Who Would I Be?

I spent ten minutes staring at the ceiling this morning thinking about an idea I began considering last night.  If I weren’t as involved as I am in various long-term projects (project is a loose term, and doesn’t apply only to work), would I still be the same person?  Am I defined by the things I spend my time on and, if I decided to let some things go, would I be happy?  I’ve never been one to let my job/education/career define me, but in absence of that definition, what is there–I’ve been busy filling my time with other things.

In the end, this isn’t about my definition to myself and others, it’s about my own personality and drive–if we assume that I continue to fill time with long-term projects, why should I ditch the ones I enjoy (for the most part) now, only to slowly pick up others in the future?

Imported Posts

I have just imported my posts from the Grand Forks Streets blog to this one.  They have not been cleaned up, but the content is here and I will be shutting down the Blogspot version.  I no longer have time to devote to a specific streets-relaetd blog, but I plan to open a Twitter account to curate this type of content for the Grand Forks, ND area.

Imported posts are labeled as “Anonymous” but I will be changing that over time.  I wrote them all unless otherwise indicated in the post itself.

Site Update and Comments

Quick note that I’m still in the process of re-opening comments for all previous posts.  This was turned off when I moved everything over from Blogspot.  Also, any posts labeled “Anonymous” are actually by me, and I am fixing that as well.  Editing every post takes a little bit of time, but it does give me the chance to read what I’ve written before and identify some themes and some areas I’d like to improve.

If you find a post that you absolutely MUST comment on immediately, please get in touch–I love comments!

Update and Notes on Annotations

The site is back up. It may or may not remain up, or it may change. Who knows?

The majority of older posts on this site were imported from my personal blog, Protichnoctem from when I was younger (college and after). I’m in the process of re-reading many of them to see if they align with my current thoughts and values, and will be annotating them as I see fit. I’ll mark any annotations with [brackets and dates], but the original text will remain. Consider it an exercise in self-acceptance and growth.

Be Thankful

I started posting here in order to engage people so we could make life better here in Grand Forks.  If some of my recent posts have been negative, I want to stress that most of the time, this isn’t how I feel.  Travel is one of those things that seems to be common ground for people to complain about, and I get sucked into it as much as anyone else.  Although things aren’t perfect here, I am thankful that we don’t see many fatal crashes, that we don’t need ghost bikes, and that there isn’t any “war on cars” rhetoric.

Let’s focus on the good and make it better.

Thematic focus and other considerations in science blogging

Protichnoctem (in both blogspot and current form) is supposed to be a science blog. It’s supposed to raise the big questions and answer the little ones. It’s supposed to bring people together to solve the mysteries of the universe. It’s supposed to make other people as excited about research as I get when I read SV-POW!, The Open Source Paleontologist, and a host of others.

It’s obviously not doing these things very well. I’ve come up with some possible reasons why:

New posts don’t occur frequently enough.

Even though I added this to the list, I’m not sure it is as important as some of the other ideas. If a post is valid, the idea is that someone will find it eventually and it will get some views, especially if it contains some new ideas on an old subject. “New ideas” of course refers to originality of thought, not originality of opinion. Posting at the “just right” frequency would encourage people to come back once they know about the blog, however.

Posts are too short.

In many cases, I end up posting snippets of information. This is great for those things that make sense off the bat (if you’re searching for a particular code snippet, you don’t want to read a novel), but bad for involving readers. Ideally I would post original (not rehashed or updated) tutorials for the software or methodology I’m using. Off the top of my head this could include a better explanation of exactly how my M.S. thesis methods work, but with the advances in software like PAST (regarding EFA) in the last three years, it seems like redoing things for publication (as I am now) will be quicker and easier than ever.

In the end, though, I think it comes down to engagement. If the post is engaging enough, people who read it will hopefully comment and/or write their own posts in reply. In order to make things understandable to a wide audience as well as bring up original ideas, the posts need to be of a certain length. One tenet of science blogging not mentioned above is “if the public can’t understand it, it’s not worth writing.”

Posts are not interesting to anyone else.

I think this is a real problem in science blogging. Not for all science blogs, but for many people who are working in fields that are slightly to awesomely esoteric. To be clear: I’m not laying this on the subject matter. Invertebrate paleontology is interesting to many people, worldwide. Even molluscan paleontology is interesting to modern malacologists, and by extrapolation I assume that there are others (especially graduate students) who want to know more about fossil freshwater mussels. These people are the easy ones to reel in if you can have a) original posts that are b) understandable and c) engaging. No, the issue with science blogging is that scientists (in the United States, at least) always need a “hook” to get the people who are interested in science in general, and an especially large hook to get the people who don’t care about science at all.
But* do I talk about fossil freshwater mussels? Not really. And do I have hooks on my posts to grab non-scientists? Not really. So whose fault is that? My own.

Nobody knows about the blog.

This is one of the key things about blogging. If you build it, maybe one or two will come . . . eventually. If you aren’t periodically plugging your blog to your personal and professional contacts, the only way people are going to find it is through a search engine. To get a coveted blogroll position on certain influential blogs requires hard work and more than a single decent post to your name. To get retweeted takes a hook that’s less than 140 characters. To get RSS subscribers seems to take even more engaging posts. So how does one get out of this catch-22? Promote, promote, promote, but not before you have good content and a solid publishing schedule you intend to keep.

Posts are not aligned with a single theme.

This is the specific problem here at Protichnoctem. I’ve been blogging for a long, long time, but on a variety of different subjects. Put that all together in one place and you won’t have an audience because the content is aimed at yourself: only you (and maybe your best friend, or your spouse if you guilt him or her into reading) is going to want to read everything you post, because you are the only person in the world interested in that collection of things. If you are relatively prolific, you probably have material for several blogs. In my case, I have posts relating to my personal life, my hobbies, general photography or video projects I wanted to show off, code snippets, things I thought would be helpful to other people someday, and, oh yeah, a little bit of original science stuff. Don’t do this–I’m in the process of splitting it all up.

Your theme doesn’t have to be so specific that you should feel bad about putting in things that make sense. SV-POW!, for example, doesn’t necessarily show a sauropod vertebra every post, but all the posts relate to the academic research areas of the authors. I’ll even admit that I read the blog primarily for the non-sauropod posts but I get to learn more about dinosaurs (and how dinosaur paleontologists think) with every back-on-topic post they do. All I’m saying is that your themes should be amenable to each other. Sure, Andy Farke could have written a blog called “The Open Source Paleontologist Who Brews His Own Beer,” but that would have alienated half the audience** with every new post. The more themes you have, the more fragmentation of audience you’ll get, which translates into less frequent interesting updates for every individual reader.

A note on personal blogs: personal blogs are great, but I’m forced to give the disclaimer that if you want to use your blogging as an example of outreach, you want to feel confident about the link you’re sending to the hiring or scholarship committee. If you don’t feel right exposing a potential funding source to photos of your kids interspersed with pictures of fossils, maybe you should split your themes. That being said, it’s okay (and encouraged) to be yourself, because a blog is not a research paper.

These are the ideas I’ve come up with, and I’ll be implementing some changes once I find some additional blogging time. In summary, these are the points that I think make up the good, worthwhile science blog I hope this site can be someday.

  • Posts with original ideas
  • Posts that are understandable to the public
  • Posts that are engaging to the audience
  • Commitment by the author
  • Promotion until traffic goals are met
  • A single theme

*I’ve struggled with the question of using things like “But,” “And,” and “So” to begin a sentence for years now, but I see more and more “real” writers doing it, so I’m going to use it for emphasis. So there.
**Although there may not be paleontologists who don’t brew or drink beer, I’m pretty sure there are brewers who aren’t paleontologists.
This blog post took 1:20 to write and edit and post.



Here you will find reports on my various activity: some long and some short, some current and some after-the-fact. I have a wide variety of interests, not all of them academic, and hopefully these posts will give you a better idea of how I spend my time.


Design and the science and what’s to come

The new Blogger template designer is quite good [As you can see, though, I’m no longer on Blogger.  2014-02-07]. I’m still trying to find something I’m the most happy with, however.

Some changes in content may be coming down if I find the time, but the purpose of this blog will remain the same: documenting ideas I find interesting and recording things I’ve learned that may be useful to others. There will continue to be code snippets and blockquotes from various sources, but I hope to tighten things up and provide a bit more analysis as I go.

Possible topic ideas for the near future*

  • Planning to finish up the project from NAPC last year (freshwater mussel shape change over distance)
  • Experiences with small-scale laser scanning (not only DAVID but MakerScanner, something I just found yesterday)
  • More videos of science in action (including wind tunnel studies and rooftop apparatus)
  • My fascination with trace fossils
  • The total-body experience that is trying to build a useable specimen database
  • Making my thesis code available

Off-topic interests may include

  • Cycling in and around Grand Forks, ND
  • Book reviews not relating to science (but I will try to relate them in some way)
  • Video from various excursions that were more athletic than academia

If anyone has suggestions for other topics, I’m open and ready to discuss things about which I may know more than the average person. Post me a comment and I’ll see what I can do.

*Motiviating myself by telling other people what my plans are. Sometimes it works.




[EDIT: This applied when hosted by Blogger.  2014-02-10]

I’m experimenting with new colors and layout, having finally taken the leap away from hard-coding every aspect of this blog. This may be because it’s late in the evening and I’m not wondering what clothes to wear.

Let me know if you have problems reading things.