Sunday, March 30, 2008

ArtFest preparations!!!

I designed this graphic and printed it on transfer paper to iron onto my new totebag, because I am going on a grand new adventure!
This Tuesday I am leaving for an artist's retreat, ArtFest 2008, that will be held in Port Townsend, WA. I will take three workshops in which I will cut, paste, paint, hammer and stamp until I produce something that resembles art. I hope to be able to liveblog the experience, if I have wireless access.

On one evening the participants are invited to submit two pieces of art to sell. The theme must be "Forest Walk;" that's easy for me since almost everything I do has a nature theme. I have chosen one piece that I made a few months ago, the sleeping pupa nestled in her hidden chamber...

I also enlarged, printed and framed two of my digital slide art images. I'm not asking for much price-wise, I'm mostly just interested to see if anyone likes what I am doing.

I've never done anything like it before, and I am really excited about the whole idea. It will be a great way to let loose and enjoy just being free and creative in a supportive setting. I have so many things of gravity to deal with when I return to Morgantown, so much has happened and so much is set to change. I feel like this trip is a turning point, and when I return, I will be taking a more active role in shaping the new direction that my life will take. It's time to reclaim my independence, and to be tough again.

Back from spring break

I had a restful time back home in Iowa, although it wasn't nearly long enough and I'm sorry I didn't have the energy to contact any of my old friends there. Most of my time was spent going antiquing and otherwise hanging out with Mom, and spending time with Dad and my brother J. Above is a picture taken at Squaw Creek outside of Cedar Rapids, where J. and I went out with his dogs one morning for a walk. Iowa is awfully grey this time of year.

As usual, I picked up several vintage photos while browsing the antique shops. The one above I bought for a dollar at a shop in Anamosa. The woman's face is so weary and full of pain- amazing.

I also went through two of my family's old photo albums and scanned many of the pictures. During this visit I started at the beginning and scanned pictures of great grandparents, grandparents, and my mother and her siblings while they were growing up.

I was also specifically looking for one picture of myself. Although I have kind of a distasteful expression in this picture, I think it captures my interest in nature when I was a child (most kids probably wouldn't have picked up the snake to begin with). When I got back to Morgantown I modified the picture a bit for color and brightness, printed it on photo paper, and matted it on a page taken from an old bird book. I bought the frame for a dollar at Salvation Army.

More later on my preparations for ArtFest!!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Renaissance woman rocks the camera and the soldering iron

Well, that's what I like to think of myself, anyway.

Putting birdseed right outside the bay window has provided me with all kinds of good viewing of the very diverse bird life here. Should I ever leave West Virginia, I will really miss all of the birds and bugs and the salamanders under the rocks.

The juncos are pretty hard to take pictures of, as they move too quickly even for the new camera. Only one out of every four or so shots I take actually turns out.

The titmice and chickadees are even tougher to catch. I still haven't gotten a good chickadee picture, but I got a nice shot of a titmouse on top of the birdfeeder here. There is also a titmouse hanging around who has lost his crest- maybe he had a run-in with a cat or a Cooper's hawk? Parasites? He seems healthy otherwise.

As the picture at the top of this post illustrates, the cardinals are still breathtaking. I am still trying to get a good shot of a female.

In other news, I finished another soldered charm last night and it went a bit better than the last time. I figured out how important it is to apply the flux properly at the beginning so the solder sticks and spreads to the copper tape I use to seal the glass. The "good" side only took a few minutes to solder, while the other side took a couple of hours of smoothing and reapplying solder. I have one more charm to solder and I hope I get it down this time.

My current work project is writing up a study by a graduate student on mushroom body development in the red flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum. All kinds of methods for manipulating gene expression have been worked out for this beetle, which is a more basal insect species and thus a good comparison with the crazy derived fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. The fly is the primary molecular model system in my area of research; by characterizing mushroom body organization and development in Tribolium, we are forging a new path for evolutionary studies of the genetic control of mushroom body development, in particular the regulation of neural stem cell activity.

And with that, time to get working...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Signs of spring?

The last couple of days have been decently warm with a bit of sunshine (with the exception of today, which is cold and gloomy). The robins are here to stay I think, all of the birds are becoming more active in general, and the daffodils are pushing their way through last year's detritus and putting out their first buds. I love spring mostly for the promise of summer and its abundance of greenery and life.

Since the temperatures were warm yesterday I took the dogs out on the rail trail for a walk. They enjoyed sloshing around in the river as usual.

Interestingly, I found evidence on one part of the train of what appears to be beavers- gnawed tree trunks and downed trees stripped of bark. Would beavers live in a big river like the Mon? If not, would muskrats be capable of this? I was kind of surprised because it's an awfully ambitious beaver who thinks she can dam up the Monongahela.

Today I'm staying in to work on a paper and do a little bit of artsy-fartsy stuff since it's too cold and gloomy to venture out (for me at least- the birds don't seem to mind as evidence by these pictures I took of a bluejay at the feeder this afternoon; oh how I love my new camera!).

Friday, March 14, 2008

Digital artsy-fartsy

I just bought a copy of Somerset Digital Studio at the bookstore a few days ago, and I've been inspired to play around with Photoshop and some of the images I have collected (hoarded?) over the past few months.

I also looked through a few Photoshop websites and picked up some great brushes: these are intricate patterns that you can put on your image in any size, color or other modification. Most of the brushes I got were intricate floral and swirled patterns, but I did get some with pegasi too :).

I composed a new front and back for a slide charm, too. Maybe I'll try my hand at soldering again tomorrow.

Finally, I made a silly tattoo design. I just couldn't resist when I saw the rose design on another website- around here, no rose in bloom is complete without a couple of Japanese beetles!

Taking a breather

Yesterday I just puttered around the house, getting my wits back about me after finishing that article. I noticed when I went into work on Wednesday that I was pretty grumpy, so I think I needed to just vegetate for a day. I'm also looking forward to this weekend so I can do a little bit of yard work and straighten up the house a bit. I just need to disconnect from work for a couple of days.

I have been working on making a slide charm, putting a microscope slide-sized collage between two glass slides, wrapping them in copper wire and soldering them together. Sadly, my soldering skills have fallen into serious disuse so I don't think I will be wearing this. I keep overworking the solder and having to reapply it, which is why it looks so lumpy and gnarly. While I was working on this, I recalled an old, old memory of my dad teaching me how to solder at his basement workbench, and how I would go down into the basement and pound nails into a piece of wood and then just solder on them for fun. So I guess I find it kind of relaxing to do, I just don't have much finesse in my technique. Maybe I will try a new charm this weekend and see if I can do any better.

Yesterday I also changed the layout template for this blog because I was getting tired of pink, and added links to all of the various blogs and scientific journals that I keep track of.

Well, I suppose I should get to work- TGIF!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Figure 1,374. State of the test subject on March 11, 2008

After three years of seemingly glacial productivity, the test subject has submitted three journal articles in three months. A. Reference materials. B. Last figure of the last article uploading to "Brain, Behavior and Evolution." C. The first rays of daylight seeping through the windows. D. "Picard," faithful caffeine-holding vessel. E. Test subject deprived of sleep and with cerebral cortex (temporarily?) drained of all knowledge pertaining to insect mushroom bodies.

Whew. I'm exhausted.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Treasures of the Internet

I should be working on a paper now, but seem to be procrastinating by surfing the web and finding funnies. Above is from a website called Garfield Minus Garfield, where removing the eponymous cat from the comic strip produces funny but disturbing results that will make you question Jon's sanity. I love it.

Now this is a blast from the past. My brother J. had a photocopy of this on his bedroom door when we used to rent an apartment together back in Illinois. I just stumbled on this while looking for info on John Wayne (I thought I remembered that he had died on my birthday- I was right, but it was in 1979). Anyway, I am going to print this picture right out and put it on my door at work. Words of wisdom.

Friday, March 7, 2008

On being an atheist

PZ Myers posted this on his blog today, in response to another blog portraying atheists as sad, immoral, lonely people. I like PZ's characterization of the atheist mindset very much.

An atheist's creed

I believe in time,
matter, and energy,
which make up the whole of the world.

I believe in reason, evidence and the human mind,
the only tools we have;
they are the product of natural forces
in a majestic but impersonal universe,
grander and richer than we can imagine,
a source of endless opportunities for discovery.

I believe in the power of doubt;
I do not seek out reassurances,
but embrace the question,
and strive to challenge my own beliefs.

I accept human mortality.

We have but one life,
brief and full of struggle,
leavened with love and community,
learning and exploration,
beauty and the creation of
new life, new art, and new ideas.

I rejoice in this life that I have,
and in the grandeur of a world that preceded me,
and an earth that will abide without me.

The picture is by Charlie Harper, an illustrator of children's nature books in the 1970's and 1980's.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

New camera celebration!

Well, the camera Ron and I got as a wedding gift, that traveled all over the world, up mountains, through the wood and across streams, has finally gone kaput. After doing some reading, learning and price shopping I chose to get a Canon again, partly out of familiarity and partly due to overwhelming good reviews. This model is a bit of a step up with some added manual features, excellent optical zoom ability, and the hot new feature, optical stabilization. This helps caffeinated, nicotinated, jittery folks like me to take nice crisp pictures.
This camera really rocks. It feels nice to use, and it's so fast that I got several good pictures of Wizard before he could run away and hide.

Here are some of my recent artsy-fartsies. On the left is a specimen box with little baby butterflies collected inside. This is an extension of my earlier mockery of the babies and wings and crowns thing. In a way, though, I guess it could serve as a cautionary tale- it may seem like a shame to stick a pin through a little fairy, and it should seem like a shame to stick a pin through a butterfly or a dragonfly, too. The other cases I made a few months ago, one is a bunch of shells that Ron and I collected on the beach at Martha's Vineyard, enclosed with a tide chart that I aged with plain old tea. The other specimen box contains various insects that I have found dead or dying on the ground in the past year. I don't kill insects just to put them in boxes anymore, only for research now.

Above are the last three spreads I've done in my altered book. It's going more slowly now that some of the mania has faded (the flight of ideas has come in for a landing), but I'm still working a bit on it here and there.

Aside from this I am plugging away at a review article on the evolution of higher brain centers, with an emphasis on parallel evolution and convergence. Some of this is easy to write, as I've been thinking and reading about it for months. Some is fairly new though, and I'm still trying to wrap my brain around it. I'm intrigued by some similarities in circuits between arthropods, vertebrates, and maybe even cephalopods- could there be a shared function at some very general level?