Friday, September 29, 2006

King of Confusion

It is difficult to explain something complicated. Everyone probably has some kind of personal experience corroborating this. How can you take some piece of knowledge and move it from your brain into the brain of someone else? It may be so clear in your own head, something that you've understood for so long, that it is really difficult for you to remember what it is like to have no comprehension of the issues, concepts, ideas, whatever. This is essentially what makes teaching so difficult. Where am I going with this and how does the title relate to my point? Well, I had a meeting today with a Master's student I am supervising. He basically has all his data, but he just needs to analyze it. It is thus my job to guide him through the data analyses, i.e. statistics. Stats is the thorn in every grad student's side. Statistical analyses are rarely easy, often maddening, and always necessary. I'm no expert, but over the last few years I've learned enough to get by. My task was to transfer my understanding of the relevant statistics into this poor lad's head. The task was all the more difficult becausey I didn't know exactly how to deal with this data (yeah I'm a great supervisor I know). Essentially, I had to learn and/or invent some new approaches to analyze this data. I spent the whole afternoon/evening yesterday doing that in preparation for the meeting with the student this morning. When I experience some success in tackling a tough problem, I get excited because I feel like I'm approaching a satisfying solution, giving me a renewed sense of self-worth. This was the case yesterday afternoon. I got excited about learning these new methods and figuring out how to analyze this guy's data. My excitement carried over into the meeting this morning; I was eager to share my new ideas. And I definitely did. I regurgitated my freshly acquired knowledge all over this poor Master's student in a jumbled, disorganized, and generally incomprehensible manner...for nearly two hours. In some ways I did my job as supervisor. I spent a lot of time learning some new techniques and then shared this information with the student. Unfortunately, I did it in a very confusing manner (luckily I'm not giving lectures yet). So, for today, I am deeming myself the king of confusion...mostly because I confused someone other than myself for a change.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Nature's Freak Show

First of all, I don't know if I can provide a post that is worthy of that title, but I did have quite a mind-blowing experience today. For the past week, I have been working at the university's field station, Konnevesi, about an hour outside of Jyväskylä. It is not the most exciting place; basically all there is to do is work. Every once in a while, though, work can provide some surprises. Today, I was measuring some worms from an experiment done yesterday. This is usually very tedious, repetitive work. Definitely not interesting. However, I came across one male worm, coded 8.51, that was most definitely interesting...because it had no head. Ok, that might not shock y'all, but it sure knocked me out of my seat. I've looked at hundreds, maybe thousands, of these worms and never, ever seen anything like this. I'm studying a group of parasites called, in the vernacular, thorny-headed worms. As the name suggests, these animals have a proboscis that is studded with spikes. This "freak" worm didn't have a probscis; it just wasn't there. However, everything else was more or less normal. Highly abnormal individuals of any species are very rare because they probably die very young. Nature is too harsh for those with crippling developmental abnormalities. This worm, however, developed to what might be approximated as adolecence. Amazing. It wouldn't have made it to adulthood, though, because it wouldn't be able to attach to the host's intestine. I wonder how common such abnormalities are...1 in a 1000, 1 in 100,000. It's anyone's guess. No matter what the odds are, I doubt I'll ever see anything like it again.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Where did September go?

First and foremost, the blog is not dead. It did experience a bit of a hiatus though. The reason is that Ines and I were enjoying each other's company in lovely Finland. I think I can speak for both of us and say that we were in "holiday mode"...and blogging isn't much of a holiday activity. However, it can make for good blogging subject matter. At least it might make our friends a bit jealous and/or motivate them to visit Finland. Hmmm, now what should I say about the last 2 weeks? I'll start with an easy topic, the weather. For the first week Ines was visiting, her cousin Alex was with us. Alex got to experience Finland at its most depressing: cold, gray, and rainy. Ok, there were one or two days the sun made an appearence, but it did seem like fall came suddenly and coincidentally with the visit of Ines and Alex. However, after Alex left, when it was just Ines and I, the weather was much, much better. It was warm enough to be walking around in just a t-shirt. Not gonna be many more days like that this year. Enough small talk about Finnish weather and on to some bigger news. Ines and I celebrated 2 years together on the 16th. Wild huh? We planned to have a romantic day and evening together, and we accomplished that goal. However, there was one funny anecdote I'd like to share. As we were walking in the city center, we passed a Rax Pizza Buffet (all-you-can-eat pizza place). I commented on how delicious the pizza smelled, and Ines responded by asking if we should eat there in the evening. I replied by saying that a buffet isn't romantic because I always try to eat as much as I possibly can. Stuffing one's face just isn't romantic. Later in the evening, we decided to go to a Chinese restaurant...that's kinda romantic, right? Well, it must have been fate because they happened to have a buffet. I just couldn't help myself; I ordered the buffet. Thus, I have to admit that I took some of the romance out of the evening by taking the buffet, but I managed to limit myself to only 3 plates. I was full but not puking full. So is there a lesson in this story? Probably not, but I'll espouse one anyways. Here goes: romance can be dampened but not killed by too much Chinese food. Not such a useful lesson I guess. Maybe the lesson is that I need to stop being tempted by the concept of "all-you-can-eat".

Now I (Ines) feel like I also have to provide a food story. Because my cousin and I were lucky with food in Finland. The day we arrived we had to wait in Tampere for the train to Jyväskylä. As usual. Thus we went to Hesburger (much better than McDonald´s or Burger King) to eat some delicious Finnish burgers. I ordered the veggie burger but got the one with chicken. Since I don´t eat meat I had to complain (sorry, Hesburger staff). And what did we get for complaining? Free ice cream! And a week later Alex and me went to the fish market in Jyväskylä and got a salmon dish for half the price. Interesting food experiences. But we didn´t eat all the time. We also drank. And on the boat to Tallinn Dan and me performed "New York, New York" in the Karaoke Bar. I have to admit that we were really bad. Probably because we had some beer, lonkero and Vana Tallin before. Like most of the people on the boat.

In this retrospect on the Finland holiday we mustn´t forget out summer cottage experience with grilling sausages outside in the rain and smoke sauna in the pitch black dark. A bit creepy. I enjoyed Finland and hope that I can go back there soon, even though Dan won´t be living in Jyväskylä anymore. I´m so happy that Dan moves to Germany. Juhu!!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

I cleaned the flat today, a rare occurrence, in preparation for Ines and her cousin’s visit. As I was beating the dust out of the rugs, I was reminded of a humorous tale from my past life…that one in Nebraska. When I was but a mere boy, 19 years old, I was entering my second year of college. I had agreed to live with Mr. Ryan Frost who, as it would happen, turned out to be my roommate for 3 of the best years of my life. Anyways, we both spent that summer living at our parent’s homes in Omaha, the last summer we would do that, so by August we were very eager to move back to Lincoln for college. Towards the end of the summer, we spent a lot of time planning how to “pimp” our shared room. Yes, in the dormitories of American universities two or more people share a single room. And yes, it is cramped with a lack of privacy, but most people don’t care because they just moved out of their parent’s house. One item that we purchased together for our room was a huge chunk of black and yellow carpet. Shopping for it was an experience in and of itself. We borrowed my parent’s van and visited various carpet warehouses; it was like we were a newlywed couple. The real experience with this piece of carpet, though, was getting it to our room. Our room was on the 11th floor of a 13 floor building. Unfortunately for us, our hunk of carpet did not fit in the elevator. Thus, we had to drag, push, and yank this damn heavy carpet up 22 flights of stairs (2 per floor). To make things more miserable, if I remember right, the stairwells weren’t air conditioned…and August in Nebraska is damn hot. We probably sweat out a couple kilos just getting the carpet into our room. After getting it there, we had to cut it up so that it fit into our tiny little room. But all the trouble was completely worth it. That was the coolest carpet I’ve ever owned…way cooler than the pink rug I inherited from Ines when she left Finland (though I do like this rug).

In other news, I’m doing an experiment tonight that should last from about 1630 until 0030. It’s crazy…what was I thinking when I planned this. It is like my roommate that watches bird mating behaviour at 4 in the morning during the spring time. Sometimes biology just doesn’t fit into a normal working schedule. Oh well.