Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

This book was the bomb.
This book was the bomb.

I just ate a book. I mean I that. I consumed it and it is now in my DNA. Hope Jahren has written a memoir of beautifully melded failure and success, helplessness and victory, science and love. I found it so relatable that for the first time ever I thought, wow, I’ve got to write her a letter and say, “Thanks for writing this book.” So I did. And I’ll tell you, this book is worth your time.

I came by this book accidentally when a friend handed it to me and said she couldn’t get going on it and maybe I would like to try. I had no idea what I was getting into. Apparently this book is the rage on the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education) for Women circuit. I was out of the loop. Dr. Jahren takes us on her journey from a lonely childhood where she worshiped science through her education and onto career in academia. She even landed at Georgia Tech for a few years. Meanwhile she shares in crystal clear and devastating detail the hurdles of sexism, mental illness, and the difficulties of a career in scientific research. She’s quick witted and to the point. Meanwhile there’s a bunch of cool tree information interspersed that makes you see the world of trees in a whole knew way. Trees as nurturing communities and cunning competitors. Trees as vital to our survival. It all relates back to how we as humans live.

In some way I feel less along in the world by having read her story. I once stood on the precipice of a career in academia. I was approached by two professors to consider continuing on in grad school as their student. It was flattering but I was sick of it all. I felt like they needed to fill the female quota and I was just standing there looking malleable. I certainly didn’t have the drive for a life in engineering research (structures or soils). I needed a job. This book reinforced to me that I made the right decision and also let me see just how it might have been. It also felt kinship with the constant struggle to be taken seriously as a woman in science. There’s a paragraph in the book, only one, that covers it head on: Women are always too this and not enough that in constant contradiction. Not womanly enough, too manly, too direct, too circumspect, too good looking, too ugly, too fat, too thin.

Read this book

 

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La Brea Tarpits

The morning chorus of Happy Birthday. That's a copywritten song.
The morning chorus of Happy Birthday. That’s a copy written song.

Burt and Barry have disappeared into the asphalt jungle of LA in search of our new trailer springs. It’s 5:30. They left 2 hours ago. Before departure they jacked up the trailer and I overheard a lot of less then reassuring conversation regarding the task at hand as they disassembled the springs. Based on what I heard I am not sure our team has the skills or tools to fix the problem. I do know they have an above average set of brains between the two of them and expect the problem will be solved one way or another. Another way might mean calling in professionals.

Before they disassembled our home (our stuck here home) (remember yesterday’s happy face? I still have it.) we toured the La Brea Tarpits. La Brea Tarpits is redundant. La Brea is Spanish for tar. The tar tarpits. I was super excited to finally see this iconic monument of fossil history. The La Brea Tarpits did not disappoint. Massive skeletal fossils are on display. You can get very close and see delicately preserved details of these now extinct animals. Much of the fossils in the pits come from the giant mammals that went extinct about 10,000 years ago. Theories vary on the cause of the extinction. Does this sound familiar? Climate change and human predation. But it is far from an all encompassing theory. Likely may factors came into play. What we do know is that the La Brea Tarpits were a particularly deadly spot with an ability to beautifully preserve its victims. Thousands and thousands of organisms perished here. Giant sloths and dire wolves and wooly mammoths and mastadons and saber toothed cats. Yes, big, big things but also snails and birds and insects and snakes and well anything that might come by for a sip of water and get stuck in the sticky death trap.

Let’s consider one animal in particular, the giant sloth. At over 1000 pounds and taller than a horse these creatures were huge, easily visible, and slow moving. They pre-dated humans in the Americas. Humans showed up and saw these huge animals slowly munching leaves in wide open fields. We ate them. The sloths had no instinct to avoid us. We had no reason not to eat them. I’ll bet they tasted good. Current day sloths move so slowly that inertness is their primary defense. They hide in thick foliage. They cannot move fast even if they wanted to run away. The big guys never had a chance. There is a theory that once humans ate these large grazers birch forests filled in the grasslands and catastrophic fires became part of the environment and more grazers were pushed to extinction. I doubt we’ll know for sure. Factoid: We know what the sloth ate because we can analyze their poop. Fossil poop is called coprolite. You can buy corpolite jewelry. Look HERE. It’s nice looking.

I highly recommend a stop here if you are in the area. The surrounding park is peaceful and laced with newly formed pits. Tar seeps up wherever and whenever it wants. Try not to fall in.

As a side note we spotted the young man below staffing a table labeled Citizen Science. I am a big fan of citizen science. This young man fanned my flames of curiosity and showed me a way to add more data to the universe. iNaturalist is where you want to go. Put anything and everything into their database and help today’s pros figure out what is happening in our world in real time. You can download an app to your phone and enter sightings as you see them. Check it out at inaturalist.com.

Gearing up for the fossils.
Gearing up for the fossils. I wore my skull t-shirt (thanks, Donna).
Citizen Science
Citizen Science. iNaturalist.com.
Giant sloth claws
Giant sloth claws. This guy is 12′ tall.
Dragonflies
Dragonflies
This is a 2/3 size model of the wooly mammoth
This is a 2/3 size model of the wooly mammoth
IOOO
IOOO
Kids get to touch some stuff.
Kids get to touch some stuff.
Dire Wolf skulls
Dire Wolf skulls
Big jaguar
Big jaguar
Team birthday at the dire wolf exhibit.
Team birthday at the dire wolf exhibit.
Saber toothed cat (not a tiger).
Saber toothed cat (not a tiger).
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