27 June 2010

Going Sampling

The thing about being a zoologist, and actually working on an animal and not just on bacteria or DNA, is that I get to do outdoorsy stuff and call it work (sometimes). Now that it is summer it is most imperative that I get more animals. While I would love to spend all my time doing what I consider to be the more 'real' part of my work, which is the microscopy and actually finding stuff out, it is now important to have fresh, healthy animals that produce embryos and even more importantly - heaps of adhesive. So on that note, I will tell you about the first sampling trip of the year. Over the summer will be two types of sampling trip. Some will include going to the pier or maybe even on a boat as large data and navigation buoys are brought up, then scraping animals off them. And then whenever the chance arises, such as after good winds or a spring tide or storm, to go to beaches and look for animals that have washed up on the beach.

Well, on this occasion it was the former. The Marine Institute keeps data buoys and one was due for a service. So we went out to meet it. The pier we were headed to was a town called Castletownbere, down in County Cork. A 5 hour drive we were told. So we (that is, my PhD colleagues Vanessa and Paul, and Paul's Aussie mate Russel, none of whom know that I am putting their names on my very public website), anyway, we left friday morning, only a 45 minutes late at a quarter to eleven, quite impressive considering how plodding boys tend to be. And we drove for a very long time, over typical small twisting Irish roads leaving me feeling quite queasy. We had a GPS to tell us where to go and loads of food (mostly sweets) and the car was packed to the brim so it was pretty cramped in there. We finally made a proper stop when we reached a beach on Dingle Bay, which Paul thought may be a good place to look for washed up animals. We had a look around, I picked up bits of interesting things as I tend to do (on this occasion I found a huge sponge, a big spider crab carapace and a lot of pretty sea shells) and then we waited for ages because the boys had gone off on their own. Eventually we gave up and luckily for us they had forgotten to wind up the car windows, so we reached in and unlocked the door and at least after that we could wait in the warm car with all the food and entertainment. And our cell-phones, which eventually we remembered about and could give them a call and a hurry up. So about two or three hours later, we finally continued on our way. It was now 6pm and we were still 2 hours away from our destination.

On the upside, now that it is summer it will stay light until at least 11 at night, and even after that it is not so dark that it is pitch black. So we get to Castletownbear, with much complaining on my part because I really don't travel well, and now we have to find somewhere to camp. The idea had been to arrive earlier so that we could ask around, or at least not feel too tired and hungry. We hadn't planned this part of it very well because the guys reckoned we could just find a bit of woods or bog to camp by, as they have done time and again. But things are not so easy when you are not in your own region, and it was raining. But to make a long story short, we found a nice (empty) field beside a nice little lake with no farmhouses nearby. We pitched camp, lit a fire, pulled out the gas stove and had dinner in the semi-dark (it was about 11 or so by this stage). After getting some hot food into us the day was really looking up, except it was not longer the day and time to go to bed. And here in Ireland there is this horrible insect that they call a midge. You would think it is just like one of our sandflies but they are not, maybe they are worse, I am not sure because I have never been attacked by NZ sandflies. These midges though, they are really small, and they are just all over you like an itchy blanket, and you just want to yell and scream and jump about because they are biting you all over your face. We made the fire good and smokey and they sort of went away a bit. Not a very good experience though.

After only a few hours sleep I woke even earlier than usual, on account of the bright sunlight. Tents and bedrolls are not very comfortable so I got up thinking maybe I could lie in the sun and read my book until others awoke, or maybe even jump in the lake. But what would you know, the midges were still out and about. The sun was not yet hot enough to drive them away. So again I was attacked by the horrible biting animals. I figured movement would keep them away somewhat so I went down to the wee lake but it turned out to not be of the type that facilitates swimming - it was just surrounded by weed and marsh, with no clear cut edge and no stony bottom. Who knows what sort of things might have been in it. What a shame.

Sampling was supposed to start early, we were told that the boat would do its thing at 9am so we were there before 8, to be on the safe side. About 8.30 the crew got to work and we were told that it might be an hour or so while they set up so we went to have a hot drink. An hour later we go back and wait around for a bit, kept ourselves busy. Eventually we were told that it would all be happening soon, so we get our things ready. Then we waited. Then we had to move the car. And then we waited some more. The car had to moved again and then finally it looked like it was time to start, so we organised our equipment. The plan for the day was to prepare the fresh data buoy, lift the old one out of the water and replace it with a new one. Then they would drag the new buoy out to the open ocean. When the old buoy was on the pier we were free to take animals off of it.

After a lot of waiting the buoy was finally out of the water at about 11 am. And it had barnacles on it! Only my species unfortunately. I mean, it is nice for me to have fresh samples (although now I have to look after the bloody things) but the others still have nothing to work on. First we have a good look around, take some photos. Then it was time to begin taking animals, but they were not the only living things attached to that buoy. There was also a lot of seaweed inhabitated by many small amphipods which which kept dropping onto my hands and crawling on me, giving me the creeps. I tried to ignore it but I just couldn't. Luckily, we had rubber gloves with us, which was all the better because with the gloves on you look far more the scientist. Though the yellow hard hats did detract from the scientificness somewhat.

But then it was all go and I got plenty of animals. Embryos too. Finally was time for some more photos and saying goodbye to the crew. And what would you know but we'd been at it more than an hour and a half, it was nearly 1 o'clock! So much for sampling first thing and getting on the road nice and early in the morning. At that point we were hungry so to make us later still we went back to the camp site and sat down for a bit of lunch. I mean, the more food we ate the less we had to take back with us, right? Grabbed our things and hit the road, this time with no huge detours, only a few fuel and toilet breaks. Still, it was no five-hour drive. It was most definately more like a seven-hour drive at least. By the end of it we were all feeling pretty shattered and stupid.

But now I have had sleep and recovered. I am not so impressed at having a heap more animals to look after. But this week I will be getting a french work-placement student to help me out. Poor girl will be spending her days watching barnacles, trying to figure out if they are alive or dead, feeding them, keeping a very close eye on the larvae (we have had very poor success with getting them to survive). And she will work the weekend so I can finally have a break, yay. Sadlky, she will only be here a month. Still, it's better than nothing. I will spend the week working, but not to hard because my supervisor is on holiday (another yay, and lets hope she never finds this site, though surely pigs would fly before she bothered looking) and also because the week will be spent showing Vanessa, who is here from Vienna, a good time. And I get to play at being a tourist somewhat. Fun times.

And just now, looking at my blog, I found out that I have a follower! Who would have thought that anybody would find this and be interested in it? I was impressed enough to know that Linda follows it quite regularly, but now some random appears to read it aswel! How weird is that. And yes, that is a little hint to those of you that are not completely technologically disabled to give me acknowledgement that you are interested in what I get up to these days. Comment, or follow, or at least facebook or email me on the odd occassion. Come on people, writing is not so difficult as all that, and I know that it is NZ uni holidays right now so don't go giving me excuses.

And I will add pictures over the next couple of days so be patient.

23 June 2010

London Trip


So while it seems like forever ago it is only a week and a half since I was in London. The thing about budget flights in Ireland is that they never seem to leave from Galway, despite Galway being a fairly large city. So in order to fly to London at 7am I had to take a bus to Shannon airport, about a 2 hour drive. Unlike the busses to Dublin that leave every half hour or so, there are only about 3 busses back and forth between Galway and Shannon each day. So I had to take the 3.30am bus. It was a struggle, but it could be worse. At least I only had a short flight. But before getting on the flight I had to go through customs, and what would you know but I had forgotton all about the not taking liquids on a plane rule. Because of course normally things like shampoo would go in my suitcase but for just a short trip I only had my backpack. So I had my things taken off me. And it was an honest mistake but you know that they don't believe you and think you are trying to sneak past security.

All that aside, I arrived in London on time. And the airline, Ryan Air, a local budget airline, apparently has the best record in the world for flights arriving on time, and when you land they play a little fanfare and inform you of that fact and that you are on another on-time flight. But that was where being on time stopped for me. The train into the city took longer than I had been told and the hostel I was booked into was on the other side of the city so I had to work out the underground system. And then I couldn't find the hostel. But I did eventually and it was this nice old mansion and they were really helpful. Only my feet were all ready sore and my travelling weekend had just started.

But with the travelling over it was time to see London, and in such a huge city I still managed to find Linda and Paul very quickly despite being late. Apparently I do not put enough names in this thing, so now I will begin despite my qualms about publishing information about other people on a completely public website. So - I found Linda and Paul and joined them to go to Portobello market, just like in the movie. It is much better in the movie though, what with being made so long ago and things being so quaint and old-fashioned, with cobblestones and a nice movie set. It was a market like any other, but really really long. There were some interesting things, and then the same interesting things over and over. I managed to refrain from shopping for the most part but already I was saying that I really want to go back to London with a lot of money and time for shopping. But eventually we tired of the market and went off to find the Tower of London.

It turns out that the Tower of London is not actually a tower, but a large castle composed of many towers. Which flushed my mental image of it from all those historical novels completely down the drain. Still, it was good. Very castle-like - not like the pile-of-rubble castles that I have seen so far in Ireland or the just-another-large-fancy-building palaces that I saw in Vienna. So you can go right through the "Tower" and some of it is reconstructed, some is like a museum, and some is even interactive, to get people interested in history and all that. Personally I just like to wander around and read all the information and see the buildings and the grounds, and of course to take a lot of photos. Before we were through the entire castle I was tired though - it seems like if you lived in London it would be worth buying the year pass so that you can just come and go, see small parts of things at a time.

After the Tower it was back to the hostel for me, to recuperate a little and figure out what I wanted to see during the weekend - I had been so busy with work I had arrived completely unprepared. So eventually I went out and managed to get on a bus to Buckingham Palace. Which is large and white and not really so distinctive. These palaces really do just sort of blend into the background. I much prefer castles. Westminster Abbey was nice enough. What I really liked though was the Big Ben and the houses of parliament. I arrive there just as it was beginning to get a bit dark and everything was lit up. People try to tell you that the Big Ben is not so impressive, but perhaps these people expect too much from a clock. So you can see in my photos above that I took a lot of pictures of the clock and the parliament buildings and the Thames, with everything all bright and reflecting. It was very pretty. And then there is the London Eye which is just a ferris wheel, and a rather ugly one too. But it was also all lit up and does make for a nice photo. So you see I think I was there on the Thames at the perfect time, I got my nice pictures which is really the whole point of travelling these days, and then it started to get later still and my feet were absolutely killing me so I had to figure out how to get home.

The next day, Sunday, I was to meet Linda and Paul and Kensington Palace. Which sounds like a really easy sort of landmark for a meeting point but I managed to walk right past it. It is a large brick building, not so much palace-like, with a big mess of long grass outside of it, which was really not palace-like, and they seem to be doing reconstructions because there were fences and shipping containers everywhere. Still, if I had of been paying more attention perhaps I would have thought that the statue of Queen Victoria must mean that I was close to the Palace. But really, I expected it to be much larger. So I walked through the garden which was very nice and tidy, unlike all the messy long grass, and there were some very bold squirrels that will eat out of your hand and jump up on you. I found the front gate and the others were later than I so once again we managed to find each other.

So just like in Queens Park back home, and many other city-parks in NZ, there is a Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens. And it is the first one in fact, seeing as Kensington Gardens is where Peter Pan was lost before going to Neverland. And after much searching on a previous day Linda and Paul had all but given up on finding the bloody statue. But then we saw a signpost pointing to Peter Pan so we decided to try one last time to find it. And after asking directions from a couple of people there it was right beside the path, so easy to find. We took photos, as you do, and then that was about it. Time to get on a bus and find the coventry garden market. Which was a nice little market, very artzy, with many gorgeous things that I would have liked to buy. And good food too. Not to mention entertainment - a couple of clowns with a giant unicycle and a smart-ass magician who kept picking on people.

To finish the day we went to the British museum. It was very large and impressive. But we were very tired and seeing as it was free to enter it did not seem a waste to just go in, have a quick look at one of the exhibitions, and then leave again. It was time to have a rest and something to eat and then say goodbye already. A weekend is not much. I sadly had to get back to work instead of gallivanting across Europe.

17 June 2010

Absolutely Insane Week

Well today I most definately have more to say than just same-old. To make up for the mundaneness of the prior couple of weeks things have been absolutely flat-out busy with plenty of out-of-the-ordinariness. And yes today I am making up words.

So since this time last week (because I really cannot for the life of me remember any earlier than that right now) (actually no that's a lie. Since Monday of last week - so 10 days ago) I have helped to finalise the book chapter that I am going to be a co-author of, prepare a presentation of my work that I would have liked to have been working on way earlier, make huge changes to said presentation, been to London for the weekend (while trying to memorise my talk) and have not enough sleep due to travel, seen London and Linda and Paul (who mentioned lack of names in my writing so perhaps I should get over my cautioness and just begin to tell the world on this completely public site all about the people that I spend my days with?), make more changes to my talk and continue to try to learn it while staying up till midnight to help my colleague completely re-write is own presentation and talk, make yet more changes and practice and try to memorise my own talk, not get enough sleep due to nerves waking me at 5.30am and do my presentation in front of the department (and I'm pretty sure I did bloody amazing).

And if you look carefully you will see that the above paragraph has no full-stops. And hopefully no spelling mistakes - writing is proving to be rather challenging to me. It's okay though because for tonight at least I can finally relax - and I finally have time to write about London.

07 June 2010

Just more of the same

The last couple of weeks seem to have been all work - thus, nothing interesting to say. Now that I am back in Ireland it really seems like I was never in Vienna. It is strange how easy it is to adapt and feel a sense of normalcy. But on a bright note, I made ANZAC biscuits this past week. I brought them to work and shared them out, and everybody thinks they are absolutely amazing. So there is something for us kiwis (and aussies) to be proud of - we have given the world ANZAC biscuits.

In a couple of weeks is the colloquium - it is a presentation day for which all of us post-grad students must present to the department. Which seems rather scary. So instead of focussing on that I am focussing on the pot-luck BBQ that will be held afterward. I intend to make Ambrosia, and I am sure I will stick to that although now I also think maybe I should do lamingtons - they do not have them here in Ireland at all. But there will be other things to make lamingtons for. Only I have no nice big serving bowl for the Ambrosia. And here in Ireland it is not so easy to find marshmallows for some reason, and impossible to get chocolate chips. And to put the two together and have lollies that are marshmallow with a chocolate coating (like toasties and chocolate hearts and chocolate fish), now that is absolutely inconceivable to people in this part of the world. I was even asked if the chocolate would not cause the marshmallow to melt (being hot when it is liquid and all). But it seems that chocolate fish at least are not actually a NZ delicacy - they are also very popular in South Africa I am told.

Next weekend I will be in London, and after that I am sure I will have plenty to tell. Or at least I will have some interesting photos. I just hope that it is sunny - it is bad enough to have miserable weather in Ireland, I expect proper holiday weather every time I travel. In anticipation of such an expectation I am planning on visiting Abu Dhabi in the next few months, while it is still hot and sunny. I will spend a week or two having a real summer. And hopefully I will be able to keep my inclination to shop in check. The same goes for London (I hear they have many very nice shops).

It is a long weekend here in Ireland, but not for the Queen's birthday of course. I think it may be some sort of religous holiday. I have had to be at work though, with my animals to feed and this presentation to work on. I haven't really done a whole lot though, so that sort of makes up for it. But now I must go and finish feeding them - the barnacles that is. If there was to be some sort of accident and they all just expired away, that would be okay by me. I mean, sure, it would not be so good for my work. But at least I wouldn't have to be spending all my time feeding and cleaning the bloody things - they are not much fun you know. Far more fun is the fact that my housemate is getting a puppy. It will be a stupid yappy thing (as if a terrier isn't bad enough, it is a mini terrier), but any puppy is better than no puppy. So on that note I guess I will go and do some work.