Saturday, March 28, 2009

To the chopping block!

The garden is coming along, though in some ways it seems even more discombobulated than when we started (snort!). We have now moved into the back yard to begin work under the auspices of a new academic discipline: arboreal Darwinism. That's right - we choose trees according to aesthetic appeal and send the rest to the chopping block. In fact, the trees are often hacked using their own trunks as substrate. To me, this seems vaguely cannibalistic, but as I'm now on a list for having used the words "Darwinism, cannibalistic, and chopping block" in the same post, I'll have to saccharine this up to avoid penal detention, so here goes...

Morning shot of our back yard, before limb massage commenced:

The first tree put to rest - inducing supine state using gentle strokes:

These guys came in the morning to give an estimate and came back the same afternoon to begin beautification. The dude here was tickled to interact so intimately with the power lines during teticure.

This hawthorn was the largest the arborist had ever seen in Seattle. Its removal required extensive maneuvering. Armed with a 42'' dangling chainsaw, the barber pictured below set to work on the hawthorn's head. About an hour later, we were left with a glistening bald stump at which to marvel.

Naively, we opted to be left with the remains, which we have now been hacking up diligently for several hours. We've removed the hatchet from its resting place in order to put old Hawthorn to his.

To be continued...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lord of the Mud Pies

As threatened, a post on our recent gardening adventures. We have attempted several times to clean up our yard. The largest effort occurred before we took off for a year in China. Naively, we reduced the rent in exchange for upkeep by the renters. Needless to say, upkeep didn't happen and we came back to a yard that was, perhaps, more unkempt than when we bought the place. 

Anyway, this represents one catalyst for a proper revamp of the necrotic plot. Spring's arrival further warrants an outdoor sanctuary. Moreover, as many of our associates are at some stage of child-bearing, we'll need to entertain ourselves and the occasional barren buddy or two. As it so happens, a favorite pastime of one celibate crony involves studying the natural history of raccoons while intoxicated (this is rather cerebral compared to a historical fondness for mattress surfing). The mead and amber are bubbling away in anticipation so it's on to seducing raccoons... 

Raccoon seduction requires professional guidance, which we have obtained. The garden design is quite alluring, even for non-Procyanids - it incorporates a number of local plants, a vegetable garden, a patio and, potentially, an herb spiral (welcome to the Northwest). The re-model is rather intensive, and will proceed slowly given other commitments, but the first stage has now been completed. This is the before photo of the South side yard: 

To begin, we hauled excess dirt, compost and mulch from the side yard into the back yard where we will use it to level the ground before laying the patio (lest we be sued by intoxicated natural historians). This involved a lot of digging and, because this is the space we have around the back staircase, 

a jury-rigged way of getting the dirt into the back yard: 

Digging and hauling have now been completed, and the roses and irises have been temporarily relocated. It's not an attractive pit, but the dirt now exposes 6" of the foundation, which is required by law. 

This will eventually be re-planted, but first the patio needs to be laid. In the mean time, Peter has laid claim to the South side plot,  having taken on the epithet, Lord of the Mud Pies. 

To be continued... 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Munch on this, quarter!

The quarter is basically over. Yes, I have to go to a meeting tomorrow morning, but I'm going on a Wooster-style bender tonight, and looking forward to a Jeeves-style hangover cure in the morning (hair of the dog, anyone?). In addition, my friend Anna has successfully defended her MA in Geography today - another reason to celebrate. Since I may have a spare hour or two in the next week, you might anticipate either photos of garden progress or a photo update from our most recent adventure across the country (both, if you're unlucky). In the mean time, this is approximately about how I feel about this quarter, in particular, stats. 

I got to write the first paper on my own data. Very preliminary, but vaguely satisfying, even if things didn't go quite as planned. A long way ahead, but hopefully over beautiful terrain. 

Friday, March 13, 2009

Sex bias

Four thirty in the morning and can't sleep again. Nothing puts me to sleep quite as well as my own drivel... 

I gave a little presentation on my research yesterday in the BioA class I'm TA'ing . Whenever I discuss this informally, I like to preface the presentation with personal reasons for being interested in kinship and family. Sometimes I joke about how living with four siblings makes the logic of the demographic transition especially appealing. Today, I showed my class the two photos below and argued that interest in sex-bias was a natural outcome of growing up in my family.

The photo on the right is especially telling. It looks all cute until you realize that one brother (A!!) is ready to strangle the new baby, while another is ready to box in baby's ears. I haven't quite figured out what B1 was doing, but I'm guessing it's not good given his avoidance of the camera. If I had to write a caption for the photo on the left, it might be something like "Who needs glass ceilings when you have older brothers?"*

At one point, when I was still a staunch biological determinist**, I had attributed my mom's love of my brothers to differences in chromosome size. I.e., since dads are more related to their daughters than they are to their sons (they're giving their big juicy X chromos to their daughters and their little piddling Y chromos to their sons) and since moms are proportionately more related to their sons than to their daughters (passing along the same amount of genetic material, but moms' genes account for a larger proportion of sons' genomes due to competition with useless, trivial Y), moms should prefer sons and dads should prefer daughters. 

I held this belief privately for a number of years (disclosing only to my friend Pete Buston (now at UCSB) and my brother A, even though he tried to strangle me) because of some egomaniacal paranoia that someone would scoop me. I ate my own stomach when I read a paper by Hartung in 2007 (written sometime in the late 70s or early 80s) where he had laid all of this out, in writing, and much more formally than my piddling brain had even aspired to. During my general exams, I confessed publicly to having held this belief and everyone had a nice hearty laugh at my simplistic (simpleton?) hypothesis' expense***. 

Why do I choose to regale you with such soporific tales? What does this have to do with crafts-related pursuits? Nothing! My little rat brain won't sleep and it's stuck on sex bias. There will be no pursuit of craftiness until I can un-obsess over sex (bias). 

I'm working on a paper now that examines sex-biased parental investment as it differs according to group-level ideology (this is what happens when you lose determinism; your discourse gets jargon-laden and impossible to understand; sorry Papa Popper!). I am in the pretty early stages of working through some  HLM models (redundant, I know, but if Brian Williams gets to say PIN number, I can say HLM models) looking at this and I'm stuck. At first, everything looked all hunky-dory and then I allowed for random variation at the household level and everything turned in the opposite direction. I can't even decide whether the data are poisson^* and I really don't want to deal with the messiness of negative binomial HLM (insert scary music here). 

Anyway, before I bore you all to tears (staring through glassy eyes at a glass ceiling is especially counter-productive), I'll finish up with another personal anecdote and a photo (craftsy, right?). Just as psychologists are crazy*, anthropologists who study families come from dysfunctional families*. One of the only bedtime poems I remember being read to me as a kid (read by my father) was "How doth the little crocodile" by Lewis Carroll: 

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in
With gently smiling jaws!

As you can see, though there are obvious benefits to being preferred by dads, there are also costs - nightmares (it's a nice poem, as long as you're not 5). And just to make sure that you can't sleep either, here's a recent photo I took in a parking lot in the Florida Everglades of a nice little alligator with "gently smiling jaws". 

*As my friend GK has pointed out, sometimes it's necessary to append statements like these with "just kidding!" lest you should think I'm serious. 

**Just kidding?

***Note delusional unwillingness to ascribe hearty laughter to my expense.

^*My stats professor insists that it is necessary to examine the outcome variable within each group, having subtracted effects of covariates before determining functional form, which makes sense to me, but isn't the poisson model a mathematical construct to deal with count data in the first place (i.e. it's a convenient, tractable way to make y positive)? It's not like your data ever really come from a poisson distribution, right? Can stats nerds fill me in on this?