Tuesday, August 31, 2010

More Vogelpark Photos

Robert sent a link to this gallery of photos from the bird park we visited several weeks ago. Critically, it contains images of the "robotic" toucan that I mentioned earlier as seeming to attack my camera when I attempted to photograph him. Luckily, this photographer got several shots, including this image of the toucan sticking his beak out of the cage. This is a lot more menacing-seeming when it's coming at you at speed, but perhaps you can get a sense of the bird's fake, plasticy appearance from this picture.

All your camera are belong to us

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Party Like It's 1993

The party last Friday was BYOB, so I put together this 6-pack to represent the kinds of beer I drank when I was an undergrad. (No, I did not drink nor plan to drink 6 beers at the party; I figured other people would help, and they did.)

I had forgotten how good the raspberry lambic is. Though it's described as "delicate," I thought it was quite rich.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Uh Oh, Neuro

Today's class was a bit more like that dream in which you show up for your Advanced Polish Poetry class and realize that you don't understand a word of Polish than I would have preferred.

Is Math a Young Person's Game?

In a review of Proof, Lee quotes an old mathematician as saying that creativity ends at 23 (presumably taking with it the capacity to do brilliant mathematical work) and wonders whether this means he is over-the-hill.

I've heard this a lot, also - the idea that math is a young man's (ahem!) game, that if you haven't made your contribution by age 30 you never will, etc. What's not clear to me about this common assertion is whether the actual imagined culprit is chronological age per se or years spent working in the discipline. Since it seems likely that the majority of mathematicians complete grad school while they are still young, in general, being young in years also means being early in one's career, and being old in years means being farther along in one's career. (I guess a mathy person might call this a multicollinearity problem.)

I'm not even remotely convinced that either version of this belief is true, but if it's less an issue of having an old vs. young brain (e.g., information processing speed, working memory capacity) and more about being new to the field, energized, and in life circumstances that promote doing a lot of math (e.g., being "married" to math rather than having an actual spouse, kids, and so on) vs. established, complacent, tenured, and caught up with other distractors, then "older" math grad students like Lee and Tam are not over-the-hill, mathematically.

I have to admit, as a social psychologist (in training), I enjoy / am infuriated by the stereotypes associated with mathematicians, both from those outside of and within the discipline.

Anyway, ultimately, this is an empirical question, and one that mathematicians (even mathematicians in plays) are sadly not well-placed to answer.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Takin Care of Business: Day 1

Today was my first day back on school. Although classes don't begin until Wed., I had all kinds of errands to run and the first TA meeting for the stats class I TA for, so I spent my first full day back on campus.

This year, I am the only TA who has taught the course before; the other TAs include 3 first year students and a second year student who had a different assignment last year. But the professor (who is also my advisor) is the same, and it looks like the labs/homeworks are mostly the same, as last semester, which is great on both counts; I think the TAship is likely to be less work than it was last year, and I'll probably do a better job with the material.

I had several especially nice things happen today:

1) My advisor has read the first 10 pages or so of my major area paper (MAP) and came to my office to give me a thumbs up. He's going to make suggestions for deletion of some material that I can keep in reserve to add back when I write my thesis.

2) I went to the library for some more books, some to do research for my current project and others to read up on the state of research as I start working on my statement(s) of purpose for PhD applications, and I found a book that just came out earlier this year and that I drooled over when I saw it listed in a catalog I get due to belonging to a psychology association. Now it's mine...or at least, for now it's mine.

Today, I stayed at school after my meeting and read the five chapters of another book that interested me and that had implications for both my current project and the SOPs. Even though I was at school for a good while, the time went really quickly. I'm getting good at reading material in my field, and it feels a lot less taxing than it used to. (Whether this represents skill building or an increase in self-regulatory ability I will leave to the musings of the reader.)

3) I am getting a new printer set up in my office. I haven't had one in my office before, so this will be great.

4) Best of all, they distributed the department grad handbook for the year and I discovered what course I am taking next semester. In last year's book, it listed a 3 hour "elective" and 6 hours of thesis research. In this year's book, it lists 6 hours of thesis research, full stop. So the spring semester is All Thesis, All the Time. I like it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Braaaaains, Continued

My biological psychology prof just emailed us the syllabus for this semester. If I am reading this correctly, we will be dissecting a sheep brain. God, I can hardly wait.

I am 100% serious.

2 Days, 2 Shirts

After sending in my draft major area paper, I decided that if I wanted to wear my My Masters Psychology t-shirt I got on the first day last year while I was still in the program, I should work on it now. So I did a dead-easy resizing of the shirt. (Which looks weird with the brown skirt I'm wearing, but whatever.) Because I may be in my last summer in the south for a while, I did attach sleeves rather than leave it in my more typical, lazy sleeveless style.

Yesterday, I looked at my supplies and decided to do something with a free, cheap-ass (as in, that sort of sheer knit) white t-shirt my mom got from the library. I put it in a heap with two long red sleeves left over from one of the source shirts for the Mondrian shirt, a too-short dark green long-sleeved shirt, and two pairs of black knit short sports shorts I never wear these days (one of which was a bit more faded than the other).

I decided I wanted to make a somewhat athletic-looking shirt. The association in my mind is with soccer, though I don't know that my image (let alone final product) matches any actual soccer shirts. I thought that style would make a nice contrast with the writing on the free shirt.

So I cut out and sewed together a huge number of pieces until I had two pieces of fabric from which I could cut out the front and back. It took me a god-awful long time to get to this point, and the fabric was heavy from all the stitching. I sewed it up, added sleeves, and voila: We have the Team Brains T.

I was too impatient to wait for Robert to take a photo, so the writing is reversed, Through the Looking-Glass style.

Right way round, it says:

I didn't have enough red for the front and back, so I used white on the back.

I think it came out pretty similar to how I'd envisioned it. Consistent with the sports vibe, I gave it a roomier fit than I normally do.

I almost ran out of black thread last night; I went to Hancock Fabrics this afternoon to buy some more so I could do the bottom double hem. While I was there, I found thread to match a light purple shirt I got at the Outer Banks and some supplies for doing applique. I've been feeling a strong need this week for t-shirts featuring appliqued owls, other birds, rabbits, and Pac-man (not on the same shirt).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Major Area Paper Word Cloud

I emailed my draft major area paper today (several days early, woo!). Here is the word cloud to give you an idea of what it's about. (And no, I'm not on a regulatory high.)


You absolutely must avoid this product, the Kashi "cranberry" and walnut snack bar. Despite the name and the picture implying that it will, you know, feature cranberries significantly, it does not. It is a granola bar with a grey-ish tan goop on the top, made out of dates but with other flavors added to make it nastier than dates. I wish I had looked at this ingredients list earlier:

It does not contain any actual cranberries. There is cranberry juice concentrate, listed after such prominent ingredients as cornstarch and soy grits. Also, to make it extra Sally-friendly, it contains lime juice.

My parents and I could not, among the three of us, finish one bar. One bite, and that's all we could tolerate - even my dad, who is not exactly well-known for being picky.

I called Kashi today and they are sending me a coupon for a free replacement product. I think I'm going to stick with my favorites this time - the dark mocha almond bars. They are delightfully not-sweet (just short of bitter, actually).

Monday, August 16, 2010

Closer to an Actual Draft

I am getting very, very close to having my first draft of my major area paper completed. (It's amazing that when you write up your outline with complete, detailed sentences and transition words and phrases, turning the outline into a draft consists primarily of removing bullet points and formatting paragraphs with double spacing.) My major concern at this point is that the 60 page limit is looking extremely short to me, especially given the length of my bibliography. I am already setting aside various chunks of the outline (for later use in the more extensive lit review in my thesis), but more stuff will have to go. I recognize that having too much to say is a great problem to have in my position. (The handbook does not indicate a page limit for the thesis, an oversight that my committee may regret this spring.)

Of course, when I say "first draft," I shouldn't imply that everything is brand spanking new. I am on version 7 of the methods and results for Experiment 1 and version 3 of Experiment 2 (not that my advisor has already been subjected to all the interim drafts).

Also, I just want to say how much I am looking forward to sleeping in a real bed tonight.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Water Water Everywhere...And Birds

The good news about the pelagic trip we took off Hatteras and into the gulf stream was that we added 9 life birds that we just weren't going to see anywhere else but well out into the Atlantic Ocean. We added a 10th life bird, the great black-backed gull, when crossing a bridge in Manteo. In conjunction with our finally catching up on the blue grouse species split, which added yet another life bird, I brought my ABA-area life list up to 470.

The bad news about the pelagic trip...well, it was not a disaster of either Gilligan's Island or Rime of the Ancient Mariner standards, certainly. But 11 hours on a boat, in choppy water with large, drenching quantities of salt spray, is dull and rather nauseating (especially if, like me, you forgot when you woke up at dark o'clock to take your birth control pill so your hormones started getting excited about the possibilities and the pain from the cramping made you sick). Over half the passengers in the boat ended up with their heads over the side at one time or another, and several were camped out there for the majority of the trip (or, like a nice guy from the Netherlands, had to lie down in order not to get sick). Robert and I were wearing the anti-seasickness patches, and it definitely worked for him. I think it mostly worked for me as well, though I had a period of dizziness that could have been a side effect of the patch.

My general state was clearly less miserable than our last (second) trip, out of Monterrey, CA, where I was cold and fantasizing about hot Texas parking lots for most of the time. And it was much less pleasant than our first trip, out of Westport, WA, where I loved standing at the prow of the boat for the several hours of darkness in the morning and I managed to sleep away most of the boring return-trip hours in the afternoon dry, happy, and somehow cat-like, sitting comfortably in the sun.

My experience this time was a lot more variable. When I wasn't feeling sick, and there were new birds (or frolicking bottlenose dolphins, who are awesome) to watch, it was fun. I even enjoyed the thorough splashings I got the first 20-something times, and I admit that the splashes kept provoking uncontrollably laughing/giggling in me at first, too. I was not able to keep track of the number of splashings, but it was a lot. (At one point, I got so thoroughly soaked by a splash that didn't hit anyone else that one of the other passengers commented, "That looked targeted." Earlier, I'd had to warn off one of the guides who was trying to eat a sandwich when he sat down next to me and noticed how wet I was. The Atlantic is not pacific.)

I kept getting confused about the small, grey-ish or blue-ish birds with short wings that would suddenly appear and then disappear until I realized that they were the flying fish that Robert kept pointing out but that I missed the first several times he mentioned them. And frankly, they kept confusing me, at least temporarily, after I had that realization. I mean, yes, they are called flying fish, but you really don't expect a fish to have wings and fly. (Their typical flight is 160 feet, according to Wikipedia.)

Is this thing for real?
But watching the ocean, and getting splashed, gets really tedious before it gets mind-numblingly boring. The bench we were sitting on was hard and not deep enough, so my ass got alternatively sore and numb. (My leg and hip were sore from the contorted way I sat on the bench for several days afterwards.) Unlike Robert, I was never able to fall asleep, which was frustrating because I was tired from the early start. (And the sore leg and hip interfered with my sleep for a couple of nights afterwards.)

One unfortunate side effect of splashing from seawater - it gets salt all over you. An even more unfortunate side effect - it washes away your sunscreen. So yes, I got a weird sunburn that was worst on my forehead (because my hat kept trying to blow off and I eventually used it as a barrier to keep my binocs from getting soaked) and the 6 inches from my knee up my leg, where it was exposed to the sun during all that uncomfortable sitting on the way back to land.

So, does it sound like I had a bad time? I did...and I didn't. (Several times, I told Robert that I never wanted to take a pelagic trip again, but we'll see if that sticks. I think I need to give it a few years, though, before I revisit the decision.)

Now let's get to the Good Stuff, the new ocean-dwelling (ocean-flying? ocean-skimming?) birds I saw!

Cory's shearwater
Greater shearwater
Audubon's shearwater
Sooty tern
Wilson's storm-petrel
Black-capped petrel
Band-rumped storm-petrel
Bridled tern
Manx shearwater

My favorite of this group was definitely the Wilson's. The way they glide/patter along the top of the roiling waves is really cool to see. (Admittedly, it becomes somewhat less cool after several hours, but enjoying the excellent views of this copious species did help keep me saner during the Severe Boredom periods.)

And I want to go on public record saying that I regret the fact that my bag of Sun Chips was blown away into the ocean. First BP, now me. This pollution is a damn shame.

Oh, another thing: I added a bunch of birds to my NC list on trip besides the pelagics and the gull I already mentioned.

Common moorhen
Purple martin (about 100,000 of them roost under a bridge; I got the t-shirt)
Laughing gull
White ibis
White-faced ibis
Brown pelican
Black tern
Piping plover (a "threatened" species that is causing some beach closures to protect their breeding grounds that has some people on the island pissed off - a human dimensions of wildlife sort of thing)
Royal tern
Black skimmer
Boat-tailed grackle

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Too Late

One problem with the "put something on your list for 30 days before you buy it" idea is that things aren't always still available 30 days later. While the iPhone, the Kindle, the Wii, and the Ferrari aren't going anywhere, clothing seems to disappear almost immediately.

I went to Target on Sunday evening to buy an aquamarine dress that I had seen there two weeks earlier, when Robert and I were picking up a few items of beach wear for our vacation, and it was not available in my size in any color. Just now I got the brilliant idea to look online, but they don't have it in my size anymore.

For $20, I should have just bought it when I first saw it, but, ironically, I was concerned at the time that I might be falling into shopping momentum so I didn't. (To be fair, I was not, however, adhering to the 30 day rule. I planned to go back and look at it again after my trip, and it just took me a while to get to the store.)

In other news, I challenged myself today to get rid of (i.e. set aside to donate) sort of arbitrary (but low) numbers of items from various categories from my wardrobe. I met all my targets and actually over-achieved on t-shirts - I got rid of about 5 instead of 3. I struggled a bit looking at my shoes until I remembered that the gorgeous red mary janes that I used to wear comfortably to work tore the backs of my heels into bloody messes when I wore them a couple months ago to school and walked around in them all day without socks. Since they look stupid in socks, this is not workable. I also put aside a green bomber jacket I have owned since I was 15. Yikes.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Ballad Verse

Poems in ballad verse are nice because they can be sung to the tune of the Gilligan's Island theme song (or "O Little Town of Bethlehem" for that matter).

The poems of Emily Dickinson, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," children's verses like "Mary Had a Little Lamb," and a gazillion more conform to this pattern.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Night-time Self-regulation

Lately I've noticed a sort of paradox in my self-regulation pattern. After about 9:00 p.m., I have great self-regulation regarding my research (working on my major area paper) and sucky self-regulation regarding snacking. I wondered whether putting so much effort into my research was leaving me depleted of regulatory resources such that I was unable to control my food intake as well as I would like, but I think there may be a simpler yet stranger answer.

I propose that (for whatever reason) after 9:00 p.m., I enter a state of behavioral inertia such that I almost effortlessly continue doing whatever I have started doing but have a great deal of difficulty stopping the activity. So once I start working, I keep working, and once I start snacking, I keep snacking. This view is consistent with the feeling I have several times per week that I'm only a little bit hungry but continue eating past the point where my hunger is satiated even though I do not get any great enjoyment from doing so. It would be interesting if it truly were the case that I am experiencing a sort of selective self-regulatory impairment (that affects stopping behavior but not initiating behavior, fixing attention, controlling thoughts, managing emotions, or any of the other myriad things that are theorized to draw on a common regulatory resource).

Because one well-established method of counteracting regulatory depletion is to establish implementation intentions, and specific dieting rules seem to work well for me in taking things outside the realm of "willpower" and into the realm of habit, I am establishing a new Gremlins-esque rule for not eating after 9:00 p.m. We'll see whether public commitment has its expected salutary effect on my living up to this plan.

Put down those honey nut cheerios, Mogwai

Have you noticed any time-of-day patterns in your self-regulatory ability?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The NC Vogelpark

The first stop on our trip was Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park, a nifty bird zoo that contained a lot more than just waterfowl.

In the visitor center, they had two guineafowl chicks that a docent removed from the cage for us (well, a little kid but I got in there) to pet. Soft.

I think my favorite bird was a toucan that swooped over to the front of his cage as soon as we came into his sight. If I had not seen him fly, I would have been tempted to believe that he was an animatronic bird. His bill looked like plastic, as did his eyes, the feathers around his eyes, and basically the entire bird. (This opinion was almost immediately stated again by a talkative but surprisingly un-annoying boy who joined us.) His movements seemed mechanical because they lacked fluidity as he tilted his head around and peered forward at us. I did not get a photograph of him because when I tried it (with my camera close to the wire of his cage), he attempted to snatch my camera with his bill and I jumped back several feet.

I have posted a bunch of photos on Facebook for your viewing pleasure, including several other favorites - scarlet ibis, white-cheeked whistling duck, and a kookaburra (the Australian kingfisher). Here is a photo to whet your appetite for lots of lovely birds.

I'm beautiful but shy
As a souvenir, I picked out a refrigerator magnet...of a rabbit. I mean, nothing says bird zoo like a bunny, right? (Robert got a magnet with waterfowl on it, so we're good.)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Return of a Nemesis Bird

In December 2001, on a birding trip with my parents, Robert had the audacity to see a lifer winter wren that I did not see. (Even before no-fault divorce, seeing a life bird that your birding spouse did not see was considered grounds for divorce in several states.) It was almost two more years before I saw one, at Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park (Washington state). Three years later, I saw another one in a state park in California.

At that point, the only North American wren left on my list was the cactus wren, and after many attempts to find one, it finally happened in South Texas, January 2009. We got up bright and early to go out looking for this and other good birdies, and while Robert was putting equipment into the car in the hotel parking lot, I found one singing from the roof of the hotel. We kept seeing them throughout the trip, too, in four different locations.

Thus, I triumphantly closed the book on wrens.

Until last Wednesday.

Robert informed me that in the July 2010 issue of The Auk, the American Ornithological Union published their latest supplement to the checklist of North American birds. This included splitting what was winter wren (the amusingly named Troglodytes troglodytes - "cave-dweller") into three species based on reproductive isolation: pacific wren (T. pacificus), winter wren (T. hiemalis), and Eurasian wren (T. troglodytes). The pacific wren was not named for its peaceful nature, but rather for the fact that it is the species of wren that breeds along the Pacific Ocean coast of the U.S. Winter wren now refers to the species that breeds in the northern and eastern U.S., as shown in this map.

The upshot is, I didn't have winter wren, I did have winter wren, and now I don't have winter wren (though I do have pacific wren). My mom (and my brother in law, who helped my mom ID the bird using an iPod app) also has only pacific wren from a visit to California. Robert has both species.

Fortunately, I am currently living within the winter range of the winter wren. So I hope that 6 months from now, I will have a full complement of North American wrens once more.

Home Again

I got back from our trip to the Outer Banks today; more information about that to come.

Somehow, it has become August, and since classes start later this month, it was time to take care of some school stuff online, like purchasing a parking permit, getting my laptop ready to work with the new campus wireless network (still have not figured this out), emailing the admin about what textbooks we're using, looking up my course schedule, and so on. This xkcd comic really captures how useless the information on the front page of My Masters University website is.

It's too bad I'm not interested in information about the opening of the new residence hall, the current show at the university museum, or Homecoming 2010. I guess I should just be happy that the search function works as well as it does. (And to be fair, there is a link to the academic calendar on the home page.)