Wednesday, August 31, 2005

It's really disturbing to see the aftermath of Katrina. With any disaster like this, you expect that once it passes things start getting better. With places like Biloxi, although the entire town is gone, at least you can sit and think, how do we fix this. With New Orleans though, it goes from bad to worse. I'm not talking about the looting, or the armed gangs roaming the streets. These are jut symptoms of the bigger problems. The really disturbing issues relate to the fact that they city continues to sink. It reminds me of building 'walls' and moats to protect sand castles from the rising tide. As the waves come closer you build walls, you dig ditches, and the waves stop before they hit your construction. But then comes a wave which overwhelms your construction, overwhelms your defenses, and no matter how much sand you pour into the breach, no matter how deep you dig the diversion pool, the wave still swamps you. New Orleans feels like that. Maybe once the 'tide has gone out' (the water level subsides) they can rebuild and pump the water out. But until then... I just don't know what they can do.

It hits home because I was there this summer, and because I now know someone living there.

Of course, I am blocking out death tolls and just looking at the physical damage. The damage to people's lives is too much too take in at this time.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Sure, everybody is writing about Katrina, but it's hard not to. Maybe I should be glad that I managed to stop in New Orleans and see the French Quarter. It's hard to imagine, the idea of New Orleans is the French Quarter. Just the idea of the potential damage to the city is mind boggling.

What will the human cost of this hurricane be? What will the environmental cost be? It's all the more real, having seen the Gulf Coast, it's all the more real knowing that Lisa lives there. I am assuming that she got out safely, but I honestly have no clue.

I went to bed assuming that whatever was to happen would have happened by the time I got up. I find it almost impossible to tear my eyes away from it. Things sound better - a Category 4 is better than a Category 5. The storm turned north (as they said it would). To me it looked worse, it looked like the storm had turned towards the city, but apparently this is an improvement, since it puts the city on the left side of the storm, getting its strongest winds off the land, not off the sea. They seem to think that the storm surge probably won't go over the levees...something, they said, which could have left the city under water for up to eight months.

I'm concernd about Sam too. I don't really know where he is in Mississippi, but I think he's far enough inland.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

This semester is shaping up to be my heaviest teaching load yet. Teaching these two courses isn't the most difficut thing - I could do a mediocre job, recycle my Economic Botany lectures from last year...but if I did that I would be missing the point of this "postdoc".

The biggest challenge isn't improving the lecture material - that isn't terribly difficult, although it can be time consuming. The problem is "active learning". I have finally figured out what it is - something that had eluded me up until now. Now I just have to figure out how one does it.

Monday, August 22, 2005

I just realised why I am able to fix computer problems for people. Perhaps 90% of computer "problems" require only two things - patience, and the confidence that problems are generally tractable and logical. Computers may be strange creatures, but rarely are they truly malevolent.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Ok, so there is one more thing about which I want to blog. Hubbell's neutral model. It's interesting to see how it has become a lightning rod. My reaction to it was "cool". It seems like most other people reacted with "how can I disprove this?" Maybe that is my limitation as a scientist - maybe I am too willing to accept new ideas, instead of putting them through the ringer like I am supposed to...

Sure, the neutral theory bothered me. What do you mean, tropical trees are competitively neutral? Of course they aren't - any idiot can see that. But you need to look at the analogy with neutral models in genetics. Of course genes are not neutral - the point is that selection theory cannot explain a lot a what goes on in genetics. Rather than trying to explain everything through selection and adaptation, you need to partition variation into selective and neutral variation. Not only does it make it easier to tease apart the variation that matters, it also allows you do trace ancestry and relatedness, and come up with both tools to identify individuals and tools to trace the relatedness between plant Divisions. The idea that niche differentiation can explain the existence of thousands of tropical trees is pretty far-fetched. Even as simple things as light gradients in gaps are pretty hard to demonstrate. It isn't that trees are competitively neutral, it's that neutral models can explain a lot of the variation that exists. So let's refine our understanding of neutral vs. competitive forces, and make use of this information. Or not, if that's what you prefer.
Back in Oklahoma after a long trip. A long trip in which I (sadly) did none of the driving. While I have a lot to say about seeing Canada again, I would rather wait until I had the time to get into that.

I have such mixed feelings about getting this read. You write to get read, and I now have a few people who read this. But at the same time, I rarely do anything to publicise this. Everyone, it seems, is talking about their blogs - even Lindsay's grandmother has a blog now - but somehow I can't bring myself to speak up and say "me too". In part it's because I am not sure whether they know this exists or not, but there is also the "boasting" part. Linz or Carol or Molly write news, they write things that keep people informed about what's going on in their lives. I just ramble on about my thoughts - thought about what it means to blog. I should get over than and go on to write my thoughts about weightier matters - like what an idiot Patrick Mugabe is. But I don't.

So now I am on the cusp of a new semester. I have a whole pile of things to do - newsletter, preparations for two classes - and other things that I can't think of at this moment. But the thing that's really burning in my mind is the dry forest model I came up with. Pete's reaction was really cool - it was really the most interested he has ever been in anything I have shown him. I need to work on that, develop it. Pete seems to think it has the potential to be an Ecology paper. That would be amazing. But before I do that I need to (i) stop wasting time here, (ii) stop wasting time at Wikipedia, (iii) get the work done that I need to do for classes and teaching, and (iv) get my other manuscripts out. What I really need to do is to stop writing, stop this, now. Stop. Maybe in a few minutes...

Friday, August 05, 2005

On the road to Montreal. We started out on Wednesday after my dental appointment (can't bring myself to say the word "root canal") and made up up to St. Louis. Thusday too us all the way up Illinois, across a little bit of Indiana, and all the way through Michigan. Today and tomorrow we stay put (more or less) and then head off to Montreal.

I feel both nervous and excited to go to Montreal. It is with very mixed feelings that I head back into the landscape of my childhood. It will be changes far beyond recognition - that I know, without the slightest shadow of a doubt. But I want to go back and explore these places, I want to see them again, and I want to share that experience with Linz. I also want to see Montreal, I am very excited by the prospect of attending the conference, and I want to see people. In that regard I feel a little bad to drag Linz along - I think and I hope that she will enjoy the experience, but I don't know for certain.