Wednesday, January 22, 2014

2014: My Year of Learning

Happy New Year everyone!! New Year's Eve is my absolute favorite holiday of the year. Why's that? Well, it's the only holiday that asks of no superficial gift-giving, involves reminiscing AND looking into the future and includes popping open a bottle of bubbly. What's not to love? Best of all, you get a chance to say goodbye to the previous year (think about all the good parts of it and brush off any of the negatives as bygones) and say hello to a new year full of endless potential.

I don't make resolutions, per say, but I always like to make a list of things that I'm planning/hoping for in my personal life for the year. In 2013, I started learning new things, but this year, I'm really going to dive in!

This year, 2014, will be my year of learning. Now that I've gotten a few pieces of paper called diplomas and what most call a "higher" education, you might think that I've had enough of educating myself. Just the opposite. I think now that I have been freed into the world of "real experiences," I can finally take on learning new things because I want to and not because my professors are breathing down my neck.

My goals are to learn new things that make me smile, make me happy, have me thinking intelligently to solve problems, or have me trying new things for the pure experience of trying something new.

I hope to learn more of the following things this year:

  1. more coding (JavaScript mostly)
  2. how to create an App
  3. UK botany and wildlife
  4. UK endangered species and habitat surveying techniques
  5. guitar (let's see if I can finally make this happen!)
  6. how to drive in the UK (yes, I'm back to taking drivers tests)
  7. Publishing a manuscript in a scientific journal
  8. change management and project management skills

Anything else you think I should add to the list? What will you be learning this year?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Look where I showed up!

"Phew, what a day!  Well, the Annual Exhibition Meeting is all over and I think we can say it was a huge success."

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Taxidermied Birds at the Natural History Museum

Bearded Vulture (known as a Bartgeier in Switzerland). This magnificent bird went extinct in Switzerland in 1913 when the last one was shot, but the Swiss Alps were repopulated with the bearded vulture through an ambitious re-introduction program in the 1980s. I had the privilege of being eyed by one in flight as she swooped just 5 meters beside me while I was belaying a fellow climber on a cliff-side on Piz Kesch. I made eye contact with this beautiful, massive scavenger.
Let's take a look at an exhibit at the Natural History Museum before we move on through the city. The Birds exhibit is a magnificent collection of common, rare, and curious ornithological specimens.

An American Bald Eagle
A pheasant (this one is from China). These are such funny birds. I've only ever a glimpse of one running into a meadow in Maryland, but here in the UK, they are raised for game hunters and they are everywhere! I mean everywhere! And they aren't very smart, which means you often see them bopping around road sides, popping on and off golf course greens, and standing conspicuously in the open. But that doesn't change the fact that they are gorgeous fowl! I would love to raise a few from chicks myself someday.

Bird collection
The Dodo
And here's a photograph of a video display played in the ecology section of the museum. I was really excited that they have an ecology section, but I was less impressed with the display than in the rest of the museum. Still, even having an ecology section is a very good start!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Let's take a closer look at the Natural History Museum in London

When you arrive at the Natural History Museum in London, this is the sight that greets you. The building is stunning! My favorite part about it is that the building was actually built in 1881 with the intention of it being a Natural History Museum. How rare! Most of the museums I have encountered in my life seem to be in repurposed buildings. What this means for the Natural History Museum in London is that the entire building contains details rich with flora and fauna in every nook and cranny. There are relief sculptures of animals and plants everywhere! Try to find some in the pictures I've taken... 
Do you see the dragon-like creature guarding the windows here?
And do you recognize these unique animals? Perhaps they were real or perhaps they were imagined.
Even the interior is covered in details. Here, sculptures of fossils line the walls and decorate the columns.
The main hall's centerpiece is this complete dinosaur skeleton, but what catches my eye is still the details in the building!
How oranate!
This is a view toward the entrance of the building, looking through the dinosaur.
And of course, I looked for the plants, which are interestingly all over the ceiling of the grand hall. Look at all those gorgeous illustrations of plants. I could spend hours just laying on the floor gazing up at these.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What happens at the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) Annual Exhibition Meeting?

This is the grand entrance to the Natural History Museum in London. The front entrance is German Romanesque architecture style designed by Alfred Waterhouse, a young architect who was called upon when the original architect died. We all fall into our jobs in funny ways, don't we? But I digress...

This weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland's Annual Exhibition Meeting here in this fabulous building. I should mention that the BSBI recently changed names from the Botanical Society of the British Isles, but managed to hold on to the acronym. Nicely done!
So what happens at an Exhibition meeting? Well, I walked in shyly to find out and was instantly consumed by a small area of tables showcasing botanical information, fun plant identification curiosities, and plant research information. There was also a large book sale going on. When I say consumed, I don't mean by the exhibits themselves, but by the huge masses of very friendly, eclectic botanists of all ages chattering away about the exciting plants they had recently seen, discovered, or happened upon. 

Following the exhibition period, there were talks by the staff and volunteers of the BSBI to discuss recent society happenings, plans, and updates. Then there were talks about how plant geeks like myself can use different venues to get others excited about the green leafy things around us too. We are encouraged to use digital avenues (social media like Facebook, Twitter and blogging) as well as tutoring, guiding walks, and engaging the public in all ways big and small. The highlights were from:
  • John Tweddle (Head of the Angela Marmot Centre at the Natural History Museum) who talked about how he is working to engage the public at the museum with hands on science
  • Brian Eversham, who is an amazing speaker and loves nature enough that he crosses over from entomology to botany. He can be heard in this video talking about the Wildlife Trusts in Britain:

It was a wonderful way to spend my day and as I was leaving, I paid my dues to be a member for the next year. I'm really inspired by the national botanical society and I can't wait to be kneeling in the mud next to fellow members looking at a new plant.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Mama always said... not to drink milk when you've got a cold

The Englishman has a cold and I'm doing everything I can to help him feel better. I've made Dad's famous chicken corn soup, bought him man-sized tissues (haha, yes, that is a thing here in England!), and tucked him into bed early. This morning we were talking about food and I mentioned that he probably should lay off the dairy for a bit because it would make him feel even more stuffy. He'd never heard that theory before. Here's what the Mayo Clinic has to say about it:

I've heard that you shouldn't drink milk when you have a cold because it increases phlegm. Is this true?


from James M. Steckelberg, M.D.
Phlegm is the thick, sticky mucus that drips down the back of your throat when you have a cold. Although drinking milk may make phlegm thicker and more irritating to your throat than it would normally be, milk doesn't cause your body to make more phlegm. In fact, frozen dairy products can soothe a sore throat and provide calories when you otherwise may not eat.
So, the myth is half true! I do like the recommendation that you binge on ice cream when you're sick!

Did your Mama tell you the same thing as a kid?

Still learning after all these years!

Are you still learning new things? In addition to reading a lot more books lately, I've also been picking up a few other things.

Although I now have three nice degrees from esteemed universities - 2 bachelor degrees and a masters - I'm still not done learning. If anything, I find being back in the 9-to-5 working world even more of a learning curve. I'm constantly having new concepts, new technologies, and new policies thrown at me. And my curiosity keeps me looking for exciting new things to learn.

Here are a couple of things I'm learning at the moment:


Though I'm familiar and fluent in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Florida and Swiss plant species, I'm still learning my British flora. So I'm on a mission to teach myself as much as possible through books, other experts, and time spent outside on my hands and knees with a magnifying glass (loop). There is a test called the Field Identification Skills Certificate through the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland which I can use to test my abilities by next summer.


Being in a technical job now, I need to know more programming and because JavaScript is one of the most commonly used programming languages for software applications (or apps as the kids are calling them these days), API connections and mobile devices, I thought it'd be a good time to brush up on a new language. I've programmed using Visual Basic, Python, and HTML languages before, but this one is new for me. So I'm using an amazing game-like online school called Codecademy to learn JavaScript. It's actually really fun!

It's a fun time to learn new things! Especially with winter coming, I have to resist the urge to curl up and hibernate. So keeping my mind active is a great way to avoid the winter blues. And there's a method to my madness. I'm hoping to someday be able to help build an amazing app or perhaps a new technology to help people discover, explore and identify plant species in the wild. The available apps now don't quite meet my needs!

Are you teaching yourself any new skills at the moment?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Have you ever wondered how plants are grouped and named?

I couldn't describe it to you any better than this video does. It is a beautiful depiction of evolution and how we have worked to understand the evolution of our species based on how species are grouped into Genus, Family, Order, Class, Phylum and Kingdom. And of course, it shows off how things are done at Kew Gardens. What an amazing building!


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Shrooming in London

Recently, I try to get out into the gardens as often as possible. Especially now that it is autumn, the rains have been through, and it is rather warm. The conditions for fungi forays (searching for mushrooms) are perfect! Can you help me identify these? Here are some mushrooms I found around Kew Gardens:

Agaricus sp. (these are related to the button mushrooms you buy in the grocery store!)
Agaricus sp.
Clitocybe inversa
Clitocybe inversa

Clitocybe inversa
Clitocybe inversa
Very nice mushroom with red/orange cap fringed with white feathery scales. Abundant in the area, found growing on mulch. Dark spore print, white fibrous stem without annulus/ring.
same as above
Unknown, very cute small white mushroom cluster on grass
Beautiful blue/green Hygrocybe spp. growing on the leaves beneath a beech tree (Fagus sylvatica).
Same as above. Note white, fibrous stem without ring.
Same as above. Note white/cream spores, adnate gills (gills attached to stem).

A mini forest of unknown little brown mushrooms growing on the mulch beneath Yew trees (Taxus baccata) and pines at Kew Gardens.
Clitocybe sp.
Unknown mushroom. Looks like a mini Ink cap mushroom (Coprinus sp.), but I did not check the gills for ink. It was tiny!!
Agaricus sp. fairy ring
Agaricus sp. Note the annulus/ring around the stem and the dark gills.
Lepiota sp.
And of course, you know I can't resist photographing some wildflowers along the way too.

Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)
Update: This was a fun find - I just learned that the Cornflower is an endangered species and a UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority species! Wow! Check out more information about it's status. Apparently, this is not so much because of it's distribution (which is quite widespread), but because it is important to the protection of arable lands and therefore, biodiversity.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Have you read anything good lately?

I just read about a study in the New Scientist in which a scientist has discovered that people who read fiction books are nicer people! According to the article:
"Our ability to detect and understand other peoples' emotions, and to infer their beliefs and intentions is known as theory of mind. David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano at the New School for Social Research in New York tested whether exposure to literary fiction – stories with more complex characters – boosts this."
The outcome showed that:
"Those who had read the literary fiction showed a heightened ability to empathise compared with the other groups."
I've recently started reading again before going to bed. The Englishman has convinced me that looking at a bright LED screen (i.e. my computer) before going to bed is not healthy. So, instead, I've been reading, which actually really works. I end up starting to doze and once the paragraph starts to get fuzzy, I know it's time for bed. And big bonus, I'm loving it! Having read so much nonfiction/scientific literature while earning my master's degree, I stopped reading anything else. Turns out I've been missing it. There's nothing that can beat the ability to escape into a good book, live out some fantasies, and connect to fictional characters. Perhaps I am even becoming a nicer person because of my reading increase.

I am currently reading The Coral Thief by Rebecca Stott

And before that I read The Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed out of a window and disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, upon my mother's recommendation and really enjoyed it:
What are you reading right now?