Monday, March 24, 2008

international incident schmincident

Alrighty then.

The engines are revving up at work. Our field campaign is already starting to unfold, with the planes out in California for the instrument uploading and test flights. I'll take off for Alaska in about 10 days to join them all out there. My co-workers are getting slightly stressed. Today, WB, who is more or less running this whole show, came in to my office to make sure I was ready to run some of the visualization tools during flight planning.
Me: "Do what?"
Him: (stare).
Me: "ok, got it."
Apparently, the approach here is to nod and remain calm and pretend that I knew all along what I was meant to be doing. He apologized later for being harried. "You're not much hairier than usual" I responded. He didn't even flinch. He's stressed.

All was fine until he started describing the report I would draw up for the navigator after each planning meeting (almost daily).
Me: "The navigator, as in a pilot?"
Him: "Yes."
Me:"Are you telling me I am going to be responsible for telling the plane where we want it to be FLYING?"
Him: (smile)
Me: (thinking): Holy CR*P!!

My mom and I had a good rip-roaring laugh over this one. When you hear of the international incident where a government research plane blunders over into Russian air space or runs out of fuel over the arctic ice pack, imagine me in all my insecurity putting together a job resume. I knit, remember.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

don't even try to dissect this

Here's my dream from last night.

The setting was outdoors in bleachers, kind of like this:

(Yes I spent time searching the web for the "right" bleachers. It was important to the dream). We were all sitting in a group on the left side, waiting. I was with the Red Sox. (yep). Apparently, I was selected to be in some kind of group to try out. There was first going to be an exhibition game that the Sox played, in which some of us would be called in to show our stuff. I did not expect that I would be in this elite group of wannabes. Afterwards, however, we were going to practice with them, using the (Dah Dah Dah DAAAAAH) Kite Four. (Everyone was dutifully impressed that we were going to have that opportunity. I was then, as I am now, totally clueless). So, the real Red Sox players were hanging out together at the bottom of the bleachers while I was sitting toward the back with the rest of the newbies. There were, oh I don't know - some people from work, some friends, and several that I didn't know. The only exchange I remember was with someone I know from work who joked with me about being there to gawk. I was HIGHLY miffed. "I'm Trying OUT!!!" I retorted in my most patronizing fashion, effectively shutting her up for the rest of the night. (This bit was entirely consistent with my relationship with this person).

The thing was, though, that we sat there a long time. We were all getting restless. And I had to pee. I knew that I wasn't going to be called into the game because I wasn't good enough, but I did NOT want to miss practice with the (Dah Dah Dah DAAAAH) Kite Four. But I really really had to pee. I finally jumped up and threw off my shoes (apparently this is what you do in my personal dreamworld when you have to pee) and ran to the bathroom. Of course, when I got back, the game was over and the team and all the newbies had left for (Dah Dah Dah DAHHH) Kite Four practice.

At this point, I was all anxiety and confusion and frustration as I tried to find my shoes and socks to start to search out the rest of the team. I couldn't find my socks. Anywhere. I went running barefoot through the grass looking for the group. I finally found them (The real Red Sox, that is). I remember running up behind Mike Lowell and noticing that he had this nifty socks carrier on his back, under his shirt, as did the rest of the team. "AH!! I thought. So THAT'S why they never lose their socks!!!!

Friday, March 21, 2008


Check out this story.
The explosion of a star halfway across the universe was so huge it set a record for the most distant object that could be seen on Earth by the naked eye.
It's not so much the distance that amazes me: 7.5 billion light years, which is roughly 4.4 x 10(22) miles (I can't figure out how to do superscript). That's ~4 with 22 zeros at the end of it, way further than anything else we can claim to have seen on this earth as we gaze up at the black night sky. Once you get into distances much larger than the diameter of the earth, my brain can't handle the thought of it, so that many light years simply registers as "damn BIG." No, the thing that really boggles my mind is this:
However, NASA has no reports that any skywatchers spotted the burst, which lasted less than an hour.
For the love of Pete. A star exploded halfway across the universe - in a galaxy we didn't even know existed before - and the light from this unfathomable violence traveled for 7.5 billion years to reach our little planet and then this mind boggling event was over in less than an hour? That's beyond my comprehension. I don't know how else to say it. It's jaw-dropping amazing.
There's something almost terrifying about such magnitudes of violence being instantaneous.

Meanwhile, I was oblivious to the whole mysterious happening. I was watching the cardinals and chickadees at our bird feeder. I find it beautiful that the universe is big enough to allow such isolation.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

OM update

From Friday's post, you may have gotten the impression that I was worried about Q's OM team and their competition Saturday:
After I witnessed an impromptu psychotherapy session amongst some very stressed out middle schoolers in which they simultaneously tried to convince each other to stay team players while making farting noises, I snuck up to Mr. Drama teacher and asked if they were going to crash and burn tomorrow during the competition. "Maybe." he said. "Or maybe they won't."
Well for heaven's sake.

In the set-up room at the competition, the kids were tired and unenthusiastic and nervous. They couldn't remember any of their lines, and their coach just couldn't get them motivated.

But never underestimate the abilities of a small group of talented, overachieving preteens. When it was their turn and they had the stage, a freakin' miracle happened. They were on FIRE. The quiet ones started projecting, the storyline flowed, the set changes were flawless, the exploding dinosaur brain was perfect, and they were absolutely hilareous!! They ended up with the highest score out of the 9 in their category for both their long performance and their style (costumes, set design). For those not familiar with OM, the team of kids had to do EVERYTHING themselves. The coach can give instructions and facilitate, but the ideas, the entire script, costumes, set, everything is purely the kids. (BTW the storyline - they had to explain the demise of the dinosaurs. Their heads exploded from taking the SOLs - standards of learning tests. "Apparently, the stress was too much for them." LOL)

They didn't do so great on their spontaneous portion, meaning they ended up in 2nd place overall instead of 1st (beat out by 8 points out of 350). Who knew? This is a first-year team, almost all 6th graders. I couldn't believe how they came together like that.

Yes, I had tears in my eyes watching the screaming, jumping up and down group of them run up to get their trophy. I haven't seen a smile like that on Q's face in a while. What an awesome team-building experience that was. I'm sold on Odyssey of the Mind, despite the enormous time commitment. (Gah). Q is already asking about next year.

Friday, March 14, 2008

the snowball to hell

Doesn't it feel like that certain days just have worse karma than others? I'm not talking major, life-changing events. I'm talking about a simple accumulation of annoyances. You start with a stubbed toe and from there on out, things go downhill until you run the car into the ditch and respond "but of Course!!" This is all illustrative. No, I did not run my car into the ditch. The day, however, is not yet over.

We're all happy just now. The four children in my house (yes only two are legally mine) are watching a coveted show on Disney, half of them bathed and clean and sweet-smelling (the two preteen males, oddly enough), and all of them are blissfully downing dippin' dots. I made them all chant the mantra that I was the most awesomest mom of all time, or the most awesomest mom OTHER than their own mom of all time, before I let them have any.

From my credit card being denied at the grocery store this morning, to getting the threatening letter that my condominium was under-insured (no, we do not, nor have ever owned, rented, or contemplated a condominium), to getting an email at work demanding to know where I intended to get the 33K to fund a student this year (WTF???? I never even TALKED to any students about applying for any fellowship to be funded by me, nor do I have any extra money to fund one), to the fact that during our PTA Reflections awards ceremony today, the ONE kid who had their name misspelled on the certificate belonged to the ONE mom who'd had complaints about the way we'd handled the program this year (of all the sucky luck), to my DOG being the one that ultimately enjoyed the pizza that I'd painstakingly custom-made for the four picky kids with various combinations of lovingly chopped spinach and sliced black olives and slices of turkey's been one blasted irritation after another.

When I picked my daughter and her BFF up from school, they both launched into long stories (simultaneously) about why they both ended up crying during recess and how my sweet daughter E irritated her wonderful teacher into getting all snarky with her today, and how BFF C was in tears all day over the thought of her mom and dad being gone ALL weekend, and then so-and-so pulled her hair and stomped on her foot. Gracious. There is bad karma in the air.

Q had an Odyssey of the Mind rehearsal after school and when I stopped by, it was freakin' soap-opera central. Boy M decided everyone else SUCKED so he wasn't going to even GO to the contest tomorrow, and he STORMED off into the deep netherlands of the middle school in a funk where no one could find him for a while. Dinosaur tails kept knocking over props (and breaking them) and the huge backdrop on the fancy swivel that Q and best friend R designed wouldn't fit through the door so it had to be cut, rendering its balance way off, resulting in a back drop that will require constant supervision (from nutso kids of course.) The exploding brain of the dinosaur is not working, and no one remembered to make the CD for the sound effects. After I witnessed an impromptu psychotherapy session amongst some very stressed out middle schoolers in which they simultaneously tried to convince each other to stay team players while making farting noises, I snuck up to Mr. Drama teacher and asked if they were going to crash and burn tomorrow during the competition. "Maybe." he said. "Or maybe they won't." Thanks, Mr. Drama teacher. (I snuck a semi-large contribution to the drama club to him as he walked by).

I swear I keep vowing to lay off the wine. Then days like this come along and I find myself at the store with a couple of bottles (and nothing else) at check-out. When I run into friend Paige, who asks me why I'm spending my Friday night shopping, I hold up the bag with two lone bottles of Cabernet and she understands. "Oh yeah, Yep. Gottcha." (she has kids too).

Sunday, March 09, 2008


Any scientist who reads this post will likely roll his/her eyes at the naivity and shallowness and the gross "duh" factor. Forgive me. My middle name is Pollianna. Whatever. Plus, this blog is my personal journal as a way to stay in touch with my family and friends, rather than a science-based blog, as many of yours are. You and your blogs are needed and I thank you. I'm just an everyday kid working as a scientist but mostly working on being human and blogging about the journey, so I'm coming at it more as an individual and less from the science perspective. Not that interesting for you, but hopefully OK for my 1-8 readers. Any non-scientist will wonder what I'm going on and on about. Any global warming denialist will simply not believe me (as is the norm). Bear with me. I just need to get this out, and then I'm done with this.

I've not written many recent posts about global warming. This is because it exhausts me . I have still felt compelled to discuss the (ridiculously recycled) issues that continue to appear and reappear amongst the ardent crowd of folks who do not believe that global warming or climate change is occurring (I give myself permission to grossly generalize this group of people here for the sake of brevity. What shall I call them? "Deniers?"). Ultimately, what a waste of energy. This is a very small (albeit very vocal) minority on the global scale, and the per capita energy expenditure required to communicate with them tops out because I have found that they are persistently unwilling to engage in any kind of civil discussion...And that is what I have been unwilling to admit until now, and why I am so exhausted by this subject. Oh naivety. I had this ridiculous optimism that given enough perseverance and decency, civil discussion would ensue and understanding would blossom throughout the world. Silly, silly me. So much for us all holding hands and singing Kum-by-yah (my second reference to that song in just a few weeks...I have no idea why).

I would be more than happy to listen to ideas and concerns and partake in a civil discussion, and in fact view that as part of my job. I'm willing to do my part. In fact, I've spent a lot of time reading through the litany of "issues" with the research that are repeated around the blogosphere amongst this crowd and spending time finding reasoned responses to the more credible sounding arguments. (I can take a guess as how many of the "Deniers" have spent a comparable amount of time reading up on the published and peer-reviewed research that supports human-caused climate change. The number is tiny.) You give me any denialist "news item" or any "new finding" (ha), and I dare say I will be able to give you a reasoned, credible argument based in scientific study to show the flaws in such finding, or show you the blatant misrepresentation of data to come up with the findings. It's REALLY not hard. It is, however, time-consuming because I try to come at it with a clean slate and open mind, but that is ultimately ridiculous because no one is going to listen to me.

Here's the real problem. These folks aren't total idiots. They are, however, unwilling to open up and listen, and this is ultimately because they view climate science as having a political agenda. I can partially understand their point, though they are completely wrong. Yes, a large portion of PhDs and research folks are of the liberal persuasion on the political scale, and a large portion of the deniers are very, very right-wing conservative. I can understand the skepticism.

But here's the rub. Science itself is not political. (duh) It's really not. Despite political leanings, despite economic status or gender or race, the scientists I know (and I know a lot of them) are totally focused on finding out how things work. We are trained to look for flaws in any argument. When I have a paper to review, I try to find the chinks in the armor. I feel successful if I do find one. I won an award for a paper where I corrected some flawed arguments that had been published earlier. Science is absolutely relentless - to portray scientists as blindly following a political agenda and participating in any kind of conspiracy is so absurd that I have no words. I have never known a more diversified, more argumentative, or more open-minded crowd than scientists. To characterize scientists as collectively bowing to any overarching agenda, much less a vast conspiracy, or to politicize science completely misrepresents its entire definition.

In addition, I have to say that I work at a research institution where there are probably more researchers on the politically conservative side than not (it's not typical). Yet not a single one of them doubts climate change. This is because when you strip the issue of political colors and are willing to really study the science involved, it is overwhelming. Science is not a matter of interpretation. It is what it is.

But the deniers have decided to believe otherwise, and no amount of energy that I can expend is going to convince them that this is not the case. That totally sucks, and I have decided that it is not worth my time or energy to continue in this. There are some great scientists out there who are good at this (some of which are in my blogroll). But I'm don't have the energy.

It's so much more useful to spend my energy discussing and debating responses to the changing climate, or discussing aspects of the economic impacts of various courses of action and find ways to mitigate adverse impacts (no, I am not ignorant of the possible economic shockwaves that could resonate across the globe if we act drastically and without thinking). I'd prefer a vigorous debate over new energy sources. I'd mostly prefer to discuss aspects of my own research (understanding fast photochemistry in today's atmosphere based on regional observations from aircraft campaigns), but the number of people who would find THAT compelling are - uh - somewhat limited.

I guess I'm crying uncle. I thought there was a place to meet where open dialogue could occur with these folks. I was wrong. Maybe the right answer is to admit to myself there will always be a contingent that will persist in believing that science is really only a political tool, and move on. There will always be that component that will persist in convincing themselves that the world is being duped by a vast conspiracy, and that they are ultimately the only ones with enough fortitude and intelligence to know otherwise. How ironic that those who claim that they are the special few who are smarter than and are above the general "hoodwinked gullible" public are really only those who are the most closed-minded, the most misled, and the most deluded.

Monday, March 03, 2008

my baby's growing up...

...and I'm having trouble letting go.

And no, this is not Q or E, but it is "my" PTA that is moving on. We announced the slate of officers for next year at our meeting tonight, and for the first time in 5 years, I am NOT on the list. I was well-groomed for president. I chaired the by-laws committee one year, where we had to revamp our bylaws, meaning, I actually read the things and understand them. I was treasurer for two years, meaning I have a good understanding not only of where our money goes, but of the timing for most programs. I was Council Rep for one year, meaning I learned the workings of the PTA above our local level. And while I'm the first to admit that saying "my" PTA is really funny, because I actually do very little of the real work, I do feel some pride in the fact that I facilitate things. My job as president was to plug people into the right slots. And based on this year, I do think I did an excellent job of that. Because, basically, we rock.

I physically felt an enormous weight lift off my shoulders when the meeting was done tonight and I was not on the chopping block for an officer position. On the other hand, I did feel wistful and more than a little left out. We started off this year a very wounded PTA. We've rebounded. We have about 4x the number of people that regularly show up for meetings this year as we did last year (don't be TOO impressed - we went from 5 to 20). We made so much more money than we'd budgeted for at our winter carnival and our first ever silent auction that we were able to CANCEL our catalogue spring fund raiser. We have the most awesome newsletter in the district (and the state, I think - I'm submitting it for an award), and we are just ridiculous about loving each other. We're having a Cinco de Mayo party in May instead of a regular meeting so we can hang out and continue to foster friendships and brainstorm ideas for next year. I'm hoping we form a circle and sing kum-by-yah. It might just happen.

Seriously, I'm really proud of this year. We healed a lot of wounds and people are having fun.

I DID consider the option of staying on again for another year. I really, actually did. But I hung tough. I need next year to be for my family. My sweet son is in the middle of puberty and middle school, and I need to be there for him. My daughter thinks she doesn't need me, but I obviously need to don my super sensitive mommy-glasses for this one. She's confident enough in herself to be totally dangerous. My husband.... huh. Do I have a husband? Oh yes, I do!!! I need to learn to be a partner again. Next year is going to be all about me and my sweethearts. Oh and yeah. I'm also Principal Investigator on a research investigation to study climate change in the Arctic. Meaning, I have a lot of work to do. I have thesis committees to serve on and papers to write and programs to code and data to merge and field campaigns to go on. I actually have WORK to do.

My gut confirms that 5 years on the PTA board is enough. So I'm happy with the choice I made.

But regardless of that, I have to admit that it's very difficult for us type A balls o' stress to pass along an entire organization to someone else (even when that someone else is a friend). It's a good board (particularly because dear neighbor M is going to be a VP!!). I AM going to have to work very very hard on not shoving unsolicited advice down the new board's throats. Because I have very concrete ideas about the way things should be done. And some of those are right (maybe even most) but I have actually been known to be wrong before, believe it or not. And ultimately, I'm done with the board. It's not my game anymore. Hallelujah and sob sob sob.

Next year's board claims they'll have me on speed dial, and that's ok with me. I just hope they call.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

en vogue charity

Well. I just spent the last hour lounging on the couch with my glass of Cabernet whilst watching "The Big Give" in a mixed state of horror and fascination. I was aghast enough that part of my brain demanded that I get up and turn the TV off, but ultimately, I was curious enough (and tired enough) to just veg there and ride that ride out to the end to see what it was all about.

"The Big Give" is Oprah's latest venture in which she has made a game show out of charity. Ten contestants were selected to participate, and are run through weekly tests whereby they must address a person or case in need. They are judged on their execution, and one contestant is eliminated each week. Unknown to the contestants, the last person remaining, the winner, will receive one million dollars. Now, I'm normally a somewhat passive fan of Oprah's. She, of course lives in a world that 99.999% of us will never come close to occupying or understanding (e.g., who among us can afford *any* of the great items in her "What I love" section from her magazine?), and she has made a business out of being a "good" person. That's certainly several moral steps up from making a business of exposing fake(ish) love triangles and airing "My baby's father had an affair with my best friend's mother" to milk the worst of human curiosity in a Jerry Springer ilk. So that's a move in the positive direction.

But she's made a business of charity, right or wrong as that may be. Eh. Pros are that with her considerable popularity, there is the potential of encouraging enough of us with resources to get up off our bums and couches to try to make a real difference in the world. Cons are that, well, she's made a BUSINESS of it. It's entertainment and the reality of charity is cheapened with that spin on it. And this latest show is the ugliest side of that. There are winners and losers here, and contestants are judged on how creatively and how effectively they "give."

When did charity become a contest? It's like the worst of High School social competition gone haywire. It's the worst of PC, gone right over the edge. "I give X dollars a month to such and such charities online to pay for the guilt I sometimes feel for being born into a world of privilege, so I have paid my debt." (A little cynical I am, you THINK?)

The blatant product placement/advertising that was evident throughout the whole show made me nauseous. How could they (they = big corporation) pass this opportunity up? Here's a chance for an "OPRAH" endorsement for the price of oh, $50,000.00, given, noless, to an injured serviceman! Look how great we are!!! Mere pennies for these companies, and all gift-wrapped under the guise of Oprah's generosity. A totally strong business decision.

I don't know what to make of this. It all seems so horribly phony. Yet, part of my brain woodpeckers me into wondering: do phony intentions even matter if ultimately, charity is taking place? This is obviously a case in which charity is made to be "en vogue" within the guise of entertainment. So if good works are being done, and if more are being inspired, should I care under what pretenses this occurs?

I'm just left with a nasty taste in my mouth. Oh Oprah. You have so much money and I believed so much in your potential. To make a reality show out of being a good person just makes me want to weep. This is just too much.