IFOV has moved

•24 Mar 2008 • Leave a Comment

IFOV is now located at ifov.wordpress.com.

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Digital vs. Film

•16 Mar 2008 • Leave a Comment

Someone on Flickr posted that two people had recently commented to him that:

“Well now with digital any schmo can do photography…”

and

“I don’t like my [Nikon D40]. Digital feels fake.”

This person was rather upset about this and wanted to get other opinions. Here’s my take in a nutshell: this subject quickly becomes an argument about religion. It’s better to just accept that film and digital images have different qualities. Whichever you prefer is just that – a preference.

In response to the first comment, I would say that: 1) lots of schmoes were carrying film point-and-shoot cameras before digital came along (anyone remember the Disc camera?), and 2) digital manipulation isn’t necessarily easy. Program mode doesn’t always work and although any schmo can apply a bucketload of Photoshop filters in minutes, that doesn’t mean the result is something that is pleasing or improves the resulting image. Getting a good image out of a digital camera can take quite a lot of effort and experience, which is no different than developing dark room skills (pun intended), painting/drawing skills, musical skills, etc.

As for digital feeling “fake”, I once had a conversation with a friend about film vs. digital. Her perception (which I think is shared by a lot of people) was that digital was somehow “cheating” relative to film because of the ability to manipulate digital images so easily. However, I pointed out to her that photographers have been manipulating film via the camera (e.g., filters, multiple exposures) and in the darkroom (“dodge” and “burn” weren’t invented by Adobe) since the advent of film. I wonder how many people, presented with a random image on Flickr, could tell you if it was shot as digital or film. I know I’ve been surprised a couple of times to find that I was wrong in guessing which medium was used.

One reply to the Flickr post said everyone should get experience with film because it makes you think a little more before you shoot. It probably does. But having to sort through the hundreds of digital shots you can take in a day just to find the 2-3 good ones will quickly teach you to think before you shoot as well!

Arguing digital vs. film is like arguing Canon vs. Nikon. Each one has it’s strengths and weaknesses, you just have to decide which you prefer for your purposes or aesthetic and move on. Otherwise you’re just arguing religion.

One more reason why women may leave academia in science

•9 Mar 2008 • 1 Comment

A lot has been made of the underrepresentation of female Ph.D.s in the sciences in academia. I am a woman scientist currently holding a tenured Associate Researcher/Professor position at a Ph.D.-granting, US state university. However, I am leaving my tenured position in academia for a comparable position with a non-profit company; I am about to become a statistic – one more woman Ph.D. lost from the higher ranks of academia. Oddly enough, my reasons for leaving academia, as anyone who knows me will attest, have nothing to do with what I will hypothesize in this blog may be one little-recognized reason some women leave academia (or broadly, the sciences). More on that in a minute. This trend almost certainly extends to academic jobs that are not in universities, but academia is where the studies of this problem are conducted and what the available statistics represent, so that’s what I’ll focus on.

A little background
Let’s start with those statistics, shall we? The following comes from a recent article in the journal Nature Geoscience, by Holmes et al. [2008]1 (and references therein), which focused on women in geosciences through 2004. According to Holmes et al., statistics show that the proportion of female geoscience undergraduate to graduate students is roughly the same, indicating that they are not “lost” during the pursuit of Ph.D. degrees. [This is apparently not the case in other science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, so one could view this as a best case starting point.] In 2004, women earned 34% of the Ph.D.s in the geosciences. However, the percentage of women in entry-level positions at Ph.D.-granting institutions (i.e., Assistant Professor) is only 26%, and the percentages become increasingly smaller with the advancement of the terminal degree granted by the institution. In other words, there is a lower percentage of women in Assistant Professor positions at Ph.D.-granting institutions than at M.S. and Bachelor’s degree-granting institutions. Add to this the fact that as you consider higher academic ranks (Associate Professor and Professor, both tenured ranks), the percentages continue to decrease, such that at Ph.D.-granting institutions, only 8% of full professors are female.

Many reasons have been posited for the attrition of women from the academic ranks. The Holmes et al. study surveyed male and female academics (roughly equal proportions of students through full professors) and asked them what they thought were the reasons for the attrition. The answers came down to the usual responses: academic structure (e.g., policies on family leave, resistance to telecommuting, lack of access to child care), the “pipeline” (e.g., given time, we’ll get more women), and women’s choices. Some of the “women’s choices” that were cited by these academics included, “women are choosing a different career path”, “females don’t like field work”, “females in general have a low interest in the subject matter”, “females lack self-confidence”, and “females in general prefer to teach”. There are all kinds of things to explore here, so go pick up the article if you’re curious to know more.

Undoubtedly, many or all of these reasons for women leaving academia are valid. However, I’ve come to believe that there is an additional, different issue that affects women’s decision-making. There are a lot more female doctors and lawyers out there than geoscientists, and their training and jobs are just as arduous and competitive, if not more so in some cases, and yet somehow, they manage to work around issues of structure, pipline, family, etc. What is different about (geo-)science?

The idea
So. My idea is that being a successful academic scientist requires personal traits that are not fully consistent with the socialization of women in the US (where most of these studies are done), despite the progress we think we’ve made with respect to gender equality. As such, I suspect some women choose, subconsciously or consciously, to leave (or not enter) academic positions in science because of their own fears about how they may be perceived by others if they exhibit these traits. This is certainly not the only, or necessarily even a primary, reason women leave academia/science, but I think it is one that may not be given enough consideration.

At the Ph.D. level, a big part of life is debating and defending ideas forthrightly and vigorously. That doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that, stated differently, it can mean, “be aggressive and confrontational”. Suddenly, these don’t sound like traits that people generally associate with women or appreciate in them. Nor are they traits that women in our society are generally taught or encouraged to develop. But the need to exhibit these traits, whatever you call them, is true for research paper and proposal writing/reviewing, presentations at conferences, participation on committees and review panels (local and national), job interviews, etc., virtually all of which are public forums of one kind or another and a part of daily life for an academic. I suspect that academic scientists debate, defend, and critique more publicly and regularly than is the norm in other fields (e.g., doctors and lawyers). It starts in grad school and never ends until you retire. One has to accept that this is expected behavior, and that may be a problem for some women.

An example
A few years ago, I participated on a national review panel for a federal agency; we were reviewing proposals seeking funds to develop new scientific instrumentation (an even more male-dominated arena than basic research). Our subgroup of reviewers consisted of four men and two women. I knew the other woman and liked her (still do), even though we have never worked together and are not particularly close (literally or figuratively) colleagues. During the course of a discussion about one of the proposals, this woman and I got into a vigorous debate about the merits (and demerits) of the proposal at hand. We were having what could be called a full-on argument, but there was no animosity behind it, only a desire to fully debate and explore our observations. Shortly thereafter, this woman and I were joking about something unrelated to the proposal and having a perfectly good time. I looked around the room and the men’s faces displayed a mixture of negativity and surprise. They thought we were on the verge of jumping over the table and having a cat fight minutes before, and so they couldn’t understand our good humor moments later. I think some of them also disliked the fact that we were behaving in a way that they perceived to be overly aggressive, but which in fact was no less aggressive than I have seen many men behave. The woman and I commented to each other about it later (we laughed, actually). Many people don’t understand that you can have a debate/disagreement with someone, but still go out and have a beer and a good laugh afterward (thankfully, my fiancé and father have perfected this when it comes to discussing politics). When one or more of the debaters are women, it becomes incomprehensible. In the extreme, some will label such a woman a “bitch”.

Not a low self-confidence problem
So how is my hypothesis different than the assertion that women lack self-confidence? Isn’t discomfort with publicly debating and defending ideas a reflection of a lack of self-confidence? It can be, but doesn’t need to be. You can have all the self-confidence in the world, and still not want to be called a bitch behind your back just because you are willing to express an opinion or argue a point aggressively. Assuming women leave academia because they lack self-confidence fails to recognize the reaction women sometimes receive when they project their self-confidence. Women may leave academia/science for reasons of self-confidence, but it’s possible some are leaving because of the social implications of having the right amount, rather than not enough.

What can we do about it?
I’ve come to realize that many incoming grad students (male and female) think a Ph.D. is about learning how to make measurements and interpret data; they don’t anticipate these other skills (debate, criticism) that need to be accepted and developed along the way, which may be a particular issue for some women. I see a few things that could be changed to solve this problem. One is not tractable within academia, and that is continuing to evolve society’s views on women’s behavior and what is considered appropriate or acceptable – we’ll leave that aside for now. The others are tractable within academia, and they are: 1) changing students’ perceptions of what will be expected of them in grad school and their career, and 2) changing current academics’ perceptions of their female cohorts at all levels.

I believe that undergraduate science departments/advisors could do a better job of educating students about what most grad schools will/should be training them for and expecting of them beyond the actual research they will do for their dissertation. I’ve seen several grad students express their uncertainty and discomfort mid-way through grad school when they realize that if they pursue academic careers (at a university or elsewhere), debate and criticism will be never-ending aspects of life. Promoting interactions between undergraduates and grad students where possible (a sort of mentoring process) is another thing science departments could do to give undergrads a better understanding of what graduate school and academic life are like.

For those of us currently in academia, it’s not news that bias can be very subtle. We need to watch for colleagues who unfairly penalize, with as little as a frosty look or roll of the eyes, women who debate or are not shy about giving opinions, and call attention to such bias so that it can be eradicated. We also should try to overtly encourage women (students and faculty) to develop their debate and criticism skills and feel free to express themselves honestly, to the point of a polite argument if necessary, without fear of being labeled a bitch, or other even less savory slurs that get applied to women who project the same degree of self-confidence as their male colleagues. We may think they’re getting the message, but repeated, open, focused conversations on this topic probably are required.

Is any of this true?
Who knows. I perceive a major flaw in studies of why women leave academia/science: if you want to know why people are leaving academia, you need to ask the people who left, not the people who are still there. The people who are still “in” are providing responses based on their perceptions of why others have left, or why they think they themselves might leave. They have no way of knowing why others leave except in rare cases. My hypothesis suffers from the same problem – I’m guessing like everyone else, because my own reasons for leaving a university for a company have nothing whatsoever to do with gender issues. Even if we asked those who left why they left, many women may not realize or be willing to admit their personal feelings and may focus the blame on less personal issues like access to childcare. As I said above, my idea (if true) is certainly not the only factor playing into women’s decisions to leave academia/science. But I’ve been on this thought path for a while, and wonder what other people (men and women) think. A friend is hosting a networking breakfast at a conference this week that will touch on the many issues facing women in planetary science; perhaps my idea will generate some interesting discussion on this issue.

1Holmes, M.A, S. O’Connell, C. Frey, and L. Ongly, Gender imbalance in US geoscience academia, Nature Geoscience, 1, 79-82, 2008.

Samantha’s Obituary

•13 Feb 2008 • 2 Comments

Samantha

After a valiant, but ultimately unwinnable battle against small cell lymphoma, our kitty Samantha has passed out of our lives. She was at home almost to the very end, and Vicky and Scott were with her when she died.

Sammy lived a life that, at 17 years long, was twice what many cats enjoy. Vicky adopted her in 1995 in Arizona, to be her graduate school companion. Sam was already 4 1/2 years old, and full of attitude. She came from a house with two big dogs, a littermate, and a small child (with another on the way). Her original name was “Sassy”, but Vicky didn’t like that, and instead renamed the little black cat “Samantha” after a nice witch on a popular 1960’s TV show.

When Scott started coming around, Sammy saw lap, but Scott saw allergies. At first, there was a lot of itching, but gradually, Scott’s allergies to Samantha disappeared, and a great friendship was born. Scott’s family pet had been a dog, and he wasn’t too sure about cats. But Sammy worked her way into his heart, too, especially by hopping onto his lap at any available opportunity.

Sam was famous for her eating habits early on; she must have learned at a young age that to be slow was to go hungry, because even in Vicky’s apartment, where there was no competition at the food bowl, she ate so much that she became a 13 lb. black bowling ball with a head. Her favorite relaxation position was on her back, with all of her feet in the air. Her vet quickly put her on a diet, which she didn’t much appreciate. She would show her displeasure by waking up Vicky and Scott in the middle of the night, digging around in things that she would never otherwise bother. She was *very* good at this, and probably more than once, Scott was on the brink of giving a “her or me” ultimatum to Vicky. However, the move to Hawai’i cured her of this behavior. Hawai’i is a rabies-free state, and despite being an indoor cat, and having all of her vaccinations, Samantha had to endure 30 days of “kitty jail” (quarantine) when Scott and Vicky moved to Hawai’i. But when she came home, she never woke up her people in the middle of the night again. She also happily maintained a svelte figure thereafter, even though she still always enjoyed mealtimes.

Sammy loved food, but she also loved people; she was very social whenever people came to visit and always loved to be on someone’s lap. She was especially social with her kitty-sitters, who provided food and laps when Vicky and Scott were away. Colleen Ruff dubbed her “velcro kitty” for her desire to be attached to any available human. In the evenings, our little family always hung out together; she commandeered a lap, hip, back, ankles, or whatever body part was available while Vicky and Scott watched TV. When it was bedtime, she would come up onto the bed, march right up Scott’s chest, give him a good head bonk, sniff interestedly at his minty, post-toothbrushing breath, and get some chin scratchies before she ultimately moved over to sleep with Vicky. Her last night with us, she still slept with Vicky, never showing signs of wanting to be anywhere else but with her people.

There are so many little things that made Sammy a large presence in our lives. We’d give anything to have her back, but we were fortunate to have her with us for as long as we did. We will miss her every day.

Pictures of Samantha can be found on my Flickr page.

Insanity…

•4 Feb 2008 • Leave a Comment

…sounds like it might be nice right about now.

We are now well into the sale of our home and will be moving out in three weeks if all continues as planned. I’m working full time, planning the move, finding a rental apt. for the last month before we leave the islands, finding a rental apt. for when we get to Colorado, boxing up my lab, transferring grants to the new institution, and most of all, trying to save my poor kitty’s life for a little while longer.

My wonderful @riprock got me a massage for my birthday, which I only got to take advantage of today. I had to postpone it on the day of my birthday because @samanthacat appeared to be dying. Fortunately, we’ve managed to find a cancer treatment that is helping her a little bit, allowing her to drink and eat again. It’s painful to watch her gradual decline (she’s 17 afterall), but we still feel that her quality of life is still reasonably good, despite the cancer and arthritis; she still has a gleam in her eye when she looks up at the bathroom counter or the coffee table and I know she wants desperately to jump up there. She also still wants to be with us when we sit on the couch or lie in bed. It’s equally painful to contemplate putting her down, even though we expect that we will be faced with that decision, probably sooner than later. Both of us have spent several hours bawling our eyes out already, thinking that she was about to die, or that the time had come to put her down; it’s not getting any easier to contemplate as more time passes. I wish she could tell me what hurts so I could do even more to make her comfortable (I’m doing my best already). I’m most torn up by the idea that putting her down will mean taking her somewhere scary (the vet), no matter how many times she’s been there lately, and no matter how wonderful our vet is (I wish he were my doctor).

I’ve already made my next massage appointment; it’s probably healthier than going insane.

I Need A Vacation From My Vacation

•9 Jan 2008 • Leave a Comment

Well. So. Our house went on the market today. We’ve spent the last few weeks cleaning out closets & the garage, moving furniture and boxes into work or storage, and doing cleaning, cleaning, and more cleaning. The sign is up in the yard, I’ve added the sale notice to Zillow.com, and we’re ready to go. Except for the files I still haven’t cleared out of the hallway closet. And scrubbing the tub.  And putting new pictures up in the guest room. And doing laundry. And…you get the picture.

Fortunately, work has been slow lately, because of the holidays, and I’ve been able to keep up from home, but now it’s starting to pick back up. Also, it’s time to really get going on starting to move our grant money from the university to our new employer, which is the next thing that will suck up boatloads of time. Not to mention arm-wrestling over how we’ll buy out the U for the equipment we purchased with their funds but want to take with us. None of that is actually my job. My job is that I have a manuscript I need to finish, manuscripts to revise, and students to advise. I’m getting worried that working on any of that is going to be quite hard from now on.

But I’m happy because The Move is now Real.  It’s been a long time coming, so I’m glad it’s finally here.  Now I just wish it were all over.  I’m eager to get on to what’s next.  Hopefully, it’s a short vacation before the new job starts. 

The Great Flickr Migration of 2007-2008

•2 Jan 2008 • Leave a Comment

I haven’t written for a while, so this seems like a good time to get caught up, as I’ve pretty much got to get back to doing real work soon.  Like yesterday, really.

The last week has consisted of mainly three activities for me: avoiding going back to work, house sale preparation, and photo posting.  Avoiding work is self-explanatory; this is the only time of year I get even a tiny break – semester is over, AGU is done, and everyone who might want something from me is gone on holiday.  House sale prep is mostly what you’d expect – general cleaning, clearing out some additional space in the garage, cleaning out closets, sorting and filing five years’ worth of miscellaneous paperwork, painting, cleaning, etc.  

Aside from the aforementioned thrilling activities, I’ve been spending a bunch of time migrating my photos to Flickr. Because most of the year I’m slammed with work, I don’t have the time I’d like to customize my personal web pages, so I’ve been using iWeb to do quick-and-dirty posting.  I’m not entirely happy with it, but so it goes.  In any case, my vehphoto.com album pages are becoming unwieldy, there’s no easy way to show EXIF data, tags, etc., and having no other real draw to my site, traffic is low. Additionally, the latest version of iWeb produces pages that aren’t compatible with some older browsers, which means that some of my family can’t look at my photos.  So I’ve decided to migrate everything to Flickr.  (Once upon a time, I really liked Pbase, and truth be told, still do, but they haven’t evolved much and their traffic simply isn’t as high as Flickr’s, so Flickr it is. Maybe I’ll cross-post to Pbase someday, too.)  

In any case, the early stages of the migration were slow because I needed to come up with a whole new workflow. First, I’ve been very bad about tagging/keywording my work and adding credit/copyright information. So I’m trying to catch up on that as I go, which slows me down a bit but, like medicine, will be good for me in the end.

Second, with increased visibility comes increased potential for theft.  I don’t like being cynical about it, but there’s no question that people don’t respect IP/copyright even when things are obviously protected (music “sharing”, anyone?), and photos are no different.  For the most part, I plan to post my best work, so I care about protecting it.  I therefore had to spend some time evaluating software to watermark my images and add text.  I also wanted something that would play nicely with Aperture, which is where I store/edit all of my photos.  I settled on the BorderFX plugin, written by Reinhard Uebel.  Reinhard is very generous to offer this plugin for free considering how much time it must have taken to develop, so I made sure to donate some bucks to encourage him to continue. I’m inclined to donate again, now that I know how useful BorderFX has been. Anyhoo, BorderFX offers a nice array of options for not only watermarking and adding text, but also adding – you guessed it – borders.  I’m a minimalist at heart, so I like the fact that I can add fairly non-intrusive borders, custom text or metadata from EXIF/IPTC, and a watermark.  Hopefully, in combination, these are enough to discourage anyone who might find my work good enough from considering passing it off as their own.

Third is more organization, which isn’t as straightforward as it ought to be (yet). Because BorderFX only exports to disk and I want to keep the annotated images in Aperture, I needed to set up a hot folder to which I could export BorderFX’d photos and have Aperture re-import them automagically.  Related, because I’m not uploading images via iWeb anymore (where I had access to the handy Media browser for retrieving photos in Aperture), I needed to integrate uploading to Flickr into my workflow, so I’ve installed the Aperture FlickrExport plugin to get the final images onto Flickr.

Once images are uploaded to Flickr, there’s all kinds of other miscellany on which one can waste one’s time, if one is so inclined.  I’ve been so inclined, and thus I’ve spent some time finding Flickr Groups relevant to the equipment I use or the subjects I shoot, and to which I submit some of my photos.  That also means some extra work, such as pulling lens data out of my EXIF for additional tags required by the Nikkor group (frustratingly, Aperture doesn’t retrieve lens data, so I’ve downloaded a fantastic Perl application called ExifTool that does the job for me).  I’ve just started geotagging my photos as well, which is fun because I happen to like maps anyway, and it’s a good way for me to remember exactly where my pictures were taken.

Finally, I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions – I don’t believe in them – but I decided this year I would try to find a theme on which I could post a picture a day.  I want to get a camera in my hand everyday, and in doing so, I expect to learn more about photography in the process.  Based on a helpful suggestion from Twitterfriend kilotango, I’ve decided that the theme will be “motif” – as relates to patterns, not GUIs.  Perhaps my next post will talk a bit about definitions of motif (remember, I like words), and my vision for how this theme might play out.  But first, I have to get the first two days’ pictures posted!