Blog for 2009-06-11

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Despite our hikes through high humidity, some long plane rides, and serious plant identification up to June 11, it is possible that the most difficult time that many of us had was, in fact, our activity for this day: learning how to use the statistics software, R.

Sure, we did not start until 9AM instead of having the usual 8AM lecture, but breakfast was still at 7AM, so a lot of us did not sleep in that much. Who can blame us? The breakfast was exceptional, and a little more American than the past few days; there was still the requisite fried rice with vegetables, but it was accompanied by fried eggs, and even some bread, with delicious coconut jam. This (plus some coffee to focus) was the perfect start to an intense day. Right at 9, when Cam queried as to how many of us had ever done statistics before and almost none of us responded in the affirmative, it was clear that this might be a rough time. Fortunately for us, we went through all of the material in a step-by-step manner, and had lots of intermittent pauses to catch up. It is possible that many of us got scared off at first by the big picture of "statistics" because we didn't know what to expect from R; it was scary to have to use a command-based computer program! Because of the reasonable pace that we took, it did not seem like we had gotten very far by the time we took a break for lunch. As soon as our hour was up, it was back into action. A lot of things started to 'click' into place when we all finally had a chance to try coming up with ways to organize some sample data and actually plot it out!
Hanging out after a long day of R.

I think that all of us can agree that after spending about 6 hours writing simple computer programming code and actually seeing R at work, we felt pretty accomplished, and smart too. It may not have been quite as much of a thrill as going out and catching insects the day before, but it was definitely just as exhausting, and also as important. In our three upcoming independent projects, our knowledge of R is going to be key to successful experiments, as well as our interpretations of the results. As Cam wrote in the Borneo site that hosted the software download links, R is definitely "a tool for life!"

We then had a well-deserved break for dinner, before going to the best lecture we have ever heard on phylogeography, if only because it was the first one most of us had heard! In all seriousness, it was very interesting to see the results of some of Dave Lohman's work with birds and butterflies, and a great lecture. Thanks, Dave!

For those of us who were not satisfied with the day's rainforest content (approximately 10% of the usual amount of rainforest we get, I'd say) of the course of the day, there was an optional hike in the evening. After taking the time to gather our flashlights and head-lamps, as well as to add a little extra insect repellent, we trundled out into the darkness, searching for eye-glow and the ever-elusive slow loris. Even though we didn't make contact with any nocturnal mammals, one lucky group (half of us) got to see an absolutely adorable arboreal snake, and everybody got a chance to pose with it, as it bobbed and weaved through the air.
Other vertebrates were few and far between, though we did get a chance to handle a couple of frogs and found several Draco species sleeping vertically on vines. Some of the biggest highlights (literally!) were the different types of Phasmid (stick insects) that we got to see. Along with their incredible camouflage, it is often difficult to find them because of their nocturnal behavior. However, because of our walk (and our excellent bug-spotting skills) we had a chance to see some colossal specimens up close and personal. They may look spiny and menacing (including, as Dave calls it, the "Hannibal Lecter face"), but they are actually quite nice (and don't like to let go once they've found a spot on you that they like!). A number of us also witnessed an astonishing ant swarm on the hunt; many thousands of them teemed through the forest path, making some of us nervous, but fortunately, only one sting resulted (they were 'fire ants' though not the same as those in the US). It was an eventful night, replete with spiders and shrieks of excitement; a good time for all.

Despite the difficult (and slightly intimidating) start to the day, everything turned out well, and a lot of us ended up staying up much later than the other nights so far that we have been around!