September 2007

The Mets lost today. Tom Glavine gave up seven runs in the first inning.

The Mets’ loss means the Phillies won the division. The Mets had a seven game lead over the Phillies with only seventeen games left in the season. And they blew it.



I have come to the righteous conclusion that rainforest suck.

They are valuable, perhaps even crucial to the continued existence of life as we know it. They are home to an unparalleled diversity of species. They host a wealth of medicinal plants that modern science is only now beginning to learn. They house countless cultures, some of which stand the peoples least affected by globalization.

And they suck.


As the name implies, there is the constant rain to deal with; you become soaked almost immediately, regardless of protection or the amount of current precipitation. What is not soggy from sky, vegetation, or sweat quickly becomes musty and damp from the humidity.

Vegetation is so think that travel must be accomplished either on trails or on waterways, the latter by boat or by wading. Firstly, no matter what anybody says about macheteing a trail out of dense forest, it’s a bitch. Secondly, due to the nature of rainforest, any trail you do succeed in clearing turns instantly to a long, narrow mudhole, and is then soon recolonized by vegetation unless steady traffic or maintenance beats it back.

Boats typically work well, if you have one. Most visitors are lucky to have a raft or canoe, which are fine for dinking around, but are less than ideal for daily work. Oh, and ‘typically’ does not apply to the twisting, rocky rivers of B.C., because you can’t get a boat through boulder rapids in four inches of water. But that’s why you brought chest waders! Because you really enjoy twisting your ankles on unseen and uneven stones and salmon carcasses, trying to avoid grizzlies in the one place they are sure to be found and where they are also unable to hear or smell you, walking kilometres at a stretch against flood currents, every day. Except it’s not every day, because the river floods when it rains and you can’t get to your study sites anyway.

Speaking of not being able to reach the study sites, why am I here again?          

Check this article out.  Great point.  What more does a billionaire need?  A legacy as large as King Tut’s.  I’m slightly hesitant to argue fervently for private financing of other massive endeavors.  Like education, for example.  However, Bill Gates has given a plethora of grants to public school systems across the nation and in other countries to improve.  I applaud his efforts in public education, and I hope his money brings success.  I don’t think we can rely on billionaires to bankroll major overhauls of previously public projects.  Right?  Or is this the way of the future?  Is this the way for America to “stay on top”?  (Air quotes, please)

I write now from the coast of British Columbia, in the midst of the Great Bear Rainforest. I am sitting on a couch with a cup of coffee at my elbow and the smell of fresh-baked cookies in the air. To say that I am roughing it would be something of an exaggeration. In my defence, however, I will add that this is my first day off in two weeks, and the first in the same period where I have not paddled and dragged a canoe through ten kilometres of estuarial river. While the smell of chocolate oatmeal cookies (yes, I bake) is certainly a pleasant one, I can assure you that the rotting carcasses of hundreds of pink and dog salmon is less than enjoyable.

            I am currently employed by Round River Conservation Studies on behalf of the Heilsuk First Nation and the land they control. Myself and two others (and I use that number loosely) are collecting data on grizzly bears and salmon in this, the Kvai, watershed. [Note: while the river appears as ‘Koeye’ on the maps, the Heilsuk spell it ‘Kvai’ and pronounce it ‘Quay.’ We defer to the Heilsuk.] The data we gather will be added to years of research in forming a Conservation Area Design, which the Heilsuk will refer to when making decisions affecting land use and wildlife policy. Distillation: we field biologists slog through the rivers and forests, counting fish and collecting bear hair off barbed-wire snares.

            The Kvai is special for a number of reasons. The Heilsuk have used this watershed for thousands of years, both as a source of food and materials, but also living on its banks in many temporary camps and villages. Four species of salmon (no Chinook) still run this river in good numbers, though are much affected by sport and commercial fishing in the area. The mouth of the Kvai forms a small protected bay, which supports a variety of marine life that tend to be quite scarce in this area. It is also one of the few watersheds in all of coastal B.C. that has never been logged. Though we can look out the window of this lodge and see cruise ships plowing through the Inside Passage, the low mountains around us are still dense with giant spruce, fir, hemlock, and ceder, the undergrowth so thick as to be nearly impenetrable without sweaty hours of machete work. For us, travel is restricted to the waterways, the few blazed trails, and a few meters up along the banks.

            So why am I sitting in comparative luxury? The Heilsuk bought a lodge that had been used to house fishermen-tourists back in the day. Now it is used primarily for a summer camp for tribal children, but is also rented out for events ranging from company retreats to weddings. We are based out of the lodge because most of our work is on the lower river and is accessible by canoe and one main trail. We have some sites at Koeye Lake, about fifteen kilometres inland from here, and we camp on the shore while we are there.

            Given that the only power we have here is from a small generator, I will cut this post here and give further updates as warranted and possible.  


To you all out there, stay warm and dry, and don’t get eaten by bears.

My new apartment is on the ground floor. I love this in many ways, as it means I have lots of windows and light, plus it’s easy to get things in and out of my apartment. However, this also means that I always have to have my blinds and curtains down, if I don’t wish the guys drinking beer in the alley at 9 am in the morning to see me in my underwear.

It also means I’m privy to lots of noise and conversations. My apartment is also right near the dumpster, meaning that homeless people are frequently looking through the dumpster for cans and bottles. I awoke the other morning, to over hear this conversation: (more…)

Poster’s note: Some people have requested that I try to relate scientific topics to a mostly non-scientific audience (a la Ira Flatow of “Science Friday”). I hesitated to embark on this line of discussion as I am not a scientific expert. However, the benefits of clarifying some incorrect impressions that the public has of scientists, debunking scary scientific myths, and explaining basic scientific concepts far outweigh any negatives I can think of. Any person more knowledgeable on a subject I may post is more than welcome to correct me. Also, feel free to suggest topics or post questions. If I feel that I can impart knowledge on the subject, I’ll cover it. And with that disclaimer, let’s get it on.

Biologists have chosen certain organisms as model organisms because frequently, we can’t study whole organismal phenomena in humans. What does that mean? Well, if I wanted to study where one particular muscle gene functions in the whole body, I can’t delete that gene from Johnny and see if that gene works in his heart or in his bicep. (The heart’s just a muscle, folks.) I might get lucky if Johnny’s bicep shrinks, but it would suck if Johnny had to have a heart transplant. The public frowns on that sort of research. So, scientists decided to use non-human organisms for basic research. (more…)

People are running the marathon part of the Ironman Triathlon outside my apartment building right now. Nothing like hundreds of people swimming 2.4 miles, running 26.2 miles, and then biking 112 miles all in one day to make you feel out of shape. I walked about 3/4 of a mile of the course on my way home from lab, and a pedestrian on the sidewalk passed me. Sigh. At least I wasn’t that chump with the mug of coffee staring from the sidewalk.

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