My feeling exactly

I think there are those around me who know the professional difficulties that people in Texas have caused me. So I can certainly give a big thumbs up to this video. h/t Dancing with Myself.


Technology Bekons

Things are going to loosen up financially for me in a few months. I am already eyeballing some much needed technology. First is a new computer. Now I have a bit of experience with PCs and I have to say that I'm a fan. However, I am not a fan of the PC industry and my particular bone of contention has to do with technical service. I have owned two Dell computers. A desktop and a laptop. In both instances, I purchased expensive, long-term service plans. What I have found when I attempted to contact Dell for technical service is a frustrating, nearly infuriating conversation with an undertrained representative who cannot: A) deviate from a script despite all attempts to get them to THINK, and B) deal with a problem that doesn't fit the mold. I have sworn more times than I care to remember that this will be the LAST DELL I EVER OWN. My laptop has had its screen replaced, the mother board replaced (2X), and every bit of it's internal goodies (except the DVD drive) replaced. When you can finally get them to send out a technician, they basically rebuild your computer so they never have to come back.

So yeah, I guess service support is pretty important to me. So which companies are better than Dell? Turns out none of them are. Dell, HP, Acer, Sony. When it comes to customer service, apparently they have all farmed their work to India and have opted not to employ technicians but customer service employees who can't help you. All of them. I mean, I flat out can't find a maker of personal computers with what I consider to be a minimally acceptable level of technical service.

There's Apple. Apple has skyscraper customer service satisfaction.

Have you seen what a f*&@#$ng Mac costs? I'm getting a raise, not an AIG bonus.

So what then? Well, beats me.

On the one hand I have a rarely used HP desktop sitting in my rarely used "office". I could take that computer to work and free up a room for...well, whatever. Maybe I should go without a laptop. Maybe I should de-emphasize my non-professional computer use. Maybe I should get a life outside of this little box.

Yeah, right.

Without this shining connection to a digital world, I'd have a freakin' panic attack. So, I've been toying with the idea of purchasing a small, inexpensive, technology-light laptop for little more than blogging, internet cruising, and DVD watching at home. The watchwords being: cheap and portable. No more dedicating a room to a machine. No more carting a machine back and forth to work. Just buying an inconspicuous little notepad of a computer and calling it done. And (hold your breath, friends and neighbors), not buying the extended service contract at all. Treating this little new toy as ....disposable (gasp).

OK, I can hear all the environmentalists gripping their armchairs as I speak. But what else am I to do? They have backed me into a corner by making their customer service so atrociously abhorrent. Do you hear that Dell? And HP? And Sony? Listen up all you PC makers. Your customer service is so bad that I am now treating your product with as much deference as a disposable camera. Do not expect me to purchase on the high end of your product offerings for this reason and this reason alone.

Given that I have just knocked customer service out of my buying decision, I am now looking at product quality. Longevity. Problem free.

Well, there's the Dell Inspiron 15. Approximate cost $550. Cheap bastard version.
15.6" screen. 4G memory. 250G hard drive. DVD player. 6 cell battery and a one year limited warranty that I am sure isn't worth the paper it's printed on. I can save myself $60 by scaling back to 3G memory and a 4 cell battery, but that is just tethering yourself to a wall socket.

Apple MacBook. Exact cost: $1299.00. Pretentious bastard version.
I don't care what you have inside the box. If I can't drive it home at that price, it ain't coming home with me.

HP Pavilion Mini. Approximately cost: $600. They killed Kenny--You bastards! version
Intel Pentium Dual Core Processor T4200. 1GB memory. 160GB hard drive. DVD. Nothing said about the battery.

Sony VAIO NS Series Notebook. Cost $780. Whoa. There was a reason I bought from Dell, you overpriced bastards! version

Intel Dual Core Processor. 4G Ram, 250G hard drive, DVD burner, blah blah blah.

You know, I'm really rather disappointed in the Sony price. I would actually be willing to try that computer. Maybe I'll get lucky and the price will plummet just before I'm ready to buy. But don't you hate when your set yourself up for a disappointing finish? I said that cheap and dependable were the deciding factors and since I can't tell diddly about dependability, that leaves price. And Dell beats the pants off them all. Damn. I hate that company.

Please. Someone. Tell me there is an alternative. Tell me Sony is so much more that I will never dream of buying another Dell. Save me from Dell Hell.


A new favorite place

Sand Canyon. California. In the vicinity of Mojave, CA. Or maybe it's more Monolith, CA.

In addition to a vast wealth of partridges, wildlife highlights also include a donkey rescue ranch. Did I mention that I think donkeys are the cutest things ever? If I ever had a farm of my own, I'd have a few donkeys. I'm just saying.

OK, that last one isn't in Sand Canyon. But it is still one of my new favorite places.


Lessons from the Road

I believe on each trip you learn something about yourself. Here's a quick run down of somethings I've learned about me.

1. I CAN find plants without Liv or Jack.
2. Not only that, I can find plants on the side of the road while going 65 miles an hour after dusk.
3. I am not cut out for California driving.
4. I am content to travel alone.
5. I am not a camp cook. I try to care about food on the road, but I don't. Apparently, my fixation with food is simply a hobby that I dabble in during idle hours in my every day life. Cold spaghetti from a can sounds better than dirtying a ton of camp dishes.
6. I will consider myself acclimated to the elevation when I stop losing blood through my nose.
7. Motel 6 is pet friendly and perfectly fine if the wind, cold, or quivering dogs threaten your sleep and sanity.
8. I am much more cognizant of other people's needs and feelings than they are of mine.
9. There are times when it is good that I am out of constant contact with my everyday life.
10. Ultimately, I am the only one upon whom I can depend.
11. My bullshit meter really is full up.

Bonus. During a few tense moments in the field and on the road, I have learned that I am fully prepared to harm someone who tries to harm me.


The Drive By Rockies

Although I know how you people live for my pictures of roadside research photos, there is more to life than great smelling, fantastically happy, moth-laden research systems such as these. While my plants may grow in the ugliest of places, if you just turn around, you are usually rewarded with one of the world's most spectacular vistas. Such is the life of these little gems. The habit of a vagabond, the outlook of a king.

But today was a driving day. And though I know Bin would not approve, I thought I'd give you a taste of my drive-by shooting. If it is any consolation, I merely hold up the camera in the general direction and click the button. I get what I get. Sometimes I get a picture up my nostrils. Sometimes I get a picture of the dashboard. Sometimes, nothing but road. And keep in mind, I am cognizant of traffic at all times.

Here we go:

Jake likes snow

Since there is no way for me to put things up in order, I'll just offer this nice video of Jake at 9600 feet or so and this fine photo of me. =]


Sick, Tired, and Windblown

I guess it was bound to happen. I'm sick. And not just sick of driving...although I am. And not just sick of grad school....although I am. I'm honest to goodness sick. I don't know if it is a mild case of food poisoning, or really, really bad indigestion, or a serious case of stress, but Whoa doggies! In any event, I've become adept at finding the <$40 hotel rooms in California. Thank god for internal plumbing. But food poisoning/indigestion/stress or no, the road show that is field research must go on. I went to the beach today hoping to be able to take daytime scent off A. latifolia. That didn't happen. I didn't trust the bags to stay on the plants in that wind. I worried about what sand hitting those expensive air pumps would do to their internal gizmos. And I wasn't entirely sure that I could handle sitting in that wind myself for 2 hours.

That didn't stop me from getting some great photos today. Almost all taken from the front seat of the car. By the way, the wind nearly ripped my car door off more than once today. So I hope you appreciate the challenges I have faced for your viewing pleasure. =)

Enjoy. I'm off in search of Pepto.

By the way, Jake hates the ocean. And wind. And rain. And thunder. And wind. He really, really hates the howling wind we are having out here. He is not having fun. This is his "I'm not having fun" pose.

Bovinus roadsidus var udderiferous. Seen more than one of these.

And can anyone guess where these two pics were taken?

This one was later, but I just thought it looked like someone had poked a stick in some dough.

Some dreams die hard...very hard

After my ex tried to kill me for the second time, I figured it was time for a change. After my boss had fucked me over for the umpteenth time, I knew it was time. I decided I wanted to become a professor. Oh, how naive I was in thinking it was just a matter of a few years in school.

As I sit in a hotel room chasing research that I am funding with my own money, I realize that I am paying a greater price than just the money pit that is graduate school. I am being changed by this process and I don't think this is a good thing. Let me explain.

I wanted to become a professor. I wanted to teach botany. I love plants. I wanted to pass on that excitement to others. I wanted to inspire in the way nature inspired me. I wanted to do research, to make some small contribution to science. I chose to go into "basic science" because at the time I started, the scientific community was saying over and over and over again that it's greatest need was for "basic"science. For systematists and taxonomists. So off I went secure in the idea that there would be plenty of funding and plenty of job opportunities awaiting me when I got out. If you think about it, I was doing a sort of civic duty for the scientific community.

After visiting a number of universities and getting a feel for their programs and approach, I picked this one. My criteria for selection was based primarily on a reputation for good science and an atmosphere that seemed low key and low stress. I'm too old to give a shit about competiting with my fellow graduate students. Hell, I'm older than most of the faculty. Some programs seemed intent on having students live in fear. I don't know how to explain this except to say that I've survived two attempts on my life. Professors can't scare me.

And then, I got to graduate school. And basic science fell out of favor. Like overnight. Everything is all global warming. No one cares about basic science. Funding dried up faster than my sex life. Not even top researchers in our department are able to get funding in systematics. My advisor told me, point blank, that mine was the last project she was taking on involving systematics.

Excuse me while I feel left out to dry.

I have written more than 20 grants in support of my research. The only funding I have received was a merit-based fellowship that came at the end of my fourth year. From the sounds of it, my department chair doesn't want me to be able to take full advantage of the two years of the fellowship because that will make me a 6th year graduate student. He wants me to graduate at the end of the fifth year. Despite the fact that this is the first funding I've had to do my project. The stress of all of this is crushing me. So, for now, I'm paying for my own research. I'm out in the field driving around looking for my plants with my own money. And it's not going well. It's time consuming, frustrating, and expensive. And it's all borrowed money. Money borrowed on the promise of a Ph.D. that is feeling more and more improbable, and a job that may or may not exist for me when I get out.

And this on top of being made to feel as though I don't measure up because my project has failed to garner funding. Every single day I enter my building, I feel a weight settle in on me. A big boulder I carry through my day that reminds me I am failing. That I'm not doing enough. I'm not good enough. I'm not a real researcher. Half the time, I wonder if professors pass me in the hall and think to themselves, "well, she didn't turn out as promising as we thought." There are days I dread waking up in the morning.

Sometimes, I wonder if my lack of "fear" of faculty makes it worse on me. I think some professors confuse respect with deference. Failure to fear the all powerful Oz equals a lack of respect to some.

I now have crushing educational debt. If I don't get the Ph.D., I fear that I won't be able to find a job that will allow me to pay off that debt. So I can't walk away. But with each passing day, I have less faith that it will happen. When I think about my committee, I don't think about a group of people working to help me. I see a very large obstacle standing between me and my dream. I thought a committee was a group of people helping to train you to a profession. I'm afraid to say anything to anyone about my concerns for fear that, if I do, they will actively work against me. That a PhD won't come at any cost. Graduate school is the only place I have ever encountered where you have no friends, no allies, no help, no hope, and no promise that anything, ever, will get any better. There seems to be a promise that all things will, in fact, get worse. Things happen TO you. You have no recourse. You just have to take it. Perhaps, it is some combination of people and circumstances and my own mental health that has brought me to this point. This point of hopelessness. This point of having no idea what to do next.

I see now why so few single people survive this process. It takes a team to prop up the one running the gauntlet.

I can't believe that this is what it takes to be a college professor. I can't believe this is the process. All I wanted to do was inspire some kids. Make some small contribution to a field that I loved. The job requires a Ph.D. The people who hold those keys don't seem inclined to help me anymore. I'm not really sure what happened, but I don't think it's all me. I don't think I deserve, or any graduate student deserves, the life-sucking, spirit-crushing process that is graduate school. I don't think I'll ever get beyond this. I don't think I have the ability to take on a student and put them through this process as well.

I want the person I was back. I don't like this person I've become.

What Comes Around Goes Around

Two things are ubiquitous in the west. Sand and wind. It has been a wild day. I headed to Morro, only to find the winds gusting up to 60 mph. I didn't think that was possible without a hurricane. In any event, I don't suspect I'll be finding any moths out tonight. Excuse my finger in front of the camera. I was hanging onto it for dear life.

Funny thing. The room I am in right now is pictured somewhere in the header of my blog. I'm in another $40 hotel room. The closed the campground at Montana de Oro due to winds and falling limbs. That's okay. I've realized it's not the cold that gets to me, it's the wind. It just wears me down. But no loss. I'm working on not having a mental breakdown anyway. This helps.

Thank god for Jake. That's all I have to say.


The Three Caballeros and the $40 hotel room

So I was standing by the side of the road doing research, when three cabaelleros came riding up.

Jake did not find the episode as interesting as I did. Funniest thing, I think, is that when I returned in the evening to collect scent again, here came the fellows on their way home. They thought I had been there all day.

And if you are wondering what I am doing posting all these blog entries today...I have a $40 hotel room and I'm doing laundry. I'm going to take my second 30-minute shower in just a few. FYI, Motel 6 is very dog friendly and they don't charge a $10 pet fee.

What a Difference a Day Makes

If my trip had only lasted 24 hours, even that would have been something.

It started off at Saddleback State Park. I set up camp, but immediately headed off to collect scent. You see, I had found these little beauties.

So I waited til the sun went down.And I went out and looked for pollinators and took some scent.

And the next morning.... (P.S., I hope Liv is suitably impressed that I have so many sunrise pics.)

I decided to fix breakfast.

And everyone knows that oatmeal is so much better with a little bloodletting and dog hair. Plan B. Search for adventure.

I found some wary friends.I found a black man and his three sisters.

I found some happy flowers.
I climbed a mountain of sand.

All this before lunch even! Wait til you see what the evening held.


Big Ethel files for divorce

Well, I've pissed off my newest flame. Big Agnes Ethel, the 0-degree-rated, $200 down sleeping bag with $100, 15-degree-rated pad remains disturbingly unused in the trunk of my car. Turns out there is a paucity of tent camping places in the Albuquerque area. I found 3 RV parks, none of which allow tent camping, and one real campground that doesn't open until May 1.

Thus, I am staying at the Days Inn in Moriarty, NM. Right next to the Fireworks warehouse. Jake doesn't care. He got to explore a garbage dumpster and some prairie dog holes. Life is good.

Yesterday, I swung up north of Amarillo to a site at the Canadian River that Liv and I explored last year. Only I was new at this instead of finding the target plant, I found Rumex and mistook the former for the latter. Which means...yes, I admit it...that I did all the measurements, etc. on a plant not remotely related to the genus of interest. Well, that sandy spot seemed to me to be the bees knees, so I gave it another shot. Took me about 3 minutes to locate what I was actually looking for. So I collected some leaves, took some pics, and like a rusty field worker, forgot to take a voucher specimen. I'm not too woried, the advisor is bound to visit her home turf again eventually.

I am finding I can't drive 700-800 mi a day. I'm averaging about 600. This is going to mean I spend more time behind the wheel and less time on foot searching for plants. In any event, I am determined to make it to San Bernardino today. 782 miles. Well hell. Maybe I'll make it there today. I better get on the road. Happy motoring everyone!

Some pictures to tied you over until I get an internet connection again.