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Indian Wells, FASEB meeting

It’s happened twice already this trip: A gentleman in the airport tells me: “gut, einen deutschen Bürger zu sehen” (good to see a fellow German citizen) and the man speaking Français de Suisse behind the counter in the patisserie asks me “quelle région de l’Allemagne êtes-vous?” (which part of Germany are you from?). Everybody thinks I am German. I don’t know why…… and when I speak, people ask me which part of Canada or Switzerland I am from, so let’s set the record straight. I spent my formative years in Texas but tried hard not to pick up the accent, so I don’t know what happened with my speech. As for why people think I look German, it is a mystery to me.

All that said, it’s been a good number of years since I’ve been in this part of the country with the last time being the summer of 1990 when I spent a couple of weeks in Twenty Nine Palms. The heat is like I remembered it….. Convection oven hot and like a true convection oven, even hotter when the wind blows. A breeze is no relief and in fact, most unwelcome when it’s this hot. Back in 1990 we were sleeping in tents and did not have flush toilets or showers, so you can imagine what two weeks is like in 118 degree heat. Thankfully however, on this trip we are staying at the Hyatt Grand Champions hotel and resort where we have rather nice showers and air conditioning, not to mention flush toilets. However, I again am finding that Wi-Fi is an extra cost add on in the higher end hotels where it needs to be a basic inclusive service.

Regarding the meeting, this is my first FASEB and it is quite possibly my favorite scientific meeting ever. It is pure basic science with no pretext of disease or unnecessary clinical relevance to cloud things. To quote Ash: “I admire it’s purity”. Unfortunately given the push towards derivative science and away from basic science that the Bush administration has foisted on the NIH, NSF, other federal funding agencies and the American people, meetings like this are becoming more rare. Additionally, talking about funding with some of the giants of the vision science field here absolutely scares the hell out of me because they fear for their funding. And if they are scared, I should be absolutely terrified.

Speaking of meetings and meeting presentations, what in the world is the deal with Microsoft and their warnings about expired/open security issues on computers? Those poor souls running Windows at meetings can be right in the middle of a presentation and have warnings pop up in the middle of the screen forcing them to break from their presentation and dismiss a warning box. Unbelievable! Bill Gates or somebody at Microsoft that is responsible for this sort of garbage has got to be paying attention. Do they *ever* think about how people actually use computers before creating interfaces? Stuff like this should just be embarrassing for interface or operating system designers/programmers. Ultimately perhaps there needs to be a culture of pride taken in the software industry where people would feel a sense of shame if they design/deliver garbage software. Fortunately for the rest of us who actually do care about these sorts of things, we have Apple computer, but that is another post.

Yesterday, we ran down to the Salton sea to try some birding. We ran into/drove through a small community on the edge of the Salton sea that was some historical shell of a town lost in the 1960’s, filled with bars that looked like they had not seen a customer in years, hotels that appeared to still be in business, but made you wonder just who their customers were, and even though there were signs that people lived in the town, not a sould was to be seen on the streets giving one all the feeling of stepping into a Twilight Zone episode.

Additionally, walking down to the edge of the shore, I saw something that I have never before in my life seen. Specifically, walking up to the waters edge, I was stunned to look down and discover that the “sand” I was walking on was actually beach covered with billions of bones from fish. There were more fish vertebrae than I have ever before seen in my life providing a spongy, crunchy beach with more fresh fish washing up as we walked along the edge of the water.

The bird life was impressive, but it must be absolutely stunning during times of large bird migrations. When we pulled up, just behind a berm a dozen herons and egrets took to the air. Unfortunately I was not ready with the camera and missed them all. There were however many more left with Caspian terns, great egrets, white faced Ibis and many more species including an astonishing number of black necked stilts.

We also came up on a burned mark on the ground which appeared to be the remnants of a couch that had been set on fire and fueled additionally by a couple of tires. It had burned absolutely down to the ground, but I have to say I got a chill walking away from it when I saw a portion of a tibial bone sticking out of the ground making me think in the dark recesses of my mind that someone had been wrapped into a couch and set on fire to dispose of the body. Closer inspection revealed it to be (I think) a pig bone that had been butchered, but it did give one a bit of a creepy feeling and we decided to leave directly.

Categories: Travel.

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