Sunday, April 20, 2008


This weekend we had a big reunion in Indianapolis with the Dunlap clan. Of course, not everybody could make it, but for those of us who were able to go, it was really great to see each other.

All the childless people were staying at Derek’s, which on Friday night, ended up just being Rob and me. Derek had gone all out. You should have seen how many boxes of pancake mix and cartons of eggs he had gotten. We stayed up way too late on Friday night reminiscing and playing with Ravage—an 8 pound Chihuahua and mini-pincher (spelling?) mix. Of all the dogs in the world, Ravage is probably the only one I truly love. Since the last time I saw Ravage, Derek taught him a few more tricks: one was called “Type my Dissertation” and the other was “Scratch my Back”—both of which are really great tricks. All weekend long, Ravage stayed close to Rob and whenever Rob was sitting, Ravage would curl up in his lap. I was a little bit jealous, but Derek explained that Ravage seeks warmth, and since Rob tends to radiate heat, we figured that explained Ravage’s obsession.

On Saturday everyone met at Chuck E. Cheese’s for lunch. Yes, Chuck E. Cheese’s. I’m not sure if this was the idea of the kids or of the parents. Since I don’t like pizza or screaming children, it certainly wasn’t my idea. But I do love ski-ball (and they had a fairly decent salad bar), so it was a win-win situation.

Ski-ball fiends

Then we all went to hang out at Amy’s afterwards. This was probably my favorite part of the whole weekend. These are the people I have known so long that they are family rather than friends. It was a little overwhelming to me to see us all grown up and many with kids of their own. I still see us as we were decades ago. The first day of 4th grade, when Amy and I became friends out on the playground at recess. In Chuck’s pool at a New Year’s or Halloween party, singing “On Moonlight Bay” with David. Sitting around the lunch table, building towers with Snapple cans. School dances, football games, Detweiller Park, the Maid-Rite, the Dollar Theatre. All the stuff of Dunlap Love.

Group photo (hope its okay with you guys that I put this in)

Rob and I left on Saturday night to come home. Since I’ve committed to the marathon, I had to do a 20-mile run this weekend, so I did it today. It certainly wasn’t the best 20 miles I’ve ever run, but at least I put in the miles. And what is it they say? A bad dress rehearsal means a great performance? Well, I’ve still got 1 more 20-miler to go before I’ll consider myself ready for this marathon, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed that that one goes better. I think I may be a bit overtrained; I did run over 45 miles this week, which is probably the most I’ve ever run in any week of my life. All the concrete in this city is certainly taking its toll on my knees and other joints. Long before the end of today’s run, I was wincing with every step. I guess I’d better go put some ice on; one good thing is the weather has finally gotten warm, so it feels like heaven to be outside.

Thanks to all for your hospitality and friendliness in Indianapolis this weekend. We ought to do it again soon; it was just so good to see everybody. I wish I could offer my place, but unfortunately, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of room for everybody to stay. I’m wondering if we could plan some kind of camping trip for this summer? Maybe there’s some of centralized location where we could camp out? Think about it: that would be hella fun.

Alright, I’ve got to go put ice on my knees. Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 18, 2008


I woke up at 4am and the house was shaking. I could hear a vibrating noise, and everything was rattling. It seemed to go on forever as I struggled to rouse myself from that deep sleep stupor and figure out what was happening. Rob was still sound asleep. As the shaking continued, I realized we must be having an earthquake. It could have been seconds, minutes or hours later that the shaking stopped, and then I lay there awake, in sort of a panic—thinking about my dissertation, the class I’m teaching, the new microbe opportunity SL just told me about (more on that some other day), etc. Waking up in a panic at 4am is nothing new for me; waking up with the house rattling isn’t something that happens too often.

A few hours later the alarm went off, and I mumbled incoherently to Rob that I thought we’d had an earthquake in the night. “Maybe it was an elephant going by our house,” he quipped, in reference to the circus which is apparently in town. But a few minutes later he got online and saw the emails and news stories, and sure enough, there had been an earthquake.

According to the News Gazette, it was a 5.2 earthquake centered near West Salem, IL and just 66 miles from Evansville, IN (where Grandpa and Grandma B live). That’s 140 miles away from us. The earthquake was strong enough to make the skyscrapers in Chicago sway (230 miles away) and was felt as far as Cincinnati, and Atlanta.

There was one time shortly after we moved in (during the fall of 2007) that I woke up to the same thing in the middle of the night, sure we were having an earthquake. But I never did find any news stories about it. Maybe that time, it really was an elephant going by. This time though, it looks like it was an earthquake for sure.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

In memory of Scooby

In loving remembrance of Scooby, who was born on or near December 1, 2006 and died on Friday, April 13th, 2007. Rest in peace, Scooby.

The Meetings: April 9-12

The Meetings are kind of the high point of the physical anthropologist’s year. As one of my colleagues described it, “Its like a vacation, but with science!” There’s a lot of schmoozing, boozing, and staying up very late at night. All day long, from about 8am-6pm, you’re going to talks and looking at posters: alternately getting yourself all revved up about exciting new research or becoming disgusted with people who are jumping the shark. You see people that you may have once been really close to but you’ve both gone to different places and now see each other only once a year. You might stay up until 2am talking about the proportion of genetic variation to environmental variation in life history traits, while drinking obscenely overpriced Sam Adams from the hotel bar. Its a 4-day ultra-marathon adrenaline rush.

I presented a poster this year on infant and juvenile mortality in howler monkeys, and I’ve been extremely stressed about it since I submitted the abstract 7 months ago. My major source of stress was that the initial abstract I submitted ended not panning out and I had to change everything, including the title of my presentation. People often times make changes to what they have submitted, but in my case it was extreme. My paper was supposed be about how seasonality influenced the risk of dog attacks on howlers: specifically, risk of dog predation was elevated during the dry season. As I kept trying to put this together I realized that even though it was probably true, I didn’t really have the right kind of data to back up these claims. So I had to change the whole thing. At least twice a week for the last 7 months, I have woken up in the middle of the night hyperventilating about this. For some reason, I was paranoid that I was going to get into really big trouble from the scientific community (or maybe just from SL) for presenting something completely different than what I had submitted.

The super mini version of my poster.

But it ended up okay. The meetings are such a tour de force that no one really scrutinized my abstract and compared it to the poster I presented, so for the first time since September, I can breathe a sigh of relief. I did have a couple of really big name people come up to me and talk about my poster for a long time, which was kind of surprising. Also, everybody was really amazed at the high mortality rate of infants and juveniles at this site: about 50% of all infants and juveniles in my study groups died. In all honesty, I didn’t think that was too terribly out of line with what has been published for howlers. But when one of the biggest names in primatology (who has studied howlers since before I was born) told me that that was really high, I am led to believe that either something really weird is going on on Ometepe, or I have seriously miscalculated.

As for the rest of the meetings, there were parts that enthralled me to no end, and parts that seriously jumped the shark. The best session I attended was on primate fall-back foods (foods they have to fall back to during lean parts of the year) and was chaired by no other than B.W.—the master of toughness testing, without whom none of my dissertation fieldwork would have been possible. A lot of really great people gave talks at this session, including my all-time primatological hero, S. Altmann. He’s been doing primatology for over 50 years, and his massive longitudinal study on the ontogeny of baboon feeding behavior served as the basis of my own dissertation project. I got to speak with him briefly after his talk, but unfortunately I was so awestruck I came across like a babbling fool, so hopefully I’ll have a chance to meet him again someday when I am more coherent. Aside from seeing Altmann, getting 2 hugs from BW, as well as my yearly hug from BGR, the best part of the meetings was all the quality time I got to spend with the other grad students in the program: we’re a good bunch.

At any rate, the meetings were a success overall. Now that they are finished, I hope my HPA axis returns to baseline functioning and I can begin to focus my attention on all the other areas where it is needed. Thanks for reading!