Thursday, July 31, 2008

While I'm blogging about sports...

Please, oh, please, let Brett Favre be traded to the Chicago Bears... would so much fun to see Gibbon Jockey's reaction...

Manny Be Gone

Warning: non-Boston sports-fans and those who haven't been following the Manny Ramirez soap opera may want to skip this post.

Thankfully, Manny Ramirez is leaving Boston. I wish it hadn't come to this, but he has become a major pain in the ass over the past few weeks - getting into fights with teammates, knocking down elderly club assistants, refusing to play, making up injuries, saying that Boston doesn't deserve a player like him, etc, etc. All because he really didn't want the Sox to pick up a $20 million option for next year (don't you hate it when someone wants to pay you $20 million a year?). Manny being Manny just went too far.

I always kinda liked the guy - a big goofball who could hit the crap out of a baseball - but with the way he's been acting lately (like one of my kids when they were 2 and were told they couldn't have ice cream) I'm happy to see him go. Looks like the Sox are getting a decent player in Jason Bay in return, but we'll see (and really, at this point, I don't really care). Everyone on the team has to feel better right now - especially Tito (Terry Francona, the team manager).

The only downside to this whole thing is that my 4-year old son, Jack, lost it when he heard the news (we were listening to the radio waiting for Emma to get home from camp). Tears, sobbing, pure uncontrollable (and inconsolable) emotion. I didn't know he was so attached to Manny. I don't even want to think about how he is going to react when the same fate befalls his favorite player, Jason Varitek. He's going to be absolutely crushed. But maybe Manny's departure will help soften the blow - Jack won't be so blindsided by the fact that this happens.

Anyways, I am 100% ready for the Manny-less era to begin. Good luck, LA! Repeat after me, it's just Manny being Manny...

Research poster frustration (take 3)

Here's yet another chapter in the continuing saga of the large format poster printer I have the "privilege" of having access to.

Next Monday there is a conference co-hosted by RI-INBRE and RI-EPSCoR, two federally-funded state programs that, among many other things, provide support to undergraduates to do research. This conference consists of poster presentations for all the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows (SURFs) from both programs throughout the state. As such, I am printing 10 posters for the SURFs here at RWU.

Not too bad, right? Each takes about 15 minutes or so to print, so I block off a few hours and give myself another day just in case anything goes awry. Am I prescient or what...

1) Poster files were due in to me by 10 a.m. this morning. How many did I have by 10 a.m.? Exactly 1. This was expected of course so not too big a deal.

2) The one laptop that is reserved for use with the large-format poster printer is kept in the Dean's office (this way we can maintain strict control over who uses the plotter - we don't want just anyone trying to use it and end up f-ing it up). However, the Dean is not here today. Neither is his secretary. The other secretary in the building doesn't have a key to his office. Luckily, security does and happily opens the door for me (wonder if the Dean knows about this).

3) The printer sits in a little room off the back of a computer lab. I have a key that opens up both the computer lab and the little room in the back. So, I unlock the computer lab and attempt to unlock the room in the back. My key doesn't fit. I try again and again and again, thinking it's just a bit sticky. Nope. No good. My key clearly does not go with this lock. Another call to security...

4) Security shows up. Long story short...their keys don't work either. WTF!?!? Security calls the locksmith. Turns out that the lock has been changed and the only folks with a key are over in IT. Apparently they're using the room for the storage of new PCs until they get a chance to swap out a bunch of old ones. Security bids me adieu and wishes me good luck. Great.

5) I call IT. Finally I get connected to someone with the key. I tell him what I need and he says...nothing. Just silence on the other side. Then I get a "Hmmmm. Huh. Ahhhhh. Can I call you back?" Sure. Why should I have expected a simple, "OK, I'll be right there"?

6) He calls back. I can't get access to the printer. I repeat, I cannot get access to the printer. Turns out the printer has been taken offline, moved to the back of the room and buried behind boxes of new PCs. It is literally inaccessible. Apparently, IT had been (direct quote here) "hoping that no one would need the printer this summer". Wah? Hoping? Other than IT (and the locksmith I guess) no-one knew this was happening. They didn't tell (or better, ask) anyone. They just were hoping it would be OK. Wow.

Everything is not lost however. The guy from IT has given me access to the computer lab in the School of Engineering. There's an older large format printer over here that I am using...once I changed the paper, figured out the proper settings, and fought with the paper loader because the roll I have is too thick so the rollers get jammed. But I'm printing now and, knock-on-wood, everything looks good.

And I remembered rubber bands this time!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The shoe fits...

(Hat tip to Kevin Z)

How to Win a Fight With a Conservative is the ultimate survival guide for political arguments

My Liberal Identity:

You are a Reality-Based Intellectualist, also known as the liberal elite. You are a proud member of what’s known as the reality-based community, where science, reason, and non-Jesus-based thought reign supreme.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Marine bio Camp - day 6 recap

Well, this year's Marine Biology Camp came to a close with a whale watching excursion with Capt. John Boats out of Plymouth, MA. Although our chances of seeing anything seemed slim with the heavy fog rolling in, our luck was good once we hit Stellwagen Bank and the fog cleared. Highlights from the the trip:

  • Saw five humpbacks up close, including two cow-calf pairs, as well as a couple of minke whales and a fin whale off in the distance

  • One of the humpback whales we saw was Salt, the first humpback to be given a name some 30+ years ago, and her new calf, Sanchal
  • .
  • Great bubble net feeding beahvior

  • Best of all, Sanchal gave us a show with a "spinning head breach" right in front of the bow of the boat. This was the first time I had ever seen a breach and was as amazing as I thought it would be!
Upon our return to campus, we gave the Marine Bio students their final exam. We'd been hyping it up all week long, scaring them into paying attention and taking notes, even offering bonus points for various things throughout the week. In the end though, the "final" was a fun scavenger hunt across campus, complete with a bucket for bringing back samples (e.g. an herbivorous marine gastropod, a piece of flotsam, a member of the phylum Arthropoda). No grades are assigned - everyone had fun, learned some stuff, did some things they never did before, and got a cool RWU Marine Biology t-shirt. A success by all accounts (excepting the one kid that left mid-week).

It was an intense week - I feel like we did an entire semester of a Marine Bio lab/field course in one week. I think I'll go to bed now and sleep for about three days!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Marine bio Camp - day 5 recap

Today's Itinerary:
Morning Session
Trawling on the 54' fishing vessel, the Captain Bert - students got to see the deployment of a smallish otter trawl and learn some fish biology while examining the haul;
Our catch included fluke, flounder, lobstahs, sea robins, scup/porgies, and squid;
Observe fluke dissection - examine internal anatomy and stomach contents (two recently eaten scup);

Afternoon Session
Winkler titrations of light/dark bottles from yesterday;
determine and graph primary productivity (gross and net) and respiration rates for surface and deep water;

Evening Lecture
Marine Mammals, given by yours truly (why me? cause our resident marine mammologist is on sabbatical and I lost the coin flip; thank goodness for wikipedia!)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Marine bio Camp - day 4 recap

Today's Itinerary
Morning session
Take RWU boats out for plankton sampling - one boat deploys a 150μm zooplankton net, the other deploys a 20μm phytoplankton net;
Using Van Dorn bottle, collect water samples and set-up primary productivity analysis (using the light/dark bottle technique);
In lab, use microscopes to examine the plankton samples - sketch and ID five phytoplankton and five zooplankton;
use spectrophotometers to measure chlorophyll concentration in samples filtered yesterday;

Afternoon session
Head to Fogland Beach for some fish seining along the shore and salt marsh;

Evening Lecture
Fish Biology

Highlight of the Day
Catching a 20-inch striped bass in the beach seine

Lowlights of the Day
1) Lion's mane stings
2) For tomorrow's Winkler titrations I wondered if I should use glass or plastic graduated cylinders. Are the high schoolers careful enough for the glass ones? I don't know...they're pretty fragile...and tippy (the cylinders, not the kids!)...oh what the hell, let them use the good stuff. Any bets on what I did while setting up? I decided to go with plastic.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Marine bio Camp - day 3 recap

Today's Itinerary:
Morning session
take RWU's two small boats (a 19' Lema Skiff and a 29' Master Marine) out on the Bay;
on one boat - take CTD and Secchi disk readings from three different stations; collect surface, mid-column, and "deep" water samples using a Van Dorn bottle (for chlorophyll analysis back in the lab);
on 2nd boat - deploy Van Veen Grab and small otter trawl, identify and discuss critters found

Afternoon session
discuss productivity, photosynthesis, and ways of measuring both;
process water samples collected in morning - for each sample, filter 1L through 0.5μ membrane, place membrane filter in 10ml acetone to extract chlorophyll, let sit overnight (will quantify chlorophyll spectrophotometrically tomorrow);
discuss what characteristics make a good graph;
create depth profiles using CTD data from morning (salinity, temperature, and dissolved oxygen vs depth);
interpret depth profiles and relate to the geography of the Bay;

Evening Lecture
Phytoplankton, primary productivity, and marine invertebrates (characteristics of major phyla) - presented by our two senior undergraduate camp assistants

Issue of the Day
Lost a kid. OK, not really, but one kid did decide that he hated the camp so much he didn't want to stay. So, his dad came by this evening, picked him and his stuff up, and took him home. Oh well. Maybe he was expecting dolphins and sharks or something.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Marine bio Camp - day 2 recap

kayak in Ninigret Pond;
explore the salt marsh, tidal flats, eel grass beds, sandy beach;
search for, find, and identify critters, discuss their ecology/natural history;
discuss sedimentation, local geology, glacial past, anaerobic decomposition, hydrogen sulfide production;
visit rocky intertidal zone at Beavertail State Park;
discuss important physical and biological factors at play here;
examine zonation;
search for, find, and identify critters;
compare and contrast with sandy beach environment;

Problems encountered:
Shuttle bus with students taking the long way around, getting stuck in morning rush-hour traffic;
kayak outfitter unable to unlock kayaks -> go out and rent bolt cutters -> cut lock;
kid from CA forgetting his parent-signed kayaking release form;
RWU shuttle failing to return to pick us up to take us to the rocky intertidal (they didn't see the second destination on the shuttle request form);
hung around kayak center parking lot for a couple of hours waiting for RWU security to "do their best to get someone out to pick us up";
had approximately 40 minutes at rocky intertidal;
one bloody shin and one smashed toe (neither mine);

At least it didn't rain on us. And I didn't lose anyone.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Kayaks, Winklers, and Otter Trawls....oh my!

Today was the start of the RWU Summer Marine Biology Camp, a one-week, intensive, hands-on marine biology experience for high school kids. And I'm running it. Or rather, I'm co-running it with Scott Rutherford, our resident geologist. Today, 15 students arrived with their parents (well, technically, 14 arrived with parents, 1 flew in solo from CA), got settled into their dorm rooms, and got oriented to the program. Our week is packed full - so much so that I think I may not see my wife and kids until Saturday. Sorry, Linda! Here's a quick run-down of some of the things happening the week:

  • kayaking at Ninigret Pond - we'll explore this coastal lagoon (aka salt pond) and associated habitats (salt marsh, sand/mud flats, barrier beach, eel grass beds), keeping an eye out for as many critters as we can

  • tidepooling at Beavertail State Park - a great, wave-swept, rocky intertidal area - perfect for observing zonation

  • using a small, hand-deployable CTD to create water column profiles in Mt. Hope Bay (a part of Narragansett Bay)

  • using Van Dorn bottles to collect water samples at various depths for chlorophyll analysis

  • phyto- and zooplankton tows and then some microscope work to see what we caught

  • investigation of primary productivity using light and dark bottles and Winkler titrations (if I can find the burets!)

  • fish seining at a local beach - we should find plenty of silversides, mummichog, and sheepsheads, among other things

  • deploying an otter trawl off the 54' fishing-cum-research vessel, the Captain Bert - I am really looking forward to this one as I have never done or seen this before - we should pull up a good variety of critters, hopefully with minimal harm/bycatch

  • whale watching on Stellwagen Bank - a good way to end the week.

Just so you don't think the students are having all fun this week, there are also evening lectures after dinner that they have to endure and a final exam at the end. I'll be giving a lecture later in the week on marine mammals (!!) in prep for the whale watch (more on this later). Should be an exhausting, but fun week!

Jack and Jellies

While visiting the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History:

In the garden

Inspired by the wonderful photos by Kathy over at Skippy's Vegetable Garden, here are a few pics of what's growing over here. (Oh, and for you marine-only types who may not otherwise be interested in my terrestrial biota, check out the first two pics and notice the shells of Mytilus edulis from the Coast of Maine compost I used this year.)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday Dial Stopper - bonus post

Although I already posted an FDS today, I wanted to share this live video of Putnam Smith, a fellow Bowdoinite who graduated a couple of years ahead of me. He and his then-musical-partner, Bryn (collectively known as Bryn and Putt) used to play at Jack Magee's Pub (and before that in the old Moulton Union pub) on campus and I very fondly remember attending as many shows as I could. They did a kick-ass cover of R.E.M.'s It's the End of the World As We Know It and the Lemonhead's Being Around (at least I think that was it; I just remember everyone calling it the "booger song") . I recently discovered that Putt has continued making music and is performing in the Northeast this summer. Check out his music at his website - his new CD, this blue, is excellent.

Friday Dial Stopper

Haven't posted a FDS in a while, so to get me started again, here's one of my all-time favorite songs from one of my all-time favorite bands. It's even got an oceany theme to it!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

My inner fish

(hat tip to Peter "Hammerhead" Etnoyer over at Deep Sea News)

I played the fish game and based on the results of the quiz, the fish I am closest to is a Swordfish!

According to the site I am a large and powerful migratory fish that can be found in oceanic regions worldwide, including the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. I am cold blooded and have special organs next to my eyes that warm my brain and eyes to improve my vision. I am often identified by my sword, a long flat bill that helps me swim faster, hunt for food, and defend myself. I can weigh as much as 1400lbs, eat mostly squid, fish, and crustaceans and use my sword-like bill by stunning my prey. I prefer to swim and hunt alone.

I was once a very popular restaurant entrée, served at restaurants around the world. While chefs, supermarkets and people have agreed to not eat as many swordfish, I still face overfishing in many parts of the world. It is also difficult to track and manage my population because I tend to swim across international borders.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Seems like the perfect time for this. First, it's almost Shark Week. Second, there are sharks in Boston and now also on Nantucket.

I grew up in Massachusetts. I spent my summers at the beach on Cape Cod. I have studied the ocean and its critters. I love the ocean and its critters (yes, even molluscs). I think sharks are incredibly cool. I know that people are far more likely to die in a car accident than by being attacked by a shark. But still, every time I go in the water or take my kids to the beach I can't help but think of Jaws. EVERY time. Now, it doesn't stop me (normally) from going in the water or letting my kids have fun splashing around and throwing seaweed at each other, but there it is, always in the back of my mind, tickling my amygdala. Don't get too deep, kids. OK, that's far enough. Maybe we should build a sandcastle now.. My wife likes to tell a story about a time when we went swimming near dusk and I kept getting more and more anxious, refusing to go any deeper - she used to think it was silly until she heard about great whites being reported off Cape Cod. Part of me thinks it's silly too, but a bigger part of me likes all my limbs, thank you very much.

Irrational? Yup. But not terribly surprising either - being attacked by a shark seems to fit all four types of things we fear:

  1. We fear what our ancestral history has prepared us to fear. As a survival tactic, fear of being eaten has served us well.

  2. We fear what we can’t control. I don't care if you're Michael Phelps, you ain't in control. I'd feel more in control being attacked by a grizzly bear.

  3. We fear things that are immediate more than the long-term. Sharks don't nibble.

  4. We fear threats readily available in memory. Thanks for nothing, Mr. Spielberg.

So, as much as I enjoyed Jaws, and all its memorable quotes ("You're gonna need a bigger boat"), I think I'd rather my kids never see it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cuttlefish babies!

In case you missed it, Kevin Z was the winner of the mystery photo contest - he correctly guessed identified those inch-long black things as cuttlefish egg cases. Congrats, Kevin! Your hard-earned loot is in the mail (or, rather, will be tomorrow).

Specifically, those were the egg cases of the common cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis, one of the organisms currently in residence here at RWU. One of our undergrads is working on more effective and efficient ways of breeding and raising them. The black color comes from ink that the female injects into each egg case.

The eggs hatched over this past weekend - 88 in total. Each hatchling is a tiny, yet fully formed cuttlefish that feeds, changes color, and inks if disturbed. They're very cute (for a mollusc).

Some pics of 2-day old cuttlefish (I'll try to get a better, close-up later when they're a little bigger). Each baby is about 1.5cm or so:

Here are some older, bigger cuttles (approx. 15-20 cm):

Does this look right to you?

The back-ordered case for my new Sea & Sea underwater digital camera finally arrived today. I am not impressed: