More Panty Twisters

Life is linear. You learn as you go. The past two weeks were a treasure trove of life lessons. Here are a few that caught my attention.

  1. There appear to be two types of people: doers and worriers. I am a doer. I get things done. Worriers get nothing done and chap my ass.
  2. Compromise is a foreign concept to most people, who seem to think that conflict resolution occurs when the other guy gives in.
  3. Conflict resolution skills should be taught in nursery school with a refresher course every Monday morning for the rest of your life.
  4. Scientific disagreements should never be taken personally and taking it personally is a sure sign of professional immaturity.
  5. I don't have time to resolve everyone's conflict nor do I have the desire to, and yet, I find myself constantly thrust in that position. Most people don't like my approach to conflict resolution, to which I say, "Tough shit. You involve me in your conflict, you get what I bring."
  6. In any group effort comprised of more than three people, I will get the least desirable job. The least desirable job comes with the most work, the lowest amount of recognition, the highest risk of blame, and the highest probability that you will make the undeserving look competent.
  7. If there is a way for someone to really piss me off, they will exercise it.
  8. I have no respect for people who undermine or misrepresent my work. None whatsoever.
  9. I seem to run into a disproportionate number of assholes.
  10. I like people with foreign gestures. They are fun to watch. I've decided to adopt a few.


Group Work

Ask anyone. I hate group work. I had a showdown with a fellow graduate student in one of my classes over the subject of group work. For a while, that interaction was the stuff of legend. People loved to relive their favorite lines from said disagreement. (Although the list of people who were present for said discussion is getting shorter the longer I remain here.) I admit it. I don't like working in groups. My problem with group work is that groups waste time and productivity on social interaction that could better be spent in pursuit of the objective. I can stand a lot of things but wasting time on extraneous matters--like other people's feelings and sensibilities--when I could be getting something done is among my top pet peeves. When I work alone, I don't have to worry about how someone else feels about my ideas, whether or not my perspective is getting it's proper due, and so on. I can just tackle the assignment. So the people responsible for wasting my time when I could be getting things done tend to fall deeply in my estimation. I view group work as an abyss that I'd do best to avoid.

I don't understand our love affair with group work. I think there is this mistaken idea that groups are democratic and therefore are inherently superior to any other schemes, that groups promote cooperation (which seems to always trump efficiency or productivity, much to my puzzlement), that group members have a greater investment in the effort due to broader participation (this may or may not be true, depending on the initial investment of all members in the outcome), and that groups foster creativity in problem solving (of course, this assumes that group members feel secure enough to interact creatively). And why is it always group work? I have seen many a group bypass an expert in some particular field for allowing a group to tackle the problem.

Oh, I will admit, if education and growth are the objective, groups may be the way to go. Giving someone a safe place to expand or experience something might best be done in a carefully constructed group. By and large, however, most groups are not carefully constructed. Who hasn't been stuck in a group because they needed a warm body and you were at the wrong place at the right time? But when conquering some objective is the point, group work can muck up the works. And the main problem in groups is the scarcity of effective leadership and the lack of appropriate authority.

I am involved in a seminar that has crashed and burned due to the misuse of group work. Foremost, the group tasked with organizing the seminar was not given the proper authority. There is a higher body of the organization that can and has abused the schedule to the point that the organizing committee looks unorganized and foolish and feels they have to apologize to the group or blame the higher-ups for the disorganization. Net effect? Group confidence is undermined at all levels. Still, I feel for them. Been there, done that.

And as if we weren't all enduring a shining example of the problems of group work, the entire organization is married to group work. I have been asked to volunteer for committees, based not on my expertise or interests but to fulfill a requirement that I be on exactly 2 and no more committees, that each contain a predescribed number of participants of my category. When our group did not do so willingly, there was a bit more than a little resistance. I offered a solution which was seconded by another newbie like myself and STILL the older group bristled. But my main complaint with the group organization is that I have been asked to do nothing alone. Not only that, but I have been given no time to explore my own thoughts on any subject. Instead, every time I was asked to accomplish some task, I have been asked to collaborate. At every turn, I feel this crushing responsibility to involve my partner in some aspect of every activity that I am not bringing my best self and my best ideas to the project. I have been given no time for personal reflection. The only way I can think to describe this feeling is being sleep deprived. I feel like I am simply being jerked from one situation to the next and asked to react. Who knows if I am acting appropriately, inappropriately, efficiently, effectively or otherwise? I have no time to plan a best approach. It's just, "Here's the task. Go!"

I find this particularly amusing? frustrating? peculiar? because this seminar is about education, and so much in education is about working within people's comfort zones and capitalizing on their strengths. As teachers, we have to provide a range of experiences so that students who work best by reading, doing, and watching can all have an opportunity to learn. And yet, in a seminar about education, I am not given the opportunity to work in the style that works best for me with at least some time allotted for personal reflection. Alone. I would never undertake a project without first thinking through a plan, potential problems, and possible workarounds. But over the past week or so, I have been asked to achieve some goal--even if I am expected to bring some expertise to the table--without having been given the space I need to bring my best effort to the task. End result? I'm doing a half-assed job. I have been paired with someone, then pairs are paired, and pairs of pairs are paired with a more experienced pair and so on.

Tempers are getting short. And it's not just my temper. (Those who know the true me would be proud of the exhibition of tolerance I have maintained in light of my frustration.) I see it in the teachers. I see it in the new grad students. But I think the utter frustration is with the group organization. It's ineffective and people are getting tired of failing. Ok, maybe we aren't failing, but we certainly aren't making progress consistent with our capabilities. Unstable group membership demands we constantly renegotiate leadership positions. Stable groups only have to establish dominance once.

Look, I am willing to let someone else lead. In fact, I like it when I don't have to lead all the time. I am willing to defer, even if it means that someone with less experience gets a chance at learning something from the whole leadership experience. But for God's sake, I need a little space. I need some room to think.

There has to be a place where it is okay for someone with MY learning style to exist outside of a group.


Tempest Tossed

While Liv was out on her very own Wild West Adventure, we had a little hiccup in southern Illinois. May 8, 2009. Liv-fav D-ennis, Paul, and Mike Hanson were graduating and I decided to attend. When I left Do Well, it was bright and sunny. Midway through the graduation, I heard something. I ignored it at first. Then I heard it again. Thunder. Thunder you can hear inside an arena is bad. Very bad.

I left the ceremony and went home. They had a spectacularly craptastic speaker who basically did a half hour appeal for capital funds. It was embarassing. So I left to take care of Jake and save my house from ultimate destruction. It was raining before I made it to my car. I had never seen so much water come down so fast. I got home mid-storm and tried to calm Jake. I decided to wait until it stopped raining and he was calm and then I'd go back to school to work. When it stopped raining, I peeked outside. I thought it was over. Oh silly me.

The water. I couldn't believe the water. I snapped some pictures. I narrated some video.

And because I don't know how to combine clips, you have to watch it piece meal.

It started to rain again, so I went in and started working on grades, and just as I was ready to send them out via email, the power went out. No internet. Then the tornado sirens went off. So I gathered up Jake and went in to the utility room to wait it out...that was until the storm blew the screen clear out of my kitchen window. I got up to close it and saw this.

So I had to take a look out front.

The real reason I didn't want to stand there any longer wasn't fear, it was that I was getting soaked.

After the storm ended, I still had no power. So I called Rose at school and asked her how things were down there. She said power was out in the building and everyone was leaving. So I didn't go back to work. I decided to just wait until the power returned and go from there. I figured, you know, 5 hours at the most.

Boy was I wrong.

Tomorrow, I'll post some damage pics from around Carbondale.


Baby Butt Wipes

When I was a kid, there was a fast food restaurant in our town called the BBF. Their "spokespersons" were two cartoon characters named Burger Chef and Jeff. I haven't thought of that in years. But I was reminded by the acronym BBW, which was my saving grace out in the field this time.

BBW stands for Baby Butt Wipes.

I don't know why I haven't discovered these things before. Maybe because I'm not a mom. But you guys that are have been holding out on the rest of us. These things are like gold to the field-weary traveler. They are a semblance of cleanliness in a world of dirt, dust, and body odor. They are a little travel miracle in PET.

I'll never go out in the field without them again.


5353 Miles in 12 Days

Folks, that's an average of 446 miles per day. Every day. For 12 days. That's about the distance from New York City to Cleveland.

Every trip is a learning experience. Here's some things I learned.
  1. When you find a population of your study organism, sample it. Do not go 5 miles down the road. Do not eat a sandwich first. Stop the car. Get out. Sample the population. Failure to do so will ensure: A) The population down the road evaporates before you get there. B) You are unable to re-locate the population when you come back, and C) A pack of rabid coyotes, a DNR worker, or a livid land owner will be standing guard when you return.
  2. I don't get Texas. At all. And I'm done trying.
  3. The best Motel 6 ever is located in Oklahoma City.
  4. Colorado has beautiful horses.
  5. If someone is behaving badly on the roadway, invariably they are sporting California plates.
  6. Kansas City, my behind. The best smelling BBQ is found in Moriarty, NM. Jake agrees.
  7. Both Dennys and IHOP put milk in their pancakes.
  8. The average breakfast out costs $12, a price I consider outrageous for eggs and a few slices of bacon and a pancake containing milk.
  9. The cascading flight pattern of desert hares works against them in a showdown with a car.
  10. Jake is a pretty damn good field assistant.
  11. Road signage in the Navajo Nation leaves a lot to be desired.
  12. I owe Rich Spellenberg a bottle of scotch.
  13. It's always a relief when, having the evidence to resolve a long standing feud, you prove the person right who has been helping you.
  14. Everyone should do the drive from Grand Junction to Durango. And the Beartooth Highway. And the ring of Kerry.
  15. Oklahoma could use a lesson or two regarding the appropriate warning distance for upcoming road construction. Seriously. Like before more people die.
  16. Coca Cola always tastes better ice-chest cold and in a glass bottle.
  17. I am intoxicated by the freedom of the open road and answering to no one, which is to say, I have grown fond of traveling alone. Quite fond.
  18. Truck stops are pretty safe places if you have to sleep in your car.
  19. I have people who care about me enough to check on me every single day. And who those people are surprised me.
  20. I can sleep in a car for two weeks without wanting to take someone's head off.


Adventure in unlikely places

I realize I have a pretty weird idea of fun. And I love food. And one of my favorite things is to find adventure that tastes good. So while on the road, imagine my delight at finding this place. I mean, if a place doesn't just SCREAM adventure, I don't know what else does.

In case you somehow missed that, it's a tortilla FACTORY. Meaning they manufacture tortilla. And they let me see how they did it. There was a young guy named Hector and an older fellow who's name I didn't catch. Or maybe it was that I couldn't pronounce it. But they showed me how they make tortillas. It was interesting. But it was better eating.

OK, so what that it was only 10:00 in the morning. I was out of my time zone element. It was almost lunchtime for me. They were really nice. Hector said I could order anything from the menu. Breakfast, lunch or dinner. So I ordered this....

Mmmm. And that was a chili-rich salsa. Not for sissies or people with ulcers. And yes, that is a Coca Cola in a GLASS bottle.

And then I ordered this.

Chicken chimichanga with beans on the side. When it arrived I had to run back out to the car to get my cheese pills. I was living by a thread on this trip, I tell ya.

I cleaned my plate. I didn't want to eat again until about 11 pm that night. And in case you wondered, the pills worked.

One must remember that they aren't fool-proof. And when roughing it on research trips, playing fast and loose with the lactaid rules can be a very dangerous thing. When the pills fail, as they did on me in eastern Utah...well, suffice it to say that a new camp shovel was demanded after that afternoon. And that was the result of "mystery milk", meaning I'm not sure what I ate that had milk in it, I just know that something did. Just remember that if Mr. Utah DNR had shown up only a few moments earlier, we might have been having quite a different conversation than the one about botany we shared.

But I was home free after this tasty treat from Hector and that other guy's Tortilla Factory.

Oh, and if you are ever in Moriarty, NM, make sure you go to the BBQ joint. It smelled like a little bit of heaven.

The real reason research takes so long


Just a quick hello

The problem with trying to do field research alone on a study system that demands you search for it during the day and work on it until well after dark is...that often doesn't leave time for the realities of living: where are you going to sleep? After finding A. nana (finally!!!) about 8:00 p.m. last night, collecting my DNA, running my scent samples then processing them, it was about 10:30. I was 50 mi from town one way at 30 miles from town another. The BLM land didn't seem to have any roads to pull down to camp for free. It was dark. I was tired. Jake had been in the car ALL DAY. I went the 30 mi direction.

The hotel in this town the size of Dowell didn't have any rooms. I went 20 miles on to the next town. No hotels. I went another 20 miles on to Beaver. Beaver had a lot of No Vacancy signs. But finally, I found one. The fellow at the Butch Cassidy Inn (Best Western) in Beaver, UT, wanted to dicker on a price when I told him I couldn't afford $75.00 plus tax for a room. He asked what I could afford, and I said I was looking for something under $50. He started talking to a woman standing next to him (not to me, mind you) about the attributes of his hotel, the time of year, the free continental breakfast (God, I know I can't sleep at night thinking about those free, cheap, sticky pastries that come out of a box), and said that if I was willing to give him $55 he could get me a room.

It was 12:55 am and I've been driving for hours and this jackass wants to start fucking with me over $5?

I don't think so.

He was lucky I only said, "Thank you, no."

So I went down the road at paid $60 at the Country Inn. Whereupon I got locked inside my room for almost a half hour before I could get out. Don't ask me. Usually, I'm pretty good with things like door locks.

Since I spent all my blogging time trying to release myself from my room, this morning, this is all you get.
Happy Tuesday. I think. Oh, and my computer is making terrible whirring noises. I'm not sure how many more blog posts from the road you can count on.


June is Trip month

I have found a lot of T. in bloom. In NM. In AZ. And now in Utah. It's a pretty cool plant.
It has really cool seed heads.

And I hope you are seeing this, but that is a bee-mimic fly working those flowers. I caught that sweet little photo at the AP location. Tonight, I found a hawkmoth working the group I found in Utah. Leave it to the Utah working group to employ a highly skilled, massively efficient organism for pollination, while in the Navajo Nation....well, I'll say no more.

Angel's Peak, NM

I tried to drive from Albuquerque, NM to Farmington, NM in one day. I started very late. Very late. I have an excuse. I was trying (unsuccessfully) to find one of my plants. I looked high and low. I looked until it got dark. And then I tried to drive to Farmington.

Huge mistake.

It was only about 100 miles. But it was 100 miles through the Navajo Nation.

Folks, the Navajo apparently don't believe in fast food restaurants, rest areas, or reasonably priced hotels. So I was suddenly aware of the miracle that happened when I saw a brown sign that said BLM campground.

Holy moly! I couldn't pull down that road fast enough. And then it was another 5 miles. It kept teasing me with signs saying "scenic lookout" and "picnic area". Aaargh. Where was the damn campground?

When I finally found it, I had my pick of the place. I was all alone. A free campground and no neighbors. That's my idea of fun. Too tired to erect a tent, I put my sleeping bag down in the back of the car, let Jake eat and do his thing and then it was all zzzzzzzssssss.

In the morning, I want you to see what I saw just steps away from my car door.

I'm lucky I didn't run over the cliff.


The Road is my Middle Name

I love to travel. I like to take long car trips. I know. It's totally anti-envirochick. But it is a not-so-secret pleasure.

Jake is not as hip on the traveling, but he is digging the extra wide ride he's got going on this trip.

He does enjoy the pit stops.

Ahhh, the open road. Here are some reasons why I love it so much.

In the past three days I have seen:
1. An emu
2. A llama
3. 4 bearded billy goats
4. A cow chewing a very large trash bag
5. About 40 dead armadillos (all in Missouri, btw)
6. A pink Hummer
7. A great new, absolutely free campground in the heart of the Navajo Nation.
8. About 40-11 things I couldn't take pictures of.

But here is a taste of the things I could.

My ride. Sa-weet.

So far, my campsite.

My first sunrise. (Texas rest area near Amarillo.)

A. fragrans. North of Amarillo.

Thought I was kidding, didn't you?

This horse let me pet him her over the fence.

Only on Route 66.

Gopher snake in Monument Valley. He is no more. He is a former snake. He's pushing up daisies. I didn't do it. I promise.


and they're off

...just as soon as I wash Jake. Head to school. Pick up maps, traps, insect pins and chemicals. Oh, and make a few scent collection bags. I can't seem to find mine.

See you when I return. Or when I can't take it and need a shower and spring for a hotel room.

Adios. Wait. I was told not to take that bitching ride into Mexico. So, ta-ta for now!

OK, so Jake didn't get a bath. He's just going to get all dusty on this trip anyway. Sheesh. Cut a girl a break. =]