rebeccmeister: (cricket)
Today, let me tell you about my friend SB*. I got to know SB during my early years of graduate school - she had a position as a research professor and collaborated with my advisor on some ant and bee projects while her husband wrapped up his PhD in mathematical biology. During my first couple of years of grad school, her office was around the corner, so we interacted on a near-daily basis. One of SB's big jobs was running a program to encourage minority participation in research, and she is perfect for that kind of job because she's incredibly skilled at setting up safe environments that encourage open and honest dialogue among people (you'll notice, for instance, that she always refers to significant others as "partners"). So I also knew SB through this role, as she facilitated some of the undergraduate research participation in our lab.

When we became friends, she was going through a particularly rough stage of her academic transition. She and her husband have the classic "two-body" problem, and her husband's an especially interesting character with particular needs and inclinations (some might label him "eccentric," but I would label him "awesome, unconventional, interesting, and inspiring"; a tad bit more about that below). I think she spent something like 3 solid years on the job market, interviewing at multiple institutions and turning down somewhere around 6 really good job offers in the process of identifying the right fit. There was one point in the midst of the interviewing season where she showed me a copy of her monthly travel calendar, where almost every single day was streaked with highlighter indicating that either she or her husband were traveling somewhere. It was insane. There were only two days in that entire month where both of them would be at home together with their four-year-old daughter.

Eventually, SB and R wound up heading to Washington, DC for a year while he completed a postdoctoral fellowship, and eventually after that, they both FINALLY landed jobs at an institution that seemed satisfactory for both of them, in Canada, where SB is from (R is from Arizona but is an all-climate, all-terrain animal). Unsurprisingly, SB has been tremendously successful there. A year or two after she and R started their jobs, 3.5 years into my PhD, SB joined a group of us on an expedition to Portland, New South Wales, Australia, to work on a project studying solitary and communal sweat bees. We spent that month of December sharing a bunkbed in a rickety cabin in a camper park by the ocean, while collecting the ground-nesting sweat bees, which we put into observation nests for experimental work.

The trip was an important counterpoint to many of my other graduate school experiences - only myself and one other grad student from my lab were there, along with three faculty members, one from France, one from Canada, and one from the U.S. Personal attention from faculty, all day, every day! Being in close contact with these three taught me some powerful lessons - PK had been studying the sweat bees for 20 years, and provided expertise about the system of study, so she made it possible to hit the ground running. Lesson: have good knowledge of your study system, either through your own direct observation or through collaboration with an expert. RJ brought an incredible work ethic: work hard, process and analyze your data ASAP (don't leave it sitting!), maintain good cleanliness standards in your workspace. SB brought attention to logistics: plan out the experiments and experimental design carefully, and be wise about how you budget your time - your time is precious and valuable. She had to do this because she had to work on writing grants AND on the Australia project at the same time. She would often get up at the crack of dawn so she could have a cup of tea and spend an hour or two writing.

But in that time SB was also good about asking difficult questions and listening, in particular about how to handle the delicate interpersonal politics involved in assembling a dissertation. I look up to her as a mentor in that regard, still. She's the kind of mentor who allows others to be human beings, not work-robots, is open-minded and non-judgmental, and consistently encouraging. I relied on her perspective and judgment as a source of encouragement during many of the low periods of my dissertation-making experience.

She also gave me my first bike trailer, after her daughter got too big for it and she and family moved away from Tempe. The bike trailer was world-changing on a practical level.

During her visit yesterday, it was interesting to be reminded that I've been able to give her gifts in return as well over the years. I had completely and utterly forgotten that I brought her back a caribiner mug from Seattle at around the time I gave one to my father. She says she still has it and uses it regularly, and thinks of me! Her mug must be at least 10 years old by now (meanwhile, I'm on my third such mug, having lost two predecessors). When we were in Australia, we'd also had conversations about fitness. Given her longstanding interest in paddle sports (she once spent several months kayaking around Hudson bay), I suggested she look into a rowing machine. Somewhat to my surprise, she did, and used it to climb her way back to a healthy, fit lifestyle (she now runs to work - a 5k. Interestingly, her partner RG cycles and canoes to work, up until he's no longer able to sled and bash his way into the water in the winter).

I think of her often, too, because she also studies crickets, and has been thinking about them for much longer than I've been studying them. She's also still my role model for the greatness that an individual can achieve - a phenomenal mentor, but also a wonderful human being.

Her visit brought with it a tangible feeling of relief, because here's someone willing to listen to me and understand what it has been like to be a postdoc and try to survive in this kind of environment, who really gets it. And amazingly, she does this for everyone.


*This story is oddly-difficult to write, because SB is a person I hold in very high esteem, and it is awkward to decide the appropriate level of "sharing" for these kinds of personal stories. And yet it is important to me to celebrate the good people in the world and in my life, so here we are.
rebeccmeister: (australia)
Quick update, because I'm in the Penrith Visitor's Information Centre typing on a clickety-clack keyboard. Heh, okay maybe not so quick, because there's lots to talk about.

blah blah blah Australia, cut for rambling about various adventures )
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Yesterday morning I took a few extra minutes to update my monthly financial records and assess my funding situation for the summer (since I finally got information about what I would be paid). In that whole process, I discovered to my dismay that across those pay periods I will be earning only 3/4 of the amount I usually earn during the school year. Goodbye, easy life. After scrutinizing my spending records, though, I think things will be okay in the long run.

On occasions like this, I always like to think back to the summer before my junior year of college, when I had only $10 to my name for about a month before I was finally paid for my summer internship at the Joslin Diabetes Center. Now *that* was stressful--my first time living in an apartment, managing all of my expenses. This time, I should at least be able to afford rent, groceries, utilities, and cat ownership. The real issue will be my plans to go to Australia for the World Masters Games in October. I will still be able to afford that trip, provided I am more careful about my spending habits between now and then. If all else fails, I have been diligent enough about setting aside money for savings and undergraduate student loan repayment that I can borrow from myself in the short-term. But I'd rather not.

Instead, it will be time to get creative, and to practice even more fungality, as the Scrabble Society calls it--the art of enjoying oneself without spending money. Sadly, that is going to mean fewer visits to coffeeshops, no new garden gadgets, and probably cutting back on fancy foods. But I'll survive, and am still bound and determined to keep paying off those undergraduate loans. In the long run, I think I will enjoy the trip to Australia even more if I go with the knowledge that I had to do absolutely everything in my power to earn the trip.

Having less money always means that one must be more conscious and conscientious about where one's resources are spent. That's not always a bad thing. And that concludes this personal pep talk. Back to science.

Nostalgia

Apr. 10th, 2007 08:21 am
rebeccmeister: (Default)
T and I are giving two presentations on our research in Australia this week. It's making me quite nostalgic; all of our silly little jokes are popping back into my mind (references to Halictine sharks, for example), and I've been looking through pictures of cute little coffeeshops and markets and emus and kangaroos.

This picture is still my favorite:

I am pretending to be a bigger emu to keep the emus from attacking me (that's what the sign said to do).

I think about Australia a lot while I cook as well. It was so nice to cook and eat communally with four other people who all have different cooking backgrounds and different knowledge and ideas to contribute. I especially wish I could watch R make a loaf of bread because his bread is so delicious.

Ceramics last night was nice. I had to trim a lot of pieces, which I always find tedious, and it's especially hard with pieces that aren't quite centered (symmetrical). I managed to throw a nice bowl as well.

Oh, and I joined a bike club (I guess this would be a second bike club, if you count The People's Ride as the first one). It only has four members so far, but we have spoke cards, so I guess that makes us official (I think they basically only let me join because they had an extra spoke card). I had to join because the name of the club is the Acromyrmex versicolor bike club (that's the name of the leafcutter ant species that I study). So now I have an awesome drawing of a leafcutter ant queen between the spokes of the Jolly Roger. I figure it will get more attention if it's on the Jolly Roger.
rebeccmeister: (Default)

On the plane to Sydney On the plane to Sydney
Gnome on the Train Gnome on the Train
Gnome and I are heading to the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney
When we're not in the lab, we're on the beach When we're not in the lab, we're on the beach
Collecting bees Collecting bees
Cutest home in the caravan park Cutest home in the caravan park
Those shelves are lined with gnomes and gnome-like figures. The man who lives here is impossibly cute. When it started to barely sprinkle, he opened up his rain-catchers (pictured on the right of the house). That's how I knew Australia was dry.
Gnome enjoys some camping in the Outback Gnome enjoys some camping in the Outback

rebeccmeister: (1x)
Well, I managed to haul my ass out of bed this morning and schlep over to the gym to erg. It felt really, really good to be back, although about halfway into the workout I started having different thoughts (more along the lines of, why am I here?). But that's pretty typical. It made me really excited about getting back on the water, which should happen next Monday. We had a bit of a cold spell, which makes rowing on the water dangerous, but we are really fortunate here to be able to row year-round. Now I just have to make sure my rowing buddies are also motivated to come and train with me.

Rowing in Melbourne was a whole lot of fun. Despite the fact that Australians drive on the left, they actually row with the same traffic pattern as Americans (on the right, although keep in mind that we face backwards). It's difficult for me to communicate to non-rowers just how rewarding the experience was. Rowing is a fun sport because the rowing community is strong and supportive of all rowers. The woman that I rowed with shared many of the same experiences and frustrations as I have experienced--feeling like she works really hard but her hard work isn't always recognized; feeling like she isn't making good progress; having to deal with teammates who don't show up to practice, etc. It was a good reminder for me to be grateful for the rowers I am lucky to row with in Arizona, because they are exceptions to this all-too-familiar norm. It was also nice to be reminded of the things I have learned through rowing, like patience, good sportsmanship, and teamwork skills. I owe a large part of who I am to rowing.

On my second day of rowing in Melbourne, my host and I took a double out into some of the harbour areas, and I got to take some pictures of Melbourne in the morning. This one is my absolute favorite from our entire trip to Australia:

rebeccmeister: (Default)
Well, instead of more meandering prose about my trip, I have uploaded the rest of my pictures from Australia for your amusement. They are all posted in my photo album (which you can reach by clicking on the images below), but I will also post a couple at a time on this here blog if you'd prefer to view them at a more leisurely pace. For now, to bed.

Read more... )
rebeccmeister: (Default)
For those nit-picky readers who carefully check dates and times (ahem Dad), my computer was still set to Australia time when I returned yesterday (Sunday) afternoon. You will be happy to note that I have changed it back to US time. As Bill Bryson notes, one of the interesting parts of traveling to Australia is that one loses a day on the way over, and gets a day back on the way back. I was too jet-lagged yesterday to figure out exactly how much time we got back, but to give you an idea, our flight left Melbourne at 12:25 pm on Sunday and arrived in LA at 7:30 am on Sunday--we returned before we had left! Melbourne is 18 hours ahead of Arizona, so we gained an extra 18 hours yesterday, to end up with a total of 32 hours.

And today the jet lag is terrible. I slept in until 10:20. I NEVER sleep in that late!

In other news, my friends think that my stories about my father's coffeeshop bike rides explain a lot about my personality. Heh. Chip off the ol' block!
rebeccmeister: (australia)
Ever the compulsive list-writer, I have written lists about things I like about Australia and Melbourne in particular. I have decided that Melbourne in particular is going to win the Rebeccmeister Seal of Approval. Melbourne is kind of making me dread going back to the vast void that is the GPMSPA (Greater Phoenix Metro-suburbo-politan area) because it typifies many of the things I like about big cities and that I hate about the GPMSPA. For instance, it is eminently walkable, at least within the urban core (it's well-known for its massive suburbs as well, but these are linked to the city by trains, trams, and buses--ahh, good public transportation!).

There are cafes and shops and sights and people galore, but also lots of open, tree-filled parks and green spaces. After I finished rowing yesterday morning, I walked to a coffeeshop and had to conclude that my father's coffeeshop bike rides would be an utter failure here--there are too many coffeeshops to visit, and they're packed in too closely together. Hundreds of coffeeshops are all within walking distance, so it would be a trifle bit silly to mess with a bicycle. Of course, the city is well-suited to biking when biking is necessary.

On top of that, Melbourne hosts a large market, Queen Victoria's Marketplace, that makes most farmers markets look pathetically small. People who live here could theoretically do all of their grocery shopping at the marketplace. On a more general note, it appears that in the last several years Australians have initiated drastic measures to reduce their use of plastic shopping-bags. Instead, there are fantastic, durable, cheap, reuseable green shopping bags available for sale at every single supermarket. Even better, pretty much everybody uses them. I don't know how the movement got started, but given how much plastic is wasted in the manufacture of shopping bags, it's phenomenal.

Diversity in Melbourne comes in different forms than in the United States. According to Bill Bryson's book on Australia (sold under the title Down Under here, but under the title In a Sunburned Country in the US), Australia has a weird history with respect to its dealings with immigrants. For quite a long time, Europeans were welcomed with open arms while Asians were kept at bay. Fortunately, Australians eventually realized that this was a foolhardy strategy and now big Australian cities are more culturally diverse (although they still seem strikingly white to my American eyes).

I have also enjoyed Melbourne because it's full of people who appreciate good food and funky arty stuff (I'm reminded of what the Fremont neighborhood must have been like about 10 years ago). As I have been walking around, stopping in at cafes for lunch or browsing through countless small shops, I have been thinking of what the analogous places are like in Tempe. In Tempe, it's hard to find local businesses. In Melbourne, it's hard to find chain stores. If I lived in Melbourne, I would probably spend the vast majority of many days wringing my hands over decisions about which pair of shoes to buy or which handbag or dress (so many choices! And so chic!). In Tempe, I hardly bother to try shopping because it will be boring and ugly and futile (and shops are so far apart that they all require separate planned expeditions to visit). There are artist-produced goods everywhere, and they aren't the same old, tired themes repeated endlessly.

Somehow the overall feel of Melbourne is similar to the feel of the best parts of Seattle, but on a much grander scale. Maybe it's the trains and trams, or just the fact that Melbourne is undoubtedly bigger.
rebeccmeister: (1x)
Back in summer camp in high school, we used to play a game called the Question Game. Basically, you would go around in a circle and each person would have to ask a question that hadn't been asked before. Eventually, one of the guys started doing things like saying, "The sky is blue. What's up with that?" And the "What's up with that?" game was born. We were pen-pals for quite a while after camp, and I'll never forget the duct-tape letter he sent me (in an envelope made of duct tape!).

In any case, something calls for a W^WT? (the new abbreviation I just invented):

Australians drive on the left. But they row on the right. W^WT?

On the other hand, getting to row in Melbourne is AWESOME. They call their boathouses Boat Sheds, because the boathouses are a bunch of historic buildings that hold rowboats and kayaks and canoes. There are something like 7 Boat Sheds all lined up and filled to the gills with boats, and rowing goes back to the 1850's here. The river's a little bit smaller than the Charles, but is very pretty. Oh, and the coaches ride their bikes along the shore and shout into their megaphones. I cannot understand a F*ing word* they're saying, but it sounds good, I guess.

*this is a trademark phrase used by R. If you know how to say it in French, PLEASE let me know. I know that a word that's pronounced "pew-TAN" substitutes nicely for the F-word, but that's about as much as I remember--and that the verb is some version of "comprehende".
rebeccmeister: (australia)
Cheerios, internets! (pardon the ensuing parentheticals, but that's just how I write)

Well, it has been quite a while. I'm sure you have been worried sick, wondering if I've been eaten by a shark or been bitten by a snake or been kicked by a kangaroo or sunburned to death. Either that or you hardly noticed my absence from the internet.

cut for those of the TL;DR ilk )
rebeccmeister: (australia)
"...those are Halictine sharks!"

This little gem of a witticism (if you don't know what a Halictine is, look it up, silly) quite nicely summarizes several different facets of our research adventures.

Facet #1: Dangers of sharks. Apparently the last time they were in Australia, P kept warning R to be careful of the great white sharks whenever he went swimming. R always scoffed and swam anyway, but eventually this led to some internet research/propaganda-hunting and we determined that sharks aren't actually a big danger even here, where great white sharks are pretty common. Oh, this whole piece also involves viewing Jaws and a lot of needling. P likes to get worked up over possible animal dangers, while R thinks said animal dangers are exciting and amusing.

Facet #2: Sticky Beaks. Most Australians go on holiday during the 6 weeks right after Christmas--children get out of school, and people rush off to the sea-shore in mad droves. Overnight, the quiet caravan park where we have been staying has turned into a realm of chaos. Every possible square foot of grass is covered by an RV, a car, or a tent (aside: I don't understand WHY people like to come to places like this, that are full of other people, just to sit in a tent and watch teevee!). People are bursting from the seams! We used to be in a 3-bedroom beach cabin that even had a nice view of the ocean from the quiet front porch, but because of some problems with our reservations, we are now living out of 2 tents and a wee trailer and have no porch or ocean view. In addition to all of this, the building that houses our lab space and bee room has been turned into a recreation center for all of the guests (or, mainly, for their bored children). I like kids, but I'm not so sure I like kids on vacation, especially when I am trying to get work done. We have signs posted on the doors to our lab space and bee room that say, in effect, KEEP OUT, but this has served to make the vacationers even MORE curious (another aside: a nosy neighbor is known as a "sticky beak" here). And they always manage to stick their noses in right when we're in the middle of some delicate task that requires full concentration. Basically, it sucks to have to work when everybody around you is on vacation. Don't ever try it. I'm not joking.

This is one of the worst places to have to do research, ever, because everybody else is in party mode and there are no quiet places to escape. Lots and lots of people want to know what kinds of bees we are studying and what we are doing, exactly. We humored the workmen who were fixing up the building, because there were only a couple of them and they were in the building all of the time, working. I am NOT humoring the children who want to know if we work there and want to know if we know where such-and-such a toy is located or if there's really paintball (I don't think so, rude little misbehaving children!). And I am getting quite tired of kids running and stomping through our rickety building, shaking all of the floors and shouting and screaming. Fortunately, the bees are not as sensitive to vibrations as ants, or else the pounding feet of romping kids would ruin everything entirely, instead of just ruining my good mood.

Facet #3: Discussions of charismatic megafauna. The other day, we had a conversation about the fact that the bees are "uncharismatic microfauna," not as attractive a study organism as "charismatic megafauna," like sharks and koalas and emus and echidnas. People like to hear about the curios behaviors of the charismatic megafauna, but find the uncharismatic microfauna uninteresting.

Putting two and one together (more or less), we have decided that we are NOT really studying bees after all, we are studying the division of labor in fierce, burrowing land-sharks. So when the people come to the door and ask, "What kind of sharks are those?" we will reply, "Those are HALICTINE sharks!"

That wasn't really so funny to you, now was it? I laughed so hard I cried. The ocean fumes must be getting to me.

In other news, I have grown tired of discussions of group identity and stereotypes and prejudices. We could talk ad nauseum et infinitum on the matter, but I don't feel like it. So there. Sorry to disappoint.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
As promised, here's a description of our motley Australian crew:

P, from Missoula, Montana, is our ringleader and sweat bee expert. She has been coming to this corner of Australia for about 20 years and knows the area quite well. Among her favorite sayings are, "I'm shocked!" and "I'm a grandmother!"--she pulls off the appropriate tone of voice in such a way that the first time she said it we thought she was dead serious. By now we all know better. She's also the sort of person who lacks an internal monologue when she's around other people, which can be a bit distracting at times. In addition to her bee work, she works tirelessly to advance the causes of women and minorities in science, and I have really enjoyed learning about her perspective. If I stay in academia, I will have to rely on people like her to serve as a support network.

S, from Ottawa, Canada (yes, that's right, [livejournal.com profile] boolean263), was a professor at ASU for several years and worked closely with my advisor while she was there. Her mind is constantly at work, and she was a tremendous help with designing our experiments and making sure we carefully thought through and justified our ideas. I knew her fairly well from our shared time at ASU, but learned much more about her in her brief stay here (she went home a bit early to spend Christmas with her partner and young daughter). For instance, apparently she used to hitchhike all over the place, and she spent a lot of time wandering around various parts of the globe before she got to ASU to start her Ph.D.. Her personal and familial values are also pretty closely aligned with my own, which is always nice.

She and I spent a lot of time together this trip because we shared a room and worked as a team while observing the bees (now *that* was a bonding experience). We had a funny conversation one day while building bee nests about how differently we think. While she is constantly thinking about what to do next, when I'm mixing up dirt to fill a nest all that I think is, "Dirt dirt dirt." Heh. S made all of us laugh a lot, and things have been much quieter since she left. S is also a first-year, tenure-track professor, so it has bee useful to hear about her experiences with getting started. I shouldn't forget to mention that her advice about the Ph.D. process has also been quite helpful. In fact, between P and S, I think I have received more mentoring here than I do in six months at ASU.

T is a fellow grad student from ASU, and we are traveling together for our entire trip in Australia. Fortunately, I think he's awesome and can stand his company for long stretches of time. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is to contrast traveling with him with traveling with the Three Stooges (I went with them to California and Washington, D.C., if you'll recall). The Three Stooges did little or no planning for either trip, and especially in DC they had very different agendas than I did. In contrast, I have let T do the majority of our travel planning in Australia, because he makes fantastic decisions about what to see and do. I'm accustomed to planning out my travels ad nauseum, so it has been fantastic to be able to sit back a bit and just enjoy whatever he happens to suggest. The very best part is that his fiance, C, has trained him to be patient about shopping, so occasionally we will get to wander around and browse through shops. Of course, I don't have a super-high shopping tolerance, so we haven't done a ton of shopping, but it's nice to have the option.

R is a French professor from Tolouse (the other day, when in an Irish pub, a folksinger came up to our table and asked where we were all from, and when he heard that R was from Tolouse, he said, "Oh, Tolouse? Tolouse is no shame."--say it out loud and then have a little chuckle at his cleverness). He spent a year at ASU and said it was the most boring year of his life. So you see, he is a pretty typical Frenchman. He's probably best known for his incessant cussing, both in French and English (I guess he learned most of his English swear words a few years ago, when he was here, in Australia, with a girl who liked heavy metal). I think his favorite part of American culture is the Wu Tang Clan.

He's a bit frustrated by having to speak English all of the time because he finds the pronunciation difficult and claims to be bad at speaking English, but he's better than many of the other ESL academics I've encountered (he has told all of us that we cannot visit France unless we learn to speak French fluently, because "Speaking in English is a pain."). Oh, and to look at him is to see quite a sight--he has long, flowing blonde hair that he keeps pulled back and he smokes up a storm.

He makes me think of [livejournal.com profile] emmabovary quite a bit because he is so very French and I must confess that I have a Super Crush on him (this is to be distinguished from an ordinary crush, which is something I might do something about--Super Crushes are to be admired and lusted after from a distance, but there is nothing to be done about them because it would be extremely unwise. I have an annoying tendency to develop Super Crushes.). It was a bit strange to see him after a gap of 2 years, because when he left ASU he said to me, "Well, goodbye. I don't know when I'll see you again, if ever." Whenever we try to say anything in French, he pauses for a second, and then smirks and then laughs. He claims it's because it gives him a sense of how bad his English pronunciation is. The other day, a kangaroo hopped across the road in front of our car and then when we stopped to take pictures, it paused by the side of the road to stare at us. R had his camera at the ready and proceeded to make the most hilarious clucking and quacking noises I have ever heard in my entire life.

And then there's me. But hopefully you already know enough about me and I need not comment any further.

So there you have the cast of characters, in a nutshell (help! I'm in a nutshell! How did I get in here?). It's rainy, which means we can't collect bees, so I think I will spend the rest of the day working on other work. There's never any shortage of work, now is there?
rebeccmeister: (australia)
Merry Christmas, everyone. (this might seem a bit premature, but we're 18 hours ahead of most of you)

After serious consideration (namely, reading Dennett's latest book, Breaking the Spell), I have decided that I am an atheist (or Bright, if you are familiar with the concept). I'm not going to try to convince you of my position or fully explain how I got there at the moment, but this is a pretty recent conversion from agnosticism. Now I have to consider how I would like to celebrate the things that I consider sacred outside of religious contexts. Wish me luck.

The weather here is a bit crappy (i.e. rainy, cold, and windy, with a touch of hail), so we cannot collect bees today. Instead, T and I are going to go on a short expedition along the Great Coastal Road.

Anyway, I wish you all well today, whatever your religious proclivities.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Well, the other day I wrote out a list of things to write about. Hopefully I'll get around to all of them, because they are all amusing/interesting subjects, at least to me, about life around these here parts. In no particular order, they include:

-cussing (the result of the Frenchman, who likes to yell out of the window at passing cars and says such things as, "You nasty bastards!" It sounds even more hilarious with an outrageous French accent)
-our crazy lab space, which is in an old hospital that is being renovated into a bunkhouse
-the cast of characters
-our current set of running jokes

Being here is about the same as being on Survivor or some such show because we're a small, motley crew and spend practically every waking hour with each other. Fortunately, we don't have to dig up tubers to eat. On the other hand, it would be kind of awesome if we could kill a pesky rabbit and roast her up. I might even have to eat some because they are serious pests around here and are non-native. Apparently they are also particularly efficient at turning plant material into rabbit meat.

Anyway, today is a really busy day, and tomorrow morning I'll be up at 3:30 am to watch bees. Doesn't that make you envious?
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Dear internets,

I swear, I haven't disappeared entirely. We are full-tilt in the midst of our research, which is keeping life pretty busy right now. We're on a two-day schedule working with the bees, and even have time to do things like eat, sleep, and go to the beach occasionally. Research in far-away places always seems to consist of time spent in a cramped, uncomfortable room interspersed with time romping around in beautiful terrain. I can't complain.

In other news, the holiday season Down Under is pretty strange. Santa Claus still wears a red stocking cap here, although the rest of his apparel varies quite a bit, and we have seen pictures of him on surfboards and other such things. I find the icicle lights absolutely hilarious as well (although they are pretty). It's hard to get into the spirit when it's light from 6 am until 9 pm, but I really can't complain. We're coming up on peak tourist season for Australians, so things are starting to get crowded at the Van and Cabin Park where we're staying.

In a few minutes, I will need to start watching bees run around in circles. Hopefully I'll be able to upload more pictures soon, but I'm not sure if the connection will be fast enough or if I will have the time. They'll all get uploaded eventually. Some of the recent highlights include seeing: a koala plus her baby, kangaroos, an echidna (look it up, kids!), lots of bulldog/jack jumper ants (including some fierce-looking big 'uns!), some strange weevils on the beach, and a couple of gorgeous beaches.

At some point, I'll have to write more about Things Australians Say, like "How you goin'?" (instead of "How are you doing?"). Oh, and they do actually say, "g'day!" and "no worries." Quite amusing. The Frenchman who is working with us has a very hard time understanding the Australian accent, which is pretty entertaining, because they have no problem understanding him.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Well, I've been in Portland, Victoria, Australia for about 5 days now, getting ready to start research. We're staying at a little beach resort called the Henty Bay Van & Cabin Park. There are 5 of us in a 3-bedroom cabin, which is a bit of a tight fit, but not as bad as having 2 people living in the Garage. There's a very tiny beach near our front door, although the weather has been quite variable in temperature and it's generally too cool to swim. Our laboratory space is in another building, an old hospital that's currently being renovated. It's not quite as sketchy as some research spaces, but we have had to do a lot of preparatory work to get everything set up and ready to go.

What all of this means is that we spend a lot of time around each other. Fortunately, we all get along pretty well.

Yesterday R, T, and I went out to one of the field sites to collect our first set of bees. The bee-collecting site is a small hillock. We managed to get some Myrmecia ants (also called Jumping Jacks or Jack Jumpers) while we were there, too. The bees we are studying are absolutely ADORABLE. I should try to take some nice macro photos of them at some point. Then we painted them. I thought painting ants was a bit of a pain, but painting bees is even more finicky because they're tiny and have wings that we have to avoid painting.

Today will be the first day of a bit of a research marathon--we'll be watching the bees run around in little circle tubes to get an idea of their activity levels, and then we'll put them in dirt-filled nests and will watch them dig for a few hours. By around 10 pm, we will take photographs of the nests and call it a night after that. Tomorrow, we'll observe the nests again, and then we'll go out and get more bees to paint and repeat the whole process. Somewhere in the midst of all of that, we will eat and sleep. I have a feeling I'm going to be drinking a lot of coffee for the next week or so.

Anyhow, my computer's wireless card isn't very powerful, so I have to sit outside to write this, where there's fine sand blowing around and my fingers are getting cold. Hopefully I'll get my act together and will write another post soon. I guess I'll have to revert to a more old-fashioned method, typing things up in some other program and then copying, pasting, and posting occasionally.

Some day I might get to read all of the exciting back entries I'm missing as well. But it might be a while.

Oh! Also--I have finally gotten to see kangaroos and koalas! But no emus yet. I got a nice picture of an adorable kangaroo mom and her baby yesterday. Some day you will get to see it. And eucalyptus forests smell lovely.
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Hello lovely ones,

Today we are in Melbourne (locals pronounce it "Mell-bin"). Neither T nor I could decide what other place in the world reminded us of Melbourne. It's quite dry here, a result of no rain. The landscape appears to consist of short grass and withered trees. We are in a Bohemian part of town that is close to a crowded main street full of sidewalk cafes and stationery shops. Quite fun. However, wireless internet isn't quite as prevalent here as it was in Sydney, so this will probably be it for Melbourne.

I'm reading Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, by Daniel Dennett, right now. Some of my non-biologist friends read it a while back, and I'm tempted to start looking into their commentary again before I finish reading it. It could be an interesting starting point for no small number of conversations. So far I like it and appreciate the questions it is raising. Of course, saying "I liked it" or "I didn't like it" doesn't really say much about any given book, so I'll have to provide a more insightful perspective eventually. The best I can do is promise to keep you posted.

I also just bought Down Under, by Bill Bryson. It's called something else in other parts of the world. We have been enjoying going into bookstores and finding familiar books with new titles and covers. Books appear to be pretty expensive here. Now I have too many books to read. I just don't know how that happens.

Tomorrow we will visit the Museum Victoria to learn more about collecting Australian ants, and then we will drive out to our final destination outside of Portland, Australia, where we'll meet up with the remainder of our research group.

Oh! Tonight we are staying at a place called The Nunnery. It used to be (that's right) a nunnery. Somehow the architecture reminds me of buildings I've been in before. It has a touch of that elementary-school feel, but with more stained glass. They have a resident cat. I should see if I can find a confessional somewhere.
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So it turns out there was a typo in the original Australia address I was given. Here's the real one, it's a PO Box:

RMB 6270 Dutton Way, Portland, Victoria 3305 Australia

I'll start stocking up on postcards when we get there. Let me know if you would like one!
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-Photos are at the end, for those who don't have long enough attention spans for narratives.

Yesterday, T, C, and I went for a hike along the shore. Although D had warned us that it wouldn't be all that impressive, we found it to be quite lovely indeed and are convinced that she must have visited some other shore.

We started out in our now-typical fashion for starting out, by eating breakfast and then having coffee in a cafe. "Coffee" here means "latte." I also introduced T to the marvel that is the almond croissant. I don't think he has ever lived in a land of baked goods before. Then we hopped on the train and on a bus and headed to the beach.

Oh, the beach. The beach along Sydney is grand. There are coves with pale, fluffy sand interspersed with rocky sandstone cliffsides. Our handy dandy guidebook recommended a two-hour hike along the shore with stops for swimming here and there, so that's what we did. Some of the highlights of the hike included: seeing an eel in a rocky tidepoo;, doing a wee bit of rock climbing; walking past a large, old cemetery; and of course people-watching.

Being the moron that I am, I neglected to put sunscreen on my feet and was rewarded with a painful chaco-line sunburn, as well as a not-quite-so-painful sunburn on the front part of my throat, the back of my left arm, and the backs of my calves. My sunburns are always so splotchy and annoying. Be grateful that you don't have to listen to me whine about them TOO much.

When we finished with the beach, we returned to the hostel for a bit and then set off to visit the State Library of New South Wales. Because that is what I do when I visit new places: I visit coffeeshops and libraries, and then I compare them to the terrible downtown Seattle Public Library and gripe about it for a while. I might spare you the last bit for today and opt for an alternate comparison, although that reminds me that when we visited the National Art Gallery we saw a work by the same guy who did the weird thing along the escalators with the eyeballs projected on egg-shaped surfaces that was accompanied by poetry. His art creeps me out. C took some amusing photos of that artwork which I might have a chance to post soon.

In any case, the state library was even more fun than I had anticipated. In addition to housing books, they had a really cool exhibit on escaped convicts, but unfortunately we did not have time to read all of the tales because we arrived there ten minutes before the museum portion closed. From what I got to read, the bushrangers were crazy folk prone to cannibalism and recapture.

For some reason, visiting the State Library reminded me of visiting the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. It's quite difficult to see actual books at the LoC, although there were plenty of other displays and exhibits of impressiveness. In contrast, it was pretty easy to see actual books in the State Library in addition to getting to see all of the other accessory things that have become attached to libraries in recent years: a coffeeshop, a gift shop, and tons of computers everywhere.

After the library, it was time for dinner. Being the amicable tour guide he is, T suggested that we go to a street that was lined with lots of restaurants and gay bars. I think it was my favorite street out of all of the places we visited, perhaps because it felt like it was full of more locals than the other, touristy areas we visited. We had a delicious dinner at a Thai restaurant and drinks at a nearby bar, and then walked back to the hostel and I called it a night.

Today, T and I will fly to Melbourne. C will be here for a few more days before he heads north. And thus the adventure continues...

photo time! )

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