Sunday, December 19, 2010

Speciation 2010

  This past week I attended a conference at IIASA, Speciation 2010: First European Conference on Speciation Research.  It started early in the morning, so each day I had to get up well before dawn in order to take the two U-Bahn trips and then the half hour bus ride to get to IIASA.  Here's a photo of a lovely dawn over Donaukanal, quite near where I am staying:

  The conference was held in an old ballroom (or some such) in the Schloss in Laxenburg.  The acoustics weren't great, but you couldn't ask for a prettier room for a conference (especially compared to the drab boxy buildings conferences are usually in):

  The conference was organized by Ulf Dieckmann (who I am working with in Austria) and Åke Brännström:

  There was quite a good turnout for it, somewhere upwards of 130 people I think:

  There were almost 80 poster presentations, and three days full of talks by all sorts of luminaries.  I was the photographer for the conference, so I've got photos of all of this, but I'm not going to post them all here.  (I think Ulf plans to post photos of all the posters and speakers on the IIASA or FroSpects website eventually.)  Instead, I'll just give you a photo of Andrew Hendry, my advisor, doing his talk and sporting his new beard which is the envy of all at McGill (well, OK, mostly of Fred Guichard ;->):

  I went for a walk in the park one afternoon, between talks, with Andrew and Dan Bolnick.  We walked to the castle on the lake at the far end of the park:

  The evenings were mostly occupied with food and wine and good conversation.  One evening we went to a heuriger, another evening, to dinner at the fancy restaurant in Laxenburg, Gallo Rosso.  (We also had lunch at Gallo Rosso every day during the conference; it's really the only decent restaurant in town.) No photos of those events, except for a bottle of very yummy digestif that I was introduced to at the last night's dinner:

  Semi-sweet, semi-bitter, very yummy.  I shall be hunting it down for further investigations.

  The talks at the conference were mostly quite interesting.  A lot of discussion of the role of sexual selection and assortative mating in speciation, a lot of discussion of magic traits and sympatric speciation.  Andrew has done a post about the conference on ecoevoevoeco, if you're hungry for more information.

  I gave a talk on Speciation in Complex Habitats, based on the research I'm doing here in Austria.  Those of you who attended my QCBS talk saw this talk already.  I'll probably do it again, with more results, when I get back to Montreal, as an EEL seminar, I imagine.  It was well-received; I got some nice compliments on it afterwards.  I believe Ulf plans to post videos of all the conference talks, so you might be able to watch it online eventually.

  All in all, a very fun and educational time.  And now, back to work!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The IIASA Ball

  So IIASA has a Christmas Ball, every second year I gather; it was last Thursday, and I was here for it.  Laxenburg is gearing up for Christmas too; here's a photo on the walk over to Gallo Rosso, the restaurant where the ball was held:

  And here's the dining room at Gallo Rosso, just starting to fill up:

  The best part was the food.  To those who were at the YSSP awards dinner, this will look familiar:

  And that's just the cold food; note the silver servers lurking behind, which were empty when I took these photos, but which filled with several kinds of fish, tortellini in a pesto cream sauce, chicken, beef... and they carved a whole roasted pig.  Sadly, I was too busy actually eating the food at that point, and forgot to take photos.  Anyhow, it wasn't amazingly unusual or original food; but it was very good.  Gallo Rosso does a nice spread.

  Here's the folks at my table:

  That last one is of me with Sheila and her boyfriend, who I sat with.  Thank goodness they were there, because I knew hardly anyone else in the room.  (Most of the rest of the people I know at IIASA were also at my table: Jose and Monika.  But I didn't get to talk to them much because they were at the far end of the table.  I don't think Wolf or Olli were at the ball, for those who are wondering.  Ulf and Gergely sat at the next table over.)  It felt weird to be at a IIASA event without all the YSSPers being there!

  The downside to the evening was the music.  Mostly it was one guy on a synthesizer with a drum machine track, playing cheesy renditions of songs that would better have been forgotten decades ago.  My friends Ariel and Suchi tried their best to rescue it with their lovely singing on some Christmas carols, but even there, I'm afraid there is a limit to how many times I can happily sit through Frosty the Snowman, Jingle Bells, etc., and that limit is zero.  My limit for Jingle Bell Rock is, in fact, -1; it makes me unhappy that that song exists at all, even when it is not being played in my vicinity.  No doubt I am a grinch; but why does Christmas music need to be so saccharine?

  All in all, though, it was a fun time, and we staggered off full, intoxicated, and happy.  Can't argue with that!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Back in Austria!

  The blog was dead; long live the blog!  I'm back in Austria for the winter, working on analyzing and writing up the research I did over the summer.  Since it isn't the YSSP any more, it's probably going to be a lot more boring than my summer was.  Nevertheless, I shall do my best.

  When I got here, I was surprised to discover that there was more snow on the ground here than back in Montreal!  I gather Montreal has since remedied this.  This much snow this early in the winter is apparently rather unusual in Vienna; someone I spoke to said they hadn't seen it in the fifteen years they have lived here.  It's all melting now, since today was warm, but I took photos yesterday.  Here's Donaukanal near where I'm living now:

  And here is beautiful Sudtirolerplatz bus station, where the 566 (seen at left) leaves for Laxenburg:

  I have no idea what all those cranes are doing in the background; it was the same way last summer.  Here's the schloss where I work in Laxenburg, which looks nice with the icing on top:

  And the church opposite it:

  Doesn't that poor statue look cold?

  I got here Sunday afternoon, and went in to IIASA for my first day of work on Monday.  Today (Wednesday) is a holiday; I'm doing some work at home, but I also went walking around a bit, exploring my new neighborhood.  I'm quite close to the big park called Augarten; I believe I posted some photos of its marvelous WWII-era flak towers in the summer.  I would have photos of Augarten in winter for you, since I walked there briefly today, except that I didn't bring my camera on my walk.

  Next week I give a talk at Speciation 2010: First European Conference on Speciation Research, which ought to be quite an interesting conference.  Well, to me, anyway.  :->  I may or may not do a bit of live blogging from the conference, we'll see how busy I am.  Those who saw my talk at the Quebec Centre for Biodiversity Studies 2010 Symposium, or indeed those who saw my end-of-YSSP talk last summer, would be utterly unsurprised by the talk I will give here.  I've got to get some new material.  :->

  OK, that's all the news that's fit to print.  Until next time, this is Ben, saying... brrrrr!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Back in Montreal, back in Austria

I've been back in Montreal for a week now.  It's starting to feel less strange, being back.  My travels seem quite remote now.  Was I really bicycling down the Danube just two and a half weeks ago?  Was I really working in a summer palace in Austria for the past three months?  Was I really hiking in the Alps a week and a half ago?  (OK, that last one is easier to believe, since I've only just stopped aching from it :->).

Life has been a flurry of craziness since I got back.  Bills, car repairs, meetings at school.  The biggest craziness has been making plans for the next six months of my life.  I managed, after much ado, to schedule my PhD qualifying exam for November 22.  Once that was scheduled, I could then make plans to attend conferences (one early December, one mid-December).  Once I had that pinned down, I could make my plans for returning to Europe.  I've been invited back to do the work necessary (analysis and writing, mostly) to turn my summer research at the YSSP into a peer-reviewed publication.  Very exciting — this will be my first publication as an evolutionary biologist!

But not my first peer-reviewed publication ever; a paper just came out from my organic chemistry research at San Jose State when I was an undergrad.  I'm not first author on it, but since it's not in my field, it doesn't matter much anyway. The cite: Brook D.J.R., Richardson C.J., Haller B.C., Hundley M. & Yee G.T. (2010). Strong ferromagnetic metal-ligand exchange in a nickel bis(3,5-dipyridylverdazyl)complex. Chemical Communications, 46, 6590-6592.

But I digress.  Returning to Europe!  I'll be there from December 5th to February 19th.  Keewi will mostly remain in Montreal, but will visit me for two and a half weeks.  So!  If anybody reading this is going to be in Vienna over the winter, let me know!  I don't know whether I'll do any more blog entries when I return; that depends on whether anything exciting happens to me.  This may be my last entry in this blog, therefore.  If so, then farewell!  Adieu!  Auf weidersehen!  Good night!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Munich, part IV

  So actually, before taking the train back to Vienna yesterday, Markus and I went into Munich again, since my train left from there.  The fountain at Karlsplatz was going that morning (it had been shut off the other day we were there):

  We had another traditional Bavarian breakfast, at a different place than the previous one:

  The variety was nice, but the previous breakfast spot had been better; the pretzel chewier, the beer fruitier.  Still, sore from the hike the previous day, this breakfast hit the spot.  We went briefly into the Women's Church, which had been closed for services the other day:

  That's the pope, Benedict XVI, then Joseph Ratzinger.  Back in the day, he was Archbishop of Munich and Friesling, and so they have this statue of him in the church there.  This was the scene where the recent scandal originated, regarding Ratzinger perhaps looking the other way, or at least failing to exercise due diligence, as a known pedophile priest was reassigned to pastoral duties and recommenced abusing children.  That was very much in my mind as I gazed upon this statue.  Anyhow, apart from that stain it's a nice church, with a very simple, clean interior that emphasizes the immensely tall ceiling.

  Finally, we popped inside the new Town Hall to see the interior courtyard, which I guess we had overlooked the other day in Munich:

  Really quite a building.  We were puzzled by one detail:

  There was just one window, out of the hundreds of windows looking out into the central courtyard, that had a diagonal crossbar of stone through it.  Why?  Architect's whim?  Symbolism or some sort?  I have no idea.  Anybody know?

  Anyhow,then I caught my train and had an uneventful, and not particularly scenic, ride back to Vienna.  Now it's the next morning, and I'm too sore to move, but I will have to find lunch soon.  Tomorrow morning I fly back to Montreal.  I can't wait!  Kamja!

A Day Hike in the Alps

  For my second day in Munich, Markus and I went for a hike in the Alps south of the city.  It was perhaps an hour's drive through scenic countryside to get near the Alps, and a bit more driving to get to the spot where we caught the cable car.  We selected the "Zugspitze & Partnachklamm" hike from Lonely Planet's "Walking in the Alps" guidebook, which is a very good guidebook for such things.

  Zugspitze is the highest mountain in the German portion of the Alps, 2962 meters high.  Remarkably, there is a cable car that goes right to the summit of the mountain.  The woman selling the tickets for the cable car clearly thought we were insane to want to buy one-way tickets up.  From the cable car we got some views of a lovely lake at the foot:

  Then we plunged into fog and didn't see much beyond the immediate vicinity of the cable car.  The summit was completely fogged in; here are photos of the signs telling us what we ought to have seen:

  In the last photo you can see the lake that we saw from the cable car, the Eibsee.  We never saw it again.  The second photo shows the start of our hike, a station called Sonnalpin that is below the summit, at 2600 meters.  We walked from there towards the left of the photo, down into the valley called the Reintal that can be seen in the first photo.

  So we took a cable car down to Sonnalpin from the summit, after a half-hour wait that was clearly calculated to try to get us to buy crap from the gift shop at the summit; the previous cable car to Sonnalpin had conveniently left a couple of seconds before we arrived.  From Sonnalpin we started walking, after getting directions to the trailhead from another incredulous worker at the restaurant there.  You'd think from all this that they never see anybody hike this trail, but actually we saw a couple of dozen other hikers over the day, and even a few insane mountain-bikers.  At Sonnalpin we were below the level of the fog, but just barely, and it was snowing lightly:

  The second photo is the view back towards Sonnalpin, with its cable car cables radiating.  The third cable car from Sonnalpin, if you're wondering, goes to a research station halfway up the slope towards the summit.  The clouds obscured much of the view, but they did make for some etheral photos nevertheless:

  We descended about 550 meters to the first hut of the hike, Knorrhütte.  Hiking trails through the Alps have these huts sprinkled liberally everywhere you go.  Sometimes they are a full day's hike apart, but often they are closer than that, and you can stop for snacks, water refills, and so forth.  You can also stay overnight in them, which gets rid of the need to carry a tent and sleeping bag and such.  They're remarkably big, well-run, and civilized; this hut had running water, plumbing, even showers.  It's a wonderful invention that the U.S. ought to adopt wholesale; I've only seen such huts in the U.S. in Glacier National Park, where there are two; but even those two are much smaller and more rustic.  At Knorrhütte I had spaghetti with tomato sauce for lunch, and Markus had a traditional German soup:

  You might think, based upon solid precedent, that that is a beer, but actually it's apple juice with soda water, which is the perfect refreshing drink while hiking, and is available at all the huts.

  After lunch we continued onward, descending into the vast valley called the Reintal.  Here's a sort of time series:

  As you can see, the weather got nicer the further we went.  The whole way from Sonnalpin it had been a steep descent over rocks and scree, with care taken each step to avoid losing one's footing.  Here's a view back up at the kind of terrain we were descending:

  Our knees were quite sore by the time we got to the valley floor.  Here the trail was still generally downhill, sometimes fairly steeply, but it was much easier going than it had been descending the mountainside.  Soon we reached the next hut, Reintalanger-Hütte:

  Well, actually that's not the hut, just a supply shed for the hut, but the hut is just around the corner.  I forgot to take any photos of huts, since each time when we got to one I was tired out and just wanted to sit down for a minute.  At this hut I had a piece of cheesecake and another mug of apple juice and soda water.  Here's a view back from the hut towards the top of the mountains:

  We had descended from the ridge on the right of the photo, down into the valley.  Actually we had come quite a bit further than that; Knorrhütte is well above the ridge, and Sonnalpin is way further than that!  Our reward now was a gentler trail alongside a river, winding through forest with occasional views of waterfalls and landslides on the mountainsides surrounding us:

  As we went along, the forest got bigger and the river got wilder:

  Sadly, the trail eventually left the river and became a supply road for the huts, winding around through the forest high above the river.  We walked for an hour and a half on that road, the only boring part of the hike.  Then we descended down to the river again, and eventually the river plunged downwards into a narrow gorge, the Partnachklamm.  We crossed over the river on a bridge above the gorge, and then descended into the gorge and walked along a small semi-tunnel carved into the rock next to the river:

  Water was dripping down all around us, the thundering of the water was deafening, and the air was filled with cool mist.  It was a perfect end to the hike.  Here are some views from the Partnachklamm:

  And then suddenly it was over, and we were out of the gorge, walking on a paved road beside the now-placid river:

  There were sheep:

  And then we got to the old ski jump from when the Olympics were held in Munich, and then the outskirts of town, and then we caught a taxi back to our car.  We drove through the countryside to an Italian restaurant Markus knew from previous expeditions, and had lots of food (four-cheese pizza for Markus, gnocchi with gorgonzola and mushroom sauce for me) and beer.  And then back to Munich for more beer and Futurama.  Does life get any better?

  All in all, it was a 19 kilometer hike (just under 12 miles) descending from 2600 meters to 740 meters (about 6100 feet of descent).  We were very sore afterwards.  Yesterday, the day after the hike, I took the train back to Vienna, and limped back to my friend's apartment here and collapsed in bed.  Today, two days after the hike, it still hurts excruciatingly to stand up or sit down; it feels like someone has taken a bludgeon to my thighs.  Still, I can't wait for my next chance to hike in the Alps; it was really wonderful. Hopefully Markus and I will intersect again some day to do that three-day hut-to-hut hike I fantasize about!