Tuesday, November 25, 2008

OSU Entomology is Abuzz

Dr. Madison and I have two things in common, though he is infinitely more prestigious at both: we have a fondness for carabid beetles, and we are both at Oregon State University...at least this week. He's interviewing on campus today and tomorrow for the Harold E. and Leona M. Rice Endowed Professorship. Dr. Madison hails from the low desert and my recent employer, the University of Arizona.

The endowed professorship, in a nutshell, involves a lot of research funds and a flexible schedule to invest in entomology research here at OSU. Good thing. Entomologists around the country seem to be scratching their heads wondering if OSU is even on the entomological map, since the department dissolved amidst a bit of controversy a few years back. I noted more than one quizzical look last summer when I announced I'd be relocating to OSU for graduate studies in entomology.

But who wants to dwell on the past? Best wishes with your visit, Dr. Madison! We never crossed paths at UA...here's to hoping we do at OSU.

From the Oregon State Arthropod Collection website:

Dr. David Maddison (1990 PhD, Harvard University) is Professor and Curator of Entomology at the University of Arizona. An authority on carabid beetles, Professor Maddison is co-author (with his brother, Wayne Maddison) of the phylogenetic analysis software packages MacClade and
Mesquite. More detail is available on his website: http://david.bembidion.org/index.html

Seminar Title: Gene trees, chromosomes, morphology, and the phylogenetics of beetle species. November 24th at 3:30pm in ALS 4001.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Clay Anderson, Expedition 15 flight engineer
(I did not take this picture)

Want to know what a floating toolbag in space looks like? How 'bout a spy satellite? Enter your zip code and you'll get their flyby times at SpaceWeather.com. Kinda neat! At the very least, ya gotta see the international space station (ISS) from your backyard if you haven't already. Especially now that they have a new kitchenette and more bathrooms on board.

And if you REALLY want to escape reality here on earth, you can listen to LIVE NASA broadcasts of mission control communications and commentary on the ISS mission. They're silent for long periods, but it's still pretty neat.

Is it obvious that I'm procrastinating studying?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Gettin' My Zing On

It's easy to lose the romance of what starts out as an exciting move, particularly when efficiency is your primary objective as a graduate student.

Somewhere in all this learning, I've gone two months without really learning anything new about insects. My time is dominated this term by non-insect related coursework and other aspects of my research project. I also miss exercising my knowledge about the low desert bugs and wildlife I've come to know well over the past five years. In the land of my new home, the Pac NW, which is really my old home, I'd say I'm feeling a bit disconnected...very much without the basic knowledge I've acquired elsewhere in my travels...very un-romanced. That won't do. So I will do what an graduate student does -- schedule it in.

Sadly but true, I've not indulged in nature-play since the move here two months ago. Yesterday I went for the first "scheduled" afternoon walk in a local park (Corvallis, OR) for some nature-play (e.g., birds & bugs, come what may).

An elusive brown creeper flirted from a snag with a half-hearted "trees" call (quite shy of their breeding song "trees beautiful trees, ya"). Braiding flights of unending Canada geese honked overhead, a welcome announcement I'm not in the low desert anymore. I copped a squat and watched at length. The strongest lead the V, then trade off when they become tired. They came from every direction, absorbing and re-forming with admirable grace and fluidity.

A grove of rotting alder called my name. I felt a zing...the zing I've been missing. Gently peeling back bark from a rotting log, I uncovered a feast of overwintering invertebrates snuggled in the warmth of decay. A wolf spider (family Lycosidae) clung greedily to what must have been a large egg sac as a sneering centipede passed over the hollowed carapace of deceased carabid beetle. Four inches down, a millipede convention was taking place amidst a venue of frass. They were interrupted briefly by one of the largest isopods I've ever seen! It's a war-torn, cozy world they live in. I laid their bark back on the log before moving to the next rotting treasure trove...and then the next. Like a naturalist with a gambling addiction, it's hard to stop the peeling back of bark once you start. I told myself as soon as I find a click beetle (family Elateridae) I'd go. Not meant to be. Not this time. Studies were calling...

Walking back, I noticed a very small but conspicuously heavy-flying periwinkle insect. It was easy to catch with a quick grab. A wooly aphid (family Eriosomatidae)! My first! The posterior boasts a bouquet of "feathers", apparently wax, which you can see here. One blogger referrs to them affectionately as her little "fairy flies" -- that is, before learning of their taxonomy as a relative of (garden) aphids, her arch enemy. Wooly aphids, however, are apparently more pestiferous of trees. I don't have a garden...or any trees. And I needed to be romanced. So this one's fuzzy butt was most welcome in my palm. A great way to end the outing.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Presidential Election 2008

Congratulations, America!

Regardless of who you voted for, the waiting is over. Here at the Veggy House , and like so many other places, people gathered to welcome the election results. There was wine and snacks, champagne and toasting. But it was subdued, with little of the cheering and whooping I'd imagined. Our gathering of twenty plus was a gorgeous cornucopia of skin colors from white, to olive, brown and black, including ages two to...much-older. There were tenants, neighbors, friends and guests, each one fell solemn during Obama's acceptance speech as we absorbed the levity of the election finally over, the implications of the history being made, the weight of the work ahead. Finally...hope! I found it interesting that those from other countries (there were several) expressed as much joy over the outcome as anyone.

For some, like myself, it's been eight years coming. To avoid the suffocation of irrevocable disappointment, I've been living underground when it comes to national politics, surviving my scorn and America's descent in, well, just about every way possible. Lamenting -- at times fearing -- our country's declining reputation by others around the world in a way that is unprecedented for my generation. Feeling bitter over not being heard, over my neighbors not being heard. Watching the few (who cut corners) rise at the expense of the many who don't. I'm too young to be jaded! My panacea has come from volunteering for causes I consider solution-focused, and reframing my hope in this country through the power of communities and local politics -- both values I learned in AmeriCorps. But finally...today I exhaled. Aahhhhh. Deep and full, awkward and unfamiliar. Eight years coming. The jeering and whooping can wait, I don't mind. Tonight and for many to come, I fall asleep feeling...re-enchanted!