Showing posts from October, 2014

Like a pot: Part 3

"Create like a god; command like a king; work like a slave." - Constantin Brancusi My data analysis is taking shape, and at the same time, I myself am being molded. I definitely feel different than when I arrived in Stavanger. I've shared with you before that my life in Norway is a lot simpler than in Oregon. Most of that is because I have only one occupation here, and that is my science. In Oregon, my attention was divided between teaching violin lessons, participating in dance classes, mentoring undergraduates, and helping out my fellow grad students when nobody else would. A number of things in Oregon made my life complicated, and every single one of them disappeared when I came to Norway. It's more than that, though. I could have moved anywhere in the world and gotten away from my hectic schedule. I feel Norway shaping me, molding me, nurturing me. It happened when I arrived at IRIS and was shown into my office - my very own office. It's huge! It hap

Like a pot: Part 2

"Brancusi is the Einstein of art." - Craig Raine One of the best life decisions I ever made was taking two semesters of Modern Art during my first year of college. The first semester was a comprehensive overview of art aesthetics in middle Europe during the 16th-19th centuries, and the second semester focused on 20th century art movements in Europe and North America. Together, these two courses revolutionized my view of music, of literature, of art, of the world. "Fish" by Constatin Brancusi. Photographed by me at Tate Modern, London, 2013. Probably my second-favorite 20th-century artist is Constantin Brancusi, a Romanian scupltor who spent most of his career in Paris. (In case you're wondering, my first-favorite artist is American composer Philip Glass.) Brancusi's sculptures are characteristically simple, capturing only the essential elements of an object rather than its intricate details. Please, if you are not familiar with Brancusi's work,

Like a pot

"But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as it seemed best to him." Jeremiah 18:4 It's finally coming together. My data analysis is taking shape, and gosh darn, does this feel good. Andrew and I met last week to discuss my progress on the data, and we ended up deciding exactly which results to report. I am ready to start writing the long-awaited and ever-important Draft 1. In some ways, it feels like it's taken a long time to get to this point, but really, I know the analysis went at lightning speed. Probably the most important thing I've learned from Andrew so far is the value of graphing the raw data and examining it for interesting patterns, rather than just charging ahead with some complicated analysis that will leave you confused. Andrew's also shown me how to brainstorm a number of interesting tangents, pursue each, but only focus on the ones that pan out. Not every idea


After a fantastic and enlightening week at work, I had a visitor for the weekend! My friend, Ann-Kristin, came to Stavanger from Oslo, where she is studying. Ann-Kristin and I met in 2012 when I was living in Bremerhaven, Germany. When she noticed on Facebook that I was back in Europe and living in Norway, she wrote me a message to say she was in Oslo and that we should meet up. It was great to have a German friend around and to show off my new city! We took a sightseeing tour through Lysefjorden, just east of Stavanger. Lysefjorden is incredibly long and thin, and it's famous for its steep-sided rock walls. The most famous rock formation in Lysefjorden is known as Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock). I thought this was quite a weird name, but after seeing the square rock formation poised high above the fjord, I'll tell you it actually looks like a pulpit! Along the way, we saw countless spectacular fjord views, quaint homes nestled in the rugged landscape, and even a waterfall! Check

Viscerally this time

Some day, when I am a famous Nobel Laureate, my biographer will read this blog. They will brag to their biographer friends about how easy their job is documenting my life. They will wonder how anyone wrote a biography before the era of deeply personal and detailed online confessions. They will draft a passage like this for inclusion in my biography: "Though brief, Kirstin Meyer's stint in Stavanger, Norway had a disproportionate impact on the development of her career. It was during this period that she learned how to communicate with colleagues and build professional relationships. She gained confidence and maturity, and she learned how to handle herself in relaxed social situations with colleagues. On her personal and detailed blog, Meyer cites several examples of dinners hosted by her supervisor in Stavanger, Andrew Sweetman. It was during long evenings at Sweetman's table that Meyer became comfortable floating between social and scientific conversation topics, and

The makings of a revolution

Before I finish rambling about this week, I need to tell you about some of the keynote speakers at NETS and what they helped me realize. Sam Dupont delivered a sweeping overview of ocean acidification research, offering his unique perspective on how far the field had come and where it still had to go. He made the bold statement that we (the scientific community) had been approaching ocean acidification research all wrong and needed to shift our perspective. He described the old way of doing experiments as "stamp collecting" to depict the endless enumeration of facts that resulted. Single studies would focus one or two species, expose individuals to predicted future pH levels, and observe the effects. In the end, we were left with a whole bunch of predictions that didn't really have that much to do with each other. Later that same day, Tjalling Jager said many of the same things about environmental risk assessment models; that we had been going about them all wrong. Pr

When worlds meet

"Denn wir beide leben in zwei Welten Die sich selten nur berühren Denn wir beide leben in zwei Welten Kannst du mich in deine führen?" - "Zwei Welten" von den Wise Guys "Because we live in two worlds That seldom touch Because we live in two worlds Can you show me yours?" - "Two Worlds" by the Wise Guys This week, IRIS hosted the Norwegian Environmental Toxicology Symposium, and I had the chance to participate. I've never actually worked in environmental toxicology before, my work being more focused on straight-up ecology, so it was very interesting for me to listen in and observe. To be perfectly honest, at the start of the conference, I was afraid that I didn't quite belong. I thought people who live in the world of PCBs and environmental impact models would have zero interest in benthic ecology. I found myself practically apologizing whenever someone asked about my research, because I was certain they wouldn't be interes

In theory only

This week, IRIS is hosting the Norwegian Environmental Toxicology Symposium, and I've had the chance to participate. I've never actually worked in environmental toxicology before, my work being more focused on straight-up ecology, so I wasn't quite sure how it would go. The conference began with a student symposium on Wednesday. Masters and Ph.D. students from various parts of Norway gathered for a workshop on scientific communication. I've got to admit, the symposium was very well put-together, and I learned quite a bit from the exercises. After introducing themselves and their work, each of the keynote speakers for the NETS conference were asked to present the students with a challenge of their choosing. The challenges were as ambitious as they were diverse. One of the groups, for example, had to set up a risk management plan for a fish-feed company to use, pending the discovery that an ingredient in their product is harmful to humans or the environment. Another g

Thoughts I have while biking to work

1) Before leaving home: "Hey, my hair actually looks decent today! Oh helmet." 2) Shortly after leaving home: "This is actually easy so far. Maybe I won't get so sweaty." 3) When approaching a hill: "That doesn't look so bad." 4) Starting up the hill: "Oh crap, here we go." (Then I shift down like 5 gears.) 5) Halfway up the hill: "My legs are burning!" 6) Almost at the top of the hill: "When will it eeeeeend?" 7) On a downhill: "I own the world!" 8) When approaching a pedestrian: "Must you take up the entire sidewalk?" 9) Immediately following the last thought: "I should really invest in a bike bell. Or an air horn." 10) When passing a school: "So many munchkins!" 11) Immediately following last thought: "Is it unethical to run over small children?" 12) Immediately following last thought: "I'm going to go with yes." (Then I slam on m

Crazy kids

"I have done crazy things in my life, but never two crazy things within one day." - My housemate, Jonathan By the time night fell on Saturday, my two housemates and I felt pretty darn adventurous. Never before had we challenged ourselves to TWO ridiculous feats in one 24-hour period. As if swimming through ice-cold rapids wasn't enough, we had to do one more crazy thing. What is this absurd adventure, you ask? We ate...the head of a sheep. BOOM. Smalahove Now, before you get grossed out, please note that Smalahove (sheep head) is a traditional dish in western Norway, and there are even festivals centered around its consumption. We ordered ours from a fancy restaurant at the local hotel in Voss. I have to honestly admit that it was a little weird to see the face of an animal on my plate, but I was in for the adventure. Smalahove is very fatty and doesn't have that much proper meat. You mostly eat the skin and the underlying layers of fat. We all agreed tha

While I'm young

"But my heart was colder when you'd gone And I lost my head Let's live while we are young While we are young, while we are young" - "Whispers in the Dark" by Mumford and Sons I can't tell you how many times I've been instructed to live while I'm young. Even my younger brother said it to me once, which felt significantly backwards, since he's a college freshman. I call to check if he's doing his homework; he calls to see if I'm having enough fun. It's a crazy, crazy world. I took this photo from the bus between Stavanger and Bergen. I really look forward to telling my brother about this weekend, because let me tell you: I lived. I left work early (gasp!) and boarded a bus to Voss, located north of here and a little bit inland. First of all, the drive along the coast was absolutely stunning. We were on a bus the whole time, but we wound around mountains, took two different ferries across fjords (yes, that means the bus d

A little night music

One of my favorite things about living in a European city is the availability of art. In fact, one of the ways I define a town from a city is whether or not said town has its own symphony orchestra. Stavanger has one, and I got to see them perform! I met Ingeborg at the Stavanger Konserthus, a rectangular glass building sitting right on the water. The building actually looks a bit industrial from the outside, but once you enter the spacious lobby, the high ceilings and curved designs do a much better job of suggesting the building's function. We got a glass of wine at the lobby bar and then settled in for the concert. When I picked our seats online, I did so essentially blindly, never having been in the concert hall myself. I placed us in the left side balcony, and we ended up sitting directly above the first violin section. I could even look down and read the notes on their page! It's always difficult for me to watch classical orchestral music be performed and not be a par

Every flavor

When we were little, my sister went through a period when she had to try the chicken fingers in every restaurant in our hometown. No matter where we went out to eat, she would order chicken fingers. Eventually, she didn't even bother looking at the menu. It was her personal city-wide survey, and even today, she could probably tell you which of the restaurants in our hometown had the best, the crispiest, or the juiciest chicken fingers. This period lasted about 3 years. When some people travel, they have to try the local beer. For some people, it's hiking trails. For others, the nightlife. For my sister, it was chicken fingers. For me, it's churches. My church in Stavanger ran a notice in the bulletin last week that in lieu of a normal church service this week, there would be Gospel Church at 6 pm. Hm, Norwegians singing gospel music , I thought, I have to see this. There were Gospel Church services at my church in Bremerhaven, Germany, when I lived there. Every 8 week


After I posted my music yesterday, I did actually end up going on an adventure. The rain stopped for the afternoon, so I headed out to explore the island of Kvits øy, located in the Byfjord, just outside Stavanger. The ferry to Kvits øy takes about 40 minutes and leaves from right outside IRIS. I really didn't know anything about the island except that it was inhabited, so I was pleasantly surprised by the rolling hills, grassy fields, and abundance of small watercraft. It seems nobody who lives on Kvits øy has a simple home; houses were either on the water and surrounded by boats or up on a hilltop and surrounded by sheep. If you live out here, it's either to fish or to farm. As far as I could tell, there was one school, one church, one grocery store, and one gas station on the island. The small community reminded me a little bit of Longyearbyen, especially because there were multiple groups of children walking around unaccompanied. Kvits øy must be a very safe place to live

We're still standing

If the embedded video doesn't work, try this link: After Nereus was lost, the chief scientist for the cruise called the science party for a meeting, explained what had happened, and announced, "We're still standing." He explained what limited sampling options we had left and how we were going to make the most of them. I was deeply impressed by his optimism, his professionalism, and his leadership. This piece is about that meeting, about the end of a cruise, about racing toward a goal, no matter how difficult it is. I hope you've enjoyed my four-movement 'Hades-K' string quartet. Happy Saturday!

Elegie for Nereus

If the embedded video doesn't work, try this link: While I was on the Kermadec Trench cruise, we lost a very key piece of equipment, the HROV Nereus . The vehicle imploded at a depth of 10,000 m depth and was lost forever. Losing Nereus was a blow not only to our mission on the Kermadec expedition but also to hadal biology in general. Nereus was the only vehicle of its kind, and without it, our ability to conduct targeted habitat surveys and sampling in the deepest parts of the ocean is severely restricted. This piece is not meant to mourn the vehicle itself but rather the data that will never be collected. It also reflects the general mood that settled over the ship after Nereus' loss. If you have the option, turn up your bass or use well-isolated headphones to listen to this piece, because the cello plays a critical part in driving the harmonies. 

On Curiosity

If the embedded video doesn't work, try this link: This piece is the second movement of my "Hades-K" string quartet, titled "On Curiosity." As I mentioned, I wrote this quartet on a research cruise in the south Pacific, as we were sampling in the Kermadec Trench. On multiple occassions, we collected animals that no human had ever seen before, and in some cases, nobody on board the ship was able to say definitively what the animal even was. I and several other scientists shared a tiny laboratory, and in that crowded room, we were giddier than children on Christmas. Every time the door swung open and someone brought in the next specimen for dissection, something like an electric current pulsed through all of us. I was reminded of a quote from Albert Einstein: "I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious."


If the embedded video doesn't work, try this link: It's a rainy Saturday in Stavanger, and even though I was hoping to go exploring and post some pictures for you today of a nearby island, I don't think it would be smart to go walking for hours in the rain. I'll share with you instead some music I wrote last spring, while I was on a research cruise in the south Pacific. We departed from Auckland, New Zealand, stopped at several sampling stations in the Kermadec Trench, and then ended the cruise in Samoa. The expedition was unfortunately plagued with mechanical problems and delays, so the scientific party had quite a bit of free time. I spent my time processing data and composing music, and I ended up writing a 4-movement string quartet about the cruise. The first movement, "Kermadec," was intended as a soundtrack to an ROV dive, much like "Molloy," the second movement of my Arctic violin concerto, which I posted

Colors of the wind

The weather is changing in Stavanger. In the past week, it's gotten much windier, a bit colder, and the days are getting shorter. My morning bike ride used to be in full daylight, but now I leave the house in the gray dawn. I have to wear a jacket, and the flags outside IRIS are pulled taut by the wind. Sunrise in Stavanger, October 6, 2014 Experiencing a true autumn in Stavanger has made me realize how much I missed having four true temperate seasons. In coastal Oregon, where I lived for the two years prior to my Norwegian adventure, there are really only two seasons: Rain (winter) and Rain Plus Wind (summer). The break between the two is marked by the Fall and Spring Transitions, when the predominant wind switches from south to north over the course of a few days.   I remember reading an article several years ago by a woman who had settled in southern California. She learned to love the beach and the ubiquity of artichokes but broke down one day while listening to Vivaldi

Letters from war: Part 2

The update I have been waiting for has finally arrived! Paul, my Svalbard contact, wrote to say my settlement plates were successfully deployed in three different fjords. Of the planned deployment locations, only one could not be reached because of weather. (Incidentally, another dive at a long-shot location we included at the last minute "was cancelled due to walrus danger." Dear goodness. I really need to ask for the details of that story.) I'm very happy to know that the settlement plates are underwater. Now, unless a catastrophic storm rips the frames off of their bolts or there's an organized rebellion of Arctic invertebrate larvae, I should have good results waiting for me in January when the plates are recovered. Boo-yah!

Letters from war

Checking my e-mail has gotten more interesting recently. The divers I worked with in Longyearbyen are now on a research expedition in Svalbard waters, and they're stopping in several different fjords to deploy my settlement plates, among other things. It's a bit difficult for me to not be there personally, but a paperwork glitch prevented my participation. Thankfully, I received an e-mail from one of the divers, Peter, to say that my settlement plates have been successfully deployed at two shallow locations and on a mooring. That means one fjord down, three or four to go. Peter also said they had arrived in the second fjord, so things are moving along. I was thrilled to receive this good news, especially considering that Internet access is apparently really spotty up there. Meanwhile, back in Oregon, several recently-graduated students are continuing an experiment I started there over the summer. Over the past week, they have successfully recovered 5 out of 10 moorings I ou

Tungenes fyr

As I trudged down the stairs in front of IRIS, I could see the fjord spread out before me. What an awesome place I live in, I thought. Three roads zig-zagged back and forth in front of me, and on the lowest one, a small silver Volvo sped along. A blonde head appeared in the window, and a hand waved enthusiastically in my direction. Ah, she had spotted me. Ingeborg turned up the hill, and as I climbed into her car, she embraced me warmly. Off we went. Ingeborg grew up in Stavanger, so she knows her way around like a boss. She also keeps up with local happenings, shows, concerts, restaurants - you name it - so when she suggested we try out a new Greek-Italian cafe for dinner, I was definitely game. The owner was actually from somewhere in the Balkan peninsula, and he bent over backwards to accommodate us. He chatted with Ingeborg in Norwegian and me in broken English, and when he found out I was American, he responded with "So, you only eat hamburger, right?" Not exactly, du