Saturday, March 31, 2007

Random notes

Yeaps, I've been a little too busy these days to update my blog very much. But I've been uploading my photos! They're now on the Multiply site, as I ran out of space on Flickr-

Saw two deer on the access road to CMS yesterday morning. Though many people regard deer as pests that are wiping out native plant populations, it was still a treat to see them so close without a fence in between.

What else? Hmmm.... I've been really glad that I visited an Asian hypermart when I went to Berkeley, and bought a whole lot of preserved vegetables! Stir-fried some pickled radish with garlic, tofu and hot sauce yesterday, and it was yummy!

Alright, gotta grab some brunch now, and head off to campus soon. Joining the Discover Outdoor Club for an afternoon of kayaking on the Black River. Hope the weather stays sunny!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sunday morning fun with Bird banding

What could possess a right thnking person to leave the warm comforts of a bed at 5.30am on a cold and windy Sunday morning to venture outdoors? So I ruefully left my warm abode to join Adriane and pals on a bird banding trip. Yup, you heard right. Despite my numerous jibes at twitche..urm...birders all this time, some feathered fiends were actually depriving me of much needed sleep, and driving me into the merciless chill.

This is the fiend in question. One of the three species of marsh sparrows Adriane was studying for her MS thesis. This one was the seaside sparrow, characterized by yellow bands on the head. Tiny creatures- they only weighed around 13g.

Something I haven't seen for a long time- an actual sunrise, haha

BTW, the water looks deceptively calm and inviting doesn't it? Well, it was BLOODY cold!! It was -2 degC in Wilmington, and that's not counting the wind chill as we zipped along the intracoastal waterway in an unsheltered boat. I thought it was spring already!!

The only windguard on the boat shielding pilot Adriane. Simon is not so lucky.


The wind bit right into the bones, and turned normally animated and friendly folks into stoic huddled masses determined to leave any little surface area exposed to the air as possible. The pain in my toes brought flashbacks of the summit attempt on Kilimanjaro, and boy, did I miss my thermal socks...

So after one gruelling hour, we reached the island, and set-up mist nets

Can't see the nets huh? That's the point of mist nets!

That done, we flanked the sides of the scrubby area where the sparrows hung out, and drove them into the nets by making noises and clapping our hands. We had quite a good haul too, except with cold stiff hands, it was damn hard to unwrap a bird from the netting, and I let one bird escape, tsk.

The work station- where the sparrows are measured and banded

With the tide going down, it was time to go at about 10.30am. It was pretty choppy on the way back, and we were showered with seaspray a couple of times- ah the joys of goretex and proper waterproofing. And to think I almost thought of leaving my fleece at home today, as the weather had been so warm of late!

E.O. Wilson Live

Attended a talk by EO Wilson today. Yup, the same second named one of the MacArthur and Wilson Theory of Island Biogeography. The ecology fangirl in me gave a little squeal when the talk was first announced. Remarkably, the 700-seat Kenan Auditorium was filled to capacity today, and for a talk by a biologist!

He kicked off with a hypothetical letter to a religious leader, asking for reconciliation between science and religion, in order to protect creation. What creation? Biodiversity of course! All that live and roam on this Earth.

"Where is biodiversity? It's everywhere!" From the peak of Everest to the depths of the deepest ocean; more bacteria thrive within a handful of soil than there are people in Singapore.

I guess we didn't gain any deep insight or startling new knowledge from the talk and discussion, but it's just inspiring to see this person, who shaped the early research into metapopulation ecology and social biology, share his anecdotes and his musings on the state of the world today.

And there are always little nuggets to take home and ponder about. Like did you know that Conservation International calculated that to save all the biological hotspots in the world, it would take US$50billion? It seems like a lot, but it's 1/1000th of the world's annual GDP, and only needed as a one-time payment.

As usual, didn't bring a book along for the signing. Was quite content to just sit and listen, plus, you should have seen the queue that formed after the talk!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Cherry blossom time!

Spring is here! Finally went out in shorts today into the brilliant sunshine. Nice to see the abundance of pink blossoms upon my return to Wilmington as well.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A long awaited meeting after eight years

Warning: This post is going to be pretty Aikido-intensive and technical. Read at your own risk!

One of the highlights of coming to Berkeley for my exchange semester in Spring 1999 was the opportunity to train with Pietro Maida Sensei at the Ki No Kenyukai dojo. It says something about his teaching when his words still resonates so strongly with me even after 8 years. I get asked pretty often what the differences are between practitioners of various Aikido schools like Ki Society and Aikikai, and while officially, there are some broad strokes that led to the founder of that particular school breaking off and starting something on his/her own, in my humble half-baked potato opinion, most times you can't really tell, and it depends on a lot on the instructor of the dojo and what he/she wants to teach you.

So managed to find out the new location of the dojo, thanked my lucky stars that there was public transportation there, and was surprised and very very happy that Sensei still remembered me! Must be the time I bopped him on the head with a bokken by accident and he remarked that I was trying to 'leave an impression'.

Mention Ki Society, and many people think of esoteric meditation techniques to 'focus your Ki', movements that are too soft to be of any practical use, and people skipping about on the dojo mat. But frankly, I get flung around pretty good in this dojo too (no charity falls here!), and I kinda suspect that Maida Sensei may have missed throwing someone about like that, given the glee on his face as he tossed me all over the mat. He said that while the nage is supposed to be as non-aerobic in his movements as possible, the ukemi can be very big and that's where you get your workout.

The thing about training with Maida Sensei is that it can be stressful in the sense that he closely scrutinises every aspect of your movements. So you cannot getaway with being lazy for one technique, going through the motions, or thinking that you've got it just because you completed the throw. So I did a shiho-nage ura, but I 'floated' and lost one point when I did the irimi under my partner's arm. I would have lost balance if my uke moved or pushed me. So I managed to do a zenpo-nage without pulling my uke along, but my front foot lifted off when I released the uke, and that's unstable. He could tell instantly, what the one thing bugging me about a particular technique is, just by watching it. Even for the rowing exercise, had to concentrate on all my little movements as there was Q&A after the exercise- what did you do first? how did that make you feel? On one hand, it reinforces the beginner's mind and it makes you evaluate your movements a lot, on the other hand, it was definitely not good for my poor ego to be pummelled like that, like what have I been doing the last 9 years of training??? Waaaa......

Stayed back after class on Friday and we talked a bit about aikido and stuff. Was telling him about all the trouble I have with those big and strong beginners who like attacking hard and fast, as if to test you, and how it was difficult to do the regular movements with them, and also doing kokyo-ho/doza with those super seniors who clamp you down and render your hands immobile. He gave an interesting tip for kokyo-ho- to try and hug your partner. Like struggling to move your hands would send signals that make it easy for the uke to resist, but just move as if trying to hug them, and they should move with you, and it is very hard to get someone to move against his/her will, even if you are highly skilled. Haha, will have to try that out at the next seminar...

The other thing about training with Sensei was his sense of humour. He's tough on you, but he's nice about it. Like this really bad joke he made..... He said he found it more amazing that we can insert keys into our doors on the very first try every single time, than if we can execute aikido techniques, as the key hole is so tiny, and the key fits exactly into it. But yet, there're no poke marks all over our doors- so why is our hand-eye coordination so good there?? It's definitely not some high-level skill that you need to fall off a mountain to attain.
Ans: Because you are extending 'key'..... (yeah yeah, it's very bad)

And because he trains directly with Tohei Sensei (wowowowow....), we get to hear stories about Tohei Sensei and his training days with O-Sensei that you won't find in the biographies. That definitely makes me smile!

After two days of training, my head is just chock-ful of stuff to think about. Before I left, Maida Sensei asked me to consider a stint as uchi deshi in his dojo for at least six months, after I'm done with my degree. I'm pretty honoured and humbled that he asked me, I mean, he hasn't seen me in years. It's definitely something to consider over the next few years huh?

Friday, March 09, 2007

North Face is my downfall...

So here I am in California, kinda hanging loose and bumming around in Berkeley. Then I had to pick up some free newspapers to see what's on around here. And saw that the North Face outlet store was having a sale! Long story short, I went in to look-see and came out with a Goretex XCR jacket! In bright yellow with reflective strips no less. Kinda stayed away from browsing REI after that. But it is a very good price for a XCR jacket, and I'm pretty excited about using it soon. Will post pics in a bit!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Iaido demos

Some videos of a recent demonstration on Feb 17th (yup CNY eve) by the dojo I'm currently training at- the Garden of the Spring Wind Dojo in Wilmington, NC. No aikido videos cos I was too busy demo-ing as well!

Monday, March 05, 2007

California Dreamin'!!

So I don't get to dive Florida, but I'm headed to San Francisco and Berkeley tomorrow! I have spring break after all, haha. Visiting old friends and familiar places, and hopefully, I'll get to train with Maida Sensei at the Ki Society dojo again. Am so excited! Can hardly wait :)

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Well, we did get to Wrightsville Beach...

Looks like the Florida trip didn't pan out after all- was met by unexpectedly sombre faces at 6am this morning, and it turns out that there's a small craft advisory for Key Largo tomorrow afternoon, and possibly high waves on Monday, maybe even Tuesday morning. Since Tim needed at least 5 days worth of larval collection, and it didn't make sense to drive all the way down just to sit at the NURC base, it was decided, after a discussion with the boss, to postpone the trip till May :( , and we might even go earlier in May to get all the stuff we wanted to do worked out. Means that I might spend close 1 1/2 months away from Wilmington! Gosh.

So we had a two hour breakfast at McDonald's going over options, waiting for the latest weather updates, and generally chatting like we had too much time on our hands...then headed to Wrightsville Beach as Tim had to get his housekey from his gf working there. Didn't go for a swim, but it was nice to see the sea at least.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Off to Florida

Just finished my Oceanography midterm, lab proposal and population matrix presentation...Phew, what a week! Spring break starts tomorrow and I'm off to Key Largo! Nope, it's not what you think, unfortunately...No 'girls gone wild' type of scenario, will be embarking on fieldwork with my labbies, and hopefully, will see that my sponge transplants are alive and well.

So...keeping my fingers crossed for a tornado-less journey down south, and waves less than 5 feet high in the week to come!