Sunday, March 23, 2014

Hero of the Week

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration

NASA is a group of scientists charged with exploring space (among other things). A lot of attention is given to the astronauts (and often should be), but I want to recognize the group as a whole. There are thousands of people who donate their particular skill set to the greater overall goal of exploration. Thanks to these scientists we can now see deeper into space than ever before.
            I often take for granted the things I see every day. I get to view images that were impossible a few hundred years ago. Can you imagine what Sir Isaac Newton or Leonardo Da Vinci would have been able to do with a simple calculator, much less a super-computer or super telescope? Just a few thousand years ago we were monkeys poking things with sticks. Now, we are still monkeys poking things with sticks, our sticks just happen to be super telescopes. We are unbelievably lucky to be living right now.

I look at the glowing screen and laugh at a stupid video. I don’t take into consideration the work and history that went into being able to see Charlie biting his brother’s finger. I don’t see the nerds that worked their entire lives to design a tiny bit of technology that adds to an overall project.
            There are people right now inventing new ways to explore the universe and they are sharing it with us. Just one of the newest things NASA has accomplished is the Spitzer telescope. They have taken a 360° picture of the Milky Way and put the whole thing on line for us to look at. We can literally explore the universe from our own home because of them. Here! Click on the link and see something that no one before this moment in the history of the planet could see, until now.   

                So since I can now explore the universe from my home computer, I will call NASA my hero of the week… light year. Please leave a comment about your favorite NASA image, moment, discovery, nerd, etc. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Hero of the Week

Craig Kielburger

Pardon me if I get a little ranty today. This rant is directed at myself for inspiration as much as to show people what they are capable of. I read a lot of articles about horrible things happening all over the world. I shake my head, and go to the next article. I (we) are capable of so much more than reading a story, being offended and stopping there. I do it all the time. I might leave a snarky comment if it’s on social media, and feel like I’ve done something. But that’s not enough and I (we) know it. What good is being offended if you do nothing to change the reason you’re upset. If you see or hear of something wrong, fix it, or at least try. There are millions of problems in the world. You can’t fix them all, but you can focus on one. Rant over (mostly). Here’s a story about a kid that did something.
Craig Kielburger reads an article about kids working in poor conditions in south Asia. Mind you, this kid was twelve at the time. He doesn’t just shake his head (like I do). He goes to freaking Asia! He films his trip and interviews kids. He records the horrible living conditions. Then he comes back and gets to work. He starts a charity, Free the Children. It has a three step mission.

1. Help kids help themselves locally.
2. Help people across the seas.
3. The help must result in a tangible change.

Here’s how his work (along with help from thousands of others) has blossomed into results. Please think about the numbers here. They are astounding.

650 schools built – resulting in over 55,000 kids attending school every day.

1,000,000+ were provided with clean water, health care, and sanitation.

30,000+ women were helped into a position of economic self sufficiency.

$16,000,000+ worth of medical supplies have been shipped around the world.

So next time you complain about how terrible something is (still ranting at myself as much as everyone else), think about Craig Kielburger. Get up off your butt and do something about it. Pick your battle and fight. Don’t make me start listing examples of some problems we can fix. Just watch any news channel. They are all filled with stories written specifically to offend you, but rarely suggest a way to fix the problems. Stop pointing fingers unless you see a solution. Then point to the way to get there, and follow your finger (wow, that sounded kinda gross, but I’m leaving it because it’s also a little funny). If you have a solution to a problem and want some help, please leave a comment. We can all follow your finger (*snicker).  

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Hero of the Week 

Mary Anning (1799-1847)

Mary Anning was a girl with a question. What is that? She lived in England and like most kids, loved to explore her surroundings. She and her brother found a fossilized skeleton, thinking it was a crocodile. So she dug the whole thing up. She was only 11 years old. It turned out to be an the very first ichthyosaur ever found.

This discovery lit a fire in Ms. Anning. She soon researched her finds, learning all she could. It was not easy, because she was a poor, lower-class girl. At the time, only rich white men were allowed to be scientists. But she persisted. She kept fossil hunting and eventually found the first two plesiosaur fossils. 


As she continued finding more and more discoveries, many naturalists began to take notice. This lady really knew what she was doing, and it wasn't easy work. It took many years after her death, but the Royal Society eventually recognized her hard work and discoveries. She was added to the list of top ten women to change scientific history. 
Ms. Anning discovered much more than just a few fossils. She found and described hundreds of invertebrates and even discovered fossilized poop, known as coprolite. 

Coprolite (Fossilized poo)

Because of Mary Anning's discoveries, hard work, and most importantly her questions, many mysteries about our ancient world were answered. She was under appreciated, underpaid, and most of all unrespected. Despite all that she kept learning, questioning, and working. For that Mary Anning is my Hero.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Two Great Weekends in the Woods

Part I. Talladega National Forest

     Last Saturday I spent in Cheaha State Park which is right in the middle of T.N.F. The park is about an hour east of Birmingham, Alabama and should be visited often and extensively. The first rays of spring (technically still February, but in the south spring sometimes starts near the end of January) had sprung. I was on an adventure with two friends, Lenora (wildlife graduate student who has a thing for road kill and fruit roll ups) and Cody (soon to be Ph.D wildlife student who has has a thing for butterflies and annoying Lenora).

         We walked somewhere between 83 and 4 miles near the Devil's Den. The trails were fantastic. There happened to be a race that day. We were constantly being passed by complaining trail runners. I only badmouth them because they littered little used energy packets all along the path. Other than that the day was great. The following is a list of just a few of the critters we saw. I am notoriously good at misidentifying things, so if you see something wrong, please comment, or just comment because it's fun for me... (Cody took the pictures).

Lenora and Cody being awkwardly awesome (as usual).

Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)

Googled the stump, but just for the picture. (Dorkus miggidy-pastyus)

Ring-neck Snake (Diadophis punctatus)
Cute snake that generally lives in leaf litter.

Webster's Salamander (Plethodon websteri)
Found a bunch of these. This one is full grown, by the way and has no lungs.

Big freaking (possibly European) hornet (Vespa crabro)

A few memorable quotes from the hike (all by Lenora):

"Ow! I just poked myself in the eyeball with a tree!"
"Like my buds? They're like the buddiest buds ever!" - in reference to a stick she picked up with apical maristems. 
"My pants have fake pockets. That's why I hate society."
"Nature is making me bleed." - in reference to walking into a thorn.
"It's not as much of a hole as I thought it was gonna be... hmph!" - in reference to an imaginary hole.

Part II Conecuh National Forest

     Yesterday I went to the land of Jimmy and Sierra Stiles to wrangle some Eastern Indigo Snakes (Drymarchon couperi). The Conecuh National Forest is located in southern Alabama, on the border of the Florida panhandle. It's one of the largest remaining chunks of the long leaf pine ecosystem. A quick background. I've been lucky enough to take part in reestablishing a population of Indigos in Conecuh National Forest. They once lived there but were extirpated due to habitat loss and fragmentation, burrow gassing, and over-collecting. The project has been going on since 2007ish. I signed on in 2008 and had the great fortune of hatching a lot of the snake eggs. 

     This trip was a little different. I brought an honors organismal biology class down for the day. I am the lab GTA and like to use undergrad students as free labor. Jimmy and Sierra (who do most of the field work, AKA snake chasing) wanted some help looking for the previously released beautiful beasts. There were other groups helping out, too. Dr. Guyer's lab (which I am the lab mascot) found several critters. Many enthusiasts from a field herp forum came for a peek at the rare cuties as well. So our chances of finding one were good. 

     The plan was to line all the students up and walk a straight line across a fantastic stand of long leaf. We were to stay about ten meters apart from each other, so as to cover as much ground as possible. It was a good plan and had worked many times in the past. However, over the years of attending school, most of the students could only walk in single file... or in groups. Dr. Zanzot (the co-bio professor teaching the class) is a mycologist. He often gathered the students to pounce upon a wild fungus. So the kids did learn some things at least.

     After initial failure we decided lunch was needed to liven our snake-hunter spirits. On the way there, one of the students came upon the largest Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus) I had seen in the wild. Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of it before it crawled down a stump hole. I included a picture of one I had previously seen in the Conecuh, however. As for the Indigo, I finally found one, when describing where one would be in relation to a gopher tortoise burrow. It was right where I said it would be (I was saying the exact same thing Jimmy had said earlier and can't take as much credit as I'd like). The snake was one that I had hatched three years prior, so it was a special feeling to see it. It was doing well and I felt like a proud papa.
Jimmy and Sierra Stiles (Biologist maximus sasquachii

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus)

Cute donkey at a gas station (Alabama mule-maker)

Me with an old friend (Drymarchon couperi)

Dr. Zanzot with the same Eastern Indigo Snake

Ground Skink (Scincella lateralis)

A few memorable quotes from the day:

"#$%@&*#!!!! It's like herding cats!" - Me while attempting to get undergrads to walk a straight line.
"This is just like the Hunger Games!" - 3/4 of the students after 30 minutes in the woods.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Hero of the Week

Bob Carey
The guy in the pink tutu

Bob is in love. His wife has cancer. Bob is not a doctor. He is a photographer. He wanted to help, but didn't know how, exactly. He wanted to lift her spirits as she went through treatment. So he used his talents to do that. He used his power for good. So he thought to himself, what would make my wife smile? What would make her laugh, even though she's sick and in pain... I know! I'll dress up in only a pink tutu and take pictures. How many of you would do that just to make your girl smile? That is why Bob Carey is my hero of the week.