I’m going to make a renewed effort to sell my brachiosaurus sculpture. Have a look here at how I built it: started without much of plan, completed in fits and starts over about a year. It is sitting in my back yard now, perhaps eight feet (2.5m) tall at the head and who knows how heavy. Weathering is making it look better, I think, taking some of the gleam off the chrome and dampening the brightness of the painted pieces.
My brachiosaurus feels unfinished to me, and I think it probably always will. (The brachiosaurus drawing to the right, which I like, is not by me, but by this person.) I built it to come apart to make it easier to move (both out of the garage and from place to place). I’m still patting myself on the back for recognizing early on that it would either need to come apart or be moved outside horizontally. But the choice to make the legs detachable – to build in some functional flexibility – meant that I couldn’t construct them with the kind of fluidity and fullness that I wanted. And that has always bummed me out a little. The moment of triumph was getting out of the garage. Since then, the personal affection has faded.
So I’m going to try to sell it. I’ve flirted with the idea several times over the last two years, and two times there has been enough expression of interest that I was optimistic that we’d consummate the deal and Betty would find a new home. So far it hasn’t happened. But maybe this is the year – maybe this is the year that someone pulls the trigger and decides that, yes, it is time we had a large metal dinosaur in the garden. Trust me - it's the right call. Buy now and avoid a lifetime of regret. Do it.
Do it for science. I would put the money toward a high performance computer that I could use as a dedicated machine for running computational experiments. Running these experiments is a significant aspect of my work. Some of the models I’m using are not that computationally expensive to run, but some are. Space and population size are the keys. Small populations in non-spatial models, like some of the demographic models I've been working with lately, aren't that bad. But fill an area the size of the Eastern Woodlands with hunter-gatherer populations at a reasonable density and the millions of probabilistic calculations that take place each step slow the action down to sub-glacial speeds. Models like the ones I used in my dissertation – with detailed, spatially-situated representations of birth, death, marriage, mobility, kinship, social networks, and social learning – take a long time to run and use a lot of computer power. I don’t have the resources available to me right now to run those. Thus my research using those high amperage models is on hold until I can find a way to create or tap into the infrastructure I need. There are advantages to not being a graduate student anymore, and then there are disadvantages. This is one of the disadvantages.
There are several “good” metaphors lurking in all of this, but I have yet to sort them out. I know, however, that it’s time to commit and move on. My kids like the metal sculptures (more at this unmaintained website), and they will be sad to see the brachiosaurus go. For them it is a tangible and symbolic thing that makes our backyard different from all the others. I like it for that reason, too. But for me it is also other things. It is a symbol of how you can build something from nothing, how the joy can come from the process rather than the result, how the necessity of compromise can produce lingering dissatisfaction, and, perhaps, how effort in one currency can be used to bootstrap capacities in another. Maybe the “good” metaphor will crystalize when it’s gone.