Friday, March 30, 2012

Reinventing Education: eTextbooks

Click to Enlarge
I was going to wait a bit until I talked more about this topic, but I'm excited to get it out of my brain onto a post! Earlier this week, I talked about how the Khan Academy has the potential to revolutionize education by allowing students to view video lectures at home and focus on mastering the concepts with help from teachers in the classroom. I've already watch a handful of videos myself and have found them very helpful and educational.

I've been watching videos though the Academy iPad app and have loved how convenient it is. I was able to download videos so that I could watch them during my bus ride (with no internet) back to New Mexico. I felt like could have been in a 'The Future is NOW' ad. I can't help but smile and shake my head in amazement and the products we have available to us.

What's even more amazing is the dedication that Apple and other companies have to the education system. My friend Cornelius received a refurbished iPad as part of a larger donation to Teach for America. He currently uses it as a teaching tool at .... Hopefully we can convince him to write a guest post in the future!

What I'd really like to share with you today is Apple's iBook2 announcement from January 2012. I was nerdy enough to watch the keynote speech the day this initiative was announce and was completely blown away and inspired by what they've created. I have long complained about the antiquity of textbooks, and it seems like the creative, talented people of the world are trying to insight a paradigm shift.

No heavy backpacks. No expensive, out-of-date texts. No boring walls of text.

Why did this take so long?!

Actually, I've already purchased two e-books as required texts for my graduate classes, but this announcement still got me all riled up in a tizzy. After my initial, giddy reaction, I began to spread the good news like it had been passed down from Steve Jobs on high (and he only needed the one tablet). I could see no flaw in the design and expected everyone to be just as excited as I. Most were. But then, gradually different criticisms emerged.
  • eTextbooks are only available though iBooks 2 on the iPad
  • iPads are too expensive for most schools
  • Teachers will be reluctant to adapt new learning platforms
  • Students already have limited contact with print media. Too many 'gadgets' will actually prevent advancements in certain areas of their education. 
  • Just a new way for students to be distracted in the classroom. 
I believe many if these issues will be addressed in the years to come. Even just allowing access to the texts on a Mac computer will placate many naysayers. I've seen predictions of the Retina Display coming to the next generation of MacBooks, so I wouldn't be surprised if that jump is announced alongside the new lineup of computers in the Fall. Certainly, there will need to be a transition period and different platforms will most likely attempt similar version (Kindle), however it is important to remember that initially teachers were not assigning schoolwork that required the internet or even word processors, but those are not integral parts of the classroom.

I'm already growing impatient with the current stale, lifeless textbooks I'm using this semester. After watching that first keynote, I turned my focus back to my studies. Assigned reading in my Statistics textbook.

I felt like my brain was moving in molasses in an attempt to learn the concepts.

I had seen the future and now instead of reading and retaining information, all I could think about was how I could transform the text into an entertaining, interactive experience. I eventually got the chapter read, but it was very clear to me that hey, I could do this! And so, it is now that I announce, nay declare, that I, Meridith, will one day author a completely awesome eTextbook.

Until then, I'll have to manage with the current system.

*        *       *

Perhaps, if selected, I can convince the Hi-SEAS program to compile the joint experiences of the 6 Astro-Nots and 2 alternates into an iBook. I can easily envision a healthy collection of reports, media, and blog entries that would serve as content.

Can't get to ahead of myself. Still one more week until the first announcements!

Questions of the Day:
Do you think such a radical change can occur in the public school system?
Are you a supporter?
What do you think are the biggest challenges to this idea?
What would you want to see in an end report/book from the 120-day Hi-SEAS food study?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Bits of Excitement

Word came today from the application review board!
"We expect to have an update for applicants next week. Thank you for your patience as we give your applications the attention they deserve."
At least I'm not out, yet. It'll be a nerve-wracking  week and a half. I can only assume that 'next week' really means 'the very end of next week, don't rush us!'.  This kind of excitement is usually reserved for my birthday, or Christmas, or when waiting for final grades to be posted.

I've actually got a few things to share today for YOU GUYS to be excited about.

The European Space Agency (ESA) and Hubble have just announced the 2012 Hubble's Hidden Treasures  Competition.

Everyone, absolutely everyone, is invited to help the ESA discover some of the magnificent photographs lurking in the archives. Vast datasets are available to the public, all you have to do is be patient enough to find a new, interesting/inspirational/beautiful file, adjust the contrast and colors, and upload it to the contest Flickr group. As an extra challenge, you may also use provided software to transform data into breath-taking images. These images can be uploaded to a separate Flickr accounts.

Winners receive an iPod Touch or an iPad.

Both competitions close on 31 May 2012.

I would encourage everyone to try and share the contest information, get your children involved, get something going in a classroom, whatever you can think of! I am going to try and link the two Flickr accounts so that they appear on the sidebars of this blog. Stay tuned!

The other bits of excitement I'd like to share with you are two blogs by Women In Science. Young women, at that! I was chatting with a new friend of mine about my blog and he was cruel enough to share these two with me, even though he knows I'm supposed to be ultra productive these days.

I've added these to my 'Other Voices' section on the left, but I'll provide a quick overview of the blogs.

The Contemplative Mammoth: [From the listed description] I blog about ecology and climate change over various time scales --ranging from the last ice age to the present-- and how our understanding of the past can help prepare us for the future. I also write about my experience in grad school and academia, share book reviews and interesting journal articles, and discuss science literacy, science communication in all forms...and the occasional dung fungus.

Adventures Elsewhere: This blog is much more broad and often seems very journal-like. However, it is penned by a young woman in grad schools so I can relate to a lot of the posts and perhaps you would find it enjoyable, as well. I'm looking forward to reading more, which is quite a task as she started the blog in 2009. 

So thanks to New Friend Sean for sharing, and I hope everyone else can follow in his footsteps by sharing their favorite blog/website/photo site/etc. Doesn't have to be any particular topic; I just want to know what you enjoy reading/viewing!


Question of The Day:
Of course, what are your favorite blogs/websites/etc?
What are you currently excited about?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Reimagining Education: Khan Academy

Education has pretty much consumed my life. I have been in school for 19 of my 25 years on this lovely hunk of Earth. I have at the very least another four to go. During the last five years, I've occasionally been on the other side of the equation, teaching and assisting in lab courses. Who knows? Maybe I'll ended up in academia and spend my days warping young minds.

We live in the age of information and technology. It is easier than ever to find a chunk of information via a quick internet search. Educational institutions have been trying to keep up with the ever advancing technologies available today, but I would argue that they should be adapting and leading the pack.

If selected for this research project, I hope to focus on providing fun, interesting, and educational experiences for everyone following along. I will attempt to employ different aspects of technology as often as possible. I've been inspired by different people that have lead they way in this endeavor, and would like to share one of these inspirations today.

Sal Khan and the other amazing folks at Khan Academy are on a mission to change education. Using a vast online database of educational videos, they hope to provide a free world-class education to anyone, anywhere. I've included, below, the TED talk that first introduced me to the Academy. I have since watched several of the provided videos and enjoyed them immensely. The pH/Acid/Base series in the Chemistry section have been profoundly helpful.

Questions of The Day:
Do you think programs such as Khan Academy would work in schools? (Educators, here's looking at you!)
Are there any topics that you could use some extra help in? Try watching a video and let me know how it turns out!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Dance Party in Space

We've already established that being a grad student is a time consuming job. If you have already managed to find time for research, writing, food preparation, and sleep then you're doing better than a lot of us. But what about exercise? Or having fun?

Here on Earth, we can go outside for a jog with no more trouble than convincing yourself to go outside and jog. We have the gym, swimming pools, mountains to hike, and lot's of space in general to move about in. On Mars, astronauts aren't afforded these spacious luxuries. The research habitats are designed to maximize the use of limited space, and may not allow adequate room for the exercises you are used to.

I have a solution.

Super Awesome Dance Parties in Space. 

You can boogie in a small personal space, or shake it around the habitat.

 I've complied a little mixed tape so that everyone can take 15 minutes out of their day to dance like a crazy fool, which is the best way to dance. Consider it this week's challenge!

Questions of The Day:
What is your favorite song to dance to?
What are some other ways to get your body moving and to have fun in a small area?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cool Stuff Sunday 3

Happy Spring! Also, happy last week of March. It's quite possible that I'll know whether I'm moving forward in the application process by this time next week. Gotta stay focused, but I'll admit I'm getting excited!

It's been a busy week for me, but I've managed to find a few good pieces from this week. I'm very excited to hear more about the deep sea exploration by James Cameron! I had no idea he was going down alone!

2012 Vernal Equinox 

Sunday and Monday - Watch the Skies!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Stuff Your Face Saturday

When you are a grad student, weekends take on a whole new meaning. Especially when you are nearing your Defense Date. Weekends become those enjoyable 2 days where you can be in the lab all day with no one around to distract you. (I really think I might be the only person in my building right now.) Also, you get to park anywhere!

Working on campus is certainly not the most ideal way to spend your weekends, but this time of year is crunch time. You may think you have plenty of time to finish everything, however something will always come up. Other students are defending, taking their comprehensive exams, and celebrating their victories and you'll want to take time out of your day to attend or celebrate with them! Certainly others be doing the same when it's your turn at bat.

Once you are sucked into research and thesis writing to this degree, it becomes harder and harder to find time to feed yourself. You may find yourself drawn to fast food and junk food, because of its convenience. But, if you make time in the mornings and evenings to prepare snacks and meals in advance, you may still have enjoyable, healthy food to keep you going.

Here are a few tips and ideas that have helped me:

Prepare Ahead of Time
I can be very bad about just wanting to lay down and relax after the day is over. However, I also want to lay in bed until the last possible moment the next morning. Something has got to give. How hard is it to whip together tomorrow's lunch though? A sandwich. A salad. Some quinoa and whatever delicious things are around the kitchen.

Red Pepper Hummus
Try bringing some of these with you in some reusable containers:
  • cut up veggies and hummus 
  • chips and salsa
  • peanut butter and apples
  • crackers and spread
  • hardboiled eggs

Never underestimate the power of leftovers. Getting full while dining out? Don't keep eating just because its there, ask for a box or some foil. BAM - tomorrow's lunch. Also, don't be afraid to make a recipe larger than you'll need for that meal. You can store it in meal sized containers that are easy to grab for lunch on campus.

Crock Pot Breakfasts/Dinners
Slow cookers can be your best friend. All you have to do is throw a bunch of ingredients in and when you get home dinner is waiting for you. I've enjoyed making vegetarian chilies, pasta sauces, curry, and beans in my crock pot. I also have a list of recipes waiting to be tried. Including an apple pie oatmeal.

Questions of The Day:
What do you do for meals during your busiest days?
Will you try any of the tips here? Tell me how it goes!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

CSULB: Graduate Research Project

My time in Long Beach has come and is now fleeting with a speed that terrifies me. Does time speed up in the months before your defense? How cruel. I still have so much to do! A short, but very sweet, adventure has produced some fun posts. This will be my last Spring Break post and since I'm graduating soon, I don't know when I'll even have another Spring Break! Oh, Real World, you are trying to get a hold of me and I won't let you!

We've talk about lab and field work in the previous posts and today I'll wrap up the series with one more spotlight on research. My friend, Rachel, was kind enough to take time from her insect identifications to answer a few questions about her research. 

Rachel displaying proper bird handling.
Rachel's Master's Thesis research studies the impacts of an invasive weed species, Lepidium latifolium, on marsh food webs. For her, 'the field' is a brackish marsh on Rush Ranch Open Space Preserve, a component of San Francisco Delta Estuary. She measures environmental parameters of the vegetation, in addition to sampling birds (via blood and feathers), invertebrates (bird food), and plants (invertebrate food) for stable isotope analysis.      
                                                                                            More fancy science talk. Stable isotope analysis. This technique follows the notion that you are what you eat. Isotopes of certain elements (Carbon and Nitrogen, in Rachel's research) get passed along when organisms are consumed and become incorporated into the predator's tissue. Rachel can compare the plant, bug, and bird isotopes to figure out the food web.

Marsh at Rush Ranch Open Space Preserve. White 
plants are the invasive weed species she studies.
 Photo Credit: Christine Whitcraft
Rachel's field component in the marsh requires a seven hour drive into northern California. With drives that long, she has to concentrate her efforts for the weekends. A typical outing includes measuring environmental parameters of vegetation, and the aforementioned sampling for isotope data. She has modified a leaf blower so now it serves as a 'bug vacuum' for collections. Her lab work consists of lots and lots of processing. According to Rachel, "It's just the right amount of mix between the two, by the time I'm tired of being up at 4 am, it's time to be in the lab for a while. When I'm sick of being indoors it's time to go out to the field again." In addition, she must also devote several hours per week with other graduate students in her lab working on the restoration efforts mentioned yesterday.

Questions of the Day: 
Do you know of any invasive species in your area?
Have they caused problems for the natural flora and fauna? 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

CSULB: In the Field

Deploying the seine via kayak. 
Today's late post is delightfully due to my day of field work for a project underway in the CSULB Wetlands Lab. That's right, I love biology so much that I spend my spring break away from my lab...working with another lab. However, today was a special treat for me as I was able to go out and work in one of the wetland areas that is currently being monitored after restoration. When I go 'into the field' for my research, it usually means a quick drive to the greenhouse to check on algae cultures. While my situation is incredibly convenient, it still doesn't compare to a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway to spend the morning and afternoon seining fish.

Seine is pretty much fancy ichthyologist talk for corralling fish into a net and bringing them up to identify, measure, and count. Ichthyologist is pretty much fancy biologist talk for weird (yet, awesome) people who are really into studying fish all the time.

Gathering up the net very carefully. Don't want any fish to escape!
Today's site, Magnolia Marsh, is owned and managed by the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy as part of an attempt to acquire and restore the remaining coastal wetlands in Huntington Beach. Between 1970 and 1989, 90% of California’s naturally occurring tidal wetlands have been destroyed by human influences (Dahl, 1990).  Restoration of this marsh began in April 2009, and restoration of the historical marsh channels and full tidal influence were completed in March 2010.

Monitoring of different species (birds, plants, fish, infauna), in addition to exploring food web structure dynamics is an important part of the restoration project on marsh wetlands. Previous restoration projects can provide insight into the changes you should be able to observe while the effects of the newly restored channels and full tidal influence are occurring. It's a good way to identify what you've done right, and what might need to be done differently in the future.

An adorable sea slug that has flattened out.
Other projects by CSULB graduate students in the Huntington Beach Wetlands include:

  • examining microbial diversity 
  • a project exploring the impacts of  climate change on restoration
  • utilizing a marsh organ to simulate the effects of sea level rise
  • fish translocation between restored marshes
  • planting strategies in the marshlands
    Biologist's First Sea Slug
            Dahl TE. 1990. Wetland losses in the United States 1780s to 1980s. US Fish and Wildlife Services Technical Report 21p.

Questions of the Day:
What is your favorite marine species?
What sort of field work do you thing astronauts on Mars would do?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Lab Visit: CSU Long Beach Wetlands Ecology Lab

Blog post ideas come to me in a variety of different ways. On the more frustrating days, I sit and ponder and worry and formulate and brainstorm until I have something. On pleasant days, such as today, the post  practically writes itself. My Long Beach friend, Rachel, let me tag along with her to work this week and I feel more like her annoying little sister, instead of a fellow graduate student friend.

"What does this do? Do you work with this thing? Can I touch every single thing in here? Oh, look at this cool thing! What kind of bug is this? And this one? What about this one?"

This is exactly the sort of passion and interest I want to share with my readers. Science involves some cool cool stuff. So I'd like to start a new tradition of exploring new labs that I visit and sharing with ye ol' readers via a photo post!

California State University at Long Beach - Wetlands Ecology Lab

Researching within the Biological Sciences, you are going to be exposed to many types of working environments. Many projects require you to venture out 'into the field' for experiments, sample collections, or recording observations. But often, a lot of processing, identifying, and analyzing takes place back in the lab. Most labs are unique and reflect the diversity of research conducted by their members. 

A brief bio of the lab's Principle Investigator and their research. 

Questions of the Day:
What is your favorite part of the CSULB Wetlands Ecology Lab? 
What items would you like to know more about?
What would your lab's mascot be?

Click the link below to see the rest of the photos!
Some labs have mascots to represent the research conducted. Icky the Isopod keeps moral up during late nights in the lab.
Rachel (left) and a fellow lab mate (right) use their creativity to design decorations for the lab.

It is often very important to keep track of lab utensils. Some samples in this lab are preserved with certain chemicals, and would contaminate samples used for stable isotope analysis. This spoon is marked 'Dead' to denote that it should only be used on preserved samples. 
You never know what supplies you might need during your research. It's also difficult to keep track of instruments and tools in busy labs if lots of students are in and out. An organized lab with a sign out sheet will run smoothly.
Macrofauna can be difficult to identify. Microscope time is vital, yet sometime straining. The ability to take pictures of samples help the identification process. Photos can be saved as references or sent to colleagues for confirmation. Shown is a polycheate. 
Infauna vouchers. (Invertebrates kept to use as a comparison for later identifications.)
Meticulous record keeping is a good trait to master. Write everything down! You never know when you might need to look back over your notes. Trust me, you'll forget things.
What marine focus lab would NOT have a calendar with tide charts?
You don't realize all of the different tools you'll need during your research. I am sure I've used everything in this photo in some form back at my own lab.

Cool toys are another perk of the science life. This unit takes light saturation points for leaves. The map shown above is of Huntington Beach Wetland Complex. This lab is monitoring restoration of this area. Tidal influences have been reintroduced to this area.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Oh, The Places You'll Go...

Greetings from Long Beach! After a long night on the Greyhound, I'm at Cal State Long Beach for a few days to help a friend stay sane through her last thesis writing days. Hopefully, my own thesis will progress as well.

If you followed my #bustweets on Twitter, you already know what an adventure the past day has been. I consider myself lucky to have arrived sane and vomit-free. Any complaints aside, I was able to travel via mass transit for cheap (way less than airfare) in a reasonable amount of time. I even  slept for a few hours here and there. So why on Earth don't more people travel by bus?

This wasn't my first rodeo. Ok, so it's my second. Last summer, I took those first teetering steps onto a Greyhound to attend a Surprise Birthday Party in Dallas, TX. Another smooth trip, with some characters along the way. I had planned to attempt to travel the West  this summer with the Greyhound Discovery Pass, but unfortunately there is some distance between National Park entrance gates and the nearest bus stations. An adventure for another time, perhaps.

Have you ever traveled between cities by bus?

My mother is a self-proclaimed expert in the fields of 'Worrying', 'Things That Can Go Wrong' and 'Worst Case Disaster Scenarios', so if anyone has insight into this quandary, it would be her.
Her telling text message advice before my departure:

"Don't talk to strangers, wash your hands, and put a towel down on the seat!!!"

She hits some pretty pertinent points.
  • Bus safety is questionable. These people didn't go through rigorous scanning, frisking, and searching.
  • Sanitation is not a high priority on buses.
  • Always travel with a towel.
But how do buses compare to planes and cars in terms of speed, price, safety, and environmental impact?

I turned to the Internet for some quick answers. (Sidenote: always question what you read on the Internet, including here!)

Speed: Plane
For all but the shortest trips, planes are the obvious choice. There is no way that I am capable of driving by myself for 12 hours, so bus takes 2nd, leaving car in 3rd

I bought my round trip tickets a week before departure. No airline could dream of matching the price and gas for a single passenger car would also add up quickly.

Safety: Plane
Buses follow closely after. If one bus can carry 100 people, it would take at LEAST 25 cars to carry the same load. That's 24 more opportunities to get into accidents.

Environmental Impact: Bus
Lot of passengers and less fuel needed compared with air travel.


As a grad student exploring new energy sources, I place importance on price and environmental impact. For me, taking the 17 hour bus ride is a no-brainer. I can spend riding time reading, sleeping, or people-watching. I can bring my own snacks and drinks. I can confirm that at the very least, the Phoenix station has goldfish crackers. Also, when I'm lucky the buses have free WiFi, another advantage over most airports.

Safety and time would be useful to consider for families and business travelers. The young mother with three little girls (including The Vomiter) was mostly likely grateful that she didn't have to drive and handle her crew.  But once the eldest can entertain and watch over her sisters, then perhaps traveling by car will once more be practical.

Travel is always going to be give and take with time, money, safety and comfort, but when the destination is worthy you will find a way. Luckily, I don't have to depend on funding from the government, international cooperation, and years of innovation to visit my friend. If we as a global community truly want to explore and visit Mars, we'll find a way. We may have to pick and choose our priorities, and exhibit endless patience, but the destination is a reward like no other.

Question of The Day:
What is your favorite form of travel?
What is your limit for time spent traveling by bus?
What are your favorite travel snacks?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Cool Stuff Sunday 2

I made it to Sunday! I'll be boarding a Greyhound bus today for a 17 hour adventure to have beach-side thesis writing time with a dear friend. (Follow me on twitter for #bustweets!) I hope the things that have interested me this week will provide you with some entertainment while being informative. Be sure to check out the article about the world's hottest pepper grown here at NMSU!

Dragon Spaceship, first commercial spaceship to travel to ISS

Armored Fish Downs Flying Reptile - Fossil

World's New Hottest Pepper - NMSU Research

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Perils of Grad Schooldom

I'm terribly sorry for no posts the past two days. I've been busy with science frustrations and helping a friend pack up to move back to Japan. However, this coming week is my Spring Break, so I will have time for some wonderful creations. Edible, readable, and ponderable.

Cause of my frustrations. Ugh. 
As a special treat, I will be tweeting along with my bus journey to Long Beach. If you have never been on a Greyhound adventure, then you have not lived, my friends. You can follow me on Twitter via the link on the left blog panel. 

Also, I've been in talks with some potential Guest Bloggers! 

Questions on the Day:
Do you have any topic requests?
Would you like to hear from somebody in a particular field of study?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Manifest (Your) Destiny

Graduation years are a turbulent time. At first, all you can focus on is that big light at the end of the tunnel. Finish writing my thesisPass my classes. Defend. Graduate. Success. This is my life for the next 2.5 months. Eventually, you'll be able to look past the light and see all of the options that lie ahead of you. Darn. Options means choices. We've reached that point in our life once more when everyone only asks you that one dreaded question: What are you going to do after you graduate? Guess I have to start thinking about this again. As if I had that much control over my destiny.

*      *      *

Another early morning in South Africa. The sun is struggling to rise, as are we. Today is Kruger Day.  After days of hard work and animal relocating with Andre (the Indiana Jones of Africa), a day spent marveling at beauties of the wild is just what we need. 

Our caravan creeps slowly towards the gates. Other students get out to stretch their legs. I try to get a few extra minutes of sleep. We'll be spending the day driving through the park. You don't get out. Inside the vans, with our cameras, snacks, and guides, we're in our temporary habitats. Everything else belongs to the animals.

Dr. Stokes, our experienced leader and resident Mammalogy guru, has been through the parks many times. Each experience provided a different glimpse into the vast diversity the park has to offer. To make things even more interesting, he issues a contest. The student to correctly predict the first mammal we encounter in the park gets a Magnum bar. And this was before Magnum bars were available in the US!

I must have that ice cream bar.

What mammal will we see first? I focus very hard on this question. I think about all of the different possibilities. The others will guess more obvious choices. Impala due to sheer numbers. Giraffes, due to height visibility. I close my eyes and open myself to the answer. 


Greater Kudo Capture
A bold move on my part as often this member of the Big 5 is not often seen at all. My fellow competitors mock my choice, but I gather all the positive energy I can muster and focus on my goal. 

We see not one but a group of White Rhinos just inside the park. 

Sweet, sweet, Belgian chocolaty victory.

*      *      *

I once manifested multiple Rhinoceroses, how difficult can this future thing be? I'm still a few weeks away from knowing whether my plans for after graduate school may involve four months in a Mars analog habitat. I need to be focused on finishing processing samples and writing my thesis, but I can't help but try and peek out past the end of this tunnel at my future. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Happy Pi Day!

Busy day on campus for me! So I'm just going to present this lovely Pi video from my favorite math doodler/mathmusician! Vi Hart is a pretty creative gal, and I encourage you to check out some of her other videos (link on the left side of my blog under 'More Mathematics').

Question of the Day:
What kind of pie should I attempt to make in the coming week?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Challenge for Creative Minds

Scientific research is very rewarding. You are on a quest for that little bit of knowledge that has, to date, evaded others. Your hard work and investigations could potentially lead to advancements in your field. Notoriety. Articles in Science AND Nature! Fame. Nobel Peace Prize!

Even so, there is only so long that you can count algae cells under a microscope before needing a break.

Crew-members of the Hi-SEAS study need to be prepared to provide their own fun and frivolity during their time spent in the habitat. Space and resource limitations could put a damper on options, but once more we'll just have to accept the challenge and get creative!

Here are just a few of my favorite games:

Liars Dice
A great bonding game that requires only dice and a piece of paper. Since this was a pirate game, it's not surprising that the objective is to out sneak, lie, and trick the other players to be the last one standing. Each player starts with 5 dice and a cup, after an initial roll, they takes turns 'bidding' on the number of a certain die value that exists in all hands. (e.g. "I believe there are six 2's") The next player can either change the bid ("I believe there are seven 2's/I believe there are six [other value]") or CHALLENGE. Then all dice are uncovered and the true liar is revealed. The game becomes trickier when "1's" are considered wild. More rules and explanations can be found here.

Paper Rock Scissors
Perhaps the greatest of all games. Ever. You never know when a challenger may approach. I am a firm believe in the skill involved in PRS. Play often enough with an opponent and you start to pick up on some of their tricks and patterns. Watch out though, I can play with my left OR right hand! I challenge you! Best 2 outta 3, 2 outta 3, one-two-three-SHOOT!

Photo Booth Music Videos
Perhaps one of the sillier of my creative fun and frivolity suggestions, Photo Booth Music Videos may also be one of the more hilarious things you will ever do. All you need is an Apple computer or iPad with Photo Booth and danceable music. I recommend turning on the mirror effect. Then put your dance hats on and record an extra special home video to your favorite songs.

I'll add a video later, so come back for my own ridiculous example!

Popcorn Reading
With the rise of the e-reader, it's never been easier to cart around a small library of good reads. I don't know if you were the type to be overjoyed to be chosen to read aloud to the class as a youngster, but I've found that it has gotten more and more amusing as I age. Road trips with my friends often includes at least a few chapters read by all.

I've been saving a few books on my e-reader apps for a time when I can read without worrying about what grad student responsibilities I'm supposed to be focusing on. Any strike your fancy?

The Time Machine - H.G. Wells
You are NOT so Smart - David McRaney
Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved
     the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time - Dave Sobel
A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos - Dava Sobel

Young Adult Sci-Fi books would also be perfect. Who else enjoys creating lots of different voices for the characters?

This may not be the most mind-blowing activity, but it certainly can relax and sooth. I picked up this craft in college and have phased in and out since then. Currently I'm in. I even have a special treat planned to create for all fellow crew-members and associated people should I be selected to participate. I could also teach others how to knit and follow a pattern, or create their own. 
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This game may require a bit more room than available, but I'm sure we can create a similar game for when we are space suited up and traveling out of the habitat. Any ideas for the rules for 'Astronauts'?

It could be anything.

Card Games
With the vast number of games possible with simply a deck of cards, this section could probably fill its own blog post! In fact, I think I'll just make this our...

Question of the Day:
What is your favorite card game? (And if it's unique, how do you play?)
Any other game suggestions that meet our space and resource limitations?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Hindsight is 20/20

It has been 12 days since applications went in and the review board started the process of going through 700 passionate, hopeful packets.
"As we go through the applications, we are blown away by the caliber and the passion of the applicants. You all are amazing." Hi-SEAS Facebook Page

 I'm beyond happy to hear about all of the interest and passion that others have for this project. At the same time, I'm naturally nervous about my chances of being selected for the next round. I wonder how many women applied? How many biologists? How many ambitious, fun-loving, algae growers? Did I properly convey my passion, skill set, research proposal, etc? Gulp.

It's so easy to start doubting yourself when you know that someone is judging you through a spattering of words in a few essays and a CV or resume. There's plenty more you could have included to convince reviewers that you are the one they've been waiting for. It may even be nerve-wracking enough to think you shouldn't even bother to apply. 

Hopefully, you don't let your fears dictate your decisions. Putting yourself out there for people to see is a part of life that we must embrace. College. Jobs. Internships. Travel opportunities. Contests. Rewards certainly outweigh any nervousness or concerns. This is one of those many situations where practice makes perfect. The more eyes you invite to gaze upon your   drafts, the more opportunity you have to learn from the experience of others. 

I once nearly didn't apply for a interesting program. The deadline was a day away. I was jetlagged from returning from an internship. I didn't think I'd be selected. But, I pushed through, determined and feeling a little silly from lack of sleep, and three months later I was in Thailand with Malibu Rum and Reef Check as a 'beach intern' getting my island on. If you are a doubter, just ask yourself 'what if?'.

I'm proud and confidant in my Hi-SEAS application. I worked hard, finished in time for editing and revisions, and infused humor and voice into my essays. However, I believe no matter how hard you work, there will always be things you remember afterwards that would've improved it even more. So here are my Top 5 Would've Could've Should've's:

What Would I have Done Differently to my Application with just One More Sol (Martian Day)
Microalgae requires much less US
cropland than other sources. 
  1. Sneak in the names of all Mars exploration programs, rovers, and orbiters, past and present. (I kinda got stuck on Mariner.) 
  2. Emphasize the importance and viability of algae biofuel compared to other biofuel sources (Table 1). 
  3. Add more college service commitments to my CV (how did these sneak off my CV during its many, many iterations?)
  4. Started this blog earlier so that I could have focused on it within my Online Activity essay. 
  5. Have my ol' college chum, Sara Ferguson, look over my CV. 
Questions of the Day:
What will you be applying to next? Are you nervous?
Fellow applicants, what would you change/add to/remove from your application?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cool Stuff Sunday

I'd like to end this first, exciting week of blogging by thanking everyone that has helped spread the news of my new endeavor. I am grateful to have so much support and enthusiasm from friends and family. To thank you all (and because Sunday posts should be fun and light) I will be compiling cool videos, articles, pictures, etc from the week covering multiple disciplines every Sunday for your viewing enjoyment.

Today's post was a bit retroactively achieved, but I've already got next week's started, so whenever I find something that makes my day, I'll save it so I can make yours too.

Fellow Hi-SEAS applicant, Ryan Kobrick's interview discussing Yuri's Night. 

I don't know how I feel about attempting to bring plantlife to inhospitable locations, such as Qatar, but I can't help but be impressed by the innovation of this project inspired by a camel's nostril! It doesn't hurt that they are exploring algae cultivation either.

Twisted Twister on Mars
Iridescent Dinosaur Feathers!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Stuff your Face Saturday

It's been nearly a week since I started this blog and I have yet to talk about food! I've been cooking it. I've been thinking about it. And I've certainly been eating it!

I've been meaning to give my crock pot some love, and make some (not)refried beans, so might as well take everyone along for the ride.

This is an excellent recipe that could be converted to meet the requirements of space travel. Dry beans can be stored for 10-30 years while all of the other ingredients can be stored as dry spices. Imagine some smooth, spicy beans after an 8 month trip to Mars!

Ingredients (minus jalapeno) 

I am only making a half serving compared tot he website recipe. The first time I didn't leave enough room in the crock pot to let the beans expand! Rookie mistake. The beans take about 4-5 hours on HIGH.

Remember to leave room for the beans to expand!

Come back later to see the final product!
EDIT: Here it is, folks! I've already realized that I foolishly did not think to add that extra New Mexico kick! Next time I will be adding Hatch's famous green chilis! I wonder how long they'd last in space....
Finished product. Now if you'll excuse me, I must stuff my face!

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Friday, March 9, 2012

Words to Keep Handy

Six strangers.

It's always a bit intimidating to head towards a new experience. In a new place. With new people.

Maybe you're starting a job, heading off to college, or traveling to a different country, either way you're going to run into 'strange' people. While that may seem daunting and scary, it is a wonderful opportunity to open yourself to a unique experience or connection.

Growing up in suburbia outside of Louisville, Kentucky, I wasn't exposed to much cultural diversity. Even Louisville's famous Kentucky Derby Festival opening ceremonies, Thunder Over Louisville, turns the Waterfront lawn into a live People of Walmart, but with more fireworks and beer.

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to Italy, Greece, and Spain during a few weeks of my last two summers of high school. However, being shuffled around by teachers and parents did not provide many chances to really interact with the people able to offer real insight into the magnificent locations we visited. More recent trips abroad have allowed me to truly interact with the people and culture of my destinations.

College was a hub of strangers, eager and waiting to find and make new connections. It was here, in the small city of Bowling Green, KY, that I really learned about the importance of enjoying the 'new' parts of life. I transformed from an unknown freshman to being unable to walk across campus without running into someone to chat with. During my years at WKU, I was lucky enough to have a stable job working in the Ecology Lab, but to also have a boss/advisor/mentor that encouraged me to explore my options each summer.

So I did:

Summer 2006 - Chicago Botanic Garden
Summer 2007 - Kellogg Biological Station
Summer 2008 - South African Study Abroad
Summer 2009 - H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest
Summer 2010 - NMSU Algae Research
Summer 2011 - Kellogg Biological Station

And they were some of my best experiences to date.

I promise to share stories from my summer adventures and tales of some of the fine people I've met in later posts, but what I really wanted to share today is a poem that has stuck with me and inspired me (posted after the jump - click 'Explore the Beyond'). It brings up some other aspects of talking to strangers that may not apply to the circumstances I focus on above, but I still enjoy the overall message.

Hopefully, I will be able to put these experiences to work helping me adapt to the unique group dynamics of an isolated Analog Habitat.

Question of the Day:
How would you deal with meeting and living with 5 others for 120 days?
Do you have any 'ice breaking' tips/tricks?

Also, you can find my answer to yesterday's QOTD here.

Also, also, check out my new flag counter at the bottom of the blog. What an appropriate addition on Talk to Strangers day! Welcome all! Thanks to Timothy for the idea and help.

Talk to Strangers
By: Bonny Bonfiyah

Oh no little bitty Joe’s momma told
him not         to talk         to strangers.
Don’t talk to strangers, no don’t Joe, no, so
Little Joe didn’t talk to strangers, no,
Didn’t talk to the blind girl       at school
Didn’t talk to the janitors          eeyyoo
Didn’t talk to the mailman        mmm mmm.

Then he grew and he grew and he grew,
          didn’t talk to strangers.
Talked to aunts and cousins and friends of the family,
goin back n forth between big       houses, then frat       houses,
theeeeeeeen whaddya know Joe Schmo became CEO
          keeping strangers—
way up in the tippity top, glass office, what not.
Hey, he’s in the business of keeping strangers!
         Cuz he knows:
I might be mad at Mr. Joe,
(you know, for selling frankenfood for a huge profit whilst layin off half the staff to buy a convertible and a summer home in France with a Jacuzzi bath?)
Yes, indeedy, I might be mad,
but as long as I don’t know you or you or you,
what am I gonna do?

So for as many times as it has been told to you
I mean to undo I mean to undo it
Talk          to            strangers!
As long as Ms. Thousand Dollar Rent keeps Ms. Scrounging 50 Cents a stranger,
Ms. Extravagant won’t get Ms. Disadvantaged
is working hard for just barely enough
and has a true love too and reads good books too and here’s what’s true:
They know if we start talking we might start sharing
and sharing is scandalous; sharing is a solution
that starts with (you know)
talking to strangers.

Talk to strangers;
share your books, your food, your complaints,
your magazines, your movies, your worries, your stories,
your solutions.

Talk to strangers so we can share our STUFF!
FIVE, TEN, TWENTY-FIVE people livin in a building--
Do we ALL need a blender? 
Do we ALL need a subscription to Netflix? 
Do we ALL need a car? 


Divide and conquer, friends, look at it, there it is:
they keep us strange from each other so they can sell us shit separately. 
That’s it.  No mystery.
Sister starts making some money, they HOPE
she enters that big ole ongoing stuff contest with her
Instead of sharing it, she wears it. 
People: 0, Aeropostale: 2.

The only way to protest is to not participate. 
Share your stuff so you can shop less.
Shop less to protest and
‘bout the revolution
growing in your bones
the dis-chord among the formerly alone.
The unknown? Unh-unh!
Talk to strangers
let them know:
We don’t wanna be strangers       any mo
We don’t wanna be allowing        Joe schmo
to feed the rich by stealing from the poor.

Talk to strangers, y’all, talk,
tell ‘em it’s time.
Walk the streets, talk to strangers,
haunt the bookstores, the coffee shops,
bring your literature and your reserves,
talk to strangers, peace warriors, spread the word,
talk y’all, talk, yeah,
let those former strangers know:

To must emerge from the strangeness placed upon us,
we must be louder, to be louder, we must come together,
to come together, we must SPEAK together,
we must go, get out there, go, let each other know, go, now, please, go!
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