Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Simple Gifts

This music accompanies these words:

I've been back in Athens for a month and a half now.
I moved out of the woods and into the city on January 3rd.  I started graduate school on January 6th.
I've picked up my martial arts again, I'm fumbling through homework, tests, quizzes, and time management.  I'm spending inordinate amounts of time on the internet.  I'm once again sucked in by Netflix.
Sitting in traffic for 15 minutes to get to Kroger 5 miles away is the norm.  I don't wave at every car or truck I pass anymore, because I'd be waving all the time (and not in the cute, Southern way).  I spend the majority of my weekdays in an office with no windows, staring at two computer screens.
My respite comes when I walk to and from the bus stop, or go to martial arts or church, or see people who stop in for my desk-corner-chocolate.  Every weekend chance I get, I spend outside.

Those eight months in the woods spoiled me.

It's fascinating to me that almost a year ago, I wrote in "The Lull" that I was not ready to move into the woods, that I was loathe to leave this city I love so much.  In truth, part of me is excited to be back.  It's fun to be able to eat any kind of food you want, whenever you want, and see whatever you want to see.  It's nice to take a stroll through North Campus, downtown, and the Founder's Garden.  It's good to be close to my friends, my martial arts--the people I was terrified to leave behind.

But I can't help but yearn for the woods, the solitude, the simplicity.  

There are always distractions: things to keep you from doing your work and focusing on your priorities.  It's just that in Athens, or in any proper city, the distractions are flashier and much more insistent.
I find myself wasting so much time on Facebook, taking personality quizzes, or quizzes that tell you what Disney princess, sidekick, villain, couple, or theme song you are.
Really??  Are those things enriching to my life in any way, or important to my work, my maturation, my character, or my future? Nope.  Nope, they're not.

Some might argue that tromping through forests, hanging out on rivers, sitting in a deer stand, climbing rocks, sleeping under the stars, hiking mountains, wandering through planted pine, or making campfires aren't any of those things either, but they sure seem a lot more wholesome.
You learn a lot more about your God, yourself, your responsibilities, your place in the world, and your world by actually being in it.  You learn about history: not just through books, but through experiences, through the people you meet and the woods through which y'all walk.

I have found that the type of person that is just as willing to do those things with you as they are willing to get dressed up and hit that trendy Thai restaurant (which is still delicious), is the type of person who is also willing to listen to your internal struggles, your future aspirations, your fears, your dreams, your hopes, your beliefs.
That person is the one who will ask you the tough questions, but also be comforting; who will sit still, soaking in the beauty of this Creation, but who will rustle up plenty adventure.  That person is the one who doesn't have to be tied to a city, or set or "habitat requirements" to be tied to a friendship.
I have begun to notice more and more that it is this type of person I find myself drawn towards, I find myself striving to become.

Maybe I've read too many westerns.
Truth be told, things are not as simple as they once were.  Even in my young 23 years I can attest to that.
But I cannot help but feel that the complexities of today are merely accessory to the necessities of yesterday.
Having wifi is nice.  Having this wireless mouse for my laptop is handy.  Having an extra monitor for my laptop is exciting.  Having a USB "powerstrip" (adds 4 more USB ports to my computer) is super cool.  But these aren't the things that make a person, or shape a person.  Not this person, anyway.
They are no replacement for exploring, questioning, tromping, falling, struggling, and persevering in this great, big, scary world God has given us to look after.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this:
I miss the simple woods.  Not because of the freedom in the workday it gave me, or the pretty landscapes constantly surrounding me, but because of how much the woods broke me down, tried my patience, stretched my abilities, and gave me the opportunity to praise God in the storms and in the sunshine.

Here in the city, I know He is present, but I admit, these flashy distractions keep my mind drifting.

Out there, in the rawness of His Creation, I cannot help but see His mighty hand.  I cannot help but see His Simple, most profound, Gifts.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Effect of Tin Foil Hats on Telemetry Success in Middle Georgia

Given the events of the fall of 2013, a new theory has developed regarding the black bear (Ursus americanus) population of Middle Georgia.  Further research is needed to confirm this theory, however the evidence we will present in the following paragraphs does heavily suggest this as the most plausible explanation for inconsistent reception of GPS data and VHF signal.  We theorize that the black bears of Middle Georgia have obtained skills necessary to create tin foil hats with which they are obstructing the effective transmission of GPS and VHF signal.

For years there has been discussion on the effectiveness of tin foil as a deterrent for alien brain probing.  While there has been hesitancy about the truthiness of these claims, it has come to our attention that a similar phenomenon has occurred within the Middle Georgia black bear population.  Essential components to the research projects surrounding this particular population are: 1) the use of GPS location information sent by collars on the bears, and 2) the triangulation of VHF collars on other bears.

GPS collars use cell phone towers to transmit location information to the computer system used for analysis.  However, the transfer of data is dependent on several factors: 1) the continued functionality of the collar battery, 2) cell service, and 3) the avoidance of tin foil hats.  VHF collars simply give out a beep on a high frequency radio wave, and thus are not dependent on cell service, however the other two factors are important.  While there is fair to good cell coverage across our study area and our telemetry gear is fully functional, there are particular bears that continue to evade our observation.

In particular, bears 109 (adult male), 140 (sub-adult male), and 128 (adult female with 2 year old offspring) have been known to disappear for abnormal lengths of time.  109 has gone off the grid for weeks at a time, only to pop back up on the GPS downloads, with a back-log of the time he was gone.  140 has remained inside the virtual fence, a geographical area surrounding highway 96 in which the location transmission is more frequent, however he continues to seemingly disappear from VHF transmission.  Similarly, 128, who is only a VHF bear, appears to cover great distances within a short period of time.  While this is plausible for a bear that is on the move, the direction, frequency, and instances in which she appears to hop back and forth between two locations is abnormal.

After careful consideration, it is my conclusion that these individuals have discovered the tin foil hat method of avoidance.  109, who is trap-happy, has had these mysterious disappearances over several months, and has a questionable character (given his tendency to be drawn to tranquilizing drugs).  Therefore it is considered a viable option that he has utilized tin foil hats to avoid detection while on unscrupulous errands.

While 128 does not appear to be drug-dependent, she has continually presented a challenge to multiple biologists who have attempted to track her for visual observation.  Upon triangulation, the biologist will then begin to walk into the center of that polygon to attempt a visual observation.  It is common to reach the suspected location of 128 and not find her, nor hear any bear movement during the entire track.  After returning to the beginning location to re-triangulate, it is also common to find her a considerable distance away, repeat the process, and still come up with nothing.  Therefore, it is considered an option that 128 has discovered the utility of tin foil in deflecting and refracting the radio emissions in order to send the biologist in an incorrect direction.

Finally, 140, though a sub-adult, appears to have also utilized the tin foil hat method in evading observation.  It is common for the biologist to hear a radio blip every other beat, or every three beats, when it should be heard at 40bpm.  In this situation, the conclusions to be drawn could indicate a faulty collar, but given the geographical closeness of 109 and 140, in addition to the possibility of relatedness of 109 and 140, I would also offer a tin foil hat as an explanation for this telemetry difficulty.

Ordinarily this theory would be thrown out, however given the unique circumstances regarding our particular study population (primarily the bottleneck effect on the population due to geographic and genetic isolation), I propose this to be the simplest solution.  Moreover, see Fig. 1 below as proof that this has occurred within other species of bear across the country.  Finally, the surrounding human population is a unique combination of backwater individuals and air force professionals.  Given this environment, it is possible that the paranoia regarding conspiracy theories has crept into the black bear population, resulting in the apparent use of tin foil hats to foil research attempts.

Fig. 1: This is, up to the present day, the only photo documentation of a bear utilizing a tin foil hat.  While this is a brown bear (Ursus arctos) it is useful to illustrate the plausibility of our theory.