax philosophical about what I think science is.

First, I can tell you what science is not. Science is certainly not statistics. Statistics are facts. Statistics are concrete. Science is much more malleable than that. Science is a constantly changing search for explanation. Science often uses statistics to guide thinking and to help search for causal relationships, but it is in no way limited to statistics. So when my first friend compared intuition to science, I think what she really meant was intuition versus statistics. Because intuition is, in fact, integral to science. And that is what has drawn me in from the beginning. I love the art of science. It is the perfect blend of logic and intuition. Science is not rigid. It seeks to shatter past-held beliefs rather than remain beholden to them. It has no bounds. It wants to expand and grow. It is not stagnant.

And that (kind of) leads to my next comment. For my fellow bloggers who are looking for "proof" of global warming - eh. No. That's not going to happen because that is not science. Strictly speaking, you can only "prove" that a theory is incorrect. It is only the absence of disproof which is compelling evidence that a theory is a good explanation of what we observe (and that does not equal "proof"). Compelling (usually empirical) evidence is as good as you're going to get in science. Science is not mathematics. It is not rigid. We can assign subjective degrees of reliability to various scientific theories, but that is the best we can do. In the case of global warming, there is a high degree of reliability placed on human emissions of carbon increasing the average surface temperature. We know this by examining empirical evidence such as signatures of carbon isoptopic ratios in tree rings and ice cores that strongly suggest the dramatic rise in CO2 over the last 150 years or so is due to burning fossil fuels. (Click here if you're interested in discussion of this). No real scientist will be able to "prove" that the increase in CO2 and associated global warming is due to humans. But ~99% of scientists believe that it is so.

As an aside, I find it a little interesting how this description of science reflects the debate over the existence of God. I do not believe you can offer up any absolute "proof" of God, either. Yet, while I am comfortable with the fact that scientific theory cannot be supported by "proof", I am uncomfortable with the fact that God cannot be supported by proof. I reconcile this by the argument of reasonable and reliable evidence. Scientific theories can be supported by evidence that I find compelling. God cannot be supported by evidence that I find compelling. (shrug). In the big scheme of things we have a level of "unknowable" that we all eventually reach. We can ascribe that to "God", or we can ascribe it to something as simply unknowable. Whether there is a material difference in what we assign as definitions is a matter of personal decision.

And then there is my friend who asked "Why" to one of my favorite Sagan quotes.
It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.
It's a good question. Is delusion or pretension such a bad thing? Is it harmful or immoral? There are certainly cases where it is hurtful, I think, but it's not a universal truth that it is. However, I can only answer for myself. I believe delusion and pretension is very, very limiting. I believe the search for truth - the search for explanation (which is my definition of science) is what blows apart the boundaries that we set for ourselves. It's only when we are willing to open ourselves up to the infinite possibilities of "truth" that we don't yet understand that we can experience a fullness to life. Granted, that's not what all of us want. This isn't a "right" or "wrong" explanation. It's just what works for me.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The saga of the rodents, Part deux

Since it was a teacher workday yesterday, the kids didn't have school. Several of us neighborhood moms wanted to do something fun with the kids, and as it was approximately 100 degrees outside, we quickly nixed any suggestions of outdoor activities. We ended up taking several vanloads of children to see Pirates 3 at the local movie theater. The movie itself was ok (very LONG) and we are now all working on convincing our husbands to wear bandannas and earrings. Orlando Bloom and Johnny Depp are hot. Anyway, I digress. The kids certainly enjoyed being together in the theater, whether they loved the movie or not. They spread out and took up the whole back row of seats and munched out on popcorn. Afterwards, we weren't ready for the party to end so we bought the makings for Sundaes and all came over to my house for ice cream and wine. (I'll let you sort out who got which treat). E was away at a birthday party during all these festivities.

So in the midst of eating ice cream and drinking wine and sharing spousal secrets with one another (our husbands just looove it when we do that) one of the little girls came in my front door with her hamster in a little carry-cage. I was oohing and awing over it and suggested "Here, Z...let me show you E's hamster." So I took her to the uber-awesome hamster's cage in E's room to show her Ruby the hamster. I poked around a little, because Ruby likes to bury herself under the bedding during the day. "Um...she's not up in her sleeping area. Hmm. She's not in the little log. Huh. She's...." And then I saw the opening in the top of the cage. Without the little plastic cover insert. And Ruby was not in the cage.

Being the dramatic sort I am, I went to interrupt the grown ups' party to make the grand announcement that there was an escapee in the house and could someone please let Sammy the Great Hunter outside and someone put Roxy the Excitable into her crate?
Then I looked over and saw friend M's face.
M reads my blog. She'd read the blog entry from yesterday (which until that moment, I'd forgotten about). And for a few seconds as we stared at each other in horror, I realized I had just launched myself full into the running for the Worst.Mom.Ever. And thus commenced the tasks of pulling out drawers, peeking under beds, inside clothes hampers and under furniture. (The party moved next door. Nothing like an errant rodent to take the sparkle out of a party.) I could not bring myself to go look in the vacuum bag. DH took on the task of filling E in on what happened when she got home. (Didn't bring up the whole vacuum incident though).

To spoil the anticipation, I'll let you in on the ending early. Ruby was found - alive - and not in the vacuum bag. DH heard her rummaging around in the kitchen about 2 am. Thank HEAVENS. With a broomstick and some juggling maneuvers, he had her back in the completely closed up uber-awesome cage by the time we all woke up. I cannot tell you how happy I am about the outcome, though there's a little part of myself that thinks that it certainly would have made for some entertaining blogging. Or not. It would have been hard to blog from the van as I am certain that as the Worst.Mom.Ever, I would have been banned there for at least a few months.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

cat and mouse

"The Great Hunter" lives in my house, and is otherwise known as "Sammy" or "Sammy Sosa" or "Sammy Kitty." For the last several days, I have found him sitting smack in the middle of my kitchen, haunches not quite on the floor, a slight tail tic going (just at the tip), and eyes unwaveringly set on the space under my oven.

So this morning, the kids and I found him in his ready position again, and I grabbed a flashlight to check it out. Unfortunately, there was too much dog hair (yuck) under the oven to get a good look. So I pulled out the vacuum cleaner to give it a quick cleaning. (I am not so swift until my 3rd cup of coffee has been completed, no?).

So with the kids happily eating their waffles over at the table, I stuck the hose under the oven and turned it on. After just a few seconds, I heard and felt a small "thump." And thus commenced the shrieking and the leaping and the burying of the head in the sofa (which is WAY across the room). I ordered the kids to look under the oven to see if the bottle tops I'd spied earlier were still there. (yup.)

Ick. Ick. Ick.

I pulled out the vacuum filter and Q thought the, um (let me find the correct and PC way to say this)...stain...on the bag was quite telling. I steeled myself and promptly carried it to the garbage cans outside. No, I did not look inside of the bag. Not even almost.

So far, Sammy has been sleeping on his favorite spot on the back of the couch all day, at peace once again.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

a break in the web

It's time for some good old blog therapy now. Part of the reason I started this blog was for personal therapeutic purposes. Which might also be defined by some as "whining", but I feel better saying "personal therapeutic purposes."

I have several compartments to my life: work, family, friends, church, school, etc. I've noticed that while they are apparently entirely separate on the surface, things seem to either be going well in most of them or really crappy in most of them. I've had a few pretty good weeks. The skids were greased, I was productive, and having a good time. But over the course of the last few days, the compartments have been dropping like flies. People not following through on their promises, mistakes and pressure, disappointment, hurt (smooshed) feelings... I'm getting pelted one by one and woke up with a knot in my stomach and a general feeling of being totally pissed off and ready to cry all at once. So I was driving up to UU this morning to teach a class I really didn't feel like teaching and feeling very sorry for myself because I am so horribly abused and unwanted and mistreated, you see.

I see myself standing here holding the ends to all the threads of my life, trying to carefully orchestrate, and they start snapping one by one. Why is that? The threads are all independent. There's no way one thread snapping can affect the others except for the one common factor which is myself. And I wonder if it is only that my perception of things is being skewed lower and lower with each break so that relatively minor disturbances end up snapping the remaining threads, or if I'm in fact sabotaging myself - setting myself up for disappointment and hurt feelings? Makes you wonder. Of course, it may be that it's entirely coincidental. Who knows.
Plus, I still like to hold tight to that illusion that I, in fact, do have some control over my life so the snapped threads are also a reminder to me that I must have somehow screwed up somewhere.

Whatever the case, none of these things are really important enough in the big scheme of things to leave me lost and sobbing and holding a bunch of broken threads. So writing this out is the first stitch toward weaving them back together and getting back at the reigns.

And let's hope the next time things start to pummel me from all sides that I'm not feeling quite so, um, metaphoric(?)...