Thursday, February 18, 2010

welcome (back) to the deep South

Yesterday I got to drive from Birmingham to Auburn. Not sure I have been in this part of the state before, which is atnthe western edge of the ridge-and-valley belt that extends from the Appalachians. Yep, I can tell I am back in the south because: Spanish moss is festooned from every vertical branch; the speed limit signs are only suggestions; the drinks tables have tall carboys labeled Sweet and Unsweet; the houses are made of brick; you still see teased and bouffant hairdos; men wear baseball caps to eat in nice restaurants; the valet, greeter and waiter all called me ma'am multiple times; and everyone (EVERY SINGLE ONE, I looked around carefully to be sure) in the restaurant was of Caucasian descent.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Every project has a beginning, full of excitement and happy thoughts. The middle may last awhile, depending on how much yard work there is to do. But the Olympics have provided the excuse to finsh my beaded cuff. There seems to be more yard work than usual this spring, but as long as I get to the weeds before they set seed, I guess that is all that matters. Actually that is a maybe at the moment, but it is no fun to sit on cold damp earth when the sun is not shining. Much more fun to sit at the ott lamp in the rocker in front of the TV. It is not a great photo, but here is the finished project.

Friday, February 12, 2010

the girls showed up

We have a flock of male turkeys that live in the hills above the house. I shamelessly support them with cracked corn from the feed store, even though the wildlife biologists tell us that encourages the coyotes to come down from the hills. Since I haven't seen the coyotes and didn't even hear them this winter, I have discounted that and continue to feed all the birds that come to my property. The females seem to live on the other side of the hill, to the north of here. A few weeks ago a few females showed up and joined the flock. They are smaller and not as colorful. How fun it would be if there were chicks around this spring!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sieving 101

I pretty much keep up with Science, which arrives weekly. I'll confess I don't read many of the research articles, but since the first 75 pages are news and timely summaries, I can at least keep up on a wide range of biology, chemistry and medical news. When I get behind, the issues lay in a stack on my desk until I have a plane trip, and Science makes great airplane reading. So the 2 October issue went with me last week, and in honor of the year of Darwin, this issue had 11 articles and some editorials describing the paleobiology of Ardipithecus ramidus and other early hominids. Discovered in 1994, the articles described what it is like to hunt for fossils, every bucket of dirt shaken through sieves and each piece inspected by hand so as not to miss a fragment, how to compare bones from different species. I can't give you a link as the articles on-line are by subscription, but I can pull down pdf's or lend you my copy if you are interested. I plan to re-read this issue and maybe read an intro anthropology book, I learned so much. The issue also contains 2 pages of thumb-nail photos of the 50-odd authors of these articles, a first, I believe.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Busman's half-holiday

The meeting with the FDA crew went very well today, and I got complements on my presentation from the marketing and product managers who oversaw the work on which it was based. We had a lovely lunch with the fish toxicologist (who is helping to build a fish library complete with fish identified by a taxonomist and the DNA sequences with the Smithsonian) and ocean scientist with whom we will be working. J asked me how I planned to spend the afternoon, and I said in my room working. Why don't I take the Metro to the Mall and go to the oceanographic exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History? Because I have never been on the Metro. Easy, he said, you leave your car in the FDA lot, get on the green line, transfer to the blue line and get off at the Smithsonian station. Well, it did sound like more fun than staring at beige wallpaper and a computer screen, so off I went.

No problem, even for me who once took a trolley north trying to get to the Mexican border from San Diego. So I gaped at the whale skeleton, the very cool illuminated big (BIG!) globe with the various currents and oceanographic features playing out on the surface (how did they DO that) and eventually wandered over to the irresistible fossils. I decided to look for a fish book in the museum store, and the nice man with the cane struck up a conversation with me. He works with the ithicologists, so we discussed the research with the FDA and he recommended a book for my further education (Barnes and Noble, cheap, he says).

So what I have learned (twice!) this week is when you have lunch with fish scientists, someone is bound to order fish, look over the menu item on the plate, and speculate on whether it is really the species the menu says. I'm not there yet, guess I had better order the book.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Who Dat!

I left New Orleans this morning. I stayed out by the airport and drove over to Pascagoula MS and back (the speed limit is 70, meaning the speed limit is 70 in the slow lane, the other ones are even faster). It was a sunny and mild, pleasant day. Although southern Louisiana is always in a good mood this time of year, festooned with purple and yellow Mardi Gras decorations, this year, everyone is estastic. The Saints, of course. Fleur-de-lis tumbled over themselves on signs, GO SAINTS was plastered on anything that would accept a sticker, and more cars than not were flying 2 SAINTS flags attached to the roof. All the bars were running playoff re-runs from 2 weeks ago. WHO DAT could be heard literally in every dining room, bar, corridor, and WHO DAT was kind of a rumble at the airport. The local news was almost exclusively about the Saints, photo ops abounded in Miami, and these big hulking brutes in business suits proclaimed it was just another business trip. Right.

I wish them well. When I lived in Louisiana we called them the Ain'ts, so it has been a long time coming.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A feast and a beer for $15

I am in Kenner LA, a working class neighborhood near the New Orleans Airport. I spied a Fish place while I was trying to get to my hotel, so I went there for dinner. Perfect! A long bar and grill built cheaply with paneling and linoleum, and the years have been hard on it. I knew I was in for a treat when I saw the long thin baskets of packets of crackers neatly lined up, and the alligator wooden paper towel holders on the tables. Since it was pretty full, I sat at the bar, just down from where two dudes were shucking oysters. The whole time I ate my dinner, they shucked oysters. The trays of oysters kept riding past my back to the other diners. I had blackened catfish with tender little shrimps in a heavy tomato sauce with probably a whole bell pepper chopped up in it, over a mound of rice. Alligator was on the menu, and I could smell when they fried it. I think I will go back tomorrow night and try the gumbo - I saw a lot of that as well. Yum!