Sunday, August 23, 2009

Going Back to SCHOOOOL!

. . . As Dad would always sing as the school year neared.

Or whenever the "back to school" commercials would start airing.

In June. July if we were lucky.

Anyway, sometimes it's hard for me to believe that I'm coming up pretty quickly on 23 years of age and I'm still anticipating the first day of school, which this time around, happens to be tomorrow. The fun part about going to school at this point in my life and career is that I don't even have class until Tuesday. Couple that with the ultimate juxtaposition of teaching come next Monday, I suppose this is one of the biggest transition periods I've come to in my life.

Either way, I'll be a lab rat for most of tomorrow, chugging away at the occasionally-delicate task of pH-balancing samples in solution. There's a certain satisfaction in starting out with a strongly acidic sample, turning it basic, and then using a harmonic methodology to close in on the pH required. Spin, decant, repeat, sometimes as nausaem until no solid settles out.

In other news, I've signed up for a once-a-week 50 minute lecture this semester that culminates in a trip to the island of CuraƧao in the Caribbean next semester. Apparently a feature of this trip requires a dive, so that gives me the happy excuse to get SCUBA certified this semester!

Additionally, I'd recommend NOT trying to call people out on a public forum when you're attempting to project your weakness and screwups onto someone else. For one, it pisses that person off when they see it. For another, it makes you look like an idiot, a wuss, and about the whiniest person I've ever seen. And for yet another, it's utterly unprofessional. (Not like I'm doing much better myself, here. Ahh the irony, it's killing me!)

Past that, no additional news, except perhaps a plea for suggestions on roach control. I've seen three in the last month and a half or so, and the two I've seen outside of the bathroom seem to have been coming from under the couch. Not sure what to do if my attempt to RAID-ify the underside of the couch tomorrow morning fails.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Survived TA Training!

So that means I'm officially a TA, right?

Maybe not - still have department-specific orientation tomorrow and Friday. While this is the part of this week I've REALLY been looking forward to, I'm sort of anxious to get going again on the Iceland samples I've been starting to process. At least one is ready to balance RIGHT NOW. Also need to spend more time in the rock room - the well-welded samples are begging for shaping and polishing. Once I find a beaker and a bottle of nanopure water, I'm on the home stretch!

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Not grumpy by any means - frustrated, mostly, that I fell asleep instead of going out for a jog like I'd planned. Woke up in time to catch most of the BTN's MSU practice special. It's the 2000 MSU-ND game now. That bilious green turf field in Spartan Stadium is certainly something else! And with the trend within the college football realm of having turf fields (which are nice to march on except that you keep finding rubber bits in your shoes afterward!), I'm pleased that MSU has a grass field. They do a stellar job on upkeep, too. Maintenance begins almost literally the second the football game ends with divot replacement and aeration. The weekend we had the "monsoon" (never mind that's a type of WIND, not a descriptor for a rain pattern!) last fall, we played Florida Atlantic and it rained the ENTIRE weekend. The turfgrass guys kept the field from getting utterly trashed during the game. The following game, the field looked a bit more ragged than usual, but it was hard to tell that it had been saturated and pounded the week before.

. . . I'm going through marching band withdrawal. Sigh. Hoping to head to South Bend to see the SMB kick some Irish ass. We'll see how much tickets are running. It's only a three hour drive from Champaign, so I think I can justify the trip. After all, I'm planning on driving 6-7 hours north to go to the MSU-Michigan game. : ) Now if I can just find a pair of tickets that I can afford!

Back to the present; TA training begins Monday, and I'm somewhere between excited and ambivalent about it. Some of the sessions sound interesting, and others sound downright . . . redundant. They are in place, however, because the school has to cover all bases, including the legal ones. The two days I'm most ambivalent about are thankfully Monday and Tuesday, getting easier after that. Not excited about the practice teaching session because it's being videotaped and I'd rather not have to watch a videotaped critique of myself fervently attempting to remove the foot that's somehow always stuffed into my mouth when I talk in front of groups.

Ironically, the best talk I've ever given in a class was the 45 minute lecture on the different tectonic processes of each terrestrial planet. The 15 minute talks, for some reason, have always been harder. Perhaps I shouldn't have procrastinated so much on those shorter talks! Or, moreso, shouldn't have gotten so worked up over them. Another of my concerns is finding the correct balance of classroom authority and likability as a person - it's not the easiest groove to find. Just another one of those instances where I'll have to jump in feet-first and correct as the situation calls.

On a random note: Going to try to make a heavy tempura with Bisquick to fry up some veggies with. I don't have any flour and I'm trying to avoid the grocery store as much as possible for the next couple of weeks, so no flour for a while here. We'll see how this goes. Ever since trying fried zucchini in Colorado, I've been interested in attempting it myself.

That's all from here. Maybe I'll be more productive tomorrow. Hoping Monday, among other things, brings a certain shipment of prescription meds from a certain mail-order pharmacy that I'd kind of like to start taking regularly again. Still can't decide what's better: Sending the new script into the Certain Mail-Order Pharmacy every 4 weeks, or butting heads with the real pharmacies over the validity of the scripts I bring in. Honestly, healthcare is bullshit. Yes, a LOT of people abuse this drug. Yes, it's chemically similar to a lot of illegal drugs and as a result strictly controlled. I don't abuse it. I need it. It helps me sleep normally at night so I can function somewhat normally during the day. It's not as effective if I have to keep stopping it so I can average some sort of medication schedule.

Okay. ending rant. Watching football. It's a good facsimile till the real deal kicks in soon.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hello from Champaign!

. . . Disregarding the fact that I've had a place to live here since June, I AM making my first post from the U of I.

This place is REALLY nice. The style of the campus is reminiscent of (a better-tied-together-architecturally) MSU, with a slightly smaller campus surrounding a series of quads. The building I'm already busy at work in backs up to the main quad, which means it's REALLY easy to find a place to hang out on breaks (and honestly, I haven't spent much time sitting still there . . . I've mostly walked or jogged through it).

I've been working in my building since mid-July and have already ventured into the field once. I have a sample set to prep already (which I'm REALLY happy about!), and though I may well find myself back in one of the calderas, sampling more of the particular ignimbrites (material erupted out of a caldera) I'm interested in before too much longer. However we DO have enough at the moment to get some preliminary results to look off of. I'm ambitious enough to attempt analysis of a minimum two isotope systems in the near future. Before any of that happens, I do have more work ahead of me:

1. Currently, I've been placed in the lab with one of the undergrads who's been working here for a while. He's helping develop analysis methods for a certain isotope system that is present in nearly every rock (in fact, not aware of a rock that does not contain the element with said isotopes of interest) - mostly grunt work, which I'm more than happy to have a hand in, especially given it's been invaluable while learning my way around the labs I'll soon be living in.

2. Prepping SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope) mounts happens tomorrow. I've refrained from this part of my project till now to ensure that I can have someone in lab with me so I can make sure I'm familiar with the proper care and handling of the U of I Rock Saws, let alone what sort of cut is needed for a good SEM mount. I'd rather not have an accident like the one I had at MSU. While there were only superficial injuries (and not to me) as a result of that incident, it scared several people and new safety measures were taken as a direct result. I've also been slightly skittish of rock saws since. Didn't help that the substitute saw we used in lieu of the broken saw (took somewhere near a month to fix) had a failing motor and rougher blade, which resulted in jagged slices and a few slammed thumbs. (And no, I definitely do not hold anyone responsible for this. Accidents happen in labs and that's just something an empirical scientist has to accept and in turn know how to mitigate as needed.)

3. Learning my way around the mass spectrometer is a big one. I know the principles upon which several incarnations of mass spec operate, but that's entirely different than knowing how to actually RUN one. I can at least test samples for voltage ranges and adjust them accordingly. I've also been shown how to calibrate the machine to get proper isotope readings - this is significantly more involved than a simple voltage test and it will definitely be a while before I know this procedure well enough to run solo.

4. Next week's TA training and classes starting soon after. Not sure if I'm more nervous for some of the training activities or teaching my first real class. Yipe. Why are they so willing to trust dozens of people's college educations to ME?!?!

(I'll get over it. The worst part and sometimes the best is the anticipation. Sort of like the 30 seconds right before the call to attention and Kickstep sequence in the tunnel of Spartan Stadium.)

Then, of course, the rock wall and I made friends before dinner this evening. Totally worth it and totally hoping that I can stop by enough to become a regular. The collaboration between climber and belayer, obvious end goal, and variables such as palm sweat (HAVE to find a solution for that) and forearm fatigue combines for some interesting resistance training that I'd like to exploit. That combined with the cardio (if I can ever get my lazy arse back onto a regular running schedule) would have some great physical results. I only did about 2.5 climbs over the course of about an hour and a half and I feel really good.

The social aspect is important. I feel like I sort of failed that part of my undergrad, because I spent my time with only two groups and one or two other people whom I've known for a long time. While I'm hanging out with mostly folks I knew last summer from field camp, I've felt more at ease meeting people here. The mentality's a bit different from SE and Mid-Michigan and I like it.

And on that note, it's probably well past shower-time. I still smell like I've been rock climbing. : )