On my last day in Puerto Rico, I explored Castillo San Cristobal, a fort built by the Spanish to protect San Juan from attack by land. It was built between 1634 and 1790, and then the U.S. added a few concrete additions during World War II. The fort is huge and has a series of tunnels. Some of these tunnels are huge, connecting the different levels and areas of the fort, and were designed to have defensive explosives. Some of the tunnels are really small, and you have to stoop to move through them. If you ever get a chance to visit, try to get one of the ranger guided tours of the tunnels. Those tours besides being very informative, let you go inside some of the really small tunnels in which you normally aren’t allowed.
I got to visit Cueva Ventana (Window Cave) today in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. The tour starts by walking by Pee Wee Cave, which only meets the bare minimum requirements of a cave. You don’t go in. There is no point or room really. There is a short walk through the forest, which when I visited meant getting to see among other things a bunch of giant snails on the trees. Then you walk through cave number two, which I don’t think they actually named. The middle portion of this cave is, well, cavernous, with huge ceilings and wide walls. However the walk through it is fairly short. Then you walk down an extremely steep path to get to the actual Cueva Ventana. There are bats living in there among the limestone columns. At the end of the cave is the Ventana. It has amazing views of the Arecibo River valley. The valley is gorgeous, and you can see the mountains beyond. The tour is worth the view alone. However the caves are really neat to see also, and I love bats, so getting to hear and see them was also a highlight. Sadly while there, you can see vandalism from years past, but tourism is now helping to support security and clean up for the site.
I love buildings that are painted bright colors. They grab you and make you look at them. They look fun, festive, and alive. The Caribbean is famous for its colorful buildings, and Viejo San Juan has its share. Here are a few of the colorful buildings I saw in Viejo San Juan that I really liked.
It wasn’t until I walked around Viejo (Old) San Juan, especially the perimeter of it, that I realized how it really is a walled city. El Morro guards the entrance to the bay, but the fortifications encircles the entirety of the old city. One of the few ways, and the historic way, from the sea level to the city is through La Puerta de San Juan. Walking through the La Puerta, you realize the fortification is serious fortification, as La Puerta is almost a tunnel in terms of the distance you must walk to go from the sea side to the city side. The fortification is truly impressive with the wall thickness and garitas and small openings for guards to stand ready. One modern day bonus of the fortification is that it must help protect Viejo San Juan from any hurricane storm surge. There is a promenade that follows the wall from its beginning on the bay side and ends on the ocean side of El Morro. It gives spectacular views of the fort and the water as well.
While touring El Morro, I discovered that it is guarded by a platoon of iguanas. I will assume that is what they are all doing there. That, and most of them seem to be there because they know that is where there is a lot of tourists, and the iguanas like to have their photos taken. Iguanas are hams. One was posing on the top level. I took a few photos, walked away to take photos of the fort, and walked back. The iguana had moved closer to the edge and where the people were. I kneeled down and got out my macro lens, and the iguana obliged by posing to make sure its best side was shown while I took photos for several minutes. Now, I only do what the iguana clearly wanted and post its photos.
I’m on my first visit to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Today we visited Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro), a fort originally built by the Spanish to guard the entrance to San Juan Bay. The original foundation was laid in 1539, and it was modified and enlarged over 250 years. The United States then added to it during World War II. Finding out that a fort this old was modified and used during WWII surprised me. I was born long after WWII, so I forget that our military has advanced a great deal in terms of technology used since then. The fort is impressive. It has six different levels and is incredibly well built. I am impressed with those people who built it with the amount of stone and brick that must have been laid. Currently it is maintained by the National Park Service and guarded by iguanas, who by the way like to have their photos taken.
Years ago, I lived in Austin and went to a historic Episcopal church. The parish house needed major renovation, and when the parishioners were surveyed for what they wanted from the renovation, more and better bathrooms was at the top of the list. Considering how few and far between the bathrooms were, this request was predictable. Like others, I donated money to support the renovations, and the new parish house was wonderful, and the multitudes of new and bigger bathrooms were glorious and much appreciated.
My current DC area Episcopal church is also historic with a parish house needing major renovations. Once again I find myself being asked by my church to donate money to support renovations. The space is small and not used efficiently partially because the parish house is an old house. It has this tiny little ancient elevator that scares me. Also like my former church, at or near the top of everyone’s wish list is more and bigger bathrooms.
As I’ve contemplated how much money I want to and can give, I’ve also thought about what I’d like to sponsor if I had enough money to request something being acknowledged as being sponsored by me. I don’t actually know if anything in the renovations will be designated as being sponsored, but churches do that all the time with big donations. The church has brass plaques on all the pews, stained glass windows, and other items.
So I’ve thought about it just because it’s fun. The same way I think about if I died famous what would I’d like dedicated to me. I’ve already decided should I die famous that it will be written into my will that if anyone tries to name a freeway after me, my estate will sue them for defamation and pain and suffering, and I’ll come back to haunt them. A park or library would be lovely, but a freeway would be an insult.
I realized what I’d like to sponsor at my church. I want to sponsor the new toilets. I want a plaque next to a toilet that reads “This toilet donated in glory of God by GGE.” As much as the vast majority of people don’t want to think about toilets, when there are not enough, or they are not working, they are all you think about. I speak for all women when I say public places never have enough of them, and we spend too much time in line to use one. [More of my Opinions on public restroom design.] We have all sorts of euphemisms to avoid having to say the word toilet, and God forbid someone should mention the words urine or feces or urination or defecation in polite company. I’ve spent years in the lab analyzing urine and spent part of my career in wastewater treatment and conveyance. I could speak for hours on bodily human waste.
The truth is the toilet is one of the greatest inventions of all times. It effectively and efficiently takes human waste away to where it can be treated and not spread disease. Toilets prevent smelly and dangerous gases from the waste from coming inside. Humans no longer walk outside avoiding streams of human waste and falls from above from people emptying their chamber pots. Because of toilets and sanitary sewers and treatment plants, most of us do not have to worry about cholera, typhoid, Guinea worm, and many other diseases.
Be thankful that you have a toilet. When my church’s renovations are over, I know all the members of the parish will be grateful we have more of them.
“These toilets given to the glory of God and in appreciation of the past, present, and future people who ensure bodily human waste is removed from this premises and properly treated, by an environmental engineer who understands a toilet’s importance.”
I went on a road trip with four friends. Three of those friends, like myself, are photography geeks. We had an absurd amount of camera gear with us. As part of our road trip, we went to Fort Necessity National Park. There we are looking at this historic site, and the four photographers become obsessed with some milkweed seed pods. They are so cool though! Without further ado, some of my photos of the milkweed seed pods.
I’ve been working on this project at work for over a year now that seems to keep getting more and more important because of the effects of it. Recently I learned that Top Boss wants a briefing on it, and my presence is requested at the briefing. Top Boss would be the head person where I work. I work at a large place with somewhere on the order of 15,000 employees. I have become the subject matter expert on this project. Thus I need to be there because if Top Boss asks any technical questions, I will probably be the one who needs to know the answer. When I first learned that I would need to be at Top Boss’s briefing, I wasn’t nervous about it. If no technical questions are asked, I will happily sit quietly in the back as management talks. If technical questions are asked, I know my stuff. I’ll have my notes, and I feel confident I can sufficiently answer whatever might be asked. I don’t know if I should feel excited to brief Top Boss because I never thought I would end up in a meeting with Top Boss. Honestly thought it just feels like another management briefing. I am hopeful that this briefing will at least allow us to get some documents out that we have been trying to get out for a while now.
No, my first thought when learning I would need to be there was, crap, I hope I am not supposed to wear a suit for this because I don’t own a suit. I immediately looked around for a coworker who might know the dress code to brief Top Boss. The first coworker I see happens to be a straight male soil scientist, whom I called Dave. This may seem like an absurd choice, but I put Dave at the middle to high end of straight male scientist and engineer dress spectrum. Unlike some I have worked with, his clothes fit him properly and are appropriate business casual, and I have never seen him in a tie that makes you wonder if he lost a bet. However, I don’t remember ever seeing him in a tie. Dave however is kind of an appropriate choice in that Dave and I constantly seem to show up to work in similar outfits. There are two other scientists who also seems to constantly dress similar to both of us. We all show up to work in khaki pants and and a green top, or black pants and a blue top. You get the idea. We are not adventurous dressers. I wear more jewelry and other accessories than any of them though. Dave and I also shop for clothes similarly. I go to Costco, find a pair of colored denim pants, and once I determine they fit me well, I go back and buy them in several more colors. Same for tops, but those normally come from Kohl’s. I have the same short sleeve top in six colors and similar for long sleeve version and my sweaters also. My few unique pieces generally come from a thrift store or flea market. I will admit to having too many scarves and pashminas, but they are all unique, sometimes come from my travels, and keep my warm in the always cold office building.
I don’t know enough soil scientists to know if Dave is a typically dresser for a soil scientist. Geologists seem to have an unnatural obsession with Hawaiian shirts. Male engineers tend to wear neural suit pants and a white top. They then have two or three ties hanging on a hook in their office. If there is a third tie, there is a good chance it will involve Snoopy or some other cartoon. In any event, Dave assures me that office casual should be fine. However he also said he has never been in a meeting with Top Boss. I may seek a second opinion just to be sure. I will probably ask my boss. He is a good dresser. He has a science background, but he is also Italian. More importantly, I think he used to work as an advisor to upper management before, so he probably knows what is normal dress.
I’ve heard that you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have. I have the job I want. I suppose if I was really to dress for the job I want I would wear a hard hat, gloves, jeans, and a t-shirt that I don’t mind getting covered in dirt, or I might wear a lab coat, goggles, gloves, and have a pipetter on my hip. I am fairly sure these outfits will not work to brief Top Boss.
Recently, I had my annual performance review at work, and one of the things my boss said I needed to work on was communication with upper management in the form of not realizing they don’t know what I think everyone knows. I fully admit that there are some things so engrained in me that it would never dawn on me that other people do not actually know those things. Perhaps it is a reaction to the fact that I HATE being talked down to. I hate when people attempt to explain something to me I already know. The more basic the fact the more I hate it. It feels insulting. I hope those people where I have to go back and explain at a lower level, take it as a compliment, as it kind of is. I sometimes assume they already know things, and while I will correct it when necessary, it really is a compliment that I assume someone knows something they don’t. However, I do understand what my boss was saying, and science communication is something a lot of scientists talk about a lot. How can scientists improve science communication so that non-scientists can understand science, especially since science concepts sometimes are complicated?
So in one of those striking coincidences, the same day I have my performance review, the World Health Organization (WHO) comes out with a report that says that processed meat is carcinogenic to humans. The blog post is not meant to go into a discussion of how badly this report was blown out of proportion by much of the media. I will just say there is a difference between relative risk and absolute risk. This Forbes article I think does a pretty good job of explaining what the WHO said and also what it means, and this post by Cancer Research UK is really good and has wonderful graphics explaining risk. I will also say I am not a vegetarian, and although I really don’t eat that much red meat or processed meat, I don’t have a thing about bacon, but I spent a good part of childhood in Texas, and God bless Texas barbecue, meaning brisket so tender no knife is needed, and now I am hungry. I’m sorry where was I? Oh right, WHO and processed meat. So what I did want to say a few words about was a graphic I saw on NBC Nightly News, mainly the image below (which in case it is not obvious, I literally took a photo of my television screen).
I am not an expert on asbestos, but I can say with confidence that a smokestack is NOT where asbestos originates. Asbestos is a naturally formed mineral, and in some locations, you can be exposed to asbestos from the natural soil and rock near you. Where people generally get asbestos exposure is old house insulation, old pipe insulation, car brake pads, and a whole lot of old building material. I posted this photo on Facebook yesterday because I was just kind of flabbergasted. It leads me to questions like does NBC News seriously not know where asbestos comes from? Are they just too lazy to find a better graphic? One Facebook friend said that maybe they used a smokestack to designate a generic industrial process. I replied that by that analogy cigarettes should also have a smokestack because they also come an industrial process. Asbestos does not originate from an industrial process. It originates from the earth, but it was then used by industry into various products. The other two graphics imply where your exposure to the named carcinogen would be. Your exposure to asbestos is not from a smokestack. It is from old building material like insulation. They could have had a graphic of fibrous pipe insulation. They could have also just had a graphic of fibers to show what asbestos looks like under a microscope. I feel confident that with a short period of time and a graphic designer, we could have come up with a factually correct and simple asbestos graphic. One may very well already exist. This reply led to a bit of a discussion between my friend and I that was partially about science communication. In short he said that because my reply was so long explaining the problems with the graphic, that he stood by his opinion that the graphic was fine. I acknowledge that my reply was long, but I was not wrong on any points. Also the NBC graphic was just plain bad. A smokestack does not in any way represent asbestos. Worse than that it provides incorrect information to an uninformed viewer who might think that a smokestack is in fact where asbestos exposure comes from.
I very much respect the points my friend made, and he did state something that gets at the heart of a problem I often have, which is brevity. [How long is this blog post now?] I have a tendency to give long answers, which I understand can be annoying to management or anyone else, who wants a short answer. The reason I sometimes give long answers is that the answer is not simple, or I need the question defined better in order to give a simple answer. I just can’t bear the idea to give an incorrect answer. I can’t bear to give a short answer to management then have someone come back and say well what about “this”, and management to come back at me and say well what about “this.” I work in complicated subjects. Very often the problems, the solutions, the questions, and the answers are all complicated. The problem with the media sometimes is they try to make a complicated subject simple and sometimes fail miserably. Sometimes they just have no clue what they are talking about and seem to refuse to want expert advice. I respect journalists who can take complicated science subjects and explain them simply. There is a difference between explaining something simply and accurately and explaining something simply and wrong. Asbestos coming out of a smokestack is simple. It is also wrong.