Mar 27, 2009

Compacting Music

I made it through my exam fairly easily. In the end I'm happier with the paper than I anticipated, which feels nice.

I couldn't have gotten through the exam without good tunes. My music supply is limited here in London. I'm used to living with a mad collector of new, amazing music. Blake was my source of new music for about 10 years, and he mostly still is. Beth! also hooks me up with new tunes, though I haven't been able to listen to the playlists she sent me because I had to disconnect the cd drive on my computer at one point in its flakiness. I only have about 15 GB of music with me. No cds or anything like that. I run through this very often as I spend many many hours in front of this computer or on my bike (yeah, no lectures on how biking with headphones is wack).

But there's music just waiting to be harvest online. DJ /Rupture provided the adrenaline for a lot of my work this week. I should really thank him. I have his album, Uproot and have just been alerted to his weekly WFMU radio show. So now I'm listening to archives of that.

Other options I've played around with include Last FM, which is ok. It's less useful when you need to focus. Well maybe not if you're not as potentially distracted by music as I am. I need it but I also need it to be right. I download a bit from Emusic, but I can't afford to do it a lot. I prefer downloads directly from bands, which is how I got the newest Cloud Cult album.

I realize that it takes server space to keep these things available online. I know there are impacts, but it's better than cds and tapes and vinyl in terms of consumption. The Compact has always encouraged folks supporting the arts. It's an alternative, social consumption based around ideas rather than goods.

I still can't believe I haven't seen any live music, except street or demonstration music, since I've been in London. I just don't have my finger on that. But I've started looking into what shows are happening in SF over the summer, hell yeah. And by then I'll have access to Blake's dialed in musical awareness. It's hard to miss good shows with him around!

Mar 24, 2009

Proposals and other papers

Have I mentioned that my return to SF for the summer is official? I've written a proposal for a weed mapping project for the Natural Areas Program. I'm excited and intimidated by the thought of using ArcGIS again. I have another paper for this course that will require Arc so I have another chance to push my skills before I set out on my own. It's surprising that I chose a project that will inevitably involve many bouts of me yelling at a computer ...

Just thinking about it makes me want a new computer. I've been thinking about that a lot lately. My powerbook has been super flakey. You might remember that I bartered for this machine about 3 years ago, when I finished my undergrad. It's powerful, but at least 5 or 6 years old now. When I think about my future in conservation, I really want some new software too. In my dreams, I'd have a new (to me, but used) macbook with windows for mac, canoco, stella, ArcGIS, and the newest version of photoshop. In my dreams.

Most likely I'll stick with this machine a bit longer. The Natural Areas Program has ArcGIS, so I'll plan on working in their office or on WTS, which is this weird thing (I don't even know if it's software) that allows me to sign into UCL computers from my computer. WTS is annoying and slow, but it means I'll be able to work from home. And I like working from home.

In fact, I want to be able to set up a consultancy after the GIS project. That might require a new computer and some software. It sounds like there's no money in the City budget to hire someone like me. And since I know that Cali has flat out canceled 4,000 conservation projects, I'm prepared to go it alone, again. I've had 3 successful small businesses in SF. I'll be reviving at least one of those, but damn it would be nice to focus entirely on conservation, at least while I'm still paying for the degree! The idea of returning to my hectic, 3 job lifestyle is really not appealing. But I'm not the only one and I'm going to be lucky to have one job in this economy, really.

I'm still writing my exam, which is 4,000 words on protected areas versus landscape scale conservation. We've got a bit more flexibility in this essay than we've had in the other coursework. I've gotten a chance to write a teeny bit about theory and values for the first time. If I weren't so distracted by other life events, I'd probably rock this paper because it's kinda interesting. I've 'read' (meaning scanned) about 12 books and 30 papers on the topic and those things that I think are related - like theory on the existence of nature, capitalism in conservation, and sense of place. Right now I should be writing the boring part of the essay. The actual comparisons of landscape scale and protected areas conservation. Though I have some mildly inspiring language maps on my wall to drive my clever phrasing, the facts are boring! But I must get back to them.

Mar 21, 2009

Pollen and Procrastination

London has provided a bounty of new experiences for me in the past six months. My newest adventures include allergies, apparently to tree pollen. I find this a bit exciting, but maybe that's just a poor interpretation of breathlessness. I had allergies when we moved from the Atlanta area to Bartow County when I was thirteen, but that's the only time. Now I have full on hayfever, which is really weird.

How can I possibly be allergic to trees? Is this nature giving me a hard time for those years that I drove a car? A solid 'fuck you, human' from mother earth? I doubt it. But it's fun to think about. Biologically speaking, I guess these pollens are new for me. As I bike, entirely emotionless tears flow down my cheeks, add in my perplexed grin and I bet I look like a freak and a half.

By dwelling hayfever I have found a new means of procrastination. The exam for my course is a 4,000 word essay, the question for which I received yesterday. It's due next Friday and I have done a lot of research but haven't started writing. It's too sunny to stay inside and write all day. Instead I've walked the schnauzers a whole lot. They're moving to Milano tomorrow so it's been a good excuse. I've sneezed a lot. I've made lots of food from skipped vegetables. I've written a draft proposal for my disseration (not due until April 28th, of course). I've stared out the window at the cats. And I've ridden my bike all over the place!

I have to imagine that if I did actually shop, that I'd have a whole new means of procrastination. Blowing off essays for a trip to the shops could feel so good if you didn't care about consumption, I'm thinking. Of course, the bill for procrastination of that sort might be haunting.

Soon I'm going to focus, put down 4,000 mediocre words on the advantages and disadvantages of landscape scale and protected area approaches to nature conservation. I'm going to weave in all those ethical tangents that I've been dying to express in this course. I'm going to critique capitalism in conservation while relying on ecosystem services to make my point about landscape scale conservation. How I'm going to make all of that relevant to the question ... not sure. I have some planning to do before I write. Luckily I think most of the heavy reading is complete!

Now it's me and loads of scrap paper from the UCL print stations for some brainstorming and outlining.
Here goes.

Mar 19, 2009

Student Debt in the States

I just had to do 'exit counseling' online for my student loans. I worked my way through my undergrad so this is the first time I've ever had debt. It's scary. Lots of my friends in the UK don't get my trepidation, as there are some ways to circumvent the system here. However, my exit counseling has assured me that, though bankers will be bailed out in the US, my debt will not be forgiven, unless:

Stafford Exit Topic 5 of 6: Loan Cancellation

You are generally obligated to repay your student loan, regardless of what happens. In fact, federal student loans usually are not even discharged or cancelled due to bankruptcy. However, there are a few situations in which your loan may be cancelled:

  • You die
  • You are totally and permanently disabled (requires certification from a physician and is subject to a conditional period of three years)
  • Your school fails to pay a refund if you withdraw
  • You are unable to complete your program of study due to school closure
  • Your loan was falsely certified as a result of identity theft
  • Your school falsely certified or fraudulently completed a loan application in your name without your approval

Mar 16, 2009

Dissertation Decisions

Post Tenerife I've had some time to think about what I want to do for my dissertation this summer. I'm going to talk to my prof in about an hour, but I'm feeling a little glowy about the idea of returning to San Francisco to map the distribution and management of invasive species. The city now has a weed management area and I like the idea of contributing to that larger goal. And I really miss my parks!

Having worked on those lands previously, I'm keen to touch that sandy, rocky soil. I've heard so much about the weird weather and I miss the coastal gusts. I want to see that oak tree in McLaren and those spots I weeded on Twin Peaks a year ago. What's happened to it now? Was my work effective? Am I really going to have the pleasure of mapping the former distribution of French broom in the Bowl (a spot on Twin Peaks)? Is there some opportunity for me to evaluate the way that our different eradication methods have worked? Some way to relate the removal of large monocultures to the resulting diversity or persistence of rarities or endangered species found in SF? You can bet I'll try.

This project reminds me a bit of Green DogWalks in that it requires evaluating the efficacy of our actions in natural areas. I know it's crucial to good management, but it can also be a bit overwhelming. Whatever, better to know than to not, right? After my initial foray into GIS, I'm surprised that I'm seeking this project, but it's such a fabulous tool. I'm sure my tech-drama will end when I get back to SF, where internet is reliable! (Yeah, I know that has nothing to do with my ability to use GIS).

What happened to my draw to the desert? Well, the limitations are vast, including financial. Ok that one's huge. But also, everything I want to study is going to be cured or dead over my study period. Means no field work though I might be able to use existing data. So I'd be spending my summer in air conditioning and riding in cars instead of on my bike mapping the land I love. No shit, I'm a little disappointed, but I'm not going to dwell on that. I'll go to the desert for work some day. I'll make it to the border to fight that wall with the Endangered Species Act, no doubt.

But for now, I'm feeling glowy about SF. (Ignore that last post that mentioned me remembering all the reasons I left. I'm planning on ignoring all of that crap when I get back.) I'm stoked about seeing my cats. When I told Blake that we have to get rid of everything gray because I'm sick of gray, he reminded me that our dear Quivus is gray. And she's pretty awesome! So true.

But I have to say, it's not gray here at all. It's sunny and blue. And I'm looking forward to walking my favorite gray dog, Pixel (and his brother, Raster) later in Brockwell Park.

Mar 13, 2009

Triumphs, Trips, and Tiredness

I got back from the Tenerife field study at 6pm on Wednesday and went straight to the Library House for the weekly cafe, where we were showing films about globalization and poverty. I walked into a room full of friends offering hot food, smiles, and updates. After a draining day of fear and medication - I'm a terribly anxious flyer - I couldn't have asked for more. We watched "We", which is a bit of a visual essay to accompany a speech by Arundhati Roy. I fully recommend it if you haven't seen it.

In absolutely fabulous news, the next court date for the Library House is not until May 13th! We're stoked to have so much time to prepare our defense of the social centre. It's great to know we can stay in the space through the spring and possibly into the summer. The garden is being planted and the place is beginning to take on a whole new character as we emerge from a dark London winter. Another squatted social centre in London, RampART, nearly faced illegal eviction yesterday. But the space was secured from the inside and remains to organize for another day. (And hopefully for many more).

So yeah, I dropped out of the sky after a week of doing plant ID across a rural park (Anaga, if you're familiar with Tenerife) on a subtropical island. This morning I was supposed to head to Bristol for a fun gathering of activists, but when I woke up I was dragging, super tired. I spent £15 on a bus ticket but I'm going to have to miss this one.

Stepping back in space and time, the trip to Tenerife brought pleasure and some pain. I learned a lot, but not at all what I thought. I had no idea that I would spend four days doing 5m X 5m plots along road sides. I thought we might actually discuss the concept of managing nature, which is what the module is titled. But what we really did was drive around and get samples biased to roadside invaders for a data set that has no relevance other than to our projects. In general, I value obtaining my own data. I have loathed the projects where we're given some meaningless data set with which to tinker. So I truly appreciate the field work and the opportunity to create a data set. But it's not necessary to go so far to do that work.

Tenerife is beautiful once you get above the tourist line, away from the developments, away from the scars of progress. My perceptions of the coast are muddled by lines of nurdles resting on black sand, tracing the paths of warm Atlantic waves. Despite obvious pollution and debris, I swam under the full moon because it seems we're going to have to do it anyway if we want to enjoy the sea. Above the coast a tangle of roads fragment vegetation and communities to expedite tourist movement. Rising out of the urban areas, you might find yourself in the Corona Forestal, Teide, or Anaga Rural Park. These spots are amazingly beautiful. Snow greeted us on Teide, where we saw aridiphilic vegetation surrounded by white in the weirdest mishmash of elevation and precipitation that I've ever witnessed. Endemics abound, as do invasives. It's an interesting struggle among the vegetation in terms of competition for space. I wish we'd gotten the hell off the the roadside so that we could see what the realities are like within Anaga. Gradient, time, and copious cactae kept us largely along roadsides.

At least two of us wanted to hike a transect across the park, camping rather than driving back to a pretentious hotel every night. I can see how that's wholly impractical with 25 students as backcountry space for one tent is often difficult to find if you have any ethics about it. But perhaps this is just another reason to select somewhere other than Tenerife for this field trip.

But for now I'm in London, tired and thinking of all of the work I have to do. I still need to settle on a project for my dissertation. I heard from one USGS researcher last week saying that he didn't know what projects they would be putting forward because the federal budget hadn't been passed. I started romanticizing San Francisco again, but after a truly annoying email from a friend (about parks and mountain bikes), I suddenly remember why I left. And I'm not sure that I want to go back just yet. It's not a bad option, but probably not my favorite.

Whatever, I'll make the best of it wherever I end up this summer.

Mar 7, 2009

greetings from tenerife

yes, i went. i´m here. it´s highly developed. not much to report, except that the same invasives that cover SF are all over this island. it´s made keying out the plants fairly easy for me, which is not common at all!

more when i can get my own laptop to work. 1 euro for 7 minutes makes for short blogging.