Friday, 14 February 2014

Post 3: Ergonomics, Leopold's "A Sand County Almanac", and Bird Counts!!!

It seems like this blog is going to be characterized by a number of longer posts right at the beginning, mostly because there's so much to cover!

So, this weekend, starting today, Valentine's 2014, to Feb. 17th, is the Great Backyard Bird Count. This is my first bird count, but I'm particularly thrilled to participate in citizen science! The minimum participation is one 15 minute slot to gaze outside and keep track of the feathered friends visiting your yard or the small space you can see. It's great, of course, if you can recognize bird calls (I am poor at this), but not a requirement. For my first count, I saw 8 chestnut-backed chickadees, 1 female dark-eyed junco, and one female Rufous hummingbird (I think)! And now I keep looking out the window seeing who else has come by. Some of the nuthatches visited, as well as a female Anna's hummingbird. So awesome!!!

                                  The above-mentioned hummingbird! Very cute! (Pardon the photo
                                  quality - phone photo!)

In my field (Environmental Studies), it would be almost impossible to avoid bumping into the name Aldo Leopold, (1887-1948). He is associated with the emergence of ecological restoration in North America, was a writer, an ecologist, and left a big legacy behind in Madison, Wisconsin. He was, as one can say, a 'man who punched above his weight.'

I had the immense good fortune of being able to go to Madison last year in October for the Society for Ecological Restoration's World Conference, where myself, my supervisor, and some of my colleagues got to meet the people that are really making the science and ideas happen in ecological restoration today. Some of these people (especially ones that I was really excited to meet) included Richard Hobbs,  Lauren Hallet, Katharine Suding, James Harris, Michael Perring, and Stephen Murphy (again - he's visited UVic before).

A field trip to the Arboretum was also spectacular - and all of this, even reminiscing, made me want to read Leopold's "A Sand County Almanac," which is a collection of his best-known writings and essays.

I've stumbled across one of his best known sayings, already, and will include the short paragraph in whole, here:
           "The outstanding scientific discovery of the twentieth century is not television,
             or radio, but rather the complexity of the land organism. Only those who know
            the most about it can appreciate how little is known about it. The last word in
            ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: "What good is it?" If the
            land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we
            understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something
            we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly
            useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent
            tinkering" (pps. 176-177).
In other words, let us not destroy any part of nature, purposely or out of carelessness, simply because we do not yet understand its value or purpose in an ecosystem.

And further into the book, this paragraph, which speaks to a lot of the pain and frustration I felt especially sharply during my undergrad:
          "One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world
            of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to the laymen.
           An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences
           of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks
           of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told
           otherwise" (183).
Today, I would change that only slightly to read "An ecologist must either harden his or her shell and make believe that the consequences of business-as-usual/capitalism are none of his business, or that he or she must be the doctor....."
To look around and see the inherent contradictions of global capitalism that makes material richness appear in the death throes of biodiversity and ecosystems, and to understand that global climate change is the result of a business-as-usual setting on the global economic scale is depressing at best. Divesting from fossil fuels and investing in social and ecological capital -- more than enough people are calling for some of these changes. It's a small comfort to find someone else feeling this way already 60+ years ago. And, I suppose, humour is always, good, too, like this cartoon.

So, I said I'd write a few words about ergonomics, too! Ergonomics is the kind of thing that isn't a problem, until you have some injury you're dealing with. Late into my undergrad years, I developed some sort of strange shoulder pain. Undoubtedly poor posture, and spending hours sedentary in front of my laptop contributed significantly to this. I went to massage therapy for a little while, and things got better.

Going into year 2 of this master's program, I started to have problems again. The same pain, but this time it was accompanied by pins and needles, and a very deep ache that discouraged me from spending time on my laptop, which essentially meant there were pockets of time where I was unable to work. After a few visits to the massage therapist, I decided to do something to more directly tackle the problem. I joined in on an ergonomics session offered at UVic by the Occupational Health, Safety and Environment staff. They offer regular sessions. I picked up a number of pointers, such as how to set up your chair, where your keyboard should sit, how to use your mouse (there is a wrong way!), how far away your monitor should be, what level to keep your head at, etc. So much!

My laptop is my only computer. At work I have a second large monitor that I was occasionally using. I have since made that my main monitor, which enables me to look straight ahead instead of downwards as I had been doing. I also purchased an external keyboard so I didn't need to bunch my shoulders when my laptop was on my desk. Incidentally, I got a new desk at work with a slide-out keyboard tray, which is nice. I also started to use a mouse - I didn't have one for my laptop before.

Related, according to Cathy, who led the ergonomics session, the most recent research on combatting sedentary lifestyles has also mentioned that you should be standing once every 15 minutes [and yes, that's just standing up once every 15 minutes](I think to help circulation and blood movement through the body, primarily), and you should stand for 2 minutes per hour. In order to remember to do this, I have my laptop set to announce the time every 15 minutes. I also try to get up and walk around the room, do 10 squats, walk up and down the stairs twice, or something similar once an hour. Or, taking a snack break and eating standing is also good.

Next, there are a number of stretches and exercises you can do. I got a sheet full of them from the Ergonomics workshop, and have selected the bunch that most apply to me.

Ergonomics is something that you need to be proactive about. It's too late when you're already noticing pain or aches in certain places. Good prevention is key, and for that you need to know what you can do. I'm sure this shoulder thing cost me at least 2 months time when I was transcribing my interviews mind-numbingly slow. I just couldn't spend that much time on my laptop.

Finally, I had Cathy come for a short visit to my workstation to look things over thrice. We ended up taking the arms off my chair because they were encouraging poor posture. I would be reading and would lean to one side... not good.

Now, my day is much more intentionally active. While I occasionally go to the gym, and cycle up to work, I'm also regularly standing up, walking over to look out the window briefly, doing targeted stretches, and overall feeling pretty good about. My shoulder problem isn't completely healed yet, and I think it's the kind of injury that won't be difficult to re-sustain. Unlike a big bone break, this one was a quiet sneaky injury that I wouldn't wish on anyone.

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