Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Road Not Taken

As a technical editor for the government, I see a lot of strange, ridiculous, and annoying mistakes made in documents. Since I work in the classified space, all of the content (including the mistakes) can’t leave my work computer. However, last week there came a mistake so face-palm inducing that I had to share it (in fact I ranted about it on Facebook). Of course the actual content I’m leaving out but the general idea my boss cleared me to write about.

The document I was editing was another training document like the ones I see every day. Some are dry and others try to captivate the audience. Those that captivate I give a thumbs up since the area of Security/IT/GIS can be a little bit monotonous and uninteresting at times. This person tried to liven it up by throwing in some literary analogies. I was excited; not only did I love that idea but they were using one of my all-time favorite poems: The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. For those of you not familiar with the poem this is, I have featured it below:

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


The message of this poem is one that I really take to heart: there are many paths that you can take in your life but if you take the one “less traveled by” then in the end you will come out on top. It is a sentiment that I hold dear along with this poem, so when someone mucks it up I get irritable. The way it was used in the context of the document was that no matter what road you take, in the end the fact that you got to your destination is what matters.

NO.

That is not what this poem means; I’m all for interpreting things in your own way but that’s just plain wrong. They completely missed the point, the core of this poem. Even worse, because this is an IT/Security environment they don’t much care if the interpretation is right but only that the reader is engaged. Cue major eye-twitching on my part which is the reason I wrote this post; I just couldn’t let it stand. Have you all ever seen such a blatant misinterpretation of literature before? I’d love to hear of any similar instances.

*Poem and image lifted from: http://kacabiru.wordpress.com/2010/08/24/the-road-not-taken/*

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Burial Culture

Humans have been burying their dead for thousands of years. In fact, according to the fossil record, Neanderthals were the first humanoids to bury their dead over 300,000 years ago (Tappen). The first known burial site in existence was 300,000 years ago at the site of Atepuerca, Spain. At this burial site, over 32 individuals were found in a pit cave. In later years, around 100,000 years ago, there was evidence of bones being stained with red ochre (Thames). This leads archaeologists to believe that even back then there was something ritualistic and spiritual about burying the dead.

Fast forward thousands of years and we see evidence of ancient cultures all around the globe practicing various forms of burials. Some of these burials were done for practical reasons, some as a sign of respect for the leaders, and even others as means to protect the person in their next life. For most people, what comes to mind most is the tombs of the Pharaohs in Egypt. They were buried in lavish sarcophaguses, that were placed in giant tombs, where they were surrounded by most of their worldly possessions and even sometimes, their pets. The Cahokia Mounds are another example of this among the Mississippian River Cultures of 600 to 1400 C.E. The mounds are really burial sites of their leaders.

Despite all of these sites and other archaeological evidence, there are still of a lot of questions that are unanswered regarding ancient, ritual burials. In our modern society, ritual burials are just another part of life. Someone dies, and we spend thousands of dollars to pick out a burial site, casket, and head stone. We echo the practices of many of the ancients to ensure that the dead are well taken care of and spend the rest of their eternity in a comfortable (and sometimes excessively lavish) space.

Though burial sites are fascinating to me, I don’t quite understand the point to all of them. Maybe it’s my scientific background that overshadows my spiritual one, but once the soul leaves the body, to me, the body is just a shell. It’s just flesh and bone. Our society’s obsession with the dead, though warranted, is something that I still have a hard time wrapping my head around. Sure I do find graveyards beautiful, and in many of my stories they play a significant part, but in some ways it’s kind of a waste.

The comfort that some people find in visiting gravesites is just lost on me. I’m more likely to just address a family member that has passed in their homes or just wherever I happen to be. When I die I’m donating my body to the body farm. Might was well use my decaying flesh to help further then study of forensics rather than wasting away in a decorated pine box.

References:

Tappen, N.C. 1985. The Dentition of the “Old Man” of La Chapelle-aux-Saints and Inferences Concerning Neanderthal Behavior. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 67(1):43-50.

The Prehistory of the Mind: The Cognitive Origins of Art, Religion and Science. Thames & Hudson. 1996. ISBN 0-500-05081-3.

Image is from the Kebara Cave Burial Site in modern day Israel.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Caution, Bumpy Ride Ahead

I have always joked that I am a nerd trapped in a jock’s body. From a young age I played sports and was active. In high school and college I spent most of my free time in the gym or participating in team sports. That being said, I was never happy with the physical condition of my body. I was healthy but overweight and had been since Middle School. Never did it stop me from doing anything, but I never wanted to show off my body. I hid under T-shirts and sweatshirts, shuddered at the thought of swimsuits, and dreaded having to go shopping.

After college I decided that it was time to makes some changes, notably with my diet. I had been exposed to a lot of vegetarian food in college so I decided that I was going to become a vegetarian. At first it was hard, and then it got even harder. After about three months as a vegetarian I switched to eating fish again. That seemed to be the right balance for me. Still the weight wasn’t coming off like I had hoped. I upped my cardio and it seemed to help but by the time 2011 came to an end, I still had only lost about 10 pounds.

Then I started to evaluate what I was eating. Sure I had cut out meat, but I was in the beginning of my relationship with Grant and we were going out to eat a lot. 2012 rolled around and I was determined to get the weight off. I cut down on eating out, all frozen meals, sodas, processed foods, refined sugars, and really anything that wasn’t natural. At the end of 2012 I weighed 140 pounds, 45 pounds less than at my heaviest of 185.

The next year of 2013, I started off well. I was sticking to my healthy eating, was working out 6 days a week, and was feeling lean and mean. Then August of 2013 hit me like a bus. I found myself unemployed and with my Dad near death in the hospital. I slipped into a bit of a depression and turned to food to comfort me. I gained back about 15 pounds from the lowest of 140.

Once I came out of my funk, found a kick-ass job, and saw my Dad was getting better each day, I decided that enough was enough. Not only did I want to be back to my fighting weight, but that I wanted to be stronger. It was a little hard during the Holidays of 2013 but I managed to not gain too much more. Once 2014 hit, I hit the ground running. I started to mix things up: I explored different exercise classes including Trampoline Yoga and Floor and Chair Dancing, I cut way down on sweets, limited carb intake, started making healthy smoothies, and resisted the urge to eat out as much as possible.

In addition, I found that best way to fit all of this extra working out into my busy schedule was workout DVDs. I found a couple that I liked, but fell in love with the Jillian Michaels “Ripped in 30” regimen. It pushed me to go to places I’ve never gone before, made me scream and curse, but I loved it. After finishing the 30 day regimen I have since incorporated those moves into my everyday workout routines (and pop in the DVD every now and again for that extra push).

The reason I was telling people I was working out was to fit into my wedding dress. That was true, but it was so much more than that. Right now I am 145 pounds. I am not the skinniest I have been in these past few years but I am in the best shape I’ve been in my entire life. I enjoy showing off my body now, even my curves which I have grown to love.

At 24 years old, I finally am in love with my body. I actually enjoy shopping rather than dreading it, I care about what I wear, and I actually, dare I say it, feel hot! Not only that but everything else about me looks/feels better: my skin is clearer, my hair is healthier, my chronic sprained ankle is better, I can run farther/faster, and the list goes on and on. Then there’s the effect I’m having on others (and really the reason I’m writing this blog post) to eat healthier and get more exercise. It CAN be done. It’s not easy and requires a lot of sweat and tears but anyone can do it. It’s not so much about losing the weight; it’s about being healthy and loving the body that you’re in. If you take nothing else away from this post remember that.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Dark Hall Preview

“Oh, well of course I can always harness some more brain cells…” Aeden smiled but it faded as Ciaran walked over to aisle of the Dining Hall where they stood, “Awesome…” he said under his breath.

“Since when do you hang out with this Kraten, Darcy?” Ciaran smirked.

“Watch your tongue!” Darcy spat, “And get out of our way.”

They started to walk passed him but he stepped in front of them, “So you think you can play Gorgan, huh Kraten? Take Magical Studies and suddenly, poof! You’re one of us?”

“Yeah, that’s exactly how it works Ciaran…” Darcy rolled her eyes as she took Aedan’s hand and walked passed him.

“Trust me Kraten! Mess with our women and you’re going to feel the wrath!”

“Oh stuff it Ciaran!” Aedan yelled stopping and turning back around, “You know I’m really sick of this whole thing you have going on. It’s not going to work on me. You can pummel me, call me names, and whatever but it won’t change anything. I’m still smarter than you and better than you at pretty much everything in life. In fact, the only thing you can do is insult people. I mean you’re still taking mostly 1st year classes! Better get used to this campus…”

Ciaran was about to charge at Aedan but all of the sudden he stopped. A gurgling sound came from him and all of the sudden he grabbed his stomach and sunk to the ground. He started to gasp for air as foam came out of his mouth. Aedan and Darcy stared in horror as Ciaran flopped around on the ground and some students ran and got a teacher.

“Let’s go,” Darcy said pulling him away from the scene.

Aedan didn’t move at first but then did as a couple of the staff members ran over. He followed Darcy out of the hall and all the way to the Hadrick building where their Magical Studies class was. They were breathing heavily as they quickly took their seats with the rest of the class that was starting to fill up. Darcy shared the same look of horror on her face that Aedan had. Sure both of them wanted Ciaran to shut his mouth, but they didn’t want whatever that was to happen.


Image is a royalty free stock photo.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Passion vs. Practicality

There is a distinct difference to my life now and the life I had imagined for myself in college. My degree in Anthropology prepared me for long hours in museum labs, labeling artifacts, entering in countless artifact and lot numbers, and laying out floor flans for exhibits. None of this I actually ended up doing. My visions of myself in jeans, semi-casual shirts, and a lab coat pouring over books and articles, sipping massive amounts of coffee, and doing research just didn’t come true. My background knowledge of North American Indian tribes and the ability to differentiate between all the different projectile points drifted below everything else in my mind. All the hours spent digging up artifacts on the side of road, washing the dirt and sand off of artifacts, trying to identify what they were, and then using my steady hand to tirelessly label each individual shard fell to the way wayside.

You know what though? I’m completely okay with all. You know why? Because the passion that I have for all of that still rings true. The countless stories and experiences I gained from my undergrad and the journey to pursue my Smithsonian dream I wouldn’t trade for anything else.

Now I am pursuing my Master’s Degree in Geospatial Science. I spend long hours going cross-eyed at my computer trying to identify errors in programming, picking out topographical changes of DEM files, analyzing satellite imagery, and working out all the statistics until my brain explodes. This is what I ended up doing. My vision of myself has become suit jackets, high wasted skirts, blouses, and a CAC card holder around my neck as I fly through pages and pages of classified training documents, sipping massive amounts of coffee (well some things haven’t changed), and paving the way for my technical editing expertise to thrive. My knowledge of grammar, IT, GIS, security, and the classified space has come to the forefront over the 3 years I’ve been in this field. All the hours spent typing away at the computer, pouring over documents that I then have to decipher for readability, and using my pen to mark up endless course descriptions is floating up on the surface now.

The fact of the matter is these are just a couple of portions of my life: my work and my Grad School career. No matter what, would be happy with what path those aspects took because of all the other things that I have going on. My writing is a big part of that (beyond the technical writing I do for work that is). In the end so what if I didn’t/don’t end up using my undergrad degree? My passion for anthropology and culture still goes on even though I chose (in my mind) the more practical route for a career.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Influence of LGBT Characters

From a young age I knew there was something different about me. Since I grew up in a Conservative Christian environment, I never really understood what this difference was. I didn’t fall into stereotypes that other girls around me had: I gravitated towards hanging out with boys, played in the mud, liked comics, and was involved in almost every sport. More notably than any of that: I didn’t really find myself liking boys. Sure I thought some were cute, but I found myself staring at the blonde haired girls more than not.

Despite this, I still didn’t understand that this meant that I wasn’t straight. It wasn’t until I started watching shows and reading books with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) characters that I realized that I wasn’t alone in what I was feeling. I distinctively remember the first time I was “exposed” to an LGBT character in a show: it was Willow on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (pictured above with her girlfriend, Tara). When Willow started realizing that she liked girls it made me start realizing that I was like her; I too liked girls (as well as guys). Here was a strong, book smart (not to mention Wiccan) female character who also was figuring out that she was a lesbian. This character crafted by Joss Whedon was just one of many of his LGBT characters in his other works.

Willow wasn’t the only character that helped me blossom as an LGBT youth. As far as literature, I fell in love with the character of Lucy from the Scarpetta series by Patricia Cornwell. Lucy was a rising star in the IT side of the FBI and happened to be a lesbian. Then I found out that not only was the character a lesbian, but the Author, Cornwell, was as well. That’s when my young head realized: gays, lesbians, bisexual, transgender people were all… well just people. We hold all different jobs in the world and our sexuality was just one aspect of ourselves. It’s a little sad to me that it took reading/watching these characters to realize that but at the same time it definitely helped me and shaped who I am today.

Once I started realizing what exactly “gay” was, it was easier for me to pick out who was and who wasn’t in film and literature. I immediately started to gravitate towards the LGBT characters in shows and also started watching shows that predominantly featured LGBT characters. Shows like Queer as Folk and The L Word quickly became my favorites. Other shows that happened to have LGBT characters also were high on my list.

Then I started writing about them myself. In fact almost every one of my written works has a main character that is part of the LGBT community. Writers write parts of themselves in their characters so why not use my experiences with sexuality as a tool to help others? It is my hope that my own characters will help other members of the LGBT community like the Whedon and Cornwell characters helped me.

In this day and age we are seeing more and more LGBT characters on the screen and in books but there was a time where they weren’t as prominent; times where having a gay character was “edgy” (and heavens forbid we had a trans character on a show). Entertainment reflects what’s going on in that time period and with more and more acceptance of LGBT characters we’ve seen an influx.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Returning from the Depths

I’m sure you all have noticed the absence of new posts on my blog, but there was a good reason for that: I was slugging through the depths of hell also known as my Remote Sensing Class. When I started out this class I was excited to learn more about the discipline and was eager to get into playing around with the satellite imagery. At first it was great, the professor seemed knowledgeable, and the lab assignments weren’t that hard. *insert belly laugh here*

Yeah, three weeks in and I was screaming Uncle. Up until now I’ve had hard classes, I’ve had classes with idiotic TAs, and I’ve had classes that I couldn’t wait to be over with. This class though was on a whole other level. My brain ached during every online lecture, the TA made me not even want to go to the lab session, and our assignments had nothing to do with that was being taught. Thankfully for me, I have an awesome friend and former classmate who works for the USGS as a Remote Sensing Specialist. He was my saving grace but even with his help, I struggled.

In the end I was still excited about my final project though. I was going to build off of the first project I did for the Spatial Analysis Class: Mount St. Helens Landscape Change Post-Eruption. Pretty cool, huh? Yeah well then the harsh reality hit that this project was going to be close to impossible to do. It was one thing to do all the research and write about the topic, it was a whole other to run the different analysis in the ENVI software. So five days before my project was due I decided to totally change it and focus on the vegetation change around Mount St. Helens after the eruption.

After tons of coffee, a couple unexpected days off work, and some source assistance from my awesome, perpetual student Mother from Another Life (MFAL), my project somehow miraculously got finished. The research turned out to be even better than the first time around and the image results I got were pretty awesome. Even better was that I finished it two days before it was due which still leaves plenty of time for me to triple and quadruple check everything.

An audible sigh of relief left my mouth last night after I finished that monstrosity of a class. Now I know that Remote Sensing just isn’t for me (and I even said that in our last discussion question which was a critique of the class). The satellite images look awesome and as far as reading about it and doing the research, it’s quite fascinating. However, sit me in front of the ENVI software to play around with the images using different algorithms and formulas and I’m out.

Thankfully my next class is Web Programming. I’m actually excited for this class since I have a background in web design and that essentially what this class is. More importantly it will help to have a less challenging class to deal with while the wedding approaches. Let’s hope my stress levels drop considerably.


Image is from Buffy the Vampire Slayer