Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Poise defined

Writing fellowship essays this week, coordinating with professors, gathering transcripts, test scores, and letters of recommendation... Why o why does this make me feel so ill? I can't help but laugh at the nausea, it's truly comical. But it's worth it: a great research project is ready and waiting... now just for the funding. Won't be blogging for a few more days (unless the blog can cough up a tuition remission and stipend!).

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Plunging in

I sent an e-mail recently to a colleague who is thinking about starting a blog and posting his materials from work there. Yellow flags went up, I couldn't respond quick enough. (For the love of god, don't do it.) But then... I work for a much larger employer than he, where there are policies and guidelines defining personal property and matters of public image.

I'm sure most bloggers get to a point early on where they have to decide: to publish or not to publish? There are two unpublished posts saved as drafts with such question marks. Could I get in trouble at work for this? Will it compromise the date I have on Friday? As a newbie in the blogging world, I have to wonder how prepared I am to stand by what I write. The red devil of risk (or instigation) on one shoulder, the white angel of caution on the other battling it out, fork to harp. Who wins? ...You're torn. But truthfully, only on the follow-through. It was already decided on some level before the first post ever went out. This is my blog, my forum, my opinion. Forget the rest. Implicating details will be left out, that's fair. And considering the inflammatory stuff I'm privy to, it's probably also ethical.

And to make sure I do follow through, just to flirt a little with the risk, here's a snippet of my reply to him:

...On the topic of work/work-related materials, etc. on personal blogs. If someone sees your [documents] on a blog you create and write in with a question, do you intend to respond as yourself or as an employee and expert in your field? Employers may be concerned about liability ("this expert guy told me to do such-and-such, so I did it and my house blew up!"), or concerns about misrepresenting their mission/interests on your blog. I would suggest figuring this out before posting any educational materials you created at work.

I do not know the legalities and regulation specifics of [my employer]... I’m paid to do a job that involves creating educational materials which belong to them – not me. But [employers like mine] anymore are being run like corporate enterprises. Just ask [insert a made up name here] about the subject. He’s been under fire several times for sounding off to local media about environmental stuff and "stupid people", and the media sources cited him as an employee of [his employer] as opposed to a private citizen. It’s caused an increasing commotion within the department, and was in part why the department launched a new policy requiring that statements to the media need to be approved beforehand if one intends to be cited as an employee.

Do you see where this is going, where I’m coming from? No one has a copyright on our experiences or knowledge. I am entitled to my opinions, the more anonymous the safer, and may or may not sound off about some of the corruption and waste I’ve witnessed. It has been unbelievable, and equally offensive: ignored. But the focus of my blog isn’t to complain. My intent is to create and share something original and educational – and inspiring, if only to myself. The mere act of blogging says I'm here, and I'm interesting! And it seems to be at the heart of why we read blogs: for the raw, unedited opinion; insights free from supervisor reviews and committee edits. The real story. An account of something straight from the individual, not the enterprise.

Enough of my rantings... I'll save it for my blog. :)

And so I have.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Blast off

Lordy, another case of how people assume that if you can BUY it, it's "safe". There seems to be this assumption - perhaps because we live in the land of regulation - that Big Brother has a filter in place to protect us where we should in fact be protecting ourselves (not to mention the integrity of our natural environment). We're still somewhere in the vastness between The Jungle and A Brave New World, on our way, perhaps, toward Soylent Green.

Ah, well. A large part of my current job involves addressing urban issues along these lines... Thanks for the article, Carl.

Bug foggers blamed in Galveston house blast

02:16 PM CST on Tuesday, January 22, 2008

By Scott E. Williams

GALVESTON - Six bug foggers detonated inside a house Monday, blasting the roof off and causing what officials called significant structural damage.

Aleiya Hawkins, 8, perches in a tree while she and Angelo Carubba, 7, watch firefighters in front of a home rocked by an explosion.

The blast occurred about 1 p.m. in a small house in the 5400 block of Avenue P1/2. A resident there had left six foggers working inside the house, but apparently had not turned off the pilot lights in the house. The vapor ignited when it reached the kitchen stove's pilot light, fire Batallion Chief B. Streck said.

Gina Carubba, who lives across the street, said, "I thought someone crashed into the porch. That's what it felt like."

Her son and his friend, who were outside playing, saw the flash of the explosion. Carubba said she called 911 after the kids told her about seeing the flash. She said she was afraid it was a gas leak.

No one was inside the home at the time of the explosion, as the residents had gone to a relative's home while the fogger worked, and firefighters reported no injuries.

However, damage to the home was pervasive, and the blast knocked the roof from the house. Although it landed back on top of the house after flying inches into the air, nothing but gravity was keeping it in place.

Streck said people who used foggers for pest control should strictly follow the instructions for the number of foggers needed, depending on a structure's size. He also said anyone using a fogger should put out all pilot lights before activating them

Monday, January 21, 2008

Which way the wind blows...

A common form of dispersal for spiderlings is something called "ballooning". They hatch out of their egg sac, all 300+ of them if they're widow spiders, and climb the nearest structure - a tree, a building - and take a flying leap. Well, let me back up. They don't exactly jump. They send out one or more long silk trailers, and the wind - whatever wind there is - will engage it and elevate their light little bodies up and into the air for fate to do with them as she pleases. It's really quite beautiful, if you're not standing underneath them.

If only life could be so simple... :)

There is a fair amount of serendipity needed in this method. Several of the little guys get picked off by predators while embracing their moment in the wind. Being in the right place at the right time, having it coincide with precisely what you want... There's a magic elixir in that, and when it's there, it's so, so sweet.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Other Half

I went to Mexico yesterday. We are launching an environmental program in schools along the US/MX border that will - in theory - benefit children's environmental health. I've been to this border area several times, but never has it affected me like this. Before ever reaching the school, my head was swimming from the fumes of a hundred idling vehicles at the border crossing; for several minutes, I thought I would become physically ill beyond ability to do my job. Stray dogs greeted us as we stepped out of the vehicle at the first school. It sat perched atop a hill with a sharp and unfenced drop-off around much of it. Trash was strewn everywhere. Water ran from an unchecked hose. I was there to do a brief and modest inspection and determine the nature of how our program would begin to take shape.

As a scientist and someone with three years of therapy, I have become very, very good at healthy detachment (or as my therapist likes to call it, "boundary-setting"). But there is always something in life to remind us we are not impenetrable - and nor would we want to be. Mine came in the form of yesterday, a montag of shanty towns, horrendous air quality, debris in sinks with no running water, a disfigured man dragging himself across a busy street, more amputees than I typically see in a year, and a beautiful dark-skinned child with burn scars covering her face. I have been to this country before, and I did not grow up with a silver spoon. Whether it's the looming instability that is hovering over my year ahead, or whether I have simply grown up since my last border visit and better understand the precariousness of life - whatever the case, I have never been so cognizant of the effects of poverty and desperation, particularly when it is divided from my world by... a fence.

My colleagues, the school principal and I congregated in a small office to discuss some basic, pre-inspection questions. We were there by invitation to lend our assistance and empower the staff... No big surprise that this gets lost in translation. How could I convey our best intentions? It must be shown, I concluded. Not explained. Later that afternoon, through a fortuitous meeting with a local industry representative, we were invited to pitch the program to a maquiladora association next month. They may be interested in funding modest structural upgrades and supplies needed to make the public border schools healthier and safer for kids.

I am ecstatic. What a great kick-off to this program. But more than once yesterday I lowered my head with embarrassment that what I was doing wasn't enough. For 95% of those I saw along the border, our program will have a negligible impact. Fewer bugs, well managed trash, and a little less classroom mildew is nothing in the face of rampant and polluted dust, a lack of clean water, hungry children, and widespread poverty. Rather, it's the life I live that they're jumping fences and risking treks through parched desert for. For every hungry, desperate person who's eye met mine, I felt a pang of guilt for how lately I've spent weekends: ruminating over plans on the "next phase" in career advancement, and writing fellowships for future graduate studies amidst functioning faucets, drinkable water, and the whirring of machines to do my bidding. Need something at the store? Anything all, just pop across the street and buy it - no worries. No worries...

Yesterday raises a question that used to come up often, but got lost while making plans. Chances are, if you are reading this, you've asked yourself this question, too. ...How am I contributing and how am I taking away? (A veritable naughty and nice ledger for the conscientious modern U.S. citizen.) Put simply: am I doing enough?

The luxury of pontification is not a crime, I realize that. And neither is having a functioning washing machine. But for this moment, with yesterday's images still swirling in my head, the career planning and grocery shopping invokes gross indigestion.