Endless Winter: Summer in New Zealand

My summer (well, winter) research in Auckland, New Zealand

The Kiwi Caravan

The final two weeks of my stay in New Zealand bring more research and more mathematics (yeah…). This however, has not prevented me from maximizing of my weekend ‘free time’ while exploring the North Island and indulging in some creative writing!

 

The Kiwi Caravan

“Shall ve staup?”  – He hesitated. And a moment later followed with a brief –  “Ahhh … vell … ve HAve missed it…”

The remaining passengers squished together to see what had just zoomed past the open window. Eyes wide with excitement, the car’s only Spaniard, Ricardo Grande, scanned the slopping hills for worthwhile scenery.

“Vaht about dzer?” – The others turned enthusiastically before – “Ahhh … Jah … Dzat vood halve been gut.”

Allison, an Irish exchange student, quickly gargled – “Q! stawp eet! … E meen … Would you meend slowing doown a beet? – I thingk we’ve nearly lawst Faeza…”

James, Ricardo, Annie and Will looked around. Faeza, an Iranian linguist studying for her Ph.D., sat pallid and waiflike as the sedan hurtled past a blockade of sheep and their helpless Sheppard.

“E dun’t even thingk de Kiwis ahr this madd. Ahnd, besides, the beech tisn’t gooing ahnywhere sewn.”

“Ahhhh, yes. Boot, zhe tide vill not lahst fur lung.” – Continued Q as he jerked the steering wheel causing the combined weight of James and Annie to pin Ricardo against the side door – “Yue sed dzhat yue vanted to get dzher befour newn …”

The passengers issued a collective sigh as a tui nearly collided with the car’s antennae.

¡Santa María!”

The Driving Dutchman and his posse of international Kiwis continued their race against high tide and up the Coromandel as the emerald pastures—now a solid green blur—streaked past the Kiwi Caravan. Each of the international students was eager to explore Cathedral Cove and the colossal sandstone archway that inspired its name. Even if it meant soggy trainers on the journey home.

They grinded to a halt nearly 400 meters above the bobbing waves and leaped from the caravan with coats, backpacks, gloves and hats in hand. A gratified sign pointed woefully downward towards the surf: CATHEDRAL COVE.

“Uhm, is therrre a trrale?”—Asked Faeza.

“Vell, I Ope sew …” – Replied Q.

A pungent ooze met the travelers’ ears with each descending stride as they headed for the shoreline and through the Punga forest of the surrounding hillside. Moist rays of sun occasionally broke the large prehistoric fronds of the canopy and rippled across the black understory like sinewy gold pythons.

“ahhHHHHH!”

Q, backpack swinging, came galumphing out of the bush.

“vHat?! Iz every von okae?”

“I slipted” – Exclaimed Faeza – “Oh, look at mne! What whould my motherrr say!?”

No one answered.

 The seven continued to squelch and smoosh their way to the shore in high spirits despite their damp surroundings. After another 15 minutes of gentle descent, Annie called:

“Look!”

Vroom(!). Will, the oldest, dashed through the bush and toward the rolling surf with a triumphant yell to the others –           

I WIN!

“WILL! WAIT!” – The others replied – “Be careful of the … “

TO BE CONTINUED…

Life at Uni

My week after touring Auckland Domain chewed through a series of online GIS and MAXENT tutorials. The research project has since risen from a comatose slumber and is hungry for attention. (Hence the lack of journal entries.) MAXENT modeling software—created by a team of researchers from Princeton, MIT, and other prestigious Tech universities—allows ecologies to model the predicted distribution of species (both temporally and spatially). Biogeography, in the wake of climate change, has become a hot topic as species’ ranges continue to shrink due to anthropogenic activities. Simply, MAXENT, using environmental variables and species presence records (in the form of latitude and longitude), creates a model of the expected location of a species across a landscape. However, few biologists have the time to learn the intricacies of a complex program which requires GIS technology and numerous environmental variables to produce an accurate model. A basic knowledge of multivariate statistics is also VERY useful for understanding multi-colinearities between environmental covariates—which subsequently requires the researcher to understand partial component analysis and factor analysis. Aye(!), you’re beginning to understand my schedule.

Despite studying texts and reviewing eigenvalues/vectors, one week ago I enjoyed the company of close friends and family in Eltham, Taranaki. Kiwis have a generous hand from which I have continuously benefited since arriving in New Zealand. The eight hour journey passed our InterCity carriage as rolling hills, farmland hedges, and serene pastures while Mt. Egmont appeared as a picturesque as the white ewes against the verdant scenery. Monday arrived before Sunday (as it always does) reminding me of my research in Auckland. I later boarded the bus and began the journey home.

Since last weekend and the week previous, I have continued to practice my skills at multivariate statistics and ArcGIS at the University of Auckland (UoA) under careful supervision and with LOTS of textbook help. UoA and OSU share many endearing qualities. Both institutions host a large student body; facilitate cross-dimensional learning; value international involvement; and strive to expand the boundaries of knowledge. Despite shared values however, the students, services, and location of both universities vary extensively.

UoA students celebrate their successes with vivacious jubilee. On most weeknights the campus pub* supports a dedicated audience well past midnight. While OSU students run between classes (sometimes…), the densely-packed UoA campus permits students and faculty to leisurely gabe between papers**.

The helter-skelter atmosphere of UoA resembles a high school commons and starkly opposes the grounds of OSU. Students form endless queues for Indian, Turkish, American, Japanese, and cafeteria food five days a week while faculty members dominate the tea room (i.e., first floor) of the biological sciences building enjoying at 1pm. When over 40,000 university students decide to break for lunch, UoA makes a termite mound look placid.

The sine qua non of academia rests in leadership. In addition to understanding the joys of research (and the time involved), UoA has illustrated both the responsibilities and qualities a distinguished scientist should carry. Researchers have the duty to validate their opinions and statements with empirical evidence in academic and social situations. As leaders in the scientific community, their decisions must be based on fact yet carry the power of persuasion. They must lead through instruction and bring passion to the next generation of scientist. With all this responsibility however, may they talk with crowds and keep their virtue or walk with kings and never lose the common touch.

*Open to all students 18 years and older.

**Classes/courses to fluent Kiwis.