Saturday, January 27, 2007

Nature and Sanity: What the Web Has Done for Me

I haven't posted in a while because I've been 100 per cent immersed in preparing a grant application that in the end proved to be 473 pages long. It contained 40 pages of budget spreadsheets, commensurately more pages of narrative budget justification, one general introduction, research plans for four cores and four scientific projects, tables, biographical sketches for the major participants, and numerous other obligatory pieces of paper that all had to relate to one another accurately in order for our request for $8.8 million to be considered, much less funded. Multiple copies of application were shipped to the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Aging on January 25, one month to the day after Christmas. A 1,000 lb weight was lifted from my (and several other people's) shoulders, though in my gut I fear I made some error severe enough to again sink my spirits when it is uncovered and, worst-case, scuttle the entire enterprise. The latter is unlikely, but it's what I'm paid to worry about.

I spent my days at a computer. Except for interpersonal relationships and a few old hard-copy files, the computer is my only tool at the office. Since Christmas the hours spent at a computer working on the application are practically uncounted. While I can focus - get in a zone and flow with Csikszentmihalyi - for long periods of time, my Sesame Street-like brain needs distraction too. The invention and continuous improvements to Web cams and their proliferation in interesting places, especially interesting places very dear to me, has saved my mental health. A new favorite is focused over the Yellowstone River to Electric Peak beyond, just north of Yellowstone National Park. On days like today, it takes my breath away. There is activity - changing light, moving trains, flowing water, ice patches that come and go - in the spring there will be buds and green, in the summer fishermen and in the fall, drinking wildlife, to remind me of things bigger and older than myself. The Yellowstone is free-flowing here, unchanneled and undammed by man. The recently mounted Web cam pointed to Old Faithful and additional important thermal features of Yellowstone's Upper Geyser Basin also thrills when Old Faithful, Beehive, or Giant geyser erupt, when herds of elk or bison wander by oblivious to the optics aimed at them, and when people (also mostly oblivious) gather to see Old Faithful do its thing. What a sheer joy, what a lift away from my chair, what a reminder of the sanity of Nature the cams are.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


I love the very word: NEOLOGISM. Today I heard a great new one on Animal Planet's Animal Cops Miami. A rehabilitated abused dog was "ready to be rehomed." That would be re-home-ed if the meaning and pronounciation aren't immediately obvious looking at it in writing. It's brilliant. Turn a noun into a verb and add a prefix and you're good to go! Another favorite with a longer track record (at least in my experience) is the verb to regift, derived from yet another coinage, or abused part of speech if you will, to gift.

I'm sure lots of linguists are heartsick but I'm thrilled. How many such highly adaptive evolutionary processes do we have the privilege of witnessing, after all?

(The photo is of a decorative feature in the limestone wall of Rosenwald Hall on the University of Chicago campus.)

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Depth of Field

I experimented today with my new Nikon 60 mm micro lens. Sweet Cat Winston was my willing victim.
Depth of field is a big issue at 8 inches, but perhaps I can learn to use it to my advantage.