Saturday, August 27, 2005

keep the noise down, I have a headache

DrH is at a conference this weekend so I have 2 days to myself. I thought I´d go shopping, take some long walks with the dog, have some long baths, catch up with some friends.

Instead I decided to go out with some colleagues last night for a few quiet cocktails. I should have left the bar when they did at 1, but no, I was having a good time and stayed on dancing until about 3am.

That would have been fine if I hadn´t had so many Mojito´s with it.

Oh dear. I did manage to take the dog out when I got home, but it took about 5 minutes to unlock the door again to come inside. I also managed to get up at 2pm today and take him out again (poor boy!), but I´m still in a very bad way.

Yes, I know, its all self-inflicted. I remember why I do this only once every few years now. At least with so many mint leaves a Mojito tastes ok in both directions.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Happy Birthday DrH!

Well you are 36 - definately on your way to middle age, a midlife crisis, motorbike and young, blonde bit-on-the-side. In the four years we've been together you've gotten a lot more grey hairs (and no, much as you like to think it - that isn't "pale blonde" scattered through your beard) and you've managed to throw your back several times, demonstrating how quickly old age creeps up on you past your prime.

You have managed, however, to keep the best butt in Europe. Well done.

I never used to consider myself much of a relationship-type girl. Frankly, I sucked at them - just ask any of my ex's. But this relationship has been one of the easiest things I've ever had to deal with. Even the difficult times (and this year there certainly have been those!) have been relatively smooth. We are respectful with each other, careful of not saying too much, but also aware that saying too little can be just as damaging. I know it won't always be this simple. I know we have many more years and many more complications to our marriage ahead. But I welcome them, I look forward to it. Because I think you and I can do it.

Ich hab dich lieb. Herzlichen Glückwunsch.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Just call me Party Animal

So Saturday was my birthday party - several weeks late so that I could combine it with DrH's, who turns three six tomorrow. Of course, this was one of THE worst things you can do in Germany - you NEVER congratulate anyone before their birthday EVER. I still haven't worked out why not, but its taken very seriously. EXTREMELY seriously. The Germans that came refused to congratulate him.

It was a really interesting mix of people - a colleague of DrH's, my group of "dog" friends, neighbours and of course colleagues from work. All of the dog people spoke only German, while the common language at work is English - although at least half also have good German and a third or so are quite happy in any of Italian, Spanish or French as well. Its one of the great things about working in science, and about working for this organisation in particular - it's internationality. So on Saturday there were Australian, German, English, Scottish, Danish, Dutch, Italian, Bulgarian, Venezualan, Russian...and that's only a small sub population of the nationalities I work with.

The party was great fun. Leon Dog Wonder was universally adored and I got lots of flowers and other really cool gifts. Birthdays are great. Aside from that whole getting old thing, of course.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Remember when? or: Suck on it, woman

Everyone of us had them. Those absolute bastard teachers whose only aim in life seemed to be trying to hammer you down. Don't get me wrong, plenty of teachers are great, some even fantastic - including the Year 11 Chemistry teacher who went through my exam to find the extra half a mark I needed to pass. In case you ever read this Kent, I got my doctorate two years ago from the Chemistry department, so you have probably been one of the most influential people in the course my life has taken. Actually, come to think of it, am I really grateful for that?

No really, many and varied teachers were a huge influence on me in those formative years. Well them and Astroboy. And don't forget the Goodies.
The reason I mention this today is that my mother, who was a teacher at my high school (the influence of THAT is a WHOLE other post), will be going to a reunion shortly and this just brings back all those memories. There was the teacher who put up with my inability to act in Drama by encouraging me towards being a technician, something which helped me pay my way through Uni. There were the many science teachers over the years who are entirely responsible for me becoming a scientist - I blame them all. The maths teacher who questioned why I wasn't in advanced maths earlier. The music teacher who knew me better than all the others and was steady and positive support over 6 years.

But there was one. One who should have been banned from setting foot into a classroom. One who did her darndest to fail me in my final year of high school. One who turned around to me one day and hissed "You'll never become ANYTHING."

Oh how well I remember those words. The expression of pure hatred conveyed in her scrunched up eyes, her reddening face, her quivering jowls as she hunched towards me to spit it directly in my face. What drives a teacher to cut down students in such a way is completely beyond me. I can't recall ever being a particularly difficult student one way or the other. But I nevertheless was vehemently informed that I would be nothing.

Well, Dragon Lady, from now on that'll be Dr Nothing to you.

Suck on it, woman.

Mad Cows???

In todays The Age:

A herd of cows in Sverdlovsk, Russia, will have to be fed confiscated marijuana as part of their winter diet after drug enforcement workers destroyed sunflowers and maize that 40 tonnes of dope had been planted among.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Paris Night #1

"I shouldn't have had that Creme Caramel."
"Uh huh."
"I think I'm going to explode."
"Yes. Really. I am going to explode. My stomach is going to pop. I'm going to end up like Henry VIII."
"uh huh..... What?"
"Henry VIII...he exploded...from syphilis...and all the dogs came and ate his entrails. Well I think it was Henry VIII. Well, one of the Henry's I think. Ok, an English king at least."
"How on earth do you know a thing like that?"
"Read it somewhere I guess... or a high school teacher told me."
"And syphilis makes you explode?"
"Guess so...its pretty disgusting, like, rots away all your genitals."
"Yuck, then you pee straight from your body?"
"What, you mean like a girl?"
"Oh. yeah."


"No don't touch me, I am still gonna explode."
"Its not that much touching..."
"I'm serious, you touch me and you'll make my stomach explode all over the room."
"You must be the girl that Die Arzte sing about."
"Gestern Nacht ist meine Freundin explodiert. Ich hab nicht dammit gerechnet, deshalb bin ich jetzt blut verschmiert."
(Last night my girlfriend exploded. I wasn't counting on that and that's why I'm now covered in blood).
"That's disgusting. They really wrote a song about that?"
"Well, don't touch me then. If I explode you'll be all covered in blood and CSI will come along and do a blood trajectory analysis and work out its all YOUR fault that I exploded."

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Mystery Trip

And no, I don´t mean unusual drug combinations.

I´ve just found out...we leave in 3 hours for Paris! I was right! Haha!
DrH has indulged my Jugendstil passion and booked us into the Hotel Elysees Ceramic. Is it not an absolute riot of Art Nouveau?:
Its really close to the Place Charles De Gaulle Etoile, so we can walk everywhere.

Can´t wait..must go and pack, we have a private compartment on the night train tonight!

Ha´y B´day

Its 12.43.

My birthday has started!

Although I was tempted to run around the lawn in my boxer shorts as per Wil Wheaton, I withheld from the urge. DrH supplied me with Roquefort and champagne and toasted the day in. Tomorrow night (I guess tonight really) he is taking me away somewhere highly secretive. So far all I know is that we leave Thursday night at around 9pm from the house and get back early Monday morning. I´m betting on a night train to either Paris or Venice....I find out in the evening so i have just enough time to throw the appropriate clothing in a suitcase.

And, just in case you´re interested Ha´y B´day came from a birthday cake from friends at Uni, who got so excited at writing on the top of it that they didn´t leave enough room and had to shorten even the word Happy.

Ha´y B´day to me!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

T minus 24 hours and counting

Tomorrow is it. The big day. The Three-Oh.

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy.

I don´t s´pose I´ll feel any different in the morning, its just a number yadda yadda yadda.I think I feel mostly regret that I´ve spent the last year telling people "I´m almost thirty", NOT saying "I´m 29". I wasted a whole year of my twenties doing that and I WANT IT BACK. So I´m going to spend all of today wandering around the lab repeating "I´m 29, I´m 29, I´m 29" like some aging woman´s mantra.

It´s funny where life takes you really. I always thought that by 30 I´d be OLD, I´d be ORGANISED, life would be, well if not sweet, then at least PLANNED. You know, that typical Aussie a house, have a career...hmmm I guess for most comes the get married have kids in there as well, although I never planned for that bit. Damn those pesky immigration people, forcing me into a legal contract.

But here I am...TWENTY-NINE and the most settled thing I own is my bicycle. Even the dog legally belongs to DrH. Where´s that security I crave? I´m still constantly moving cities, moving jobs. Heidelberg will be the 5th city and the 9th apartment I´ve had in the 6 years I´ve been in Germany. That´s just beyond ridiculous. I´m sick to death of moving...and we´ll probably do it again next year after I move back to Berlin, into a bigger flat.

I´m jealous of everyone who stayed at home. Everyone in Melbourne or Geelong who have their lives, their stability, their jobs, friends, partners and can do it in one place. Who aren´t forced to constantly move because contracts only last a year or two and the next job must be somewhere else. Yeah living in Europe sounds exciting, but its not like I actually see much of it...I get up, walk the dog, work, walk the dog, talk to my husband on the telephone, walk the dog and sleep. Holidays- I use all to get to Australia. Money- ditto. So I could do all of that in Melbourne, with the added bonus of having friends and family around. Although I have many friends here, they´re primarily scientists who move as much as I do, so its difficult to stay in close contact.


Turning 30.
At least its an excuse to whinge.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Duct Tape is like the Force: It has a light side, it has a dark side and it keeps the Universe together

Don't leave Earth without it
A Times Editorial
Published August 5, 2005


Equipment inventories on future space shuttle flights will go something like this: Operational bioinstrumentation system. Check. High-rate dosimeter. Check. Antigravity suit. Check. Duct tape. Check.

That lowly household item came to the rescue again, this time in a very high-tech way when astronaut Stephen Robinson took his "honey-do" list into space to repair the shuttle Discovery. To prepare for the delicate maneuver of removing protruding filler material from between the craft's fragile heat-resistant tiles, the crew fashioned a hacksaw from a bent blade held in place by a wad of duct tape.

As it turned out, Robinson got the job done with an even more basic tool - the opposable thumb - by simply pulling on the paper-like material. Yet given NASA's level of competence these days, no astronaut crew should leave Earth without duct tape.

Those ubiquitous silver strips have proved useful in other unlikely situations. A United Airlines maintenance crew temporarily repaired small holes in the wings of three passenger jets with duct tape. When the Federal Aviation Administration found out, it wasn't happy, but by then the planes had made 193 flights without incident. And the Department of Homeland Security recommended duct tape for every home anti-biological warfare kit.

One reason for its popularity, notes Tim Nyberg, co-author of seven books on duct tape, "is it comes with absolutely no directions." So a hack saw made with duct tape in zero gravity sounds like good old American ingenuity.

Now really, DrH's VW bus is the same age as the space shuttle and it is little removed from a horse and buggy when compared with the latest Mercedes. But they'd throw that thing into space. Maybe they should give it to the European automobile industry to work on if they want something safe AND stylish. Perhaps a collaboration between Volvo and BMW?
Yet NASA has tentatively scheduled the next flight for September 22nd. I hope thats 2011.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Overheard in Edinburgh

From a friend who was on his way to Paris:

"The funniest bit was probably leaving Edinburgh airport where you can probably only hear on a Scottish airport PA system:


Dog Training 101 Lesson #36

As I am here alone during the week with just my dog for company, many´s the night I spend teaching him new and even stupider tricks. He loves it. Currently i am using Clicker training to teach him tricks as it really is easy for both him and I.
Letley I have been trying to teach him "Schäm dich", the english translation I´m not sure of, but it is when he should look apologetic and put his paw over his nose. As its not something he often does on his own, it was difficult to capture and so I was using longs pieces of grass etc, and holding them on his nose so that he´d hit them. he sorta got the idea but it was going slowly.
Then at Stefan24´s birthday barbie 2 weeks ago, I had a conversation with Türkiz who has a gorgeous Goldie and also does Clicker training. Her hint was to stick Post-it Notes on his nose and let him paw them off.
It worked wonderfully! I´d sit down on the couch, clicker in one hand, bag of food behind me and armed with little flappy yellow things and Leon would sit alert in fornt of me trying every current trick he knows to get that food until I made him sit still. Stick a Post-it on him, he´d look at me patiently, all "Dunno whatchya think you´re doing there mate, but if there´s food involved I´ll put up with it". As it becomes obvious that sitting there well behaved isn´t going to get him a treat, he scratches at the annoying yellow thing stuck on his nose and CLICK!, he gets a treat.
Such a smart dog, the second time i stuck it on his nose, his paw was ready. We continued in that vein for a while before I started adding the command of "Bad boy". And that seemed to go well as well. I moved on to not using the clicker at all, just the command and a treat when he did it right (mind you, he isn´t leaving his paw there yet, just a quick swipe over the face to remove the post-it which I´m still using at this point). I know, I was moving too fast, but I was heady with success and he was high on doped up dog biscuits.
Finally I tried without the Post-it, leaving it lying on the floor after the last successful attempt. Leon sat there, looking at me expectantly, awaiting the annoying yellow thing, when I already gave the command "Bad boy".
Huh? But wait, where´s the yellow thing? Leon cocks his head to one side looking confused. Suddenly enlightment flashes in his eyes and he half jumps forward, landing with one paw perfectly on the discarded post-it, then looks at me, Huh, I did it, where´s the food, huh, huh?

I have proudly taught my dog to hunt Post-it Notes. He is available for hire to any small businesses or overworked secretaries.

Friday, August 05, 2005

On the Power of a Teller

Today in The Age:

British NatWest Bank customer Chris Lancaster, 18, has complained after being sent a new cashcard on which he is identified as Mr C. Lancaster Dick Head. He lamented: "I know I've been overdrawn a few times... but I've done nothing to deserve this."

Thursday, August 04, 2005

On unexpected fame

A very close friend, Matti, ended up with his face plastered across magazines in Berlin last week advertising the new Toyota car. It was a photo that was taken 7 years ago by an arts student when he was sitting in the underground, and it seems it made its way into a data bank somewhere and now he's advertising cars! I've been trying to find the ad on the web, but it seems to have only hit print media. Primarily music magazines, which has made him happy as he is a music photographer.
In the ad he is also labelled as "Stefan, 24". I think it makes a great new artists name for him - Stefan24 and I'm thinking of registering the domain

Monday, August 01, 2005

On writers block and procrastination

For the past several weeks I´ve been trying to write a paper. Weeks, not hours as it should be, but weeks. A large part of the problem is I don´t quite believe that what I want to publish is actually good enough for publication. It´s an in between step, a little technique to try and make things a bit faster and easier. Its nothing groundbreaking or earth shattering. Hell, it not even interesting enough to stop people yawning.
But I have to do it. I need the paper. My boss needs the paper. It´ll probably get accepted for publication, and then it doesn´t matter right?
So why am I having so much trouble doing it? It´s nothing, a few words, a couple of pictures, a list of references.

When I was in high school I´d have a hell of a time trying to write anything that was called an ESSAY. Give me an article, a report, a story, WHATEVER and I´d be there, pen scratching, illegible squiggles screaming across the page on any topic you gave me. But an Essay? Nope. Couldn´t do it. Froze. Nothing frightened me more than my Year 9 English teacher starting a sentance with "This week we´ll be writing an essay on......"
And why? It took me many years to work out that what I was frightened of was the giving of an opinion that an essay required. The analysis of a piece of writing, a period in time, a politcal movement, all of which required that I at some point develop an opinion on it and argue it. And I couldn´t do it. Because I could be wrong. I was a teenager for heaven´s sake - how could I analyze Shakespeare? A million plus people had done it before me, with more knowledge than I - what on earth was my opinion worth? A political opinion? Like, in Australia? Like, really?
And not only that, but the opinion had to be argued out as if it had solid background evidence for it instead of little squiggles of words across a page. I could never do it. My entire argument for an opinion I had on a book would come down to BECAUSE I LIKED IT (or not), and that holds little sway in the world of English essays. I couldn´t write pages on something I felt I could say in four words. The padding would never come. It was superfluous rubbish that annoyed me and I couldn´t see the point of. It was a personal opinion, based on my feelings. What on earth did I need other peoples personal opinions backing up mine for?
That´s probably why I´ve always felt so at home in science. Why lab reports never phased me. They are cold, hard facts. Perhaps unclear, perhaps opening more questions than answers, but always someting solid. Something real. Something testable. Not an opinion which could disappear when I grow up, when my experiences change me and my attitude to something. Opinions are malleable, they´re shaped by the surrounding environment, by your personal history, by peer pressure and the culture you are in. They´re a puff of hot air.
Give me science. Give me facts. Give me clear de-bullshitted writing.

Give me a cup of tea and a bikkie, my next writing break´s due.

On extended families and their stories

This weekend was DrH´s family reunion in Dresden, organised to celebrate two of his uncles birthdays. And I´m going to emphasise organised here because it WAS ORGANISED. To explain, the plan which was emailed to all of us beforehand:

12.30 Meet at the King Johan Memorial in fromt of the Semper Opera house
12.30-14.30 Walking tour of the city
15:00 Coffee and return to hotel
19:00 Arrival at the restuarant
19:30 Welcome speech
19:45 Opening of the reunion
20:00 Dinner
21:00 Individual Speeches:
1. The Four Flights
2. Memory of Wilhelmshöhe
3. Memory of Ottenhausen
4. Flight to the West
5. Flight to Poland
24:00 Return to hotel

To explain the evening´s speeches in a bit more detail, I have to introduce a bit of the family history of DrH. His mother was the youngest of 5 and in WWII, she, her four older brothers, her mother and grandmother fled from East Prussia (it is now Poland, but was German for many centuries). Her father was already a soldier and he died in the war, and on the way out of the country her grandmother died. The family made it to Thüringen, then under the control of the Americans and settled. Shockingly for them, at the end of the war the Americans gave this part of the country to the Russians in exchange for a part of Berlin and they were all of sudden on the wrong side, under the control of those they had fled from. What ensued over the next years, was a series of flights from East Germany to the West by herself, several brothers and one nephew and these are what were talked about.

Now a lot of these were details that younger members of the family hadn´t heard before, so it was an emotion filled evening. And when the eldest brother talked of travelling on the night of 13th February 1945 with his mother through the countryside and the sky turning a brilliant orange and them sheltering in a roadside ditch, I couldn´t stop crying. That night was the bombing of Dresden.

"Whoever lost the ability to cry relearned to with the destruction of Dresden."

My mother-in-law just happened to be visiting family in Kiel the night the Wall went up. Quite accidentally, she was on the otherside, where she stayed, but several of her brothers wouldn´t be able to visit her for 20 years. One from the East actually made it to the West but decided to return as his wife was giving birth in the East to their child. Despite the dramatic seperation of the families, they all managed to stay close, with the West German members visiting the east germans often. DrH has so many stories of going through the controls, of the hidden newspapers with news of the evil West, of smuggling in bananas for his cousins to try for the first time. The border controls, the soldiers with weapons, the jail that was East Germany. And it wasn´t that long ago.

DrH´s cousin, now a doctor in England, grew up in the East and was not allowed to study medicine. So he fled, going on a skiing holiday to Czechoslovakia and making a break for it over the top of the mountains. Yes, OVER the mountains. Mountains where there were soldiers stationed every 100 metres to stop people doing exactly that, but that he managed to cross, ending up in Poland. He went underground in Warsaw where an Uncle and cousin from the West met him, swapped passports and dyed his hair, and then he left with his Uncle on a boat to Sweden. That was in 1986. Not 46, 86. He´s not much older than I am.

It was an amazing weekend of wonderful and terrible stories. That the five children all survived the war, the aftermath and were still there to tell their history was incredible. They were surrounded by children and grandchildren - a large, loving, generous family that I´m now part of. It humbles me.